Table of contentsConfirm your power is out Call your local utility company Check your plumbing Your power outage checklist
Doesn’t it always seem like power outages happen at the most inconvenient moments? Power outages can leave homes and businesses feeling frustrated and helpless – and quite literally left in the dark. When the power goes out, it helps to know what to do and who to call.
Here are some of the most important things to know if you experience a power outage in your area.
Confirm your power is out
There are a few easy ways to make sure you’re actually experiencing a power outage and not another type of electrical issue. Here are three steps to take to confirm your power is out:
- Look outside to see if the streetlights are still on or if your neighbors have power. This will help you determine whether your home is the only one affected or if there is an issue for everyone in your area.
- Check to see if the power is out in every room. You may have just tripped one of the switches.
- If you have a prepaid electricity plan, check to make sure there is money in your account. For most prepaid energy plans, the provider will disconnect your service if there aren’t any funds in your account, so this could be another reason for the interruption.
Call your local utility company
Perhaps the most important takeaway is to call your utility company – not your energy provider – if there is an outage in your neighborhood. While your provider is in charge of your energy plan, your utility is responsible for restoring service during power outages, damaged power lines, and other electrical emergencies.
Your utility company depends on the service area where you live. If you aren’t sure which utility is yours, it will be listed on your energy bill. Visit SaveOnEnergy’s utilities page to learn more about each company and find contact information. If you live in Texas, you can also visit our Texas utility contact guide to find out who to call to report a power outage.
Check your plumbing
“When you think of being left without power, you probably do not consider how your home’s plumbing is affected,” says Don Glovan, a franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing. However, he says several plumbing fixtures rely on electricity to function – and that’s also one of the reasons why you need a backup generator. Glovan says a generator can ensure the following plumbing fixtures still work:
- Tankless water heater. “Many homeowners now choose to install tankless water heaters in their homes because of their energy efficiency and water conservation qualities,” 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 do not have electricity, he says your tankless water heater will not operate, and you will not 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 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 external sewage system. “Without electricity, your home’s waste buildup will collect in the first chamber and will not be able to be relocated, which will eventually overflow and back up into your house.”
Your power outage checklist
Once you’ve confirmed you’re experiencing a power outage and have notified your utility, there are a few other steps to take to protect yourself and your home from further damage.
Protect your electronic devices and appliances. A power outage and voltage fluctuations in the grid can damage an electronic appliance. When the power comes back on, an abrupt increase in electricity could ruin the internal structure of computers and other electronics.
The following three tips can help you protect electronics during a power surge.
- Unplug important appliances, such as TVs, computers, or large appliances as long as it is safe to do so.
- Invest in a surge protector ahead of time to make sure your appliances and electronics are protected. Plugging your appliances into power strips with a built-in surge protector is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to safeguard them. A surge protector blocks any excess power from your appliances and redirects it to the power lines or the ground.
- Mounting an entire-house surge protector into your electrical panel will protect the house against power spikes and surges. This approach is better than using power strips with a built-in surge protector.
- Yet, the best way to safeguard your home against voltage fluctuations is installing a surge protector along your electric line right up to where it meets your meter. A certified electrician must complete this work.
Use flashlights as a light source. Everyone loves a nice candle. However, in the event of a power outage, lighting your home using candles can add a new hazard to the mix. The National Fire Protection Association warns that U.S. fire departments respond to 8,200 home fires each year that started from candles. Instead, prep your home with flashlights and extra batteries. Not only will flashlights light your home better, but they won’t cause a fire risk while you wait for power to be restored. If you absolutely must use your candle for light, be sure to never leave it unattended or go to sleep while it is lit.
Keep your refrigerator closed. It’s pretty well-known at this point that opening your refrigerator releases a lot of the cold air that will otherwise preserve your food. Keep your fridge and freezer closed for as long as you can so your food doesn’t spoil more quickly. The USDA recommends disposing of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers after four hours without power.
Invest in a backup generator. During power outages, generators can keep your lights on, power necessary appliances, and much more. If you’re able, it’s worth investing in a generator to protect yourself from longer outages. That being said, there are a few important safety measures to take when using a generator.
- Let your generator cool down before refueling to make sure it doesn’t overheat.
- Keep your generator in a dry spot and be sure to wipe away any standing water that could affect it.
- Place your generator in an open, well-ventilated location to avoid the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Don’t plug the generator into a wall outlet. This can cause an electric shock risk to those in surrounding areas that use the same transformer.
Reset your thermostats and check your clocks. Your HVAC system may be affected by sudden outages, so it’s important to reset your thermostat once power has been restored. Even if your HVAC is fine, your thermostat will likely have reset itself to its default settings or timers, which could leave you with an unpleasant surprise on your energy bill if you don’t realize it. You should also reset your clocks, which will return to a default setting as well.
Following are resetting instructions for some of the most popular thermostats:
- Battery flip-flop. With some thermostats, you can install the batteries backward for five seconds to reset. Then take the batteries out and put them in again. But this time, position them the correct way.
- Paper clip push. Other thermostats have a recessed reset button. You can push it with a paper clip for five seconds and then release it.
- Circuit break circumvention. Some thermostats may require a little extra effort. Turn your thermostat to the ‘off’ position, go to your home’s breaker box, and turn the HVAC system’s breaker to “off.” You need to ensure that the breaker is flipped completely and turn it back on after about two minutes. Then go back to the thermostat control panel and switch the thermostat back into the ‘on’ position. Finally, set the mode (heat/cool) and the temperature, paying careful attention to the flow of conditioned air.
Assemble an emergency kit. This step requires some preparation ahead of time but it can really pay off in the long run. An emergency kit is important during power outages, as well as other events such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Prepare your emergency kit with non-perishable food, water, extra batteries, medical supplies, extra clothes, and blankets. You will be very thankful to not have to find all of these items in the dark after the fact.
With these steps in mind, you can prepare for power outages in advance and know what to do when it happens. And while we can’t guarantee the power won’t go out at the worst time possible, we can promise that preparing ahead of time and knowing how to protect yourself and your home will make the experience easier and safer.