During the pandemic, our family needed to undertake maintenance on our off-grid summer cabin, with no electricity, no running water, and no flush toilet. It is scenic but certainly not for the faint-hearted!
However, we went completely prepared in summer, whereas if your power shuts down unexpectedly due to a blackout in the middle of winter, then my 6 essentials can help you and your household to survive. Here’s how.
We used the sun itself, matches, candles, torches, spare batteries, and some wind-up and solar chargers.
During the summer months, it is easy to rise when the sun does and sleep just after the sun sets, particularly if you’ve been foraging for food, collecting or chopping firewood, and taking long walks in the countryside.
Light is scarce after mid-afternoon in the fall or the winter but in summer, we used the daytime to do essential tasks. We had already fitted several solar panels (with 12-volt output) to ensure one emergency phone could charge every day.
If the sun shone, we charged 2-3 phones daily with one panel. However, remember it is 12-volt or 24-volt options so you need adapters to suit the output of the panels chosen.
Before It Happens
Purchase candles, matches, torches, and batteries and store them in a waterproof covering.
Kerosene lamps are excellent if you have space to store them.
Think long and hard about emergency light, energy, and hot water needs.
Calculate the minimum necessary for your household. No freezers or fridges are included here; this is just emergency power.
If you can, fit a small solar system for emergencies. For heating hot water, you may need larger solar panels with 24-volt output.
Human bodies huddled together are warmer, so pile up the blankets and accept that storytelling or candlelit card games will have to take over from TV or cell phones.
If you are just one person, use layers of clothing. Thermal underwear traps air between wool sweaters and warms you up. Wearing thick socks and gloves really helps.
We learned quickly to always clean out our wood-burning stove first thing in the morning, put ashes in a container to use on the veg plot, and then set the fire in daylight for later.
We used vine cuttings, dried and cut to size for kindling wrapped around any spare paper or packaging. We brought the weekly newspaper, junk mail, and cereal packets to set off the fire initially. The fire gives heat and a certain amount of light.
Sleeping in the same room as the fire is cozy, but not without dangers.
As long as the last log is just smoldering, it is pretty safe.
Make sure you have a battery-powered carbon monoxide monitor nearby because wood fumes can be toxic.
In any case, the heat rises so if you are going to sleep upstairs, sleep in the room right above the fire.
In our case, it is a one-room cabin with pull-down beds, so we ate, cooked, had a fire, and slept all in the same place. In an emergency, get all your family into one room to conserve heat and keep an eye on them.
How To Prepare
Install a wood-burning stove, or purchase a gas-fired heater for short-term use. Stockpile dried wood to burn. It needs 2 years minimum before you can burn it in a stove.
Kindling can be collected from any country area, like twigs, fallen branches, etc. Keep drying wood under cover and if you prune trees, save this wood. Give teenagers pocket money to regularly chop the wood.
If you are lucky, your water supply is unaffected. Just in case, fill the bath or containers with cold water as soon as the power goes off. At least you will have a supply of clean water for a few days.
In our case, rainwater is saved in a storage tank outside the back door so we can just go and get a jug or a cupful whenever it’s needed.
Boiled water is safer because it kills germs so we make tea and then fill up water bottles when it’s cool.
However, if you are not sure about your water supply, some water-purifying tablets are essential.
How To Prepare
Installing a rain collector is possible in many states so you can install one before it happens. Fill the bath with clean water as soon as the power goes. Store at least a gallon of water per person per day if you can.
You can buy individual bottles but another option is to fill several plastic 20-gallon containers from a tap. Store them in a shaded position out of direct sunshine.
If you live off-grid, your water supplies may use electric pumping systems so do your research and be prepared before it happens.
Food Supplies And Cooking
Make sure your cupboard is always packed with non-perishables.
In our cabin, there is always a massive pot of peanut butter, a week’s supply of pasta and rice, cans of soup, tomatoes, and fish, as well as dried lentils, fruit, nuts, and energy bar snacks in an airtight, mouse-proof container.
