In keeping with European Americans United philosophy of independent thinking and living, not to mention addressing the uncertainty of today's economy on behalf of our people, we'd like to re-post this valuable article which originally appeared back in early 2007. Print it and keep it close.
By Anita Evangelista
It’s going to happen. Sooner or later, the power will go
off, and you won’t know when (or if) it will come back on. This doesn’t have to
be the work of evil-doers, either. It could be a sudden ice storm that brings
down the power lines. It could result from other severe weather such as a
tornado or hurricane, or from a disruption caused by faulty power company
equipment, or even something as simple as a tree branch falling on your own
personal segment of the grid. The effect is the same: everything electrical in
your home stops working.
For most modern Americans, the loss of power means the
complete loss of normalcy. Their lifestyle is so dependent upon the grid’s
constancy that they do not know how to function without it. How do you cook a
meal if your gas stove has an electric ignition? How do your children find
their way to the bathroom at night if the light switches don’t work? How do you
keep warm if your wood heat is moved through ducts by an electric fan? What do
you do with a freezer full of expensive meat? How do you find out what is
happening in your area with the TV and radio silent? What will you drink if
your water comes from a system dependent on electrical pumps?
These are questions that both the Red Cross and Federal
Emergency Management Agency are asking people to seriously consider. Both of
these agencies have suggested that preparations for three days without power
are prudent commonsense actions that all Americans should now undertake.
We’ll look at these issues in the broad context of living
without access to the grid, whether you’ve chosen to separate from it or
whether the choice is made for you by outside forces. What you can do now to
mitigate your difficulties if the power goes off in the future, and what you
can do then to help keep your situation under control, will be the focus of
Remember, too, that an important principle in all
preparations is that you maintain as much “normalcy” in your lifestyle as
possible. For example, if television is part of your relaxation and unwinding
process, don’t assume you can easily do without it. The closer you can keep
your daily routines to “the norm” for your family, the more easily you can deal
with power outages.
There are five primary areas that are easily disrupted if
the power goes off. Each of these is critical to daily survival, as well, so
when making preparations for emergencies keep these in mind. In order of
importance, they are: light, water, cooking, heating/cooling, and
While living on our Ozark farm without the grid, we spent
some time rising with the sun and going to bed when the sun set. This would
probably have been a pretty healthy way to live, if everyone else in the world
did the same thing. Our children’s bathroom needs didn’t stop when the sun went
down, our neighbors figured that nighttime visits weren’t out of the ordinary,
and those midnight raids on the pantry for crackers and peanut butter turned
into fumble-fests. Sometimes the barking of our livestock guardian dogs meant
strange predators were too close for comfort, somewhere in the countryside
darkness. Light is the most important item on our Big Five list because without
light we are not able to efficiently carry on the other activities of daily
The most simple and familiar form of emergency lighting is a
flashlight. Do you have one that you could find in the dark, right now? If so,
congratulations. You are among a very small percentage of Americans. Better yet
if you have one for each member of your family, with fresh batteries, plus
three extra sets of batteries for each flashlight. That should be your minimum
“safe” number. Store your flashlight where you can quickly reach it in the dark
night—under the mattress of your bed, for example. Each child old enough to
walk should also have his or her own flashlight, and be taught how to use it.
Flashlights range in price from the 79 cent cheapie to the
fancy multi-function $80 special. Consider a small 2-AA battery flashlight with
a halogen bulb. These cost about $4-5 each, give an excellent clear white
light, and are easily portable in a pocket or purse. Additionally, when we
discuss communications later in the article, the most common battery used in
these devices is also the AA, so your life will be simplified if you stick
primarily to one type of battery and don’t have to buy various odd sizes for
Batteries wear out rapidly if your flashlights are used
continuously: figure two changes per week of regular use. Alkaline batteries
last longer, give a more powerful light, but cost more than regular batteries.
Most rechargeable batteries are suitable for flashlights, but should be
recharged when the light begins to dim a little. Don’t let them get completely
drained. This means you would need several sets of rechargables for each
flashlight (some would be recharging while you use the others).
Recharging can be done by means of a charger plugged into
your car’s cigarette lighter outlet. These DC-powered rechargers can be found
at auto supply stores and at Radio Shack for about $30 or less. Solar
rechargers work slower but produce the same results for about $30.
Candles are available, slightly used, at garage sales and
thrift stores (5 cents to 10 cents each or less), and some outlet stores like
Big Lots have new candles for 25 cents. We have a cardboard box weighing 35
pounds that is filled with various sizes and shapes of candles. This would be
about a year’s supply for my family. We’ve acquired them gradually, every time
we found them inexpensively. They never go bad! Candles are easy to use and
familiar. Most of us can adjust to using candles easily. The light is soft and
wavering. You’ll need at least three candles if you hope to read by the light.
