Category Archives for Articles-Week 3

* Getting Started: Prepping for a Two Week Power Outage

If you’re new to preparedness, you may be reading some of the excellent and informative websites out there and feeling quite quite overwhelmed.  While many sites recommend a one year supply of food, manual tools, and a bug out lodge in the forest, it’s vital to realize that is a long-term goal, not a starting point.

A great starting point for someone who is just getting started on a preparedness journey is prepping specifically for a two-week power outage.  If you can comfortably survive for two weeks without electricity, you will be in a far better position than most of the people in North America.

Even if you aren’t convinced that hardcore preparedness is for you, it would still be difficult to argue against the possibility of a disaster lasting for a couple of weeks.  Major natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy down to lesser (but still damaging) weather events like the derecho in the Metro DC area are  incontestable – storms happen and all you can do is be ready to weather them.  As well, shortages are a concern. A couple of years back, a large western US power company recently announced that they did not foresee the ability to keep up with electrical demand and were considering instituting rolling blackouts to cope with it.  But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.

But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.

To prepare for a two-week emergency, think about what you would need if the power went out and you couldn’t leave your home for 14 days. Once you begin creating your plan, you may be surprised and discover that you already have most of what you need to batten down the hatches for a couple of weeks. It’s just a matter of organizing it so you can see what you need.

Use the following information to create your personal 2-week preparedness plan.  Modify the suggestions to adapt them to your particular home, family, and climate.

Water

Everyone knows that clean drinking water is something you can’t live without. In the event of a disaster, the water may not run from the taps, and if it does, it might not be safe to drink, depending on the situation.  If there is a boil order in place, remember that if the power is out, boiling your water may not be as easy as turning on your stove.

Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person.  Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also.

You can create your water supply very inexpensively.  Many people use clean 2-liter soda pop bottles to store tap water.  Others purchase the large 5-gallon jugs of filtered water from the grocery store and use them with a top-loading water dispenser.  Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and water purification tablets as well.

Food and a way to prepare it

There are two schools of thought regarding food during a power outage.  One: you need a cooking method that does not require the grid to be functioning.  Two: you can store food that doesn’t require cooking.

If you opt for a secondary cooking method, be sure that you have enough fuel for two weeks.  Store foods that do not require long cooking times – for example, dried beans would use a great deal of fuel, but canned beans could be warmed up, or even eaten cold.

 

Heat (depending on your climate)

If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity.  During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in.  Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth.  You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm.  As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.

However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require backup heat at this point in certain climates.  If  you’re lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.

Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater.  You have to be very careful choosing the type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Also, invest in a CO2 alarm that is not grid-dependent.

Sanitation needs

A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation.  We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.

For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware.  Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.)  Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handing food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.

Look at your options for sanitation.  Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out?  Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work  when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  At our cabin, the toilet won’t flush without power because the pump is electric.

If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom.  (At the first sign of a storm, we always fill the bathtub for this purpose.)  Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.

If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter.  Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket.  Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag.  Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it.  Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored.

Light

Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house.  Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.

Some lighting solutions are:

  • Garden stake solar lights
  • Long-burning candles
  • Kerosene lamp and fuel
  • Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
  • Hand crank/solar lantern
  • Don’t forget matches or lighters

Tools and supplies

Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:

  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Batteries in various sizes
  • Manual can opener
  • Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
  • Duct tape
  • Super glue
  • Sewing kit
  • Bungee cords

First Aid kit

It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency.  Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays.  As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarrheal medications.

Special needs

This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods.  If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too.  The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.

Get started today

You can start right now – this very minute – all you have to do is grab a pad of paper and a pen.

  1. Begin by personalizing the suggestions above to fit your family’s needs and make a list of your requirements.
  2. Next, do a quick inventory – as I mentioned above, you may be surprised to see that you already have quite a few of the supplies that are recommended.
  3. Make a shopping list and acquire the rest of the items you need.  If you can’t afford everything right now, prioritize the most important things first.
  4. Organize your supplies so that they are easily accessible when you need them.

