We use our sun oven during a power outage

9 Smart Ways to Prepare for a Power Outage

A power outage. No one wants to think about being in the dark for hours or days at a time, but power outages are a fairly frequent occurrence in many parts of the country. Are you and your family prepared to get through a short-term power outage, lasting a day or two? What about a longer-term outage of a week or more?

Preparing for a power outage involves a bit more than preparing your home for severe weather. Many times, power outages occur without warning. Severe storms, hurricanes, flooding, winter blizzards, and ice storms are just some natural weather events that can cause an outage. We also face risks from cyber-attacks and outdated equipment.

Preparing in advance for a power outage can ensure that your family gets through the emergency safely and comfortably. And the good news is that you can tackle outage preparedness in small steps. Keep reading for nine smart ways you can prepare for both a short and long-term power outage by the end of the summer.

Why Prepare for a Power Outage

Power outages are a frequent occurrence in the United States, and they are becoming more so. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2016 the average power outage lasted around four hours. In 2018, the EIA reports that average outage time increased to 5.8 hours. In 2019, average outage time dropped slightly to almost 5 hours.

With some patience, it’s not that difficult to get through five hours without electricity. However, it’s important to keep in mind that five hours is the nationwide average. When a natural disaster occurs or a severe weather outbreak unfolds, we can be without power for days, sometimes even weeks.

Historic Power Outages

A good example of this is the disaster that unfolded in Texas in February 2021. Millions lost power and drinking water for days amid an unprecedented cold snap, and 151 people lost their lives. What’s even more horrifying is what could have happened. According to NBC, the Texas power grid was just over four minutes away from a total collapse that would have resulted in power outages lasting weeks or months.

This type of long-term power outage could potentially happen anywhere. In a March 2021 interview with Vox, Severin Borenstein, faculty director of the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, stated, “This is going to be a challenge everywhere.”

The Risks of a Long-Term Outage

There are many factors that can lead to long-term outages, and extreme weather is just one of them. As Bloomberg reported in April 2021, the power grid is under serious threat from cyber-attacks. Christopher Painter, a member of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, told Bloomberg, “Everything goes down if you don’t have power: the financial sector, refineries, water. The grid underlies the rest of the country’s critical infrastructure.”

Bloomberg also reports that hackers in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran are mounting increasingly aggressive attacks against the U.S. power grid.

Hopefully, we will never experience a long-term power outage. However, the risk is certainly there, and even the White House acknowledges this fact. A December 2018 report titled, “Surviving a Catastrophic Power Outage,” by the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), had a sobering assessment in the introduction:

“After interviews with dozens of senior leaders and experts and an extensive review of studies and statutes, we found that existing national plans, response resources, and coordination strategies would be outmatched by a catastrophic power outage. This profound risk requires a new national focus. Significant public and private action is needed to prepare for and recover from a catastrophic outage that could leave large parts of the nation without power for weeks or months, and cause service failures in other sectors— including water and wastewater, communications, transportation, healthcare, and financial services—that are critical to public health and safety and our national and economic security.”

How to Prepare for a Power Outage

There are several things you can do to prepare your family for a short and long-term power outage.

1. Make a Power Outage Emergency Kit

When the lights go out, you don’t want to have to search your house high and low for emergency supplies. This is why it’s important to keep all your emergency supplies in one place. Plastic storage bins are a great solution to this problem. They’re roomy, water-resistant, and can easily be picked up and thrown in a trunk if you need to evacuate.

You should also put the following supplies in your power outage emergency kit.


Lights are one of the most important items to stock in your power outage emergency kit. And you have three options here: candles, flashlights/headlamps, and solar lights. On our homestead we have all of these options in our emergency supplies kit. Keep in mind that candles are a fire hazard, especially if you have children, so use these with caution!

Make sure you have at least one flashlight or headlamp per person in your household. Larger battery-powered lamps or solar lanterns are ideal for keeping rooms lit and morale up when the lights are out.

A few years ago we purchased several Luci solar lanterns, and we’ve been very happy with their performance. You get a long life out of a full charge, and you can adjust the light settings to make each charge last longer if you need to.

Extra Batteries

Make sure that you have plenty of batteries on-hand to power flashlights and other devices. We keep a stockpile of Amazon Basics AA and AAA batteries. These batteries are inexpensive and work just as well as other major brands.

Solar Chargers

Batteries will only last so long, which is why it’s a good idea to invest in a solar charger when preparing for a power outage. The Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel is highly regarded among survival pros for its quality and durability. With this charger, four hours of direct sun will provide enough power to fully charge an average smartphone. A less expensive option is the LuminAID packlite solar charger, available at REI.