If you have small children or indoor pets, care must be taken where you place
them. Metal candle holders that hang on walls are probably the safest. Remember
to place a heat proof plate underneath the holder to catch drippings. Save your
wax drippings, too, to make more candles later.
Oil (kerosene) lamps produce a steadier light than candles.
Department store oil lamps cost about $10 each and come in attractive styles.
Lamp oil is about $3 per liter. A typical lamp will burn one to two cups of oil
per night, so you would use about two liters each week per lamp. The light from
these lamps is not quite adequate to read by unless it is placed very close,
and the light does waver a little. A single lamp can provide enough light in a
room so that you don’t bump into furniture, but two or three may be needed to
provide good functional light. As with candles, if you have children, these
lamps need to be placed securely and out of reach. The smell of burning oil
(kerosene) can get heavy in a closed room so keep ventilation open. Keep an
extra set of wicks ($2) and chimneys ($3) in case of breakage.
The Cadillac of oil lamps is the Aladdin Lamp. These run
from $60 up to several hundred each. The light given off is as good as a
60-watt bulb, clear, and unwavering. You can read or do needlepoint by the
light of one lamp. These burn the same oil or kerosene as typical lamps, but
because they burn hotter, there is much less odor. Position these lamps so that
they cannot accidentally be overturned, and so that the intense heat coming from
the chimney won’t ignite something. Purchase an additional “mantle” (the
light-giving portion of the lamp - $3), and chimney ($15), as backups.
Solar powered lamps ($80-$120) are typically small
fluorescents, and can be run off of battery systems. It may take more than one
day of bright sunlight to recharge these lamps, so you may need several—one to
use, while others are recharging. The light is white and clear, good for
area-lighting, and rather difficult to read by. Have extra fluorescent bulbs on
Don’t forget to store matches!
If you live in a town or city, the loss of power to homes
and businesses probably will not immediately affect your water pressure, but it
could affect the purification process or allow reverse seepage of contaminants
into the lines. If, instead, your water comes from an electrically-powered home
water pump, your water stops flowing the moment the power does. Either way,
with the loss of power comes the loss of water (or, at least, clean water).
Water that is free of bacteria and contaminants is so crucial to our survival
that it should be a special concern in your preparations.
The easiest way to guarantee quality water is to store it
right now. The important question is: how much? Both Red Cross and FEMA suggest
a minimum of one gallon per day per person. This is an absolute minimum, and
covers only your real drinking and cooking needs; bathing is out of the
The typical American currently uses around 70 gallons a day,
taking a nice long hot shower, flushing the toilet several times, washing a
load of laundry, letting the water run while brushing teeth, and for cooking
and drinking. In a short-term emergency situation, only drinking and cooking
water is crucial, but if that short-term incident drags out to weeks or months,
daily consumption would rise to include bathing and clothes washing. And this
presumes that the family has prepared a sanitary “outhouse,” so flushing isn’t
needed. In that case, 5-10 gallons per day per person would be a more
reasonable amount, with a weekly communal bath becoming the routine.
One to three-gallon jugs, direct from the supermarket, run
about 60 cents to $2; these store easily under cabinets and counters. A few
tucked into the freezer will help keep things cold if the power goes off. You
can also store water inexpensively in large, covered plastic trash cans; they
hold 36 to 55 gallons each. Refresh the water every two weeks, so it will be
ready in case the power goes off. Kiddie swimming pools—a 12-foot wide, 36-inch
deep pool holds 2500 gallons and costs about $250—also make excellent
above-ground holding tanks. Buy a pool cover, as well, to keep bugs out.
Farm supply stores often sell “water tanks” made of heavy
grade plastic. These can be partially buried underground to keep water cooler
and less susceptible to mold and bacteria. These run about $1 per gallon of
holding capacity, so a 350-gallon tank new will cost $350. Plan to filter and
purify the water before use.
Collecting water can be done by hand with 5-gallon plastic buckets
if you live near a river or stream (it must be filtered and purified before
use). You can also divert rainwater off your roof, through the rain gutters and
downspouts into plastic trashcans. If you live in the Midwest, Northwest, or
East Coast, rainfall is adequate to make this your primary backup water source.
West Coast, high desert, and mountain areas, though, won’t have sufficient
rainfall to make this a reliable source.
