Whether or not you know it’s coming, a power outage can be a major disturbance. It never hurts to be prepared and to know what to do once the lights go out.
- Power outages can happen at any time and are unavoidable, but the costs associated with them can be lessened by installing a home backup generator at a home or business.
- Have a place in your home where flashlights, a battery-powered radio, and extra batteries can be easily found.
- If you know the outage is coming, set aside extra water and buy or make extra ice. You can use the ice to keep perishable items cool.
- Make sure the battery in your smoke detector is fresh. Test the smoke detector on a monthly basis to make sure it’s working.
- Keep an appliance thermometer in the freezer. If the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder when the power returns, all the food is safe.
- If possible, use flashlights instead of candles for emergency lighting. Candles used in unfamiliar settings can be dangerous fire hazards.
- Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment, or electronics that were on when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer, or furnace.
- Leave one light on so you know when the power returns.
- Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer. This will help keep your food as fresh as possible. Be sure to check food for signs of spoilage.
- Use generators safely. If you have a portable generator, only run it outdoors with adequate ventilation. Never use a generator indoors or in attached garages. The exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, which can be deadly if inhaled.
- Listen to the radio for updates.
The wind is howling. The rain is coming down in sheets. The power goes out for a few hours. And, then everything’s fine — except, maybe, all that food in your fridge and freezer.
The question is: Should you eat it or toss it? The answer: It depends – on a lot of factors, actually. To help you determine the best course of action, here are some insights and guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the Power’s Out
Don’t open your refrigerator or freezer, if possible. Keeping the doors closed helps keep the cold in, potentially preserving your food for longer. How long? Typically food is safe for up to four hours in an unopened refrigerator and 48 hours in a full, unopened freezer (less if the freezer isn’t full). You can add block or dry ice to either if you think the power might be out for an extended period.
Once the Power Returns
When the lights blink back on, don’t just assume everything is OK. A few checks are in order first, especially if the power has been out for more than four hours. What’s not in order? Taste testing. You should never taste food to determine if it’s safe. Instead, follow these tips.
- Meat, poultry and seafood: Discard raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish or seafood that may have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more. Same goes for thawing meat or poultry, along with tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salad.
- Dairy: Toss milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt and soy milk that may have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more. Butter and margarine are likely safe to keep.
- Cheese: Discard soft cheeses, such as bleu, Brie, cottage and others, if they may have been above 40 degrees for two hours or more. Hard cheeses and processed cheeses should be safe.
- Sauces and condiments: Mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish should go in the trash if they may have been above 50 degrees for more than eight hours. Toss creamy dressings such as ranch, but vinegar-based dressings may be safe to keep. Items such as peanut butter, jelly, relish, ketchup, barbecue sauce and pickles are typically safe.
- Frozen food: Evaluate frozen (or now partially frozen) items individually. If the food still contains ice crystals, or is has stayed at or below 40 degrees, it should be safe to refreeze.
Prepare for the Next Outage
Not knowing whether or not your food is safe to eat is frustrating, to say the least. These tips will help to further unravel the mystery.
- Keep appliance thermometers in your refrigerator or freezer. These will help take the guesswork out of determining whether your food has been holding at a safe temperature.
- Keep a food thermometer handy, too. This will allow you to check individual items.
- Consider using coolers and ice packs. If the power is out for more than four hours, having these handy can help you protect expensive items, such as meats.
- Have a supply of nonperishable food that doesn’t require refrigeration. And, don’t forget the can opener. Remember, even nonperishable food won’t last forever, so use it or replace it periodically.
- Store food where flood water is unlikely to reach it. Never eat food that may have come into contact with flood water, unless it is in a completely waterproof container. Even sealed cardboard juice and milk cartons should be discarded.
- Discard all food that has been near a fire in your home. It can be damaged by the heat, fumes or chemicals used to fight the fire, even if it appears to be OK.
Throwing out food is frustrating, too, so check your homeowners policy. Many provide coverage for food spoilage in such situations. However, because your deductible might be higher than the value of your food, a claim often doesn’t make sense unless you have other damage to your home. Power outages and other emergencies are already stressful enough. Don’t compound that stress by eating food that could make you sick. If there’s any doubt, just go ahead and throw it out.
There are lots of things you can do to make your home more wind-resistant but nothing replaces authentic materials and good, old-fashioned craftsmanship. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Improve Your Roofing’s Performance
Your roof, and the deck beneath it, forms one of your home’s most critical shields to wind and rain. Unfortunately, during high wind storms, it is often the first to be damaged. Loss of roof covering such as shingles, tiles or metal panes can make your home more susceptible to water damage. Loose roofing becomes wind-borne projectiles that can cause further damage to other structures. Luckily, roofing products with high wind resistance are available and a variety of installation techniques can be used on both new and existing homes to help protect against wind damage. Roofing underlayments, high performance shingles, even effective attic ventilation can all increase wind resistance. To withstand occasional or sustained high winds, it is critical that all shingles are properly installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Recently enacted high-wind performance standards for asphalt shingles have raised wind performance.
