Winter is the worst time to have a power cut – it’s cold and dark for most of the day. But unfortunately power cuts are more likely to happen at this time of year, due to bad weather damaging power lines.
To make sure you’re not left in the dark, here are the best tips to get prepared for that dreaded winter power cut.
The emergency cupboard
Keep a few essentials tucked away in a special ‘power cut survival cupboard’ in preparation for the inevitable. Mark the cupboard with glow-in-the-dark stickers so that you can easily find it in the dark and fill with basic supplies, which should be:
A head torch: This is indispensable, as it’ll keep your hands free while you’re rooting around the house for supplies and tools. Once you have one, remember to check the batteries regularly.
A wind-up torch: A reliable back-up torch. A power cut may only happen once every few years and all it takes is flat, or leaking batteries making your head torch useless, however this will never let you down!
Long-life candles: These last for ages and are super safe because they actually come in a fire-proof tin. Tape a box of matches to the candle box to make sure they are always nearby.
Glow sticks: Not just for lost weekends in Ibiza! They can also add much needed light to your house. They don’t provide as much light as candles, but present no fire risk.
So, now you have got your torch, there are a few things worth doing straight away if you have a power cut. The first is to check whether it’s affecting just you, or the whole street. Take a look out of the window to see if you can see any lights on in your neighbours’ houses. If you see lights, then it means that the power is working for your street and the problem is probably just in your house…
If so, then there’s a good chance that it could be a blown fuse. If you have a modern circuit-breaker then you may just need to flip the switch to turn your power back on. If the trip switch trips again then there is probably an appliance in your house causing it (usually an iron or a tumble dryer). Unplug the appliance and try again.
If you have an old-fashioned fuse box rather than a circuit breaker, keep a selection of fuse wires handy, along with the necessary screwdrivers.
YouTube has loads of videos showing how to reset your trip switch and replace a fuse wire. (You’d better watch them now though - unless you’ve got your mobile with you, YouTube won’t help during a power cut!)
If the problem is affecting the whole street, then this may be a far bigger issue than just your house so you should call the power cut hotline on 105 to find out what’s going on. This will put you through to your local electricity network operator who can tell you when your power is likely to come back. The network operator is different from the company that sends you your electricity bill.
Your landline will always work during a power cut, however a cordless handset will not. Keep a cheap corded handset in your emergency cupboard, with a list of useful numbers taped to the back.
If it looks like a fix won’t be coming any time soon, you’ll want to keep everyone’s spirits up. To do this you’ll need two things: hot drinks and food. If you have a gas hob in the kitchen, then it will still work during a power cut, but you may need to light it with matches. (Extra-long matches will keep you extra safe.)
If you don’t have a gas stove, a portable stove will be useful. Solid-fuel heaters will produce smoke, so are a no-no inside, but a butane model will be fine for short periods, as long as you open a window to prevent any carbon monoxide build-up.
If the thought of using a stove indoors worries you, you could stock up on self-heating meals – however, these can be expensive.
A pack of tea bags and some long-life milk will take care of the hot drinks, and food that only needs to be warmed up or have hot water added will keep everyone happy and full. Think foods like tins of beans, spaghetti and soup, as well as packets of noodles.
Communication is key
You’ll want to keep in touch with the outside world. Your home internet will be down, so your smartphone may be the only way to work out what’s happening. This makes keeping it charged a major priority.
Dos and Don’ts
Don’t open the freezer
A power cut doesn’t necessarily mean that your food will be ruined, as a sealed freezer can keep its contents safely frozen for up to 48 hours.
Do eat from the fridge first
Your fridge is a different matter, so if it looks like the power will be out for a few hours or more, start eating food from the fridge that will go off the quickest.
Don’t trust the meats
Once the power’s back on, you should cook any meat from the fridge straight away just to be safe. The original use-by date may no longer be accurate. For more information on use-by dates we have everything you need to know.
Do store food outside
If you have a garden or balcony and it’s cold outside, you can always put the food out there to keep it cool. Remember to box it up securely to defend against local wildlife.
Don’t open the curtains
Curtains provide a surprising amount of insulation for your house. So, keeping them closed keeps the heat in.
Do stay together
You will be surprised how much heat a body can give off so one way to conserve heat is to stay close together. You can designate one room as your warm room, and spend as much time as possible in there.
Don’t plug in electronic devices
Even if you haven’t had to fiddle with your fuses, it’s a good idea to unplug any electronics, especially sensitive devices like computers. When the power comes back on there may be a surge, which can cause damage.
Do stop draughts
Put rolled-up towels under the doors to stop draughts.
Hear us out - getting wet is a sure-fire way to get cold quickly. So, stay dry to stay warm.
Do keep entertained
Nothing keeps your mind distracted like games. Have a few packs of cards handy and teach everyone how to play a few games; Old Maid, Rummy and Spit are classics.
The main thing to remember is to stay calm. The power will probably be back on soon so make the most of it and enjoy the adventure!