Items to have for power outages
January 29, 2013 5:43 AM   Subscribe

What items (gadgets) should I have on hand for power outages?

Greetings all, with two recent power outages at my house in the past 4 months that both lasted at least 48 hours, I am wondering what items/products/gadgets I should have on hand to make life more comfortable during the next outage?

I have the basics like candles, a first aid kit, bottled water, canned food, a flashlight, etc, but is there anything else that I could buy and have on hand? I like practical items and follow the EDC lifestyle (Every Day Carry), so I like to buy products/gadgets that are useful.

I am thinking things like a crank radio that also changes my iPhone, maybe a generator, etc.

I am open to any suggestions! Thanks!
posted by dbirchum to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A battery charger, an LED lantern, important phone numbers, a warm cover, water containers, and a good book.
posted by devnull at 6:00 AM on January 29, 2013

You have a flashlight but I have found that headlamps make life alot easier when you are trying to do things with no power.
posted by Busmick at 6:01 AM on January 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

A deck of cards.

Don't fight the power, dbirchum, look forward to the downtime and prepare yourself with something that you don't often get to do when the power is on.
posted by three blind mice at 6:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Portable generators are dangerous. I'd consider a stationary generator installation, and one that runs on natural gas if you already have natural gas (otherwise, diesel or gasoline). It doesn't have to be big, just enough to run the fridge and a couple of outlets in the kitchen for charging phones/computers and running a microwave, and it should have an automatic switch so you don't have to be home to turn it on and save the contents of the freezer.

Candles are likewise dangerous - never leave them unattended.

Brand-name LED lanterns (Rayovac, Coleman) are surprisingly bright and last a heckuva long time.

LED flashlights are so much better than old fashioned flashlights, it's not funny. Cheap aluminum ones are available for $2/each - buy a box of them and salt around the house with modern alkaline batteries (Energizer Powerseal batteries, for instance, are designed to sit for years in storage.)

Your car makes a great emergency charger - make sure you have an AC power converter and/or a multi-port USB adapter.

A gas BBQ or portable gas hibachi - use outside to cook stuff and boil water. Always have a spare tank of propane.

Electric tea-lights are incredibly useful - a few in any room will keep you from colliding with the furniture. Really handy in the bathroom.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:05 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Small camp stove + fuel, if you've got access to an outdoor space. Otherwise, sterno + coffee can makes an ok nonelectric cooking surface.

Medium-sized cooler for stashing perishables- much easier to pack with ice than a whole fridge or freezer.
posted by Bardolph at 6:07 AM on January 29, 2013

The Red Cross list is moderately comprehensive.

Items of note:
Cash. ATMs don't work so well during power outages.
A full gas tank. Same with gas stations.
Save the candles for when you run out of batteries. Buy more batteries.
posted by zamboni at 6:08 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd argue against the mobile batter chargers, they're expensive for their capacity and they only really get used when you're travelling-- a better solution for a home during a power outage is getting a good sized UPS, and it serves a purpose when you don't have a power-outage.

Make sure you buy one that enables you to turn off the power-outage alarm, then you can just use it as a power port when you need it during the powercut. Charge or run a LED/CFL lamp off it, charge your phone, laptop, etc.

Makes life so much easier.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:08 AM on January 29, 2013

You might find helpful the answers in my similar question.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2013

Glow Sticks. We had our power go out recently and I had a stock of glowsticks that I use as rewards for my stepson. We broke some of those out and you know, they made life a lot easier. No flames to worry about, they last a long time, you can "colour code" things...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:13 AM on January 29, 2013

The Eton hand crank radio is a popular incentive with the local public radio station (NPR affiliate) in South Florida. It also charges a cell phone.

As for canned food, rotate through your stash and get rid of things you don't want to eat on the regular. Because if you won't eat it with everything is fine, consuming it during a disaster/power outage will be double unfun. (I speak from hurricane experience) Here's a previous about hurricane food. Also rotate the bottled water and keep in mind that the general guideline is one gallon per person per day. Plan for extra people. Also add baby wipes, because conserving water...yay. (And speaking of water, you know you can flush a toilet by pouring water into the bowl? The amount varies by toilet, but it's a handy fact.)

Headlamp, you can get one with an LED bulb for under $10.

Here's another previous question about making a survival kit.

And a more recent question that was from the time of Hurricane Sandy.

I'd say have some books around if you're a reader, paper if you're an origami folder, or knitting if you're a knitter. Basically, now is a good time to develop a hobby or habit that doesn't rely on being connected.