The peace of mind that comes from being prepared for a disaster before it happens cannot be measured.   You won’t have to fight the crowds or be faced with empty store shelves. You won’t have to sit there, cold and miserable, in the dark.  You won’t be hungry or thirsty.  You will be able to face the event with the serenity that readiness brings, and this will also make it less traumatic for your children when they see that you aren’t afraid.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How to Still Be Chill Without a Refrigerator

Looking for a fun way to spend the hottest week of the summer thus far?

I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that spending it without a working refrigerator is NOT it.

Last Wednesday I was out for the day.  I got home and opened the fridge and grabbed a drink. I though, “Hmm….that isn’t very cold.”

And indeed it was not, because my refrigerator had stopped working properly sometime earlier that day. Because of the 4th of July weekend, I wasn’t able to get anyone to come and repair it until Monday. Then, after it was diagnosed, a part had to be ordered which will not arrive until tomorrow. So there you have it…a solid week in 90+ weather with no fridge.

In a power outage situation, this is not an unlikely scenario at all.  So  in the spirit of making this a “chance-to-practice-preps” experience instead of a “dad-gum-it- I-had-to-throw-out-a-bunch-of-groceries” experience, here’s what I learned.

Food safety rules

I was absolutely loathe to throw away groceries, but after having a recent bout of food poisoning after a dinner out, I wasn’t will to take any chances.  The dog thoroughly enjoyed her bowl of roast beef with potatoes and carrots though.

FoodSafety.gov offers these guidelines:

Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? It should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for over 2 hours.

Never taste food to determine its safety! You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

Note: Always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.

You will have to evaluate each item separately. Use this chart as a guide.

Food Categories Specific Foods Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard
CHEESE Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe
DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
EGGS Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard
FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews

Discard

The one guideline I felt comfortable not following was the eggs. Mine came straight from the chicken that day, and since they could have been sitting under a hen for another 10-12 hours, I was willing to take the risk.  The rest of the items had to go, unfortunately.

Damage control

Had I been home and realized there was a problem in time, I would have immediately canned, cooked, or otherwise preserved the food in my refrigerator.

Since this is not an area-wide power outage, I have access to ice.  The freezer works somewhat so I am able to make more ice. I’m keeping delicate items in the freezer, like milk, mayonnaise, and meat. (I have been buying about 2 days’ worth of fresh items at a time for the past week.)

Basically, a refrigerator that doesn’t work can be used like a large, standing cooler.  If you keep replenishing the ice, you can keep things at a moderate temperature. Here is a picture of my fridge. You can see the large blocks of ice on the sturdy bottom shelf, and bowls of ice on the other two shelves.

fridge

Unfortunately, it still isn’t that cold, so I’m using it for drinks, butter, veggies, fruit, hard cheese, and my beloved chocolate.

Here’s the ambient temperature in the fridge after having the door open for a moment to get this photo. This is with all of the ice in it.

temp

Power outages

In a grid-down situation, things would be different. I am able to use my freezer sort of like a cranky refrigerator as long as I don’t mind things potentially getting partially frozen.  As well, I have easy access to ice as near as the closest gas station.

For keeping your food safe during a power outage, take these steps to be prepared:

  • Use your deep freezer to freeze gallon bottles of water (leave space for expansion).
  • You can use these to keep the contents of your refrigerator cool.
  • Have a cooking method that does not require grid power in case you need to can your perishable food.
  • Print out the food safety guidelines above and keep them near the fridge. If you have no grid, you won’t be able to access the list on the internet.
  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a thermometer for your refrigerator so that you can monitor the temperature.
  • Store food in ways that are not grid-dependent: dehydrate or can when possible.
  • Learn how to make a clay pot refrigerator (and get all of your supplies)

When in doubt, throw it out. Food poisoning is horrible, and can even be deadly. It’s just not worth it.

In a long-term scenario, it would be an entirely different ballgame. We’d begin to rely on the methods our ancestors used: we would cook only amounts that could be immediately consumed or items that did not require refrigeration of the leftovers. As well, we’d eat more fruits and vegetables in hot weather.

