Electricity is not just a luxury. A longer power outage can lead to food spoilage, injury 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.
Why you should monitor your home’s power status
Maybe monitoring your home’s power status while you’re away isn’t something you’ve given much thought to. Here’s why you should.
There are as many reasons to keep an eye on your home’s power supply as there are ways to use that energy, but the most important are tenant safety, food safety, and structural safety.
If you are at work or on vacation, for example, if the power goes out, your pets may be at risk. Aquariums require constant power for circulation and aeration, for example, or you might want to run an air conditioner to help your dogs stay cool. Even if there are no pets, your refrigerator and freezer without power for an extended period of time can lead to spoilage and, potentially, foodborne illness.
Prolonged power outages in an unoccupied building can even lead to physical damage in the form of burst pipes in the winter or flooded basements due to pump failure during summer storms. This isn’t much of a risk if you’re just away during the day at the office, but for homes like, say, a seasonal cottage or rental house between tenants, a long period without power can be problematic.
Regardless of your reason for wanting to know when your power goes out while you’re away, we’ve rounded up more than a few solutions for you.
What to look for
Before we get into the actual solutions, there are a few things worth keeping in mind when comparing methods and choosing one for your needs. The tips below will help you evaluate the solutions we’re talking about here and any others you might find while shopping around for yourself.
First, the higher the risk, the more redundancy you want. If you just think it would be handy to know when the power goes out, using just one of the methods we’ve listed below might be enough. However, if a power outage for an extended period of time could be catastrophic for your hobby, your life, or your pets, we recommend using multiple methods to stay safe.
Second, always consider how information will get from your home to you when the power actually goes out.
Some power alert modules on the market rely on Wi-Fi to deliver the message, which doesn’t help you at all if your router and modem are also turned off during a power outage. Others depend on external ping between the larger Internet and the local network at home.
This can be useful, but it also leads to 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 particular thing you need to know that the monitor you choose can provide. For example, if a particular solution can only tell you whether the whole house has power or not, but not whether a particular circuit (like the one that powers the emergency heater or the water pump) has power, then opt for a solution that you can plug in correctly in the same circuit those critical things are included.
How to receive automatic power outage alerts
With the above tips in mind, let’s look at the various ways you can get notified in the event of a power outage.
We’ve ranked the solutions below, roughly, in terms of reliability and risk of false positives.
Return to existing equipment connected to the network
While we can’t recommend this method as a true power-alert solution to use in a real emergency, it’s one of those unintentionally very neat things about a home full of networked hardware.
Several smart home products that have cloud integration will alert you when the cloud side of the equation loses contact with a device on your home’s local network.
For example, every time a Nest security camera goes offline, you’ll get a push notification from the Nest app on your phone alerting you that the camera is off. Some network devices that have cloud connectivity, such as routers and access points, will also alert you if the hardware is offline.
Of course, as we pointed out above, turning off the hardware does not mean that the power is gone. This means that the camera or router is no longer connected to the network or the larger Internet.
And, to further complicate matters, depending on the platform you’re receiving notifications from, you may receive offline notifications but not online notifications. You might see “Backyard Camera is Off” and that might alert you that the power is out, but without a corresponding “Backyard Camera is Online”, you’ll have to keep checking to see if it’s back online.
But if the location you’re monitoring has very reliable internet and you’re not regularly troubleshooting your ISP, broadband modem, or Wi-Fi router, then the device shutdown method might be good enough for your needs — especially if you’re only keeping an eye on things while you are at work or running errands.
Sign up for utility alerts
The vast majority of utility companies support notifying consumers in the event of an outage. If you happen to have a smart meter installed in your home, you’re in luck.
RELATED: No, smart meters are not dangerous to your health
With smart meters, this notification process isn’t just a broad “FYI, power power be out at home” notification, but it is specific to your home because the meter connected to your house can communicate with the utility company.
For example, if I log into my local utility’s control panel right now, it shows that my meter is online and the power is active to my home. If the power goes out, I’ve signed up for SMS and email notifications—and I get a follow-up alert when power is restored to my location.
This method can’t tell you if power is off internally at the breaker level, but for a report on whether or not power is available at the meter, it’s hard to beat.
Set up a monitor based on cellular networks
Notifications that rely on a home internet connection are obviously less than ideal because that internet connection needs power, and an internet outage doesn’t automatically equate to a power outage.
Here is a handy power monitor that communicates over a local cellular network. Regardless of your home’s power and network status, it won’t change the cellular network-based monitor’s ability to notify you. The only time this method fails is if the location you’re monitoring is so far away that it doesn’t have cell coverage.
You can use 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 your phone into a monitoring station. When the power goes out and the phone switches to battery power, the monitor app sends a notification over the cellular network.
There are also various specialty options on the market that combine power monitoring with other metrics that might be of interest to someone keeping an eye on their home while away, such as temperature and humidity readings.
The company MarCell, 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 want, or you can put it in an aquarium, freezer, or anything else you want to monitor.
Whether you use a cellular-based solution or use a smart electric meter in combination with alerts from your utility company, you’ll be on top of any future power outages.