What Can I Do to Prevent Power Outages During a Heat Wave?

Here's how to keep cool even when the weather outside isn't.

Question: I live in Queens, New York, where the temperature recently got to a whopping 103 degrees in the summer! The weatherman on television said we see record-breaking temperatures like this once every 11 years. To boot, we lost power today for a few hours! Lucky for me, I had plenty of ice pops to keep cool, but I shudder to think about all the elderly people in my neighborhood without power. You got any tips on how to prevent power outages during extreme weather like this?

Answer: First of all, I can commiserate with you. It was 100 degrees where I live today, too. Lucky for me though, I didn’t lose power (not to gloat or anything). I did live in New York City for many a blazing summer—blech. I remember standing on the A-train platform, feeling like I was in a steam room that was on fire, aching for a freezing cold subway car to save me from the depths of hell, only to realize once I had gotten on the train that the air conditioning wasn’t working—double blech.

Usually, your energy service provider’s website will give you some good ways to reduce your energy consumption in such extreme weather. In my opinion, they should also be sending automated phone calls or e-mails to all their customers to remind them to reduce their energy consumption on days like today. (Correct me if you got a call; I know I didn’t.)

See, power outages occur in extreme heat when everyone on your grid is using too much power. It’s like everyone trying to pull on the highway at once — there just isn’t enough room for everyone! To prevent a power outage, you need everyone in your neighborhood to follow my advice (heck, everyone in the world should follow my advice), so do what you can to spread the word and forward this article to as many people as you can.

Here’s what I can recommend:

Turn off any household appliances that are not in use—toaster ovens, TVs, computers. And while you’re at it, unplug them since they still use electricity even when they’re off.

Also, turn off any lights you don’t need. Lights are a double whammy. Not only do they require energy to work, they also give off heat, making your AC work harder to cool things down. CFL bulbs produce 70 percent less heat than standard incandescent bulbs, so try to use these when you can’t leave your lights off altogether.

If you have central air conditioning, close off the vents in rooms you’re not cooling and close the doors to those rooms. This will concentrate air circulation in the rooms you’re using so your system won’t have to work so hard. If you have window units, turn off the ones you’re not using.

Also, use ceiling fans if you have them. They use less electricity than your air conditioner and let you raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort. I mean, think about it. Long before electricity, people were using fans to cool off (think Cleopatra’s banana leaf-waving servant). All you need is a battery-operated fan and a spray water bottle and you might as well be at the beach with an ocean breeze (instead of on the A platform).

Also for those with central AC, think about what temperature you need your house to be, not what temperature you’d like it to be. (I have a friend who keeps her house at a cool 68 degrees, just so she can sleep with her down comforter. I mean, it’s cozy, but come on.) The amount of energy needed to keep a house at 68 degrees when the temperature outside is over 100 is far greater than the amount of energy needed to keep it at, say, 78 degrees instead.

For more energy-savings tips, check out my article (and Matt’s article, too) on ways to beat the summer heat. And if all else fails, harken back to the days of yore and pretend you’re in a windowless cabin at summer camp! Only this time, you have money for snacks and a better hairstyle.

This post originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

Chanie Kirschner is a journalist answers environmental questions for Mother Nature Network.

Related Articles on Mother Nature Network:

Eight Ways to Beat the Heat This Summer
Think You're Hot Now? Just Wait a Few Years
This Week in Environmental Photos

Photo: Jupiterimages; thumbnail photo: Tina Fineberg/AP, via MNN
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