As for me, a part has been ordered and I should have a working refrigerator by tomorrow afternoon.  It has been a little extra work, what with shuffling ice back and forth between the fridge and freezer, but, in the grand scheme of things, this has only been a blip on the radar, aside from the loss of some food.  However, I’m definitely going to freeze some jugs of ice as soon as things are working again!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

* The Heat is On: How to Stay Cool without Air Conditioning

When the mercury is climbing…and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer, but running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat is not an option, what is a family with no air conditioning to do?

Avoid heating up your house.

Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house.  In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool night time temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level the next day.

In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:

  • Dryer: Make use of the hot sun and hang your laundry outside. Not only will you have fresh, clean smelling laundry that no dryer sheet can top, it’s free and it won’t warm up your house!
  • Washer: Washing machines can also generate a great deal of heat and humidity, particularly if you wash your clothing in hot water.  If at all possible, wash your laundry in cold water during the hottest parts of the year.
  • Oven: Rely on outdoor cooking methods or crockpots
  • Dishwasher:  Think about how hot the dishes are if you reach in the second the dishwasher is finished running to grab a plate. Now, consider how much heat that adds to your house! It is much more efficient to wash your dishes by hand in the summer.  A sink full of soapy water and one full of rinse water will add far fewer degrees to the temperature of your house.
  • Lighting: Some bulbs, particularly halogen bulbs, generate a great deal of heat. If a light bulb is hot to the touch, it’s adding to the temperature of your house. Look into LED lights or compact fluorescents to keep your home cooler.

Cool it down naturally.

Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.”  Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling.  If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes.  Older homes  have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.

I used to live in a sweet little 100+-year-old Victorian house that is perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows were placed across from one another throughout the house, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.

Here’s the technique that kept our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:

  • As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, open all of the windows and blinds.  Run the ceiling fans at all times.
  • Use window fans in the evening.  These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
  • In the morning, the house may be so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
  • Then, go around and close all of the windows and blinds.  This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.)  The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
  • Rarely did the temperature in that house ever rise about 85 degrees.  That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.

Evaporative cooling for humans

Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool down without the aid of an air conditioner.  We go from an air-conditioned home to an air conditioned car and have lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.

Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so.  We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did.  That’s why this year, my family is eschewing the air conditioner.  What is going to happen in a long term grid-down scenario?  I’ll tell you what – people will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses.  But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.

A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning.  It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis

I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave, but perhaps people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat.  Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system.  Here’s the rundown on how the human body cools itself from an article called “The Physics of Sweating“:

When we sweat, our skin and clothing become covered with water. If the atmospheric humidity is low, this water evaporates easily. The heat energy needed to evaporate the water comes from our bodies. So this evaporation cools our bodies, which have too much heat. For the same reason splashing water on ourselves when it is hot feels good. Being wet during cold weather, however can excessively chill us because of this same evaporation effect.

Sweating is therefore the human body’s primary cooling mechanism. Because this mechanism uses water, we need to replace lost fluids by drinking more fluids in hot weather. This is especially true after exercising or working in hot weather.

When it is very humid, our sweat does not evaporate as easily. With the body’s primary cooling process not working efficiently, we feel hotter. That is why a hot humid day is more uncomfortable than a hot dry day.

As the air near our bodies absorbs evaporating sweat, the humidity very close to our skin increases, so our sweat does not evaporate as easily. If there is a breeze or wind, the air near our bodies is replaced by dryer air that can continue to absorb evaporating sweat. Hence a breeze on a hot day has a pleasant cooling effect. On a cold day it produces a wind chill effect making it seem much colder than it actually is.

Despite the fact that sweating can make us feel unpleasantly sticky, the principles of thermal physics make sweating a very important mechanism for cooling the body in hot weather.

By allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat.  By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.

When the grid fails…

The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC a few years back. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and people died from heat-related ailments.  Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and others were miserably uncomfortable.  As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning anymore, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.

