Preparing for emergencies: power shortages

Earthquake. Tsunami. Nuclear attack. These are the things that often come to mind when you think “emergency”. Fortunately, in most cases an emergency is something a lot more trivial – think a temporary power outage due to strong winds, or a blizzard that leaves you trapped at home for a couple of days. Or you just wake up one day to discover that your tap isn’t running, and receive a message that the water line won’t be fixed until tomorrow afternoon.

To put it simply, you know the world hasn’t ended and things will soon be back to normal, but for now you need to deal with this unexpected inconvenience that has come your way.

In the area we live in, the electricity and water lines are patchy and we often experience power shortages (especially during the winter) and water shortages (mostly during the summer).  This essentially means that every now and then, we will spend up to 24 hours without electricity and up to 2 or 3 days without running water. We have learned to expect these events and know how to prepare for them so they don’t turn into real emergencies. Here is how.

For power shortages:

Lights – we have emergency lights in the kitchen/dining room area, as well as plenty of candles and oil lamps on hand. When I think the power might go out, I light a fat beeswax candle in the bathroom as I head into the shower, even if the electricity is still on. You don’t want to find yourself groping your way out of the shower when it’s pitch-black – or try to maneuver when you’re bathing a baby and suddenly the lights go out.

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Above: candles on a rainy day

Heating – we have a gas heater which we connect in the living room. I close the bedroom and bathroom doors to keep the heat in one area, and we all camp out where it’s warm. Many people in our neighborhood prefer to use woodstoves instead, but we find that with gas, we can provide heat more quickly and efficiently.

Warning: heating with gas can be dangerous if you don’t provide some air circulation. I open the window a crack now and then when we use the gas heater.

Cooking – I always use a propane gas stove for cooking. It does have electric ignition, but can be also lit with a match. If needed, I can even bake flat bread in a pan on the stove. I just have to make sure, now and then, that we always have plenty of gas.

Food storage – the food in your freezer and refrigerator can usually survive a 24-hour power outage with relative impunity, depending on the temperature outside, your refrigerator’s insulation and how often you open it. Recently, when it was actually quite warm, the power was out for 27 hours, during which we have refrained from opening the freezer altogether. When the power was back, I peeked into the freezer and was very glad to find all the food still frozen solid. It helps to keep your freezer packed (stuff it with plastic water-filled bottles if you have some extra space) and make sure it’s well-insulated.

Backup generator – during our first winter here, we toyed with the idea of getting a backup generator, but eventually gave up on it as too expensive. Practically, surviving a day without power is quite possible and not very disruptive to your usual routine as long as you have light, heating and the ability to prepare food.

Going off-grid – this, of course, would be the ultimate solution to our problem. We are currently considering the option of investing in a solar energy system, which will free us from the power fluctuations and save us money in the long run. The initial cost is a little prohibitive, but the idea of generating our own energy is very appealing.

Stay tuned for part two: preparing for water shortages!

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