Power Outages and Air Quality

It’s not hard to imagine nowadays: hot weather, cold weather, storms, electrical grid system hacking, or just plain equipment failure are all reasons you could lose power to your house.  In that case, there are a number of things to consider and ways you can prepare. 

Generators:  If you are going to keep a generator as a backup power source, have a plan on where you will run it.  It’s NOT OK to run a gas-powered generator in an attached garage, or even next to an attached garage.   According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CO poisoning sends more than 20,000 Americans to the emergency room and kills upwards of 400 during a typical year. (USNews.com) Gas-powered generators need to be placed at least 20 feet from the house, so that exhaust fumes can dissipate. To plan for this, make sure you can roll the generator to a safe operating place (preferably a fenced yard) and have a dedicated extension cord of the proper gauge wire to run to your home.  Inside your home, you should have a working CO monitor on each floor so that you can be alerted should the CO level rise. Change the batteries in the CO monitors once a year when you change smoke alarm batteries.  CO doesn’t even need open doors or windows to enter your home, so don’t circumvent these guidelines!  Other safety tips for generator operation: (redcross.org)

  • Keep fuel in approved safety cans
  • Be sure to shut off the generator and let it cool down before refueling
  • Don’t operate it in wet conditions; you can install a tarp or other temporary cover over it to keep it and the ground it’s standing on, dry.

Window screens:  Of course, ventilation sans electricity requires planning too.  It’s hard to keep the windows open for ventilation without proper-fitting screens.  If you don’t normally open the windows, now is the time to plan for having to do so. 

  1. Get windows working (here’s a video on how to unstick painted windows using a variety of tools and techniques). 
  2. If your windows are missing screens, plan to order at least one screen per side of the house, per floor.   You’ll want to allow cross-ventilation, so this means if you have a traditional four-sided, two-story house, you’ll need at least eight screens if you keep the interior doors open for cross-ventilation.  For bedrooms with multiple windows, it’s helpful to have an additional screen (2 total) in the bedroom so that you can get cross ventilation in the bedroom, even with the door closed.  Here’s a page that will help you order the right size screens and the right hardware.  Or, order adjustable window screens that will fit many different size windows.   
  3. For existing screens, consider having them re-screened in new material like AllergyGuard or PollenTec.  These screen materials are actually fine filters that block way more pollen, dust, and particles than traditional screens.  AllergyGuard boasts that it blocks particles from 0.3 to 10 microns, more than 69% of UV Light and 50% of Infrared Light, and over 95% of water and rain spray (allergyguard brochure). 

Cookstoves:  Electrical outages don’t necessarily mean eating cold canned food if you have a gas grill.  The grill could be standard or mini size ($89 at Amazon); the key is having the proper fuel ahead of time.  This mini grill is designed to run on small propane tanks (about 5 lb cylinders), but with a connective hose you can connect it to a larger cylinder.  As with any unvented gas appliance, it has to be placed outside!  Open carports with a cross-breeze are an ideal place to grill and stay protected from the weather.  Another option is to go old-school and have a small charcoal grill and bag of charcoal on hand.  Charcoal grilling takes a little practice; the key is building a hot bed of coals before starting to cook.  In order to eliminate the use of lighter fluid (the fumes of which go right into your food and cause photochemical smog), use a chimney starter like this one to get the coals nice and hot for a great grilled meal.  Alternatives to using a chimney starter are placing a charcoal briquet in each compartment of a cardboard egg carton, closing it and lighting each end of the carton, or placing wadded up newspaper below a pile of charcoal briquets, and lighting the newspaper.  These methods allow the cardboard or newspaper to burn slowly and allow time for the charcoal to catch fire.

Avoiding mold:  Without air conditioning and dehumidification, it's only a matter of time before mildew and mold will start to grow.  

  • Ventilation is the first key to prevention in this case.  If possible, open windows on opposite sides of the home to get cross-ventilation going.  
  • Use safe cleaning products that kill mold and odors: 
    • TotalClean uses iodine to safely kill mold and bacteria.  It even eliminates odors when sprayed in the air near trashcans and pet litter.
    • Concrobium Mold Control Spray uses a non-toxic trio of salts to kill mold and prevent future mold from growing.   You can spray it on draperies (test on a small area first), wood, and other furnishings to prevent mold when you’re not able to prevent high humidity. 

Staying cool:  Sleep is essential but it’s no fun trying to sleep when it’s hot.  Fans provide evaporative cooling (moving air that causes moisture to evaporate from your skin, taking heat with it).  Here are some innovative products to get cool and get some z’s:

  • Portable battery fan: This model from Treva is lightweight and runs an amazing 65 hours (source: camping review) on one set of 6 D-cell batteries.   It also has an AC adapter for use when the power is on.
  • Got an old-fashioned hot water bottle?  Fill it with one layer of ice cubes to chill down your bedding and keep you cool.  Or, strap small ice packs to your body’s pulse points (wrists, ankles, back of knees, armpits) using sports bandages or long socks.
  • Sleep out in the open.  Before modern air conditioning existed, the concept of a “sleeping porch” was used in the summer.  If it’s very hot, you can try sleeping on a covered porch with some protection from bugs.  You’ll need: 
    • A portable bed, cot or hammock so the bed is elevated off the floor for more ventilation
    • A mosquito net to protect from biting bugs:  there are many to choose from!  Try a single net for one person, or an outdoor screen house for several people

It’s an unpredictable world, so a little preparation will help you not to “sweat” the inconvenience of losing power.  Let us know what innovations you come up with to stay safe and cool during summer outages.