Ask Hackaday: How Do You Prepare?

Last month, large parts of the southern United States experienced their coldest temperatures since the 1899 Blizzard. Some of us set new all-time lows, and I was right in the middle of the middle of it here in Southwestern Oklahoma. Since many houses in Texas and Oklahoma are heated with electricity, the power grids struggled to keep up with the demand. Cities in Oklahoma experienced some short-term rolling blackouts and large patches of the Texas grid were without power for several days. No juice, no heat.

In places where the power was out for an extended period of time, the water supply was potentially contaminated, and a boil order was in effect. Of course, this only works when the gas and power are on. In some places, the store shelves were empty, a result of panic buying combined with perishables spoiling without the power to keep them cold. For some, food and drinkable water was temporarily hard to come by.

There have been other problems, too. Houses in the south aren’t built for the extreme cold, and many have experienced frozen pipes, temporarily shutting off their water supply. In some cases, those frozen pipes break open, flooding the house once the water starts flowing again. For instance, here’s an eye-witness account of the carnage from The 8-bit Guy, who lives at ground zero in the DFW area.

To put it simply, it was bad. It could have been worse — power was only out for a few days, not the worst case scenario of months without power. Even so, it was bad enough, and dozens have died. The experience has many of us thinking seriously about what we can do to be better prepared for the *next* unexpected event that threatens our households.

I’ll tell you what I did that seemed to work, what I’ve seen others do, and then you all can tell us what preparation make sense for where you live. I’m also pulling information from the official FEMA recommendations (PDF). The key here is to make preparations ahead of time, when there is no emergency. Not only does this save your skin, it also keeps you from being part of the problem, out panic buying toilet paper, milk, and bread.

Thinking Through Your Necessities — Water

Too many little bottles! plastic water bottles by zone41, CC BY-ND 2.0

The rule of thumb is a gallon of water per person per day. A family of four, for a week, would go through 28 gallons of water, and that might be more than you think. Bottled water is great for something easy to grab and go, but at pints to a gallon, we’re talking over 200 bottles of water. Alternatively, you can buy gallon jugs of water, though those get expensive and take up a lot of room as well.

But this is Hackaday, we prefer a clever, off-the-beaten-path approach. My local home improvement stores sell branded 5-gallon plastic buckets that happen to be food-grade rated. At under four dollars a piece, you can set aside a decent cache of drinkable water for not very much.

If you fill water containers yourself, do keep in mind the fact that water will not stay potable indefinitely. The big problem is algae growth. The key here is to keep air and light out of your water. My buckets of water are well sealed, and tucked away in the corner of the garage, well out of the sunshine. It’s a good idea to refresh the water periodically, though how often this should happen is subject for debate, and taste. If you’re using your city’s chlorinated water supply, and keeping it stored well, water should keep for years, but to be safe you might refresh it once a year. The important thing is to think about it now, rather than filling your bathtub in panic after a water rationing order has been issued.

Let Them Eat Cake

empty shelves by tomhakase, CC BY 2.0

Food is less immediately pressing than water, but if your local grocery store couldn’t receive shipments for a couple weeks, would you have enough food to comfortably get by? Don’t forget, a refrigerator or freezer full of food isn’t very useful if the power is out, and you can’t keep it cold. Shelf stable goods are the way to go. Canned beans and vegetables are particularly good choices, and it’s hard to go wrong with a five-pound bag of rice. The key here is to rotate your supply. When you buy a can of green beans, put it at the back of your pantry, and pull the older cans to the front. You don’t want to finally need to eat your emergency supply, only to find that it was all best by 1985.

There are companies that make food packs specifically for emergency use. They’re usually dehydrated foods, and often all boxed up for easy grab-and-go. If you have the budget for it, they’re a great part of your kit. Many of these will have extra-long shelf life, 25 years in some cases. But of course, you’ll need water.

It’s also worth having a few camp-style cooking tools. A cast iron pan and a campfire coffee pot or percolator can help prepare food or boil water that’s suspect. Make sure you have a can opener with your cans. A backpack full of canned goods isn’t useful without a way to open them. A quick tip from my wife, a few disposable plates and silverware is handy if you don’t have water to spare for washing dishes.

Shelter And All It Implies

Shelter can mean different things, depending on whether you’re in a cold snap like I was last week, or in a blazing hot summer. For now, we’ll talk about heat, and then electricity.

When it comes to makeshift heating solutions, be careful. It appears that more of the deaths in Texas were from either house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning than from the cold itself. In one case, a family brought a gas grill in from outside in an attempt to stay warm. Gasoline, natural gas, and propane combustion can all produce carbon monoxide. If you’re going to use a running vehicle to generate heat or power, pull it well away from your house. The same goes for a generator — make sure it is well away from the house, and downwind if possible. Propane and natural gas heaters that are rated for indoor use have been carefully engineered to produce minimal amounts of carbon monoxide, and are safe for indoor use. Even then, it’s very strongly recommended to have a carbon monoxide detector in working order. Carbon monoxide will kill in your sleep, with no warning. Get a detector, and keep batteries in it. Make sure it’s working.

There are some great options for keeping yourself warm. To really cover your bases, though, you need to diversify. We used an oil-filled electric radiator to keep one of the bedrooms a bit warmer through the cold nights. It uses only electricity, and is considered one of the safer electric heaters. If your house is gas heated like ours, this could be a life-saver. Another option is one of the portable propane heaters, like a “Heat Buddy”. These often run on camping propane canisters, which are easy enough to keep on hand, and don’t really ever go bad. Heaters are probably hard to purchase right now, as everyone needs one. Pick up what you need this summer, and be prepared for the next time it turns into a frozen wasteland.

Fireplace Logs, Winter Heat by moonjazz, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you have a fireplace or wood stove, that’s great. There are some potential problems there, too, but that can keep you warm in an emergency. If it hasn’t been inspected and cleaned recently, find a chimney-sweep to take a look at it. A dirty chimney, if it’s full of creosote, can catch on fire and burn your house down. To avoid creosote build-up, make sure you’re burning well-seasoned wood. Try to have some wood on hand, just in case you really need a fire. Do not use an outdoor fire pit indoors, as this will almost certainly burn your house down. A wood stove can easily do the same, if flammable materials are too close to it while it’s running.

The last tip I have for heating might be very regional, but it’s still something to check for. If you have a natural gas central heating system, go check for a wall plug where the unit is plugged in. That heater only needs enough power to run the electronics and turn the blower fan. If you have gas but not power, all you need to do is get power to that plug, and the heater will work. We’ll chat about how you might do that shortly.


Let’s talk about electricity.  The gold standard here is a large generator, and a transfer switch — a large switch that only allows you to connect the generator to the house power if the connection to the power company has been disconnected. Many a lineman have been injured or killed by a line that was supposed to be off, but it was in fact energized by a generator in someone’s house. Don’t be that someone.

If a full transfer switch is too expensive, look into a bolt-on interlock kit. (You can even make your own!). This is a bit of a hack, but it physically prevents your mains power and your generator circuit from being engaged at the same time. In a life-or-death situation, you can energize your house though a dryer plug and a “suicide cable”, but make absolutely sure that you turn off the main breaker first.

one red generator by kylemac, CC BY 2.0

If you have a generator, then make sure that you stay on top of the maintenance issues involved. Pull it out from time to time and make sure it starts and runs. Keep some gas on hand, but rotate that gas through your mower or car, to keep it from going bad. Some people swear by the idea that ethanol free gas stores better, and is better for small engines. And for goodness sake, don’t run a generator in your garage. Just like your car, the engine is putting out loads of carbon monoxide, and that will kill you.

Lithium ion batteries have exploded (hah!) in popularity in the last few years, and a couple of must-have gadgets are now available for purchase. The first is the lithium-ion jump starter. It’s incredible that such a tiny brick can jump start a large engine, but these units also allow phone charging, and usually have an emergency light to boot. If that’s not enough to meet your power needs, consider its big brother, the power station. These are essentially a lithium ion with a power inverter, giving you mains power for a limited time. Some of the nicer models can even charge off a solar panel, making this a perfect way to keep power flowing in a pinch. At something like a dollar per watt, the convenience does come at a premium.

Jenny did a great job covering power outages a few years ago, so check that out too.


The most important step to being prepared for disaster isn’t a generator, barrels of water, or a pantry full of food. Believe it or not, it’s knowing your neighbors. When we moved into our current house, our neighbor came over and explained that she had a storm shelter in her back yard. If there was ever a tornado, we didn’t even need to ask, we could just dash over and jump in. When we received the notice that power might go off during the cold last week, I contacted a couple people who live nearby, and told them to come over right away if power went out.

Is there a nurse in your neighborhood? She might be the one to stitch you up if you’re hurt and can’t get to an ER. In the video embedded above, David came home to a flooded house, and had help from a bunch of neighbors to get everything taken care of. Is there someone elderly close by that might struggle in an emergency? Plan to check up and help out as needed.

You have space for a generator, but can’t afford one? You might ask your neighbors to help pay for it with their next tax returns, and have a plan to power up their furnaces in a power outage. The ham down the street with a radio antenna — maybe that’s you — is the most likely to be able to get a message out when other communication links are down.

