Power Outage Survival 101

Editor’s Note: Whew! What a night last night! Like many of our Midwest neighbors, Ohio was hit with a major ice storm that’s still blowing itself out today (the ice and rain have now turned to snow). Tens of thousands of people in our area are without power this morning, and some cities have declared a state of emergency. If your area was affected, how did you weather the storm last night?

Here’s a very timely article to help us all be prepared for the next time a storm strikes.

Olive Oil Lamps from Lehman's

Olive Oil Lamps

With the harsh winter months among us, power outages can almost always be expected wherever snow falls and ice accumulates. Unfortunately, many people will be caught unprepared, and will probably have to face a few cold, dark nights before the power is eventually restored or help arrives.

What about you? If the lights went out tonight and you suddenly found yourself stuck without electricity, without the furnace to heat with or the stove to cook your food on, would you know how to survive? Would you have a few necessary emergency back-up items to keep you and your loved ones well? Or would you be caught off-guard, wondering how you would stay warm, how you would feed yourself and your children, hoping that help would be quick coming?

I, for one, don’t like the idea of being helpless. Especially when it comes to taking care of my family. No. I am much more comfortable knowing that when our electricity fails we’ll still be able to live comfortably, for however long necessary. And it really doesn’t take much to have this assurance. Anybody can- everybody should- have a plan in place for times when non-electric living is unavoidable.

Here are a few things I’d suggest you think about in order to be better prepared:

Wood Heat Stoves from Lehman's

Wood Heat Stoves

A Heat Source

If your main source of heat is fueled by electricity, it would be wise to consider putting an alternative, non-electric heat source in place.

If you have a fireplace in your home, installing a wood burning stove would make it even more efficient. You may be able to cook on it as well. Of course, you would need access to lots of good, dry wood.

Kerosene heaters are also an excellent way to stay warm in the cold months. Make sure you have enough fuel to last you through the winter.
Whatever you decide, definitely have lots of warm clothing and blankets on hand for every member of the family. A house without heat being generated will get very cold very quickly!

Clean Water

Water Filters from Lehman's

Water Filters

Whether you are on city water, or a well, unless you are rigged with solar panels or have a hand pump installed, when you lose power, you lose access to fresh, clean water as well. Clean water is one of the most important things we need in order to survive; please do not underestimate its importance!

If you are fortunate enough to have a well, it would be wise to consider installing a good hand pump. If this is something that is beyond your budget, a galvanized well bucket is an affordable way to access your well water in an emergency situation.

You might also consider a rain barrel attached to your gutter system. One good downpour will give you an amazing amount of water. It would be wise to filter this water, however, as your shingles could possibly leach asbestos with the rain. Lehman’s carries top of the line water filters you can purchase, or the parts you would need to make your own.

Cooking

If you depend on an electric stove, toaster oven, microwave, or crockpot for most of your cooking, it’s gonna take a lot of creativity to make a meal if you don’t have a non-electric cooking option to fall back on. Here are a few ideas you might consider when trying to cook when the power goes out:

  • Charcoal grill– make sure to stock up on extra charcoal! A little goes a long way.
  • Fire pit in yard– can be as simple as a ring of rocks in an open area.
  • Cook on your wood stove– it’s easy to heat water and warm up some canned food at the minimum.
  • Purchase a wood cook stove– we absolutely LOVE ours!!
  • Construct a simple solar cooker– all it takes is some cardboard, duct tape, aluminum foil, and glue!
  • Make sure that you have seasoned cast iron cookware as well. You won’t be able to cook over a flame with anything else- well, unless you wanna try warming your soup in an aluminum can! A camp dutch oven is something you can cook practically anything in; I wouldn’t be caught without mine.

Bathing

Without running hot water, bathing can become a real challenge to those of us who are used to modern day luxuries such as the shower! Plan on washing mostly with a wet rag, and possibly a shallow bath a couple of times a week. Think about how you are going to heat your water for baths, and in what you’ll be heating that water in. A large enamel pot would be nice to have on hand for this. If you are fortunate enough to have a wood cook stove, hot water will be no problem for you.

