What to Do Before, During and After a Power Outage

Power outages are always inconvenient, and they can even be dangerous. But with a little knowledge and preparation, you can protect yourself, your home and your belongings for power outages of any duration. Read on to learn what to do when power goes out.

Prepare for a Power Outage

Sometimes you can see a potential power outage coming hours or even days away, such as when severe weather is forecasted. Other times, it may come as a surprise due to an event like a vehicle toppling a utility pole. Some may even be announced in advance, such as when an energy utility announces a temporary rolling power outage to protect the grid during periods of excessive energy demand. 

The key to getting through a power outage safely and comfortably is to be prepared for any type of outage, even the ones you don’t see coming.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

Every home should have an emergency kit, and every member of the household should know where it’s stored. The most important items to include are:

  • Water; at least three gallons per household member
  • Non-perishable food; at least three days’ worth for the entire household
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medications

You may also want to include copies of important documents, such as birth certificates and insurance policies. Stored food and water should be consumed and replaced periodically to keep the kit fresh.

Prepare Emergency Lighting for Power Outage Safety

A sudden power outage can leave you fumbling through the dark, and this can be hazardous, especially for people with mobility issues. Keeping small flashlights stored in easy-to-reach places throughout your home ensures that you’re never far from an emergency light source. Make sure everyone in the home knows where these are located.

Prepare Backup Power

You can invest in all sorts of backup power solutions, from whole home generators that start automatically to wallet-sized solar panels for charging your phone. Take time to assess your budget and backup power needs so you can make an informed purchase before an emergency occurs. NRG’s backup power partners have several solutions to get you started.

If you choose a fuel powered generator, be sure to familiarize yourself with all safety guidelines and make a plan for where you will operate the unit. Gas, diesel and propane generators must be operated at least 20 feet from any occupied structure to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should also ensure your generator is connected safely; extension cords must be rated for generator use and long enough to account for the distance between the generator and the house. If you’d prefer to connect a generator directly to your home’s electrical panel, you should have a device called a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician.

Generators range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, but you don’t need to spend big to have a little backup power. Small electronics like solar chargers and power banks can be purchased for under $50, giving you a way to power phones, radios and other small electronics in an emergency. Our sister company, Goal Zero, offers a range of solutions to power your electronics, lighting and more.

Sign Up for Alerts

Most utilities allow customers to opt-in for text alerts about outages and other events affecting service. If you’re not already registered for these alerts, look on the websites of your utilities or check your most recent energy bills for instructions. In the event of a power outage, your energy utility may be able to text you with an estimated time of service restoration.

Take Advantage of Advance Warning

The tips outlined above will help you be prepared for those power outages you don’t see coming, but if you have the benefit of prior warning, you can do even more. If a hurricane, tropical storm or severe weather outbreak is forecasted for your area, consider taking a few additional steps:

  • Clean your fridge and freezer of unwanted and expired foods.
  • Put refrigerated and frozen meat and produce inside plastic bags, then put them back in place. If the power is out so long that they become unsafe to eat, this makes it cleaner and easier to dispose of spoiled food.
  • Fully charge your mobile devices.
  • Fill your car’s gas tank.
  • Unplug sensitive electronics around your home, especially if they’re not connected to surge protectors.

During a Power Outage

When a power outage begins, the first priority is to make sure everyone in the home is safe. Carefully find your nearest emergency light source if you’re in the dark, then make contact with each member of the household.

Why Is My Power Out?

If the cause of the power outage isn’t readily apparent, you can call your energy utility to report a power outage. If you’ve signed up for text alerts, your utility is also likely to reach out to you. Use your radio and web-connected smartphone, if you have one, to check for updates if you believe the outage is the result of severe weather.

Keep the Fridge and Freezer Closed

A lengthy power outage can cause your frozen and refrigerated food to spoil. To help avoid this, keep the fridge and freezer closed until you know spoilage is imminent. Refrigerated foods should be considered unsafe after four hours with no cooling, so if you’re approaching the four-hour mark, it’s time to open the fridge and either consume or throw away your perishables. A full freezer will keep food safe for up to 48 hours, and a half-full freezer for 24 hours. But if you open your fridge or freezer prematurely and let warm air inside, these estimates no longer apply

Report Downed Power Lines

If you can see downed power lines, do not approach them. You should always assume that downed power lines are active and that the surrounding area is electrified, especially if it’s wet. Call 911 or your electrical utility to report the problem.

Unplug Electronics and Appliances

Unless you have a whole-home surge protection system, it’s a good idea to unplug electronics and appliances during a power outage. This is especially true for delicate electronics like computers, monitors, televisions and smart devices. When the power comes back on, it may briefly send a surge of electricity through your home wiring that can permanently damage electronics and appliances.