One more related thought: keep a bit of cash on hand. If the power is out all over town, then ATMs probably won’t work, and neither will a credit card. You might be able to find something you need for sale, but not be able to get to your savings to purchase it. A handful of hard currency squirreled away somewhere might just get you out of a jam.

It Never Happens Here

Finally, the attitude that is the most dangerous: It never happens here. Texas never gets that cold, right? But freak events are dangerous just exactly because they’re unexpected. It’s hard to know what the next disaster will be, but it’s coming. A bit of preparation now can make a world of difference when you’re put to it, and it’s far too late to prepare once disaster has knocked on your door.

There’s more to be said about preparation. We’ve pretty much only covered how to stay alive at home. For a primer on being ready to go at a moment’s notice, read Dan’s take on the digital bugout bag.

Now, I’ve laid out some basic universal considerations, and then given some advice that makes sense in my part of the world. Sound off, let us know what makes sense where you live. Did I forget something important, let us know!

140 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: How Do You Prepare?

  1. I was in the 2010 earthquake here in Chile, 8.8 Richter. My apartment was undamaged, power was out for 3 days but I managed. Internet worked, landline worked, water worked because or building had its own reservoir but it was rationalized at 25l per apartment max, piped gas worked fine but then the company cut the supply for a few weeks due repairs, that sucked.

  2. For the love of all this is good do not get a loud generator. You will drive your neighbors nuts. I fear power outages more than anything else solely because my neighbor’s generator is so loud my house actually vibrates.

    After that stockpile propane if you don’t have natural gas available for heat. Even though my furnace is useless when the electricity goes out, the gas fireplace does have a blower that can run for a long time on a battery bank and an inverter.

    Food and water supplies are obvious.

    If you happen to own a Prius or similar it is actually a survival pod. You can keep the cabin at a constant temperature for as long as you want with the engine only coming on occasionally. I’d conservatively guess that you could live in cramped comfort for 3 weeks on a tank of gas.

    Also, used 18650’s are ubiquitous. A project that safely banked them all together to create a giant power bank could give you several days of power. The trick with the project is it would have to account for low capacity and bad cells gracefully (and flamelessly)

    And, as you found more used cells, you could keep building the bank essentially forever.

    1. if your preparing for a possible emergency that may never happen, loud generators are cheaper and really the best option for most people. If its a true life or death emergency and a loud generator can get my heat working none of my neighbors are going to care… and really, it might signal them to the fact that they could survive better by joining me in my home. .. (full disclosure, i have a loud generator in my garage that i can wheel outside, i have never had to use it and i live where temps hit -40 every year)

      1. On the plus side, a loud generator can actually be made whisper quiet simply by replacing the so-called exhaust with a larger motorcycle or automotive unit adapted to it. It’s actually a common mod.

    2. I’m pretty dubious of the value of a gas generator these days. I think a lot of people can get plenty of power for an emergency from a small solar setup, even if a big solar setup isn’t practical fr running 100% of your normal energy needs. Storing a bunch of gasoline is potentially a dangerous fire hazard. You need to replace it regularly, or you’ll have bad useless gas when the emergency hits, and the unused gas needs to be safely disposed of. The generator needs to be maintained, and you have to use it in a ventilated space so you don’t kill yourself with the fumes, etc. If the disaster lasts more than a day, you need to get ahold of more gas. Tons of people buy one, let it sit in the garage for five years, and then it doesn’t work properly when they actually need it. Dollar for dollar, a solar setup will make fewer watts than a gas generator, but it will do so more reliably and for many weeks or even years if you need it to, long after the generator would have broken or run out of fuel. Even five years ago, I think the economics weren’t so obviously in favor of solar. But at this point it should be the default.

      1. There’s a lot of issues with solar as a backup power source for emergency situations; reliability, cost, and scale. To have a solar installation work off grid and power larger items like a chest freezer you’re going to need both a pretty large battery pack and a more expensive inverter, most installed inverters cannot function without the grid providing the base 60hz cycle to lock on to. On top of that solar panels only provide good power when you’re drawing just enough energy off of them if there’s a sudden demand spike (a compressor starting) can completely brown out the whole system. The ideal system is really a solar+battery with a generator to handle spikes.

        Cost is another big factor, I can get a 10.5 Kw dual fuel generator (propane/gas meaning easier fuel storage with a large propane tank) for about 1400 USD while a similarly sized 100% off grid solar system costs 10x as much.

        The next big issue is the kind of disaster you’re likely to encounter, a lot of them are weather related where a solar panel might produce next to nothing for a majority of the time because the clouds from the hurricane are lingering, the soot from the wildfire is blocking a lot of sunlight, or something similar.

        The only time a solar setup is significantly better is when we’re talking a few hundred watts and the main draw is things like lights or charging electronic devices. For those solar is much easier and more likely to be working but if it gets larger a generator still seems the superior option.

    1. Expanded rule of 3’s to prioritize your needs: Medical, then shelter, then water and last food. Too many people focus on food.

      3 seconds without blood
      3 minutes without (good) air
      3 hours without shelter
      3 days without water
      3 week without food

      1. Yeah, it depends on the weather. On a sunny spring day, we spend time outside for fun. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to spend 3 hours during the coldest of night last month, even bundled up.

        1. Excessive heat can be a problem, too. In the outback of South Australia, there have been tourists who have been stranded with a broken car. Some try to walk. The results are rarely good.

          Basic trip when travelling in remote outback: tell someone where you are going, don’t make spontaneous detours, tell them again when you get there. A travel time estimate is good too, prevents people worrying too soon.

        2. I was on an arctic skiing trip for a few days in temperatures ranging from about 0 to -15F low. We slept in tents. When you’re on the move, even if it’s that cold outside you pretty much have to shed clothes to keep from overheating and damping your clothes with sweat. When you stop you throw the jacket back on.

          Just standing around doing nothing for three hours in the open would surely suck, but it’s hardly a death sentence. The irony is that it’s easier to remain dry and warm when it’s -40F than when it’s +40 F.

          Heat is the bigger killer, because there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t do jumping jacks to cool down and water becomes a bigger priority.

  3. Another factor for generators to consider – oil changes. A typical portable generator has an oil change interval of ~50 hours or two to four days of 100-50% utilization respectively. If you’re looking at an extended outage, having a few quarts of oil and a filter on hand are a must.

  4. You’d think there would be scope here for using your electric car batteries – if you’re snowed in, you are not going anywhere anyway, and cars have a built-in fairly high current inverter to convert to AC. But so far most models seem to be “input only”.

    1. WB4APR has some interesting pages on his site talking about using a Prius for backup power. I think mostly for Ham Radio field operations but could be useful for stuff like this. Here’s one page:

      Apparently recent Ford F150 trucks have a hybrid option and options for built-in inverters so they can be used as generators. I read an article right after Texas had these issues about several of the trucks being loaned out as generators.

    2. During Hurricane Sandy, I lost power for a week. I was able to power my furnace, fridge, and internet by using an AC power inverter hooked up to my Prius in the driveway. The Prius is really a generator on wheels, and the engine only kicks on now and then to top off the battery. It worked like a charm, and I only used about 8 gallons of gas for the entire week — much better than my 24/7 noisy generator neighbors were able to do.

        1. Well, the Prius isn’t an EV (though I have the PHEV version, the Prime), a normal Prius only has a 1.5kWh traction battery, which wouldn’t run your house for a day, let alone a week. But what makes them appealing for this use-case is that they can automatically start and stop their engines (and they recharge the traction battery while the gas engine is running), plus of course they’re a lot quieter than a standalone generator.

  5. The difference between when I lived in Lawton and now in Houston is the pipes in Oklahoma were generally underground and piped through the heated core of the house where in Houston they are exposed as they enter the house and distributed uninsulated in the attic. The way you prepare for the freeze is to completely drain the pipes because air doesn’t freeze. There are a lot of theories about wrapping pipes and letting the faucets drip, but when your neighbor has burst pipes, the water pressure goes down and the drip flow stops, letting your pipes freeze. About half of the homes in my subdivision had severe water damage which typically took out the ceilings in the houses and sprayed water downward on the furniture.

    1. Wrapping your pipes works great but it does require the pipes be installed appropriately to benefit. The pipe insulation is generally designed with the idea your putting the pipe somewhere that is higher in temperature than the outdoors but still low enough to freeze. It just gives you the little extra delta to keep the water in liquid form. For attic ran pips, insulate the bottom of the roof. Attics that do this in Michigan are warm while attics that just insulate the ceiling are cold.

  6. Last week my family ate garden rotini pasta that had “expired” in 2014, no illness, no bad taste.
    (I’m getting better i.e. more organized, at rotating the stored food)
    The foodstuff that does not keep well is tomato based products (diced, sauces, juices) in steel cans .
    Oh, we did throw out a 5# (paper) bag of sugar this week. It was not in a sealed container and humidity soaked through the bag.
    I have some whole brown rice (what remains from a 15# bag) I think the date code is January 2013. It smelled a little stale when I put some in the Instant Pot last week. But, it came out okay, and without that smell.
    I’m starting now buy cooking oils only in glass bottles, after some canola (i.e. rapeseed) oil went stale in a plastic bottle.
    Don’t store gasoline indoors (including the car hole), and when you do store it, use Sta-Bil.

  7. I’m lucky in that I have a river in my backyard, but I live in the middle of a forest; so nature and internet are the only reliable services I get for miles.

