I’m writing this article early in the morning during a power failure. I’ve only lived in this house for six months but this is not the first power failure I’ve experienced here. Previously I house-sat in this town and experienced a long duration power failure complete with four days or so of no cell service either. I got on my phone and looked up the outage map and realized that my town and a couple of adjacent towns have a significant outage, definitely due to the high winds of last night. The electric utility will begin mobilizing the line crews when it’s light out. Might be a while due to how many customers are without power, our rural and wooded nature and that the wind is still blowing quite well. Meanwhile, the woodstove is burning, I’ve got some tea candles lit and strategically placed small solar outdoor lights, stood up in canning jars, are lending some light around the house as needed. As always, when the power is out, the house, without the ever-present audible hum, at least to me, of the grid powered appliances and lights, is blessedly tranquil and quiet. Plus, the light of the candles always makes me feel at peace in a way that any electric light, no matter where on the color spectrum it falls, cannot.
So why, knowing how frequent the power failures, even during “normal times” are here don’t I have a generator? Why don’t I invest in a PV system? All good questions. Recent articles and comments on SB revealed different trains of thought regarding the use of alternative power systems and generators during power failures or prolonged outages. It was clear that there is a big gap in the outlook between some of the posters and an inability to comprehend why others think as they do. I figured I’d explore this subject further here. This won’t be a “how-to” article, at least not in the sense of complete prescriptive measures and equipment lists although I will throw out some ideas for many categories. Maybe that will come later. It’s just meant to provoke thought, challenge thinking and hopefully generate some good (but civil) discussion.
I should state at the outset that I’m not adverse to technology per se, or to alternative energy. In fact, I lived completely off-grid with a PV/wind system for nearly two decades so I’m pretty well versed in living with alternative energy. It’s also true that when the big ice-storm hit in the late 1990s, my home was the only one that had power as usual during the four days that my neighbors went without power. So yes, having my own power supply not dependent on the grid was handy to be sure.
On-Grid or Off-Grid?
When I went house-hunting in early 2020 I was open to either being on or off the grid. I could see pros and cons of either arrangement. It wasn’t a factor in which house I chose as I knew I could live successfully in either situation, come what may. I honestly didn’t feel that my survival depended on one or the other. I ended up with a house tied to the grid with conventional appliances. I have to admit it’s been fun using an electric dehydrator. I’d say that’s been the number one benefit of living with grid power.! I also know how to do without it again if need be.
So why do I not feel anymore that to be truly self-sufficient and prepared for emergencies such as long-term grid failure, that having either a generator with large fuel stores and/or an alternative energy system is required? What has changed my thinking on this?
I guess firstly that living with an alternative energy system opened my eyes up to how dependent these systems are on the technology that produces them including mining, manufacturing, transportation and all the rest. I don’t for a minute think that any of these products (PV panels, inverters, battery banks, wind generators, etc.) would be produced using alternative energy. They are all dependent, somewhat ironically, on a stable supply of grid power. Add to this their distribution and shipping. All of this is totally dependent on the grid staying up, fossil fuels, marketing, shipping, financial transactions et cetera all functioning well. A generator is likewise dependent on a stable fuel supply as well as necessary parts(and know-how) to keep it running.
My own system was quite simple and assembled using the bare minimum of components. Still, I experienced a failure of the wind gen and separate lightning strikes took out two system components (charge controller and battery bank voltmeter). I was able to get these replaced as the system of manufacturing, shipping et cetera was still functioning as usual. Had it not been my system would have ceased to operate. Could I just store extra components? I suppose. But how many? Store a complete extra system? Two extra systems? Three? And what of the battery bank? I replaced it several times during my tenure there. Should I store two extra sets of batteries? Three? At some point, unless things returned to an adequate level of normal in the outside world such that system components were to be available, my off-grid system would no longer operate. And then what? I guess I decided that I’d be better off exploring the “and then what” piece of this and choosing to live this way from the get-go should grid power fail. That’s really the crux of what I’m going to discuss in the rest of this article.
So what’s “and then what”? How does one live this way? What choices need to be made to successfully live without any grid-power or back-up alternative energy and/or generator power? The overall answer to this I think is “it depends”. It depends on your budget. It depends on where you live. Your family structure. It depends on how you are willing to live and what comforts you choose to live without. I’m writing this as someone living in the far north of the US where heating is a big concern. AC is definitely not an issue, at least for me, although it always surprises me to see how many people here are acquiring AC these days and becoming dependent on it.
Other Lighting and Cooking Alternatives
I’d also add the caveat that I’m classifying what I’d use in a prolonged power outage into several categories. Some are items that are simple, can be stockpiled, but would eventually wear out and not be replaceable should the grid stay down for years. Items like this would be batteries, solar lights, candles (paraffin), kerosene/lamp oil, propane for the cook-stove, etc. Thus flashlights, headlamps and other battery-powered items would work until such time that the bulbs failed, batteries ran out or they just expired. While I’m stockpiling a reasonable supply of items such as batteries, flashlights, tea candles, and the like, I don’t for a minute assume that I can stockpile enough to last forever. Or, that in the case of items such as batteries, that they could remain viable for many years.
During the run-up to Y2K I knew some people that were frantically trying to buy enough “stuff” to last them forever. Unless their lives were foreshortened, and they were all then only in their early 40’s, that seemed like a fool’s errand to me. It’s sort of like trying to stockpile enough food to last you and your family the rest of your lives. The reality is that while you might well be able to put aside a year or two or more of food, eventually the supply would run out. You’d need to be able to produce your own food should the system stay down. Same thing with water storage. It seems to me it would be best to stockpile some food to get you through the immediate crunch/crisis situation but having access to land, tools, seeds, know-how, and so forth is of paramount importance. And having a tested means to secure water supplies once the supply runs out is critical. No way you’re gonna store enough water to last for a lifetime!
An in-between category would include items such as canners (water bath and pressure) and canning jars. The water bath canners will last indefinitely if properly cared for. The pressure canners depend on keeping the gauges functional and seals, if any, in good condition. Canning jars can last indefinitely if cared for. The lids are the most vulnerable piece of this. Stockpiling an ample supply of lids, reusing them as much as possible and also purchasing lids that are meant to be reused will go a long way towards prolonging the use of canning as a food preservation tool. Eventually however, should production not resume, this too would go away as a viable option. I’d include it though as it’s viable, in my opinion, if used thoughtfully, for many years given ample preparation and supplies stored properly.
Guns and ammo would also fall in the “in-between category”. Guns will last a long time if cared for and spare parts can certainly be stockpiled. Ammo can be stockpiled as can reloading equipment and components. Eventually, these too would run out. If you were able to properly store a lot of these it probably wouldn’t be a concern for a long time and maybe not even in your lifetime. A smaller supply or lack of ability to reload would bring the long-term viability of this tool into question.
Another category is items that should be able to be used long-term with only a reasonable amount of maintenance needed. These would include wood stoves(non-catalytic), wood cook-stoves, solar ovens, solar dehydrators, hand-powered tools of all kinds, a hand pump, hand saws, splitting mauls and wedges, outdoor fire-pits for cooking, root cellars, crocks, spring houses etc.
No Re-Supply in Sight
Basically the ability to use a lot of things long-term without the opportunity to resupply them becomes a factor in a long-term grid-down situation. This holds true for items as diverse as toilet paper or OTC and/or prescription medications. Eventually, you will either run out (TP) or the product degrades/expires (meds).
So my way of thinking then calls for me to consider what I would use if the grid were to fail long-term, utilizing the short-term stuff in the beginning as needed, the “in-between” items as long as feasible while also utilizing the items that should be able to last and be usable indefinitely from the get-go. It’s critical in my way of thinking, that knowing how and having practiced in using these long-term tools be a part of my life while the grid is still up and things are relatively “normal”. Perhaps we will never in our lifetimes experience widespread long-term grid failure. Perhaps we will be starting next week or next year. Not possessing a crystal ball I of course don’t know the answer to this. But given the enormity of the situation should it occur, I’d rather be as prepared as possible. Thus, my considerations on and determination to know how to live without any grid, fossil fuel or alternative energy sources long-term.
