Winter Power Outage Tips for Cooking, Heating, and Lighting
Dinner on the Woodstove
If you live in an area that gets seasonal snow and ice, a power failure may be inevitable during a cold Winter storm.
Most people who have homes or vacation cabins in snowy areas have built-in features that help them to cope with occasional outages. For instance, if you have a working woodstove, your dwelling can be comfortably warm even when it is freezing outside.
Modern homes usually have gas, electric or propane systems for heat. While these are cleaner and easier to use, a woodburning stove can provide effective heating.
You may want a wood stove for the ambience, as well as for practical reasons, but the most important feature is that it will work without electrical power.
You can even warm up soup, or cook a stew on a woodstove without much trouble.
Cast iron cookware or even the crockery inserts used in electric slow cookers can be placed on top for warming canned chili, or beans and franks, opened with your manual can opener.
A traditional open fireplace can also be used for heat but much of the heat goes straight up the chimney, and it is not as convenient for cooking.
One important thing that is required for a wood burning stove or a fireplace is a good supply of dry wood.
The more modern 'pellet stoves' that some people have in their winter cabins, because they are easier and cleaner to use, require an electric burner to ignite the pellets. They are useless in a power outage. Also, when you do have power, you have to buy the fuel pellets and keep a supply on hand, while you may have access to a supply of wood on your own property.
If your home has a kitchen range that uses propane gas, you can probably still cook on it. Electric ignition will not work while the power lines are down, but your propane tank supplies a pressurized flow of fuel and you can light the burners with a match or other lighter. (Be careful to make sure the propane is turned off totally when you are finished.)
Be sure to check your range model. I recently got a new gas (propane) range with an electric ignition and learned that some of the "new and improved models" can NOT be lit manually. Mine can, but if I were buying a new one I would be sure not to get the 'improved' one.
It's dark in the pantry!
Let There Be Light . . . and water.
Flashlights, electric lanterns, oil lamps and even candles should be a part of everyone's emergency supply stash. Don't forget to have batteries, lamp oil and matches!
You will want to have some battery powered lights by your bedside and one in the bathroom. You never know when the outage may happen. If you have a dark pantry, a storage shelf in the garage, or a dark cupboard in the kitchen, you will want a free-standing electric lantern, so you can find that can of chili and beans that you will warm up on the woodstove.
Now, what about water? Water doesn't have anything to do with electric power does it?
It does, if you depend on a well with an electric pump. You should have a certain amount of bottled water stored, especially if you do not have a system that uses a gravity fed storage tank. Of course, in the case of a cold winter storm you can melt clean snow.
If you regularly use a filter pitcher, and maybe keep a filtered water dispenser in the refrigerator, you will have a small ready supply to start with.
In any case, you will want to conserve the clean drinking water that you have. Use hand sanitizers and wet wipes for cleanup instead of doing as much hand washing with water. Use paper towels and napkins where you would normally use cloth. (Your washing machine isn't working, and if it were, it would use water, too.)
You can also save water by not washing dishes. Have a supply of paper plates and bowls, to cut down on water usage. Even if you do not use paper products on a regular basis, you should have a stock for emergencies. Buy them when you see a good sale price.
Nope, not soapsuds.
Snow can replace your refrigerator for awhile.
Snow, the very substance that brings down trees onto the power lines, can be turned into drinking and cooking water when you are careful to collect only clean, untrodden top layers of the white stuff.
Even then, if you are going to ingest it, it should probably be boiled or treated.
Snow also has other uses.
Put on a pair of mittens and you can use the snow to clean utensils and pans. The ice crystals make a good scrubber with gentle abrasiveness and built in water.
You will want to do a proper washing, or at least a boiling water rinse, later, but this snow scrub will remove large food particles and most grease.
The idea of washing dishes brings up another point. Keep dishwashing, laundry chores and other tasks that use a lot of water, done on a regular basis, and up to date -- especially when expecting a storm. You don't want to have a lot of these everyday tasks undone when there is little water and no power.
Fill coolers and tubs with clean snow so you can keep a few things in an ice chest and not be constantly opening the (unpowered) refrigerator.
You should also fill large bowls and containers with snow to put inside your refrigerator to keep the interior cool.
For frequently used items, like milk, take them out of the fridge quickly and then, instead of opening the door again to replace them, put them in your snow-filled ice chest so you are only opening the refrigerator a minimum number of times.
Do not open the freezer, if at all possible. If the freezer is mostly full, the contents should be fine for up to three days or so.
Filling and refilling the bathtub with snow will give you a supply of melting water that you can use with a bucket for flushing the toilet.
Easier than matches.
Matches are a basic emergency item, but even handier and easier to use, are the butane lighters with trigger ignition and a wand. These are very efficient for lighting your woodstove fire, your propane burners, and your candles.
With matches you may need several to get the fire going. Then you need a place to put the hot burned match.
The wand keeps the fire far from your fingers, gives you an extended reach, and stays lighted for as long as you need the flame.
Some of these are meant to be disposable, but you can find refillable ones which can be refilled many times with the same fuel used for cigarette lighters.
The refillable ones are usually a better quality, work better and refilling them is more economical, as well.
A couple more items that might help you by keeping in touch with the outside world:
A land telephone line is important if you live in outage-prone areas. These days many people think they can get along fine with only a cell phone, that needs to be recharged, and might not work well in certain areas.
A land line with a cord connection will still work for an extended period of time even when regular electric power is out. The ones with a plug-in base that let you wander around the house cordlessly won't work when the lines are down.
If you are trying to get an idea of when power will be restored, or just want to hear some news, you want a radio.
A radio might be battery powered, but you may want to have one with a solar and/or crank recharger, or even one that can charge your cell phone.
If there is a weather channel it can also give you an idea about how long stormy conditions will last.
So if you lose electricity during a snowstorm, think of it as an adventure and an opportunity to cozy up by the fire and enjoy dinner. A few preparations will make it less stressful and even an enjoyable experience.
It's not a TV...
If you want to hear about a less serious account my earlier attempts at being unprepared for emergencies, click here.