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Winter Power Outage Tips for Cooking, Heating, and Lighting

Rochelle has experience with wild critters and gardening adventures while living the simple life in a rural area for 20 years.

Learn how to prepare with these tips

Learn how to prepare with these tips

How to Prepare for Winter Power Outage

If you live in an area that gets seasonal snow and ice, a power failure may be inevitable during a cold winter storm.

Heating Your Home

Most people who have homes or vacation cabins in snowy areas have built-in features that help them to cope with occasional outages. For instance, if you have a working wood stove, your dwelling can be comfortably warm even when it is freezing outside.

Modern homes usually have gas, electric or propane systems for heat. While these are cleaner and easier to use, a wood-burning stove can provide effective heating as well as a comforting ambiance.

For practical reasons, the most important feature of a wood-burning stove is that it will work all winter without any electrical power.

Warming Up Food

You can warm up soup or cook a stew on a wood stove without much trouble. Cast iron cookware or even the crockery inserts used in electric slow cookers can be placed on top for warming canned chili or beans and franks that have been opened with your manual can opener.

Dinner on the woodstove

Dinner on the woodstove

Cooking During an Outage

A traditional open fireplace can be used for heat but much of the heat goes straight up the chimney and it is not very convenient for cooking.

One important thing that is required for a wood-burning stove or a fireplace is a good supply of dry wood.

The more modern 'pellet stoves' that some people have in their winter cabins are easier and cleaner to use, but they require an electric burner to ignite the pellets. They are useless in a power outage. Also, when you do have power, you have to buy the fuel pellets and keep a good supply on hand. You may have access to a wood supply on your own property.

If your home has a kitchen range that uses natural or propane gas, you can probably still cook on it during an outage. Electric ignition will not work while the power lines are down, but your propane tank supplies a pressurized flow of fuel and you can light the burners with a match or other lighter. Be careful to make sure the propane is totally turned off when you are finished cooking.

Check your range features. I recently got a new gas (propane) range with an electric ignition and learned from the installer that some of the "new and improved models" can NOT be lit manually. Mine can be, but if I were buying a new one I would be sure not to get the 'improved' one.

Candle holders, kerosene lamp, filter pitcher and a few miscellaneous items to keep handy.

Candle holders, kerosene lamp, filter pitcher and a few miscellaneous items to keep handy.

Fire Prevention

Be extra careful when using an open flame. Candles, oil lamps, barbeques and hibachis can be useful, but can also cause a catastrophe. Make sure you have proper oversight and ventilaion. Use carefully.

A battery lantern is helpful for finding your supplies, foodstuffs and batteries.

A battery lantern is helpful for finding your supplies, foodstuffs and batteries.

Let There be Light . . . and Water

Flashlights, electric lanterns, oil lamps and even candles should be a part of everyone's emergency supply stash. Don't forget to have batteries, lamp oil and matches on hand!

You will want to have a battery-powered light by your bedside and one in the bathroom. You never know when the outage may happen. If you have a dark pantry, a storage shelf in the garage or a dark cupboard in the kitchen you will want a free-standing electric lantern so you can find that can of chili and beans that you will warm up on the woodstove.

Now, what about water? Water doesn't have anything to do with electric power, does it?

It does if you depend on a well with an electric pump. You should have a certain amount of bottled water stored especially if you do not have a system that uses a gravity-fed storage tank. Of course, in the case of a cold winter storm, you can melt clean snow. Keep in mind that (depending on the moisture content of the snow) it takes about ten cups of snow to make one cup of water.

If you regularly use a filter pitcher and maybe keep a filtered water dispenser in the refrigerator you will have a small ready supply of water to start with.

In any case, you will want to conserve the clean drinking water that you have. Use hand sanitizers and wet wipes for cleanup instead of washing hands with water. Use paper towels and napkins where you would normally use cloth. (Your washing machine isn't working, and if it were, it would use a lot of water, too.)

You can also save water by not washing dishes. Have a supply of paper plates and bowls to cut down on water usage. Even if you do not use paper products on a regular basis you should have a stock for emergencies. Buy them when you see a good sale price.

Use snow to help you do the dishes, or at least to scrub and rinse out the pots and pans.

Use snow to help you do the dishes, or at least to scrub and rinse out the pots and pans.

Use Snow for Drinking, Cooking, Cleaning, and Refrigeration

Snow, the very substance that brings down trees onto the power lines, can be turned into drinking and cooking water when you are careful to collect only clean, untrodden top layers of the white stuff.

Even then, if you are going to ingest it, it should probably be boiled or treated.

Snow also has other uses. Put on a pair of mittens and you can use the snow to clean utensils and pans. The ice crystals make a good scrubber with gentle icy abrasiveness and built-in water.

