lights out

Lights are out?? No Problem!!

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another.  You’re sitting on the couch watching the weather reports about storms moving into your area, and poof!, the lights are out.  If your luck is like mine it will already be pitch black outside.  Now what?  For anyone of the preparedness mindset, it isn’t a big deal at all.  For those that are really REALLY prepared, they notice a flash, a few seconds of darkness, then the lights are right back on because the backup generator has fired up and a transfer switch is routing power from the generator to the main electrical feed for the house.  Most of us aren’t nearly that prepared.  Maybe some of us haven’t invested that kind of money, but we still have a portable generator we can drag out, crank up, and run an extension cord or two into the house (Please tell me you know NOT to run a generator in the house!).  This will work to get some lights and the TV back on, plug in the laptop, and keep the freezer running.  What about the rest of us that either can’t afford or can’t practically keep a generator?  For us, there is the Blackout Kit.  It works well with a Blackout Plan.  We’ll be covering both in this article.

A Blackout Kit is simply that, a kit with stuff in it to break out when the lights go out.  Some folks find it handy to keep all of this stuff together in a box or bag somewhere in the house and some of us have items strategically placed around the house.  Either system will work well if you know where everything is.  I lean more to the strategic placement philosophy myself.  A Blackout Plan is just as self explanatory.  This is just a plan on what to do if the power goes out.  It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, but having it put together can save a little stress.

The basics of a Blackout Kit are means of providing light.  There are countless ways to get this done, but each has unique properties that make it suitable for some needs and horrible for others.  I’ll break the common light sources down and show the pros and cons of each.  I’ll also point out safety concerns as they arise.

1. Flashlights.
This one should be the obvious first item to go into a kit.  Flashlights are designed to provide light for moving around and seeing in the dark.  I like to have them placed throughout the house so one is handy no matter where I am when the power goes out.  Flashlights are usually small and easy to use, and are perfect for seeing well enough to get the rest of your kit from wherever you might keep it.  Modern technology has made awesome advances in these little guys.  For cheap, you can now have LED lights that are far brighter and run longer than their incandescent predecessors.  The major drawbacks to flashlights are they fact that no matter how efficient, they still require batteries to work.  If your batteries run out and you don’t have replacements, your light just became useless.  There are some lights that are hand crank which eliminates the need for batteries, but they rarely produce much light.  Another drawback is that the light produced is very focused in nature.  Using a flashlight to light a room or large area will really show off this drawback.   You know exactly what I mean if you’ve ever tried to use a flashlight for room lighting.  For best results, you can point the light directly at the ceiling, but even then the light is hardly sufficient compared to other light sources.

2. Lanterns.
Lanterns really fill the role of lighting a large area.  When you want to light up a room to allow life to go on as normal as possible, this is the way to go.   There are two common types of lanterns available, fuel burning and battery powered.  Fuel lanterns and lamps usually put out more light, but at the expense of a lot of generated heat and the emission of gases from combustion.  With a small kerosene lanterns and lamps the heat and gases aren’t much.  White gas or “Coleman Fuel” lanterns are probably the brightest large area light sources out there, but they produce a LOT of heat.  Also, burning any sort of fuel indoors can lead to carbon monoxide which can be fatal in high enough concentrations.  Be sure to use in a ventilated area if you need to use one indoors.  There is also a substantial risk of fire when using fuel lanterns.  Make sure they are on a flat stable surface that isn’t flammable.
Battery powered lanterns can avoid these pitfalls.  They produce a lot of light with little to no heat and no carbon monoxide or fire risk.  Their main drawback is the battery power.  They usually use fluorescent bulbs that are pretty efficient, but even so, the larger ones can drain large C or D cell batteries in a few hours.  If you plan on needing to use one for very long, have some batteries on hand.

