Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 3, 2016
Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner
This week was notable on the Last Great Frontier for not 1, but 2 critical infrastructure failures. Neither one lasted all that long, but both gave me the opportunity to see how prepped and ready I am for intermittent failures of the 3 basics you often take for granted, running water, central heating and electricity on demand.
Prior to full on SHTF where this stuff goes off and never comes back on, there is likely to be a period where such outages become more frequent, and run for longer periods of time. This is the way it is already in the 3rd World countries that have such ammenties in their larger cities, actually it’s always been that way and never really got a whole lot better. When I was living in Brazil back in the 60s, we had a power blackout at least once a month. Nowadays in Sao Paolo, with water rationing the taps go dry either for a few hours each day or for a few days each week, so everyone still stuck living there has to adapt by storing water and conserving what is stored.
As crucial as water is in your preps, for me it was one of the last things I developed a full plan for. While I was on my early prepping frenzy in 2008-9, I worked up a good 2 year food supply, but my water supply on hand was limited to about a dozen quart size water containers, which were old Cranberry Juice bottles I rinsed out and filled with tap water. Far as just drinking and cooking goes, this probably would last a week, but if you add in stuff like flushing the toilet, washing dishes, taking showers etc you probably would use it up in a day or two the most.
So upon moving to my new digs, I developed a more comprehensive water plan. I now have 3 large 20 gallon water containers, 2 1 Gallon Water containers for water transportation, 10 1 gallon containers of Distilled Water, along with the original dozen quart bottles.
2 of the 20 Gallon containers are for drinkable water, the 3rd is for “gray water” used for toilet flushing. After doing a task like washing dishes or taking a Sponge Bath (no showers during water shortage time, even if you have a portable shower system!), you store the leftover water in your gray water container for later use again as toilet flushing water. Also keep your toilet flushes to one/day if possible. If several people are using the same toilet though, this may not be possible.
The other means I have for keeping the gray water container filled s a stream that runs nearby my digs. That is what the 2 1 gallon jugs are for. I can take a trip over to the stream on the Ewz, fill the two jugs then return to the digs and dump this water into the gray water container to keep it topped off with plenty of toilet flushing water. The only time this is problematic is if the creek is frozen solid, but it usually is not these days. Of course, not everyone has a creek running nearby them, so not everyone can use this method.
If your water problem is just local to you, like your well ran dry but there is still running water nearby you like in convenience store bathrooms, that is what the quart containers are for. You drop one or two in a backpack and when you hit a convenience store, you use the bathroom and fill them up with FREE water. When you return home, you dump this water into your drinking water 20 gal containers and keep them topped off. Similarly, you can do this at work if you still have a job, and your kids can bring one to school each day and fill from the school tap water. If everyone brings home a quart of water each day, you should all stay well hydrated unless sweating heavily because it is hot, in which case you will need to double this possibly.
If the problem is systemic like in Sao Paolo, this is not going to last forever. Eventually no convenience store will have running water, no school and no workplace. Guess what? Time to either move out of Sao Paolo or roll over and die! It’s no longer fit for human habitation.
So your Water Plan is not a solution to a permanent drought, and neither is the Electric Plan following a solution to permanent grid down scenarios. The plans are just designed to get you through disruptions to normal infrastructure supply that lasts for a defined period of time. How long that time is depends on how much of anything it is you store, but IMHO a minimum standard is 1 week. 1 week is about how long on average it will take to get all neighborhoods back on grid power and running water after a typical decent Snow or Ice Storm or a Flooding event. Really bad ones, 2 weeks and stuff like a Hurricane or F5 Tornado passed through your town, it could be several months. In my case, I estimate I can go 3 months completely off grid, no running water, utilizing gas from my cars and Bugout Machine for my generator after the first week or so.
This water plan is very inexpensive, less than $100 for the cost of the containers. Now onto the Electric plan.
This was one of my earliest preps, but I have expanded on it as time goes by, adding solar PV panels as well as a gas powered generator. Mainly however it is a storage plan for grid power for the occassions when you lose electricity for a few days. The core of the plan requires only 3 things, all of which can fit on a shelf in the garage or a corner of a closet, Battery Storage capacity, an AC/DC trickle charger for the battery and an Inverter for converting stored juice back from DC/AC when the power goes out. One of each can suffice for most critical purposes for a while but I recommend a bit larger system for this. Here is how it played out today in my Grid Down Resilience Test for electricity.
In the case of my power outage, besides running the laptop and light for a while, the Deep Cycle Marine Battery also fully charged the laptop and the cell phone, so even after it fully discharged there would have been hours of time left on their independent batteries. However, the DCMB was barely touched here on this, and I now think it would run at least 24-48 hours full time without a charge on just this drain. It is now plugged back in on the trickle charger and collecting juice for the next outage.
With this knowledge, I can now recommend a Minimal System for short term electric outages.
3 DCMB @ $100 each
1 1000W Modified Sine Wave Inverter $100
1 500W Modified Sine Wave Inverter $75
6 Amp DC Automotive Battery Charger $50
Total Cost Basic System: $525
The 1000W inverter is dedicated to your Fridge. Typical fridge draws 500-750 Watts, but not all the time, only when the compressor runs, and that depends on ambient temp in your digs. One DCMB is dedicated to keeping the food cold as well during an outage. You also don’t need to use it for the first day or so long as you don’t open the fridge or freezer too often. Keep your freezer PACKED. If it’s not packed up with meat, fill the empty spaces with tupperware filled with frozen water. Only fill the tupperware about 80% full before freezing, because the water expands on freezing.