    That said, between actual catastrophes that force me to physically evacuate; I prioritize my communication gear (there is no cell service, TV reception, and very little in the way of radio). We have what are called PSPS events, where they cut the power to keep the forest from burning down, but the power is off for 2-14 days. My router, primary switch, and wifi live on a hacked together battery bank that has about 8 hours of runtime. I picked this number because it very closely matches how long the internet company batteries will hold out and everything goes black.

    I have a raspberry pi that also monitors if the battery is discharging, and if so, whether or not the internet is reachable. If I can talk to the internet, I can rest easy because at least I know I can find out what is happening (that, and it automatically starts downloading my youtube subscriptions); but if both services are out, I know immediately it’s time to start down the mountain with a serious sense of urgency.

    As far as holding out once everything’s offline, I keep 4 weeks of food / sundries on hand at all times; I maintain two generators in running condition (one minimally sized inverter generator, one excessive three phase one for equipment), 1/2 cord of dry wood, and twice as much gasoline as i plan to need to survive two weeks in relative warmth and comfort.

    Note that I tend to keep at least twice what I think I’ll need; it makes a really nice cushion when I miscalculate (remembering covid and toilet paper specifically)… but it also makes me feel nice to have extra to share with people who don’t prepare like I do.

  8. When we were without power for three weeks during the 2008 Ice storm in Missouri, we had to collect snow and ice to melt for water for drinking and cleaning. We did manage to get a generator after a week, and start the deep well jet pump once a day for an hour. Afterwards we had a massive Rumsford fireplace built in the house (lots of forested property), and a basement room was set aside for food storage. Now, I would look into a outdoor furnace rocket stove and boiler system (my experiments were very impressive).

  9. “A backpack full of canned goods isn’t useful without a way to open them”

    Find a large flat rock or concrete slab, place the can upside down on it, applying pressure, skid the can back and forth (or “to and fro” if you desire) for a while. It will loosen the lid.
    (homeless person skill)

  10. A bit of advice:

    If you own a home learn where the water shutoff is. There are plenty of situations where you might need this information, not just freezes. If it takes a special tool then go buy the tool ahead of time. Know where you keep it. Practice using it. Teach your family members. Make it a monthly drill maybe. It’s worth it because it might one day save your house.

    If you don’t have a shutoff get one. (Is that not a code requirement in “warm” states?)

    When the electricity, gas or whatever heats your home goes out and the temperature outside is below freezing turn off your water. Open all your faucets and drain your pipes to the best of your ability. I’d like to say that in colder climates where freezes are normal this one is common knowledge but I’m not sure there really is such a thing as common knowledge.

    If you are going on vacation and it is the cold season turn off your water and drain your pipes. This really isn’t something you want to take a chance on!

    As recent events show, even if you live in a place where you think freezing can’t happen, freezing probably can happen. Even a once in a lifetime event is one too many times when it comes to water damage.

    If the power goes out but it is not the cold season or you can keep your home warm without electricity then also turn your water off. First though shut off the valves going in and out of your hot water heater and turn it off. Now, if due to the power outage the water company can’t keep the pressure up and ground or surface water starts to enter the pipes you still have what’s in your hot water heater. It’s a big tank of clean, potable water to get you through.

    Water from a hot water tank probably has more lime and/or rust in it so might not look or taste so great but unless you have a lead problem it should be just fine.

    This kind of stuff should be taught in every high school and maybe reviewed again whenever one signs a mortgage.

      1. Slowly in many regions, but not everywhere. I debated it when I bought my house (northeast US), but as I was replacing the heating– went from 50% efficient, 1950 vintage oil filed steam plant, with missing radiators and damaged pipes to a 94% efficient hydronic with panel convectors– I hate forced hot air– I use the same gas-fired unit for heat and domestic water, with a 120l tank. A lot less expensive to install (2m of 30mm copper pipe and one more pump plus the tank and some pipe insulation) and costs about $US1.00 a month to keep the tank hot once all insulated, plus heating the water actually used.

        In regions without gas piped in, on-demand water heaters are less desirable. Even tanked propane can be problematic at the high demand, and in electric only, with demand pricing, good luck. Considered an electric unit at one shop I work in. Demand pricing (time of day and peak rate-of-use) was the killer. It would have really done a job on the bill to feed the not unusual demand for 50l/minute for a few minutes. The owner went with a 250l high efficiency electric heat pump unit, and gets the bonus help with cooling/dehumidifying in the summer.

        1. I used to live in an apartment that used the same unit to heat the space and the water.

          Showers were cold! Unless I cranked up the heat 20 minutes before showering. Then showers were hot but so was the room!

          Is that the kind of unit you are talking about?

      2. Electric instant water heaters are pretty irresponsible. They’re making power prices go up, and increase the probability of blackouts when the power grid is already stressed. It’s the same old tea kettle problem, except ten times over since the power demand is enormous, with a big peak load problem in the mornings when everyone is using on-demand hot showers. If a tea kettle is 1.4 kW, an electric shower can take up to 14 kW.

        Of course there’s gas units, which use gas, which we should be phasing out. Unfortunately, people are pushed onto using more gas appliances every time they add another surcharge to electricity and ratchet the rates up to pay “carbon tax” or subsidize more windmills.

        Storage boilers will have to make a return, and in a case of blackouts you’d still have hot water for a day or two without any special measures.

        1. Power prices and demand are linked, but I wouldn’t say that makes Electric water heating bad… If everybody used gas the demand would be higher too, and thus the price. Neither has unlimited supply either…

          And Storage boilers on an efficiency standpoint are not a win, you have consumed the power to heat it, then loose that energy as it sits there… And a whole day or two?? How big a hot water tank do you want!! Sure there are gains for having a big tank, but its a huge upfront cost, that should be entirely unneeded.. To help reduce peak load on the grid having a pretty tiny really well insulated tank makes some sense, but still doesn’t negate the need a modern less carbon fuelled grid has for rapid regulation and significant energy storage via battery/hydro/compress air/gravitic potential, and if you have that it shouldn’t matter much that peak draws are high…

          From the point of view of being prepared a big hot water tank I’d not call needed or useful either, its going to run out of water, or heat in that water quickly. So if you can’t adapt your lifestyle to using less water and energy for a while I’d say that is your problem..

          1. But you didn’t even address Dude’s main objection. On demand heating means a whole lot of energy is used at shower time which for the majority of the population is the same time. It increases the peak demand problem which is already one of our biggest challenges for switching to renewable energy.

            Maybe the solution isn’t technological but cultural. Maybe it’s time to stop pretending the electric light doesn’t exist and get rid of the 9-5 standard day. Instead stagger everyone evenly throughout the 24 hour period.

            Imagine what that would do for traffic congestion!

          2. @kc8rwr, I wonder whether that has happened somewhat with all the working from home that has been happening. There’s less expectation to be in a certain place at a certain time so we’ll all have spread out.
            Actually on that note: the incredibly reduced load on electric trains has probably more than made up for our showers.

          3. Indeed kc8rwr, mostly a tangential but related point. Though I did point out if you have enough of the rapid response energy storage tech – which we will need for a more renewable grid anyway a short but high peak load matters less (assuming the infrastructure is ever built).

            My main point was keeping a tank of water hot when you don’t need or want any hot water for hours on end is hugely wasteful overall.

            You are dead right on cultural changes being required for the future, how great these need to be is still very open to debate. But things like Mist showers – reducing water and energy use while still giving a similar showering experience for instance are easy minor changes. I don’t think ‘forgetting’ the day night cycle works on its own, so many downsides, though more staggering through a day would make some sense. If each company had 1/3 of the daytime staff starting at 7,9,11 AM for instance you still get the whole team in at once for those watercooler brainwave moments, and general co-ordination, but that staggers the peak over an entire morning.

          4. >And Storage boilers on an efficiency standpoint are not a win, you have consumed the power to heat it, then loose that energy as it sits there… And a whole day or two??

            It just goes to heat the house, which is not a loss. In any case, the heat leakage is only about 60 Watts or so. It can take up to a week for the boiler to go cold just sitting there, especially if it’s a modern one with good insulation. Even so, that just means it’s below regulation temperature. The total heat storage capacity of a 300 liter tank from 90 to 35 C is 19.2 kWh, but more often it’s kept between 75-55 C to keep the heat loss lower and the bacteria in the pipes dead.

            If you draw 60 liters of water at 35 C from a mains water temperature of 14 C, you’re consuming about 1.5 kWh of heat from the boiler. A ten minute shower at 6 l/min means you get 9 kW heating power out of the tank. The standard 300 liter (80 gal) boiler is the usual size for a family of four. When the thermostat is set as usual, you get about 4-5 normal hot showers out of it. After that, you can do lukewarm showers, or, if you want hot water you have to draw it slowly into a bucket and wash yourself that way. In an emergency situation, this is more than good enough.

            The problem with peak demand is that the price of electricity goes up rather exponentially when peak reserves get called in, to the point where, if the basic producer rate is £50/MWh then the peak pricing may rise to £1-2,000/MWh and that gets paid to all producers to keep producing. Then the utility charges the average out of the retail customers, with other costs and taxes on top. At the worst of times, one peak hour can buy the rest of the week’s power.