This way of thinking also applies to food-storage. For instance, I’ve stockpiled some vinegar to use as needed. If resupply became impossible, I’d best know how to make my own vinegar from apples and other locally sourced materials! Same with items as diverse as coffee, tea, canned fish, etc. I’m not going to be able to source coffee beans here so no matter how large my supply; someday they’d run out. Same thing with tea. Ditto for canned fish such as sardines, tuna, or salmon. But knowing how to find and process chicory and dandelion roots and growing various herbs such as mint, lemon balm and so forth means that I can make my own “coffee substitutes” (alas minus the caffeine) and herbal teas if need be. I’m not going to be able to buy local sardines, tuna or salmon here but if I know how to fish and have the gear to do so, I can fish for trout, bass, perch and other fish that are found locally. Or pectin for making jam. If that was no longer available it would be good to know how to make your own pectin from locally available fruit and to have done so. Doesn’t mean you can’t use store-bought pectin now and even stash some away but don’t become dependent on it always being there!
Short Term and Long Term Lists
So how do we prepare now for the potential of long-term disruption of the grid and/or loss of access to fossil fuels without depending too much on technology or alternative energy systems? I’d suggest starting by making a list of the systems that you now depend on. Included in “systems” would be food, water, hunting/defense and others as well as the obvious lighting, heat, and the like.
For each of these include short-term items, “in-between” ones, and long term. As an example, perhaps you use row covers or plastic-covered greenhouses with fossil fuel or electric heaters to grow plants in. While these materials will last for some time if properly stored and cared for, they will ultimately run out and be unavailable in a long-term grid crisis situation. So what will work long-term to replace them? Greenhouses built out of glass, cold frames made with glass, pit-greenhouses covered in glass, wood-heated greenhouses, hotbeds utilizing fresh manure etc. Thinking along this path and then starting to acquire both the info needed to design/build these systems and the materials is a useful endeavor.
Heat and Water
Heating is another “system” that is crucial in many regions. A woodstove is an obvious choice. How to acquire the firewood? Early on a chainsaw can work but eventually, the fuel will degrade or run out as will the parts to keep them running. Having the necessary wood saws, splitting tools and the like and knowing how to use them is a necessary step towards long-term preparedness. Yes, keeping an extra year or two of firewood stocked up as well as extra fuel, oil (both for fuel mixing and chain bar lubrication), chains and chainsaw parts is useful short-term and into that “in-between” stage but eventually all of this would run out.
Water supply is also critical. How would you source water if grid power were down? Having several alternatives and trying them out in advance is important. Possibilities include a hand pump on the well, developing a spring or a pond, taking water from a nearby surface water source, water storage from rain coming off the roofs, at cetera.
Cooking and canning is another critical area of need. If grid power were out and fossil fuels no longer supplied, cooking and canning over a wood fire, either indoors or outside would be an obvious choice. Constructing and using a solar cooker would be another good alternative for both cooking and water purification.
Long-term food storage would no longer be able to depend on electric dehydrators, freeze-dryers, freezing, vacuum sealers, Mylar bags and the like. Instead, low-tech solutions such as canning (while supplies of lids hold out), solar dehydrators, fermentation, pickling, root cellar storage, spring-houses and other options would need to be utilized.
If using guns for hunting were a major piece of your food supply, then I’d suggest learning to use (and make) a re-curve bow and arrows, trapping, etc.
Give It Some Thought
What I’ve tried to do here in writing this article is to generate some thinking on planning for long-term needs should we experience a long term grid disruption. While stockpiling store-bought items such as batteries, candles, and storage foods is important, at least for the short-term part of the crisis, I don’t want us to lose sight of the planning, materials and skills needed to handle a grid-down situation long-term. For me, that planning won’t include high-tech alternative options for the reasons I’ve explained. I’m going to continue to work on my planning to utilize some of the long-term low-tech possibilities I’ve mentioned as well as others so that in the event I am confronted with long-term grid disruption, I will hopefully be better prepared to weather that for years to come.
Ani, very thought provoking article. This combined with JWR’s new book makes us put our “what if” thinking caps on.
Ani…….there is an adage……..experience is the best teacher…..my credo. The greatest survival item is having a brain and the gut instinct to get in gear and plan, put the plan into some usable context, and for gods sake take action and implement. You are doing all of that and discovering the hidden layers of additional actions, items, or undiscovered Avenues needed for you or your situation. We as humans have a nature that should be listened to, right wrong or indifferent we have the ability to either be a proactive preppier, or a reactive situationist, that maybe has been to dependent on a society that is inbreed to always believing everything in life is like turning on a never ending water faucet. Myself I was brought up by my parents and instilled with being situational aware of what life offered today and what was I doing in relation to that……so maybe at about 10 years of age…..I got it, and 60 years later I am still learning and adapting for what life brings and how I can adapt to it. Good luck with your adventure and god bless you for trying to be the best you can be…..may we all learn from that.
John, very good turn of phrase: ” We as humans have a nature that should be listened to, right wrong or indifferent we have the ability to either be a proactive preppier, or a reactive situationist, that maybe has been to dependent on a society that is inbreed to always believing everything in life is like turning on a never ending water faucet. ”
I find, even with my training and low-tech choices, I can easily become lulled into complacency.
Good human thinking. As in ‘reality.’
A battery chainsaw provides a bit of extension into the future; you can charge it from solar panels with a simple detachable emp-stored charger and in my experience, good batteries last far longer than stored gasoline. In ten years I’ve never had a Milwaukee brand battery go bad.
“In ten years I’ve never had a Milwaukee brand battery go bad.”
Guess what– Lithium Ion batteries typically last about 10 years. Start budgeting for new ones within the next couple years.
Hey RandomMike, can you give us a ballpark figure on how many cords of wood you’ve cut with that one battery? I’m still researching electric chainsaws and want to get both a plug in as well as a rechargeable. Your thoughts on battery life compared to number of cords cut would be appreciated.
@ Random Mike
And when the chainsaw battery fails, then what? Or the solar panels? Or the solar panels are stolen as they are just such a good target for theft? It’s not that I have anything against solar panels, chainsaws or the like. I’m just trying to posit reasons for why we don’t want to depend on them long-term and to prepare alternatives to them sooner rather than later.
I’ve had a ton of Milwaukee batteries go bad, along with Lith-Ion Makita and other brands. A stack of ’em.
Gasoline, stored in steel Jerry cans and stabilized, has run everything from my chainsaws and Crown Victoria as old as 8 years. Plastic cans, for long term storage of gasoline, is a FAIL.
On the PV battery issue: Industrial forklift batteries last many times longer than your typical solar L16s or other types. Based on experience, forklift batteries with reasonable care can last 30 to 40 years. They typically last 7 years in severe service in such places as food warehouses, where these batteries get discharged down to 20% state-of-charge every shift. This is battery hell. Kept in their top 10% to 15%, they will last far, far longer.
An electric chainsaw, run from a long extension cord and a PV system, can cut a lot of wood into stove-sized pieces. A manual bow or M-tooth saw can be used to cut longer pieces in the woods to bring within range of the electric saw. Batteries seem to be a poor short-term proposition from my experience using a lot of cordless tools. I’ve even upacked Lith-ion batteries that were defective right out of the box.
Wind power suffers from the fact that it is a moving piece of machinery. Anything that moves…..breaks, eventually.
The author is the first off-grid power user that has been hit by lightning I’ve learned of. So it can happen. So I have up to three spares for essential components…..panels, charge controllers, inverters. Sure, it’s expensive. But understanding that nothing is forever, one plans on a failure.
One thought: There will be many meds left unused by the bulk of the population that is woefully unprepared, as well as food, clothing, tools, etc. These will be available for use by the folks that endure past the initial year of deprivation. The lack of water- in any form- in the cities after the grid goes will remove a terribly huge chunk of our population from the gene pool in a very short time. The motion picture, The Book of Eli comes unbidden, to mind.
The author does a great job exposing the vulnerabilities we face in our lifestyles and support systems. i hope a lot of thought has been generated by it!
Good writing ” food for thought”
Great post and profound perspective, Ani. We are definitely in for a shock once our fragile distribution system of goods and services is no longer available. As recently demonstrated – shock and panic will be the new norm.
Since my personal journey of preparedness began, I’ve often considered how
“city-life” would be impacted, having grown up in one of nations largest and most corrupt beehives.
Though the years, I have been blessed to keep moving farther from the tentacles and encourage others do do likewise. The draw of entertainment and one-upping and the comparison mindset astounds me (been there – done that).
Last thought ~ After Cain killed Able and was cursed, marked and denied the ability to work the soil by God – he began the FIRST CITY and named it after his son Enoch.
There’s a load of, not rights… that ended in a literal flood to clean up the simple sin of disobedience.
