A prolonged power outage in the wintertime can be an extremely trying experience. Learn how to be ready for such an eventuality and keep inconveniences to a minimum.

Emergency kit

Start by organizing an emergency kit that will allow your household to be self-sufficient for up to three days without power:

  • Drinking water: plan for two litres per person per day
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Manual can opener
  • Battery-powered radio and spare batteries (to stay informed about the situation)
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Candles
  • Lighters or matches
  • First-aid kit

Generator… and energy-efficient bulbs

If you want to be able to dig in at home for the long haul, buy a portable generator. See our Tips & Tricks article on how to choose one.

With a generator, there will be limited power available for lighting. You can boost generator-powered lighting capacity by proactively replacing your traditional incandescent light bulbs with low-energy models, like compact fluorescents and LEDs.

Central heating in emergency mode

If you have a generator, your gas- or oil-powered or bi-energy central heating will still work. The generator will power the system’s electronic controls as well as the fan, pump, or burner.

Standby heating

A wood- or gas-fired standby heating unit doesn’t require electricity to work. And in a power outage, a gas-fired stove’s electronic ignition system can be powered by a backup battery—or you can simply be light the gas with a match.

Chimney cleaning and adequate reserves of wood fuel

Don’t wait for a power failure to have your chimney cleaned. If it’s dirty or clogged and you start using it intensively, this could lead to a backdraft, poisoning or even a fire.

If you don’t use your fireplace often, the chimney could actually be dirtier than one that sees regular use. The rule of thumb is to have your chimney cleaned every year or as soon as creosote deposits on the chimney walls have built up to 3 mm.

Likewise, be sure to regularly replenish your supply of dry hardwood. Moist wood, softwood logs, painted or treated wood, or pieces of wood with glue in them are simply not options for burning. See Choosing the right fuel wood.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

A smoke detector is a must in the home, of course, but if you have a combustible-fuel heating appliance (i.e., one fired by heating oil, natural gas or wood), make sure you also have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector installed and that it is working. Intensive use of combustible fuels during a power outage increases the risk of poisoning.

Install the detector near living areas and bedrooms. Read our Tips & Tricks instalment on detectors for more information.

A fondue warmer? Sure, but…

To cook a few warm dinners during a power outage, a fondue set can be a good alternative to the stove. If you don’t have one, buy one—and some extra fuel as well.

You shouldn’t consider a fondue warmer a long-term option, however—if only because using one poses some real risks. For example, trying to refuel a warmer that hasn’t cooled sufficiently could cause an explosion, which might severely burn the people sitting around the table.

Barbecue… but keep it outside!

When the power goes out, a barbecue is one of the best cooking solutions if you don’t have a generator. Whatever you do, though, never use a barbecue indoors.

Be ready: don’t store your barbecue too far back in the garden shed, and make sure there’s still propane in the tank at the end of the season. Pressing a barbecue into service during winter is possible.

Guarding against power surges

When the power goes out, you should turn off all electrical appliances and electronic equipment, to prevent them from being damaged by a power surge once the electricity is restored. You can also buy a surge protector (also known as a surge arrester) to protect your appliances.

A surge protector, which connects to your home’s main electrical panel, must be installed by a certified electrician. It will protect the circuits to which your large appliances and other electrical devices are connected. Before installing it, the electrician will make sure your home’s electrical system is properly grounded—if not, the surge protector will not work. 

Sump pump

If your home is equipped with a sump pump to prevent basement flooding due to a high water table, make sure to connect it to a battery. The pump will need to keep working if the main power is cut off.

Food kept in the fridge and freezer

Once the power goes out, you should open the fridge and freezer doors as little as possible: that way, the food inside should still be safe to eat if the outage lasts only 24 to 48 hours.

If the power is out for longer than that, though, losses are inevitable: perishables like dairy products, meat, poultry, fish and eggs must be thrown out if they’re exposed to temperatures higher than 4°C for longer than two hours. Also, never refreeze any food that has completely thawed.

Check whether your home insurance policy includes coverage for spoilage of food that was in the freezer. You may need to make a claim.

Plumbing antifreeze

Add a container of non-toxic plumbing antifreeze to your list of preventive purchases. If a prolonged power outage forces you to evacuate your home, you can guard against pipe bursts due to freezing before you leave by:

  • shutting off the main water inlet valve;
  • opening all taps to flush the pipes; and
  • pouring non-toxic plumbing antifreeze into all toilet bowls as well as all sink and bathtub drains.

For more information

See the advice page on the Public Security Ministry website to know what to do in the event of a power failure.