A drilled well with an electric pump can be retrofitted with
a plastic hand-pump for about $400 - $600. These systems sit side-by-side with
your electric pump down the same well-shaft, and can be put to use any time the
power is off. Typical delivery is about 2 gallons per minute, and pumping
strength varies from 11 to 20 pounds—a good but not exhausting workout.
Water can be purified inexpensively. Fifteen drops of bleach
(plain unscented) per gallon of water costs less than 1 penny, and 1⁄4 cup of
hydrogen peroxide (3%) per gallon will also destroy bacteria. Twenty minutes of
a hard, rolling boil will, too. Bleach is effective against both cholera and
typhoid and has kept American water supplies safe for decades. The chlorine
taste can be easily removed with a charcoal filter system (such as Brita
Pitcher or Pur brands for home use, about $30).
British Berkefeld water filters, along with various other
brands, are more expensive ($150-$250), but can filter and purify water
indefinitely. Both eliminate bacteria, contaminants, and off-flavors. We’ve
used a “Big Berkey” for four or five years, and it is a very reliable
gravity-fed system. When shopping for filters, if they only offer “better
taste” they won’t protect you from bacterial contaminants.
Noah Water System’s travel companion will work great in case
of a power outage, or your water supply becomes undrinkable. The Trekker is a
portable water purificationn unit. With the Trekker you can get water from any
river, lake, or pond. It’s small enough to carry like a briefcase.
A person can survive indefinitely opening cold cans of beans
for meals, but it wouldn’t be a very satisfying existence. In times of crisis,
a hot meal goes a long way toward soothing the day’s troubles. The simplest way
to heat a meal is the Boy Scout method: a couple of bricks or rocks set around
a small outdoor fire, with the bean can propped over the flames. It’s low cost,
and it works. However, the cook doesn’t have much control over the outcome.
Outdoor cooking of all kinds, including grilling and
barbecuing, all work during emergency situations, provided you have the
charcoal or wood (and matches!) needed to get the heat going. These are
familiar methods, too, so family members don’t have to make a huge leap to
accept these foods. It’s difficult to cook much more than meats and a few firm
vegetables over open heat like this, though. Also, never use these devices in a
confined space, as they emit carbon monoxide.
“Campfire” cooking can lend itself to some baking, if you
also have a cast iron Dutch Oven—a large, heavy, cast iron covered pot. Place a
well-kneaded pound of bread dough into a heavily-greased or oiled Dutch Oven
and put the cover in position. Make a hole or pot-sized well in the ash near
the fire, and line this with glowing coals. Put about an inch of ash over the
coals, and place the Dutch Oven into this. Now, pile about an inch of hot ash
around the oven and cover with glowing coals, then another layer of ash to keep
the heat in. Uncover and check your bread in about 35 minutes, it should be
Propane and butane camp stoves are so much like ordinary
home stoves that there is no difference in the cooking results. Portable RV
2-burner propane stoves are often available used—mine cost $5 at a garage
sale—and can even do pressure canning because the heat is consistent and
reliable. A typical 18-gallon propane cylinder, the kind used for barbeques,
costs around $30 new, and a propane fillup is about $7. This will last for
nearly a month of daily use. You’ll also need a feeder hose and pressure
regulator for the stove, which can be prepared by your propane dealer for $20
Butane stoves are also portable and run off of a cylinder of
the same kind of butane that is used in cigarette lighters. These stoves are
$80-90 new, and cylinders are $5 and last for 8 hours of cooking.
General camp stoves (around $65 at department stores)
operate on “stove fuel” (basically, propane in a small 1-pound cylinder - $3).
A cylinder lasts for around 8 hours of cooking. You can also find camp stoves
that will cook off of unleaded gasoline, and there are some that are
“multi-fuel,” using either kerosene or gasoline—handy in case of a shortage of
one fuel or the other. Use outdoors or on a covered porch to prevent carbon
monoxide buildup in your home.
Solar cooking is another option, if you have plenty of
unobstructed sunlight and someone who is willing to adjust the cooker to face
the sun every half hour or so. A solar oven need be no more fancy than a set of
nested cardboard boxes painted flat black on the inside with tempura colors, a
sheet of window glass, and some aluminum foil glued to cardboard panels. Total
cost for this, if you can scrounge leftover glass and cardboard, is about $1.
A solar oven design made with cardboard boxes, aluminum
foil, and a piece of window glass. Interior of the box is flat black paint.
Place your food in a covered lightweight pan inside the box,
prop it so the entire interior is exposed to the sunlight (about a 45-degree
angle), cover with the sheet of glass (and tape the glass so it won’t slide),
then prop the aluminum foil panels so that they reflect more sunlight down into
the box. Move the box every 30 minutes so it maintains an even temperature. It
will get hot fast, easily up to 325 degrees, and hold the heat as long as it
faces the sun. Remember to use potholders when removing your foods! Our first
solar oven had a black plastic trash bag as a heat-absorbing inner surface; it
worked superbly until the plastic actually melted.