Here are some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or air conditioners:

  • Channel your inner Southern belle.  Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
  • Keep hydrated.  Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
  • Change your schedule.  There’s a reason that people who live near the equator close down their businesses and enjoy a midday siesta.  Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the least do a quiet activity.
  • Play in the water.  Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
  • Soak your feet.  A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
  • Avoid heavy meals.  Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature.  Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads, cold soups, and fruit.

fan

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Staying Warm During a Winter Power Outage

Depending on where you live, a winter power outage can quickly become a life-threatening emergency.

Winter storms with heavy snowfalls, high winds, and a coating of ice are a threat to our vulnerable power grid. Making winter even more of a threat recently is the current economic upheaval. In economically depressed places like Detroit, many residents have had their utilities shut off due to an inability to pay their bills. With temperatures in the negatives, people could quite literally freeze to death in their homes.  You don’t have to be a prepper to realize that secondary heating systems, some specialized skills, and a frigid weather plan could be vital to your survival in the winter.

Are you prepared for a winter power outage?

No matter how you heat your home, it’s vital to have a back-up method. Even if you have a non-grid reliant method as your primary heat source, things can happen. Chimney fires occur, wood gets wet, furnaces of all types malfunction…while these scenarios could be unlikely, you have to remember, “Two is one, one is none.”

Here are some options for heat that doesn’t come from a thermostat on the wall..

  • Wood Heat: Everyone’s favorite off-grid heating method is a fireplace or woodstove. The fuel is renewable and you have the added bonus of an off-grid cooking method. Unfortunately, if your home doesn’t already have one, it can be a pretty expensive thing to install.  If you rent, it’s probably not going to be an option at all to add wood heat to someone else’s property. If you have wood heat, make sure you have a good supply of seasoned firewood that is well-protected from the elements.
  • Propane Heaters:  There are several propane heaters on the market that do not require electricity.  I own a Mr. Buddy heater.  These small portable heaters are considered safe for indoor use in 49 states.  They attach to a small propane canister and use 2 oz. of fuel per hour to make 100 square feet extremely warm and toasty.  A battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm provides an extra measure of safety when using these heaters indoors. If you have a bigger area to heat, this larger unit will warm up to 200 square feet. Be sure to stock up on propane if this is your back-up heat method.
  • Kerosene/Oil Heaters:  Kerosene heaters burn a wick for heat, fuelled by the addition of heating oil.  These heaters really throw out the warmth.  A brand new convection kerosene heater like this one can heat up to 1000 square feet efficiently.  When we lived in the city I was lucky enough to have an antique “Perfection” oil heater, which was a charming addition to our decor that was be called into service during grid-down situations.  Click here to read more information about the different types of kerosene heaters that are available.
  • Natural Gas Fireplaces:  Some gas-fueled fireplaces will work when the electrical power goes out – they just won’t blow out heat via the fan.
  • Pellet Stove:   Most pellet stoves require electricity to run, but there are a few high-efficiency beauties that will work without being plugged in.

What if you don’t have a secondary heating method?

Sometimes things happen before we get our preps in order. If you don’t have a secondary heating method, you can still stay relatively warm for at least a couple of days if you are strategic. Even if you do have a secondary heat source,  in many cases it’s important to conserve your fuel as much as possible.

If you have no additional heat at all, you can usually keep one room tolerable for 2-3 days.  If the cold is relentless and the outage lasts longer than that, you may need to seek other shelter.  Watch your temperatures. If the daytime temperature in the house dips below 40 degrees, the night time temperature will be even colder, and it won’t be safe to stay there, especially if you have children or family members who are more susceptible to illness.

These methods can help you stay cozier during a storm.

