Life support for your house
A disaster can make you a victim or
victor. Luck plays a part, and so does
knowing what to do. But
nothing matters more than preparation.
And that means having the right
stuff in your emergency arsenal.
Here are our suggestions to help you
overcome disasters big and small.
A backup generator isn't just a convenience that
keeps the TV and coffeemaker going when the
power is out. It can protect your most valuable
investment. A generator will power the space
heater that keeps pipes from freezing, the sump
pump that prevents a flood, or the power tools
that let you button up a damaged roof. That's
why some insurance companies offer discounts
to homeowners who have generators.
You can spend less than $500 for a generator
or more than $5,000, depending on the type and
size. For a handy online sizing tool, visit generac.com/residential/sizer. If you have a large
freezer, factor it into your generator sizing. A
freezer full of spoiled food is costly (and stinky).
If your setup will require long extension cords,
factor them into your budget; a couple of 12-gauge, 100-ft. cords will cost you at least $100.
For more on choosing and using a generator, type “generator” in the search box above.
Reader testimonial: Don't wait until you need it!
When we got clobbered by a storm in '06, our area had no electricity for three days.
By the time the storm hit, the home centers and rental centers had already sold or
rented their generators. But because I'd planned ahead and bought my generator
long before that, my house had power—the only one on the block that did.
Protect your threads
Don't be like that poor
schmuck you've seen at the
side of the road, changing
a tire and ruining his
suit. Toss a pair of disposable
the trunk, plus some
gloves and an old pair
of shoes. You may
look like a lost lab
technician beside the
road, but when you
reach your destination,
you'll look like
James Bond. Disposable
coveralls cost about
$6 at home centers (in
the paint aisle) or you can
buy them online through our affiliation with
other online sources.
Duct tape evolution
Ah... the ultimate emergency tool. Who could
live without it? But duct tape isn't as simple as
it used to be. For one thing, you'll find a wide
range of cost and quality out there. Get the good
stuff—extra strength and stickiness are worth a
few bucks more, especially in an emergency.
And there are new versions, like a 1-in.-wide
roll from Gorilla Tape (gorillaglue.com)
for small fixes and transparent duct tape
by Scotch (3M.com).
Duct tape kept me afloat
While on a fishing trip, my friend and I hiked through a
mosquito-infested forest to reach a secluded lake. The
only boat available was a leaky aluminum tub. But
that wasn't going to stop us. Trusting our lives to duct
tape, we bandaged the hull, and soon we were fishing
If you can find your old flashlight in the dark and if the batteries
work and if you're lucky, you might get a few hours
of light. For lasting illumination, there are better options:
- Batteries last far longer in flashlights and
lanterns that have LED bulbs. The Multi-Function Lantern shown (about $25; energizer.com),
for example, will glow for about 500 hours
before the batteries die. A similar lantern with
standard bulbs would
shine for less than
- Hand-crank flashlights
never die; they just
fade away. And then you can revive them with
a one-minute wrist workout. In our unscientific
experiments, most models shone for about 30
minutes before needing a recharge. Get one
at a hardware or discount store for about $15.
- For low-tech, low-cost lighting, light up
100-hour candles ($10.50 plus shipping through our affiliation with amazon.com).
Just remember that candles cause lots of house fires during
power outages—and that's more light than you want.
Jump-start your car (or your TV)
Jumper cables are useless if there's no one around to give you a boost. For
solo starting, you need a power pack. The simplest power pack is basically
a rechargeable battery in a plastic case ($50).
But some power packs do a lot more. The
Powerpack 300 shown here (about $110; duracell.com) includes a flashlight and a compressor
to revive flat tires. It even has AC outlets,
so you can recharge tool batteries or watch
TV for about an hour during a power outage.
You'll find power packs at auto parts and
discount stores. To browse a wide selection
online, search for “power pack.”
I charged my booster and
put it in my trunk in March.
When I needed to use it in
October, it still had a charge
and jumped my car.
