Between blizzards, wind storms, lightening strikes, tornados, and randomly downed powerlines, it’s not really a surprise when the power goes out once in a while. We expect it to happen a couple times a year. Thankfully, we are blessed to live in an area where “the grid” is well maintained and in pretty good condition. We’ve never experienced a brown out that I am aware of, and the longest I can recall we’ve ever been without power has been under 24 hours. But there’s no doubt about it, it’s inconvenient when there’s no electricity.
Two years ago, lightening struck close to our house. We aren’t sure exactly what it hit, but it blew the tops off of some nearby telephone poles, and it fried our well pump, not to mention it took out our electricity for close to 24 hours. It was a really irritating day for sure. While it wasn’t a huge deal, it pointed out a lot of our short-comings for if we ever found ourselves without power for more than a day.
For starters, there was the running water (or lack there of). Without a well pump running, there was no washing dishes, no refilling our water filter, no washing hands after going to the bathroom, no flushing the toilet, no showers, no laundry. That’s probably not as big of a deal if you have one or two people in your house, but when there are more than that, you’ll find it to be really inconvenient really quickly. It was a hot spring day, so we ran out of water in the water pitcher pretty quickly. The kids were playing outside, so they got dirty. I was in the middle of doing some loads of laundry, so I had a dryer with damp clothes in it, and a washing machine partway through a load. And when you have that many people in the house, not being able to flush the toilet becomes a problem really quickly.
Of course, had I given it much thought, we have the ability to work around the water problem, because we have sources of clean water on our land. But I didn’t think of it because I didn’t have a fully formed plan, yet.
Then there were the other electrical problems. No phone, no internet, the refrigerator stopped running, and it was hot out, so we didn’t want to open it much at all, but I had 5 kids to feed (the baby was nursing). The lack of lights wasn’t a big deal, but the kids couldn’t watch a show, there was no air conditioning, we couldn’t turn on our fans, and we had chicks in our brooder, but no heat lamp (thankfully it was hot enough that day that they didn’t need it). I couldn’t call a neighbor to see if they had power, I couldn’t call the power company, I couldn’t email the power company, and my cell phone was dead and couldn’t be charged.
Water was really the biggest issue for us that day. The other electrical stuff didn’t bother me too much, because I knew the power company was working on the lines. I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of running water at first, because I figured it’d be fixed before the end of the day. But when the power came back on, and the water didn’t… well. Then it was a problem.
We don’t have to leave home most of the time, but that day, the kids had to go to religion classes, and they were stinky and dirty, and I couldn’t give them a bath. I had to show up at my brother’s house, unannounced that day so I could bathe my kids and make some phone calls. But I couldn’t even call him to see if he had power. Thankfully, he did, but I couldn’t be sure of that until he arrived.
All of these things highlighted a lot of our emergency preparedness shortcomings. It’s not a particularly big deal to be without running water or electricity for the short-term (maybe a few hours or a day or two), but it will quickly become a problem for people if you don’t have a plan. And having a plan will help you overcome these obstacles quickly if you are faced with either short-term or long-term outages. I can’t imagine what it must be like on the coastal states when they have outages for extended periods of time because of natural disasters!
Anyway, I wanted to share with you some of the things you might want to consider having around your home in the event you find yourself without power, because you never know how long it’s going to take to get it back up and running!
Have a plan for water:
5 gal. pails. If there was just one item I could convince you to get, it’s 5 gallon pails. You can use them for just about everything. You can use them to store dried goods like rice, flour, and beans (if you don’t have food-grade, store the food in it’s original packaging when putting it into the pails). You can use them for hauling water. They can work as a compost bin, for hauling animal food, for hauling garden produce, and in a bind, you can use one as a composting toilet. I’ll get into that one more in a bit. But I’d recommend having at least two for every member of your household, and make sure to get the lids to go with them!
Insulated water bottles. If you don’t have electricity, it’s good to have ever member of the family have an insulated water bottle. Insulated is nice because on a hot summer day, some cold water can make a huge difference in how you feel. Plus, they don’t break down the way a package of plastic water bottles from the grocery store will if left out in the sun.
Water filter. If you find yourself having to filter water from somewhere on your property, or collecting it from somewhere else, you’ll want to be able to filter your water with a reliable filter to make sure you are getting clean drinking water.
Pots. If you don’t have a water filter, you can strain and boil your water to help sanitize it. It won’t get rid of all impurities, but it will kill off a lot. And you can always use pots to haul water if you need to.
Pitcher. We have several water pitchers with the spouts, and they are so handy to have on hand. But if you don’t have one of those, a regular pitcher or jug would be helpful if you need to be able to wash your hands. I have a few around the house, and a basin to go with them would be a nice-to-have, too.
Sawdust/wood shavings, garbage bags, and a toilet seat. If you are like us and have a full house, having the ability to set up a composting toilet is a must. My boys can go pee outside if need be, but Miss Lady and I would prefer not to. And if anybody has to go number two… well. You can only get away with flushing a toilet once or twice without a running water pump, unless you have water to refill your toilet tank with. It’d be easier to keep a bail of wood shavings around and a 5-gallon pail than it would be to haul water for flushing the toilet.
