How to Prepare for an Extended Power Outage

Superstorm Sandy knocked these trees into power lines in Arlington County, Virginia, in 2012. Arlington County/Flickr

The storm may blow through in one day, but the lights could stay out for a week — or longer. An extended power outage can mean stumbling in the dark, shivering without heat or sweltering without air conditioning, and in some cases, it may threaten your health or safety. The key to staying safe and comfortable during a long power outage is preparation and knowing what to do when the lights go out (and stay out).

Here are a few useful tips:

Before the lights go out

child reading with flashlight under the covers
Flashlights are a must-have when the lights go out, but they're also handy for reading in bed even when lights are an option. maxim ibragimov/Shutterstock
  • Every household should already have an emergency preparedness kit that will meet the family's needs for three days. Much of what you need to make it through an extended power outage will be on hand with the gear on the checklist found at, the emergency preparedness website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest utility system — which serves more than 2 million customers in three states — recommends putting together a “Lights Out Kit” that includes a flashlight for each family member, extra batteries, a battery-powered radio and clock, bottled water, canned food, a manual can opener, first aid kit and Sterno or a similar alcohol-based cooking fuel.
  • Cordless phones won’t work when the power is out, so you should include an old-fashioned corded phone in the “Lights Out Kit.”
  • Should anyone in the house use electrically powered life-support equipment or medical equipment, be sure to ask your physician about emergency battery backup systems.
  • Clearly label fuses and circuit breakers in your main electricity box. Make sure you know how to safely reset your circuit breaker or change fuses. Keep extra fuses on hand.

When the lights go out

portable generator safety
Keep your portable generator outside for safety. Spok83/Shutterstock
  • Pull the plug on motor-driven appliances such as refrigerators and electronic gear such as computers and televisions to prevent damaging electrical overload when power is restored.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. You may want to set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings in advance of the storm. (Just remember to reset the temperatures when things get back to normal.) Food in the freezer can stay frozen for two to four days, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which offers a handy extended section on freezer-related questions. During an extended power outage, you can use blocks of dry ice in the freezer.
  • Use extreme caution when using alternative heating or cooking sources. Never use camp stoves, charcoal-burning grills or propane/kerosene heaters indoors. Don’t use a gas stove or oven to heat the house. They all pose the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 400 people a year die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
  • If you use a portable generator, plug appliances into the generator. Connecting the generator directly to your home’s electrical system can send power up the line and kill a utility repairman working on the power lines. Generators produce deadly carbon monoxide, so be careful where you place the generator and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide monitor. Never refuel the generator while it is running.