Thunderstorms, Hurricanes, Heatwaves, OH MY!
Electrical safety tips and power saving products to help protect your home during extreme weather.July 23, 2021
From severe storms to record-breaking heatwaves, extreme weather can happen anywhere – often with minimal warning. And while the dangers to life and limb are the #1 concern during an emergency, it’s worth taking time to assess your home in advance and adjust to reduce possible damages well before the bad weather hits.
And we have a few electrical considerations to get you started:
For ThunderstormsIt’s probably safe to say we’ve all lived through our fair share of storms over the years, but if you’ve watched the news recently you know that storms are still a force to be reckoned with, even if they’re common.
High winds, hail, lightning…these are just a few of a storm’s elements that might wreak havoc on your home. And they can do expensive damage even without hitting your property directly.
Power surges – whether caused by a lightning strike many blocks away, wind damage nearby, or a fallen tree limb right outside – can do more than inconvenience you with a temporary outage. They have the potential to ruin any connected device or appliance. Replacing just one major appliance unexpectedly can be a significant expense, not to mention the potentially priceless loss of irreplaceable digital content or data from a computer (REMINDER: BACK UP YOUR FAMILY PHOTOS ON THE CLOUD). So, if you aren’t willing to go by luck alone, here are some considerations to help you reduce your risk for such damages.
- Unplug. Simple and free, but effective. All this method takes is a few minutes and some forethought. If you’re at home as a severe storm approaches, go ahead and unplug electronics and appliances not actively in use: Computers, TVs and other entertainment equipment, washers and dryers, etc.
- Add surge protectors. The danger of a power surge comes from excess, when suddenly more power is being transferred than your devices and appliances can safely handle. With a surge protector, when the voltage increases dangerously and power spikes or surges, it diverts the power flow to a grounding wire and away from your devices and appliances. Surge protectors are an easy and affordable line of defense – just remember to carefully review your options. Note that not all power strips include surge protection, so be sure to confirm that as a feature, and also consider sticking to known and reputable brands or manufacturers. The vast number of surge protectors available can offer different degrees of protection and haven’t all withstood the same amount of testing.
- Use an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). For some equipment like computers and refrigerators, losing power in the event of a surge can quickly lead to additional losses. That’s why an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) can be a life…or, at least, a food or data… saver. Essentially a backup battery for a specific device or appliance, you connect your equipment to the UPS which then plugs in at the outlet. The UPS stores up a charge so that if a surge and outage occurs, your connected device or appliance can keep running. Why While the power supply is finite – like any battery, it will eventually run out – this level of backup power and protection can give you the time and opportunity to save files, safely shutdown and unplug your computer, transition perishable food to coolers, etc.
- Install a Whole-Home Surge Protection/Lightning Protection System. If it’s overwhelming to think about all the various devices, appliances and equipment in your house that you’d want protected in the event of a power surge, then a whole-home solution might be the best option for you. Installed by a certified electrician, whole-home surge protection systems are added between your meter and breaker panel to create a surge safeguard that extends protection to all the connected devices and appliances within your home.
Heatwaves (& Freeze-waves)Maybe you already know this from personal experience, but it’s harder to run when it’s really hot out.
For humans and for the electric grid.
But the connection between heatwaves and power outages is perhaps a little more multi-faceted.
When extreme high temperatures come into a forecast, we start to hear a lot about blackouts and brownouts. That’s because heatwaves strain electricity on all sides. Not only do the temperatures themselves reduce transmission efficiency, but individual homes increase their usage to keep inside temps comfortable, which means the grid’s mechanisms then also increase usage to try to meet this surplus demand AND make up for the less efficient transmission rates. It’s the kind of escalating stress that can lead to that one final straw totally breaking the poor camel’s back.
The increased likelihood for blackouts and brownouts then comes from both the possibility of an overworked system surging and giving out temporarily, and electric companies reducing voltage across the board to try and prevent full outages from occurring. For this reason, the surge protection methods outlined in the section above can be helpful in the event of a heatwave, as can the following options for helping to conserve your personal usage and the pressures on the grid.
- Close off vents with easy magnetic covers. A frequent tip for conserving energy is to block off the vents in unused rooms. While some styles of vents are designed to shutter or close, that’s not the case for all. For those vents that don’t, magnetic vent covers are available for minimal cost in several standard sizes to help you seal off that guest bedroom or the rarely used powder room for the heatwave’s duration.
- Switch on some ceiling fans. While they still use electricity to run, the difference in power required for fans vs. the A/C is significant. By using ceiling fans, you can more easily and comfortably raise the target temp on the thermostat and limit how hard, how long, and how often the air conditioning needs to run. Not only is this helpful during extreme weather, it can also be a good way to save energy and money all summer long. Side note: If you are new to the magic of ceiling fans, you may not know that fan direction matters! For helping your space stay cool, make sure the fan is operating in the counterclockwise direction. During the winter, go ahead and reverse the direction of the fan to help circulate the warm air back down (because heat rises) to help keep you cozy.
- Shut the blinds. Natural light is a wonderful thing…until the heat index is well above 100 and you can’t. stop. sweating. That’s when it’s time to shut the blinds, pull down the shades and close your curtains. This simple act is an energy-efficient way to help keep your interiors cooler and more comfortable, especially when using window treatments in the right materials or styles.
Hurricanes & FloodsSometimes when it rains, it pours. For hours, for days.
And when dealing with wetter weather emergencies, additional considerations and efforts are required for your safety.
- Consider flipping key breakers. If you are fortunate enough to have a window of warning time before water levels begin to rise, disconnecting all outdoor equipment and shutting off the breakers to outdoor outlets is a good safety move. The same treatment goes for basements, garages or other first floor rooms with potential for flooding. Important: If flooding occurred before you had the opportunity to disconnect or shut off power, do not enter the flooded room or area. Any outlets or connected devices that are wet or have been submerged are dangerous.
- Check on your GFCIs. Water and electricity are not a good combo. That’s why some areas of your home are required to have ground-fault circuit interrupters to provide protection against electric shock or electrocution. If you are expecting or experiencing flooding in your home, be sure that any emergency equipment you plan to use (water pumps, portable lights, dehumidifiers/fans) are plugged into a completely dry outlet outside the flooded area and are protected by GFCI. If you are unsure whether any GFCI outlets in your home are up to the task of protecting your home, you can check them using the Test button located on the outlet face. You may want to consider updating older GFCIs to self-testing versions that let you know if the outlet’s protection stops working via audible alarms and/or indicator lights. Industry-leading versions self-test every 3 seconds to always ensure protection.
- Plan ahead for generator fuel & placement. The last few years have seen hurricanes and tropical storms inflict serious damage on expanding portions of the country, inspiring more residents in more areas to consider precautionary prep. Similarly, we’ve seen numerous examples of extreme flooding – often following an emergency-level hurricane or storm. Due to the extended duration of these types of emergencies, generators – and a fuel supply – can be a worthwhile, even crucial, purchase. But if you are considering a generator, there are a few VERY important notes to keep in mind. First and foremost: never run a generator inside the house. It should be positioned outside the house at a distance of at least 20 feet, out of direct line from doors or windows. Additionally, ensure you have an appropriate generator “tent” or cover to keep it dry, and always follow all safety guidelines included with your equipment.