Also compile and post a list of your local emergency contact stuff - non-emergency police, electric company (in case you see the case of the power outage. If nobody calls they can't come fix it!) And a list of folks out of town/phone tree so that people can be notified that you're ok without draining your cell phone battery (you call two people and they each call two people..Because when people hear "massive power outage" for some reason the first thing they do is try to call....)
posted by bilabial at 6:15 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a car battery jump-starter thing that I can also use to charge cell phones, etc. It's another alternative to portable battery chargers (if you have a car - if not, you're probably better off with the UPS).

One thing I missed very much during a major outage last year was my electric coffee grinder. I had the beans, I had the means to make coffee (French Press and kettle on gas stove), but I could not grind them! So now I keep a stash of ground beans just in case. (Also I don't have a gas stove anymore but I do have a tiny backpacking stove.)

Things I loved during my power outage included my headlamp(s) and my big huge canning kettle, which I used to heat water on the gas stove for washing my dishes and myself. But if you have an electric stove the canning kettle will do you no good.
posted by mskyle at 6:27 AM on January 29, 2013

If you have a car, car chargers for your electronics. We like these led flashlights, they have a magnet and a hook for hanging up, and both a flashlight and area light function. The batteries go bad from age before they go dead. You can also fill the empty areas of you freezer with jugs of frozen water. It make you freezer more efficient day to day, but holds the cold during a power outage. We transfer a couple jugs to the fridge, and then take the stuff we will need (milk, food we will prepare) out of the fridge an put it in a beer cooler so we don't have to open the door.
posted by 445supermag at 6:29 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was coming to say glow sticks and also glow necklaces (you can usually find a big pack of them in the party supply or camping section of Target etc, or a party store), which make fantastic runway lights when hung off doorknobs and set on furniture you might walk into. You could probably fashion several carnival-type games with them, for entertainment.

Do a 4-season (or however many seasons you realistically have) assessment. Obviously very cold weather power outages are more dangerous, but my last post-bedtime power outage was during a heat wave and it was disgusting in the house without any fans. We could have slept on the patio where it was 20 degrees cooler, except we had no means of doing so unless we wanted to wrestle the mattress off the bed - no lounge chairs, no cots, not even camping mats or air mattresses.

Keep your car prepped as well, since you might not be at home. The above power outage was the great San Diego County whoopsie of 2011. I was at work, and it took me 4 hours to get home since all the stoplights were out - and I was nearly out of gas and with a dead phone because I didn't have a charger. I could have parked and walked the last couple of miles, except I didn't have a flashlight in the car and I was wearing work shoes that were not amenable to a two mile walk. A little portable radio so I could follow the AM news station would have been a plus, too.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:36 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A full tank of gas in your car and a siphon hose for removing gas from it to run your generator. Don't drain it all the way, of course, you'll need gas if you need to go somewhere, but this is a good way of storing 10 gallons of gas to run your generator for a couple of days. Gas doesn't store well long-term.

If you use a portable generator, have a couple long (50 - 100 feet) heavy duty extension cords. Run the generator away from the house and run a cord in through a window. Fill the gap with a towel or some other insulating thing.

A camp stove or a gas grill with a burner came in handy for me. Before bed I boiled a gallon of water and kept it in a cooler over night. In the morning I had enough hot water to sponge myself off, shave and wash my hair. This way I didn't have to get up and boil water first thing in the morning.

You can buy a pack of four or so small LED flashlights at Home Depot for very little. Keep a flashlight in every bedroom in case the power goes out in the middle of the night. In addition, a decent headlamp is nice to wear around the house. Flip it on if you need it. I'm a backpacker, so I have a very nice Petzel LED headlamp that I use anyway, but that might be overkill to have only for a power outage. You can buy cheaper ones at Home Depot.

One advantage of being a camper/backpacker is I have a lot of gear that I can use during a power outage. A small french press and hand crank coffee grinder is a godsend as long as you have a means to boil water.

Remember, too, if you're anticipating losing power that is the time to keep all your stuff charged, fill the car with gas, fill a portable gas can or two, get a new tank of propane for the grill, make sure your generator starts, and get some batteries. They sell out of batteries very quickly when a storm is coming so do it as soon as you hear their *might* be a storm. I follow a couple local meteorologists on Twitter so I was aware of Sandy long before it became OMG SUPERSTORM SANDY EVERYBODY PANIC! Luckily I never lost power.
posted by bondcliff at 6:49 AM on January 29, 2013

Land-line telephone service, with at least one phone that's not cordless (that is, plugged directly in the phone outlet) so it works with the power off.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have the correct tools to be able to shut off (and turn back on) everything you own, always. One of the correct tools is knowledge, even if that's a laminated card showing you the steps that you keep by the water main.
posted by Etrigan at 7:30 AM on January 29, 2013

A full tank of gas in your car and a siphon hose for removing gas from it to run your generator.

