Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis
If the worst that happened to your house was that the power went out, you’re already doing pretty well. Power outages usually last only a few hours and all that’s needed to survive them is patience. Severe thunderstorms causing widespread damage might knock the power out for days, and regional ice storms could put your home in the cold and the dark for weeks.
Over the short term, your concerns don’t go beyond preservation of refrigerated food and emergency lighting. Keeping a few candles on hand along with several flashlights and extra batteries solves the lighting problem, and not opening the refrigerator or freezer should keep food cold. Longer outages mean major problems, especially in winter. Consider what essentials in your home run off the grid, and find substitutes.
In an outage that lasts more than a day, you’ll need another way to cook if you depended on an electric stove. Camping stoves which run on white gas make good emergency kitchen stoves, but never use them inside. Find a protected area on the back porch or patio for emergency cooking. Barbecue grills require quite a lot of fuel in comparison to a compact gas or propane camping stove. Gas has the advantage over propane, since you can store a one gallon can of white gas in the garage and have enough fuel to cook a daily hot meal for weeks.
Kerosene heaters offer a reasonable solution to emergency heating during power outages. Burn times vary with the model of stove, but a kerosene heater burning about a gallon of fuel per day could keep one room of the house tolerably warm. Stored in approved containers in the garage, an emergency supply of ten gallons of kerosene has a shelf life of about two years. Old kerosene collects water through condensation, and water fouls the wick of the stove. It’s best to switch out kerosene supplies every couple of years. Since water settles to the bottom, carefully pouring off the top two thirds into a new storage container should give you some clean fuel from the old tank.
To keep things running the modern way, you’d need a portable generator. Gasoline-powered generators don’t create unlimited electrical power. A 1500 Watt generator will only run one electric space heater. Larger models provide power for refrigeration, air conditioning, a sump pump and an electric range. A professional electrician could place all the home essentials on one circuit, easily switched over to generator power when necessary.
Storing enough gasoline for the generator creates a new set of problems, including fire hazards like explosive gasoline fumes. Gasoline’s fuel quality drops after only one year of storage. Old fuel could foul the generator’s engine.