Shelter Preparedness, Pt. 1, by Pete Thorsen

We know to be prepared we need certain things. We need water, food, security, and shelter. This article concerns shelter in a future possible emergency situation. This situation could be anything from a gas leak in your apartment building that requires your evacuation, a wildfire approaching your home, a chemical spill that requires your evacuation, maybe even up a nuclear bomb going off and you are in the fallout drift zone, or maybe it is just civil unrest and you want to stay off the streets for awhile.

For many things the best shelter is likely your house or apartment. This is where you are the most comfortable. And you will likely still be comfortable there in an emergency situation if you make some preparations before the event. But no matter how much you prepare or where you live you should always have a backup plan in case you have to leave.

Many things can force you to leave your place of residence. A tornado can happen most places, and that can wreck any building. A fire can force you out. Or a chemical spill nearby, hurricane, snow/ice could collapse your roof, earthquake, sinkhole, volcano, being overrun by bandits, plane crash at your dwelling; the list is almost endless. So while the best place to stay is likely where you now are you should definitely have a bug out plan or “Plan B”, just in case.

Supplies on hand will make any stay during an emergency more pleasant. Store water and food then just stay in your home as a shelter that covers the three big things for survival. You can always have more ‘stuff’ at your home than anywhere else.


One of the big things we prep for is short or long-term loss of electric power. Most of us have already encountered loss of electric power for different reasons and different lengths of time. While maybe not too practical for real long-term use a generator is great for short term outages. Generators come in many sizes and price ranges. From $100 or less for a small one from Harbor Freight to a large permanent automatic one that could cost thousands. And each of us has different needs so it is difficult to say which size you personally should get if any.

The first thing you should know when thinking about home wiring is that anything used to produce heat draws a lot of current. Examples are a toaster, heater, coffee pot, hairdryer, microwave, or hot plate. These items draw maybe 1,000 to 1,500 watts each. An average homeowner size generator might be 3,000 to 5,000 watts. So you could, in theory, use two or three of these items at once.

A refrigerator might draw 400 or 500 watts. A central air conditioner might draw 5,000 watts or more. A well pump might draw 3,000 to 5,000 watts (for a 3/4 H.P. and 1-1/2 H.P., respectively.) With a generator, you have to pick out the things that you think are important to you and what you might want to have on at the same time and then size the generator accordingly. Keep in mind that you will need a generator that also produces 220 VAC to operate most well pumps. A watt is a watt, and nearly every electric item has a little plate or tag that lists how much current it draws for electric power.

This can get a little complicated because sometimes it is listed in watts and then it is easy. Sometimes it is listed in amps like “3.2 amp at 120 volt”. In this case, you multiply the amps times the volts, so 3.2 times 120 equals 384 watts. Also, anything with a motor draws much more when it starts than when it is running, like ten times as much or more for a very short time. So that refrigerator that runs on 400 watts might briefly draw two or three thousand watts when its compressor starts up. This big load would only be for a couple of seconds or so but still must be allowed for in your planning.

You can look at items you want to operate and read the amount of current draw, write it down and go to the store selling the generators and they can help you size the generator to fit your needs. Then you will have to plug the items directly into the generator via extension cords or have a ‘transfer switch’ installed to direct the generator power to where you want it, through your existing house wiring. [JWR Adds: See the many warnings about backfeeding your local power grid, that have been posted in SurvivalBlog. You must use a proper transfer switch to isolate your house from the grid, for safety!]

Photovoltaic Power

Another option is a photovoltaic power system, commonly marketed as a ‘solar generator.’ Many places sell a ‘solar generator,’ but these can usually be built yourself for ½ or even ¼ of the cost of those commonly advertised. You can easily do a search online to buy or build your own. But either way, these always have very, very low capacity (no matter what the ad sounds like). These are for running lights or charging your phone/laptop or maybe at most running a small compact refrigerator. That is it, no microwave, no coffee pot, no heater type items on a solar generator.

There is one more way to get some temporary electrical power that is fairly inexpensive. Buy a power inverter that changes 12 volts DC (your car) to 120 volts AC like you have in your house. These inverters come in many different sizes and cost maybe $10 to $100 for a practical size to run from your car battery. The inverter would run small things like the ‘solar generator’ does (they also use an inverter). It is like a generator that is cheap because it uses your car motor (you have to have the car running, so you are using gas). Your car would work for some items on a short-term basis.

Or forget the electric power and go retro. Buy some candles and oil lamps for light. And yes oil lamps are readily available and throw way more light than a candle. Lamp oil will store a very long time. Cook with propane or wood or use a solar oven that you can buy or make yourself. A camp stove in either propane or white gas makes cooking hardly any different than if there was no catastrophe going on outside (as long as you also have the fuel on hand for that camp stove).