Interesting perspective and one I think too many don’t accept. You are absolutely right, eventually everything will run out or break. I think realistically we’re all prepping for the longish power type disruption or natural disaster, at least I am As my dad used to say about surviving a nuclear war, “why would you want to?”. The answer: get right and stay right with God. Nothing here matters in the end.
“As my dad used to say about surviving a nuclear war, “why would you want to?”. ”
Hey Spotlight, back the Sixties when the threat of nuclear war seemed real to many, there were two kinds of people. The first group wanted to live, some for the sheer adventure of surviving, others because they didn’t want to die. The second group of people said, “I hope the first bomb falls right on my house.” I can understand both mindsets but for me, the sheer adventure of it and putting my skills, knowledge, and preparations to the test would be the most exciting challenge of a lifetime. I’ve heard of (but haven’t verified) studies where the survivors weren’t the most intelligent, or the ones in best shape, or the strongest, but rather those who had the best mindset and the will to survive whatever might come. I think preppers in general probably have that edge over a lot of other people. We’ve thought about it, gotten used to the idea, are preparing for come what may, and I think there will be a higher survival rate compared to non-preppers, and not just because we have a deeper larder.
One of the lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is not only the number of people who were killed, but the number of people who survived into old age.
If we are cursed with a nuclear war and millions of our population are killed, the flip side is that there will be millions who survive, who don’t expect to survive. Many of those will have only the clothes on their backs.
Those living outside of the blast areas will have to count on services such as electricity and phones being out for an extended period.
I, too, have considered the short term supplies, the medium term supplies, and the long term. In the long term, I see international trade collapsing, so we’ll need to return to local production. What sort of tools will allow that? What knowledge will be needed? What can be done without electricity? More than you think.
For me, “Short term” is about a month. “Medium term” is about six to nine months. Both of those have slightly different requirements, can largely be satisfied with stores. Beyond that, what value can you make to trade with others to meet their needs, and they your needs?
Ani I think your article was spot on, but I will admit your thinking is in alignment with mine.
I’m here in Idaho drinking my tea and reading your article getting ready to get going baking bread and preparing to to do a few chores in preparation for an early winter storm that is threatening to dump 7-12” of snow on us, followed by single digit temps.
Power failure is very common here on this Idaho mountain so I’m doing what you are, preparing for the LONG game, not trying to replicate a “normal” lifestyle. Using the “normal” products available now to give me some ease to learn how do live well without them.
Peace and Blessings
1) I think some things are needed for the Transition Period even though they run out/fail eventually.
2) Costco has a 100 watt solar panel for $150 ( $120 on sale sometimes) and a marine deep cycle 12 volt battery runs less than $100. With those items you can charge/operate cell phones, flood lights, shortwave radios, police scanners, etc.
That will let you stay informed of what is going on in local and remote areas and give you early warning of approaching threats — disease epidemics, invading bands of bandits, government bureaucrats/tax collectors, nuclear fallout clouds, etc. Maybe let you determine whether you need to migrate to better places or stay in place.
3) There are relatively cheap satellite phones from Garmin that let you send short text msgs to remote family members even if the telephone and cell phone systems are out.
4) Night vision scopes need charged batteries and if you see something questionable, LED flood lights let you shine a lot of light on the possible threat.
A Flashlight on a shotgun operated by a thumb switch on the stock can be handy.
5) Longer term, of course, you need a fortified town with high walls, torches, and night guards –with armed patrols going out at daybreak to protect the townspeople as they go to work the surrounding farmlands. Just like in the Middle Ages. But you need to survive to get to that point.
The best times in my life were when the power was disrupted for several days. Now that’s living!
This is a great article, Ani! I’m looking forward to the comments. I agree with you, we have to think of “and then what?”
Included in this thought process is developing our relationships with others with skills that we may not have, or muscle that we may not have. As we age, we may not be able to lift heavy loads, chop and split wood, or even see or hear well enough to stand guard over our properties. We’ll need to develop a community of folks whose skills complement each other.
Great article, and timely, all things considered. Back at the beginning of this Covid mess, my wife and I started looking at our preps. Where we were short, what we needed immediately, and what could wait. My wife very quickly became overwrought, and overwhelmed. The panic was there, trying to look at what we would need for long term, and putting everything into that category. I finally looked at her and said, “Plan to survive for one year. That’s all we need.” That helped get rid of the panic, and gave her a focus for our preps.
Now, many of you on here are going to look at that, and say, “LC, but what about after the year? That’s not nearly long enough!”
Many of the things that you look at, like heirloom seeds, that help you survive the “year” will continue to serve you long after that. The same with water supply/filtration, heating, etc. Once you learn how to do it the skill and the knowledge is there, and one year gives a tangible time frame to plan for. It brings it all down to a manageable level.
Now, the second part of the “one year” philosophy. It’s pretty simple, but it’s not pretty.
I always come back to the findings of the EMP commission. It was centered on looking at the effects of an EMP weapon used to take out the power grid, but their findings are applicable to the power grid being disrupted for any other reason as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cyber attack, or civil unrest, or even just a major depression/recession where workers are not reporting for work, or spare parts can’t be sourced. The report found that, “If we lost the grid, within one years, 9 out of 10 Americans would be dead.”
So, I try to keep it simple. Survive the first year, and see where you are. If the report proves true, it will be a very different landscape that we are looking at. One that I can’t really imagine, or prepare for. If you and your family, or group, manage to be the one in ten that make it, the world will be a different place, and chances are that many things will be different, and will wind up altering any plans you might make now.
Just make it through the first year!
Great thought LC.
Good, realistic comments indeed. Thank you!
@The Lone Canadian…your comment is one of my favorite…i have returned to read it multiple times.
The panic turned to focus DOES mitigate the disaster reaction and get you back on track!
Focusing on part of a journey makes that journey doable. Your comment is a notation in my notebook now…it helps!
Well thought out common sense article. I have been adding to my preps for the day after the election…sad.
There are only two versions of the grid down situation; temporary and permanent. IMHO in makes no sense to have a generator for possible power outages that might last a few hours to a few days. The cost and inconvenience of trying to keep a generator ready to go at all times for a brief power outage makes no sense. The other version where the grid is down forever (or years) cannot possibly be corrected by using a generator because the same problems that kills the grid will make fuel unavailable.
OneGuy -not sure how often you get power outages where you live but I can tell you that 4 days without power will convince one to get a generator, at least it did us. When the 6 day outage came a year later we were awfully glad to have it!
Very few humans have lived in a totally non functioning economy and non technological society for thousands of years. Cities, mining, specialized agriculture, specialized forestry, specialized technology, trade, etc. have been around forever. Even the thought of the “primitive” precolumbian Native American has been challenged by new research by authors like Charles Mann and his book “1491”.
Many primitives of the present or not to distant past are/were actually living off the fringes of the developed society trading products with them to keep bare necessities and some comforts in place. They are sometimes buffered from the ups and downs but not totally immune. In “Shadows on Koyukuk” the author notes that they did not notice the Great Depression where they lived in primitive Alaska but they were still trading with the lower 48 all the while they lived a very different lifestyle.
As a personal example, I maintain a properly sharpened vintage cross cut saw for cutting firewood in a grid down situation and I avoid cutting down trees on my own property so I have several years supply available if needed. However that saw and the tools needed to keep it useable our fairly high technology. You are not likely to make another on a primitive charcoal forge with scrap metal and I know of no iron ore near me. It was probably manufactured in a big North Eastern City by urban specialists under the supervision of highly educated metallurgists and engineers. Without my chainsaw and fuel I get really fit really fast. Without my cross cut saw my house probably becomes uninhabitable after a short time as it molds over and generally deteriorates without heat to dry it out in our wet winters
Total societal collapse is not an option IMO. Minus all out nuclear war or an earth destroying astroid it will likely continue with all it’s benefits and ugliness. If it does occur I think humans will be close to extinction not close to precolumbian North American status.
IMO we must get control of our society and fix some of the craziness. Life without society is not an option despite how aweful some of our society looks. Therefore we must get/keep it under control.
IMO realistic preparedness must always have an end date. I don’t know if that is measured in months, years or even decades although I doubt the latter. But civil society and fairly large scale technology must continue or be restored or humans as we recognize them will cease to exist on the earth. Hunkering down for an indefinite period is not an option.
“Hunkering down for an indefinite period is not an option”. But as we have already found, we don’t always get the disaster scenario of our choice. We get what we get and we have to make the best of it.
