Retreat Architecture Category


Tuesday, December 31, 2013


James,
You have recently run two posts (my article and D.C.’s reply letter) and have dug into the ugly underbelly of the building design world.

I think there needs to be some clarification of D.C.'s points.  I will dissect it to indicate that this is the type of person that I would describe as an “elitist” and they are why we are in the predicament that we are in right now in this country.  I mean simply stated: Why would using the term “architectural, Architect, or Architecture” be a misdemeanor?  Sounds like a little government overreach to me. 

First things first.  Notice the three states he indicated.  California, Oregon and Illinois.  Those are three state that epitomize the Nanny State mentality.

Now if you put that aside let me describe my credentials. 

I am a practicing Designer in the field or Architecture. (An Architectural Designer.)  I can use this term because I work under the guidance of a licensed Architect.  I have 15 years of Design experience under licensed architects, I have designed buildings from $5,000 house additions to $30 million school buildings. I have completed all my IDP requirements, and have only one exam of seven left.  So basically the only thing stopping me from calling myself an “architect”, which I did not do, is one last exam.  I also have a side business building home additions (as a contractor).  So I think my qualifications speak for themselves.

Now onto his mischaracterizations:  (With quotes from his article are indicated as best I could)

“1.  Formalized education at an  NAAB accredited college leading to a degree recognized by a state board as valid for licensure. (My Bachelor's degree at U. of Illinois was enough for some states but not enough for many states so I had to go back for a Master's)”  (quote from D.C.'s letter)

This is not true and a line used in every school run by elite professors who often try to teach architecture because they failed at practicing it.  They try to scare students into “school training” they do not need.  The states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin (14 total) all allow a person to acquire their “architect” license without an NAAB-rated degree.  They can get it based on experience alone. (It’s called working not schooling).  See this link for licensing requirements, per state. 

It should also be noted that NCARB has what they call the BEA program.  It is a way for a Non-NAAB degree holding “Architects” to get a license in another state after they work as a licensed “Architect” in a certain jurisdiction (state).

“2. Completion of  3 to 5 years of internship, depending on level of architectural degree, (Masters vs. Bachelors) validated by the national  NCARB Intern Development Program (NCARB IDP)  for verification of multi-thousand hours of experience, in over a dozen specific categories, signed off by licensed architects,”  (quote from D.C.'s letter)

True, yet not true.  Every state has its own requirement.  Again see the aforementioned link..  The range is from 2 years to 13 years of work under an “architect” and the IDP requirements can be met in as little at 2-½ years, as in my case. 

“3. Achieve passing scores on all  8 parts of the national NCARB Architectural Registration Exam (NCARB ARE). Until this exam was computerized in 1996, it was 4 long lays of testing with the final day being a 12 hour long Charette to design an entire building, which passes all codes, based on being provided just a written program requirement and site plan” (quote from D.C.'s letter)

What does it matter what the exam was in 1996? (17 years ago.) The exam was modified in the last few years to ARE 4.0 and will again transition to ARE 5.0 in 2016.  The ARE 4.0 version has only 7 parts.  It can be taken, as each part, at its own separate time and at different locations if needed.  The Charette is not 12 hours long but broken up into separate time frames based on which exam you are taking at the time.  The exam is not as hard as he makes it sound either.  If you have been working in the field then it is rather easy.  Again experience trumps education.

“4. Pass any local state exam, which for some states is none to easy, for others is notorious.” (quote from D.C.'s letter)

He got that right.  Some localities and states have additional exams.  California being one, based on seismic design.

“5. Applied to and been accepted by that state's Architects Review Board, passed a criminal background check, including domestic child support payment status, (sometimes with additional candidate interview process) paid the annual fees.” (quote from D.C.'s letter)

Close enough to not argue.  Hmmmm…  Annual fees to use the term “architect”.  You've got to love the government.

“6. Going forward, once licensed, continuing to provide annual or biannual proof of continuing education especially Health Safety and Welfare (HSW) ed[ucational] units.” (quote from D.C.'s letter)

True yet not true.  Each state is different.  You need 36 hours of continuing education credits in 3 years time frame.  I know “Architects” that will not do any for 2 years and then roll them all into 1 year.  Also these credits can be as easily attained by have a sales rep from Pella Windows come in and do a 1 hour lunch seminar and sales pitch. (That qualifies as 1 hour continuing education).  Not what I would call Continuing Education.  Let’s see the architect’s office schedules 36 free lunches that the sales reps pay for, and they get their continuing education.  That sounds hard doesn’t it?  It’s a joke.

So as you can see D.C. does have some “facts” wrong. 

It is true that the term “Architect” is considered a Professional term and in so has been regulated beyond what should be in modern society.  It has become a way to require people in most places to pay for drawings that are not really needed.  It is a racket equivalent in my opinion compared to any lobby group, mob organization and/or political activist group attempting to limit capitalism and free market economics that built this country.  It all based on the perception on making society safer for the general public. 

The AIA that he indicates (in his title) is a guild group that has manipulated the government and regulation system to try to make money for themselves and manipulate the system.  They hurt the general public with all the excessive regulations.  Let’s let the free market decide who they want to design their home or business.  If someone want to have a local handymen build him a pole barn then let him do it.  Why does an architect need to design it?  They have been being built for over a hundred years.  Why now do you need a stamped architect or engineer drawing?  It’s called over-regulation!  The best part of it is that I am going to be an “Architect” soon and I am fighting for essentially less work for myself!  I believe that if someone feels they need a building designed for their personal well-being then I will be there to help.  If someone wants to have a bathroom addition added to their home then by God let them build it themselves if they choose.

I am an individual trying to navigate a corrupt system to provide people with valuable advice based on my experience.  I will be a licensed “Architect” shortly and in my opinion the ones who fight against trivial things like using the term “architect” are the ones to be very afraid of.  They will charge you thousands of dollars for something that should cost you a few hundred because they feel privileged to have their knowledge. 

Now that attempts to clarify the ramifications of the elite trying to judge everyone.  Onto the more important items that should be brought up.  How does this rant affect me?  In truth it does not unless your local government dictates it. 

I get a lot of jobs from local jurisdictions that have passed regulations for people to need architectural stamped drawings for a Pole Barn, a bathroom addition or a garage.  Now it’s kind of like biting the hand that feeds you because I make money off these but I hate doing it.  So we do it as inexpensively as possible.  We will do a pole barn design for $200.  Basically we cover our insurance costs to stamp the drawings.  Why? Because it’s not fair to the people to have to pay it.  We can make our money on the big projects that need real design work.  The local [private homeowner]s should not need it. 

If you are looking to build a Home, and addition or any type of structure it should be up to you for who you trust.  I would recommend talking to a multitude of local contractors.  Give them a written idea of what you want.  Have them give you a quote.  Then call friends, Neighbors, and anyone else you know and ask how you feel they are as a contractor.  The final thing you do then is call your building inspector.  Ask them what the requirement are for your project.  Do you need plans or do they trust the contractor to do the work right.  Remember the building inspector has to certify buildings.  They know who does a good job and who does not. 

My previous post indicated that Knowledge as a very important item on the list.  This again comes into play here.  The knowledge to know when people are taking advantage of you.  Use the book I indicated in my previous post and anyone can build an addition to their house.  It’s not rocket science but poster D.C. wants you to think so.  Your knowledge will be beneficial in so many ways that this is what you should be most concerned with.  Not what a title someone uses is.  You study that book and think about your project and you will know if what is being built is right or wrong. 

Also, having the knowledge to navigate the current system and get around the “elites” will help you save money know that can be used for other more important preps.  Use your knowledge to avoid the pitfalls of regulations and government overbearing.  If you live in a rural area you will most likely not be affected by these issues.  If you live in the suburbs or urban area then question all government officials. - Paul W.

JWR Replies: Rather than have this degenerate into a protracted feud, I will leave this topic with just these posts. You've heard both sides of the argument, folks.

Where do I stand? I'm a libertarian with a conscience. Granted, I've seen countries where concrete buildings are erected with barely a scrap of re-bar, and sure enough, people die whenever there is an earthquake. But I must also mention that I live in a frontier county of an un-named western state where there is no formal building code enacted and where there are no permits required to build a house, a shop, or a barn. (Only septic system permits are required.) You can also cut down trees, erect a bridge, install a culvert, or construct a pond on your property without any permits. I like it that way!

There are indeed some entrenched guilds and elitist organizations in our nation. Statist attitudes have sadly become the norm. Under their we/they paradigm, stiff penalties have been created, by government decree. But even as an ardent libertarian, I must concede that there is a need for a modicum of public safety. I personally draw the line at distinguishing between private and public buildings. In my opinion, there should only be non-binding published guidelines for constructing private dwellings, but there should be more rigid standards for public buildings, overpasses, and bridges, especially in earthquake country.

Never forget: The definition of a license is a special grant of immunity from the state, for a fee, to do something that would otherwise be illegal. Who defines "legal"? It is our elected representatives. If they exceed their authority--as they often do--then they imperiously make that which should be inherently legal into something illegal or something that requires a license. (Witness, for instance: Educating our children, operating a private motor vehicle, owning a gun, dog licenses, buying and selling alcohol, et cetera.) Often, that comes down to the quest for government revenue rather than legitimate concern for public safety. I am writing this because I want you to carefully consider what is happening in our modern society. People regularly go along with new government edicts without ever stopping to question whether or not these laws are justified and the proper exercise of legitimate authority. So.... Be vigilant. Question authority. Demand your rights. Rebel against tyrants, but submit to good and legitimate government. (Per Romans Chapter 13.) Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves, to see the bureaucratic monster that we've created for ourselves. If we don't speak up frequently and loudly, then we are destined to live under the tyranny of total government.


Monday, December 30, 2013


Dear Mr. Rawles, 
Thank you for the article by Paul W. about contractor's preps.  Free building supplies can often be found at Freecycle.org, there are local groups in most cities.  Also, don't forget Habitat for Humanity re-sale stores, which have very inexpensive supplies.
Thank you, as always. - Carol D.


Sunday, December 29, 2013


Letter Re: Use of the Title Architect

James,
In nearly every state I am aware of it is unlawful and may be a misdemeanor for any person to use a title, business name, or description of business services using the word "architect", or "architectural" to refer to one's self or business, unless the principal of the firm is a state licensed architect. Some states take this so seriously that I as a licensed architect on several states, am prohibited to use of "Architect" and/or "Architectural" in a state where I am not licensed, or in a state where I am licensed, and my license has lapsed or I failed the renewal criteria. Illinois even goes one step further and requires any firm which wants to call itself "Design-Build" be under the direction of a Licensed Architect or  Registered Professional Engineer (PE). When I have an out of state project which does not require me to obtain an additional license, for example Idaho County, Idaho, I only refer to my self in title and contract as "building designer" to avoid the wrath of the state architects board.

For example, see this site, describing Oregon's laws.

Every quarter the CAB, California Architect's [Board] publishes violations, convictions and fines. A very large portion of these are for the violation of "Holding oneself out to be an architect" and the fines range from $500 to $5,000, and though I have yet to see it the state of CA reserve the right to unto 12 month jail as a Class A misdemeanor.

So you can imagine, that reading today's posting from the contractor made my skin crawl with the repeated and even capitalized reference to the posting party as an "Architectural Designer" (as we used to say in the Army, "That's a major NO-GO"; on that note it may be considered similar to the UCMJ section on "Impersonating an Office.")

The precursors to becoming an actual licensed architect compared to becoming a licensed contractor in many states is as vast as the difference between becoming a doctor and an ambulance driver, and this is not an exaggeration. For example I am also a general contractor in Chicago, but it was little more than an application form, local fee and providing a certificate of insurance to become a Chicago Licensed General Contractor"

Or,

At  the very least, such as in the case of California, where there is a sophisticated contractor licensing a program requiring evidence of past experience, and a rigid exam, with legal aspects of practice, the difference is comparable to Registered Nurse to Doctor.

So while, in the post collapse world and post mass human die off, any valid experience may be respected and valuable;  in the present world your recent poster has crossed a line which disrespects those who have achieved the title "architect" and may be illegal.

The use of Architect and Architectural in title, for those in the construction industry, is only achieved after the following:
1. Formalized education at an  NAAB accredited college leading to a degree recognized by a state board as valid for licensure. (My Bachelor's degree at U. of Illinois was enough for some states but not enough for many states so I had to go back for a Master's)
2. Completion of  3 to 5 years of internship, depending on level of architectural degree, (Masters vs. Bachelors) validated by the national  NCARB Intern Development Program (NCARB IDP)  for verification of multi-thousand hours of experience, in over a dozen specific categories, signed off by licensed architects,
3. Achieve passing scores on all  8 parts of the national NCARB Architectural Registration Exam (NCARB ARE). Until this exam was computerized in 1996, it was 4 long lays of testing with the final day being a 12 hour long Charette to design an entire building, which passes all codes, based on being provided just a written program requirement and site plan
4. Pass any local state exam, which for some states is none to easy, for others is notorious.
5. Applied to and been accepted by that state's Architects Review Board, passed a criminal background check, including domestic child support payment status, (sometimes with additional candidate interview process) paid the annual fees.
6. Going forward, once licensed,continuing to provide annual or biannual proof of continuing education especially Health Safety and Welfare (HSW) ed units.

Whew! Yes, all that and more! it is a lot. My Father and Grandfather were general contractors and carpenters, and I highly respect their intellect, work ethic, and experience, however, it is not the same level of responsibility as a Licensed Architect. Nearly every state has included in its charter for architects a phrase to encompass an architect's primary duty which includes the wording "To protect the Health Safety and Welfare of the Public in the Built Environment"

This responsibility sometimes is in conflict with paying clients wishes, but must remain in the for front of an architects mind in respect to all his decisions.
I hope this clarifies use of the term "Architect" and "Architectural"

Sincerely,
D.C. (AIA, NCARB, M-Arch)


Thursday, December 26, 2013


I'd like to discuss my perspective on family preparedness, from the perspective of a architectural design and building contractor. There are four categories to this aspect of preparedness:  Materials, Tools, Knowledge and Usefulness

I read a lot of articles about things to stock up on when TEOTWAWKI situations occur.  One thing I do not hear discussed as much is keeping a well stock material shed at your bug out location.  Now keep in mind this is not a Bug out bag list.  The is a Bug Out Destination or Home list.

Coming from the world of Architectural Design and Contracting I have seen buildings become deplorable shacks in no time.  You would be amazed at how quickly a simple water leak can destroy your compound/home.  Maintenance is always key but sometimes Mother Nature will take over on even the best of us.  A downed tree branch, strong wind gusts or even a deer running into you window (I have seen this happen). 

A well stocked material shed will provide you with not only items for repair and maintenance of your Compound but will provide you with barter items that could be just as valuable as ammo or food. 

Below is a list of items I would recommend to keep in stock at all times.  The best part is a lot of items can be found for little or no costs at all:

2x4’s
2x12’s (these, with a little effort can be made into 2x4’s, 2x6’s or 2x8’s if need be)
Other sizes of 2x framing lumber if your budget allows.
Plywood or OSB
Tyvek or similar Building Wrap (10 mil plastic works as well)
Plexiglas (4x8 sheets to be cut down)
PVC pipe
Shingles
Roofing Cement
Caulk
Bailing Wire
Pallets
Nails
Steel pipe and sheets (in any sizes)
Aluminum Flashing
Fiberglass Insulation
Chain Link Fencing
Chicken Wire
Concrete Block
Rebar
Siding
Exterior Grade Paint (color will not matter but neutral brown or green is always best)
Cans of PVC cement (keep in a cool dry place and Sealed tightly)

This is just a small list of items.  You can expand this list to any thoughts you may have and concerns about what you may need.  My personal favorite are Pallets.  I have built many things with these in the past.  Recently I just built my entire material storage shed with them.  12 x 14 foot shed with 8 foot side walls and a 4/12 pitch roof.  A little thinking and planning can go a long way.

Now I mentioned most can be found at little or no cost.  Just tracking down the materials in the right places.  Any hardware store, furniture store, even ATV stores are great for pallets.  [JWR Adds: In lightly-populated regions, machinery companies, fish hatcheries, and trucking firms are a great source for free pallets, usually available just for the asking. But please be sure to not take any pallets that are returnable--typically marked with spray-painted company logos.] Most of the material is scrape to them and costs them money to remove.  They are usually more than happy to just have you take it off there hands.  Even the ones that are not structurally stable will make great firewood.  So grab everything you can get. 

Another place to go are new house construction sites.  You would not believe the material that go into the dumpsters because it’s just too much work for them to salvage.  The best sites are ones when they tear down and old house.  The framing lumber is the best from them.  If you keep an eye out or know anyone doing a building project, ask them ahead of time if you can get into buildings to salvage any items before they are destroyed.  It is also a great idea to contact local construction companies and ask them if they have any projects you can take a look at to salvage from.  Just don’t push it with them either.  They have to be concerned with Liability insurance so if they turn you down its most likely nothing to do with you but insurance reasons.  If they do turn you down ask them for locations where they dump debris and if they can give you a heads up when they dump to see what you can find.

On a recent trip to a construction site I was able to pick up about 6 bundles of shingles they just had taken off a roof, multiple pieces of OSB, some framing lumber and a stack of siding.  Those are the items I kept for myself.  I gathered windows, doors and molding that I took home and posted on craigslist for resale.  Ammo and food storage money! 

Craigslist is the next best place to pick up materials with a little work and searching.  I have come across many postings in the past of people looking to have decks from old pools taken down or concrete blocks from old burn pits.  It is a plethora of free materials that could be a home saver in the future.  Sometimes and if your budget allows you will find contractors liquidating non-used materials from job sites.  You can get these for pennies on the dollar compared to home depot. 

Material Auctions from local auctioneers are good to keep an eye out for as well.  Even the local county gov’t has their auctions that you can find items for dirt cheap. 

Now Materials are great to have but without the next list item they are useless.

Tools:

Now after you get into a rhythm of finding and storing your material the next step will be to make sure you have all the tools required to work the materials. 

List of items to keep on hand (excluding garden and out door tools like shovels, Etc…):

Min. (2) Construction Style Hand Saws
Camping saw
Screwdriver set
Wrenches
Pipe Wrenches
Pliers
Utility Knifes and several bulk packs of blades
Multiple Hammers
Multiple size crowbars
Multiple staple guns and boxes of staples
Pry Bar
Sharpening Tool for saws
Tape measure (25’, 100’ and a wooden 3’ collapsible one)
Contractor grade pencils (a box of them)

I would see this list as the bear minimum of items to keep stock.  It would also be a great idea to stock up on extra blades and items to barter.  I have read on here recently the phrase “two is one, and one is none.”  I could not think of a better term to describe my tool build up. 

Now this brings us to our next category.

Knowledge:

Now while you have been stocking and storing all these items you should have been building up one item at the top of everyone’s list for any prepping area.  Knowledge.  You must understand how to use your materials and tools and to use them safely at all times.  The last thing you want to do is throw safety to the wind and end up with a missing or broken finger.  Safety is extremely important!

Knowledge is the most important part of this prep.  I have known many people that I walk into there garage and get jealous of the tools and things they have.  The thing is usually though, I am looking at these things after they have called me to come over to help them build something because they do not know how.  Ironic huh?

Research is a great tool but the best tool is sometimes to just go build something for fun.  Build a pallet playhouse for your kids.  Build a barn door to replace one you have.  Simple things that get your brain looking at projects in a different light.  Let me tell you another thing about using recycled materials.  Your brain will work in ways you would never believe to figure out how to make and repair something for free with only what you have available.  Besides, at TEOTWAWKI all you will have is what is available in front of you most of the time. 

Now for those of you who like to read up on things let me tell you about a book I first started with when designing back in school.  It’s called Building Construction Illustrated by Francis D.K. Ching.  It is a very basic but also a very through book about most types of building construction.  This one book alone I still reference even after being in the architectural field for 15 years. 

Everyone has done the research most likely on how to build a chicken coop, or greenhouse.  You can find plenty of plans out there on the internet to figure these things out.  Problem is, how do you do them without paying for any items to build with.  I recently constructed my chicken coop using one of my favorite items again: pallets.  I built and entire frame from the pallets and secured it to my garage.  I used reclaimed pressure treated wood from a fence as clap board siding.  I used reclaimed insulated ceiling tiles for the insulation. Reclaimed metal roofing for the roof.  I spent most likely the same amount of time thinking about how to build it as I did actually building.  But in TEOTWAWKI situation the one thing you will most likely have a little more of is time with that pesky thing called a job out of the way.  It’s all about knowledge in the end.  Thinking outside of the box.

Knowledge again is your best defense and offense.  Your own ingenuity could be a defining point in having shelter or none at all.  You must be able to understand the basic concepts of design and construction to be able to allow you to have the last of my four categories.

Usefulness:

Imagine back in the pioneer days.  All people had was their own two hands and trying to figure out how to use an ax to build a home.  We are spoiled today, with our ability to have all these basic, yet great items and so many of us don’t know how to use them.  If you figure this out though you will be useful not only to your family but to the community around you that will eventually rebuild.  This usefulness in your community around you will pay off very big dividends in the end. 

Trading your skills and labor could also be one of the best Barter items you could have to offer.  They are the cheapest things to be able to stock up on but some of the most valuable.  Being useful to those around you will provide you with their trust and in turn you will be able to trust them when you need it.

So in the end having all the basic preps are important.  But always keep in mind the hidden long terms preps mentioned above. 


Friday, December 20, 2013


Today, I did a leader's recon (reconnaissance) of my small homestead.  While I was in the infantry, I would plan my future ground defense by walking the terrain with my small unit infantry leaders.  Today, I did the same, minus the team leaders.  Twenty years in the infantry, and now several years retired, and now I look at how I am going to protect my family and defend my rural homestead.  I feel that the day may be coming soon.  President Obama stated that our nation's deficit does not concern him.  This nation is on a mad printing spree, conjuring up money out of thin air to pay for our debts.  Any student of history knows that you cannot print your way to prosperity.  This will not end well.  Social upheaval is inevitable when you rapidly devalue your currency.  To prepare for this coming storm means analyzing and planning your home defenses, now, not during the storm.

Americans have been given some dubious advice by the gaffe prone Vice-President Joe Biden.  He advised armed citizens to confront burglars with a double barreled shotgun and to scare them away by firing two blasts up in the air outside their house.  The hardened and desperate marauder will not be deterred by noise.  Biden also advised us to shoot through the door to discourage home invaders.  Failing to properly identify your target as friend or foe can lead to tragedy.  By the time marauders are at the doorstep, it is too late, and you have quickly ran out of battle-space. 

During a prolonged and severe nationwide crisis, we will most likely see a total breakdown of society, with little or no law enforcement.  Local law enforcement will likely collapse, as they will choose to stay home and protect their own families (What are they going to be paid with anyway?  Worthless paper money?).  You are on your own.  You will have to be your own 911.  And I hope that you will be armed with something more substantial then a double-barrel shotgun.  Waiting for the bad guys to breach the front door at night or standing on your front porch, shotgun in hand, is not going to work.  You will need to deter, deceive, detect, deny, delay, and defend what you have, not through the front door, but within your neighborhood/homestead/farm in a coordinated, robust defense-in-depth.

We need to prepare for a total breakdown of society, called a Without Rule Of Law (WROL).  Marauders and the unprepared will not be dissuaded by harmless noise making shotgun blasts in the air.  They will be desperate, hungry, cunning, and they want what you have.  During the initial parts of the crisis, the clueless, careless, and unprepared will quickly be killed off.  It will be the homeowner who thinks he can scare off several armed thugs with his Joe Biden approved shotgun from his front porch.  Or it will be the lone wolf looter who helps himself to what is in the homesteader's kitchen in broad daylight.  Once they have been winnowed out, only the cunning and ruthless will be left on both sides.  We will need to have a strong, well planned defense to protect our family and homestead.  The following article has recommendations on what to do before and after WROL.  One caveat:  Some of the defensive and deadly force measures discussed here should only be used AFTER the collapse of law enforcement.  Until then, common sense and local laws apply!
 
Back to my leader's recon.  I would start by conducting an Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield or IPB
Enemy:  I would analyze the enemy or potential enemy by using local media and the neighborhood grapevine.  I would classify them and ask who will I be dealing with?  Refugees, opportunistic individuals, or organized gangs?  Size?  What is their typical COA (Course Of Action, in other words, how are they conducting their attacks on homesteads)?  What are they after (food or retributive change)?  Locations?  Equipment/Weapons?  Mobility?  When was they last seen?  What are their strengths?  Weaknesses?
Terrain:  Next, I drew a simple bird’s eye map of the homestead.  I drew the house, outbuildings, tree-lines, driveways, trails, creeks, and any other prominent terrain features.  One shortcut I use is Google Earth.  It allows you to view and print satellite imagery anywhere in the world.  Center in on your area, zoom in, and print it up. 
Analyze the terrain from a defensive point of view, and an offensive (the enemies) point of view.  Walk around and look for observation and fields of fire, cover and concealment, manmade and natural obstacles, key or decisive terrain, and avenues of approach.  The acronym for planning battle-space is OCOKA, which stands for:

  • Observation and Fields of Fire:  For my homestead, observation would be a second story window, open terrain, or a concealed position across the road to observe and provide an early warning.  Fields of fire are cleared open or semi-open areas that allow us see into and to engage the enemy with aimed rifle fire.  
  • Cover and Concealment:  Cover protects a person from direct rifle fire, concealment just conceals from said rifle fire.  Good cover is filled sandbags, tires filled with dirt, armor plating, large boulders, stone fences, or a dry ravine.  Concealment conceals, but it does not stop bullets.  It could leafy foliage, typical housing construction, or inside the standard family car.  Most rifle bullets will pass clean though a typical vinyl siding, plywood and gypsum board housing construction.  Note areas that you cannot see into, such as a ravine, heavy vegetation, houses, or behind a stone fence.  This is called dead space, and could be exploited by the enemy to move in closer to your defensive positions.  Outline, then hatch-mark the dead space areas on your map.
  • Obstacles (Manmade and natural):  For my area, it is sturdy gates, barbed wire fences and spike strips.  It could also be a swamp, brier-patch, forest, wide creeks, trenches, and logs across the road.  Anything to slow or have the enemy move away from your area, or move to an area where you can see him and engage with rifle fire.  Draw your obstacles on your map. 
  • Key or Decisive Terrain:  This is terrain that offers a tactical advantage to the attacker or defender.  For my area it is our house and outbuildings.  Lose the house to marauders; lose the food, water, and shelter.  Other key terrain may be a bridge, a hill, or water tower that looks down into your area or a ravine that comes right up to your defensive area.  Circle these areas on your map.
  • Avenues of Approach (Slow and high-speed):  Trails, open areas (slow), and roads (high-speed).  For us, it is the driveway and road.  Control both, and it will be easier for us to assess someone as hostile, friendly, or unknown.  Fail to control both, and they can quickly roll right up on top of us before we can alert everyone and mount a robust defense.  Again, draw this on your map. 

For defensive planning, use the 6 Ds.  They are:  Deter, Deceive, Detect, Delay, Deny, and Defend.

  • Deter:  “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” (Sun Tzu).  Some of the things we can do right now is to make our area as unwelcome as possible to criminals.  Set up motion sensor spot lights.  Use posted signs around the homestead to inform all that they are under camera surveillance, post beware of dog signs, electrical fencing, or that you have an alarm system.  You can buy weatherproof signs and window stickers on eBay.  During WROL, we plan on posting several hand-made signs up and down our country roads.  They will read: “Rule .357 In Effect”, “You Loot - We Shoot”, “Residents Only,” and “Armed Neighborhood Watch In Effect.”  The best battle that you can fight is the one you don't have to fight.  If you can convince the enemy to turn around and move on, then you can avoid the deadly confrontations. 
  • Deceive:  “All warfare is based on deception” and “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak” (Sun Tzu).  Use camouflage as part of your deception plan.  If they can't see it, they can't attack it.  If they don't know about it, they can't come up with a countermeasure.  Example:  What may look like a pile of brush may be a fighting position (fox hole).  Being low key and inconspicuous (going gray) should also be part of your plan.  If your neighbors don't have electricity, neither should you (at least outwardly).  That means blackout curtains, and limiting generator noises.  If your neighbors have been looted, throw some of your unused furniture out on the lawn.  Don't be eager to outwardly display all of your defensive measures.  Wait for the right moment, then utilize as needed for the maximum shock effect.  This will cause the enemy to re-think his plans and react to you. 
  • Detect:  Set up a communication plan with your neighbors.  If they see marauders in the area, have them alert you.  Plan for a well hidden LP/OP (Listening Post/Observation Post) just outside your perimeter along a likely avenue of approach.  Consider a home video surveillance system.  You can connect them to your laptop PC system to view and record events.  Some surveillance systems will give you an alarm if motion is detected.  Dakota Alert is another great wireless system that lets you know if there are intruders in your area.  This equipment all works as long as you have electricity and/or batteries.  Have a backup for your backup.  Binoculars and alert, barking dogs is one of several solutions.  Closer to home, you cannot clear all of the dense brush and undergrowth in a forest, but you can strategically clear lanes that allow you to look deep inside the forest. 
  • Delay/Deny:  Delay and Deny go hand in hand.  Denying the enemy access to an area also slows him down.  That gives you time to detect the enemy and go to full alert within your perimeter.  Logs or homemade spike strips across the driveway will force vehicles to slow and stop.  Fences and gates will delay the enemy.  Crisscrossing wire at random heights in open areas slows an attacker.  Consider spike and nail strips, broken glass, or barbed wire in dead space areas to deny the enemy the chance to use it.  Set up your defense in layers.  If he breaches one obstacle, make him have to contend with several more.  Use your man-made and natural obstacles to deter the enemy so that he gives up and goes elsewhere, or channelizes him into the battlefield of your choice, called a Kill Zone. 
  • Defend:  And finally, during WROL, and when all else fails, it is time to put well aimed rifle fire on those who would do you harm.  If you have shaped your battlefield with obstacles and have a planned defense, this will be at the place and time of your choosing. 

Scout areas for possible homestead 360º perimeter fighting positions.  Place your homestead in the center and then plan your circular defense.  Plan your fighting positions to cover likely avenues of approach.  Do not plan a linear defense, because a thinking enemy will just circle around and attack you from your unguarded rear flank (remember the Maginot Line?).
When planning ground level fighting positions (fox holes) and before you dig, the trick is to lie down on the ground and look at the terrain.  Why?  Because the terrain looks a lot different when you have dug down into the ground and just your head is poking up!  Look for areas that will offer cover and concealment to an enemy trying to attack your position.  Now looking downrange, each fighting position should have a left and right lateral limit.  This is the extreme left and right a rifleman can engage a target without firing on a friendly fighting position.  Stakes or sandbags can help limit the rifle traversing at night by creating a physical stop for the rifleman.  Create fields of fire that overlap with other nearby friendly position's fields of fire, so there are no gaps or blind spots that the enemy can exploit.  Each fighting position should mutually support each other by rifle fire.  That means the enemy cannot assault/attack one fighting position without drawing fire from nearby friendly fighting position (s).  

When planning the homestead defense, keep saying to yourself “Think Ambush.”  An ambush is a deadly attack on an unsuspecting enemy at close range from a concealed and covered defensive position.  The enemy has little time to react to your attack, because they never saw it coming.  They never realized that you saw them first, and that you were able to quietly alert your homestead.  They never saw the cleverly camouflaged fighting positions, they never suspected the obstacles were there to not only stop them, but to steer them into a lethal Kill Zone, with no escape. 
The last step in planning is to approach the proposed fighting position(s) from the enemy's side during the day and at night.  Try to think how the enemy will approach, view, and plan an attack on the defensive positions. 

When it comes time to dig my fighting positions, one of the first things I will do is cut down some of the many small fir trees that we have around the homestead.  I will then lay the cut trees on their side in front of the locations I plan on digging my fighting position.  This will camouflage the fighting position.  I will also scatter cut trees around the property to draw attention away from the real positions.  Have a plan to remove anything in front of the fighting position that might provide cover or concealment for the enemy.  You will not be able to clear an entire forest to deny cover and concealment, but make the effort to selectively clear fields of observation/fire without making it too obvious.

Using your IPB and OCOKA, draw a range card map.  It is a simple bird’s eye view of the defensive area and allows you to visualize your defenses.  Place the homestead in the center.  Now draw the location for each proposed fighting position, including their left and right lateral limits.  On your range card, each fighting position should look like a V, with the fighting position at the base.  Each leg of the V should have the distance to the closest dead space.  Include distances to tree-lines, avenues of approach or any other areas that the enemy may attack you from.  
My leader's recon also included an obstacle plan.  One of the obstacles includes a four strand barbed wire fence.  For some, it may be too early to start constructing defensive obstacles, like a razor wire gate (the neighbors will talk!).  But we need to start planning now.  Know where you are going to place everything, how long will it take to construct it, and start purchasing the necessary materials, like barbed wire and fence posts.  Plan and construct obstacles to channelize or force the enemy into an open area where you can destroy him in a Kill Zone.  ALL obstacles should be covered by rifle fire.  If you cannot maintain visual and rifle fire on an obstacle, the enemy will go around it, or try to breach it. 

Have defensive plans for the enemy's COA.  There should be at least two enemy COAs: Most likely and most dangerous.  Have a rehearsed plan for each enemy COA.  For me, the enemy's most likely COA when attacking my homestead is hey-diddle-diddle, right up the middle.  Right up the driveway.  Right into the closed gate, barbed wire fences, camouflaged fighting positions with alert defenders.  Most dangerous is hitting us from our lightly defended flank, coming in from the tree-line (dead space) that is dangerously close to our homestead.  We won't see them until they are right on top of us.  We will counteract with aggressive and random patrolling outside the defensive perimeter, a communication/warning plan with my neighbors, alert barking dogs, Dakota Alerts, and trip wires. 
While you are planning your defensive positions, don't stop there.  Consider:

  • A communication plan.  Primary: Radios - Alternate: Voice, Runner - No Comm: Hand & Arm Signals, Flashlight.
  • Continuously improving your defenses and obstacles. 
  • Making sure the camouflage matches the terrain. 
  • How would weather affect your defenses and defenders?  Rain, snow, heat, darkness?
  • Create and camouflage alternate positions that cover the same sector of fire. 
  • War-game and conduct rehearsals/drills (ensure all weapons are unloaded!).  Evaluate your defenders.   
  • Keep asking “What If??”  What if I was attacked from this direction?  What if the enemy used fire bombs or wire cutters? 
  • Discuss and implement clear rules of engagement (When to use or not to use deadly force).  Ask what is a “hostile act” during WROL?
  • Discuss and implement the use of force continuum.  Not every hostile act requires a deadly force reaction. 
  • Implement visual control measures.  Map and label all prominent terrain features.  Create check points.  Everyone should know the homestead cardinal directions (north, south, etc....).  Example:  “I have three armed unknowns, walking, vicinity check point 12 (Bear Creek Bridge) heading south”
  • If you have reports of nearby marauders, have a stand-to (100% alert, everyone armed and awake) at dusk and at dawn.  This is the ideal time to get attacked. 
  • Develop IA (Immediate Action) drills.  It is a rehearsed and automatic response to a likely enemy COA.  Example:  Visibly armed person(s) attempt to breach the gate/fencing; we will go to full alert and conduct X, Y, and Z.
  • Color code defensive postures and SOPs.  Example:  Threat Condition Red; 100% Alert, all positions manned, all adults/teens armed with a rifle, wearing load bearing vests, bug out bags at the ready.

My action plan is this:  At some point in the near future there will be a trigger event, like a bank holiday or food riots that will compel me to grab a shovel to start digging and building my up defensive positions.  Having planned my battle-space and laid in defensive building supplies, all I have to do is implement my plan.  When I have word of the approaching storm, this is one less thing to worry about. 

So prepare for the coming storm.  Walk the homestead, conduct a leader's recon, and plan your defensive battle-space.  TODAY.


Sunday, October 27, 2013


Captain Rawles,
In response to the excellent article regarding hidden wall caches I have some feedback. I work in the tiling industry for an unnamed mid-south distributor. As a distributor for Schluter Systems I have sold many of this kit for installers / homeowners to use for concealed access panels. Schluter Rema is the trade name. They come in quite handy for whirlpool tubs wherein access is required for frequent pump maintenance.

I have sold many of these and have had no complaints. Best wishes, - Matt in Ohio


Thursday, October 24, 2013


JWR,
I hope all is well. I Was reading the reply to the post on "Constructing In-House Caches." I have been thinking on this one lately and working on solutions to the problem of attachment, actually came across the solution while working for a contractor on a client's high end project and trying to build false panels to hide a security control panel.

The solution we came up with was rare earth magnets found here http://www.rare-earth-magnets.com/ or elsewhere on the net as well. you can google it!
If you have plywood paneling you can attach the magnets with a screw to the surface of the paneling and then countersink the magnet on the framing side into the studs, you could also if your paneling is thick enough countersink a larger magnet into the ply panel and use an epoxy similar to the Simpson SET-XP® 10 that can be found at most home improvement or hardware stores, this stuff is sticky and will adhere to the back and sides of the magnet if you rough it up with an abrasive wherever you want the epoxy to adhere. (NOTE: You must countersink the magnet below flush in the panel and use a generous amount of epoxy, or it will not hold.) We used a combination of larger flat magnets drilled through and fastened with screws and epoxy to the ply panels and large cylindrical magnets press fit into holes in the studs, easily retained the large 3/4" plywood panels, as for a way to remove the panels we put a couple of false electrical and cable outlets on the wall panel, the one outlet was actually live but it gave us a grasping point after removing the face plate and then the panel was easily plucked from the wall. I would suggest making up thickened ply panels at least 3/4" or thicker to make them appear to be firmly fastened, they will make a different noise when thumped if you just use the 3/8" wood paneling. Will not be convincing, and will not hold the magnets sufficiently. These magnets are real strong, but don't skimp on them and you won't be unhappy, and in this case if you go too big, you may not be able to pull them apart, so don't get too carried away. - Tom R. in Hawaii


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I have just finished listening to the audiobook of your novel Expatriates with great enjoyment. Eric Dove does a great job voicing the various characters and, to this yank's ear, a credible "Aussie" accent was required.

I wanted to add a bit to the account of Chuck's rifle hide behind wall paneling. I am a cabinet maker and have spent more than a few hours puzzling over the various problems and pitfalls of concealed storage. Several are present in Chuck's solution.

While I do not like Velcro (as it wears out, accumulates litter and makes noise) if dots are to be used,  (a) raw wood tends to shed self adhesive material such as is common to these dots and (b) one needs to account for the thickness of the Velcro hook and loop sandwich which will cause the removable panel to be proud of its neighbors. Finally we need some way to grasp the panel easily to remove it once it is all setup, since repeated prying or levering can scar it.

To accommodate the Velcro thickness, gently pry out and shim the adjacent wall panning sufficient to match the thickness of the Velcro hook and loop. Pieces of thin sheet plastic won't swell or attract moisture. let the shim extend so that it will back up the removable panel between hook and loop dots. If the panel nails are sunk as a result of this adjusting, use a furniture repair stick or putty of the appropriate color to fill the holes.

To ensure that firm attachment of the Velcro, the panel back and studs should be sanded  enough to produce a smooth, whisker free surface. Apply one or more coats a good contact adhesive to seal the surface fibers. Allow to dry tack free and then apply the dots.

For removal of the panel a "handle" can be as simple as a hook for a picture. Ideally located near an corner or at least an edge of the panel (between vertical studs). Glue a block on the back side and screw a hook into it through the panel's front. Hang a picture on the hook.

As an alternate solution, flexible magnet tape and short sections of steel angle could be used. The angle can be screwed to the sides of the studs and set back from the stud's front by the thickness of the magnetic tape thus avoiding the need to shim out adjacent panels. - Dollardog


Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Introductory Note: I originally composed this story in August of 2011 just months after our family went through a devastating event.  At the time of writing the essay was short, sweet and to the point.  I have reconstructed my family’s journey of the past 24 months to the present.

Thanks for all that you and others do by sharing information, educating and inspiring the thought process. It is my hope that this short family history will provoke some to think about their lifestyle, what is important and the effect an event like this has on a family.

Four years ago my wife and I purchased fifty acres that join our families’ three hundred and fifty acre farm, built a new home and a seven acre lake (we built both the house and lake ourselves, our labor our time).  We sold a business that we built at a very large profit.  We dumped the capital back into the purchase of the 50 acres.  The plans were to built modestly and have a small mortgage or none at all; we got carried away and ended up with land free and clear but $138,000 mortgage on the house and 10 acres.  Once the house was complete the market crash of 07-08 occurred, this is when we truly woke up, we must prepare.  In our research we discovered survival blog, and rural revolution blog we have learned so much.  Our family has farmed, gardened, canned, kept chickens for generations, just our way of life, but we didn’t truly prep for potential collapse, which leads me to the bulk of my story:

May 5th, 2011 changed my family forever.  With the wet spring in the Midwest early garden planting was nonexistent, May 5th was no different ground was in good condition to plant but rain was in the evening forecast so I took off from work early to plant potatoes’, broccoli, cauliflower and so on.  When I turned in the quarter mile drive I met our black lab, who never leaves the house, I thought this was strange continuing on I noticed blue smoke coming through the timber, panic struck, the house was on fire.  I grabbed the cell phone dialed 911, then the garden hose, long story short we lost everything.  People it is a sickening filling when you realize all you have in the world are the clothes on your back and the cash in your pocket.
I cursed God that evening, how could he let this happen to me and my family? Even now typing this I do so with tears in my eyes, not so much for the tangible loss but the pain I could see in the eyes of my wife and eight year old daughter, I’m dad, it’s my job to protect.  It took several days for me to realize that God sent dumpsters to my house instead of coffins, for that I am thankful, and I hope he will accept my apology for the things I said and thought.

The day after the fire my wife, daughter and I went shopping for clothes, we had been discussing money and the situation in ear shot of our eight year old daughter.  Our daughter who loves horses and collects Breyer horses lost her collection in the fire.  We had been in the clothing section of our local farm and garden center when daughter went missing.  I found her staring at the shelves full of breyer horses.  She would pick one up, look at it and set it down.  Pick another up and put it back. I watched from behind a cloths rack as she dropped her shoulders, turned to walk away with tears in her eyes.  Gentlemen if you have never seen this look in your child’s face I will tell you it will tug at your heart like nothing else.  I was so proud of her because she was not going to ask.  I stepped out from behind the rack and asked her if she found a horse she liked if not pick one out.  She said “but mom” I told her mom would understand.  This over a toy I could not imagine how I would feel if something of a larger magnitude were to happen.

Two days prior to the fire I turned the basement lights on and the light switch arced. I guess that is where the fire started.  I should have called my electrician buddy then and there. Poor choice, and poor decision.

You may ask “What does this have to do with this blog”?  Well, there are lots of lessons to learn and lots of blessing to count.

Some Lessons Learned:

  1. We lost several years worth of food, canned goods, canning equipment, meats the list goes on. Note: do not store everything in one location.
  2. Guns, ammo and hunting equipment. Note: purchase gun safe, make sure guns are on separate rider for insurance.  Most policies only cover $2000 worth of guns I had one gun that was worth that amount, just by itself. (Point of concern insurance companies require serial numbers for coverage) I listed most but not all.
  3. Cash and coins, thankfully a fire fighter was able to retrieve a large sum of cash hidden in the house.  Note: this goes in the safe or hidden outside with other cash. My dad was impressed when I took a shovel and dug up a mason jar.  He said “I thought only old timers banked that way”. Interest doesn’t pay much but I know where the teller is.
  4. Pictures, gone. Note store some in other locations
  5. Keep a list or film your personal contents you will have to list every item to collect your replacement costs from your insurance company, this is painful. Imagine setting down and listing every item in your house. The big items are easy but think of every can of beans, every item in the cabinets, bath room closet, toys (although our daughter had a pretty good idea of what she lost.)
  6. Important papers, titles, DD214, marriage license, birth certificates note: these go in the safe

Blessings counted

  1. My family is safe, yes we have a lot of work ahead of us
  2. The mortgage is gone, we can rebuild like we should have the first time
  3. Add a root cellar
  4. Insurance has eliminated all of our dept.
  5. Our commitment to preparing is stronger
  6. Our family is stronger
  7. Most of all we found out who we can truly call our friend.
  8. We will never look at someone else’s misfortune the same.

It hit me hardest when I was hilling potatoes. I thought if this was a total collapse, we’ve lost everything and if the garden I stand in fails my family would more than likely not see the spring of 2012.

During the summer of 2012 we spent some insurance dollars and built a 30 by 50 shed complete with storage, 30 by 30 living space and fireproof hidey hole.  We have been living for the past two years in a two-room shed, bathroom and the rest.  This has been a great experience in close living, a great example of retreat living.  At times this has been fun and at time it has been difficult the following are some examples of both:
                 
Fun times

  1. We never replaced the satellite television.  Board games, cards, conversations and reading have been our main source of entertainment. Our 8 year old is now at the academic level of an 11 year old and her grades along with creativity have improved.
  2. The time spent outside has doubled maybe tripled. We walk the property more, garden more, camp fires in the evening
  3. This style of living has given us a glimpse of what close living will be like when family comes knocking.
  4. We purchased a Kitchen Queen Cook stove to heat with.  If you have never cooked with wood it is an experience of fun and education.  Although we installed an electric stove the wood stove has been entertaining, daughter loves to cook cookies, pizza and her morning toast on the wood stove.

Not so fun times

  1. Even though the shed is insulated the 12 foot garage door allows the cold air in when the wind picks up and the temperature drops.
  2. The experience has made the wife and I wonder how pioneers had such large families when living in a one room homestead.
  3. Storage has been an issue. Hanging cloths, books, toys, food, everything just seems to be cluttered all the time.  Constant cleanup and pickup. 
  4. Bathroom issues with just three in the house someone is always knocking on the door. Hot water is always in demand during peak times.

Lessons learned

  1. This has been hard, we cannot imagine what it would be like without electric or water.
  2. Fire wood being the only source of heat is tuff.  We have always had wood heat but we always had a backup (electric or gas) when the wood pile gets low you really start to worry about the outside temperatures.
  3. With a full time job, rebuilding the house (will discuss later) there is very little time to prep.  The garden did well this year but canning was minimal. Gave lots of produce to friends but let the garden go in august.  How did homesteaders find the time to build a home, put food by, cut fire wood? All by hand without modern equipment and energy.  This should be an eye opener for all.  Times could get very, very difficult.

Where are we now?  In January 2013 we finally demolished the old house. Our goal has been to rebuild with the end result of no mortgage payment.  Working with insurance dollars and out of pocket/savings we are finally trimming the home.  This is large mile stone to a more normal lifestyle.  We made lots of changes this time around because of our prepping lifestyle. Here are some of the major changes:

  1. We went from a conventional 2,800 sq. ft. home to a 1,400 sq. earth berm home. Both for security reason and efficiency reasons. 
  2. Because the house is a basement style home I found that if we have our water tank full we can back feed water through the hydrant to the lower level and have a toilet when the electric is out, doesn’t help with potable water but it beats running to the timber.
  3. Added some solar, but not near enough. But the house has been wired for future addition.
  4. On demand hot water (gas) hope to use the energy savings for additional preps
  5. Purchased a large gun safe all items of value are stored/protected
  6. The wood cook stove goes in the new house for both cooking and heat.
  7. This time around the kitchen stove is gas not electric.
  8. Utility room designed specifically for storage of food and other preps.
  9. All basement windows have large window wells installed for egress and potential fields of fire.
  10. Most important hard wired battery backed up smoke detectors. One in every room.

In many ways we are better prepared than we were prior to the fire. Most importantly we are free of mortgage companies and banks. This makes life so enjoyable, knowing that most of our monthly income can go towards prepping, savings, et cetera.  God has blessed us in that respect.  In many ways we are less prepared.  Our food stores are less than before, with two seasons sense the fire we have consumed as much as we have set by.  With livestock to tend, hay to bail, daily chores and a full time job something had to give while rebuilding.  It’s mid-October and we are in no way prepared for winter. Not a stick of wood is ranked.  Equipment has not been winterized. One last round of hay to get in the barn, the list could go on, but we should have enough to get us to new crop.

We have replaced many things already, we have a long row to hoe but with gods’ help and lot of work we will be prepared for our future.  We have a second chance to make changes to better prepare and make better choices.  My prayer is for all to look at your situation and think, double check and rethink, anything can happen and it may very well happen.

To my best friend whom I lost in June of 2013 to a heart attack, I think of you often, thanks for your help of cleaning, demolishing and rebuilding.  I’ve been helping with the boys they are doing fine you are missed.

God bless and please learn from our experience.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For the preparedness minded individual, this old cliche couldn't be more important.

In my primary profession in the insurance industry, I observe on a regular basis all sorts of damage that happens to people's homes. Today, there are ample available supplies to repair damage, contractors to complete repairs, and insurance coverage to help cover the costs. Tomorrow, we may not be so lucky.

This is where our "ounce of prevention" comes into play. Whether you are preparing to live through a short-term event, a natural disaster, a grid-down event, or a long term TEOTWAWKI event, you've likely put a significant amount of thought and resources towards the location at which you plan to weather the storm.

Obviously, a catastrophic loss to your primary retreat or bug-in location after the event for which you've prepared would be devastating. Perhaps even life threatening.

But inevitably, someone's home will burn down or be struck by a tornado the day before, or the day of, a TEOTWAWKI event. You can be as prepared as you want for tomorrow, but if this happens to you, all your planning is for naught. You could be faced with the loss of your food supplies, water purification abilities, home heating systems, cooking equipment, or any other number of things that you have stored away for your long-term preparedness.

Fortunately, a vast majority of damage that can happen to a dwelling can be easily prevented.  Below, I'll cover a few of the more common property losses that I see and how they can be prevented through a combination of material selection and diligent preventative maintenance, leaving you with a more secure and functional long term retreat.

1. Fire Prevention - Fires are catastrophic no matter when they happen, but if you find yourself in a situation with no fire department to respond, they will be even more so. Even a small fire inside your retreat or bug-in location can cause extensive smoke damage and can render your dwelling uninhabitable. Here are some steps you can take and habits you can incorporate into your daily life to prevent fires.    

A. Perform a visual inspection of your home's exterior (2x per year)- Keep trees and other combustible items away from your home. A wildfire needs fuel leading up to your home in order to burn your home, so move firewood, tree limbs, propane tanks, and anything else you see at least 50 feet from your home. If you're in a fire prone area, aim for 100 feet at a bare minimum.

B. Inspect for gas leaks (4x per year)- In many areas, for those of you with natural gas, your gas company will come out and check your home for gas leaks for free. Their meters can detect even minor leaks that might go unnoticed by your nose. If this service is available, use it once per year. You can also use a simple soap and water solution to check fittings to your gas-burning appliances on your own.

C. Install fire extinguishers and inspect (1x per year) - Have a fire extinguisher easily accessible near any potential fire hazard in your dwelling. The kitchen, garage, and utility room are obvious locations, as well as near any solid fuel burning stoves. Check their pressure gauges annually and replace or recharge them when they get low or pass their expiration date. If you purchase new fire extinguishers to replace expired ones, keep the expired ones in a safe location in your house as backups. They may still work with reduced effectiveness, and if they are your only means of fire protection, you'll be glad to have the extra ammo.

D. Inspect and clean chimney (2x per year) - If you burn wood, it is important to clean your chimney regularly. Twice per year if you heat exclusively with wood, once per year if wood is supplemental heat only. I like to clean mine at the end of the wood burning season, sometime around mid to late April, then give a visual inspection in the fall before it's time to fire up the stove to make sure that my chimney hasn't become home for any wildlife.

E. Install lightning rods and inspect (2x per year) - A direct lightning strike can start a fire, destroy electronics, and scare the Schumer out of you when it happens in the middle of the night. Ask me how I know. Lightning rods are installed along the roof of your dwelling to take the brunt of the strike rather than your home. The electricity is directed along a series of wires and down into the ground. Twice annually, inspect the rods, wires, and grounding mechanism for any damage.

2.Wind Damage Prevention - A heavy gust of wind can damage the most heavily fortified properties. A tornado, hurricane, or cyclone can destroy everything in its path, and little can be done to stop it. There have been great advances in hurricane resistant building methods, but I am not well versed in them. For the sake of this writing, I'm going to focus on prevention of damage from the less than building-leveling winds.
     
A. Install high quality roofing materials - Simply said, the cheaper the shingle, the quicker the damage. Basic "three tab" style shingles are made to protect your home from rain, but do not stand up well to wind. When selecting roofing material, go with the sturdiest that your budget allows. Clay tiles, metal roofing, and 50+ year shingles will not only last longer, but will resist damage from strong winds, keeping your home protected and dry.
     
A. Brace gables - At the ends of your home, the gable of your roof (think the triangles leading up to the peak) are one of the most vulnerable parts of your home in a wind storm. I once saw a home that had the entire gable sucked right out and left lying on the ground next to the house by a tornado that passed almost a mile from said home. Upon closer inspection, the gable had only been attached to the home with a few nails around the edges. If your roof has gables (as opposed to a hip, gambrel, flat, or mansard style roof), get up in your attic and look how well they're attached. A few simple 2x4's nailed to the gable and back to the roof trusses or the home's framing can hold them in place instead of having your home exposed to the elements.
     
B. Visually inspect trees and limbs and remove any near your home (1x per year) - Does your home have large trees near it? In a wind storm, any limbs hanging near your dwelling may be broken off and fall on your roof causing damage. Large trees near the structure can also break, uproot, or split and fall on your home. Walk around, find potential culprits and trim them up or turn them into firewood.

3 . Water Damage Prevention - More damage is done to homes by water than almost any other peril. Penetration from outside water is commonly thought of, but the majority of damage comes from the water already inside your home. The damage from water can range from an inconvenient puddle to warped floor boards, to mold or an all out interior flood, so it pays to maintain the water systems inside your home.
     
A. Inspect the exterior envelope of your home (1x per year) - Take a detailed look at the exterior of your home to identify potential problem areas. Pay special attention to corners, windows, and seams. Apply caulking wherever necessary and touch up any chipped or peeling paint, no matter how insignificant. Inspect your roof for damage, missing shingles, missing flashing, or deterioration of any rubber boots protecting the places where vent pipes extrude from the  roof surface and repair or replace as necessary.
     
B. Inspect any exposed water lines (2x per year) - Do you have exposed water supply or drain lines in your basement or crawlspace or under any sinks or toilets? Perform a visual inspection to identify any drips or leaks and repair as necessary. Pay special attention to couplings, elbows, and fittings, as these are where almost all leaks originate. Also pay special attention to any lines supplying water to a filter in your refrigerator or an ice maker in your freezer. These lines are often installed by the individual who delivers the appliance and shoddy installations cause a significant number of water losses each year.
     
C. Replace water supply lines (Every other year) - Every plumbing fixture or appliance in your home has a supply line hooked to it. In many homes, these lines are a rubber or vinyl hose with plastic fittings that connect to a shut off valve on one end and the fixture on the other end. These hoses are under water pressure 24 hours per day, and if one of them bursts, there will be an unrestricted flow of water into your home until you stop it. Replace these lines every other year to minimize the risk of a blowout. Don't forget the clothes washing machine, toilets, and the dishwasher. If you have metal supply lines that connect your fixtures to your main water line, shut off the water and remove them every other year to inspect for deterioration or corrosion. Replace these lines when they show any sign of weakness, or every 5 years.
     
D. Maintain hot water heater (1x per year) - Your water heater's holding tank is a valuable source of clean water for your family should you lose your water supply. If you have a 50 gallon tank, this would supply one gallon of water per family member per day for almost 2 weeks for a family of four. It also has the capability of spilling 50 gallons of scalding hot water all over anything near it if it fails. It pays to keep this valuable appliance well maintained. Determine how to drain and flush your particular model and do so annually. When performing this flush, also inspect the anode rod in your heater and replace it if necessary. These rods divert corrosive action away from the tank walls and extends the life of your water heater. If you have softened water, this will greatly reduce the lifespan of your anode rod, and of your water heater if the rod is not regularly inspected and replaced when corroded. These rods are inexpensive and valuable to an important appliance in your home.
     
E. Install and maintain a sump pump - A sump pump is installed in a plastic basket below your home's lowest level. It provides a "path of least resistance" for subterranean water. The water enters the basket rather than coming up through your foundation. When the water reaches a certain level, it trips a float switch and pumps the water outside your home (maybe into a rain barrel?). If you're in a water-prone area, you may already have one of these. My main home is near water and has a high water table, so a sump pump is essential to a dry basement. Therefore, in my sump basket, I have a second pump that is powered by a deep cycle 12 volt battery. The battery will run the pump for about 8 hours and is kept charged by an attached charger. I have a second battery stored for it as well, with a portable solar charger, so one can be charging while the other is powering the backup pump. Twice per year, I open up the lid to the basket and fill it with water to visually inspect both pumps as they empty the water outside.
     
F. Prevent water damage from ice dams (Whenever necessary) - Ice dams happen in cold climates when hot air from inside your home or retained heat from the environment heats up the roofing surface, melting fresh snow that falls on your roof. The melted snow runs down to the roof's edge where it re-freezes. Ice dams can be prevented by installing electrical heat tape along the bottom edge of the roof.  In a grid down situation, a roof rake can be used to keep the bottom 2-3 feet of roofing area clear of snow to prevent ice build up. The roof rake is a flat piece of metal attached to a long pole, which allows you to stand on the ground and scrape down massive piles of snow right on top of your head and down the back of your coat. Again...ask me how I know.

4. Water/Sewer Backup Prevention - Human excrement runs downhill. Unless something stops it from running downhill. Then human excrement runs uphill, often right into the lowest level of the homes of some unfortunate souls. This stinks, both literally and figuratively, and would quickly render a dwelling uninhabitable in the absence of insurance coverage and professional cleanup crews. Here are some ways to prevent this excrement-y situation.
     
A. Install a backwater valve and gate valve - These relatively simple mechanical devices can stop any back flow by making your sewer line a "one-way street".  The backwater valve will allow your wastewater and excrement to flow out of your home freely, but will instantly plug if any pressure comes from the other direction. The gate valve is a failsafe mechanism, allowing you to manually close off your sewer line, preventing any inflow or outflow. Hopefully it goes without saying that once your system is stopped, you will not be able to use any interior drains. Time to dig a latrine.
     
B. Maintain your septic system (12x per year) - If you are in the country and on a septic system, in addition to regular pumping, keep a supply of Rid-X or a similar product on hand and use it monthly. These products with enzymes and bacteria help to break down human waste, keeping your septic tank drained and in good working order so it's there for you when you need it.
     
C. Maintain your main sewer line (1x per year or less) - It is always wise to know where your sewer line runs. If you are connected to a municipal system, you can find where your line leaves your house by locating the cleanout, a large threaded cap made of brass or PVC, in your basement or lowest level. The cleanout will likely be near the street side of your home (possibly underneath carpeting or other flooring). This line will run straight out from your home to the street from this point. Remove any trees that are near this line and grind out or kill off the stumps to avoid tree roots penetrating the line. There are commercial products available to kill tree roots in a main line, but it's preferable to remove the problem completely. If it's been a while since you had this main line cleaned, hire a plumber to clean it out, and ask how clogged it was. If it was in good shape, you'll probably be okay every few years, but if there were problems, you'll want to have this done annually. As much as possible, avoid putting any type of grease, oil, coffee grounds, egg shells or animal fat down your drain. Also avoid flushing items like diapers, tampons, cleaning wipes or paper towels down your toilets to prevent clogs.

5. Hail Damage Prevention - Hail smaller than the size of golf balls rarely does damage to property. Hail larger than golf balls can quickly destroy large amounts of property. While most of this damage would be cosmetic in nature, there are some steps you can take to prevent problems that will require your time that could be spent on more important things.
     
A . Install high quality roofing materials - Metal roofing, or impact resistant shingles are more cost-effective now than they've ever been. A standard asphalt shingle has a life expectancy of 20-30 years in perfect conditions, but most struggle to last even this long. Metal roofing can last a lifetime and resist damage from an ice attack by the cloud monsters.
     
B . Avoid vinyl siding - Hail can destroy vinyl siding in a matter of minutes, leaving your home exposed to the elements. Any other variety of siding may be damaged by hail, but the damage would be cosmetic in nature.

6. Theft Prevention - Entire volumes have been written about retreat security, and I don't intend to recapitulate all of that information here. However, there are some simple things that you can do to your home to make stealing your stuff more of a challenge than stealing someone else's stuff. I strongly believe in the concept of layered security. Any one of these suggestions alone don't deter a good thief, but all of them together make your home a real pain in the neck compared to easier targets.
     
A. Trim hedges and bushes near doors and windows (1x per year) - Thieves lurk and hide. Don't give them anywhere near a potential entry point to spend time unnoticed.     

B. Visually inspect your home from a thief's eyes (2x per year minimum) - This can be a daily thought process, but at least twice per year, take the time to look at your house like a burglar would. Can you see valuable items, food storage, water filtering equipment, a safe, or any other enticing items through outside windows? You can install blinds or shades in windows, but they only work if they're closed all the time. Make your home look as boring as possible for anyone who might look in.    

