Recent storms and severe weather across the United States have left millions without power for days or weeks—a truly catastrophic situation for those in Texas and elsewhere. According to an annual report by the US Energy Information Administration, there were hundreds of power outages across the country in 2020, and most of them went unreported.
Unless you’ve miraculously acquired superhuman powers, there’s really no way to stop a storm destroying a power line or generator, but there are things you can do to prepare your home for future power outages. It’s especially important if you live in areas most often affected by extreme weather and natural disasters.
Here’s how prepare yourself:
Buy a generator
Generators can be pricey but they’re an absolute lifesaver when the power goes out. A generator can support an entire house, and they’re designed to turn on as soon as there’s any interruption of power from the grid.
There are different kinds of generators to choose from. You can invest in a standby generator which is permanently installed and connected to your home. They can cost between $2,000 to $20,000 not including installation fee. A more economical option—starting as little as $800 — is a portable ‘backup generator,’ which provides temporary power and allows you to directly plug in appliances to its front panel.
Most portable generators also known as backup generators are powered by gasoline, which can pose problems if you don’t use your generator often. Gas will eventually evaporate; during a major storm, gas stations are often overrun and in short supply. A good solution is to buy a dual-fuel generator which can run on either gas and propane. Popular Mechanics has a nice break-down of various generator options here.
Install a power outage alarm and carbon monoxide detector
If you’re not ready to invest in a generator just yet, consider installing a power outage alarm. These can be especially useful if you own another property that isn’t always occupied, like a vacation home or commercial offices. A power outage alarm will alert you any time there’s a power failure – you can set up alerts on your phone, in the form of an SMS or get an email. If you do get alerted you can then decide what your next plan of action is; from calling the electric company, to sending someone over to protect your property.
Think about installing a carbon monoxide detector. Extreme storms that cause power outages can also lead to an increased number of carbon monoxide exposures potentially causing carbon monoxide poisoning.
Buy a surge protector
When there’s a huge power outage, your expensive electrical items are at risk from being zapped causing permanent damage. Buying a surge protector can help protect them by diverting the extra electricity into the outlets grounding wire. You can find some great options here with prices ranging from as little as $20 up to $100.
Switch to solar energy
Perhaps not as straightforward as buying a device directly from a store, switching to solar energy stops your home being so dependent on the electric grid. Switching to solar has become super popular especially in states most affected by storms like Texas and California. Switching to solar isn’t cheap – costing between $18,000 — $20,000 on average but can also long term help you save money on your utility bills — not to mention its kind to the planet. The amount of energy you can use will depend on how sunny the climate and ultimately how big your home is.
Clean your gutters
Your gutters are likely filled with leaves and debris leading to clogs. Add endless amounts of rain and you’ll get a recipe for disaster including a flooded basement, leaky ceilings and other such delights. If you’re comfortable getting up a ladder, then go ahead and clean them out before the weather worsens. Take a leaf blower with you or a gutter scooper, anything that can help you make the job a little easier. Alternatively you can have a company come over and do it for you.
Prepare a disaster kit
No matter how many backup generators you own, you’ll always want to be ready for the worst-case scenario.
Here’s what you need in an emergency kit:
- Extra batteries
- A gallon of water per person, enough for 2 weeks
- Cell phones with charger and phone numbers
- Emergency blanket
- First aid kit
- Battery powered radio
- Non-perishable food
- Personal hygiene kit and medication
Check out the Red Cross’s full list
Top Tip: If you have kids, keep your camping gear ready to go. When the power goes out, Rachel Newman, Senior Manager of CX, busts out the camping gear.
“I use my propane stove, and cook the food before it goes bad. I have a battery operated radio ready for my kid. Power outages and blackouts are scary so when she was little I called them “lights out parties”. Keep distractions at the ready like board games, candles and candy. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 we had neighborhood power out parties. Grilling everything with camp stoves and sharing”