Over the years, South Africans have become accustomed to coping with occasional Stage 1 or 2 load shedding, and have therefore only made minor concessions but, with Stage 4 and 6 now regular occurrences, we need to plan accordingly to minimise the stress and disruption to our lives.
Most families and businesses can easily work around a two-hour powerless period on any given day, but the disruption caused by the number of outages we are currently experiencing makes life very difficult indeed.
And, with no end in sight for the foreseeable future, being better prepared has become essential and providing our own solutions has become a necessary investment with the benefits now far outweighing the outlay.
Compared to a decade ago when the only real option was an expensive generator, there are now a number of solutions available, some of which are very cost-effective.
- Go gas – If you’re able to make a cup of coffee in the morning and a warm meal for the kids, then everything is more manageable. The easiest and cheapest options are two-plate gas stoves which are priced from around R500 or a camping gas stove from around R250.
- Rechargeable lights – These are an invaluable addition to your load shedding arsenal and just a couple of these will give your home enough light to move around easily in the evening. Prices start at around R200. Add a couple of headlamps which are perfect for reading and you’re good to go.
- Wireless switches – Wall-mounted and perfect for use in closets and drawers, sheds, fridges and garages, or any space that need quick bright lighting, from around R100.
- Smart Rechargeable LED Bulbs – A direct replacement for a standard bulb, and the built-in battery will automatically charge when the bulb is switched on and when the power goes out, the bulb will continue to burn for up to six hours, depending on the brand you buy.
- Surge protection plugs – With the amount of load shedding we’re now experiencing, it’s worth buying a few surge protection plugs and multi-way adapters to safeguard your electronics from power surges when the electricity comes back on.
- Power banks – These are portable batteries designed to recharge electronic gadgets when you don’t have access to regular power. They are great for items like cell phones and tablets and prices start at around R200.
- Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) – Depending on how many devices and appliances you need to keep powered, these start at around R700. They also help to safeguard against power surges.
- Inverters – Compact and easy to use, they convert energy from a battery bank and even a small one will be enough to power your wifi, TV and decoder. Decide which appliances are essential then check their voltages and ensure you buy an inverter that will do the job. Prices start at around R2 000.
- Generators – These are usually petrol or diesel powered and there is now a variety of sizes from which to choose, depending on your needs. Prices range between R3 000 and R50 000.
- Off the grid – if your budget runs to it, it’s worth considering going solar. You don’t have to go the whole hog immediately – even starting with the geyser will make a big difference to your life, especially if you have a larger family.
Whether or not one has a back-up power source, it’s important to adequately prepare your home as this will go a long way in minimising frustration during load shedding. I suggests the following:
- Check the schedule regularly – to ensure you are not caught on the hop;
- Security – by now, you will know if your security system is struggling to cope with load shedding and, if it is, call in a security consultant to boost your backup power. Sadly, power outages are the perfect opportunity for thieves to take advantage of the darkness, so make sure your home is secure;
- Additional illumination – It’s a good idea to buy a couple of extra torches, candles and matches for ‘just in case’ – you never know when they might come in handy. And transfer your car and house keys to a small key ring torch and whistle so that you can see where you’re going and blow the whistle if you feel you are under threat in the darkness;
- Stay charged – Make sure your phone and laptop are always charged and keep a charger in your car for emergencies;
- Stay warm – invest in a gas heater to keep the family warm during the cold winter evenings;
- Snack time – stock up on snacks that require no cooking – chips, dried fruit, cheese, crackers – to keep the hunger pangs at bay until you are able to cook the next meal. And just before the power goes out, boil a full kettle and fill a flask so that you can all enjoy a steaming mug of coffee or hot chocolate;
- Keep symbiotic items together – store matches and lighters with candles, batteries with torches etc – nothing is more than searching around in the dark for matches to light the candle that you need to be able to see to find the matches;
- Safeguard electronic equipment – switch off sensitive electronic and electrical appliances prior to the scheduled power interruption as when the power comes back on, there can be power surges that can damage delicate electronics;
- Safeguard your sleep – Make sure to turn off all the lights and electronics before the power goes out to avoid a rude awakening when the power comes back on in the wee hours and you are blasted by the television and the glare of overhead lights;
- Stay mobile – Remember to take your car out the garage before the power is scheduled to go out if the doors are electrically operated. If you have a manual override, keep a foot ladder next to your car so there are no accidents from balancing precariously on your bonnet when in a hurry to get to work. And make sure your tank always has petrol – you do not want to break down at night in the middle of load shedding;
- Freezer savvy – Fill the empty space in your freezer with containers of water as frozen water will displace air and keep food cold longer if the power goes out. Remember to leave space in containers for ice to expand;
- Plan homework and zoom calls – Keep an eye on the schedule so that you are not cut off midway through an important Zoom meeting or when the kids need the wifi to research for an important assignment;
- Entertainment – Clear out a drawer to fill with board games, books, magazines and a deck or two of cards. If your kids are scared of the dark, make a play tent with sheets and add a rechargeable lamp, blanket and books or toys to make load shedding more fun and spend quality time in the tent either reading or playing games.
If everything is prepped for when the power does go off, then it’s easier to keep a level head and go about the business of getting on with your day or evening with minimum fuss or interruption.
Whilst it’s impossible to totally eliminate the frustration and inconvenience, especially if the situation is prolonged, it is possible to make the best of a bad situation – and, very often it’s during times like these that the best memories are made.
Yael Geffen is CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.