What Will You Do When the Lights Go Out?

Some people believe that we are hurtling towards physical disaster with our delicate electrical grid.  Just how that disaster might occur is open for debate, but we need only look at major power outages over the last few years to see how precarious our grasp on electricity is.  It isn’t a matter of “if” the lights will go out, but a matter of “when”.

Severe weather has given the grid a walloping over the past few years.  For example, three years ago, parts of Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia and Missouri suffered through 3 weeks sans power after a record-setting ice storm. Last summer, people in the Washington, DC metropolitan area were without power for a week during a heat wave as the result of a severe thunderstorm accompanied by high winds.   And most recently, of course, we have witnessed the plight of the victims of Hurricane Sandy as they have struggled to function in the most populated area in the United States without electricity and running water, all while attempting to clean up the detritus of the massive storm.

Mother Nature could have other tricks up her sleeve with the possibility of a solar flare-related coronal mass ejection that could cause not only outages but irreparable damage to items powered by electricity.  Many countries have developed EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapons that could perpetrate the same type of damage.

Yet another grim possibility is that as the economy continues to degrade, more and more people simply won’t be able to afford to keep the electricity on in their homes.

However it happens, whether it’s for 3 weeks or for the long haul, we need to learn to function differently than we do right now.  We need to reduce our dependency on municipally delivered power and either create our own power or simplify to the extent that we need less power.

Many preppers spend hundreds to even thousands of dollars on generators.  Most of these are powered by gasoline, although some are fueled by propane.  These investments would certainly be handy during a short term outage but are they really worth the money? This really depends on two things: your ability to store fuel and your budget.

  1. If you live in surburbia, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have hundreds of gallons of gasoline stored in a shed in the back yard – not only will regulations prohibit this, but there simply won’t be the space on a typical in-town property.
  2. Will purchasing a generator mean that you have to sacrifice other things in your prepping budget?  Will you still have enough food to get through an extended supply emergency?  Will you be able to afford a water filtration system?  What about first aid supplies, seeds, books and home defense items?

The next consideration is the probable length of the emergency. Many people in New York and New Jersey had generators, but only enough gasoline for 2-3 days.  Who can forget the long lines where people waited for hours to only be allowed to purchase 5 gallons of gasoline?  Depending on the generator and what appliances are being powered, 5 gallons will supply 3-8 hours of electricity. When you do the math, in the event of a long-term emergency complete with fuel shortages, a gasoline generator is not going to be a long-term solution for most.

Other options (I have not researched these methods because they are currently out of reach for me, so I can’t go into detail on the pros and cons) are solar power, wind power and harnessing the energy of nearby running water.  Consider your environment before investing in these systems in order to purchase the one that will be most in line with the area in which you live.

So what can you do?  If you can’t afford to have an off-grid electrical system installed at your home, does this mean that you are destined for an over-crowded shelter, or worse, doomed to failure in the event of a down-grid situation?

NOT AT ALL.

This just means you have to adapt your requirements.

First, check things out at your home or retreat.  Make a list of the items that you use every day that require electrical power.

Then, look at your list and scratch off the items that are absolutely unnecessary – the television, the video game console, the microwave in the kitchen, etc.  (If you have those things – we downsized a great deal before relocating here.)

See what you have left.  Of these items, how can you supply your needs without electrical power?  Here are some examples from my family’s list and the solutions that we either have or have planned:

  • Lights:  Solar garden lights, candles, kerosene lights
  • Heat: Wood stove, small propane heater for the bathroom or kitchen for the coldest days, 2 large canisters of propane
  • Cooking: Wood stove, nutritious home-canned meals that only require reheating, small and large cast-iron dutch ovens to use on wood stove, sun oven, outdoor fireplace, meals that don’t require any cooking
  • Refrigeration: Large cooler to be packed with snow in the winter and used indoors, a plastic storage bench that is lockable to be used outdoors in the winter (the lock is to keep 4 legged critters out of it), root cellar for summer, change of eating habits in summer
  • Water:  (our well runs on an electric pump and we rent, so unfortunately we can’t modify this) 1 month supply of drinking water stored, Berkey water filtration system, buckets along with a sled or wheel barrow depending on the season, for bringing up water from the lake for flushing, filtration and cleaning.

Anything else, we can really live without.  These are the things which are vital, and the solutions are all long-term.

Now, apply this to your own situation.  Find as many solutions as possible for the issues you would face if going for weeks (or longer) without power.  You must stay warm, eat, and drink.  Everything else is a bonus.

Some people like to give arguments as to why they can’t resolve these issues.  They live in an apartment, they rent, they have a limited budget….the list is as long as indefinite detention.  The fact is, by realizing these things are necessary and refusing to face them and find solutions for your particular situation, you are setting your family up to suffer, and possibly even die, when it could be avoided.

I like electricity. I like the convenience of turning on a light at the switch, of putting ice cubes in my water in the summer and watching a movie after making popcorn on the stove.  But will I die without those things? No.  Anything electrical that is vital to life has a back-up.

About the author:

Please feel free to share any information from this site in part or in full, giving credit to the author and including a link to this website and the following bio.

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at daisy@theorganicprepper.ca

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18 Comments  to  What Will You Do When the Lights Go Out?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great article!!!

