Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Just spent Six days without Power: 12 things I learned

So one of those once in a lifetime mess-ups left us without power for almost a week. One guy messed up and didn’t present the paperwork he was supposed to, the power company did its thing, then fixing it all with a weekend in between was even more time. At the end of the day we were left without power until the mess was sorted out.

I’ve been without power for a few days before. In fact in Argentina power would go down almost every day for a few hours some years ago, especially during summer. I’ve been a day or two without power more times than I can remember and even longer too. Can’t remember if I ever did six full days though.

Anyway, not the end of the world but it is an experience in which you get to see what works, what doesn’t, learn a thing or two or just refresh or remember some of them, so here it goes:

1)Not having power sucks. I gets boring after a day or two. I like watching a movie with the wife after the kids go to sleep. We missed that, of course no internet, tablets and wifi for the phones. Not having rooms as well illuminated is pretty depressing too, especially after a few days. At first the kids run around with flashlights having fun, after the 3rd day they cant stop asking when is the power coming back. We have board games, card games but we didn’t get to use them because we were still pretty busy. It’s a good idea to have them and put them to use though.
Tip: Try finding other things to do, and most of all, if you can, get of the house as much as you can. It really helps fight the gloomy blackout feeling.

2)Preparedness helps. It makes a very big difference if you know what to do. If the blackout lasts for a few hours then just waiting it out with a flashlight will do, but for several days you actually need a game plan, a strategy to get by. How are you going to heat your home, how are you going to heat water, cook food, illuminate the house, keep the fridge going, get work done. All of these need to be addressed and if you haven’t prepared ahead of time and know what to do then everything gets a lot more complicated.

3)Flashlights. Lots of flashlights. I have a ton of them. I buy them, I get them for free to review. They all came in handy. A small Fenix that my oldest son keeps was his personal light to get around when going to bed. My wife kept the Lumintop Copper Prince (best looking flashlight we own!) she keeps as her own. I made good use of the Thrunite TN12s that I have.
Those 1000 lumen lights come in very handy. Using them in candle mode, standing on the tail and pointing towards the ceiling, in their medium modes of 300 or so they would run for a few hours illuminating the room quite well, especially for showering and preparing dinner they were extremely handy.

4)Headlamps. Oh how I love those things. The ability to have both hands available for use while directing light with your head is priceless. If I could only have a light, it would be a headlamp. During those days I picked the head band of my Zebralight H52W and kept it in my pocket as my EDC, using the head strap when getting things done inside the house. Get yourself a good headlamp. The cheapo ones are ok but a nicer one is a valuable asset during extended blackouts.

5)Cat 32 stoves. You remember that post some time ago about making stoves with small tuna and cat food cans? The first day without power I used one to boil some water for breakfast. It worked beautifully.
After that I went for the butane camping stove and left that in the kitchen. If you don’t have one of these yet, just go and buy one. Not the mini  backpacking one but the cheap, large one used of camping. Its far more stable and convenient for blackouts. The one I have is just like this one, the Coleman Butane Stove. Bottles of gas are 2 bucks although its not hard to find them for one dollar when on sale. Stock up. I used a canister every two or three days. This was cooking lunch and dinner, heating water throughout the day for coffee, tea and mate. Stock up and keep a couple weeks worth of gas. It’s cheap enough, extremely handy for these kind of situations and can be used safely in any kind of house or apartment.

6)If you have a car you already have a generator that can run most appliances in your home, one or two at a time. All you need is an inverter. My 500W inverter allowed me to turn on the wifi, use my laptop and charge the cell phones. Careful not to abuse it, you don’t want to end up with burned cables or a dead car battery. These days even fuel efficient refrigerators can be run with a 500W inverter. I would run it for couple hours at a time, get some things done with the laptop before going for running errands and recharging the battery. If you’re going to use the inverter for something more than running a laptop for an hour or two you want to keep the car running so as to avoid draining the battery.
Tip: The advertised power of these car inverters is usually exaggerated a bit. For charging a small laptop and little else a 300W inverter is fine, connected to the 12V lighter. Anything more than that and you’ll probably start blowing fuses in the car. Better yet, get a 500W to 1000W inverter that connects directly to the car’s battery. The bigger the car and the battery the better. Still, Check the wattage and try sticking to half of the max. wattage of your inverter.

7)Ice bottles. Put a few bottles of water in your freezer and use it as an ice box for a couple days, maybe 3 or 4 days in winter. Cover everything with a plastic tarp in there for extra insulation. Don’t expect any miracles, but using this technique it will give you enough time to eat any perishables you may have in there before they go bad.

