The TV abruptly cuts out, the lights flicker, and then darkness. There’s never a good time to lose power, however by planning ahead it is possible to limit the impact an outage will have on your household, potentially avoiding a lot of hassle and fumbling around in the dark.
Outages may be over in a matter of minutes, stretch into hours, or in extreme cases last for days at a time, and being prepared can help to both determine the likely source of the problem and keep your household safe and comfortable.
The following guide looks at the importance of planning for an outage, and the useful items to have on hand, along with what to be aware of and the steps that can be taken when the lights go out.
What causes power outages?
Outages can occur for a variety of reasons, and the cause of the outage will play a role in its wider impact and how long it lasts.
Extreme events, such as earthquakes, can significantly impact electricity infrastructure, resulting in mass outages, while more localised issues may impact a limited number of households.
National grid operator Transpower advises that outages can potentially occur at any step in the process of providing power to homes and businesses, with common causes including:
- Objects – foreign objects, such as a bird’s nest, broken trees or foliage, coming into contact with lines or equipment.
- Pests – rodents or other pests interfering with equipment.
- Weather – severe storms, wind and snow damaging or bringing down power lines, resulting in power cuts to towns or neighbourhoods.
- Technical – unexpected equipment failure.
Outages may also be planned when infrastructure maintenance needs to be carried out. Transpower advises that if this is the case households will receive notification from their electricity retailer.
A few preparations can make a big difference
While there is typically little warning as to when an outage will occur, if severe weather has been forecast, the chances of an outage will in turn rise, and it’s worthwhile charging your devices ahead of time.
Of course, the sort of preparations you will need to take depends upon your household’s individual circumstances, and it’s important to consider any specific requirements you may have.
Having ready access to a range of basic items will make dealing with an outage a lot easier, and households should consider the following:
- Make sure you have access to alternative light sources, such as torches (along with spare batteries) and the light on your smartphone.
- Keep a portable power bank charged, which can be used to keep your devices powered as required.
- Have a supply of non-perishable foods (such as canned foods) and bottled water on hand.
- A gas bottle and BBQ can be used for cooking if needed.
- Spare blankets can be used to keep warm for households that rely on electric heating.
- Surge protectors can help protect appliances and electrical equipment, such as TVs and computers, should there be a sudden power surge.
- It’s worthwhile having a first aid kit on hand.
- If blackouts are a common occurrence, or could potentially have very serious consequences, for example limiting the use of life-saving medical equipment, it might be worth considering the purchase of a petrol-powered generator for emergency use.
- It is also worth noting that some residential solar battery storage systems can provide back-up power functionality in the event of an outage, with the number of options growing in what is an evolving market.
- Have contact numbers on hand (such as for your electricity retailer, the lines company for your area and emergency services).
- It’s worth remembering that along with value for money, your electricity provider should also deliver great customer service, something that’s especially important during a blackout. That’s why as part of Canstar’s rating system for electricity providers, customer service is part of our overall satisfaction ratings. For more information on providers, check out our links below.
Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table below is an abridged version of our full results, available here.
^ By clicking on a brand or 'details' button, you will leave Canstar Blue and be taken to either a product provider website or a Canstar Blue NZ brand page. You agree that Canstar Blue NZ’s terms and conditions apply (without limitation) to your use of this service,to any referral to a product provider from our website, and any transaction that follows. Canstar Blue may receive a fee for referring you to a product provider. See How we are funded for further details.
Canstar Blue NZ Research finalised in May 2020, published in June 2020.
See Our Ratings Methodology
Proactive steps to take during a power outage
A household power failure may be the result of a wider outage, or due to an electrical issue at the residence itself, and as an initial step it is worthwhile trying to determine the cause and extent of the issue.
If your neighbours still have power, it’s likely the issue is specifically related to your residence. Before getting in touch with your retailer or lines company for further guidance, it’s worthwhile checking your fuse board, to see if the problem is only a tripped switch!
Similarly, if your neighbours are also experiencing issues, you can contact your retailer or lines company for further information, and also check online via retailer or lines company websites and social media accounts.
During an outage, consider taking the following steps:
- Access retailer and lines company updates, along with news and emergency updates, for guidance on how long the outage is likely to last, and make preparations accordingly (a smartphone with a data allowance will come in handy).
- Conserve battery-operated devices, such as torches and smartphones, using only for priority tasks, and adjust power settings if possible to help prolong battery life.
- Use your refrigerator sparingly, keeping the door closed as much as possible.
- Turn off and unplug heating and cooking appliances, ensuring they will not automatically turn back on when power is restored.
- Turn off and unplug appliances and other sensitive electrical equipment, given the risk of a power surge.
- Be careful if operating a generator, taking appropriate precautions and not running it in an enclosed space.
Meanwhile, leaving a light or two on in different areas of your household can help indicate when power has been restored.
With all your preparations in place, there’s often nothing left to do but simply wait it out, and it may be worthwhile having a deck of cards or a selection of board games on hand to help pass the time. Why not make the most of it, and turn a power outage into an impromptu game session?