Set Up Your Backup Power

If the power goes out without enough notice to set up your backup power, you should wait to set it up until it’s safe to do so. In the event of severe weather, that means waiting for the storm to completely pass. If you have a standby generator, you shouldn’t need to do anything – it will start on its own a few seconds after the power cuts out. But if you have a portable generator, you’ll need to set it up a safe distance from your home by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Solar chargers and solar generators do not produce any harmful emissions and can be used as soon as they’re needed, though cloudy weather may limit how much solar energy you can harvest. You can also use your power banks right away, but it’s best to conserve as much of that power as possible unless you have a plan to recharge them elsewhere.

After a Power Outage

With power restored, there are just a few final steps to get everything back to normal and be prepared for the next power outage.

Reconnect Electronics and Appliances

If you unplugged anything before or during the power outage, it’s now safe to plug them back in one at a time. You may need to reset clocks and settings on some devices.

Put Away Backup Power

Portable generators typically have multi-step processes for shutdown and storage, and you should refer to manufacturer’s instructions to complete these. If you have a gas or diesel generator, this will include either burning off the remaining fuel through standard use or draining the fuel into an appropriate container.

Standby generators will shut down automatically, and solar chargers and generators only need to be disconnected and stored carefully. Power banks should be recharged so they’re ready to go when they’re needed next.

Dispose of Spoiled Food

If you haven’t already done so, throw away any perishable foods from your fridge and freezer that may have spoiled. This includes refrigerated foods that have gone more than four hours without refrigeration, and frozen foods that have been warming for more than 48 hours in a full freezer or 24 hours in a half-full freezer. Do not taste potentially spoiled food to determine whether it’s safe to keep – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Replenish Your Emergency Kit

If you used any of your stored food, water, batteries or first aid supplies from your emergency kit, replace them for next time.

A little preparation makes a lot of difference. Schedule time to build your emergency kit, register for utility alerts and complete other preparations so that your next power outage is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Looking for Something Specific?

Select a category to find resources for topics that interest you.

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What to Do Before, During and After a Power Outage

Power outages are always inconvenient, and they can even be dangerous. But with a little knowledge and preparation, you can protect yourself, your home and your belongings for power outages of any duration. Read on to learn what to do when power goes out.

Prepare for a Power Outage

Sometimes you can see a potential power outage coming hours or even days away, such as when severe weather is forecasted. Other times, it may come as a surprise due to an event like a vehicle toppling a utility pole. Some may even be announced in advance, such as when an energy utility announces a temporary rolling power outage to protect the grid during periods of excessive energy demand. 

The key to getting through a power outage safely and comfortably is to be prepared for any type of outage, even the ones you don’t see coming.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

Every home should have an emergency kit, and every member of the household should know where it’s stored. The most important items to include are:

  • Water; at least three gallons per household member
  • Non-perishable food; at least three days’ worth for the entire household
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medications

You may also want to include copies of important documents, such as birth certificates and insurance policies. Stored food and water should be consumed and replaced periodically to keep the kit fresh.

Prepare Emergency Lighting for Power Outage Safety

A sudden power outage can leave you fumbling through the dark, and this can be hazardous, especially for people with mobility issues. Keeping small flashlights stored in easy-to-reach places throughout your home ensures that you’re never far from an emergency light source. Make sure everyone in the home knows where these are located.

Prepare Backup Power

You can invest in all sorts of backup power solutions, from whole home generators that start automatically to wallet-sized solar panels for charging your phone. Take time to assess your budget and backup power needs so you can make an informed purchase before an emergency occurs. NRG’s backup power partners have several solutions to get you started.

If you choose a fuel powered generator, be sure to familiarize yourself with all safety guidelines and make a plan for where you will operate the unit. Gas, diesel and propane generators must be operated at least 20 feet from any occupied structure to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should also ensure your generator is connected safely; extension cords must be rated for generator use and long enough to account for the distance between the generator and the house. If you’d prefer to connect a generator directly to your home’s electrical panel, you should have a device called a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician.

Generators range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, but you don’t need to spend big to have a little backup power. Small electronics like solar chargers and power banks can be purchased for under $50, giving you a way to power phones, radios and other small electronics in an emergency. Our sister company, Goal Zero, offers a range of solutions to power your electronics, lighting and more.

Sign Up for Alerts

Most utilities allow customers to opt-in for text alerts about outages and other events affecting service. If you’re not already registered for these alerts, look on the websites of your utilities or check your most recent energy bills for instructions. In the event of a power outage, your energy utility may be able to text you with an estimated time of service restoration.

