No lights or fridge? Here’s what to do when the power goes out

Lumo Energy Power Outage

These days, most of us receive an SMS from our electricity distributor when there’s a scheduled power outage, giving us time to plan ahead. In the event of an unplanned blackout, as a result of a storm or heatwave, it’s important to be prepared so you can cope for a period of time without electricity. Here’s what to do when the power unexpectedly goes out.

Get prepared

The best way to ensure you can wait out a power outage without too much drama, is to have everything you need at your fingertips. Maintain a home emergency kit that is easy to locate. Include things like battery powered torches, candles, a lighter or matches and important contact numbers, such as those of your electricity distributor and the state emergency service. You may even want to invest in a solar powered charger for your phone and computer, ensuring that it is fully charged at all times. 

First steps

The first thing to do is check with your neighbour’s to see whether they’ve also lost power, establishing that it is a widespread outage rather than an issue in your house. It’s more than likely that you’ll also receive an SMS from your distributor soon after the event, informing you of what’s going on and giving an estimation of how long it might be before the power is restored. 

If you don’t get a notification or you don’t know who your distributor is, check your electricity bill. The name of your distributor and a number to call in the event of faults or an outage are clearly listed on the top right hand corner of your bill. (See our handy infographic on How to read your energy bill.) You can then call your distributor to find out what’s going on. 

The next thing you should do is turn your appliances off at the wall, to ensure that things like blenders, kettles or electric ovens don’t suddenly come back on when power resumes. Leave one light switched on in a central room, like the kitchen or lounge room, so you’ll know exactly when your power supply has been restored. 

Then, before anything else, put all your mobile devices onto low power mode, turn off any unnecessary apps and turn off your computer, conserving your battery power in case the outage is a lengthy one. 

Light your way 

If the power goes off after dark, it’s crucial that you have something to use for light, so you can find your way around the house and do what needs to be done. Heavy duty battery-powered torches are a reliable source of emergency light, so keep one or two in your emergency kit and a few smaller torches on hand around the house, with a stock of spare batteries as well.

Alternatively, candles are a cheap, attractive and fun way of lighting up your home, with most of us having a variety of scented candles lying around that can now be put to their old-fashioned light-giving use. Make sure you always use candles safely, such as blowing them out when you leave a room, not carrying them from place to place and keeping them well clear of flammable objects, such as curtains or bedding. While the kids might think candles are lots of fun, it’s crucial that they are only used under adult supervision. 

Another cheap source of light during a blackout is solar lights, whether it’s the robust variety you use for camping or solar lights from the garden. Again, make sure your solar lights are always fully charged so they can be enlisted during a power outage. 

Powerless in the kitchen 

If you have a gas stove, then cooking through a power outage isn’t much of an issue, although make sure your cooking area is well lit with a torch or solar lamp. Never use candles near a gas stove.

If your stove is electric, you might want to use your gas BBQ or camping stove, turning your meal preparation into a bit of an adventure. Or, even easier, think about having a meal that doesn’t need cooking, such as sandwiches or a few salads made up of things like tinned lentils, chickpeas or beans. 

However, the main concern for most people during a power outage is what to do about food in the fridge or freezer. Luckily, there are some very clear guidelines set out by the Food Safety Council of Australia as to how long refrigerated or frozen food will last before it has to be thrown out, and it’s much longer than you would think. 

Before you do anything, make a note of the time the power went out so you can keep track of the impact on your refrigerated food. For example, potentially hazardous foods, such as poultry, meat, seafood and ready-to-eat perishable food, will last for up to 2 hours in the fridge. After this, they should be placed in alternative refrigeration (in your freezer if there is room) or consumed immediately (maybe this is your chance to have a slap-up BBQ!). Any potentially hazardous food that is without refrigeration for more than 4 hours must be thrown out. 

As for frozen food, if your freezer is in good working order and operates at minus 15°C, food can stay safe for between 1 to 2 days, depending how full the freezer is. If your food has been in a freezer where the temperature has reached more than 5°C for more than 2 hours but less than 4 hours, you should eat it immediately. Any food that has been stored in a freezer for more than 4 hours at more than 5°C should be thrown out.
While the vast majority of blackouts are fairly brief and pose no risk to refrigerated or frozen food, the most important thing to remember is to open your fridge or freezer only when necessary during the outage. 

Think ahead

Although power outages don’t come around very often, you’ll be glad you planned ahead if one sneaks up on you. Routinely check your supply of torches, spare batteries and candles and get into the habit of charging the batteries in your phone and other devices before they get critically low. 

Finally, try to stay lighthearted through it all. Check out these games to play in the dark that can turn a powerless evening into a chance for some good old family fun.

For more useful information on who to contact during a power interruption, visit Lumo’s Help Centre.

Date: 16 January 2018
Category: Living Sustainably

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