What I Learned From the Recent Power Outage – Part 1, by A.K.

As I related in a previous article, I’ve been a “nomad” for the past couple of years since selling my home and taking off to travel, volunteer etc. This has resulted in my living in a whole lot of places, some in the US and some overseas. I’ve spent time camping in the US and time living in an urban apartment overseas in an area subject to earthquakes/tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and missiles. Add to that just ordinary homes of all kinds, from suburban sorts to urban apartments in the US. Much of this has involved pet-sitting so I might reside in these places anywhere from a few days to a month or more. So what’s a prepper to do?

My ability to “prep” in a normal fashion and to a level that I’d prefer hasn’t been possible the past few years due to living in other people’s homes and being so mobile. When I’ve had the use of my car (here in the US) I’ve been able to take more stuff with me but still, it’s a small hatchback so it’s limited. I’m pretty much dependent to a large degree on what other people have in their homes to weather disasters. It ain’t a pretty picture I can tell you after having lived in well over 50 places the past few years. Still, I tried to do my best given the limited circumstances.

Even overseas in an all-electric apartment I stored some water, food, had flashlights, a small rocket camping stove etc. That wasn’t a great situation, especially in terms of water as at least half the year there is no rain and there are no natural water sources in the area that aren’t salt water. At least heat wasn’t needed to survive; I never used any while living there, even in the winter. There were frequent power outages there but usually no longer than 4 or 5 hours; evidently there were a lot of bad drivers who would regularly crash into traffic light poles which necessitated shutting down power to the area to do the repairs.

But now that I’m back in the US, house hunting and continuing to stay in different homes while pet-sitting. It’s been eye-opening to consider the sort of “preps” that people in these homes have done in terms of any sort of preparedness for an emergency. This is interesting (I think) as it points out to me both the issues to be found while traveling if one is a committed prepper plus where the preparedness gaps are for others. As well, what do I learn from this that I can do better in my own home when I find it? And what should/can I improve in my own preps while traveling?

For starters, I noticed zero water storage. All of these homes (except one) had domestic water supplies, whether public or drilled well, that were dependent on grid electricity. I own a mini-Sawyer water filter but don’t always remember to take it with me along with a water bottle or two; zero points for me! There’s really no excuse given how small it is to not have it with me at all times; need to go find it in my storage shed. Or maybe I should just buy another one that travels with me? [JWR Adds: Unless you live in the tropics, water filters should always be stored indoors–not in an unheated outbuilding or in your parked vehicles. If they freeze, they can develop internal fractures that allow unfiltered water to pass through!]

Heating is a big concern here in the far north. I only found wood stoves in the north country and not down in say North Carolina; there they were totally dependent on grid power for heat. Until my present house sit, which I’ll get to in a minute, none of the homes, even rural Northern ones, had wood stoves capable of heating the whole house or keeping pipes from freezing if the power were off for a while in the winter.

Cooking

What about cooking? A few had gas stoves but most were electric. Again, I own both a small propane single-burner propane cookstove as well as a small camping rocket stove but both are now stored in my storage unit(and the propane at a friend’s house). I really should at least take the rocket stove with me; it will burn quite well with just handfuls of kindling. As for the homeowners, not being able to even heat up water to make a hot drink let alone cooking during a power outage wouldn’t be a lot of fun. And since I’m staying in these homes, I really should prepare better for this.

What about sewage? That really varied from house to house. Some were tied into city sewer systems and would work for a while until they didn’t. Others were on septic systems and would function well during a power failure. Thankfully none were pumped mound systems.

Food Storage

How about food? When I’m housesitting, the bulk of the food supply belongs to the homeowner and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t consider touching it. I bring my own food along with me and purchase more as needed. Again, I’m pretty limited as to what I can reasonably haul around with me. Not gonna realistically haul 5 gallon buckets of wheat and rice everywhere I go. As well, it’s below freezing now(and earlier was very hot and sunny) so that puts a limit on how much I can haul with me in my car that I could leave in there as canned/bottled products won’t do well in either an overheated car nor in freezing temps and the rapid temperature changes would be harmful to stored food.

I try to bring things with me that are easy to prepare and pack some calories; peanut butter and jam, bread, Nutella, pasta, rice, canned beans, tuna, oatmeal packets, sugar and coffee etc. I purchase fruit and veggies as well as dairy products as needed. Again, this is far below what I’d want to have around in an emergency situation but given that I’m sort of hauling my house with me like a turtle, I do the best I can. If I used the freeze-dried #10 cans of food that are sold that would probably be a great idea; I don’t but for others they would probably be a good way to have access to lightweight very portable food.

So what did I see in terms of food storage? Everyone at least had some food put away. No one, so far as I could tell, had actual serious quantities such as 5 gallon pails of oats or beans etc. Of course I refrained from any real snooping so there could have been stuff squirreled away that I didn’t see and barring a disaster wouldn’t have gone looking for; I’m really cognizant of this being someone else’s home and try to be respectful. But at least these people had more than just soy sauce packets and two beers in the fridge! In an emergency they(or I) would have had enough to eat for a while(at least several weeks). Some did better with this than others. Some also had fully stocked(stuffed full) freezers that after several days without power would have been a disaster. I’m not sure any of these people had a way to pressure can the contents of the freezer and those who had all-electric kitchens couldn’t have done any canning anyway.

