power outage resetting a circuit breaker
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Be prepared

When the lights go out: Making the most of a short power outage

Katie Overmonds
July 17, 2023

This past winter, my three-year-old son came home from preschool early with a fever. What I thought would be a productive workday quickly became an hour-by-hour struggle keeping track of his temperature and determining whether his cough sounded “really sick” or just a little bit sick. Oy!

So when just a few short hours later, we were also greeted with a power outage in our neighborhood? I’ll admit I didn’t handle it as calmly as I probably could (should) have. In short, I freaked out.

My mind immediately went to how we would cope (or not cope, more likely) if the power stayed off for a long time. (Food spoilage, cranky toddlers, dehydration, oh my!)

Lucky for me (and my poor family who also had my panic-mode to contend with), the power had come back in our home by the time we arrived back home after going out for breakfast just a few short hours later. Phew!

Preparing for a power outage during the winter season.

Heavy snowfall meant empty roads and no power for our neighborhood this past winter. Greg (my husband) looks cool and calm but Jack (3) isn’t so sure. Photo: Katie Overmonds

Had I known that the power was only going to be out for a few hours, I may have reacted differently, but that’s the tricky thing about most outages … you never know how long you’ll be in the dark!

This blog is for you if you’ve got a planned outage heading your way or perhaps construction on your street or something local is causing the interruption and you know it will be short.

Planned power outage heading your way? Here’s what to do:

With a little preparation and a positive mindset (I could have used a bit more of this!), you can turn this inconvenience into an opportunity for some unexpected fun and relaxation. So, let's dive in and explore how to make the most of a short power outage!

  1. Gather the essentials: Before the lights go out, it's essential to gather a few key items to keep yourself comfortable and entertained. Here's a checklist to get you started:
  • Flashlights, candles, and matches: Ensure you have a reliable light source handy.
  • Battery-powered radio or portable charger: Stay informed and connected to the outside world.
  • Bottled water and non-perishable snacks: Keep yourself hydrated and nourished. Check out this resource from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that gives guidance on how much food and water you should have in your emergency kit and how to properly store your resources.
  • Books, board games, or puzzles: Unplug from technology and engage in some old-fashioned entertainment.
  • Warm blankets or sleeping bags: Stay cozy during the outage if it’s cold out.
  • Hot day? Make sure you have a battery powered fan handy!

Something you may be wondering about: Will my toilet still flush while the power is out? Good news! Your toilet does not require any electricity to operate. It can run even if the power is off. With that in mind, a toilet does require water to function properly – which could leave you in a bind if your water is temporarily turned off.

Charging mobile devices during a power outage for communication.

Make sure you save your phone battery for potential emergencies. This is the perfect time to practice your social media hiatus! Photo credit: Canva Pro library

  • Focus on safety: During a power outage, your safety should always be a priority. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
  • Unplug sensitive electronics: To prevent damage from power surges when the electricity returns, unplug sensitive devices like computers, TVs, and gaming consoles.
  • Use candles responsibly: Never leave candles unattended and ensure they are placed on stable surfaces away from flammable objects.
  • Conserve your phone battery: Use your mobile phone sparingly to make sure you have enough power in case of emergencies. Your cell phone should likely still have service if the outage is localized rather than widespread.
  • Keep the refrigerator closed: Minimize opening the fridge and freezer to preserve perishable food. This is a good tip year-round to save on your energy bills! According to the CDC, if an outage is less than four hours, you don’t need to worry about any food spoilage, nor eat all the ice cream in your freezer (but we won’t judge if you want to!)
  • Make the most of your time: With the absence of electronic distractions, a power outage can become an unexpected opportunity for personal growth and quality time with loved ones. Here's how you can maximize your downtime:
  • Connect with family and friends: Engage in meaningful conversations or play board games together. (Our family loves Code Names and Dixit if you need some board game inspiration!)
  • Read a book: Dust off those books you've been meaning to read but never got around to.
  • Pursue a hobby: Whether it's drawing, knitting, or playing a musical instrument, use this downtime to indulge in unplugged activities that bring you joy.
  • Reflect and meditate: Take advantage of the quiet atmosphere to practice mindfulness or meditation. (If you’re a worrier like me, this can be incredibly helpful during a somewhat stressful situation.)
  • Looking for other ideas? The OhmConnect community came up with a list of 61 ways to spend time unplugged. Check it out, here!
Heading outside to assess the situation during a power outage

Got green space or a great hike nearby? Head out of the house and enjoy it! Photo credit: Canva Pro photo library.

  • Embrace the outdoors: If the weather permits, consider heading outside and enjoying nature. Here are a few ideas:
  • Go for a walk or hike: Explore your neighborhood or nearby trails. Breathe in the fresh air and appreciate the beauty around you. I bet you’ll see some of your neighbors also without power out and about too! Not sure where to go in your ‘hood? Check out AllTrails for some peer-reviewed nature walks near you.
  • Have a picnic: Pack some snacks and head to a local park for an outdoor meal.
  • Stargaze: Once darkness falls, use the opportunity to check out the stars and constellations. Consider downloading a stargazing app on your phone to enhance your experience.

A short power outage doesn't have to be a source of frustration. Instead, (if you can) try to view it as an opportunity to slow down, disconnect from technology, and reconnect with yourself and loved ones. By preparing a few essentials, focusing on safety, and embracing alternative activities, you can turn this unplanned break into a memorable and enjoyable experience. (Or at the very least, not spiral into panic like I did!)

Remember, a power outage is only temporary, and the lights will come back on soon. In the meantime, make the most of it, create lasting memories, and appreciate the simple pleasures that a lack of electricity can bring.

Stay safe, stay positive, and enjoy your time unplugged!

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