  2. Anton Hackl says:

    Good article Daisy…very well put together.
    …a great ‘profile’ pic too.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Yental says:

    This is easy. If the “lights go out”, I’m moving in with Daisy and company. I’ll bring food, flashlights, “protection”(the kind that goes “bang”), sleeping bags, and my woman. May still have some left over rattlesnake jerky too. I could be a real ASSet!

  4. Anonymous says:

    miss daisy, will you marry me?

    styx

  5. Lynn says:

    Daisy this was such a good article for beginners. There are so many possible scenarios that could force us into a non-electric lifestyle that we MUST have the ability to plan and adapt accordingly. I think Superstorm Sandy and last summer’s blackout along the East Coast were both eye-openers to many people. I can’t imagine being a victim of Sandy’s wrath and having no ability to help myself or my family. Hopefully many will have learned life-lessons and become better prepared for the next time. One thing we can know for sure — it will happen again.
    You are so right about having to adapt and also having the resources to switch from electric power to alternate energy sources.
    ~Z~

  6. Unknown says:

    great article, especially for beginners. I really like the look and feel of your blog, thanks for sharing. We are getting ready to have a “rehearsal” weekend where we turn everything off after work on Friday and see how it goes. It’s hard to find the tim to do this, but I think we will learn a ton.

    • Daisy says:

      Thank you!

      Please let me know how your rehearsal goes! Every time we drill, we learn something! It’s far better to plug those holes in your preps now rather than in the midst of an emergency!

      ~ D

  7. Kenny says:

    Good food for thought. We need to step out of our current situation (power on demand from the wall) and look at alternatives and backups. Candles, kerosine, propane, coal, wood or any combination/variation of all. Oh, I missed solar. So many smaller solar setups can be had for $150 or so. Being able to charge a diode powered light with solar practically guarantees light on demand after dark.

    Then, there are generators. Running a 7,500 watt generator to run a nightlight would be foolish. However, running a generator for a few hours to run the blower on a gas furnace, make sure the freezer stays frozen and watch a movie while the battery(s) that power the inverter get recharged starts to make sense. Such a generator can run eight hours at half of total output on six gallons of gas. So, if you run it for two hours, you can get four days on six gallons of fuel, or about one week with two five gallon Gerry cans. Five Gerry cans will give two and a half weeks of modern convenience.

    For those who are partial to kerosine, an Aladdin Lamp is a must.

    Always remember to have a backup for your backup.

    “Three is two, two is one, and one is none” Preppers Creed.

  8. Tee says:

    We just built a little cabin in the woods ( just a shell right now ) and are concentrating on this being a place that is off the grid. Have you looked into a rocket stove as a feasible heat source? We are going to try to install one into our place this summer. I know with renting, you may not be able to incorporate it into your house.

    • Daisy says:

      Hi, Tee – I was looking at one of those for outdoors, actually! We have a nice woodstove which is our source of heat right now but I sure wouldn’t want to have to cook on it in the summer! Keep me posted on your off-grid endeavors – that’s my goal one day!

      Daisy

  9. Mark says:

    Daisy – I am new to this site but I like what I see, that is, you have your priorities straight in my humble opinion. I am most interested in sustainability and self-reliance and you appear to have this same focus. I believe in this post you have touched on what I consider to be the biggest danger facing our society – the fragility of the power grid. I believe that underlying all realistic, potential SHTF/TEOTWAWKI scenarios is the semi-permanent loss of electricity. If we keep electricity, we as a society can continue to function. If we lose electricity on a wide-spread basis, within two weeks it gets bad, within four weeks it becomes a war zone, in one year we lose 9 in 10 of our population. Everything I do is with an eye toward LAE (Life After Electricity). Thanks for everything and I will be back to your site often.

    • Daisy says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Mark. :)

      I agree – it’s all about the grid. I’m not spending my limited dollars trying to recreate life with the grid if there IS no grid. I’m focusing on how to live without it. Do I want to live without power at the flick of a switch? No. Can I? Yes.

      Sounds like we’re definitely on the same page!

      Daisy

  10. Kenny says:

    Hey Daisy, what is your post 30 day plan for water if the grid goes *pewf*?

    • Daisy says:

      Hi, Kenny. I live by a large lake that is relatively untouched by pollution. I have a Berkey water filter with numerous replacement parts and cartridges. As well, I have a wheelbarrow for hauling water up from the lake. We have an outdoor shower that could be used in the summer – this is set up with rainwater collection. We do have a well, but the pump is electric, so it will be manual only in such an event. Because we are on septic, as long as we have water for adding to the toilet, it can still be flushed. Running water, while wonderful, probably would not be an option in such an event. However, I would feel very fortunate to have the water supply that I do, even if it doesn’t come conveniently from the faucet. :)

      Daisy

  11. Sue` says:

    I think some people “relaxed” after nothing happened in December but as serious preppers, we can not relax. Something could happen at any time. I like the idea of having a practice weekend. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard, on the kids, if they knew what to expect.

  12. becky says:

    Make a wonder oven. So that you can have meals ready to go. Kind of like a non electric crock pot. I think they can be made for less than $25 if you find sale items and you can find patterns free online to make them :)

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