Keeping foods cool if the power goes out can be as simple as
looking for shade, even under a tree. Some Ozarkers have partially buried old
broken freezers in the shade of backyard trees, storing grains and winter
vegetables inside. During the winter, your parked car will stay at the same
temperature as the outside air—below freezing on those cold nights—so you can
store frozen goods there safely. During the daylight hours, the car interior
will heat up, though, if it’s in the sun. Park it in the shade of the house, or
cover the windows and roof with a blanket to keep the interior cool.
Kerosene refrigerator/freezers are alternative appliances
that will continue to function with the power off because they are “powered” by
kerosene. Their cooling and freezing capacity is exactly the same as a regular
refrigerator, and they come in the same colors. Typically, they are a little
smaller than conventional ‘fridges and cost up to $1500, but they’ll last for
decades with care.
Portable battery-powered refrigerators that keep your foods
40-degrees cooler than outside temperatures are available at most department
store sporting-goods sections ($90). These run off of both DC and AC power, so
they can be plugged into your car battery through the cigarette lighter outlet
or into a solar power system.
What about that freezer full of expensive meat if the power
goes off? First step is to cover the freezer with blankets to help retain the
cold. Then, find dry ice (if everyone else in your town hasn’t already bought
out the supply). Blanket coverings will keep a full freezer frozen for two
days, and the addition of dry ice will prolong that to three or four days.
If power stays off, it’s time to eat and time to can the
meat remaining. Canning low-acid foods like meat calls for a pressure canner
($90), canning jars ($6 for 12), a source of consistent heat (like a propane RV
stove), and some skill. In considering your time requirements, it took me two
days of steady canning to put a 230-pound pig into jars. Each quart jar holds 3
pounds of meat.
Heating and cooling
It’s a funny thing that even though we know winter is
coming, we put off cutting our wood until after the first really cold night has
chilled the house below comfort levels. But with the instability in the world
today, it is sensible, and reasonable, to prepare well in advance of season
changes. Putting in supplies a year ahead of time is a traditional farm
practice, and it gives a cushion of safety against uncertain conditions.
New wood heaters run from $100 to several thousands,
depending on materials, craftsmanship, and beauty. Better stoves hold heat
longer and may have interior baffles that let you use less wood to produce more
heat. Even so, the most basic metal-drum-turned-stove also works to heat a room
or a house.
Heating a 3-bedroom home that is moderately insulated will
use about 8-12 cords of wood throughout the winter. The size of a cord (sometimes
called a “rick” or a “rank”) is not standardized from region to region, but
typically will be about 8' x 8' x 2', roughly a pickup truck bed loaded even
with the top of the sides. Prices will vary between $65 per cord to $150,
depending on the region and type of wood. Hardwoods, such as oak and walnut,
and fruitwoods like apple and pear, burn better and longer than softwoods like
poplar. Don’t use resinous woods, such as the pines, cedars, and spruces for
the main heating—only as firestarters—because they burn too hot and fast and
generate creosote. Better home insulation and better quality hardwoods will
decrease the amount of wood you need to use.
If you plan to secure and cut your own firewood, be willing
to acquire a good-quality chainsaw—any that cost below $200 will only give you
grief. Keep an extra chain on hand. Use safety precautions, too: wear ear and
eye protectors, heavy gloves, and don’t chainsaw alone. Cutting your own wood
will decrease your heating costs significantly, but increase your labor. It
typically takes us a full week of constant work to put up a winter’s worth of
Chimneys need to be thoroughly cleaned of the black crusty
buildup, creosote, at least twice each year (and more often if you use the
Propane heaters that don’t need venting to outdoors are a
relatively new product. A plain one ($200) can be mounted on the wall in the
home’s main room, or more fancy models that look like built-in fireplaces
complete with fake logs ($450) are available. You will need a propane tank,
regulator, and appropriate copper lines, but these will all be installed by
your propane company for a small charge. Propane has varied widely in cost from
year to year, but typically runs around $0.95 to $1.30 per gallon.
Kerosene heaters ($120) are freestanding units that burn
kerosene in a way that is something like a lamp—it uses a wick system and
flames to provide heat. These are best used in areas that can be easily
ventilated, because of the potential for buildup of carbon monoxide. Kerosene
has a strong odor, as well.