But why go all the way back to “primitive” civilizations for a reference point? Pre-electricity, I know that rural areas were thriving communities. Farming, small businesses, industries, retail etc. were all to be found. So if the grid went down long-term, for whatever the reason, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t go back to life as it was in the 1800’s. The biggest problem with that is that our population was much smaller back then and there is no way our current population numbers would manage to make that switch. But that’s already a known fact in the estimates of 90% not making it after the first year of a widespread grid-failure in the US.
If we experienced the total semi permanent grid down situation with the associated societal collapse I do not believe we could “land” at the 1800s. I think we would land in much worse shape. Here is a list of three reasons in no particular order.
1. The 1800s were more technologically advanced then it first appears. There were smart engineers, scientists and technician who were experts in that technology. Trained in large scale production of steel and other metals. Trained in structural analysis. Trained in steam. Trained in the complex mechanics of the production machines of the time. They were every bit as smart as todays engineers, scientist and technicians and today’s people are not trained in that technology any more than the people of the 1800s were trained in todays technology. The technology of the 1800s would have to be relearned and relearned during a period when population, education, social order, etc. were collapsing not the period of stability and growth that they enjoyed while those people were learning their trades. I think whatever necessary knowledge of 19th century technology there is today would be lost in the chaos before it could be applied and passed on to the next generation. And that knowledge was only gained through centuries of hard work by equally smart people.
2. Agriculture has changed dramatically. Although heirloom seed producers keep some of the old breeds of seeds alive, I do not think the scale is adequate to supply the hearty seeds needed to produce even close to enough food for a moderate population using primitive methods, without modern fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Organic is great in my back yard but not good enough to rely on as a society.
3. No technological or agrarian society has ever existed without cities. Granted more people lived on farms and farming was a more predominant occupation back then but ever since the dawn of civilization cities and agriculture went hand in hand. They both need each other to survive. The cities need the farm to eat. The farm needs the cities for the economic specialization that exists there that is necessary to build the tools to farm efficiently, the governmental structures to hold territory stable enough to farm, the educational structure and the merchants to market goods.
I go back to my cross cut saw. It took mining engineers, miners, complex steam engines, rail systems, etc. to mine and transport the raw materials in the 1800s. It took a metallurgist working in a laboratory to establish the correct alloy to give the saw the strength and flexibility to be effective. It took skilled technicians to produce, form and sharpen the blade. It was then transported considerable distance somewhere through a sophisticated distribution system because the resources needed to produce the saw were extensive enough and were specialized enough that there were not plants making them in every town.
In short you needed a functioning, educated society to make that saw. If we have a functioning educated society, we will likely put our grid back together. If we do not, I do not think we will make the tools for the 19th century. I think we will be lucky to make the tools for the first century.
I believe in preparedness to supply us a buffer to make our society more “shock resistant” and buy time to recover from whatever calamity befalls us. But I do not think we can permanently turn back the clock just a few centuries. I think if the clock gets turned back, it will be millennia.
And I personally think living in a city, especially right now, is hazardous. Our cities are not resilient IMO. But history says they are necessary.
For that reason, however distasteful it is to me, we need to keep striving to keep our civilization as strong as possible through moral education, technical education, hard work and (yuck) political action to keep idiots from destroying us.
No disrespect to your position. This is just my opinion and your opinion is as valid as mine. I am just sharing mine with you. I hope and pray we do not find out who is correct.
If we had a major nuclear war I do not think the American People could rebuild for many centuries.
All the easy accessible fossil fuels that fed the Industrial Revolution are gone.
Although I do understand where you’re coming from, I find that I disagree with some of your statements. Yes, I acknowledge that the 19th century wasn’t primitive and had a level of technological sophistication. There are still people today who have learned some of these skills including blacksmiths, steam engine enthusiasts and others. There would also be plenty of raw material in the form of metals, etc left to work from as even arson and looting wouldn’t destroy all of this. The biggest problem with this is whether or not those who have these skills survive. Sadly, many who would loot, pillage, kill and destroy given the opportunity wouldn’t stop to check that the person they were killing just to get their stored supplies was useful. Not saying that anyone deserves to be killed by roving thugs but sad to say an excellent farmer who would be really needed for growing crops/raising livestock could well be killed just to gain access to his stored grain or to slaughter a cow or pig.
Organic agriculture would definitely be able to feed the country. It would be a learning curve and it would take some time to heal the soil that has become essentially sterile due to the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. Cuba experienced this when the Soviet Union dissolved and their supplies of agricultural materials ended. They had some hungry times but they learned how to grow organically large-scale. Organic is not just good for your backyard garden.
Re: cities. there’s cities and there’s cities. There are cities with under 10,000 residents and cities with 10 million. I don’t see any reason why smaller cities or towns can’t survive to some degree and eventually thrive.
“Total societal collapse is not an option IMO. Minus all out nuclear war or an earth destroying astroid it will likely continue with all it’s benefits and ugliness.”
We’re definitely never going to fix society and make America great again. The two options I see for a life not continuing as we know it are a Carrington event and an EMP war. With today’s hypersonic weapons, the risk of accidental war with China or Russia has increased exponentially. It’s no longer like in the movies where you see the submarine captain and the XO slowly pulling the launch codes out of the lock box, going through verification process, having a discussion, flipping a coin to see who gets to push the button, etc. By the time all that is done the hypersonic weapons have already hit their targets. So what’s going to happen if the military thinks they see a weapon headed our way which could possibly be a nuke or EMP bomb but is actually something else? There’s very little time to react so I can see an accidental war starting, and ending in 30 minutes.
On your comment Ani: “So if the grid went down long-term, for whatever the reason, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t go back to life as it was in the 1800’s.” I can think of a few reasons that would make it very difficult. See that beautiful little cabin in the lead photo to your article? That’s what large families lived in for most of the period you are referring to. When my grandpa took me to the house he and his 8 brothers and sisters lived in in Wyoming, I couldn’t believe that 10 people all fit in there. It couldn’t have been 50 square feet. Today, the huge houses we all live in would be very difficult to keep warm in the winter. Our families are way too small to be able to do all the physical labor required for a pre-1900’s life. Water would be very difficult because wells are much deeper now as modern society has lowered the water tables due to our 100x water consumption compared to our ancestors. Our ancestors could dig a hand well. Most of us need very deep wells nowadays which are not accessible via hand pumps let alone a bucket on a rope. The biggest problem I can see on why it would be a very hard transition to pre-1900 way of life is that we’d be as lost as our ancestors would be if they stepped into 2020. We have no clue on many of the ways they did things which were common knowledge handed down through the generations. We also lack the tools they had and in a TEOTWAWKI situation, there’s be no way to reproduce them. In the 1800’s steam engines were in common use, railroads and large ships existed running off coal, etc. I think it would be more like stepping back to the year 1000 AD, not 1776. Definitely doable, but still difficult for most.
@ St Funogas
But where is it written that we will always get to continue living as we are, all alone or with tiny families in our huge houses? Isn’t it the normalcy bias that leads us to believe that things will always be as they are now? But we prep because we know that’s not necessarily the case. So why should we assume that our housing would remain the same in a large scale long-term grid-down situation? In fact, I can guarantee you that it surely would not. We would absolutely positively be joining together with family and/or friends to live together and share the work. It takes a whole lot less effort to cut and split wood to heat one home that is housing say 4 former individual households than to heat each of those homes separately.
That we have so many homes occupied by only 1 person is unique to our current period of time. It was never like this. And yes, people had big families as the labor was needed. If one doesn’t have a big family, in a time of need I suspect people would band together out of necessity.
What you are saying is certainly the case. Something like 67% of American homes are occupied by one or two people. The only way I’d survive since I’m a lone dog would be to have family or friends move into my house to help with defense. Without that, I’d be like the character Robert Duvall plays in The Road, just me and my cat with a gunny sack over my shoulder living in a lean-to down by the river while neighbors and the roving hordes are living off my stores.
My father quite frankly did not teach me much. He did set an example of long hard hours of work but then also spent a lot of hours drinking and carousing and as a result died young and divorced from my mother. He did however teach me three things I follow pretty religiously.
1. Do not drive truck as a profession. He did quite often. I don’t and probably never will and I’m glad.
2. Don’t over tighten wheel bearings. He was referring to old tapered wheel bearings. Don’t run across them often anymore but sound advice I have followed to my benefit.
3. Never say never. Probably the most important piece of advice although the previous two were pretty good.
To say our society will never be great again is premature and presupposes this is the worst it has ever been.