3. Candles.
Candles really don’t need much in the way of description.  It seems that it is mandatory that if a female resides there, candles will too.  Candles come in every shape, size, scent, and material imaginable. The biggest benefit of candles are the price.  I’ve bought tea lights for as little as 6 cents a piece when I bought 100.  With enough of them, you can make a room bright enough to read.  Like lanterns, candles pose the risk of fire.  Lit candles should always be placed in an area away from anything flammable and should never be left unattended.  It’s also a good idea to use caution with candles as hot wax can cause some pretty uncomfortable burns.

4. Emergency Lights.
Emergency lights are more common in larger buildings, but can work well in the home.  There are some residential versions that simply plug into a wall outlet that constantly keep charged, but switch on if power is lost.  They can be unplugged and moved around if needed.  Larger commercial types mount to a wall and need to be wired directly to the house wiring.  It’s a bit of work to install these type, but they provide a lot of light and for a long time.  I can’t find any downside to the smaller outlet type lights.  The commercial versions have a couple of drawbacks.  First is the price, and second is the fact they are a little unsightly hanging up on the wall.

Most of us will have a mix of these types of lighting available during power outages, as each serves a different purpose.  You will need to make sure that each is up to the task and ready to go at all times.  Regularly check batteries in flashlights and have plenty of spares on hand.  The same goes for battery powered lanterns.  If you use fuel lamps or lanterns, have them fueled up if safe to do so and know where more fuel is.  Candles are pretty easy to have ready.  The only candle related thoughts I have is that you have to have a source of fire to light them, so know where you keep a lighter or matches.  Also, a candle wick that has been lit before will be easier to light.

Blackout plans.
Planning for a blackout can save a lot of hassle when the lights go out unexpectedly.  At the least plan can just involve knowing where your kit is.  A few other things that are worth considering are items that require electricity to be maintained.  First and foremost is the freezer and/or fridge.  If the power outage only lasts a little bit, this isn’t much of a concern.  If power goes out because of storm damage or ice, then it might be off for a while.  If you are in this situation, you might need to guess at how long the power might be out.  If you think it might be several hours, there is not need to worry.  Freezers will keep foods frozen for a long time if they aren’t opened.  If you are concerned about the freezer you can wrap it up in a couple of comforters or blankets to add additional insulation.  Keeping bottles of water in empty space in the freezer will reduce its electricity usage all the time and keep things frozen a lot longer if the power goes out.  If ice is the culprit for the loss of power, that means it is freezing outside.  If that’s the case, you can transport the frozen items outside and put them somewhere out of sunlight and out of reach of any critters and not have to worry about thawing.
Cooking is another area that can be affected by power loss.  A lot of homes use electricity for stoves and ovens.  If this is the case in your house, you’ll have to have other means.  If you need to cook while the lights are out, look outside to your grill.  Propane or charcoal grill don’t require electrical power and most of us are well versed in cooking on the grill.  Camp stoves are another means of cooking.  If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace you are set.  People have been using fireplaces for light, heat, and cooking for centuries.

Another important thing to have as part of the kit and plan is a contact number for your electric company.  When the power goes out, always call to report it to the electric company.  Chances are they already know, but if everyone assumes that someone else has already called in then they may not know about the outage.  You might also want to keep the number for hotels in a neighboring town in case power will be out for more than a few hours in extreme temperatures.

You will have to assess how self reliant you can be without electricity to determine how long you can go without.  A few hours is enough to have some people looking for refuge with family or friends.  Some of us can go indefinitely without.  Some determining factors are who all will be affected.  If you have a baby in the house and inside temperatures will drop into the 40s, then you might need to go somewhere else until power is restored.  If you have someone elderly living with you and inside temperature can get over 90, it will be necessary to get them to somewhere there is air conditioning.

Being prepared can be as simple as a few candles and a good flashlight, but can go a long way in making a power outage a lot more enjoyable.  I’ve found that if the lights go out for a few hours, I see it as nothing more than a chance to test my preps to see what is lacking.  With knowledge gained from these short duration issues, I’m much more confident in my ability to handle prolonged outages.