In this first article in our series of No-Stress Emergency Preparedness, we look at how you can thrive during a power outage even if you do not have a working generator.
We’ll start with those that cost little or next to nothing, and work our way up to some of the pricier possibilities.
If you are on a tight budget, you might not want to scroll all the way down.
We’ll start with less of a tip and more of a warning. Although candles are generally cheap to use and can be useful, they are also a fire hazard.
Use them as a last resort, and do not leave them where a toddler or pet could knock them over.
Make sure you have a few hand-cranked dynamo devices at home that have the following features:
- A built-in rechargeable battery, but also has the ability to take regular batteries.
- Radio and NOAA alerts.
- A built-in LED light.
- An outlet to charge your cellphone.
If you would like to understand how a dynamo works, you can learn by building your own hand-cranked dynamo. This video will show you how:
LED lights are great during a power outage because:
- They give you more mileage out of your batteries as they use up to 15% less power than regular incandescent bulbs.
- They almost never need to be replaced as they can last for up to 60,000 hours. You would have to leave one on for more than 6 years before they “burn” out.
- Current LED technology is surprisingly bright – so bright, actually, that they can be painful to look at, just like halogen incandescent lights.
While you’re at it, get LED headlamps for everyone in the family for hands-free use.
Glowsticks may be useful items to have during a power outage because they provide a decent amount lighting, don’t result in open flames, and are cool to the touch. They are also waterproof, and are easy to transport and store.
The flip side is that they last for only about 6-8 hours and are one-time use only. Also, they have a finite shelf life. It’s not the most environmentally friendly option either.
We would recommend that you just go with a few small battery-operated LED flashlights instead.
The reason we even mention them here is that many people may already have a bunch of them and that they have one unique advantage in a disaster setting.
Because they do not have electrical components, they are safe to use in potentially explosive situations, such as when there is a concern of gas leaks after a disaster.
Glowsticks have the added side benefit of being fun distractions for kids when the lights go out.
This video sums up the pros and cons of a glowstick pretty well.
This is going to be obvious but we’ll say it anyway because it’s important. You need to have a stash of alkaline batteries in the sizes that match the various types of devices you own.
Take care not to let the batteries bump into each other other objects in a drawer or they may lose their charge over time.
We prefer to just leave them in the packaging they came in, or use a system like the Storacell Powerpax. Here is a video that demonstrates how those work:
Another kind of battery that will come in useful during a power outage happens to also be nifty things to have on a day to day basis. We’re talking about power banks that let you extend usage times for your phones or tablets.
We buy a few extra and leave them plugged in around the clock – they have been life savers when the power goes out.
12V Car Power
If you are desperate and don’t mind burning the gas and keeping the engine running, you car might be able to power more than just your devices. Not a great option, but something to consider if you are low on options.
You’ll need an inverter to convert the power from DC to 120 V alternating current (AC).
Be careful not to overload it with items that require a lot of power, or you’ll blow a fuse. Check that the inverter’s rating does not exceed the rating for the power outlet on your vehicle.
While we are talking about fuses, make sure you have a few extra ones, and that you know how to change them.
Dedicated Backup Power
There are some good backup power storage solutions out there, like the stuff from GoalZero.
They come complete with a built-in inverter, but they can get expensive pretty quickly.
A cheaper alternative might be to use a portable power bank designed to jump-start automobiles.
These are neat things to have because they provide the same 12 V DC power that your car puts out, but you can use them indoors. No running engines, no fumes in the garage, no fuss.
A fully charged unit should be able to run your cable modem and wifi router for several hours, and newer ones come with built-in LED lights and a USB charger for your phone and other devices.
It’s also cool that there are multiple gadgets and mini-appliances that use 12V DC designed for truckers to use in their cabs. Heated blankets, slow cookers, stoves, fans, coolers, your name it.
The newer solar panels, made of monocrystalline modules, are putting out good power-to-size ratios of about 13-17%, need little sun to begin to generate power, and get up to 18% conversion efficiency.
However, unlike the other examples above which are pretty easy to get started with, solar power is something that is going to take a significant investment and effort to set up.
If you do not want to invest the time or work to set one up yourself, some companies make portable, all included solar power solutions, like this one from Renogy:
Biolite Camp Stove and Kettle Charge
You might think that wood in a power outage is only good for the chimney or a wood-burning stove, but did you know you can also create power with it?
We thought it would be interesting to wrap up this post by looking at two items that are kinda pricey and maybe a little gimmicky. But they do seem to work.
The first is the Biolite wood burning CampStove. It puts out enough to power small electronic devices even as it creates heat to cook with. In addition to paper, twigs, and wood, you can also use dryer lint as fuel.
The bummer thing is that you gotta keep feeding it and that it can only be used outdoors. Oh yeah, and then there is the price, about $180. You can see how the CampStove works here:
Biolite also makes the KettleCharge, which generates about 10 watts (enough to power an iPad) as it boils water. We bought one to test it, and we’ll post a review in the coming weeks on what we find.
As you can see, there are many options available for obtaining electricity and light in the event of a power outage.
Not all of them will be right for you.
But with a little planning, you will be able to handle the next power outage with confidence.