            This is why it’s a stupid idea to have appliances which draw enormous peak power on-demand all at the same time with other grid users. The utilities can do very little about it except start up gas turbines and massive diesel generators to cope.

          5. >My main point was keeping a tank of water hot when you don’t need or want any hot water for hours on end is hugely wasteful overall.

            No it’s not. The comment system ate my long detailed reply, so this is the summary. A typical modern storage boiler loses only about 60 Watts, and stores up to 19 kWh of useful heat, which is enough for 1-2 days for a typical family or four. The heat loss is negligible and simply heats the house.

          6. > but that staggers the peak over an entire morning.

            You’re trying to engineer the people to solve a technological problem, rather than engineering the technology to solve a people problem. The problem with such utopian visions is that engineering people is cumbersome, economically inefficient, ethically questionable, and mostly just doesn’t work.

          7. >round here most hotwater systems seem to be in the roof space

            That’s usually the gravity feed cistern that keeps the heating system pressurized and/or takes the overflow from the boiler in old houses. It’s legacy style that is no longer done, because modern boilers are supposed to be sealed with thermostats and never boil over.

            > can it run without pressurisation from the cold infeed

            No, but that’s a moot point. No water means no water.

            >does it still insulate near as well if the top 1/3rd is just air

            A modern boiler is sealed and does not mix the water for health reasons. Hence why you don’t need separate taps for hot and cold either. It has a copper coil tube inside that exits at the top because the water stratifies by gravity and the hottest water layers up top. The tank is insulated all around.

            >minor changes

            Flexible hours are already a thing, especially in offices. The thing is, people prefer to work at the same times, and in the workplace he who is missing from the morning coffee group gets easily excluded in the social ladder.

            For the point of spreading life out over the whole 24 hours, if you’ve ever had to work three shifts in rotation, or even two shifts, you’d know what absolute misery it is when you’re living a different schedule out of sync with other people. You can’t go to the pub at 8 in the morning to have a “day out” instead of a “night out” because it just doesn’t work like that, and sleeping when your neighbors’ kids are screaming their heads off playing doesn’t happen easily.

          8. > showers are not the only use of hotwater, and under the ‘preparedness’ sort of mentality the least important

            On the contrary. It lets you live more or less normally for 24-48 hours despite the power going out – you just light a few candles and break out the camping stove for cooking, and treat it like an adventure while other people are panicking. It buys you and your rescuers more time, and keeps the morale up.

          9. You just gotta figure out how long the utilities are gonna be out. If only 2 days, then shower away. If you don’t trust the tap water, and it might take a week, that hot water heater represents a tank full of drinking and cooking water.

          10. @Dude, A hot water tank heating the house isn’t a big deal loss wise, at least in climates where you don’t want active cooling, but at least round here most hotwater systems seem to be in the roof space with only the tank insulation, all they loose is just wasted anyway…

            Also even if the tank contains enough hot water for 3 showers or whatever can it run without pressurisation from the cold infeed (which will immediately mix down the hot to lukewarm), does it still insulate near as well if the top 1/3rd is just air etc.. Its not a trivial system to model as there are so many ways to create a hotwater system.. Also showers are not the only use of hotwater, and under the ‘preparedness’ sort of mentality the least important I’d suggest…

            I do agree trying for force social engineering rarely works, but its not impossible, and minor changes like starting at 10 rather than 8 etc are reasonably common anyway..

          11. The additional benefit of a storage boiler is that most utilities have some sort of “smart hours” or reduced rates billing system that allows you to buy power cheaply at night, or other hours of low demand. This more than offsets any loss the boiler itself causes.

            Having an on-demand water heater means you’ll pay whatever the rate happens to be when you open the tap – so installing the system means you have to gamble that your utility doesn’t force on-demand pricing on you as well. When they do, you may easily end up paying a pound per shower.

          12. > that hot water heater represents a tank full of drinking and cooking water

            You can’t drink it. The tank is sealed and full of rust-inhibiting chemicals. You’d be better off emptying the cistern in your toilet than your storage boiler tank.

            Again, how these things work: you have a tank of water with a copper tube loop going through it. The water in the tank is never mixed with the tap water to avoid contamination and corrosion.

  11. Win win situation by donating (tax deduction too) your core emergency food and water every six months to a local food bank. For me, the core is three cases of canned soup (with pull lids), crackers, three cases of bottled water and bulk costco pack of aa batteries.

  12. I weathered that storm in a tent, was lucky and had access to a power outlet in an area that didnt lose power. Insulated it with blankets and reduced the space i needed inside it with blanket walls. Used a space heater and kept water boiling on my camp stove, with proper ventilation, the boiling water adds moisture to the air and helps with keeping it warm, also good for a quick cup of coffee or tea. I’m on a fixed income so I was already used to running out of stuff that time of the month and had stocked up earlier in the month on supplies. I had enough usb powerbanks charged up and ready in case the power went out, enough to keep my phone going for a couple of weeks if needed.

  13. Houses in a cold environment will likely have 2 ways to turn the water off. There will be an easy way and a hard way. The easy way will likely be a valve in your basement where the water enters the house. The hard way will will be at the curb and require a special tool. The easy way is what you use when you go on vacation, but you should also know how to do it the hard way.

    1. Where I live the “special tool” is called “a pair of pliers”. The outside shutoff is there mostly so the water company can cut off your water if you don’t pay them. But yes, I’ve seen oddball valve controls up north. Not sure why they’re used.

      1. Ours sits underground. And more times than not has cold water with it. So that “special tool” has to be long enough to stay out of it and give some decent leverage.

      2. Up here in the northern states, all outdoor water pipes need to be buried below the potential frost line; usually 4-5 feet down is required by code. If you have city water, the shutoff valve at the curb is installed at the bottom of a long empty steel pipe that goes up to a cover mounted at ground level; the valve is operated by a socket on a six foot extension rod. (That is assuming the pipe hasn’t filled up with debris since it was last used, typically when the house was built.)
        This means the only viable shutoff valve is usually inside the house at the entrypoint of the water pipe.
        Cold winter water is why on-demand water heaters have not grown in popularity in the north. An on-demand water heater is rated on the temperature rise it can add for a certain flow rate: 40-50 degrees F for 4 gallons/minute seems to be common before the flow rate needs to be reduced. That’s fine for showering if your tap water is starting out at 60 or 70F. Up here, tap water is a painfully cold 40F in the winter, so to get a warm shower that 4 gallon flow rate is cut in half. And even if you yell the name loudly, $(DEITY) is unlikely to help you if someone else in the house opens a hot water tap! (At least that was true the last time I had to replace a water heater six years ago; I expect technology has improved them since then.)

  14. Expiration dates on food apply to best quality and taste, not safety. The only exceptions, I believe, are dairy and baby formula. I’ve tried an mre that was 25 years past date. It was edible and parts were interesting colors. Lol.

    1. Do a little research. Expiration dates are completely arbitrary and are up to the company producing said product. It is actually in the companys interest to make the dates as short as possible so you will dispose of the product before it goes bad. The purpose of the dates is to keep the manufacturer from getting sued. From experience I can say acidic product in cans will go bad due to the can rotting away. I had 7 year old tomato juice and 12 year old pineapple slices rupture in the storage area. I have MREs that are are fifteeen years old and are perfectly edible. They are stored in a basement and the temp/humidity does not exceed 70F and 60% RH. The acidic stuff if it is in glass jars will survive for many years. I suggest learning how to can. The home canned stuff will last years with no issues.

      1. Except in meat products, where the spoilage is rather rapid and a portion of it doesn’t survive the logistics in the first place. The producers use long expiration dates to keep from having to throw away as much product, and sometimes you can see e.g. mince meat turning gray in its box on the date. They used to add carbon monoxide in the box to keep it pink slightly longer still, but I think that’s been banned now.

        In any case, just because it doesn’t quite yet smell sour doesn’t mean it’s not full of bacteria that can make you seriously ill. 12 hours later and you wouldn’t feed it to the dogs.

      2. On the point of canned food though: if it was properly sterilized, it will last, but if it wasn’t then it won’t.

        There’s a window of opportunity where the food may be spoiled with some very dangerous stuff, like botulinum bacteria which prefer the anaerobic conditions inside a can, yet it appears edible. That’s why you don’t want to eat canned food that is -just- out of date by a few months. If it’s way out, then it’s either going to be good, or it’s clearly spoiled.

        1. Absolutely, I fully agree with youe comments. If a can appears rusted or dented then DO NOT TRUST IT. Also if the can does not make a nice vacuum hiss when opening it DO NOT EAT IT. I would also like to toss in that my previous comment on best by dates is that it does not apply to boxed or refrigerated/frozen products. I once read an article where some construction workers found canned goods in a wall from the 1890’s. They sent them to some scientists who checked the contents only to find them in great condition. The scientists did not have the cajones to taste the product. They fed the product to rats who survived with no issues.

          1. Refrigerated foods will eventually go rancid. Meat stays good for 6-12 months. Same thing for processed goods like meal bars or trail mix – anything that contains a significant portion of fats and oils. Dry goods like rice or flour don’t go bad that fast, but in general any food that comes in contact with the ambient atmosphere is going to get worse in a couple years, which is why you should keep rotating your stash (also to keep the bugs out of it).

            While it’s not dangerous to eat rancid food, you’ll probably get indigestion after having a lot.