History says all civilizations wax and then wane. But we have had points equally low and I would argue lower. And the moral character of the people of this nation in the past is overstated IMO. We have had some pretty ugly periods of unrighteousness all through our history and not everyone in the old days was as tough, hard working and resilient as we like to pretend. There were lots of lazy, dishonest, disgusting scoundrels in the past.
We might be done for. However I feel it equally possible the best is yet to come.
I am going to hope and fight for a better future until my dying breath. And I will also keep prepping.
I reckon some parts of the country would descend to the DArk Ages, other areas would be like the 1880s. There is no “one size fits all” here. Of course, never has been.
Witness life in Appalachia compared to Bethesda, Md, only a couple hundred miles distant.
An understanding of human nature, logic, common sense and studying history tell me that sooner or later worldwide nuclear war is inevitable. It is not if but when. With slightly less assuredness you could make the same argument for a dozen or so natural disasters that would likely result in the death of 90% of life on earth. And of course there are a double hand full or so of potential disasters that may only result in a 50% die off of all life on earth.
IMHO prepping does not guarantee you to be one of those who lives through this disaster whatever it might be. The purpose of prepping is to give you the chance of living through the initial ‘impact’ of the disaster. That could be weeks to months after which most of the people who will not make it have already died. It is at this point where your preps may be low or running out and now you must struggle and scrape to stay alive. But, depending on what the disaster was, there should be a unbelievable amount of ‘stuff’ laying around that you can use to try to survive the second phase of this situation.
The point is the preps don’t guarantee anything and they are not intended to be the sole source of survival for the rest of your life. They are just to get you past the initial and most dangerous period following the disaster.
@ One Guy
I used to think that yes, after a disaster there would be all sorts of good stuff left to salvage after the dust settled. I no longer think this is necessarily true though. Unless the disaster resulted in the immediate or near immediate death of a huge number of people leaving a relatively few number of survivors, I suspect that your basic EMP/Carrington/grid-failure/social unrest sort of disaster would result in not just the looting and plunder(and waste) of much usable stuff but also their destruction via fire. Watching the recent “protests” which resulted in not just looting of everything not tied down but also wanton destruction and arson by the crazed mobs doing this has led me to believe that this would also be the most likely scenario in a disaster. Instead of carefully preserving all useful items and materials, I suspect that crazed mobs would loot, destroy and burn whatever they could. So sadly this would result in the loss of so many irreplaceable materials, objects, food etc. Sorry to be so negative but that’s where the recent events have led me…..
I believe you are correct that if we had a disaster that killed off 80%-90% of the population that the looters and rioters would destroy 20%-30% of stuff. Leaving a mere 70% of assets for the remaining 10%-20% of those left. So there will still be more than you can use or acquire.
I have a perverse love of power outages. They’re a great time to pressure-test some of your preps and think deeply about many of the others, aren’t they?
Y2K night was the first time that I ever assembled a bug-out bag. I was in my early teens. I didn’t know the term “bug-out bag” and had no idea where we would go with it, but I felt the need to do it nonetheless.
Great reflection, Ani!
Ani, thanks for this article challenging us to think long-term. Even though I’ve been prepping for a while, we’re still only equipped for an in-between or intermediate length of time.
Off topic: Our daughter & her 6 year old foster son are w/ us this weekend (they live in a neighboring state). I gave them a few children’s Bible story books & The Action Bible (a Bible in comic book form). When the 6 year old saw The Action Bible, he asked if he could have it. He had seen one that a friend of his had & the colorful pics appealed to him. Then he turned to several stories in it, & our daughter read the stories to him. That gave me such a great feeling, to see a child want to hear God’s Word. Such a blessing.
Windstorms in the PNW are a recurring cause of extended power outages. I learned that hand-pumping and hauling water for horses daily in freezing weather was not something I could do for long. At least I’d had the foresight to install a hand pump on the well. But I never really knew intimately how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket and how many buckets were needed daily. Critters need thawed water, and lots of it, all winter. No water and they die. Something to consider.
Hey DeepCreek, thank you for the excellent real-world situation which people will experience when it’s far too late to do anything about it. Didn’t sound too romanticized pumping and hauling all that water by hand!
Here’s a cheap solution for under $500. This was just a quickie lookup, with some searching you can find something even cheaper. I’ll have something like this in place next year at this time as I move completely off grid.
Deep-well pump which runs directly off a solar panel:
300-watt Solar Panel:
Good thoughts on making the transition to long term survival. Reminds me of the 1949 classic ‘The Earth Abides’. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345487133/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_PHWKFbGRRR8XS
It covers 3 generations after a collapse and how society evolved. One thing I remember from it was how the grandkids valued silver coins only to make arrow heads, there was no other value for money.
The most important thing is to honor God in all we do. Governments and society will change but the Christian Church will survive as it has done for 2 millennia.
That’s what I love about SB “Civil Discussion” we may have differing points of view on different subjects, but, all in all, we remain CIVIL. What a difference when looking at the way the “world” works, anything but civil! I have had people in my life that say, “Ed, your not normal!” I look at the world and say “If that is normal, thanks for the compliment!”
There is a wonderful community here in the comments section.
Ani, thanks for the article. Totally agree. Most of the “stuff” that I have is meant for a rather short term event where there is either a temporary distribution of supply chains or until authorities regain control. In a complete and indefinite collapse of utilities and law enforcement, things will definitely be different and I would shift to using supplies for emergencies or a bridge to other means of survival. As for generators, I used one for two weeks after Katrina and it ate a lot of fuel. If it had not been a regional event or had I not had the means to get outside the area to refill tanks it would have been useless. As it was, I still lost all food that required refrigeration and ended up using it to run my well and a few small conveniences. I still keep the generator and plenty of fuel on hand for that purpose but once noise security became an issue that too would end.
Not only filled with thoughtful content but nicely written as well. Thank you!
Great article Ani! I agree that “green” energy is not really green. I would like to go completely off grid so I could cut the cord to the power company. I can see the use also as a transition when the grid goes down.
Hi Ani, great article, well thought out, organized, and thought provoking. This is what I call a “coffee” article: makes excellent reading with morning coffee and cinnamon rolls. Some of the dryer DIY articles (like my next one), not so much.
I spent the morning eating chorizo burritos and entertaining myself writing a 3,000 word response, but after burning a few candles and consulting with my old pal and patron saint, St. Funogas, I’ll put it in the “don’t post folder.” 🙂
“While stockpiling store-bought items such as batteries, candles, and storage foods is important… I don’t want us to lose sight of the planning, materials and skills needed to handle a grid-down situation long-term.”
Well put. I think one of the biggest areas where we fall short is in developing enough of the necessary skills for survival and instead concentrate a disproportionate portion of our prepping on food and ammo.
“And having a tested means to secure water supplies once the supply runs out is critical.”
I’m obviously one of these people: “It was clear that there is a big gap in the outlook between some of the posters and an inability to comprehend why others think as they do.” So when you use the word “tested” in the above line, that’s one of the areas where I can’t grasp other people’s thinking. We have all these preps, but too many people have just thought about, and bought things and never tested them out. As John in Nevada said so eloquently, “…discovering the hidden layers of additional actions, items, or undiscovered Avenues needed for you or your situation.” If we don’t test things out ahead of time, we’ll miss out on that huge opportunity of “discovering the hidden layers” that only actual experience can give to us. That’s the only way we can truly discover which of our ideas were brilliant and which were just totally brainless. If we do the testing ahead of time, we’ll be even further ahead since we’ll still have time to come up with a plan B and/or buy the parts and items we need to get the job done while the grid is still up. The two most worn-out phrases after TEOTWAWKI will be, “If only…” and “Darn, I sure wish I would have thought of that before the grid went down.”
TeresaSue said, “…preparing for the LONG game, not trying to replicate a “normal” lifestyle.” Amen! How can we expect to properly prepare for a grid-down existence if we continue living a normal lifestyle (and expect to replicate it later) without biting the bullet for a few weeks or a month, creating our own grid-down situation by shutting off the electric meter and telling a good friend not to give us the car keys back for a month no matter how much we beg, crawl, and bribe? That would be the single best experience for each of us in our prepping in order to have the “tested means” you referred to, to find the “hidden layers” John in Nevada referred to, and the experience Lone Canadian mentioned. But I know, it’s way too inconvenient to do that.
