13 Problems a Power Outage Can Cause at Home

We live in a wired world, where nearly everything in our lives requires a steady supply of electricity to remain in operation. But sometimes severe storms, high winds, lightning strikes, car accidents, falling trees, unusually high power demands, or even damage by animals can cause severe disruptions in local and regional power grids, leaving your home without electricity for hours—or more—at a time. Here are some of the major problems that can occur both during a power outage and when the power comes back on—and how to cope.

No Cooling

AC Out in Power Outage

Air conditioners—central, window, or hybrid systems—all stop working during a power outage. In the summer, this means that the temperature in your home can rise rapidly, causing heat stroke and dehydration in sensitive individuals, children and pets. Open doors and windows to allow breezes to flow through the house, keep curtains or shades drawn on the sunny side of your home, and make sure everyone drinks plenty of water.


…Or Heating

No Heat Power Outage

Similarly, furnace blowers and electric heaters stop working when the electricity goes out. In winter, a lack of heating means that plunging temperatures could cause severe discomfort and also put your water pipes at risk of freezing. Stay warm by bundling up in blankets and extra clothing; open water faucets slightly so that they drip steadily and keep water flowing through the system in order to prevent frozen pipes. Never use barbecues, camping stoves or kerosene heaters indoors because they generate carbon monoxide, which can build up to unsafe levels that could lead to unconsciousness or death.


Water Woes

Well Water Power Outage

If you rely on a well for your fresh water, the pump may stop working when the power goes out. Make sure to have a large supply of bottled water on hand. If you have an electric hot water heater, you won’t have any hot water until the power comes back on.

Related: 22 Water-Saving Habits to Start Right Now


Fridge & Freezers

Fridge Power Outage

When the power is out, avoid opening refrigerator and freezer doors. Most food will stay fresh in a closed fridge for up to 24 hours; make sure to carefully examine and discard any spoiled food after a power outage. Food will remain frozen in a closed freezer for 24 to 36 hours—it is generally safe to eat if the food is still solid and there are visible ice crystals. But when in doubt, throw it out!


Medical Equipment

Medical Equipment Power Outage

If someone in your family relies on electric-powered medical equipment, make sure you have a backup power supply—such as battery packs—that can run the equipment for several hours. Keep a list of nearby facilities that have life-sustaining equipment so that you know where to take at-risk individuals during an emergency, and have an evacuation plan ready. You may want to consider enrolling family members in a medical alert program that will help them signal for help if necessary.


Lights Out

No Lights Power Outage

The first indication of a power outage is when the lights flicker and go out. Make sure to place flashlights in strategic areas around your home, and keep extra batteries (in the correct sizes) nearby. Avoid using matches, candles, and lanterns, as these may only make matters worse by starting a house fire. Consider high-tech solutions like GE's smart lightbulb with a built-in backup battery that will remain in operation for 5 hours without power, and can be removed from a socket and used as a flashlight; or a flashlight with a powerful eco-mode like Maglite, which can power some models for as many as 10 days straight on a single set of batteries.


No Phone

No Mobile Phone Power Outage

Many house phones today rely on fiber-optic networks, which may have some battery backup capacity, but typically will shut down after about eight hours. Make sure to keep your cell phone charged so that you can make emergency calls and check on the power restoration status. It is a good idea to have a backup car charger or an electric or solar backup charger, in case your cell phone needs to be recharged during the outage.


Basement Flooding

Basement Flooding Power Outage

Many homes have an electric sump pump to remove excess water from the basement. If your home has a sump pump, invest in a backup battery system to ensure that your basement doesn’t flood during the power outage. As a precaution, remove furnishings and valuables from the basement during an outage. Never enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power has been disconnected because water conducts electricity; don’t turn on flooded appliances, outlets or fuse boxes until they have been checked by a professional electrician.


Computer Calamity

Computer Power Outage

A sudden power outage can wreak havoc with your computer, causing a “hard” shut down, which can corrupt files and damage the hardware. Control shutdowns and power fluctuations by hooking up computers to a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) containing a battery backup that will keep your system running long enough for you to shut it down properly.


Damage To TV & Electronics

TV and Electronics Power Outage

Televisions, stereo equipment and other pricy electronics all are sensitive to power fluctuations, and can be damaged by the electrical surge that occurs when the power comes back on. To avoid damage, unplug all TVs and electronics during a power outage and plug things in one at a time when the power comes back on.


HVAC Problems

HVAC Power Outage

Air conditioners, heaters, motors and other HVAC components are all prone to damage from power surges after an outage. Turn off all cooling and heating units during an outage and turn them back on individually. If the unit doesn’t turn on after power is restored, try resetting the breakers, which may have tripped during the outage.


Appliance Troubles

Appliances Power Outage

Many of today’s appliances, including washers, dryers and microwaves, are controlled by microprocessors—basically, tiny computer circuits. These microprocessors are extremely vulnerable to variations in voltage, and can burn out when the power is turned back on. Make sure to unplug all of your major appliances during an outage, and turn them back on one at a time when power is restored.

RelatedThis Is How Long Each of Your Major Appliances Should Last


Lights, Clocks & Timers

Clocks and Timers Power Outage

It can be a nuisance, but make sure to turn off or unplug all of your indoor and outdoor lights, clocks and timers during a power outage, because the surge when power is restored can damage these items. Check and reset all units after the power returns.


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