Preparing for Power Failures, Helpful Tips for Homeowners

November 14th 2016
Preparing for Power Failures, Helpful Tips for Homeowners

A lengthy power outage can result in a cold, dark home and damage to walls, floors and plumbing. BC's Emergency Preparedness Program has some invaluable tips to get you through a period of no power.

During a winter power failure:

Check whether the power failure is limited to your home. If your neighbours' power is also out, notify your electric supply authority. If your neighbours have power, check your own circuit-breaker panel or fuse box. If the problem is not a breaker or a fuse, check the service wires leading to the house. If they are obviously damaged or on the ground, stay well back and notify your electric supply authority.

  • Turn off all appliances, tools and electronic equipment and turn your home heating down to minimum for the following reasons:
  • - Tools and appliances left on will start up automatically when service is restored. Turning them off will prevent injury, damage or fire.
  • - Power can be restored more easily when there isn't a heavy load on the electrical system.
  • - Leave one light switch on, so you know when power is restored.
  • - Get out your emergency kit. Make sure it's in a portable container such as duffel bag or suitcase with wheels in case you have to leave your home.
  • - Don't open your freezer or refrigerator unless it is absolutely necessary. A full freezer should keep food frozen for 24 to 36 hours if the door remains closed.
  • - Don't use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide. Because you can't smell or see it, carbon monoxide can cause health problems and even kill you before you know it's there.
  • - Use proper candle holders. Never leave lit candles unattended.
  • - Generators - Before considering the use of an emergency home generator during a power failure, check with furnace, appliance and lighting fixture dealers or manufacturers regarding power requirements and proper operating procedures.

  • Even in very cold weather, it can take several hours for a house with closed doors and windows to become too cold for comfort.

If you have to evacuate during a winter storm:

  • - Turn off the main breaker or switch of the circuit-breaker panel or power-supply box.
  • - Turn off the water main where it enters the house. Protect the valve, inlet pipe and meter or pump with blankets or insulation material.
  • - If you have a standby heating system, make sure it produces enough heat to prevent the plumbing from freezing. If not, or as a sensible precaution, drain the water from your plumbing system. Starting at the top of the house, open all taps and flush toilets several times. Go to the basement and open the drain valve. Drain your hot water tank by attaching a hose to the tank drain valve and running it to the basement floor drain. (If you drain a gas-fired water tank, the pilot light should be turned out - and the local gas supplier should be called to re-light it.)
  • - Unhook and drain washing machine hoses.
  • - Don't worry about small amounts of water trapped in horizontal pipes. Add a small amount of glycol or antifreeze to water left in the toilet bowl, the sink and bathtub traps.
  • - If your house is protected from groundwater by a sump pump, it won't work if the power fails. Clear valuables from the basement floor in case of flooding.

Downed Power Lines:

  • - Call your electric supply authority with the exact location of the downed line.
  • - Keep back a minimum of 10 metres (33 feet) from wires or anything in contact with them and warn others of the danger.
  • - Always assume that the lines are live. It is difficult to distinguish between power lines and other utility lines (for example, telephone or cable lines) and they also carry sufficient power to cause harm. Treat all lines as a danger.

After The Power Returns:

  • - If the main electric switch was turned off, check to ensure appliances are unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge when the power is restored.
  • - Do not enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power is disconnected.
  • - Do not use flood-damaged appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked and cleaned by a qualified technician.
  • - Replace the furnace flue (if removed) and turn off the fuel to the standby heating unit.
  • - Switch on the main electric supply.
  • - Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting appliances. Turn the heating system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by reconnection of the refrigerator and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting other appliances.
  • - If you had to turn water off and drain the pipes, close the drain valve in the basement. Turn on the water supply. Close the lowest valves and taps first and allow air to escape from upper taps. Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on its power supply. Rinse out the dishwasher and washing machine if necessary.
  • - Warm the house slightly above normal temperature for a few hours to allow it to dry thoroughly.
    - Restock your emergency kit so the supplies will be there when needed again.
  • - Food spoilage - Monitor food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards for signs of spoilage. If a freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen for 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. When food begins to defrost, it should be cooked; otherwise it should be destroyed in accordance with instructions from your local public health authorities.