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A wintertime power outage can be a pretty frigid affair. Whether a storm damages your power lines or they’re blown down by harsh winter winds, there’s no telling how long it’ll take for the power to come back on. Take a little time now to learn what you can do before, during, and after a power outage to keep your family safe and warm until the lights (and heat) return.

How to prepare before the power goes out

Besides getting your home ready for winter before the temperature drops, there are a few more things you can do to make sure your home is always prepped for a blackout.

If you live in a rural area or a community that’s prone to prolonged power outages, investing in a gas generator can make things a little easier when it comes to keeping some lights on, charging your phone, running a space heater, and preventing costly food spoilage by keeping your fridge and freezer on while the power is out. Plus, having an alternative heat source like a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater can keep you nice and warm — but make sure you learn how to safely operate your generator or heat source before firing it up.

Quick tip: If you’ve recently installed an electric garage door opener or another system that relies solely on electricity, learn to operate it manually before a power outage.

In the event of a blackout, you’ll want to have access to at least three days’ worth of supplies for each member of your household (including pets). Keep a well-stocked winter storm emergency kit on hand and store it where you can easily track it down in the dark.

Putting together your emergency kit? Check these items off your list:

Winter storm emergency kit

  • A portable charger for your cell phone
  • Cash
  • Wood or fuel for your stove or heater
  • A list of emergency contacts
  • A first aid kit
  • Bottled water
  • Candles, matches, and a lighter
  • A flashlight and extra batteries
  • Warm blankets
  • Non-perishable food (and pet food for Fido)

What to do when the power is out

As soon as you notice the power has gone out, take a look around at your neighbours’ houses to check if their power is out too. If you see lights are still on throughout your neighbourhood, check to see if there’s a problem with your own breaker panel or fuse box — and if you can’t safely locate and repair the issue yourself, call your hydro company or a registered electrician who can come investigate. If you notice that all of the lights on your street are out, contact your hydro company to report the problem.

Keep these tips in mind while you wait for the heat to come back on:

  • Pull your plugs. Unplug as many appliances as possible in case there’s a surge when the power comes back on. If your power is out because of a tripped breaker or blown fuse, be sure to pull the plugs before you try fixing the problem.
  • Layer up and stick together. Put on your layers, making sure your feet and head are covered to keep in your body’s natural heat, and grab a cozy blanket for warmth. Still feeling the chill? Snuggle up on the couch with your partner, kids, or pets and get warmer together.
  • Keep the cool air where it belongs. Leave your freezer and fridge doors closed to keep food from spoiling during the power outage. While it might seem tempting to take frozen food outside and stash it in the snow, it could thaw when the sun comes out and attract hungry animals. (Did you know that a full freezer can keep food frozen for up to 36 hours when the door is kept closed?)
  • Stuck indoors? Don’t go for the gas. Using a gas generator, outdoor camping heater, or charcoal barbecue inside your home or garage can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure you carefully read the instructions for your generator or alternative heat source before turning it on.

What to do after the power comes back on

After the power comes back on, take advantage of your newly illuminated lights and make sure you’re prepared in case the power cuts out again.

Now that you have power, consider these practical pointers:

  • Restock your supplies. Be sure to refill your winter storm emergency kit in case of another power outage.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Refrigerated and frozen food is likely safe to eat if the power was out for less than four hours and the fridge or freezer door was left closed (or if it was hooked up to a generator). But if perishable foods like meat, seafood, milk, or leftovers have been exposed to temperatures higher than 5°C for longer than two hours, it’s best to toss them. Did you know that your home insurance policy could cover the cost of groceries that spoil in your fridge or freezer during a power outage?
  • Inspect and repair. Take some time to inspect your home for any damage that might have been caused while the power was out, like frozen pipes, damage to your roof, or flooding in your basement. But before you rush out to make those repairs, consider contacting your insurance broker as your repairs (and the additional living expenses you incur if you need to stay somewhere else in the meantime) could be covered by your home insurance policy.

To learn more about how your home insurance can protect you in the event of a power outage or nasty winter storm, talk to your licensed insurance broker today.

Want to know more about what to do before, during, and after a power outage? Find out what the Government of Canada recommends.