Whether the result of a lightning storm or downed limb, power outages strike without warning. It’s impossible to predict how long they’ll last, and our reliance on electricity to be productive at work and at home means outages are always disruptive. Calling the local utility to report an outage is an important first step we all can take to restore power, but for outages lasting several hours—or several days—learning a few power outage hacks can bring back the basics and make living without power more manageable.

What causes a power outage?

Severe weather is the number one cause of outages. While hurricanes and earthquakes are less common causes for longer-term power loss, thunderstorms, high winds, and freezing rain and ice during winter months are likely culprits for shorter-term shutdowns.

Lightning strikes regularly cause power loss for a few minutes. This is by design. Specialized electrical equipment instantly opens and closes a breaker to clear the short circuit.

Mother nature is regularly cutting our power in more mundane ways, too. Birds nest in substation equipment. Squirrels chew through wires. Falling tree branches put whole neighborhoods in the dark for hours.

Equipment failures also are common, with cables, connectors, and transformers occasionally failing for a variety of reasons, from faulty components to normal wear and tear. And human error – car accidents, careless tree trimming, digging up power lines – can knock out the electricity for an extended period.

In short, power outages can happen at any time for a variety of reasons. Being prepared so you’re not caught off guard when an outage lasts more than an hour or two is important for any home or apartment owner.

10 common causes of power outages

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How to prepare for a power outage

A few smart purchases and an hour of prep can prevent scrambling in the dark and rifling through drawers for flashlights, candles, or power banks. Get started by assembling a simple emergency kit to have at the ready during an outage.

A basic outage kit should include:

How to prepare for a power outage

With the average outage lasting between 90 minutes and four hours depending on your local infrastructure, a basic outage kit should keep you comfortable until the power comes back. But if the outage moves into overtime, getting creative can help light up the night, protect perishables, maintain connectivity, and keep your home warm.

  • Light
  • Perishables
  • Connectivity
  • Warmth
Power outage life hack: a crayon used as a candle

Fact or fiction

Use a Crayon as a Candle During a Power Outage

Spark a Crayola

Smaller rooms can stay functional with a single candle, but if you’ve cashed your candle supply, crayons work well as a substitute. Light the tip of your favorite color (we recommend Burnt Sienna) and let it melt onto a fire-resistant, disposable (or easy-to-clean) surface, like a small plate or saucer. Drip wax on the surface and stand the crayon up in the melted wax before it hardens to create a makeshift holder. Each crayon should last about an hour.

Create a water jug lantern

When a power outage occurs at night, the added burden of trying to move through the house in the dark can be a challenge. Flashlight beams and candles can’t always bring the lumens needed to light larger kitchens and living rooms effectively, so here’s a hack to amplify that light. Strap an LED headlamp or use duct tape to direct an LED flashlight beam into a water-filled plastic milk jug to create a DIY lantern. The water refracts the light, giving off enough glow to mimic a 55-watt light bulb. Place the jug in front of a mirror to amplify the light even more.

Bring solar lights inside

A clever way to light dark rooms during a blackout is by bringing solar-charged flower beds and walkway lights inside after the sun goes down. For extended outages, place the lights in a sunny window to recharge during the day, or bring them back out into the sun to power up before dark.

Fun tips and tricks aside, power outages can be serious business for those affected and those tasked with getting the lights back on. A few smart purchases and an hour of organizing an outage kit can keep you confident and productive when the lights go out.

Need some cash to build up your outage kit? Compare plans in your area to see if you can save on your energy supply costs with a fixed rate plan from Energy Harbor.