Emergency trailer lights
If you own any type of trailer,
there's taillight trouble in your
future. And if you're lucky, you'll
only get a ticket some dark night
instead of an F-350 up your rear. But if
you're smart, you'll keep a battery-powered
bicycle taillight in your trunk (under $10 at discount stores). When a taillight
fails, strap the bike light to your trailer, where it will alert tailgaters
(and hopefully ward off cops). Don't push your luck, though. Fix the problem
And one more thing: Be sure you have a spare tire and a wrench for the
lug nuts on your trailer wheels—don't expect your car's lug wrench to fit.
Instant tire fix in a can
This stuff is like canned magic for
flat tires. Just connect the can to
your valve stem, push the button
and drive away. The can reinflates
the tire and seals the puncture. But
this is a temporary fix. Get the tire
repaired soon (you may pay an extra
$10 to have the sealant removed
from the tire). Then head for a discount
or auto parts store to pick up a
new can (about $6). If your vehicle has tire
pressure sensors, be sure to choose
sealant that's labeled “sensor safe” or
you might ruin a $200 sensor.
Better than a spare
When I've driven through construction
sites, my tires have picked up nails,
screws and things I can't even identify.
Tire sealers have stopped the leak
every time. If I had to choose between
carrying a spare tire and a can of the
stuff, I'd choose the can.
—Gary Wentz, TFH editor
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The mandatory multi-tool
If you've owned one of these pocket tool kits for years,
you might be ready for an upgrade. There are a lot
more options now, and with a little browsing,
you can find the exact combination of tools
you want, whether you're a hiker or a
hunter, a truck driver or a firefighter.
You'll also find lots of mini
multi-tools, some of them small
enough to hang on your keychain. Start your browsing at leatherman.com or gerbertools.com. A multi-tool isn't as good as a well-stocked
toolbox, but it fits into your backpack or glove box easier.
The Leatherman Super Tool 300 shown here costs about $70.
Emergency medical tool
I work as a paramedic. One morning we answered a call involving a 2-year-old girl
having a seizure. She needed a nasal dose of medicine fast, but the ambulance
didn't carry an intranasal applicator. So I put the medication into a syringe, then
cut off and crimped the needle with my Leatherman tool. A quick squirt into the
girl's nose, and the seizure stopped in seconds.
Most paramedics carry a multi-tool. I feel naked without mine.
Be Prepared: Emergency Advice From Our Field Editors
Spare sump pump
Most people don't discover that their sump pumps
are dead until after a major storm or flood. And that's
when the stores are sold out. So buy a spare now
(prices start at about $60). If possible, buy a pump
that's similar to your existing pump so you won't need
to mess with different fittings in an emergency.
Kittery Point, MD
Stash away cash
A few years ago, our region suffered an extended
blackout. Our most important lesson learned: Keep an
emergency cash reserve. When the power goes out,
ATMs shut down and stores may not be able to
process credit cards.
Instant leak stopper
After a record-breaking rainstorm, my basement
sprang a leak. I mixed up a batch of hydraulic cement,
stuck a handful over the leak and held it there for a
couple of minutes until it hardened. Problem solved.
Now I always keep a small pail of the stuff around—just in case. (A 3-lb. bag of fast-setting hydraulic
cement costs about $7 at home centers.)
Cherry Hill, NJ
Power cords from a
portable generator can
enter the house through a
door or window, but I created
a passage that doesn't let in bugs, noise or rain.
It's just a pair of 3-in. threaded PVC fittings that pass
through my garage wall. I unscrew the plugs, run the
cords through and then stuff rags in the hole.
car into a
If you want light-duty
backup power, consider an
inverter that connects to your
car's battery. For less than $100, you can power a few
lights or a small TV. For about $200, you can get an
inverter that will handle bigger loads like a microwave
or space heater. The 750-watt power inverter shown
here ($75; blackanddecker.com) is available at auto
parts and discount stores. There's more to using an
inverter than just connecting it to your car's battery, so
do some research before you buy (donrowe.com is a
good place to start). And if you want serious power, a
backup generator is a much better option.