17 Overlooked but Essential Power Outage Preps

You often hear about generators, flashlights, and batteries when it comes to power outage preparations.  These are the meat and potatoes of your preps for sure, but we often overlook the little 1 percenters that add up to make a setup complete and fully functional.  

Without them, you will likely get by, but you’re setting yourself up for failure if the impact of the power outage is different than what you planned.  

I’m going to cover 17 commonly overlooked but essential items for any power outage to make sure you have a more well-rounded game plan the next time life leaves you and your family in the dark!

1. Battery backup CO detectors

Can you believe that carbon monoxide detectors don’t always come with a backup battery feature?  Yep, CO doesn’t kill when the lights are out, just in good times.

It makes sense though, right?  The lights are off, and no one would ever start using open flame for light or cooking, so what is the risk of CO?  

Just kidding!  In all seriousness, I don’t get why they don’t all come with batteries.

But it is scary that if you haven’t checked lately, your CO detectors might be AC power only and will cease working when the lights go out.  

Have at least a couple of these in your house if you don’t already have them and if you do have them make sure the batteries are functional.  

In a power outage make sure to keep one wherever you are using open flame for lighting or cooking and also where you sleep.  

2. Fire Extinguisher

As we mentioned above, power outages lead a lot of people to use open flame for lighting and cooking in the home.  Some people are not used to cooking with an open-flame like on an indoor-rated butane camp stove, so just that alone causes a huge spike in the probability of an accident occurring.  

Igniting a cooking oil or grease, knocking over a candle, or having something spontaneously combust that is too close to these open flames can all result in you not having to worry about home ownership anymore.  

Do yourself and make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher and that it is still operational.  They are cheap and there is no reason not to have one around unless you are looking to downsize your life.  

3. Toilet Paper

Yep, probably the least romantic topic out there, but we all need it and without it no one is a happy camper.  The thought of not having it when you need it is impetus enough to hopefully make sure you never let your home supply run to zero.  

We keep at least one spare pack in the crawlspace just in case there’s an inconvenience with the power and power with local stores.  

A travel tip is to keep a roll in an old (cleaned out) peanut butter container under your car seat for traveling.  Then when you get to a rest area you can have your own to use. Nothing is worse than a rest area that isn’t maintained and is out of toilet paper!

4. Hand Sanitizer

Keeping a couple large bottles of this in your power outage preps is a great idea for conserving water that is normally used for hygiene.  If you store water like I do, you won’t want to waste it unnecessarily on hand washing when you could sanitize — especially if it’s just a minor washing need.

5. Storage tote

What do you plan on putting all of your power outage gear in when not in use?  Scattered around the house?

If you’re not careful, that’s probably what you’ll do.  In fact, I recommend doing that with flashlights! However, when the situation hits and the need is there, you’re scrambling in the dark and wondering where you last saw the rest of your gear.  

Do yourself a favor with some forethought and buy a large tote that you can store in the garage or basement with all of your gear in it.  Label the bin, and party on with life.

6. Some 5-gallon buckets

Having a few of these with lids give you so much overlooked utility.  Bailing out your basement when the sump pump is out, catching leaks or rainwater, carrying tools, a makeshift toilet  — which leads us to…

7. Drum liners/Garbage bags and old newspaper/sawdust

These also can serve as ponchos, keeping things dry in a flood, garbage containment, and when combined with the 5-gallon bucket they become your disposable septic system.  

That’s right.  If you’re one of the unfortunate ones who cannot flush the toilets due to a septic backup or some other crazy reason, knowing how to dispose of the deeds is good knowledge to have.

Double-line the bucket or toilet with the two drum liners, throw in some shredded newspaper or sawdust, and do, well… what you got to do.  Splash a little bleach, and layer again with sawdust and fold the bag over to seal up any smells.

When you’re done, tie them up very well and I’ll let you decide what you want to do with that bag when the power and waste removal services are back up and running.

8. Potable water and a way to make it that way

Whether you buy store-bought water bottles or collect your own from old jugs of some sort, you’re going to want to have some amount of water stored away somewhere in your house.  The amount is subjective and varies depending on everyone’s situation.

Having a family of four, I keep 100 gallons stored at all times as I feel that is my responsibility as a parent.

Having a trusty filter or means of boiling on hand is great for any new water you might collect during a power outage.

9. Not just any old light bulbs — Low wattage LED bulbs!

Incandescent bulbs are a novelty and use up a ton of power.  CFL’s are more efficient. However, LED’s are the most efficient win over the other types in every category.  They will last longer, won’t get hot to the touch, don’t require time to get fully lit, and use a small fraction of the power that the other ones use while emitting more lumens!  

