Power outages and electricity blackouts can be stressful and even a little scary, but there are a number of things you can do to best handle a home with no electricity.
As we head into the winter months in the midst of an energy crisis, there’s been speculation of blackouts as the national grid attempts to cope with increasing demand.
During winter and spring, we also may experience more power outages, which often occur during extreme weather conditions, such as storms.
Outages are never welcome and can leave those affected with countless questions: 'When will my power return?', 'How do I stay safe?', ‘Should I unplug my fridge?'
Thankfully, ESB Networks provides plenty of useful information to help you stay informed, safe and up-to-date during a stint without electricity.
What’s the difference between an electricity blackout and a storm?
A power outage occurs when high winds and falling trees cause overhead power lines to break and fall.
On the other hand, an electricity blackout occurs when there is a total crash of the electricity grid due to a mismatch between power generation and power consumption which usually results in power loss to a large region.
Preparing for a blackout or power outage
Stocking up on essentials is usually a good idea and having an emergency outage kit that includes a good torch, batteries, candles and lighters should be a must for every household.
Consider the following tips when preparing for a power outage.
Light is likely the first thing you’ll notice is gone if a blackout or power cut occurs. To prepare accordingly, we’d recommend that you:
- While you could use candles and matches, it may be safer to buy a rechargeable lantern, such as those used for camping.
- Have a torch accessible with an extra supply of batteries.
- Store these light sources in an easy-to-access drawer, so you can find them easily and quickly in the pitch dark. You can use your phone's torch or light to guide yourself in this situation.
One of the biggest threats of a power outage or blackout is the lack of heat. Most people will worry about staying warm without their usual heating methods, particularly in the depths of winter.
Try to have a backup plan in place and prepare as best you can with these tips:
- If you have an open fire, ensure your fuel supply is fully stocked and you have firelighters and matches.
- You should also make sure your fireplace is well-cleaned and your chimney is spotless, as it wouldn’t be feasible to clean them during an outage.
- Have a stash of blankets at the ready to keep warm.
- Candles are a surprisingly effective way to give a bit of warmth to your home as well as light.
- Draught-proof your home by sealing gaps in windows and doors, or purchase a draught-excluder for putting at the foot of doors. This will keep warm air in and cold air out, which is crucial. You can learn more about draught-proofing your home in this article.
Electronics and entertainment
Once you have heat and light sorted, you’ll have to think of a way to cope with the boredom during a power outage:
- If you have a spare phone, keep it fully charged but turned off and place it can be found easily.
- Remember to keep any power banks you have fully charged. This way, you'll be able to charge your phone.
- As your Wi-Fi and TV will be down, it’s a good idea to have a few shows downloaded on your laptop or iPad.
- Similarly, you may want to have a good book or a few magazines at hand to keep you occupied!
- If you live with family or friends, consider investing in a few board games you could play in the event of a blackout.
- Remember, for reading or board games, you’ll need efficient lighting, so don’t forget to stock up on torches or rechargeable lanterns, as mentioned above!
Consider buying a portable generator
In recent months, there has been a surge in portable generator sales in Ireland for home use. This should come as no surprise given the ongoing energy crisis.
- Generators can vary vastly in price, costing from hundreds of euros to thousands.
- For example, for €1,800 you can buy a 15-litre tank diesel-powered generator, which could power a typical house for approximately 12 hours.
- Generators being sold for domestic use are designed to kick in when/if the main supply goes down. They have to be installed and connected to the house by a qualified electrician, so this should be factored into the total cost as well.
Other ways to prepare
- During a blackout, ATMs may also be affected while payment systems may go down so having a small amount of cash on you is not a bad idea. However, most shops are unlikely to sell you anything if their tills aren't working.
- If you’re taking any prescription medication, make sure you have an adequate supply on hand at the first sign of extreme weather.
- For medications that must remain cold, keep an ice chest handy. Store ice packs in your freezer and ready for the ice chest.
- If you use electricity for your water, such as a well with an electric pump, try to have enough water available to last a couple of days.
- Have disposable utensils and dinnerware (preferably sustainably sourced) on hand so you do not need to use water to wash dishes.
- Keep your cupboard stocked with some easy-to-open, non-perishable foods that require no cooking.
- If you’re stuck when it comes to food, consider buying a few disposable barbecues just in case you need to cook.
Staying safe during a blackout or power outage
It’s very important to stay well away from fallen or damaged electricity wires or poles during a power outage. If you come across damaged wires that aren’t being attended to by professionals, you should call ESB Networks or 112 as soon as you can. And remember to always keep a safe distance.
Stay at home and don’t venture out if possible. Street lights and traffic lights will likely be out of action, making travelling more dangerous.
During a blackout or power outage, we’d recommend you follow the following tips:
- Keep your fridge and freezer closed where possible. Your appliance should keep cold for a few hours at least. However, place a towel underneath your freezer just in case.
- Try to keep all doors and windows closed to retain any heat in the house.
- Dress in layers to keep your natural heat close to your body as long as possible and reach for well-insulated clothes
- Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to let natural light and heat in, but ensure you close them when it starts to get dark. This will help trap any heat.
Check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours
- If your power goes and you do manage to find out how long it will be gone for, let your neighbours know.
- Check in on neighbours, especially those who are vulnerable or elderly. If they live alone, consider inviting them in for food or to stay warm.
Turn off appliances before the electricity comes back
- It’s important to turn off appliances that could be a fire risk because they will come back on while unattended when the electricity returns. Appliances like ovens, cookers, and irons might result in a fire if left unoccupied when power returns. You should, however, keep the odd light turned on so you'll notice when your power returns.
A continuous supply of energy to a home may be required for people who rely on electrical medical equipment, such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators or home dialysis machinery.
If you fall into this category, make sure to register yourself as a vulnerable customer with your local electricity provider.
You should be prepared to reach out to family, friends, and your local hospital if a medical emergency occurs. In the event of an emergency, you should call 999.
How long does it usually take for power to return?
When storms are forecast, ESB Networks crews take up stations in the areas that are expected to be the worst affected and are on call to help fix fallen wires as needed.
In many cases, these crews are able to get electricity connections back up and running in a matter of hours.
However, crews sometimes have to wait some time before it is actually safe to get to work on fixing fallen power lines. It can also be difficult to locate and access damaged areas during particularly bad weather. In cases such as these, you may have to endure longer delays but anything over 36 hours is exceptionally rare.
How can you get updates on faults?
If you’ve experienced a power outage, ESB Networks’ Fault Logging system allows you to check the status of your exact address. You just have to enter your MPRN (which is an 11-digit number written on your electricity bill) or account reference number, name and phone number to get an update this way.
ESB also provides updates and estimated restore times on its PowerCheck map and via its PowerCheck app, which is available on Android and iOS. This is another good place to get a sense of how long you’re likely to be without electricity.
You should also keep an eye on ESB Networks’ Twitter account, where you can tweet specific questions and get live updates.
In the case of an emergency, you can phone ESB Networks on 1850 372 999 or +353 21 238 2410.
Thankfully, severe weather events are still a novelty in Ireland and they usually pass quickly. But if you do happen to suffer a power outage follow the tips above, try to stay calm and remember to check on your neighbours if possible. And most important of all, stay safe and keep up-to-date with the latest weather and travel advice from the likes of Met Eireann and the AA.