When we think of power outages, we often forget about plumbing. Although most plumbing systems don’t rely on electricity to run (toilets, faucets, and showers), some do – especially for those living in apartments or rural locations that may have electric-powered systems.

Read on to learn how your home will be affected by a blackout, what you can and can’t use, and how to prepare before the outage hits.

Does Plumbing Work During a Power Outage?

It depends. Most city homeowners will have no trouble using the majority of their plumbing appliances. It does depend, however, on the type of building you live in, your city sewage system, and your water source.

  • City home. You should have no problem using most of your plumbing appliances including sinks and toilets. For tank-style water heaters, you should have some available hot water right away, but it will quickly decline.
  • Rural home. Most well pumps are powered by electricity, meaning water won’t flow when there’s an outage. (But some wells still include one or more holding tanks that can supply water in the meantime. These tanks usually hold between 10-50 gallons of water.)
  • Apartment or condo. You may not be able to use your water without power. This is usually because these buildings have a water pumping system that relies on electricity to operate.

Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power Is Out?

During a power outage, toilet flushing is a little more complicated than simply using your sinks or faucets. Depending on your toilet type and sewer system, you may or may not be able to flush your toilet without risking a sewage backup.

You can flush these toilet setups in a power outage:

  • Toilets on a municipal water supply. City water is usually supplied by nearby holding tanks. So, your water pressure and supply shouldn’t be affected by the outage unless this supply runs low.
  • Gravity flush toilets. These toilets don’t rely on electricity to run, so you shouldn’t have any issue using them as you normally would. Even if your tank doesn’t refill after a flush, you should still be able to manually add water to assist it. Some exceptions may be if you live in a rural area with a well pump.
  • Toilets on well water. As mentioned previously, if your well pump has a holding tank, you should still have a sufficient supply until power is restored. If you don’t, however, avoid flushing your toilet.

You can’t flush these toilet setups in a power outage:

  • Effluent pump-powered septic system. While not as common, some homes may have a septic system that uses electricity to move waste uphill to a septic field or city sewer. If you flush too often, this may result in sewage flowing back down and overflowing in your toilet and home.
  • Pump-assisted toilets. Pump-assisted toilets (like upflush toilets or those connected to an ejector pump) rely on electricity to move waste. This is due to sewage needing to move upward to connect to the main sewer line.
  • Most apartment building toilets. Most apartment buildings have an electric-powered water pumping system that runs water to all units. Although you can likely still use water from other sources to assist a flush.

How Many Times Can You Flush a Toilet Without Power?

If your toilet or sewage system isn’t electric-powered, you can probably flush the toilet as needed. But do keep in mind that the water supply may still be limited. So, if your tank doesn’t refill, pour about ¾ gallon of water from a sink or tub into your toilet bowl to assist the flush.

Can You Shower During a Power Outage?

Even if you have an available water supply, showering during a power outage isn’t recommended. This is because:

  1. After a short time, you won’t have any hot water, as even gas water heaters require electricity to work. So your supply will likely still be limited.
  2. If the power outage is caused by a lightning storm, you definitely shouldn’t shower during the storm to reduce your risk of being struck by lightning.

For most, the safest option is to not use your shower until the power is restored.

What Plumbing Appliances Can’t You Use During an Outage?

Because they rely on electricity for power, these appliances can’t be used or don’t properly work during a power outage:

  • Sump pumps
  • Tankless and tank water heaters
  • Pump-powered septic system
  • Pump-assisted toilets
  • Dishwashers
  • Washing machines

If you’re dealing with any kind of flood or storm that would cause you to rely on your sump pump, it’s important that you have some kind of backup battery or generator to avoid water damage.

Regardless, if your sump pump does fail in this situation, call your local Benjamin Franklin Plumbing for emergency sump pump repair services at 1-877-BEN-1776. We can provide you with a temporary solution until power is restored.

And for any water damage that may occur, count on DRYmedic for water mitigation services and STOP Restoration for water damage restoration.

How to Prepare for Plumbing Interruptions During an Outage

  • Install a backup generator or home battery. Having a backup generator or battery for your well pump, water heater, sump pump, waste removal, or other plumbing appliances can keep your home humming as usual during an outage. This way, you don’t have to worry about limiting your water use. Call your local Mister Sparky to install a backup generator.
  • Insulate your pipes. Especially during a winter storm power outage, your water pipes will be susceptible to freezing without a hot water supply. Insulating your pipes will help prevent this from happening.
  • Prepare backup water supply. Regardless of whether your water supply is electric-powered, it’s always good to have a backup supply of water just in case. You can fill clean containers and store them in your home.
  • Prepare an emergency checklist. This can include details such as what to do before an outage like turning on the generator or backup battery, emptying your pipes (if they’re in danger of freezing), shutting off your water supply, etc. For more extreme situations, you can also prepare an emergency supply checklist with backup food supplies, clothing, tools, and more.
  • Consider a backup toilet. This can include having a portable toilet, composting toilet, or trash bag-lined bucket.

Related Content: Hurricane Season Prep Guide

Plumbing Damage from an Outage? Call Benjamin Franklin Plumbing

If you’re experiencing any plumbing issues due to an outage, count on the licensed professionals at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing for plumbing repairs. Call us at 1-877-BEN-1776 or book an appointment online.