Take Advantage of Advance Warning

The tips outlined above will help you be prepared for those power outages you don’t see coming, but if you have the benefit of prior warning, you can do even more. If a hurricane, tropical storm or severe weather outbreak is forecasted for your area, consider taking a few additional steps:

  • Clean your fridge and freezer of unwanted and expired foods.
  • Put refrigerated and frozen meat and produce inside plastic bags, then put them back in place. If the power is out so long that they become unsafe to eat, this makes it cleaner and easier to dispose of spoiled food.
  • Fully charge your mobile devices.
  • Fill your car’s gas tank.
  • Unplug sensitive electronics around your home, especially if they’re not connected to surge protectors.

During a Power Outage

When a power outage begins, the first priority is to make sure everyone in the home is safe. Carefully find your nearest emergency light source if you’re in the dark, then make contact with each member of the household.

Why Is My Power Out?

If the cause of the power outage isn’t readily apparent, you can call your energy utility to report a power outage. If you’ve signed up for text alerts, your utility is also likely to reach out to you. Use your radio and web-connected smartphone, if you have one, to check for updates if you believe the outage is the result of severe weather.

Keep the Fridge and Freezer Closed

A lengthy power outage can cause your frozen and refrigerated food to spoil. To help avoid this, keep the fridge and freezer closed until you know spoilage is imminent. Refrigerated foods should be considered unsafe after four hours with no cooling, so if you’re approaching the four-hour mark, it’s time to open the fridge and either consume or throw away your perishables. A full freezer will keep food safe for up to 48 hours, and a half-full freezer for 24 hours. But if you open your fridge or freezer prematurely and let warm air inside, these estimates no longer apply

Report Downed Power Lines

If you can see downed power lines, do not approach them. You should always assume that downed power lines are active and that the surrounding area is electrified, especially if it’s wet. Call 911 or your electrical utility to report the problem.

Unplug Electronics and Appliances

Unless you have a whole-home surge protection system, it’s a good idea to unplug electronics and appliances during a power outage. This is especially true for delicate electronics like computers, monitors, televisions and smart devices. When the power comes back on, it may briefly send a surge of electricity through your home wiring that can permanently damage electronics and appliances.

Set Up Your Backup Power

If the power goes out without enough notice to set up your backup power, you should wait to set it up until it’s safe to do so. In the event of severe weather, that means waiting for the storm to completely pass. If you have a standby generator, you shouldn’t need to do anything – it will start on its own a few seconds after the power cuts out. But if you have a portable generator, you’ll need to set it up a safe distance from your home by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Solar chargers and solar generators do not produce any harmful emissions and can be used as soon as they’re needed, though cloudy weather may limit how much solar energy you can harvest. You can also use your power banks right away, but it’s best to conserve as much of that power as possible unless you have a plan to recharge them elsewhere.

After a Power Outage

With power restored, there are just a few final steps to get everything back to normal and be prepared for the next power outage.

Reconnect Electronics and Appliances

If you unplugged anything before or during the power outage, it’s now safe to plug them back in one at a time. You may need to reset clocks and settings on some devices.

Put Away Backup Power

Portable generators typically have multi-step processes for shutdown and storage, and you should refer to manufacturer’s instructions to complete these. If you have a gas or diesel generator, this will include either burning off the remaining fuel through standard use or draining the fuel into an appropriate container.

Standby generators will shut down automatically, and solar chargers and generators only need to be disconnected and stored carefully. Power banks should be recharged so they’re ready to go when they’re needed next.

Dispose of Spoiled Food

If you haven’t already done so, throw away any perishable foods from your fridge and freezer that may have spoiled. This includes refrigerated foods that have gone more than four hours without refrigeration, and frozen foods that have been warming for more than 48 hours in a full freezer or 24 hours in a half-full freezer. Do not taste potentially spoiled food to determine whether it’s safe to keep – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Replenish Your Emergency Kit

If you used any of your stored food, water, batteries or first aid supplies from your emergency kit, replace them for next time.

A little preparation makes a lot of difference. Schedule time to build your emergency kit, register for utility alerts and complete other preparations so that your next power outage is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Looking for Something Specific?

Select a category to find resources for topics that interest you.

Related Articles:
 How to Choose a Generator for Your Home
How to Choose a Generator for Your Home

Power outages can be miserable, but with the right generator, you can keep your family safe and comfortable until power is restored. Learn how to choose the best generator for your home.

Read Article
Weatherize Your Home for Summer
Weatherize Your Home for Summer

The extreme heat of summer can really do a number on your energy bills. But if you’re able to invest a little time and money into weatherizing to keep your home cool, you can help yourself and your family remain comfortable at home while still saving energy.

Read Article
How to Weatherize Your Home for Winter
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No matter how much you may enjoy walking in a winter wonderland, the frosty elements can take a toll on your home, yard and utility bills. So before the temperature plummets, it’s important to take some time to weatherize your home for winter.

Read Article

Power on the Go

GoalZero portable power products help you get the energy you need, whenever and wherever you need it. Learn more.

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