Electricity isn’t just a luxury. An extended power outage could result in food spoilage, harm to your pets, a flooded basement, or burst pipes. Use these solutions to get automatic alerts when your home’s power goes out so you can take action.
Maybe monitoring the power status of your home while you’re away isn’t something you’ve given much consideration. Here’s why you should.
There are as many reasons to keep an eye on the power state of your home as there are ways to use that power, but the most important ones are the safety of the occupants, food safety, and structural safety.
If you’re at work or on vacation, for instance, if the power goes out then your pets could be at risk. Fish tanks require a constant power supply for circulation and aeration, for example, or you may want the AC on to help your dogs stay cool. Even if there are no pets, your fridge and freezer going without power for an extended period of time can lead to spoilage and, potentially, food-borne illness.
An extended power outage in an unoccupied building can even lead to physical damage in the form of burst pipes in the winter or flooded basements, due to sump pump failure, during summer storms. This isn’t much of a risk if you’re just away for the day at the office, but for homes like, say, a seasonal cottage or a rental house between tenants, a long period with no power can be problematic.
Whatever your reason for wanting to know when the power goes out while you’re away, we’ve rounded up more than a few solutions for you.
Before we dig into actual solutions, there are a few things worth keeping in mind when comparing methods and picking one for your needs. The tips below will help you in assessing the solutions we’re talking about here and any other ones you might find while doing your own shopping around.
First, the greater the risk involved, the more redundancy you want. If you just think it would be neat to know when the power goes out, using just one of the methods we outline below might be sufficient. If the power going out for an extended period of time could be catastrophic to your hobby, your livelihood, or your pets, however, we’d recommend using multiple methods to keep an eye out.
Second, always consider how the information is going to get from your home to you when the power actually goes out.
Some power alert modules on the market rely on Wi-Fi to relay the message, which doesn’t help you at all if the router and modem are off during the power outage, too. Others depend on an external ping between the greater internet and the local network at the home.
That can be useful but it also introduces false positives. If the internet goes down but the power stays on, you won’t know if it’s an internet outage or a power outage.
Finally, consider how much information about the specific thing you need to know that the monitor you choose can provide. For example, if a particular solution can only tell you whether or not the whole house has power but not if a specific circuit (like the one powering the emergency heater or sump pump) has power, then opt for a solution that you can plug right into the same circuit those critical things are on.
With the tips above in mind, let’s take a look at a variety of ways you can get notified in the case of a power outage.
We’ve ranked the solutions below, roughly, in terms of reliability and risk of false positives.
While we can’t recommend this method as a true power alert solution to use in case of real emergencies, it’s one of those inadvertently very convenient things about having a home filled with networked-connected hardware.
Quite a few smart home products that have cloud integration will alert you when the cloud side of the equation loses contact with the device on your home’s local network.
For example, anytime a Nest security camera goes offline you will get a push notification from the Nest app on your phone alerting you that a camera has gone offline. Some network devices that feature cloud connectivity, such as routers and access points, will also give you an alert if the hardware is offline.
Of course, as we highlighted above, the hardware going offline doesn’t mean the power is out. It means the camera or router isn’t connected to the network or the greater internet any longer.
And, to further complicate things, depending on the platform you’re getting the notifications from, you might get offline notifications but not online notifications. You might see “The Back Patio Camera Is Offline” and that might tip you off that the power went out, but without a corresponding “The Back Patio Camera is Online,” you’d have to keep checking to see if it came back online.
But if the location you’re monitoring has very dependable internet and you’re not dealing with issues related to your ISP, broadband modem, or Wi-Fi router regularly, then the device-is-offline method might be good enough for your needs—especially if you’re only keeping an eye on things while you’re at work or running errands.
The vast majority of utility companies support consumer notification in the event of an outage. If you happen to have a smart meter installed on your home, you’re in luck.
With smart meters, this notification process isn’t just a broad “FYI, the power might be out at your home” notice, but is specific to your home because the meter attached to your house can communicate with the utility company.
If I log into my local utility company’s control panel right now, for instance, it shows my meter is online and power is active to my home. If the power goes out, I’ve signed up for both SMS and email alerts—and I get a follow-up alert when the power is restored to my location.
This method can’t tell you if the power is turned off inside at the circuit breaker level but for a report on whether or not power is available at the meter, it’s tough to beat.
Notifications that rely on the home’s internet connection are obviously less than ideal because that internet connection needs power and an internet outage doesn’t automatically equal a power outage.
This is where a power monitor that communicates through the local cellular network is handy. Whatever the power status and network status at the home might be, it won’t change the cellular-based monitor’s ability to notify you. The only time this method falls short is if the location you’re monitoring is so remote it doesn’t have cell coverage.
You can roll your own monitor using an old iPhone or Android device, both app ecosystems have apps like Power Monitor Failure (Android) and Power Failure & Outage Alarm (iPhone) that turn the phone into a monitoring station. When the power goes out and the phone switches to the battery, the monitor app pushes out a notification over the cell network.
There are also a variety of specialty options on the market that combine power monitoring with other metrics that might be interesting to somebody keeping an eye on their home while away, such as temperature and humidity readings.
MarCell Power Monitoring System
This cell-based remote monitor handles power status, temperature, and humidity.
The MarCell company, for example, makes a basic monitor that covers all three variables as well as a more advanced model that has a wired probe. The probe allows you to monitor the ambient temperature if you wish or you can place it in a fish tank, freezer, or anything else you want to keep an eye on.
Whether you go with a cellular-based solution or use a smart electric meter combined with alerts from your utility company, you’ll be on top of any future power outages.
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