  • Heat only one room.  One year, our furnace went out the day before Christmas. We huddled into a small room with just one window.  We closed the door to the bedroom and used a folded quilt at the bottom to better insulate the room.  If you don’t have a door to the room you’ve opted to take shelter in, you can hang heavy quilts  or blankets in the doorways to block it off from the rest of the house.
  • Cover your windows.  You can use a plastic shower curtain and duct tape, topped by a heavy quilt to keep the wind from whistling through your windows.  Take down the quilt if it’s sunny outside for some solar gain, then cover it back up as dark falls. If you have reason to be concerned about OPSEC, use heavy black garbage bags to cover the windows to keep light from escaping.
  • Light candles.  Even the small flames from candles can add warmth to a small area.  Be sure to use them safely by keeping them out of the reach of children and housing them in holders that won’t tip over easily.
  • Use kerosene lamps.  Those charming old-fashioned lamps can also add warmth to the room.
  • Use sleeping bags.  Cocooning in a sleeping bag conserves body heat better than simply getting under the covers.
  • Have a camp-out.  This works especially well when you have children because it adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation.  Pitch a tent in your closed off room, get inside with a flashlight, and tell stories.  When you combine your body heat in a tiny space like that, you’ll stay much warmer.
  • Get cooking. If you have a propane or gas stove in the kitchen, your cooking method may not require electricity.  So bake a cake, roast a turkey, or simmer a soup. You can use it to warm the room while making a hot, delicious feast.
  • Heat some rocks.  Do you have a place outdoors for a campfire?  If so, put some large rocks around the edges of it.  They retain heat for hours.  When it’s bedtime, carefully place the rocks into a cast iron Dutch oven and bring this into the room you’re going to be sleeping in.  Be sure to protect your floor or surface from the heat of the Dutch oven. The stones will passively emit heat for several hours without the potential of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning during the night.

How to stay warm with less heat

Not only do we need to be concerned about a power outage due to the weather, but we also need to realize that utility bills could be extraordinarily high this year due to rising prices and an increased need for heat as temperatures plummet. When we lived in our drafty cabin up North, we had to take extra steps to keep warm. Here are some things we learned that will help out in either circumstance.

  • Keep your wrists and ankles covered.  Wear shirts with sleeves long enough to keep your wrists covered and long socks that keep your ankles covered.  You lose a great deal of heat from those two areas.
  • Get some long-johns.  Wearing long underwear beneath your jeans or PJ’s will work like insulation to keep your body heat in.  I like the silky kind for indoor use, rather than the chunkier waffle-knit outdoor type.
  • Wear slippers.  You want to select house shoes with a solid bottom rather than the slipper sock type.  This forms a barrier between your feet and the cold floor.  We keep a basket of inexpensive slippers in varying sizes by the door for visitors because it makes such a big difference.  Going around in your stocking feet on a cold floor is a certain way to be chilled right through.
  • Get up and get moving.  It goes without saying that physical activity will increase your body temperature.  If you’re cold, get up and clean something, dance with your kids, play tug-of-war with the dog, or do a chore.
  • Pile on the blankets. If you’re going to be sitting down, have some blankets available for layering.  Our reading area has some plush blankets which we top with fluffy comforters for a cozy place to relax.
  • Use a hot water bottle.  If you’re just sitting around try placing a hot water bottle (carefully wrapped to avoid burns) under the blankets with you.
  • Use rice bags.  If you don’t have the cute ready-made rice bags, you can simply place dry rice in a clean sock.  Heat this in the microwave, if you use one, for about a minute, or place in a 100 degree oven, watching carefully, for about 10 minutes.  I keep some rice bags in a large ceramic crock beside the wood stove so they are constantly warm.  You can put your feet on them or tuck them under the blankets on your lap. (The insert from a defunct crockpot will work for this as well.)
  • Insulate using items you have.  A friend recommended lining the interior walls with bookcases or hanging decorative quilts and blankets on the walls to add an extra layer of insulation. It definitely makes a difference because it keeps heat in and cold air out. If you look at pictures of old castles you will see lovely tapestry wall-hangings – this was to help insulate the stone walls, which absorbed the cold and released it into the space.
  • Layer your windows.  Our cabin had large lovely picture windows for enjoying the view.  However, they were single pane and it’s hard to enjoy the view if your teeth are chattering.  We took the rather drastic step of basically closing off all the windows but one in each room for the winter.  First, we used the shrink film insulator on every window. Then, we insulated further by placing draft blockers at the bottom in the window sill (I just used rolled up polar fleece – I’m not much of a sew-er.)  This was topped by a heavy blanket, taking care to overlap the wall and window edges with it.  Over that, we hung thermal curtains that remained closed.
  • Get a rug.  If you have hardwood, tile or laminate flooring, an area rug is a must.  Like the blankets on the walls, this is another layer of insulation between you and the great outdoors.  We have no basement so our floor is very chilly.  A rug in the living room protects our feet from the chill.
  • Wear a scarf.  No, not like a big heavy wool scarf that you’d wear outdoors – just a small, lightweight one that won’t get in your way and annoy you.  This serves two purposes.  First, it covers a bit more exposed skin. Secondly, it keeps body heat from escaping out the neck of your shirt.
  • Burn candles.  Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.
  • Wear fingerless gloves. Gloves like these allow you to still function by keeping the tips of your fingers uncovered, while still keeping chilly hands bundled up.
  • Drink hot beverages. There’s a reason Grandma always gave you a mug of cocoa after you finished building that snowman. Warm up from the inside out with a cup of coffee, tea, cider, or hot chocolate. Bonus: Holding the mug makes your hands toasty warm.
  • Cuddle.  Share your body heat under the blankets when you’re watching movies or reading a book.