C. Install motion lights and test (12x per year) - Are there dark areas around your home or retreat? Motion lights can make your home less of a target by shedding light on the shadows in which creeps lurk. Be careful though, that these have a switch or other mechanism allowing you to shut them off if you need the privacy or anonymity that darkness can provide. My motion lights are all installed on a single electrical circuit. One breaker shuts them all down instantly. Test these motion lights monthly to make sure they pick up motion in the areas you desire and that bulbs are in working order. Re-aim motion sensors and bulbs as necessary.
     
D . Install alarm sirens and test system (12x per year) - A home security system by itself is no deterrent to most thieves. A good one will be gone with what they want before the cops arrive. A desperate thief doesn't care. I prefer wireless systems to the traditional wired system connected to a phone line, because the thief can't just cut a phone line before they break in. Wireless systems can be self installed, run on grid power or solar rechargeable batteries, and can communicate with a monitoring service via cell signal. In a grid down situation, this system can still provide value by alerting you to intrusion with door and window sensors and motion sensors.    

E. Avoid common hiding places for valuables - Everyone puts cash in the freezer, a gun in the nightstand drawer, tapes stuff under drawers, puts things under mattresses, and right inside the entrance to an attic. How many people put an extra fake drain pipe under the sink or a fake light switch on a wall covering an electrical box with hidden valuables? Get creative.     

F. Get a good safe and bolt it to the floor - Sturdy Safe makes my favorite safe with the best fire protection that I've found for the money. Get the biggest one you can afford or fit into your dwelling and bolt it to the floor, then build walls around it, shelves in front of it, and bolt it to the floor. Obscure it however possible and install a motion sensor from your security system near it to alert you if an intruder finds it.

6. Infestation Prevention - Bugs, mice, and other vermin are another destructive force that can turn your bug-in location into a location you want to bug out of. I keep a hefty supply of pesticides and insecticides in my storage (both the chemical variety and the organic variety)for this reason. Every area of the country will have different risks here, so know yours. I spoke above about the importance of doing a thorough inspection of your home's exterior. This practice will also aid in pest prevention by finding and sealing passageways that allow pests in your home.
     
A. Treat your exterior (4x per year) - Applying a pesticide to the areas around the perimeter of your dwelling can keep pests from invading your space. It's better to keep them out than to deal with them when they're in. Find a product that works on your local bugs and keep enough on hand to continue treating your location if it becomes unavailable.
     
B . Set mouse traps - I've yet to see a mouse at my retreat. I still have a dozen traps set inside and outside and check them regularly. I have a beautiful wife who is very helpful and supportive of our preparedness, but if mice are living in our retreat, that support is gone.
     
C . Inspect and remove habitat near your dwelling (4x per year) - Do you have a wood pile against your house? Long grass near the foundation? Keeping the barrier around your home clean and de-cluttered keeps your home from being easy habitat, or providing easy passage inside.

This might all seem like an enormous undertaking, but when living in the situation for which you are preparing, a well maintained retreat is vital to your survival. Some of these recommendations are easy and inexpensive now. They may become impossible repairs someday, because the supplies are unavailable. The better condition your retreat or bug-in location are in when the event happens, the longer you can count on it to provide you shelter and security.

I recommend implementing a preventative maintenance calendar, on which you schedule different inspections and loss prevention items. On it, you can also include other regular necessary tasks around your retreat or plan for the upcoming year's activities or purchases.

I thank God for all of the knowledge and experience so freely shared on this blog. Remember brothers and sisters, that all things work for the good of those who love God. Trust Him and follow in the footsteps of Christ and you will survive, on Earth for as long as He wills, and in forever in eternity with him.

Psalm 23
1 The LORD is my shepherd,
  I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
  He leads me beside quiet waters.

3 He restores my soul;
  He guides me in the paths of righteousness
  For His name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
  I fear no evil, for You are with me;
  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  You have anointed my head with oil;
  My cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.


Thursday, August 22, 2013


The last time I sent an article to SurvivalBlog [The Secret Prepper, in May, 2013], I told of how I was secretly preparing for the possibility of the “S” hitting the “F”.  Well, I’m proud to say that I’ve finally come out of the shadows and into the light.  The lesson I’ve learned is to quit worrying about how much the Band Aid is going to hurt and just rip it off.  It wasn’t all that hard and my life is better for it, even if my family has taken several opportunities to fashion me an aluminum foil hat.

That said, I have just completed the long and drawn out process of closing on my new “summer home”.  I put that in quotations because my true intent was to have a retreat location.  “Summer Home” was simply what the realtor assumed, and I told him no different.  Truth be told, this will in fact be my vacation spot until I can build a business that allows me to work from home.  Then it will be my full time residence.

I thought long and hard about where I should purchase my home.  My biggest problem is that I live in New York.  I’ll pause while you sneer in derision and send raspberries my way…

Okay.  Now that that’s over:

Why move?

We each need to take a look at our living situations.  Bugging, whether it be out or in, is a decision based upon so much more than having a place to go.  Will you need access to medical care?  Can you feed your family once you get there?  Can you protect yourself better there or at home?

I currently live a couple of hours from the northernmost border of New York City.  While my area has everything I could possibly need: A good amount of rainfall, fertile soil, privacy enough for me to have a few animals and keep my weapons zeroed; it is also likely to be ravaged by the Golden Horde as it’s simply too close to a major metropolitan area.  If I want to keep my family safe, I need to get them further away.

My family and I have spent the last twenty-two years vacationing in the mountains of Upstate New York.  There isn’t a major city for hours; though there are a few smaller ones they are mostly populated by college students whom would likely start leaving as their trust funds and bank accounts dwindle.  Either way I won’t be within a hundred miles of one of these smaller cities, as the crow flies.

In the name of operational security, I had to put some thought into seemingly benign decisions:

Choosing a realtor

Maybe I’m a bit more paranoid than I’d like to admit, but I chose a realtor who was only marginally familiar with the area and who wouldn’t be able to find his way to the listings without use of a map.  Cell and GPS do not work reliably in the mountains of Upstate NY and so my potential location couldn’t be saved to GPS for future reference. 

When he asked how I came to get his number I explained that a friend had used him several years back and I supplied him with a fairly generic name for reference.  Being a salesman, he politely claimed to remember my “friend” and sent his regards.  I’ll be sure to thank Mike Richards for the referral if ever I meet him.

Choosing a location

I needed to find a balance between being remote and being close enough to other people that I wouldn’t completely lose my mind.  Human beings are inherently social animals, and I’m no different.  The need for news and barter should not be underestimated, not to mention the fact that if my family and I are to eventually move to our retreat location there needs to be something for them to do when we get there.

Medical assistance is also something I needed to consider.  What good does it serve to go through all of the trouble of creating a safe haven for my family if I sustain an injury in the process that kills me due to the absence of reasonable care?

I believe that I achieved that balance: 15 minutes to an urgent care center, 30 minutes to a mall, ½ mile to the nearest neighbor… all in an area with a population density of <70 per square mile.  For New York this is pretty empty, and these are people who know how to live independently.

I feel I must add that most of the state of New York is like this, and that it’s the over 60% of the people living in the bottom 15% of the state that ruin things for the rest of us.

Needs versus wants

What I wanted and what I needed were both short lists.  I did not compromise when it came to my needs list:
- Brick or stone
- Gravity fed well
- Stream deep enough to sustain year-round fish and fast enough to limit freezing
- A metal roof
- Reasonably remote location with enough land to maintain privacy and hunt safely

What I wanted was:
- Multiple ways of getting water
- Multiple ways to heat the home
- Enough sunlight throughout the day for solar power and farming
- A root cellar

I ended up having to compromise on the brick or stone, as there were no homes on the market that fit the bill.  I can always harden the home as I repair it, and have taken steps to do so.

What I ended up with was a home with a metal roof, propane heating as well as two wood burning stoves (with cook tops), an electric well as well as a hand pumped well and a stream that fed into a hand dug basin.  It also has a cement garage, a barn and a root cellar big enough to house a small family.  All of this located on several dozen acres at the dead-end of a tertiary road and abutting federally protected land.

Paying for it all

I am a big proponent of living well within your means.  For years my family and I have watched others as they spent large amounts of money on material goods, then listened to them complain about financial problems when the next big thing turned out to be just another monthly bill. 

Don’t get me wrong… Be good to yourself, but remember that you have a responsibility to your family.  Being prepared after all, means being financially prepared as well.

That said; we have been saving up for a summer home for several years and after saving every penny we could, we had managed to collect what we felt was a sizable down payment.  Imagine our surprise when we found that the market in the area we focused on had homes on acreage that we could pay for outright. 

We are now the owners of our second home and have somehow (my wife’s amazing management skills) managed to remain debt free.  I understand that this is likely not possible for most people, but I must say that the positive psychological effect of not being beholden to anyone is amazing.

Pre-positioning and security

I am now in the process of updating my retreat home.  While doing so, we are using it as a base of operations for hiking, fishing, camping, boating, hunting and anything else we can do.  It is only a matter of time before it is ready for full time occupation. 

With every trip I make I bring some of my stored goods.  Buckets of Mylar sealed food have been additionally fortified against moisture and are being positioned in the root cellar.  Health and hygiene items like toilet paper, toothpaste and the like are being stored in quantity not just for TEOTWAWKI but because snow is measured in feet versus inches.  As repairs are being conducted extra items, such as plywood, are being stored in the garage for the proverbial rainy days.

But what good is it all if, while I’m absent, a drifter comes along and “digs in”, or there’s some form of natural disaster that renders my retreat un-livable?

As far as natural disasters go, well, there isn’t likely much I can do about it.  With regards to random persons attempting to occupy there are a few things I am doing.  I need to mention first that in the trips I have made so far, I have yet to see anyone with fewer than 4 legs anywhere near my property.  But you can’t be too careful so:

First, I have plenty of “No Trespassing” signs posted around my perimeter.  They let people know that someone has a vested interest in the land they’re about to cross, and most times will serve to dissuade a person intent on simply going from point A to point B.

In addition to that, I have a fair quantity of “Beware of Dog” signs.  Little yellow electric fence flags are located closer to the house to accompany these signs, and with luck this will prevent someone who has disregarded the no trespassing signs.  Also, at the driveway and along the immediate perimeter of the house I have signs from an alarm company, and have conspicuously placed surveillance cameras in several locations.  The security system and cameras are currently not operational, but they are real and will be used in the future.

Lastly, I have a P.O. box in town at the post office so that there won’t be a stack of mail overflowing from my mailbox down at the road.  One thing I have learned simply by observation is that you can always tell when nobody is home by the number of newspapers in the driveway and the presence or absence of mail in the box.

All of these measures are simply visual deterrents and if tested by a determined intruder will fail if I am not there to provide the final measure of security.  There is only so much I can do until I manage to build my home-based business to the capacity that it can provide for my family as my only business.

In conclusion

I think that there are a number of constants to choosing a retreat home, such as features that are low maintenance like a metal roof and brick construction.  Duplication of necessities, such as water access, I believe to be crucial.  The difficulty lies in balancing safety and security with distance and privacy. 

We each have our own issues, mine being asthma, that force us to select a location which will best serve our day-to-day needs.  I sacrificed additional distance for access to medical care.  I figure it’s worth it given all of the other bonuses.  In the end, you have to find what fits into your everyday life.  

Much like stored food, if it’s not something you’d use there isn’t a point to having it. For a closing thought, consider 2 Chronicles 15:7: "Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded."


Thursday, July 25, 2013


Last week I returned home, after being away for a few days, to find a good portion of my preps under 30 inches of scuzzy water due to a flash flood that hit my neighborhood.  They were stored in my unfinished basement that also housed a permanent sump pump installed in one corner which was supposed to prevent such flooding.

When I started down the stairs to the basement I was met with a really strong musty smell.  I couldn't get down the last 3 steps due to the high water.  I noticed a couple of my #2.5 cans of freeze dried food floating nearby and fished them out of the water.  The cans were slimy and smelly but the labels were still somewhat intact.  I sat down on the step and used a powerful flashlight to illuminate the room. 
 
Floating in the water were a lot of my canning supplies, #2.5 & #10 cans of freeze dried food, vacuum sealed bags of food, pieces of cardboard boxes and some trash bags that stored other prepper type items.  A good number of boxes & Tupperware containers at the back of the room had tipped over with the contents now in a huge wet, mushy amorphous pile of gunk.  It looked like the wooden shelves they were originally on were broken or had become unhinged.  The heating unit for the house was 3/4 of the way under water.  Good thing its July and not January.
 
Tears of despair started to well up in me but I quickly started doing some deep breathing and was able to push them back down.  I knew immediately I wouldn't be able to afford to replace the items let alone a new heating unit.  I was laid off a few years ago from corporate America and had not been able to find a full time job yet.  I had gone from making $40 an hour to $10 an hour part time with no benefits.  My 83 year-old mom had been sending me some money to help me keep the bills paid and food on the table.  There was no extra anything.  I had bought the food and preps years ago while I was gainfully employed and they had given me some sense of security these last few years. 

I made myself get up and start working the problem.  I went to the shed and grabbed a couple of small submersible pumps but only had garden hoses to put on them.  I then started moving some furniture out of the way so I could run the hoses up the stairs and out the back door.  I laid down towels to protect the antique oak wood floors and started pumping.  I only got 6 inches pumped out before I had to pull the pumps and hoses in order to shut the back door for the night.  24 inches to go.

Next morning I set everything back up but noticed that the water level was back up to 28 inches.  I went and talked to a good, like-minded neighbor and he came over to look at it.  He gave me a quick education on water table levels and sump pumps, specifically the difference between pedestal (which the old one was) and submersible ones.  He told me the 2 smaller submersible pumps I was using could handle a much bigger hose than the 5/8 garden hoses.  A trip to Home Depot and quick installation of bigger flexible hoses allowed me to start pumping larger amounts of water out. 

After a day of pumping I got the water level down to 6 inches and could see that the old pedestal style sump pump had come up out of the barrel sunk into the floor of the basement and was sitting on the floor.  Which, of course, meant the motor was trashed and a new one was needed.  I shut everything down for the night and took another 1200 mg. of Tylenol.  My back was seriously hurting from moving the furniture and lifting sump pumps with long hoses attached in and out. 

Next morning started out with me walking around fairly bent over from back spasms so I switched to Advil and headed to Home Depot for a new submersible pump with a float.  Back at home the water level had risen over night to 19 inches so I put the two small pumps back to work.  I almost took a header into the water while trying to wrestle the old pump out which was to the left of the staircase.  I was standing on the stairs bent sideways trying to get the old pump out so I could put the new one in the barrel.  Lost my balance, whacked my head on a floor joist (which kept me from doing a face plant in the water) and did a wicked twist to my ribs but I got it out.  Installed the new pump and started to really move some water out.

Did I mention I am a small frame woman and sump pumps with big hoses attached are heavy and awkward?  I was sitting in a lawn chair watching the water pump out into the irrigation ditch, nursing a wicked headache and spasms in my ribs, neck, back and shoulders when another good, like-minded neighbor I had told about the "event" came by.  He walked up and handed me a hamburger, root beer and a big bottle of Aleve.  A hamburger never tasted so good and I am now totally sold on Aleve.
 
The next day, with the new pump working and the water level down, I put a couple of big box fans in the basement to start drying things out and shut the door to the basement.  I landed on the couch for the rest of the day with my new friend, Aleve, and gave my aches and pains a break.  The following day I had recuperated enough to go down and start hauling stuff out.  More heavy smelly stuff up the stairs and out into the yard.

Some good news, some not so good.  The Mountain House #10 cans had already started to rust so they went into a separate pile to research later.  The AlpineAire, Rainy Day Food from Walton Feed and the Gourmet Reserve #2.5 & #10 cans did not rust and still had their labels attached.  The Yoder's canned meats did not rust but the labels had come off so they went into the pile with the Mountain House cans.  Nothing like a can of mystery meat to look forward to.  Canning jars, lids, and pots were dirty, smelly and slime encrusted.
 
All would need to be washed and disinfected but I don't want to start that process until I research the best way to disinfect stuff.  My initial thoughts are one bucket of hot soapy water, then a bucket of Lysol and water, then a bucket of Clorox and water.  I don't know if the Clorox will fade the writing on the labels and I know I probably only have one chance at this since the labels would all be getting wet again.  I don't want more mystery food to contend with. 
 
I had broken up other items such as rice, oatmeal, noodles, beans, etc. into smaller serving size bags using a food savers vacuum sealer.  I had written expiration dates and general instruction on each bag.  Did I mention that writing with permanent markers is not so permanent when submerged in water for days?  A lot of the writing is now a very light purple.  Thankfully, I have a full inventory with expiration dates and should be able to piece the puzzle back together.  Most of these bags faired fairly well, other than the handwritten notes on the outside, but would have to be thoroughly cleaned.  A number of them had been poked by something and water got in.  Those went into the trash.

The pressure cookers and food dehydrator had been under water for days and I put them in the pile to do more research on.  Then I got to the pile that had been in the Tupperware containers.  Took more Aleve and started to dig in.  Some of the contents had come completely out of the containers and others were just drowned in the Tupperware.  Items such as Ace bandages, slings, Israeli bandages, bandanas, cloth flour bags, parachute cord, bungees, and ropes went into a pile to be washed and hopefully salvaged.  Other items such as books, paper products, feminine hygiene products and band-aids had turned to mush and went into the trash.

In the Tupperware containers I had put a good number of the items in Zip loc bags or vacuum-sealed bags.  I found some had been poked with something that put a hole in the bag and scuzzy water had got into them.  I got to looking at the contents and think I found the culprit.  The bottom of tubes such as toothpaste, antibiotic ointment, sunscreen and various other first aid ointments have very sharp edges to them.  I think these sharp corners poked holes in other nearby items.  I made a mental note to self to duct tape the bottom of tubes in the future to hopefully prevent this.  I also think some of the loose items such as screwdrivers, utensils, tent stakes and various other tools had done their fair share of hole poking.  Another mental note to self to look for small Tupperware type containers such as those used for food storage to use for housing sharp items in the future.  I found the vacuum-sealed bags can have really sharp corners to them when they are fully filled.

Items in bottles and jars such as vitamins, over the counter medications, creams, spices and the like had label problems.  I opened a couple of them and found that the safety tab under the lid had kept the contents dry.  The cotton at the top of the containers of vitamins and medications was dry and did not smell.  I think they are okay....just have label problems.  I never really liked all those safety tabs in the past and thought they were a pain in the butt.  Now I'm thinking I like them. 

Construction items such as tools, wood, nails, screws, saws, nuts & bolts, hinges and the like had water damage and had started to rust and bow.  I put them in a pile by themselves to be gone through later.  All the cardboard boxes that the nails, screws, nuts and bolts were mushy and had pretty much disintegrated.  I know you can get rust off tools and I think it is steel wool you use.  Added rust elimination to my list of items to research.  I know some of these items were responsible for hole poking and would need a different type of container in the future.

Items such as first aid, fire starters, survival type stuff, etc. were a mixed lot.  Some were mush that went into the overflowing trash, others went into a pile of possible salvageable and another pile of OK but needs cleaning and disinfecting.  With items such as gauze, bandages and the like, it would depend upon whether the item was packaged in plastic with a paper label slapped on.  Also depended upon whether they had gotten holes poked in the packaging.  Did I mention that there are all kinds of sharp stuff that can poke holes in things if they get all shifted around?  Cloth type items went into a pile of their own to be run through the washing machine numerous times. 

I discovered items such as dish soap that has a pull top opening don't always stay closed.  Items such as shampoo and lotion that have the lid where you push down on one part of the lid to get the other side to pop open also doesn't just magically stay closed if they are shifted and tossed about.  They leaked out onto items and created their own kind of mess.  Fortunately, the guns, ammunition, scopes, cleaning kits, and other expensive vital items I had stored in a spare bedroom and were spared.  Yea!!

My neighbors are awesome.  A good number of them dropped by in the days of hauling, sorting, throwing out and brought homemade baked goods, quick meals, soda, words of encouragement and hope.  I had set up the yard in the back of the house for laying things out to dry, for sorting and for making piles of stuff to figure out.  OPSEC was definitely blown but the good, like-minded neighbors were the only ones allowed into that area.  The nosy neighbors were headed off at the front of the yard.  Some of the good neighbors noticed my trash cans were full to overflowing and I had begun putting stuff in large black contractor bags.  They offered to take the trash in the contractor bags and put in their trash cans.  Did I mention I have some awesome neighbors?

All the old Christmas decorations had been submerged and needed to be pulled out to be dried.  I found this to be kinda depressing because it reminded me of better times when life was good.  Back then I was making plenty of money and a high electric bill in December wasn't a problem.  I used to go all out and decorated both the inside and outside of the house with festive lights and decorations.  I had stopped celebrating the season after I got laid off and just couldn't find the spirit to decorate anymore.... not even a tree.  I wound up throwing the majority of the lights and decorations in the trash.  The small indoor nativity scene got me though.  My mom had given it to me years ago and it was trashed.  I saved the wise men, sheep, a camel and the star that went over the scene. 

The last Tupperware container to go through was one I had been avoiding because it contained all the Christmas tree decorations...some which held sentimental value to me.  The container had been knocked over and rattled a lot when I brought it up out of the basement.  I opened the lid and my heart sunk.  Scuzzy water had gotten in and most of the items were trashed.  The ornaments were crushed and broken.  I sifted through the mess and found a couple of special ornaments that had not been broken but had crusted scum on them.  Tears started pouring down my face and I tried to suck it up but I couldn't stop the flow.  I just sat there crying silently thinking of times past.

I picked up a few things and added them to the small pile of items I had put on my desk.  The pile now contained a canning jar full of rusty nails and screws, some bailing wire, a can of Yoder's mystery meat, a bottle of Aleve, a tube of Neosporin, 2 wise men, a scuzzy Christmas ornament, and a camel.   As I sat there trying to stuff my emotions back inside I found I had taken one of the bigger nails and a smaller one out and was turning them over and over.  I grabbed the bailing wire and fixed the smaller nail 1/3 of the way down the bigger nail.  I then attached a bailing wire loop at the top and put the rusty nail cross around the camel's neck.  I don't know why I did it, I just did.  There was something appropriate about my rusty nail cross-held together by bailing wire. 
 
I wish I had something poetic or profound to say at this point but my thoughts and emotions are like the jumbled piles of stuff sitting out in the yard.  I feel like I am sitting in the transition zone between the good times of the past, the current challenges and the possible future SHTF scenario.  The 10 years working at Outward Bound gave me knowledge, skill, courage, toughness and strength.  The 12 years at corporate America challenged me intellectually, gave me financial security and showed me how cold the world can be.  Now I am financially poor but happy.  A little down but not out.  I recovered my true spirit that had led me to work and teach people about nature and the outdoors.  Some things were gained and some things were lost.  Along the way, much was learned and much is still to be learned.  Even though I am human and my emotions come out occasionally I do have the ability to suck it up and continue on.  The sun does come up each day and life does go on.  I don't know what it all means yet but I think I will be keeping my cross made of rusty nails and bailing wire with me for some time to come. 
 
Keep your socks and powder dry (and out of unfinished basements).  Take care and may you be surrounded by good, like-minded friends, family and neighbors.


Monday, June 24, 2013


James,
I appreciate seeing some folks trying to build some sort of fallout shelter, as these may, unfortunately come in handy someday soon.   Since I build these for a living, I thought I’d throw some basic suggestions out there for the readers. For simple fallout shelters, assuming that blast will not be a factor, above ground concrete walls should be 24 inches thick (or better if you can afford it!).  Walls below grade can be a mere 10 inches thick.   Ceilings:  24 inches will provide fair protection, assuming “rainout” does not occur in your locale. [The Swiss shelter building code calls for 30 inches, but public shelters average about a meter of concrete with a meter of earth on top]  A rainout will cause a great deal of the fallout in a cloud that would have fallen to the ground hundreds of miles away to come down promptly, right on top of you, and it will be concentrated.  Dose rates many times higher could result, rendering a marginal shelter totally ineffective (occupants will die).  

We get calls from good folks who have designed and built a nice concrete garage with a shelter/basement.  They usually call to order an air handler to round out their shelter.  The first question I ask them is, “how thick is the ceiling?”.  Most excitedly reply “eight inches!”   My heart sinks, for they have expended a great deal of effort, time, and money to build a nice storage area...but it is totally unworkable as a fallout shelter.  An eight inch concrete ceiling has a protection factor of about 12, at best.  That is inadequate for even a mild dose of local fallout. Gamma rays are very penetrating, and heavy mass is require to defeat them, or reduce them to levels that can be managed by the body’s immune system.  Twenty four inches of good concrete between fallout particles and shelter occupants will do a pretty good job, even it there happens to be a rainout.  I’d be more inclined to push on the 30 inches if it were in my budget to do so.  

Wood is an extremely poor shielding material, but earth is roughly half as good as concrete....and dirt cheap!  If you can cover your shelter room with at least forty inches of earth, you’ll have a protection factor of one thousand...probably adequate for most folks. [Do not use wood in your shelter structure, as it will rot and become dangerous in a short period of time.] The shelters we build typically get buried with ten feet of earth, and have a protection factor of over a billion.  But our shelters are designed to protect to within 1/2 mile of ground zero of the current heavy hitters in the Russian nuclear arsenal. Most folks living in a rural setting will not require this level of protection. If you can afford a good shelter, I think it’s a sound investment.  For those on a tight budget, try to build something that has adequate mass in it that will not collapse.  Don’t forget ventilation, sanitation, and a well-shielded entrance. As FEMA had a great deal of trouble delivering ice after a hurricane, it is clear that should a nuclear event occur here in America, we will be on our own. Plan, and build, accordingly. - Paul S.


Saturday, June 22, 2013


Dear Jim,
I notice that 5.56 is again getting an unrealistically bad rap.  It's not as powerful as many other rounds, but some online epithets seem to suggest you can hide behind a sheet of paper and be safe.

As a reminder, I'd like to repost the following demonstrations from the fine folks at Box O' Truth:

There are certainly better rounds for long range and heavy targets (I like 8mm Mauser, myself), but don't dismiss a threat because he "only" has 5.56mm.

Oh, and off topic, but of interest: How .410 revolvers stink as defensive weapons.

- Michael Z. Williamson, SurvivalBlog Editor at Large


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Hello James,
I read your blog every day and enjoy finding information that is useful. Recently a posting discussed the use of the 5.56 mm NATO bullet and its poor performance in penetrating automobiles.
 
I took notice of this information about the penetrating power or lack of penetrating power of the 5.56 in relation to single and double barriers.

We moved onto our five acres of land nine years ago. One of the first building projects was to have a contractor installed tornado shelter set in the ground. Then over the next two years I added a 16’x20’x50” high system of concrete walls around the opening to the tornado shelter. I added baffled entrances and a sturdy roof. The concrete walls are 7 inches thick on the bottom and taper to 5 inches at the top.
I designed this kind of wall to get the greatest thickness on the bottom where any residual radioactive might collect on the ground.

On top of the concrete walls is a 24” tall wooden wall with screened openings 7” along the three sides away from the embankment. The insides of these walls are stacked with bricks to increase the personal protection factor (PFC) against radiation and perhaps the penetration of bullets, slugs and shot.

We have electricity and water in the bunker. The roof has survived a single impact of large hail that we measured at 3.25 inches in diameter. Thankfully we had this hail only fall for 30 seconds and it was spread out widely on the property. One of these large hail stones penetrated completely through our house roof. But I had sheeted the roof of the bunker with 3/4 inch plywood. We call this structure our "Weather Bunker."
 
I have proceeded to attempt to harden it against weather and other possibilities. The south side of the weather bunker is protected by setting 9 to 11 foot tall discarded electric line poles along the roof edge. They average 8 to 11 inches thick and extend up to the roof ridge in height. I get these discarded poles from the local electric company. The north side and part of the east side are protected by a row of railroad timbers set on end creating a wall. These are for breaking the wind and protecting the shingles on the roof. However they do present an initial barrier for bullets, slugs and shot before coming to the concrete wall. We have a 350 gallon water tank on the north side that sets outside. This barrier protects it from visual observation and perhaps from penetration from light firearms.
 
The weakest part of the structure are the two doors made of 2x4’s and 5/8” plywood.
 
Recently we replaced our heat pump and the contractor left the old unit. During the disassembly I discovered that the outside was made up of two louvered rectangular units curved around to encase the unit. They laid out nearly flat when removed. They are good heavy steel units. After measuring I mounted these plates on the outside of the two doors. I now have a louvered steel plate plus two layers of 5/8” plywood on my doors. We will be visiting the contractor who did the installation looking for two more from discarded units for the inside of the doors.
 
As I read this article about penetration of the 5.56mm NATO I realized that the addition of these louvered plates was the correct thing to do.
 
We are both 72 years of age. Unless there are some really severe mitigating circumstances we will not be leaving this place if all hell breaks loose. This place is our lifeboat. But we are surrounded by hundreds of acres of range land. Some of which is very rough hilly land covered in sandhill plum brush, sages brush and some shinnery oak. The larger draws support a surprising growth of larger trees.

We have developed rally points close and far. Under certain conditions if we were forced to take to the land we have an environmental set of conditions in which we could hide. We have one ATV to use for transport locally in the rough land. As a last resort we have two pneumatic four tired garden carts that could be pulled. If the situation deteriorates we plan to buy another ATV of some sort quickly.
 
We have had to adjust our outlook recently. My wife had a mild non-debilitating heart attack last year. She is back to normal now. I appear to be recovering from Leukemia after diagnosis in January. Time will tell us how our health is and time will mark the requirements for our survival.
 
My thesis for this note is this: you should consider these louvered air conditioner plates as additional potential barriers for doors, windows and walls. They should be available if you can find the contractor who has a junk yard full of old units.
 
Secondly consider using railroad ties or discarded electric line poles for barriers around your retreat or home. Don’t forget to put a barrier around your outdoor privy area. Nobody wants to get shot with their pants down.

From the red hills of western Oklahoma and America’s most secret redoubt. - Joe C.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


Like most of you I have been preparing for the bad times to come. I have made plans with food stores, water, guns and ammo, etc. In my desire for knowledge and to be as prepared as possible I've read anything I can get my hands on and I surf the Internet nightly, I also have an impressive library. I have gleaned what I could from all this and fortified where I can. My major concern now lies is in how to protect my family and supplies that I have worked so hard and diligently on, along with personal sacrifice to lay up, from others. The problems are two fold, first the men in the black suits and secondly are our friends and neighbors who have scoffed at our ideas of being prepared for so long and who's plans are solely to allow the government to come to their rescue and take care of them in their hour of need. I have made preparations to hide what I have stored from the men in the black suits. But if any refugees have a hint you have food stored, or even the perception of possible food this becomes a problem. What can we do about the unprepared who are hungry and will come in force to kill you then take what you have once you are dead? Even if my supplies are hidden refugees still pose a real threat if they believe you have food.

I am a proponent of "bugging in". This is my best bet for sustainable survival. After the great Society Ending Event (SEE) begins and after the lights go out my plans spring into action. I won't implement my plans every time the power goes out! Within the first three to four days, after enough time for reality and permanency to set in, then my implementation begins. I then plan on making my house look abandoned and already looted to the potential looter walking by on the street. We have all seen houses that have the look we are discussing. This house is abandoned and has nothing of importance left inside, so why would anyone want to go in that place and waste their time looking for food? I want them to think..."Someone has already beat me too this one, let's look at another house down the street". This is the look I am trying to achieve. Perception in everything.

After Hurricane Katrina, when search and rescue went from house to house looking for survivors they devised a system to let other searchers know this house had in fact already been searched. A large X was painted on the house close to the front door. In the top section is listed the number of people living in your home. In the section to the right would be the number of sick removed, while the bottom section would show the number of dead found. I would put a 1 in the bottom section while the rest of the family are listed in the sick column. This will probably not mean a whole lot to those passing by other than some official person has already been there.

Next take old pallets and break them apart, then board up the windows and doors on the outside. Do this in an uneven and hurried fashion. Do not use all the same type or size lumber. The idea is to make it look as if this was done in a hurry and with supplies on hand, you don't want a look of pre-planning in your efforts. The purpose is to act as if some official person was wanting to seal this house in a hurry and move on to the next one. The reason to do the outside and not the inside is mainly so looters walking by can see this, and secondly if I do the inside and some one tries to open the door they will hit something solid. To the looter this is a red flashing arrow pointing at my house indicating I have food and other supplies.

Inside you will need to cover the windows with black sheets or black plastic, then cover them with plywood and secure to the inside wall to completely block the light. If Mr Looter is brave enough to look through the slats all they will see is darkness. Cover all the windows and doors both inside and out. This will allow family movement inside with light and such without being visible outside. This is a pain in the daytime due to the loss of ambient light but extremely necessary at night. Note: This goes without saying but...This will offer protection from people looking in and seeing if any one is home, it offers very little protection from noise inside being heard outside. This will negate any effort to appear abandoned if I'm making a lot of noise inside. Lastly on the front door slap a bio-hazard quarantine sign. This is the cherry on top! These can be found on the Internet and be printed for now and saved for later use. Now your house has a look of a medical disaster like the deadly new bird flu - H7N9. Perception is everything.

Lets take it up one more level, if there is no power I will have no need of my television. Throw this in the front yard and even shoot a hole through the screen or at least bust it up some (you don't have any need for this any more). Throw trash in the yard and make your house look as if it has already been looted before the house was quarantined. Another idea is If you have more than 1 vehicle take one and bust out the driver side window, destroy the steering column, and empty out the glove box. This has the look of someone trying to steal your car or looking for food. All this combined together makes the house look less desirable to looters and what they are looking for, I don't believe you can go over board. If you have the time take some flat black spray paint and spray around the tops of windows and door ways to make it look like smoke escaping from the inside making it appear there was a fire inside. Perception is everything.

To the casual refugee walking by, or even the more observant looter, this house has the appearance of having already been looted, or someone possibly even died in this house from some disease. Why would anyone want to waste their time there when the neighbors house looks untouched and loaded with possible food and supplies. The average looter will be in a hurry and not willing to spend any more time than is necessary taking a closer look. Remember perception is everything.

If someone is still determined on getting inside your home after all the work you have done to make it look as uninviting as possible go to your back up plan. In a closet in the master bedroom ( if it is on the first level and you don't have a concrete slab floor) remove the carpet and cut a hole in the floor. This will lead under the house. This will provide a place to safely hide from looters, provided you remain quiet. If you are inside your home don't be fooled by the movies and believe sheetrock walls will stop a bullet. [Unless your house has thick masonry walls,] there is no safe place in your home to hide if those outside are shooting at you inside your house. The prudent looter should be concerned about conserving their ammo but we are talking about hungry, desperate people. When people are under great stress they will do unpredictable things. [Unless it is burned,] hiding under the house will provide a safe place to hide and emerge later, alive.

Getting my plywood cut for each window ahead of time and having my pallets stacked behind the shed now will have me prepared for my deception once the great SEE begins. A note that is obvious but still needs to be said, this work will need to be completed under the cover of darkness. This ruse will have little effect if others are watching you complete the work. A little prep work on your part can make your home safer and appear less desirable for the enviable refugees and possible looters. Perception is everything.
Keep safe. In His Service. - W.K.R. in Kansas

JWR's Comments: Psychologically, there is a fine line between making a house look undesirable and a making it look like "fair game." Be careful about the impression that you make.

In my estimation, creating large and convincing-looking Quarantine warning signs is probably a good use of your time and money. If your signs are worded carefully, then they could give anyone except a semantics expert the impression that the Quarantine is to keep people away from sick people inside, rather than to keep sick people out. (When the goal is the latter, rather than the former.) These signs would need to use official looking typography and biohazard emblems, substituting the words "QUARANTINE AREA." As W.K.R. mentioned, these are even available commercially. If you live in a Mexican border state, then the sign could include, for redundancy: "Medida de sanidad poner en cuarentena", or more simply: Zona De Cuarentena." But I must caution that you will first need to research your State's regulations of what would constitute impersonating a government official, before creating any signs. (These laws vary widely, from state to state. In Texas, for example, their law is written quite broadly and inclusively. Contrast that with Iowa's terse statute.) There is also a Federal statute, but that seems to center around wearing a uniform or carrying a badge or credentials. If you word a quarantine declaration sign carefully, choose the correct type font, and include biohazard symbols, but omit using any words like "by order of ______ (an agency of government)" or the name or initials of any agency, then you will most likely still be legal. (You can probably vaguely use the words "It is declared"--with no agency named--but again you need to research your own state's laws.) As the property owner and head of a household, you can of course "declare" a private quarantine. Just don't impersonate a government official, in doing so! And if there is a doctor in your retreat group, the wording on the sign could truthfully end with something like: "Joe Smith, MD."

It is also wise to research your state's laws on "No Trespassing" signs. Creating various signs was discussed in TMM Forums, a few years back. And some useful links to printable signs were included in a Backwoods Home Forum thread.

One more thought: Don't overlook the human sense of smell, which triggers deep psychological reactions. Depending on the circumstances, simply leaving a large animal gut pile to rot (hidden under some loosely-piled leaves or straw) in your front yard could do much more to deter invaders than anything else. But this would of course only be appropriate if you don't have neighbors who live close-by!

The bottom line: Fear is a stronger motivator than disinterest or indifference.


Friday, May 10, 2013


Jim:
A few comments on Mountain Man Virgil's letter titled "Be Prepared to Fortify." I would like to offer a few alternatives to his plan to "hide security measures in your garage until you need them." I am assuming that he is referring to items such as barbed wire and sand bags. There are many things one can do which offer very good security and still blend in with the neighborhood. Large decorative rocks, strategically placed or large treated logs as garden or flower beds can offer excellent cover and concealment. Large livestock water tanks of metal or heavy plastic can be painted to make them "cute" additions to the landscape. When filled with sand and dirt make great garden boxes and ballistic protection. Fox holes can be incorporated into landscaping along with hedges of thorned bushes to keep intruders out of certain areas. Small ponds may also serve to limit movement in certain areas . I'm afraid that if you leave your security hidden until needed, you may not have time to deploy them if things start to unravel quickly. Good luck. - Montana Prepper


Monday, May 6, 2013


Sir,
One thing I often hear from folks who live in the suburbs is, “Oh man, you’re so lucky, you can totally take your mountain cabin and make it an armed fortress.” 

That’s not exactly true.  While I do have a retreat in a rural area, I do still also have neighbors up there.  We are on acre+ lots, so there is space.  But if I started stringing barbed wire and digging a moat, it would raise a few eyebrows.  Not only might I get a visit from the DHS (or the People’s Republic of California equivalent), but my neighbors would have advanced notice that I was stocked up when it all hit the fan. 

So what I’ve done is gathered all the materials for that time when fortification will be necessary, and just have it in sheds or stacked discreetly on parts of the property. 

Then when the flag goes up, our first few days will be spent erecting the fence and stringing it with barbed wire, setting up the noise-making trip wires on the upper back side, setting up my solar-powered motion sensor lights, etc. 

You folks who live in a suburban neighborhood can do the same.  Just figure out what defenses you have in mind, get the stuff, and keep it in your garage until the balloon goes up.    

I feel bad for anyone who has to make a go of it in a suburb, but you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.  Plus, be grateful it isn’t an urban area.  Probably your best bet would be to figure out how you could close off a set area (cul-de-sac or both ends of a street), and get enough material to do the whole area.  The plus side there is you’ll have instant allies and people to work with.  The down side could be that after a few weeks and hunger starts to set in, they may say, “Hey, if he had all the security equipment ready to go, he probably also stashed away food.”  One way to help throw them off the scent would be to now buy clothes from Goodwill that are a little too big for you, so they hang slack like everyone else will be wearing.  Another way, if you could afford it, is have extra food for them, too. 

Or perhaps a way to go would be to make an encampment of all the properties that touch yours, and leave it at that.  Anyone beyond that would be an outsider. 

I know there is a lot to think about on that, and I don’t envy you that task.  But I’ll close with the original point of this note, and that is to say you can hide security measures in your garage until you need them.  Good luck, get prepared and stay safe.  - Mountain Man Virgil


Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Dear CPT Rawles,
This letter is provided as a reply to your reader who wrote in about “Building Cabins on a Shoestring Budget”. 

There are two viewpoints to this reply, one from the vantage point of an architect with a couple dozen years of real world design and construction experience as though one of my clients was cabin builder whom I was trying to advise, solely for a cost effective, build – as-you-go, off grid home solution. The second vantage point is that of a fellow prepper, former Army National Guard Infantry Lieutenant, and in my present role as an Architectural Consultant to Hardened Structures LLC, as though the cabin builder were a client to Hardened Structures.

First, congrats on the land acquisition. This is a great blessing. Be so very thankful for three teen boys who hopefully can share the workload. This will be a key to your accomplishing realistic goals. Next, pray, and be super safe with power tools. I have had three architect bosses over my first dozen career years that were missing a finger or part of a hand from a table saw or something. In my very first self-constructed project, the electrician cut his own kneecap off with a Skilsaw.  

Starting as the first viewpoint as an architect.  Before getting to my answer, I need to disclose that I receive no compensation from any of the brands, products or web sites listed (except in my role as an architectural design consultant to Hardened Structures LLC.).  

Homebuilding can also be stressful on some family relationships, so expect good days and not so good days, but others have gone your way before and came out okay.

Mr. Rawles is correct about the shed arranged as spoke on a wheel concept with shed structures. I have also considered this concept for the same reasons of affordability to getting the first structures up and expanding as budget allows. Depending on the shed structures selected, an octagon or hexagon gazebo kit could provide the central space which the shed “spokes” radiate out from. This is a valid “build as you go” plan. But just please be aware, the chief drawback with the spokes design is the amount of wall area per square foot of living area. Five sheds at 14’x40’ is 540 lineal feet of walls needed to be built to enclose 2,700 SF. Conversely a 52 foot square structure would achieve the same 2,700 SF of living area, with only 208 lineal feet of wall to construct. So a square in plan is our best bet to achieve the most square feet for the least cost. So, on the build as you can afford plan, I’d steer a family towards each unit being a 20’x20’or even 24’x24’ “garage kit” but replace the standard roof trusses with “room in attic trusses” in particular Gambrel style because of the high amount of bonus living space which can be gained in a second story under a roof you would have to build anyway.


I like Gambrel so much that I’ll throw out my favorite type of shed if that’s the route you choose (but not an endorsement of this particular brand, just the style.)

Another consideration which people often fail to account for in the early stages of being an owner-builder is all the other skilled trades not related to the shell of the house: electrical, plumbing, and heating.  For this reason it is not an invalid starting point to build out and around and over a functional used trailer home, which comes readymade with plumbing electrical and a heating system. On Craigslist, a trailer still in towing condition can be found for $3,000-$9,000. Even if the interior finishes of the trailer need a complete rehab, this often falls within the skill set of the do-it-yourselfer, flooring, paint, cabinets, even replacing the lighting or plumbing fixtures is a plug and play, unlike actually setting up an actual hot and cold water, or electrical service within a new home. Most likely the roof on the old trailer is worn out, so a pole barn structure over the existing roof is a very common sight on homesteads with an older trailer.
Windows should be replaced if they are single pane, with dual pane type.

Some important considerations regarding cold climates:
Research has shown that continuous insulation is far more effective than cavity insulation. People like to think going to a 2x6 wall with R21 is far superior to a 2x4 wall with R13, however both walls have studs at 16” on center which transmit cold straight through the wall to the inside drywall. This is called a “Heat Sink” and is highly undesirable. So it is actually superior to save the money on 2x6s by building with 2x4 with  R11 (or R13HD) then sheath the home entirely with 1” of “Polyiso” type rigid foam board with a value of R6 per inch. R11 plus R6 only equals 17, but in the real world the R17 wall is a warmer home with less energy costs than the R21 2x6 wall. If you live in a seismic zone then either wall will require wood OSB sheathing directly against the studs, and the polyiso goes over the OSB.

Next, research has shown that after about R40 ceiling insulation is not a good cost investment, but foundation perimeter insulation in a cold climate is a highly beneficial upgrade that many builders totally overlook.  2” thick polyiso board installed against the concrete foundation wall from top to bottom after the forms are stripped off and before backfill will keep the cold out around the perimeter of the house.  I cannot stress enough how beneficial this is. Think of it this way, cold air is much less dense than cold ground, it takes far more energy to heat the ground than the air, so don’t waste your heating with concrete touching freezing ground.

A dilemma to struggle with for the economically constrained “retreat shelter” is also wood frame construction versus anything else.

Up till this point, we have been discussing Wood frame construction, since is the most commonly known method for the novice American builder to work with. However, this method is among the least secure from ballistic impact and fires.

Many other alternative construction methods are possible, but your first hurdle to cross is the local building and zoning department regulations. Depending on your location, this can range from onerous to nonexistent, but please be advised these authorities have the power to fine you  daily until you tear down what you built that violates their regulations.

Among the nontraditional home construction methods, Straw bale construction is an incredibly easy construction method.  In my past as an architecture instructor, I once led a design build class where the final exam was teams of students to build outhouses. Straw bale won the day when evaluated by a jury of local contractors and architects. The students who attempted this project had never built anything before. Construction by used wood pallets with foam insulation inserted in the pallet cavity by another group of our students was a very interesting design concept I think bears some mention as a fast and economical construction method.  There are YouTube videos of pallet-built sheds.


Other alternative construction methods include rammed earth, adobe, cob, sand bag/earth bag, or earth tube. Many of these methods are very cheap from a material standpoint, yet incredibly labor intensive.  

I am also going to mention two additional alternative construction methods later as part of second viewpoint of this reply, that of the e- infantry, Hardened Structures LLC representative.
As we transition now to this second part of the reply, we would be asking questions of what your goals are in your retreat shelter, namely:

What are your potential threat scenarios?
What are the human and material assets you are seeking to protect?
What is your budget?
Do you plan to mount an active defense or do you plan to take shelter in a safe room or shelter of some type and allow the danger to pass before reemerging? Or some combination of both?
If sheltering, how long do you plan to stay sheltered?
If mounting an active defense is your team specifically trained in this role or are you seeking training? What equipment do you have for this role?
If mounting an active defense what consideration have you given to your existing topographic surroundings?
What are any special needs your group has?

As we go through these and other questions, we would be able to develop an outline of solutions for your specific group, given your own known threats. Also we would be asking if you have concerns for threats not mentioned. For example: What are the known weather disasters to your region? Have you considered the possibility of EMP caused by solar flares or terrorist activity, or a regional nuclear incident, or a localized chemical accident or attack?

The goal is to provide a solution with no Achilles Heel, but every client and every situation differs as to how this is achieved.
Since we are aware that your budget plan is to self construct, it may be that Hardened Structures role is that of an advising or design and security planning consultant and as source for specific products for your needs. However, for most clients, we would be performing those services plus managing the actual construction of your shelter. Often this is as your construction manager overseeing the efforts of local architects and contractors.

Depending on many factors, budget, timelines, threat analysis, site constraints, etc, Shelters for clients can be modular units constructed of steel and delivered ready to install on your site, or built from structurally engineered reinforced concrete build on site or other solutions. They may include EMP protection, provisions for extended durations, actively filter the air from contaminants, maintain communication with the outside world, handle human waste safely, and even provide a home like environment where inhabitants and relax, have entrainment and even exercise. Some clients choose a hardened retreat shelter built to withstand the complete loss of the home while protecting the human and material assets in the shelter.

If in this particular case you asserted the need to protect the home itself from some level of ballistic threat, but were on a tight budget, there are two affordable, do-it-yourself construction methods come to mind which may be of interest.

These two methods are Dry stacked masonry load bearing walls, and non load bearing rock gabions wall infill with a post and beam supporting frame.
Dry stacked masonry walls were developed as a result of a 1970s US Dept of Agriculture rural housing initiative for improving housing of persons living on Indian reservations. Instead of skilled labor with  mortar joints between every course of block, the block walls are stacked without mortar, totally dry and a special fiberglass fiber reinforced “surface bonding mortar” is trowel or sprayer applied to both exterior and interior face of the wall.

The dry stacked walls are only about 70% the load carrying strength of wet set block walls, but for one or two story residential construction it is strong enough.  Hollow block must be filled with a solid material to have effectiveness against ballistic threats and there are requirements for reinforcing steel which also requires filled block..  A “dry pack” of one part sand to one part cement to one part fine gravel with post install watering may be the easiest method of filling block cores for the novice owner builder. This would be done after the surface bonding mortar has cured. I would recommend 12” block over 8” or 10” if a budget will allow. There are “U” blocks for window and door headers, but I have seen many 100 year surviving masonry buildings with timber lintels in Chicago. Either an exterior insulation and stucco finish or an interior insulation system is possible. There are merits to each.

Another method of construction which I have been developing myself is to use a “pole barn” frame and roof structure with a Rock Gabion infill wall system. Gabions are used in combat theater defenses, albeit in a less elegant manner.

This construction method, however, is a derivation of how a Gabion fence is constructed and is more economical than a concrete wall. The poles of the pole barn not only provide the support for the roof, but the lateral support for the rock gabion wall, so that the gabion thickness can be kept at about 12”-18”. Crushed rock and concrete are about 11 0lbs per cubic foot, and concrete is about $200 per cubic yard.  4” crushed stone is only about $9 per ton or less than $20 per cubic yard.

Wire gabions filled with stone are attractive to many people, and allow a place for vines to grow, if that’s the look you desire, or another school of thought is that the wires themselves are a weak link to a persistent person with wire cutters, and they should be covered over in shotcrete.  If covering the wire with a cement, one may wish to opt for stainless and not just galvanized wire mesh, and cover with a minimum of 1” of shotcrete or layers of stucco. This is because the covering of shotcrete traps moisture with leads to corrosion, but how many years to failure is a variable, houses with stucco over chicken wire last in San Diego a hundred years, in Chicago, perhaps 30 years.

An 18” thick wall of 2” to 4” crushed rock gabion will defeat nearly all commonly available small arms, with the possible exception of .50 BMG. Added benefit of the Gabion system include, self healing from ballistic attack; any rock damaged by incoming rounds is crushed down by the weight of the stone above. Minor breaks in wire can be field repaired. Gabions provide a high level of thermal mass, which though not the same as insulation, is beneficial, but a topic for another post.

The roof itself must be addressed and there are several tiers of upgrade from conventional shingles. A metal roof is a low cost fire resistant upgrade. Tile roofs, clay or concrete are even more so. Actually building the underlying structure of hollow core concrete panel or “Spancrete” is a more expensive upgrade but of some ballistic protection. A "flat" roof (actually low slope) of corrugated metal panel with a topping of concrete, then insulation, then any of many rubber or PVC roofing membranes is a common commercial roof structure not beyond the skill of  most owner builders with proper instructions on  temporary shoring. This method could allow either direct run off of water, or drains, or even incorporate a concrete block parapet wall, which can be of tactical value.
For the very budget conscious, but defense minded, one could envision how this pole barn and gabion structure could be the basis for enclosing one or more used mobile home trailers as mentioned earlier to create a “dirt cheap” homestead retreat starting point, (see also the short book Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat by M.D. Creekmore) but there is a much larger topic of "defense in place", and one is advised to investigate foreseeable threats and how to respond to them.

While this is only a primer on these topics, a wealth of information is available with online research or by seeking out consulting advice.
I sincerely hope the best for all your readers and welcome any questions on the built environment and active or passive defense. - Douglas Clark


Saturday, April 27, 2013


Dear CPT Rawles,
Thank you for SurvivalBlog, and best wishes to all of you at the Rawles Ranch.  

My wife and I have written to once before about retreat locale recommendations, and you were so very helpful.  We are, I guess what you could call "late preppers" because we've only been working on this for about the last year, & part of that with admittedly a certain skepticism. Time has proven you right however, & now we are doing all we can.  It's tough to prioritize when you need so much, and everything is like an emergency right NOW kind of need because of so many new regulations, and doors being closed.  I'm sure you understand how all of that is.  We have taken your past advice seriously, and are moving to the Redoubt in June of 2014, hopefully things will hold together that long...  Last year we purchased 10 acres in Boundary County in the general vicinity of [locale deleted, for OPSEC], and it is about that that I am writing to you.  To put it plainly, an appraisal of our situation is that we are very poor, financially speaking.  We have however managed to reach zero debt, but have only one income, plus whatever I can scratch up.  I am a disabled veteran, injured in the Gulf War, and no longer able to work in my chosen profession (LEO), so I am now finishing up learning to be a locksmith.  Our land purchase depleted most of our savings, but it is fully paid for.  Our land is undeveloped, save for a gravel driveway/access road and a leveled and cleared building site.  It has a small creek that flows through it.  I was told that the creek is seasonal.  According to my neighbor it has not gone dry in several years.  The property is timbered and also has some pasture land.  That is what we have to work with.  We currently live in [locale deleted, for OPSEC] with our three teenage sons (18, 16, 14).  Our plan is to get moved to the Redoubt as soon as possible.  That relocation is our top priority, as we feel time is of the essence, and it will at least give us the best fighting chance with what preps we have been able to put into place, as opposed to back here.  To make that happen however is requiring a lot of bailing wire, duct tape and "McGyverisim".

As we will be unable to build a home, we are thinking of taking storage buildings (from a provider in Ponderay, Idaho) and setting them on concrete footings, as "roughed in" structures that we can then insulate and finish out as finances allow (double pane windows, 60 psf snow load, steel roof, etc are givens).  We would start with two, one for my wife and I, which would also contain the family common areas, and a second for my son's, as a bunkhouse, if you will.  The plan is to eventually have five, which we will inter-connect via breezeways for lack of a better term, with an inner courtyard.  The buildings will be 14' x 40' (560 sq ft) each, with the ability to be added onto if later desired).  The long term thought is that if things hold together long enough, each of my children will be able to have their independence in their own "wing" of the house, much like an apartment if you will (independence but common security & mutual benefit being the goal here). The plan is of course that this will all be off grid.  

Q:  Have you heard of anyone doing such a thing before?  In your opinion is such a plan viable? Is there any advice or cautions that you would offer?

For cooking and heat we will obviously want to use wood, but are debating if it would be best to try to cook on a wood stove (which I see as more of an emergency adaptation than practical for daily use) but would be much cheaper initially, or would we be better off buying a wood cookstove such as the Heartland Sweetheart stove, which would be more than ample to heat our space (if it is efficient for that purpose I am not sure), warms water and uses a thermo-siphon to provide it for showers, etc I'm told but have not yet confirmed, and allows for all forms of cooking and baking, but is much much more expensive (i.e. $6,000-7,000.)


Q:  Do you have any experience with, or thoughts on this?

Q:  As you are obviously a well thought and researched person, do you have any thoughts and/or recommendations on efficient wood stoves, other wood cook stoves we should perhaps be considering, the use of propane for a cook stove and refrigerator for the short term, and any recommendations for an emergency generator (our electronic needs would be small).

Q:  Lastly, regarding drilling a well, according to area well reports we have discovered that with the exception of 1 or 2 wells, most are really deep (400 to 500 feet deep at roughly $37 per foot) so are there any options you may have experience with know about that may allow us to use the surface water from the creek that we could check into?

Thank you for for your time, and any input you may be able to provide us to help us along the way.  We always take what you have to say with the utmost seriousness.  Once again thank you for all that you and your family provide to the preparedness community. 
God bless you and your family! - B.D.

JWR Replies: If you have enough level ground, a "spokes of a wheel" arrangement for the cabins should work fairly well.   Just keep in mind that North Idaho can get up to 6 feet of snow, so allow room for the snow that comes off the roofs to pile up.

For heating, rather then burn fires in five separate stoves, you might consider an outdoor furnace in its own little shed, right next to your wood shed.  (With metal roofs for both.) In addition to hydronic (radiant) floor heating, these can also be used to provide domestic hot water. This approach creates less chimney fire hazard, and just one chimney to clean, twice a year

Creek water is of course not safe to drink untreated, but a lot of folks make do with constructing ponds or cisterns and then using two-stage filters and an ultraviolet water line light on the service line. (These are commonly used to sterilize the bacteria in the water circulated through fish ponds.)  If you can divert the creek and establish a pond or cistern at least 30 vertical feet uphill from the house, then that avoids a huge set of problems.  (There are no pumps in the system if you have gravity feed.)  OBTW, the pond must also have a stout, tall fence around it to keep out all livestock and wild game.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


Mr Rawles, thank you for the service you provide.

A comment on the dual ring village concept. If it is advanced as a defense tactic, I would urge remembering that the walled-town versus siegecraft dynamic is thousands of years old, and the survival of walled towns and cities is only possible if they are:

1. Provisioned to last longer than the besieging force, which is of course free to forage and be resupplied
2. Fireproof
3. Relieved by a friendly force from outside.

They are also utterly obsolete since the development of artillery bombardment, still more so since the airplane and missile. Sad but true.

IMHO, safety today must rely on:

1. Invisibility or insignificance to possible enemy
2. Effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
3. mobile defense force to engage potential enemy at a distance

War is not only Hell, but quite expensive!

Thanks again! - Ben F.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Dear Sir:
I am taking this time to write, because you express an interest in solutions that provide enhanced security and prosperity for people. I, too, like the idea of a fortified village, instead of isolationism.

One possible solution, the dual ring village (DRV), is based on a simple idea. Imagine a line of mixed use buildings - something like the 1890s in New York City. Stores on the street level, with apartments above. Take that line and wrap into a circle. Take another line of buildings, and wrap that into a circle, placed within the first circle. The result : two circular buildings, a ring street between them, and a round park. . . a dual ring village. One more embellishment - construct continuous balconies at each upper level - not unlike the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Obvious benefits : consolidated population, proximity to vocations, retail, services, social access, a large central park, access to a roof deck garden, and inherent security controlled by the gateway. Easy access around, up and down the ring, via the balconies, etc., and reduced  overcrowding on the ground level.

Engineering benefits : curved walls are stronger, use less materials, shared walls reduce exposure to the elements, curved walls deflect winds, and resist side forces (earthquakes). If the exterior ring wall is constructed as a substantial barrier, it would also offer protection from storm surge, flash floods, and mudslides. Security from flooding is dependent on wall height.

Alternative View benefits : The roof deck garden and balcony planters, as well as the central park, conserve more green space than most other high density population designs. Depending on the size and resources of the DRV, may reduce or eliminate the necessity for owning an automobile.

The drawbacks : A DRV has to be designed and built as a monolithic unit, not incrementally. This design also flies in the face of convention, thus is unattractive to the "powers that be." Worse, it fosters a rebellious independence of the Ringers. (Chinese Hakka Tulous are a good example). It is also not designed to expand, other than adding layers, which may not be feasible (shading factor, etc). Generally, population growth will need to be dealt with by building additional DRVs.

Ideas, criticisms, and brainstorming welcome. See the Ring Life Yahoo Group.

JWR Replies: I have briefly mentioned the traditional Fujian Tulou design in SurvivalBlog. Based on the 19th and 20th Century history of urban fires, I don't recommend building entirely monolithic structures. The narrow streets between buildings can be protected by gates, mantlets, or other mobile barricades. But at least they will reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire that cannot be stopped.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


James:
A good friend who has own three acres at the end of my dead end road rented two 40 foot-long shipping containers eight years ago, paying $250 a month for the pair, and filled them completely up with stuff that he moved from Ohio.  I recently built a two-storey barn for him. When we opened the containers, which had been sealed for eight years [to shift the contents to the new barn] we found that holes had rusted through the top of the containers and everything inside of them was totally ruined.  Nothing inside was salvageable.  He is depressed and heartbroken. He had spent $24,000 in rent but yet he had to haul everything to the dump.  So if you use shipping containers make sure they stay sound and waterproof. - Jim W.

JWR Replies: Over the years I have heard from many readers about issues with Continental Express (CONEX) containers. While they have their advantages, there are substantial risks involving moisture--both rain leaks and condensation. It is essential that the contents of CONEXes be stacked on horizontal pallets and that no boxes are allowed to contact the walls or ceilings, which could be damp with condensation.

When buying, or renting a CONEX, I recommend that you get CONEXes made from Corten (or "Cor-Ten" steel. This is a weathering steel with a specially formulated metallurgy that will last many years longer than standard steel if comparable gauge.

Regular inspection (inside and out) is a must. In most temperate climates, moisture absorbers (such as DampRid tubs) must be replaced frequently, or continuous power must be supplied to several GoldenRod or Everdry electric dehumidifiers.

The other risk that I often hear mentioned is security. It is not unusual for CONEXes to be pillaged by burglars. Even the very best padlocks will not stand up to attacks from cutting torches or abrasive cutoff wheels. And if the locks themselves are not attacked, then it is often the hasp loops or other door hardware to that are attacked. The bottom line is that there is NO sure substitute to having a watchful eye on your property. So in the case of absentee landowners, you need neighbors who you can trust.

