Kirsty McLuckie on the perils of smart homes

This winter has been particularly bad for storms, with power cuts affecting millions of homes across the UK.

Picture: Adobe
Picture: Adobe

We kicked off the season with Storm Arwen in November and have had three in the last week alone. Storm Eunice caused the biggest national power cut on record.

Checking the live power cut list at ukpowernetworks.co.uk on Tuesday this week - the day after Storm Franklin passed through - painted a picture of widespread problems. There are 28 pages of listings, each detailing a hundred or so postcodes where the power is yet to be restored.

A power cut at best is inconvenient but at worst prolonged outages can be a real danger to the infirm, the very old and the young.

At least if you are forewarned you can mitigate the worst effects with preparation, although our homes are changing and the usual advice may not apply for much longer.

Power cuts in the future could be made much worse by changes in legislation and technology. And while greener homes are better for the environment, relying on renewable electricity may leave us vulnerable in longer outages.

We know the drill when a storm is forecast: keep torches charged, stock up on candles and make sure there is kindling and logs at the ready. A stove-top kettle is useful if you have a gas hob, and an analogue radio with batteries will mean you can hear the news.

An older style plug-in house phone proves very useful too as during a power cut, the phone lines currently still work. But landline phones connected to a wire are being phased out over the next three years. Instead they will operate via broadband – so will be useless in a power cut. By 2025, if you lose power and cannot get a mobile signal (which happened to many recently as towers were damaged), there may be no way to report the fault or summon help in an emergency.

Analogue radios have been given a ten-year stay of execution, after they were slated to be turned off in 2020, but they won’t be with us forever. And with more households choosing to use electricity to cook, rather than gas, you won’t be able to make a cup of tea, heat a meal or fill a hot water bottle.

Even if you have solar panels, ground or air source heating the system won’t work, because it is pumped by electricity. Wood burning stoves are another bone of contention, with restrictions on the type of unit and the fuel you are allowed to burn currently being considered at national level.

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But there are homes where electricity and the internet controls much more. Smart homes, where everything is interlinked, must a bit of disaster during a power cut. No matter how many times your clap your hands or shout at your iPhone, the curtains won’t shut.

And if you have an all-electric car, you may not even be able to escape.

Friends have a state-of-the-art toilet – which won’t flush during a power outage. It is not a piece of technology I crave, but such information makes me determined to steer clear of such fripperies.

It is bad enough to have to weather a storm from inside, without having to venture out to spend a penny. With Storm Gladys forecast to hit this week, better to stick with an analogue bog.

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