    1. Anything short of reverse osmosis is not good enough for drinking-safe water. Reverse osmosis needs pressure and a complete system is not exactly cheap. Also the membranes don’t last forever, so you need replacements at hand and those can’t be frozen (they’re kept wet).

      1. While a whole house RO system is indeed a great thing to have, this statement is simply not true.
        There are backpacking filters out there that can filter out virii, several of which can be set up as base camp filters to deal with a few gallons of water at a time. And for the 3 stage MUV system I use, the stage that handles virii is rated for 90 gallons, can be replaced for $25, and fits in a pocket.
        If I had the option, I would still boil water after filtering just to be as close to 100% safe as possible, but this kind of setup could have made even that floodwater from burst pipes safe to drink.

      2. Also RO water is very wasteful (at least status from when I had an RO system in 1997). I think the rejection rate was 4:1, so for every litre of water we had to waste 4L. In a highly efficient system you could re-use this for toilets (or even if it started as drinking water, drinking water), but in a situation where water is short and you need to purify your scarce water, you probably don’t want to be rejecting most of it in an RO system

        This may have changed in the last 20 years

  15. This just shows how fragile our infrastructure can be – the old saying “We are only 3 days from disaster”.

    Part of the problem is the way that Texas is not fully incorporated into the national grid. The deep irony is that Texas is awash with liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, yet most households are electrically heated.

    My UK house is under 850 sq ft, and built in 1905 with an open fireplace in every room. 12 years ago I installed a wood/coal stove that can provide a back-up to the normal natural gas fired heating. The stove has a back boiler that operates on the thermosyphoning principle – so no electricity is needed for its operation.

    Around the same time I installed a combined heat and power system that can run on diesel, vegetable oil or woodgas. If all else fails I can have heat and power, independent of the utility companies.

    I admire the “8-bit Guy” for coping so well. I have never experienced temperatures of 0 F in the UK, the worst I have seen here is 12F

    1. Texas homes are mostly electrically heated because they use heat-pump AC units that you can just run in reverse for heat, because in Texas on the average day you are more likely to need AC as opposed to heat.

    2. > Part of the problem is the way that Texas is not fully incorporated into the national grid.

      Ken: The following is not in any way a shot at you. You live in the UK, after all, and are merely recounting what you have been told by US-based journalists. This is just the nth time I’ve seen this meme.

      I’ve read several articles that make much of the fact that Texas isn’t incorporated into the national grid, and how the problem would have been much less severe if only those silly Texans weren’t so independent. It doesn’t really pass the smell test in this case.

      I live in one of the states to the north of Texas, served by the central region grid. Our grid is adjacent to Texas, and is one of the grids that Texas would have been able to draw upon if they were interconnected. During the time that Texas was experiencing record cold, we were, too. While Texas was experiencing unprecedented demand on the electrical grid, so were we. We didn’t have the full scale outage that Texas had, but we were teetering on the edge of it and had to resort to rolling blackouts to keep the grid from failing. Even if Texas had been connected to our grid, we had no power to spare.

      What about the other grids? Couldn’t Texas have gotten power from them? I don’t really know the answer to that, other than to point out that the central regain is connected to those grids… and was teetering on the edge of failure and had to institute rolling blackouts. My guess is that those other grids also didn’t have much to spare. The cold wave had a massive footprint, and affected much of the country.

      Once again- not in any way a critique of you, Ken. Just me getting tired of the way journalists seem to despise Texas and go out of their way to criticize them at every opportunity, regardless of fairness or accuracy.

      1. The difference is that Texas has chosen to not conform to the FERC construction and weatherization requirements which are national standards. The state energy regulator permitted local utilities to deviate from rolling blackouts and had large sections of Houston with no power for periods exceeding 48+ hours. People who had battery backed up medical equipment who would have been fine with rolling blackouts died during the freeze. Big difference between losing power for 45 minutes every hour with partial heat and 52 hours of power loss when it’s 14F outside. ERCOT permitted the exorbitant fuel rates to continue for 36 hours beyond what was necessary and racked up an additional $16 billion of charges to the utility rate payers, which, ironically the utility users who *didn’t have power* will have to pay. The chairman of the public utilities commission was caught on a recorded phone call with bank of america assuring them that the overcharges wouldn’t be corrected and apologizing for the delays in their profits. Texas government deserves every bit of criticism, lawsuits and corruption investigations they’re getting. The governor is heading these up and outside the scope of investigations. Also ironic.

      2. The difference between the US and UK is that the entire island is connected in one national grid that can shuttle power from one end to the other across regions. In addition, you get wind power from Scotland, nuclear power from France, then there’s also undersea cables to Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Germany….

        The US power grid operates more like a bucket chain, with grid areas connected along their edges. There are some long point-to-point connections withing regions, but those are not chained up as a contiguous network directly. Even if Texas was interconnected, it could mostly access the power resources immediately across the state borders, not from one state over as would be required to even out the load properly.

        The difference comes from the fact that it’s not economical or efficient to transmit power any further than about 200-300 miles. Longer distance links cost more money and waste more power with average losses up to 15% along the long transmission corridors in the flyover states. This is simply not a problem in the UK since it all fits within a radius of 300 miles.

        1. I don’t know that anyone’s suggesting long distance power become the norm, but it sure would have been a hell of a lot cheaper to waste some power for a few days than burn, flood, starve, and freeze people and homes. It’s all well and good to suggest that individual homes should be prepared, but so too should the infrastructure be prepared.

          1. So build it for preparedness but don’t use it under normal conditions?

            Are you suggesting building 1000s of miles of transmission lines and constantly maintaining them only to use them in exceptionally rare emergencies? Surely there are better ways!

          2. @kc8rwr
            However you guarantee your power supply, it doesn’t matter. This is also no an exceptionally rare emergency, it happened just a decade ago, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
            The fact is you need to have safety margins and Texas barely scrapes by even during normal operating conditions. You have to maintain your safety margins all the time even though you’re not using them, because eventually you will have to use them.

          3. You fail to appreciate that it would not be just slightly more expensive, but massively more expensive.

            Higher power prices for the sort of redundancy would mean higher commodity prices and energy poverty, which means more people falling below the poverty line and dying of other reasons related to that.

          4. > just a decade ago

            Still too rare.

            Compare: every year the wind blows trees on the power lines. Why don’t they just bury them all underground? Because it would be exceptionally expensive and raise the overall maintenance costs through the roof, while only bringing marginal benefits to the consumers.

          5. > You have to maintain your safety margins all the time even though you’re not using them, because eventually you will have to use them.

            Not necessarily. You can plan to never fail, or you can plan what to do when you eventually do fail. The first is ultimately impossible; the second is inescapable but it’s often pushed to hindsight by people who put too much emphasis on the first.

  16. Very good article. Missing one thing however. Everyone has done it.
    1. Batteries. The power goes out, and you search the junk drawer for a flashlight that’s
    been in there since 1972, its batteries well crusted over with its internal alkalines
    that have swelled and you can’t remove. Get a few of those small bright LED flashlights
    and extra batteries for them. Keep the batteries out of the flashlight and in their
    packages and use when necessary.

    2. Radio. Over on QRZ there was an article about a TIS that have been going for 8 years
    without anyone apparently noticing. A good AM/FM radio with the NOAA weather band is
    a great source of information. After 9/11, NOAA weather radio morphed into NOAA all
    hazards radio. Get a radio with FIPS and an alarm that you can plug into the wall.
    If the power goes out, put batteries in temporarily and remove them when done.
    They do weekly tests as well. Tornadoes and other disasters don’t just happen in the
    daytime. Disasters aren’t scaled to large events. They can be as small as a burst
    pipe, fire, or other unexpected event.
    Consider becoming a ham operator, the Technician license is easy to get with some
    studying and small handheld radios are quite inexpensive
    The ARRL also offers free courses with membership on emergency communications.

    3. Blankets. When it is cold outside, you would be surprised just how much heat the human
    body can generate. When my dad was out of power in Texas, he dripped his faucets, stayed
    in the bedroom with a few extra blankets to keep warm. When the power did come back on
    for 40 minutes or so, he’d heat the house.

    4. Emergency list. Print out your name, address, social security number, list of any
    medications you’re on, next of kin and their contact information, and any instructions
    on what should be done should you be found in a non-living state, as in dead as a doornail.
    This also applies to any pets you may have, their name most importantly (why in a moment)
    their medications and vet record (shots etc.) A pets name is important in the case of a
    dog, as a dog will respond less aggressively to a stranger if it hears its name.
    I said LESS aggressively. Some dogs do not take well to strangers, others will kill you with
    kisses and beat you with a happy wagging tail going 100 mph.
    The last thing first responders want to do is come into your house and have to put down
    your pet for protecting its domain. It also helps to keep a small box of Milk Bone
    biscuits on the top of your fridge as well. While most dogs are friendly, many are not.
    So, Milk Bone or Pupperoni in the fridge is a good idea too. Rotate the biscuits out
    over time, and train your dog to know that when it sees a hand going for that box on
    the fridge or the Pupperoni bag, it knows it’s going to get a treat and a reward.
    This will help first respoders greatly and hopefully avoid an incident.