Don't count on getting any gas out of the tank of a modern car; most have an anti-siphon feature built into the filler neck. If you need gasoline get some in cans and use fuel preservative.
posted by caddis at 7:39 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in a semi-rural area and lose power a couple times a year, sometimes for a day or more. I have a gas stove, so I can cook, and it can provide a bit of heat (no oven w/out power), wood stove (and plenty of wood) that can heat the house enough to protect the pipes from freezing, and keeps the living room cozy, oil lamps (and oil), books, and a crank/ solar/ battery radio/ flashlight/ usb charger. I have basic camping gear, and used the camp stove in my old house a couple of times. Candles, oil lamps and other uses of fire require experience and common sense. A candle in an appropriate container lends a lot of cheer. I have lots of led flashlights, headlamps, batteries, and a couple led lanterns, and with an oil lamp and an led lamp, I can read comfortably. I live in Maine, and have lots of wool sweaters, fleece, etc.

I keep an oil lantern on top of the refrigerator, and flash lights in the kitchen. If I know there's big weather predicted, I get out the go bag, so I don't have to rummage in the dark if I need it. I turn the fridge to a colder setting (food that starts out colder takes longer to defrost). I keep water bottles in the freezer anyway; they're handy. In winter, I turn the heat up (house starts warmer, stays warmer longer). I bring in lots of wood. Most of all, I keep the phones, laptop, iPad, on chargers. In winter, I keep soup, and stuff to make soup, on hand. If the power goes out, I put a candle lantern on the kitchen stove; it's nice to have a light on.

It's not unpleasant at all to curl up in a chair, near the fire, with a good book and a cup of tea, by lantern light.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on January 29, 2013

A printed copy of all the phone numbers (family, emergency contacts, gas/electric companies) you might need to contact and a land-line phone that doesn't need additional power. We were not happy the time the power went out, the cell phone was dead, and we couldn't google the number for the power company like we usually do.
posted by belladonna at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is one case where having a phone book stashed away can be useful.
posted by mmascolino at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

dbirchum: "I have the basics like candles, a first aid kit, bottled water, canned food, a flashlight, etc, "

At the risk of asking the obvious: is one of your supplies a manual can opener?
posted by jquinby at 8:21 AM on January 29, 2013

Aussie brand Bushranger make a great 12volt power pack into which you can plug any 12 volt (i.e. cigarette lighter) adaptor and you can buy a 12volt light (over and above the built in torch). The light adaptor lasts for something like 18 hours before needing a recharge and can either sit on the pack or hang from somewhere. I used to camp with one, and charge it either in the 4x4 when driving or from a normal electrical power supply.

If you can't get one of those, then get a 12volt power pack and make sure you can both run cigarette lighter adaptors off it and charge it in the car. The light was a livesaver though and made me the envy of my fellow outback campers.

We also made heavy use of our power inverters when driving. It saves having to go out and buy car chargers for every gadget.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess "preparation" is important here: keeping a few empty one-gallon milk jugs in the basement that you can freeze full of water when you know a storm is due is a good example. And knowing what your neighbors have -- and may need to borrow/share -- is also good.

I am glad that we have a small electrical inverter now, but I would prefer a generator on a cement pad. *shrug* Working against "the perfect is the enemy of the good" means that we keep three or four gallons of frozen water in our chest freezer 52 weeks a year against the few times that we lose all our juice. My FiL has a sweet generator now, and if he gets to use it in the next year or so, I will push my wife to get one of our own. :7)

Similar to preparation is some planning: when the power went out two years ago, we were new to gas appliances -- so it never occurred to us that having natural gas meant that we also would have hot showers. (Hey, it was summer.) Now we realize that having gas (and a box of matches) means we get hot food & hot water, which is awesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:09 AM on January 29, 2013

A power failure light, which will automatically switch on and double as a flashlight so you can find those other emergency supplies easily!

A USB solar charger for phones. We have one of these, which is small and light because it charges directly to your device's battery rather than to its own.
posted by bunji at 10:46 AM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: I live in a rural area where the power goes out frequently. At least once a month on average; more in winter when it's stormy. The power is usually out for 6-24 hours, depending on the severity.

Aside from water, people food, and pet food, my #1 most crucial item is a combo move:
  • Sterno
  • Fondue pot apparatus (the bit you set the pot on)
  • Ground coffee
  • Bialetti Moka pot
  • Lighter/matches for Sterno
You fill the Moka pot and set it directly on the fondue rack. With these items plus the bottled water from #1, I can have hot fresh coffee within 15 minutes at any time. This, for me, is absolutely critical.

