Five Things to Remember When the Lights Go Out

Lights Out

We all have become accustomed to flipping a switch, turning a dial or pushing a button and having things operate. We have become so accustomed to how things work with electricity that we may not realize that some things can in fact work without electricity, while on the other hand we tend to forget that certain other things, things you may not realize do require electricity to operate.

1) Garage Doors

Electric garage door openers will not work unless of course, there is electricity, but this does not mean that you cannot open your garage door during a power failure however. Typically, a garage door that operates using an electric motor can be manually disengaged from the motor by pulling the dangling rope that usually has a red handle on it.

You will likely find handles on one side or the other that are used to manually raise and lower the door. Keep in mind when lowering the door it is you controlling the decent so make sure you have a firm grasp. Some doors will have slide bar locks that when engaged will lock the door to prevent it from being raised from the outside.

2) Toilets

Unless you have a specialized toilet that requires electricity to flush or to help to flush it, it will use gravity. Some things to consider include how the tank will be refilled if you have your own well, which requires an electric pump to supply water to user points inside the home. However, the toilet will work if you fill the tank by hand and activate the flush handle or in some cases by pouring water directly into the bowl.

If on a sewer system and depending on the crisis the flood gates maybe closed, which means that sewage will not be allowed into the system. This means of course sewage can back up into the home. Typically, generators would be activated but during prolonged outages, the sewer system may not be operational and will not accept waste from user points.

If you are using a septic system that does not have electrical pumps or valves, you can flush your toilet by filling the tank with water. If your septic system uses electric pumps or valves then the holding tank will likely be at capacity within 24 hours of normal use and after this point, sewage may begin backing up in the discharge pipes.

3) Water Supply

Tap water would be available to those connected to a municipality’s water supply system, for a limited time. Typically, there are storage tanks located around the area that use gravity to supply water to local homes. The tanks would likely be full when the power goes out, so water will be available until the tanks are depleted, so time is of the essence if you suspect the power will be out for an extended period.

In some cases, generators can be used to replenish the tanks. However, if the power has been out for an extended period or you suspect the water treatment plant has been compromised or damaged in some manner then the water used to replenish the tanks could be contaminated.

4) Phones

Portable phones that use a base station will not work during a power outage. These phones have a base, which is plugged into a phone jack and then the base is plugged into a wall receptacle. Each handheld phone that communicates with the base is battery operated and the base requires electricity to communicate with the portable handhelds.

However, phones that are connected directly to the phone jack that do not require an additional power source, will work for a limited time during a power outage. The phone jack servicing the phone supplies the phone with the need voltage to operate. If the power outage is major and for an extended period you may eventually lose the power supplied through the phone jack.

5) Carbon Monoxide Alarms/Smoke Alarms/Burglar Alarms

Certain carbon monoxide detectors plug into a wall receptacle and thus, do not have a battery backup, so make sure you know what kind you have. Using alternative heat sources, for example, wood burning fireplaces, kerosene and propane heaters that burn fossil fuels will produce deadly gas and for your protection, you will need an operational carbon monoxide detector during a power outage. 

Home alarm systems that operate over traditional phones lines will still be in communication with the monitoring center, during an outage. Alarms that are wireless may not be able to communicate with the monitoring service during a power outage, because your home’s router and Wi-Fi connections require electricity.

Certain alarm systems will have a battery backup that in some cases will allow the alarm to maintain contact with the service for a limited time. However, in some instances the battery backup is only designed to maintain user settings during an outage.

Know before something happens if your system will work during an outage. Some systems use cellular connections, so a power outage in most cases would not have an immediate effect on your system.

Smoke alarms that are hardwired into the homes’ electrical system must have fresh batteries so they can operate during an outage.