The archives of SurvivalBlog have many articles about CONEXes and their many uses. And for anyone who is toying with the idea of burying a CONEX, we have posted many warnings about the potential for CONEXes to collapse. (They are designed to take heavy weight only on their corners.)

Coincidentally, the editor of Prepper Resources recently posted a good summary guest article that was written by one of the owners of ContainerAuction.com.


Thursday, April 11, 2013


James,
A brief article I saw on underground homeless camp in Kansas: Underground homeless camp cleared near the East Bottoms.

Although the article does not give much detail, I find it an interesting use of space, staying out of the way and a lesson to learn regarding people who may be close to your proximity without one even knowing it.  It also drew my mind back to the Bielski partisans and the camps they dug in Naliboki Forest.
God Bless, - John in Ohio


Monday, March 25, 2013


(Note: This article is part of a series of feature articles about alternative / sustainable / renewable energy solutions for self-sufficiency. Previous related articles in SurvivalBlog that complement this one are "Home Inverter Comparison: Off Grid and Grid Tied" and Home Power Systems: Micro Hydro. Upcoming article topics in this Home Power Systems series will include: Photovoltaics, Batteries, Wind generators, Solar Water Distillers, Solar Ovens, and Solar Water Heating.)

Overview of Energy Efficiency and Conservation : The First Step in a viable Home Power System The most recent article in this series, Home Power Systems: Micro Hydro, in a way 'jumped the gun' a bit, since the foundation of a cost-effective, sustainable home energy system is an honest and accurate appraisal of both average and peak energy requirements. While often not as important in many micro-hydro systems - due to abundant year-round falling water in certain prime locations that can allow for less finely-tuned system efficiency - it's still an important preliminary assessment. It is particularly essential to carefully perform this crucial first step in systems relying on sun, wind or other renewable energy sources that might not be in quite as abundant supply before investing any significant time or money in a photovoltaic (PV) and/or wind-powered system. Doing a fairly meticulous power usage study (and usually re-configuring) of your home may require a bit of work and establishing new conserving habits (the 'bad news'). The good-to-great-to-outstanding news is that - depending on whether you plan to make relatively minor, inexpensive changes to your home energy loads and usage or a major retrofit or a completely new home design (including location siting) - you can potentially save an enormous amount of energy. Therefore, you will save correspondingly on initial alternate energy equipment and maintenance expense, making your family vastly more self-sufficient, in terms of energy, expense, and vulnerability to external energy dependency. Another oft-ignored benefit of down-sizing your home energy budget - while maintaining the same (or often improved) comfort, safety, security and enjoyment of your home - is that by moving yourself farther from the 'conspicuous consumption' category and grid-dependency, you also become less vulnerable and less of a target for attacks of any kind. That's hard to put a price tag on. Having less to defend can simplify defense. Yet another advantage of tightening one's metaphorical domestic power belt is that it starts paying off right away, plugging the leaks in your household's energy ship, keeping you afloat and more maneuverable financially. This often can shorten the time required to save up for the more expensive components for a Renewable Energy (RE) system, such as PV, wind or micro-hydro.

Energy Conservation: Good, Better, Best There are several levels to re-thinking domestic energy usage. We'll start with the simplest (free) actions which everyone can do, proceed to measures that require minimal to moderate expenditures of money and/or time, and finally, for those in a position to completely reinvent their living situations - either by remodeling their home, buying a carefully selected existing home, or best yet, finding optimal property and building a custom energy-efficient home. When one experiences the gains achieved by the simpler steps, it can often fuel (pun-intended) the momentum and enthusiasm for trying more involved changes, which in turn yield even further benefits, economies and self-sufficiency, a win-win scenario.

Big Picture Perspective on Typical Energy Use Before getting into specifics, it's helpful to have a good general idea of where most of the economies can be made in a typical residential energy budget. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory did a study in 2009 which showed seven primary household energy uses and their approximate typical percentages:

  • Space Heating: 29%
  • Space Cooling: 17%
  • Water Heating: 14%
  • Appliances (including refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer): 13%
  • Lighting: 12%
  • Other (stoves, ovens, microwaves, coffee makers, dehumidifiers, etc.): 11%
  • Electronics (computers, monitors, DVD players, televisions, etc.): 4%

As you can probably see from these percentages, some of the biggest energy uses (heating/cooling, water heating, and many appliances) are built into the design of most homes, so retrofitting can involve medium to high expense. However, how often and how efficiently they are used can vary widely and is included in the next section. If your main (or initial) interest in an alternative energy system is to provide just essentials that can only be provided by electricity, consider buying or building a home that has as much of the space heating/cooling, water heating and major appliances (e.g. refrigeration) provided by non-electrical means. Wood-burning stoves, passive solar and/or earth integrated home design, thermal convection cooling, and a variety of other strategies can make a well-situated and well-designed home very comfortable year-round when no grid power is available. A similarly wide variety of solar domestic hot water (DHW) heating systems and water heating coils in wood stoves are examples of non-electric (or minimally electric) alternatives to water heating. Propane refrigerators or super efficient (e.g. Sunfrost) refrigerators, while expensive in terms of initial purchase price compared with convention units, can - in some cases - achieve 'break even' status in just a few years in full-time off-grid locations when factored into the total cost (purchase price plus operating costs) of an integrated solar, wind and/or micro hydro system by offsetting the need for buying a much larger RE system. We often forget that the overall trend over time is ever-increasing utility energy costs, so trade-offs between higher initial purchase price in a more efficient energy system can - with planning - be more than offset by amortizing those costs against what would be spent on equivalent grid electricity over the life of a system.

First: Go For the Low Hanging Fruit: Conservation Ironically, our usual approach - and this goes for traditional government subsidies as well, although the trend is changing - is to rely on expensive and unsustainable sources of energy rather than doing the simplest things to conserve energy that cost us nothing, aside from a little (or sometimes a lot of) mindfulness to change everyday behaviors.

Measure Twice, Cut Once Before getting started on cutting energy waste using the suggestions in the lists below, it's often helpful - and satisfying - to measure the 'before' and 'after' performance to see how your 'energy diet' is doing. Then when you implement as many of the suggestions below (and this can be done a month at a time and compared with your electric utility bills), you can see the 'after' difference the improvements are making. These measurements can be done for many of the pluggable items in your household with a Watt-meter. Here's a low-cost meter that calculates daily, weekly, monthly or annual expense based on your current utility rates. A short, heavy duty extension cord can assist in providing access to more items when a plugin meter like this might not allow reaching some appliances and devices. Owners manuals for some household electrical devices list both standby and active power ratings. (Remember that many, if not most, manuals can be found online these days by web searching for the manufacturer and model number, so try there first if manuals are stashed deeply away or tossed long ago.) The listed ratings will help especially if you don't have a wattmeter or have a device that can't be measured directly with one. It's also interesting to compare the rated wattages with the actuals from the manufacturer's specifications to see if they are accurate. By going through your home - and don't forget outbuildings including sheds, garages, greenhouses, well pumps, etc. - room-by-room, outlet-by-outlet, you can easily estimate your 'before' usage on these items. If you've ever traversed a maze, you might have learned the technique of keeping your hand on a wall until you're back to your starting point. The same technique works well when traversing the walls of your home to find all the outlets, remembering that not all outlets are just above the floor, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. Don't forget closets, attic fans, attic lights, basements, sump pumps, well pumps, crawl spaces and outbuildings. Wherever your house wiring goes is a potential load. Peeking inside your circuit breaker box can reveal loads that might be missed otherwise. Measure plugged loads that can be in standby mode in 'full on' and 'standby' modes, as well as 'full off' to make sure there isn't any residual current flowing. Unless you completely unplug these loads when not in use, assume the standby power is flowing 24/7/365.

Here's an article about energy monitoring that explores various options available that help show not only which items use the most electricity, but also where and when peak usage occurs. Then add in the remaining non-outlet items and estimate current monthly, seasonal and annual usage of specific appliances and lighting by noting wattages of bulbs, appliances, water heaters, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment, etc. around the house, multiplied by their approximate monthly use in hours. To do a 'reality check', compare your calculated estimates with the last few years (or as much as you have if you've moved recently) of electric bills, noting the kilowatt-hour amounts on each bill. A spreadsheet such as Excel or Numbers can be handy for this. Make a row for each of the household loads, and a column for each month to track energy usage in KWH (Kilowatt hours). If you have the luxury (or necessity, depending on how you look at it) of waiting a few months (or a year or more) before investing in 'big ticket' energy-saving and/or energy-generating technology, it's often an advantage to see how your improvements are doing over the course of a year, or at least 2-3 months of typical implementation. If you just want a quick rough estimate or your energy usage, you can start with an online energy calculator or have your utility company assist you (many have services for this). These online calculators will give you rough approximations, but it's generally essential to do a full, detailed room-by-room, plug-by-plug (plus all the other loads) analysis before sizing an RE system, or even just being more scientific about your energy usage to see what's working and what isn't. If you need help, there are professional home energy audit services that can help you make an accurate assessment of your energy usage É and suggest options you might not have considered.

Example of An Energy Budget
Here is an example of a 'before and after' energy budget; scroll down the page to see 'before' and 'after' spreadsheet examples and impressive improvements. Another resource for examples and case studies is Home Power magazine, which, BTW, is a superb resource for energy efficiency education as well as information on alternate energy systems, components and reviews.

Simple, Free, Easy Energy Waste Reductions
Among the simplest: turning off unused lights when leaving a room, unplugging unused appliances (e.g. extra refrigerators that have don't have much in them so their contents could be consolidated with a primary fridge), unplugging chargers not in use, etc. For example, it's amazing how much needlessly wasted energy goes into 'phantom loads'; those that run 24 hours a day, but only are needed a small fraction of the time. How many chargers of various sorts run 24/7/365 in your household? and how many could be switched off when not in use (e.g., via outlet strips)? Here's a partial list (and you can probably think of many others) of free ways to conserve energy (and a more detailed list). Most of these are common-sense, every-day, obvious strategies, but we sometimes forget the obvious!

  • Turn off unused lights (at home and at work).
  • Plan reading and work times during the day when natural light is optimal.
  • Unplug seldom-used or unused appliances.
  • Unplug 'phantom loads' (a.k.a. 'wall warts'); chargers not in use.
  • For lights and appliances that have remote control or 'standby' modes, switch completely off (or unplug) when not needed; here are more details on standby 'culprits' and large 'plug loads' like wall air-conditioners, space-heaters, coffee machines, toasters, toaster ovens, clothes irons, popcorn makers, microwaves, hair dryers, set-top cable boxes, aquariums, color copiers, video games, other illuminated kitchen appliances, etc.
  • Use timed 'sleep mode' on computers and other devices instead of screen savers for devices that must be left on (for security or other reasons); set sleep start time to when you want a reminder to 'call it a day'.
  • Set screen saver start times to kick on (e.g. within 3-5 minutes) just a minute or so after your typical trip away from the computer (e.g. stretch, bathroom or kitchen break).
  • Use power strips to switch off home entertainment and computer systems.
  • Turn off all but essentials and safety-security systems when leaving for vacation É or even extended day trips more than a few hours; a good family ritual to assign to whoever is ready first for an outing to check around the house.
  • Check furnace or air conditioning filters monthly; clean or replace as needed.
  • Use sweaters, robes, warm socks and slippers or 'indoor boots' for extra winter warmth.
  • Use extra blankets in winter, and for 'kick-back' (sedentary) time in living areas.
  • Set space-heating thermostats to a low winter temperatures (and lower night-time temperatures.
  • Set air-conditioning thermostats to a high summer temperatures (keeping the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures minimal year-round also has the benefit of reducing the 'thermal shock' of going in and out of buildings).
  • Find thermostat settings that work for everyone and don't change them; it's more efficient to keep temperatures steady than to 'throttle' or keep changing them.
  • Use fans (including whole house fans) instead of air conditioning when appropriate, and position fans to remove the most body heat; this usually allows slower fan speeds for the same cooling; small personal fans do a much better job compared to a single large fan for people a distance apart.
  • Open sun-facing shades on sunny winter days to capture solar heat.
  • Close all blinds and drapes at night in winter to conserve heat.
  • Close windows in winter to conserve heat.
  • Close daytime windows and blinds in summer to minimize heat infiltration; exterior blinds and shades often are most effective to keep heat out before it enters window glazing.
  • Open windows at night in summer to evacuate heat and allow cooling breezes.
  • Only cool or heat rooms you occupy. Close doors and vents of unused rooms.
  • Set hot-water thermostats to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, or lower (e.g. 120) if you have water pre-heaters for dishwashers and clothes washers and/or instant 'flash' (tankless) hot water heaters; large houses, particularly those with long plumbing runs between water heaters and hot water loads can benefit from these local on-demand water heaters.
  • Set refrigerators to 38-42 degrees Fahrenheit; keep full water bottles in extra fridge space to minimize cold air loss each time doors are opened.
  • Set freezers to 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit; keep extra ice or frozen items to minimize cold air loss each time freezer doors are opened.
  • Check fridge and freezer gaskets; replace those that leak air; it should be difficult to pull out a piece of paper between gaskets with doors closed.
  • Periodically (e.g. quarterly) vacuum fridge coils to keep them running efficiently.
  • Use oven lights momentarily to check on 'in-progress' cooking instead of opening oven doors more than necessary.
  • Check oven seals for heat loss and replace or repair as needed.
  • Use microwave ovens for heating water, cooking or reheating small items.
  • Cook larger meals (for leftovers) and multiple items in ovens or stove-top steamers at once; next best is to cook multiple items in a row using residual heat and/or heated water from prior oven or burner use.
  • Use larger burners for larger pots/pans, smaller burners for smaller pots/pans.
  • Use lids on pots and pans to keep heat in while cooking.
  • Use only as much water as needed in teapots, coffee makers, kettles, etc. Heating extra water just wastes energy.
  • Wash only full dishwasher loads; use short cycles after hand pre-scrubbing/rinsing any items that wouldn't get clean no matter how long the cycle runs.
  • Air dry dishes and plan run times so that dishes can air dry well in advance of their next use.
  • Wash and rinse clothes in cold water whenever possible; use detergent formulated for cold water.
  • Wash clothes in full loads whenever possible; set water level appropriately.
  • Clean clothes dryer lint filters after each use.
  • Dry light and heavy fabrics separately; don't add wet items to a load already partially dry.
  • Take items that need ironing out of the dryer before they're completely dry to minimize ironing time É and effort.
  • Use a clothes dryer's moisture sensor setting to minimize drying time; better yet, use a clothes line and/or indoor clothes drying rack. Even in winter, a garage clothes drying rack usually dries clothes in a day or three.
  • Take shorter showers or baths; a quick burst of water, followed by a 'water-off' lather/shampoo cycle, then rinsing quickly can save lots of water and associated heating costs.
  • Turn off (or fix) dripping or leaking faucets, hose bibs or other plumbing, especially those using hot water.
  • If you have an older-generation toilet, a brick, plastic bottle full of water or toilet dam (making sure none of these impedes proper operation) in the toilet tank can save lots of water; any water-saving measures are particularly important for systems that rely on pumped water for domestic use, such as well-pumps or pressurized holding tank.
  • Even if you don't have a garden, orchard or other agriculture, consider using rainwater harvesting and gray water reclamation/recycling. If you do have outdoor plants of any kind, definitely include agricultural water conservation measures and xeriscaping in your conservation planning, particularly in dry climates and/or when using electrically pumped water. Think of water usage as somewhat analogous to electrical usage, particularly if your electricity usage involves moving water around.
  • If your family size has decreased (e.g. kids off to college, etc.) consider selling larger appliances and downsizing to smaller items (e.g. refrigerators); in some cases selling newer large items can pay for the cost of smaller items (used or new).

The list above is far from exhaustive, and represents some of the more typical examples. If you think of other ways to conserve, practice and share them. The consistent cumulative and additive effect of these simple practices as a whole can really add up, more than just practicing a few of them sporadically. It's helpful to record energy usage by looking at your utility bill monthly and track which measures are in place that contribute to cost savings and energy reduction.

Low-cost Upgrades For Energy Efficiency Assuming
you've implemented as many of the 'low hanging fruit' ideas above as possible, the next category to look at (now that you're already saving energy and money with the 'free' list) are low or minimal-cost items or replacements for existing electrical devices you have in your home. These can be implemented in order of greatest savings first, based on your current usage, if you've already created a spreadsheet as suggested above to itemize your current energy use and have a better idea of what to go after first. Just as one plugs the biggest holes in a leaky boat first, going after the biggest loads in your domestic energy budget can pay off the quickest. In general, before shopping for new appliances, lighting or any electrical items that might affect your energy budget, consult the Energy Star web site and/or make note of the Energy Star ratings on the appliance under consideration to find the optimum tradeoff for your budget and energy efficiency, keeping in mind the useful life of the product, payback period based on current and projected energy costs, and - very important to include - the defrayed expenses saved by not having to buy more PV panels, wind generating equipment, batteries, etc.

  • Replace incandescent lighting with Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) light bulbs. Some early versions of these energy savers had lower frequency ballasts, were noisy and expensive not any more.
  • Replace incandescent lighting (particularly for task-lighting such as reading, sewing, art, etc. required for close work) with high-efficiency broad-spectrum LED lighting. Small LED lamps have become popular as book lights and can serve other purposes where extended use, optimum quality and minimal eye fatigue is needed. Here's an example of a 5W under-counter LED lamp that is equivalent to 20W halogen/xenon lamps.
  • Timers, outdoor motion sensors, indoor occupancy sensors and dusk-to-dawn light sensors can all minimize lighting 'on time', regardless of the lighting technology used (although CFLs don't work well with some switching technologies).
  • Replace older Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors - if you still have any - with energy-efficient flat screens.
  • Repair or upgrade weatherstripping, caulking and other building components and interfaces that subject your home to significant heat loss/gain areas due to infiltration. Don't forget attic crawl space air leaks. Utility companies often provide or recommend services such as infrared photography (e.g. FLIR) to spot the most egregious energy loss culprits. If you already have access to infrared night-vision equipment, you can scope this out yourself, both indoors and out to find trouble spots. Here's an economical tool to assist in the detection of thermal leaks.
  • Water heater blankets can improve the energy efficiency of both electric and gas-fueled water heaters, and benefit both older and newer more efficient models.
  • Install low-flow shower heads and sink aerators (if you haven't already) to reduce water consumption, particularly hot water use.
  • Low-wattage hair-dryers are probably more important in planning for peak loads, but they can also impact average load calculations and savings, too.
  • Add movable exterior shades (many of which can be easily rolled up to allow evening summer breezes) to minimize summer heat gain.
  • Use area rugs over bare floors to add insulation. The psychological effect of warmer winter feet can minimize the temptation to nudge thermostats upward.
  • Add strategically placed landscaping (trees, trellises with dense seasonal foliage, etc.) to provide summer shading and maximum winter insolation (heat gain through glazing).
  • Replace desktop computers with laptops when possible; if occasional extra 'screen real estate' is needed. Switch on external monitors only when needed, for both laptops and desktop models.
  • For privacy, use light-diffusing sheer curtains to let in winter light and heat but obscure visibility from the outside during the day as needed, then use heavier curtains (with high insulation value and magnetic seals around window frames if possible) at night to keep heat in.
  • Add or enhance home insulation in attics, walls, under floor crawl spaces, etc. Since the greatest heat loss (and summer heat gain) is through the roof, this is the usually first place to start before enhancing lower spaces. A licensed insulation contractor can both recommend and install the needed insulation to match the optimum tradeoffs for your specific home situation.
  • Replace single-pane windows and glazed doors with double-pane or triple-pane glazed units, including skylights. Add storm doors and windows where they can add extra insulation value.

If you want to get even more scientific about which energy loads are consuming the biggest (or smallest) portions of your household energy budget, a Watt-meter is a good investment. Here's an inexpensive Watt-meter to measure periodic energy expense based on current utility rates.

Major Home Remodeling or New Construction The last category of home energy improvements typically applies only when one has the good fortune to be able to do a major remodeling project, or best of all, a new construction on an ideally situated parcel of land. There are a number of general strategies that can be employed to make new homes (and major remodeling projects) particularly energy efficient. As one might expect, implementing as many of these as possible will realize the greatest potential energy savings.

Passive Solar Design: Orientation, Insolation, Thermal Mass, Insulation The general idea of passive solar design is to maximize winter (or summer below the equator) heat gain and minimize it in the opposite season. In some locations the sun's power can provide all the heating (and often electricity via PV panels) required if adequate insolation (sunlight entering the building), thermal mass (heat storage) and insulation (means for keeping heat from moving in or out of a structure) are available in appropriate places with appropriate control mechanisms. Typically, windows should face true south (ideally within 10 degrees) or north in southern hemisphere locations. Natural obstructions such as hills or trees should be minimal in the path of the winter sun, and it can be worthwhile to carefully select a site on a given property to optimize the total winter sun exposure. A solar site selector, using a compass, bubble level and tripod can be used to map out obstructions in proposed sites during different seasons (e.g. solstices and equinoxes) to choose the optimum home site. Together with statistical weather data about a proposed site's potential (such as degree day maps and degree day data) one can predict approximate solar potential for a given site for various times of year. Good passive solar design may incorporate movable elements such as adjustable overhangs that let in just the right amount of sun for each time of year/day, and/or seasonally variable foliage such as sun-facing arbors or deciduous trees and shrubs that provide summer shade, but let most of the sun in during colder months when leaves have dropped. Combining site selection with careful window sizing, ventilation characteristics and placement will afford the optimum design solutions. There are free software tools such as those provided by Sustainable by Design to calculate sun angle, position, path, overhang design, analysis, horizontal and vertical shading, window heat gain, etc. As always, if the technical aspects of any part of these processes seem daunting, get professional help and also use online resources to complement your knowledge and expertise. Once the sun enters your home, it must heat adequate thermal mass. Good candidates for this heat storage include traditional materials like adobe, tile or water in containers (the darker the better to aid in heat absorption), as well as creative options such as passive solar slab cement floors (which can be colorized, scored and grouted to look like tile. The importance of thermal mass is often underestimated with less than satisfactory results. Skimping on thermal mass can mean the difference between a home that is chilly (read: expensive) in the morning and overheated in the afternoon vs. one that has a comfortable temperature that doesn't vary much from one time of day to the next. Think of thermal mass (some times called a thermal flywheel using the metaphor of a wheel's momentum) as your passive solar system's heat battery.

Most modern homes are well insulated, but in many cases a super-insulated home (such as a monolithic dome) can offset other negative factors, such as low thermal mass or insolation. Needless to say, adequate-to-above-average insulation is usually a prerequisite for any good solar home design. One way of achieving superior insulation by using local indigenous materials is through the use of earth-berming, often most evident on north-facing walls. If your intent is to combine passive solar home design with photovoltaics, the selection of the site should address the roof angles (e.g. large surface area facing due south) and amount of sun received by either roof-mounted collectors (typical) or remotely ground mounted panel arrays. To combine wind and solar, it might require finding a location close enough (to minimize power losses from long electrical cables) for both PV panels and wind generators to receive the sun and wind required. Different site considerations need to be factored into an integrated design when contemplating optimizing for solar (space heating and PV), optimizing for wind generators, and optimizing for micro-hydro systems.

The simplest solar design approach makes for homes that are long along the east-west axis and typically 1 room deep (or not much more than that) along the north-south axis. For homes that are more than 1 room deep along the north-south axis, it helps to carefully consider both air circulation - which optimally can be achieved by natural convection or, next best, efficient fans and/or ductwork - and daylighting. Skylights, light tubes, translucent doors and clerestory or transom windows can assist with getting light back into northern rooms and minimize the daytime lighting needed. Another technique deserving mention is the use of vestibules for entries to minimize heat gain and/or loss. Commercial buildings often make use of this method of minimizing the amount of lost or gained heat each time an exterior door is opened, and it works well for homes, too. Entry vestibules also make great laundry and/or mud rooms as well as coat, boot and other storage areas.

Early in the design phase, if possible, minimize long plumbing runs between water heaters and hot water loads by consolidating plumbing runs along a single wall, as short as possible. This also saves on initial plumbing costs as well as ongoing expense due to heat losses, as well as time wasted waiting for warm or hot water. If a bathroom or kitchen far away from the water heater is unavoidable, consider an on-demand, tankless hot water heater for those locations, to eliminate running taps for up to several minutes to bring water to the desired temperature. For passive water heating, also consider, if possible, locating a renewable source of hot water lower than intended loads and keeping plumbing bends to a minimum. This can often allow for a completely passive 'thermo-siphon' system where the circulation energy (a convection loop) is provided by the temperature differential between the warmer source (e.g. DHW solar panel or wood-stove embedded water heater) and the cooler water in the bottom of the storage tank. Some thermosiphon solar DHW systems integrate the heat source and storage tank for optimum efficiency. If a thermo-siphon hot water loop isn't feasible, choose an efficient pump to circulate the water or other heat transfer medium.

There are a wealth of books, web sites and other resources on the subject and it's best to pick a design strategy optimal for your particular location, climate, budget and locally available building materials. This article just touches on a few of the ideas important in a well thought-out energy efficient home design or re-design; consult experts to get even more ideas and do reality checks on concepts and techniques that you're considering for incorporation in your next home. You can also elect to have energy-efficiency professionals install various components of your home energy systems as well as assist with the designs and component/appliance/device selection. Don't forget to explore any and all federal, state, regional or local energy efficiency rebates, tax credits, etc. These can be substantial depending on the energy saving technology being considered and include biomass stoves, efficient HVAC systems, insulation, roofing, water heaters, windows, doors, PV and wind turbine components, geothermal heat pumps and other items. These can be significant and potentially offset much of the initial financial outlay for the specific item(s) used. Sooner or later, one reaches a point of diminishing returns for scrutinizing home power expenditures, but there are lots of things you can do, regardless of your financial budget, to optimize your energy budget. All these improvements improve your economic and self-sufficiency bottom line, regardless of if - or when - these enhancements go toward a renewable energy system installation.

Additional References

Getting Started with Home Efficiency
Easy Efficiency Improvements Pay Off

Passive Solar Home Design
Making Your Home Water-Smart

How Does Your Home Measure Up?


Beyond Your Utility Meter


How to Reduce Your Energy Consumption


Passive House Institute US


Vendor Contact Info

Here are a few manufacturers of home energy efficiency technology products; there are many more online:

Find ENERGY STAR Products

Home Efficiency Equipment and Products


Renewable Energy Businesses in the United States by State


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Mr. Rawles,
Regarding the letter, Food Storage in the Southern United States by Gary S.,, 
in Florida, from May until October, the heat is merciless, making food storage difficult. Some items, like powdered milk, barely last the summer without electrical cooling. Most folks turn their A/C up or off during the day when they are away from home or pay a very high electric bill. .With the droughts of the past few years, even heavily canopied forest home sites can be too hot. Power outages from wildfires, hurricanes, storms, tornadoes,  or heat waves can cause loss of air conditioning for days or weeks, greatly reducing the storage life of foods.

It seems to me that the best place to store food would be in a fallout shelter, which had better be a cool dry place or it won't be livable for very long. Nuclear warfare may come to the CONUS unexpectedly, like Pearl Harbor, the WTC and Pentagon attacks, or like a thief in the night, from a multitude of enemies. This is pretty evident in the lectures, interviews, and books of Joel Skousen and others, In his book Nuclear War Survival Skills, Cresson H. Kearny, advocated dual use buildings, with one being for a fallout shelter, and the other could certainly be for cool storage. A cool storage building is a lot better explanation to family and friends than a fallout shelter is, just as long as it meets the fallout shelter specifications. We can put some kind of a green energy spin on this, like calling it a planet saving earth cooled utility building, the bureaucrats will love that, and think of all the carbon fuel that will be saved.

With the high water tables, above ground structures seem to be the way to go for cool storage independent of electricity, using thermal mass to keep things cool. However, moving thermal mass is backbreaking work, Below is a list of structures that is by no means complete, but should provide the reader with a starting point. On all of these structures, you will want the entrance facing away from the sun. I would like to hear from other readers who have addressed this issue.

1) Steel drum bunker - I saw one of these at the Patriot's Point museum in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Vietnam Support Base. It is an ammo bunker from the Vietnam War, which has a lot of thermal mass to it, consisting of standard 55 gal drums, which are 22.5 inches in diameter and 33.5 inches high, it is eight drums wide (15 ft)  by two drums high (67 inches), the interior is probably 11ft x 11ft and the roof used either Marsden Matting, Pierced Steel Plank (PSP) or aluminum AM-2 matting, along with about three layers of sandbags, dirt and sod. For root cellar purposes, the door area would have to be expanded out with drums, four on one side, two on the other, ended with two more for a ninety degree turn. This would require about 68 drums and a heavy duty door would be needed. They obviously had a lot of 55 gal drums to spare, lining the whole perimeter with them, for added protection. But, that was how they shipped fuel back then.

2) Hesco/Gabion bunker - A wire and cloth, earth filled structure. In overseas areas these days, there are a lot of hesco or gabions being used similarly, but the kits can be expensive.
Wiki page on HESCOs
Wiki page on Gabions
HESCO corporate page
Defencell corporate page

3) Nuclear War Survival Skills - Aboveground, Crib-Walled Shelter.  I would use treated wood in the South.

4) Low-Cost Multipurpose Mini-building Made With Earthbags

5) Emergency Sandbag Shelter

6) Large culvert pipe - I've seen these in both concrete and metal. Kind of like this one, only one end has a regular door and you berm up around the rest of it, Mini Blast & Fallout Shelter, By Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM).

7) FEMA above ground Permanent Fallout Shelter - concrete block and concrete construction, back filled with earth. There is also a design that has a building within a building, filled with dirt or gravel.

8) Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) Storm Shelter - the forms are filled with concrete after assembly and can be bermed for additional protection.

9) Thin shell concrete dome - an inflatable form is used to shape the concrete structure until it dries. See:
Monolithic Dome, EcoShell, and Basalt Roving Dome. These can be reinforced with rebar or basalt roving.

10) Thin shell concrete dome panel kit - kind of like an igloo, the panels are assembled to form the dome, and then the concreted is applied.
12’ DOME POD KITS FROM AMERICAN INGENUITY, Inc.
12' Dome Utility Pod Kit - Out Building - Storage Shed - Well House - AiDomes
They sell a strengthening kit, but you might also be able to use the basalt roving technique as well


Friday, February 15, 2013


Our story begins enslaved to a job in a middle-class suburb and ends mortgage-free in the Missouri Ozarks with us making ambitious strides toward off-grid living and growing all we eat. Unlike Jed Clampett’s kinfolk who urged luxurious city life, ours would have warned us to stay put, keep our jobs and fit in – if only they had known what we were up to.

If you dream of “someday” leaving your weekly paycheck for a more rewarding, self-reliant country life, but think you must wait (because of your “secure” job, societal expectations or whatever else is holding you), consider how we did it. With one $12 an hour job and no savings, we bought a sturdy old house on 30 acres in the woods, now work from home and have no mortgage. Today, begin your dream, even if you only sketch a rough draft. Truly decide and visualize what you want. By continuously meditating on them, dreams become reality. Ours did. Yours can, too.

After attending a free local preparedness class in 2009 and reading James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency,” my husband and I decided our rural subdivision was dangerously close to 200,000 potentially starving, looting inhabitants. We discussed moving further into the country, but weren’t sure how to do it. At the end of any week, we didn’t have two extra nickels to rub together. Or, as my mother would say, “What are you going to buy it with? Buttons?”  Well, that’s precisely what we did.

Reasons to leave

Despite our humble financial situation, we decided to seek more secluded property. First, in a worst-case scenario, at 25 miles from Missouri’s third-largest city, we were within realistic walking distance of thousands of people who had not prepared for disaster of any sort. Although generous, especially my husband, who is happiest helping others attain self-sufficiency, we feared our 5-gallon buckets of dried beans, rice and oatmeal would vanish overnight in a catastrophe.
Equally important, we dreamed of a meaningful life away from traffic, toxins, cell towers, TV, Wi-Fi and electronic everything. Because we enjoy planting, tending, harvesting and eating organic food, we wanted more space to do so. We wanted clean air and water, plenty of firewood to cut and chemical-free wild edibles. Nearing our 50s, we wanted simply to enjoy life, strengthening our relationship as we worked side by side to sustain ourselves.
Once content on our fenced, three-acre paradise with wind- and solar-energy systems, greenhouse, raised-bed gardens galore, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and a disaster-resistant home, our serenity faded as the economy plummeted. Our fence did well to prohibit rabbits and deer from ravaging our gardens, but could not keep out the most lethal invaders – cold, desperate and hungry humans.
Deciding to leave was easy. Without any savings or potential income in a remote area, however, crafting a plan took ingenuity. In the face of criticism, skepticism and rejection, we proved it is possible. We hope to inspire others to find their way, too, out of Dodge – or Detroit, Dallas and Denver.

Where does the money go?

Although always living modestly, shopping in thrift stores, buying used vehicles instead of new, and making or restoring most of our needs, we were like many Americans working to work. We had no debt, just typical utility bills, insurance, gasoline, taxes and grocery costs. Since we grew much of our own food, had no mortgage and generated a portion of our electricity, our expenses were considerably less than most. Yet, we had absolutely no savings.
It seems, no matter what a family’s income is, living expenses equal that amount with nothing left over. Throughout my own lifetime, if I made $10 and hour, I spent $10 an hour. If I earned $20 an hour, I spent $20 an hour, and so on. Working away from home often demands so much energy and absence that it seems grueling to ponder an alternative. Eventually, I recognized how my desk job exhausted me, yet, I came alive clearing brush or planting potatoes. We had to find a way out of the trap.
We wanted 20-50 wooded acres with a small fixer-upper house, but how could we afford that? Online real estate searches revealed the remote property we sought required at least $100,000. Thus began a tumultuous roller coaster ride. Following the trodden path, we went to the local bank to inquire about a short-term mortgage. Our home and property surely had as much value as what we sought, right?

Unfortunately, we could not sell our property first. We still needed a place to sleep, store things and grow food. In our view, the super-efficient home my husband built seven years earlier would sell for the same as what we hoped to find. Banks, however, prefer a sure thing. There was no guarantee our property would sell as quickly as we thought. (It ended up taking two years to sell our home.) We also learned banks lend only a portion of a property’s value, not the entire amount.
Despite facing many obstacles, producing reams of evidential documents (some a decade old) and being turned down by several lenders, we persisted. Not everyone denied us, as abundant crooks agreed to finance our mortgage with inflated rates and nonsensical fees. Finally, we found a reasonable financier three counties away willing to work with us.

Searching for property

With approval for $120,000, we eagerly began hunting for our dream property. Like greenhorns, we started by viewing multi-listings on the Internet. Online searches now are easy, as buyers can sort properties according to price, size, location, acreage and more. However, as we learned later, web listings don’t include the best deals, such as foreclosures or “absolute” auctions, where sellers will accept any bid, no matter how outrageous.

Often, banks or realtors will hold huge auctions, selling possibly 100 parcels in a single day. At a recent local auction, a lakeside lot sold for a few hundred dollars and a former auto repair shop with some tools and equipment netted $5,000. Buyers may visit the properties a few days before the auction. Still, such purchases are riskier and may even sell at higher prices than traditional sales. For more information on finding foreclosures, visit http://homebuying.about.com, which has links to many sites to get you started.

Attending a county sale on the courthouse steps for a property being auctioned for unpaid taxes is another way to nab inexpensive land, but not a good choice if you immediately want to occupy it. Many times, the owner has a year or two to make good on the tax debt to regain the property, in which case the buyer is out all sweat equity invested. Check with the county clerk before bidding.

Since I worked full-time, my husband assumed the tedium of searching online and calling about properties. We visited the first four properties together on a sunny Saturday in September 2009. The sites were vastly different and spread over a 100-mile radius. We met up with one agent to tour a two-story, rundown home with moldy walls and saggy floors that was filled from basement to roof with garbage. Funny, it looked charming in the photos.

Next, we met another agent in a coffee shop who must have been late for an appointment, as he led us on a harrowing ride to see three other homes. We hit a buzzard, breaking a fog-light bracket, as we tried to keep up with the speedy agent on winding county roads. Something didn’t suit us with each of the properties – too open, dilapidated, populated, expensive, big, or whatever.

The land that I love

The next day, yet another agent showed us MY dream property. (Pay attention, ladies. This section is important.) Actually, my husband liked the property, too, and we made the 350-mile round trip to see it three times. Even though the 30-acre, $130,000 property had some issues (a water well shared with a neighboring cattle farm, freshly timbered woods, too close to the road, truckloads of junk to haul, and the house needed a new roof), we made an offer of $115,000 that was begrudgingly accepted by all parties.

The comfy two-bedroom 1960s ranch house had a full, finished basement and reminded me so much of the house I grew up in. There were several outbuildings including a large barn, mature fruit trees, vegetable gardens, a cistern and root cellar. Oh, the fun I’d have storing our produce. The picturesque property was on a dead-end gravel road, surrounded by neighboring woods, and had a creek running through one corner.

I absolutely adored the house and took pictures and measurements of every room, closet and hallway. I used graph paper to sketch our furniture placement in the house I was sure was ours. I printed photos of the house and land from every angle and taped them up everywhere so I could see them as I cooked supper, brushed my teeth and dressed for work. I even penciled us in arm-in-arm on the photos and sketches. I visualized us already there. I thought about it constantly and was positive the house was ours. More than once, I headed the wrong way down our hallway toward the bathroom at night, thinking I was in that house, the only house I would ever want, the only house I could ever love.

Gathering down-payment money

While we waited for the roof inspection, water test, termite inspection, employment verification, loan approval, land appraisal, insurance estimates and a host of other boring paperwork necessities before closing, we set out to raise our down-payment money. Since we couldn’t increase our wages, we tried selling unneeded items. I easily sold an ugly peach-colored 1986 pickup for $600 and an old car for another $500. We also cashed in our IRA for a whopping $350. It seemed galaxies from our $115,000 goal, but we opened a savings account and faithfully put every extra cent there. We rolled up our pennies and deposited them, too.

We sold my husband’s fancy Trek bike on Craig’s List for $300 and a small motorized cement mixer for$ 100. We even sold our kitchen clock on Craig’s List for $10. I actually did miss that after selling it, but only because I still needed to know the time.
Next, I suggested eBay as another selling source. My only experience there was buying a used camera five years earlier. Since I already had an eBay account, away we went. It took time to comprehend the listing rules, methods and fees, and how to calculate shipping, choose auction styles, upload photos and so on. We started with a pair of trendy walking shoes that were a gift to my husband. We acknowledged the shoes had been worn twice and didn’t expect to get much for them. Imagine our excitement as we watched the seconds tick away on the auction, netting us a dumbfounding $260 for used shoes! And, the buyer was pleased.

Cleaning out the closets

After that, our daily routine included exhuming stuff from closets, drawers and the shed to take pleasing photos of, vividly describe and then post, package and ship all over the country. We sent a few items to Canada and one to Australia, but learned international shipping is expensive. Another nuisance was writing feedback, but it’s intended to keep buyers and sellers honest. In all of our transactions, we received only one negative comment, which was for a Mexican peso made into a necklace. I had the necklace since 1974 and sold it for 99 cents, yet the buyer complained that it looked darker (or was it lighter?) in the photo.
Living simply, we had no electronics, video games or gadgets, so we weren’t sure how much we could assemble for eBay. It astounded us. After one particularly busy weekend, I counted $2,000 worth of goods piled on the couch, ready to ship. Many sales shocked us — $100 for a glass coffee percolator, $17.50 for a fishing lure, $450 for an antique jug that I’d been dusting for 20 years. Some sales made us laugh — $36 for a postcard I found tucked inside a used book, $5 for an antique no-name motel key and an average of $20 each for a dozen used industrial laser lenses. Another we still chuckle about is a broken pocketknife that looked something like a woman’s leg in a cowboy boot. We zoomed in on the cracked knife handle, described its imperfections and watched in amazement as bids reached $30.

This next admission may seem horrid, but here goes: I broke apart the coin collection I started as a child in 1970 and sold each coin (hundreds of them), while my husband cut the stones from his late mother’s jewelry and sold the gold. We sold my grandfather’s World War I army medals, wooden shorebirds my late father carved 30 years ago and family antiques. My husband removed the 1940’s studio portrait of his mother and aunts, and then sold the fancy, convex oval frame for $86 to an eBay shopper who collects frames. She even sent an extra $25 for us to have the frame professionally packaged. Grandpa’s medals sold for $200 and went to his hometown where they are now proudly displayed. Strangers reprimanded us by posting harsh comments on eBay, but we kept focused on our goal.

When our stash depleted, we stopped at an estate auction one cold, rainy day just to see if that would be profitable. We spent $8 and earned $250, but learned auctions consume too much time for our tastes, especially during gardening season. We paid $1 for a quart jar of old buttons that I sorted to sell. All over the living room, I set categorized bowls of sorted glass buttons, shell buttons, wooden buttons, military buttons, pearl buttons and colorful plastic buttons. I’d lay them out individually for the photo shoot (front, back and sideways), and then write tantalizing descriptions. “This lavender shell button would look especially lovely on a silk blouse” and “this sparkly faux silver button would be adorable on a jean jacket,” etc. Like most of the artifacts we sold, we didn’t know a thing about their value – and didn’t care. Our philosophy was: If we could not eat it, wear it or use is as a tool, we sold it.

Mistakes happen

We made blunders along the way as we learned the art of online selling. We hoped to save shipping costs on a heavy antique wall-mount telephone, so we sent it via U.S. Postal Service ground transport. It arrived broken. Insurance covered the buyer’s loss, but we were out shipping expenses. It was a shame the beautiful telephone lasted 100 years until we got hold of it.
Once, I forgot to check the correct shipping amount on a leather coat. It sold for 99 cents (minus eBay fees), but cost us $10 to mail. I also sent a carved wooden cow to the wrong customer and didn’t notice until the buyer inquired about the cow’s delayed arrival. I refunded the buyer and learned who mistakenly received the cow, but left it at that. In our experience, most buyers were courteous and honest. But, whew, was I ever happy when all our sales finally ended.

A year later, I hoped to meet like minded preparedness folks online and thought I’d start a thread (a first-time forum viewer or poster anywhere). I figured others would relate to how we parted with mawkish family trinkets to buy our homestead. Instead, I was scolded for admitting what we sold. The so-called survivalists called me “sick” and “immoral.” I made one reader “utterly sad.” I assumed I’d be among friends, but instead was called a freak living an 1800’s minimalist lifestyle of toil and discomfort. In my opinion, those “survivalists” placed too much value on sentimental possessions. Still, they made me feel awful for weeks. My advice here is to avoid those who do not agree with your dream.

I recently came across a photo file of our eBay items, and you know what? I did not wish for a single item back. We made our first eBay sale in late October 2009. By April 2010, pooled with our other gleanings, we amassed $10,000 in our savings account, a feat which later required explaining to our lender.

If I had known sooner, I’d have kept better records, but among the mountain of documents our lender required, I also had to clarify how our savings grew from $0 to $10,200 in five months. We sold more than 400 eBay items, some for merely 59 cents, so the itemization was quite lengthy. The bank needed assurance we were not depositing borrowed money (a few dollars at a time). It took days, but I finished the list in time to close on my dream property in mid-May. I withdrew $450 to appraise the property as the lender required. We also spent $600 on a homemade trailer to begin moving. I was ecstatic.

Talking it over

As the closing date neared, my husband began seriously reconsidering the purchase. While I was blind to the flaws with the house, barn, land, mortgage, water, creek, road, insurance and location, my husband was practical. I begged and whined; he pointed out the property’s drawbacks.
But, I love that basement, I said.
The well is across the road, watering a neighbor’s cattle, he said.
The area is beautiful, I said.
It’s too expensive, he said.
I’ll work two jobs to pay for it, I said.
I mailed off $450 for the appraisal. Days later, my husband called to cancel the deal.

That was it. We lost our appraisal fee and some earnest money, but I didn’t care about that. I was heartbroken. I took down the pictures I had taped everywhere. I told my husband to sell the trailer (he didn’t). I pouted and wouldn’t look at other properties or even talk about them. I accepted we would never leave the subdivision. So, listening to the neighbors argue, I planted the garden and moped. My husband resumed looking for our dream house. While I brooded at work, he searched, researched, made calls and visited properties. He placed a newspaper ad, seeking to trade our property for one in the woods. (The effort failed, but was worth a try.) Next, he called banks and realtors for foreclosures. He intended to spend half of what we were approved to borrow.
They’re all junk, I said.
He looked away.
I said: "We’re never going to find a decent place for less than $50,000."
He ignored me.

Just three weeks after canceling the contract on my dream home, my husband happened to reach a realtor getting ready to list a foreclosure for $44,000. My husband went to see the neglected little house (four years’ abandoned) and then learned another buyer also was interested. The bank asked each to submit a bid. After my husband described the property to me (I was speaking to him by then), I recommended he bid $54,000. He didn’t listen to me (again!) and bid something lower.
I still had not seen the property when my husband called me at work and said, “Well, we could have gotten that place for $54,000 … (my heart sank) … but … we … got it for $48,000!” Now, that’s just not funny.

The house is solid, custom built in 1966 with hardwood floors and a good basement, large shop, shed and woods. The first time I saw it, there were rats on the porch (which sent the realtor screaming), molted snake skins near the house and billions of ticks in the yard. I thanked them all for keeping the place safe for us.

A month later, it was ours. I still thank my stubborn husband for finding our dream house. Leaving the bank with our contract for deed, I drove through the area of my former dream property and discovered it was not the remote wilderness I envisioned, but a popular recreation area. For 40 miles, I was wedged in a river of boats and campers as I drove past canoe rental sites, campgrounds and liquor stores. Among other sad realities, the neighboring trees that I had loved were being logged.

We would need to work three jobs to pay for what I declared was the only place in the world I wanted. I believed we’d pay off that dream-home mortgage in a few months when we sold our house. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Selling the subdivision house took 18 months longer than we estimated and netted half of what we anticipated. After paying closing costs, we’d have made only a dent in the $115,000 mortgage I reasoned we could easily afford. Instead, we have a perfectly cozy house with no mortgage.
After almost three years, we fix things as we go and both love our little piece of the Ozarks. I left my arduous desk job and now help my husband at our home-based business. Our income is less, but we have more money. I don’t fret all night worried about my job, nor do I spend three hours a day in the car.

Perhaps, we were just lucky. I don’t know. But, I believe dreams do come true if one is willing to work for them. Looking back, it all seems so easy. Below is my elementary guide for finding your dream property.

So, you want to Get out of Dodge?

  1. Begin today, right this minute, by deciding what you truly want. Then, never stop thinking about it. Mull it over on the way to work; talk about it with your spouse; reflect on it in the shower. Visualize yourself already there.
  2. Do whatever it takes to pay off your debt. Begin by eliminating all unnecessary expenses no matter how trivial. Put every extra penny toward paying ahead on those loans.
  3. Look around your home and ask, “Do I need it? Do I love it? Does it make me money?” If you can’t honestly answer that an item does at least one of those three things, get rid of it. If you can, sell it. If you tried and can’t get a dime for it, then donate or recycle it. Just let it go. Clutter holds you back and is difficult to move. Clutter costs money.
  4. Once the debt is gone, start saving. Again, every penny counts. Each small sacrifice will put you closer to your goal more quickly. Believe me, you will never look back with regret and wish you’d spent more on cappuccino or cable.
  5. As your bank account grows, start looking for your dream property. Call banks and real estate offices to learn about properties in foreclosure. Check Craig’s List and other online sites for properties for sale by owner. Scour the classifieds and legal ads for auctions.
  6. Meanwhile, begin learning self-reliant skills. Visit the library for do-it-yourself books. Attend gardening and preparedness classes. Begin mastering at least one skill that would be useful as a barter item. Turn off the television and read books.
  7. As you shop for land, be realistic, not emotional. Visit the property many times, in more than one season if possible. Consider where you will work and shop. Ensure you have more than one source of water.
  8. Avoid the naysayers and form friendships with like-minded people.

 


Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Jim:
InyoKern's comments [about living in trailers] are right on. My brother is [living] in a 21.5 foot long toy hauler and it is built stronger than a conventional trailer and you can haul a lot in it. It is very comfortable and has extra large storage capacity for fuel, water etc. He has 200 watts of photovoltaic panels on the roof and four 6 -volt golf cart batteries cabled together to provide most of his electrical needs.

I have a 9 foot truck camper and though its good the trailer is much more versatile for moving about from city to city if you have a place to drop it, like a RV park. They are a good choice for a small business, as well. - Jason M.


Monday, February 4, 2013


Dear Jim,
I've been having blinding flashes of the obvious lately that I wanted to share.
 
A friend of mine just got a few AS degrees in IT, not realizing just how FUBAR the business world is for his new profession. IT professionals are no longer employees. They're contract workers, rarely working in a position more than a year, and often a lot less. They don't get benefits or retirement packages. They get specific tasks, get done, get paid, and get shown the door. This is not conducive to stable living. The career has changed so much that they are doing the minimalism trick and moving to the job. At first, that means renting long term stay hotel rooms, economy suites etc. But that's pretty expensive. The blinding flash? A trailer.

Get a town vehicle and pull a trailer that you can live in. Depending on pay and vehicle defines the kind of trailer to pull, but I've found through my own Google searching that there's many manufacturers of modest very light trailers which can pull behind any pickup or SUV, and even behind a Subaru. Ones you can stand up inside. Ones with hookups for most trailer parks. There are even ones with garage space, called Toy Haulers, which could be used for workshops for many professions, including space to store a table saw or electronics bench, welding rig and generator and gas bottles. All sorts of stuff, and its out of sight, out of mind. The Garage models are heavier so will require a stronger tow vehicle, but anyone driving and RV could tow a specialized trailer to a job site instead, chain it to something solid, and live next to it. Put it in the contract. I can see contract labor is the future, or even the present, and businesses are veering away from employee benefits in the modern economic disaster area thanks to that last election and the ongoing Derivatives Bubble. Investing in business seems very risky. Contracts avoid the risk.
 
Since the Tow Vehicle is massively fuel inefficient thanks to its specialization, the answer to getting around is either bicycle or motorbike or scooter. Roads being what they are, scooters are somewhat risky. They go down in potholes, in the road, often in front of traffic. A used Enduro motorbike, road legal with license plate and mirror and turn signals, or an older but working small displacement road motorcycle offers a means to get around, buy groceries, run errands. And it can be carried on or in the trailer. People do that. Its not as comfortable as a car, but its more comfortable than walking and cheaper than an 8 MPG tow vehicle.
 
As for the trailer itself, insulation seems to be key, as is power generation. Not all jobs will have hookups, meaning a (really quiet) generator is going to be needed unless you've got solar panels installed on the roof. Cheap solar that charges a battery is the answer. The more panels you've got, the more power for heat, lights, radio, fridge, and living humanely. Water will always limit trailers, so a hookup is far preferred. If you park somewhere with common showers, room to stretch out, and real hot water that might be a better choice. This also implies there's a real business opportunity there: running trailer parks for traveling professionals and technicians. Installing WiFi or including ethernet in the hookup bundle? Winning strategy for a business based on short and medium duration stays. Run a restaurant that delivers in the park center and you make yet more money and attract clients that have no time to cook or cleanup.
 
Professionals are going to be there to sleep and clean up, then back to the job they're on. Its not the traditional slumming situation. You'll have doctors and repair techs, IT guys, web designers who work directly with the customer (a niche that exists), event planners (business marketing, MBAs), horse dentists, mechanics, factory design engineers and techs, welders, CNC machinists, compliance officers, all sorts of things which make for contract labor. As the cost of fuel goes up and goes synthetic ($33/gal for synthetic biodiesel), the people who do this will be modestly to highly paid. They're just living in trailers so they keep more of it.
 
The strongest argument for residence trailers is that if you live light enough, you have your bugout gear with you, and you are yourself bugging out every time you move. Moving to jobs and away from bad economies is a viable survival strategy. You can't take hold of opportunity trapped in one place, not really. You "make do" in one place. You build labor saving devices and get things comfortable, but business moves with the economic winds, and those winds are turbulent today. America has largely exported its thinking and manufacturing jobs to China and India, and its left us with high unemployment. That unemployment is hiding behind the largest Back To College surge since the Veterans returned from WW2. Students aren't counted as Unemployed. When they graduate, we'll see more real numbers. They'll hit the job market and find little or nothing unless they starting thinking outside the box. And some will be thinking about this. Sincerely, - InyoKern


Thursday, January 31, 2013


Sir:
As a Central Texas Prepper, I have solved my food storage problem affordably, as follows: On my property there was an existing 20 foot by 24 foot sheetrock walled tool shed. I gutted this building and installed slabs of 8 inch styrofoam panels against interior walls.

These blocks of foam were salvaged from floating docks on a local lake as most people were installing plastic floats under their docks. The styrofoam blocks were free for the taking..As the floats were used and had been in the water in some cases for years, they looked gross and smelled bad also. I found if you cut as little as 4 inches off the side of the float, you now have new looking and smelling styrofoam blocks. The foam blocks come in [usually] 4 foot by 12 foot dimensions and need to be sized for re-use. This was accomplished with a 20 inch chain saw, with a tube sawing guide extending past the chain bar,and cut around the perimeter. The entire block will not be cut thru at this point but if you pop rivet two regular carpenters hand saws together to make a 5 foot blade, the remaining styrofoam cuts easily. You now have a 4 foot by 12 foot by 8 inch slab of pure insulation. Cut and tightly fit these slabs against your interior walls. Use foam sealer to seal the joints and you have an air tight interior. Inside the interior foam slabs, I built a 2x4 framed wall and insulated it with fiberglass insulation. These walls were then sheetrocked and taped. The ceiling received the same treatment with cutoff chunks of Styrofoam placed on top of the slabs in the attic. The thicker the better. A sheetrock ceiling was put up after all seams were sealed with foam. A solid core door with a foam rubber gasket was installed to keep things airtight.

Next, a high efficiency 10,000 BTU window air conditioner with a power saver feature was installed to cool the interior. The whole thing works better than expected, keeping the interior of the storage building at 60 degrees or below, no matter the outside temperature. The window unit is shut off in the winter with the interior temperature staying around 55 degrees. The electricity consumed by the window unit is negligible.The exterior of the building was left worn and weathered looking even our closest friends have no idea about the contents of the tool shed. Some work required but this resulted in a cheap and effective storage facility. - Don in Texas


Tuesday, December 25, 2012



James,
I had the same problem that Matt in the Evergreen State did with my doors.  I inherited a house from my family here in The Tar Heel State and after my recent marriage, my wife and I decided to make it our home for a few years.  It was a typical warbaby house, built in the 1940s and remodeled a time or two.  It has a mix of plaster/paneling/drywall walls, a handful of fireplaces, and lots and lots of glass windows and doors.  In fact, when I moved in all someone would have to do to take a stroll through the house was break a small pane on the door and reach through to turn the lock.  Since then, I have been replacing locks with double-sided deadbolts and replacing doors.  My front door was mostly glass pane with floor-to-ceiling windows on each side, like Matt's.  I replaced the door, left the glass in the windows, and took half-inch plywood, cut to fit, and screwed a piece in on both the inside and outside of the glass.  On the outside, I covered it with vinyl siding to match the exterior of the house, and on the inside I covered it with drywall so I could paint it to match the room color.  Presto, not a piece of glass anywhere around the door someone could break through.  I have left all of the windows untouched, but keep a stash of plywood handy in the barn so I could cover them quickly if need be.

Thanks for all you do. - A.


Monday, December 24, 2012


James,
After the Sandy Hook tragedy I got thinking of my own personal security . From limited information in the press the perpetrator came though the window because the doors were locked . After  sending a few rounds through the tempered glass , the glass pulverized and he simply stepped though and started his killing spree . Question , where was the window located ? If it was a side-light to the door then it would be a double paned tempered glass window . Question, if it was a side-light window why no laminated wire mesh? That would have slowed him down trying to bust out the mesh . Was it a standard school window with all it's double paned shards of glass. As you can see so many questions and no answers yet. 

We are a nation of glass . We use glass in our homes ,schools, hospital, offices, but just how secure is glass? Safety glass is not security glass , the very nature of tempered glass makes it poor for security . I just installed two security doors but right next to the doors is floor to ceiling glass, now what do I do. Below is a link to a video of a fellow walking through 15 panes of tempered glass in little over one second each.  As a nation we need a low cost solution to this glass problem.  - Matt in the Evergreen State


Thursday, November 29, 2012


I am a law enforcement officer by trade. The area I work, as more and more areas often do nowadays, has an unfortunate problem with Meth. Most often, Meth is carried in 1.5”x1.5” plastic baggies that are usually folded up. As you can imagine, people get awfully desperate when trying to hide them.  As you can also imagine, a large portion of my time is spent trying to find them. If you imagine something about the size of a postage stamp or SD card that will give you a pretty good idea of the size we are dealing with. I also have investigated countless burglary calls, so have seen firsthand not only the patterns that thieves follow when searching for loot, but the patterns people follow when hiding things. I also happen to be a prepper, so in addition to needing to find stuff in my job, I understand the need for discreet storage in my personal life. I will approach this article from two ways: First, I’ll go over some of the more imaginative places I’ve seen things hidden, and hopefully share some tips and tricks that will open up more storage/hiding places for you. Second, I’ll go over some steps and methods to help you find things if you are the one looking. The better you get at finding things, the better you get at hiding them. Whether it’s hiding something quickly on your person or finding something on someone you are searching, or creating a long term cache, I hope this helps open up some new avenues to you.

Part 1- Hiding things-
So what are you hiding? I agree with JWR whole-heartedly that it is a lot harder for people to steal (or seize) what they cannot find.  Gold/silver, guns, ammo, USB drives, documents, etc. Anything of value to you.  Maybe you just need more room for your food storage.  Hiding places are truly only limited by your imagination. Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette etc still apply when hiding objects as well as yourself.  This article will mainly focus on hiding areas and compartments.  So let’s begin…

ON YOUR PERSON: From the bottom up, let’s start with the shoes. Many of the new skate style shoes have a thick tongue. This tongue can be cut (along a seam) and items inserted in this. In addition the insole can be removed and items placed beneath. On crocs or even sandals, the sole can be split, filled, and glued back. On regular shoes, the sole (think where the air pocket on Nike’s is) can usually be cut and hollowed out. The heel of a shoe tends to have a lot of padding, and this provides some area to work with.  Shoes can be bought with both tongue and heel hiding places already constructed.

Obviously, anything can be tucked into a sock. For pants, the bottom cuff of pants can store items. You can also fold the cuff internally and sew or Velcro shut. Hidden pockets can be sewn anywhere on pants.  Seams are good places for these, as the thickness of the material will provide support and break up any imprint of the item, and if being patted down, the hard seam may hide the object from touch.  The edges of cargo pockets are also viable options, as well as the flap of the pocket. Most pocket flaps are double thickness, and can be opened, filled, and resealed easily. If you are doing this, make sure the objects are silenced and cant jangle against one another. Hidden storage belts are very common, and easily missed during a quick pat down.  Likewise with the back of a belt buckle or one with a removable object on the front. The same hiding places for pants also apply to shirts, with the addition of under or inside of a collar or thicker sewn in tag. For hats, inside of the sweat band, or tucked into a slit in the underside of the bill. Foam front hats can be altered in this way as well.  Belts also do not just need to be for holding your pants up.  You can tuck a gun into a belt that is worn up closer to chest level (up to your arm pits) on your body in a pinch, or have a knife taped to your inner thigh or upper hamstring area. Both the Keltec P3AT and the Ruger  LCP have available belt clips for them. The clip extends higher than the back of the pistol, so all that appears in a pocket is a clip that looks like a knife.

BICYCLES: Obviously, tires can be used as storage places.  The frames on bikes are hollow, and can be accessed from the seat, handle bar, or even crank area on some brands. Seat stems quickly remove and provide hollow storage, especially on newer bikes with quick adjust seats. You can tape items to the underside of the seat. Or buy a seat cover and keep items between the cover and the seat. On bicycles with straight grips, you can make a thin lit in the flat distal end of the rubber grip. Items can be inserted, and the hole is self-closing. Bicycle helmets are also options, with both padding that can be removed and foam to work with. Bicycles are also stolen, so be sure to guard against this and keep this in mind when using them to store items..