Manual Can Opener

You probably have dozens of cans of food sitting in your pantry. However, if the power goes out your electric can opener isn’t going to get you any closer to eating them. Make sure you have a manual can opener in your kitchen or power outage emergency kit so that you and your family can eat when the lights go out.

Emergency Radio

If the power goes out because of severe storms or a natural disaster like a hurricane or winter storm, you need to have access to up-to-date weather reports to stay safe. This is why an emergency radio is an essential tool when you prepare for a power outage.

We have the RunningSnail hand-crank emergency radio, and we’ve used it several times during power outages to hear NOAA weather radio or charge our phones. It’s a high-quality, inexpensive radio that has held up well over the years.

Sleeping Bags/Emergency Blankets

You also need to think about how your family can stay warm if the power outage occurs in winter. Make sure you have a sleeping bag for every member of your family, or an emergency sleeping bag like the Life Bivvy.

2. Stock Up on Water

You also need to think carefully about how you will get water if the lights go out for more than a day. We can go up to three weeks without food, but only three days (if that) without water. Water is life.

First, stock up on bottled water and keep it stored in a cool location out of direct sunlight, such as a basement or closet. According to Ready.gov, you need at least one gallon per person, per day, for drinking and sanitation. And don’t forget to stock up on water for your pets. Young children, seniors, and nursing mothers might need more than one gallon per day.

Filtering Water

If you do have city water access during a power outage, keep in mind that water might not be safe to drink. So, you should have several different ways to purify water in your home.

We use a Berkey water purification system, and it’s hands down one of the very best water purifiers on the market. It gets everything out of your water, including feces, 99.999% of viruses and bacteria, and heavy metals, and requires no electricity to operate.

We also have several LifeStraws and Sawyer Mini filters in our emergency packs just in case we have to evacuate.

You can also make water safe to drink by boiling and then using bleach. You can learn more about how to purify water with bleach at the EPA.

Finding Water

You also need to think about where you would go to get water if it was no longer flowing from your tap. Is there a nearby creek, river, or lake that you could access in an emergency? What about a rain barrel?

No one wants to think about having to rely on water like this. However, if the power goes out for more than a few days you might have to do just that. Knowing in advance where water is in your area, and having the means to make that water safe to drink, could save your life in an emergency.

3. Create a Long-Term Food Pantry

How long could your family eat if you were completely unable to get to the store?

It’s scary to think about, I know. However, if you’re interested in preparing for a power outage that could last days or weeks, then you need to think about how much food your family will need to survive. This means you need to create a long-term food pantry.

Ideally, you will have enough food in your home to feed your family three meals a day for two weeks. The following foods are ideal to have on-hand for emergencies:

  • White rice
  • Quick-cook one-minute oats and whole oats
  • Dried pasta
  • Flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Yeast
  • Canned soup
  • Salt
  • Ramen
  • Dried potatoes
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans (canned and dried lentils, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans)
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned fruit
  • Jello mix and puddings
  • Tomato paste
  • Popcorn
  • Powdered milk
  • Cooking Oils (coconut, olive, vegetable)
  • Sweeteners (sugar, molasses, honey, agave)
  • Bouillon (chicken, beef, vegetable)
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Canned meats (salmon, chicken, tuna, beef, sardines)
  • Bacon bits
  • Dry-cured meats (ham and bacon)
  • Grits
  • Beef jerky
  • Coffee, instant coffee, tea, drink mixes like Kool-Aid and Tang
  • Snacks like granola bars, cookies, and chocolate

Keep in mind that you should only purchase foods for your long-term food pantry that you and your family already eat. Stocking up on a new food or brand just because it’s on sale could end up wasting money if none of you like how it tastes (and yes, this is spoken from experience.)

You might also want to invest in freeze dried emergency foods, such as those made by Augusan Farms. And, adding some prepared freeze-dried meals, such as those made by Mountain House, is also a good idea. Remember, when the power goes out it’s going to take longer to cook and do everything. Having some ready-to-eat meals will be invaluable, especially at the start of such an emergency when you’re learning how to adapt.

4. Have Non-Electric Ways to Cook Food

If your power goes out, do you have a way to cook food? If your stove is electric, you might be out of luck. This is why you need an alternative means to cook food.

