What's the Difference Between a Brownout and a Blackout?

You’ve heard the terms“brownout” and“blackout” before, but what’s the difference between them?

Are they interchangeable, or do they mean completely different things?

Let Fox & Sons explain to you what they both mean and then we’ll provide you with some tips for when the power does go out.

flashlight during a blackout

Blackouts vs. Brownouts & What You Should Do if Your Power Goes Out

What is a Brownout?

In the simplest of terms, a brownout is the opposite of a power surge. In a power surge, the voltage and currents of electricity increase in a very short period of time (often leading to damage to wiring and anything plugged into the electrical system).

In a brownout, the voltage and currents of electricity drop below the usual levels. This will cause lights to dim or flicker and many things that are plugged-in may not work or will shut off and turn on constantly.

While power surges are caused by storms or other unordinary circumstances, brownouts are caused by your electricity provider. If they fear a severe power outage is imminent, they will cut the amount of electricity being distributed, to prevent a blackout (AKA a total loss of power). However, brownouts can sometimes be caused by the high demand for electricity (like during heat waves).

What Happens When There’s a Brownout?

Since a brownout is NOT a blackout, there’s still a low level of power running through your home’s electrical system. This will cause:

  • Lights to dim and/or flicker.
  • Resistance devices (irons, hair dryers, ovens) to have a reduction in heat output.
  • Motors (heating and cooling systems) to run at lower speeds but will attempt to draw more current to make up for the lack of voltage — causing damage to the motor.
  • Electronics (televisions, stereos) will have the picture and sound become fuzzy and unclear.

What to Do During a Brownout

During a brownout, there’s still electricity but you need to take action to protect your home’s electrical system and the items connected to it from becoming damaged.

Immediately begin unplugging all of the electronics and most of the appliances from their respective outlets. Unplug everything that doesn’t need to be in use. Things like the refrigerator and any medical devices are things you can obviously leave plugged in.

Lightening the load on your electrical system can help other appliances still plugged in to perform better, prevent many things from becoming damaged, and also prevent a total power outage altogether.

What Do You Do When the Power Does Go Out?

It is possible for a blackout to occur after a brownout has taken place. The reduction in voltage across the town/city can eventually lead to a complete power outage. In this instance, you should follow the tips listed below:

  • If you didn’t during the brownout, go ahead and start unplugging pretty much everything with an electrical plug.
  • To be safe, you may want to consider shutting off the main circuit breaker. To know when the power is back on, pay attention to streetlights or your neighbors’ houses.
  • Grab your pre-planned emergency kit. This kit should include basic necessities, such as flashlights, batteries, a battery-powered radio, non-perishable food, a gallon (or more) of water, extra cash, a first aid kit, and anything else you feel is necessary to have during an emergency.
  • Using your mobile device, attempt to contact your local utility provider. Report this blackout and find out if this outage is only affecting your home, your neighborhood, or the entire town/city.
  • If the blackout takes place during the winter or summer, move yourself and your family into a room that is the most comfortable in terms of temperature. Not knowing how long the heating and cooling system will be off can be a serious health risk.

How to Prevent Blackouts

Blackouts, brownouts, and power outages of all kinds are not something you can actively try and prevent. However, there is one way you can prevent your family from sitting in the dark — by installing a home generator.

Standby generators are connected to your home’s electrical system via a transfer switch. What this does is it allows the generator to turn on automatically when the power goes out and turn off when the power comes back on (without fear of power surges).

Therefore, you never have to worry about turning it on, or off, or even connecting it each time the power goes out — unless you choose a portable generator as your power insurance. However, it is recommended that standby generators be used for homes, while portable generators are used to power job-sites, festivals, home-improvement equipment, etc.

Knowing what brownouts and blackouts are, and what to do when the power goes out is something every homeowner should know.

If you don’t want to worry about not having power when the power does go out, consider installing a standby generator in your home. Our pros here at Fox & Sons can educate you on what they’re all about, the size that is perfect for your home, and take care of the entire installation process.

Stop sitting in the dark, step into the light, and protect your home with the generator it deserves!


Call Fox & Sons today at (800) 716-4990 or contact us online to schedule a generator installation service in Vernon!