Consider Getting an RV

An easy option for some people is buy an RV or 5th Wheel camping trailer and then you can have many comforts even when the power goes off. A motor home or a camp trailer or even a tent trailer as many benefits. One big benefit is if you have to bug out and leave your home you can still be quite comfortable. Used RV’s can often be purchased very reasonably.

The biggest downside to owning an RV is where to keep the thing after you buy it. A typical RV has a propane powered refrigerator/freezer, a propane oven and cooktop, possibly hot and cold running water, maybe a bathroom, and comfy beds. Often has its own generator for the microwave and other electric items. For leaving your home, an RV can work well and even staying at home, you might find living in the RV easier if there is no power in your home.

Bugging out with no RV? Then a tent takes up very little storage space and is fairly reasonable, and a used one can be found very inexpensively. Bugging out and leaving your home will require you to bring many things with to make you somewhat comfortable. This will mean a car or even a pickup with a trailer, depending on how much you want to take with you and how comfortable you want to be.

Make it All Drab Earth Tones

When you get a tent try hard to get one that is not brightly colored. Get one in an earth tone color. There is no advantage to a bright color, but there could very well be an advantage to a drab color. Always think drab and concealment with everything you do or buy. Your outer clothing should be in earth tones also. Same with your backpack. If you ever need to be concealed, then you will be thankful for those drab colors.

Whether in a car or an RV, if you are bugging out wear your hiking clothes and strong hiking shoes or boots when you are in the vehicle. Have a backpack packed and handy, so if something happens, you can grab your backpack and bail out of the vehicle. Certainly, odds are you will not have to, of course, but always think about being prepared for the unexpected, always.

What should you have in your pack? I don’t like lists, and everyone would logically carry different things because of their own particular set of circumstances. Is it winter or summer? Are you alone or with others? Are you in the wet southeast, the dry southwest, the wide-open prairie, by the ocean, wooded area, in a heavily settled area, or in the middle of nowhere?

Some things are always good to have- a tarp, at least two ways to make a fire, a good strong knife, a map of the area, two compasses, some food, some water with a way to purify more, some cordage, extra socks and maybe other clothes. Whenever you carry things, it is always a trade-off; weight and bulk versus need.

(To be concluded, tomorrow.)




  1. re:
    ‘watt’ vs Watt

    Scotland produces some fine additions to Western Knowledge. Among them is inventor James Watt.

    I’m a Perfessional Edtior (you that read right), so I tend to be fussy about traditional use of capitalization of the names of people… and the units of measure derived from those names.

    I realize the degradation of language does not, necessarily, preceed the collapse of a civilization. However, I feel a duty to stand in support of our Western Values and our Western Heritage.

    Others may snicker at my, admittedly, futile attempts. I can assure you, few earthly possessions are as important to me. As long as I have breath, our Western Traditions will not be discarded!

    Watt might agree.

  2. I believe that it is necessary to have at least 4-5 methods of producing fire at minimum. My favorite method is using a Tonteldoos. Bic lighters should be your primary method if you are cold and wet as they are faster. Learn and master several methods and build yourself a good fire kit that’ll stay on your belt.

    1. Add this to the ways to build a fire when you are with/near your vehicle.

      Since vehicles come without cigarette lighters today, drop by an automotive supply store/dealership, buy one for a few bucks, and place it in the (now) 12v outlet.

      1. DO.NOT.DO.THAT! The “cigarette lighter” outlet in late model cars CANNOT take the heat of an old-school lighter being plugged into them! They are 12VDC outlets; that is it!

        1. Sorry about that, but I didn’t make it up. I was told that very thing in a class earlier this month that was taught by a nationally known survival personality who was emphasizing the need for having as many ways possible to start a fire.

          Given your comment, I suggest that anyone interested in the idea should check with their auto mechanic before trying the idea.

          1. That is why they are called “12-volt power ports”. My 1995 Chevy pickup has several “power ports” but only one “cigarette lighter”. The manual warns not to plug the lighter into the wrong socket. The “Expert” is correct, you will start a fire. Just not the kind of fire you want.

  3. It always amazes me how much value we place on air conditioning. How did our ancestors ever get by without it? A hundred years ago AC was all but unheard of in homes or vehicles, yet people lived and thrived in the south for a long time without it, despite the need for manual labor being higher and the clothing options excluded breathable synthetics back then.

    It would seem prudent that, along with a robust exercise routine, people should condition themselves for life without luxuries such as AC. The way we build houses nowadays makes them sweatboxes in the summer when the power goes out. We used to camp in a travel trailer that didn’t have AC when it was 90+ degrees outside. Even with all the windows open, if you aren’t well adapted to it, you are going to be miserable, and that was with minimal physical exertion. We spent a lot of time in the water back then. Getting a sunburn and trying to sleep in a 80+ degree trailer is not possible without being significantly medicated.

