1. Gas heater. We bought a used gas heater, in very good condition, quite cheaply, and used that when the electricity couldn't be counted on. Many people around here use wood burning, but we aren't that fond of chopping wood.
2. Candles and oil burners - even when the electricity was on, I'd always light a candle, just in case, in the bathroom before stepping into the shower. I started doing it after the time when I started a shower and then got stuck in the dark when all went black. You don't want that to happen when you're bathing the baby, either.
3. Good insulation - it really pays off to insulate your house, both for when it's cold in the winter and when it's extremely hot in the summer. Also, good insulation for your fridge helps the food last longer, saves electricity, and prevents spoilage when the electricity is off for a few hours.
4. Invest in UPS units - for your more expensive appliances. We have them for the computer, the washing machine and the fridge. This way, we ensure our appliances don't get damaged by sudden fluctuations in the power flow.
5. Have plenty of clothes for little ones - Israel was born in January, and you know how many outfits a small baby can get through! First these are diaper blowouts, then it's mashed bananas all over the place, not to mention all the dust from crawling around the house. Toddlers have a tendency to get good and dirty, too. So you don't want to get stuck with no clean clothes because you can't operate your washer for a few days. Of course, you can wash some things by hand in a real emergency, but it's very time-consuming and I didn't want to do that with a new baby.
Here are more suggestions from the Down To Earth Forum:
"We had been warned about power cuts here too - the winter before we moved there were huge storms in this area of and many people were without power for a week or so. We considered this when we we doing our house, although we haven't had anything other than momentary cuts since we moved in a year ago. Our hot water heater is gas and uses batteries to fire up, so works with no power. Our stovetop is also gas and can be lit with matches and we have a wood burner with an oven compartment. We have a stovetop kettle to use instead of the electric one when necessary and have a number of candles dotted around, mainly ornamental but useful too. We have a tin with extra candles and matches that we have moved out of storage and into our living room in light of the stormy weather this week, we both know where it is and should be able to find it easily in the dark. Finally, on stormy nights, we light a couple of candles even if the electricity is on - that way, if it goes off we still have some light to sort everything out by. And finally, we have some of our appliances plugged into power surge arresters to protect them if there is a spike."
"I would think it is worth spending your first winter with emergency back up before investing in expensive things like generators and solar panels. You might find that you only lose electricity for a few hours/a day at a time, which is easier to cope with even if it happens regularly. Emergency food/water rations, gas heating & emergency lighting (probably battery/solar powered camping lanterns rather than candles with young kids) will see you through, and it is probably worth having a good stock of disposable nappies (especially if you usually use cloth) for when you can't do laundry. It is all about deciding what you need to survive for a day or two."
"I'd echo what has been said by others, and add that investing in one of those counter top double gas rings might be useful for a back up. They run off gas bottles, so at least you are able to cook something. When we first moved into this house we had no electricity at all for 2 months (in the winter). We used a generator to run the fridge and one other item at a time and cooked on the double gas ring and an assortment of camping gas stoves/lanterns - I shouldn't say this, probably, but the tops of the lanterns get hot enough to cook on, though you need to be very, very careful! I was ready to kidnap the man who finally came to connect us - two months of heating water in saucepans so that we could have anything approaching a bath was resulting in serious sense of humour failure! I even cooked Christmas dinner on the 2 gas ring thing, so anything good to eat is possible with one of those. A small gas heater (again with a gas bottle) will throw out a good amount of heat in one room, too - just make sure you keep that room ventilated!"
"we keep a good supply of candles in as well - there are intermittent power cuts here (normally not for more than a couple of hours) for mainenance - all the power goes via overhead cables rather than underground, but there are times in bad weather that lines can come down and then we can be without power for up to 48 hours (in the worst cases). You really need to invest in a UPS unit for things like computers - they give you a chance to power down correctly. Fit a surge protector as well. If you get "brownouts" - ie weak supply rather than complete cuts - make sure you turn OFF anything with a motor (like the fridge) as they can be damaged."