There are many considerations when worrying about a “grid down” situation. Here are some thoughts worth considering:
“Black Friday” is coming shortly, so you might want to make a wish list and maybe even store it in the “saved for later” section of your Amazon shopping cart; you will get a notification for price changes. Sometimes an item will drop 30% for a sale or no known reason. Do the same with your “prepper wish list” but also have a budget and price point in mind. If things fall apart soon, this might be a last chance to stock up.
Although a basic solar outfit is good, after the basic setup where you can keep your basic devices charged. Just remember that your Internet and cell phone are likely to be down, if not immediately then after a few days, when their backup generators go out.
I have been investing in batteries first. I’ve found a surplus/used source for very large (250Ah 8A8D pulled from equipment) batteries very economically (~$1/Ah). Each one of these can last one day, if I don’t unplug anything, and I can keep them trickle charged with inexpensive grid electricity. My current PV setup would take several days to charge them, but I’m going to be adding. It would be several days, if it was sunny and even longer if it was cloudy. With more batteries, You can get by more days without a recharge. Evaluate carefully if you should get another solar panel or another battery. Another battery might get you another day or two, whereas a PV panel might just top off what you have.
I’ve already mentioned Amazon, but Newegg has both NewEggFlash and Shell Shockers, where there are very deep discounts. You can get Lithium power bricks to keep your laptop going for a long while or to keep your phone or tablet up even longer. I’ll add sportsmansguide.com as another economical source, and they have lots of personal defense, prepper, clothing, and other things. Harbor Freight has coupons and lots of discounted tools. There are many other daily bargains or loss-leader specials, so subscribe to them.
You need to top off lithium power packs at least once a month, if not more often. I have plenty to keep my 5v USB devices going before I start with the car chargers for the main batteries.
The worst time will be winter with short days, so you won’t be able to recharge as quickly. That leads to another problem, which is how do you heat your house and water? In a grid-down situation, every battery watt is precious, so you won’t want to use them just for heat. Therefore, you should find some alternative sources, because you probably don’t have a fireplace in every room or even a roof exhaust if you wanted to put a pot belly stove in. Do you have some other source to heat food, or should you go cold?
One of the reasons I have a freeze dryer (Harvest Right, which is an advertiser and has reviews on Survivalblog.com) is that I pay for the electricity once and don’t have to throw out anything because it has become spoiled or stale. It might seem expensive, but I can buy in bulk and on sale (and fresh and local during the growing season!), and then put bags of food in an opaque bucket (and a cool, dry place is best), and that food doesn’t require one more watt of electricity. I can tell from Amazon what is “frequently bought with” the vacuum pump oil– oxygen absorbers, which I don’t plan to use unless I need to really extend the life. I can eat most things without re-hydrating them, and I can use warm or hot water for those that are best served hot and re-hydrated. You can also buy freeze-dried food, if that would be better in your situation, since my main point is they need little or no energy to eat. However, this “no-electricity required” food won’t be true of many things in your refrigerator or freezer. It might be best to keep these appliances closed, or at least pay a thought to how much energy they will need to preserve the temperatures and/or if you can cook and consume the contents, if the grid go down.
Pick a winter weekend and try going grid down, and see if you have enough of the right clothes (wicking, breathable, layered, high or low activity as whatever you wear for the snow mobile or working outside might not work for long periods inside), furniture, bedding, alternate heat sources to go two nights without electrical heat, and so forth. You might want to try a camp-out in your living room. One thing to worry about is water, since if pipes freeze, they often burst, so in a grid down situation, you need to either keep the pipes above freezing or drain them. You can use your circuit breakers to keep your refrigerator or other things on, but you should do an honest test. “Rinse, lather, and repeat” until you feel comfortable camping-in for weeks.
Solar water heating is less expensive than solar cells, so it might provide some warmth, and a large solar-cooker might even boil water (think hot water bottle). However, one thing often forgotten is that water itself has a high specific heat, which is the fancy way of saying you need to put a lot of energy in (or take a lot of energy out) of water to make it change one degree. Put differently, a metal cube much warmer than the same mass of water it is dropped into will end up with the water being only slightly warmer, with the metal cube the same temperature. One old trick for root cellars was to put large tubs of water on the ground; there are tanks and livestock tubs and even pools or inflatables filled with water. If it is black, it will heat in sunlight.) A second thing about water is that it takes a lot of energy removed before, at 32 degrees, water will become ice. You see this with those reusable heating pads with a clicker. Hit the clicker and the liquid crystallizes, and it gets a lot warmer. That is “latent heat of fusion”; it gets hot because going from liquid to freezing releases energy– heat. Water does the same thing. If you have canned things, the salt, sugar, and other things in the watery part will make its freezing temperature lower than 32F, so the tub will have to get down to freezing and then freeze first. This is also why you might want to heat water and use it in something like a “hot water bottle”. It will keep you warm, though if open to the air, cold areas will get fogged. I haven’t tried using a heat-sealer on a 3 mil, large, black, trash bag filled with water, but that is another idea. You need to try these things now and have to reframe your mind into conserving warmth.
One of the reasons I moved out here is for the fresh air, so I don’t normally want to seal the windows up. You still have indoor pollutants or just odors, if you seal up your house too tightly, but you might want to keep some blue tape and mylar or other plastic to seal the windows around as well as something for a door frame. If you have or can get a thermal camera (there are inexpensive ones that attach to cell phones, or even handhelds by Seek Thermal), you can find the areas you will need to seal, where the inside looks cold or the outside looks hot. You might want to seal up just the bedroom to stay warm overnight but leave things a bit leaky, even if it means you will have to eat to replace calories your body burns for heat.
You want things to break before TEOTWAWKI, not after. You want to be able to switch things back on, if something breaks, instead of having to scramble. (I wonder about digital locks.) Can you get places, if your car doesn’t run? How? Bicycles, especially mountain bikes, are very effective in increasing your day range, though the prices and capabilities vary. Do you have snow shoes for your family?
Although eventually the spring will come, it will be better if you don’t suffer but thrive during the winter. The banal, the common, the ordinary disaster is the one you are likely to face. There were wildfires recently. The worse grid down was from an ice storm many years ago, for two weeks (and I was in the city)! For all the prepping, has anyone thought “If only I created a firebreak”, or “if only I set a backfire”, I wouldn’t have had to bug-out? Evaluate the threats realistically, starting with what has historically happened (and check the Native American oral history). Consider fires, floods, ice storms, blizzards, and high winds. Then consider logistics. How much do you need things that are shipped from long distances or if necessary to get to them. If you need special medicine, the local pharmacy won’t have a long-term supply. See what you can do to improve your health so you won’t need them. Then consider the less likely disasters, such as Cascadia’s Fault, Yellowstone Volcano, Solar flares, EMP, or foreign invasion or attack.
While preparing like Joseph, the patriarch, for the seven lean years, remember the duty during the seven fat years. Look to the local government. The zoning board or city council. If you don’t have a decent, constitutional sheriff, run yourself or get with your fellow constitutionalist preppers and find someone to be sheriff, county commissioner, dog catcher, state senator, or representative. Agenda 21/2030 can only invade into a vacuum. Better to prevent cheaply than to cure dearly. Also while prepping, remember to save a bit extra for your pastors and those who can’t spend all their time prepping because they are busy protecting and serving so that you are free to prep.
Get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in charity and gratitude. You know God and are under his providence and protection. Too many aren’t. And look forward to a holy Christmas, where we can give and appreciate gifts given as God gave his only son.