My one big disagreement was: “Thus, my considerations on and determination to know how to live without any grid, fossil fuel or alternative energy sources long-term.” Agreed, we have no control over the grid. For sure, we have no way to make fossil fuels (though we can make other types of fuel such as moonshine and biogas), but on the third item, I disagree. We have all the control in the world over obtaining, right now, alternative energy sources that will still be working long after most survivors have gone on to their reward. Preppers need to look at probabilities and quit wasting their time worrying about the highly improbable things that MAY happen. As I’ve said before, why would someone want to cut firewood by hand (which very few people will ever be able to cut enough of), go down to the creek in December, chip the ice off, bring water back to the house in a bucket, and make 20 trips, when they could flip a switch on their well pump which is running directly off $300 worth of solar panels, no batteries needed? Candles and kerosene will run out long before two marine batteries which are as easy to charge as a cell phone and can provide lighting for a heck of a long time if LED bulbs are used. People who don’t invest in solar panels for a TEOTWAWKI situation should go shut their electricity for a month, get all their water and firewood by hand, live without lighting to simulate when their candles and kerosene run out, so they can find out just how romantic it is. 98% of them would reconsider getting some solar panels/solar generator long before the month was up. All the reasons not to are based on false premises and romanticized ideas on what a real TEOTWAWKI is going to be like. How many preppers have 10+ guns when they can only shoot one at a time and only need so many for backups, but don’t spend any money on alternate energy systems which cost less than an AR-15? On what planet would that make any sense??? In my mind it’s way out of balance and is like having 2,000 pounds of beans in your food storage but only ten pounds of rice, wheat, and corn, and two cases of mason jars. Guns are great for defense but you won’t be getting any food with them after the first 30 days and they won’t provide water, lighting, or charge chainsaw batteries.
Last time I asked the question, “Why would you want to do that instead of just flipping a switch to get water?” there were lots of responses, but nobody actually answered the question, “Why would you WANT to?”
I agree with St Funogas — I suggest people actually try cutting down trees with an axe , sawing trunks into stove sized stumps and then splitting them with a maul and sledge hammer. It isn’t easy.
During the year long Transition Period after a TEOTWAWKI event, we will need all the TIME and energy we can summon. You don’t want to stay up at night standing guard or fighting hostiles if you are exhausted from trying to cut firewood all day. Note that the firewood will need months to dry out.
I suspect people will dispense with wood stoves and improvise — build a stone wall in their house that lets them burn logs six foot long and 1 foot thick with the heat reflected out into the room. With a overhang to catch the smoke and funnel it outside. Look at medieval fireplaces.
One advantage of a decent sized town is that someone may be able to build a water mill to operate a big saw blade. But you need to get big saw blades somehow.
Plus a horse or two to drag the logs to the mill and carry the firewood to the houses in wagons.
Hey Don, I’m sitting here getting a good chuckle over the major “Duh!” moment I just had. It took me 15 years to put two and two together but it just happened when I read your comment. 🙂
First point: When I used to do a lot of backpacking back in high school and college, we soon figured out we could spend a lot of time running back and forth between the woods and our campfire carrying small pieces of firewood, or, we could drag back the biggest log we could manage and put the center of it in the fire so both ends were hanging out. After a while, the fire burned it in two and then we’d take each smaller half and put the center of those in the fire and keep repeating that until there were just the last two pieces of the big log. We do the same thing when we’re burning large branches in the burn pile don’t we? Why cut them in half when the fire can do it for us?
Point two: One of my sons and I were at Williamsburg fifteen years ago and we were marveling at how huge all the fireplaces were. The guide joked that they were walk-in fireplaces and my son said they were more like drive-in fireplaces they were so huge. I thought it was so they could have easier access since they not only heated the house but also did much of their cooking there. But I think you are correct, they likely used much longer firewood and let the fire cut it in half before moving the pieces to the center, or just put one end in and keep moving it forward as it burns. And I can imagine Indians in their teepees and lodges doing the same thing like you said.
This is a prime example of not being able to think of the obvious because of normalcy bias and not thinking out of the box (“firewood is normally 16 inches long so it will fit in the woodstove,” and “fireplaces lose too much heat up the chimney so gotta have a wood stove.”) I have a backup blower for my current wood stove. I have a backup woodstove in my shop but I didn’t take it to the next level and think about ALL the possibilities like Ani’s article pointed out. As several have mentioned today, that first year after the SHTF we have our prep supplies to keep us going while we’re coming up with new ways to do the things we hadn’t thought of beforehand. I probably never would have thought of burning long logs until you mentioned it so I could prepare ahead of time. But in that first year as I was worrying that my woodpile was getting low, I would have finally had the “Duh!” moment remembering my backpacking days, and then said, “Darn, I wish I had thought of a large log-burning fireplace before the grid went down. I could have laid a foundation for a large fireplace and bought some cement powder so I could use all these rocks around here to build a fireplace. Now I’ll have to use clay mud to build it.” I have the location, could easily modify the wall in my living room, and I’ve done a little masonry work, so just for fun I’m going to design it all out on paper.
Thanks for helping me put two and two together. 🙂
@ St Funogas
You might like a story written by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. It was titled “The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail” — it was a section in Heinlein’s book “Time Enough For Love”.
I don’t see a copy online but this guy gives an overview of the story:
PS I wonder how the Indians managed to get firewood — probably dragged logs /big branchs to their longhouses and fed the end in few feet at a time while having a roof opening to let the smoke out.
One thing I noticed in very old farmhouses here in Pennsylvania is that a lot of cooking was done outdoors in covered sheds, not in the house. See , for example, George Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge National Park. That also allows cooking for large groups of people.
Having a separate kitchen house (there’s a book by that name) is also a protection against fire hazards. Even today cooking is a major cause of house fires. A fire in the separate kitchen would not endanger the residence.
Hello Don, Your Question,” I wonder how the Indians managed to get firewood”. My grandad reflected on stories from his dad on the history of the Indians in our region. They would move down from the higher mountain elevations (8500 feet) to the lower valley meadows (5300 feet) in the fall, and would camp along the river. There is always plenty of washed out trees and driftwood built up in the river bends from the spring runoff. Most of the deer and elk move down also.–I have to chuckle at a few Jeremiah Johnson wannabe’s I have encountered thru the years with the plan “If things ever get real bad, I’m just going high into the mountains and live like a mountain man”—Learning from my ancestors, I live 1/4 mile from that river.
And only us crazy people today remain here in the winter. The Indians who lived here definitely didn’t remain in Northern VT for the winter. They were snowbirds too, just like the people here who flee to FL every winter! Makes total sense to me; just heating a modern-day insulated well built house in the winter here, if you had to cut all of the wood by hand………
@ St Funogas
I will respectfully request that you read my article again. In it I talked about why I don’t think depending long-term on alternative energy is a sound strategy. Stuff breaks, period. Battery banks have to be replaced. I lived with a system for nearly 2 decades and although it worked well, it wouldn’t have provided that period of service without the ability to buy more parts, get the wind-gen innards replaced and purchase and install several battery banks. That’s why I don’t want to depend on it long-term. So if “flipping a switch to get water” ceased to be a possibility, I’d want to know that I had other ways, several of them, to do so.
Hi Ani, I didn’t misread the article. My point was no different than yours, we can’t depend on anything long term, we need to have other options. The main point I was trying to make is that too few people who won’t have easy or reliable access to water when the grid goes down are considering solar pumps wired directly to a solar panel as their first option.
Too many people are scared away from solar because they complicate the heck out of it in their minds. The whole battery thing alone probably scares most people away. I know your experience wasn’t the best but your system was way more complicated than it needed to be for someone living a post-TEOTWAWKI lifestyle so IMO it’s not the best comparison. If you had it for 20 years then it also wasn’t the most up-to-date technology. Another point I was trying to make is that we spend a ton of money on beans and bullets, which will run out some day, but we don’t give the same consideration to alternate-energy systems just because they’ll quit working some day. Yes, they will cease functioning at some point just like food. But in all probability, they’ll last a very long time if we keep it simple, much longer than our stored food. As Lone Canadian pointed out, even if they only last the first year, that gives us more time to figure out how to transition to the next phase. The probabilities say they’ll last a heckuva lot longer than that. I wasn’t referring to having a huge battery set, or anything remotely similar to what people have today so they can maintain their normal lifestyle. With solar panels lasting 25 years and more, and two backup water pumps in addition to the current one, that’s going to run for a long time. No batteries, one moving part, highly probable to last a long, long time. Every other system for getting water involves a lot of time and human energy (which is supplied by scarce food resources.) By next year I will eventually have the water pump system I mentioned in addition to a large rain catchment system to take advantage of the tons of rain I receive. But even rainwater is difficult to deal with and must be treated for everything except watering gardens and flushing toilets. You can’t even shower with it unless it’s treated or you’ll get microbes in your mouth and other bodily orifices. Filters are great but they only last so long and then what? Boiling takes a lot of fuel and is impractical. Making a solar condenser has the same problem. They’re both doable and people should have that knowledge as part of their preps, but a solar water pump running directly off solar panels, and backup pumps are hands down the most efficient and reliable way to get water unless you have a spring in the back yard. So why not take advantage of it as our first source, then have other backup plans to fall back on if something happens to our “just flip a switch” option?
