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Thoughts on Winter Outages

Carteach0 recently went through a few days of weather-induced inconvenience, and seemed to come through it pretty well.  We went through a couple of days of touch-and-go with electricity, but thankfully nothing more than a few hours in a stretch.

Here’s some of the things we did to adapt on our end:


We made sure to have a couple of inexpensive LED flashlights with magnets stuck to the refrigerator.  They go for about $3 apiece or less at the hardware store and are basically disposable when the batteries finally give out.  Ours have been getting regular use this winter, but I have a few extras squirreled away in case these start to give up the ghost at the same time we need them.

For illuminating a room, we did a few things.  In the main living area, we had the fireplace and candles ready to go.  Three or four jar candles on top of the china hutch provides enough light to see clearly in most of the room, and the fireplace adds to it.

A couple of new things have been added recently, and they came in very handy.  First, we bought a rechargeable Coleman LED lantern.  It’s the same form factor as the classic lantern, but the bottom is taken up with a battery pack and a storage bay for chargers.  Our model comes with a 110v charger for home use and a 12V charger for vehicles.  It’s kept in my room in the basement, and I plug it in for a few hours every week or so to keep the batteries topped off.  It gave enough light to read by for about 6 hours without needing a charge, and we could have gotten more out of it by using the “low” setting.  It also has a weak, yellow light for use as a night-light if you need it.

Next, we stumbled across LED electrical outlet plates.  Basically, you sacrifice one of the 110v plugs on a wall socket to charge a battery and power several small LED lights that make up the socket cover.  A light sensor on the cover turns the LED’s on when the light level drops, and they were bright enough to light up the bathroom, hallway, and Boo’s room for several hours after the lights went out.  The model we bought has a selector switch that has high, low, and power out settings.  If you use the power out setting, the lights don’t come on as long as there is power to the outlet.  If it’s interrupted and the light levels are low, the LED’s come on.  I’m going to get more of these and put them in strategic places in our basement, like near the circuit breaker and sump pump.


For the most part, we relied on our centrally located fireplace.  It gave off enough heat to keep the living room and our bedroom warm.  That meant that we had a sleep-out in the living room for the kids, but they didn’t complain.  To keep pipes from freezing, we opened up the faucets in the kitchen and bathroom to let them drip.  To keep the kitchen warm, Irish Woman put something on the gas range to cook all day long, which seemed to work pretty well.  I need to put a box of matches or a lighter in the cabinet above the stove, though.  Unfortunately, our gas oven has a cut-off which precludes its use during a power failure.  That kept me from using a trick I learned as a kid:  Bake when the power is out to heat up the kitchen.  Do they even make ovens with pilot lights anymore?

If the outage had gone on for a long time, I may have had to shut off and drain some of the water lines in the basement to keep them from freezing.  I just don’t have a solution for keeping them warm for more than a few hours.


Luckily, we had kept our devices charged, so we were able to let Boo watch a movie or two on my tablet, and we had Internet via our phones.  Girlie Bear continued her reading of Frankenstein for school, and she thought it was neat to read it by candlelight.  Crayons, paper, scissors, LEGO’s, and games were also used to keep Boo occupied.  It was also warm enough that on the second day of blips that he could go outside.  That was the day I took him sledding after work.


I expressly forbid the opening of the freezers unless it was absolutely necessary.  For the rest of the stuff, the refrigerator kept things cool enough, long enough, that we didn’t have to put things out on the porch in coolers, but we were getting ready to do it.  Irish Woman kept things bubbling and sizzling on the gas range, and we ate well.

Things for next time

I’m beginning to consider installing a static transfer switch that would allow us to run a few of the circuits in the house with the generator.  That would keep a couple of lights, the oven, the freezers and refrigerator, and the furnace running in the event of a power outage.

We are definitely going to get a few more of those LED outlet covers and stash the LED flashlights in different places around the house.  Having lights handy was one of the things that worked out well here, and I want to make sure that we improve there.

One place where our preparations failed was the sump pump.  It’s been a wet winter, and the ground around our house is saturated.  Every time it warms up, our sump pump fills up.  Normally, that’s not a problem, and Irish Woman put in a battery-powered backup a few years ago.  Unfortunately, the marine battery that powers it is as dead as disco, so that’s getting replaced and tested.

On the cooking front, I’m considering adding a new stove to our budget for the kitchen remodel that’s looming in our future.  The current one is gas, and we’re going to stay with that.  I’m going to have to research stoves and find out if they still make them with pilot lights instead of electric ignition.  Yes, pilot lights aren’t as efficient, but an oven with a pilot light could have been used to bake or even just be kept at about 200 degrees to warm the kitchen.  This one is going to be expensive, but it will pay off the next time we lose power in January or February.

How did you all make out?


  1. phssthpok

     /  February 11, 2014

    For lighting, few items for consideration:
    http://www.harborfreight.com/all-purpose-solar-lantern-94740.html One for each person. Keep on the windowsill during the day and you are set till bed-time.

    http://www.harborfreight.com/2-piece-solar-spotlight-set-60562.html I use a pair of these at my mountain retreat for reading a lamp and a porch-light. A mason jar filled with sand makes a handy ‘base’. The only drawback is there’s no ‘off switch’ (they come on automatically in the dark), but simply placing it face down blocks the light.

    For the basement pipes. perhaps something like this?: http://www.mrheater.com/product.aspx?catid=41&id=338 hooked up to a 20 lb tank, it should keep temps at least above freezing, and last a good long while.


    • Thanks! I’ll definitely look into the heater.


      • phssthpok

         /  February 12, 2014

        Something I forgot to mention: Moisture.

        Many folks don’t consider that water vapor is a natural byproduct from the burning of fossil fuels. In a cold environment like a basement, there will probably be condensation concerns.


      • My old block basement has enough draft that we don’t normally have to worry about that, but there are places I can safely vent moisture if I need to.


  2. Go for the transfer switch. Even if your generator is only powerful enough to run the furnace, It will save your life in an extended power outage. Since you wont need to run the furnace all the time, you can use it to run the sump and charge electronic devices.


  3. In a pinch, you can charge the sump pump battery via jumper cables from your car. Harbor freight makes a nifty solar charger that can keep your battery charged all the time…but you’ll still have to replace it every three years or so. Look into Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) style batteries, they tend to last longer under that type of use.

    For your oven:

    If you find one that actually can be used in a power outage, please tell us the make and model. I’d buy one if I could find one.

    As an aside, you can use a cheap (~$70) battery backup to run the oven for a few hours…they (generally) don’t use all that much power to run the gas valve and glow plug (the part that starts the flame).


  4. spikedspiegel

     /  February 12, 2014

    I forgot to mention foam insulation in your attic. in most cases, enclosing your attic in foam means the A/c unit is in a conditioned air space, which will lower your heating bill. And in the event of a power outage, make what heat you have last longer.


    • Thanks. Our air conditioner is outside, and the furnace is in the basement. There’s a layer of rock wool insulation on the floor of the basement, but one of my goals is to put another layer of the pink stuff up to improve the insulation.


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