You can also cook food in the fondue pot - boil water, the whole thing - so this is a great thing to have on hand.

#2 is lighting. Forget candles: they drip wax and are a fire hazard and don't provide much useful light at all.

I have a fairly serious battery powered LED lantern, it takes 4 D batteries and provides enough light for everyday activities like reading and such. I also have a Petzl brand headlamp which is invaluable, and which I use daily.

#3, for longer power outages, I have a medium-size Coleman cooler and I keep ice packs in the freezer. You get 12 hours for a fridge if you're careful about opening it, but after that, perishables should be stored in a cooler to be on the safe side. (When not in use, it serves as my ad hoc wine cellar.)

I don't bother with a lot of the other gadgets you can buy. Most of the ones I have tried have either broken easily or not worked as well as promised.

Fancy unusual solar or crank chargers, for example. If there's a power outage, unless things are truly dire, you can always just bring your regular charger to a coffee shop or friend's house or work to charge your things.
posted by ErikaB at 12:52 PM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: I have a decent sized single family home on a decent lot close to a downtown area in a mid sized city (about 60k for the town, about 250k for the metro area). I say this because what I do may not be suitable for an apartment dweller or a rural property owner.

I keep about 5 gallons of gas in rotation between three gas cans fueling things like lawnmowers and pouring some in my car if it starts getting about 6-9 months old. This gives me a reserve for the car and for two Coleman lanterns and a Coleman stove, all of which are duel fuel and will burn everything from avgas to kerosene but runs great on unleaded pump gas. Using these can be dangerous though as they can start fires, give off CO and CO2 and should be used with care. In a pinch the Coleman lanterns also give off lots and lots of heat and can keep a room pretty warm even if a window is left cracked for ventilation. I grew up using these things while camping and am really, really comfortable with them, YMMV. I also keep lots and lots of led flashlights and headlamps with lots of spare batteries around cause you don't always want to light up a Coleman lantern, about 2 per person in the house with 5 or 6 battery changes for each.

I also have a propane grill with two bottles that i try to get as full as possible, one always being full and when it get close to empty I switch it out and refill. I also have a small portable Coleman grill that uses the little propane cylinders you can buy anywhere and have one of those converters you can use to refill them at home (once again-not really a safe thing to do and DON'T if you don't know what you are doing).

I use empty two and one liter soda bottles full of tap water to keep the freezer 'buffered'. meaning I move them in and out to take up empty space in both my kitchen freezer (bottom of the fridge) and my chest freezer in the basement. This gives me an extra two days of thawing before disaster and I keep eyeing those little quiet generators that all self contained that are just barely big enough to run the freezer to keep that going for as long as my gas lasts, which is several days/a week or two at least.

as for extra stuff to know when power goes out-turn off absolutely everything in your house that you can except for maybe one light or such so you know when the power is back on. This is mostly to make the balancing easier on the grid when it re-energizes. Open circuits when energized can cause some weird inductance problems for AC circuits and it really helps the power company (so I have been told-I am not that kind of engineer). The easiest way to do this is to flip the main panel breaker on your electrical box and just watch for street lights to come back on.

I have learned how to open my electrically operated garage door without power-those things are heavy and if you don't know how to open it, it doesn't matter how much gas your car has-it ain't going anywhere. This also goes for any other electrical operated gadgets around the house-skylights, gates, curtains, etc.

I also have chainsaw for dealing with downed trees in my yard-however if you don't have yard, trees or how to use a chainsaw, leave it to friendly neighbors-we love this stuff and always need to feed our wood stoves and chances are we need that tree gone to get somewhere also.

make sure you have some kind of non electrically power entertainment as well. Internet withdrawal is serious and you want to save your phone battery to actual phone calls. Board games, cards, books, puzzles, crochet, chores you never seem to quite get to-like cleaning out the now flooded basement.

Oh, I also have a solar charger for the car batteries and flashlight batteries. Those solar powered path lights are actually pretty good for this, most can be opened up and everyone one I have checked uses either AA or AAA rechargeable batteries. A day in full sun will charge most eneloops (the best rechargeable batteries out there) right up.
posted by bartonlong at 2:01 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you lost power, there may have been a storm, in which case you might want to pump water. I keep a dc sump pump and a car battery in my basement in the event that I need to manually run my sump pump or otherwise move water. Nothing worse than a flooding basement and no power to pump it out.
posted by PSB at 3:46 PM on January 29, 2013

Response by poster: Awesome. Thanks SO much for the info! I am researching a lot of options as we speak! Thanks again!
posted by dbirchum at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2013

« Older Best DVD commentaries?   |   Martial Arts for Weight Loss Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.