Handyman: Plan ahead to survive summer power outages

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News

As we enter the season of thunderstorms and power outages, it is once again time to think about preparing your home for the inevitable loss of power. From 2008 through 2014, Michigan had the fourth most power outages (328) as tracked by Eaton Corp. in its Blackout Tracker Annual Report (, so there is a good chance you will face an outage this year.

While most outages last only a few hours or a day, we have seen the other end of the spectrum, such as the massive outage that cut power to 50 million people in eight states, including Michigan in August of 2003.

The best way to keep the power flowing during these outages is by having a backup generator. Today, many people are getting a permanent backup power system fueled by natural gas or propane that turns on automatically when the power goes out.

Another alternative is a portable generator, and you can make it even easier and safer to use by having a portable wiring package with a manual transfer switch installed in your home so that you can plug a main line to the generator to power pre-selected items, including your furnace.

While a generator is a great way to provide some comfort when faced with a power outage, there are times when you might need to have supplies on hand in the event a more serious weather disaster, such as a tornado, wreaks havoc on an entire area and your access to staples like food, water and medical supplies are unavailable.

One way to easily store some basic things you might need to survive in the urban wilderness for up to 72 hours is something I'm calling a bug-out bucket. Bug-out bags are a popular item with the rural "prepper" movement, but they also make sense for people who live in more urban areas where natural disasters can cause damage and power outages. Having well stocked bug-out buckets with survival supplies for each member of the family would be a good proper prior planning measure to take.

I suggest using 5-gallon plastic buckets with a snap-on lid that you can find at any hardware store or home center. The advantage of these buckets is that they are waterproof, have a handle, and are strong enough to sit on. But what should you put in the bucket to help you? Here's a sample list of what you might want to have in the bucket:

■Adjustable wrench


■Butane lighter

■Battery-powered or hand crank radio

■Box of waterproof matches

■16 ounce bottles of water

■Cash (small denominations) and coins


■Duct tape


■First aid kit




■Leather work gloves


■Meals ready to eat (MREs)

■Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

■Prescription medications (Two -2- week supply per person)

■Pet food and extra water for your pet

■Personal hygiene items

■Paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils

■Paper, pen and pencil

■Telephone numbers of family & friends away from your vicinity

In addition to what you can fit in the bucket, you may also want to have a few other items stored in the same general area, such as sleeping bags, gallon jugs of drinking water and changes of clothes. These other items you can store in a larger plastic container.

For more information on developing a survival emergency kit, you can also go to FEMA's Ready website at and click on the "Build a Kit" link.

While we are fortunate not to live in an area afflicted with major disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, the devastation that thunderstorms, tornadoes or blizzards can cause is reason enough to go that extra mile in preparing yourself and your family to survive a few days without power, food or water.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, email If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his "Handyman Show" on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. "The Handyman Show" can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.