How Does Plumbing Work During a Power Outage?

by Katelynne Shepard
Photo of a nice, fancy sink in a mostly white kitchen

You're just about to jump into the shower when the lights go out. A power outage can be a major inconvenience, keeping you from being able to use the microwave, catch up on your favorite shows or even charge your phone. But what about that shower?

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Can You Use Water When the Power Is Out?

As long as you don't have a well or another type of water system that uses a water pump, you should still be able to run water while the power is out. Water pumps require electricity, so a power outage means there'll be no water in the system. A power outage doesn't affect the quality of your water, so you can still wash your hands or get a drink from the faucet. You'll also be able to shower, but depending on your system, it may end up feeling more like a cold plunge than a steamy sauna.

Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power Is Out?

If your power is going to be out for an extended amount of time, you're eventually going to have to use the bathroom. The good news is that as long as you're hooked up to a traditional gravity-fed water removal system, you can still safely flush your toilet. However, if your system uses a water pump — such as with a well and septic tank — you'll only be able to flush the toilet once, and then it won't fill up again. If you need to flush it again, you can pour a gallon of water quickly into the basin to force a flush. You'll have to use stored water, however, because you won't be able to fill up a bucket from the faucet.

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Does a Gas Water Heater Work When the Power Is Out?

Having running water and having hot water are two very different things, and whether you're able to take a hot shower when the power is out depends on what kind of water heater you have. Electric water heaters won't work when the power is out, so once you use the existing reservoir of hot water, you'll be out of luck until the power comes back on.

If your water heater is a traditional gas tank system, however, you'll probably have access to hot water the entire time the power is out. The exception to this is if you have an electric starter for the pilot light. If the power goes out and the pilot light goes out at the same time — which can happen in big storms with strong winds that create a back draft — you won't be able to get the pilot light relit. Gas tankless water heaters also rely on electricity for the pilot light, so these won't work when your power is out. 

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Does Your Home's Plumbing System Work While the Power Is Out?

Overall, your home's plumbing system should continue to work when the power is out as long as you're not reliant on anything that requires electricity, such as a water pump. Traditional water systems are gravity-fed, which means they don't take electricity to get water into or out of your house. However, keep in mind that you won't be able to use most appliances that take water because they also need electricity. Using a dishwasher or doing laundry, for example, will have to wait until the power comes back on. You may also not be able to get water out of a fridge dispenser.

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