Blackouts, Brownouts, and Partial Blackouts

Blackouts, Brownouts, and Partial BlackoutsWe all have had at least one of these three things happen to us and we usually know what to do and look for in these situations but this helpful article will show you some things that I am sure you will not have thought of!


When the lights dim, motors slow down you definitely have a brownout. Major contributors to brownouts are space heaters and air conditions being used at the same time where the neighborhood electricity is maxed out. The best thing to do in this case is to turn off any unnecessary electrical items. I know what you are thinking. Why should I turn off the air conditioning on this hot day and let others keep theirs on! Well if you don’t want the brownout to turn into a blackout where you stand the chance of all the food in your fridge spoiling then I recommend turning off that air conditioner.


The power suddenly goes out. The first thing to do is assess the situation. Is it just your home or the immediate area?

Check your neighbor’s houses to see if their power went out to. If it did then it is likely your local power company. You can call them to report the blackout but more than likely many more people are doing the same thing but if you know a lot of your neighbors are out of town I would call anyway. Don’t forget to turn off most of the lights and appliances so that when the power does come back on that you won’t overload the circuits when the power is restored.

Okay, the blackout is in your house only. Now what?

Before you try and track down the cause first turn off most of the lights and appliances in your home so that if the power does come back on you don’t overload your circuits.

Everyone knows the next tip. Do not open the fridge any more than necessary so that you can lower the chance of everything spoiling. But one thing you may not know is that frozen food will stay frozen for up to 48 hours if closed up and never opened. The refrigerator, on the other hand, will be quicker.

Here is another tip that many of you may already know. If this happens during the winter you can conserve your heat by closing the doors of unused rooms and not insulated well rooms. Then start a slow burning fire in the fireplace to keep warm since your furnace will be down for the count as well during a blackout.

This tip is a little less known but is still known by many. If you have a blackout during cold weather (below freezing) then open the faucets and let water trickle out so that you can avoid the pipes freezing. If the power is going to be off for more than 36 hours then it will be necessary to drain the water out of the main water system of the house. Like how you do when you winterize a house when you know you won’t be there during the winter.

Here is how you drain the water out of the main system:

  • Turn off the main water supply valve. This can be found close to where the main supply of water comes into the house.
  • Stop the water from entering into your hot water heater by closing the valve where the water enters it usually a pipe along the top. If you have a gas water heater be sure to turn off the gas and if you have an electric water heater be sure to turn off the breaker switch in your breaker box.
  • If your house uses a boiler shut off the water that goes into the boiler. This valve should be located near the pipe leading into it then flush all of your toilets to help drain the system.
  • If your house is heated by a hot water system you will have to open the valves on all of your radiators then open the air valves. Don’t forget to catch draining water with a bucket.
  • When checking the temperature on your boiler and it shows it cooled down enough you can attach a hose to the drain valve and send the water through the hose and outdoors.
  • Then take the hose to the bottom of the drain valve on your hot water heater and do the same thing.
  • Next, open the draincock on your main water supply and drain out the excess water that did not leave the system into a bucket. If you do not have a draincock or spigot then take two pipe wrenches and separate the pipes to drain out the remaining water.
  • Empty the remaining water out of the toilet with cups or draining into buckets by siphoning and using sponges. I know, right, who wants to try to siphon a toilet out by hand?

Partial Blackouts

Okay, you have a partial blackout this could be hazardous or as simple as a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. But there is always a reason for the fuse to blow or a circuit breaker to trip. To keep everyone safe you have to find out why this is happening.

Overload a circuit breaker is the most common cause for tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse. Do you have a microwave and an air conditioner with a power strip with six more additional things plugged into the same outlet? This is a big no-no! Try to distribute what you have plugged in evenly and have the air conditioner on its own outlet and/or breaker if possible.

If you take care of this and replace the fuse or reset the circuit breaker and it goes out again then you have a short circuit somewhere. Look at all of the electrical cords for loose, fraying and exposed wires, or defective plugs and replace them immediately. It is possible that all of the cords look fine but it was found that behind an outlet was an old style metal circuit housing that had a wire shorting out against it. You can tell by looking at it. If you cannot replace all of the metal housings right away then wrap some electrical tape, after you shut off the power to the outlets, around the outlet itself to put a barrier between the wires and the metal housings.

To test the breaker unplug everything turn on the breaker and if it doesn’t trip or the fuse does not blow plug in each item one at a time until the fuse blows or the circuit trips then you will know which one is the problem.

If you unplug everything and the fuse still blows or the circuit breaker still trips there is a short elsewhere in the house and it is a good idea to call an electrician to test things out.

There you have a more complete guide if you experience a blackout, brownout, or partial blackout.

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