When Isaias hit Long Island last summer, Erik Putz and Bonnie Burton weren’t aware that their neighbors had lost power: They were an island of light in a sea of darkness.
"We didn’t even know it went down," Putz said. "Then we realized the street is dark."
The Smithtown residents had gone solar in February 2020 and got a solar-powered battery backup system two months later.
Jen McNulty, of Seaford, had also just installed solar backup and watched others’ lights go out while hers were on. "They finished the job on Thursday," McNulty said of EmPower Solar, which installed the systems in both homes. "The following Tuesday, the storm hit."
As we brace for another hurricane season, which starts June 1 and continues through the end of November, there are things residents can do to prevent power outages, or prepare for them.
"If you have electricity, you can do just about anything regardless of whatever else is going on," said Frank Navetta, owner and president of Bohemia-based PowerPro Generators.
How an outage can affect a home
Click on a room to learn more.
If you depend on a well, the pump won’t work.22No refrigeration
This can quickly lead to your food spoiling.33No sump pump
This can lead to flooding in your basement.44No lights
You could be left in the dark if you don't have flashlights handy.55Loss of electric clocks and timers
Make sure to reset them after power returns.66Computer crashes
This can result in lost data.77Damage to TV and other appliances
The electrical surge that occurs when the power comes back on can cause harm.88Loss of cordless landline phone
Make sure your cellphone is charged.
Solar energy won’t keep the lights on in outages, but solar battery energy storage systems should. "The intermittent nature of solar can’t guarantee a supply of energy continuously," said David Schieren, CEO of EmPower Solar, based in Island Park. "The battery serves as storage to provide reliable, continuous energy."
Schieren said advances in lithium ion battery technology allow for reliable solar backup to solar energy. Solar battery systems typically cost $7,000 (for two batteries) after incentives, rebates and federal tax credits, while solar and backup together cost $15,000 to $20,000, he said.
"There are plenty of things to worry about," said Bonnie Burton, who is married to Putz, "but for us, power isn’t one of them."
Natural gas is often the fuel of choice for traditional backup generators, if it’s available, according to Navetta. "Natural gas … just keeps coming," he said.
Propane generators often use 5-foot-tall, 120-gallon tanks that last 20 to 25 hours, he added. "Everything depends on load," Navetta said. "The bigger the tank, the more fuel, the longer it will last."
John De Franza, of Setauket, got a 500-gallon propane tank. "It’s like life insurance," he said of the generator PowerPro installed. "You hope you never have to use it. When you do need it, it’s good that it’s there."
These generators typically cost $12,000 to $14,000 installed, according to Navetta. It’s also possible to get small, portable generators for "critical loads" such as refrigerators and microwaves, but Navetta said bigger is better, though more costly.
While generators aren’t new, they're now at our fingertips. In addition to producing power, solar, gas and propane backups generate data visible on cellphones. "Once the grid goes down, you see on your phone what you’re using," Schieren said of solar backup. "You can turn it down or up based on your preference."
McNulty also can see how much power the system is generating, "so you know how much you have to work with." Putz said he lost conventional power on a few occasions, including for three days during Isias, recorded in the backup’s history. The backup worked in every case. De Franza noted that his propane generator alerts the propane company when fuel is low.
Getting a new generator can be costly, but financing can ease the burden, and it’s sometimes possible to get a pre-owned device. "Most manufacturers have their own financing," Navetta said. Chad Emery, editor at home remodeling site Fixr.com, said sales can help. "Another option is to shop around for pre-owned generators," Emery said. Local installers may be able to help you find one, he added.
Consider a generator’s age, condition and how many hours it’s been used, Emery said. "Look at how well it has been maintained," he added. Your installer will usually be happy to inspect it for you, he said.
While generators help prevent blackouts, surge protectors can protect devices from short-term voltage spikes.
"Surge protectors are a good idea for electronics and computers, but they won’t help with things like your dishwasher or microwave," Emery said. "A lot of people forget these are prone to power surges and failures." McNulty has always used surge protectors and De Franza uses them for his TV, chargers and electronics. "Everything in my house is plugged into a surge protector," De Franza said.
