questionshow can i tell how long my lights were out?

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The phone. Call the power company. They should have a record if it was their issue that caused the outage.

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Do you have a home server PC? Media PC? Just put a UPS on it. You could do it with your desktop PC, but it wouldn't really keep track if it's asleep.

I have mine set up to text me when the power goes out and when it comes back up. It may not tell you the total duration if the battery goes dead, but you can work that out from the start time if it's still out when you get back. Or you could connect an ultra low power device as the only device on the UPS, and the battery may last for days that way.

This is what I use:
http://www.staples.com/APC-Back-UPS-ES-550VA-8-Outlet-Power-Saving-UPS/product_733726

The software to get it to text me is for Linux, however - so you might need your own solution. My setup is based on apcupsd.

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Ask a neighbor? I would assume it was a bigger blackout than just at your house or the power would still be off. So your neighbors probably also lost electricity for the same period of time.

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Thanks. I do appreciate the responses.

I'm up on devices for bridging the period where you have lost power.
I'm wondering if anybody knows of a device that is designed to tell you that your electricity went out for 36 minutes or 56 minutes or 3hrs. 13mins.

Does anybody know of anything that does that?

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@phillystyle: Not sure if you read my response completely. I was talking of using its notifications to determine when the power goes out and comes back up. Anything that's going to do the job needs power during the outage and also needs to know that the power is out. A UPS does both of these and interfaces with a computer.

A normal computer might put too much draw on the UPS to make it track both ends of the power event (it will shut itself down when the battery is low), but an ultra-low device running Linux with a USB port could do the job better for that.

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@omnichad: Yes, I definitely read your response and that IS clever. I'm not exactly sure how to go about it but I'm planning to research it more for my place - assuming I can't find a plug-in device to do it. Actually, I think I'll try it in my place regardless. ;o)

But here's the Cliff's Notes scenario from past winter here in New England:

Eldery neighbor
Nice gentleman but doesn't speak to neighbors very often. He keeps to himself mostly. (this is key)
He often drives away to be with family on weekends.
He's gone all weekend, sometimes a full week at a time.
I frequently go to stay with my girlfriend on potentially snowy weekends so I may or may not be home when he returns. (this is key)
So, the power goes out - but who knows how long before resuming?
He comes home but has it been out long enough to affect what's in his fridge - or mine for that matter? (this is key)

[I do know that the fridge can keep you food cold for a number of hours without power if you don't open it.]

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@phillystyle: I saw a post online while researching your question. It is a very simple solution, actually. Buy a bag of ice to keep in your freezer. If the ice is mostly whole, then the outage wasn't long enough to affect your food. If the ice has melted and re-frozen, then the food may not be safe.

Wasn't sure you were talking mostly about food so I didn't post it.

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I know nothing of these techological things of which you speak. I have an old school way to tell if the power was out for a good while.

Place ice cubes in a bowl in the freezer before you leave. If you come home and they are still cubes, power was not out. If they are partially melted and frozen back together, the power was out a little while. If they melted completely and you have a bowl of frozen water, power was out a long time.

I don't need no stinkin' computer to tell me my power was out!

Edit: @omnichad we were typing the same answer at the same time, basically. Awwww.

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@omnichad: and @hot72chev: Ha! Simple, yet elegant. That'll work for the problem at the macro level. ;o) That's so "Why didn't I think of that?!?!?!?!?!" THANKS!

BUT, I'm still curious about a device that would tell you how long, if anyone happens to come across one.

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When I was a kid, we had a clock in our house that had hands and ran on electricity. When the electricity went out, the clock would stop, so you could tell the exact time the electricity went out. The only problem would be if the electricity went out for longer than 12 hours.

I know it's anything but perfect, but it's something.

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I used to have frequent power outages in my old home (neighborhood brown outs, not the home wiring)

While this doesn't help when traveling, the way i monitored mine while at work was to set up a continuous ping to my router's IP address ( i had a static from my ISP) - outage events could be calculated by how many dropped pings there were (my router would come back on with the power, and had a roughly 90 second boot time)

it's not an elegant solution, but it was free, lol.

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Are rolling blackouts common in your area?

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How about buying a vintage electric clock with date? Then you can do the math (including days) for the amount of time it was off. Not sure if I am allowed to post a link, but here is an example of the kind of I am referring to:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Electric-Westclox-Wall-Clock-26187-w-Day-Date-ALARM-Faux-Wood-Plastic-/111094506320

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@spectrumtic: I was thinking the same, but didn't know they even existed with a date.

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I realized after posting that you'd have to wait until midnight to know if the time off was 12 or 24 hours, but it is still doable. :)