I am ridiculed a bit here and there by friends and even family for some of the cockamamie ideas I come up with. For example:
- Storing and rotating 10 gallons or so of potable water, plus more that I don’t rotate/worry about (for flushing, etc.);
- Buying a few extra cans of tuna, jars of peanut butter, etc. every week at the grocery store;
- Buying a boxes here and there of stuff we don’t use that often (powdered milk/eggs, flour, sugar, oil);
- Building a little makeshift brick “rocket stove” and trying it out occasionally.
- Putting at least one flashlight in every room with a couple of locations that have more than one, including headlamps so I can work with light;
- Keeping a couple of cans of gas filled up, rotated through my car tank so the gas doesn’t get “old”;
- Having multiple means of emergency communications (weather radios, 2-way radio, HAM radio);
Lots of people have a joke or a comment about me being a bit nuts and worried about everything. Then something like Hurricane Isaac shows up and everyone that isn’t already prepared is beginning to do one of two things: 1) start running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to find A. place that have any gas cans, bottled water, generators left followed by B. (if step A was successful) a gas station that still has gas. 2) they wait until the power goes out and then come ask me to borrow my flashlights and/or radios. Oh, and maybe a couple of bottles of water. And wow, you still have ice? How’d you do that? (run your refrigerator/freezer off of an inverter from the car) Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to help my friends and neighbors in a time of need. But it sure would be nice if rather than making fun of things I do people would spend that energy learning and better preparing themselves… recall the ant and the grasshopper.
If you are already in harms way and would like some “quick fixes” to de-grasshopper yourself and your family, you can execute a few relatively cheap and easy solutions to get you through a few days without water/electric power: 1) $50 for power, 2) Basically free for water, 3) $20 for food 4) $40/5gal can of gas filled 5) $75 for a stove & fuel. That’s $150 + your desired gasoline supply. See below for how I came up with that.
- Power your essential loads a few hours a day with an inverter that is plugged into your car. Run the car at least part of that time to ensure you don’t drain your battery. [750 Watt Inverter for $50 from Harbor Freight]. Keep the fridge/freezer closed except for a few times a day. Know the list of things you’re going to get out of your fridge, visualize where the things are, then open it once, quickly retrieve your food and close it. Note that food will last a few hours before it has to be refrigerated… so get out 2 meals worth of food at once to minimize the amount the fridge has to cycle on and cool itself. NOTE: OPEN YOUR GARAGE AND CLOSE THE DOOR TO YOUR HOUSE IF YOU USE YOUR CAR AS A GENERATOR. I’m assuming you have a heavy duty extension cord. If not, add $20 and get one while you’re at Harbor Freight. Make sure it’s long enough to reach from your garage/car to your fridge. You can also charge cell phones and rechargeable batteries while the car is running anyway to maximize efficient use of the car’s engine. If you don’t already have rechargeable batteries and the associated chargers, here is a good collection of things from Steven Harris that would be a good start. If you have time, listen to this podcast episode about getting through a blackout.
- Fill 2L coke bottles or milk jugs with water. Don’t touch the inside with anything but water and don’t use bottles you’ve put your mouth on (like a 20oz bottle). Make sure they are rinsed well before using them. There’s nothing alive in there (carbonic acid is nasty stuff for little bugs)… so keep it that way. I generally use the milk jugs for non-potable water, as those jugs aren’t designed to last that long. In a pinch, you can also fill up garbage bags in the tub before clean water goes away. Losing water is pretty rare where I am. But it is basically free to be prepared for this eventuality and way better than boiling water if I had to. While they will make you more thirsty due to the sodium/sugar in them, even the soft drinks you have in 2L bottles can keep you hydrated for a while. Surely you know people who haven’t actually had a glass of water in years… not recommending it, but you’ll make it in the short term.