What if you’re stranded due to icy roads?

What if you’re not at home when a winter storm strikes?  In a previous article about preparing your vehicle for winter, I brought up a couple of situations that occurred last year.

During one scenario, a freak snowstorm struck the Atlanta, Georgia area.  Because weather like this is such a rarity, the area was completely unprepared, officials didn’t have the experience or equipment needed to deal with it, and traffic gridlocked almost immediately. Hundreds of people were stranded as the freeway turned into a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead, with bumper-to-bumper vehicles at a standstill.  Those without food and water in their vehicles went hungry, and many people ran out of gas as they tried to keep warm. No matter how comfortable you are with winter driving, in a situation like this, you are at the mercy of others who may not be so experienced.

Regardless of why you’re stranded somewhere besides your cozy home, you should have supplies in your vehicle to fend off frostbite (or even death) due to frigid conditions.

Include things like:

  • A first aid kit
  • Winter gear like heavy coats, snow pants, boots, extra socks, hats, gloves, and scarves
  • High quality mylar space blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Food
  • Water
  • Portable water purification system
  • Small collapsible stove for cooking

Even if you aren’t a prepper, it only makes sense to get ready for a storm.

Unless you think the entire process of weather forecasting is some sort of insane voodoo, then it’s pretty undeniable that a big storm is coming. Winters in America have been setting records for bone-numbing, snot-freezing cold for the last couple of years, and it appears that this winter will be no different.

While some folks aren’t quite ready to plunge whole-heartedly into prepping, it’s hard to deny the common sense factor of preparing for a likely scenario.  You should have at the minimum, a two-week supply of food and other necessities.  Before the power goes out, develop a plan to keep your family warm, even while the mercury outside reaches near-Arctic depths.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

* Emergency Lighting: The Importance of Illumination in Your Preps

How important is light?  Never underestimate how vital a role illumination plays in  any situation. Beyond the practical matter of not being completely blinded in the absence of it is the security that comes from even a hint of light.

Any person who has ever moved from the city to the country can agree, there is no darkness quite like that of being in a place where there are no streetlights, no neon signs, no car headlights, and no light from nearby houses.

When we first moved far away from the city to our little cabin in the woods, the darkness there was of an entirely different variety from city darkness. I’ll never forget the first evening when the moon was hiding. It was a cloudy night that also hid the stars and the blackness was almost palpable. I had stepped outside to take the dog out for her last walk of the evening, and even she was disconcerted by the thick darkness. You literally couldn’t see your fingers waving in front of your face. I like the night – the stillness of it, the rustling music of the nocturnal world going about its business – but when you suddenly become essentially blind, it can make you feel a little panicked or afraid. You can’t see, but you wonder what is out there that can see you.

Multiply that feeling greatly if you are in a situation that is already dangerous or unfamiliar, and then you can start to contemplate how vitally important to your psyche a reliable source of emergency lighting will be in a crisis scenario. While fear can be a very important survival mechanism, you don’t want it to overwhelm you to the point that it becomes debilitating.