I keep 8 bulbs in my preps that use 5.5 watts each but have a brightness of 470 lumens!  If I need to use all 8, I’m only using 44 watts. That’s a very low load on the power inverter that you’ll use with your car battery or home battery backup system.  4 bulbs are enough for us to do everything during a power outage and we supplement with flashlights or LED lanterns.  

10. Extra baby food/formula or pet food

Essentially, you’ll probably want to have at least a 7 day extra supply of food for any member of the family with special or unique needs.  Nothing could be worse than having the entire town without power and finding that you need a new canister of formula for a screaming baby or a new bag of dog food.  You’ll never forgive yourself if you could have done something about it ahead of time.  Now is that time.  Do something!

11. Extra rugs

You don’t really need to stockpile these or anything, but having a few extra ones or having a lot of them in the house that you can move around can come in handy during the next power outage.  

When you drag cords around the house from the generator or battery bank, you’re going to have trip hazards everywhere.  Combine that with diminished lighting and it’s a very real possibility.

Setting some extra rugs or moving rugs from other locations to lay on top of the cords can save yourself a hospital visit when your 3-year-old breaks an arm.

12. Power inverter

If you’re absolutely new to preparing for power outages, you might not have ever heard of a power inverter.  This is a little device that takes direct current power from your car battery, for example, and turns it into alternating current so that you can plug in your lamp, TV, cell phone.

With an inverter, there is literally no excuse for you to be without basic lighting and a charged phone.  You just need gasoline for your car.

This is one of the greatest adult purchase investments I’ve ever made and has saved my butt on many occasions or at least made things a lot more convenient.

You can check out my article here on using your car battery with an inverter to run your lights and appliances.  

13. Extra device or tool essentials

There’s a saying, “two is one, and one is none.”  This means that something is always going to break or get lost.  If you have two of something, it’s really just as good as having one, and if you have one you’re going to be up a particular creek if it breaks.  

Make sure you have an extra spark plug for your generator; and extra inverter for your home battery bank; spare fuses for your car cigarette lighter outlet, battery chargers, and inverters (if applicable).  

Having an extra spark plug for your snowblower might a great idea as well if the power is out due to a snowstorm.

14. T-Splitters and small extension cords

If you are running cords from a generator or a home battery bank, you’re going to want to maximize what you can do with them.  Every time you use a T-splitter, you branch one cord into three. Also, having a bunch of cheap 10’-12’ extension cords allow you to reach all of your lamps and devices.  Toss all of these in a bag and throw it in your storage tote that we mentioned above.

15. Cash and Barter

Everyone is so reliant on a plastic card for payments.  I use my debit card exclusively. If you can afford it, having $100-$300 in cash is not a bad idea to keep somewhere hidden and for an emergency.  If the local store lacks power but will accept cash only, you’ll be able to get what you need.

Also, if a tree falls in your driveway or on your roof and you need Joe with the chainsaw to remove it, it’s probably nice to be able to offer him something.  Then again, having something on hand like a 24 pack of beer (even if you don’t drink) might be a quicker way to get his attention!

I’m sure a phone call offering $50 cash and a 24 pack of beer will get his attention a lot faster during a 5-day power outage than “I’ll pay you when the power comes back on.”

16. French Press

If you’re like me, you appreciate having a warm cup of coffee in the mornings.  Don’t let a power outage ruin that for you because it certainly doesn’t have to.  Just plan ahead and make some preparations for what you would do in this situation.  

My favorite method is with a French Press.  I use this method in good times too. You just need hot water and coffee grounds.  For coffee making ideas without power, check out my article here on 7 ways to make power when the power is out.  I promise you that the first method is probably one you’ve never heard of or considered!

17. Gas

It’s great practice to never let your car get below a half tank in the event of an unexpected emergency while you’re at home — like a power outage.  If your local area is without power and you are on empty but need to go somewhere, things could get interesting.

Having at least 5 gallons of gas stored in your garage or shed is a great little insurance policy to have just in case Murphy pays you a visit.  Just be sure to treat the gasoline with a fuel stabilizer and store it properly. My article here visits the topic of long-term gasoline storage.  

I’m sure with a little thought you can think of some on your own as well.  Everyone has a unique situation and angle of looking at things.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to brainstorm your normal daily activities and consider what you would do if you didn’t have electricity or other modern services.  Assess your weaknesses and take steps to build redundancies around them.  Stay safe out there!

Robert Van Nuck

Robert lives in central Michigan and enjoys running, woodworking, and fixing up small engines.

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