One option is your gas grill, if you have one, or a wood stove. Another option is an inexpensive camp stove, like a Coleman 2-burner stove. A backyard fire pit is another good option, but only if you have fire-safe cooking pots like a Dutch Oven and a tripod. Keep extra lighters and matches in your emergency power outage kit so you can easily start a fire.

We have a Solo Stove Titan to cook food when the power goes out. The stove is great because it burns twigs and small branches, so we don’t have to worry about running out of fuel, and it’s plenty small enough to fit in a backpack. We also have a wood stove we’re installing this summer to safely cook food indoors, as well as a solar oven that we use all the time for baking and cooking.

5. Know What’s Safe to Eat

When you’re preparing for a power outage, it’s essential to know how long the food in your refrigerator is safe to eat. Eating food that has gone bad can cause serious illness, even death.

According to Consumer Reports, after a loss of power the food in your refrigerator can maintain a safe temperature (40 degrees F or below) for around four hours. Additionally, food can spend another two hours above 40 degrees F before it becomes unsafe to cook. So, once your power has been off for three to four hours, start thinking about how you’re going to cook the food that is about to spoil. This is especially important for meats and soft cheese.

If you have a freezer, keep it closed as long as possible. A full freezer can stay cold 48 hours after power loss if the door is not opened. A half-full freezer will stay cold for 24 hours. If you’re in Day 3 of a power outage, you need to start cooking the food that is in your freezer.

To prepare for this, keep an up-to-date list of which foods are stored in your freezer. This list will be invaluable if the power goes out, because you won’t have to open the door to take stock of what’s in there.

6. Prepare for Personal Sanitation

Will your toilet work during a power outage? The answer for most people is yes, your toilet will likely work. However, it will only work for a very limited time. As soon as your water system loses pressure, the toilet won’t flush. If your building or city cuts off the water supply, the toilet won’t work. Likewise, when the local water treatment plant loses power or their generator runs out of fuel, they won’t be able to process sewage.

Sanitation becomes a hugely important issue when the power is out for several reasons. First, humans produce waste on a fairly regular basis. So, with a family of four, this waste is going to pile up pretty quickly. Second, improper disposal of human waste can quickly spread life-threatening disease and illness.

Start thinking now about how you will handle your family’s sanitation needs when the power goes out. This might mean purchasing a camp toilet, or building an impromptu toilet using a bucket, some garbage bags, and kitty litter. You can find instructions for making a bucket toilet at Preparedness Mama.

Whatever option you choose, make sure you have all the necessary supplies at home before an emergency strikes. You’ll also need to stock up on the following items:

  • Toilet paper
  • Wet wipes
  • Feminine care products
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bleach

7. Organize a First Aid Kit

If you experience a long-term power outage, getting to a doctor or hospital may be difficult or impossible. This is why you need to have a comprehensive first aid kit in your home, as well as supplies to treat traumatic bleeding and serious wounds.

You also need to know how to use all the supplies in your kit. Start now learning how to perform CPR and stop life-threatening bleeding. Pick up a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” by Joseph Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, ARNP. Hopefully you will never need to use these skills, but having them could save someone’s life.

If you or someone in your family is on prescription medication, have several days or weeks’ worth stocked in your first aid kit if possible. Not all insurance companies will approve prescription medications in advance, so check with your insurer to see what they will allow.

8. Buy a Generator

Having a generator is indispensable when the power goes out. We use ours for one purpose: to keep the food in the refrigerator and freezer from spoiling. We’ve had to use it several times since we bought it and, each time, I realized that the $700 investment was worth every penny.

Generators range in price from a couple of hundred dollars to power small devices to whole-house generators that cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 or more. Keep in mind that every generator requires fuel, which means you’ll get power only as long as you have the fuel to run the engine. This makes a generator a good choice for short-term outages, but obsolete for long-term outages.

9. Grow or Raise Your Own Food

Growing at least some of your own food is one of the best ways to prepare for a short or long-term power outage. After all, you worry less about getting to the store when all you have to do is walk out into your backyard for homegrown produce or fresh eggs.

Do what you can to start growing your own food. Start a container garden or build some beds in your backyard. Start raising chickens or rabbits. Do whatever you can to become more self-sufficient so you depend less on others to meet your family’s needs.

Last Word

On our homestead we are prepared to weather a power outage lasting a month or so. We have a garden, raise chickens and ducks, have readily available fresh water from our creek and spring, have a comprehensive first aid kit, a generator, and about two months worth of food put back. However, we have a lot more to do to get ready for a longer-term outage.

I’d love to hear back from you. Is your family prepared for a power outage? What do you need to do to get ready?

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