How to Respond to Residential Power Outages
Power outages can involve everything from minor faults in your home, through the uncertainty of rolling brownouts or the ever-increasing and major disruption of local, regional and even statewide blackouts due to weather events.
When electricity is lost, we are reminded of how reliant on the network power grid we are. From charging our devices to food, lighting and refrigeration, many forms of work as well as the metro train transport system – electricity plays a key role in the daily lives of millions of people here in Sydney.
By understanding the internal and external causes of power outages, next time you lose power you can avoid the costs of calling out an electrician by restoring power yourself, or in the case of an electrical emergency at least ensure the safety of your household. And while unpaid power bills and planned power outages can cause your power to be disconnected our focus here is to help you prepare for unplanned outages. When you next lose power try and locate the source of the problem:
- Switch off appliances and check fuses
- See if your neighbours have power
- Check the Power Outages Map
- Weather problems?
- Report electrical emergencies
- Be prepared, be patient
- Call an electrician only if required
Seven Things To Do When You Lose Power at Home
Switch off Appliances & Check Your Fuses
If you have lost power in your home and you just turned on the toaster or plugged in yet another device to an already packed multiplug or powerboard then chances are you have tripped a fuse. The first step, when you lose power is to switch off and unplug sensitive electrical and electronic equipment – this may include your TV, computer, hi-fi system, or DVD player. Pop the toaster and lighten the load on that powerboard by removing three or more (all) of the items plugged in. Then try turning on a few lights elsewhere around your home, while on your way to the fuse box, and if other lights are working, it suggests that the problem is one you may be able to resolve yourself.
Homes are required to have a fuse box installed to immediately cut the power supply when an issue – such as overloading – is detected. Your fuse box alerts you to and safeguards against electrical dangers such as electrocution or electrical fires. Each fuse box contains multiple fuses that regulate (on/off) the flow of electricity throughout the different areas of your home, meaning that when problems are detected, rather than your entire home losing power, the issue is isolated by the fuse (for one or more areas) switching to OFF.
If a switch on one of the fuses is flipped to OFF switching back ON should restore power. WARNING! Be sure that you have turned off appliances and unplugged items so that the fuse is not immediately overloaded again. If you’ve taken the above precaution, and the fuse switches OFF again, then you may have a bigger problem. Frequently tripped fuses can indicate a problem with your circuit breaker and you’ll need a qualified electrician to test, identify and repair the problem that is causing the power outages in your home.
See if Your Neighbours Have Power
Before you call an electrician though, take all the steps needed to locate the problem for yourself. At night you can look for lights in the neighbourhood windows or for streetlamps. During the day a quick phone call or check out your front door may be enough to tell if your neighbours are without power too. If you do not know your neighbours (here’s a reason to introduce yourself) look for other people responding much like yourself, looking out windows or up and down the street. If you discover your neighbours are also without power, then it is an external power outage and you do not need to call an electrician at this point.
Check the Power Outages Map
If you still have internet access then check the Ausgrid Power Outage Map. As the largest distributor of electricity on Australia’s east coast, Ausgrid provides power to 1.8 million customers via a network of substations, powerlines, underground cables and power poles, spanning 22,275 square kilometres throughout Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley.
Endeavour Energy also distributes electricity to 2.4 million people in homes and businesses across Sydney’s Greater West, the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and the South Coast but you’ll need to download an app to view outage information.
Both are largely reliant on customers to detect and report small-scale power outages. If they are aware of a power outage in your area, the estimated restoration time and cause (if known) should be displayed with an indication of the areas without power. If your neighbourhood is not already showing you can report a power outage by calling Ausgrid on 13 13 88 or Endeavour on 13 10 03.
Wild weather can wreak havoc on the nation’s power supply causing blackouts that leave thousands, hundreds of thousands, even an entire state (SA 2019) without power and the bad news is, they seem to be more frequent events. Local as well as distant weather events can disrupt your power supply and cause outages for a number of reasons:
- High winds and tornadoes can create flying debris that causes lines to touch and short and/or bring trees down on the lines and transformers causing damage.
- Heavy rain and flooding, hail, ice and snow can create power outages by causing damage to electrical infrastructure such as lines, and transformers.
- Lightning strikes can instantly spike, overload and short out the power supply network when striking transmission towers, power stations and transformers, power lines and poles.
- Heatwaves with their increased demand for cooling can cause overworked cables, transformers and other electrical equipment to melt and fail.
- Bushfires emergencies may require power to be disconnected to ensure everyone’s safety.
In the worst of seasons, there may be a combination of all these factors within a short period with resulting and cumulative damage to the power supply network throughout the state.
Report Electrical Emergencies
Weather, wildlife and vandals, excavation work and motoring accidents have all been known to cause electrical emergencies. In the case of fallen or arcing power lines, leaning or fallen poles or exposed underground cables – each of which can be deadly – for your own safety, you need to:
- Stay at least 8 metres or 2 car lengths away
- Call Ausgrid on 13 13 88 or Endeavour on 13 10 03 to report and electrical emergency
Once identified power outages are prioritised with life-threatening hazards that are of danger to the public (such as fallen powerlines) taking top priority. Service officers will attend the site to check for hazards, and organise the emergency response units needed to clear debris and make repairs. A close second on the list of priorities is restoring power to essential services such as hospitals, community buildings (fire, police and civil defence) and pumping stations. They may then be able to reroute supply and restore power for as many customers as possible before setting to work on repairing the transmission and network electricity supply.
Be Prepared, Be Patient
As a residential customer, your electricity is dependent on the restoration of the transmission and distribution networks first, so it is a good idea to be prepared for unplanned outages and have the following readily available:
- a battery-operated radio to keep up to date with the latest emergency information
- torches with spare batteries
- a First Aid kit and any medications essential to your health
- a telephone that does not need mains power to operate
- important personal and emergency contacts
- access to freshwater
Repairs to the high voltage transmission lines are the first repair priority as one fix can potentially restore power to thousands of customers at a time. Repairs to the lower voltage distribution network – the kind on residential streets – are next as they can restore power to several hundred customers in one fix.
Any damage to the service wire or underground cable connecting your home to the grid must, necessarily, wait until transmission and network services are restored. At which point, Ausgrid is legally unable to carry out repairs to your home power supply beyond the connection point, usually located on a public street or road. With Endeavour it’s near impossible to know from their website so safe bet would be to call a level two electrician.
Time to Call the Captain
If the service wire or cables or a private electricity pole is the cause of your power outage, you will need a qualified level two (L2) electrician to repair the damage and restore the power to your home. L2 electricians are needed for the installation, repair, and maintenance of overhead and underground power service lines between your property and the electricity network.
Here at Captain Cook Electrical, our L2 electricians are available 24 hours, seven days a week. We are an Accredited Service Provider (ASP) authorised to carry out work within the Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy networks. Meaning we are qualified to undertake any work that requires the disconnection, connection, or adjustments to the mains power supply to your property.
Our work on service lines, private power poles, and underground electrical cables is fully insured and comes with a Certificate of Compliance for Electrical Work (CCEW). Don’t get left in the dark, if you can’t fix it and Ausgrid or Endeavour can’t help, better call the Captain!