    5. Take advantage of FEMA. They have very good information that is useful, but during
    a disaster or incident isn’t the time to put on your learning cap.
    You would be surprised at the number of people I’ve spoken to over the years who say
    they are prepared, then they take an ARRL course or read information from FEMA’s site
    and realize they aren’t as prepared as they thought they were.

    And last but not least, there was an ABC made for television movie called “The Day After”
    not to be confused with “The Day After Tomorrow” about what happens when the buttons are
    pushed and the nukes go flying. Dated by today’s standards, but still a good flick to
    watch on Netflix/Youtube if just to kill some time.

  17. How come we don’t have this kind of issues here in Poland and Belarus which are meant to be underdeveloped and ravaged by 45 years of communism. (I have family in both of those countries and stay in them around 75%/25% of time).
    Electricity is not done with super-fragile SWER scheme, underground pipes don’t freeze and central heating plants provide efficient heating for most of the city.

    1. Because you have winter, traditionally. In Texas it snows once or twice a year, maybe. Many years not at all. When I was watching the 8-Bit Guy video, and he described maybe 1-2 cm of snow on the ground as “a blizzard”, but it was barely enough to go sledding.

      I used to live in San Diego, CA. Many houses don’t bother to weather-seal the doors. There was literally a 2 cm gap under our exterior door in the dorm. And why not? The weather is pleasant enough that there’s no reason to keep it outside.

      But a Californian would walk down the street in Warsaw and instantly notice how poorly earthquake-proofed the architecture is.

    2. Polish media call it „winter of the century” every year last 20 years even though I experienced much colder and longer winters in ’90s and those were called just winters. People forgot how to dress in cold weather and most don’t even have proper winter shoes not to mention winter cap or gloves. Infrastructure works fine by now but I would not trust it on case of events similar to those from ’70. In fact here in poland we are just lucky that winter is spoiling. When was the last time that „zima nie zaskoczyła drogowców”?
      Look what happens when people are flooded. They are taken by suprise even with medias alarming about water levels days before. Some are saving TV rather than documents and no inssurance is a norm.
      I could write a book on how polish society is relying on a myth of „we can always do it” putting itself in a bigger denial and in case of absolutelly predictable disaster blaming everything and everyone but learning nothing.

  18. One of the most unfortunate things about the mess in Texas is so many people’s pipes burst and did major damage to their homes when it was 100% avoidable in most cases. Any homeowner, and renters too probably, should know how to empty their pipes of water so frozen pipes can’t happen in this kind of situation. Anyone who doesn’t know how already can find videos on YouTube showing how to drain and blow pipes out (for example: and ). You do need to prepare ahead of time by having an adapter to connect an air compressor to your water pipes. Be sure, of course, to have a way to get compressed air during a power outage. You also probably want to have some RV antifreeze on hand for drain traps. Don’t forget to turn off water heaters before draining them, and don’t overpressurize the system with compressed air!

    1. Even if you dont have an air compressor to blow out the lines, turn off the water. If the pipes burst because of standing water you couldn’t blow out, you get max a few litres of water coming out, and not an “unlimited amount until someone turns off the water”. THat’s what I didn’t understand, why wasn’t this all over the news / media in texas before the event “Turn off your water, save your house”

  19. I have never seen a home furnace that wasn’t hard wired in to a required switch and then to the box on it’s own circuit. In an emergency you could jumper a hot lead to that circuit with all breakers off including the furnace one. An another jumper may bridge the two halves of a split phase to run a fridge on one circuit and the furnace on the other phase. Again with the main breaker OFF.

    Besides the danger to a lineman during the outage the real reason to be isolated is you don’t want to power the whole darkened grid do you? That’d be nice but unless you have a power plant you will trip your generator. The grid works backwards up to a point, but would trip off your megawatts being offered thru your local substation.

    1. It may be only in these parts, but the power plug for the furnace is common in my town. I asked the electrical inspector, when I wired my furnace, and he told me it technically wasn’t code, but they made a city-wide exception because of the common ice storms, and how easy it makes it to get furnaces running when the power is out.

  20. And if you unfortunately have suffered house damage, this guy ( has been hosting live streams daily for Texans to deal with emergency situations with their homes.
    Also: water? LifeStraw is your best option if you don’t have a stash. More importantly? MEDICATION. You might be prepped up the yin-yang, but running out of cardiac meds, salbutamol, etc. make all that moot. Don’t count on a 911 call to save your butt if you’re out – they’ll be real busy.

  21. For a generator, consider a small inverter generator that’s light enough to be picked up by yourself (especially if you don’t have a garage that you can simply roll it out of when needed.) It’s no fun to have to lift and move a 100+ pound generator in the middle of a mess (been there, done that.) Compared to conventional generators, they’re a bit quieter and are very good on fuel. Most aren’t large enough to power your entire house, but that’s probably not a great idea for multi day outages when fuel needs to be conserved.

    The downsides include being more pricey and not being as well suited for handing large inductive loads such as say a well pump or a chop saw.

    1. Forgot to also mention that many conventional generators don’t contain any permanent magnets, they rely on residual magnetism which can be lost over time, resulting in no power output. It’s a good idea to start such generators up once in a while and also check to for power output. If residual magnetism is lost, you will need to “flash” the generator to get power output again.

      1. I’ve revived a few old gensets that sat for a decade or more and never had a problem, sometimes it takes a minute for the output to come up, but it comes up. I bet the grease in the end bell bearing will dry out before the rotor magnetization goes out.

  22. People tend to forget the lessons of the past. This is helped along by those encouraging it to keep you dependent on them, and of course by just plain human laziness. I mean, owning or even renting space in a building and not knowing where the utility cutoffs are is like owning a car without knowing where your gas or oil fill ports are. Considering the amount of time spent in ones living space vs ones vehicle, this is simply inexcusable.

    As for the rest, I wonder that there arent more earthquakes from the sheer number of our ancestors facepalming in their graves at how we handle disasters. Deep freeze? You already have a way to heat water, even if thats over low controlled fire outside. Fill $12 rubber water bottle available at any pharmacy or amazon, bring into bed with 50 cent mylar sheet under the mattress and a few blankets, and stay toasty all night. Renew the next day. You dont need to heat the house, just yourself.

    If theres one takeaway from Texas and other such events, its that ignorance kills, whether that be ignorance of your living space, of disaster response practices, fire safety, first aid, or whatever. Even outside some disaster, people dont even know how to stock a pantry or feed their family for more than a week. No one book is going to cover everything, climates and living conditions vary too widely. Get started learning yesterday. With channels on youtube handing out this information on a silver platter, there is simply no excuse to remain an ignorant danger to yourself and others.

    1. A laptop? That would be one of the last things on my mind.
      It is also dependent on an external network connection that may not
      exist. Same with the cell phone. WHen I need information, I’ll depend
      on a radio because no matter where I am, even if the local radio
      station is off the air, there would be something more distant I could
      tune in to. Keep it simple. The more complicated something is, the more
      that can go wrong. Do you really want to rely on the hope that there
      is a wifi or cell cignal available? Making sure there is enough water,
      food, shelter and safety for my family would be priority.

        1. I’d still prefer a radio. Just my preference I guess.
          A laptop is fine but the batteries in a laptop won’t last weeks in
          a prolonged event. A radio with a crank can last, is simpler to
          operate, and while they may be putting up sattelites to beam the internet
          to the masses the internet is still largely dependent on earth based
          infrastructure. A radio, you can pick up any station anywhere any time
          whereas a laptop or cellphone is more dependent on infrastructure that
          may be out for a while. I remember a winter night as a kid with a transistor
          radio trying to see what stations I could hear. I was in New Jersey picking
          up a station in Buffalo NY. No need to boot up a laptop, wait for Windows
          to load, and hope there’s an internet or data connection.

  23. Things like that never happen here, so, I took that time to think about it.

    I have 1m3 of wood, a jerrycan of ethanol with a large burner, 10 liters of fresh water that I change every 6 months, a wool blanket for each person in the house.
    Weeks of food are stored in the house by default.
    This way I can live a few weeks off grid with the family if needed.

    It is fairly simple to arrange, you can acquire these things over time.

    I thought of it this way: What do I tell my kids, when everything goes down, and I have nothing to give them?

    Outages will not scare me, maybe other people in peril will.

  24. (If this doesn’t work as a reply… idk. I tried.)

    That original comment was also intended to be a reply, to another comment that touched on internet withdrawal symptoms. Internet connection is a priority, even though it does not surpass survival necessities.

  25. Heat:
    When building my house I strongly insisted on fireplace. In my country weather used to be very cold from time to time and it is really hard to trust that nothing will happen in the future.
    Isolation is a must. Paper card board boxes are great for that. Put them under a materace, seal window with them etc.

    Food and water:
    We used to make long term food in jars for years – good to start again.
    Pasta, rice, canned food, chocolate, vitamins and minerals must be always at home.
    If your fridge is not working put it in coldest place at home like garage. It is cold outside – you can use that. Also styrofoam containers can keep things cold if you put ice inside or cold insert. You can freeeze cold inserts outside to put them to your fridge.
    Campers use snow for cooking. But you can use it also for other purpose like cleaning/washing.