VEHICLES: A whole book could be written on this, and smugglers are coming up with some pretty ingenious methods. Cars are stolen, so I don’t advocate storing long term items in them (IE Guns), but there may come a time and place. Every vehicle is different. Anything with padding can be stuffed, and any dead space can be taken advantage of.  I strongly encourage you to look through your vehicle, both inside and out, top and bottom. After market tube bumpers can be filled with items. Stock  bumpers can have things tucked inside. Speakers can be removed. Again, tires can be filled. In the engine compartment, you can remove the air filter or fuse box. Or install a false fuse box. With all of the aftermarket items inside of cars now, it’s hard to tell what is stock and what is not (think about the K and N cold air filters). Get some large radiator hose and attach it to random spots in the engine compartment for some pretty secret storage. Anything that has to be bolted down is highly unlikely to be unbolted during a search, and provides a good starting point. Engines also have a lot of undercarriage armoring or protection that can be removed and used. Wheel wells usually have some storage space, and most vehicles have body panels that provide a lot of room to work with. Under a dash board, you can access vents as well as a lot of empty space. Door panels can be removed, as well as seat cushions (or slit and stuffed.)  In the glove box, there is an area under the box on the door, as well as below the dash if you remove the glove box/door fully. If you have a sunroof, the area between the glass piece and the interior padding can store things. In the console area, you can remove the plastic housing. Most ashtrays remove to empty, and provide access to a dead space behind them. The soft boot on a parking brake or manual transmission can be removed and filled. Airbags can be removed.  Dome lights can be removed and have the headliner accessed. The actual trunk portion that lifts up provides a lot of room, as do most light housing areas. Under any carpet in the vehicle.  Behind a license plate. Under a truck bed liner. Under a false floor in a tool box in the bed. Between the tool box and bed.  People can go so far as to install a smaller gas tank with a hidden compartment in the unused space.  In general, the more you can return the appearance to standard, the better. If you slit a seat, install Velcro or stitch it back up. If you lift the carpet, glue it back down. Do not leave pry marks on the dash board or door panels. Old vehicles are somewhat easier to work with, as they do a better job of disguising things as minor wear and tear.  If you have a rundown vehicle in the yard, you have more options. Park it on a buried 55 gallon drum. Remove the valve covers, hide things there, and replace them.  If the vehicle is not running, any hoses can be filled.  You can remove the wheels from a car, jack it up, put stuff where the gas tank was, then lower it down.  Let your imagination guide you.  Anything in the engine compartment will get hot and dirty.

THE YARD: With anything stored outside, be sure to weatherproof your container. Underground storage areas are very difficult to find, especially if you conceal them well. Metal detectors are becoming more commonplace, so be mindful of this. If it is a long term cache, leave it. Don’t check it every month and leave telltale signs or a path in the grass or freshly dug dirt. If you are concerned about metal detectors, place some old pipe fittings in the dirt above your cache and below the ground level. Fence tubing can be used. If building a wall, you can fill a cinder block with goods for long term storage. If you need easier access, remove a specific cap piece on top of the wall. Like wise with a 4x4 fence post.  These can be drilled nearly hollow then capped with a decorative piece.  Bird houses can be filled, or built with a false floor.  If building a raised bed garden, filled PVC tubes can be laid in the bottom. How many times have you seen people searching/looting a house dig up a garden? On a deck or play structure, any number of compartments can be fitted to the cross beams of the flooring. Don’t overlook a child’s sandbox. If you build your own, it is very simple to simply install a double floor for your goods, then fill with sand.  Old cars (see above), garden hose rolls (the roller), decorative yard art or sculptures, junked appliances, again let your imagination guide you. You can remove a brick from a wall, construct a fake brick out of floral foam that can be hollowed out, and paint to match your wall. Buy an outdoor speaker rock, and remove the guts. Hide something under your wood pile.  Be creative. Think like a kid again. Ask your kids where they would hide things.

HOME EXTERIOR: This is one of my favorites. Most people overlook the exterior of a home for any worthwhile goods. People know that spare keys are under mats, plants, etc, by the front door. On a patio/porch cover, if you have exposed beams, install new paneling pieces in the space between them. If you use spacers, you can still have exposed beams and hide the appearance of your cache. If you have a flat patio cover, you can hide a great number of items on top of it, against the roof. Have you ever looked behind the bird blocks on your roof? There is space there as well. Look at all of the pipes, vents, chimneys, etc, coming off of your roof. It would be very simple to construct a false vent pipe, sand to fit, paint to match, and no one would be the wiser.  Likewise with the random cable, phone, sprinkler controller boxes on houses now. How many does your house have? If you can’t name the number, someone looting won’t know either.  Buy an extra, set it up, and store away!
You can also landscape for success here too. Plants that drop a ton of leaves can hide a lot of ground work, and if you do bury something in a garden, it’s a great spot for your cactus collection.  Hide something inside your dog house when you build it. Or your chicken coop.
 
HOME INTERIOR: This is where it gets interesting.  Most burglaries I have seen people go through all of the usual hiding places. Drawers, cabinets, closets, nightstands, mattresses, under beds, behind pictures on the wall, book case. If something can get pushed over, its going to. So don’t hide things there. Let’s get wiser.
 
Let’s start with the laundry room. Do your cabinets go all the way to the ceiling? If not, consider a fascia piece and Velcro or screws to hold it in place. Now, they look like they go to the ceiling and you have a lot of storage. The same with a toe kick piece on the bottom of cabinets. Remove it, and reattach with Velcro, magnets, or screws.  Most cabinets also have an overhang on the bottom and top. You can fit a flush (horizontal) top or bottom and have a lot of storage. On washing machines and dryers, especially older models, there is a lot of dead space that can be accessed by removing the paneling. Obviously, be careful of what you are storing there, and the machine’s effects on it and its effect on the machine.  How many hoses and vents come off of your washer and dryer? Would a looter notice an extra 6” vent piece on the back of your dryer?  Do you use powdered laundry detergent? You can hide a lot in the bottom of a five gallon bucket of powder or large box of tide.  Same thing with bleach. Empty a bleach container, wash, dry, and fill with goods. Store in the back behind a couple other full bottles of bleach.

THE KITCHEN:  How many decorative containers do you have on the cabinets in your kitchen? Try putting food storage in them. How about under your stove?  How about in the warming drawer? What about the vent above your stove?  Remove the fascia piece on the bottom of your dishwasher? Do your cabinets have dead space around corners?  Do your counters have an overhanging lip? Could you flush mount a thin veneer under them? Some of the more amazing hiding places I have seen constructed involved water filters. One was a screw in water filter in the fridge that was hollowed out.  The other was an under the sink water filter, again, that was just the shell and had been hollowed out.  It is easy to overlook these, and if the power and water is off, its easy to excuse them not working. It Is also easy to install an extra piece or two of PVC pipe under a sink that are going nowhere. Unless you take the time to look, most will not notice an extra pipe.  How many chemicals do you keep under your sink? Can you store something in your ajax container?  How about where you store all of your plastic bags?  Be careful of hiding things in food (IE bottom of rice bucket.) Depending on how bad things are and who is doing the looting, that may be what people are looking for.  How about your pantry?  What about installing a 2 inch shelf above the door jam on the inside? How many times have you seen the wall above your closet door from the inside? Exactly….that is what makes it a great place to hide things. Depending on how small the pantry is and how high your ceiling is, you can go so far as to install a false ceiling. Because the lighting is usually different or non existent in the pantry/closet, false ceiling are a lot harder to pick out. Put a 2x4 so the 4” side is vertical on either short edge of the ceiling. Cut a piece of plywood to fit, and screw into the 2x4. 3.5” of storage space will fit most guns. Paint and texture to match. This works very well for a long term cache, when you can tape/caulk the seams, etc, and just leave it alone.  How about a decorative backsplash behind a sink or stove? Can you use one to hide a between the studs cache in the wall?  How about the inside of chandelier glass? Or screw in light covers? Add lots of dead bugs to hide any shadows cast.  How about where your ceiling fan attached to the ceiling? Or your smoke alarm? If you take them out, you have access to a lot of space under your ceiling insulation, and can put back a functioning item to hide your entrance point.  How about the dishes you have stacked up? How many coins could you tape to the bottom of your plates?

Moving on to the living room/dining room…Couches make great, but obvious places to hide things. But how about a lamp base? How about a curtain rod? How about sewn into the fold on the bottom of a curtain? Can you install a false bottom on your dining chairs? How about your dining room table? Coffee table? Are there angled support pieces in the corners?  If you do store stuff in a chair, be sure to pad the contents to keep them quiet, and do it to all of the chairs so it looks factory. How about speakers?  When looking at furniture, try to figure out where the dead space is.

Then, figure out how you can build a compartment to take advantage of it. Indoor plants are great too.  A nalgene bottle will hold a lot, and is waterproof enough to put in the bottom of a plant pot and leave under a plant and soil.

File cabinets are usually opened up, gone through, and tipped over. Most drawers are not removed. If you do remove the bottom drawer, you have some pretty good space below the drawer. An even better spot is secured to the inside of the top (above the top drawer) if the item is small enough.

Beds are common places to hide things, usually under them or in the mattress. So be different. Hollow out a bed post or leg if you have a wooden bed. Install a second piece of wood to the back of your head board to create a spot.  Dressers drawers will get pulled out and dumped out. If you must hide in a dresser, build a spot above the top drawers on the inside of the top, or to the side of the edge drawers. Take advantage of your dead space.  For bookcases, most have with a decorative fascia on the top shelf or below the bottom shelf. Don’t just hide things there. Screw a sheet of board onto it to really secure it.

Bathrooms are great too. Does your bathroom have two sinks? Use one and convert the plumbing in the other to storage. Tampon/Pad boxes are good for hiding things. How about a spare trash can with opened feminine products on top? Have a shower or bath you don’t use? What can you fit in the drain? What about in the faucet/water fixture. How about that costco sized bottle that used to have shampoo in it? What about your shower or bath itself? Do you have a seat in your shower? How about the entire frame of your bath? All of this is dead space waiting to be used. What can you attach to string or wire and put down the toilet? What about fitting things in the float ball in the toilet tank? Is there a brick in your toilet tank? Can you hollow out the bottom of the brick?
What about the closet? People look behind clothes hanging in closets. People don’t look in the pockets of clothes hanging in the closet. Or pinned under the collar of a jacket. Do you have shelves in the closet? Under the bottom shelf, up against the wall is a good place. Closets are great places to remove the base board and create a cache. You can attach it back with Velcro or magnets, but screws work better.  If your closet is wider than the door, can you build a partition against one wall? Again, if you take the time to finish it right, the lighting and presence of things in the closet will help to hide it.  Will 4” of wall space missing stand out amongst old clothes and Christmas decorations?

Attics make great places too. Under insulation is always a great option. If you have spray in insulation, it is very hard to make it look untampered with. Roll insulation is easier. With the amount of venting going around, is the searcher really going to confirm where each duct is going to? Consider adding a false duct for storage.  Bury one end in the insulation somewhere, and have the other go off into a dark corner.  Get to a corner of the attic, and screw a sheet of plywood between (not to the beams, but between) two beams to create a compartment against the roof. Basements are great places also. Think of structural dead space, and choose the nastiest, darkest corner you have. Put a cardboard box of water damaged magazines in front of it.

For true cache type hiding places, you need to think construction.  Install a new shower with a seat and take advantage of the dead space. When framing a wall, door, or window, put an extra few 2x4’s on the base plate. Drill out a space big enough for coins, USB drives, etc. Understand these are not going to be accessed easily. When installing flooring, think about a floor safe. I helped a friend build an addition onto his house. When pouring the foundation, we sank a tube safe in the concrete. It got filled, covered with Thinset, and tiled over.  Do you have a bay window? Build a seat to fill in the angle, but have the seat lift for storage. You can frame out a rectangular storage area under the hinged seat, but will still have the triangular areas on either end the are accessed by taking the whole thing apart.  Have an interior wall where insulation doesn’t matter? Replace the drywall with plywood on either side and have a great storage area between the studs. Any electrical outlet, surround sound speaker, phone jack, cable hook up is a great access point. Or install a few fake ones. Newer houses have drain access points on opposite walls from the plumbing, and these make excellent spots also.

In the garage, make things look boring. No one goes through a bin of old newspapers. Or looks in the bottom of a bucket of rusty bolts.  Or looks under the salt pellets in a water softener. Or looks under the wooden shelves you built to see the double plywood layer with storage space between.  Or dumps out the 5 gallon bucket of off color paint on clearance at home depot to find the Nalgene bottle in the bottom of it. Most commercial metal shelves have a lip on the bottom front, and you can store things under them.
One last thing is your safe. I assume you have one, it is bolted down, and kept locked. Better yet, you have a cheap throw down safe in your closet and the real one in a hidden room.  What about storing stuff under the carpet in your safe? Or on the inside edge of the lip in the front frame piece around the door, on the sides and top? If the safe is bolted to the concrete, did you put a cache in the wall it is up against? How about in the ground under it?

Another option is hollow core doors. The top can be removed, and lots of things stored inside. How about inside the decorative crown molding on the ceiling?
There is a thought that you can build armor to defeat any bullet, and can build a bullet to defeat any armor. Hiding things is like this. Someone can find any hiding spot you have given enough time and effort.  You want to make it as boring and horrible a process for them that they stop well before they find what they are looking for. If you have something hidden in the yard, put the trash can with the dog poop by it. And get a skunk to spray it. And plant a cactus by it. Make someone searching take one look at it and mentally give up before they start. People often look IN things, but rarely look AT the thing itself. Take advantage of this. People also look in places where they themselves hide things, and you can learn a lot by watching someone search. If you alter something, repair it as close to original as you can. Or alter everything the same way. Once you hide something, LEAVE IT THERE. Every time you check on it, you are creating an opportunity to leave a trail or alter something that will make it show.  Maybe today is the day your hand is dirty and will leave a hand print, or you will break a branch on the plant.  Maybe you will be in a hurry and not put things back right.

Part 2 Finding things-
Let’s start with a little on human behavior. Police are not trained to find criminals. We are trained to look for patterns, and notice when something breaks a pattern, or follows one we have already recognized. When I stop a car and the driver instantly lights up a cigarette and starts puffing away like a steam engine going uphill, I instantly think of two options. One, the person has been drinking and is trying to hide the smell of alcohol. Two, the person has a warrant, and is trying to get in a last bit of nicotine before jail. This is just from watching people over a long period of time. Next time you are carrying a gun, pay attention to how often you subconsciously touch it. When you get out of your car, when you go into a business, when you stand up, or sit down. Some people want to keep their drugs as close to them as they can. Others will do their best to stay as far away from them as they can (IE drugs are in the car, and they meet you at the trunk of the car when you stop them they are out their door so fast.) People are creatures of habit. People also tend to be lazy by nature. These two things come in handy when looking for things. When hiding things, people tend to want somewhere quickly accessible, and within reach.  When searching, people tend to get lazy, and look where they would hide things. You must be methodical and systematic. Don’t be afraid to take a break during a search for something if you find you are losing focus.

SEARCHING A PERSON:  So you are manning your LP/OP and you contact someone. In the course of the contact, they need to be searched. First, have a minimum of two people to search anyone. Safety and awareness are paramount. While one is doing the tactile portion, the second should be looking at the person’s body language, etc. A third and fourth person would ideally be providing cover.  The safest way is to have the person undress, and to go through their belongings inch by inch. This is not always possible. First, look at the person. Do you see any obvious bulges, or unevenness anywhere?  Have them interlock their fingers on the back of their head, with their pinkies up. Grasp their hands, and pull them backwards, so they are off balance. If you have the manpower, have one person hold them like this and have another search them. To search, you must touch everywhere, with enough time and pressure. You are looking and feeling or anything out of the ordinary. Go Slow. You are looking for a handcuff key under a seam of their pants or something of the like (In the academy, we were taught to look for a handcuff key. It’s the smallest thing that can kill you. Spend time with your spouse hiding a hand cuff key and trying to find it. Truly believe the person has a handcuff key or a mini SD card on them every time you search. Actively search. DO NOT GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS) IF ANYTHING FEELS OR LOOKS DIFFERENT, INVESTIGATE FURTHER! Did something crinkle? Did it not bend how it should? Go all the way up the inner thigh. Check inside the waist band. When going through clothes/shoes away from the person, look over and touch every inch. Look at the seams. Look at the thread used, the stitch pattern. Bend the item in your fingers. Take the insoles out of the shoes. Compare the two in weight.  Compare the two or the left and right side in feel.  Look at the belt buckle. Look at the belt. Look inside the hat. GO SLOW.  They sell handcuff key zipper pulls, as well as paracord bracelet clips that have them in them. VERIFY EVERYTHING, AND DO NOT ASSUME.
When searching a car, a good place to start is to sit in the driver’s seat.  Remember, people are lazy. What can you reach? Where do your hands go to when you reach under the seat?  To the visor? Under the passenger seat? Account for the dead space in the car. Look in all of the places mentioned above. Turn the wipers on. Turn the AC and heat on. Does it all work? Is the head liner loose? Are their pry marks on the door paneling? On the Dash board? Is the ashtray full or was it recently emptied? Is the CD holder full of CD’s? Look in the trunk. Look where the spare goes. Look in the actual trunk portion of the car that lifts up.

SEARCHING YARDS AND RESIDENCES
For the purpose of this article, searching means after the fact, when any gunplay is done, and you have ample time on your hands. This does not pertain to any area that is not fully secured and under your control.

As mentioned , you can see that is is nearly impossible to search every rock tree and bush. So you play the odds. Try to look, listen, and feel. Look for patterns of travel. Look for dead grass, or trimmed bushes. Look for disturbed dirt. Look for loose bricks. Look for missing cobwebs.  Listen for footsteps that sound different, or for the section of fence that sounds hollow. Or sounds dull if everything else sounds hollow.  Feel for the floral foam brick, or the loose capstone.  Divide the yard into a grid. Go through methodically and systematically. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING, VERIFY EVERYTHING. Open the lawnbird control panel on the house. Turn the sprinklers on. Turn the hose on.

Inside of the house, account for every inch of space. Look for things that don’t fit, are not original, or were recently or frequently moved. Look for grooves and wear patterns in paint. Listen. Knock on walls, Knock on floors. Get out a stethoscope. Feel the wall texture. Turn on the sinks. Feel the pipes below while the sink is on. Is water draining where it should? Feel the ductwork with the AC or heat on.  Is air moving? If not, VERIFY why not. Do not assume.  Imagine objects are made of 1” cubes. You need to verify what each cube is or is not either by touch or sight. By both if possible. Think of a book case. This means everything within the edges of that book case is on a 1” grid. The books. The space behind the books. The shelves. Under the shelves. The wall behind it and the floor under it.  Open each book, not just one or two. When looking at containers of things, do the same thing. 1“ cubes. You can’t verify them all by looking at it from the outside. Dump them out if need be.  The person playing mouse went to great lengths to make everything as boring as possible, as disgusting as possible. They forgot to flush the toilet intentionally. They clean all their fish in the same pile for a reason.  Coincidences do not exist when you are searching for something. Get out a tape measure. Measure the ceiling height. Measure the wall length. If something doesn’t ad up, VERIFY it. Account for all structural dead space both in the house and in the objects in them.

Be mindful also of what people are searching for and what looters need. Right now, the bottom of a bucket of rice may be a good spot to hide a few coins. Food theft has not started yet. Likewise, a computer printer that may be stolen is not a wise place to hide said coins. But six months post-crunch, when the printer is a paper weight because the grid has been down and rice is as valuable as gold, the priorities for hiding places may be reversed.

I hope this article helps open up some new thoughts for you on hiding places, and finding them. When you look at your house from a different perspective, you will find limitless storage. And the better you get at finding things, the better you will be at hiding things. Search objects, not just in them.  If you are the deer hunter, look for deer from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, not just when you are in your tree stand in the woods.  If you are the deer, don’t just hide in the woods. Hide in the bushes by the front window of the hunters house, where he will pass you by before he even realizes he should be looking for you.


Friday, November 16, 2012


We decided that our family needed a root cellar for maintaining root crops, cold storage and for more extensive water storage, here is our story. Hopefully, others can learn from us and not make the same mistakes. One Sunday afternoon, we went out to the yard and sized up the area we wanted, and marked our spot. Our property borders Federal land that occasionally has people lingering around, we have even caught people in our other shelters on the back of our property, so I wanted to keep this one as close to the house as possible. When we purchased our property it was all woods and we bulldozed a small area for our home. We know where every well water, electric, cable and septic line runs, we knew the area we had chosen was clear. In the back of my mind, we had saved this spot from the beginning to bury a secondary propane tank or water cistern. However; in our state it is mandatory to call “Holy Moley” a specific number to locate underground lines and cables prior to digging anything, even a garden spot. So we called, and waited for them to come out and mark all existing underground elements. We were told we did not need a building permit because it was just a ‘root cellar’.

We have found over the years that there is a little magnetic anomaly on our property, so all the compasses and detectors in the world will be off anywhere from a little to a lot. A kid that looked like he should still be in high school came from the electric company and ended up marking three lines wide, saying “It could be here, or here, or here. It’s somewhere between these lines.” I thanked him and was thankful that I knew where they were. We also noticed others marked the location of the Texas pipeline almost six foot from where it is on the Federal land and across the very corner of our property.  On the opposite side of our land, about six feet from the property line, lies a forced sewer main from the hotel lodge two miles away. They marked it 7 feet off target--we know because we found it very unexpectedly when we planted new cedar trees five years ago. Bottom line, I’m glad we know where everything is located because those who are ‘supposed’ to know don’t always know, and their instruments are not always accurate. NOTE: Always know exactly where your utility lines are on your property, measure from a point that does not change.

Having worked some years of my professional life in architectural design, I had made notes on our set of blueprints exactly where everything is located, measured from the SE corner of the house. My personal notes let us know that the area we wanted to dig in was clear.   We knew the water table was low in our area, as years ago we had to go down 120 feet for our well.  NOTE: Know your local water table and local frost line. We figured we wouldn’t hit water when we were digging the root cellar, nor would there be a need for a perimeter drain as our soils type was good for drainage. Now that everything was officially marked, and materials were gathered, it was time to start digging. We chose to dig by hand as the area we were working in was in the woods, surrounded by mature trees close to our home. We weren’t sure we could get a backhoe in between the trees, and we didn’t want to disturb any tree trunk-roots. Our area was about 12 x 16 feet, hoping after the concrete was poured and the stairs were in, it would end up about 10 x 12 feet finished.

We squared off our area and started digging, all of us, but it seemed to go slowly, so we had a dig party, everyone brought shovels and we started in again. Then the kids shoveled daily after school and the next, and so forth. The ground was much harder than we had considered. NOTE: use a Bobcat or backhoe and pile extricated dirt in area out of the way if at all possible. So after the two weeks we were down about 16 inches on half of the area, so we brought in pickaxes, as we had broken three shovels. We could only work one at a time with the pickaxes so we didn’t hit each other in the head while we worked. Working one at a time slowed us down considerably. We intended to go down about 6 feet, and according to our plans, that would be about 5 feet below ground level and 2 feet above ground level. That would get us below the frost line and above the water table. We also had not planned where we were going to pile the dirt we took out, so initially we all started putting it on ‘our side’ as we were digging, till we realized what we were doing. Then we stopped and cleaned up our mess, and re-piled all the excess dirt in one area and all the rocks in another area.  Telling this makes us sound like  a segment of a ‘Three Stooges’ movie, but we did all have fun with this project and now have precious, priceless family memories. Note: family projects of any kind can strengthen family bonds.

We were coming in contact with some large stones we had not thought about, so we had to devise a way to remove them without giving us all hernias.  After about 6 weeks to 2 months we hit a snag, literally. We were about 3 foot to 4 foot down when we uncovered metal pieces and bones that looked like human remains. I will not desecrate a grave site because I am part Native American, and understand the Grave Repatriation Act, and we understand the historical significance of our area and what we had possibly found. So we called the State Archeologist, and waited another two weeks until he could come. Meanwhile, we were on a ‘stop work’ order. In my heart I knew I had saved that area for some reason. HINT: Obey federal laws, someone will find out, some way at sometime anyway, consequences are much worse after-the-fact. While we were stopped, we revised our plans and decided to use this as a tornado shelter also, since it would be easier to access in our older age than the one we currently had, that was if we could go ahead with our project. There are different requirements for tornado shelters than for root cellars, the concrete walls needed to be stronger, the entry door needed to be different, etc. We incorporated these changes into our plan, since it was only half dug.

After the State Archeologist finally came, he identified the metal parts as being from an early buckboard wagon, as were the wooden fibers. However; it took weeks to get the results of the tests on the bones that in the end tested out to be animal bones. So the ‘stop work’ order was lifted and we could get back to work. At this point we were considering revising our plans again so we could finish quickly as it was late in the fall and we wanted to have the root cellar in by winter. No such luck, an early snow and the seasonal flu knocked us all off schedule. So the deep square filled with fall leaves and snow. People who visited us over the winter could see our little experiment from the house, and constantly asked what we were doing. Our favorite answer was digging a ‘water feature’. When we told someone the truth, that we were building a root cellar/tornado shelter, everyone started laughing at us.

Come spring, we noticed the ground was so very hard that the sides had actually held up very well, even down to the squared off corners. Also it had never collected any water, so it was draining well, even though the ground was very hard. Looking back, it’s a good thing we left it over the late fall and winter into spring, as that gave us vital information about the ground performance that we needed. HINT: In retrospect; leaving the ground gaping open over the winter gave us vital information and hardened the ground. Come springtime we resumed our project, but changed our plans. Instead of pouring concrete for it all, we decided to lay brick for the steps, as we needed the steps to finish digging. Our initial plan called for poured concrete, but we did not wish to pay for poured concrete twice with two delivery charges. We needed the steps at that time, to be able to get down into the ‘hole’ to keep digging, so we used old bricks instead. We gathered together all our spare bricks and used them on the steps. It didn’t match, but it was cute and we made designs with the odd colored bricks in concrete. Our use of brick steps ended up working well, because in the dark you can feel the difference between the brick steps and the concrete flooring.

We put up our concrete wall-forms close to the smoothed dirt, arranged the supports and were ready to have the concrete poured. Then, with a site check from the concrete company, we found out the concrete trucks could not get close enough to the site to pour the concrete. This was like a punch in the gut. With everything in place and ready we decided to make our own concrete. Working with friends, we mixed and poured homemade quickcrete walls, we kept the concrete constantly coming and of consistent value. We had enough help to pour the walls all on the same day. We poured the floor last, then built shelves from 2 x 4 s and ½ inch plywood. We used ½ inch plywood for shelves to support the weight of glass jars without bowing. We put a 110 gallon water cistern in the corner. We realized we were very close to an outside water outlet so we ran a water line over to the inside of the root cellar to the water cistern. Being 32 feet from an electric pole, we had an electrician drop an electric line, so we could put electricity in our root cellar. HINT: We love our water and electric that was spur of the moment decisions, plan for them. Our neighbor is a brick mason, so he volunteered to lay the three rows of concrete brick on top of the concrete wall to bring it up above ground. We laid our beams to support the flat roof. As we replaced the dirt on top of the flat roof, and up the sides, we found since it had been almost two years since we started, that much of the pile of dirt we took out had washed away, even though we had it under tarps. We ended up having to haul two loads of dirt (and transfer it to our site in a wheelbarrow) to cover the sides and top. We had to chose an entry door and now set it in concrete. Our experience of shoveling the dirt out was not near as fun as shoveling it back, we even covered the sides with dirt too, till it was completely covered into a little ‘mound’ then we sowed grass seed. 

In the end we are very glad to see it finished, even though the grass is not growing yet. Our ‘bare minimum’ budget was stretched considerably as the finished cost was almost twice as much as what we had initially projected. The majority of that cost was in the steel reinforcing rods used in the concrete when we moved from plain root cellar to root cellar/tornado shelter, and in the type of door we used. We are glad we ran electricity, for a dehumidifier as well as lights. The running water came in handy for clean-up when we dropped some glass home canned jars of peaches. We have not yet put doors on our shelves as was suggested to us by someone who had been in a tornado. They suggested plywood doors over all the canned goods that lock so the cans and jars do not become airborne during a tornado. We are going to listen and install them over Thanksgiving when all the family is here. In the end we are pleased with our new little spot, but if you plan to do this yourself here are our suggestions; have friends willing to help, don’t modify your plans in mid-stream, double the cost your expect and be prepared for any surprise when you are digging.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The rustling came again from the back of the shotgun-style apartment. Was it squirrels? We had a few of the little gray buggers living in the trees around us and they made quite a racket. I assured my wife via text that a squirrel wouldn’t come through our window screens.

She got up and looked into our bedroom just to make sure and saw a head and back sticking through about half way onto our bed. Letting out a blood curdling yell, she screamed and ran towards the window as the perp backpedaled out and ran off down the alley. Slamming the window, she called me at work, had me call 911, and waited for the police who quickly arrived on the scene. Everything worked out well in this case. The guy, homeless, was arrested within half an hour and booked on an outstanding bench warrant and for burglary. He plead guilty and did time for misdemeanor trespass.

We live in St. Louis, a city known for crime, and at the time lived in an area which is well on its way to gentrification. Still, on the edges things were a bit spotty. Case in point our apartment where across the alley stood what we later found out was a house central to the local heroin trafficking market. Over in our ground-floor apartment, we didn’t know that. All we could tell is that it was pretty busy with high school age looking kids most days.

The week of the robbery, we were moving in having just gotten married and hauled my wife’s stuff in from out of state. We had boxes all over the place and they were still there the week after the honeymoon. We also didn’t fully realize that our landlord had left the master keys to our apartment building on the front porch the week I was gone to the wedding; someone had already been inside to case the joint and steal my Glock.

It was the perfect setup for a burglary or robbery. Our apartment was at the end of the road by a busy intersection and was beside the major footpath connecting our road with the alley and the road behind it. Many folks walked that path daily to cut the corner and some would stop and sit in the chairs in our back yard enjoying the shade. It was hot, above the century mark for most of the previous month, and everyone had their windows open…especially those of us trying to move. Out back, we had a pile of boxes stacked in and around the dumpster. The inside of the house was such a mess that I wasn’t even sure if my gun had gone missing. And, worst of all, our land lord, experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s left the keys out for the taking.

There are so many things that went wrong which set us up so well to be the target of Maurice that day. Each one is something that is small in itself, but when added up, can in the blink of the result in horrible things. Everyone survived that day and although traumatized, my wife and I have come away better for it, I believe. The important thing is that our experiences be used as a lesson for others. Being newlyweds and just starting off in a new city in a cheap apartment is no excuse to allow your safety or alertness to be compromised.

Situational awareness, or the act (or art?) of being alert to your surroundings in a way that allows you to react appropriately is not one of the sexy parts of prepping. However, it is one of the most important. It is a skill that needs to be both practiced and utilized daily. Situational awareness can be seen on numerous levels of time scales. In our case, we were moving into a new apartment and we needed to practice both short term and long term situational awareness. This article will examine both of these in detail providing some general ideas on how to better prepare yourself. Each situation is different and every second changes your individual needs. Use this as a guide and build up your own system depending on what your life requires. Remember to keep alert for any need to change your system. Don’t wait for a failure to revamp; you might not get the chance.

Long-term Situational Awareness
Long-term situational awareness deals with things that are not an immediate threat. In these days of collapsing culture and declines in neighborliness it is even more important to know your neighborhood and those who live near you. Our neighborhood had an online email list as well as regular meetings. We utilized these fairly well and we knew that there was a crime spree in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, there was not enough data before the week of our robbery for even a map-geek like myself to pinpoint the source of our problems. Interestingly, within a few weeks of our break-in, the crime spree focused around a few blocks of us and the correlation was painfully obvious, even to a casual observer. Find out, preferably before you select a place to live, where the problem areas are. Get updated on the neighborhood situation before you even move. The same applies to areas where you work or often frequent. Prior planning is a good thing.

Once you’re in place, keep an eye out on neighborhood traffic. We probably could have spotted people who didn’t belong if we had been more attentive. I should have especially noticed that people walking by our windows had an easy way to look inside and make sure to make that impossible for them and also to deny them access to the chairs in our yard. With them being moved often, I did not think anything of it when one of them was moved under our bedroom window just hours later to be used to vault up into our life.
Most importantly, don’t let your awareness get displaced by something like moving. When you are moving, you are perhaps at your most vulnerable. Trips to and from the moving van provides anyone around a perfect view of everything you are moving and a good idea about where you are putting things, even if all of your blinds are shut. With doors open and air conditioners useless, windows being open in such heat are very tempting. However, this just adds to your advertisement power!

Short-Term Situational Awareness

Short-term, or immediate, situational awareness, is what most people think of when they hear the term. This is not paranoia, it is remaining alert for any potential threats and mounting your guard accordingly. In his book Combatives for Street Survival, Kelly McCann discusses the effects of a surprise attack on the victim: loss of fine motor skills, shaking, tunnel vision, rapid heart rate, etc. These responses make dealing with any threat more difficult, which is why Kelly stresses the importance of seeing the attacker before any attack can happen. As McCann notes, many times just making it clear that you are aware is enough to deter an attack. This is where your short-term situational awareness comes into play.
There have been many systems developed to help people logically process one’s situational awareness in a systematic way. Jeff Cooper’s color code, which he introduced in his classic Principles Of Personal Defense is an easy system to use in today’s world of TSA rainbow threat levels. Cooper’s color code is in essence a categorizing of a person’s mental state (roughly alertness/preparedness) given their ability to respond to various potential threats. The code is as follows:

  • White: You are walking down the street with ear buds in, music on, looking down to text. Basically, you are blissfully unaware of anything going on around you and you are in total denial that anything bad may happen to you. Stress, tiredness, and intoxication all help push you towards this level.
  • Yellow: Often described as “relaxed alert,” this is the level where one should strive to be at even the “safest” times. There is no observed or suspected threat, but you are alert to your surroundings and are minimizing distractions.
  • Orange: At level orange, you are on alert. You have spotted a potential threat and are ensuring that the source of this potential threat has your attention. At this point, should the potential threat become a real threat you move to level Red. Should the potential threat show that it is not a threat, you will return to level yellow. For example, you are walking along and a dog starts growling at you. Were it to charge you, threat level red comes into play. Were you to notice that it is chained and behind a solid fence, threat level yellow may be your choice.
  • Red: The potential threat is now a threat. Actions must be taken to nullify that threat. “Fight of flight” is in play and it is likely that things will get ugly.

Col. Cooper’s system does not directly translate into a system for situational awareness, rather it alerts you to the most important element of surviving a threat- your mental state. No matter how good of a shot you are or how “tacticool” your carry weapon is, if you are caught by a mugger at level white awareness…well, you’ve got a big hole to dig out of at best. Evaluation of your mental state using Cooper’s system (or another that you prefer) should become second nature. It should be a process that runs quietly in the background allowing you to focus more on potential threats and how to deal with them.
Using the example of our break in, let’s walk through how this works using the clarity of hindsight to see what should have happened. Given the presence of known criminals and a drug house, my alert level should have been at a level yellow when my wife and I left the house that morning. Walking to the car, I should have been scanning the house for broken basement windows, “self-walking furniture,” moved plants, loitering strangers, etc. I would have noticed that a chair was placed under our back window and gotten suspicious and moved it, thus denying entry to our windows.

To this day, I do not know where our robber was, but I suspect that he could see us getting in the car and driving off, but couldn’t see that my wife re-entered the house a short time afterwards having walked back from a coffee shop. This means he was somewhere in back of the house (where our cars were). Could I have noticed him? Maybe. Perhaps he was inside the drug house? Regardless, lines of sight work both ways, if he could see us, we could have seen him.

Let’s say I had spotted him standing watching us behind the drug house in the alley as we drove out. He posed no direct threat to us, but he was out of place. I’d be moving my mental state to orange. Driving back around the block and calling the cops in the process giving them his description would likely have sufficed in this case, he had a bench warrant outstanding and wouldn’t have stuck around long if the police showed up. With the potential threat gone, I would return back to yellow.

While looking for potential threats is a topic that would never be completely covered no matter how much ink is spent on it, there are some key points to remember. First, your situation is unique. Much of situational awareness is intuition and gut feeling. If it feels wrong, don’t. It’s much better to be wrong and leave a non-threatening situation needlessly than it is to go against your gut and wind up dead.

Secondly, if you see someone who doesn’t seem to have a reason to be some place, be careful. McCann demonstrates this by using the example of a guy standing in the middle of the parking lot just looking around with no keys out. What’s he doing there? Most people who lose their cars have their keys out and this guy doesn’t even look too confused. This rule can be expanded in any number of ways. Another example: unless you’re a kid playing hide and seek, most people don’t have a very good reason to be hiding behind bushes. Trust your gut and use common sense.

Third, be on the look out for bottlenecks and cover. Most of us do not daily have to worry about armed ambushes. However, criminals like to take advantage of situations which make their job of jumping you easier. The old “dark alley” adage applies here. So does the “don’t be foolish, trust your gut” theory.

Lastly, be aware of how you present yourself. People at level white are obvious to spot (for a fun exercise, go out on the street and count how many people you see who are clearly at level white) and make great targets for crooks. It’s also very easy to make it clear that you are not at white. Why take a hard target when there are so many easy fish out there? That’s the crook mentality. Most of the time, they would prefer not to have to work…that’s why they’re involved in crime in the first place! Walk with purpose. Don’t have your arms full if you don’t have to. Don’t be distracted. Make it clear you’re not a tourist (even if you are). Give off an air of confidence and alertness. It is always better to avoid a confrontation than to have to win one the hard way. This one simple step almost certainly is the one thing that keeps more people safe than anything else.

Situational awareness is clearly a subject about which much has been written and all of us could improve each day of our lives. It is a skill which is improved with exercise and one on which there are many views out there. I don’t feel that any view is mutually exclusive of the others. In this article I have presented Cooper’s color-based system of mental states because it is easy to remember and makes sense to me. There are certainly others. The US Government uses a system known as TEDD (Time, Environment, Distance and Demeanor) which is discussed in an article at STRATFOR: “Threats, Situational Awareness and Perspective.” There is also Col. John Boyd's OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop. For further information on this topic, I would recommend, in addition to the works already mentioned the following sources:

Home defense is about more than a shotgun or that security system and decal. It is a part of our lives that requires active participation on our part. With the lingering depressed economy, raging drug problem, and criminals with no respect for life, it is a sad fact that we must face this reality. Best of all, these key steps to home defense are free; it only takes a few seconds and alertness. So, for those readers who live in urban areas especially, take some time to reassess your security strategy. Do not let yourselves grow complacent, even if you have a security system. Let our lessons learned the hard way be an example to get you thinking so that something similar doesn’t happen to you. Oh, and if your landlord starts leaving keys out, move.

About the Author: B.D. lives with his beautiful new bride in St. Louis where they are expecting their first child in May.


Thursday, October 18, 2012


James:
Basically this product is a flush-mounted interchangeable decorative panel for kitchens and possibly other areas in the home. The panels can be purchased pre-made or created by the customer; the site shows options such as artwork and more substantial-appearing materials like ceramic tiles and mosaics.

The panel has a push-to-release mechanism behind it, and the idea is that a homeowner can swap one panel for another as desired.

The installation instructions explain the details.

It isn't designed as a hiding place, and there isn't much room behind it as it is, but it would be fine for smaller items. It would also be pretty easy to adapt the design to be more difficult to discover, for example by using a magnetic release.

Seems to me that something resembling a permanently installed inlaid mosaic wouldn't draw a second glance from most burglars. Just a thought.

Best Regards, - P.N.G.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I previously wrote about Leaving Suburbia.  I was so excited to be moving out of the city and into the country towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle, but I spoke too soon.  We were in contract on a piece of property, and at the last minute, the sellers backed out of the transaction.  We were left wondering where we were going to live.  We immediately began looking for another piece of property.  Meanwhile the home we had leased for almost four years, in preparation for this move, was sold out from under us and we had to move on short order.  Move where?  
We moved our belongings into temporary storage and moved in with friends who graciously offered us the upstairs of their home.  Yet, we felt like a couple of 2x4’s had hit us.  At the same time, a very close friend had two major heart attacks in quick succession and he was in cardiac intensive care on life support for a week.  He made it, but the emotional toll was heavy.  Additionally, my employer announced a global layoff of staggering proportions.  Another couple of whacks with a 2x4.  
Whack, whack, whack, whack… deep breath.  No place to live, in fear of being subject to a layoff, being the primary breadwinner, the prepper plan up in smoke…  What next?  Time to take a step back and re-evaluate our circumstances.  What are the facts that determine the direction we must take?
1.        I own a local business and it is not time to fold up and move out of State.
2.        I work full time from home for my employer – flexibility is good.
3.        If I lose my job, we will be in a world of hurt – risk acknowledged.
4.        There are no available properties that meet the prepper plan within reach geographically.
5.        We must live close enough to a major hospital due to health concerns.
6.        The real estate market is in a state of flux, but interest rates are low.
7.        The economy is about to go off a cliff or will continue at a slow, painful, bleed.
8.        Congress has no idea how to solve our problems and an election is pending.
9.        We are getting old – mid 50s – we need to build a realistic plan for our future.

Uncertainty prevails.
Anxiety is high.

I write to you because I think that there may be many of you who are encountering the same dilemmas.  Maybe walking through my decision-making process will help you with yours, or alternatively, help you avoid certain decisions based on flaws in my logic.  Net-net:  I chose to shelter in rather than move to the country.  I will tell you why.
The business – The advantages to the prepper of having a local business are many: active involvement in the community, a large number of friends who are like-minded (in relationship to your type of business), a large network of resources (we help one another).  The business has a good-sized warehouse perfect for storage and under extreme measures, an alternate “shelter in” facility.  There is low overhead associated with running the business.  Decision:  Keep the business and focus on reducing cost, increasing loyalty, and expanding low cost services.  

The job – I tend to freeze when I am under lots of stress, but my antennae are up.  I am now paying attention to exactly how my employer is working to solve its problems.  Will it go under or will it reinvent itself?  I am determined to meet my objectives and then some.  I have taken on more work, working longer hours, keeping my ear to the ground, ensuring that I add real value to the division, and endeavoring to be politically aware so another 2x4 does not hit me upside the head.  I am keeping an eye on the job market in my field to ensure my skills are sharp and in demand.  What else can I do?
What about property?  After much research, and emotional depression, I determined that now is a good time to buy, but choosing the property is critical.  Let me be clear.  Choosing the property to purchase is based more on future financial security now than my previous prepper plans.  I do not wish to be homeless in my old age with stockpiles of food and supplies and nowhere to put them.  Practicality and precaution will be my guides.  

Let me give you a little background on the property situation in Nevada.  We have an extremely contracted real estate market in Nevada with a significant number of homes in foreclosure resulting in very limited inventory – i.e., not much for sale.  It takes over 400 days for a home to make its way back onto the market after foreclosure in Nevada.  This is in addition to a one to two year foreclosure process.  The lack of inventory has caused a bit of a bidding war on available properties, which leads to false valuations, which we know will not hold.  Do not get caught in a bidding war unless you have done the long-term math.  I heard that the same thing is happening in California.

The fact that across the United States, “10 million properties with underwater mortgages, and a shadow inventory of 1.5 million” (6/26/12, Forbes ) makes one wonder if now is the time to buy at all.  It also makes one wonder what will happen if, and when, the banks start releasing properties, i.e., flood the market with properties for sale.  I believe that the banks will continue to dribble properties out into the market for sale at a controlled rate in order to avoid insolvency and to control the downward spiral in housing values.  

If I buy now, will I be able to sell out of necessity in the future?  This is the question on every potential homeowner’s mind.  Recent homeowners (within the last 2 years) are most likely underwater in Nevada already.  Have we hit bottom?  Probably not.  Is there a long-term advantage to buying property now?  Maybe.  Each individual must decide, according to his or her own financial situation, if it makes sense to buy property now or rent.  I am not a financial advisor, nor do I know anything about financial planning – it is not what I do for a living.  I am just a mid – 50s woman with a lot at stake and have done my own research.  I made the decision to buy because it makes financial sense for tax reasons.  After deducting the interest on the loan, property taxes, repairs, etc., my cost for shelter is about half of what it is to rent a comparable property.  It makes financial sense for me.  Will congress keep the tax deductions intact for years to come?  Probably.  My financial plan includes paying off a 30 yr mortgage in 15 with room to prep in the budget – and that’s a really aggressive goal that requires discipline.

The price of the property I am currently purchasing is low for the area and the home is a “fixer-upper”.  The area has historically held property values – relatively speaking – and doing much better than other areas.  It is an older, established neighborhood, with lots of mature trees and landscaping, custom homes on large lots, and a bit removed from the downtown areas.  Our friend calls it the “high rent district”, but I would call it a great deal in a great neighborhood with longtime residents who value their properties.  Nevadans are an interesting breed – primarily conservative, supporters of the right to bear arms, stubborn, opinionated, and with little tolerance for Bravo Sierra.  Most folks out here know how to shoot and own weapons.  If you can generalize about any group of people, I would say that I would rather be nestled in, sheltered in, with a group of longtime Nevadans than out in the wilderness on my own.  I believe this choice makes financial sense in the event that the balloon does not go up – practicality.

However, I have not given up entirely on my prepper plans.  The location of this non-HOA home allows for some views of what is going on below “in the city” because it is located in the foothills.  It is on over a third an acre and the soil is good – enough room to grow a sizeable, private garden.  It has a unique crawlspace under the home that could be a small bunker with slight modifications.  It is large, over 3,000 sq. ft., allowing room for the extended family to shelter in.  Behind the home is a “ditch”.  Ditches were built many years ago in order to provide irrigation for pastures, and they remain fully functional interwoven throughout residences in the foothills.  The runoff from the major streams and lakes run through these ditches.  It is not the perfect plan, but it is something.  One cannot count on the ditch being a stable water source, but with the right filtration system, one could move water from the ditch into containers if need be.  I consider the ditch to be on par with a well.  In parched Nevada, wells dry up, as do ditches and streams, but having one close is still a good back up to the backup plan.  The home has two wood burning fireplaces in perfect condition, providing an alternate heating source for our cold winters.  If I take my prepper blinders off for a moment, I can see how this property will work.

This decision did not come easily – to shelter in place rather than move into the country.  My plan was several years in the making and it went up in smoke.  My only other option was to uproot and move to Idaho and I am just not ready to do that.  I cannot express to you how difficult it has been emotionally to choose to stay local to the community.  However, it is practical and sometimes we just have to be practical.  I can turn this home into my prepper palace with the right effort and planning.

The disadvantage of purchasing a home not far from the city is the potential onslaught of city dwellers and the “Golden Horde” from California.  This home is nestled within a community of windy roads and not directly in the path of the major freeways or major traffic veins.  Is it vulnerable?  Yes, absolutely.  Will it be the first target?  No.  There will be some time to prepare for an onslaught once the full preparation plan is in place for holding ground if the SHTF.  Since the decision to buy has been made and the decision to shelter in is in play, how can the home be fortified in such a way as to not call attention to preparation efforts and not violate any neighborhood norms?  

Planned preps for the shelter in place strategy include fortifying the exterior.  Currently, Masonite siding is in place.  I am researching replacing it with a cement fiber siding.  I am thinking “bulletproof”.  There are a number of “view windows” and other windows that I would like to replace with a bulletproof glass or modify them per J.W.R.’s instructions.  I will replace the sliding glass doors completely by reducing the exposure area, building out the walls, and inserting oh so innocent looking French doors that are bulletproof.  I wanted to do solar, but I am thinking of strategizing around the fireplaces, which can be a source of heating, cooking, and light.  While the home is large, there is not enough storage spaces built in.  I am thinking about building in storage that doubles as built-in furniture with false doors and hidden spaces.  The crawl space can be fortified further, especially with a heavy locked door and will serve as a bunker retreat and good for storage.  Yes, there are lots to this and I have not scratched the surface.  No more planning around goats, chickens, rabbits, and acres.  Now it is all about being secure in an un-secure area.  Water storage is a prime concern, but isn’t that what hot tubs are for?  If I can make myself laugh, I can enjoy this process rather than panic about it.

Parting advice – if you can’t move to the country, “shelter in” with your eyes wide open.  Everything I do now is through the lens of prepping.  SurvivalBlog has been and will be my “go to“ place for advice and ideas of other preppers.


Monday, August 20, 2012


James, to follow up on the recent article, here is some additional info your readers might find valuable on shipping containers for storage and housing....  We have over a dozen at our ranch that we use for storage, so I'll share a bit about that use for containers.  These containers are the cheapest space you can "build".  They are weatherproof, earthquake proof, will probably make it through tornados and hurricanes, in short, they are excellent all around space.

If you can afford them, you should stick to the "one trip" containers because they will be in near perfect condition -- you can always convert these to housing in the future, too, because they will be in the best condition.  Even if you bought a new container from China, they would still have to ship it to you -- therefore these are also "one trip".  When you first get the container, you should inspect it to be sure it wasn't used for hauling some bad chemical or nasty smelling thing.  You should also check for dents and dings and even punctures from fork lifts.  The vendor we used would allow us to return the container and swap it out (we'd have to pay the freight charges.   You can also go to the dock and inspect them prior to delivery, but this isn't always practical.

It's also possible to get containers with double doors, though you might need to special order these.  Color selection is usually limited to gray, tan, olive drab (OD) and occasionally blue and red.   We've opted for the darkest green we could get and in fact had to paint most of the containers with a spray gun setup as they were tan or gray, the most common one trip colors.

If your roads are at all windy or steep, you might not be able to get a 40 foot container into your location.  We could probably get one up there with some extra work, like using a backhoe to move the tail end around the corners, but we haven't tried that yet.  You can also helicopter these things in, but that's just prohibitive and puts on quite a nice show for your neighbors to see what you're doing.

We built flat pads for containers with roadbase gravel prior to setting the containers in place.  Be careful to choose your 1-2% grade for drainage as to where you want the water to go, but also be mindful that rollable items will move inside the containers.  A single backhoe operator can easily move around an empty container and place it within 1 inch or less of where you want it to go.  Make sure you also include a pad in front of the doors to keep the mud under control.

New containers should be painted on the outside, if you want to change the color, and then aired out.  We usually leave the container open and empty for 30-60 days before doing any modifications to the interior, you might also want to seal the wooden floor as it can be quite attractive when finished.    Cargo containers aren't the most attractive thing in the woods, so paint and location, or camo netting are recommended...  Lately, we've been getting dark green factory painted containers, so we don't have to paint them, but you'll still need to peel off the numbers for aesthetics.  In our area, a new, one trip 20 foot container runs about $4,000 delivered.  Doors on both ends are a bit more and for some purposes like housing, you may want to consider this option.  That's definitely a special order item.

If you are using containers for food storage, you will need to insulate the inside of the container with 4 inch foam panels and metal ducting tape to get a good seal on the corners.  This keeps a container comfortably below 65F in the summer even when it's over 100F outside and above 45F in the winter in the temperate climate we have here.  Your mileage may vary based on the interior thermal mass provided by whatever you are storing and your local weather conditions.

We've also installed sliding doors on several of the containers so we can leave the metal doors open and keep critters out.  I highly recommend this, especially for containers that the ladies need access to, say a pantry or nice walk in "closet".  Some of the doors can be "tight", so it's an issue for people who aren't used to wrangling heavy items to open the doors, but my 13 year old daughter is getting pretty handy with these.

Lighting and some power outlets are also a good idea, depending on what you'll be using them for.  You can also install a fan controlled by greenhouse type controllers to blow in cool or warm air to keep the container close to a certain temperature.

Be sure to check your county's zoning ordinances.  The collectivists won't want to miss a single chance to tax something or issue a permit that can be revoked at some time in the future for any reason.  Even though they are considered "temporary", some counties don't allow them, others charge a per year permit fee (I've seen $75 in one place), while others have zero restrictions.  If you are concerned about this, paint the containers to match the environment, place the containers under tree cover and/or cover with camo netting, which makes them nearly invisible from the air and also keeps them much cooler.  It's a little extra work to put a pad under the trees, but it's worth the effort as it will provide mud free winter access and keep the container from rusting, as water will drain away.  In the trees you could have a fire issue, so never store flammable items in these containers. Best, - C.K.


Saturday, August 18, 2012


I would like to shed light on the convenience, structural soundness, and affordability of ISO shipping containers [commonly calles CONEXes] as potential add-ons, storage, or primary structure for your retreat or year-round compound. As an individual of efficiency, I am writing this article with the intent of casting out some research I have done on these containers; what they are capable of in a capacity form, and their versatility as a livable space. I hope many find this informative in its purist sense.

Availability: Due to the nature of our global economy, especially in reference to the U.S. and its desire to import more than it exports to the Asia Pacific, domestic shipping yards are in excess supply of such containers. Because shipping containers are simply boxes, when empty they exercise little function and merely take up space. Shipping containers, especially when being shipped from China, are more expensive to return empty then if they were to be recycled on domestic soil or reused in other applications. But before scrapping them, many companies attempt to sell them in their intended form to the public. In a sense, these containers are like a pound puppy that needs to be saved…and should be.  A quick search via the Internet will show you large numbers of containers in various conditions from here and there but because the shipping industry does not stop at sea ports, any major city even inland will have a healthy supply to choose from. For a ratty container (20’) expect to pay between $800 and $1,200. This would be in less than ideal condition but still a good option for say material storage on your retreat property. Typically this means that the cube may no longer be perfectly cube-like say a slight dent or impression on one or more corner or has more than just surface rust on its exterior. Always check the double doors and see how well they close, whether with ease or with some finesse adjust your offer accordingly. The next level of quality will come in at a price of around $1,400-$1,800, again for a typical 20’ standard container. This is the price range that should exemplify a structural soundness that will be suitable to live in with certain modifications. The seaworthy paint should still cover 95+% of the container and it should be structurally true. Remember what these containers where built for. They hauled 50,000 pounds of goods through open-ocean, many times during storms. They should be watertight. Ask all of these questions to the seller at the very minimum so that they know you know what you are looking for. Hard for one to prove water tightness but you can go based on the sellers reaction and your best judgment from this article and further research. Be a smart shopper now, this may become your last line of defense. Finally, you can buy a brand new shipping container from companies that specialize in building them. Here you’ll find different sizes with different options like the garage style door or pre-insulated units for refrigeration. Expect to pay around +-$5,000 for a new box.

Dimensions: Two or three major size potions will be found most commonly although other odd sizes due exist. These all have corrugated sidewalls.

20’ standard shipping containers
(Interior dimensions) 19’ 4” long, 7’8” wide, 7’10” tall.
 Tare Weight 4.900 lbs
 Total cargo capacity 45,000 pounds

40’ standard shipping container

(Interior dimensions) 39’5” long, 7’8” wide, 7’10” tall
 Tare weight 8.100 pounds
 Cargo capacity 59,000 pounds

40’ High cube standard shipping container

(Interior dimensions) 39’5” long, 7’8” wide 8’10” tall
Tare weight 8.700 pounds
Max cargo capacity 58,000 pounds

Some general info that applies to all standard containers.
*Seaworthy steel alloy with saltwater and air resistant exterior paint
*Class D rating for storage of explosives (with this rating a high tolerance to fire)
*Pest resistant (many have a wooden floor that has been treated for pest resistance. This should be removed and disposed of properly.)
* Water tight but not water proof.
*Stackable to 7 high at full load (yes one will hold upwards of 200,000 pounds stacked on top). Note that cutting into the corrugated sides will lessen the overall strength. Reinforcing whenever taking away steel is common sense I’d hope.
*Insulated units do exist although interior dimensions will likely be even tighter. R-value 15-20?

[JWR Adds: Containers made of low carbon Cor-Ten steel (aka "weathering" steel) usually bring a premium. They have the longest life. Be sure to inspect wood floors for any signs that toxic chemicals might have spilled from cargo. But keep in mind that the wood used in the floors of almost all CONEXes are deep-treated with some nasty insecticides and fungicides.]

Getting Started: My suggestion with using shipping containers as habitable structures starts with completely ruling out the use of the 40’ containers. This prevents one from absolutely paying a delivery fee and/or a crane rental to remove it from a semi trailer. That said I have put all of my focus into utilizing the 20’ containers (Finding a 20’ insulated container would be most ideal). Here’s why. First, if you own a full size truck, you can haul one of these things empty on your own, either with a trailer you have or from a friend. A twenty-foot flatbed, or car hauler with a winch is not too hard to come by. It will likely be loaded on your trailer at the yard if you buy directly from a shipping company so all you have to think about is sliding it off your trailer in place. My theory has always been to own the trailer I go to pick it up with and leave it on in my drive way until I build out the interior at my leisure. Then it’ll be ready to haul to sight. Depending on your neighborhood or city ordinances this may or may not be an option but I’ve always felt that if people have a 35 foot camper trailer parked on the street in front of their house why not a 20’ shipping container for a few months? Either way, look up this info before hand as well as your states DOT regulations.  Second main reason I like the 20’ size is its weight.  At just shy of 5,000 pounds add a 3,000-pound trailer, an ,8000 pound haul for most diesel pick-ups ain’t no thing.  Lastly, due to the 20’ container weight and size, it is much easier to maneuver in mountain terrain by trailer as well as when off the trailer on site. If you start with an empty container on site, a clever hoist system, a winch, and a block and tackle set up opens up the door to many possibilities. I’ve read about a couple that actually hoisted a container on top of another in a piggy-back fashion with two tree trunks joined and reinforced in an a-frame configuration and a 12,000 pound winch and pulley. They hauled their’s by trailer to site with a Toyota T-100. (An early Tundra.) Be creative with this. Egyptians built the pyramids thousands of years ago!  Enough said.

[JWR Adds: Because the secondary market demand for 20-foot CONEXes is stronger than that for 40-footers, they often sell for about the same price. Go figure.]

Now you need a friend to teach you how to weld. Get an oxy-acetylene torch set up. You’ll cut as much as you will weld when building with these. I’ve seen used setups in safe working condition with tanks for $300 bucks. If you’ve got a weighty wallet then grab a new or used generator/ welder for $1,500-4,000.  Stick with the Lincoln or Miller brands. They are equally as good at the end of the day and it really comes down to the Ford or Chevy argument. Power options are gas, natural gas, or diesel and most of the units will run a continuous 7-10 kw. The gas-powered is the least expensive and the N.P. or Diesel are substantially more expensive but better in my opinion for an unstable world. The U.S. has plenty of N.P. and is responsible for much of the world’s diesel refinement, not to mention ones ability to potentially run bio-diesel or appropriated veggie oil.  But in a grid-down pinch, a diesel will reign.

I’ve always felt that a retreat built in phases would be the most feasible simply because of the advantage to make time and monetary “payments” on it. After owning the land (which is certainly a big step), one can start with a small but functional 20’ container cabin they have built in the driveway and then hauled to site. Keeping it in your driveway assuming you live in a more urban environment keeps you from hauling material out to your site. Build out the plumbing and windows and other comforts. Again, if the company you purchase from has not already, be sure to remove the chemically treated wooden floor and dispose of properly. Thoroughly scrub out the interior of the container for safe measures. Round up with your weight estimates as not to overburden or risk accident while hauling the container i.e. hold off on the spray on concrete or stucco siding until at your site.  For the time being, use a cistern on site for water or haul it in each time you visit until a well is dug or a spring is utilized on the property. Photovoltaic panels are good in combination with the aforementioned diesel powered welder/generator to get things off the ground. All depends on where you are. Inline hot water heaters are great for low use and tight spaces and can be run on propane. Build a shower toilet to conserve space. In other words your entire bathroom is water-tight and its foot print is essentially a big shower pan. Utilize RV and camper galley components that run on propane and could eventually be converted to run on methane that you could capture on site through livestock and human waste methane converters. Use a fold down bed or bunks to be space efficient.

Example Build-out: My ideal set-up would likely be two 20’ containers, one stacked atop the other. I’d pick a south-facing hillside and cut into it just as one would do if building a conventional home. Before placing the container in its little nest, I’d dig a root cellar into the cut in and fashion a hatch in the floor of the bottom of the container for access. Build a retaining wall around the cut in and possibly use a local clay or concrete to form a basin next to the root cellar to act as a cistern for water storage if a well is too pricey initially. For remote applications, I’d resist using a septic system and resort to an outbuilding away from the main house. [Some deleted, for health and safety concerns.]

After the cistern is sealed and the root cellar dug, place the first container into the dug out. Stack the second container on top to use as a living quarter. A hatch could be cut to the roof to make an observation post. On the south-facing downhill wall of the two containers, build a sloped glass room to act as a green house or a room to gain. Use old windows from someone replacing theirs or check all the Freecycle type sites and Craigslist for deals.  This would create a little bubble that would extend the growing season as well as act as a passive solar heater for the house whereas building into the ground a bit would assist with cooling in hotter months via use of the ambient geothermal temperatures. Be sure there is good ventilation for airing out the cabin in the summer months. Use gray water from the shower and sink to feed your small garden.  For insulation I would use a spray on insulation to fill in the negative spaces of the corrugated walls. Do this on both the inside and out covering the interior with sheetrock and the exterior with a stucco like material.

Warning: As a final and important note on building with shipping containers, never bury them without proper structural support. Shipping containers were designed to bear a vertical load [on the corners] and be stacked atop one another. They perform this task very well but they were not designed to take a load from the sides (laterally). Burying a container without proper support around its perimeter such as reinforced concrete, the construction of which should be handled by a licensed engineer, could result in collapse. Not something you want to deal with after society has collapsed. Please note I am neither an engineer nor a contractor and that most of my research has been conducted over the Internet. I am simply sharing some of my findings and offering suggestions. Most states require a general contractor for home construction and many states now require a certification for that so not anyone can build away.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Dear Mr Rawles:
A follow-up to my last letter: Spiez is where the Swiss have their federal testing lab for Civil Defense.  The lab has an english version of its website.  At this link  your readers may acess the list of tested and aprooved components ( for CD shelters) and in a seperate document, the list of aprooval holders.  Interested readers can then with a search engine find the companies who make components of interest one of which is Lunor. This company also has an English version of their web site.  Readers can from there select blast doors, NBC filters,  valves etc.  Spiez is also the home of the Swiss level 4 confinement lab, ( of which a few pictures can also  be found  on the lab website).
 