The 500W inverter is sufficient for your laptop and a couple of lights, and will also keep you portable rechargeable electronics fully charged. Another DCMB is dedicated to this Inverter. The 3rd DCMB is a backup for either of those if they fail or run out of juice.
By itself, this sytem will probably get you a week of time if you are careful about electricity usage. Like dont leave your laptop on 24/7. lol.
A simple Upgrade to this is to add a 2000W Generator and have say 10 gallons of gas in 2 5 gallon jugs. Use this to recharge your DCMBs as they run down. This probably brings you up to a month of resilience time with enough juice for the basics. That is going to cover any outage other than true SHTF stuff. If your neighborhood electric company cannot restore power inside a month, it is Mad Max time.
This addition to your electric resilience costs
2000 Watt Generator: $300
10 Gallons Gas: $25
2 5 Gallon Gas Containers: $40
Total Options Cost: $365
After that, you can invest in solar panels or RV Wind Turbines to get a little more trickle charge going in some locations depending on Sun & Wind resource. Also remember if that if necessary, you can repurpose your SUV battery for additional storage.
So, IMHO, there is no reason the typical McMansion owner cannot Prep for power outages lasting upwards of a month. the whole package comes in less than $1000, a one time cost which is CHEAP insurance. It’s also highly portable and can be taken on the road with you if you have to abandon your digs (wildfire, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, war breaks out etc).
If you have extra FRNs, you might want to go with Li-I batts which will shrink and lighten the load in the SUV for the bugout scenario, as well as give more discharge cycles. However, they are pricy, and will probably triple the Batt investment cost in this type of insurance.
After Water & Electricity, the final part of your Short Term Disruption Preparedness plan (besides the food of course, which every prepper starts with usually) is having enough HEAT in your place so you dont freeze and the pipes don’t freeze during the disruption. This is only an issue in the winter in places where the temps go below freezing, but that can be the case most anywhere these days except equatorial regions.
In most setups these days, if you lose your electricity you lose your heat also, even if the heat is NG or Diesel fired furnaces. They have electronic controls and will shut down without electricity. If there is no manual overide to this, you are without heat as well as electricity, even if you still have fuel.
As long as your digs are well insulated, lack of heat is probably not going to be a problem the first day. In my case over a few hours the internal temps only dropped a couple of degrees from the 60F I keep the place at in the winter. Not enough to even drop on a second sweatshirt. Your primary preparation for heat disruption is having good winter gear to throw on as the temperatures drop, in layers as it gets colder. Above freezing, there is no real need for heat at all, good clothing.will cover you fine. However, you do have your pipes to worry about, so once the internal temps drop below around 40, you’re going to want a backup here also. Best for this in terms of Energy Density and ability to run indoors without killing yourself from Carbon Monoxide poisoning instead of freezing are portable Kerosene Heaters, which have CO detectors on board and automatic shutoffs.
How much kerosene you will need to have stored and how many of these heaters you will need for any given length of time depends entirely on how big the space is you are trying to keep above freezing, and how low those external temps actually go. If you have a big place and the temps outside are -20 Below Zero, you would need a LOT of heaters and a lot of kerosene every day to keep the place above freezing! So for good resilience at an affordable price, best NOT to live in a big McMansion. Also better to live together with several people in a reasonably small space, since your combined body heat by itself does a lot to keep a small space warm. This of course is the Igloo principle of the Inuit, Athabascans and other “Eskimo” tribes that live here in Alaska, although they hardly live that way anymore. You put husband, wife, 2 kids and 6 dogs in an Igloo big enough to fit all that mammalian biomass, you will not need a fire inside the Igloo just about no matter how cold it gets outside.
However, you shouldn’t have to go the Igloo route for a short disruption if you match your heat generation capability to the size of the space you need to keep above freezing. This is an important point, because you don;t want to try to keep the place at the same kind of temp you would under “normal” circumstances with your backup heating gear. You are just trying to keep yourself and the pipes in your digs from freezing, not making it so hot you can walk around comfortably in your BVDs. lol.
To conclude here, all of these plans are SHORT TERM DISRUPTION plans. They will not help you in a permanent Grid Down, SHTF scenario longer than their designed lifespan, which at the very outside I think would be a full year. Perhaps longer if there was still working money and fuel to buy with that money, but in such a long disruption that probably would not be the case. The deal here is though that as this spin down proceeds, it’s unlikely that your infrastructure will fail all together, all at once, for good. Being able to survive through the intermitent problems while the society reforms is crucial to making it THROUGH the Zero Point to the Other Side. You don’t wanna be the guy that freezes to death in his digs after just 3 days of an Ice Storm power disruption, but you get stories of those folks all the time.
For the longer term when all of these things we take for granted now are gone for good? Most of the population, including me, will die off. I’m not suited to building mud huts with stone tools and living the full primitive anymore. Only a few younger folks may be able to do that, and I wish them well in their efforts. For most of us though, you take it one day at a time, and try to keep going just as long as you can. Covering the basics for the short term disruptions can help you do that.