I totally agree with you that we shouldn’t depend on anything long term and we need to have as many options as possible. But on a scale of 1-10 for both ease and durability, a spring in your backyard which is plumbed to your house is a 10, solar panel hooked directly to a pump is a 9, hand pump is a 5, rainwater is a 3 and everything else is a 1. More preppers should understand that and realize how simple solar panels and pumps can be, and IMO are far more important, and cheaper, than buying that 3rd AR-15 to add to the collection.
Since water is the most important resource needed by humans aside from air, it would be nice to see an article on the 10 best ways to obtain water for a post-TEOTWAWKI situation. I have three ways to provide it without leaving my property, it would be fun to see a discussion on all the possible ways with a chart showing how many gallons per day each method could provide.
@ St Funogas
My off-grid system was as simple as they come. Truly it was. I don’t understand your objection that as I had it for nearly 20 years it wasn’t “the most up-to-date technology”. In a TEOTWAWKI situation of widespread long-term grid-down, do you really suppose you’re going to be be upgrading your system regularly with the latest tech?
I’d totally shower with rainwater etc and have zero concern about microbes invading my “orifices”! Don’t you ever go into a pond, lake or river? Talk about microbes! 😉
Water is very important. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Yes, a gravity feed spring is ideal; had that on my farm. There evidently are two springs here at my new place; one above the house that supposedly goes dry every summer and one lower down that I don’t think would be gravity feed to the house but would be to the gardens. I’m going to be checking them out further. Both would need to be cleaned out and have some rebuilding done. The one that would be gravity feed is on my neighbors land but is deeded to my land; no pipeline in place from what I know.
There’s also other alternatives I’m looking at including a device that you use to pump the well by hand and send it to your pressure tank. I just had a metal roof installed and am trying to get gutters as well which I would use to supply a rainwater catchment system. Plus there’s a large surface water body nearby. Basically I’m exploring all alternatives that don’t require the use of PV (or a generator). But that’s me and I’ve explained why I think as I do and why my thinking has changed from when I first installed solar at my former home. We can agree to disagree!
“There’s also other alternatives I’m looking at including a device that you use to pump the well by hand and send it to your pressure tank.”
If you have a link to that, I’d be interested in checking it out. Even though I can’t hand pump water out of the ground here, I already pump it into a 250 gallon tank and if there was a way to use a hand pump to pressurize the system using my current pressure tank, that would be great. One of the few things keeping me from moving off grid just yet is a way to pressurize the water without using the high horsepower motor I currently have. One option is to use a small pump to pump it into a higher tank and let gravity do the job, but that has a lot of drawbacks.
I wasn’t trying to insult your PV system, I was merely saying if you had it for 20 years then it was 20 years out of date and past its peak performance. Technology changes and a solar panel the dimensions of your old ones would now generate twice as much electricity. Inverters and batteries have also improved. My system is currently 7 years out of date. By simple, I mean solar panels, tiny inverter, no large battery bank like the majority of systems have, and running the main things like pumps directly off the solar panels with no batteries required. I don’t plan on starting out with anything fancier than two maintenance-free marine batteries since I already use abnormally low amounts of electricity. This month I’m on track to use less than 60 kWh. If I get rid of my computer and convert to a laptop for internet, writing, and DVD watching, that cuts me way back and if I get rid of my fridge, which is a fairly new invention and a luxury, then I’m down in the 10-20 kWh neighborhood. I don’t need a huge battery bank for that.
A friend of a friend just showed me his rainwater harvesting system and it’s another item on my list, mainly for the garden right now and a good backup good backup for household water later. I calculated that I can get 60,000 gallons per year. If only I could afford a tank to maximize how much I could store.
My main concern about showering with rainwater would be at those times of year when the water has been sitting long enough to get stagnant. In my area, summer rainfall is scarce and that’s when I need to shower the most. Lakes and rivers have very low bacteria counts and mosquito wigglers compared to stagnant water. I pass my rain barrel dozens of times each day as I’m going about my chores, and after a long dry period, the water isn’t very healthy looking or smelling. I’ll be looking at ways to prefilter the water before it arrives in the tank but that won’t remove all the potential problems. I haven’t started my research yet but there should be lots of tips here on SB and the new archive stick is less than three months away… if the grid is still up by then. 🙂
You’re lucky to have springs on your property, I’d love to have one. it would be a fun project to develop it into a home water system.
Best wishes and thanks again for the very thought-provoking article.
She may be referring to the Simple Pump. I have one in my well. The outlet is connected by a short hose to the drain on my pressure tank. To use it, you open the drain valve and start pumping. I know it works well. Soon after it was installed, we had a problem with the well pump and the pressure tank was low from using some water before we knew there was a problem . My wife needed to shower for work, so I pumped up the pressure tank enough for her to shower. (She does use much less water than I do) It took a little bit of pumping, but I was able to get the pressure up high enough for her to shower. They also have a conversion kit to replace the handle with a solar powered motor.
What a beautifully written article. Thank you.
I’m so happy, now that the temps have dropped into the teens, to have my new wood stove with a cooktop. I’ve been practicing this month and a little last month, getting the fire just right, enough to warm the cabin without causing me to sweat!, keeping it going, etc. LOL. I’ve only had big fireplaces and never a little stove like this. It’s a Jotul and a little powerhouse! Once I get a fire lit in the morning, I turn off the electric heat. I am still running the electric heat at night, but should the electricity go out, I will close off the part of the cabin that isn’t in use and no danger of pipes freezing, so I can tend the fire at night. I’m building a skill, even though it’s just one of many skills I need.
Today I’m sipping on the most amazing butternut squash soup from 2 squashes that were grown locally. I started my squashes too late in our short season this year, so had to buy (saving the seeds!) I have yet to try cooking on the wood stove cook top. I have the cast iron, but I’m a little hesitant. It will be fun experimenting at the same time developing a skill. Once you start down this road of learning self-sufficiency, you can either stress out, throw up your hands and cry, or you can laugh and say, “what fun thing can I learn today?” I’m going to try making a potato soup from instant potatoes, just for fun. I did not get enough potatoes put up this year so I purchased instant. I realize that being a PollyAnna will only go so far, but for now, it’s much more pleasant.
Love this community!
Ani,,,,,,,,,,,,,,well done ,,,,, off grid 40+years ,use to be land with no grid was cheep , when I started out we had to make our own components ,my first inverter was something I built , it had about a 40% efficiently,but it worked ,and still dose ,made my first solar panel cells too ,, first panel was all of 8 to 10 watts,big and clunky but it worked and still dose ,
I no longer use that kind of solar ,except for hot fences ,,a much better system is growing canola for oil. The original solar is a plant harvesting the sun ,1acre of canola will produce about 200 gal of oil ,that will run a diesel engine. On my little one cylinder with a 35amp alt ,running 24/7 will last two to three months,,day and night ,,,,with the right battery bank and new inverter system ,,lights and well pump and freezerare coverd ,
What does the future hold? Great advances have made in small thorum molten salt reactors in the 5 to 50 kw range ,at this point to build and operate one things are a bit touchy with government , I know of a good design that can be built and running for under 5k ,fuel cost ,thorum ,is about 10 dollars for a ten year supply
This technology is here now ,and it’s day will come. What’s it going to take to see that ? ,follow the money ?? I learned about it 45 years ago, it was allready proven back in the 1950s
The Oak ridge national laboratory did most of but not all of the work ,work has continued in peoples barns and garages with little talk about it ,i find it interesting trying to explain to a gov type that has a degree in basket weaving, what’s safe and why and how things work , I have a PHD in nuclear engineering ,i at one time lived ,and slept and ate nuclear
Cheep engery is the modern day slave
Tea and chocolate
Hey Oldhomesteader, it would be great for you to write some articles on your canola growing and processing, your 1-cylinder diesel engine, and the thorium salt reactor.
