When the Power Goes Out Do You Have a Backup Plan?

Power outages are a fact of life and as we get more dependent on the grid, the consequences can get more serious. Demand for electricity is growing as more homes and businesses switch to electric vehicles and all-electric appliances. Besides the ever present Colorado storms, power outages can result from overloaded transmission lines and equipment failures. Brownouts, formerly unheard of in Colorado, are another consequence of an overloaded electrical system. Some customers have already seen a preview with utilities cutting off power to air conditioning during summer demand peaks. That’s annoying enough, but in our bitter cold winters, outages can be life-threatening.

But wait, you say, I have gas heat, so I’m safe. Think again. Most gas furnaces, ranges, and water heaters have electronic ignition, and that takes electricity. Trying to light those appliances with a match is risky, if not impossible. And your thermostat needs power, too.

Missing a TV show or two is a minor inconvenience, and dining by candlelight can be a welcome, even romantic, change in routine, presuming you can pull a meal together in the dark.  Remember, the microwave won’t work either.

But when the heat goes out or essential medical equipment goes down, the situation gets serious in a hurry. That’s why it’s critically important to have a backup plan when the power goes off. Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of options for backup electrical power that suit all budgets and circumstances. But first…

Have a Power Outage First Aid Kit

It’s important to know what’s causing the power outage and how long it will last so you know how to react.

Cell phones are great as long as they have power and a working cell tower nearby. If you have a land phone line, it should still work, presuming the system is up. But cordless phones need electricity to transmit signals to the base station. To be even safer, have a battery powered transistor radio so you can tune into the news and emergency stations.

Speaking of batteries, keep a supply of them for the radio and some flashlights (they’re probably different sizes) so you’re not groping in the dark to start your backup power supply. You have one, don’t you? If not, here’s some information on getting one.

Choosing the Right Backup Power Supply

People who live and work in remote areas know that power outages can take a while to resolve. But what about urbanites? True enough, outages are usually dealt with in a relatively short (or at least shorter) time in the cities and towns, but even a few hours of downtime can be a big problem. And when heavy winter snow and ice hit, even urban areas can be without power for a day or more, creating serious problems, especially for people with health or mobility issues.

Your choice of backup power will depend on your individual needs and your budget.

Backup Batteries

Backup batteries, both integrated and standalone, can be a temporary option for your computer or Wi-Fi network, but when you have a big project to finish, a dark house full of bored kids, appliances that don’t work, or someone relying on electrical devices for home health care, a backup generator is a better solution.

Storage Batteries

If you want extra backup power for relatively short periods of low wattage demand, a storage battery or batteries might be right for you. Like a car battery charger, these devices are trickle-charged and store energy. They also have built-in AC inverters to run household appliances. You still need to plug individual cords into the units, but they’re virtually maintenance-free and can be used indoors as long as ventilation is provided in case the batteries release fumes. Many are portable and can be used on job sites, as well.

Some large electric work trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning can even be used for temporary power with the proper hookups. For both your safety and the truck’s, that connection should only be installed by a licensed electrician.

They’re best for short outages with limited needs since they have fairly low storage capacity but may be a versatile solution if you only need minimal power to ride out an outage.

Backup Generators

Generators fall into two basic categories: portable and permanent. Choosing the best one for you is a balance between your needs and your budget. Here are some considerations:

Gasoline-Powered Portable Generators

Portable gas-powered generators are the least expensive and come in a variety of outputs to meet different needs. Properly sized, operated, and maintained, they’re a good choice for occasional outages, are budget-friendly, and can be used (carefully) by homeowners.

They also require the most work to set up, maintain, and operate and can be dangerous to use. If you’re considering a portable generator, read our article Backup Generator Benefits before buying. It has safety tips as well.

Any generator that ties into the household electrical supply should be set up by a licensed electrical contractor. Improper connections can result in severe damage to your home’s circuitry, injury, and devastating house fires.

Permanent Installations

Long the choice for commercial locations, a permanently installed generator has several advantages for homeowners too. Installed similarly to an air conditioning unit, they’re as close to a “set it and forget it system” as you can get. They’re normally connected to a natural gas or propane supply, so you don’t have to worry about storing potentially dangerous gasoline—or running out at the worst time. They have sophisticated controls and switches that automatically turn the unit on when an outage is detected. They also cycle the generator periodically to keep it in good working condition and notify you when it isn’t.

They’re also the most expensive to buy and install but are a very reliable source of power for places where minimizing downtime is important and natural gas or propane fuel is available. Talk to a licensed electrician about your options and costs.

Stay Safe with Professional Help

Choosing the right backup system and using it safely requires a knowledge of electrical circuitry and codes. Don’t risk injury, shock, fire hazards, or expensive repairs by getting in over your head.

If you’re thinking about adding safe, reliable backup power or have any problems or concerns about your electrical service, the pros at Allstar Electrical Services are ready to help. We offer homeowners, builders, and businesses reliable, professional electrical work that is safe and up to code.

Call Allstar Electrical at 303.399.7420 or visit our website. We’ve served Colorado’s Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the BBB and are an Angi’s Home Advisor certified contractor.