The power is out. The heat is out. Water is off. Suddenly, you are off the grid. Without the proper gear, this could be an uncomfortable circumstance for a day, a week, or even longer. Whether the outage was caused by a storm or system failure, it’s is essential to have a way to live off grid if you have to. Read on to learn how you can prepare yourself if you’re forced to live without power for a while.
1. Determine your priorities
First off, determine what living off the grid means for yourself and your family. Are you ready to camp if the power goes out? Can you do without a shower? Knowing just how much you can do without power will help make an emergency off-grid situation more comfortable for everyone.
2. Make a list of essentials
Write a list of the items you need to keep running if you are off the grid. Do you have to have your refrigerator, or could you make do with a cooler? Do you have to have your hot water heater or would you be able to heat up water on a grill or propane turkey fryer? Make a list of the items that you could live without for day one, day three, etc. No showers are fine for a day or two but after a while, people will want to be clean!
3. Take inventory of items and food you have on hand
Take an inventory of what you currently have. What items do you have that you could use during a power outage? Do you have solar cell phone chargers? Do you have a generator? Do you have a grill or a way to cook food that doesn’t require power?
Consider your pantry. Do you have food that you can make that doesn’t require a lot of preparation? Consider getting some easy meals: boxed mac and cheese, canned soups, cans of beans, rice, dried fruit. These are easy to store and keep on hand. If you need to keep them separated from the family pantry, place them in a large plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid.
4. Learn about your own house
Understand the systems in your house. Do you know where the gas comes in? Can you shut it off? Do you know where the main water valve is? In the event of a disaster or other issue, it could be critical to shut these systems off. After you have taken stock of the items you have, consider what you will need to live off the grid for about two weeks at a time.
5. Ensure a safe water supply
Water. This is the most critical issue most people face when forced to live off grid. Make getting and storing water your top priority. Ideally, you will have plenty of it stored in water-safe containers. Whether you choose to buy it or fill up jugs from your tub, do it and have it ready. If you have warning of an impending storm, fill up the tub and every jug you can. If you find yourself in a no-power situation without a lot of water, hopefully you will be in a storm. Yes, I said, “hopefully.” If it’s pouring rain, you can set large bins and trashcans (that you’ve cleaned well) out under the eaves of your house and fill them up! A quick boil on the stove and you can drink it too. Snow takes a while to melt but it can be done, and that water is pure and good for drinking and cooking.
6. Find a reliable heat source
Heat. Depending on your climate, you will need to consider your heating options. Even if you live in a southern climate, don’t underestimate how chilly it can quickly become—and ice storms are a common cause of power outages. A kerosene heater will keep 1000 square feet warm on a tank (about two gallons) for 11 hours. A small propane heater is a good space heater and an effective and inexpensive way to warm a small area. Once you find your alternative heating source, don’t just leave it in a box! Get it out and use it a few times so you know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.
7. Learn alternative cooking methods
Cooking. A few cans of cold soup or chili will have you wanting to cook before you know it. Get yourself a gas grill or small turkey fryer or patio cooker. You will be able to boil water and cook almost anything you need on the burner. If you’re a fan of the camping life, you can build a fire outside and cook that way. A woodstove is an efficient heater and you can cook on the top—it doesn’t have to be a cook stove, it just needs to have a flat top. Get out the cast iron pans from grandma and play “Little House on the Prairie” for a few days. You can also look into small camp stoves that will provide you with an effective way to cook in a small space. Make sure you cook in a garage, on a covered porch or in another well-ventilated area.
8. Let there be light
Light. It’s going to get dark—fast—and your iPhone flashlight won’t hold out for long. Make sure you have a stash of small LED flashlights and a headlamp or two hanging around. Headlamps are great for cooking in the dark, fixing things or playing cards at night. Long-burning candles are helpful, as are solar stake lights for outside. On some websites you can even find holiday lights powered with solar chargers, and they are fun and helpful for lighting dark spots in the house.
9. Sort out sanitation
Sanitation. Now we’re into the icky stuff. How do you go to the bathroom? Well, in a short power outage, you can follow the old adage, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” But if you have a longer time to wait, then you will need to consider a couple of alternatives. If you have your own septic system, you can simply use extra water and flush that way. If you don’t, consider investing in a camping toilet or bucket system. Yes. I know. But really, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. In the bucket system, you simply put a garbage bag in a bucket that’s outfitted with a toilet lid. Keep a bale of peat moss or a few bags of kitty litter with your emergency supplies. Put a handful of either at the bottom of the garbage bag, and after anyone goes, put a handful of peat or kitty litter in after. Don’t let it get too full before disposing in a sealed garbage can. If you live in a place where you can compost, consider digging a hole and placing the refuse there. And encourage boys to pee outside if at all possible!
Remember, people lived “off-grid” for thousands of years: it’s not hard, and you can do it too. Find what works best for you and practice a few times (include your toilet strategy!), so that if a real emergency occurs, you can be comfortable and face whatever comes your way.
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