Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Prepping: Power Outage

We live in an area that suffers periodically from week-long power outage related to ice and snow storms. For this reason, we planned our house to survive winter power outages off-the-grid, but summer emergencies like tornadoes also make outages possible. Rural areas are usually less of a priority for the power company, and it's already happened to us a few times. Here are some ideas:

  • Purchase lanterns. Lanterns should be an oil or kerosene-type lantern, or should accept candles. Do not store lamp fuel or kerosene in the house.
  • Be sure to have a good portable hurricane lantern of some sort if you need to do barn chores.
  • Mount hooks to receive lanterns in the main room of the house, and consider putting more hooks in other much used rooms like a bathroom or kitchen. Candle wall-mount sconces can also be used, but usually only have a rear guard, so use with caution.
  • Candle lanterns should be mounted three feet below a ceiling, so don't choose suspended candle lanterns unless you have high ceilings.
  • Consider hurricane lamps for a mantle or other safe area of a main room to hold a couple of candles. This is an unwise option for cat owners. Always suspend lighting from a ceiling or use wall-mount sconces secured to the wall if you own cats. 
  • At the very least, buy one of those big, cheap bags of tealights. Tealights can be put in pretty much any glass or ceramic dish with high sides as a holder, and five or six tealights in a main room can supply a decent amount of light for a couple of hours. Not that you'll be reading by it or anything.
  • Never leave candles burning unattended. Cats are not "attendants."
  • Hand-crank LED lighting is not super awesome. It is not acceptable as a primary light source during a power outage.
  • Keep special power outage items in the same place, like a box or specific drawer. 
  • Put wooden matches and candles in the emergency box.
  • Keep at least one good flashlight plus batteries (keep batteries with the flashlight, not in it) for each person. 
  • Install gutters with downspouts and have them empty into rain barrels. Filter water for consumption.
  • Buy those five gallon water storage jugs or even five gallon buckets from the hardware store. Fill with water and change water at least every six months. Try to have at least one bucket per person stored somewhere. Do not use milk-type jugs for water storage, they are made to break down faster than other plastic containers.
  • Learn how to make a simple filter for pond water if you have a pond or other fresh water source. Filter it until clear for general use, put it through a water filter for human consumption.  
  • Distilling salt water could be done, but that's more of a survival skill. Best to just think ahead a little better.
  • Install a hand-pump on your well. Some pumps are designed to fit onto existing conventional well systems. Or, drill a second well designated as a hand-pump. The pump should be freeze-proof, or it will need to be otherwise protected for freeing weather.
  • Every country person knows: when the weatherman says there's a bad storm coming, fill your bathtub with water and put in the stopper. That fifty gallons or so will be invaluable in a power outage. Two people would have enough drinking water for two weeks with that much water. Or, it could provide a couple of daily toilet flushes and dishwashing for about a week.
  • I recommend the Berkey filter for people with rural water and for power outage filtration. Water purification tablets and iodine not recommended.
  • Wood stove. It needs to have a top surface suitable for cooking, and an oven is nice if you like the look and want to spend the extra money.
  • Call a chimney sweep at least once a year, more if you use the stove a lot. Or clean it yourself.
  • Gas or propane stove and heaters. Make sure that they do not have electric igniters! 
  • You can use a kerosene stove and heater, but the fumes require fresh air coming in from somewhere, and these appliances are far less safe than your other options.
  • Buy a onesie. A onesie keeps a warm pocket of air circulating around your body, even your feet. Much warmer than long underpants with socks.
Entertainment and communication:
  • Old-school house phones that don't have a power cord will continue to work when the power is out.
  • Buy a car-charger for your cellphone.
  • Buy a solar charger and necessary charging cords. The days may be pretty bright, even if you're out of power, and you may be able to charge up a laptop, iPod, or small gaming device to pass the time.
  • Buy a battery back-up pack for an iPod, and batteries. An iPod can run for a lot longer than an old-school stereo on a few batteries - 15 hours on 4 AA's.
  • Don't bother charging an eReader, just keep some books you haven't read on a shelf with a couple of books of puzzles like sudoku or crosswords.
  • I wouldn't recommend buying a generator for outages, because people depend on them to try to live normally, which is stupid. But if you have one, run it once a day for a half-hour to an hour when your favorite show comes on the television. Since the TV doesn't take much power, run a splitter from the TV cord to charge up your laptop and other hand-held devices. At the same time, run the well pump off the other generator plug and fill up the bathtub again, then run the fridge for long enough for it to cycle off.