8)Rice, pasta, canned tuna, canned vegetables, lentils, the more shelf stable food you have the easier it is. We are used to eating these things already during “normal” times, so its already easy for us to stop using the fridge and stick to these shelf stable foods. Sure you miss a cold drink in summer, but you get by none the less.
Tip: For rice and especially lentils, pre soaking saves a lot of fuel when cooking. Don’t forget the lid too!

9)Gravity fed city water saved us. If you’re on a well and need to pump water, prepare accordingly. Basically you want to look at your situation and have plan B or even plan C for everything. Cooking? I use electricity. If that goes down I have the butane stove. If that doesn’t work I have the Cat32 alcohol stove which also works. I also have LPG gas bottles used for the water heater, which ca be used for cooking with the right burner. If you have a well, you maybe want a manual pump in case the electric one fails.  Having a plan B, and even plan C for the more critical systems saves the day when SHTF.

10)Living next to town made many things easier. Sometimes you picked fresh food and cooked it right away, buying things you needed, dropping by laundry. Even simple things like having a pizza delivered (even if I usually make my own) it just means you have more resources available and more at hand. Even my neighbour offered several times to hook me up to his grid if I needed it. I don’t like asking for favours or even accepting them when offered, but it was nice knowing that it had been offered.

11)Location, location, location. Living in an area with tropical climate means that when these things happen chances are you’ll get by more easily. In colder climates staying warm is a top priority, especially in winter and a blackout complicates this a lot. The backup systems are crucial in this case. In more benign climates though you just don’t worry about that sort of thing. In sunny places, even lighting gets easier, with daylight up to 9PM in some cases.

12) Batteries, chargers and cables. You need several of these, just like you do with flashlights. You need batteries for your flashlights of course, both primaries and rechargables. Li-ion ones are especially useful for those larger Lumen LED lights. They are brighter and run for longer periods of time. Battery banks and solar panels are also useful. The Waka Waka Power battery bank plus charger worked great yet again. Highly recommended. Keep a lighter plug for the car that has two USB outputs. This means you can charge two phones at a time when running. When there’s a blackout, this is very convenient. A good working solar panel is worth purchasing. I’m considering the one by Goal Zero Nomad 20W  given the positive reviews it has.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”


Anonymous said...

Does your home have an air conditioner and was losing it bad for sleep ? We keep some battery powered fans for sleeping in those conditions. Our location is very humid and hot during the summer, so losing power during those times is pretty ridiculous. I just wondered if you experienced the same.

Anonymous said...

You don't really need to keep the house warm, only yourself. My heating is busted and I live in North-Eastern Europe, so when winter comes I just wear more clothes indoor.

Anonymous said...


You might look at the Luci Lights that are available from Amazon. We have them. I also bought several for the grandkids when we were going camping in the mountains. Several hung around the campsite and one in the tent kept things bright through the night. They are solar-charged and last for hours. Of the dozen or so that I have bought, one was defective, but the company replaced it without requiring the bad one be returned.


Paul CO said...

Nothing better than real world practical advice by those who have lived it, thanks!

John Cox said...

I was without power for three weeks following a tornado in 2012. I lost power July 20th and only got it back on August 10th. Being without electricity in Louisiana in August is no fun at all.


tweell said...

I have the Powergreen 21w solar panel, it's good for hiking and when power goes out. It charges my Foxelli headlight and my phone at the same time.

Pompompom said...

It is interesting to note that the event that triggered the problem was an administrative failure, not an alien thermonuclear war.

This is more and more often. The bureaucracy that wants to do good on us, actually puts us in deep shit.

All the services you take from granted can be stopped by some remote employee, following some unclear rule with questionable data, not knowing you and the consequences of his act.

It may cost a lot of time, money and hassles to recover what is yours.

Prepare more for a bureaucratic low-intensity war than any kind of violent event.
Reduce your daily dependance.

Anonymous said...

For the last 30 years, I have installed, in every residence that I have owned, a whole house (17 to 45 kw, depending upon building size) generator, with a one-year fuel supply for 24/7 operation. I also keep maintenance/repair supplies in stock for PM if the run-time approached maintenance intervals.

My systems are always wired with transfer switches to prevent backfeeding, and any neighbors are welcome to a few smaller portable gensets and fuel that we keep on hand to help others. The goodwill it creates has a symbiotic effect.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the choice of that little Coleman stove. I bought one for camping, and I have even used it indoors when I was cooking a lot and needed an extra burner in the kitchen. It's a real bargain, in my opinion. I've heard that the refill canisters can be purchased at an Asian grocery store for a lower price, but I haven't checked that out personally. Thanks for the interesting article.