You will want to do a proper washing, or at least a boiling water rinse later but this snow scrub will remove large food particles and most grease.

The idea of washing dishes brings up another point. Keep your dishwashing and laundry chores (plus any other tasks that use a lot of water) done on a regular basis and up to date -- especially when expecting a storm. You don't want to have a lot of these everyday tasks undone when there is little water and no power.

Fill coolers and tubs with clean snow so you can keep a few things in an ice chest and not be constantly opening the (unpowered) refrigerator.

You can also fill large bowls and plastic containers with snow to put inside your refrigerator to keep the interior cool.

For frequently used items like milk, take them out of the fridge quickly and then, instead of opening the door again to replace them, put them in your snow-filled ice chest so you are only opening the refrigerator a minimum number of times.

Do not open the freezer, if at all possible. If the freezer is mostly full, the contents should be fine for up to three days or so.

Filling and refilling the bathtub with snow will give you a supply of melting water that you can use with a bucket for flushing the toilet.

If there is snow outside, take advantage of it to fill coolers and bins to keep food cold.

If there is snow outside, take advantage of it to fill coolers and bins to keep food cold.

Butane wand lighters are easy to use. The refillable ones are most economical.

Butane wand lighters are easy to use. The refillable ones are most economical.

Matches, Lighters, Backup Batteries, and Land-Line Phones

Matches are a basic emergency item, but even handier and easier to use, are the butane lighters or the electric arc lighter with trigger ignition and a wand. These are very efficient for lighting your wood fire, your propane burners, and your candles.

With matches you may need several to get the fire going. Then you need a place to put the hot burned match.

The wand keeps the fire far from your fingers, gives you an extended reach, and stays lighted for as long as you need the flame.

Some of the butane models are meant to be disposable, but you can find refillable ones which use the same fuel as for cigarette lighters.

The refillable ones are usually of better quality, work better and refilling them is more economical, as well. Use care when handling the flammable fuel.

A couple of more items that might help you by keeping in touch with the outside world:

A land-line telephone line is important if you live in outage-prone areas. These days many people think they can get along fine with only a cell phone, that needs to be recharged, and might not work well in certain areas.

You may want to add a backup battery designed to recharge cell phones and tablets to your emergency supplies. Make sure you are using your electronics for only necessary reasons to preserve your backup power.

An "old fashioned" land-line phone with a cord connection will still work for an extended period of time even when regular electric power is out. The ones with a plug-in base that let you wander around the house cordlessly won't work when power is out.

Top of the Line Arc Lighter

Emergency Radio

If you are trying to get an idea of when power will be restored, or just want to hear some news, you want a radio.

A radio might be battery powered, but you may want to have one with a solar and/or crank recharger, or even one that can charge your cell phone.

If there is a weather channel it can also give you an idea about how long stormy conditions will last, and if roads are open.

So if you lose electricity during a snowstorm, think of it as an adventure and an opportunity to cozy up by the fire and enjoy dinner. A few preparations will make it less stressful and even an enjoyable experience.

It's not a TV, but it's a welcome sight when the power is out.

It's not a TV, but it's a welcome sight when the power is out.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 15, 2013:

Thank you, Prasetieo30. I always enjoy your hubs on such unique and interesting subjects!

Does your mom live in Indonesia? I don't think of that as a country that has snow and winter weather, but perhaps I am wrong. I hope she finds something useful.

I'm always happy when someone finds something worth sharing.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 15, 2013:

I love your tips and I'll share with my mom. I believe that she'll love it. Thanks for writing. Voted up :-)


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 15, 2013:

The weather is getting cooler. It's never to early to be prepared. Thanks for commenting, mbuggieh.

mbuggieh on October 15, 2013:


We also keep a lot of ready-to-eat canned foods and easy to cook (camp foods) foods around as well as a few "crank up" radios and lights.

And we heat with wood (and if needs be can cook with it too)---no power needed for an old-fashioned wood stove.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 06, 2013:

Yes, it is easier here in the country. People are more prepared to take care of themselves and don't necessarily depend on the usual conveniences of city life. If those city conveniences lapse, it leaves a lot of people unprepared-- plus the fact that they are unlikely to have woodstoves and propane. I appreciate the comment, Sherry Hewins.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 06, 2013:

We do have power outages now and then, but the crews are pretty efficient in getting things going again. The longest I have had it out was three days, a couple of years ago. That storm left some people in the dark for up to nine days in our area. When big trees go down they often take power lines as well as blocking road access. Thanks for the comment, RTalloni.

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on March 05, 2013:

When I see the devastation power outages cause in the cities it makes me thankful that I live in the country. Even though we gave up our woodstove a few years ago, we still have propane that works without electricity.