Beste grussen und danke ein andere mal. - Jason L.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Dear Mr. Rawles:
Some of your French, Italian or German readers might like to try this link to the official Swiss Civil Defense web page.  The last five links on the page titled ITC or ITAP are the ones with the specs. The 4th link is also quite interesting, and as you can see, they even have the EMP problem entirely figured out, in typical Swiss fashion
 
I read somewhere that Oak Ridge might have translated some of these documents, or earlier versions thereof but I have yet to come across these on the net.
 
Beste grussen und danke ein andere mal. - Jason L.


Friday, July 20, 2012


JWR,
First of all thank you for your blog.  I have been reading it every day for the last year. J.D. in Texas offers some good information regarding Concrete Masonry Units(CMUs), however I may be able to share some more details.  I have also been in the concrete masonry business for about 22 years.  The first thing to consider when using concrete masonry is to avoid breathing any dust from the units, such as when a unit is cut, split, or ground.  At the very least use a N95 or N99 dust mask.  If you are cutting a CMU then use a wet saw if you can.  The concern of the previous article was with Fly Ash which is a product derived from the scrubbers from coal fired power plants.  It can contain some potentially dangerous chemicals such as mercury, antimony, barium, and strontium to name a few.  It is used as a partial replacement for regular cement to actually produce a better finished product.  Fly Ash can increase the long term strength, durability, freeze-thaw resistance, permeability, and road salt resistance.  Many State D.O.T.’s have requirements to use Fly Ash at certain concentrations to improve bridges and roadways. 

An important concept to understand about concrete is that it gets stronger with age due to a reaction with water called hydration.  Most concrete is considered cured at 28 days, Fly Ash concrete is generally considered cured at 56 days, although the curing process never truly ends.  One hundred year old concrete has been tested and it was found to still be curing.  The other important concept to know is that the ingredients of concrete are generally bound within the matrix (internal structure) of the concrete.  There is likely only one pound or less of Fly Ash in a typical 8”x 8”x 16” CMU, which would only contain a very small percentage of potentially toxic materials that will not likely be released from the concrete. 

Considering other building materials for a raised bed?  Pressure treated lumber contains toxic materials, Railroad ties? - don’t even think about it [because they are permeated with toxic creosote, copper naphthenate, and other chemicals] Brick? - Clay brick can also contain fly ash.  I would not hesitate to build a raised bed with concrete masonry units; in fact I have one in the works.  If you are concerned I would just allow a little extra distance between your plantings and the sides of the CMUs.  You could also paint the units with a low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) latex based paint to seal the units if you like.  Also not all units will necessarily contain Fly Ash; if you have concerns you need to express them to your local concrete masonry producer.  Some CMU manufactures use standard cement and or Slag Cement as a partial replacement for traditional cement and there are not any known contamination concerns with these products.  Slag cement is derived from steel production and has some of the same benefits to concrete as Fly Ash without the negatives. - M.L. in Kentucky


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


JWR:
I have read plenty of entries on your site about people using concrete block ("cinder block") for square foot gardening and raised bed gardening.  I didn't know how to post this so, I thought I would just email you this information.
 
I have been in the Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) (Concrete Block) industry for almost 11 years.  I started as a yard hand and have recently worked my way up to Plant Manager and Site Safety Manager (two hats due to downsizing and the economy).  I see many people write about using these CMUs or cinder blocks to build raised beds and also to plant directly inside the cells of this block.  I am offering a warning of the possibility of poisons in this product and stressing that I would never grow my food in it.  The product Fly Ash is used as a Portland Cement replacement for up to 30% of the cement used to manufacture these products.  For those of you unaware, Fly Ash is a by product of burning coal.  The EPA is and has for the last year been doing a study to decide whether or not to label Fly Ash as a Hazardous Waste due to the high levels of mercury, arsenic, and lead; leaving some "Industry Folk" to refer to concrete as the "New Asbestos" or the "New Lead Paint".  Though there is no definite date set for a decision the ball has started rolling.  The EPA knows this product is unhealthy, I know this product is unhealthy (and wouldn't dare chance putting it into my children's mouth), and now you can make an informed decision on how you feel about it.  Just google "Is Fly Ash Toxic" and you will see all the information available on this material allowing you to make an informed decision of your own.  With all the trials and tribulations we face I would hate to know that I was poisoning myself with the very food I prepped to save me.
 
Blessings, - J.D. in Texas


Saturday, June 23, 2012


Hello,
E.E.'s primary problem was not the insurance. It's the design flaw and negligence that allows the small glitch to evolve to the full-scale catastrophe.

Every trouble that can occur occurs. Every trouble that cannot occur occurs too.

Firstly, the furnaces may fail - it's quite normal. I have no idea about their model but I believe they should have and so have some security automation that stopped them due to some problem (electricity?), or the fuel supply failed. The first task to design should be "The stopped furnaces should not self-destruct". How should it be done? I see at least 2 ways: either use the glycol or find some automatic valves that dump the system in emergency to the safe place.

Then, you have two furnaces. They do not heat the same area. Instead one of them heats basement and the other one heats the second floor. There is no chance that the operating furnace can heat the failed one and prevent it's destruction.

I believe that both furnaces have a common fuel and electricity supply (a redundant propane tank and proper UPS is too costly.) Any supply problem stops them both.

Then, I think, the house has the grid power (see below). If so, the emergency electric heaters should keep the temperature at least in critical areas at least above zero.

Then let us imagine that the worst occurred. Both furnaces failed, and pipes burst. Some hundred liters of water flew to your basement. Not a big trouble. But
Water exploded out of the second floor bathroom at an alarming rate, for most of a week.

It means that either you have either a communal water supply or local electric water pump. Since the grid power is simpler to obtain I believe that you have electricity. So either your water pump has not been duly stopped before departure or your intake valve in your basement has not been duly closed (And possibly not duly heated and having no way to dump water when the valve fails). It's not your design flaw. It's negligence. You believed that your furnaces are reliable and you need not close the water supply. They weren't.

And the last. Both the automatic valves that feel leaks and insulate them and the GSM controllers that can inform owners about troubles exist and can be bought and installed. But they are your last line of defense against the trouble that should not happen. - Thor A.


Sunday, June 3, 2012


To anyone who swatches the news or opens up an internet browser from time to time, it’s exceedingly clear that the world is becoming an extremely dangerous place.  From the abstract threats such as global economic collapse or pandemic to the more concrete ideas of natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks and the like, it’s obvious that preparedness isn’t just something to think about occasionally, it’s an absolute necessity.  Yet, with our feet firmly planted in the middle class, my wife and I don’t exactly have the money to go out and build the fortified bunker of our dreams for the day when, inevitably, life as we know it here in America may take a turn for the worse.  We’ve had to adapt our game plan to match both our materials and our means.  And let me tell you, preparing for disaster smack dab in the middle of the suburban wasteland is a completely different ball game.

So, to start off, I think we should have a little history about me and my situation.  I grew up in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, deep in the heart of Dixie.  In rural Appalachia, self-sustainable living and prepping are just normal parts of everyday life for a lot of people, and my family was no exception.  Hunting, fishing, gardening, canning food, etc. were pretty much the norm in our area, and served as a means for people in a fairly poor economic region to build both a comfortable life for themselves and a little peace of mind.  On top of that, the mountainous terrain of the southern back country offers great protection from a lot of natural disasters (tornados, flooding, etc.) and isolation from most of the rest of the American populace should widespread civil unrest occur.  In short, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was born and raised in a prepper’s paradise.  Then, against all odds, I found a beautiful woman who loved me back and we’ve been building a life together for the last 12 years.

However, once we got married, we joined the world of corporate America in order to be able to make the kind of living that we wanted for ourselves in the “new” economy.  Unfortunately, our company underwent some “consolidation” and shut down the office in our hometown.  My wife and I (who both work for the same business) were tasked with a choice:  both face unemployment and risk becoming part of the foreclosure statistics on American home owners, or follow our jobs and move far from friends and family out into the Midwest.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but with the prospect of starting a family of our own right around the corner, there was no choice but to bite the bullet and take a chance on building a better life.  With only a three month window to find and purchase a new home, we ended up settling in a large subdivision on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area near our new place of employment.

Back in Tennessee, our home was a two story brick house with a sizable basement, snuggled into the side of a heavily wooded mountain.  However, due to the higher prices of real estate in our new area, we ended up in a single story wood-framed house built onto a concrete slab, surrounded by hundreds of nearly identical homes.  We are less than 10 miles from one of the largest cities in the continental United States, and to make matters worse, our home is actually visible from one of the major interstates that feed into the city.  In other words, like most of Middle America, my new house is a nightmare in terms of survivability should any major collapse of society occur.  Yet, for that very reason, immediately bugging out during a time of crisis is not an option, due to some of the following factors:

  • Living near a major population center means that when food/water/electricity go into short supply, everyone is going to have the same idea: get out of Dodge.
  • The major roadways around our home become near parking lots during rush hour every day as it is.  In a disaster, those traffic pileups are likely to become semi-permanent.
  • Since a lot of people in large cities don’t commute via cars, during the mass exodus to escape, those who do have working transportation will become immediate targets.
  • Furthermore, like the swarm of locusts of Biblical lore, a large group of people trying to flee an area on foot are likely to consume every resource in their path, one way or another.  While they may not have cars, it’s extremely likely that whether it’s a golf club or a Glock, some will be armed.

Therefore, for all these reasons and more, a more nuanced approach is required.  As much as we would like to, getting back to friends and family in the mountains of Tennessee just probably won’t be an option in the short term.  This means bugging in and hoping to ride out the worst of it until such a time that either:

  • We deem the situation fit to travel via the back roads and reach a more defensible location back home with our families.

Or,

  • The turmoil in our area has cooled to a point that we can start trying to become self-sustainable here in our community without fear of reprisal (openly gardening, hunting, fishing, etc.)

Either way, the name of the game becomes surviving the short term fallout that is bound to follow any collapse of basic societal structure.  Following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it becomes pretty easy to map out the way that things will probably play out.  Our lives, like it or not, are ruled by this chart.  Surviving the “exodus” near a major city means two things:  Having the basics in the bottom row of that pyramid covered for up to a 6-month time period for you and your family and having the means to defend it from those who will want to take it from you.  However, there are unique challenges to achieving either of these goals when living in a matchstick house on a concrete block amidst hundreds of other families and within spitting distance of millions of potentially hostile people.

Let’s start with the first part, meeting your needs.  There are plenty of preparation checklists out there with great advice on every little thing that you might need to survive the apocalypse.  I’m going to assume that you know how to cover the basics of food/water/medicine storage.  However, there are a few extra things to consider when living in the suburbs.  Basic bunker mentality for bugging in during a crisis follows the “dig in and defend” model.  We’ll call this the tortoise approach.  That’s great if you have the means to make it work, however, there’s nothing particularly defensible about many people’s homes, mine included, so that mentality has to change.  For me it has become “avoid detection and deter”.  My home doesn’t have a basement, a bunker, or a safe room, so the idea of holing up in a fortified spot with enough firepower to hold off the mob just isn’t feasible.  Instead, I want to present a small target and make it as unappetizing to potential looters as possible.  Think less snapping turtle, more porcupine.

Back to Maslow’s handy dandy pyramid of preparedness priorities, we know that water is the number one driving force of human survival behavior.  Once the taps stop running and the Aquafina has flown off the shelves, it will be a matter of a few short days before people either leave their homes in search of greener pastures (lakes, rivers, etc.) or start to beg, borrow, plead, and potentially kill to take water from those who still have it.  Here are some things to remember about water storage in the ‘burbs.

  • Diversify your storage.  Like the old adage says, don’t keep all your eggs in one basket (this includes brands, types of containers, and storage locations).
  • You should try to have at least 100 potential gallons per person in your house at any given time, and stored in a variety of places around your home.
  • Keep emergency water containers clean, dry, and ready to be filled at a moment’s notice.
  • My solutions include:

It’s been said over and over, but it is the truest statement in this world: water is life.  Storing water in this way, even if a portion of my home becomes damaged or inaccessible, I’ll still have enough to survive the short term and reevaluate the situation.  Eventually, though, even the largest supplies will run dry.  In this case, you need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Where is my nearest source of clean water (stream, river, large lake, etc.)?
  • Is it easily reachable by foot, under cover of darkness?
  • If not, how likely am I to be able to reach it by car?
  • Do I have an easy way to transport it back to my home?
  • Can I protect myself during this process?
  • Do I have some way to make sure it’s safe (boiling, filters, water treatments, etc.)?

Next on the list comes food storage, and this is another topic that is covered ad nauseam in any number of preparedness web sites and books.  But the important thing to remember for our purposes is that not only do you need to have food, but you need to not draw attention to the fact that you have food.  Nothing brings uninvited guests to the party quite like the smell of fresh beef stew when they haven’t eaten a thing in weeks.  In fact, they’re likely to bring their own silverware if you catch my drift.  Here are some ways to keep that from happening:

  • Avoid storing foods that have to be cooked in an open container or that put off a strong or unique odor.
  • Avoid heating methods that produce smoke or have to be ventilated in any way.
  • Don’t store foods that require much, if any, water to prepare.  Water is going to be your number one resource; you can’t waste a drop that you don’t have to.
  • Try to cut down on trash as much as possible (i.e. large resealable containers as opposed to individually packaged and disposable containers).  Trash has to be disposed of at some point and is a clear indicator that someone is still taking the wrappers off of candy bars.
  • Keep calorie intake healthy, but to a minimum.  Being the only guy in the neighborhood who still has a double chin is another red flag.
  • Don’t use a generator for any reason, ever.  In an isolated location, with proper noise reduction and ventilation, it’s a viable choice.  But nothing says “come burn my house down and take my stuff” like being the one family that has electricity when the darkness comes.

The whole goal here is to fly under the radar as much as possible.  Shelf stable foods that don’t have to be cooked at all are ideal.  Think mixed nuts, dry cereals, beef jerky, and the like.  These types of foods are also much more convenient to transport and prepare should you have to bail out.  Self-heating MREs are also a fantastic option but do require water to prepare and are easy to get burnt out on after a while.  While it’s no fun to have very few fresh hot meals, survival in the midst of the fleeing hordes revolves around avoiding notice at all costs.  You may not be happy, but you’ll be alive.

The last piece of the puzzle is the hardest, but also the most important: defense.  A quiet, middle-class suburb is a pretty appetizing target to people in a desperate search for the basic necessities of life.  All of the supplies in the world won’t mean a thing if you can’t defend them.  However, the key is to not to attract any unnecessary notice and to make your home an inadvisable target.  Some potential tools for getting this job done include:

  • Door Crossbar Holders:  These can be installed quickly during a time of chaos with nothing but a cordless drill, some heavy duty wood screws, and some spare 2x4s.  Putting up at least two sets per door means that the old police trick of “kick and breach” won’t be quite so easy.  It also stops the more subtle “lockpick in the night” routine.  Remember, the goal here isn’t to make the entryway impregnable (which is nigh impossible in a wood and drywall home), but rather to buy some time to defend.
  • Biohazard Signs:  If pandemic is the trigger that starts the collapse, one of these signs on each door is tantamount to installing an invisible force field around your home.  Even if it’s something more plausible, like a global economic collapse, looters are much more likely to target the house that they think won’t give them cholera.
  • Window Privacy Film:  It’s ok for people to know that your home is still occupied.  In fact, an abandoned house is far more likely to be ransacked than one that is thought to still be defended.  Letting people pinpoint your exact location before an attack, however, could cost you your life.  With this upgrade (along with normal blinds/curtains) you can still use lanterns, headlamps, etc. without giving away where you’ve chosen to bed down.
  • Window Bars:  Again, the keys here are speed/ease of installation and deterrence.  You don’t need to protect your windows from a full SWAT team with breaching charges, just dehydrated, half-starved city folks looking for some free supplies.  These bars give you time to line up a clear shot from behind cover and make sure that the person trying to get in realizes the risk vs. the reward.

It’s also important to designate a small fallback area within your home and use this as the staging area for everything else you do.  This way if part of your home becomes compromised it’s not a total loss.  While your “Alamo” may not be a fortress, it should be a place with as few windows and doors as possible and a clear field of fire.   Ours is the large master bathroom with an attached walk-in closet.  The only window in the bathroom is small, octagonal, made of thick frosted glass, and about 8 feet off the ground.  Once things look to be turning south, all our supplies can be quickly moved to the closet, the bathroom door triple barred, and the window filmed over.  The two Mossberg pump action 12 Gauge shotguns with 500+ magnum slug shells that live in the closet provide the “deter” portion of the game plan.

Finally, if possible, it’s also great to have a “plan C” just in case.  If your home catches fire, is completely overrun, or for some other reason becomes uninhabitable, you may have to leave in a hurry.  Fortunately for us, there is attic access in both the walk-in closet and our garage, with only about 20 feet of crawlspace between the two.  Hiding a couple of bug-out backpacks in the crawlspace allows us a fairly covert escape route directly to the car, or at the very least, out of the house.  Planning everything needed to bail out and stay safe on the run in a completely different topic in and of itself, but just keep in mind that bug-out supplies are similar to bug-in supplies, just on a much smaller, more mobile scale.  It’s not a perfect scenario, but having a “last ditch effort” retreat solution is never a bad thing. 

At the end of the day, I think it’s very feasible to sit tight and ride out the initial panic of any major catastrophe, even in a less than fortified location.  When the lights go out and the trucks stop running, places in and around major cities are going to revert to the Wild West fairly quickly.  But it’s for that very reason that staying put is the best option.  When the world around you is chaos, there are too many things that can go wrong by stepping out into the maelstrom, even if the goal is getting to a safer location.  It’s hard to predict exactly how things will go down and Murphy’s Law will bite you on the butt any time you think you’ve got it all figured out.  In any event, by keeping a low profile, deterring looters if possible, and using force if necessary, I think that we suburbanites stand a pretty good chance of making it through the first few months of TEOTWAWKI relatively unscathed.  And that, my friends, is what it is all about.

 


Thursday, May 31, 2012


Near the top of the List of Essentials is is keeping warm. One surefire way to do that is with a wood-burning heat stove. Wood stoves are reliable as a main source of heat or as backup but can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 new, so buying used is a practical way to go. Before you buy however, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, you need a good, certified wood stove. Why certified? Because they use less than half the wood that the previous generation of wood stoves used, don’t exhaust clouds of unburned soot into the air, and have close clearances to combustibles, some as close as 4″. Also because certified wood stoves are mandated by the EPA in all fifty states.

Virtually all certified stoves have a ceramic window that looks like glass but is impervious to heat, through which you can enjoy the fire and keep up with the need  to adjust the wood or to feed in more.  I don’t recommend getting a stove with a catalytic combustor as they are more expensive and have a declining efficiency. The efficiency of a non-combustor-equipped stove never changes and newer standards have been met without combustors since 1990, when the current EPA standards were established.

The fire chamber in certified stoves is engineered to burn wood efficiently without smoldering, even when shut down all the way. This gives you more heat from each piece of wood while exhausting cleaner and hotter, thus almost completely eliminating creosote buildup in the chimney. By the way, never connect a 6″-exhausting certified stove into a 8″ chimney. Because of the engineered burn, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ flue which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use listed stovepipe and adhere to the clearances on the pipe and the stove for a safe installation. Your insurance company can deny a fire claim caused by a stove that is improperly installed or is not safety listed. Also, I recommend a wind-directional rotating cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution to back drafting, caused by a high wind forcing itself down your chimney and filling your house with smoke. You will want one after the first time the smoke alarms wake you up in the middle of the night!

Here are some things to look for on a used wood stove :
• All legal wood stoves must have an EPA sticker on the back. This sticker shows the production date, efficiency, grams per hour (gph) of emissions, as well as the clearances to combustibles for various applications.
• The production date should be July 1, 1990 or later.
• Inside the firebox and above the secondary air tubes is the baffle plate. Look for warped baffle plates from overheating the stove. This is more common in a smaller stove used to heat a larger area. The steel plates are removable and can be replaced for about $50.
• A cracked glass can be replaced for about $75. This is usually Robax ceramic and is impervious to heat although it breaks like glass. The prevention is to make sure the log fits inside the stove before closing the door on it.
• If the stove needs a paint job, use Forrest Stove Bright paint. After wire-wheeling off the rust and loose paint and cleaning with lacquer thinner, fog on the first coat. Follow with a slightly heavier second coat, and finish with a normal third coat. This paint fully cures under heat so a small fire must be built initially, followed by a hotter fire until out-gassing is completed. When the smell goes away the paint is cured. Open the windows during the curing process.
• The braided gasket around the door can be replaced for around $20 and will need to be glued in place. The special glue is around $10.
• Firebricks can be purchased at your local wood stove store. They are around $4 each.

Once installed, a wood stove should give you a lifetime of trouble-free service. There is however some maintenance involved. The ash will need to be removed from time to time and the window cleaned daily. The inside of the stovepipe will need to be cleaned annually with a wire brush but don't be surprised if you don't find much creosote. The newer stoves burn clean, remember? They accomplish this by burning hotter inside the firebox and exhausting hotter (and cleaner) into the flue pipe. The newer flue pipes are packed with ceramic wool and rated to 2100 degrees. The unburned creosote that used to build up in the old triple-walled air-cooled flue pipes is sparse and, with annual maintenance, so are flue fires. The newer insulated pipes get hotter quicker and stay hot longer, thus increasing the draft and practically eliminating creosote buildup.

Keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist for a good deal on a used stove. Just last week I called on a newer Lopi for $400 but someone offered them $450 and they took it. That was a $1,800 stove when  old new four years ago and it was barely used. Once in a while I will find a certified stove in good shape for around $200. I am always on the lookout for used stoves for friends and sometimes I’ll turn one over for a profit.

If you buy a used stove manufactured after July 1, 1990, it will comply with the Phase II standards which are 7.5 gph of particulates. Washington  is the only state to have it’s own standards which are 4.5 gph. Most new stoves and some used ones will meet this standard and some are as low as 1-2 gph. Check “EPA Certified Stoves” online if you find a used stove you are considering. This site lists most of the stoves which have been certified but not all of them. Some stoves presently being manufactured in other countries are missing from the list.

Inside the house, I keep a weeks worth of firewood near the stove in brick bins built for that purpose. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and full of rebar, allowing me to split kindling right on the hearth. Under the hearth is a large kindling drawer where I also keep paper. Implements are hanging on hooks nearby. I use a coal hod to carry out the ash and to carry in more kindling.

My favorite wood stove is a Brass Flame. They are certified of course, and are built like a Sherman Tank. They have a double-air opening for quick-starting the fire, they look good and burn efficiently. I have found used ones for several friends and relatives. I am a little prejudiced in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to pass the emission standards without a catalytic combustor. All certified stoves on the market now copy his combustion process, the big secret being lots of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 of them before selling to Earth Stove, who made them for a few years and then sold to a bigger company, who dropped the line. If you can find one, you won’t be disappointed! Other brands I look for are QuadraFire, Lopi, and Avalon but I will consider others, especially if they are in good shape.

When heating with wood, it is a good idea to keep a pot of water on the stove to replace the moisture removed by the dry heat. An old cast-iron kettle serves well for this purpose. Another addition that is very helpful is a ceiling fan, positioned close to the stove and used to move the heat away from the stove. Without a fan, the heat takes a longer time to fill the house. Since heat seeks cold, it does eventually warm the place up, but in the dead of winter, who wants to wait? This small addition makes a big difference!

One more thing that makes a big difference in helping to heat your home more efficiently is bringing in outside air directly to the stove. This is required in mobile homes and all new homes, but is a good idea in any home. If you have a crawlspace under your home, a 3″-4″ pipe into the crawlspace is adequate for this purpose. In my case, I  put in a 4″  pipe to open air before the slab was poured.  Pedestal stoves are designed for outside air while stoves with legs will need to be adapted. Special outside-air adapters can be ordered or made for any stove.

When buying a wood stove, look for one with a flat top on which you can cook your food in a pinch. All newer stoves have a baffle plate around which the exhaust must go and in the process the stove top heats up nicely. Stoves with a stepped-top lack the space for a frying pan. During power outages, your stove can do double duty, heating the home and cooking your supper!

To clean the ceramic glass in the morning when the stove is cold, I simply get a piece of newspaper wet with water and emulsify the creosote, scraping it off with a razor. Even the best stoves get buildup on the window.

It is comforting to have my three cords of oak firewood put up for the winter, knowing that if a storm or blizzard should blow through or the power should go out (sometimes for days) my family and I will be warm and able to cook on our trusty wood stove. Our kids remember those times as special, with all of us in the same room not far from the stove while outside the snow is piling up and the wind blowing. There is nothing like the steady warmth of wood heat to soothe the soul and warm the body. It is primal. To me, it seems the way God meant it to be!


Sunday, May 27, 2012


Listed below are mandatory needs, issues and items needed to successfully survive and weather any major natural disasters, deadly germ outbreaks, or government invasions such as martial law. This is a basic outline and your needs may differ according to location, elevation, and of course finances. Money is the root of all evil, but you will definitely need some to accomplish your survival goals.

Land and water are virtually priceless. The first and foremost thing needed to build a survival compound is water and land. Land as far away from large cities is ideal. Either find a piece of land that you can afford to install a well on or find a location that has a well cooperative. Water is key. Without water, you are done. Small rivers, creeks or springs are essential without a well. You will die without a water source. There are water machines that make water out of thin air, but they are costly and rely on humidity. Even then, you will probably only acquire enough water for drinking and food needs. You have to consider hygiene issues such as bathing and dishwashing among other things. Water is also needed for gardening and animals.

After that, you need to secure your property. Fencing such as a block wall, chain link or wired fence is ideal. Razor wire or equivalent is highly recommended along the top of your fence to provide added security. If unwanted visitors get in, they may not make it out. Locked gates with razor wire allow you access in and out easily while forcing others to cut your gate chains and alerting your animals. Dogs are great alarms and notify you of unwanted visitors. Plan on investing in a family pet that serves as a loveable alarm. You can also install fence alarms or electric fencing, but they require more power and cost.   

After your perimeter security, you need a place to dwell. Recreational vehicles (RVs) or a small cabin are ideal and cost-effective. If done correctly, an RV can be expanded if needed. A “mud room” can be built and attached to an RV. A “mud room” adds living space and a lot of extra room for a large home feeling. All the amenities of having a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom(s) and shower are in the RV; and you can build a large living room or “mud room” attached to the door side of the RV. It sounds crazy, but is very affordable and gives you a larger living space. Also, a wood-burning stove can be installed in this area to provide winter heating. Also, a wood-burning stove can be used to cook on. Thanksgiving Day is a breeze with a turkey on the wood burner overnight and prepared the day before. Wood burners are reliable and eliminate the need to use propane for heating and cooking during the winter months.

Propane may be a hard commodity to find as well as firewood, so plan ahead. Chainsaw(s) are essential, and the more expensive, the better. Husqvarna and Stihl are the best chainsaws in my opinion, and cords of wood are mandatory. Without a fireplace or stove, and a reliable chainsaw, you are done! Winter months can be brutal, and you will need these items to survive. Gas reserves, 2-stroke oil, and propane will make life much more comfortable during the winter months. Make sure you have resources near you, and plan on extra fuel for your pick-up truck or SUV with a trailer to transport your firewood.

Power comes next. Power is critical. Relying on the power grid is stupid. The best thing to do is build your own power supply. Batteries and a power supply are crucial. This is easy but expensive. Big “off-the-grid” batteries are costly, and a big battery bank can break the bank quick. Instead, try using large marine deep cycle batteries available from your local hardware store or big outlet stores such as Ace Hardware, Sears, or Wal-Mart. Well-maintained batteries will perform well, and are part of your secure compound.

To supply power to your batteries, you will need a wind generator and/or photovoltaic (PV) panels. Using both will greatly improve your power source to keep your batteries charged. Both are simple enough to install, and will keep your lights and refrigerator running smoothly.

Some suggest wiring your battery bank in a 24 or 48 volt bank, but many items run on 12 volts. Water pumps, water heaters, and lights are available in 12 volt, and readily available at many locations. PV panels and wind generators are available in 12 volt, and coordinate well with all the needed accessories such as batteries, water pumps, and lighting.

You will need certain items with your power system such as inverters and charge controllers. Inverters can power your AC devices such as television, DVD player, computer, microwave oven and compact refrigerator. Charge controllers will regulate your incoming power supply to your batteries and keep them from overcharging. Both inverters and charge controllers will make your life a lot easier. Reading and understanding how these systems operate together will help greatly in your survival. Use the internet while you can for knowledge on this information. Spend some time and learn how these systems work and interact with each other, otherwise you will be paying contractors to build your system and repair it. Self-reliance means you are on your own, and you need to know how to service, maintain, and repair problems in your power system.

After studying how to have modern conveniences in your compound, you need food. As discussed earlier, water is key to food. A supply of non-GMO vegetable seeds and gardening knowledge is essential. In summer months, having a garden is lovely. Fruits and vegetables without chemicals are beautiful, fun, and tasty. Fresh salads in the middle of nowhere are awesome. In winter months, gardens seem to fizzle. To combat this problem, learn about canning and food preservation. Canning your garden goodies for the winter are mandatory to survive. Canning fresh veggies will allow you to have tasty treats in the winter months.

Storable food is always reliable. It may not taste as good as fresh items, but can come in handy when needed. There are many sources for storable food, so you need to do some homework. Find what you like, what you can stomach, and what stores the longest. Buying food that you can store needs to be edible and withstand storage. Always keep these reserves cool, dark and dry. More importantly, you need baking/cooking supplies such as flour, sugar, yeast, and anything you deem needed. Sealed supplies will make life easier in an emergency.
Livestock, such as chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, or other animals will breed and provide a great source of food. They require care, food, and treatment.  You get a reliable small farm for meats, dairy products, homemade cheeses, and milk.

Sheds or storage facilities are also helpful. If you can afford it, bunker type systems are useful, reliable, and concealable. If possible, hide your gear, goodies, food, and other supplies underground. This will prolong your resources from being found or stolen.

After planning, building, and fortifying your compound, you need to protect it. Some people are against weapons. Foolish people do foolish things. Arming yourself is not a foolish thing.. The government is stockpiling ammo. You should too. Common weapons and ammo will help you stay stocked up on a plethora of resources. Buy weapons and learn how to use them. If you have never used guns, then learn now. Your family's survival may depend on it, and you need to be prepared. There are thousands of guns to buy. The best selection would be what the police and military use. Anything in .40 caliber or .223 caliber is advisable. There are many reliable types of guns and ammo, but you should use what may be readily available. If it is good enough for the police, it should work fine for you. After all this work, you should be prepared and ready. Bad things happen to good people, so be prepared.

Fuel reserves should also be considered. Fuel supplies for wood cutting, hunting, and possibly water runs are mandatory. Evacuations from your compound may be needed for short periods of time or longer, so have some fuel reserves available.

Once you have made it this far, consider “fire watches” or patrols around your complex. Warm, winter gear during the winter months will help greatly. An alert brisk walk around your area every 20 minutes will keep most people away. It will be helpful to have family members to take shifts or “watches”  around the clock when the time comes.

This all requires some knowledge of everything. The more you do yourself, the more you will understand and appreciate. If you hire someone to do these things listed above, you probably will not make it far. The more you understand about survival, the more you do yourself. Remember, not knowing these things may contribute to your own demise. Understand your surroundings and learn as much as you can. Researching all this information will lead you to other interesting ideas. Study, research, and learn these tips. Your survival will someday rely on this. Large cities will not provide this level of safety and security. Learn, invest and plan now for your survival later.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Location is the most important thing to consider when developing a plan for long-term habitation in a TEOTWAWKI setting. Of primary concern are Community, Safety, Water, Food, Sustainability, and Natural Resources. It is absolutely imperative to find a locale with a well or fresh water spring. You will need fertile ground that is within distance of easy irrigation. The safest places will be those that are away from major highways and population centers; however, these small rural communities are typically suspicious of outsiders. You will need certain natural resources available as well to guarantee you are not reliant on trading or the good will of your neighbors to survive.

My plan involves getting back to the family farm in East Texas and away from the chaos that is going to ensue in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where I currently live. I have multiple routes highlighted on maps to get to my destination with detours marked for crossing major highways along the route. I have insured that I have enough fuel to reach my destination along with enough of a buffer in case I spend an extended period of time in traffic or want to help a stranded motorist who is out of fuel. I will never take main roads like an Interstate unless I am 100% sure that I am leaving ahead of the horde and even then I know that it is a risky proposition because those are the routes that will either fall under tight government control, or more likely, will have “survival of the fittest areas” where those who are not prepared prey on those who have anything of worth. I have all of my survival gear and supplies staged in specific areas to allow for rapid loading and a timely departure. My SUV has a roof rack, trailer hitch cargo carrier and enough space to carry my wife, kids, and all of my necessary supplies along with the family picture albums.

In selecting a location for your retreat there are several considerations to take into account. First, Who are your neighbors going to be? It is all well and good to select a remote location in a farming community to set up your retreat but these communities are typically very close knit and do not trust or welcome outsiders quickly. You should insure that you have a solid relationship with at least one and preferably multiple families in the area you have chosen so you can integrate seamlessly into the community. You will have to bring skills or goods that will enable you to be accepted in the community as an equal in the long-term survival quotient. Expect that you will have to pitch in and work hard with the rest of the community in one of several areas like food production, land and home maintenance, as well as security. Just because you bring enough food for yourself does not mean that you will be able to opt-out of the hard work necessary to support an agrarian community. If you are accepted into the community there will be plenty of people who will be willing to show you how to do any number of things since areas like this tend to have numerous older individuals who will have grown up as subsistence farmers. These people will be familiar with making clothes, caring for livestock, gardening, canning, trapping, hunting, and fixing just about anything with some bailing twine and duct tape. Just do not expect that you will be able to show up in a rural community with a truckload of gear and convince them that you will be an asset. Even in a community that you have someone to vouch for you expect to spend at least a year proving that you can be a worthwhile addition to their group.

Second, you need to consider how safe is the location you desire. You will want to be away from highways that will have any traffic. An excellent choice is a Farm to Market Road at least one to two miles away from the nearest highway. Most houses have been built close to the road and this is not an ideal situation since you will want to have a location that is not obviously inhabited if there is traffic on your road. Try to find a location that is out of sight and hearing, don’t want someone walking by to hear you chopping firewood, and close to where your garden will be located to maximize your ability to keep your home and garden safe with the minimum amount of security resources.

Third, you need to find land that will be able to support the members of your family for an extended period of time. Things to consider when choosing a location are: fresh water and arable land. Is there a source of unpolluted, fresh water on the property that can be accessed by digging a well? Is there a stream on the property that can have water diverted for gardening irrigation? Is there a pond on the property that can be stocked with fish? Are there trees on the property that will keep you supplied with firewood and lumber for building? You will need a clean source of water that you have easy access to that can keep your family supplied with a sufficient amount water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and washing.  Also, take into consideration the number of livestock that you will need and check with the local agriculture office to see the recommended acreage per cow, horse, etc… If you can find a location with a creek on the property it will be very advantageous in keeping your livestock watered and your garden irrigated. When you go to lay out your garden choose land that is downhill from the water source so your irrigation channel will be fed without additional effort. Another advantage of a running water source is the ability to build a dam to create a pond. Having a pond for raising fish and as a large storage location for water in case of drought could be vital to your survival. Not only are trees useful for the firewood and building supplies that can be taken from them but it is also an excellent buffer to shield your home and garden from the sight of people that might pass by. Wild game also tends to be more plentiful in forested areas and that will supplement your fish, livestock and garden. Trapping small game is an excellent source of daily meat and will not require extensive time spent on hunting or drying large game meat, so make sure that you have traps to lay out on game trails.

Fourth, dedicate some time to retrofitting your home to the standards that were in use before electricity, running water, and central heat and air conditioning came along. This means building an outhouse downhill in the direction your well water is flowing and far enough down that the bacteria will not enter the ground water that flows into the well. You will want large windows with screens to capture any breeze during the summer months and shutters to cover the windows in the winter months to preserve as much heat as possible. If possible, it would be ideal to have a windmill that can be used to charge a battery bank to provide power to convenience appliances and perhaps to power an exhaust fan that will keep your house cooler in the summer months. My philosophy is that if having one of a certain item is good having two is even better. Spare parts for your important machinery will pay for itself many times over. An enclosed wood-burning firebox will help you to use your firewood judiciously while still heating your home. Since propane is very inexpensive it would be a great idea to buy a very large propane tank and get it filled so you can add a nozzle to recharge cooking and lantern tanks for yourself and as a trade good. A root cellar is perfect for storing food and other temperature sensitive items in a cool location. Since you will need to have a steady supply of vegetables you might want to build a greenhouse to supplement your canned vegetables from your garden with fresh vegetables. It will also allow you grow other plants that may not be suited to your location. This will enable you to grow exotics that other people are unprepared to grow like tea, coffee, or cocoa, which will give you little tastes of luxuries that will dwindle quickly. Also, consider growing medicinal plants that can replace the current dependence on prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

These are some of the main points that you will need to consider in choosing and preparing your retreat. This is by no means a complete list of what will be needed but it is intended to get you thinking about more than just the stuff you will need to buy but how to create a place with as many comforts as can be provided with the limited resources that will be available. There are so many things that need to be prepared for a long-term survival situation you could write a book about it.


Monday, March 5, 2012


Mr. Rawles:
Although filtered HVAC systems make for comfortable and healthy inside air quality, even the most efficient draw heavily on AC mains. Insulated airtight walls and windows reduce heat loss and in windy areas reduce dirt infiltration. I would never consider powering a cooling system with solar power but heater blower motors can be so powered. This works well for dual stage furnaces that switch from heat pump to natural gas or propane for emergency heat. Fireplaces are as old as houses but rather than just building any old firebox, I researched fireplace design.

When building my ranch headquarters on the prairie, I thought about using bullet resistant glass but this was ruled out considering light loss and real value per cost. Instead I choose windows meeting Dade County, Florida hurricane specifications. Windows and importantly their frame extrusions and locks meeting these requirements are tested for shatter resistance and high wind load. Of course no window is better than the house framework into which it is mounted. Although not highly bullet resistant, these style windows present a considerable obstacle to someone seeking unlawful egress by breaking a window.

Windows meeting Dade County requirements are available in single or multiple pane configurations and in casement or sash design. Due to high wind loads in the Texas Panhandle I choose casement windows because the harder the wind blows, the better this type window seals. In retrospect, I should have included at least one sash window per house side. Sash windows are better suited for use with external shutters and afford easier egress in the event an emergency evacuation is required.

The main entry to my ranch headquarters is via a courtyard. Courtyards provide enhanced security and reduce wind. Inside the house, I designed a ten foot long entry foyer to further reduce heat loss and wind borne dirt infiltration. A second reinforced entry door was located at the end of the foyer for increased security. All external and bedroom doors are dead bolted and equipped with Rocky Mountain cane bolts. Internal doors are 2 7/8” thick mahogany. I chose sturdy Cantera metal clad exterior doors with of course a Dade County glass specification.

Portions of the house perimeter walls were constructed of fiberglass entrained, rebar reinforced, poured in place concrete. Now concrete is an extremely poor insulator so I framed with 2x6s, filling the framed in walls and ceiling with spray in insulation. Not wanting to introduce a fire hazard, I tried to burn a small piece of the insulation and was impressed by its flame resistance. I cannot recommend this insulation highly enough. A bottle of water was left inside all winter long in the unheated house during construction and it never froze even when the outside temperature dropped to -10F. Chilly this house might be if unheated, but one could live there without supplemental heat.

After product comparison, I choose two Lennox high efficiency furnace/heat pump systems with emergency propane back up. I added Lennox UV lights to these systems to reduce mold and bacteria along with Lennox HEPA electrostatic filters, and humidifiers.

Predominately downwind and several hundred yards down hill from the house I poured another concrete structure to house several 900 gallon propane tanks (propane is heavier than air). This propane fuels the HVAC emergency heat and kitchen appliances. The ranch headquarters has two fireplaces, both of Rumford design that may be unfamiliar to your readers. I equipped one with a fireplace crane in case I ever wanted to cook in it. Even though I have all sorts of backup electrical power options for the HVAC systems, I bought a Sopka Magnum cookstove for post-Schumer installation. These stoves offer a high value to cost and can burn both wood and coal.

Having a house that won’t freeze inside when unheated during the coldest winter is of incalculable value. Chilly it may be but with down and wool, one could live and thrive. Having multiple heating/cooking options are essential when Schumer hits the fan. The value of good insulation is apparent to anyone who has cut wood for heat.

I hope these comments are of value to anyone considering new construction.

Sincerely, - Panhandle Rancher



Hello James:
Attached is an e-mail I sent to my daughter.  Her boyfriend is from Honduras and she dreams of doing missionary work there.  I thought it may be of interest to some of your readership.  I left out a great deal of information on building site selection (her boyfriend already owns five acres) and foundations.  There seems to be differences in opinion regarding firmly anchored and sand-bed isolation between footings and walls.  Most of my information was gleaned from the book Technical Principles of Building for Safety (Building for Safety Series) by Coburn.

Dear X.:
I did a little bit of reading this weekend regarding safe house construction in earthquake and hurricane prone regions.  I thought of you since you might be spending significant amounts of time in that part of the world.  Some sobering pictures of what an earthquake can do to masonry structures (Italy) 

Key points for concrete block construction (very common in Honduras):
1. Don't build the house out of masonry, use wood which is lightweight, strong and flexible.....but if you cannot.....
2. Single story construction (probably the single most important thing)
3. Use thick blocks (at least 8" across).  Use good blocks (should ring when blocks are struck with hammer or another block, mortar should be mixed on-site, in small batches by somebody who knows his business.
4. Simple rectangular outline.  Long, skinny houses shake to pieces while those that are closer to square in outline stay together
5. Small rooms.  No room larger than 15' by 15' (5 meters by 5 meters)  (probably #2 in importance....especially for bedrooms)
6. Use concrete block for interior partition walls to tie exterior walls together.  See note below about corners.
7. Door and window openings small, minimal number and evenly spaced around the building.  It is advantageous to have the tops of the windows and doors at the same elevation (see note on ring-beams)
8. No window or door openings in walls within 3' (one meter) of an outside wall or inside partition wall
9. The strength is in the corners (see points 4,5 and 7).  Reinforce the corners with steel wire, mesh or rod laid horizontally in mortar as the walls are built.
10. Build with two ring-beams.  One even with the tops (lintels) of the doors and windows, one along the very top of the wall.  Ring-beams can be cast of concrete/steel rod or constructed of wood.  This is a picture of a structure with FIVE wooden ring-beams
11. Use a light-weight roof that is well tied together (plywood sheathing is recommended) but steel is OK.  See picture from line above.
12. Roof should be relatively steep, 30-to-40 degrees is recommended.  Flatter roofs can act like airplane wings and lift off more easily in high winds.
13. Roofs should not extend more than 24" past wall
14. Hip roofs tend to be most resistant to blowing off.  House with five ring-beams is also a hip roof house.
15. Put the bed in the middle of the room.
16. A decent article about how to make an existing house safer

 


Saturday, March 3, 2012


We are survivalists who live on a hobby farm within The American Redoubt. In the 23 years we have lived in this region I have yet to feel the ground shake beneath my feet. That’s welcome news speaking as a former Californian who has been through two “big ones”. Yet, for whatever reason (the Holy Spirit, possibly) I began thinking about earthquakes two months ago. Because of this mind set, when three earthquakes, southeast of us, occurred in Utah around the 13th of February and the next day a magnitude 6.0 quake hit off the coast of Oregon. That got my attention.
 
The Oregon coastal quake had Seattle news outlets airing special segments about the possibility of a “big one” along the “ring of fire” that could cause substantial damage to cities like Seattle, Portland Oregon, Vancouver B.C., etc. They asked one seismologist about this prospect and his answer was, “the good news is that large scale earthquakes on this fault over the last 10,000 years have occurred on average about every 300 years”. “The bad news?” The reporter asked. “The last 'big one' on this fault was 329 years ago." Oh, that’s reassuring.
 
But we don’t live in earthquake country, we are hundreds (thousands?) of miles and a couple of large mountain ranges between us and “the ring of fire” so no worries right? No, I don’t think that is correct. We have never experienced TEOTWAWKI but we are preparing for that. I lived through an epic ice storm in an area not know for such things also. In fact, portions of the region were without power for 13 weeks from that ice storm. We also had a “fire storm” where none had ever occurred previously.
 
In the remainder of this essay I will:
 
1) Describe what an earthquake audit is
 
2) Review some of the findings of our earthquake audit
 
3) Review some of the mitigation steps we took to resolve our “audit deficiencies”
 
4) Share an analogy that I think is fitting
 
 
1) What is an Earthquake Audit?
 
I believe I coined the phrase “earthquake audit”. My version of an earthquake audit was to take a clip board, note pad and marking pen and go room by room; house, shop, outbuildings, everyplace. Using my experience being in quakes plus video’s I have seen of them and trying to visualize what would happen; what would go flying and what would be okay in a modest earthquake. My main focuses were looking “up” to identify things that could fall down with force and looking with an eye to the protection of mission critical items versus lesser important assets. For example having your AN/PVS-14 and Night Vision compatible EO-Tech sight go flying would be much worse than if that large pile of firewood gets scattered. This is mostly common sense it’s just a matter of actually doing it. I made a list of things that I observed to be problematic and then prioritized that list into actionable items.
 
2) What were the results of our own Earthquake Audit?
 
Frankly, we failed miserably. Here are three examples among dozens.
 
Our preparations are extremely organized and inventoried. We have eight of the Gorilla Rack shelving units to store items. I could not believe my eyes (although I should have because I am the one who put them there) when I looked up on the top shelf of one of the shelving units and saw all three of our pressure canners sitting side by side, not in boxes, resting nearly seven feet off the ground on an unsecured shelving unit.
 
The next “finding” was when I went into a food storage location (with a cement floor) and again could not believe my eyes. We purchase raw local honey from a vendor who sells them in half gallon glass mason jars. We love it as the honey is excellent and you get a half gallon jar to use when you’re done. Also the jars are temperature stabilized in case you need to heat the honey to liquefy it. There on the shelf at eye level was 18 half gallon glass jars of honey on an unsecured shelving unit with the jars right up the very edge of the shelf.
 
With even a minor rumble in addition to having no honey could you imagine the mess of nine gallons of honey and 18 broken half gallon glass mason jars in one big pile on the cement floor?
 
The last example was when I walked into the fuel shed. This was an accident waiting to happen. The fuel shed building is built over the top of an underground gas tank. The riser off the tank, 12 volt pump, filters and filler hose are inside the shed. Also inside the shed are shelves and items stacked on the gravel floor. There are metal gas cans, metal 5 gallon kerosene cans, plastic diesel containers a couple of metal 55 gallon drums and a dozen or so propane cylinders. The riser coming up off the underground tank was not protected at all and things were staked up all around it. It wouldn’t have taken much for things to have fallen on the riser likely breaking it. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have gas cans and propane cylinders flopping about inside a metal walled shed with a severed riser attached to a large gas tank!
 
3) Mitigation Steps
 
All of these “deficiencies” had to be fixed. The pressure canners got put in boxes and moved into cupboards with locking doors. For the honey, I secured the shelving unit to the wall and purchased nice plastic totes with locking lids that would hold six half gallon jars each. A couple of layers of bubble wrap on the bottom of the tote then each jar individually wrapped in bubble wrap that was taped in place. The jars were placed in the tote and then shipping “popcorn” was put between the jars. Two layers of bubble wrap on the top then the lid of the tote was securely attached. The totes then were “strapped in” to the secured shelving unit.
 
The fuel shed got gutted and redone. The fuel tank riser and pump are now completely protected and everything in the shed is strapped down. This was done with 3/8ths x 4” eye bolts and six foot locking tie down straps.
 
This clearly isn’t rocket science its just taking the time to get it done. Generally speaking; Shelving units need to be secured to something. If not an adjacent wall, look up, is there something above to secure to? On one occasion I had two shelving units at a 90 degree angle to one another. One of the units could be secured to the wall but not the other. So, what I did was attach the units to one another where they met. At the opposite ends I ran a tie down strap to create a triangle from the end of one unit to the end of the other unit, this gave some good strength.
 
Watch for items that could fall on your head while you are in bed. And some items, there is not much you can do but pray. For example we have a river rock chimney that runs up 25 feet from the main floor through the ceiling of the second floor. I have not idea how strong it is but there is not much that can be done other than building some kind of cradle for it. So if it comes down in a quake it comes down. I guess that’s why you have wood stoves in the shop, master bedroom and back patio as backups. Guns and especially ones with optics need to be protected. My main battle rifle and main defensive shotgun are in metal hard shell cases strapped to something solid. Cushioning inside gun safes are a good idea. Are there items that could fall down behind a closed inward-opening door and block it closed?
 
4) One way to think about this.
 
The analogy to this line of thinking is nautical: Sooner or later we are all going to take a journey. Hopefully your journey will be on the good ship “Faithful Survivalist”. We don’t know when we will be leaving on that journey, where it will take us and what the conditions are going to be like along the way. Our sense is though that we are probably going to be leaving sooner rather than later and with the storm clouds we see developing off on the horizon we are not expecting “smooth sailing”. As with any wise captain heading off on a journey of unknown conditions, lets be sure that everything is lashed down; “Everything has a place and every place has a thing”. Because, if the going gets rough we don’t want important items sliding around on deck or falling overboard. Batten down the hatches, mates!
 
I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t pretend to know the future. I do know that the Holy Spirit put it on my heart to look at our survival stores with a new set of eyes and it was eye opening. I hope you do also and I hope this was helpful.



James,
In response to this posting, while something is better than nothing, I am not a fan of putting up anything on windows or better screws or latches for doors or a covering for windows unless it really adds to equation and the cost is reasonable for the return on expenditure.   As an example, a neighbor added a steel frame with mesh, its costs was about $6,000, it is very pretty with double sided keyed deadbolt and heavy latch/striker plate.  Their security factor went way up, sadly the burglars decided to enter from the side yard and wrapped a concrete block into a thick padded moving blanket and heaved it thru the glass sliding door.  As a matter of security the whole house has to be considered when planning and making upgrades, like the old saying "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link".
 
I have been planning on security improvements on at least a dozen homestead that I have lived at in the last 40 plus years.  What is the best method for what I am trying to accomplish do.  Am I trying to keep people in, keep people out, trying to stop home invasion, or random burglary, or create an image of a deserted homestead, or keep from outside views lighting in the home, or who/what is in the home.  
 
I decided I wanted to have coverings for the windows/patio sliders that would stop or at least be resistant to thrown objects or easy access to the home by busting out glass, and also enough strength on doors to resist a handheld ram or sledge hammer.   One thing is to read articles, which is great for a start, but unless money is no object we have to at the end of the day use money available as the most important factor for choosing our solutions.
 
On regular entrance doors a metal security door is a start, but they can be pried open with a standard crow bar pretty fast (watch law enforcement shows to see how easy they get thru them).  My doors will have a pre cut two 5/8 or 3/4 sheets of plywood which I store in the garage, if needed I simply stand the plywood on the inside up against the existing door, they are held in place by two 4x4s which end fits into a fitted piece on the plywood 2/3 of the way up, and the other end of the 4x4 has a 4" long 1/2 inch diameter steel rod that slips into holes in the concrete floor, thus giving you a re enforced door that is many times stronger than a latch plate located on a weak door frame or hinges that are their weak sister on the other side.  I repeated this process for the french double doors.  I also drilled in the plywood panel a hole that matches up to the peep hole in the regular door.
 
For the windows, through out the home, Please understand I have the newer type windows the upper portion of the window slide down and the upper portion slide up, so first I put both panel in the center position that gives you about a 1' opening at the top and bottom of the window.  I cut two pieces of plywood to fit the entire opening, putting those in place and in order to hold them there I cut two 2x 4 pieces that overlap the window opening on the inside of the house by about 6"   each 2x4 has a 6" long 1x2 " diameter in the center of the 2x4 that allows you to screw into the double sheet of plywood.  So when installed on the window from the inside you have one 2x4 at the top (side to side) and another at the bottom, because the glass panel are open at the top and bottom.   This method allows me to put each window covering in place or remove in less than a minute.
 
Now, we still have the garage doors to deal with, these are weakest link (my estimation) my solution was you guessed it more plywood sheets cut to with about 4" wider and taller than the door by attaching 2x4 runners to the top and sides, this is done so that the sheets of plywood will touch the frames on the panel and the 2x4 will touch the garage wall around the door.   I put the panels in place, than I have 4x6  that slip over the plywood across the bottom about 20" off the floor and the second 4x6 about 40" from the bottom and about halfway up.  In order to make this one solid mass, I would roll my vehicles up against the 4x6 giving the whole door a very solid feel.   You would have to measure your bumpers on the car in order to determine the heights for the 4x6 placement. 
 
Please understand I am trying to deter and delay a forced entry, you cannot not eliminate one ever, so this gives me a warning and time to respond to a potential threat.  As with all security prevention making a window bullet resistant is great in theory, but meaningless if you have a stick built homes as most of us do that is for the most part useless to stop bullets.  I have had friends tell me that they have adopted this method and that from the outside the home gives an appearance to potential threats that maybe they want to look at other pickings.   
 
I hope that this serves to help others who are needing a idea in order to provide maybe the means to give you an edge.
 
God Bless us and the U.S. - John in Arizona


Friday, March 2, 2012


My darling wife read the article on Lexan and asked me to contribute the following. My professional specialty lies in the area of windows and doors.

How to Prepare Doors

Replace the short screws (3/4") in the door lock plates with longer ones minimum 3" but 4" would be better. The 3" are # 8 but the 4" are #10 almost twice as strong.

There are two each on the strike plate of the depress plunger and two for the deadbolt.
These screws enter the studs making a considerably stronger safety connection than short screws that only penetrate the light weight trim wood in the jam of the typical door unit.

In our area city code requites rental units to provide blind deadbolts (one sided locks) to prevent entry by service personnel while tenant is at home. These can be installed on any exterior entry door. The strike plates should get the longer screws as well.

Stronger security may be obtained by any of several "security accessories." These center on the use of steel to reinforce the door jams. Lowe's in our area sells a 14 gauge. jam sleeve that is screwed with 6 to 8 3" screws into the jam and needs to be installed under the decorative trim. Other steel reinforce systems that wrap the jam or the stud with the same effect. Most of these require some level of professional skill to finish out successfully.

The very minimum upgrade is the double cylinder deadbolt which requires a key on the inside as well as the outside. This prevents a broken window entry from providing 36'x80" exit. (Some home owners leave an extra key in the lock to expedite normal exit; not a good idea as it defeats the purpose. )

An additional security precaution installs a loud bell on a string that will alert you or a pet of unexpected opening .

Windows - How to Prevent Entry

First preparation lies in the simple process of locking the window lock as a habit. Every window has a lock when new, so use it. If the lock is broken it either may be replaced for free or low cost from the manufacturer. Additionally a turn buckle clamp lock may be purchased for each operative window and installed on the jam in either the closed position or up to 6" up. This would permit opening of window during comfortable temperature conditions. As cheap alternative In lieu of this, a simple self tap screw (maybe #6 x 1/2" may be installed in the jam to prevent the window from opening higher than a stated mount, like 6" up.

Next level of precaution for the windows is to install some type of bars out side the window unit. This also may be installed on the inside of "sky windows' or skylights.

For people who want a more attractive protection we suggest a clear Lexan or Lexan equivalent covering for each window panel. Lexan Window panels Where cost and budget is an issue start on front and/or rear units as these are the most likely entry points for home intruders.

For single units a box type home improvement store sells clear poly propyl window replacement. These come in 1/8", 3/16" or 1/4" thicknesses. Banks of course use 1" thick units at the teller window; but you can easily visualize the result: Clear but great protection. Even 1/8" thickness proves very difficult to penetrate with any thing other than firearms.

For these elements I recommend the thicker panels. The 1/4" will prevent breakage by .22 caliber rimfire weapons.

Where cost and budgets prevail, the thickness may be mixed with the thicker ones on the front or the rear, and lighter ones on the non exposed views.

Installing Lexan Window Panels

Planning : count the windows and measure the out side and inside measurements for each unit. Typically the outside measurements will be a little larger than the inside. The age of the house will determine the type of window. Houses built prior to the WWII typically will have wood or steel frame windows. The planning for each is similar. We recommend that the Lexan panels be installed by screw or blind steel pop rivet for steel units. Measure the inside of the sash (the part that moves) for the size of the installed Lexan panel. The fastener should be installed out side the glass perimeter and inside the frame. sometimes this space is small but would be large en ought to hold a fastener.

The houses built after this war use more aluminum as the aluminum manufacturing diverted from war effort became a cost effective component for the building explosion that took place after the war effort. These units may have the Lexan installed either on the inside or the outside; or both. The upper unit typically does not operate and the Lexan may be successful installed on the outside. because the lower panel does operate and the Lexan panel should be installed on the inside. Again the fastener (Tec-self tapping screws or blind pop-rivets) needs to be installed out side the perimeter of glass on the frame so the window will still operate but not break the glass. .

Houses newer than this might have some variation of wood, wood covered with vinyl, or solid vinyl window installation. For these units the Lexan panel are better installed on the outside of the frame on the upper and on the inside of the frame on the lower. Some type of extrusion can be made to hold the Lexan on the window and removed at times that operator needs to be opened. Turn buckle tabs also may be used to safely remove the paned. On fixed units the panels may be installed permanently on the outside of the frame.

The purpose of the Lexan panels is to prevent breakage of the glass during lawless events, where breakage of the perimeter glass would provide home invasion routes.

Installation

The Lexan comes in 4'x8' and 4'x12' when purchased from the plastics wholesaler.

For simplicity the panels may be numbered from the front door clockwise till all units are included. Where there are multiple panels on the same opening, each may be lettered clockwise or upper then lower. Take the measurements that prescribe the windows and place on 1/4' graph paper where the scale accurately represents the finished size of the Lexan panel.

cut out the scaled models of the Lexan panels.

On the graph paper outline the outside of 4'x8" (or 4'x12' which ever is available). the same scale of the window panels. lay out the cut out panels on the graph paper in the more efficient use of the material. This will tell you how much raw material is needed, and which cut out is best used for each sheet. A person could mix or match the panels for the various windows so that the "best fit" is reached.

After the planning for the whole house is completed the budget becomes clearer and the actual cut out of the material begins. The material can be cut with a triple chip diamond blade, or an masonry abrasive blade. For the abrasive blade, the material should be cut approximately half thickness then the break will be clean and even. Full cut will cause build-up of "melted material." Such will have to be ground smooth or polished. Although the triple chip will cost more the results will justify the cost. In all cases cold material (<55 deg F.) is more brittle and can easily break in the wrong place. Warm up for minimum of 4 hours.

All that remains is to install each panel of Lexan on the respective window per cut-out models. Suggest a check-off of the models as the material is cut so that the end result complies with the plan.

I hope that some one finds this useful.


Monday, February 27, 2012


Dear James,
I have recently purchased raw land to build my retreat. Soon I will begin building a home, and wish to equip it with windows which can resist small arms fire. I can obtain Lexan in 1/2" thickness, and my question is, will I need two pieces of glazing in each window, or three (or more)? I do not think it likely that I will be shot at with anything larger that .50 caliber. Your thoughts on the matter are most welcome. Thanks, - Zoomer

JWR Replies: To begin, I must warn readers that acrylic Plexiglas and polycarbonate Lexan are significantly different materials. Lexan is flexible, while Plexiglas is quite brittle. Some other flexible transparent polycarbonate plastics include Armormax, Cyrolon, Hygard, Lexgard, Makroclear, Makrolon, and Tuffak. So only use one of these for ballistic protection applications, not Plexiglas!

Your intent to use multiple laminations of 1/2" thick Lexan is not without precedent. But its sounds easier than it really is, in practical application. One sheet (of 1/2" thickness) Lexan will stop single hits from a .22 Long Rifle (LR) rimfire, but not repeated hits if they are well-aimed. Two thicknesses will stop 9mm, but they won't stop any bullets at higher velocity. Unfortunately, it would take more than 3" of just Lexan to stop most rifle bullets, and probably much more than that to stop .30 caliber steel-cored AP bullets from a 7.62mm NATO, .30-06, or 7.62x54r. And I would assume that stopping .50 BMG AP or API would require more than foot of thickness of just Lexan, but I haven't been able to find an unclassified source on this. For comparison: the Springfield .30-06 produces a muzzle energies up to 3,000 foot-pounds, while .50 BMG ball produces up to 15,000 foot-pounds! (An unclassified industry white paper Sierracin/Sylmar Corporation is quite instructive. Detailed ballistic protection specifications for military armored glass developed by the US and UK military are classified.)

