Last March, during Atmospheric River Storm #11, we had a 70 hour power outage at my house, and we weren’t alone. Our neighborhood largely went black at night except for solar landscape lights in some front yards and a very few houses that had either a gas generator or solar with a battery backup.
When our lights flickered again during storm #12, I had that “never again” resolve. Of course, for any emergency we know it’s imperative to have safety items such as flashlights, batteries, candles and a way to light them, emergency food, water, and first aid kit. What else? A hand crank radio is wise to have, too, not just for a power loss but for a severe emergency, such as after an earthquake.
Additional power outage tips
- Fridge and Freezer: Ice in the fridge and freezer can help preserve the temperatures needed for food to stay safe. The FDA says that a fridge needs to be at 40f or lower for food safety. Freezers should be as close to 0f as possible. And, of course, we should limit how much we open the doors since each time it will warm the interior.
- Ice in your ice maker may melt during a prolonged power outage. We hadn’t thought about it until a puddle appeared by the freezer door. If you can load that ice into large plastic bags and seal them, they may help to keep the freezer a little cooler and not ruin your floor in the process.
- Dry ice keeps longer than regular ice. Some grocery stores do carry it and I wish we had thought to buy it on the first day of the outage.
- Camping tools: I confess that I’m not much of a camper, but I was grateful when my husband pulled out his old camping stove and used it to make me breakfast in our backyard. These stoves and their fuel aren’t too expensive and might be a worthwhile emergency backup tool you’d want to consider having.
- Charging laptops, cell phones, tablets: even with our small backup batteries, most of us cannot go 3 days without charging our devices. Luckily the county was not all out of power at once and perhaps each of us had family or friends or an office where we could power up daily. What if it were more extensive? For about $200 a portable power station (electric) can be bought that will get through quite a number of charges for your devices. Here are two that I like (after way too much research – these are NOT affiliate links):
- BLUETTI EB3A Portable Power Station | 600W 268Wh – on sale today on the Bluetti webbsite for $209, it is $299 on Amazon and in between on most sites. It can be recharged quickly in the loud “turbo mode” setting, or 2-2.5 hours in a quieter one. It can be used in conjunction with solar panels (which are not cheap!).
- A close contender at $199 on Amazon is the EF ECOFLOW Portable Power Station RIVER 2, 256Wh LiFePO4 Battery, which also has a fast charge and can work with solar panels. This one has only one 3 prong AC outlet, and the Bluetti had 2.
- You could also consider buying just the solar panels. I opted not to do that since I didn’t think it would work well during a downpour – but it might during a PG&E summer PSP outage.
- Battery backups for sump pumps and garage door openers: we are fortunate and have a dry crawl space that does not need a sump pump, but that’s not too common in our neighborhood. Some sump pumps will only work with the electricity is on – and you might need it most precisely when it isn’t. If you have a sump pump, it might be wise when replacing it to upgrade to one with a battery backup. Same with the garage door opener. Some people are not able to open the garage door even with a release, and if that applies to you or anyone in your home, it might be worthwhile to upgrade it to one with the battery backup.
- Gas generators: I don’t have much info on gas generators but have several family members who swear by them. I will say that they are loud! Prices vary depending on whether or not you want to backup your entire home or just a few items, whether it’s portable or permanently installed. Please be aware that gas generators will be unavailable to buy in stores in California starting in 2028, though. The sales ban has to do with air quality.
- Portable solar landscape lights are a plus during a power outage. Last summer we purchased some “fairy lights” in mason jars with solar lids that can sit on tables, hang from the handle, or sit atop stakes in the ground. At the time I thought they could be useful during a power outage – and they were. The ones we bought aren’t good for reading, but we moved some from the backyard to the front and put others indoors for lighting in bathrooms, hallways, etc. They stayed bright all night long. This is a good alternative to candles, which should not stay lit when people are asleep in the home.
- Solar on the roof with a battery backup is a solid but expensive option. With the battery, your solar generation can actually power your house during the day even in a power outage, and that can be a lifesaver! Of course, if it’s cloudy and storming there may not be much electricity generated. A battery cannot go for days and days if there’s not enough sun coming through, so choices have to be made about how much to use and when. (See above: portable power station.) The batteries that I have checked out recently are pricey at $17,000 to about $22,000 each. This is a huge ticket in the “home improvement” department. That said, when we reroofed last summer, we added solar and a battery backup, and I don’t regret it.
I wish that we didn’t even need to share tips on power outage readiness, but let’s face it: our grid in California a mess. The PG&E employees who are out there restoring our power in horrible conditions (rain, wind, smoke) are our everyday heroes. But choices have been made for decades which were not good for us, the consumers. We need to put ourselves in the position of being ready to do without power at times, sadly.
Do you have any power outage tips that I’ve missed? Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll check out any helpful info to see if it should be added.