    1. Why?! This is 2019 not 1919. I like and enjoy ac. When I bought my generator, I factored in the ability to run one. My mentality is to thrive not just survive. I happen to enjoy modern conveniences. If it’s 90*+ outside, it’s usually going to be hotter inside a structure. How effective will you be in doing anything outside when you can get no relief. I just don’t buy the outdated minimalist thinking. If you’re gonna do something, do it right.

    2. Another option is to choose where you live. There are many options to live where you do not need air conditioning. Our new house does not have air conditioning and even though last summer there was record heat, our house was still quite comfortable inside.
      Many people can decide to live anywhere. They have jobs where they work from home or they are retired. We chose to have our survival in mind when we moved last time.

    3. My uncle Ishmael lived in Alabama all his life, out in the “sticks” w/o AC. He wore long sleeve shirts and overalls day in and day out, no matter the season.

      He could do it because he had lived that way all his life.

      For those of us that have been spoiled, living w/o AC will be tough. And the only way to “condition” ourselves now is to give it up now, for the rest of our lives.

      I wonder how many can live that way or would be willing to live that way.

      1. I live without AC…in the winter.

        Seriously, adaptation can be hastened with physical exercise and upping water intake. Be careful to also add electrolytes, esp. NaCl.

        Carry on

    4. Grandee,
      We opened a window. And it wasn’t a 100 years ago, it was less than 50. In 65 only NASA or Ratheon could afford air conditioning, but hardly anyone else could.

      With flow through ventilation we also didn’t have black mold, that is a byproduct of condensation caused from continuously shutting our houses up.

    5. A better solution: do not just buy the 12-volt replacement cigarette lighter. Buy the complete package: cigarette lighter and the socket that goes with it. Note that the socket is all metal, with an insulating disc at far end with the positive contact. This allows the socket to withstand the intense heat of the cigarette lighter element when it is pushed in to heat up.

      Confirm how much amperage the heating element will draw. A wild guess would be around 15 amps. Always connect to a source of 12 volts that can provide that amount of amperage and use an in-line fuse! Modern 12-volt “Power Ports” have thin metal housings surrounded by plastic. A traditional automotive cigarette lighter will probably draw more current than the power port can provide, causing the wiring in the dash to overheat. The intense heat from the lighter element will also melt the surrounding plastic.

      I purchased a 12-volt outlet box at a truck stop recently. It has four sockets for plugging in 12-volt accessories. ONE socket is designed for use with a cigarette lighter and has an illuminated ring around it, making it more visible at night. It is fused at 15 amps. This would be the safer way to go.

  4. Are you saying “watt” should be capitalized? I tend to agree with you, but I have seen watt as a unit of measure not capitalized. I do not know all the rules of grammar, so I am asking, not being snide.

  5. I guess I didn’t make it clear but an electrical transfer switch is a legal requirement when hooking up a generator (I believe all across the USA). Also if you have no transfer switch and do not shut off your main breaker you Will be back-feeding the whole electric line. Your generator will Not have enough power to do that and you will likely think your new generator is broken.

  6. With regard to hot weather and modern houses; they were designed with the idea that air conditioning would be available. The old buildings, prior to AC, had high ceilings with high, double hung windows that could be opened at the top to aid air circulation. (since hot air rises.)
    Cross ventilation and ventilation shafts were also used extensively to encourage air movement through the living spaces.
    They were much more comfortable in hot weather than the current hot boxes are.

    1. As an architectural designer, I agree. I primarily design homes for people and one of the first questions I ask is ‘do you like to open your windows’? Amazing how high the percentage is of people that say they never open their windows. It’s either heating season or cooling season. My family lives in a 135 year old farm house. We have 31 windows in our house and it has to be 95+ for several days before we turn on the ac. The breeze is always blowing through here.

  7. I am looking at the UP of Michigan. It is my understanding that they do not need AC or need it very rarely. When it is needed window units are enough. Size your generator properly.

  8. Folks, I don’t mean to demean anyone, but AC is not a survival issue except for for really old folks in hot climates during heat waves.

    I don’t want to come across as a tough guy, because I love my comforts and snivel gear as much as anyone, but if we’re serious about survival, we’re going to need to accept a lot of discomfort.

    1. Well said, brother. Comfort or survival. Many situations will offer a stark choice.

      Enjoy modern conveniences while you can. And, be careful of developing a dependency on them. Subjecting one’s self to intentional discomfort as a habit will prepare you for many eventualities short of complete SHTF.

      Carry on

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