The armored glass used in many current lightly-armored vehicles such as the up-armored M1114 HMMWV are up to 3.5" thick (depending on armoring generation), and use proprietary sandwiches of transparent polycarbonate plastics and laminated glass. Lighter-weight armored glass made for limousines are even more exotic (and costly), but are still quite thick and heavy.) One of the very best is Global Security Glazing's Secur-Tem + Poly, which has been tested to NIJ Level IV protection against single .30-06 hits. But even this is still 2.11 inches thick, and it weighs 24.38 pounds per square foot. The cost per square foot for this material is quite high.

The most efficient bullet resistant windows are made by bonding alternating layers of Lexan and laminated glass. Note that if you are making your own, that the inner-most layer should always be Lexan rather than glass, to prevent glass fragment spalling. (Just because a bullet is stopped, doesn't protect you from getting splattered with fragments, as the inner-most layer flexes with a hypersonic shock wave.) It is notable that most modern armored vehicles have a spall liner.

So, say that you want to build a house with ".50 caliber bullet proof windows"? Unfortunately, the cost of even .30 AP protection would probably be prohibitive for constructing any residential windows larger that 12" x 12", and even then their transparency would definitely suffer. With more and more laminations, a window becomes progressively more opaque--that is, translucent rather than transparent.

Lastly, you need to consider that the window frame that you use will have to be wide, very stout, and very firmly attached. Otherwise, your window laminate will pop out with the impact of the first shot, leaving the opening unprotected. Windows with narrow or otherwise unsubstantial frames would also be vulnerable to attack by sledgehammers. A wedge shaped cross-section (achieved by making the outer layers progressively larger surface area sheets, and a tapered window frame, to match) is the most effective way to protect against such attacks.

Reader George S. wrote to add: The Schott Glass/ GEMTRON Vincennes, Inidiana glass production line has been shut down, but their production of laminate glass direct vision panels for the recent-generation Oshkosh military MRAP armored vehicles is still in operation.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012


If you do a web search for "hidden entrances" or "secret room" you'll see some photos and video of various novelties like bookcases on hinges and stairways that open up to reveal hidden rooms behind/under them. While these can be a lot of fun before SHTF, especially for kids, I just wanted to put out a warning that these types of entrances aren't really concealed at all in a TEOTWAWKI situation. For starters, if you found these solutions on the Internet, then bad guys can find them too.

Even if they didn't do their online research beforehand, you can bet that looters going through nice neighborhoods are going to figure out very quickly that some of them have safe rooms, and bookcases are the most common type of hidden entrance. Trapdoors under area rugs and safes behind picture frames on the wall are pretty easy to find, too.

You also need to factor in what your house is going to look like after a fire. If your hidden entrance is made of wood, i.e. a bookshelf, it's not going to be there after a fire, and looters are going to see the metal door behind it and wonder what's in there. You're not planning for a fire, you say? But you are planning for TEOTWAWKI, right?

There's no reason to rely on ineffective entrance concealment, because for little or no additional expense, you can create a hidden entrance that nobody's going to find. I will briefly describe one type of hidden entrance that's a vast improvement on the bookshelf door, make a general suggestion about hidden entrances, and then hint at what I'm putting into the house I'm building without giving the bad guys any details they could use.

Turning a basement entrance into a closet with a trapdoor in the floor is a solution that has been described before, but I would like to suggest a few measures to make it truly concealed:
1. Build the closet walls, ceiling and floor out of durable, fire-retardant materials, like concrete. You can retrofit an existing home this way, but the closet won't stick out after a fire if the whole house is built out of said materials. 
2. Make the entire closet floor into a trapdoor, so that nobody can make out the outline of the door. This requires some precise construction, as the edges of the door need to be flush with the walls of the closet. Watch out for scratch/rub marks left on the walls when you open the door. Durable, fire-retardant carpet can be used to fudge the edges a little, and having walls made of a durable material can help. Think long and hard about what two materials you want to be rubbing up against each other when you open the trapdoor.
3. Whatever material you use for the floor of the closet, make sure it matches the flooring of the hallway immediately outside the door. You can be sure that a looter standing on a tile floor in your hallway and looking at a plywood floor in your closet is going to investigate further.
4. Make sure your trap door is every bit as solid as the floor in the hallway. If someone steps inside, there should be no give in the floor or unusual creaks. This part is tough because it works against another consideration, that you need to be able to open the door. Ideally, if you have a floor that's 8-inch-thick concrete, then you want a trapdoor that's also 8 inches of concrete, poured into a steel frame. The only problem with this type of door is that most people won't be able to lift it.
5. Don't have any visible handles on your trapdoor. This can be accomplished either by designing it so that a handle is not necessary, or using some sort of temporary handle that you can bring with you into the basement, so that it's no longer usable for people outside.
6. If your trapdoor is going to be on hinges, then make sure that the hinges are concealed by the door when it's in the closed position. Seeing hinges on the far wall when the closet door is opened is going to be a dead giveaway.
7. Finally, you should seriously consider a non-traditional trapdoor design that doesn't lift to open. Instead, have a heavy concrete floor poured into a steel frame that is mounted on wheels that run on sturdy tracks underneath. Think garage door, only much sturdier and a single piece, not reticulated. When your basement is not in use, the door just rests in place, and doesn't open when people step on it, because it's too heavy to move easily. But when you need to open it, you just get inside the closet, plant your feet on the floor (use sneakers or bare feet for traction) and push your hands in the opposite direction against the doorframe. The floor then slowly slides back, revealing the staircase underneath. Once you and your loved ones are safely inside, you lock the door in the closed position from the inside in such a way that it's held tight and doesn't slide or rattle. One advantage of this design is that you can leave shoes or other items on the floor toward the front of the closet, as long as you don't open it completely, and they'll still be there when you close it.
8. For realism, go ahead and keep some shelves or a dresser in the closet. But bolt them to the wall so that they stay in place when you slide the floor, and make sure they're not so wide that they block you from entering.

If you build an effective trapdoor entrance that resembles a closet floor in every possible way even to a determined investigator, then it's extremely unlikely that a bad guy will find it. Or more precisely, if the bad guys find your basement, they will find it in some other way, for example finding out from your neighbors (you didn't tell them, did you?), or by spotting your ventilation pipes.

The closet trapdoor entrance to the basement described above is what I'm building into my next house, but the basement is for friends/extended family. For the living quarters for myself and my immediate family, I'm going a whole order of magnitude better on the concealment front. I'm not going to describe the actual design of the entrance because I don't want bad guys to read about it, but I will throw out a few general ideas to help fellow readers of SurvivalBlog.com think about their own designs.

1. The entrance to the secret bunker is from inside my safe room. This means that after entering the safe room, I have time to consider options, monitor the situation through video cameras, and make decisions. The bad guys won't be able to get into the safe room for at least five minutes, probably much longer, so I can calm down and think about whether I want to call the police, surrender the house to the bad guys and retreat to the bunker, or even come out and fight. Another advantage is that bad guys are likely to stop looking for secret rooms once they get into my safe room. The general recommendation here is to give the bad guys a decoy, something to let them think they've figured it out. Yet another advantage is that I can tell trusted friends about the safe room and tell them that's where I'm sleeping without letting them know about the existence of the bunker. I can also access the bunker at any time without anyone having a chance to see me doing so, if I keep the safe room locked.
2. My safe room has a semi-secret emergency exit separate from the entrance to the bunker. If the bad guys manage to use a cutting torch to get into the safe room, they will find the emergency exit quickly, and note that it's open. That's where they think I went. If I didn't have an emergency exit, they would wonder where I am, and keep looking.
3. My bunker is outside the outline of my house. A bad guy can look at any house and think, "is there a basement under there or just a crawlspace?" Once they find a basement that matches the dimensions of the first floor, then they're likely to stop looking.
4. The entrance to my bunker is concealed in such a way that bad guys would have to destroy some very durable materials to even be able to see that it's there. However, I do not have to destroy anything to be able to open it.
5. I'm having contractors build the basic structure, but I'm building the hidden entrance and some other architectural elements myself, after they leave.

To sum up:
1. Use decoys. Give smart bad guys something that makes them think they've found everything. 
2. Don't use hidden entrance designs that you've read about on the Internet. Come up with your own.
3. Don't make a choice between concealment and ability to resist a brute force attack. Use both.
4. Better concealment is not necessarily more expensive. "Secret" doors that a kid can find can be more expensive than a truly secret door.

There's a lot more that I could add, but I'm going to stop there for OPSEC reasons. I hope this is a useful starting point for readers to think of their own designs. Remember: if you invent, design and build the secret entrance yourself, then it can remain a secret. If you rely on commonly available templates or employ others to build it, then by definition it's not a true secret. - With Regards, - Dale T.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


Dear Jim,
I was very interested to read about the heated greenhouse in this article. I wondered if people have also tried insulating a greenhouse and designing it to maximize solar gain? I've seen a design used in the Himalayas which allows them to grow vegetables throughout the year despite -25C conditions, designed by the charity GERES. I uses a UV-resistant polythene sloping roof facing south, high-mass insulated walls to store the sun's heat and keep it in, some internal walls painted black and others white to help the solar gain, and finally a manually controller ventilation hatch - though I guess this could be automated if desired. There's a case study including photos at the Ashden web site. Thanks, - M.

Dear Editor:
Check out this web page: Directory:Walipini Underground Greenhouses.

Regards, - Roman


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The key to building an emergency shelter is knowing how to improvise. Whatever the situation, whatever materials you have, if you need shelter from the elements, you'll have to make do. Be efficient; every calorie spent is a calorie you'll have to replace, so build your shelter using the least time and energy you can.
For the purposes of this series of articles, we're assuming you'll be on the move, and that your shelters are truly just for temporary, perhaps even one-night use. If you're going to be in place for awhile, then the rules about minimalist construction are off, and you should make your situation more comfortable, which is good for morale.

Gather your materials

Whatever you have on hand might be useful, so let your imagination run for awhile before you begin construction.
A crashed plane might still be in good enough condition to sleep in. If it's not, you may still be able to recover foam insulation from the seats, bits of carpet, or electrical wire (for binding and fastening). Don't overlook the stitching material in the seat covers.
A parachute, canvas, tarp, or poncho make excellent cover for your shelter.
An overturned lifeboat, canoe, or kayak can be propped up on sticks or poles to provide a solid roof and shade.
Some sort of binding is usually helpful. If you don't have to make your own rope you're already way ahead of the game. Remember Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away? He spent weeks making enough rope to build his raft, and used up all the rope-making material on his island to do so. Stock plenty of paracord in your everyday carry bag and your bugout bag.

Types of emergency shelter

Generally, the parts of an emergency shelter are: Support structure or framework; cover; insulation, and floor. You can build quite a variety of emergency shelters with these basic parts.

Simple A-frame shelter built with sticks and boughs
Simple A-frame. This involves a framework of sticks, a cover, and insulation. Remember, keep it simple, keep it small. Make the tent two feet longer than your body height, and just tall enough to sit up inside. While this seems a waste of space, if it's quite cold you'll spend a good bit of time inside the shelter. (If you're definitely spending only one night, make it shorter and it'll be easier to heat).
If you don't have some sort of man-made roofing cover, like a tarp, you'll be using boughs of some sort. Install boughs from the ground up to the roof ridge, with the stem of the bough pointing up so the rain sheds properly. If the stems are pointing down, the leaf and branch structure will funnel the rain into rivulets that will drip through the roof. Each succeeding row of boughs lies atop the row below, so rain sheds on top of the boughs underneath, and drains all the way to the ground.

A lean-to shelter is simple and can be built quickly
Lean-to. A lean-to is the simplest way to give yourself rain cover. It provides little protection from wind, but it does have a number of advantages, the main one being that it's very quick and easy to build. It also can work as a heat reflector, particularly if you happen to have a mylar blanket in your every day carry bag. You can line the inside of the lean-to with the mylar and reflect the heat of a fire.

Poncho shelter.
Poncho or canvas shade. Canvas makes an excellent roof over your head in case of rain, and also a wind-block that can be insulated with boughs or leaves for cold-weather applications. There are military-style ponchos with grommets at the edges that make it easy to tie it down as a shelter. Some have snaps that allow two or more ponchos to be connected for a larger shelter. Multi-duty items are always preferable, so I like the poncho better than the canvas.
Snow pit or snow bank. In areas with heavy snowfall, these make very comfortable shelters. Snow is an extremely effective insulator, and while direct contact sucks heat from your body, the air inside the shelter will easily maintain temperatures well above freezing. Just be sure to make a thick bed of boughs to keep you off the snow. In a wooded area, dig out your pit from around an evergreen tree such as spruce, fir, or cedar. NOTE: Shake the snow off the tree first! When digging into a snow bank, cut the ceiling in the shape of a barrel to keep it from collapsing. With either a pit or a bank, build your bed on a shelf: this allows the coldest air to sink, and you'll sleep warmer.
Fire-building inside the shelter can be problematic if there's a lot of smoke. If you can close the entrance with a tarp or poncho, a single candle will be enough -- that and your body heat will maintain about 50 degrees (10 degrees C). Trust me; I've done it and been very cozy.
Igloo. This is a specialty shelter. It's only recommended for extended stays or if there's no other shelter available. It requires a specific type of snow; it must be firm enough to cut blocks and shape them for a good fit. I'm sure there are many methods of construction, but the one I've found easiest and quickest is as follows:

  1. Build a circular wall, raising the blocks in a running spiral course up to a dome, and place the "capstone" last, in the middle of the dome. The diameter of your igloo should be about 1.3 times your height, which allows room to build a shelf for your bed. If you're 6 feet tall, that's about 8 feet diameter. If there are two of you, make it 1.5 times your height for a double bed.
  2. If you have a partner, build from the inside while your partner feeds you the blocks. If you're alone, prepare some blocks in advance and build from the inside until it's about knee-high, then finish from the outside. If your blocks keep collapsing, leave a cutout in the wall so you can move in and out of the shelter during construction and stack each block while inside. You'll have to "mortar" each block in place as you go. If necessary, build it as a cone instead of a spherical dome -- this helps prevent collapse during construction. A dome is more efficient, but do what you must to get it done.
  3. Trim the blocks for a good fit, but if your blocks are brittle, don't worry too much about small gaps as you go. You can fill them in later with loose snow. Once the dome is finished, warmth from the inside will melt the interior snow and refreeze it, cementing the blocks in place and strengthening the structure.
  4. Once the main dome is finished, if you haven't already, cut out an entrance tall enough to crawl out on all fours.
  5. Just outside this hole, dig out a trench a few inches lower than the floor of your igloo. This allows cold air to sink out of your shelter and into the trench.
  6. Finally, build a barrel-dome over this trench. If you have a blanket, canvas, or poncho, loosely cover the entrance of the tunnel to stop wind, but allow a small amount of circulation for fresh air. If such a cover is not available, use snow blocks.
  7. It is critical to leave a vent near the top of the dome if you'll be burning anything inside the igloo. It should be about the diameter of your thumb. A piece of pipe or rubber hose left in place is ideal, but you can just poke a hole with any available tool. If it begins to snow outside, be sure to maintain your vent periodically.

Once you know what you're doing, and assuming you're not fighting the elements or an injury, you should be able to build an igloo within an hour. But plan for two, just in case.
You can easily heat your igloo with little more than a candle. If no candle is available you can improvise a lamp with fat or oil and some sort of wick in any kind of pan. Remember not to sleep in contact with the snow; make a bed of boughs, blankets, or extra clothes.

Cave
. A properly situated cave will save a great amount of construction time and will provide an effective heat reflector. Remember that stone is a massive heat sink, though, and you don't want to be in direct contact if at all possible. If the best you can find is an overhang, you're still way ahead of the game -- just prop a framework of branches or bamboo and get busy overlaying it with boughs or leaves. [JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog's previously-posted warnings about caves all apply! These include noxious gases and angry bears.]
Whatever shelter you build, remember that its function must meet your needs. It's easy to get caught up in the construction process, perfecting things that are good enough already, and ignoring other important aspects of survival, like finding food water, and getting home.

JWR Adds: My favorite impromptu shelter, at least in the big timber country where I live, is a fallen tree shelter. The root ball left by a large blow-over is a ready made windbreak. Staring with a blow-down, one side of your shelter already exists, and the exposes roots make quick and easy attachment points for a tarp--or lacking that, for a place to interweave large branches or saplings.


Sunday, December 18, 2011


Mr. Rawles,
I read with interest the blog today and then clicked over to the link suggested by Brittany K.: Deconstructing a Safe Room (infographic)

I appreciate all the information your site gives. I wish the writers of the Allstate Blog had consulted your site and listed it in their sources. One glaring item in their graphic is that the door opens outward. If debris falls in front of the door a person may not be able to open it. [As has been mentioned several times in SurvivalBlog, inward-opening shelter doors are the norm,]

Another point worthy of mention: In their “What Should Be In Your Safe Room” section they list that there should be a generator. I can just envision someone without much knowledge or experience trying to start and run a generator in their safe room and not have any ventilation whatsoever; a carbon monoxide death trap.  God Bless, - John in Ohio


Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Foreword: 
I design and operate databases for a living.  The newest of these are assembled on analytic platforms structured to “draw conclusions” for clients in a wide (and formerly random) variety of scenarios.  One of my developers is an analytic tools assembly expert who also works for some “security, emergency, and enforcement” government agencies in Washington, DC – all formerly separate agencies, and because of advancements in the technologies -- now “interoperating”.  I am also a prepper with a Bug Out locale that fulfills my “survival vision” and inherently has most of the natural survival essentials on site, but one which needs some structural work that would be visible to aerial mapping when implemented.  Another prepper colleague of mine who is part of our group has skills that I will generally classify as “ravine and bluff engineering”.  Together we have tried to develop plans to address the visibility problem, and in doing so have hit a “snag” and have come to a conclusion that might be useful to many readers.  So, it is with some expertise and some insight that I pose some thoughts for you today, with the hope that, if you are already knowledgeable on this subject, you might use these to simply update your information, or if you are not, that I might help to guide some of your decision making as I understand that your survival is at stake.

Two ideas:  Presume for the moment that databases have already classified you as a threat or even a likely insurgent. Presume that your resources and assets are already known and well-catalogued, and that access, use, seizure, and in a worst case scenario, potential counter-insurgency plans are in the “system” that can be implemented against you -- precisely directed at what you have been “certain” all along are the excellent and generally secret attributes of your plans in rural and remote areas. 

Most readers might agree somewhat with the first proposition, as previous military experience, FOID cards, post office signatures for receipt of gun parts and ammo, on-line purchases of water treatment, first aid gear, food storage etc. might be among a thousand other data points on-file somewhere with some kind of classification about you suitable to draw this conclusion.   Fair enough.  However, most preppers I have talked to argue that the second of these presumptions defies logic because they are so invested in how they see their retreat and in their belief that their “survival vision” is correct – a vision which can be generalized to be dependent on remote, defensible, small, self-sufficient, off the grid, and stealthy living.   On the surface such strategic plans seem great.  These might be the product of years of thinking, investing, and hard labor.  The location is likely to be vast and rugged or heavily forested.  It’s far from town.  Nobody’s around.  The prepper just wants to be left alone, poses no outward threat, and although he or she can and will defend themselves, they mean no harm to anyone.  These plans are defensive and to be successful, they rely on distance, infrequent communications, and private activities.  “Hard to find and not worth the effort” to take your stuff when TSHTF is the basic assumption.  This is the snag we have run into.   This may be a very false conclusion as I will detail below.

The facts are that local, county, regional, state, and federal database engineers, their supervising bureaucrats, and the analytic tools that they use every day have things sorted out quite differently.  On the basis of regulations and new standards for inter-operability, the whole system may operate on the basis that your “resources” are “not yours” and, when associated with other large scale “emergency planning” scenarios, that your resources may be classified as public resources that can be and are likely to be acquired and controlled. 

At the local level, this assumption is embodied in a concept now well developed into legal reality that the bureaucrats call “custodial responsibility” of your land.  Because in times of crisis some natural resources may become scarce and thus more valuable (you did choose your retreat well), and because they have granted you a “permit” to occupy and use the land, and because you do, then you are more vulnerable to an “intervention” than you may have thought.  And, worse, because this land information data is “integrated” and now “shared” and, in some instances, already merged with other personal data (perhaps your “threat” status?), when TSHTF, emergency management measures may go into effect that allow, and may even direct, emergency access to and use of your land.  Like opening river floodgates with the knowledge that whole communities will be inundated and destroyed, geographic information system (GIS) data often drives decision making and therefore, regardless of property rights, the gates will open and the torrent will roll out across the countryside.  The analogy is apt.  Rural and remote geographies may deliberately be used in emergency management situations to absorb some of the impact of civil disaster, to provide material resources, to disperse the energy of the unrest, and to reduce as much stress as quickly as possible on more densely inhabited areas and infrastructure.

This is a tough scenario for preppers, as it runs counter to much of our planning, and therefore this idea of public access and use may be dismissed by those who are betting that they are safely out of the way and that the riots and mayhem will be contained in urban areas.  But it is one which can be more easily understood and perhaps accepted after a cordial and scheduled visit by you to your county zoning office (or web site).  More on this in a moment.  First, some additional and quite prepper-sympathetic context.

Many of us have our remote retreats ready or almost ready.  Most of the money has been spent.  We have completed our “lists of lists” with some degree of satisfaction (there’s always more to do).  And now we are increasingly confident that we were “right” and that our efforts make sense.  Economic, political, and violent events are reaching crisis status worldwide and many of these now occur much closer to home.  We find ourselves in a departure mode, just trying (before we leave) to encourage previously skeptical relatives and friends to understand the inevitable outcome of these events; to join us, and to answer the call to perpetuate and perhaps defend our God-given freedoms.  We have come to a “final” acceptance that the world is going to cataclysmically change and that TEOTWAWKI is upon us. 

However, we may be quite mistaken about this.  TEOTWAWKI has already occurred!  And not in a way that we might have expected with the lights going out and cities on fire.   It happened in a small office in a rural or remote American county when the final little corner of a gridded digital foundation layer within an ArcGIS® and ArcView® database was scanned in and added after 30 years of data development – one that finally incorporates (perhaps) your own remote parcel of land.

Unaware (perhaps “untroubled” says it better) of the long-term “land planning” effort to complete of ubiquitous federal, regional, state, or county “mapping initiatives”, preppers have worked to gather their resources.  We may have even used GIS tools in order to acquire our land, set up our survival plan, and implement our survival vision.  And now, because all the indicators of genuine conflict are imminent, preppers feel that it is finally time to finally occupy and use their land – to retreat from people and events – to fortify and guard those second homes, retreats, and redoubts.  Thus, operational or tactical (rather than strategic) conversations about high ground, fields of fire, virtual and physical moats, sensors, buried propane tanks, sentry duty, and keeping marauders at bay more frequently occur. 

Our final preparation discussions may go further (now that most resources are in place) about how to care for other family members and trusted friends who may be ill or disabled, and how to provide assistance to elderly parents.  Yet, because some tiny bit of data was added to a database (even as far back as 1980 in some counties), the implementation of some of our own acquisition, defensive, and operational plans may be too late, and even unnecessary for reasons outlined below.  Building and burying concrete bunkers may not actually be a good idea… and setting up “tank traps” and defensive barriers may be a waste of time and resources and best put aside while we turn to more collaborative strategies and address more immediate needs such as tending woodlots, raising chickens, planting square foot gardens, networking with like-minded neighbors, and perhaps learning to do dentistry in case there are no dentists (Yikes!  Unlikely, but you gotta have some sense of humor in all this.)

The facts are that there are present in county offices in many small towns “experts with plans” that may surprise and even shock many preppers.   When you meet them on a friendly and professional basis, you will conclude that they are generally well-meaning and think their work for various government agencies is vitally important for the common good (think of rapid responses to 911 calls or management of hazardous waste disasters).  But, after all the good will, legal argument, and fuzzy feelings are expressed, they will tell you and may even show you what they have been doing and what they can actually do under the common rules for zoning: referred to in some states as Land Information Planning (LIP). 

LIP can be summarized as integrating and sharing data in “layers” of GIS data about the precisely-located Bug Out Place you think is your own – all of which is designed to fulfill and support the afore-mentioned custodial responsibilities by authorities.  The GIS digital system works by assembling “foundational” and common data elements, by establishing inter-agency government agency training, communications, and education programs, and by facilitating “technical assistance” for all kinds of authorities at the local, state, and federal level.

The simple truth is that they know where you are.  They know who you are.  They know what you have.  They may already know what you are doing or may be capable of doing (think of all the county departments that have your records digitized -- Deeds, Tax Rolls, Land Records, Surveyor, Planning, Zoning, Sheriff, Emergency Management, Agriculture, Forestry, and IT just to name a few).

Among the GIS layers (some scanned-in and digitized decades ago) are “new” and very sophisticated GPS-controlled geographic reference frameworks developed for parcel mapping, parcel administration, public access (including back roads and even footpaths if well used via Regional Road Directory (RRD), soils mapping, wetlands mapping, land use mapping. (Got a garden?  Hobby farm?  Spring?  Pond?  Shoreline? Serious acreage?, then “natural resources”, infrastructure and facilities mapping may already have you mapped. (Think in terms of electric grid, phone and computer services, gas and oil pipelines, water, septic, sewage, pumping stations, dams, bridges, etc.) There is also something called Forestry Reconnaissance, and “institutional arrangements and integration” (think police and emergency access).  Much of this foundational data across the USA has been completely compiled -- and nearly all of it is now updated by aerial observation on a semi-annual or more frequent basis.  You can’t hide what you are doing.  And, if you can’t easily do it now, you may not be able to do what you want to do later when TSHTF without a lot of help, time, and energy.

Want a visit from an “inspector”?  Then dig a hole.  Clear a field.  Add a roof.  Cut a fence line. Plant. Irrigate.  Mound dirt from an underground excavation.  Drive across dusty open land.  These visual and sometimes thermal “changes” on base layer information clearly appear on the GIS updates.  They are computer-compared and professionally observed.  They are automatically evaluated then flagged.  The flagging may prompt “interventions” at any time (think EPA) and may prompt other more unexpected activities once TSHTF (and possibly much more importantly and nasty) once these GIS databases are hacked and the core information is distributed to “unfriendlies” who are smart enough to want it and get it.    

This observation on our technological vulnerability suggests that building our “castles and moats” and spending our energy and money in hopes to hide out, get off the grid, and live peacefully in small tribes is not nearly as rational as we might wish, and that a secondary strategy should be adopted which recognizes that they can easily “see us”, that well-established, redundant, and hardened technology is our enemy, that TEOTWAWKI has already occurred, and that for some very good reasons we better rethink about what our “survival vision” really should be. 

Since our assets are easily observed and already ranked and prioritized by “value”, our survival preparation may more effectively depend on revealing and then linking these resources among ourselves, and by establishing new networks and creating closer relationships with others in our geographies with whom we can communicate, get to quickly, and achieve the advantage of mass in either defensive or offensive actions.  An understanding (maybe acquisition and use?) of GIS technologies and mapping can enable preppers to make more flexible plans and be much more “mobile” and responsive to threats.  With LIP as a controlling factor, using the information and technology may be more valuable than barbed wire and bullets to stem the tide.  More like-minded people must easily be gathered when authorities may be overwhelmed or when those authorities bring their own action against us as we are flagged as perceived or real threats. 

Summary and Conclusions
:  We may reluctantly concede that as individuals we may already be digitally classified as threats and therefore potential insurgents.  The bigger issue is that we may also have to agree that our hide-out survival vision may be incorrect and need substantial modification.  It is a fundamental mistake to think we are not “visible” in our retreats in the mountains or the woods.  Knowing that even small local governments have generally completed LIP initiatives, that the data is transferable and shared with  other databases, that authorities have assumed or have been legally granted “custodial responsibilities” for our property and our resources, we must contemplate modifying our vision from one where success is no longer entirely based on distance, infrequent communications, and on trying to create and carry out “invisible” private activities to one where closer proximity, more frequent communications, common use of data tools and technology, and more open and direct action can hold back the tide when TSHTF.

A personal note and an excellent example:  Throughout history there are countless examples of successful survival strategies and tactics, but one family story comes to mind that is worth telling as it relates to the use of geography and local resources, and to the development of a perception and a reality for an enemy that a fight they wanted was not worth making – where the battlefield was well understood by the defenders, where communications and mobility were key factors, and where the outcome was a great conflict successfully avoided and everyone survived. 

The setting was Cincinnati in 1862.  Confederate General Kirby Smith had arrived on the scene with a formidable, well trained and well equipped army, capturing Lexington Kentucky.  Smith ordered his junior officer, General Henry Heth to cross the Ohio River and capture Cincinnati.  With a real battle looming, Ohio was in an uproar.  Defensive resources were slim.  The Governor and Union Officers called for volunteers.  Riders went out to the surrounding counties and armed men responded to their call.  Nearly 16,000 civilians would come into town carrying “antiquated” weapons, and this body was properly and proudly referred to as the Squirrel Hunters.  These men had no military training, but “they could shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 100 yards”.  My own great-grandfather was among them.  The name and size of the group said it all, and within a few days, the Confederate forces withdrew and left the area.  Crossing the river under the fire of back country sharpshooters was not an option.  Well-understood geography, quick communications, and responsive people saved the day.

Citations, Locales, and Sourcing
: [Deleted by the Editor, for OPSEC.]


Friday, November 25, 2011


James,
J.M.'s article on brain tanning mentions buildings and furniture held together with rawhide straps, and I thought I'd mention another such building. The roof of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah is a particularly innovative design for its time, and because of the builders' lack of available metals (the few metal fasteners in the roof were made from discarded ox shoes) most
of the structure depends on wooden pegs to hold it together. The builders wrapped parts of the wooden trusses in green rawhide; as the rawhide shrank during drying, it formed tight, strong straps around the trusses, preventing splitting and holding the wooden pegs firmly in place. These trusses and their rawhide straps remained in place from the building's dedication in 1867 until the Tabernacle was renovated in 2005. - Joshua T.

Michael Z. Williamson Re: Guns for a Tight Budget Minimalist Survivalist

Dear Jim,
While I much prefer modern autos, there are many good Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers from the early part of the 20th Century, in .38 Special (an easy to find, common caliber) that retail for $100-$250.  The finishes may be well-worn and ugly, but as long as the function is sound, these are an excellent choice.  The hand fitting done at the time usually exceeds what is done on modern guns.  I am especially enamored of the Smith Model 1905 Military and Police, and the Colt Cobra.

For shotguns, the classic single shot is available for as little as $80 in some forums, used in good shape.  I also really like the Stevens Model 520 takedown.  Mine disassembles small enough to carry in the bottom of a gym bag, and cost $250. Here is a picture of one.  There are many out there, usually reasonably priced, and there are plenty of spare parts for repairs.  It's a reliable shotgun, and compact enough to be discreet for travel.

I also like the 10-22, there really isn't a better choice.  It's easily improved, I just wish the factory did most of that up front rather than leaving it to the aftermarket.  It would cost the same to put in a decent trigger and round the rear of the bolt as it does to produce now, and save buyers a lot of hassle.

As to birdshot, this has been posted before, but bears repeating: Birdshot is for birds, not people.  The physics of this is that a column of shot acts as a fluid, not as a mass.  This means it splashes on impact with heavy targets.  One ounce of shot cannot hit as hard as a one ounce slug, or a smaller number of much larger buckshot. Remember that Dick Cheney's hunting partner was shot with birdshot and suffered minimal effects.  The range was not close, but both rifles and buckshot would easily deliver stops at that range.

Also, I would like to remind readers that the "storing magazines is bad for springs" myth is from a misunderstanding of mechanics.  A spring will not suffer harm within its design range.  What wears out a spring is cycles and metal fatigue.  Constantly cycling your magazines is bad for the magazines, and bad for the ammo that is being constantly bumped around.  Load it and leave it, unless you intend to shoot it. (One exception: Some box magazines for shotguns, such as the Saiga, can deform the plastic shotshell.  But his is a different matter.)


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I cannot even remember a time when I wasn't a "prepper".  Although until a few years ago, I had no idea of what I was preparing for.  Before the dawn of my awakening, I had serious urges to learn how not to kill plants and flowers. I wanted to grow my own food eventually, so I started with a trip to the local Big Box store, and bought some bare root fruit trees. Now in my mind, they are already dead, so if I could resurrect them, and keep them going, I was on my way. If they didn't survive my over-nurturing tendencies, then I wouldn't feel bad, as they were dead already! To my surprise, all but one survived the first year, and I tasted the sweet success of peaches fresh off the tree!  What I didn't know then, was that you always thin out the fruit the first year or two, or all the branches break. I learned the hard way.  That summer I built two 4x8 raised bed garden boxes, and planted up a storm. I read nearly every garden web site, watched all the you tube videos and read all the books that I could get my hands on, and learned about proper drainage, shading, and organic pest control. It is all a balance act as I found out, but I am now eating most of my diet from my garden. Quality garden soil is the key. Everything else can be managed. 

Along the way, I found articles  and blogs on TEOTWAWKI and WTSHTF. I read Bible prophecies, Hopi indian prophecies, and listened to those whom I trust, warn of impending disasters, and world wide trouble. Economic collapse, social unrest, changing weather patterns, and evidence of global disasters increasing in intensity, and frequency, answered any questions I might have had about the urges to prepare that I had been experiencing for many years.   In a disorganized way, I started buying long term food storage, beans, rice, wheat, and canned meat. At the time, I did not have a wheat grinder, and had absolutely no idea of what I would do with it, when the time came.  A plan would have been the smart way to start, but I eventually bought a hand grinder.  It was not until the electric grinder that I found at a yard sale, came into my life years later, that I actually ground the wheat to make bread.   Another lesson learned along the way : White wheat? Red wheat? Which do I use for bread? Gluten? Why do I need to add that?  Gluten needs to be added to make it rise better. After a few flat loaves, I asked  questions. Once again, I learned the hard way. I also did research, and learned that the nutritional value of wheat is increased by up to 700% by sprouting. What a find that information was, for my long term food storage plans. I will sprout my wheat, and throw it into salads! 

Momentum was building, as guns were acquired, CCW permit obtained, ammo purchased, water tanks, 72-hour kits assembled, and a trailer for hauling what I needed out of town if it came to that.   I'm a single mom here, with two grown boys, and I was feeling a little bit lonely as I used what extra money I made, to purchase more and more food storage, for at least a year's provisions. I personally knew of no one else doing this. I was feeling a bit like a hoarder, and occasionally had to do a reality check. Finding like-minded people on web sites, and blogs like SurvivalBlog.com was a tremendous help, to center myself.  Reading and re- eading the lists of organized ways to approach preparations has helped me move forward. I sure wish I had started that way.  Just after the real estate bubble burst, I saw the values declining so rapidly in housing, that I realized one of the most valuable pieces of advice given to me is to be debt free of consumer debts, and to own a house free and clear. I accomplished getting free of installment debt after a time, but the house mortgage was going to be a bigger challenge.  

I still had a little money in savings, but really felt uncomfortable with the money in the bank, after having narrowly avoided the markets' mini-crash in the late 1980s, and read about savings and loans collapsing.  So I decided to use what I had, to build my emergency short term, or long term retreat on a piece of land that I had purchased some seven years prior when I had been buying things to prepare without knowing why.  This was a perfect plan, to secure a small home that would be paid for, off grid- independent of city utilities of any kind.  It would be for me, a great investment, and a place to retire to as well. I work for myself, so for me, this was it. This was the only retirement fund I would have, a place to live.   Construction started two months later, after researching plans found on line. Again,  planning was lacking, as there was urgency in completing this project, and the builder was pressed for time too.  But my cabin stands proudly, in a rural area, 165 miles from the nearest city, and 15 miles from a town of 20,000.   

There is a fantastic neighbor across the street, but the first line of defense, is a fence! So that went up right away with the help of one of my sons, and some friends.  In spite of broken bits for the rock drill, cuts, bruises, and sore backs, we made it through the excruciatingly long week of stretching fence, and barbed wire on top. I did the hard part - I watched, and made lunch for everyone! :)  

The house is equipped with a composting toilet because I bought property without doing a percolation test first.  (Learning the hard way.) The perc test determines if a septic can be put in, and in this case, there were too many rocks!  Water must be hauled, but there are underground tanks that can be purchased inexpensively, to hold plenty of water. (you can buy up to 10,000 gallon tanks) I presently have 1,200 gallons stored, in 300 gallon tanks,  but will be installing two 1,500 gallon tanks this next summer. Wells dug in this area run $35,000 and up.  When in conservation mode, the average adult uses three gallons or less per day for drinking, cooking and washing (heated over the stove- sponge bath I would suppose)  So I will have plenty of water for over a year. The water system is pumped with a 1/3 horsepower recreational vehicle water pump, and an extra pump is hidden away for emergencies. Water is run through the cabin with pex line, which is easy to work with. I installed an on demand propane water heater for the shower, and kitchen sink. The Berkey water filter sits proudly by the sink, and is always filled. Extra filters are in the pantry. 

The cabin has a ventless propane heater, and a cast iron wood fireplace.  A funny thing about propane I learned last winter: In extreme cold, regulators freeze, and propane heaters do not work, nor do propane stoves and ovens!  Last winter I went to the cabin to experience the Christmas season in the snow. Hah to me. the temperature had dropped to -15 degrees Fahrenheit and everything in the cabin when I got there at 9 p.m., was frozen!  I think of SurvivalBlog, where I learned "two is one, and one is none". Oh thank goodness I thought, that I had just installed this new woodstove. I had not yet used it, but this was to be it's maiden fire.  Funny thing about fire places and wood stoves... there is a bit of a learning curve. I was being conservative of electric, because I wasn't sure of how charged the batteries were on the solar system, so I lit the oil lamps for light, which adds a cozy feel, and I set out to light myself a great fire! I remembered to be sure the flue was open, but I left the door open while I was attempting to defrost the cabin. I grabbed a cast iron pan from the kitchen, threw in a piece of chicken and some veggies, and shoved it into the wood stove.  Yum, dinner was great, but when I stood up and turned on the light to wash the dishes, I realized that the whole room was filled with smoke, and if I had installed a fire alarm, everyone within miles would have known what a dummy I was with my first fire!  

The smoke was so thick in the cabin that I had to sleep on the floor that night, because I couldn't breathe!  Yes, I did open the windows a crack, to vent the smoke outside, but I realized that there was a flue adjustment, and the door was suppose to have been closed.  (No wonder the cabin was still cold, outside the four foot ring around the hearth).  I called a friend in a panic, who after having a great laugh at my expense, told me how to adjust it to heat the house comfortably. (yes I learned the hard way - again)  

The following day was sunny, and a bit warmer but still no propane. No worries, I have a solar oven. It worked like a charm to cook lunch, but I soon realized that if I was to survive with this thing, I had better plan my meals a day in advance, because the sun is out for a limited time. No planning dinner at 3 p.m. in my neck of the woods!   The sun... A funny thing about the sun I discovered. It never makes appearances when you need it! I had decided with the cabin, solar was the way to go. So I started small, with two 175-watt panels, and eight T105 batteries, and an Outback pure sine wave inverter. Great system if the sun is out all day. Some days it is not. Darn that jokester the sun. It seems to be out all day when I am not there, but when I go to visit the cabin, it is cloudy. The battery bank is drawn down too quickly, and then Wham! I'm out of juice. No lights, no water pump, no radio, no charging the cell phone.  During the summer, which is the rainy season, it happens this way every day.  So I learned two more lessons the hard way:   Lesson 1. Always have a water tank that provides gravity feed to a house. Lesson 2. Buy more panels to charge the batteries up faster, or a wind generator.  I also have a gas generator, but it does require gasoline, and I am 15 miles from town. Lesson 3. Always keep a spare can of gas handy.   So now I have a great log sided shed built behind the cabin, to house the back up generator, and the 25 gallons of gasoline, the stockpile of charcoal, the 8 gallons of oil lamp fuel, the tools, washer (which will be run with generator power, and gravity fed water), dryer for use when it is raining, and all of the camping supplies.  

I have built up to a two year supply of food, soaps, Clorox, medical supplies, hundreds of matches, and flints for when it is raining, and I am outside for what ever reason. Handguns, rifles, shotgun, ammo to hold off an army,  300 + seed packs 1/2 heirloom, and 1/2 hybrid to sell or trade.  I am finally taking inventories of all that I have stored, to best rotate, and plan for future needs. I have learned that vodka is used for making tinctures with herbs, and I may consider buying a couple of cases to sell or trade in an extreme situation.   I am designing my green houses, and a heating system to extend the growing season well into winter.  I am collecting books to read, mostly non fiction, and movies to watch on cold dark nights. I have purchased 4 more solar panels 190 watt each, and before they are installed, I will be pricing the tracking pole mount. It increases productivity by at least 30%. 

I now have two 55-gallon drums, and hand crank gas pump, which will all be assembled and filled next summer. I expect to fill one with diesel fuel for barter or to sell. Diesel lasts for years, and I have distant neighbors who use it.  A four wheel drive vehicle is a must in a rural area during winter.  I would love to learn about ham radio, and to be certified to operate one.   I have a 10x20 covered chicken run with a coop at the retreat location and a small flock of eight hens. They live in the city for now with me, but travel to the cabin and stay in the summer for extended stays. They seemed to enjoy their last summer vacation. I always have eggs to share with neighbors.  Last but not least, My son and I purchased an older kick-start dirt bike, kept in our home in the city, with a 72 hour kit nearby, and an off road map from point A to point B.   Next year my project is to learn to use those fishing poles I bought at the swap meet!  Respectfully submitted B. R. in Arizona



James,
To follow up on a couple of recent letters about Electric Garage Doors as a Point of Entry for Burglars and Home Invaders: Keep in mind that pulling the [emergency] disconnect rope on a garage door just leaves it in a position where it can be rolled up by hand.
 
The motor for our garage door is not hardwired, but plugs into a standard receptacle box in the ceiling.  I keep a power strip plugged into that ceiling outlet, and the garage door opener plugs into the power strip. The power strip  dangles about seven feet off the floor and is tied off to the garage door motor bracket. 
 
To disable the garage door opener, I just turn off the power strip. 
 
The overhead power strip is also a very handy place for plugging in work lights and tools.
 
When vacationing, I bolt the dolt closed by putting a thin 2 or 3" bolt through the end of the garage door latch/lock/doorknob where it acts as a deadbolt by engaging the garage door track.  It seems all garage door latches have a hole drilled in them so they can be locked shut from the inside with a small padlock.   But a small bolt works just fine, and you'll never lose the key.   Then turn off the power strip and put a piece of duct tape over the switch to remind you to UNLOCK THE DOOR before hitting the button or the garage door opener will try to rip out the top of the garage door.  (Yes, I know how to repair a garage door after making that mistake .) - H.C.


Monday, November 14, 2011


Jim -
I read with interest Dave in Oregon's letter. This happened to a friend and co-worker: He had parked his pickup truck on the street, locked. Thieves broke into his truck, accessed the garage via the opener he had above the visor in the truck. Thankfully, this was in the morning when all were home, and the thieves were scared off by family members, but not before they stole his truck.
I would also add that many electric openers have a rope attached as a release if the power fails. However with a larger overhead door, say a standard two-car garage, when the door is down, thieves can push the door in far enough at the top to slide a hand in, grasp the release, and open the door.
Needless to say, if our vehicles are left on the street, the opener goes with the driver, whether in a purse or pocket. And I removed the release rope years ago.
Regards, - Dave in Colorado

James,
Regarding Dave in Oregon's letter on Electric Garage Doors as a Point of Entry for Burglars and Home Invaders: Every electric garage door opener I have seen has a lock button on the control mounted in the garage.  Engage it (with some, you must press and hold it for three seconds) and it becomes impossible for someone to use a remote to open the garage.  There is a reason it says lock.  You can tell when the system is locked as a small light will begin to flash on the wall-mounted controller.  With most designs, you can still open and close the door using the main opener in the garage even with the system locked.
 
As for turning off the main breaker that powers the door opener:  I'd be real careful about doing that before finding out what other electrical items would be affected by shutting off the breaker--like a freezer full of food. - S.M.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Jim:
I am considering using Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) for building my next house/retreat back in the United States  for when I feel that it is not longer safe to live abroad. 
 
For a relatively small incremental cost in a new home (3-5%), you have disaster proof, fire resistant, fortified home. I found this brochure (in PDF) that describes some of the advantages of ICF construction.
 
Best Regards, - AmEx (American Expatriate)



Hi Jim,
Just a short comment: As I read the piece about preventing home invasion robberies, I thought of another thing most people don't think too much about regarding this issue.
Most people who have electric garage door openers tend to leave the remote on the visor of their vehicle.

If the car is left unlocked in the yard or street, it is very simple for a ne'er-do-well to snag the controller and wait until no one is home to invade the garage, Or in some cases when you are home.  I would recommend removing the controller from the visor, and placing is somewhere where it is not obvious in the car, and locking the vehicle when you leave it all the time.

Also, when you leave home for an extended period of time, turn off the breaker that energizes the garage door opener, and latch the inside door lock to help deter burglars. It is possible for some criminal types to get an opener or several brands of openers, and go around changing codes just to see if they can open up doors in neighborhoods.

I realized this recently when I walked up to my truck and pushed the button from the outside when I need to get into the garage and didn't happen to have my key available.
Needless to say, my opener is no longer on the visor, or any other obvious place in the vehicle.

Blessings, - Dave in Oregon


Saturday, November 5, 2011


I needed a road trip to clear my mind and consider my G.O.O.D. route while on a road trip.  My Saturday journey was west on I-70 from Denver on a sunny fall day.  Around 60 miles up the hill from Denver is the gateway into the Colorado Rockies which is the Eisenhower / Johnson Tunnels that cross under the Continental Divide into the Summit County. These tunnels help avoid the winding but beautiful Loveland Pass that is often closed due to snow and poor conditions in the winter. They send the Hazardous Material trucks over the pass when the road is in good condition. When the conditions are bad the Colorado DOT closes off the tunnel to regular passenger traffic and allows the Hazardous Material trucks through at intervals. Heading home several years ago to the Denver area from a Utah Canyon Lands visit we were heading east through the Johnson Tunnel we came upon a car engulfed in flames. Tunnels and fires are not a good mixture as most know. The owners were no more than 30 feet from the rear of the vehicle and the fuel tank. They were also between the car and oncoming traffic. The exit of the tunnel was only 300 yards from the entrance in front of them. In a dangerous situation it’s about situational awareness, escape route and common sense. The last is not so common anymore.  The area these tunnels allow access to is a popular winter and summer recreation area for many of the Golden Horde in the Front Range Denver metro area. Denver is now a micro Los Angeles with gangs of all types and all the ills of any other major metro area.  Interstate 70 is often jammed with traffic on any Friday, Saturday and Sunday of any week of the year with recreating families, working folks and many trucks. Often it’s a 90 miles of traffic jam coming from or returning to the Denver area.  One small storm or accident and this trip can take more than four hours to complete. It would be my last route of choice if any occurrence was to take place in the Front Range. I have been told the civil defense officials have plans to close off this and other major routes into the mountains to all that are not residents in the mountains in the event of a biological or nuclear incident. I could just envision every weekend warrior would have their family loaded in the SUV with all the guns and supplies they could carry heading into the mountains with visions of surviving off the land. The subsequent shooting gallery and the short lived numbers of game animals would be decimated in short order.  Maybe a trip east to the plains and river valleys of Colorado you would give you and your family a better chance of survival.

After descending from the tunnels into the crossroad town of Silverthorne my intended location of the journey was at the business of Cook’s Welding, now called Security Disaster Shelters. Owner Riley Cook is now active in the ultimate shelter business.  His now completed shelter, cache unit and sample tunnel segment sits prominently in the yard of his fabrication shop.  These are massive structures ready to be placed in excavations to be removed from sight or thought of the Golden Horde. The main shelter’s structure started as a reclaimed molasses tank and is at least 40 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. Two heavy entry hatches on either end protrude upward over ten feet over the top of the horizontal structure. Several air intakes are at each end of the vessel. A pseudo tree stump covers one intake to illustrate the stealth possibilities that could be employed in it’s final location.  Each air intake has lever valves to be utilized as blast suppression.  A German air filtration system is placed on the input of the intakes to remove biological and radioactive particulate. Intakes are also provided for a generator and separate battery storage pod. The intakes have traps that are slotted to provide contaminant drains in case a liquid is introduced down an intake. The living quarters provide several beds, a galley, dining area and ample storage above and below the false floor.  It feels like a submarine inside but well light with a white interior and a well laid out living situation. This unit is impressive to say the least. It would be the ultimate retreat and a substantial investment for the ultra survivalist.

In addition to the shelter a separate vertical conical shaped structure stood in the yard.  It’s a food stash that stood 16 feet tall with a robust hatch on top. This unit started out as a reclaimed concrete truck mixer drum. The ample size hatch had a ladder within it and many shelves to place your food and supplies. Lifting lugs are welded on it to handle and lower it into its secure location. Next to it was oval access tunnel segments to be bolted together to add horizontal and easy movement to alternate entries, the side entrance of the caches or additional shelters.  A limited number of preparation minded could afford these elaborate facilities. It would not be impossible to construct smaller less expensive versions of these storage caches. All these structures intrigued me since in my past life I was a welder and tradesman.

Informative preparedness seminars were provided by a local Volunteers of America leader. The discussion of Community Emergency Response Training (C.E.R.T.) was presented.  Along with this training and American Red Cross training the credentials provided could get you on either side of the yellow tape. To some extent that would be good to have the skills and training to help those in need and in the throes of disaster but it also puts you in the harm’s way. Your personal values and the situation would have to dictate the level of commitment a person would involve themselves at the time of crisis. We discussed the fact that some safety response individuals don’t show up during catastrophes ( e.g., Hurricane Katrina). They are taking care of themselves and their families

Enlightening discussions with some of the other attendees followed the seminar. The exposure the locals have in this active mountain town on a major route of the displaced and traveling Golden Horde was discussed.  They are painfully aware of their exposure to this possibility.  It was refreshing to be with like minded folks with the same concerns. I have all but given up talking to others from work and other aspects of life about preparedness issues. My family is aware but still live life as everything will remain the same.  At this point of the game those that opened their eyes have and those that have not are in the “normalcy bias” as described by Porter Stansberry.  It’s unfortunate so few have opened their eyes and ears to the coming storm.  I hope the lord will have mercy on us all.  I discussed food storage and supply needs with Bob Farris owner of Farris Survival LLC. He has a store in Englewood, Colorado for over seven years.  Business has been good for him. When he started it was slow at the beginning. I visited his booth back in September at the Denver Preparedness Fair and it was also helpful. We talked about the Pharaoh’s dream that Joseph interpreted. We both concurred that we may be entering at least seven years of dearth. It unfortunate our current Pharaohs did not have a Joseph to gather corn and plenty while we have had it available to us. Ethanol maybe a curse to all mankind  in the future and seem foolish in hindsight. It just seems questionable to be converting food stuffs into fuel. We have to be our own Joseph for our own tribes now. Sandy Tidell, an independent Consultant for THRIVE foods in Siverthorne had samples of a couple entries in crock pots. It was a big improvement over the rice and beans I have in my storage.  I think some variety is essential in your food storage.
 
I’ve effectively resigned myself to sheltering in place south of Denver with my supplies and guns.  I have provided supplies to family members at slightly more remote mountain locations to help them and give an alternate retreat location for other family members and possibly myself. I know this might be a fatal error to shelter in but I just don’t have the resources to buy a retreat location since my home will not sell in this economy. My neighbors are all struggling and have a spirit of apathy. I have offered my rototiller, heirloom seeds and fertilizer to a next door neighbor that has an open and large backyard. His wife was interested but he did not have the will to receive the offer.  I’m not sure  what more I could do but to set an example but with the danger of injuring my OPSEC.
 
It’s a precarious situation that we are all in. Living in a bedroom community between two major metropolitan areas is almost a worst case scenario short of living in the hood. This will be an area were the traveling groups will stop off at to resupply as they make their way back and forth to the cities. The town has the town police, county police and state police offices within it. I still don’t believe they will be able to quell the violence of TEOTWAWKI. They will be protecting their families and I don’t blame them. You just have to prepare the best you can for the worst and hope for the best. Do something every day no matter how insignificant or large. It will all add up to a better situation for you and your family. I wish the best for all.


Friday, October 28, 2011


Mr Rawles & Co.,
I recently found a project on the Kickstarter web site while browsing for good DIY options for brick making machines. The project seems right up any survivalist's or prepper's alley in that it involves designing cheap and durable machinery for use after the collapse of civilization, using mostly only scrap metal or other junk. If successful, the end result is going to be an open-source database (and various CDs) containing schematics and instructions for the construction of at least 50 machines and vehicles. These include brick makers, primitive CNC machine tools, tractors etc. (You get the picture.) Eight have been successfully prototyped and another eight are on the way. They hope to test these in the Third World, and from their preliminary tests and schematics it seems like they are well-built and will likely be quite cost-effective, even on the small scale that agrarian villages (or, to use your terminology, a well-prepared retreat) operate on.

Many thanks for opening my eyes ad those of so many others.

God Bless, - Matt A.



Hi Jim,
Living in an area that’s earthquake prone and overdue for a large one, I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching ways to limit any damage that we might experience in our home.  In 1994 the Northridge earthquake and the resulting fires were the cause for the creation of a device that, I feel, is instrumental to possibly saving any home with a gas-line.  It’s commonly referred to as a Northridge valve
 
Simply, it’s a seismic device that stops the flow of gas at the house meter should there be any seismic event over 5.2 on the Richter scale.  I got one and installed it myself for less than $150.  To anyone concerned about preparing for an earthquake, this would be cheap insurance.
Thanks for all you do, - John T.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


2011 was a year of deadly and devastating tornados, and an earthquake that shook the east coast.  One of the largest tornados hit a suburb in my county in the Birmingham Alabama area. We are also only one state over from the New Madrid earthquake zone that starts in the Memphis area.  After taking several closer looks at the foundation and basement of our 50 year old house, I realized we were living with a false sense of security.

After researching online, I learned that in certain large events, mainly earthquake, but also from high winds, if the house gets shaken, the metal [pier] poles holding up the center of the house in the basement may or may not move in unison with the rest of the house above them that they are supporting.   Our house [has a conventional perimeter foundation and aside from the perimeter it] is simply sitting on those poles, and that is it. In large earthquakes, houses with basements can simply fall into the basement below them, if the support poles [or posts and piers] do not stay intact. I set out looking for an easy fix, and discovered nothing readily available on the market for this situation.   Maybe in frequent earthquake territory like California, there might be something on the market, but I did not find anything at the big box hardware stores or online. 

It appeared it was time to get creative. I am not in the construction business, but I’m guessing I do have a few more tools than the average household. My small shop has a miter-saw, table saw, drill press, chop-saw, and a small, bottom of line wire-welder. There are lots of people with way more tools than this, but this is a modest amount and I’m comfortable using them.   I spent a much of my time staring at the rafters and those metal poles, knowing there had to be way to tie them together.
  
The goal is not to keep the house from swaying, but rather, if the house is swaying, the poles sway in unison with the house. This way, when the house stops swaying, the metal poles are still in position as there were intended, holding up the center of the house.   The metal poles of our old house are 4-1/2 inches in diameter.  A double row of 2”x10” rafters run lengthways of the house, with 2”x10” rafters attached perpendicular to them.   These perpendicular rafters run from the center of the house out to the foundation. I would like to have been able to tell you that all of the rafters are evenly spaced, but they are not. Wiring and plumbing run along the bottom of the rafters, and it appears that plumbing had a major say-so in what rafters went where.   Sure, there are a few rafters that are evenly spaced, but quite a few that were placed very close to another rafter to accommodate the plumbing.

So, in staring at the poles and rafters, I obviously needed something to attach to the pole, and something that could be attached to the rafters, and each of these had to be able to be attached to each other.   Oh, and in my case, cost was an issue. To explain: most of those tools were bought before we had kids. Now my paycheck is spent before it gets home. And in this economy, it’s not getting any better either. I wanted to make the house a little bit safer than it was before I started, and yet still not break the bank. Besides being on a tight budget, time is precious these days too, and I can only work on this project on the occasional, rare, weekend free from other events begging for priority on the calendar.   

I knew I could drill holes in the wood, even if I have to use a right-angle attachment to do so, to mount some type of brace. As is ‘just my luck’, some of the closest together rafters were the ones near the poles I was going to be working on. But, what kind of bracing to use?   Flat aluminum or steel [stock] is readily available at the hardware stores, but in an earthquake, you never know for sure what direction the house is going to be shaking in. Nature has a tendency to keep that thing called the ‘epicenter’ to herself and let the scientist figure that one out later. Angle iron has support both vertically and horizontally. Luckily, and beloved neighbor, ‘Joe’ had given me some scrap angle iron before he passed away a couple of years ago. I still had the rusty angle iron in the shop, and I would need to clean it up with a portable electric grinder and a wire wheel attachment on a drill, but it was free, and I had plenty of it to do the job. I love to recycle, and re-using this free angle iron for my project is better than it getting sold for scrap.  I wanted to clean up the surface rust and paint it to roughly match the gray color of the poles. The drill press would eventually come in handy for the angle iron too. 
 
I did some research on eBay, and found that the do make U-Bolts in the needed size, but due to the size and weight, the shipping and handling were going to cost more than the U-Bolt. I discovered that one of the auto parts chain stores carried the 4-1/2” U-Bolt on their web site. The highway nearby has just about a half dozen auto parts stores within a 15 minute drive.  The auto part store that had the U-Bolts had them at a very attractive price, and they would ship them to your local store for free.  Bingo. This way I could get the U-Bolts at basically the same price as I’d seen on ebay, but without the shipping and handling costs.   The auto parts store only needed a couple of days to get them to the store.  This worked out great for me, because I ordered them early in the week, and wouldn’t be using them until the weekend anyway.  

The large 4-1/2” U-Bolts are made out of steel that is 3/8” diameter. I could drill 3/8” inch holes in the angle iron, to attach it to the U-Bolt, and additional holes to attach it to the rafters.  I wanted angle iron on each side of the pole, where-ever possible, for the push-pull effect that an earthquake might cause.   I also wanted to put two holes in each piece of angle iron where it attached to rafters, so that it would be rigid enough to move the poles with the house.   If I were to only put one hole in each piece of angle iron where it attaches to the rafter, it would like just be a pivot point and the angle iron could easily let the pole shift away from the center of the house.  

I wanted to paint the U-Bolt, and angle iron pieces, because they would be in contact not only with each other, but also with the metal pole. Although in this particular instance they are all steel, I’m not sure what kinds of steel they are.   I’ve learned that dissimilar metals that are in contact with each other can vastly increase the oxidation (rust) rate of the metal. As a side note, always be aware if you are using aluminum, steel, and any alloys, that are touching or are bolted to each other, as this can oxidation can become a real issue.   Don’t think that aluminum oxidizes?  Next time you are in a salvage yard, look at the chalky white powder on some of the aluminum parts you see is oxidation. It just doesn’t turn dark like steel does when it rusts (oxidizes).  

I made a dry fit of the U-bolt to near the top of the pole, about 3-4 inches from the top. I wanted to keep it near the top for leveraged strength, but not so near the top that if it did attempt to sway in an earthquake that it would try to jump over the top of the pole. Measured the lengths I needed for the angle iron to have a piece on each side, and cut them with the chop saw.  Drilled them on the drill press, then painted all of the pieces and let them dry completely. In keeping with the recycling theme, I was able to use up some old cans of [rust preventive] ‘primer gray’ color that matched the existing gray color of the metal poles well.   

The U-Bolts come with a bracket that fills in the gap of the opening at the open end of the ‘U’, and with the two nuts needed to hold it all together.   When measuring for bolts to use on the rafter, take into account not only the thickness of the rafter, but the thickness of your angle iron, the nut, and washers.   I recommend using washers on sides of the rafter, where the bolt head is and on the other side where the nut meets the angle iron. I even painted the washers, in case they are a different metal from the angle iron.   Who knows, a few seconds of extra painting could add years to the project and protect the old house for the next generation.  

Are there better ways to do this project?  Sure.  Are there more expensive ways to do this project?  Sure.   This just happened to be the best fit for my situation, of wanting to build a little more safety into a 50 year-old house, without having to take out a loan to do it. Maybe you can adapt some of these ideas into your next project.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This is the story of how two middle-aged city dwellers became weekend homesteaders, and how we bumbled our way through planning and building an off-grid survival cabin. Top to bottom, the project took about two years to complete, working only on weekends. We started out naïve but ambitious, and learned everything as we went along.