Protect Your Home’s Exterior
The exterior doors and windows of your home act as its protective shell. If broken, high winds can enter, putting pressure on your roof and walls. Solid wood or hollow metal doors better resist wind pressure and flying debris. Resistance is also increased by doors with at least three hinges and a deadbolt security lock with a minimum bolt throw of one inch. If you have double entry doors, install head and foot bolts on the inactive door. And since double-entry doors fail when surface bolts break at the header trim or threshold, check connections at both places. Surface bolts should extend through the door head and the threshold into the sub floor. Research shows that new advances in vinyl siding can also protect your home’s exterior. Products on the market now include siding that resists winds up to 250 miles per hour.
Brace Garage Doors
Garage doors can be especially at risk during high winds. Unless you have a tested hurricane-resistant door, winds may force it out of its roller track—especially if the track is light weight or some of the anchor bolts are not in place. This occurs because the door deflects too much under excessive wind pressure and fails. If you are building a new home, consider installing horizontally-braced, singlewide garage doors as an alternative to double overhead doors. Check with your garage door manufacturer about retrofit bracing kits for existing homes. Some door panels, particularly those that are doublewide, may require both horizontal and vertical bracing for best stability.
If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials. Remember, personal safety should always come first! Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate. Arrange temporary housing at a friend’s or relative’s home outside the threatened area. Know at least two exit routes from your neighborhood in case of emergency evacuation. Wear protective clothing; sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face. Take your emergency supplies kit. Tell someone when you are leaving and where you are going. Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
If you’re sure you have time, take steps to protect your home. Close windows, vents, doors, Venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Lock your door and always remember if you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
Assembling Emergency Supplies
When wildfire threatens, you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supply kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags or trash containers.
Include in the kit:
- A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day).
- Food that won’t spoil
- One change of clothing and footwear per person
- A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications.
- Emergency tools, including battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of batteries
- An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler’s checks
- Sanitation supplies
- Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members
- An extra pair of eyeglasses
- Important family documents stored in a waterproof container
Windows & Doors
Windows and doors can often be the most direct route for high winds to enter your house, causing severe damage to your walls and roof—and potentially ruining your family’s personal possessions.
One of the most effective ways to protect windows — and keep you and your family safe from breaking and flying glass — is installing wind shutters (sometimes called hurricane shutters), protective coverings specifically designed to completely cover window and door glass openings during high winds. While some homeowners build their own wind shutters (typically using 5/8″-thick exterior grade plywood), information about custom-built options is widely available online.
Another option is purchasing pressure- or impact-rated windows. Besides protecting your home’s interior from water and wind damage, they also increase its overall structural stability, reducing the risk of destructive structural failure from hurricane winds.
For doors in high-wind areas, at least one double door should be secured with heavy-duty bolts both at the top of the frame and at the floor. Be aware, though, that the bolts included with most doors aren’t strong enough to withstand high winds. Check with a hardware store for heavier-duty bolts. The door’s manufacturer may also sell a reinforcing bolt kit specifically made for your door. The manufacturer may also make pressure- or impact-rated doors that are designed to offer increased wind protection.
Doors installed to open outwards reduce the chance of the door blowing open in high wind. Inward rushing wind can cause pressure changes in your house, changes that can actually cause wall and roof structural failures.
Whether you’re building a new house or doing periodic maintenance, upfront planning is key to your home’s ability to dig in its heels against hail damage and windstorms. In particular, your roof, windows, and doors need to withstand the toughest weather that Mother Nature unleashes where you live.
During a windstorm, a primary goal is routing the wind’s force from the roof down the walls, then to the ground. If your sheathing and gables aren’t up to the challenge, your roof might end up in the neighbor’s yard.
Sheathing is the wood, plywood, or wafer board nailed to the rafters or trusses of the roof. You can think of it as the part of your house your shingles rest upon. Some sheathing fails simply because nails haven’t been properly affixed to rafters — during installation, the contractor may simply miss hitting the truss with the nail or may inadvertently use nails that are too short to “anchor” the sheathing. You can get a good idea of how your sheathing’s holding up by trekking up to the attic for a thorough visual inspection.
If your attic’s prone to condensation, be sure to check for sheathing that’s delaminating (plywood) or swollen (wafer board). Ask your contractor about secondary moisture barriers that can limit the delaminating and swelling that affect roof sheathing. Take advantage of your contractor’s expertise — find out what sheathing material offers the best wind protection in your area. Paying more now make may sense when weighed against the possible costs of windstorm damage later. Gables are the side walls of the roof. If your gables aren’t properly braced, strong winds can cause them to collapse. The most common method of bracing entails placing 2×4″ wood pieces in an X pattern from the top center of the end gable to the bottom of the brace of the fourth truss and from the bottom center of the end gable to the peak of the roof.
Sheathing’s an important component of a wind-resistant roof, but during hail storms, it’s your home’s shingles that may end up damaged. Impact-resistant asphalt shingles are a popular option against hail damage claims, owing to their ability to weather a hailstorm unharmed. Studies show that impact-resistant shingles can remain undamaged through 1.5-inch diameter hail, even though metal vents exposed to the same hail sustain large dents.