First up, the power’s down.
When the power’s out, time starts running out. The fridge’s cold air escapes every time you open it, its contents have a shortened shelf life, your phone’s battery life is threatened, and everyone will be taking cold showers once the warm water finishes. Best to mind the energy gap and get ahead of the #LoadSheddingProblems.
Load shedding needn’t disrupt your day, though, sunshine. Here’s a list of tips and tricks that can help you when the grid is down, day or night.
The first thing you’ll want to do when planning for blackouts is think about where energy is needed. The next is to estimate how much is needed and prepare accordingly. Here are ten tips to turn you (back) on. And… GO!
The oven is a no go (unless you have a gas or wood oven, in which case, we feel shouting “pizzaaa!” is appropriate). You may want to convert your favourite recipes to stove-top style cooking in advance. Did you know you can “bake” bread in a pot? In a potjie over coals? Get the camping stove out or invest in a little gas two-ring. You could also braai, of course, which only requires wood, and is especially useful if the freezer is already defrosting. If there’s more time, try a Wonderbag in which your meal will basically slow-cook itself. But let’s try save the frozen foods first, shall we?
Now is the time to instil strict rules about opening and closing the fridge and freezer doors. Avoid opening the freezer at all and its contents will stay frozen for some hours still. The fridge is harder to keep out of bounds, but you can transfer delicate perishables from the fridge to a cooler box with frozen bottles of water or dedicated freeze packs. This makeshift second chiller is great for medicines that must remain at constant, cool temperatures and food that goes off easily. It’s probably best kept a secret from all except those who really need to know.
It’s also a good idea to have a stockpile of easy-to-prepare food that does not need to be refrigerated, like pre-cooked noodles and packet soup.
On days you know there’ll be no power, boil up a few litres just before or in the morning, and put it in a flask. You can wrap cotton towels or natural-fibre jerseys around it to keep it warmer longer. It won’t quite make a cup of tea after more than a couple of hours standing, but is great for hand and face washing on chilly days.
If you need freshly boiled water (for that tea or to sterilize baby’s bottles) you can heat some over a gas stove.
If the geyser’s full and hot, notify everyone in your household about the 2-minute shower rule. This is a common camping practise where you wet yourself all over with a dash of running water, switch off the water, lather up with soap and shampoo, switch on the water, rinse madly and switch off the water once more. It’s amazing how fast people shower this way.
A bed bath comes a close second – wipe down with a wet cloth and then do the same with a soapy one, and once more with a wet one again to remove the soap. Be careful of this method if you have sensitive skin or are prone to allergic reactions. A cloth may not remove all the soap residue. You might consider using a hypoallergenic soap in these instances, or just opt for an allergen-free, no-rinse soap spray.
Solar shower bags are affordable but require some planning and quite some time in full sunlight to offer warm water, and the 2-minute rule still applies. There are also long gaps between ‘charges’ while the water warms up. Remember to fill it up…
Get a supply of LED headlamps and keyring torches and dedicated batteries for them. If they’re not on your person, keep them in select spots and let everyone know where they are in case the power cuts in the middle of the night and you’re groping around in the pitch dark. These are safer than candles or paraffin lamps and cheaper than bright, rechargeable lights.
Solar-charged fairy lights can create great ambience in kids’ rooms and make novel night lights.
Longer term, you may want to invest in LED lightbulbs for the whole home – they use far less power and last a lot longer than incandescent ones.
5. No Wi-Fi?
Go 3G (or 5G if you’re in the PWV region) using your phone as a hotspot. It might not work if the mobile service provider towers are not working. If you have an old 3G-enabled smartphone left over from a past handset upgrade, you could make it the dedicated spare as weFix recommends. Remember to keep it charged…
Keep all your devices fully charged when living the load shedding life and save your work often if you’re using a computer. Keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl + S to save are helpful to know but each programme may have its own key variations, and you can choose your own if you’re a power user.
Kill all active mobile and laptop apps and, if you don’t need to connect to the internet, put devices in flight mode to reduce the battery drain.
Dark mode is also popular for saving phone power and is available in an increasing number of popular apps.
Get a power bank to run mobile phones off and keep it charged up.
You may want to invest in a second laptop battery and make sure that it’s charged as well.
You can buy dedicated, heavier duty UPS batteries to run energy-chewing desktops without interruption and to protect from power surges when the electricity is switched on again. Remember to pull all device plugs out of the wall once the power’s off to protect them from getting fried when it returns.
Invest in rechargeable batteries and charger to juice up small devices that take AA or AAA batteries. The charger might be a bit pricey, but it will pay for itself when you use and reuse the recharged batteries. Make sure to keep a stack of them charged for surprise electricity outages and check their strength regularly. If they stand for a long time they can discharge (run out of power).
7. Need much more power?
Consider a silent, portable generator if you need to run power-heavy equipment like power tools or energy-hungry devices for an extended period of time. This is useful if you are running important medical equipment for elderly or ill patients convalescing or receiving care at home. You’ll no doubt talk to your doctor and local hospital about this as well. Just make sure you can move and run the generator yourself – some of them are very big and you don’t want to tell the others you couldn’t save the ice cream because you didn’t know how to start it! Also, it needs to be in an area with good ventilation, ideally outside, and out of the rain.
A side note to keep extra fuel in the correct containers in case the garage cannot pump petrol/diesel (and don’t mix them or put the wrong one into the generator or your car). Label them if you aren’t sure.
8. Toilets won’t work?
Some houses or apartments use pressure pumps that run off power. If there’s no backup solar panel or battery to keep a pump-powered water pressure system running, it’s back to drought rules for loo flushing.
If someone flushed before you, go grab the spare 10 litre water you set aside for just this occasion (and not for the pets to drink). Failing that, visit your neighbour in the name of hygiene.
Experienced safari campers might also choose to make a simple bucket loo with a lid that seals tight, or purchase a waterless, portable toilet. These are very useful for households with young kids and pregnant people who ‘just have to go’; but it must be maintained and cleaned properly.
9. Security measures
Security systems may falter/malfunction during power interruptions, and criminals may take advantage of the outage to target your home and possessions. Check that your security system is working properly, and make sure you have backup or reserve batteries for electric fences, alarms, gates, garage doors and other electricity-powered security measures. If you don’t, remember to release them so you’re not trapped inside or locked out; but beware of safety at all times, like bedtime, when you should lock them again if everyone is home.
Have emergency contact info written down in case device batteries die. These might include the names, addresses, ID numbers, etc. of close family, guardians, friends and next of kin.
Record the contact details of the authorities in physical form as wel. These should include the addresses and telephone numbers of essential services like the police, armed response, fire brigade, nearest hospital, your doctor’s rooms and even your dentist. Does everyone know the armed response code word for false alarms?
Make sure that everybody in your household knows where these lists are and that they can reach them (in the case of little children).
10. Your pets
Our furry and feathery friends will also need a little extra attention during a blackout. Make sure you have enough fresh, clean drinking water stored away for them (and don’t use it to flush the loo!) and for their meals and move them into temperature-stable parts of the house if you usually have a heater, aircon or other equipment regulating the temperature around them. You might consider backup batteries/a generator, too. Some tropical fish need a steady temperature, and orphaned baby birds and mammals can’t regulate their own body temperature and need assistance after hours.
Finally, keep cash on you. Convenient payment options like Zapper, bank EFT and more may not be available if the internet is down, and ATMs may not dispense cash during outages, either.
Also, here’s a blog to help you look on the bright side of electricity interruptions.