KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With cold weather coming, planning how you will keep yourself and your house warm ahead of time if the power does go out is important to take care of before the storm hits.
The biggest suggestion from most sources is to use a generator to power electric heaters for the home, however, it is important to use generators safely. One of the biggest dangers with generators and combustion devices when the power goes out is carbon monoxide poisoning. Ready.gov says to keep generators and fuel outside, at least 20 feet away from windows, doors, and attached garages. They also say:
- Only connect the generator to appliances with heavy duty extension cords.
- Keep the generator dry and protected from rain or flooding.
- Install working carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home.
- Let the generator cool before refueling as spilled fuel on hot engine parts can ignite.
- Follow the generator manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
If a generator is not an option, Jeff Bagwell with Rural Metro Fire said that some options to keep warm could be gas fire places, layering clothing and using more blankets. The CDC also suggests wearing layers of clothing to keep in body heat. Consumer reports suggests using loose layers of clothing as opposed to a single heavy layer, as well as staying dry to avoid the risk of hypothermia.
The National Weather Service Morristown (NWS Morristown) shared graphics online suggesting eating and drinking in order to provide energy for staying warm, putting towels or rags in the cracks under doors, and closing blinds or curtains to keep in heat. NWS Morristown also included in the graphics that if you need to be outside, to dress in layers, cover any exposed skin, and limit the time spent outside.
Other suggestions that could help keep the home warm are:
- Close of any unused spaces
- Keep doors shut
- Dress in warm clothing and in layers
- Staying in a south facing room
- Opening curtains during the day to let in sunlight
- Turning up the heat before the power goes out
- Seal off spaces where drafts can happen such as under doors or around windows, with blankets or towels to keep warm air in
Generally, the use of candles as lights or heating sources is not suggested as it can be a fire hazard. Ready.gov also warns against using gas stoves or ovens being used to heat homes. An article from Consumer Reports explained that using these gas devices could expose people to potentially dangerous levels of nitrogen oxide gasses, roughly twice as high as the outdoor limit set by the EPA. Breathing high levels of Nitrogen Oxide, not to be confused with Nitrous Oxide that is often called laughing gas, can cause irritation in the human respiratory system, and short term exposure can aggravate respiratory diseases and lead to respiratory symptoms the EPA says. The EPA also adds that long term exposure may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.
Several problems can also come when the power goes out, in addition from being cold. The appliances that keep food cold, such as the refrigerator or freezer, can warm up to unsafe temperatures for food storage, power surges when the power comes back can damage appliances and electronics, medical devices may not work, and every day necessities, like communication and utilities, may not work. To prepare for these issues, some planning ahead may be needed, but other risks can be handled quickly after the power goes out.
MIReady, which is a website through the state of Michigan, suggests filling plastic containers with water and placing them in the refrigerator and freezer since cold water bottles keep food cold during a power outage and can also be used for drinking water. MIReady also adds to throw out food that has been exposed to temperatures for more than 40 degrees for two or more hours and to throw out any food that has an unusual color, odor, or texture.
In situations where you are worried about power going out, some also suggest freezing a cup of water and then placing a quarter on top and keep it in your freezer. If the quarter has fallen, the freezer got warm enough for ice to thaw, and the food in that freezer may not be safe to eat. While this trick is often suggested for hurricanes, it can also be helpful if the power goes out overnight.
A source through the City of Seattle says during a prolonged outage, turn off electrical appliances and consider unplugging them before a storm hits in order to prevent fires and equipment damages.
Additionally, most sources suggest keeping a gallon of water on hand for every person, every day along with non-perishable foods. In a household of four where the power may be out for three days, by this suggestion, they should keep 12 gallons of water, although more might be needed because it can be tricky to estimate how long a power outage will be. Rather than needing to buy gallons of water, it can be collected in containers until the power goes out. According to the CDC, when the power goes out, water purification systems may also not work, so tap water may be unsafe after the power goes out. If this happens, they suggest boiling or treating water at the recommendation of local or state health departments.
For those who rely on medication that needs to be kept cool or medical devices that run on electricity, the best way to prepare before a power outage is to contact their medical provider and see how long medications are safe without being cooled, if medication will need to be replaced, and how to maintain their health during the outage.
In addition, it is important to keep in mind what any pets may need if the power goes out, including where they can stay warm and how much water they will need.
EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated to include information from National Weather Service Morristown.