Other Supplies

What else? Some were definitely fans of Costco and stocked up on paper goods, detergent, cleaning supplies etc. Some had a decent amount of hand tools, useful hardware etc. I refrain from looking in people’s personal space, bedroom so I really don’t know if they had other useful things such as first aid supplies, etc. I pretty much kept my assessment to the obviously visible apparent stuff in places/spaces that were permitted to me. Several had useful books such as guides to mushrooms, plants etc on their shelves. All pluses.

What about communications? In a grid failure none would have had internet. A few had a land line as well as their cell but in all cases they had cordless phones which wouldn’t work if the power was out; no old-fashioned corded phones to be found. I’m not sure why one wouldn’t have at least one traditional corded phone around if a land line was in operation; they’re cheap new and can be found at thrift stores for about $1 each here.

So this brings me to my current pet/housesit. It’s kind of amusing but shortly after I arrived here I was assessing this home from the standpoint of being prepared for an emergency and was really gratified to find that out of all of the homes I’ve stayed at in these past few years, this one is far superior. The home owners used to be fully off-grid but now they’re grid connected. They still have the old PV/battery system though and can run the water pump on it if needed. The fridge is gas as is the cookstove. They’ve got 2 woodstoves that are used to heat the house and an ample wood supply as well as kindling.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)




7 Comments

  1. @JWR- I didn’t know that a water filter would be damaged by freezing temps. Thanks! I did retrieve it from my storage but left it in my car which is definitely below freezing. How would I know if it had been damaged?

    1. Looked it up on the Sawyer website and pasted what they had to say below re: storing the filter in below-freezing temps. So as I’ve never used it(wetted it) before, it should be fine. But now I won’t store it exposed to the elements anymore. Interestingly there is nothing in the packaging that warns not to let it freeze which is why I didn’t know this. I used to just keep chemical water purification tablets in my BOB.

      From the Sawyer filter site:

      “How do I care for my filter during freezing weather?
      Before initial wetting

      Filter is safe from freezing temperatures if it has never been wetted.
      After initial wetting

      While there is no definitive way to tell if a filter has been damaged due to freezing, Sawyer recommends replacing your filter if you suspect that it has been frozen.
      During trips

      If you are in freezing temperatures, we recommend that you store your filter in your pocket or close to your person so that your body heat can prevent freezing. THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR A FROZEN FILTER.”

    2. Thank you JWR for letting us know about the [freezing risk for filter] straws. Four of us have Life straws and I have a Sawyer, all kept in our vehicles. It’s 9 degrees today. Looks like I should probably invest in five new ones and keep them warm.

  2. I enjoyed your article, looking forward to part 2. Something i have struggled with in my travels is food storage in a car. Im a huge fan of peanut butter for calories in the gym and on the trail. Any canned fish Tuna, Sardines, Tilapia and Haddock.

    I hope you end up finding the home you want. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Not to your extreme but i was a nomad when i was a teenager and moved state to state hunting work during the 2006 financial collapse coast to coast until joining the army and traveling a whole lot more.

    After 6 years of putting in roots im ready to get a camper and travel while still maintaining home base. With three boys now i want them to experience adventure but also have stability.

    1. Tuna is not what it used to be. Tuna once resembled a hockey puck when you emptied the can. Now it slush with bits of dubious fish in it. It doesn’t taste like it used to, either.

      For sardines: the only true sardines are from Goya. I was raised on them as a child, before the laws were changed that permitted any small fish to be called a sardine.

      When I decided to go back and buy some sardines, years later, I was shocked. Sardines have a vivid taste, like real tuna. What the heck were these things? I tried every brand, with the same results, and gave up.

      One day while passing through the Spanish aisle in the supermarket, I saw the Goya brand, and decided to try them. SARDINES!!! Real sardines!

      Sardines have many compounds that are exceptionally nutritious, and are found in very few other foods, if any. They also keep for years in their cans. In France, very well aged sardines in cans are considered a delicacy.

      They do have a vivid taste, and are excellent in sandwiches with mayo and a thick slice of tomato.

  3. Have been out of town so a little late in replying here…
    RE: Water filters/purifiers and freezing… as stated, once used in cold weather, you can not let them freeze, to prevent this is to keep them in a waterproof type barrier (waterproof stuff sack or freezer weight zip-lock bag?) and carry them inside your jacket, around your neck etc. but close to your body to include in your sleeping bag at night. I’ve done this several times during both military and civilian winter outings with no problems in Alaska, Korea, Afghanistan, the Sierra-Nevada and the Great Lakes region to name a few…
    Once you get home from your trip, in a warm room, place your filter(s) on a paper towel and let it air dry for several long days (or weeks). it should dry and be ready for your next trip with no problems. and at today’s prices, a Lifestraw ($20) and/or Sawyer Mini ($25) are cheap enough to replace after each trip.

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