Friday, April 22, 2016

Power Out Preparedness

We live in the country outside of a small town in the Southwest. We’ve always tried to be self-sufficient but are still tied to the power grid like many of you. Because we live a ways out our power seems to go out more often than in town. So because of this annoyance, we have prepared for the inevitable. For some of you, a power outage of 4 days may actually be life threatening. We live a in a generally warm climate that gets hot in the Summer but rarely gets below freezing. We heat our home with a wood stove and cook with propane. If we had a long power outage I think we could manage. This article is to help you to prepare so that you can manage where ever you live. Living in the Northern tier states where it is cold in winter the folks up there have a little different problem. Too hot means shade and water. Too cold means warmth. So up north you should have multiple ways to stay warm in your home. Here are some.
Propane heaters (need to vent). Need to store propane.
Kerosene heaters (need to vent). Need to store kerosene.
Wood stove (need to vent). Need to store wood.
What I mean by vent is if you are burning anything (wood, propane) you run the risk of depleting your oxygen. If you keep the house/room vented (some type of fresh air coming in) then your risk is much less. Especially when you are asleep.
Fireplace. Need to store wood
These 4 sources may also offer some light. Some wood stoves have a cook top.
Blankets. Wool is best it will even maintain its heat properties when wet.
Warm layered clothes. Loose fitting and layered warm the best.
There is foam clothing on the market. I’ve never used it, but they are supposed to be great.
Stay in 1 or 2 rooms. Close off the rest of the house. You can even use plastic sheeting to get a good seal to keep warmth in.
Hot drinks help to keep warm. Have lots of cocoa.
Hand warmers work real well for warmth. I’ve used one in a sleeping bag and it kept me warm through a frosty night. Two hand warmers were too much for my friend in his sleeping bag. They were too warm!
Sleeping bags
Set up a tent in your living room if you have the room. This keeps heat in a confined space.
Solar power can power a heater.
A generator can also power an electric heater. You need to store gas for a generator and don’t run one in the house or in a building.
You can make a portable alcohol heater with a roll of toilet paper and a new small paint can. Remember to be careful with flammable liquids.
Campfires can keep you cozy all night outside in a sleeping bag and tent. But you must know how to build, maintain, reflect, and keep safe with a campfire.
**Remember safety in heating with volatile fuel. Store it correctly and use the heater correctly. Heaters can cause burns or start fires, be very aware of these things especially when sleeping. Have a fire extinguisher near and smoke and CO2 alarms to alert you with safety.**
As was mentioned above, some heaters can be used as a light source too.
Any power generators can obviously power lights too.
Flashlights. Some will tell you C and D cells is what you should have. You can decide for yourself, but whatever you do, try to standardize your battery use. We use AA and AAA batteries almost exclusively. I like their size and weight. Flashlight technology has come a long way in the recent years. You are able to find a high lumen (I like 200 or more) LED bulb AA flashlight that will not break the bank. There are some very expensive tactical lights out there. But if you look, you can find some small, powerful lights out there.
Lanterns. There are some good, bright, versatile battery powered lanterns that are very good out there too. There are also cheap, low power for very little cost. Consider 12 volt lights too. They run off of solar panels and vehicle batteries. There are still white gas camping lanterns too that still work well. Remember to vent when burning fuel.
Hurricane lamps run off of kerosene, or even cooking oil. You can make a cooking oil lamp from a canning jar with a slit in the lid for the wick. Obviously you need a storage of fuel for these but wicks would be a good idea too. Learn the intricacies of these lamps. There is an art to it. Be safe with them and their fuel.
Candles. They are cheap, plentiful, and usually available. They are pretty dim and there is a mess of wax (or paraffin) as they melt. Good candle stands are important. There is great fire hazard in using candles. Be safe.
Light sticks. These are great and give off pretty good light. They are safe and last usually a few hours. But once you start it, it can’t be turned off. And they are throw-aways. But these are also fairly cheap and store very well. They are very portable as well.
Matches and lighters. These give off minimal temporary light. But they are good for starting fires.
If the power is out we generally go with the sun. Awake when it comes up, go to sleep when it goes down. This way we keep consumption of resources to a minimum.
If you lose power for several days you should eat the food in your fridge and freezer. A freezer will remain cold if full and unopened for 48 hours. 24 hours if half full. Your fridge needs to be cleaned out quickly. It will stay cold only about 4-5 hours with no power.
You should have several ways of cooking.
Gas stove. Natural or propane is good. The problem may be in the oven. Our stove need electricity to start the oven. It has no pilot light. Newer stoves have this feature. You may have to light it yourself and that can be dangerous.