  • When the weather is nice enough to drive around, go to lunch and see a movie. Hang out at the mall for awhile, if you can stand it.
  • If your house is warm enough to use your fingers, power outages are a great time for crafts. Keep craft books and supplies on hand. 
  • Clean your house. Not only will it keep you busy and generating heat for quite awhile, but you would be amazed at how much better everyone will weather the storm when things are clean and tidy. 
  • Nighttime entertainment is the hard part. The lighting is poor. The best way to pass the time is to hang out with the people you love. Call your mom. The light may be good enough to play cards or board games. Learn to play the ukelele or the banjo.
  • Get a NOAA radio. It'll alert you to hazardous conditions and weather in your area.
  • Keep a stock of non-refrigerated items for outages. Most people have a fair amount of non-fridge food at any given time. In winter, people want to eat warm comfort food, so be sure to have things like potatoes, sugar, flour, beans, soup mixes, and mac and cheese in the pantry.  Rural people should keep enough winter food supplies to feed the family for a minimum of four days. After that, the power may still be out, but a trip to the grocery may be possible. 
  • Having crazy freeze-dried meals and tons of canned goods is probably not necessary for people who cook most of their meals, but people who depend on fast-food and microwavables may want to consider stocking up on that sort of thing. EXCEPTION: I would suggest keeping some canned meats and jerky as fridge and frozen meats should stay where they are.
  • Most people want coffee. Buy a french press or a percolator.
  • When the power goes out: quickly grab anything in the fridge that looks usable and put it in an ice chest. This includes: lunchmeat, leftovers in plastic containers, cheese, butter, bread, all drinks, and vegetables that will survive on the counter for a few days (which is most of them,) and eggs. Put the eggs, veg, bread, and non-perishable drinks like pop and beer in a place that is as close to 40 degrees (must be above freezing) as you can. Package lunchmeat, butter, and cheese in smaller, usable portions in ziplock-type bags, put in ice chest with things like leftovers, pack with snow, put outside on the least windy side of a building, cover with snow or straw. Do not open the freezer.
  • Consider keeping some discarded single-service water bottles or pop bottles. Wash and store. During an outage, pour milk and other perishable liquids into these smaller bottles so you only have to thaw out that amount of liquid when you need to take it out of the ice chest.
  • After your initial grab, do not open the refrigerator.
  • If you feel certain that the temperatures will consistently stay below freezing for at least four days and there is snow on the ground, you can take meats out of the fridge and put them in a separate ice chest, fill it with snow, and cover with snow. If the power is out for more than about two days and you don't have a generator, this is also what you can do with meats in your freezer. If you stockpile large amounts of food in a chest freezer, you will need to buy a generator to keep from losing your food. Do not put food back into a fridge or freezer after removal.
  • Try to keep empty spaces in the freezer filled with water bottles during the storm season. The less airspace, the longer the food will stay frozen.
  • If you're serious about stocking up, you may want to build a root cellar, if you don't already have a basement. A great choice for sustainable farmers and preppers.
General Outage Mood Changers:
  • Get a sun lamp for seasonal depression and a means of generating power to run it if you suffer from SAD.
  • Clean your house during the event and put all unusual outage items where they can't be seen.
  • Stock comfort foods like mac and cheese and cheery foods like cocoa.
  • Squirrel away some alcohol and/or cigarettes if anyone in the family is going to be more pleasant if they have them. 
  • Have a way to make or listen to music that you like, the more upbeat the better.
  • Try not to spend your time alone.
Now, this list may seem like a lot of preparing, but we've been without power for a week. I can't tell you how much it sucks. We had no heat, no way to cook, no way to wash dishes, no way to wash ourselves. I did have the presence of mind to fill the bath tub and as many buckets as I could find with water before the power went out, and I had a big bag of tealights. We had peanut butter and bread, potato chips, and soda pop. The days were unbelievably dark - too dark to read for most of the day - and the roads were scary. I wasn't warm once, no matter how many clothes I wore, or how many blankets I piled on. I promised that when I designed my house, I would do better, and so far, it's looking pretty good. And some of this stuff saves us a lot of money even when the power is on.

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