Complete darkness after a disaster

This was the kind of darkness experienced more than a year ago when Hurricane Sandy took out the power in New York City.  The city that never sleeps was suddenly cast into the same kind of pitch blackness as you would find in the middle of a forest on an overcast night.

The extreme darkness wrought psychological havoc on many people.  Not only were children afraid, but adults found the complete blackness of the nights to be unsettling, at the very least.  Crime went up when people realized they had the complete cover of a pitch black night.  Instead of being a restful time, night became something to endure until the sun came up.  Small tasks were difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish once the sun went down.  For those who had a few flashlights or candles on hand, those light sources soon ran out as the crisis extended into yet another day without power.  Add the darkness to the lack of power, heat, and sanitation facilities, and it made a terrible situation even harder to withstand for many who were not prepared with emergency lighting sources.northeast-blackout_10825192

The psychology of why we fear the dark

Psychologically speaking, emergency lighting should be near the top of your list for preps.  Although most adults would be loathe to admit it, nearly everyone is unsettled in complete darkness.

This fear is not necessarily irrational. It may be somewhat ingrained in our DNA, as many predators are nocturnal.

It isn’t always so much a fear of the darkness itself, but more a fear of the unexpected: you can’t see what is out there in the blackness with you.  You have lost one of the senses that you rely on the most to assess impending danger – your vision.

Emergency lighting sources

You should have several different sources of light included in your preparedness supplies.  Some of the sources should be easily renewable, in the event that a situation exceeds your supply of replacement batteries.

Here is a list of a few alternative light sources to consider adding to your preps:

  • Flashlights
  • LED penlights
  • Headlamp for the ability to light a task hands-free
  • Solar garden stakes: Charge them outdoors during the day and put them in vases throughout the house at night
  • Oil lamp (in a pinch, you can burn used cooking oil in an oil lamp)
  • Kerosene lamps
  • Propane camping lanterns
  • Solar lanterns
  • Hand crank flashlights
  • Hand crank lanterns
  • Candles
  • Heat sources like fireplaces or glass-fronted wood stoves provide a little glow on a cold night
  • Push lights (the kind you put in closets)
  • Night vision goggles (pricey but extremely worthwhile in a long-term situation)

Safe emergency lighting for children

Emergency lighting for children can pose some very real concerns. You don’t want to give them a light they might accidentally leave on as they fall asleep, using up valuable battery life, nor would most parents want to leave a child in the room with a candle or oil lamp because of the risk of fire.

Here are a couple of safe options for kids:

  • Consider adding a toy that offers a soft light when hugged to your emergency kit. (Remember Glo-worm?)  This allows them the comfort of control over light when they feel afraid.
  • Stock up on party supply “glow bracelets”  for children.  They don’t give off an enormous amount of light but kids would enjoy the novelty and the items will most likely last long enough to allow your youngsters to fall asleep. As well, if you are camping, a glow bracelet will help you find your child in the dark more easily should they wander off.

Don’t forget these supplies to go along with your emergency light sources

Some complimentary supplies to keep on hand along with your alternative lighting sources:

  • Batteries
  • Rechargeable batteries and solar charging device
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Lighters and matches

Prepping your home for a power outage

Be sure to keep your supplies where they are easy to find in the dark. We don’t always have a warning before a power outage occurs, although when a bad storm blows up you might want to consider having your alternative light sources at the ready.

When my daughter and I spent a winter in a little cabin in the north woods of Canada, we lost power so frequently that we kept candles and a box of matches out as part of the “decor” in every room in the house. We also had flashlights in the top drawers of our end tables.  It was a quick thing to immediately be able to supply light when the electricity failed. As well, several lovely old kerosene lamps were scattered around the cabin.

Depending on the situation, you might not want your home to be the only one in the neighborhood that is well-lit.  Consider having supplies to cover your windows so that your home is not a beacon to those who are less prepared.  Blackout curtains or heavy duty garbage bags duct-taped to the windows can keep most of the light contained.

Don’t sit there in the dark during a crisis

Proper lighting is one of the most psychologically vital preps that you can make.  Being scared of the dark isn’t just for kids.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email