How to prepare for a power outage

With how reliant we all are on electricity, losing electricity can be pretty serious and costly. Be it a natural disaster such as a hurricane or snow storm or a planned outage such as PG&E’s scheduled blackouts for fire prevention, many are realizing they need to have a backup plan for their power needs.

Generator

The most obvious backup is a gas or propane generator. This can power your fridge all the way up to your whole house depending upon the model. The most efficient generators are called inverter generators which use less gas if you are not maxing out the usage. Some generators can power a fridge and freezer for a whole day on just a couple gallons of gas. Inverter generators can be several hundred dollars more than a regular generator. How often you foresee using it or how much fuel you can store without expiring can help you decide if it is worth it.

Non-Electric Solutions

Need to keep your house warm? Look into getting a wood stove. This can also work as a cooking stove in a pinch. A camp stove or barbecue oven can also be helpful. Propane is another option for warming a house, powering a range, water heater, and even some fridges and freezers. This requires filling a tank periodically or having a tank refilled by a delivery truck. A root cellar or basement can keep many groceries cool enough to not need a fridge. You can get a hand pump as a backup to your well pump.

Water

If you have a well pump, Ideally you can store several gallons of water to use for drinking, washing, and cooking. We use a camping 5 gallon water dispenser for this and it works great. Fill up your bath tubs if you have them with water if you have warning. Keep some five gallon buckets handy to pour into your toilet bowl. This will flush it when your water supply is not working. If you have a creek, rainwater, or access to melting snow, you can use this water for flushing toilets. You can purchase a water filter straw for $10-20 that allows you to drink water from most any source without viruses. It filters out the bacteria and parasites from even creek water. Showers might have to wait. Maybe you can use your bathwater and heat up a pot on a wood stove, but moderating the temperature can be tricky.

Solar

Most people do not realize most people with solar panels cannot use their power off grid or while the power is down. This is to prevent linemen from getting electrocuted from back-feeding onto the grid. If you have solar panels, you will have to have an offgrid or grid interactive system to power your whole house or critical loads (such as fridge, freezer, lights, water pump). They also make grid tied (grid connected like normal) solar inverters that have backup options while the sun is out such as SunnyBoy or SolarEdge’s Secure Power enabled inverters. These have a 15 or 20 amp outlet you can use to power a fridge or charge a cell phone as needed. These work best in conjunction with a small battery to avoid unexpected outages whenever a cloud shades the panels.

You can get small batteries for cell phones for as little as $20 up to larger batteries for hundreds of dollars that can power your internet or even fridge. Find out how much power you need to run your desired loads in Watt Hours and find a battery that fits your needs. Some batteries have USB connections or built in inverters to convert DC to AC so you can use your normal appliances with ease. Do you need internet for your job? Do you need lights? You can even get inexpensive solar panels that fit in a backpack that can at least charge your phone each day.

Do not get overwhelmed with all these options. Just start saving up for a few backup solutions at a time and you will make your power-less life much easier and less stressful. Also take time to think through what are needs and what are wants. Five gallon buckets and water filter straw might serve you just fine instead of needing a whole generator to run your water pump. But if you have the money, the latter will be easier.