Solar heat can be “grabbed” anytime the light from the sun
hits your house. Even in the dead of winter, the south-facing walls will feel
noticeably warmer than the shaded north-facing ones. You can “store” the sun’s
heat in any surface. Ceramic floor tiles, for instance, are excellent at
retaining heat. So will a flat-black painted covered plastic trash can filled
with water. If these surfaces are exposed to sunlight, say, indoors next to a
south-facing window, they will absorb heat during the day. At night, with the
window curtains closed, the surface will release heat slowly and steadily into
One of the most efficient ways to heat is something else we
have forgotten in the past 50 years—close off rooms that are not being used. If
doors aren’t available, you can hang curtains in doorways (or even tack up a
blanket, in a pinch), and keep your heat restricted to the room you are
actually in. In an emergency situation, you can curtain up a room and set up a
tent-like “den” for the family to snuggle in under blankets. Body heat alone
will keep the den’s interior comfortable.
A shepherd or camp stove offered by Cabela’s catalog. It has
a detachable shelf on the right, detachable five-gallon hot water tank on the
left, and an oven sitting above the stove body. The whole thing breaks down and
is portable. It cooks very nicely, too. Costs about $500 for all components, excluding
stove pipes, and it can be bought piecemeal. The light in the upper left-hand
photo is a lit oil lamp, placed to give light when using the stove.
It has a detachable shelf on the right, detachable
five-gallon hot water tank on the left, and an oven sitting above the stove
body. The whole thing breaks down and is portable. It cooks very nicely, too.
Costs about $500 for all components, excluding stove pipes, and it can be
bought piecemeal. The light in the upper left-hand photo is a lit oil lamp, placed
to give light when using the stove.
Cooling a residence during a hot summer requires just as
much thought and advance planning as winter heating does. Battery and
solar-powered fans help keep air moving, windows can be shaded by fast-growing
vines and pole beans, and—planning way ahead—fast-growing trees like poplars
can be planted on the house’s south side to shade the yard.
In areas where wind blows routinely in the summer, you can
soak a sheet, ring it out, and hang it in front of a breezy window. The air
passing through the window is cooled as it moves against the wet sheet, and
helps to cool the house. Remember that heat rises, so make it easy for too-hot
air to escape from the attic and upper floors by opening windows and vents.
In a time of distress, keeping in contact with family and
knowing about local and national situations is important to maintaining both
continuity and confidence. In general, telephone systems are on a different
system than the electrical power grid, but they can be disrupted if there are
earth movements or as the result of terrorist activities.
During the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, we kept informed
about the damages by watching a 4-inch black and white TV set (bought used for
$25) that was plugged into our car battery through the cigarette lighter. At
night, we heard reports from the BBC via a 4-AA battery powered shortwave radio
($70 from Radio Shack). I consider these two devices—shortwave and TV—the
required minimum communication/ information devices during a crisis, especially
if the phone system is down.
Satellite internet hookups, using a battery-powered laptop,
could be an excellent communication tool, both for accessing news and for
staying in touch with friends and colleagues by email.
Citizens Band (CB) radios are excellent tools, as well.
These portable devices can be carried with you into the field and used to stay
in contact with neighbors and family when you are away from the house. Basic
models run $60—you’ll need at least two—and ones with greater ranges and
features are more costly. They’ll run on 6 to 8 (or more) AA batteries.
“Family Radios” are FM-band devices that have a short range,
about 1⁄4 mile ($60 for a pair). These are handy for keeping family in contact
during outings, when traveling in a caravan, or when one member needs to go out
to the barn during a storm. They run on 2 AA batteries.
Keeping things normal
Even though circumstances may change in the world, we can
choose how we wish to react. We can live in a state of helpless anxiety—or
control what we can. We can control our responses, in part, by maintaining as
much normalcy in our lives as possible.
If your family relaxes in the evenings with a video, plan to
continue doing that. Acquire a battery-powered TV/VCR combination, and make
sure you have enough power sources to keep that going for at least two weeks.
(If things get dicey, you can wean off the system in two weeks.) A cassette
player or CD player with external speakers can provide relaxation and
entertainment, and they run off of AA batteries as well.
Children have difficulty adjusting to sudden changes in
their environment, so if you expect them to play board games if the power goes
out, they should be comfortable with board games now. Keep routines consistent,
arising at the usual time in the morning and going to bed as you have in the
past. Prepare familiar meals with foods everyone enjoys. Have “fun foods” and
goodies on hand. Remember to reach out to your neighbors and older folks who
live nearby, and provide extras to help them, as well.
Use the knowledge you’ve gained, and your experience with
non-electric living, to make your neighborhood a more secure and adaptable