With winter weather on the way, it’s the perfect time for these 10 tips to prepare for storms and potential power outages. From what you’ll need for a generator to fridges to sump pumps, here’s what we learned about how to prepare for a winter storm!
It’s a tad ironic my daughter’s favorite movie is Frozen, considering that’s how we’ve been spending the last three months here in the mid-atlantic– FROZEN. And we were especially Frozen when the latest winter ice storm came through and knocked out our power for days. As you can tell from Instagram, I’ve been surviving most of the snow storms by cooking and baking. But last week we got walloped with 12 inches of snow, then an ice storm a few days later that covered everything with half an inch of ice and knocked out power to over 700,000 people. 700,00 people, can you imagine?!
my typical storm prep: haul out the crockpot and bread machine!
It’s amazing how I can go from working on designing my master bedroom one day to hand-bailing our sump pump in a 40 degree basement for hours on end in order to save our furnace, water heater, and washer dryer the next. Dodging limbs the size of pickup trucks and watching power lines crash down wasn’t so fun either, and considering this is just the latest in a string of winter weather (two more storms predicted this week, actually) I was morose.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d break in my new Hunter boots by actually mucking out a basement; this makes them more authentic, right? The water came in so fast we were filling each of these tubs in under a minute!
What made me especially angry was that I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. After Superstorm Sandy knocked out our power for almost a week last year, I wrote a detailed natural disaster prep list of all the things we should have done. And yet, I did none of those things because I assumed we wouldn’t have to deal with THAT again for awhile. As a result, we were left bailing never ending water in our basement while my kids were by entertaining themselves without electronics for hours upstairs in jackets, hats, and mittens in a freezing cold house with a power restoration estimate from the power company predicted for FIVE DAYS LATER. I snagged the last hotel room in the area at about 10AM, as hotels were booked solid for days on end. No generators could be found either, my husband chased rumors of them but that first day we could not find one. As the water poured into our basement, we bailed 2 HUGE tubs every 5 minutes while staring at the water seeping under our furnace and water heater. This went on for five hours. If a neighbor hadn’t come over and offered to plug our sump pump into his generator we would have sustained upwards of $10K in damages. Thank goodness for kind neighbors!
this was our yard BEFORE the ice storm; now imagine a half inch of ice covering this and you can see why trees and power lines fell like crazy!
Needless to say, we learned a lot. From how to use a generator to the fact you need an electrician to install a transfer switch to having a backup plan, we’ve already made steps to prevent this from happening again! Perhaps it was setting up our generator outside in the 20 degree temperatures or that hand bailing that’s left us sore for days, but we don’t want to deal with this in the future. And I don’t want YOU to have to deal with it either. I have friends still without power five days later. I’m not sure you can imagine what that’s like, especially with kids and pets, in these temperatures, until you’ve gone through it. I certainly don’t want you to find out how it feels!
we found the last hotel room in the area– exhausted but finally warm and able to watch t.v., it’s the little things!
Here’s what I learned this time around about how to prepare for storms, and winter storms in particular. I hope this helps you avoid our mistakes!
- GET A GENERATOR. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. JUST GET ONE. We were trying to decide which type to get (propane vs. gas), which size, etc. It paralyzed us. You know what? A generator in hand is better than two on the store shelves. Just get one. We were lucky that this storm was localized within the region and they were able to quickly ship in generators for stores just outside the storm area. If this had been a larger sized storm we would have been totally out of luck in terms of getting a generator quickly.
- KNOW HOW YOU’LL USE THE GENERATOR. As I mentioned, we set up our generator in 20 degree weather with the manual in one hand. We’re clueless with stuff like this, but managed to get it up and running and did all the high-fives and maybe I did a victory dance. But then I was like, hey, how do you hook this up to the house? Sure, you can plug in space heaters, sump pump and fridge but you can’t exactly plug in your furnace. So we had to call in an electrician who was totally overworked and didn’t arrive until after dark on day two. He hardwired the generator to our furnace so we at least had heat, and then came back to install a transfer switch the next day. YOU NEED TO INSTALL A TRANSFER SWITCH. It’s much better to get that installed well in advance of an emergency than trying to find an electrician when everyone is attempting to do the same thing. I bet you’ll pay way less, too.
- BE SURE TO HAVE A GAS CAN. And gas, too. Here’s what they don’t tell you– trying to locate a large gas can to fill the generator turned out to be an adventure. It took over an hour to find one in a store. Then finding a place to fill it was equally challenging because many of the gas stations didn’t have power or were blocked by downed trees! Again, we were extremely fortunate that this was a localized storm and could drive out to find help, but if this had impacted more of the region we would have been screwed.
- MORE GAS ADVICE: MAKE SURE YOUR CAR’S TANK IS FULL. This is for several reasons: if you lose power, you’ll need your car to charge your phone. Also, if you need to drive outside your region in an emergency or to find shelter, mostly likely local gas stations will be closed/ out of gas/ have long lines (don’t believe me? Google ‘Sandy’ and ‘gas shortages’).
