Although power has been restored to almost every home in the Greater Toronto Area the effects of the December 21st ice storm still weigh heavily on the minds of many. The extreme weather left 350,000 households in the dark for somewhere between one and ten days, depending on their location – this meant that unfortunately, many were without power during Christmas.
While several individuals have tried to put a silver lining on this cloud saying the outage allowed their families to bond without distractions, for their communities to strengthen in the face of adversity, and that it helped them to gain a new appreciation for their neighbours; more than anything last week’s storm was, simply put, a disaster.
Despite admirable efforts from Toronto Hydro and their respective counterparts, the situation faced by most of Southern Ontario for the last week has been a dire one. As many suffered feelings of uncertainty and frustration amidst chattering teeth, we would encourage homeowners to see this storm as a wakeup call. Are you prepared for power outages in freezing temperatures? With what we’ve seen in the last week, the answer for most is no. While this ice storm was an anomaly, it’s still important to take a page from the scout’s handbook and make sure you’re prepared. Please enjoy our winter outage tips below.
As long as the home is above freezing, pipes should continue to operate smoothly. If the house temperature drops below freezing, issues will develop. In these instances we advise running a bit of water at every tap. This keeps the pipes from freezing since city water is roughly 10° C (50° F). Remember also that traps below every fixture and floor drain are also at risk of freezing, so please think critically and act cautiously if you experience an outage for multiple days in extremely cold weather.
For the most part it doesn’t make sense to shut off the water altogether and drain the pipes, unless the house is below freezing for an extended period of time or if the home is vacant. Proper winterization is difficult for most homeowners to achieve, as it calls for adding antifreeze or blowing out all the traps below fixtures and floor drains, as well as protecting toilet bowls, dishwasher drains and any other place where water collects.
If the situation is long term, shutting off water and draining pipes may prevent flooding damage if pipes burst. There may be localized damage to areas where water was not drained or protected with antifreeze, but in severe conditions that may be the best you can hope for. If your home runs on a hot water boiler and radiators, turning it off will probably leave water in low spots. Again, expect local damage.
Focus on heating just one room, preferably one with little or no exterior wall surface. You will not be able to heat the whole house. Insulate the doors and windows of the room you’re heating as much as possible.
Operating gas or wood burning fireplaces will add heat. Gas fireplaces are typically more efficient than wood fireplaces. Wood stoves are much more efficient than open fireplaces.
Candles used for light or heat, create the risks of both starting a fire and inhaling toxic gases such as carbon monoxide. Have a battery powered smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector on hand if possible.
Do NOT bring your BBQ inside and run it. Do NOT try to use your gas stove for heat. If you have a gas or propane generator, run it outdoors; NEVER indoors. The carbon monoxide gas from these devices may kill you.
Electricity From Vehicles
Power inverters can provide 120 volt power for charging phones, tablets, etc. from your car. Some vehicles have 120 volt receptacles you can plug into directly. You can also purchase inverters that plug into cigarette lighters and convert the DC power in your vehicle to AC power for household plugs.
The amount of power available depends on the inverter and is typically quite limited. For example, don’t try to run electric heaters from your car. The electricity you use will drain the battery unless the vehicle engine is running. If you do decide to use your car to power some of your smaller electronics, start your car regularly so you don’t run the battery down. Some inverters have a low battery warning – if yours does, make use of it, as it could save you a major headache.
We would like to thank the Hydro employees who worked around the clock and gave up their holidays to bring light to ours. The compassion shown by so many reminds us all of how fortunate we are to live in this community.
For more information on emergency preparation and what to do during a power outage, please visit www.getprepared.gc.ca.