White Dripless CandlesLighting

A good stash of emergency candles and matches would be wise to have on hand. You might also consider some good oil lamps and solar flashlights. You’ll need to learn to use your daylight wisely to conserve your resources. Get up with the sun, and go to bed as the night falls.

Washing & Drying Clothes

All you really need to wash your dirty laundry is a good washboard, a tub or deep basin, and a bar of laundry soap. Drying your clothes may be a little tricky even if you have an outdoor clothesline. If the temps are freezing outside, hanging them out won’t do you much good! We have found two ways to hang-dry indoors which work very well: An accordion style folding floor clothes dryer for heavier items such as blankets and jeans, and a retractable clothesline hung across the shower for lighter clothing items. Make sure you have a good stash of clothespins on hand!

Refrigeration

If your power is suddenly lost, you have about three days before the food in your refrigerator and freezer begin to spoil. Eat what you can from the fridge first, then work your way through your frozen foods. If the loss of electricity is a result of harsh winter weather, you won’t have to worry too much about keeping your food cool. Just do what they did back in the old days, and bury your milk and meat in the snow!

Sanitation

Unless you have a composting toilet, power outages could mean no flushing potties. If you are fortunate enough to live in a wooded area, then going to the bathroom won’t really be any trouble for you. But, if you live in the city or in town and can’t just dig a hole in your back yard, the build-up of sewage can become a very serious problem.

If going outdoors is not an option for you, I’d highly recommend that you stock up on trash bags. You can use smaller ones to line your toilet with, or you can use a 5-gallon bucket lined with a larger trash bag for very effective waste disposal. This will at least keep things from spilling over and stinking up the place, and creating major health hazards.

Communication

An emergency radio is a must-have in any disaster situation in order that you might listen to any alerts and weather related announcements. Solar/hand-cranked radios are the best option, but if you can only get a battery operated radio make sure you have a good stash of the right size batteries.

At some point, chances are your residence will lose electricity. Hopefully it won’t be for too long, though we are never guaranteed a quick recovery. Will you be caught unprepared? Or will you and your family be safe because you put in place an action plan?

Hopefully this article has given you some things to think about preparing for, and the encouragement you need to get your house in order while the sun is still shining.

For more information on living long-term without electricity, check out my article:
What Do I Need In Order To Survive An Economic Collapse? Part 3: Living Without Electricity

10 thoughts on “Power Outage Survival 101

  1. Kendra P writes: You can use smaller ones to line your toilet with, or you can use a 5-gallon bucket lined with a larger trash bag for very effective waste disposal.

    From experience, the 5-gallon bucket system works rather well as a short term solution to sanitation difficulties at home.

    Camping supply stores often offer seats designed specifically to fit standard sized buckets and a bag of deodorizing cat litter helps make the experience less onerous for the more finicky family members.

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  3. Thanks for the update in your area. Here in Michigan (Stanton & Lakeview) we are still trying to dig out. The snow is blowing so hard you can’t tell if it is still snowing or just blowing.

  4. Indiana customer..We used your oil lamps all night. Saying it may be days before electric back on. May wish I had a gallon of oil. All be safe spring really will come
    sometime…

  5. I have propane heat and stove that work without electricity. Lots of candles, but no water pump. My well is about 60 feet deep. Is there a hand pump that could be retro-fitted onto the existing well head? I have been thinking about this for a while. Wondering if it’s possible to go off-grid with this well.

  6. We have oil lamps, and sometimes use them just for fun, as a way to disconnect from the world for a bit.

  7. Thankful I purchased my two oil lamps from you guys a few weeks ago……and that I still heat with wood!

  8. We only had scattered power outages here in the Lehigh Valley PA…..my kids were a bit disappointed cause they wanted to see me light the oil lamps, they think they are “cool”

  9. This should boost sales for you. After Kentucky got hit with our ice disaster 2 years ago, I ordered two of your hanging kerosene lanterns for our house. I FEEL your pain!