A packet of decent coffee is a must in our house, as well as teabags and herbal teas. We grow mint, herbs, vines, blackberries, apples, and rosehips at the cabin so we can always pick these from spring through to the fall as food and for herbal teas.
If you have chickens, then you have eggs so omelets, and pancakes are on the menu too. Is there a farm close to your home? Build a relationship with them before the blackout by buying their products regularly. Farmers will sell to locals rather than strangers in an emergency.
We use a gas stove in the cabin and I recommend this but even a small camping stove can heat soup, pasta, and boil water for tea.
How To Prepare
Plan for food storage system in your home without electricity; maybe a cupboard out of direct sunlight, under the stairs. It needs to be mouse proof too. Buy a can every week and watch that pile grow. Add pasta, rice, canned fish, ham, dried fruit, and nuts.
If possible, wherever you live, learn to grow herbs, fruit, and vegetables for emergencies.
It depends on your USDA zone, but you can grow greens in a greenhouse all winter and store vegetables in a root cellar (beetroots, carrots, potatoes) if you have the space.
Hardy herbs are useful; sage, thyme, and rosemary can be picked fresh all year round. Cabbages will survive winter outdoors too.
Forage for food and learn how to do this before the crisis happens. Just knowing which local weeds can be cooked or eaten raw will give you a purpose, some exercise, and great satisfaction for a tastier meal.
Everybody needs the toilet now and then and if it’s outside, children are going to get scared. So are the adults but if you are in charge, have a battery for that torch or hope for a full moon.
Our cabin has a toilet in a wooden shed with a camping toilet placed inside, which we empty every 3-4 days into a specially dug pit at the edge of the property. A composting toilet is even better.
How To Prepare
If you have a facility like ours, just make sure there are a few extra rolls of paper there too. Toilets in urban areas are rarely affected by a lack of electricity because water does not depend on it.
Your water supply may use an electric pumping system, so a hand pump may be necessary. Another option is to use alternative power supplies, like solar and wind.
The important thing to do here is to check how your system works, and figure out how you will cope if the power switches off.
Hospitals will be a drive away, you may not have gasoline and there is no electricity so having basic supplies is essential.
At least, you need plasters of varying sizes, antiseptic cream, scissors, diarrhea medicine, and some good elastic bandages for sprains, etc.
If anybody needs regular medication, include that and add sanitary items for women. On our bookshelf in the cabin, there is a guide on how to manage most health situations.
How To Prepare
If anybody in your household is a doctor or nurse that is wonderful but make sure that at least one person in your household has first aid training, can do CPR, make a splint for broken bones, and knows the basics.
Other Tips When The Power Is gone
Your freezer will defrost rapidly so food will spoil once the electricity has been off for 24 hours. In the meantime, plan what you want to take out and do it all in one go, and close the lid quickly. This will conserve cold for longer.
If water is scarce, scrape some ice into a bowl and defrost this. For fuel, have supplies ready: wood, kerosene, and a spare bottle of gas for refilling lamps.
A solar-powered or hand-cranked radio can be a lifesaver if you want to hear another human voice or for local news. Light comes from a natural source. Use it whenever the sun is up.
When you cannot withdraw money because of no electricity, cash becomes a luxury item. Always have some spare to buy essentials when cards no longer work.
Keep it all in one place. Our emergency bag lives on a hook close to our back door. It contains torches, batteries, a phone cable, one solar wind-up torch just in case, and some candles and matches.
Going without electricity changes your perspective on life completely. In our cabin, as soon as night falls, there are no street lamps, no shop lights, the world looks very ancient, and architectural forms can be clearly seen like the mountain 3 miles away or the sound of the waves from the shoreline 3 miles the other way.
The only light available is from the moon or candles. One piece of advice is to get up with the sun and go to sleep early when the sun goes down. Treat is as time to enjoy your loved ones and plan for this emergency well.
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