Have a plan for other electrical:
Radio. When our power went out during a severe weather storm, I was glad we had a little hand-crank radio tucked away for such an emergency. I hate keeping batteries around because either our kids use them up unnecessarily, or they go bad before you can use them. Either way, it feels like a waste of money. But this little hand-crank radio also has a flashlight and a small solar charger built in.
Neighbors. Know your neighbors. It’s easier to stop in to ask to see if they have running water or a phone you can use if you know them! And it’s important to know who you can rely on in the event of an emergency.
Flashlights and batteries or lamps, matches, and kerosene. Like I said, I’m not big on the whole battery thing. But we do keep some flashlights around, and we do have some batteries. I use a flashlight when I have to go out to lock up the chickens and it’s too dark out with the yard light to do it. We use them when we hear Poppy barking, but we can’t see what she’s barking at. But when the power goes out, I’d rather have a kerosene lamp. You don’t have to use kerosene, but an oil lamp is nice to have on hand. When our power went out this past winter for a few hours, we were able to take out our oil lamps and stay busy when it was dark out at 5:30. We have a few table lamps and some lanterns for carrying around, and we keep extra wicks and matches and lighters stored safely away.
Blankets and warm clothing. If you live in an area like us where winter can get pretty chilly, it’s great to have lots of blankets and warm clothing around the house. During that winter power outage I mentioned before? We all stayed comfortable even though the house got pretty cold. We have warm comforters on all the beds, flannel sheets for everybody, lots of extra blankets, and we all have slippers, warm socks, and sweaters, too. Some of the kids put hats on that evening to stay a little warmer.
Food that doesn’t need to be cooked. If your plan was to make lasagna and the power goes out before you can get to dinner, you need a different plan. It’s always good to keep some food on hand that doesn’t need to be cooked. Apples, crackers, cereal…
A plan for food in freezer and refrigerator. It’s okay to open your fridge and freezer during a power outage, but you don’t want to open them more than you have to. Every time that door gets opened, you lose some cold air. Know what you want to take out before you open the door. If you have good reason to be concerned that the power will be out for an extended period of time, you will want to try to use up what you can before it spoils. As for a freezer, particularly a deep freezer, you can wrap it up in blankets to help insulate it and keep it cold longer. If your food still has ice crystals on it you can safely re-freeze it, but you have to be sure it didn’t thaw all the way out, first.
We have had a child leave a freezer open just a crack for a couple of days before I noticed. Thankfully, everything was still cold enough to be salvaged, but we ended up having to cook up a ton of meat before it would spoil. Once it was cooked, we were able to refreeze it. This was a circumstance where having a pressure canner was a real blessing, because it helped us extend the life of all that food. I made chicken stock and canned it and I also canned some veggies, plus cooked up meals and froze them, too. Another time a chest freezer we had died. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t catch that one in time, and all that food had spoiled. But had we caught it, we could have moved the food to a different freezer, used it up, or done the same thing canning and cooking it like with the other incident.
A solar charger for cell phones or computers and a plan for getting help if need be. Like I said earlier, I have a little hand-crank radio that has a solar charger in it that can allow me to charge a cell phone. Because of the type of cell phone we have, we can’t always use ours if our internet is down, but I’d still want to be able to use it, because it does work if there’s good connectivity elsewhere. I couldn’t call the power company to see if they were done with the job when I realized we had no running water after the power came back on. I couldn’t call my brother to see if I could come use his shower. And if we had a real emergency, I couldn’t have called for help from the fire department or the police. And we did have to call the fire department just a couple of days later when our coop burned down due to electrical issues that resulted from that power outage. (Not the power company’s fault… old, bad wiring was the issue.)
A small generator. You might not care about running your whole house, but a small generator could allow you to run some equipment in a bind. If you use medical equipment that uses electricity in your home, it’d be good to make sure your equipment doesn’t shut off just because the power does!
Fire extinguishers. If you are using oil lamps during a power outage, it’d be a wise idea to keep some fire extinguishers around the house. In fact, it’d always be a good idea to have them around. But you are far more vulnerable if your power goes out.
A basic first aid kit. This is always a good idea, but if somebody gets hurt because of a power outage, or you need to take care of an injury during an outage, you’ll really want to make sure you have supplies on hand. Think scrapes, burns, cuts, and sprains if you don’t know where to begin.
If you have animals, have a plan for the animals and anyway that a lack of electricity might affect them. For us, it’s helpful to have a rain barrel for getting their water. We use one for getting their water most of the time during the warm months, but it’s especially helpful if the power goes out. Then you don’t have to haul water from some place further away. And if you don’t have the ability to haul water to where you need it, make sure you keep water on hand for feeding your pets when the power goes out.
We should have had a back-up plan for our chicks when we had the power outage…. either find a way to keep them warm without a heat lamp (which I researched heavily afterwards), or don’t get animals that need to stay warm until you are certain that it will be warm enough out when you get them.
We are hoping to get a woodstove installed in our house at some point, and for us, that would serve as a back-up heat source and also a way to cook food during an outage. We also got our house insulated in fall of 2018 so that we could help keep our house warmer, both in general, and for a circumstance like a power outage in winter.
And living in the country, we have the ability to cook food outside with either propane or wood, but I know not everybody can, so maybe it would be smart to have a plan for that as well.
Anyway, that’s about all I can think of for things you might want to have if you have no electricity. What do you think? Did I miss anything? What would you need to have on hand?