- Buy $20 worth of some cheap storable food. 2 words (plus a lot more because I can not only use 2 words): shelf stable. Peanut butter, tuna, chicken, vegetables are all available for cheap, can be stored in a pantry/cabinet for months to years without refrigeration, can be opened on-demand, and are for lack of a more accurate term, yummy. Mmm… baked beans. I’m getting hungry making the list of things you can buy for less than a dollar that will get you through a brief time without power. If you don’t have any stored food, don’t go off the deep end and buy 5 cases of MREs. Just spend $20 on things you eat already. If you really want to put away some things to replace refrigerated stuff, try powdered or ultra high temperature (UHT) milk like Parmalat and some powdered eggs. I will tell you that there is no such thing as a good powdered egg. But our friends the McIlhenny family from Avery Island, LA can fix any food-flavor malady that ails you in the short term with their magic sauce. Our friends the Hershey family from the town of the same name in Pennsylvania have an even magicer sauce (trust me, magicer is a word… just drink it and see) to combat the woes of drinking powdered milk. Once you get past this storm, start spending $5 a week on things like this (canned goods you already eat, the occasional thing you wouldn’t eat unless forced to do so and the magic/magicer solution to make it palatable) to build up your stores when it is not a crisis. Some other things that I don’t eat often much anymore, but are useful for no-power situations, are traditional tortillas/flatbreads. Learn how to throw some flour, oil, sugar/salt, and water together on to a hot surface and end up with a heavenly bread in a few minutes – “emergency tortillas” with a 2:1:1/2 ratio recipe for ease of memory (2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup oil). Change the ratio to change the texture and add some salt/sugar to change the flavor as desired. It ain’t Whole Foods, but it’ll keep you going while you clear storm debris etc.
- There isn’t really a cheap solution to getting an additional store of 10-50 gallons of gas on hand quickly. The basics concept is to have a can labeled for each month and you fill your car tank with it in that month before heading to the gas station and refill the storage tank while you fill your car. I haven’t checked out any YouTube videos of people doing this, so I can’t vouch for them. But just do a search there and you’ll get the idea. In the short term, see if you can find 1 or 2 cans and get them filled up. It seems that you can do this and avoid the headless-chicken crazies in option 1 above if you will just do this a few days early since most wait until the last minute.
- If you want cooked/heated food you can also buy a little camp stove to cook on. I don’t have one personally. But I have a grill and keep an extra bottle of propane for it. I also built a rocket stove as mentioned above out of some spare bricks and know how to make a fire. If you don’t want to act like a nutcase (me), just get a little coleman stove, available for $40 and up – I’d go with the PerfectFlow 2 or similar for about $65 plus a couple of cans of propane for $5 each. You’ll be limited to your fuel supply, but you are already whether you know it or not. If you’re really worried about cooking in the absence of fuel/electricity, learn how to make a fire. I, for one, don’t want to be stuck without smores & chocolate milk or scrambled eggs/Tabasco in any situation I can think of. A few really cheap tools like a ferro rod coupled with readily available stuff like cotton balls & vaseline make a heckuva good fire starter. But practice is pretty essential to making a fire too. Don’t think you’ll just break out your ferro rod and go Bear Grylls on that pile of twigs. It isn’t THAT easy (until after you practice).
Hopefully you’re reading this and thinking… “I’m ready” for whatever event brought you here to read this in the first place. If not, I hope this helps you direct your efforts to take away some of the stress of preparing for an incoming storm. Good luck.
PS – I didn’t cover this concept above. But if you keep stores of food and fuel that you are regularly rotating, it allows you to occasionally dip into those stores to better absorb price hikes – saving you money. You begin to maximize the effect of buying low and using high. this only works well once you actually have stores in which to dip. But it does work. As an example, I only buy peanut butter on sale now since I have enough to last through a few months of regular usage – which is a bookooton of peanut butter with 2 young boys (and me) in the house. $1 savings a jar doesn’t seem like much. When the concept is extended to all of the shelf-stable food you eat or fuel you burn those dollars add up that are saved by using stores when prices spike.