Since you’re an engineer, I have a question you can probably answer that I can’t find an answer to on the internet: In a heat exchanger, is a graph of the efficiency a straight line or curved as the ΔT decreases? It seems like it should be a straight line but in one of my current projects it seems to be curved.
St Funogas ,,,,what heat transfer medium,
St,Funogas ,,,,,,, tell me more ,I have preconceved thoughts , but to reply on that would be a mistake ,don’t you have nuclear background?navy? If so we have chat group ,
Veg oil is low Tec , have drove thousands of miles on it ,dodge 5.9 , the little gen set has a Italian one cylinder lamborgh something ,tryed China diesel engines would not hold up ,
I’m in the process of getting rid of most of the solar panels , had over 5kw at one point , have 5 water heater panels and heat exchanger will be next to go too ,much slimper to run a low voltage d c heat element in common electric tank.
Hey oldhomesteader, thanks for the reply. My family is mostly military but I never joined up and had to see the world via thumb instead. No nuclear background either but I did help build a commercial geothermal heat exchanger and then worked with it for 10 years. \
My question was because I have a solar water heater in a black box which averages 140° ambient temperature, plus the direct sunlight on the black tubes. The water goes from 80° to 100° pretty quickly, then seems to slow down and takes longer to get to 120°. I could be from the changing sun angle as the day progresses but thought perhaps the graph was curved instead of linear which would explain some of the difference.
I’ve been looking into a DC element like you have for wintertime use. Any specific recommendations?
@ St Funogas
Could be wrong, but doesn’t heat transfer from high to low occur quicker the greater the difference in ambient temperatures? So the difference between 140 and 80 degrees would lead to a faster transfer of heat(from high to low of course) but as the difference between 140 and 100 is less, it would slow down?
Hi Ani, when you put it in those terms, that makes sense. When I think about putting a jar full of hot water in a snowbank, and a similar jar on the counter, for sure the one in the snowbank is going to cool off more quickly. So you are most likely correct that the same effect would happen on the other side of the scale when heating things up. If I can just figure to how to quantify that, I’d be a happy camper! At least I can refine my googling now to try to find a more precise answer on how to quantify it. Thanks for the input. 🙂
The short answer to your question is no, it’s not linear.
@ oldhomesteader …you have me scrambling for reference materials, again. Don’t think thorum molten salt reactor is in the old world book encyclopedia…Will have to check. Interesting for sure…your kind of knowing will keep our world from sinking to the lowest denominator in a long term crisis, stay safe please for more tea and chocolate!
You, Saint and Ani are making my brain hurt as I try to reference your back and forth…better than any science class for sure!
1) Excellent article; displaying positive critical thinking skills
2) ….and then what?…: this game is played by every iteration in the US Army War College and other PME (professional military education) schools (I used it in my classroom at a DoD school)
3) How Then Shall We Live? Excellent idea here and cogently (doctrinally/religiously) explored by Francis Schaeffer:
One thing that might shed some light on this line of thinking is the excellent video on Agafia…who lives to this day in the Taiga in Siberia. You can find links to vids of her on vimeo or yootuube
An exercise in living with less or one could say the minimum. The lesson was how many working hours she would expend just to maintain survival…..She would mention how difficult it was to keep going and that everything would just wear out. Saws axes mauls, clothing pots pans silverware, everything.
I do not know how her life could have been more simplified. Watching her exist solo in -40 and has done so for her entire life(with minor exceptions)
Her family( known as old christians) fled during the bolshevik revolution.
The story of how her mother died of self imposed starvation to make sure her children had enough to eat and how a summer frost killed off their wheat field and how they nursed the few surviving stalks of wheat as seed stock for the following year is harrowing.
In your article you mentioned stocking up on chainsaw oil. I have a Stihl chainsaw that I bought four years ago. I used it to cut up 10 trees that were felled by a major wind storm that blew some of my smaller trees down. I bought a small 1 quart fuel can for it that is pure gasoline (93 octane). I cant find that particular fuel ANYWHERE. . .Ive been to big box stores small mom and pop stores and chain Hardware stores. Ive even tried to call the 1-800 number on the Stihl website. The tech manning the website either dont know what im talking about or the site is manned by bots. My question is this: Can I put straight gasoline into my chainsaw? There is a gas station down the highway that sells 100 Octane gasoline, I thought if I mix 8t octane the resulting octane number will be about 93 octane. Does anyone have any real knowledge regarding these things? I need to fell som broken branches that are potential “widowmakers” and I dont want to burn the motor out on this model as it was VERY expensive when I bought it.
This may help
An alternative to splitting wood by hydraulics or pounding with an axe or splitter with a sledge is to modify a farm jack, same as the brand name ones used for offroad jacking. Have a splitter welded to a short extention rod or pipe and attach to top of vertical lift bar. Put the wood between lift stub and splitter attachment and jack the handle. Split wood easily this way.
Maybe you can take pics and write a how-to article if you’ve done this? Or build one for an article? A lot of us live in the frozen north!
Ani! This is an excellent article. I so enjoyed it, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Our own preparedness strategy is phased across a time horizon. We think about what we need for the first few hours, the first days, the first weeks, the coming months, and how we will survive across any number of years. We are constantly working to apply these varying time lines to our other preps. One of the conclusions we’ve drawn is that our focus for the long haul must be low tech — as in truly primitive low-tech living strategies. This turns out to be a greater challenge than one might imagine given all the ways in which we rely on all kinds of technology in day to day life — even as preppers with many years of preparedness living behind us!
Also! Loved this line from your article especially much… “Plus, the light of the candles always makes me feel at peace in a way that any electric light, no matter where on the color spectrum it falls, cannot.”
…still coming to the party late.
Wow…Just WOW! Well done Ani…you have brought an unspoken consideration we all have had rolling around the back of our minds in one form or another. (Different minds, different questions, considerations, situations, families and thoughts that were not even fleshed out before possibly.) “What comes next?” THANK you for doing that for this special community.
Your position of minimal modern-day amenities is where my mind takes ME when considering my next preparation for any crisis, seen or unseen, rolling down the road towards us. This has multiple reasons in my situation…DH has been reluctantly joining a preparation mindset so it has been an uphill slog at times…minimal funds…AND one of my major concerns, NOT appearing to have something that would make us a target. So a large share of preparation for any crisis has been the advantages of skills, attitude and mindset. Is it enough?
This past August when the derecho blew through our area, it did us the kind service of promoting a “pressure-test” of our ability to live off grid using the preparation supplies, knowledge and mindset we had. (Great phrase ADC!!!) It showed us unexpected gaps that we needed to address after “thinking deeply”(another good one ADC) on the month and a half recovery to initial damage. There are changes in the heartland that will take decades to mitigate though.
One recent prep i am recovering from is a knee replacement. During the intensive and exhaustive work following the storm, it was made abundantly clear that my physical limitation could be a life or death issue. Or, at the very least, make the physical demands overwhelming when food, water and wood collection would be daily necessities. (Was definitely blessed to have the timing ahead of the election when it was not planned until 2 months ago!) I have just NOW realized it will improve my quality of life greatly in a normal setting TOO…woohoo!!!
@Don Williams…you are ABSOLUTELY correct!!! We WILL need to save all the energy we can WHEREVER we can. Wood harvesting, food and water procurement/preparation is so labor intensive! I had not realized the serious mental and emotional drain when new and labor intensive “normals” are foisted on one. I was actually approaching the off grid practice with a positive mindset so it was truly surprising to me. We quickly learned to be kind to ourselves throughout the day as it was a needed motivator to out mental and emotional health!
@Saint…your comments have nudged my thoughts into several directions as usual! One of the big takeaways keeps coming around…make life as easy as one can in ANY crisis. (That’s why any of us prepare for unexpecteds…why not be MORE prepared if we can be?) AND PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!! i can see being around you would be beneficial, enlightening AND frustrating possibly…but good. THANK YOU for always pushing us all!
So many GREAT comments but if i go back to comb through them all, i will be timed out and give up posting my comment. So i will close by saying THANK YOU to A.L and J.W.R. for providing and PROMOTING a civil discourse here with such a diverse spectrum of people. (Looking forward to the Saturday progress report to read yet!) And thanks to ALL who gather here and share…kindly…
Ani – I’ve been playing catch-up and so I’m quite a bit late in replying ….but wanted to compliment you on your article. Well done and a lot of food for thought as we all ponder what are options are or may be.