During the last storm in our area, many people were left with out power for days because the wind had knocked out the power in several places. Many homes today are designed to be completely dependent on the grid. When a power outage occurs, the obvious lights, electronic devices, and refrigeration goes down, but that is minor compared to running water and heat during the winter. Many people see their only option in days without power is to abandon their lifeless homes to stay in hotels that have electricity providing the basics of running water and heat. This act of abandoning the home in an on going outage has been labelled “stay-cations“. The real problem with a stay-cation is the decision people face to abandon their home and refuge to seek shelter elsewhere.
During a power outage a home should be a place of refuge. It is unfortunate that our homes are now built without any thought to having a backup system in case of an emergency. The first home my wife and I purchased together was built in a subdivision. A regular 3 bedroom home with natural gas/electric heat. One winter our power went off for almost two days and our home became very cold throughout the night. So cold, that we weren’t concerned about the food in the refrigerator spoiling. I remember being huddled with my wife under several blankets and layers of clothing, and we asked the question… What if the power doesn’t come back on for another day or even a week? Could we last here or would we have to abandon a perfectly good home? The answer was in the summer we could make it just fine, but in the winter we would have to seek heat and water elsewhere. It was at this moment and conversation my wife and I decided to be proactive and make our home a place of refuge during the times in which the grid went down.
When the power returned, I began shopping for a wood stove to be installed in the living room of our home. I went to a local fireplace/stove dealer and asked to see the wood stoves and talk about an install. However, the salesman was not as forward thinking as we were. First, they had two different wood stoves in the their inventory and the rest were natural gas stoves/fireplaces or pellet stoves. He tried to sell me on these stoves, but I was not interested because both types took electricity to function properly. I wanted a wood stove and for them to install it, as this was their profession. This salesman proceeded to spend the rest of my visit to talk me out of my purchase. He stated a one to two day power outage is nothing and installing a wood stove would be over kill for an event that may or may not happen each year. He stated the insurance on my house would drastically change, and I could be denied a claim if my wood stove was the cause. He claimed the maintenance of a wood stove is not worth the effort and the efficiency could never compare to pellet or natural gas. And, do you know for the most part, he was right, but he was missing the point of the satisfaction of having a home which could be a place of refuge during massive, power outage crisis.
My wife and I never bought a wood stove for that first house of ours, but we moved instead to a home that had both a fireplace and a wood stove. Once at our new, older home, we had a power outage every December for the 5 years we lived there. Once the power was out for a week, we were warm and had the ability to cook our food. However, our home during an outage would not have water. My wife and I would fill all our camping jugs and managed to squirrel away ten gallons of water before the water would quit working. Ten gallons was enough for a few days, but we didn’t shower and the toilets functioned on the premise if it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down. It was camping in the home and a fun bonding experience, but after day four it gets old fast.
When we decided to re-evaluate our lifestyle, and live in an off grid home. The main reason behind the decision was to control our expenditures. But, in the back of my mind, I never wanted anything to make me flee my home, our place of refuge, again. Our home today is truly a place of refuge. When my school texted me in the morning this past week that school was closed due to power outages, I had no clue several thousand residents were without power. We turned the lights on, took a shower, warmed up the house, and cooked our breakfast like we do everyday. My son and I finished installing the chains on the snow plow. Well, I installed; he observed. We briefly helped a neighbor, debated gathering some wood from fallen trees, and headed back in for a family lunch together. We watched Star Wars Episode I and I enjoyed an unplanned midweek holiday on my birthday with my family. Living sustainably and off grid has made us realize that our home plays a key role in our lives, and it sustains us. We take care of the home, and the home takes care of us. This is what homes were meant to do even during times of crisis.
Tips for making your home a refuge during a power outage…
If you still live on the grid, here are some tips to take a grid-tied in home and make it a place of refuge. First, think about food and water. Make sure you have plenty of food and water to last a week or two. Fill up at least two 5 – 6 gallon jugs of water during the storm before the power goes out. Second fill about four clean, five gallon buckets for dishes and flushing the toilet. The newer environmentally friendly toilets take about a gallon to flush. Buy camping gear such as lanterns and a propane cook stove. Purchase about half a dozen propane bottles to run your small propane cook stove and table top gas grill. If there is no heat source such as a wood stove or fireplace consider a portable kerosene heater. We used them in the past, and they work great, however, if your house is air tight an does not breath well, open a window slightly in the room to prevent carbon monoxide build up. If you are concerned about carbon monoxide, a kerosene heater is not as bad as sitting in rush hour traffic. Also, have warm soft blankets. My wife and I used a down sleeping bag I purchased before I went to college as a comforter on the bed during power outages. Transfer refrigerated goods into a large cooler and place them in a cold place in the winter. We placed ours out on a covered deck during the December storms at our previous home.
The most expensive item to consider is the generator. First, ask yourself if you will need one. Second, if you do. Plan on not using it much, so you need to use only non ethanol gas and fuel stabilizer. This will assist the starting ease of your generator when you need it most. Choose a generator that will meet your needs and your pocket book. There are a lot of types out there. The more expensive Honda generators are quieter, which makes them more pleasant to be around. We chose what we could afford, a loud Rigid from Home Depot, and we run the generator outside in our pump house to dampen the noise.
Also, remember to Have fun, make coffee using and old camp style percolator or a french press. Reflect on your life with the ones you love, dream about the future, and the sustainable off grid house you will one day build together. At least, that is what we did.
3 thoughts on “Preparing for a winter storm … Grateful to be off grid”
Don’t forget about the water in the water heater. There should be a valve at the bottom of the tank that is used to drain the water heater. Not convenient but better than nothing if one is caught short.
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Yep, that’s another 40 to 50 gallons of water to use for cooking, dishes, or flushing the toilets. Just make sure to turn the breaker off, so when the power comes back on it won’t burn out the elements.