Our off-the-grid plans actually began with an intriguing documentary. The program posed a series of questions: What would you do without power for two days? For two weeks? For two months? The show went on to explain how incredibly fragile the power grid is, and that two months without electricity isn’t really far-fetched given the right set of natural disasters. My husband and I were stunned. What would we do without power for two months?

“I guess we’d camp out at my parent’s farm and freeload,” he said. Neither of us liked the sound of that.

Over the next few months we continued to talk about retreating to the family farm in case of disaster. The idea of building our own survival cabin began to form. It would need to provide long-term emergency shelter plus be a place for weekend recreation. Above all, it must be easy and inexpensive to build and maintain. Mortgage-free.

We were very fortunate that my in-laws donated a corner of their property to our project. The land includes about 7 wooded acres, and an open field. The site is isolated from neighbors and has incredible views of rolling meadows and tree stands. Deer and wild turkey are regular visitors.

We researched building options for months. We bought books, visited trade shows, spent countless hours on the internet, and talked to every knowledgeable person we could find. Many building techniques were reviewed and rejected because they violated our prime objectives; inexpensive, non-electric, easy to build, and weather-proof. We dismissed building a regular frame house immediately. “I don’t know diddly about construction,” my husband said. “Way over our skill level,” I agreed.

We looked into Earthships or rammed-earth structures. Nope. Too much labor to fill old tires with 500 pounds of dirt and stack them ten feet high. How about a straw bale home? Nah, too much painting and stucco upkeep. We explored a blown concrete monolithic dome - interesting, but so expensive! Maybe a pre-fab underground shelter?  Well, you won’t get any natural light unless the whole roof is glass.

Finally we found our answer in cordwood masonry. Here was a technique we thought we could handle: cut logs into 12 inch sections, make mud balls with mortar, and piece it all together. Heck, even we could do that!  Plus we had acres of woods with fallen trees to collect free lumber. A cordwood cabin met all our requirements – a low cost, permanent structure that we could design to be off-the-grid, and build it ourselves.

I spent many nights drawing floor plans on graph paper, and ended up with a 32’ x 40’ open design to allow heat from a central wood stove to radiate throughout. Three-foot eaves keep the cordwood walls dry, and provide shelter from the summer sun. A north-south orientation allows maximum light through 11 windows. The north wall (the coldest part of any house) is half buried to insulate us from winter storms.

On paper the design looked simple enough, but I began to imagine all sorts of problems. With our limited skills, how could we possibly build 40 feet of walls in a straight line using a technique we had never tried?  

“Post and beam,” my husband decided. “We’ll build the roof first. Then fill cordwood between the posts.” That solved everything. We would only have to construct 8-foot long sections at a time, and I felt sure we could stay straight and plumb with the roof posts to guide us.

Knowing your own limitations is really the best asset you can have. My attempts to engineer a roof design resulted in guffaws and my father-in-law thanking me for the best laugh he’d had in years. It was a great relief when we hired a local builder to construct the trusses. About the same time we realized that pouring a 10” deep concrete floor was probably beyond our capabilities, so that job was contracted out as well.

We opted for a metal roof on the cabin because (a) it was cheap, and (b) we intended to collect rainwater for our drinking source. Asphalt shingles will shed debris that pollute your water storage.

That first year, while the floor and roof were being built, we collected wood for the walls. We bought a chainsaw and an old pickup truck and began to cut and stockpile cordwood from our property. Each weekend we’d locate fallen trees, peel off the bark, mark 12 inch sections with a yellow crayon and cut the logs to size with a chainsaw. Then the wood was stacked to dry.

Unlike a traditional log cabin with long timbers running parallel to ground, a cordwood house is made of hundreds of short fireplace-size pieces stuck in perpendicular. From a distance, it almost looks like a fieldstone house because you see the round, exposed ends of the logs. For me, cutting the wood was the toughest part of building our survival homestead. It was hot, dirty, hard work, and then later became cold, muddy, hard work. We cut and split wood every Sunday, through the fall, winter, and into the next spring. This city gal developed a good set of muscles that year!

During the week, when we were back in the city, I collected a wide variety of furnishings and fixtures to be used in the cabin: sinks, countertops, cabinets, an old claw foot bathtub, sofa beds, tables and chairs, doors and windows. Everything was bought at auctions, flea markets, or garage sales. Or it was simply free. Friends and family donated all manner of furniture. I trash-picked some great coffee tables from my own neighborhood. It became a grand game to see how cheaply we could acquire building materials and furniture for the cabin.

By the following May we had cut enough cordwood to complete the cabin. We began building the walls Memorial Day weekend, and optimistically took the the whole week off from work. But by Wednesday we were so exhausted we had to quit. It was then we decided that small spurts of exertion are better than one long stretch. Thereafter, we worked on our log and mortar walls every weekend from June to December.

The basic construction technique of cordwood masonry is simple and easy to master in a few minutes. You make a mud ball out of the mortar you have mixed, slap it down in two parallel rows, sprinkle a little sawdust and lime between the rows for insulation, and set logs on top. You fill between the logs with more mud balls until you can start another row. Then you repeat. A thousand times. Every weekend from June to December.

In his excellent books on cordwood masonry, Rob Roy stresses the importance of hand mixing the mortar in a wheelbarrow with a hoe. With all due respect to the ambitious Mr. Roy – that’s crazy! We didn’t have the stamina to labor for hours with a hoe in the blazing summer heat. Instead, we attached an antique mortar mixer ($75 auction find) to a borrowed farm tractor. That piece of equipment was the critical difference between success or failure for us, and another case for knowing your own limits.

A constant parade of friends and family showed up nearly every weekend to help. We passed out work gloves and buckets, along with a few quick instructions. The cabin was really a community project, and each finished wall now reminds us of the folks who so generously contributed their time.

The walls became more elaborate as we gained experience. We included all kinds of oddities along with the wood; bottles, marbles, coins, fossils, shells, crystals, and knick-knacks. Artistic forms developed, like a log clock with old pocket watch dials to mark the hours.

Our construction site soon became a tourist attraction. People would show up saying they’d heard about the place and just had to see it for themselves. They’d marvel at the logs stuck in sideways and all the bottles in the walls. “You should build these cabins for a living,” many suggested. We would smile patiently. You couldn’t pay us to build another one. It was truly a labor of love, and we planned to do it only once.

By Fall we were coming down the home stretch. Most of the walls were finished, and the doors and windows had been installed. The mortar around some of the larger logs had shrunk, which we expected. Gaps were filled with clear silicone caulking. My husband often jokes, “We built this place with a chainsaw, a mixer, and a caulk gun!”

When our Vermont Castings wood stove arrived, I watched the installers carefully. I was curious about how they would seal the chimney pipe through the metal roof. They tossed me a tube of Chem-Caulk 900. “It will seal anything!” they vouched. With it we’ve patched holes and leaks in metal, plastic, fiberglass, and concrete. It’s expensive and fairly toxic, so it wasn’t good for sealing gaps around the logs. But it was great for lots of other jobs.

I was a happy camper when the composting toilet was delivered. No more bathroom trips to the woods!  Since we had just watched the chimney flue being installed, I knew how to get the toilet vent pipe through the metal roof. Chem-Caulk and tin snips would do the trick. I stopped at a local hardware store after work, all dressed up in skirt and heels. When I explained why I wanted the shears, the owner eyed me up and down. “Pardon me, lady,” he said. “But you don’t look like the type who would climb up a ladder and cut a hole in a roof.”

I laughed, “You’d be surprised at what I can do!”

It was true. Building this survival cabin had given me incredible confidence and life-long skills. No longer was I intimidated by simple home repairs or mystified by all that stuff in the hardware store. I knew how to use a circular saw, power drill, and a crowbar. I could drive a straight nail and read a level. I knew the difference between 2 x 4s and 4 x 6s. I knew how deep a footer should be, and where to buy 5/7 gravel. And I could talk about furring strips, backer rod, and re-bar like I was born to it.

In November, with the walls nearly finished, we spent our first night at the cabin. The air was brisk, and then became downright cold. Even huddled around the wood stove, I could see my breath indoors. It was a low point for me. I was cold, miserable, and discouraged. “We’ll never be able to stay here during the winter,” I wept. Foolishly, we hadn’t planned a ceiling. We thought we could keep the interior open to the rafters as a kind of cathedral effect. Yeah, well, everybody knows that heat rises. Right out the roof vent in fact. And even our big new wood stove was not going to heat 1,280 square feet without a ceiling.

It took a while to find the right solution, but we finally settled on galvanized barn siding for the ceiling – an inexpensive material that reflects huge amounts of light from the windows during the day, and shines back all the candles and oil lamps at night. When you don’t have electric lights, reflective surfaces are the next best thing.

By New Year’s Eve the kitchen was finished and we had moved in all the odds-and-end furniture. Thirteen people stayed overnight, and we kept the cabin a cozy 68 degrees with our new ceiling. A propane stove cooked up a turkey with all the trimmings for the feast.

Okay, so we have a propane tank. The cabin functions completely off the electric grid, but we decided to spoil ourselves with a little LP. It’s a deliberate luxury that runs a range, a good-sized refrigerator, and an Amish-made chandelier. A tank of fuel lasts about 15 months, and the fill cost is about the same as one month’s worth of electricity at our city house.

The water supply is a 1,400 gallon concrete cistern buried behind the cabin. It feeds two pitcher pumps, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. We’ve also added a small solar panel that runs a power pack for light-duty use, like recharging batteries and cell phones.

Our survival cabin has all the comforts of a city home, only with a rustic, old-timey charm. We stay cozy in the winter, and at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside during summer, due to the foot-thick walls. The cabin has a peaceful, natural atmosphere and many remark how restful the place feels.

For the past 10 years we have used our off-grid homestead as a weekend house, a gathering place for family and friends, and emergency refuge. It’s fully stocked with freeze-dried food and firewood, and twice has saved us a week’s worth of hotel bills when we needed to evacuate our city home because the power grid went down in the dead of winter.

We’ve never regretted the time and effort we spent building the place. And now when we watch those disaster shows which ask, “What would you do if…,” we have the answer.

Hopefully our story will entice you to become a weekend homesteader as well. If a couple of fumbling middle-agers can build a comfortable survival cabin, you probably can, too!


Sunday, October 16, 2011


Technology is a significant force multiplier in emergency situations.  There are several options I’ve found in my preparations to incorporate electronics into our everyday use and emergency preparations.  Hopefully these ideas will be of use and get others thinking about possibilities.  My goal in utilizing these ‘gadgets’ is to increase availability of resource while decreasing maintenance and effort – all at low cost if possible.  I’d like to share a few of the low-cost options that are simplest to try that we’ve adopted in our preps.

I’m an engineer and realize most of the tools I use won’t be appreciated by everyone, but I do recommend that everyone invest in a simple Digital Multi-meter.  They are quite inexpensive (as little as $15) and useful for troubleshooting automotive and equipment electrical problems.  They are easy to use and with all the information and tutorials on the internet anyone can begin taking advantage of their use.  Besides this tool, the rest of my recommendations are targeted to anyone of any background.  There are several helpful electrical gadgets we’ve found and use that have many broader options.  The best part is that these ideas will hopefully start generating interest or ideas of your own.  Realistically most adults won’t start collecting schematics or advanced electrical tools, but they can start learning new things, or may have friends or better yet, children, who are interested in pursuing these areas more.

Some simple things, first.  In a big family we have need for a lot of flashlights.  The kids use them often and so we often find batteries are dead when we need the light most.  On eBay we have found many Chinese suppliers of low cost, solar powered LED lights that have dramatically decreased our monthly expenditures for batteries.  Sure, these lights are cheaply made (you get what you pay for) but work great for everyday use.  Do a search for “Solar LED keychain” on eBay and you can easily find them for less than $1 each ($0.73 on average).  Over the course of a month we accumulated 10-15 of these lights and they all work great.  They are cheaply made and break easily, so think of them as disposable and to keep the kids from wearing out your more dependable gear.

Another good source of solar LED lighting is the inexpensive outdoor lamps available at all hardware stores.  Wal-Mart sells them for ~$2.  We keep these lights all around our chicken coop, outdoor buildings, and garden to help keep deer and predators away.  They also contribute to security and our own convenience when out-n-about at night doing chores.  They are inexpensive enough to proliferate anywhere needed and require no maintenance.  Another option is to use electrical tape to blacken the side of the light facing our home to improve visibility, or to help minimize visibility of our place from roadways.  Keeping these lights about the chicken coop also has improved egg production and extended the laying season longer into the dark days of winter.

EBay is also a great source for inexpensive wireless door chimes and passive infrared (IR) motion detectors.  For $3 each we picked up a number of different devices to test out as deer and predator alarms.  Some devices work great, others are less effective.  All are effective at detecting our dog at 6 feet, and many will see the dog as far away as 30 feet. For less than $10 we have a wireless perimeter around the chickens that detects any small animal movement and provides loud alarm to deter intrusion and warn us of detection.  Another $20 watches over our half-acre garden from deer or elk intrusions.   The alarms seem to deter the deer better than when we left a radio on out in the dark, and do well to give us and the dog a heads-up that marauders are probing the defenses.  The dog is learning well to respond to the cheerful doorbell chimes when they go off.

We purchased a more expensive IR detector that turns on a sprinkler when deer approach the garden and it has worked well, however it requires us to leave the hose on all night, and is too expensive to deploy in adequate numbers to cover all the fruit, garden, and other vulnerable locations on our place.  These low cost wireless chimes have worked very well for us to provide numbers and coverage.

All of these devices use the smaller, “pen-light” batteries and require replacement every few weeks.  Being an engineer, I’m always looking to ‘improve’ original designs or modify them to my unique needs (or wants).  I hate stocking and replacing batteries, so the logical next step was to combine the solar panel from the LED lights to power these wireless motion detectors.  Simply disassembling the LED lights and wiring the power (red) and ground(black) wires into the motion detectors has eliminated the battery need.  Some motion detectors require more power than others, but all the ones we’ve tested are adequately powered by the solar cells.  If more power is needed, simply use two or more solar cells daisy-chained together to boost the voltage to the detector.  Dropping a clean plastic container over the top is adequate weatherproofing that will not hamper the detector too badly, though I recommend spending time to make a more robust enclosure for your device to ensure longer life and use.

Another option to consider with these low-cost LED devices is to make an emergency charging circuit for your cell phone or handheld gadget.  The landscaping lights are recommended for this option.  Again, simply connecting multiple lights in a daisy chain and wiring a surplus USB cable to the mix works well for charging a FRS radio.  If you disassemble the light, you will discover one or more rechargeable battery inside – usually an “AA” size.  This can be removed and used as needed, and then replaced to recharge in the sun.  Some lights we’ve looked at have the battery soldered or “fixed” in the light, and others use a non-standard size battery, so do some snooping before purchasing in quantity.  Many of these solar devices have a single 3.6V battery.  The cheap keychain lights, for example, are sufficient to power a small “spy” camera that is the size of a car’s FOB, and can power the small camera to record video for up to 3 hours, continuously.

I wanted a more ‘discreet’ warning system around the chicken coop than the loud siren of the motion detectors provided, and found that by simply cutting the wires to the small piezo speaker inside the detector and connecting a separate LED to those wires, the detector gave a visual instead of a verbal warning to me.  Individual LEDs in various colors are available from Radio Shack or online for pennies.  The longer wire on the LED connects to power, the shorter one to ground, though on the speaker’s wires it doesn’t matter which wires the LED connects to.   I inserted the LED into a small tube cut from a pen, and now the LED indicator became very discreet and directional – only seen in the direction the LED was pointed.

There is another alarm available for very low cost to detect movement.  Small magnetic alarms that commonly are attached to a door or window are available at our local “Dollar” stores, and have a piercing alarm when the smaller bar is taken away from the main unit.  Besides their obvious use for detecting unwanted entry into your home or shop, these alarms work great to ensure the kids don’t forget to cover up the chicken feed bin, or leave the coop door open, or any other ‘reminder’ you want to keep a door closed.  I like to turn one on and throw it into the boy’s bedrooms on those mornings they haven’t gotten out of bed by the 3rd call!

As a science project with the kids, we created a GPS-based device that we wanted to launch with weather balloons of helium to track wind patterns, and to set adrift in the ocean to watch water currents.  First, we designed a custom circuit and software to record the GPS track, but in the end we found a much better, low cost solution that has many other applications worth considering.  Instead of a custom circuit, we found that on eBay we could purchase an older cell phone (I recommend a Motorola i415) with GPS capabilities for less than $10.  For another $6 we got a pre-paid phone SIM for the phone.  Using an on-line service for real-time cell phone tracking, we could watch the cell phone travel in real-time, and get our GPS data even if we never got the cell phone back from the ocean.  These phones make great, low-cost equipment tracking similar to Lo-Jack for much less cost.  A possible option for farm equipment, shipping container, or other large item you want to keep tabs on.  Gluing a strong magnet to the phone and modifying the charging cable would allow you to place the phone under the hood, wired to the vehicle’s battery for constant power. 

Rather than running 120AC power out to some of our remote locations, we’ve chosen to use car batteries for lighting and power needs instead.  It is great having a spare battery or two on hand, and with inexpensive solar arrays it is easy to keep them charged and available.  I’ve wired our garden house to use low-cost LED lighting strips, which run off the battery.  The solar panel easily keeps the battery topped off and ready for the infrequent use and the 12V is a standard supply for most battery powered devices and gadgets to run off, too.

With 12V readily available, there are a couple other electrical devices worth mentioning.  Various Internet sellers and eBay have remote controlled relay devices for under $15 (search for “12V remote relay”) that are great for remote control of any motor, light, or device.  They are simple to wire up and use, with little electrical experience needed.  It is nice when the lights are left on out in the garden house to have a remote control by the window in our house to simply click, and turn them off.  This gives all kinds of options to our OPSEC considerations.

For locking or mechanical actuation, I love using inexpensive, 12V automotive door lock solenoids.  Again, for less than $5 these can be had and applied to any number of uses.  We lock our chicken coop door at night with a door lock solenoid (remotely controlled, of course).  These solenoids are very strong (more than 7 lbs of pull in some cases) and work well to flip a wall switch, too. 
Two options we are using for power generation include solar panels and hydro power.  Neither option is able to generate more than 150W of power, but that is adequate to charge a single or bank of 12V car batteries.  Car batteries are the power supply of our choice because they are readily available, stable, and carry significant electrical power.  They are robust for charging and 12V is a common input power for many handheld devices.

I do not believe 120V AC is a viable option for TEOTWAWKI.  It requires extensive resources to generate and is neither safe nor versatile.  We do have several generators for running our freezers and power tools, but in a dramatic or long-term scenario, our plan is to rely on gas-based power tools (i.e. chainsaws, generators, rototillers, etc), propane powered stoves and refrigeration, and DC power based communications equipment.

Solar panels are readily available and easy to use.  We have several that are 40 to 50W, and with an inline diode to protect from back current, they work well to maintain car batteries.  Several springs and creeks in our area provide us and our neighbors with hydro power sources, too.  One design we built for a neighbor is based on a GMC truck alternator.  GMC alternators have a built in voltage regulator and are robust for many alternative power generation options - do a search on Google for “bicycle alternator” and you will see many clever designs for bike-power, for example.  This is one reason we keep several older model GMC trucks and a Suburban around – useful, common parts.  The alternator can be used for a 12V generator supplying up to 100 Amps of current to run AC inverters, charge batteries, or run pumps.  The neighbor’s spring is captured in a 2,000 gallon tank, and channeled off the side to ABS piping into the alternator’s turbine.  The alternator was ~$80; turbine blades are homemade and piping all from scrap on hand.

A lower cost option we used on another neighbor’s stream is my favorite.  Instead of an Alternator we used a 1200 gallon-per-hour bilge pump as a generator.  More regulation circuitry was required, but because the output was under 10 Amps, a simple solar regulator from eBay for $12 was adequate.  The smaller stream’s flow was diverted into a garden hose, fitted easily to the bilge pump’s output to run the motor as a generator.  Total setup costs (besides labor) were under $50.  These have been simple, fun, and safe ways to engage with neighbors in exploring options for remote power generation.  This setup is charging two car batteries and running 12V lighting, shortwave radio, dual-band ham radio station, and a fan in his remote shed.

Finally, one last electrical option that has worked out well for us is a water pump for our drip irrigation system.  Some of our plants require more regular watering than others, so we put in a simple drip system of tubing.  To automate it as much as possible, I used a small barrel suspended from 30 feet high to provide the water source for the tubing.  To keep the barrel full, especially in the summer months when rain is less frequent I used a small bulge-pump (12V) I had on hand to pump small amounts of water out of the livestock trough into the bucket.  I did rig up a simple microcontroller to only turn the pump on for 20 minutes each day which required more than basic electrical skills.  The pump is inexpensive and keeps the water barrel charged without any attention required.

All of these ideas are inexpensive and as simple as possible.  Just imagine what is possible with a small, microcontroller (mini computer chip) that costs less than $1.23 and very advanced sensory and computing power!  While not generally of use most people, there are options out there for your consideration.  As an engineer my emergency preparations include keeping extra microcontrollers on-hand for any number of needs.  The powerful capabilities of these modern devices are a big force multiplier for automating farm and garden tasks as well as the obvious security/OPSEC roles.  If you don’t have a working knowledge in these areas, your children may.  Many different options are available to encourage your kids, friends, etc to pursue learning if they are interested in these things, which will pay off not only in your emergency preparations, but enable them for potential engineering careers in life.

Since all of the devices mentioned are less expensive, it should encourage people to experiment with them.  Hack them, open them up, and try using them in new ways.  Kids love exploring and tearing apart things, and many of these projects have been fun for us to explore with and for the children to learn new concepts, science, and practicing putting stuff back together.  There are several photographs of these and other projects on our family blog, (Northwest Podcast).  Since these ideas are based on 12V DC they are much safer, though higher current levels must be respected.

The last note I would make regarding using electronics or technology in your preparations is to echo the warnings of the scriptures.  No gadget can replace faith and trust in the Lord.  There are significant risks and dependencies in using electronics but many of these (such as an EMP event) can be prepared for.   The scriptures warn us of trusting in the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 17:5) and of worshiping the works of man’s hands (Micah 5:13).  I believe that our culture is at great risk to this form of idolatry because of the technological blessings the Lord has given us.  Let’s use these gifts to bless the lives of our families and those around us, and put all of our trust in the Lord.



James:
To make the neighborhood corners more attractive my hubby and I collect out-of-date political signs and yard sale signs - especially the ones posted on those H-style wire posts.
We reuse the wire posts to support plants by either just sticking them in the ground around the plants or by making 'fences' to keep them inbounds where they line walkways. We have
also made trellises by using them sideways, attaching them by string or wire and hanging them and then securing them at the base by using one or more in the normal way stuck in the
ground.

We've also used the signs themselves as shelf liners on wire shelves and back to back to make yard sale or for sale signs. Just hate to see anything go to waste. - Bellen

Dear Mr. Rawles:
Congratulations on the success of your latest novel!  I just finished reading my copy.

I've been re-using the wires on those political signs for years - I don't know what I'd do without the malleable, heavy wire.  Where I live, politicos often don't bother to collect the signs after the elections so I look forward to getting several  on my usual travels.  Even in rural areas those signs abound.

Some of the uses I've found:

  • 'U' wires for keeping soaker hose in the ground, cut off a length and bend, push wire into ground.  Make them big enough to find again to reuse and not get into the tiller.  They'll last about three years.
  • U-shaped portions of the wire can be hammered in for other applications, too, like tent pegs, such as to keep a fence attached to the ground.  Works well for something you think you might have to move, or to keep wire down when you bend it outward at the bottom of a fence to foil digging predators so you don't trip on it.
  • Frame for any wire doorway, especially chain link.  Chain link has to be framed if you're going to cut it.  We use moveable runs for our fowls and needed to make 'bird doors'.  Found this wire just right to slip through the chain links, cut, and bend the ends of the link wire around the political sign wire as you go along.  Works great.  Think ahead when cutting chain link and plan each cut - otherwise things can unravel on you.
  • Simple gate closure.  The wire is heavy enough for a small gate, such as on a chicken run.  A long piece with one end bent fits through standard heavy galvanized staples and then slides into a hole cut into the frame of the door.  Very simple and it works.  Push the bent part down when in the 'closed' position and if you've put a staple in the right places it will stay put.   Not for applications that lock, obviously.
  • Hooks for hanging light objects, like baskets from a beam, etc.

Best Regards, - Benedict


Thursday, October 13, 2011


Jim:
Here are some more links to YouTube.com videos that I forgot to include with my previous note on wattle and daub construction. The links below include construction of a debris shelter, a good instruction on how to construct a clay and stone fire place with chimney.  When constructing a clay chimney without stones you need to build up about two feet and stop and let it dry, continue the next day with another two feet, etc, until you have a height that you prefer.  In log cabin construction in the old days they used to build chimneys of smaller "logs" maybe six inches or less in diameter and stack them up like when building the cabin.  leave about a two foot opening in the center.  Then daub the thing with your clay and grass daub mixture.  Don't forget to daub the inside surface of the chimney!  Now these did catch fire and burn the cabin down, often in the middle of the night in the colder part of the winter.  So my pet idea is to form a chimney "skeleton" of hardware cloth [wire mesh], forming it around something cylindrical.  Put it in place over your clay and stone fire place and then proceed to daub it with your daub mixture. I am confident that it won't catch fire [like a pioneer chimney that included logs].

Sustainable shelter     

Bushcraft Clay and Mud Rocket Stove

Clay cooking skillet

How To Build a Semi - Permanent Shelter (part 1)

Regards, - Darrell in Ohio

JWR,
 About ten years ago I traveled across Northern Honduras by car.  The wattle and daub construction was often used  in the mountains and jungles and it was probably close to what the original inhabitants built.  The size of the structure of course varied, but appeared to average about 10 x 12 feet.  The post that they used were a type of tree that grew straight for most of its length and was cut at about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.  The wall height was as high as the builder could reach.  Of course the post was stuck in the ground for a foot or two.
 
Spacing on the posts was about 3 to 3-1/2 feet apart and the wattle was cane or whatever they chose to use.  Daub appeared to be just clay and straw that was plastered either from the inside out, or from both the inside and the outside.  I seldom saw a window.  If there was a window, it was like the door and just an opening in the wall that had a piece of cloth hanging in it.
 
The roof was a framework of poles tied together with about a 45 degree pitch, that was "shingled" in palm branches.  Sometimes these were not too thick and I wondered how good they were at shedding rain. 
 
Often, there was a small open lean-to on the end of the house that served as an outdoor kitchen.  It had a counter made of poles, and on this raised counter was a small clay oven.  If they built a small fire inside the house for warmth the smoke just worked its way out of the branches in the roof.
 
One structure had a raised door sill of about one foot that kept the pigs and chickens out.  Others that I saw had the live stock just wandering in and out.
 
Usually these houses were not too far from the river or stream, and  families were bathing and washing clothes on the rocks during the warm afternoons.
 
The construction only required one tool - the machete.  Practically everyone of the working class carried one when traveling or going about their business.  Especially if they did not have a gun. But, that is another story.
 
Thank you for all of your hard work. - Paul in Southeast Texas

Hello James,
 
Copious greetings and kudos for the fine book.....
 
I saw the article about using natural materials for building construction.
Our home faces two groves of old growth trees. The detritus on the ground is copious, perhaps 2 to 6 inches thick. These groves of trees the old time residents here say go back to the 1920s when the original frame house stood on this site.
 
Each year I clear a section of the low branches to seven feet high. Pile them somewhere out of the way on the detritus.
 
Just today I worked one of these piles of brush to cut out the branches of over 3/4 inch for kindling. Nearly all of the wood in contact with the ground had extensive termite damage. I had to discard much of what was in contact with the ground. Only the wood that was elevated in the air was still solid. This was Hackberry, Hedge, Juniper, plum brush and Tree of Heaven. All good solid wood except for the Tree of Heaven which is a very light wood with a reduced density. Not very good for firewood anyway.
 
But the bottom line is that termites will take down a wall made with formerly living material such as wood, straw, brush and grass.
 
I lived in native built hut in Niger during my Peace Corps days. The bottom section of the walls were pure dense packed soil. No plant material until you got up above some 4 or 5 feet. They put the plant material above a height where the termites did not transition into.
 
We had termite mounds that went to 15 feet in height near by. Plenty of termites.
 
I would think twice before making any structure of wood in contact with the soil if you have a resident termite population such as we have.
 
Exception: I have a hunting blind set 24 inches deep in the soil. Lined with railroad ties that I selected for the best coating of creosote preservative. They have been in the ground now going on seven years.
I inspected the building yesterday and it still looks like the day I constructed it. But that is why creosote is such a good preservative. On the other hand you do not want to spend much time during hot weather in a creosote soaked wood structure. The fumes can be very evident. The railroad ties we have in the garden put off a very bad smell during the hot summer days out in the open.
 
I suspect you could spray for termites each year if you had the correct insecticide and sprayer system.
 
Chance favors the prepared. - J.W.C.



James:
I was in Haiti in January of 2010 as a civil engineer and paramedic. In the rural areas, nearly all the concrete and/or masonry block structures failed or were damaged. I only saw one wattle and daub dwelling that was destroyed. All of the others merely had to be re-mudded. Keep the Faith, - Bill D.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


James Wesley,
A lot of people are restricted in how much money they can spend on a tract of land for a home or a retreat for when TSHTF  or TEOTWAWKI happens, but if you can manage to find even a small lot, like an acre or so and hopefully it is wooded, you can construct a home or cabin of sorts that isn't really something to be ashamed of.  And also, consider this, something happens, like a tornado or earthquake and your home is completely destroyed as well as your neighbors---you could possibly construct a temporary survival shelter with some of these methods in the links below.  The links below are a collection of links to different methods and results in wattle and daub construction and also straw bale construction.  Also, I might add in this kind of construction you need a good roof with a overhang of probably a couple of feet to protect the wattle and daub walls from water and wind erosion.  You can also paint these walls when cured or dried.  It resembles adobe or stucco walls for the most part in my opinion.  I have a pet idea of building a pole type structure, frame in the windows and doors, etc. and cover the walls with woven wire fence wire.  Then layer over that with hardware cloth.  Then proceed with daubing it with a mixture of clay earth and straw or grass clippings mixed in for strength.  This mix can also be used to construct a fireplace and chimney.  Another consideration if this is to be a survival retreat, etc. 

how to wattle and daub construction - YouTube

I like the next links in particular for illustration of the work and how it is done:

Making History - Shelter (wattle & daub) - YouTube

How to choose a natural building material (i.e. cob or straw or a mix) - YouTube

I hope this information will be of much use to someone out there.  Thanks for your attention. - Darrell in Ohio


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Jim,
The Bed Bunker gun vaults that you just reviewed can exceed the structural capabilities of most standard wood frame houses. By the time you combine the weights of a king or queen size safe, two adults, the mattress, the bed frame, the linens, and the contents of the safe, you could very quickly exceed one ton of weight or ~60 pounds per square foot for a queen bed (add another 10 to 14 pounds per square foot for the structure of the building). Most wood frame construction is designed for 40 pounds per square foot and allows for 25 to 30 pounds per square foot of room contents. The size, spacing, and unsupported length of the floor joists have a major impact on the strength of the structure. The Bed Bunker assembly could be 175%+ of the design limits - this could be extremely dangerous to install on second floors (where most bedrooms are located), especially in areas where earthquakes are a concern, unless the structure has been reinforced. - Dr. Richard

JWR Replies: As reader Jim in Montana e-mailed me to mention, Bed Bunker vaults actually put far less stress on a floor than a traditional upright gun vault. With a traditional safe, the "footprint" is only 1/3 the size, so the load per square foot is three times as great. He also said that he was told by the company's management that the Bed Bunker puts less of a load on a floor per square foot than a water bed or a full-size refrigerator. And, as reader Steve C. wrote me to point out, the Bed Bunker gun vaults do not rest on the bed frame but sit on the floor. The bed frame fits around the vault not on the bed. And if you put the vault directly on the floor without the screw-in legs, then the weight is very evenly distributed. Granted, even that might be too much for under-engineered (not up to code) floors, especially if you fill one of these vaults with ammunition. So if you have any doubts about shoddy house construction, then please consult a structural engineer before buying any type of gun safe, from any maker. But the bottom line is that a horizontal safe such as a Bed Bunker puts the least stress on a floor, and has the least likelihood of exceeding a home's structural capabilities.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011



Captain Rawles,
 As most of your readers would say, we thank you for your ministry.  My question is weather a 40' Continental Express (CONEX) shipping containers would work as a huge Faraday cage, and thus we would be able to store most of our sensitive electronics, such as communications gear, battery chargers, e cetera.
 
Thank you again, - R.L.S.

JWR Replies: There are a few problems with that concept:

1.) The vast majority of CONEXes have wooden floors. Wood is fairly transparent to radio frequency (RF) waves, including electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A metal Faraday enclosure needs to be an integral box. (Polygonal or spherical.) No windows, and no wooden floors!

2.) Creating a good "gasketed" RF seal at the doorway would be difficult. But RF gaskets might do the trick.

3.) CONEXes tend to "sweat." In a full Faraday enclosure, there would be no ventilation available, so the moisture buildup would likely be excessive. (Depending on your local climate.)


Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Introduction
My home energy backup system was originally conceived to make a little bit of power for a very long time.  Rather than backing up the whole house with a generator for a relatively short power outage of just a few hours or days, I wanted a system that would function in an extended power “grid down” scenario.  I was working from the self declared principle that when the grid is down at night, a single light bulb makes a huge difference in how you feel.  In addition, I wanted to preserve critical refrigeration and freezer functions indefinitely.

So why I am I doing this?  Two words come to mind: Resilience and Instability.  Without turning this into a political manifesto, it doesn’t take a genius to see how dependent we all are on certain “systems”.  Those systems make food appear on the grocery store shelves and plastic junk at Wal-Mart but for the most part, we don’t really know how it gets there.    What happens to grocery store deliveries if diesel prices triple?  Will the dollar always be worth something?  How many more jobs will ship overseas?   Was the President of the United States really serious when he declared that coal-fired electrical plants should be taxed out of existence because of their “carbon footprint?”  So in my mind, resiliency means thinking about how you would accomplish something if the primary or customary way of doing that something were suddenly unavailable.  Instability implies that interruptions to these systems are now so much more likely that they are not insignificant as most people have assumed all their lives, and warrant a second look by everyone.  Why is instability higher than ever?  Our economic system depends on exponential growth of debt to continue that system.  All engineers know that anything that grows exponentially is ultimately unstable and to top it all off, our system is now showing signs of great distress.  Think of it this way, our economic system is like a balloon.  When you start inflating it, you don’t worry about popping it.  However, we have been inflating our “balloon” for such a long time and with so much hot air that it can’t take much more.  Since economic systems are quite complex, no one knows what or when something bad will happen – something to warrant the planning I talk about in this article and the expense it entails – but it seems past the time to be preparing for that something.

Now on with the rest of our program… I had heard of people in Florida who had whole house backup generators fed by 1,000 gallon propane tanks buried under their driveways.  After hurricanes hit the area, these systems were exhausted in a few days – mostly running mammoth central air conditioners.  (Keep in mind that at $3 per gallon, it takes $3,000 just to fill up one of those tanks.) Many of these people were then without power for weeks.  Their systems failed them because their expectations for the length of the disaster were low.

I came to believe that making a small amount of power was my goal and I sized everything around the 2,000-2,500 Watt (W) range.  By that I mean that after spending thousands of dollars, I can only generate between 2,000 and 2,500 watts of continuous power and at 120 VAC that equates to a generated current of roughly 20 Amps (A).  You can walk into a home improvement store and buy a 6,500 watt generator for around $1,000 that delivers about 50A.  Given that most households are supplied by their electric utility with 200A service, have I lost my mind? 

Yes and no.  There are certainly a lot of things that a 2,500 W power system can’t do – like run your central AC (240 VAC), make hot water with your electric water heater, run an electric stove, and you might even be hard pressed to run some powerful hair dryers while operating other electrical devices – so what gives?  Ah, but you can do a lot of other very important things with 2,500 Watts of power, such as, running LED lighting.  At 6 Watts per light, I can light my whole house and not even make a dent in my 2,500 W power budget.  I considered all kinds of fancy refrigerators including those that run on propane, kerosene, and others marketed to off grid folks as super energy efficient.  In the end, I realized that a new model year 2011 nineteen cubic foot upright refrigerator/freezer with the freezer on top is about the most efficient appliance you can buy.  Realizing this tidbit only cost me $700 – delivered- from Lowe's, and I used the money I saved over some multi thousand dollar device to add some extra photovoltaic (PV) panels to my roof.   I’ve watched this refrigerator run and after the compressor starts up, it consumes 1A AC @ 120V.  That’s 120 watts  or 2,880 Watt Hours (WHr) per day.  However, I would say that being very efficient and well insulated, that this refrigerator is only running its compressor at most half of the time.  Therefore I use about 1,440 WHr max per day for this appliance. 

So lighting and refrigeration/freezing are very much within the 2,500 W limit.  What about air conditioning?  I live in the south and it gets hot and humid here.  I don’t like to sleep in that kind of weather so I have a very generously-sized 3 ton central AC system (15 SEER) to keep me nice and cool 24/7.  However, in a grid down situation, that system will be useless to me unless I want to cover my ¾-acre lot with solar panels – probably not going to happen.  Maybe someday I’ll further investigate a geothermal heat pump.  I see claims that they can run on the equivalent of a refrigerator compressor and actually be viable on solar but with a $20,000 - $50,000 equipment and installation price tag that’s a long shot.  So I decided to try to run a window AC unit off of my alternative energy system so that means first complying with my 2,500 W self-imposed limit.  Let’s see… a ,6500 BTU window air conditioner to cool one good sized bedroom draws about 6A @ 120V when the compressor is running, so that’s 720W – check – still within the limit but there’s another problem...

 

Starting Appliances
Many appliances have electrical motors.  This includes power tools like circular saws and refrigeration compressors like you find in air conditioners, refrigerators/freezers.  Electrical motors have two power requirements:

  1. The amount of current to start the motor and
  2. The amount of current required to keep the motor running

Items one and two are very different.  Item one can best be described for compressors as the locked rotor amps (LRA).  If you are nosy enough when you go window air conditioner shopping you might be able to view the label on the compressor through the slotted venting on the side of the air conditioner (take a flashlight).  If you can see the LRA number, you may be discouraged – I was.  On my 6,500 BTU window air conditioner that runs on no more than 6A, the LRA is 24.  That means that my system has to provide 24A AC of instantaneous current (2,880 W) for a couple of seconds to start that compressor.  If your power system can’t provide that then you just bought yourself a very expensive fan – the compressor won’t start - ever.

A generator like mine, that surges to 2,500W can produce just over 20A – not enough.  By the way, the LRA on my Trane 3-ton central AC compressor is 83A.
Obviously, you need to buy a bigger generator – one with higher running watts and surging (starting) watts – right?  But bigger, reliable generators cost a lot more money and here’s the kicker – they use more fuel and fuel is something you’re trying to make last a very long time in a grid-down scenario.  And if you’ve seen those “economical” generators at the home improvement stores, just walk away.  I’ve heard them described as disposable as well as fuel hogs.   So, if a generator is on your list of got to have backup items for long term usage, you want one that sips fuel, is quiet, built to last, and that can run your essential stuff.

A note on fuel:  The generators at home improvement stores run on gasoline.  So if you plan to run one of these for weeks on end, you’re going to need a lot of gas – more than 5 gallons per day depending on the generator’s power generation capacity.  Gasoline also has a relatively short shelf life before it goes “stale” and we all know it’s volatile - as in "ka-boom".  However, almost all gasoline generators can be converted to run on propane.  Propane stores in those nice, cute barbeque cylinders and it lasts for a very, very, long time.  A 20 pound barbeque propane cylinder stores about 5 gallons of propane. 

Moving on… Why don’t we convert that pesky window AC unit to start on less AC current – yes you just might be able to do that.  It turns out that the generator that I have is very popular with RVers because it’s fuel efficient and extremely quiet – 59dBA at load.  It’s so quiet that I can sit next to it while it’s running and talk on my cell phone.  In a grid down situation, that’s a good thing because a running generator says, “I have stuff and you don’t”, “come on over and steal that stuff” as well as irritating you as it drones on for hour after hour.   Continuing, these RVers were having trouble starting their 13,500 BTU roof-mounted AC units with my Yamaha inverter generator.  2,500W of surge just wasn’t enough to do the job so on a web forum discussing the problem, I was introduced to the supplemental hard start capacitor.  You connect this new capacitor in parallel to the compressor start capacitor that your air conditioner already has inside and voila – your AC unit starts on less current.  (I purchased the hard start cap on Amazon for $10 + shipping)  Using a clamp on ammeter capable of reading AC surge current, I measured my window air conditioner drop from 24A to 13A of starting current.  The first of many problems solved but I’m not interested in just long term generator operation because of the fuel issue.  (I should note that when you open your window air conditioner, you could electrocute yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing so if you aren’t used to working with electrical wiring, don’t do this yourself.  I’m a college educated electrical engineer with a master’s degree from a top 10 school, which is another way of saying I’m book smart but prone to electrocuting myself when I work on stuff in the real world – but at least I know the danger.)
 We need to move on to solar.

Building a System
To run indefinitely I would need a fuel source that never runs out – the sun seems like a good choice and while the sun will eventually burn out, scientists still expect the sun to outlast me.  So I decided to invest in some solar panels.  Not so coincidentally, I sized my solar array system in the 2,000 watt range and bought a 2,500 watt inverter.  Inverters have a distinct advantage over generators in that all of the ones that I considered can supply nearly double the rated wattage for surge requirements.  My 2,500W inverter actually surges to 4,000W which is 33A AC at 120V.
I decided to build a system fed by all three energy sources available to me:

  1. Solar
  2. Dual Fuel Generator (Gasoline or propane – propane as a better long term fuel choice)
  3. Utility or Grid Power

The system would have a battery storage component so that I could save the solar energy generated during the day for use at night.  The battery component of the system is also nice because even without solar, you can charge the batteries when the grid is operating and then use the power later when you need it.  This is a scenario that might play out if the grid were being switched off - as in rolling or scheduled blackouts.
Also, I didn’t intend to install enough panels to make tying back into the utility grid to sell my excess power worthwhile.   By my calculations, If I wanted to sell my 6kWHr of power generated each day back to the electric company through a grid tied inverter, I could expect about $0.11/kWHr in my area.  That’s $0.66 per day or around a $20 per month reduction in my utility bill.  Saving $240 per year wasn’t enough in my mind to warrant the additional expense and complexity of the grid tie inverter.  This also made me realize just how much power a modern home consumes since my monthly bill in winter is around $240 and in the summer about $400.

[JWR Adds: Also, keep in mind that grid-tied PV systems are much more vulnerable to EMP than stand-alone systems! This is because of EMP coupling through long utility power lines which act as antennas for EMP. They can carry EMP far beyond line of sight from a nuclear detonation.]

Mode 1 – Solar

In solar mode I have eight 230 watt solar panels feeding a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller.  I’m using an Outback FlexMax charge controller and its job is to take the DC voltage and current from my solar array (~70Vdc @ 25Adc the way I have them strung) and convert it into the voltage that my battery bank and inverter need – namely 24V.  When the system is running on just solar, the refrigerators and lights draw power form the battery bank during the night and during the day, that usage is replenished by the solar panels and the current needed by the appliances is also provided by the panels.  As long as the batteries can run the appliances all night and with some margin to spare and then fully recharge during the day, you never run out of electricity.  My battery bank uses more expensive gel cells because I didn’t want to fool with adding water to standard lead acid batteries.  Yes, I’m easily distracted and maintenance isn’t my first love.

I don’t want to discharge my batteries more than about 25 - 30% during the night because the deeper you discharge the batteries in between charges, the fewer charging cycles you will get out of your batteries before they have to be replaced.  I have about 14,400 watt hours of battery capacity so the 50% rule would allow me to use 7200 wHr before recharging.  Restricting my usage to only a 25% discharge allows for 3,600 WHr.  That 3600 WHr will run my two refrigerator/freezers and one upright freezer and a number of lights all night long.  My 1920 W of solar panels will realistically produce about 6,000 WHr of power per sunny day given their angle to the sun, our latitude, etc.  As you can see, I have a sizeable margin built in for cloudy days and generally bad weather.  So my panels should be more than adequate to recharge my batteries during the day.

In solar mode, the generator connections and grid power supply connections are shut off.  If I have calculated everything properly, and nothing breaks, the system should run for a long time.
What happens if I want to run that window air conditioner?  It consumes 720 Watts per hour if the compressor is running 100% of the time.  If it is the only AC unit running in my home during a grid down situation, I’ll assume the compressor is running about 80% of the time.  This equates to 576 Whr.  Over a 24 hour period I will need 24 * 576 = 13,824 WHr.  Either I’m not going to run this window AC 24/7 or I need another operational mode because my solar panels are only going to make about 6,000 WHr/day.  Enter the small, reliable and quiet generator.

Mode 2: Generator Power – working with small generators
Let’s say I really want to run that window AC unit – and believe me, I really want to.  This is where the 250 gallon propane tank – professionally installed and plumbed - in my yard comes in.   (Or the other various small sized tanks I have stored outside as well – 20 to 40 gallon tanks that make my generator portable and don’t require me to store a lot of gasoline).   Always store and use propane tanks outside in a well ventilated area. 
My Mastervolt MassCombi inverter is actually an inverter/charger/transfer switch all-in-one unit.  The inverter is intended for marine applications where shore power can be iffy.  It can be set to current limit its AC input to match the shore power (generator) output of roughly 15 amps or any other low capacity AC source.  If the appliances connected to the inverter are consuming less than 15Aac, then the balance of the AC power is converted to dc and used to charge the batteries but here comes the best part.  If an AC motor attempts to start and more surge current capacity is required, the inverter will automatically pull the extra surge current from the battery bank and add it to the power coming from the generator – pretty cool.

During the peak daylight hours, the solar panels will produce enough power to run the window air conditioner, the refrigerators, and a number of other small appliances.  When the sun goes down, I can switch into generator mode and continue to run the window air conditioner, if my fuel situation permits.  This situation lasts for about three months every year when it is so hot and humid that air conditioning feels like a necessity – although a grid down scenario will redefine “necessity” for all of us.

I don’t run the solar charge controller and the inverter/AC-charger at the same time so as to not cause a conflict between the two chargers.  When the sun is out and shining, I run the solar charge controller.  If I need additional power, I run the generator at night and shut off the charge controller.

I could add more batteries and more solar panels and essentially eliminate the need for the overflow generator but to produce 13,824 WHr of electricity per day (just for that window ac unit) and to have some margin for rainy days, I would need about twenty 230W panels and twelve 12V 200 AHr batteries.  The panels cost about $650 apiece and the batteries are about $500.  This doesn’t include additional infrastructure like a bigger battery box, additional charge controller, wiring, fuses, mounting hardware, etc.  The cost works out to an additional $10,000 – more than I want to spend to run a $149 window air conditioner.  And not to mention, I don’t have a good place to put twenty solar panels as I don’t want them visible from the street and the front of my home faces south.

By the way, that little 2000W generator of mine makes up to 48,000 WHr of power each 24 hour period that it runs which is another reason that if you have a small battery bank and solar already, it doesn’t take much of a generator to back it up.  A little Yamaha or Honda 1,000 Watt inverting generator sips fuel (runs 3.8 hours on 0.6 gal of fuel), is very quiet (53-59 dBA), and with a continuous power rating of 900W will produce up to 21,600 WHr of power in a 24 hour period - all for less than $1,000 plus fuel.  Have that generator converted to run on propane by a reputable company and add some solar panels, batteries, and an inverter and you have a small system that can run a lot of stuff for a long time.  Stash a few of those 20 lb barbeque propane cylinders outside to run your little generator and you are now in better shape than probably everyone else in your neighborhood when the lights go out.

Remember, I spent $650 * 8 = $5,200 on solar panels and I only make roughly 6,000 WHr with them on a sunny day.  By the time I add in a battery bank, fuses, inverter, copper wiring, etc., I figure I’m paying about $2 for every watt hour of solar generation and storage capacity.  Of course in a grid down situation, I might make a little more power as I would have more incentive to adjust the tilt angle of the panels monthly to track the sun through the sky.  I might also cut down that pesky tree that is partially shading my panels in the morning.  So in the end, solar is expensive and makes a fraction of the power that a generator can for the same dollar investment – but solar will do it quietly and almost forever – even when the fuel supplies run out.

Mode 3: Utility Mode – Creating an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
As I mentioned in the last section, my inverter is also an AC to DC charger and transfer switch all in one.  By that, I mean when incoming AC power is detected – and that can be from a generator or your main utility – the inverter runs in charging mode.  This means that it supplies the connected loads with the incoming AC power as a simple pass-thru and converts any remaining AC power to DC to charge the battery bank if the batteries are not already fully charged.  If the AC load of the appliances increases, the battery charging current is automatically decreased.

When my MassCombi detects that AC power has gone away, it automatically switches from AC charger mode to inverter mode in a fraction of a second and starts using DC power from the battery bank to invert into AC power.  In this manner, the system acts like an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the devices plugged into the system.  It also is a pure sine wave inverter which means it makes electricity which is just a clean as that coming from the utility.

Even if I didn’t have PV charging capability, this system would buffer the effect of rolling blackouts.  When grid power was present, the system would charge the batteries.  When grid power was absent, the batteries would supply the connected equipment.  As long as the power was on more than it was off and my battery capacity was sufficient for the appliances I am trying to run, this should work.  As the hours of “grid down” increase, the demands on the batteries will increase until the point is reached where some type of supplemental power is required – either a generator or solar or both.

Mode 4:  Bypass
When I wired my system I installed new dedicated electrical outlets to various rooms in my home to deliver the electrical power from this new system.  The lamp in my living room is plugged into one of these new outlets.  When the grid goes down, my lamp stays on.

However, if I am doing maintenance and want to keep the connected appliances running, I can turn off all the solar breakers, shut off the inverter/charger, disconnect the batteries and still route grid power through my system to the new electrical outlets.  This is a handy but non-essential feature.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Hi,
Doing some research on earth domes and I'm seeing a new trend, tire bales. These are 5 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet tall. They weigh 2,000 pounds apiece. They are environmentally friendly, being sold for $25-35 a unit plus shipping. I'm planning on using them around the houses perimeter as I feel they are much less expensive and more durable than a masonry wall. Covered in concrete or adobe they won't be an aesthetic issue either.

I was wondering what your opinion of them would be as a ballistic barrier/wall?

Keep up the great work. - David F.

JWR Replies: Tire bale bastion walls (or even entire tire bale houses) are a viable option, and they do indeed offer great ballistic protection. (Although their irregular shape does leave a few gaps that would have to be "chinked" well with shotcrete.) Tire bale walls will definitely stop all .30 caliber rifle threats and will probably stop .50 BMG or Russian 12.7mm machinegun bullets. But I must mention a few provisos: 1.) The cost per cubic foot of wall is substantially higher than with the usually free for the hauling packed-earth tires (as used with "Earthships"), and 2.) , Because of the great weight of tire bales, a forklift (or a skid-steer equipped with forks, or a heavy-duty crane hoist) is required. This means that you can work only on a level building site, and, 3.) Unlike Earthship tires, which can be earthquake stabilized with just driven re-bar rods, tire bales must be specially strapped, and 4.) To be fire resistant, tire bales should be encased in adobe, shotcrete, or other masonry on all sides. (Following your link, I found a great series of photos that show a large tire bale house under construction.)

If you are going to put forth the effort to encase tire bales in adobe to add ballistic protection to an existing house, then you might as well build masonry "planters" that are filled with gravel. Two feet of gravel will stop bullets just as well as a tire bale, and there is no fire hazard.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Mr. Rawles,

I read CentOre's article with great interest and believe he and his group are well on the way to success.  I have a possible solution to what he listed as his greatest issue:

"A more realistic problem in our area involves the numerous one ton, four wheel drive, jacked up trucks.  Our goal for them remains to slow or delay their progress within reasonable shooting distances. "

May I recommend a classic defense that has been in use against infantry and cavalry for centuries and motorized vehicles more recently called the abatis.  I think this fits in perfectly with his setup. - Bumboy


Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Not everyone can find or afford a solidly built brick home with fittings to hang bullet-proof shutters and doors.
We agree with the bulk of the writings we have read concerning the ‘non-defensibility’ of the average United States home.  Our group has choices as to which house will become ‘The Retreat’ for the entire group when the SHTF.  Our group’s consensus is our ‘Primary’ retreat will probably be a 2,600 square foot triple-wide ranch style manufactured home.  It has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a living room and family room.   There is an adequate kitchen with a totally inadequate pantry.  Two of the three outside doors have glass panels in them, and there are the normal large windows throughout.  While designed for up to six persons, we figure we can bunk up to fourteen before hot bunking or spreading out to one or more buildings may have to come into play.

Weather is a constant factor.  We may have snow on the ground for up to seven months of the year, but generally only four or five months.  The accumulated depth of snow is more important that the ‘total inches per year’.  Roof snow loads are taken seriously here with most homes having at least one ‘snow rake’ for roof snow removal.  We look at snow as a definite defensive plus.  It’s cold outside, but we have collected all the wood stoves we will need just by offering to haul them away where people put them in their front yards.

Background
We are a group with many and varied backgrounds.  While three of us are retired military, and another couple of people are military brats, none of us have training in on-the-ground defensive and offensive strategies and/or tactics.  Therefore we expect there are many holes in what I write here today.  We welcome and look forward to constructive criticism.  Our general situation is we live in a rather remote area.  The local town boasts a population of over 1,000.  That must be at the height of tourist season on a particularly warm and sunny day.  Our area’s population is spread out over an area of about forty square miles.  That forty square miles includes quite a bit of State, Federal (both Forest Service and BLM) lands intermixed with homes on private lands.  As much as pre-planning will allow, the group has made the decision the house above will become our primary home/retreat.  The primary is situated in a section (one square mile) of privately held land. Surrounding this section on three sides are empty sections owned by the U.S. Government.  The fourth side is bounded by a small river with water that carries cold mountain run-off.

Existing house attributes
There is a two and a half mile long ‘private’ drive from the county road with no through traffic.  House spacing in the area is 300 feet or more.  There are only about 100 homes with a total of 225 lots in a full section of 640 acres.  Most of the homes are occupied by retired couples who ‘snowbird’, leaving their homes empty four to seven months out of the year.  Some of the homes are vacation cabins owned by people in our nearest metro areas.  Metro areas are two and a half or four hours away depending on which metro we talk about.

The particulars of Primary are: a total linear dimension at eve line = 240 feet, with a cement side walk on all but one short side.  Sidewalk length = 180 feet.  The three foot wide sidewalk is set out from the building foundation three feet creating a flower bed.           

Existing shop building attributes
There is a steel clad ‘shop’ building within thirty feet of the Primary with an overall perimeter length of 190 feet.  The shop building is three story structure.  The third story is a 21' x 24' ‘apartment’.  The lower two stories are lined with built-in, very sturdy shelving that is 24 inches deep and three feet of height between each shelf.  This shelving is continuous the full length of two walls and full height of the walls.  The shop building will sleep sixteen people with no modification. Therefore we have an immediate ability to sleep up to thirty persons.

There is a 48” wide concrete side walk between back door of house and side door of shop.  Over half the perimeter of the house and shop buildings is gravel, and or scarified pumice/sand ground from 0 to thirty feet out from the perimeter walls.  There is very little vegetation immediately adjacent to these walls.   Looking 30 to 60 feet out, there is moderate vegetation all in the form of Jack Pines that are 30 to 50 feet tall. 

Reasoning: Needs of the group           
Security of group versus ability to observe outward must be balanced in such a way that neither is compromised.  We needed to find a way to ‘harden’ the buildings while maintaining our ability to observe our surroundings from inside the structures and lookout points.  In addition we felt we needed a separate medical and/or ‘stranger’ quarantine area for up to 5 persons.

Anticipated size of the group

 While our planning is for up to 30 people one never knows what the real number might be until TEOTWAWKI actually arrives.  Therefore our pre-planning includes bedding up to fifteen additional persons during times of transition.  Such as a) TEOTWAWKI; b) Cross-training with other groups; c) Housing transient members of other groups.  This would put a strain on our logistics manager and staff.  We only anticipate and pre-plan for this large a number for very short periods of time.

Lay of the Land out 500 yards

Our area is basically flat with no topographic features except lots of trees for at least a mile in every direction.  Local topographic maps have contour lines at fifty foot intervals.  The contour lines can be from a half a mile to as much as a full mile apart in this area.  Even though the terrain is flat, it is elevated and there is no possibility of flooding.

Lay of the Land 500 to 1,000 yards

Area is basically flat with the area north-westerly beyond 700 yards falling away to a small barrier river.  Most of this area, while wooded, has been thinned to reduce the possibility of forest fires spreading.  This significantly enhances visibility for look-outs.

Lay of the Land 1,000 yards to one mile

Area is basically flat with the area west-northwesterly beyond 700 yards including the barrier river and a large area beyond the barrier river.  This zone includes thinned areas and many dense patches of timber that remain un-thinned.

Materials:

Local Materials available
The primary local, natural building material consists of Jack Pine, and Lodge Pole Pine, lots of Lodge Pole Pine!  It is the dominant vegetation for many miles around our location with Jack Pine a close second.  For the purposes of this paper I will lump the two species together and just call them ‘pine’.  When one is handed lemons one should make lemonade.  We have decided that pine will be our primary ‘hardening’ material.  Also, we have an unlimited supply of pumice sand.  Both the pine poles and the pumice are easily transported as neither are heavy.  Another local material, although not naturally occurring, is barbed wire.  We have in excess of six miles of barbed wire within a mile and a half radius centered on our primary.  While not razor wire, properly positioned barbed wire can still put a dent in someone’s day.

We see a need to create lanes of fire to channelize attackers into kill zones we are doing this through the selective removal of pines.  We are leaving ‘wedges’ of trees between our fire lanes.  By immediate appearance these will be ‘safe areas’ for attackers.  Upon close arrival anyone who plans on using the wedges as cover will find broken glass, nail boards, and barbed wire used concertina style.  The work is pretty well done on the land we control, and, we are in position rapidly to extend them when TEOTWAWKI arrives.

Another consideration in our area is forest fire.  We withstand one or two forest fires nearly every summer within a twenty-five mile radius of our retreat.  Through our selective removal of trees to enhance and/or create fire zones relative to fire points, we will also be greatly increasing our fire survivability.  We deal further with fire fighting below.

Plans and Methods:
The need to create and place obstacles dovetails nicely with our need to accumulate fire wood.  The majority of pine poles will be up-rooted.  The root balls are needed for strategic obstacle placement.  Root balls of the pine are generally three to four feet in diameter and usually extend down into the ground no more that 24 inches, with the exception of the tap root which may go down much further.  When pulled from the ground and with the main stem trimmed as closely as possible to the root ball these units become quite stable when turned 90 degrees.  Further, the remaining roots are tough twelve to twenty-four inch projections that become very hard when exposed to air.  When trimmed at an angle with loping shears at about the ¾ inch diameter mark they become formidable obstacles.  Further, when tied down into rows they become a people tight obstacle that provides no offensive cover.  That is, we can see and shot objects that attempt to conceal behind root balls.  The primary trunk will be cut to a length of 12 to 14 feet, with an average diameter of 5 inches.  The balance if the tree [tip] will be set aside for now.  The poles will then be set in the dirt along the outside edge of the side walk, with their upper ends leaning against the outer wall of the retreat at the soffit.  Any poles deemed unfit [twisted trunk, woodpecker nest holes, etc.] will be set aside for fire wood.  Entrance areas will have layered logs that resemble the fence and gates in a bull fighting arena.

We estimate the need for 660 poles averaging 4 to 6 inches in diameter to completely ‘stockade’ the retreat house.  We suspect we will be processing about two thousand trees initially for firewood and firing lanes.  Once the stockade is completed we will begin to make firewood in earnest.

To augment our firewood collecting, the surrounding government lands hold many ‘burn piles’.  These are piles of cut and broken tree material deemed not usable commercially.  An average burn pile contains around six cords of wood.  We can, with minimum effort glean a cord or two of very dry firewood off of each pile.
All firewood will be ricked inside the stockade and against the outside of the primary’s walls in the area earlier referred to as the ‘flower bed’ area.  Ricked firewood will be cut in 16 inch lengths.   If we rick to only six feet the retreat perimeter will hold over seven cord of wood.  We anticipate needing up to six cord per year for heating and cooking.  We will make a minimum of ten cords per year just in case our calculations prove wrong.  Additional firewood will be ricked on the first two tiers of shelving in the shop building.  There will no visible [outside] change to the shop in doing this.

The lower three feet of the stockade will be bermed with the pumice sand for added stability and projectile ‘catching’, and to slow any attempts to remove them.
All in all we have a layered defensive perimeter of 5 inch pine poles, separated from the ricked wood by about four feet of dead air space.  The 16 inches of ricked wood will in turn is backed by the 6 inch wall of the primary structure. Our 16 inches of wood will be accepting lead donations end-on.  Research supports our common belief [but still possibly wrong] this should stop run of the mill rifle and pistol rounds of up to .50 caliber.