- GET A CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR. Please. Just do it. With generators going and trying to find different sources for heat, you’ll have peace of mind if you have a detector. We use the Kidde Nighthawk Carbon Monoxide Detector (affiliate link, thanks!) and find it works great, but there’s many to choose from. I won’t go into details, but this is such an important part of staying safe and hits close to home. Please, get one if you don’t have one already.
- IF IT’S FREEZING OUTSIDE YOU CAN PUT YOUR FOOD OUT THERE SO IT WON’T SPOIL. If it’s not below freezing, have a few coolers and ice ready. In all the chaos, I didn’t think to move the $150 in groceries I’d just purchased outside. I mean, the temps were in the 20’s so it would have been the perfect outdoor fridge. The freezer was okay because we didn’t open it the entire time. TIP: I also keep a baggie of ice cubes in the freezer for this purpose– if the power goes out and the freezer un-freezes, the ice will melt. If they stay in cube form I know everything stayed frozen.
Our only fridge survivors of PA Ice Storm 2014 were beer and kale. PRIORITIES.
- HAVE BOTTLES OF WATER ON HAND. I was thankful to have bottled water for both home and the hotel. I wasn’t sure if our water supply was compromised and the kids were thirsty, so it was nice to have water bottles. I also took them along to the hotel and they were VERY handy! We saved money and didn’t have to pay high prices for each bottle. In fact, this whole 6-pack was $1 total whereas the hotel water bottles were upwards of $2 each.
- SPEAKING OF WATER– GET A SUMP PUMP BACKUP. Do you have a sump pump? It’s a pump in your basement that keeps it dry by pumping water that may seep in. As mentioned, the dripping ice created so much water we were filling massive buckets every minute then having to haul them outside and immediately start again. Our next investment will be a water activated sump pump that kicks in if the power fails. It doesn’t need to charge, it’s activated by water! Why are we doing this even though we have a generator? Because if we lose power and we’re not home or my husband is traveling, this will buy us time and peace of mind to get the generator up and running. Imagine you’re on vacation and the power fails- you’re not home to hook up the generator, so you’re likely to come home to a flooded basement if you don’t have a sump pump backup. Having it water activated means you don’t have to charge it or worry it will run out of battery power, either. We’re shopping around for one, but here’s my affiliate link to a water activated sump pump backup I found on Amazon if you want to learn more.
- KEEP YOUR TREES TRIMMED AND TAKE CARE OF LOOSE BRANCHES IN GOOD WEATHER, because once bad weather hits you will not have control. Case in point: here’s a four story evergreen in our yard after the ice storm. The ice treated limbs thicker than my thigh like toothpicks. I’m guessing that’s going to take about $1000 in tree work just for this tree (not to mention the others), and we need to do it ASAP so those branches don’t crash into our neighbor’s car. If we’d kept it trimmed we may have avoided the rush fees and extra time needed to do this in the snow. I also should have shaken heavy snow from our forsythia, cypress, and other bushes before we got hit with ice because the extra weight destroyed them. Spring is going to be a little less pretty in our yard.
- IF YOU HAVE PETS, HAVE A PLAN TO SHELTER THEM. Another snafu was our sweet new kitty, Charlie. We didn’t want him to freeze in our home but we couldn’t find a hotel with vacancies that’s pet friendly. We also had cords running to the generator through our doors and the thought of him running out was constantly on my mind. And, oh, we learned he can open bedroom doors when we locked him inside them. Stinker. 🙂 Many of my friends also lost fish, frogs, and other small animals due to the freezing temps; it’s not easy to move a tank! My current plan of action is to make a list of local pet-friendly hotels and have a pet sitter on speed dial so next time we can shelter Charlie and not have to worry about his safety.
Yup, I’ve been playing with the new app Waterlogue. It’s all kinds of awesome!
- FRIENDS ARE AWESOME. What I didn’t mention was that all this happened on my birthday. We had so many offers of shelter from both near and far, even our friends on a generator offered their home to us! It was great peace of mind to know we had somewhere to go. When our power came on, we made sure to invite our still powerless friends over– and by a stroke of luck two separate families (on two different days) had their power restored over dinner at our home. That’s the power of hospitality, people!
Here’s some tips on how to prepare for a natural disaster (including favorite products like flashlights and emergency radios) that I learned after Hurricane Sandy last year. I learned so much more after this recent storm, and hope you don’t have to go through what we’re experiencing here in Pennsylvania. But if you DO, you’ll be so much more prepared if you take the steps outlined above now instead of later. Consider sharing with your friends and family too, they may not know about transfer switches and sump pumps either!
Between the generator, electrician, hotel room, lost groceries, eating out, and the tree work we’ll need done I estimate this storm will cost us over $4,000 in damages- a number that could have been greatly reduced had we JUST. PLANNED. AHEAD.
Hopefully later this week I’ll be back on track with bedroom design boards and DIY ideas. But the kids have not had more than 5 days of school together since mid-December due to snow days, so we’re all going a bit bonkers trying to keep busy indoors and me trying to keep the blog going with two active kiddos who (rightfully) demand my attention! Priorities, priorities. 🙂
Did you lose power this winter? Give me your best winter storm prep tips and share your stories!