Recently a lot of the people in Northern Colorado experienced extended power outages due to a spring blizzard. During the couple of days that the power was out I was astonished by the number of people I talked to that were confused about what they could and could not do without power.
When our houses lose power one of the most important things we can do is go around and unplug things. There are a couple of reasons for this, but before we get into that I am going to cover what happens when the power goes out.
On a normal day with power on everybody is happy watching television, running lights, enjoying cold beverages from the fridge and frozen items from the freezer. Oh yeah don’t forget enjoying a nice warm house because the furnace is working properly or the air conditioner has been keeping it cool in the summer. All of these things draw a constant drain on the electrical grid. For the power companies to keep everybody happy, they have to supply a certain amount of power to the grid to keep it at a constant level. Here comes Mother Nature with a powerful blizzard or a tornado that is going to knock out a hundred or so power poles. When this happens that constant amount of power being supplied to the grind for these locations suddenly goes to nothing, all people effected have no power. Here comes our wonderful power companies with there had working lines crews and they run around during the freezing cold weather working there butts off for 18 hour shifts to get everything fixed. Ok now it is time to turn it back on. Keep in mind all of those people that did not turn off a bunch of appliances in their houses. As the power comes on everybody’s appliances and lights are getting power at the same time. Remember the amount of electricity that is normally fed into the grid is supplied at a rate to give all of the customers a constant amount of electricity when normal life is going. For a split second after the power is turned on life is not normal because everything is not running, the power is on and we have a huge surge of electricity in the lines until things start turning on. Because it takes more electricity to start up motors and appliances than it does when they have been running for a while the surge that just went into the lines is now being sucked down because of everything trying to start up at once, (this is what we call a brown out stage). The brown out stage last for up to a few minutes in some cases depending on how long the power was off and the amount of people effected by the area. Ok now we have a brief understanding of what happens when the power goes off.
When we lose power and leave everything plugged in and the power comes back on it exposes our appliances to surges and spikes when it is turned back on and then exposes them to the brown out stage which is low voltage for a couple of minutes. Electrical motors do not like low voltage, electronic equipment do not like surges and spikes. If we unplug most or all of our appliances off during outages it helps to protect our appliances and also helps to stabilize the grid quicker when the power is turned on. I install special thermostats that will automatically keep the furnaces and air conditioners off for about 5 minutes after the power has been turned back on. I can also install surge protectors on furnaces and air conditioners that will shunt the high voltage and keep it from killing those expensive circuit boards and variable speed controllers that are installed in our high efficient equipment.
Ok now back to what we can and cannot do during the period that we don’t have power. If your water heater is natural gas or propane and is not plugged into an outlet it will work the same as it always did. If you have an on demand water heater it will not work. For those of you that have electric water heaters bummer. If you are on a well for your water your well needs electricity to pump the water so even though you have hot water you cannot get it out of the facet. As long as you are not on a well you can take showers and baths as normal providing you don’t have lift stations for your sewer which is a whole other issue. All plumbing fixtures will work normal. If you have a gas stove you can use your cooktop for cooking but you never want to use it for heating your house. Cooktops put of a small amount of carbon monoxide and with extended use could cause a build up inside the house. While we are on that subject never use any appliance like a kerosene or oil heater inside the house that is not vented to the outside. If you have a generator you can plug in some appliances and alternate them to keep freezers and refrigerators cold. You can also use a generator to power up your furnace if it is done correctly. Never run the generator inside the house and always use the largest and shortest extension cords possible. Use your gas fireplace and gas freestanding stoves for heat even though the fans won’t work it is ok, as most of these appliances are designed to operate with or without the fan. Use your car charger to charge cell phones and keep in mind as long as you don’t need to turn the key on to get power to the plug that little cell phone is not going to drain your battery in your car. If you have to turn the key on then the other stuff that turns on in the car will drain your car battery. If you have to start the car to recharge the battery every now and then make sure to pull it out of the garage.
Lighting, if you are going to use candles for light and most of us are, make sure to keep them away from anything that can start a fire.
Ok well I am sure I missed something but this will help to keep people safe, happy and help you get the most out of life when your power is out.
Don’t forget to thank the hard working power company people that are working to get the power back on. They really do have to work in some of the most horrible conditions and it is extremely dangerous work.
Remember first thing is to unplug your appliances.