Living in a Home without Power: Tips and Reflections

 By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

On the first very cold night without electrical power during the recent storm with no name, I recalled a distant memory of my first experience camping out as a Boy Scout, wrapping myself in an inadequate sleeping bag inside my pup tent and fearing that I would surely freeze to death before morning. The memory is so vivid that I can still smell the waterproofing from the tent and the smoky air from the campsite’s extinguished fire.

In earlier episodes of occasionally losing power in our 18th century home, my wife and I romanticized the events, suggesting that we enjoy the evening living as Dr. Ebenezer and Hannah White, the owners nearly 250 years ago. The weather must have been more temperate than it was last week and the length of time without power must have been very brief.    

Or, maybe it’s that we’re older now, but this time around, romance was supplanted by the survival instinct.

Before climbing into bed, my wife and I dressed in full sweats, with heavy socks on our feet. Somewhere I had read that most body heat escapes through the head, so I retrieved two woolen ski caps from the hall closet, put one on and gave the other to my wife, reminding her that Ebenezer and Hannah would have worn nightcaps to bed. When we were in full freezing night regalia, all in unmatched colors, and our caps with the pointy end sticking straight up, we looked much like gnome statues one would find on a front lawn.  One look at each other, and we both burst into laughter.

I suspect that in the 18th century, there were not many children conceived on very cold nights. Who would ever find one’s partner recognizable enough or accessible enough in such a get-up to venture a romantic interlude? 

By the second day, as we settled into the acceptance of having no place to go or anything to do, we found that there were unexpected positive sides of a day at home without technology. I was not aware of it until it was gone, but we must have our television on all the time. Without it, our home was uncharacteristically quiet as a mouse, affording us time for thought and reflection.

In flickering candlelight, my wife and I learned a few things about each other that we hadn’t shared before, and we’ve lived together for more than two thirds of our lives so far. I also found time to read something other than newspapers during the day, and instead of watching Netflix, I listened to classical music for the first time in a while on my iPod until the battery ran out.

Besides the highly personalized moments at home, there are more sweeping effects of a storm, like having a strong sense of community with the other 2 million or more people left powerless. And, when our real estate office electricity came on, the agents gathered there to share who was still without power and who needed to take a shower at another’s home.

It’s at times like these that I also remember the motto of the Boy Scouts, “Be Prepared.” With the increased frequently of bad storms, I think that our little family is better prepared now than when weather seemed generally more moderate. While I don’t have the inclination to rough it up to the extent of some homeowners like the single mom I admire for gathering her own wood to keep warm when the heater goes out, I do now have a generator to guard against my sump pump failing, and I do take the precaution to keep it outside, rather than in the basement or garage, to avoid buildup of carbon monoxide.

We also remembered to turn off all our appliances. (One story circulating from this storm was that one homeowner was using her hair dryer when the electricity went off and when it returned, she was out, and the hair dryer started a fire).

Other tips we applied: We let a huge pile of ice cubes remain in our freezer which helped prolong the usability of our frozen foods and we made sure that we had a hand-operated can opener to use the canned foods we had stockpiled and a good supply of batteries for our flashlights. Also, on the way home when the snow started to fall, I stopped at a gas station to fill my tank. That came in handy for the next three days as I spent time re-juicing my cell phone and enjoying warmth with the motor running.

Other revelations: By the third morning of not shaving, I caught a glimpse in the mirror of how badly I look in the new stubby style some younger men now sport.  Also, I found that I actually prefer my home at a lower temperature on a regular basis.

I’m embarrassed to share this as the Home Guru, but even though we have a gas stove, I was not certain we could operate it without the electricity for the pilot light. When I posed the question, my wife assured me, “Honey, just turn on the gas and light a match.” Too bad I didn’t know her when I was in the Boy Scouts.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.