    Tools and gadgets:
    Pocket knife! Scout and military models are great – cheap, small and usefull even when not in emergency. They are cheap and long lasting so don’t save too much on them and buy respected brand.
    Feature phones can still work longer on batterries than smartphones. Equip them with wired headphones to have a spare radio.
    There is fitness equipment with built in generators. I have even seen generator with bicycle stand. Don’t expect much because it will use your energy (food and water) and generating more than 100W for longer than 15 min can be challenging of you are not fit.
    Paper and pencil. Make registry and notes for future conclusions.
    Candels – provide light and heat at the same time.
    Paper books about first aid, camping and fixing stuff. Pro tip: long time travelers, campers and scouts books tend to be smarter than ex mimitary special forces one man army survivalists.

    First aid:
    Know your condition and required meds!
    Basic drugs like pain killers or flue pills.
    Bandage, plasters, peroxide, and emergency blankets.

  26. If you have a reverse osmosis water filter, algae in water bottles will not be a problem. Tap water will quickly develop mildew in the lid after a few days, but RO water can take months to get even a little mildew. I still rotate through half a dozen bottles though. I already had about four gallons (including two gallons still in the self-pressurized RO tank) when my pipes froze.

    Someone over fifty years ago thought it would be a great idea to run the main water line through the back wall of the house (where the water heater is), and I had no water for two days until I figured out which door to leave open overnight. Fortunately they were iron pipes and did not break. (I still had a proper water main shutoff tool ready just in case.) The real water problem turned out to be toilet water. I was able to get quite a bit of non-drinking water from my gutter spout as the snow on the roof melted, and used all sorts of containers to store it. There was clean snow on the ground too, but it is only about 20% density, and makes a lot less water than expected.

  27. We had an ice storm that knocked out power for 4 days for half a million people. Where do you put half a million people? Others didn’t have power longer. Batteries were sold out or the stores were closed and I found batteries 12 miles away from home.

    If you have a large cooler, you can put your food outside and cover it with snow as long as the animals don’t get it. A fridge can keep your food cold for 24 hours as long as you don’t open it.

    You need flannel or warm blankets. Warm coat, hats, gloves and other warm clothes. I have a lightweight snow boarder jacket that is warm and I’m looking at military style jackets to keep warm.

    I have a transistor radio. The problem is our local news station didn’t address a lot of storm related news when we didn’t have power for four days.

    A water filter and purification tablets is something you might need.

    I found two infrared space heaters that run on 1500 watts. You have to know the starting amps for your generator and appliances. My generator has two halfs that can each handle 1500 watts. Radiators with oil that heats do not really help keep me warm.

    I have bright led flashlights that run on a single AA battery. I searched for years and I settled on a couple of brands. I have a box of 48 unused AA batteries that can be stored for 10 years plus lots of 6 volt lantern batteries.

    6 Volt lanterns with lantern batteries can last the longest. Its also important to not depend on one flashlight or battery solution alone.

    I also looked on Amazon for 9 volt flashlights and they have tops with lights for the batteries. You can actually save some used 9 volt batteries every time you change your smoke alarm batteries for backup lights.

    We have a gas stove I can light with a match and I have a gas water heater at home.

    Several power banks.

    Battery box for FIOS phones.

    The community should think about building other products for the market that would help people when the power goes out. I would love to hear about products that can provide decent power because there are a lot of fake reviews on different products.

    I’ve been exploring solar cells and backup batteries but I’m also afraid of fires which is why I don’t have a long term solution.

    You want to have some sealed boxes of matches where the air cannot get in.

    One of the things I’ve learned is until you go through something like this, you don’t know what you need because we take having the power on for granted. How much is enough? Is it available?

    The problem is during the ice storm, the cell phones were switched to handle the 911 emergency only and no one uses CB anymore. You might want to look into getting a ham radio and license.

    When the lockdown for covid hit, the supermarkets were busier than Thanksgiving shopping. Its important to have food on hand.

    On top of this, some would rather go to a hotel than suffer at home.

    1. For those who froze in their houses in Texas, having sleeping bags that are rated for certain temperatures might have helped them. Even setting up a tent inside their house could have contained heat inside the tent.
      Its important to sleep with a winter hat on.

      Counties need to have warming centers. Its the job of government to protect the people.

  28. I see mostly talk about static survival. Dynamic survival may be more applicable for others. For Western U.S. the two most likely risks are wildfire and earthquake – which may require evacuation, or to at least stay on a nearby property.

    Truck always packed with gear and always fueled, and away from trees and buildings and slopes. Jerry cans of fuel and water. In addition to the obvious stuff, my truck gear includes digging tools, chain saw, small generator, large bolt cutters, winch, and communications systems.

    My property is in a rural area 500m from one of the three main S. Cali faults, and half-way up the side of a mountain, and next to two Indian reservations and a national forest. And this rock is not one of the large hills that people in the east call mountains. So escape from the area is my central preparation. We are also prepared to walk out via several pre-scouted routes.

    There is the human element to preparation. Before and during the rendezvous, evacuation, and consolidation phases, trust no one not known to you, do not depend on anyone for anything that are not in your inner circle of family and friends, and do not talk about your preparations (ya know, like I am doing).

  29. All this is kind of funny. Some of us live off the grid willingly, for 1-2 weeks at a time. It is called backpacking, or hiking. You can even do it in snow! Children do it, in Boy Scouts.

    High calorie food like peanut butter keeps forever. And a nice down sleeping bag and you can sleep (or exist) cozy warm indefinitely.
    Fuel? Pfff. Wood is everywhere. A liter of white gas fuel is plenty for heating food and making coffee for a week (neither of which is essential).
    You don’t need to eat hot food. The caloric content is much, much more valuable for heating a person than the minimal heat content of, say, a cup of tea.

    I have a river behind my house with fish in it, enough wood to boil any amount of water, indefinitely, and a rimfire rifle that will take any small game. Never did any of those things, but it is remotely possible, so I stay competent in those skills.

    People lived for thousands of years without indoor plumbing, electricity, or twitter. I thought all this was common knowledge but apparently I was wrong.

    1. Its called camping. Do you have a camp stove? Do you have propane? Do you have a propane powered lantern? Do you have steno? I’ve seen a homeless man go to his tent in winter.

      I’ve been to historical sites. Imagine drying food to add water to later. That’s what they did back before refrigeration.
      There were no supermarkets. You had to save your vegetables, your greens, etc., during summer to last through a winter.

      Where are the cool products to help keep the power on during a brown out or ice storm? Where are the electronic wizards that can help make products that will help? Where are the hackers?

  30. I wonder how people get killed when they work on the electricity line. Thought the lines get pulled to ground and be safe. Aside of that, my generator could never power the outside grid. It would shut down almost instantly because of overload.

    To keep the body warm, it‘s stupid to heat a whole room. If you‘ve got a generator, small heating pads or electric blankets are much better. They consume less energy and are sufficient to keep the body warm, wrapped in blankets and so on. Heat up some stones and carry them into your bed, if you don‘t have electricity. Better to think small. A cat could be a life saver. Even cat food is not the worst food, if it comes to extremes.

      1. Quite true. However, I was brought up to treat people how I wanted to be
        treated. However, that is not how today’s world works. Nope. No way.
        In a survival situation, if the brown stuff hits the fan, everyone is
        the enemy. They will come in and attempt to take what you have.
        They’re not going to care about you, your family, the dog or your
        6 month old baby. If they see you have something they need, think they
        need, or want, they will stop at nothing to get that item from you.
        They will kill you, your family, dog and your 6 month old baby if it means
        another day of survival.
        This mentality (messed up as it is) boils down to “my survival at ANY cost”.
        The world is in a sorry state due to Covid-19, but even when things were
        better last year, the people that will steal from you to inject drugs
        in their arm. Here in Washington, there was a homeowner. He heard
        someone attempting to break into his house. He got his family upstairs
        into a bedroom and yelled at the intruder who was still outside that
        he was armed. At this point, the intruder did gain entry to the house.
        THe man joined his family in the bedroom and got his gun.
        While his wife was on the phone with 911, the intruder attempted to gain
        entry into the bedroom. The homeowner again repeated that he was armed
        and the police were on their way. THe reply? “Where are you? I’ll kill you.”
        At this point, the homeowner shot the intruder dead through the door.
        He wasn’t charged because he made the attempt to get away.
        One rule I have is an extremely simple rule. Keep my mouth shut.
        I see these prepper videos on youtube showing “secret” bunkers, rooms and
        the like. Case in point, I saw a news story some time ago about a ham radio
        operator. He was on television showing his radios, his batteries, his solar
        panels, his store of water, his store of food….
        From states away, I was able to find the ham operator’s address, he was an
        older guy. In a survival situation, if someone wanted what he had, he’d be dead.
        Remember when copper was selling at a high price? Any copper that wasn’t nailed
        down ended up in the 5 finger discount bargain bin.
        Watch the news lately? Catalytic converters are now the hot ticket item.
        It’s a sad commentary, but there will always be someone out there who wants what
        you have, from the Nigerian Prince spammers, to the robocallers who say you’ve
        won the lottery, you only have to pay a fee…..
        The days of working an honest job for an honest paycheck are about gone.
        The days of helping your neighbor are about gone too. Hell, most people don’t
        even know who their neighbors are. On the flip side, there are good people in
        the world who will help their neighbor if needed, I’m one, and I’m glad I know a few.

