A power outage is something we have no control over, but we can control whether or not we are prepared. There are several options for homeowners who have temporarily lost power.

  • Battery operated flashlights and lanterns are probably the safest, most convenient way to provide lighting. Propane lanterns and candles also work well. Propane powered camping equipment, such as stoves and water heaters, are also convenient substitutes.
  • Cyalume sticks (glow sticks) are another alternative lighting source. These are available at sporting goods stores and are activated by bending the short plastic tube to mix the chemicals inside. Once activated, cyalume sticks can provide light for up to eight hours and can be used to illuminate walkways and provide low level lighting.
  • Small, portable gasoline or diesel-powered electrical generators can be used to provide electricity. These should only be operated outdoors and can be temporarily connected by properly sized extension cords to limited electrical equipment in the home, such as refrigerators, freezers, or heaters. Small portable generators are not the same as large backup generators that can power a home or business.
  • If the power goes out in the winter, homeowners should be cautious. Using a portable heating unit that uses open flames can be hazardous. In addition to the hazards of fire, combustible materials and burns, using an open flame in an enclosed area can be a health hazard. Note that the likelihood of freezing to death in a home or other enclosed area such as a tent or camper is much lower than that of death or injury from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
  • Since blower motors on a central heating system won’t work during a power outage, an indoor space heater connected to the home gas system is an option. A portable generator can provide electric heat on a limited basis, but the generator should be operated outdoors and fueled regularly. These generators can be noisy, and the exhaust can be hazardous.
  • Another consideration during a power outage is that prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can damage home plumbing, causing broken pipes and water damage. The kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room and other areas where the plumbing is susceptible to freezing should be considered when placing temporary heating units.
  • Several manufacturers offer portable propane powered heaters for indoor use. They are equipped with a safety device called an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) and are economical to purchase and easy to operate. A portable propane heater without an ODS should not be used in enclosed areas. When using any portable heating or lighting device with an open flame, always leave a door or window slightly ajar for ventilation.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is a byproduct of combustion and is tasteless and odorless. Early symptoms to CO exposure include nausea and headache. Continued exposure can cause coma, cardiovascular failure and death. When using an open flame heater or lantern indoors, be sure to have a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm to monitor the air. Always follow manufacturer’s guidelines for operation and service of any heating unit.


By: Richard Beard - Oct. 26, 2007