Last post I said I would share how to be prepared in case of a storm and power outage. So here comes a pretty long, slightly boring post 😉
When we went through nine days without power, my husband and I talked a lot about what things were most important, and what things were not as crucial. Some of the considerations were keeping warm, having a water supply, being able to refrigerate food and keep the frozen food cold, being able to cook, fuel supply, communication etc.
We came to the conclusion that heat is pretty high on the list. You can produce heat by using a generator to run your heating system, but of course, this presupposes an unlimited source of gas (which was a big problem with Hurricane Sandy). Gas is also pretty pricey if you’re running a generator non-stop. A wood-stove seems to be a very good solution. I would say that even a small, basic wood-stove in your basement is a great insurance policy against power outages in the cold weather months. Of course you need to have some wood supply on hand. Installation of a wood-stove would require an available chimney flue, or a new insulated chimney pipe put in. If you have acquired an energy efficient furnace which vents outside through a pvc pipe, your chimney may be unused and available. Our woodstove kept half of our house warm when it got very chilly out. Traditional fireplaces are a last resort source of heat since they tend to lose heat up the chimney and only give heat to those in close proximity. Propane heaters can also be used if you have propane tanks on hand. Last year when we had a four day power outage in the rental home, we had no other source of heat so we used one. They usually have a carbon monoxide detector which triggers an automatic shutoff if CO builds up.
Water supply is really important to your quality of life. It’s pretty hard to store a week or more supply of water, but I know folks who filled their bathtubs and jacuzzi before the storm and it got them pretty far. Of course you still need to have drinking water stored as well. This only applies to people on wells, who require electricity to pump water into their house. We live in town so the water never went off. An even better solution is to have a generator to run your well pump and other necessities.
A natural gas stove is pretty handy, since you can bypass the electronic ignition and light it with a match. Then you can still eat hot food! Since we have an electric stove, we had to use an outdoor propane camp stove. It’s always good to have two tanks of propane on hand. We had one on our grill, and used one for the stove. A third would have been great for backup purposes. I am thinking that I would like to have a small gas stove in our basement kitchenette to have as a back up.
Hot water is really nice; it makes life a lot easier. If you have a conventional natural gas hot water heater you will continue to have hot water (unless you are not getting water b/c you have a well). We have a very high efficiency system which operates our boiler for the heating system and our hot water heater. So this meant no hot water, since it was too sensitive to work with our generator (which did not produce an even, smooth supply of electricity). Scott is looking into other generators to see if they would be better for us.
One way to keep things cool or frozen, besides using a generator, is to freeze blocks of ice before the outage. Barring this, a good, modern cooler goes a long way. We had frozen food in a cooler which was 15 years old, and the food did not stay frozen, but we also put frozen food in a cooler a couple years old. At the time it was advertised to keep food frozen for 5 days. Well, I can attest that if you pack it full of frozen food and DON’T OPEN IT, it will stay frozen.
Regarding fuel… fill your cars gas tanks before a big storm. You never know when you’ll be able to fill up again. While you’re at it, fill up your gas cans. This way you’ll have fuel for your generator and if needs be you could always siphon from your car, or fill up your car depending what your needs are. A generator is great. One large enough to run your whole house isn’t really necessary, the main thing is to keep your fridge and freezer cold, run a couple lights, and your heating system if necessary. I think well pumps require more power so you’d have to size it appropriately. There are also natural gas generators on the market, which are hooked up to your electric system and can take over providing power to your whole house once the power goes out. They are pretty pricey though.
It’s pretty tough when you can’t communicate with others during a blackout. We were glad to have traditional phone service (not cable) since our phone still worked. We had to use an old phone (cordless phones require power of course). Our cell phones did not work the first days, and were intermittent at best since cell towers had been damaged with the storm. Make sure you have a charger that works in your car, so you can charge your phone that way.
Doing laundry is a big problem, unless you have hot water supply and a generator. We lacked in hot water, so I had to take my laundry to relatives who got power before us. We were also able to shower there.
Finally, what were we surprised by? That our hot water system would not work on a generator, how long the outage lasted, and the gas shortage. The hot water problem is something we would like solved for future power outages. It’s not crucial, but would definitely help us live without electricity more comfortably.
Does anyone have any more ideas for living well off of the grid?