Emery called whole-house surge protectors a great way to protect appliances, computers and lights. Whole-house surge protectors or suppressors, installed by a licensed electrician, can easily cost $500 including installation, according to ''This Old House.'' Desirable features include thermal fuses and lights or alarms indicating a surge occurred, according to the site.
One way to protect against power surges and blackouts is UPS — not the parcel service but uninterruptible power supply, also known as battery backup — which provides brief, instantaneous battery power for computers, Wi-Fi networks and small electronics. There are various sizes and durations, depending on battery size and load. "Typically, a UPS system provides enough time for you to save any work on your computer," said a PSEG Long Island spokesman. "In addition, these systems protect against surges and other voltage quality problems." UPS systems are typically for individuals who may need backup power for less than an hour, according to PSEG Long Island. You can buy a good UPS system for $100 or less, but devices can cost more depending on power and duration.
Extra batteries to charge your phone at home can help, Emery said. "Your phone is pretty much your lifeline during a power outage," he said. Portable chargers can keep phones running and ringing. Make sure your chargers are fully charged. You can also charge your phone in your car or with a laptop, if it has battery power. "Only use your phone if you really need to during a power outage," Emery said "It's probably not a good time to be scrolling through Facebook or Instagram."
Tumbling branches and trees can down power lines and cut off electricity. Trimming trees that are within 5 to 10 feet of a house or near electric wires is an important part of hurricane preparation, says Ben Jackson, owner of Ben’s General Contracting in Freeport. "You don’t want a branch to be able to touch the house," Jackson said. "You have to keep them clear of wires."
Thinking of going DIY? Jackson has some advice: "If you’re not capable or comfortable with ladders, you’re better off calling a professional."
• Battery-operated radio
• Candles and matches
• Extra supply of batteries for flashlights and radio
• Basic first-aid supplies
• A small supply of drinking water and food
• Baby supplies if there's an infant in the home
What should you do if the power fails and you want to protect food and medicine? It’s good to have plans for both.
In case of outages, keep freezers and refrigerators closed, so food stays fresh longer, according to Safeelectricity.org, run by the Energy Education Council. Most food stays fresh in a closed refrigerator for up to 24 hours, according to BobVila.com, but examine and discard spoiled food after outages. "When in doubt, throw it out," according to the site.
Use coolers with ice if needed, but throw out food if the temperature is 40 degrees or higher, according to Ready.gov. Having bottled water and nonperishable food on hand also can help, according to the site.
Meeting medical needs is crucial. Ready.gov suggests residents talk to medical providers about a power outage plan for refrigerated medicine and medical devices that use electricity.
Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and how to ensure access to medications critical for life. Have a list of facilities with life-sustaining equipment, according to Ready.gov. Bobvila.com suggests backup power such as battery packs for medical equipment.
It's possible to enroll in PSEG Long Island’s critical care program, if you rely on life support equipment. The utility says it calls those customers, to urge they make advance preparations before "major weather events." It says, however, it cannot guarantee priority in restoring power and customers are responsible for alternative arrangements in event of power outages.
PSEG Long Island recommends standby generators, informing local police and fire departments of your health situation and developing a network of friends, relatives and neighbors for possible help in case of extended outages.
If health is a concern during an outage, the Energy Education Council suggests staying with friends, family or community centers where electricity is available. A medical alert program can help signal for help if necessary, providing an added layer of protection, according to the group.
In the event of an outage, it’s important to report it to the local utility as quickly as possible -- and you may want to track estimated restoration time. Here are a few ways to report and track outages with PSEG Long Island.
- Download the PSEG Long Island mobile app at https://www.psegliny.com/ to report outages and receive information on restoration times and crew locations, as well as view and pay bills and review usage history.
- PSEG Long Island customers also can report outages and receive status updates by texting OUT to PSEGLI (773454). You also can report outages through the utility’s website at www.psegliny.com/outages or with your voice using the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant app on your smartphone.
- You can also report outages or downed wires by calling PSEG Long Island’s 24-hour electric service number at 800-490-0075 or use their web chat feature at www.psegliny.com.
- You can report outages and get updates before, during and after storms through PSEG Long Island on Facebook and Twitter.
- And PSEG Long Island’s MyPower map provides updates on outages, restoration times and crew locations across Long Island and the Rockaways at https://mypowermap.psegliny.com/.