Camping stoves. There are many gas camping stoves out there. The old white gas pump stoves still work but you must store white gas. The newer gas camping stoves are good but you must store the gas.
We have large and small rocket stoves that run off of wood or paper. We can also put our camping oven on the rocket stove.
We also have a solar oven. These work great but you need some experience with them to use them well.
Fire pits, camp fires, and barbecues. All of these are great but you do need some experience with them. A gas barbecue works just like a gas stove. But cooking with charcoal requires the charcoal and some skill. Building a camp fire and cooking on it is not as easy as it looks in the cowboy movies. Using all of these with a Dutch oven is also something that requires skill and experience. Being able to start a fire in all kinds of weather is another skill that is required. The more primitive you get, the more skill that is required.
Fire building and starting can be done in many ways. I have a fire starting kit where I can start fires in about 8 different ways. I like redundancy. This should be practiced often. Even if it’s just in your barbecue. If you’re inclined toward primitive skills learn to start fires with flint and steel, bow and drill, hand drill, and plough are ways to this. They are more difficult and require time and effort. But once you have learned, what a skill to pass on to future generations! I spent about 4 hours as a leader at a Boy Scout summer camp learning the bow and drill process. I still need lots of practice. After teaching fire building to Boy Scouts for years I’ve learned one thing, start a fire the easiest way that is available. It’s good to know primitive skills and to practice them, but a lighter with Trioxene starters is still the easiest for me. Lots of other things work real well too. Try some of the sparkers out there. There are some real good ones. I’ve tried many but still go back to a lighter. I carry a fire steel and striker in my EDC though.
We have a camping “chuck box”. This has everything in it for cooking and eating in a camping situation. I’d recommend one for disasters if you don’t camp. After we use it camping we restock it so that it always has cooking spray, aluminum foil, paper goods, and matches. Make sure you have a can opener in your storage.
Food storage is also something that should be maintained. Some food such as freeze dried or MRE’s should be stored for short-term and once things have settled you can start using your long term storage if the power is still out.
Communication (Commo)
Battery power is important using electronics. Every household should have a battery powered radio. Know how to store batteries and which batteries would be best for you. I use a Goal Zero solar panel to recharge lithium batteries. I also have some hand crank radios.
Solar power is a great alternative to power but the average household may not have the money to go completely solar. It is costly but that cost will be recouped within a few years. I’d love to do that myself but the cost always gets in the way. There is not solar contractor in our small town but if there is one close to you, it would be good to get an estimate of what going off the grid would cost. The problem that I see is the days of a person working at the same job for 20 to 30 years and then retiring, living in the same home, are pretty much gone. I believe that I will probably do that. I like the stability. People change jobs and move too much. Anyway, if you plan to stay in your home it would be good to consider solar, and wind, power. In the mean time you can build or buy a solar generator. You can just get a few solar panels and some marine batteries and run a few things from that.
Rechargeable batteries are a lot more common than they used to be. The technology has improved also. We have many rechargeable batteries. They are a little more pricey than alkaline batteries. We would buy them 4 at a time a few times a month until we got to the desired amount we wanted. Rechargers are not real expensive but of course you can use them over and over again. I wanted a way to recharge off the grid so that’s why we have a solar charger.
As far as electronics go, I mentioned a radio. This would be a standard AM/FM. Shortwave is also a good option.
We have the usual array of computers, games, and I-pads.
I have ventured slightly into HAM radio. We have a few handhelds. I’d like to learn more and get licensed for the knowledge and for the communication option. We have 4 CB walkie-talkies that we could use up to a mile or two.
Everyone has cell phones but I wouldn’t count on those during a crisis. Cell phone towers usually have an 8 hour battery capacity. Some have backup generators. After hurricanes Katrina and Sandy the cell phone industry beefed up their tower capacity. Before Sandy they had already started to ensure some service during disasters, but now they are in pretty good shape. It depends on your location of course, but at least spotty service is usually available after a disaster. Make sure you have car adapters to charge your phones and other devices. Make it a practice of never letting your car get below half a tank of gas. You could also store gas for your vehicle. If you have a generator it can be stored for that too.
Remember to not store batteries inside radios and flashlights. Store them with them not in them.
It’s a good idea to have a clock that runs off of batteries somewhere in the house. There are watches but a battery powered clock in a common area will make a difference.
In a grid down situation water and sewage will eventually stop. Water storage is extremely important and very easy to do. Water filters, tablets, and purification means should also be stored.
