Power cuts can be a scary business, especially in the dark winter months. So we’ve put together a handy guide to the key challenges: identifying whether you have a power cut, what to do if you really have one, and how to make sure you’re prepared for the next one.
Hang on – is it really a power cut?
The first step is easy: look outside! If the street lights are on and your neighbours have power, it’s more likely to be an issue inside your home rather than a power cut. Check your fuse box to make sure all your switches are on. If that’s all fine and you’re on a prepayment meter, make sure you have enough credit. If that’s fine and there are no tripped switches and you still can’t get to the bottom of it, call a qualified electrician rather than attempting to fix anything yourself.
What to do during a power cut:
Get in touch with the network distributor
You might be surprised to hear that you don’t contact your energy supplier during a power cut. That’s because they’re responsible for selling the electricity but not maintaining the power lines.
To find the distributor for your local area in order to report a power cut or get advice, just call 105 from your mobile or landline.
There can be power surges while your power is not working normally, so protect your appliances by switching them off at the socket until everything’s up and running again. It’s a good idea to leave one main light switched on so you’ll know when the power comes back!
Unless you have a wood-burning fire, a power cut will also mean no heating. So here’s how you can heat your home safely while you wait:
- If any sockets are working, use portable heat sources such as electric heaters. Remember to keep any heating appliance uncovered and at least a metre away from your furnishings and curtains
- Keep doors and windows closed, including internal doors. This is to try to trap the heat in one or two rooms
- Block draughts by fitting draught excluders, or rolling a towel and wedging it under your door
- Dress warmly, layering up with cotton, wool or fleece. If it’s really chilly indoors you might benefit from outdoor clothes too, such as a coat, hat and scarf
- Blankets and sleeping bags may come in handy if you’re in it for the long-haul
Stay safely lit
Trusty torches are a much safer bet than candles when the lights have gone out. If candles are your only option, be sure to take extra care when using them. Stand them on a sturdy surface (carpets don’t count!) and away from anything flammable, pets, and children. And never leave them unattended once lit.
Keep your chilled and frozen foods safe
Fridges and freezers will keep their cool for a surprisingly long time without power, so don’t panic! Here are a few things you can do to help them:
- Buy packaged or dry ice to pad out your freezer drawers
- Keep fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible
- Consolidate foods in the same drawer – they’ll keep each other cool whilst the freezer’s off
- Stand meat and poultry items on a tray to stop juices dripping onto other foods if they thaw
Once the power’s back on, throw away anything perishable that’s been above 4°C for two hours or more. If you’re in any doubt, bin it! You can refreeze any foods that have stayed at 4°C or lower once everything’s back up and running
Preparing for a power cut
Now that you know how to survive a power cut, here are a few simple steps you can take to get ahead of the next one:
Make a power cut survival kit
Torches, spare batteries and a back-up charger for mobile phones are all handy. You might even consider a battery-powered radio, to keep on top of local updates if you can’t use your mobile. And keep a cupboard stocked with essential foods that you can prepare without electricity.
Prep your fridge and freezer
- Buy appliance thermometers for both your fridge and freezer to check that they stay safe during an power cut (-18°C for freezers and 4°C for fridges)
- Keep some bagged or dry ice at home
- Freeze “danger” leftovers like milk, meat and poultry. If you find yourself without power they’ll last longer
Protect sensitive electrical equipment
Power surge plugs are a good idea for valuable electrical appliances. They’re relatively inexpensive and you can find them at most electrical retailers. Keep your computer backed-up regularly too, just in case.
Make sure any home medical equipment has a battery back-up
Give your boiler pressure a check-up before things turn cold. It’ll run best at around 1 to 1.5 bar, and you can check this via the gauge on the front of your boiler unit.
Check whether vulnerable neighbours have a power cut plan
You might also want to pop in on them if there’s a blackout, just to make sure they don’t need any urgent help.
And that should just about cover it! If you’re on the Priority Services Register for vulnerable energy customers, you should continue to use the number you’ve been given for emergencies. And if you’d like to check whether you’re eligible to be added to the Register, give your energy supplier a call.
Service your roof
Cracked or lost roof tiles can lead to leaks and flooding. And they can even invalidate your home insurance if improper upkeep leads to weather damage. So don't wait to see what happens when winter comes. Have a look and see if you can spot any issues from street level, or from a neighbouring property. If you don't feel comfortable climbing a ladder, have a professional come and tackle any problem areas for you.
Make a plan
Do you know where your stopcock is? In the (rare) event that your pipes do freeze up you'll want to prevent a build-up of pressure forming behind the blockage and leading to a burst pipe. So familiarise yourself with the whereabouts of your stopcock - a little tap or lever on your copper pipes, which is often under a sink - and make sure that you can access it easily.