The possibility of power outages, both short and long-term, is very real.  Not only are they caused by weather and ordinary problems, but the threat of long-term power outages caused by terrorist action are increasingly likely. Are you ready? How do we prepare to deal with short and long-term power outages?

Emergency Plan

It is very important that all family members know what to do if they are not at home during a power outage. This will vary with each family, so take some time to sit down and decide how to react.

Having a Bug Out Bag handy at all times can be very important if you find yourself needing to spend a night (or longer) away from home.


Wherever you are in the house, if the power went out, could you find a flashlight RIGHT NOW without tripping down the stairs and killing yourself?

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The very best, in my opinion, are crank flashlights since they do not rely on batteries or solar power – but it is very important to keep them cranked and ready to go. And just as importantly – keep them in different places throughout the house. Have a working flashlight in your bedside table, one in the upstairs hall and definitely a few in an easily accessible place in the kitchen. If the power went out and you were plunged into darkness right now, could you find a flashlight?

Candles and matches are fabulous, and everyone should have a handy drawer stocked with them, but have you ever tried to light candles in the pitch dark? Those who live in town do not truly realize how dark the night is when there are no streetlights or all the other small lights we can take for granted.

A flashlight gets you the lighting you need to light the candles. Better yet (that is, better than the candles), get a JOI lantern. We use ours on a daily basis even though we now have solar power.

And of course the ultimate in sustainable light is a solar array that will run your lights. We have very simple lighting in our home at the moment – LED light strips attached to our small solar array – but we never lose lights.


As I write this, I’m sitting in the comfortable warmth of a friend’s house in town. Electric heat is so convenient and easy and comfortable – so long as the power is on. But what if the power went out in the depth of winter? That’s when we really appreciate a wood-burning stove or fireplace.

No terracotta heater. They don’t work. Physics is a thing.

Get a propane heater. The one we have is a Mr. Heater Indoor Safe Radiant Heater. Yes – even with a massive wood cookstove, we have back up propane heat. This one runs on small one pound propane tanks. To run it on a 20-pound white tank (which is much less expensive per pound of propane), you need the hose and adaptor.

Today, coming home after an extended visit, our home was a balmy 4C inside. Yes, inside.  The wood stove provides fabulous heat but requires about four hours for the heat to build and radiate. In the meantime we can turn on the little propane heater for a few hours.

If your main power is fueled by oil or natural gas, do you have a shut-off valve? Have it installed by a professional to ensure that everything is done safely and properly.

When it comes to long-term heat, typical electric, natural gas and fuel oil are the least sustainable. Of course, everything depends on your location and ownership of your home. However, there are more sustainable options like solar and geothermal heat. And, if you have access to a woodlot, wood-burning stoves are fabulous. Please make sure your stove is up-to-date and CSA approved. Modern wood-burning stoves are incredibly efficient compared to older stoves, which means they make the best use of whatever wood you have to burn and cause less pollution.

No matter what you use, increase insulation in your home. Install insulating curtains. Seal up any cracks and gaps. Insulate and seal doors and windows.


This is easy.

Pick up large camping water storage jugs.

Fill them.

At least every six months, empty them, check for mold or other problems and fill them again.

No matter where you live, you’ve got space for at least a few. We have been using these Reliance 7 gallon containers for about six years now and love them. We store 42 gallons of water, which is a 7 day supply for our family, and rotate and use it constantly.

Is your water source clean and reliable? If not, seriously consider getting a gravity-fed Berkey water filter.

Water is vital. If you don’t believe me, turn off your water main and try to get through the day. No water for drinking, making a coffee or tea, washing hands or dishes or flushing the toilet.

You need water, and unless you have a gravity fed well or a solar powered pump, you will not have water during a power outage.


You have a manual can opener, right?

What meals do you know that you could make entirely from canned and pantry foods?  Have you checked out A Cabin Full of Food? It’ll help you prepare your pantry and use what you have stored. I wrote it for off-grid living.

If you have a freezer and fridge, keep it closed as much as possible during the early part of the power outage. This is often enough to keep food from spoiling. If the lack of power continues, of course, this will not remain effective. For this reason, I prefer not to rely on freezer storage.

What to do when the food starts thawing? Ideally, you already know how to pressure can meat and vegetables and you can get right to it, but that requires a non-electric heat source. If this isn’t an option, consider a block party and have a giant barbecue. At this point, people will really be needing a bit of enjoyment.

If you have a balcony or back deck where you can cook and if you are able to collect small branches and other small combustibles, a rocket stove is a fabulous emergency stove.

Depending on your location, a solar oven might be a great option. For us, in dark Nova Scotia, solar ovens work poorly.

Other options for cooking without electricity include:

  • charcoal barbecue or gas barbecue
  • wood stove, even a small airtight heating stove
  • propane camp stove – even better with an oven attachment!

One word of caution, though. Other than a wood or propane stove that is properly vented to the outdoors, all of these require that someone is outside in order to use them. This might not be an issue in the warmer months, but who wants to do that when the temperatures are well below freezing?

If you have a heating source, maximize the use of your fuel with a Wonder Bag.


During a brief power outage, hospitals are going to run as usual since they will have emergency power generation.

If the power outage is caused by something serious and long-lasting like a terrorist attack, it is best to prepare for diminished medical care.

Your medical kit is always important. However, I am going to ask you to look at your kit with the mindset of drastically diminished medical care over an extended period. This is important whether you use herbal and natural products, modern medications or a combination of them.

The essentials that you should probably have on hand at all times?

  • Pain relievers
  • Antihistamines
  • Oral rehydration treatment
  • Diarrhea treatment
  • Indigestion aid
  • Sunscreen and burn care
  • Antiseptics
  • Muscle cream
  • Cough remedies
  • Decongestant aid
  • Fully stocked first aid kit (bandages, tweezers, etc)


I have already addressed, in detail, how to deal with emergency toilet waste and why you want to be very careful when installing a composting toilet.

Of course, sanitation is more than just using the toilet. Washing clothing by hand is annoying but definitely possible, but the difficult part is wringing. A stand-alone, non-electric wringer can be attached to the side of a round or square metal washtub.

Take the time now to look around your home and identify the areas where you rely on grid-tied electricity. What can you do without or replace? What are your weak points?

There is no need for panic, but there is certainly a need to prepare.

The possibility of power outages, both short and long-term, is very real. Not only are they caused by weather and ordinary problems, but the threat of long-term power outages caused by terrorist action are increasingly likely.
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