If your power goes out, don’t do this!

February 16, 2021   By Terri Williams

If your power goes out, don’t do this!

(Editor’s note: SaveOnEnergy® is reprinting this guide as rolling power outages continue across Texas.)

A major winter storm hit Texas early this week. Here are some important facts to note:

  • More than 4 million Texans were left without power following the storm.
  • 11 deaths have been linked to the winter storm.
  • ERCOT began rolling power outages which will continue through most of Tuesday.
  • Several energy providers have restricted enrollments for new customers as energy demand surpasses supply.
  • Temperatures throughout most of Texas will remain below or near freezing levels.
  • Forecasts predict more winter weather is headed towards the Lone Star State and could hit as soon as Wednesday.

A loss of power is usually inconvenient and ill-timed. However, the steps you take after your power goes out can determine if you’re going to have additional problems or not. Here are some of the things you should avoid doing when the power goes out:

Don’t leave electric devices and appliances unprotected

“A surge protector offers your sensitive electronics protection in the event of power surges or spikes,” says Josh McCormick, VP of Operations for Mr. Electric. McCormick points to three different types of surge protectors to best suit the needs of your home’s electrical unit:

  • Type 1: Whole house protection between street power lines and your home.
  • Type 2: Whole house protection between the meter and breaker box.
  • Type 3: Point-of-use protection at wall outlets in your home.

Don’t forget to be extra careful with candles

Candles are relatively inexpensive, and many of them are quite fragrant. However, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments respond to approximately 8,200 home structure fires that resulted from the use of candles. During a power outage, the NFPA warns against using candles and instead recommends that you use flashlights and other types of battery-powered lighting.

However, if you choose to use candles when the power goes out, never leave them burning unattended or when you to go to sleep. Also, be sure to keep candles a minimum of 1 foot away from anything that could catch on fire.

Don’t forget to exercise caution with backup generators

“In the event of a power outage due to heavy wind, lightning or winter storms, a backup generator can keep the lights on, keep the food in refrigerators safe, and more,” McCormick explains. “These emergency power systems work as an independent source to support electrical units in the event of a power outage, but can be extremely dangerous if you don’t use them properly.”

McCormick recommends the following tips to keep yourself and home safe when using a generator:

  • Keep it cool: Don’t forget to let your generator cool down before refueling. “Cooling down reduces the risk of the unit overheating,” he says.
  • Stay dry: Keep your generator in a dry place and always make sure to wipe away any water. McCormick says you should also avoid using it in standing water.
  • Don’t plug the generator into a wall outlet or “backfeed”: This can cause an electric risk to those in surrounding areas that use the same transformer.
  • Avoid enclosed areas: “When using your generator, make sure it is in a well-ventilated area to avoid CO poisoning,” McCormick advises. “Most people choose to keep their generators outdoors.”

Don’t forget to reset your digital thermostat

Following a sudden power cut-off, resetting the thermostat should be your first course of action as your HVAC may experience issues due to the power surge,” according to Marla Mock, VP of Operations at Aire Serv.

The specific instructions may vary by model, so you should consult your manual or online resources. However, Mock says these are instructions for some of the most popular thermostats:

  • Battery flip-flop: “With some units, the homeowner can install the batteries backward for five seconds to reset.”
  • Paper clip push: Mock explains some units have a recessed reset button. You can push it with a paper clip for five seconds and then release.
  • Circuit break circumvention: For some thermostats, a little extra effort may be necessary. Turn your thermostat to the ‘off’ position, go to your home’s breaker box, and flip the HVAC system’s breaker to off. “Make sure the breaker is flipped all the way off, thenwait a minimum of two minutes before turning the breaker back on. Now, return to the thermostat control panel and flip the thermostat back into the ‘on’ position,” Mock says. Finally, set the mode (heat/cool) and the temperature, paying careful attention to the flow of conditioned air.

Don’t forget to check your plumbing

“When you think of being left without power, you probably don’t consider how your home’s plumbing is affected,” says Don Glovan, franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing. However, he says there are several plumbing fixtures that rely on electricity to function – and that’s also one of the reasons why you need a back-up generator. Glovan says a generator can ensure the following plumbing fixtures still work:

  • Tankless eater heater: “Because of their energy efficiency and water conservation qualities, many homeowners now choose to install tankless water heaters in their homes,” Glovan says. “Tankless heaters work by using electricity to ignite a source of fuel, which then heats water — eliminating water from sitting in a tank, waiting to be used.” But if you don’t have electricity, he says your tankless water heater will not operate and you won’t have warm water running through your home.
  • Sump pump: “Sump pumps are essential for pumping excess water from your basement,” Glovan explains.  The motor in your sump pump runs on electricity, so if your home goes without power for too long, you may find yourself with standing water.
  • Pipes: If your home is located in an area with below-freezing temperatures, be aware that your pipes may freeze if your home’s power goes out. If the power is out for too long, check your pipes regularly for signs of freezing and any bursts that may flood your home.
  • Sewage waste removal: “Some sewage waste removal systems use gravity to move waste, which will have no change once the power is out unless your pipes freeze.” However, Glovan says some sewage systems use a pump that pushes waste from one chamber to an outside sewage system. “Without electricity, your home’s waste buildup will collect in the first chamber and won’t be able to be relocated, which will eventually overflow and back up into your house.”

Don’t take chances with refrigerated food

According to the USDA, during a power outage, refrigerated food is safe for up to 4 hours – however, you also need the keep your refrigerator door closed for as long as possible. The USDA warns that meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers should be discarded after 4 hours without power.