Blackouts have become a topic of conversation in the UK for the first time in decades. Not since the early 1970s have we had to worry about planned power cuts. The National Grid is saying it is unlikely to happen, but we could see our power shut off for hours at a time this winter.
If blackouts do become a reality, they would most likely happen between 4pm and 7pm. The trigger would be a cold snap (cold weather means we use more energy to stay warm). Some reports are suggesting that in the worst-case scenario, power could go off for up to 5 hours at a time and even be scheduled for the mornings too.
Should they happen, the power cuts would be rotated so that different parts of the country would be affected at different times and on different days. We would also be alerted in advance about blackouts by text message and announcements on national TV and radio.
The National Power cut helpline is 105 on your mobile or 0800 31 63 105 on the landline (if it’s working).
Here at MoneyMagpie, we believe that it’s better to be prepared than to be caught out. We’ve put together some information, handy tips and a prepping list for you.
What won’t work during a Blackout?
It may seem obvious, but we take so many of our appliances and gadgets for granted, it’s easy to forget that they won’t work during a blackout. In fact, it’s really important to turn off as many things as you can at the wall to prevent damage from power surges when the power goes back on.
Your lights won’t work. It’s best to turn them all off (including lamps) but leave one on (maybe in the hall or on a landing) so that you know when the power is back on.
Remember a power cut will turn off your boiler. It’s a good idea to dig out your boiler manual to find out how to reset it after a blackout. (We’ve got tips on how to stay warm later in the article.)
The bottom line is that almost nothing in your kitchen will work during a blackout. That includes toaster, kettle, microwave, fridge, freezer, oven. The only thing that should still work is a gas hob, but you will need to light it with a lighter or matches, so make sure you keep some to hand.
Fridges and Freezers
Fridges and freezers will keep cool for a long time – especially if you keep the doors closed. Consolidate food in the same drawer in the freezer – things will stay frozen longer when put with other frozen items.
Although landlines shouldn’t be affected, providing nothing has happened to bring the phone network down, only traditional plug-in landline phones would work during a blackout. Cordless phones would not work because the base station needs to be plugged in. Most of us will need to rely on our mobile phones.
TV and Radio
Your TV (and any connected gadgets or things like games consoles) will not work and should be unplugged during a blackout.
Digital radios won’t work. However, you might want to invest in a battery powered radio as information will be broadcast on national FM radio stations such as BBC Radio 2 and 4.
There will be no wi-fi available during a power cut. The 3g and 4g mobile cellular networks should still be working though.
During the winter months it gets dark earlier and earlier meaning that any blackouts in the late afternoon and evening will happen in the dark. The streetlights will go out. This can be quite a shock for anyone used to the streets being lit at all times (anyone who lives in the countryside will be more used to this level of darkness).
What to do during a blackout
How to stay warm
Dress warmly in several layers, wear a hat and gloves and keep a blanket or two to hand. Put some warm socks on and wear your slippers. You can reduce heat loss by only using one room, keeping the door and curtains closed. Block any drafts with cushions or spare blankets or towels. If it’s really cold and you have them, use a sleeping bag to keep warm.
An hour before the blackout starts, fill some hot water bottles and put them under the blankets so they retain their heat for longer.
We recently wrote a whole article on how to stay warm without using the heating – you can read it here.
When the lights go out, we think torches are better than candles. If you do use candles, make sure you stand them on a sturdy surface – never the carpet and away from anything flammable. Don’t put them where they might get knocked by children or pets. Don’t leave them unattended.
If you work from home, be sure to back up your work regularly – if you lose track of time and the power goes off suddenly you could lose your documents, especially if you are using a desktop computer that won’t go into battery mode like a laptop would.
Use a cool box and ice packs (if you have one) to keep things like milk cold to avoid opening the fridge.
Download films and tv shows to your device or tablet to watch when the wi-fi is down.
If you have electric garage doors or gates, find out how to open them manually.
We’ve done lots of research on the things you really need to have in your house or flat during a blackout and a list of what could be useful (but not vital):
Basic Survival Kit
Make sure that you have:
- Torches (you can use the torch on your smart phone but it’s better to preserve the battery)
- Spare batteries (both AA and AAA)
- Charge bank or portable charger for your phone and tablet (make sure it’s charged!)
- Battery powered radio (to keep on top of updates and in case your mobile runs out) – Argos has one for £12.99 (it needs 4 AA batteries)
- Essential foods that can be eaten without being cooked. For example, tins of fruit and packet foods, UHT or powdered milk, cereal and snacks.
- Bottles of water to stay hydrated (there shouldn’t be an issue with getting water from the tap during a blackout but it’s better to be safe) – you can get 3 x 5l bottles from Amazon for £13.99
- Alternatively fill your own water bottles or jugs before the blackout begins
- Thermos flask filled with hot water. Drinking warm cups of tea, coffee or hot chocolate is a good way to stay warm
- Lighters – you can buy a pack of 4 lighters from Wilko for £1.50
- If you don’t have a gas hob or are worried it won’t work during a blackout (some have a safety cut off when the power goes off), you could use camping stoves – Ebay has small portable camping stoves 2 for £22
- Candles can be expensive but Asda sell 10 taper candles for £2.25, 100 tea lights for £3.75 and a single pillar candle for £2.50. Jysk sell a pack of 20 taper candles for £6.50
- Alternatively you could invest in some LED candles – Amazon sells 24 small LED candles for £11.99. They aren’t especially bright, but could be useful to pop safely in the bathroom or to have around the house or flat, as you can leave them lit (unlike an open flame candle).
Things to think about:
- Keep kids entertained with board games, puzzles or cards
- Keep any medication in an easy to access place, make sure you have plenty of supplies in case you can’t get through to your GP for a prescription
- Check on vulnerable neighbours – especially anyone on their own or elderly. They may find the lack of streetlights and the dark unnerving and feel even more isolated
- Have a supply of cash to hand, as ATMs probably won’t work during a blackout
Items that could be useful:
- Water Butt with tap – Wilko sell one for £31
- Water purifying tablets – Boots sell a pack of 50 tablets for £7.99
- You may want to think about investing in a small generator – Argos has one for £140
- Rechargeable Duracell batteries – you can buy a 45min charger with 2 AA and 2 AAA from Amazon for £19.99
Blackouts are a worst case scenario. We all hope they won’t happen but it pays to be prepared. If the government announces that they are going ahead with power cuts they won’t happen without warning. Spend the day (or the day before) getting prepared and making sure you have what you need to stay warm, stay fed and stay safe.
Make sure your torches are working, your portable chargers are charged, you have some spare batteries, some hot water in flasks, maybe make a round of sandwiches and get some snacks in. We can all get through this as long as we plan ahead.
Let us know if you have any other top tips in the comments below.