With holiday lights and extra use of your home’s heating system, it’s easy to see why winter is considered a peak season for electricity use. Knowing how the cold affects electricity and what to do if power goes out in winter can be a lifesaver. This guide will help you prepare for and effectively manage winter power outages, ensuring your comfort and safety.
Does Cold Weather Affect Electricity?
Cold weather can impact electricity in various ways. One of the most noticeable effects is the increased demand for electricity, which can strain the electrical grid. This can sometimes lead to power outages — especially if the grid isn’t prepared for the surge in demand.
Cold conditions can also affect electrical equipment, with components like transformers and power lines at risk of contracting and failing. With conventional and renewable energy sources potentially operating less effectively, power generation also faces challenges in cold weather.
With this in mind, let’s dive into the most common winter electrical problems to be prepared for.
Problem #1: Not Enough Power
As the temperature drops, your heating system works harder to keep your home warm and your pipes intact. Holiday decorations and portable heaters add more strain to the electrical system. You may start to notice telltale signs of a circuit overload, including flickering lights and the circuit breaker constantly tripping. If this happens too much, you may find yourself in a power outage in the middle of winter.
Here are your best options for avoiding an overloaded power circuit.
Adjust Your Power Consumption
Once washers, dryers, dishwashers, and other large appliances are ten years old, they should be replaced. Old appliances can draw a lot of power when they’re plugged in, even if they aren’t being used.
During the rest of the year, you might not notice how much power they drain. Then the holidays come, and your lights keep flickering. Energy-efficient replacements are a solid investment that will make the holidays go smoother and reduce your electric bills year-round.
If your home needs more power to keep up with usage, consider upgrading your electrical system with a “heavy up.” Heavy up is industry jargon for having an electrician increase the amperage coming into your home through the service panel.
Check Your Circuit Breaker
For homes more than 20 years old, you might have modern amenities powered by an out-of-date circuit. If you don’t know whether your house has been rewired for modern usage in the past 20 years, consider having an electrician inspect your home to find out. Circuit breakers are essential to preventing electrical fires, so if your circuits are able to handle your needs, you may be at risk of losing power.
Problem #2: Old Space Heaters & Electric Blankets
Space heaters are surprisingly big electricity consumers. Even small ones can drive up your electric bill. Along with electric blankets, they pose a significant risk of fires in your home.
If you need to use a space heater or electric blanket, first inspect the cords and blanket edges for fraying, tears, and signs of wear. Don’t use anything that looks old or tattered. Generally speaking, it’s best to replace these items every five years due to wear and tear. New space heaters and electric blankets are also more energy efficient.
Practice Good Space Heater Safety
Take these steps to prevent electrical fires caused by space heaters this winter:
- Always plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Never use them with an extension cord or power strip.
- Unplug the space heater when it’s not in use or when you leave the room.
- Make sure your heater has an automatic shutoff feature in case it falls over.
- Regularly inspect the cord for fraying or wear. Replace your heater if you find any amount of damage.
- Consider having a new outlet installed if your cord doesn’t reach where you need the space heater to be.
- Only attempt to heat up to one room with a space heater.
- Keep the area around your space heater clear of debris, including clothes and papers.
Problem #3: Risks of Electrical Fires
In addition to fires started by space heaters or electric blankets, make sure you keep your home safe from electrical fires.
Protection from overloads declines as power travels along extension cords. Avoid plugging extension cords into one another, as this can easily pull too much energy from your circuit breaker while offering minimal protection from overloading.
Circuit breakers are your best protection against electrical fires. If they don’t detect the overheating of an appliance using an extension cord, the cord can overheat, melt, arc, and spark a fire. The best way to avoid this is to have a licensed electrician install more power outlets where you need them.
Damaged Holiday Lights
Before setting up your holiday lights and other electronic decorations, look for damage and signs of wear and age. If you discover anything wrong, replace them at once instead of trying to fix them yourself, which may lead to even worse problems. Read the warning tags to know how many strings of light can be safely strung together.
Keep Christmas Trees Away From Heat
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends keeping your Christmas tree (both artificial and fresh) at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces, radiators, and space heaters. If you buy a real tree for Christmas, make sure it stays watered. Discard it the day after Christmas or when it becomes dry. Dried-out trees burn very hot and very quickly if they catch on fire.
Reduce Static Shocks With a Humidifier
Heaters dry out already low-humidity winter air. Dry air is a good conductor of static electricity, increasing the likelihood of electrical fires. An easy, economical solution to reduce risk while improving overall air quality is to place a humidifier in the driest areas of your home. Alternatively, you can purchase a whole-home humidifier for maximum comfort.
What To Do if Power Goes Out in Winter
In the event of a power outage during winter, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and warmth. Here’s some tips from the electrical pros at John C. Flood.
Tips to Prepare for a Power Outage
- Create an emergency kit of flashlights, batteries, blankets, etc.
- Buy a power bank and/or car charger to keep your phone charged
- Insulate your home by sealing windows and doors
- If possible, purchase a generator or another back up power source
- Keep your car’s gas tank full for temporary access to heat
- Stock up on blankets
- Write down your power company’s phone number
- Always have some dry snacks and a case of water in stock
Tips to Get Through a Power Outage
- Use battery-powered flashlights instead of candles to reduce risk of fire
- Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed
- Put your devices on low-battery mode
- Avoid traveling
- Check in with your neighbors intermittently
- Stay informed on updates
- Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40°F for more than 2 hours
- Never use a generator or sit in a running vehicle in closed quarters
Stay Safe With John C. Flood
This winter, choose John C. Flood for all your electrical safety needs. From installing new outlets to checking your circuit breaker, we’re ready 24/7 to keep you and your family safe. Contact us today at 703-214-5611 for a full electrical inspection to avoid fires and power outages.