    1. In rural areas, it’s possible that only a few houses are on a single power line fuse. Tree falls, brushes along power line and temporarily shorts the line to ground, blowing the fuse. Householder connects and fires up generator, powering all the neighborhood wires on his side of the fuse. This is the hazard for electrical workers.

  31. Get EMT level medical training and some time in the field, even better if you do a few years volunteer or military/national service in a full spectrum emergency medical and rescue service. This will acquaint you with most aspects of everyday emergencies and you should be exposed to large scale emergency planning. You don’t have to go to USAF PJ school to be prepared but having a supply of potable water and a filter, safely stored LP, diesel, or kero for heat and generator, a yard and home safed against fast moving wildfires, and if rural a swimming pool and fire pump with thin water as well as maybe USFS nomex, a saw, and hand tools for wildfires. Backup radio gear, I recommend amateur radio over CB bands. Bicycles or a motorcycle are great, but if you have the $$ for a gas guzzler and live in back country a 4×4 like a land cruiser or hi-lux are great but you need two spare tires, tire chains, and a winch or at least come-alongs as well as vehicle and area appropriate pioneer and mechanical tools. At home some reasonable food, sanitary, and camping gear is warranted; but a few Kilo$ in local as well as possibly some international traded currency is far more useful. If you can afford a strip, aircraft, maintenance, fuel, and training a backyard hangar or one nearby is the best cure for a disaster as long as you have that stash of $$ and didnt purn it all on flying you can hotel up outside the zone while you wait for insurance to pay out. If you are out in the wilderness nothing beats a 406mhz registered EPIRB backedup with a AA battery(put a ribbon to block the battery and the batt pack will last 3-10 years) powered handy-talkie for air band which can talk on 121.5mhz AM air guard channel, in a distress situation it is completely legal and correct to make a distress call on this freq, it should be guarded by all aircraft but at least commercial aircraft in line of sight should answer. But most importantly get competent in skills, think like a firefighter/paramedic, pilot, or astronaut and have the skills to deal with disaster and everyday stuff, everyone here is a DIYer so the hurdle of understanding the science whys and hows on emergencies should already be in your mental and hopefully gathering in your physical toolkit.

  32. A few pointers-

    You don’t need an transfer switch to power your home with a generator thru the dryer plug, just flip the main breaker.

    A 110/120V generator will only run a single leg of your breaker box (one side typically). To power everything you need a 220V generator.

    Inverter generators are MUCH more fuel efficient but cannot run inductive appliances. Inductive cooktops and pots are the most energy efficient option for most cooking tasks.

    Ethanol fuel is unquestionably bad for small engines and does not store well. You can easily rotate your supply by pouring any old gas into your car tank. No harm, runs fine. Also remember that you have a 20 gallon tank of fresh fuel sitting right in your driveway and easily accessible in a pinch.
    If you have access to ethanol free gas (look around boat docks) then it might be worthwhile to store and will keep much longer than what is typically cited online. I’ve pulled old dirt bikes out of barns, cleaned the carb, used some starting fluid and ridden them with rust colored, decade old gas still in the tank. On two occasions.

    Municipal water is reliant on pumps that require electricity. However, the water already pumped and sitting in the town water towers is reliant only on gravity. Pick up several Water Buddies. They’re cheap plastic bladders that you throw in a tub in an emergency and fill with 100 gallons of fresh water. When an emergency happens were power might be unavailable for an extended period, use one of these in the first few hours while tower water is still present and you’ll have the equivalent of two water barrels with chlorinated water that will keep for an extended period.

    Natural gas substations commonly use on-site natgas fed generators so this heating source might be available even without electricity. FYI – you can try to power your furnace with a generator and/or solar but the wattage necessary will definitely surprise you. It could stress a smaller generator and burn down your solar batteries in no time.

    Little Buddy heaters can be safely used indoors and use the ambient oxygen levels to detect unsafe CO levels. You will burn through 1lb camping cylinders and being changing every few hours. They offer an adapter that allows use of 20lb cylinders which I highly recommend. The hose is long enough to allow the cylinder to be safely positioned outside during operation.

    Long term storage freeze dried buckets are popular and always a great option but they present a major issue that I never see addressed in any “prepping” pieces – essential vitamins and other nutrients. Calories alone will get you through a few weeks but anything longer and you’re looking at some nasty side effects. Vitamin C is a perfect example. It breaks down quickly in storage. The human body can’t produce it so it must come from outside sources. Going without it will give you scurvy and kill you. Columbus lost a large portion of his crews in the months spent at sea without sources of vitamin C. Look into this if you’re serious about preparing.

  33. A couple of thoughts here…

    1. Know how to shut off utilities (gas, electric, water, oil tank, etc). Also know when NOT to shut them off, and know how to safely turn them back on, or when NOT to. Note a large “crescent” style wrench with a large screwdriver for a T handle can be used to shut off many water or gas valves.

    2. Training. If you can find a CERT class take it (Community Emergency Response Team). If there is a team in your area consider becoming more of part of the solution than part of the problem by joining. Fire and EMS may be DAYS away… Neighbors become the first responders.

    3. Have an out of area friend or relative be your “contact person” in a disaster situation. Land and Cell phone systems become broke and overloaded so limiting use helps everyone. Plus you are busy trying to save yourself or others and salvage what you can so minimizing interruptions helps.

    4. Consider a secondary cache of emergency supplies away from your main home, If the location of the main store becomes untenable you have a reserve.

  34. One of the things I learned about is storage foods. I even read this news article because the pandemic has exposed the supply chain:

    No more “boutique” restaurant crops: This spring, cautious farmers are planting the basics

    [Quote]As demand soars for “storage crops” like onions, carrots, and potatoes, farmers give up chasing trends, experimenting with new varieties, and wooing high-end chefs with something unique.[Endquote]

    There are also more plants which might be dangerous to eat like Yucca but I saw it in a Latin America Supermarket and people use the plant because it is drought resistant. I don’t know how to cook it nor do I know if it is safe.

    Of course, there are also companies that sell storage foods but they are there to make money off of survivalists.

    I also think about the homeless and wonder if they are getting enough vitamins but some vitamins are also hard on an empty stomach.

    There are a lot of things to study.

  35. Survival skill training teaches filtering water through cloth to remove silt best you can, then add ONE drop of chlorine bleach to each gallon of water and leave it to sit for 24 hrs before is acceptable for drinking.

    Rule of threes. You can survive…
    … 3 minutes without air
    … 3 hours without shelter if too hot or cold
    … 3 days without water
    … 3 weeks without food

    Living near a swamp, creek, river, or lake will expand your survival opportunities for water and food.

    Just look up “Rule of threes” to pick up a lot of good info.

  36. I’m surprised to see no mention of kerosene shop heaters for emergency heat. They’re one of the only fueled heaters rated for indoor use (they’re SUPER common indoors in Japan, like more normal than not). No carbon monoxide, and they just faintly smell of candles when running. (Some) Kerosene heaters have no electronics, kerosene basically never goes bad (especially if in a sealed container), and even if it does go bad it’s usually just water floating on top or dirt on bottom and not the actual fuel expiring like happens with gasoline so the fuel is salvageable. And it’s WAY more energy dense than propane. My shop heater runs for 10 hours off a gallon of kerosene. I consider them MUCH better than those “indoor” propane heaters. But for some reason nobody mentions them in emergency preparedness. Like it’s some kind of big secret or something?

    1. If Kerosene heaters are not U.L. listed, they are not legal to buy in my state and it can result in fines and imprisonment.
      I asked online questions about heaters sold from out of state as to whether they are U.L. listed and if it is listed its not even mentioned in their online advertisements on different sites. Fines and imprisonment usually happens when there is an investigation from fires or other accidents and the cause would be blamed on the buyer for buying an illegal kerosene heater.

      They are a large cause of fire and if carbon monoxide builds up and displaces the air, kerosene can explode. When carbon monoxide builds up, its the same as running a generator in your house. The carbon monoxide can put you to sleep and you are in a dangerous situation.

  37. I’m surprised to see no mention of kerosene shop heaters for emergency heat. They’re one of the only fueled heaters rated for indoor use (they’re SUPER common indoors in Japan, like more normal than not). No carbon monoxide, and they just faintly smell of candles when running. (Some) Kerosene heaters have no electronics, kerosene basically never goes bad (especially if in a sealed container), and even if it does go bad it’s usually just water floating on top or dirt on bottom and not the actual fuel expiring like happens with gasoline so the fuel is salvageable. And it’s WAY more energy dense than propane. My shop heater runs for 10 hours off a gallon of kerosene. I consider them MUCH better than those “indoor” propane heaters. But for some reason nobody mentions them in emergency preparedness. Like it’s some kind of big secret or something?

    1. I also found that kerosene heaters are illegal in my state unless they have been rated by a safety laboratory. In other words, they need to be U.L. listed or you could be jailed and or fined. People get fined when there is an investigation which would result from a fire or other event where police, firemen or EMS would be called.

  38. I spend money on batteries and buy packs of 20 several times a year like AA or AAA batteries. I found its more economical to buy batteries in packs of 100 so that way I have enough and don’t have to worry about the next emergency. I also found batteries that have a claim to be leak proof and I will test that from storing the batteries I bought.

    If you think about stocking up this way, it always sounds better to be economical instead of explaining you are preparing for the end of the world or disasters and looking odd or crazy.

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