Millions of people across North America will face unexpected power outages this winter, and you will most likely be one of them. Having at least partial backup electrical power in that kind of situation can be really helpful and convenient – and can, in some cases, save lives.
The options and techniques for providing “off the grid” electrical power are numerous – and the topic is a huge one that can quickly get complicated and highly technical. But one aspect of the fascinating subject is relatively simple, and fundamentally critical – namely, safety. So here are some helpful tips for staying safe when using emergency sources of electrical power in your home.
• Gas Generators and Carbon Monoxide
When operating a gas-powered generator, one of the most dangerous threats is carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year people die because they place their generators too close to their living space and inhale the odorless but deadly fumes. Don’t use a generator in a garage, for example, or in close proximity to a window or door.
• Automotive Battery Safety
Using vehicle batteries for extra power is a good way to provide backup electricity, and you can do that with devices such as electrical inverters that change direct current (DC) to common household alternating current (AC). But standard auto batteries give off fumes including volatile hydrogen. So unless you want to accidentally create a hydrogen bomb in your home, don’t ever store or use one of these batteries in an enclosed space. They need to stay in a well ventilated area – otherwise a spark, flame, or static electricity could cause the battery to explode.
• 12 Volt Chargers
There are small 12 volt gadgets you can use to tap into your automobile battery’s electrical energy source, and these are useful for recharging flashlights, smart phones, laptops, and other low-wattage accessories. You just plug one end into your car’s electrical port (what used to be commonly referred to as the cigarette lighter). The other end plugs into your gadget to charge it. You can use these without actually cranking the car’s engine, but be careful not to drain your car’s battery by doing that for extended periods of time.
• Juice Up
Charging through your car will only work if you have a fully charged battery, so maintain your auto battery – especially in winter when batteries exert lots more energy in order to crank an engine. Auto batteries have a limited shelf life, so check the date on your battery and replace it if it has lost its power and become inadequate. Your car battery will also get drained when it sits idle for long periods or when you drain the juice off of it with charger gadgets.
• Gas Up
The good news is that by driving your vehicle the battery will get recharged, as long as it is not too severely drained and it is not otherwise defective. Of course running a vehicle depletes the fuel in its tank – which can create other problems, especially in an emergency. So the first thing to do if you expect a storm is to charge all your portable electrical gadgets such as cell phones and fill up the gas tanks in all your vehicles.
There are plenty of compelling reasons to have a safe backup system for your electrical grid. But telephones that work, a radio or TV to keep track of the news, a DVD player to keep you entertained, or a laptop that puts you in touch with the rest of the world is more than just handy. That small amenity in your household can actually make you and your family feel much less vulnerable and isolated – and that is a priceless asset in an emergency.
Even an inexpensive 12-volt gadget charger that works in an automobile or a reliable flashlight can have a really positive impact during an extended power outage. So do some research, come up with a plan you can afford, and then invest in your own electrical backup system. You’ll be glad you did when the lights suddenly go out this winter.