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posted: 12/15/2012 5:00 AM

Gather supplies, devise plan before emergency strikes

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By Dwight Barnett

Those of us not affected by superstorm Sandy eventually may be affected by other storms this fall or winter or in the years to come. Heavy snowfalls, ice storms, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes can cause power-system failures that leave some of us in the dark for days and others for weeks.

You need to be prepared for when -- not if -- the lights go out. Here's what you should have on hand:

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• More than one flashlight and an ample supply of batteries.

• A 12- to 120-volt inverter: This will come in handy to recharge batteries for the radio, cellphones and lighting.

• A week's supply of wood for a fireplace or wood-burning stove. An auxiliary source of heat such as a propane camp heater can be used if there are no wood-burning appliances. When the power goes off, a gas or electric furnace will not work.

Close off outer rooms and concentrate the heat to one or two rooms.

All gas- and wood-burning appliances produce carbon monoxide gas, a tasteless, colorless, odorless poison that can become a silent killer. Open a door or window for a few minutes every hour to add fresh combustion air to the heated rooms.

You should have a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in the room with you.

Also, bundling together with blankets to share body heat will reduce the energy needs of the room.

• A means to protect pipes and plumbing in freezing weather. If the power has been off more than two days, you will need to provide heat to the bathrooms and kitchen to protect the sinks, bowls and pipes from freezing. If you can't provide a heat source, shut the water off at the main supply pipe and drain the pipes by opening the lowest faucet and the highest faucets in the home. Use a sponge to remove as much water as possible from the toilet tank and bowl.

Drain traps may be damaged by a prolonged freeze, but they can easily be replaced. If you plan ahead, you can purchase antifreeze from an RV dealer to add to the drains' traps to prevent freeze damage.

• Enough food stored to last four to five days for each person in your home. Canned foods, including soups, can be heated on a wood burner or camp stove, but you will need that old reliable manual can opener. MREs (meals ready to eat) designed for the military can be purchased online or at military resell stores.

• Plenty of fresh drinking water. According to the Mayo Clinic and the Water Encyclopedia, the minimum requirement for an adult male is 13 cups (3 liters) of water daily; a female will need an average of 9 cups (2.2 liters) daily. To be safe, you should have on hand enough drinking water for each person to have a minimum of 8 ounces of water at least eight times a day. Without water, the body will not function properly and you could succumb to the environment.

Store as much water as possible in case your water is supplied by a well or if the municipal supply is not working. Fill bathtubs and sinks with water for personal use. The average bathtub holds between 40 and 60 gallons of water (source: National Builder Supply). The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 gallons of water per day. However, you can reduce water use by limiting flushing of the toilet to four times per day, which will consume a total of 6 gallons of water.

Use hand sanitizers and reuse wash water in the sink.

Following a few simple rules can reduce personal grooming to less than 12 gallons per person per day.

If you have a generator or plan to purchase one, there are a few safety rules you will need to observe:

• A generator cannot be connected to a plug in the home or garage. Any generator used for emergency backup can only be connected to the electric panel by a "transfer switch." A transfer switch automatically disconnects the home's electric panel from the meter when the generator is in operation and then re-connects the panel to the meter and disconnects the generator when the power is restored.

• Never operate a gas-powered generator indoors, near a window or door or under the roof's overhang. Exhaust fumes contain potentially poisonous carbon monoxide gas.

• The generator should be protected from rain or snow.

• Do not try to refill the gas tank while the unit is running. The generator's motor must be off when refueling. Consider using earplugs when working near a running generator.

• Use heavy-duty extension cords rated for 20 amps or more for all 120-volt equipment.

• Do not use more than one appliance for each outlet on the generator.

• When connecting the furnace to the generator, disconnect the wiring from the home's electric panel to the furnace. When the power to the home is restored, the current could feed back through the generator and injure anyone working on the outside wiring to the home. An unsuspecting lineman could be electrocuted by your generator.

• When the generator is not in use, add a gasoline stabilizer, following the stabilizer's labeled directions, and then drain the gas from the tank before storage.

• Use only approved storage containers for the fuel supply and never store gasoline indoors.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.

Scripps Howard News Service

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