Power Brownout vs Blackout: Everything You Need to Know -
brownout vs blackout: woman sitting with candles during a power outage

Power Brownout vs Blackout: Everything You Need to Know

When the power goes off, it seems that everything stands still. Unfortunately, things stand still quite often. The average American experiences at least one electric interruption every year. Losing electricity is disruptive and disorientating. Did you know that Ohio and Michigan are among the top states to experience power outages? This is largely due to weather-related incidences.

What makes things more confusing is that there are multiple ways you can lose electricity. Among the most basic descriptions are a blackout or brownout.

What is a brownout and what is a blackout? What causes them? What can you do to prepare for them, and what should you do once they occur?

Answer these questions and you can avoid discomfort when you lose power. Here is your brownout vs. blackout guide.

Table of Contents

What Is a Brownout?

A brownout is a drop in voltage within an electrical supply system. The term comes from the brownish light that bulbs cast at low voltage.

A brownout is a partial reduction of voltage. You still have some electricity and your devices may operate at a limited capacity.

Manufacturers design heating and lighting systems to operate at low voltage. You may notice no difference in your heating before and after the brownout occurs.

But computers and electric motors can suffer from brownout damage. They may begin to overheat, which can damage them after a few hours.

What Causes a Brownout?

Some brownouts are intentional. A utility company may experience extremely high demand. To avoid causing too much stress to their system, they will decrease the voltage they put out.

During an emergency like a natural disaster, utility providers may be unable to provide full power to everyone. They provide some electricity to all of their consumers instead of full power for a few people.

Other brownouts are unintentional. The electric grid may malfunction, or their power plant may suffer a shutdown. This causes the utility provider to scale back operations in order to make repairs.

brownout dim lightbulbs

What to Do in a Brownout

The best way to prepare for a brownout is to make sure that one never occurs. Get a home backup generator. When your utility provider stops giving you electricity, you can switch to the generator.

Try to decrease your reliance on electricity. Turn your appliances off when you are not using them, especially during high-demand times like holidays. Switch to appliances like stoves that are powered by natural gas.

When a brownout occurs, turn your non-essential appliances off. Unplug your computers and other sensitive electronics. If they seem hot, place them in locations where they can cool down.

Switch to batteries on entertainment devices and lighting sources. Do something else that doesn’t require electricity.

You may be the only one on your block experiencing a brownout. Step outside and see if your neighbors have power. If they do, contact your utility provider and see what is going on.

Remain calm. Your utility provider knows how to fix a brownout. Once the demand for electricity decreases, you will receive full power again.

What Is a Blackout?

A blackout is a complete loss of electricity. Electronic appliances shut off, including lighting.

You may have heard of the term, “power outage.” A blackout generally refers to a loss of electricity on a large scale, like a city. A power outage is small-scale, affecting a block or street.

What Causes a Blackout

Nearly all blackouts are unintentional. They can occur when a natural disaster damages a power plant or transmission system.

They can also occur when electricity demand exceeds a utility company’s capacity. When too many homes are demanding too much power, a blackout can occur instead of a brownout.

What Is a Rolling Blackout?

A rolling blackout is an intentional event. Companies can track demand and stress on their systems. If they notice that demand is going too high, they can institute a rolling blackout.

They deny power to one area they service while supplying other areas with power. After an hour, they restore power to that area and deny power to another area.

Companies usually announce rolling blackouts in advance. This gives residents time to adjust their electricity consumption. They can occur on short notice, especially if extreme weather is expected.

lit candles during power blackout

What to Do in a Blackout

As with brownouts, you should prepare for a blackout well in advance. Buy a home backup generator and switch to non-electric appliances. Try to limit your dependency on electricity so you aren’t too affected by a loss.

If you are expecting a natural disaster and you need electricity, you should evacuate. Get out of the area, or find some sort of public housing. If you’re expecting severe weather, review recommendations from trusted sources, such as Ohio.gov’s power outage health and safety concerns page.

You may feel a sense of panic when the power goes out. Take a deep breath and assess the situation around you. Look out your windows and see if your neighbors have no electricity as well. If you’re able to access the internet on your phone, you can check for local power outage information. There are tons of resources available, such as this power outage map for Ohio.

Follow CDC guidelines on what to do. Keep your refrigerator doors closed in order to conserve your food. Do not drink tap water.

If your air conditioning is shut off, find a public location like a shopping mall. They have air conditioning and they can keep you cool. If your heating is shut off, put on extra layers. Walk around a little to get your blood flowing.


Empower Yourself and Your Appliances

You should tell the difference between a brownout and a blackout. A brownout is a partial loss of voltage.

It occurs when a utility company experiences excessive demand. It can damage appliances like computers.

A blackout is a complete loss of electricity. It often occurs due to natural disasters. A rolling blackout is a planned loss of power to decrease demand.

Respond to a brownout or blackout in similar ways. Buy a backup generator and switch to non-electric appliances.

Start your transition as soon as possible. Volunteer Energy provides electricity and natural gas throughout the Midwest. Contact us today.

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