Don’t assume it’s out for everyone.
Before you go into a panic, check your circuit breaker to make sure your power outage isn’t just an overloaded circuit. If that’s not the issue, start checking with your neighbors and nearby friends, keeping in mind that since most towns operate on a grid system, you may lose power while the houses across the street still have it. Knowing who’s got power will help you figure out your next steps.
Don’t use candles.
While lighting candles when the lights go out seems like a classic solution, this isn't really your safest option. Kids or pets can easily knock them down, and you should never leave a burning candle unattended when you go from room to room. You even have to be careful of some candle holders, which can become very hot if you leave a candle burning for too long. Instead, stash flashlights in strategic areas around the house, and check them periodically to make sure the batteries still work.
Don’t leave things plugged in.
As soon as the power goes out, walk around and unplug bigger power users (like televisions, computers, and appliances), and turn off smaller ones, like lamps or radios. The risk: When the electricity comes back on, you could get a power surge that will fry your electronics—or overload your house's circuits.
Don’t open the fridge or freezer.
If you leave your refrigerator and freezer closed, the cold air will stay in there and prevent spoilage. In fact, an unopened refrigerator can maintain proper temperatures for at least four hours, and a good freezer might keep your food safe for up to two days. If it’s hot when the power goes out, consider wrapping these appliances in blankets for an extra layer of insulation.
Related: 15 Things Never to Put in the Fridge
Don’t grill indoors.
While it may be tempting to bring the grill inside to cook dinner on a chilly evening after the power has gone out, it’s super unsafe: Gas and charcoal grills emit fumes that, if not properly ventilated, can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, or even death. Same with generators: Using an outdoor generator indoors could seriously endanger your family.
Related: The Top 8 Ways to Hack Your Grill
Don’t go near pooling water.
Power outages often happen during storms—which means that downed branches and power lines could be lurking beneath that new lake in your backyard. Even if you're tempted to wade in to remove a few branches on your car, resist the urge and give authorized work crews the time and space they need to safely clear the area.
Related: 10 Ways Your Backyard Can Hurt You
Don’t let your pipes get too cold.
In power outages during the winter months, there’s a danger that your pipes could burst when water inside them expands as it freezes. While pipes in newer or recently updated homes are likely to be properly insulated, if you have an older house, check the basement, garage, and exterior plumbing for uninsulated pipes, wrap them with foam, old blankets, or towels, and keep a small stream of water running to reduce the risk of freezing.
Don’t forget about your comfort.
Whether the lights go out on a balmy summer day or a freezing winter night, without the use of your HVAC, you’ll no doubt be feeling the weather. If it’s hot, dress in lightweight clothing, crack the windows, close blinds to south-facing windows, and avoid hanging out in in sunny spots. If it’s cold, bundle up and do what you can to keep warm air in: Block leaky windows with blankets, and close doors to rooms you’re not using. Warm up with a fireplace, if you have one, but never use a gas oven for heat: It could emit fumes that endanger your family.
Don’t use all your water at once.
Unless you get water from a well, most plumbing does not require electricity—which is a relief, since that means your toilet should work! But your hot water tank can hold only so much, and some citywide systems use electricity to pump sewage from homes to the treatment plant, which could quickly get backed up. So, shower and flush sparingly to keep everything running longer.
Don’t use up all your batteries.
Sure, your cellphone works, even after the lights go out, but if you’re spending too much time tweeting about the power outage and playing games to kill time, your phone may run out of power—and then what happens if you need to make an important call? To preserve your battery, turn off any apps you’re not using, minimize any that run in the background—and then break out that chess set you haven’t used since grade school.
Spread the Word
Now that you know the best ways to deal in the event of a power outage, educate your family and neighbors. You may even want to consider writing out a bulleted list of power outage protocol tips and taping the sheet of paper to the inside of a kitchen cupboard or the side of the refrigerator where everyone can see it. It always pays to be prepared!
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