RTalloni on March 05, 2013:

Good stuff to be thinking through for snow storms! Sharing what you've learned is helpful for everyone since we tend to forget previous storm's gifts until a new one hits, or perhaps have no experience…

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 10, 2012:

Yes, much of this does not apply to apartment dwellers. You have to prepare the best way you can-- layers of warm clothing. ready to eat foods, etc.

For the future, it might be able to move to a place where many of these tips apply. I appreciate your comment, luvintkandtj .

luvintkandtj from USA on November 09, 2012:

These are great tips. Sadly, I am like nifwlseirff and cannot have an open fire roaring in my apartment. I too have learned the importance of being prepared post March 11th.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 28, 2012:

Yes, many of these tips require some pre-planning. Gathering certain items before the storm hits, makes you feel more secure.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 18, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, nifwlseirff. I know these tips don't work in every situation, but perhaps they will help sometime in the future.

Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on January 18, 2012:

Fires are so much more relaxing to watch than a TV! I'd love to have a wood stove/open fire, but it's not really possible in apartments in a city! I learned the importance of being prepared the harder way, in Japan in March last year. Good advice!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 17, 2012:

Thank you, Donna. Time to start thinking about this again--- we have had no snow and little rain in Nov, Dec and January-- we may get some this weekend.

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on October 30, 2011:

Great advice!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 20, 2011:

It's time to start getting prepared. Make it an adventure instead of an inconvenience.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 31, 2011:

Nothing like a nice woodstove when it's snowing outside. Before we got used to the heating efficiency of ours-- we had to open the doors and windows to let some of the freezing air into the house.

It's especially nice when you have lots of wood on the property. Some of the trees are chosen by the storms, to be next year's fuel.

Thanks for commenting, Joe Macho.

Zach from Colorado on August 31, 2011:

Personally, I'd prefer if all the power went out and things went back to wood stoves. I don't know what I'd do without mine in the winter. Thanks for the great hub. Voted up

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 19, 2011:

Yes, when power is out, snow is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be very useful. Thanks for reading so many of my hubs.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on August 18, 2011:

I've never - knock on wood - had a power outage that lasted more than overnight, but if I ever move somewhere that gets a lot of snow, I'll certainly put these tips to use. Thanks!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 05, 2011:

Thanks, Hello hello. It can make things a lot more comfortable.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on June 05, 2011:

Great Ideas. Nothing better than being prepared.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 31, 2011:

Thank you, Glenna East. I'm glad you found something useful. It does seem that we have had an increasing number of disasters lately. I hope it makes people think about what they can do do be able to help themselves and others.

Genna East on May 31, 2011:

Excellent hub. As a New Englander, these are helpful tips – some of which we are aware of and others we did not think of. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop in the wake of the terrible flooding, tornadoes and other tragedies other parts of the country have been facing in recent months.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 31, 2011:

That's a good idea, Karanda. Some of the things we take for granted as being "always there" (water, clean air, heat) are the ones that are most vital.

Many people pay for insurance for emergencies, but fail to do anything practical like storing some water, food and other supplies that can be literal life savers.

Karen Wilton from Australia on May 30, 2011:

Excellent advice and tips Rochelle. I've never experienced snow but I certainly know what it is like to lose power and water. During a recent cyclone we lost both and we are on mains water but live up hill so the pump needs power to get water to us. There are always two cartons of bottled water in our storage cupboard now.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 30, 2011:

Interesting to note that an ad for electric fireplaces is placed on an article about power outages. OK, so some people do use generators for backup power.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 30, 2011:

Thanks for reading, Donna. I would much rather have snow than a hurricane-- especially if I am prepared. And, as I mentioned, the snow does compensate you some by providing coolant and water.

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on May 30, 2011:

Good tips - and many of them will work for we southerners during hurricane season. All but the snow for keeping food cool, for that we need ice. I keep 2 liter pop bottles full of water on hand and put a couple in my freezer.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 30, 2011:

Thanks for the compliment, Cardisa. Most people who live in snow areas know these things, but I didn't have everything that could have helped the first time it happened to me. (We sat by the fire and wished we were in Jamaica.)

Power outages in hot weather, I think are more difficult, but they are less frequent here.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 30, 2011:

Thank you, KoffeKlatch. The power crews around here are pretty efficient, but we had a great deal of snow the past winter both early and late in the season. In the fall the oaks had not yet shed their leaves, meaning that the heavy snow stuck to them and brought down a lot of large trees onto power lines. Ours was out only a little over two days-- some in the area had to wait 10 days.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on May 30, 2011:

Wow, I live in Jamaica, but found this hub extremely well put together. I am sure there are a few grateful people thanking you for such useful tips.

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on May 30, 2011:

Wonderful tips and advice. We were caught in the snow/ice storm in upstate New York up by the Canadian border in the beginning of 1998. It was quite an experience. Rate up and useful.