Good hygiene is very important always but especially in a disaster. If you’re water is running and the disaster is extended, your water and sewage won’t last. We have a well (electricity) and a septic system. Our septic system needs only minimal maintenance. Our well will be off in a power down situation. We have stored water and other sources with filters if necessary. But we have a generator that can run our well for limited times.
We also have an outside shower. We can use solar showers or a solar system to heat the water. Storing soap for showers and cleaning is important. One of my problems with a disaster is possibly no showers. I have to have a shower available so I have made plans to have one available. We store a year supply of soap and shampoo. This is not as much as you think. Net time you take out a container for soap or shampoo, write a date on it. See how long it lasts and then do the math to figure out how much you need for a year. Then plan accordingly. Do the same with laundry detergent or dishwashing soap. Have these on hand to clean and keep clean.
Having card games and board games will help pass the time. Instead of using precious power for video games or movies have games and books. When I was in the military I was on a mobility team. We had our A, B, C bags always ready to deploy. I had a deck of cards in my personal bag. It came in handy on long flights or long exercises. Maintaining a good library is important any time. I also like a good reference library. With no electricity there is no internet.
72 Hour Kits (bugout bags=bob)
Raiding your kits is never a good idea. If you are sheltering in place (bugging in) from whatever disaster you are experiencing, you may still have to evacuate (bug out) because of fire, water, chemical spills, nuclear plants near you, a myriad of other reasons. Use your bob sparingly. You could take “unperishable” things from it like clothing. But be aware that if you must leave there is a high chance you may not remember everything that was originally in the bag. Be careful with this.
Gasoline will degrade over time. A fuel stabilizer will help to keep that gas good for a longer period. I’ve stored stabilized fuel for 2 years without a problem. But I think that’s pushing it. For my fuel storage I use a year as my bench mark. I rotate fuel through my vehicles. I set my standard at year, but in truth, it’s probably closer to 6 months. Do not put bad gas in a vehicle! It will mess up an engine fast. I use screens and filters as much as possible when transferring gas from container to vehicle/equipment. Keep good records of when you bought the gas, when it was stabilized, and rotated. Always use stabilizer.
Store fuel, any fuel, away from flame and if possible away from sheds and buildings. Ours in locked in a chain link dog kennel. It originally did not have a roof so I put one on it. This way it is secured but far enough from buildings. Be careful to store fuel away from stored water too. Check the laws in your area for fuel storage as far as how and what amounts. Often that limit is 25 gallons. Make sure the containers are approved for fuel storage. Other containers may degrade or crack. They say to only fill containers 95%. I say, the fuller the container, the fresher the fuel. But it does expand with heat so leave some room. Use good judgement. Cap it tight. Keep fuel storage out of the sun.

We have heated with wood for 25 years. I prefer seasoned (dried) wood. But I will burn what I can. I usually season wood for a year. Depending on your climate you will use wood to heat/cook at a fast rate. I know from experience that we need at least a cord (4’X4’X8’) of wood per winter. But as I said, we live in the southwest and seldom get freezing temperatures. In a cold climate you may use 2 to 3 cords of wood a year. Harder wood is better. It burns longer and leaves more coals. Soft wood burns quickly. A wood shed is ideal but not necessary. We keep our wood on racks and covered to keep it dry. We keep our wood away from our house in case of insects, termites in particular, that may be in the wood. I would not keep a stack up against my house.
Keep batteries stored in one place. Alkaline batteries stored at "room temperature" self-discharge at a rate of less than two percent per year. So normally refrigerating or freezing them will only help maintain their charge by a tiny amount. Hardly worth the effort of chilling them. However, if alkaline batteries are stored at higher temperatures they will start to lose capacity much quicker.
Rechargeable NiMH and NiCd batteries self-discharge at a MUCH faster rate than alkaline batteries. In fact, at "room temperature" (about 70 degrees F) NiMH and NiCD batteries will self-discharge a few percent PER DAY. Storing them at lower temperatures will slow their self-discharge rate dramatically. NiMH batteries stored at freezing will retain over 90% of their charge for a full month. So it might make sense to store them in a freezer. If you do, it's best to bring them back to room temperature before using them. Even if you don't freeze your NiMH batteries after charging them, you should store them in a cool place to minimize their self-discharge.
Don’t store batteries in equipment you don’t use regularly.

As you can see it takes some thought, time, and money, to be prepared. A power outage usually only last a few hours or in a bad situation, a few weeks. Once it is restored, your former life can be restored. Learn to live differently. Do things that don’t make you so dependent on electricity. Change the way you do things. The more you do this in your life, the better prepared you will be when you MUST live with electricity.
Semper Paratus
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