Once this defense is finished we will turn our attention to the pine pole tips we set aside earlier.  Their size will be approximately 5 inches at their butts, tapering to 0 at the tip.  Loping shears and hand saws will be used to trim limbs from this main stem tips, leaving 12 to 16 inches of each limb attached to the main stem.  These limbs will then be trimmed to create sharp points.  When the main stem diameter reduces to around two inches the stem will be cut and turned into pine sap rich kindling. Some of the larger cut of limbs will then be reserved for individual sharpened sticks, with the balance turned into more kindling.

The sharpened ‘group sticks’ will be 8 to 15 feet long.  They can be laid out randomly, or with the small end of one stick overlapping the large end of the next stick, wired together to make a continuous barricade as long as is needed.  We have completed a little more than a dozen root balls and ‘sharpened tips’.  They have cured out to be very tough and remain quite sharp. A couple in our group have a 30 foot Class “C” motor home.  They have ceded its use by our group as a stranger/visitor, or ‘quarantine space’.  It can be strategically parked and be in full view at all times of the person manning the OP/LP.  The motor home can berth and support five people. Well, perhaps six, if they are very good friends!

PSYOPS
We have completed two PSYOPS ‘kits’.  They are ready to deploy at TEOTWAWKI.  To deploy before then would only rile up the sparse neighborhood. It is my task to be keeping the contents of the kits current with the times between now and ‘then’.

‘Tank’ Traps
Our primary defense against a motor vehicle supported assault is, and will continue to be, the strategic management of standing timber.  While we are hardening our retreat we will remain constantly aware of which trees to take and which trees to leave.  We recognize there will not be sufficient timber to totally stop a vehicle.  However, it is anticipated the combination of standing timber and other ‘directional aids’ such as root balls, etc. will slow most vehicles or channel them into prepared traps where  they may be dealt with on a prioritized basis.

Tools on hand or available:
Saws, axes, pruning saws and loping shears have been and will continue to be our primary tools to perform this work.  Axes, saws and shears all require different tools and methods to make them and keep them sharp.  Not only does a sharp tool perform better than a dull one, but a sharp tool is less likely to contribute to accidental injuries. Files, whetstones and other hand held tools are generally quite small and, therefore, easily misplaced.  A file ‘misplaced’ and left outside for even one night’s morning dew will effectively end its useful life as a sharpening instrument.  You cannot have too many sharpening backup options.  The old ‘three is two’ argument applies here quite well.

Use of Water:           

Installed roof sprinkler system
Living in a very high risk forest fire area, combined with my personal background search and rescue and fire fighting we are very conscious of fire control.  We anticipate that fire prevention is out of our control since all of our fires seem to start on nearby National Forest or BLM Land.  Therefore, we are concentrating on control.  First, land clearing created by the stockading of the retreat will greatly increase the horizontal retreat-to-timber distance.  Next we have installed farm and ranch grade pulse sprinklers [one maker of these sprinkler heads is Rainbird] on the roofs of the shop building, the main house, and the greenhouse.  The three sprinklers are strategically placed to provide overlapping coverage to keep all roof surfaces wetted, as well wetting surrounding trees and ground covers.  By extension, they also keep our defensive works wetted.  When placed at an average roof height of about sixteen feet above ground level, and at normal water pressure from our own well, we create an 85 foot ‘wetting radius’.  These ‘fire preventers’ have been installed on the Primary’s dwellings for many years, and tested at least annually.  There is a gasoline fired generator tied in via a cross-over switch so we are not reliant on our public utility district for firefighting water.  The generator is tested monthly.  In addition only alcohol free gasoline that has been ‘Stabil-ized’ is ever used in the generator.           

Creation and placement of “portable” ponds
We live in a semi-arid area.  Some people call it an actual desert.  Water is generally at a premium.  However, we are fortunate to have good drinking and plant water 13 to 18 feet below the surface.  Therefore, we have figured water into our defenses.  Through the creative use of barrier materials we expect to have some control over approach paths that attackers might use.  We believe in stockpiling to quite a degree.  Some of the items we stockpile are 100 foot by 50 foot rolls of 10 mil clear and black plastic.  When you keep the unopened boxes away from temperature extremes and sunlight this type plastic will store for years.  Taking advantage of our very flat terrain the use of some shallow ‘ponds’ figure in our defenses. 

Using pine root balls, pine sharpened sticks, smooth and barbed wire, we will funnel attackers into narrow defiles that have “wading puddles” that are about a foot deep, and too broad to jump across as the only path of advancement.  So, what use is this?  Well, according to the National Weather Service we only have thirty ‘frost free’ nights per year.  Most nights will give our ponds at least skim ice.  A lot of the time our ponds will be mini skating rinks.  Getting wet in this terrain and altitude will most likely contribute to hypothermia at the very least.  So, by combining our defensive works to funnel attackers into certain, narrow areas, insuring those narrow areas are centered on firing lanes from our positions, and causing attackers to meet a water barrier at the time we are able to increase our effective fire may act as enough of a deterrent to cause people to think twice about coming closer.  We hope so, but are not counting on it.           

Garden hose use in fire fighting
Garden hoses are usually shunned when firefighters talk of structure fires.  While most of my personal fire fighting has been confined to ships, aircraft and oil field structures, I offer the following:  A garden hose with normal household water pressure equipped with a nozzle that creates a solid stream can be quite useful.  The solid stream is needed to get the greatest range.  The water stream is directed to the base of the fire just as one should do using a CO2 extinguisher.  When the stream comes in contact with the burning material the water will flash to steam and rise.  This conversion from liquid to steam pulls the heat out of the fire, cooling the fire and, therefore, reducing its rate of spreading.  This can gain you valuable minutes while you wait for additional help to arrive.  Others recommend a fine spray type nozzle based on what a firefighter would use.  Firefighters use the spray pattern quite often.  The difference is, they are using firefighting equipment that is probably delivering at least 60 PSI at 60 GPM.  Their spray nozzle can project water about as far as you can with a small solid stream from your garden hose.  It will still gain you time.

Conclusion
Finally, one must keep everything in proper perspective.  One of our group is always coming up with things like,”Yes, but what if they fly in and hit us with napalm?  We’re all gonna be dead.”  Our response is generally to concede that enough napalm will in fact ruin our day.  But then we point out that all we are doing, and all we can do is attempt to increase the odds of survival in any given situation.  A more realistic problem in our area involves the numerous one ton, four wheel drive, jacked up trucks.  Our goal for them remains to slow or delay their progress within reasonable shooting distances. We are a group of like minded preppers who strive to be as ready as possible when TEOTWAWKI descends upon us.  We feel one of our greatest strengths lie in understanding there is much information out there that we don’t know.  We continuously strive to explore new subjects and hold regular training and “Table-Top Scenario” sessions for all members.


Thursday, August 4, 2011


I am writing this article to give suggestions and my experience of finding, buying and building my retreat so people can see that you don't have to spend tons of money for one.  First off, let me tell you that it took over a year to find my retreat property, actively looking almost every weekend.  It included looking at more properties than I can count, and making an offer on 11 of them, before I got the price and property that I wanted.  It is a long and tedious process, but my family and I really enjoyed it.  We used to spend most weekends hiking different state and national parks in our area, so we used the retreat hunting to enjoy new areas to hike.  First, we found a realtor that we felt comfortable with and that grew up in the area we were interested in.  He also liked hiking, so he didn't mind exploring the hills and hollers with us.  We found a few we liked, but they were  all priced more than I felt they were worth.  We made offers, but couldn't get anyone to come down much on the prices.  Then, early this spring, we made an offer on one and it was accepted!

It is only 12 acres, but has some nice features.  I'll go into them more in a bit.  I offered about half the price that most property around there was going for(there are many state parks, and BLM land all around, so everyone prices it for the scenic rustic value).  The woman that owned it was elderly and could not keep up with the land, so she was willing to give it to us for what we offered.  My point here is not to get discouraged if people won't come down to your price range.  Keep looking, and you will find your ideal spot.

When we bought the property, it had a run down trailer, a small metal garage, and small log sheds that were falling down, along with a lot of junk that her son dumped there after she moved out, so we had our work cut out for us getting it cleaned out.  First thing we did was go to work making the trailer livable again.  We replaced the floor and carpet with mainly free or very inexpensive materials that people gave me, or that I found in the "Free Stuff" and "Materials" section of Craigslist. All the while I was collecting reclaimed wood and other materials and storing it in the garage.

Next, we made use of a small clearing, and started dropping trees to make a larger area for our garden/livestock area.  I put my oldest boy to work splitting the wood, and my younger boy stacking it up.  Once it was clear, we used our tiller to till the whole area, while adding manure that we hauled from a stable down the road.  We came by every weekend and cleaned out the stalls for the farmer, and got rid of his large pile behind the barn.  He was more than happy to have the help cleaning up the stables.  After we tilled it 4 different times and added the manure and some green sand that I found for very little money on Craigslist, we started planting apple trees and some grapes that we got from a local nursery.  Growing along the border of our garden area are some wild raspberries and blackberries that act as a natural fence.  But because there is a very large deer population in the area, we decided to put a fence around the whole garden.  I found four 100' rolls on Craigslist for 20-35 bucks each.  That was a great deal. We decided to skip planting the vegetable garden since we weren't there every day, and because we have a nice size one at our home in the city.

The whole time this was going on, we continued to collect building materials and make friends with the other people in our area.  Once the garden area was prepared, we decided to start building a more suitable retreat building.  One of the neighbors down the road had a backhoe that was just sitting around collecting dust, and rust.  He agreed to let us use it if we would haul some dirt and rocks away from his property.  We piled up all the rock and dirt close to a valley that we were intending to dam up to make a pond.  We used the backhoe to dig out for our partially underground home and shelter area, and also to push down some smaller trees to open it up a little more.  After the digging was complete, we started on the footers, walls, and floor.  We used rebar that I had gotten for free from a jobsite that I was working on, and concrete blocks that we got from Craigslist for free or very inexpensive (a lot of people just want the material off their property, so with a truck and some hard work, we got most of it for free).  The gravel and drainage pipe we also very inexpensive.  The most expensive part of this part was the bags of concrete to fill in the blocks.  We thought about just using dirt and sand to fill the blocks, but decided to make it as strong as we could.  We used block to go up four feet above the ground, and then stick built the rest and put local stone that a farmer had out in his field for the outside of it.  We used quite a lot of reclaimed lumber from old barns around here and from the buildings on the property.  The only things we paid close to normal price for was the concrete and the metal roofing. 

We also ran the downspouts down into a 1,500 gal water tank that we bought from a farm supply store and ran a pipe and pump into the house.  We then had a finished 40x32 defendable home with a decent water supply.  (I did have to buy a water filtration system from a local dealer)   We also added a 12x32 safe room/shelter with reinforced concrete.  The concrete we got for dirt cheap by paying cash for leftover concrete from a job 10 miles away.  I had made a call in to local concrete companies a few months prior, telling them I would pay cash for any concrete that they had extra from a big job down the road.  A week after we finished building the block part of the structure, one of the companies called and told me they had sent too much to the job and had enough concrete for what I needed.  I already had the footers ready and had built the forms with used plywood.  I was planning on ordering concrete the next week.  Great timing.  We poured the walls and floor that day.  Then using some metal pour deck and some used steel beams bought for scrap prices from a job site, we built the roof, and ordered enough concrete for a 3 inch pour over the roof.  This made us a 12' x 32' foot shelter and a place to keep most of our beans, bullets and Band-Aids since theft is common around since most of the properties are weekend getaways.  We also hid the steel door behind a bookshelf.  We left holes and room for a blast door and the safe cell air scrubber from Safecastle for when we get the money for them.  Once all this was done, we back filled everything and put about a foot of dirt over the shelter. 

The most expensive things for the inside of the house was the wood burning cook stove which I found used on Craigslist and the composting toilet.  We also added an outhouse to save the composting toilet for when it becomes extremely cold, and for the wife and kids at night.  We got all the cabinets we could ever need from Craigslist for next to nothing.  We also got a couple used sinks that were in very good shape.  I then made some furniture with some of the choice pieces of wood left from clearing the garden area.  When designing and building your retreat, waste nothing.  You can usually find a use for it down the road.  We then found a free sofa bed that was in good shape that someone just wanted hauled away.  We also found quite a few oil lamps from garage sales and flea markets.  The kids love going to flea markets and garage sales and trying to find stuff we can use.  Their eyes just light up when they drag us over to something and tell us how useful it would be.  We make a game seeing which one can find the best deals.  They love it.

Our next project was to dam up a small valley to build a pond for a secondary water source.  We saw in the local paper that a excavating company needed somewhere to dump a lot of chunks of concrete from some sidewalks that they had torn up.  We decided that this would be a great interior for our dam.  They dumped it right where we needed it.  Then we used the dirt that we had piled up, which has a high concentration of clay to pack around the concrete.  We added a two-foot wide used drainage pipe for our overflow.  The pond isn't filling up as quick as I would have liked, but with the small amount of rain we have had lately, that is to be expected.  The kids are really looking forward to going to a large lake down the road to catch fish to stock the pond with.

We have recently started to work on a couple of small caches around the property.  We borrowed the backhoe again and dug a few holes.  Then using rebar and old railroad ties we built the walls.    We then used some of the larger logs that We saved and used them as beams.  We then used the plywood from our forms and nailed it to the top of them.  The some salvaged rubber and contractor plastic was glued to the plywood and ran four feet across the ground in each direction [beyond the roof].  We then added dirt and branches over the top of it until it looked like the rest of the area around it.  The entrance to them are junk refrigerators with the backs cut out of them, painted olive drab, and camouflaged with netting and more sticks and branches until they were completely invisible.  While we had the backhoe, we decided to dig out two LP/OP positions.  They have yet to have anything else done to them, but that is in the works.  The next project on the list is to use all these free windows to build a greenhouse and passive solar heating system.

We did all of the work with the help of just a few close friends and family.  Most of the materials were free or very inexpensive.  My suggestion is to start stocking up on any building materials that you can find.  If you don't use them, then most will make great barter or charity items for TEOTWAWKI.  Don't overlook anything as a possible material.  Tires, railroad ties, scrap metal, car hoods and an almost infinite numbers of other manufactured materials can be used for retreat building.  I suggest that anyone looking to build inexpensively should purchase The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book by Mike Oehler.  It has many useful ideas that I modified to suit my purposes.  Just use your imagination and get the whole family involved.  I found it most encouraging that a couple of our ideas we started by my five year old son. Semper Paratus, - Chris in the Midwest


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Sir,
Happy Independence Day to you and your family. Concerning underground tanks for fuel storage, most states require both lining systems and cathodic protection to prevent leakage into the ground and or ground water. I fully agree with the defensive sense, being a veteran of the US Army and most of my time serving in the Infantry, having prepared many a defensive position.   As such for OPSEC, finding a discreet contractor may present a challenge, and of course the local county may get interested, Hopefully not too much. - Grog  

JWR Replies: Cathodic zinc anodes (commonly called "sacrificial zincs") such as these have been mentioned before in SurvivalBlog. They are important to use if you bury metal containers for caching, too!

Your mention of bureaucratic nosiness prompts me to mention that this is just one more reason to move to one of the American Redoubt States. In most of those states, no building permits or inspections are required for anything except septic tank installations, if you live outside of city limits.

Jim:
That was an interesting article you wrote about the goal of blending in. My amplification of that is to make a goal of not showing up on the aerial and satellite photos that Google and others have on line. I’m in the middle of 10 acres of old growth woods and the satellite view shows the road leading here swallowed up by the over-reaching trees. And delivery vehicles trying to get here usual go right by the drive.  

For ham operators, the method I use to blend in is by use of wire antennas. Through the trees. My long wire antenna is 250 feet long. My doublet is strung as an Inverted V. Details on doing these antennas that perform every bit as good as more expensive beams and towers is The Wireman’s excellent handbook, now in its fifth edition.  

My scanner and VHF/UHF antennas are all on five television masts and push-up mounts on the rear of the house, not visible even from the front of the house. - Vern

JWR Replies: Keep in mind the drawback to having large trees that screen your house from aerial observation in most cases also put your house at risk of forest fires.


Monday, July 4, 2011


Much of my consulting work revolves around either finding retreat properties for my clients, or helping them design or retrofit houses, once they've bought a property. I often have to play the "voice of reason" role, especially with houses that will be within line of sight from neighboring properties or from public roads.

It is important to have a house that blends in with the style of architecture of your neighborhood. Yes, a Monolithic Dome offers great ballistic protection, but if it is the only one in your county, then it will attract attention. My advice: If you want ballistic protection but your house will be in plain view, then either build with insulating concrete forms (ICFs), or build a traditional brick house. If you want to add ballistic protection to a "stick built" (aka "bullet transparent") house, then add a decorative rock or brick facade, depending on the local style. Only someone who looks closely will notice that it is a thick facing.

If your house will be situated behind a screen of trees, then you will have a lot more leeway in design options. There, you might consider an underground house, for example. But even then, try not to build a house that screams "retreat bunker house." For example, if you install ballistic shutters, then back them with wood or vinyl panels, to make them look either like storm shutters, or like purely decorative shutters when they are in their normally open position. And if you install a large array of photovoltaic panels, then site them with both solar exposure and privacy from public view in mind.

Don't build a moat. Instead, construct "decorative" masonry planters to stop vehicles, or "stylish" stepped planters. Either of those will stop 99% of vehicles.

If you buy large fuel tanks, then opt for underground installation. Not only will they be low key, but that will also give them protection from wildfires.

If you buy a backup generator, do your best to keep it out of public view and dampen the noise.

If you have any unusual vehicles (such as a Unimog), then keep it garaged when it is not in use, and and keep your garage door shut.

Anyone with a gun vault bolted to their garage floor should not only keep their garage door shut as much as possible, but also take the extra step of camouflaging the vault. A cardboard refrigerator box is better than nothing, but you might get creative and make it look like an actual refrigerator. (You can get dead, oversized "Frankenfridges" free or at very low cost at dumps, if you ask nicely. Craigslist is also a good source.) Or make your vault look like a paint cabinet, by building a hinged unpainted plywood cabinet with double doors around the vault.

If you are a ham radio enthusiast, resist the urge to buy a giant Yagi or Moon Bounce antenna. Also, consider getting antenna masts that can be telescoped when not in use. Also remember that vertical yagis stick out, but horizontal ones blend in. (They just look like television antennas, to the casual observer.) So consider getting one that pivots for operation in both polarizations. Not only will it give you better OPSEC, but it will give you better versatility.

In conclusion, do your best to make your retreat house unremarkable or invisible. You want to look like "just another hobby farm." Adding a few kitschy trappings out at the county road helps with the subterfuge.



Dear Jim:
To follow up on the recent letters, we supply roughly half inch thick ballistic steel to stop .30-06 AP threats. (NIJ  Level IV ).

The tradeoff is that you are looking at roughly double the weight -- 20 lbs. per square foot.  So for the hypothetical 36" by 36" piece it adds up to roughly 180 lbs.  Ceramic tile can provide AP or Level IV protection at less than half that weight - but much more expensive.

Your point about spall is well taken. I would worry most about the bullet splatter or ricochet from a round plastering itself onto the threat side face of steel plate.   Eye protection is mandatory anytime firearms are in use, but especially here.

Your idea to angle the plate is a great one. Just be sure you are directing ricochets and bullet splatter in a safe direction!   (You do not want to have your head sticking up over a plate angled toward you!)   Ideally, you want to direct bullet splatter and ricochet away from you.  So shutters that lock open at an angle are an idea here, to give a protected firing port.

Assuming a bullet that would otherwise be a perfect 90 degree hit, a .25" thick steel plate angled at 45 degrees effectively gives you a 0.35" plate thickness. Or in metric terms, 6.4mm becomes almost 9mm.  Over 40% more effective thickness, plus you are encouraging the round to take the path of least resistance, and ricochet rather than penetrate.  There is a good reason that tanks have sloped armor on the front!
Yours truly, - Nick at BulletProofME.com Body Armor


Saturday, July 2, 2011


Mr.  Rawles,  
On the subject of securing windows with plywood. there is one piece that seems to be missing as may often be the case of a “My Home is My Castle” scenario. What if you have to get out? While there is no 100 percent answer, there is the military and historically proven fact that if you make a defensive area/building too hard to get into, it is too difficult to get out of. Such an example would be if there is a fire in the structure.   Thanks for the Blog and your great work.   - Grog

JWR Replies: Window shutters should be designed to be latched from the inside, to allow emergency egress!

 

Dear Jim:

For ballistic protection of windows the best solution is to use ballistic steel - a special high hardness and heat treated formulation.

Ballistic steel plate is only 1/4" thick (6.4 mm)  and tested to stop six rounds of 7.62mm NATO full metal jacket (FMJ) ["ball''] per square foot. It also easily stops 7.62x39mm AK-47 mild steel core.

At roughly 10 lbs. per square foot, your 36" by 36" piece would weigh  only 90 lbs. versus the estimated 360 pounds for 1" of regular steel!

Flat ballistic plate in quantity is much less expensive than curved steel rifle plates.

But of course would be more expensive than regular, mild steel. But this extra cost would  be offset by reduced installation costs, as you don't have to build to handle four times the weight.

More importantly, a 90 pound shutter could be closed and secured much  more quickly in a threatening situation. And closing a lighter shutter is a job that kids, or a petite woman could do - perhaps not possible with a 360 pound beast.

We have supplied customers in multiple applications, armoring doors, windows, safe room walls, etc., etc.   High hardness steel plate is not something you want to be drilling or cutting - but can be ordered pre-cut, and pre-drilled.

Yours truly, Nick
Manager, BulletProofME.com Body Armor

 

JWR Replies: The problem with using a single 1/4" plate is that although it will stop soft nose and standard lead core "ball" ammunition, it won't reliably stop 7.62mm NATO or .30-06 armor piercing (AP) bullets.

The following data was found with web searches. Notably, the most reliable information was found at the excellent The Highroad (THR) forums.

The following is data for various 7.62mm NATO AP loads:

"Hiternberger AP: FMJ, tungsten core, 9.7 g; V10 850 m/s; penetrates 10 mm armour plate at 300 m

Fabrique Nationale (FN) AP P80: FMJ; 9.75 g; V25 823 m/s; can penetrate 6 mm steel plate at 100 m

Chartered Ammunition Industries, Singapore Technologies (CAI) AP M61: V24 838 m/s; conforms to US Mil-Spec MIL-C-60617; penetrates 6 mm chrome nickel plate (Brinell 450) at 100 m

Adcom AP [essentially the same specs as U.S. Lake City arsenal] AP FMJ; [sintered] steel core; 9.5 g; penetrates 3.5 mm SAE 1010 steel plate at 100 m or 8 mm SAE 1010 steel plate at 450 m; V24 838 m/s"

According to U.S. Army manuals, .30-06 AP can penetrate .42" (10.67mm) of hardened steel at 100 yards.

Availability: While 7.62mm NATO AP is fairly scarce, there is lot of .30-06 AP in circulation .You often see it for sale at gun shows. Back in the 1960s and 1970s it was priced about the same as ball.

Ditto for 7.92x57mm (commonly called "8mm Mauser" in the US) AP. Those AP bullets reportedly can penetrate 7 to 8 millimeters of hardened steel armor plate at 100 meters. Roughly one third of the military surplus 8mm ammo in circulation is either AP or AP Tracer (APT).

One other consideration is that "stopping" a bullet doesn't necessarily make the occupants of a building completely safe. There is still the risk of spalling--where pieces of the the back side of the armor plate itself can fly off, forming dangerous fragments. So if you have less than 1" of armor plate, I recommend adding a spall liner--typically this is a Kevlar blanket.

And then there is the penetrating capability of .50 BMG Ball, AP, APT, APIT, and Raufoss. Yes, there are a few rifles out there, but if you have .50 BMG bullets whistling toward your retreat, then they would probably be coming from a large, well-organized attacking force, so you' better plan on exfiltrating, immediately.

Conclusion:
Just one hardened 1/4 inch hardened plate is insufficient foreseeable threats. A pair of hardened plates would probably suffice, but I'd feel safer with three or four. Multiple stacked plates work better than a single plate, because you benefit from multiple layers of surface hardening, rather than just one.

The other option is setting up 45-degree angled plates. This offers better protection with less thickness, but of course require more surface area and hence more weight. It also greatly complicates the mounting, to prevent someone angling a shot behind the plate. Thus, angled plates would be well-suited to buildings with extra-thick walls, such as adobe houses or Earthships.


Thursday, June 9, 2011


Mr. Rawles,
Thank you for your service to our country.  In the deep south we are presently in the mist of a drought with high heat and humidity. As two-year preppers, my brother and I grow a few acres of vegetables and field corn for livestock that consist of chickens, hogs, milk goats and rabbits. A milk cow is in the planning. My brother is 71 and I am 68 and we were raised on the farm. I left for the air-conditioned work-force many years ago but still spend several hrs a week at manual labor. At my age I am in better physical condition and have greater rural knowledge than a very high percentage of people over the age of fifty. That said, I can only work four hours or so in the mornings before running out of gas. In a world without electricity, this means starvation. The drought has fried our crops and if we were depending on them to survive, we would be in trouble. (Watering crops without electrical pumps is only available to a few with spring fed creeks.) My point in writing is on preparing to survive without air-conditioning.      

First, relocate to a cooler climate. (To the Redoubt States in the Rockies.)    

Second, keep yourself hydrated at all times.   

Third,  get your body in shape by working out inside or outside early in the morning. (Only with a buddy in summer).     

Fourth, be very careful when out in the heat but try sitting in the shade for a few minutes each day to become acclimated to the stress of high temps. Start with a few minutes and work up to an hour. Read a book. If at any time you feel ill or 'light-headed' go inside.     

Fifth, if you are overweight, please slim down.    

Sixth, whatever you think you are capable of doing in a world with no air conditioning, reduce it by 80% and then see if you can survive.      

By no means am I an expert, but given the condition, health, and mind set of most people, I believe we will have a human disaster the first summer without air-conditioning in the south. I know some older folks will say, like me, they grew up without air conditioning but that was with a different body and frame of mind. Most homes built in the south in the last fifty years were designed for air conditioning and become death traps without it. They do not have screens on windows or screen doors so if you open them you are eaten alive by insects and invite unwanted two-legged villains.

FWIW, I have purchased rolls of screen wire, not the plastic type, for eventual barter). 

I know this doesn't do justice to the subject of heat, but if you live in the south and have a family, consider moving. Odds are, if you stay, you aren't going to make it [in a grid-down collapse]. Best plan: relocate!  - Deep South Charlie


Monday, May 30, 2011


James Wesley:
When I constructed my home six years ago I decided to add a storm shelter in a surprising location (at least for me). I noticed the front stoop and porch already had a full foundation and adjoining basement wall and I only needed to add a single additional wall to create a reinforced concrete bunker with concrete roof, at minimal cost. I also included a 2'x3' opening into the basement that provided access to the concrete bunker. Although the inside area isn't large (4' x 8') it is completely surrounded by 8" of reinforced concrete that could survive any tornado. I had an electrical outlet installed during construction so the possibility of lights, heater, or radio is within easy reach providing the power stays on. The main problem is how to referee my two cats and two dogs in the case of a storm. Sincerely, - T.R.S.


Sunday, May 29, 2011


Dear JWR:
First let me say I don't consider myself a expert.  However I have studied on the subject and would like put  forth what I have gleaned from my research.

1 Weather patterns shift.  When I was a kid in Louisiana  you never heard of a tornado's there.  Now they are commonplace.
2 Stick built houses (2 by 4 construction) and trailers cannot stand up to even a weak twister.
3 Even in a weak storm the flying debris is deadly.

I also found out that a large numbers of deaths were caused by this lethal debris as people were waiting for the last second to get into their shelter/safe place.
So why were people waiting so long to get into their shelter or safe place?  The answer is simple, they are not comfortable places to be.
Again why is that so?  There are several contribution factors to this.  Most are smallish.  8'x10' is considered large for a shelter.  They are not (usually) maintained well.  The outside ones are usually dank and have bugs etc. because of this lack of maintenance.

The inside ones are (usually) considered a waste of space, are cramped and lack ventilation.
In my opinion the #1 reason is the lack of information/contact with the outside world!  Prior to going into the shelter you are glued to the television watching the progress of the storm.  This is especially true at night. 

Think about it, prior to going into your shelter, you have television, radio, weather radio, telephone, cell phone, computer and Internet.  Also you have things like HVAC, water, bathroom etc., IE comfort.  When you enter (most) shelters all of that is gone.
After the first time you have sat in your man made cave under the stress of a deadly storm coming and nothing happens, Your mind makes it hard to repeat the process until the last moment.

I understand the cost of a shelter.  (That is the reason most are smallish.)  But with a little pre-planning you can turn the uncomfortable to bearable.
For those dealing with an preexisting structure a outside shelter will probably be the least expensive.

For the outside shelter:
Run in a couple antenna wires for a small television and or a radio.  Think about a hard line telephone or cell phone repeater antenna.  Install a solar powered shop light, and/or vent fan.  Add a bench or a couple folding chairs and that should work. Just make it work for you.
Note: For those that live in areas with high water tables, there are several integral (one piece) shelters that are made of steel or fiberglass that will greatly reduce the water issue.

For the inside safe room it's usually less expensive to deal with this during construction.  A lot of people put it under the garage since you have to have a slab floor for that already.
I took the approach of turning one of the basement bedrooms into a safe room.  I was able to take advantage of three existing concrete walls, and only had to add one concrete wall and a slab roof.  This gave me a nice sized bedroom and full bath under a "hard" roof.  I had it preplanned for HVAC, television and radio antenna wires, hard line telephone.  After construction I added emergency lighting.

This may not be the best approach for some but it worked for me.
Bottom line make your shelter/safe room as comfortable as you can so that you and your family won't mind going in there.  Kids especially will be nervous.  You may think about pre positioning coloring books or something to take their mind off of what is actually going on.  The stress of the weather event itself will be bad enough.  You family, especially the kids,  don't need the added stress of being in a "scary" place. - Wolfgang


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


James Wesley,

I'd like to turn the author of the article and others on to Calumet Industries.

I've purchased the "PSP" from them in the past and had a good transaction.

I was purchasing them for a slightly different reason - as bridging planks. The PSP is heavier gauge steel dating back to WWII and are a lot stronger than the more modern temporary road bedding. I cut off the connection tabs along the side and welded on some tubing lengthwise on the sides to further strengthen the planks. These are now strong enough to construct a short bridge to broach deep ditches, small deep creeks, etc. They also serve as ramps to climb over lower concrete abutments or steep berms, etc. If you have a vehicle with a very poor approach/departure angle these can allow you to clear obstacles that would otherwise stop you "dead". They would also serve well as structural elements to set up a temporary barrier or roofing for a dug out position - being strong enough to support sand bags, rock, etc. - Tanker

 

JWR:
Your reader who wants to build a temporary road may wish to look at landscape fabric as an underlay to his road gravel.  He can buy it in 12' x 300 rolls at wholesale landscape supply yards.  This tough fabric will prevent the gravel from being driven into the mud by truck traffic.  He will also not need excessive amounts of gravel that he would normally need to replace gravel lost due to truck traffic.  4-to-6 inches of 3/4"[minus] crushed rock should suffice.  I would recommend that anyone who wishes to build a gravel or asphalt road use this underlay to stabilize the road bed.  It more than pays for itself in reduced maintenance.

Your reader can then scrape up the gravel for use in building drainage or his above grade septic system.  Alternatively he can load the building site after freeze up and avoid a lot of expense.  It may be cheaper to run propane blowers and tarps to keep new concrete warm than it is to build his removable truck proof road. - LRM


Monday, May 16, 2011


Mr. Rawles:
I own a pretty densely-wooded 40 [acre property] in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) [of Michigan]. The land on 2.5 sides of ours belongs to a timber company, and the land across the road belongs to the state. We live in a typical "stick built" house. It was built in the 1980s, with lots of big windows and two double-glazed sliding [glass] doors. We are four miles out of a town (about 2,000 population) but our house is only 60 feet from a somewhat heavily traveled county road. So our house is what you would probably call a tactical disaster!!!

My wife recently inherited $212,000. We also have about $60,000 saved in silver and gold. We want to use the cash and liquidate a small part of the gold to very quietly (using some contractors from 90 miles away) build a 1,420 square foot aboveground hardened house/shelter at the back end of our property. I'm presently having a civil engineer link up with my architect for the design. My wife calls our little project "The Hatch", in honor of [the bunker in the television series] Lost. It will be our "fall back", in case everything goes to heck. It'll be set up like a regular house with kitchen, bedrooms, and bathroom--all the comforts of home, except windows!

Because we've got a high water table here, we plan [to build] it above grade, and then haul in soil to make an artificial hill. The entrance will be hidden by a fiberglass "rock", like you talked about in one of your old posts [about concealing cave entrances]. (Thanks, for that.) Inside of that [camouflaged door], the main door will be an inward-opening vault door we'll be getting through Safecastle. The nuclear [fallout protective] ventilator (A.C., with a pedal frame backup) will be out of Ready Made Resources. And we plan to get a Pelton wheel DC generator to power The Hatch. We have a blessing: There is a small river going through the back corner of our land just 90 yards behind [the construction site]. (Yeah, yeah I know, with the [low voltage DC cable] line loss we'll have to invert to 120 Volts, AC.)

So here is my question: How can I construct a temporary road to the work site, without laying down rock and gravel? It is almost dead level between our house and there. I'll cut as few trees [to clear the roadway] as possible in a bunch of S-shaped turns so that it won't look obvious. Here's what I'm picturing: I want to make the road disappear, after the construction is a done deal. We just want a little footpath that winds through the trees. If I scrape the road gravel back off, it will leave traces of the road, even if I plant trees. And we can't skip on [using gravel], because the construction will likely start late in June and continue until about October. It would be axle-deep muck if we've got all those trucks going back there [with no gravel on the roadway]. So here I am, racking my brain... How do I make a temporary road that I can remove, and not leave a trace? Help! - B.D. in the U.P.

JWR Replies: I believe that the best answer is buying or renting a quantity of military surplus AM-2 airfield matting. These aluminum mats were designed to be laid down on leveled ground and linked together to form military runways and taxiways. Earlier generations were made of steel and are often called Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) or Marsden Matting. (The latter is after the name of the town where it was first produced.) There is also now some Soviet-era Russian military surplus runway matting now available in the U.S.

After you are done with your construction project, you can very likely re-sell the matting, probably at just a slight loss. (Since it is always worth at least its scrap metal value.) AM-2, or its earlier generation steel equivalents can often be found at little more than scrap metal prices through DLA/DRMS sales yards and their auctions.

Good luck with your project.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Dear Mr. Rawles:

A recent article on your site mentioned using shipping containers to build an enclosed courtyard similar to those that were constructed as California Missions. The author stated he could not use adobe due to the wet climate in which he planned to construct his non-fortress-looking enclave. Here is another suggestion in lieu of adobe:

While living in a rural area in Southern California in the early 1960s, I had to take trash to the dump about every third week. Over the span of just a couple of years, I watched a huge canyon fill-up with trash from our disposable-society discards. About that same time, I also became aware of Dennis Weaver (remembered as Chester in the television series "Gunsmoke") built eco-friendly "Earthship" home, in New Mexico. He used old tires and built his home into the side of a hillside. He reported an almost year-around constant temperature with very little external heat or cooling. That gave me the following idea:

I moved to Texas to purchase 30-40 acres in a non-building-permit-required, non-art-jury-dominated, non-homeowners-association-controlled location. I drew a 50-mile radius on a map with the center of that circle being my property. I then located all appliance stores within that 50 mile radius and made arrangements to pick-up their old appliance carcass' at no charge. I collected the shells of used refrigerators, stoves, chest freezers, washers and dryers which I then used in lieu of adobe bricks to fill-in as walls of a pole frame house. After some reinforcement, stucco on the outside and drywall on the inside made it look like a regular house except for the three-foot-thick walls. The insulation factor is excellent and I figure I personally helped save a lot of space in some land-fills. Regards, - Tex


Saturday, March 26, 2011


James Wesley:
On March 25, we saw a post by Phil M. indicating that "At a point of 6' below the surface of  the earth, temperatures stays constant at around 60°F."  This may only be true for very specific locales.  For most locations, constant ground temperature reflects the average yearly air temperature for the locale, and ground temps are only constant at a depth of about 30 ft. and below.  At depths above 30 ft., ground temperatures begin to increasingly modulate up and down following seasonal air temperature.  In areas of the world with seasonal temperature changes similar to the United States, temperatures at a 6' depth can swing +/- ~10°F from the constant for a given locale, and at the surface, soil temps may swing as much as +/-20°F or more from the locale's constant.  Ground temps generally reach their maximum in August and reach their minimum in February. 

For example, here in Northwest Florida, the constant ground temp at 30' is ~69°F  (water from a 200' well is only slightly cooler at ~67°F).   In August, the soil temperature 6' down will be close to 79°F, and in February, temperature at that same 6' depth will be close to 59°F.

Readers can get a general idea of what  their own U.S. locales may look like at a Virginia Tech web page.

JWR Adds: In northern latitudes, the ambient ground temperature can also be depended on for year-round food refrigeration.


Friday, March 25, 2011


Have you designed and built your own survival retreat yet?  If not, read on.  Designing and building a survival retreat that can provide protection can be affordable and also provide more than adequate shelter and warmth to not only keep its inhabitants alive, but comfortable.

To understand how this is achievable we must first understand what sort of materials are available and how each of them apply to defensibility, sustainability and affordability.  Secondly, we must understand how the arrangement of these materials into form, or design, can lend themselves  to defensibility, sustainability and affordability. 

Materials                 
A major problem with conventional building materials is that they are easily penetrated by small arms fire.  As seen in this video (credit to YankeePrepper on Youtube for posting it), tests were conducted  on conventional residential building materials to see how they stood up against typical rounds from small arms fire (9mm, 5.56, .30 cal., etc.).  These conventional residential materials  could not withstand rounds that could be owned and fired by any citizen.  Additionally, conventional building materials are not always the most efficient material to consider when looking to build a structure that requires a high degree of self-sustainability.

Rammed Earth

The demonstrations see at The Box 'o Truth web site show that the small arms rounds fired at simple boxes of sand don't penetrate more that 6" when fired from about 25 yards.  This report  further illustrates that a 5.56 round fired from 200 yards cannot penetrate more than 2 layers of sand bags (about 18" deep).  But remember, we aren't talking about loosely packed sand, we are talking about rammed earth construction or CEB (compressed earth block which is similar to adobe).  This study shows that rammed adobe construction can withstand rounds of 7.62x39 ammunition from 20 meters and sustain penetration of only 1-1/2" to 2".  Repairs can be made simply by slapping on more mud. Additionally, earth is fireproof making it safe against incendiary attacks.

Earth has one of the highest R-values because of its high thermal mass.  When built at least 12"-18" thick, not only does it provide excellent ballistic protection it has the ability to retain almost all of the heat generated inside of it in the winter and keeps almost all of the heat out in the summer.  In fact, temperatures of 70 degrees can be maintained in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer with little to no air tempering (conditioning) needed.  By combining earth with a good wood burning stove and passive solar radiance for the winter and adequate ventilation in the summer even more bearable temperatures can be achieved (more on design later).

Rammed earth can be very labor intensive.  Formwork must be erected and layers of earth are either hand or hydraulically compressed into place.  CEB on the other hand has a variety of options for machines that compress earth into blocks that are easy to manage and set into place by hand.

Salvaged Shipping Containers
The  USA annually imports more goods and materials than it exports from countries overseas.  These goods are transported in steel shipping containers which are currently stored in shipping yards.  The expense to ship these containers back empty is sometimes more costly than to sell them at scrap prices.  For the container itself and shipping,  8' wide by 40' long by 9'6" high shipping container can be delivered for about $2,000-$3,000. 

These containers are rated to hold tons (literally) of equipment while listing and bobbing on huge freight liners.  So for approx. $6.25 per square foot you have a structurally sound, fireproof and storm proof shell delivered to a location of your choosing.  Get some buddies who know how to weld and you can have a quick structure that you can either bury underground [with sufficient reinforcement, as previously discussed at length in SurvivalBlog], stack in multiple levels for a multi-storied structure, or build at surface grade and berm up earth alongside it.

Shipping containers come in a variety of sizes, even down to 8'x20'x8'.  These small modules could be pre-fabricated at a convenient location and could include bare necessities for living such as a sink, small oven, a commode, or even a  few bed racks.  Furthermore, something as small as 8'x20' could be loaded onto a trailer for a bug-out type situation.  This module could be set down anywhere and act as a temporary retreat.  The best thing about shipping containers is their modularity.  As you built your survival retreat and as funds become available, you can simply add on to it and expand it by simply adding more containers.

Tire Bale Survival Retreats
This is a relatively new concept in creating wall structure for a survival retreat.  By compacting as much as 20 tires and wiring them together, very large building blocks can be made to create structure for exterior walls.  Tires can be found by going  to any recycling facility to see if they have some.  You might even be able to get them for free.  The big advantage to this type of material is that it can be very quick to erect and all one would have to do is finish it with stucco.  The tires could also be filled with sand creating a higher heat mass and better ballistic protection.

More Exotic Materials
There are variety of materials that one can use to construct a survival retreat when considering sustainability.  In a TEOTWAWKI environment there will be an abundance of materials that are no longer of use to the average person.  These materials can be scavenged and reused for the purposes of creating shelter.  For example, bottle structures have been constructed for quite a long time.  Not a very defensible material, but it does posses strong R-value.  Recycled 15"x15" carpet tiles were use to create the walls of this survival retreat.  Discarded car windshields scavenged from a local landfill compose in a shingled manner form the roof of this community center.

Design Considerations
The arrangement of materials in a fashion that takes advantage of the natural laws of physics and the local environment is just as crucial as picking the correct materials.  By utilizing the surrounding context of the property the structure is placed on to the greatest effect you will reap many benefits.

Passive Solar Heating
Keeping warm in the winter is a life threatening challenge if there is no way to burn fuel for energy.  If there is fuel for burning it will most likely be in short supply.  One way to mitigate the amount of fuel used is to take advantage of passive solar heating.  Put simply, using the sun to generate heat and putting that heat where it needs to go. The most design way is to have as many south facing windows as possible that allow the sun in the winter to shine directly onto a thick slab floor and walls with high thermal masses.  In the summer, awnings should be placed to keep the sun from shining in through the windows. 

Air Circulation
Utilizing natural air circulation to cool structures in the summer is crucial for survival as well.  The most common way to address this is by taking advantage of convection currents.  In short, heat rises,  so by allowing the heat to vent through a high point in the survival retreat allows it to escape.  But you must also allow for an air intake at a low portion of the survival retreat as well in order for cool air to be drawn in by the vacuum created from the escaping heat.  By orienting the air intakes in the direction where breezes commonly come from in the summer, air is forced into the structure causing more ventilation.

Going Underground
Building your survival retreat underground could be one of the best options if you have the time and money.  Digging big holes in the ground isn't necessarily expensive in itself, but installing the proper system to prevent flooding in your retreat can get very costly.  However, going underground is the best way to ensure a consistent temperature in your structure.  At a point of 6' below the surface of  the earth, temperatures stays constant at around 60°F.  Not to mention the fact that you have protection against hurricanes, tornadoes, nuclear fallout, and gunfire.

Take the High Ground
If you have land with a high point overlooking a large area of land, build there.  Throughout history forts, castles and defensive positions have always take advantage of building on the high ground for the simple reason that it is harder for an opposing force to attack uphill than it is downhill, and it is easier for a defending force to defend the high ground.  When faced with a potential threat, having the high ground could prove an invaluable advantage.

Conclusion
The purpose of this essay was to enlighten readers to building survival structures in the spirit of our ancestors.  They built with what they had and what did the most effective job.  Although there are many modern technologies that can augments these structures such as solar, wind power, and geothermal heat recycling, these are expensive technologies to add.  If the reader does not have sufficient funds for these technologies it is the hope of the writer that the materials and building techniques mentioned above will provide an edge of survivability in his or her endeavor to build a survival retreat.

Online Resources:


Firearms Penetration:
Box o' Truth
FM 3-06.11
Yankee Prepper YouTube Clip on Rifle Terminal Ballistics

Rammed Earth and Adobe Construction:
DIY Rammed Earth
RammedEarthHomes.com
Rammed Earth Engineering
Adobe, pressed-earth, and rammed-earth industries in New Mexico

CEB Construction:
UDC Inc. CEB Page
Fernco CEB Machines
AECT Compressed Earth Block

Underground Homes:
Underground-homes.com
Undergroundhousing.com
Wikipedia's Underground Living Page

Exotic/Alternative Materials:
Bottle Houses
The Rural Studio
Tire Bale Houses

Passive Solar Heating:
Passive-solar-design-manual
Wikipedia's Passive Solar page
Solar Space Heating

Air Circulation:
Natural Ventilation

Shipping Container Architecture:
Zack Smith's Shipping Container Architecture reference page
Wikipedia's Shipping Container Architecture Page


Thursday, February 17, 2011


I have read many of the stories on survival blog but have yet to read a one from someone on a very tight budget. That leaves those of us with tiny incomes at a disadvantage and feeling vulnerable. For about two years I have had a small voice inside me telling me to fill my storehouses with food for the coming famine. As a Christian and minister I believe that voice is God and He wants His people to be ready. Although Many Christians think we are crazy and don’t believe they should have to worry about storing foods for times of famine because they are sure God will provide for them. One pastor told me that God wasn’t telling her to prepare so someone else must be going to prepare their food for them. I pray she is right but felt God had me pass on the information to her.

My husband and I are both disabled and live on a modest $20,000 a year. Late last year we moved out of our double-wide mobile home and let one of our sons take over the payments and move in. We moved to the other end of the two acre property to care for my husband's parents who both have COPD. He does all the driving to get them to their many appointments as well as takes care of their home and property. We live in a 16x20 shop building that we are slowly turning into a cottage. We have put in a bathroom with sink and toilet but need a little more room to put in the tub and shower. We are planning a tiny kitchen this spring and a built-in porch for extra storage. We gave away most of everything we had to make this move. Now we understand more of why we felt so strong about getting out from under the payments of the double wide.

When we lived in the mobile home we had nothing left for food or groceries each month. We were lucky to be able to buy our meds. Of course we are still spending a lot each month on things for the cottage and still have to watch our pennies. The crazy thing is that we did have chickens, goats and pigs to breed and sell. Unfortunately my husband got sick with an intestinal parasite that was eating away at his insides. The health department told us that most people don’t realize they have this until it is too late and they die. We traded our animals for an RV that is worth three times more than the animals were. We are planning to add some chickens this spring though. We had more animals than we could afford to feed through the winter before. We know to be careful to not let that happen again.

We started working on the existing root cellar when we had a couple of warm days. It is small and very wet with a sheet metal door that wouldn’t hold up to a big storm if we needed it to. We cleared the cement roof and plan to seal it and the build a shed on top of it for extra storage. We plan to use as much used materials as we can to keep costs down. We have to clean out all the old jars of food with rusty tops and clean, dry and seal the inside to get it ready for new shelving and stored home canned food from the garden as well as from the grocery and club store.  Once we finish that, we are planning to find someone to dig out a new storm shelter beside it. We are sure there is a neighbor that will charge a minimal fee to dig it for us. We also have one that plows our garden at no charge.

We plan to have the new shelter dug much deeper and as large as we can get away with in the place it is. After much research into earth bag building and other inexpensive types of building materials, we settled on cinder block walls with double thickness and with plenty of inside walls to help hold up a foot of concrete of roof on top of it. After our research, we found that the price of the cinder blocks was much more affordable than any of the other materials we looked at. We will seal up the concrete walls, floor, and roof to help keep it dry and tight inside. Before we back fill all the dirt on top and around our new constructed cellar, we will place thick plastic around the walls and roof as an extra moisture barrier. We are looking at the possibility of building an underground home here instead of just a shelter from the storms. With the heat waves we had last summer, we feel that it will be much easier to keep cool than the above ground cottage we are in now.

We will make two ways to enter and leave the new cellar, with both of them hidden to keep us safer in times of social upheaval since we live just outside the city limits. Inside the new shelter we will build plenty of bunks for the family that will join us when the time is at hand. None of which is very far away. In each bunk we will place egg crate mattress toppers with bedding sealed in space bags until they are needed. The bathroom will have a shower and at least two porta potties for back-up. We already have one. We hope to actually put in a septic system below the bathroom so we can use RV toilets when we can afford to add them. We plan to make a kitchen area as well as a living area and large pantry. We will also add a battery room for when we can add solar power. In this room we hope to have a place for freezers and a fridge that will run off of a low circuit. Not sure yet if this is possible. [JWR Adds: See the SurvivalBlog archives--search on "phototvoltaic" for details.] We did find some affordable solar power kits on Amazon.com. This was awesome news for us get before we even start the building.

Our large pantry will house plenty of food as well as medicine and wipes for washing up. We will also stock up on plenty of seeds for replanting the garden as soon as it is feasible. Although we would sell this place when his parents are gone and find a retreat that is more secluded, we feel that getting started now is very important. If we sell later, it will be worth more money that will help pay for what is needed for the new location. We never know how much time we will have to rebuild if we sell out. We don’t want to be caught without a place to keep us from harms way if the worst case scenario should actually happen.  We plan to do a lot of fishing this year so we can have lots of fish in the freezer. We are working on a couple ways of double sealing frozen products to keep them from getting freezer burnt and make them last longer.

We are planning to check out our locale army surplus store and see what is available to add to our preparedness. We have no guns or ammo as yet, and don’t know when or how we can add the grinders, expensive water filters or the solar power we will need. We do have a large construction grade gas generator that has come in handy when the power was down for an ice storm in 2009. We were prepared to use it again this year but so far haven’t needed it. We do have our eyes on a propane generator but the price is so far out of our reach. We at least can put in the wiring for solar electricity while we are building. I would love to have the plans to build the stationary bike charger though. If anyone wants to send them along to the blog for all who want to use it. We like having something to look at as we read plans for putting something together though. If there are any resources out there, please let us know.

We have already started on the food storage and will need to find a cool dry place for the five gallon buckets to be stored soon. We are also considering a couple other places on the property to place small cement block dry storage areas for extra food storage. We want to add some how-to books to our library on home canning, animal husbandry, storing food and water safely, and anything else we feel will be useful in any situation when we need to supply our own food completely, in the event that we can’t buy it. We are interested in special growing lights and are thinking about putting in an extra room for this.  

In a pinch, we can sell the motor home and some gold jewelry for the more expensive things we need. We are hoping to have some extra veggies to sell this year as well for a little extra cash. We are also looking into buying some produce and reselling at a fair market value for extra cash and to help others who can’t afford grocery store prices with inflation. Thanks to the person who wrote about buying from produce sources and reselling, we feel this will be a big help to us and any customers we can bring in.

In preparation for the coming hard times, we are also losing weight and doing what we can to eat healthier so we can be more physically fit. We have made some very important lifestyle changes in the last few months and have endured some jabs from family members about living in a shed and such. If they only knew what was coming!  After talking with our sons here and there, we have actually seen that they are more receptive because of the changes in the weather affecting our food supply. My mother has been ready for this for some time. People who watch the news and see what is actually going on the world can see that change is coming. Even if all that is ever affected is the weather going crazy and affecting our food supply, then at least we will be ready for that. However, this is not all that I expect to see happen in our very near future.

Another thing I find that is relevant to this blog and feel that your subscribers would want to know, is that many of the Christians we know have had visions and dreams of the coming famine and destruction of our country. I have not met one that can put a time on this happening, but believe we can look at God's word as guidance to help us get prepared for what is coming, no matter when it arrives. My own visions have been of devastating destruction throughout the United States. Famine and sickness abound in those that survive. Many Christians don’t understand the need for being prepared since they plan to be "raptured" or taken care of by God Himself. If you are a Christian and are reading this, I pray you will see this as a warning from God to be prepared before it is too late and food is too high to afford, or it is completely removed from our grasp. It is important to trust that God will help you in your time of need, but you also need to be listening when He is speaking to you--even if He is speaking through someone else. Pray about what your hearing or seeing instead of letting religion keep you from being prepared for the famine that is coming our way very soon. We can all see clearly the signs of the times and know in our hearts that something big is coming our way. Be ready.

Survival is bred into many of us, but at the same time, others have to learn it. My husband and I grew up working in the family gardens and raising chickens and other stock. We have a leg up compared to some. Of course we are looking forward to learning to can food from the garden this year as well as learn to safely dry foods and pack them in a way they will stay fresh for at least a year’s time. We also are planning to work on water tanks that will be just under the surface to collect rainwater which will have pipes that run down to the bathroom and kitchen as needed. We will also look into different methods of filtering the water to make it drinkable and usable for cooking.

As yet we haven’t planned to put any gas tanks underground but are trying to at least keep our tank filled in case there is a shortage sooner that we expect. We get great gas mileage in our older car and will pay it off this year and that will give us a couple hundred dollars extra each month to work with. We will be ready for TEOTWAWKI no matter when it comes. I pray others begin to open their eyes to what is happening around the world and how it will affect us. In doing so, they will then see the need to have extra food on hand for those times when the store shelves are empty and no food can be bought. I pray they also see the same need for water storage as well as medicines and other necessities.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Dear James Rawles,     
We have lived in a Earthship for 12 years.  It is an excellent way of life and very fulfilling to be able to build your own house.  But living in the the dry desert southwest does not provide enough [captured rain or snow-melt] water to grow enough food to survive.  We need a well to provide water.  It is run by solar panels and a jack pump.  But in the summer monsoons or with the winter clouds we have to use a generator, for both pumping water and enough power to run the house. In times of really expensive gasoline or lack of gas we will be in trouble.  

In the winter it is true that it doesn't freeze inside but living in a house colder that 65-68 is uncomfortable. A wood stove is an excellent idea when the weather outside is -20. With all the windows, the heat escapes at night.  Learning to live in more extreme temperatures help, wearing sweaters, more blankets at night et cetera, but the extremes in the summer are more difficult.  Fans are okay, air conditioners are prohibitive in their electric usage, so wet tee-shirts and spending as much time outdoors is the answer.  

It is true we don't have a regular electric bill or water bill, but when we do it is a doosey.  (Calling the well driller to haul the guts out of the well or buying heavy batteries, when needed.) And when the septic system fills up you either dig it out yourself or call a professional.  

If you keep all your amenities including your big screen television, electric clothes dryer, electric freezer then the cost of your solar system will be astronomical.  Learning to be conservative with your electric usage is necessary.  

The design with all the windows is wonderful for all the passive solar heat collecting, but does make it a high safety risk in security.  We live beyond the boonies so that isn't a concern for our chosen level of preparedness.  

I don't mean to sound pessimistic, just realistic. We have no mortgage and that has made it possible to make lots of other preparations.   We love our house and our lifestyle, but like any house it has its limitations and upkeep. Thanks, - Craftyam


Monday, January 31, 2011


How much did the average home owner in the United States pay for utilities last month?  Last Year?  How much will they pay for utilities by the time they pay off their mortgage?  If they averaged $250 per month in utilities, which is below the national average of “$264.33 per month” (Statistic quoted by White Fence) the answer is shocking.  With the average home loan lasting 30 years, without taking into consideration rising costs, utilities would be $90,000!  For that amount of money this homeowner could put one child through a four year-degree at a very nice university.  What if I could explain how to build a home that would have little or no utility costs and cost the same or less to build as a conventional home?  I think that everyone should consider living in a growing architectural design called an Earthship because it will provide housing to live sustainably with no utility bills, ever.

There is an Earthship community where people live and work on their own property; and share labor and food with each other.  “Stacked up in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico, is a community of ‘Earthship’ houses, a pioneer of the Rural Earthship Alternative Community Habitat (R.E.A.C.H.) concept.  Earthships incorporate walls made of discarded vehicle tires, rammed earth and concrete, systems for recycling water and waste, solar technology, and a design that reflects the local adobe vernacular. Designed by architect Michael Reynolds (who lives in the one at the top), they are almost entirely self-sufficient in energy” (2010, Martin Bond).  Whatever a household does not grow or raise themselves they trade with another households that do; back and forth until everyone in the community has everything they need.  Communities such as this one are popping up all over the world. 
Earthship homes are designed to be self contained living units with the construction being out of various recycled materials.  The load-bearing walls are made of counter-stacked, earth-packed, used tires much like a brick wall, only much wider.  “The major structural building component of the Earthship is recycled automobile tires filled with compacted earth to form a rammed earth brick encased in steel belted rubber. This brick and the resulting (load) bearing walls it forms are virtually indestructible” (2010, Earthship Biotecture 1).  These tires can usually be acquired free from local tire companies because the companies have to pay to have them removed so they will happily give them away, ultimately saving them money.  Aluminum soda or beer cans can be acquired free and are used as bricks for interior, non-load bearing walls.  Glass wine or liquor bottles are cut with a wet-saw and placed end-to-end inside non-load bearing walls.  This allows light to shine through, creating beautiful kaleidoscope effects inside the home.  Once the home is complete, the owner can immediately start growing their own food and raising their own meat to supply themselves with the basic sustenance of life.  Because the building will supply the owner with clean drinking water, electricity and comfortable temperature control, there is no need for exterior supplied utilities.  This means the owner has no bills to speak of except the occasional trip to the grocery store for what the Earthship itself cannot provide the owner and propane for backup hot water generation.

Earthships also provide their owners with the three basic needs in life; shelter, food and water.  Additionally, they can provide income if wanted.  If everyone in the United States lived in an Earthship, this country would no longer be dependent on food and fossil fuels imported from all over the world, or huge water and waste treatment plants, run by the government.  This would also eliminate huge corporations controlling public utilities and deciding how much they want the populous to pay for their basic essentials of life.
           
Earthships are normally built on the downhill slope of a south facing hill but this is not a necessity; a level plot is sufficient.  The “hill” design is so the main structure of the home is underground, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter; and the southern face of the home is almost completely made of windows.   These south facing windows allow the sun to heat the walls and floors.  This keeps the temperature in the home comfortable during the winter time when the sun is low in the sky as well as bringing in natural light for the plant life year around.  The average temperature in an Earthship is 70 degrees, year-round.  This temperature is controlled by the occupant through various means built-in at the time of construction.  Vent tubes placed inside of the uphill section of the construction near the floor bring in air from behind and above the home; the air cools as it passes through the earth.  Skylight vents in the ceiling also allow hot air to escape upwards and bring in cool air from the front of the house through windows that open.  This cools the home during the summer and also allows various insects to enter the greenhouse area and pollinate the plant life.  Closing these vents during the winter eliminates this cooling effect allowing the sun to warm the home.  This is an extremely efficient form of heating and cooling, requiring no outside power whatsoever. 
           
Earthships also supply their owners with an abundant amount of fresh water from rainfall, even in very arid climates.  The water collected is then used four times.  Runoff from rain collects in a cistern where it is cycles through a copper pipe to keep bacteria from growing.  When the inhabitant requires water, it is run through a filtration system to make it cleaner than most municipal water supplies.  “Earthship Biotecture has created a board that contains a series of filters and a pump that does this.  They call it the Water Organization Module” (2010, Earthship Biotecture 2).   The first use of the water is for various household duties including drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and taking showers.  This converts clean water into gray water.  Gray water is then recycled the second time by being pumped into the in-home garden where it feeds the plants that will feed the inhabitants.  This is completely safe because no human waste has been introduced into the soil.  Once the water settles down at the low end of the planter system, it is then pumped to a holding tank where it waits to be recycled for the third time to fill the toilets.  Water used to flush the toilets is now considered black water.  The black water is pumped outside where it collects into one of two types of water treatment areas.  The most common is an ordinary septic tank.  Bacteria in the septic tank break down the human waste and the leftover liquid is fed into the ground through a leach field.  “The septic tank contains baffles that prevent any scum that floats to the surface and sludge that settles to the bottom from passing out of the tank. The gases that are generated vent to the atmosphere via the plumbing vent system. From the septic tank, the segregated and relatively clear liquid flows into a small distribution box where it is then metered out to several perforated pipes” (2010, InspectAPedia.com). 

This type of single-home sewage treatment is used worldwide in areas not connected to sewer systems.  The other type of black water treatment is a self-contained flower garden where the black water feeds into a large area of plants, not suitable for human consumption completing the fourth phase of recycling.  This area is completely sealed so no sewage can leak into the surrounding ground and water table.  These plants soak up the water and treat it through natural processes of bacteria and decay.  Animals can eat this grass, bee’s can pollinate the flowers and these animals can be used for food and the bees, of course, produce honey.  This is completely natural as the black water being recycled through the earth and then through the plants, makes it safe for the animals to eat the plants, and ultimately, humans to eat the animals.  Human food cannot be produced this way, because our digestive system does not break down waste as well as the animals digestive system does. 

Sunlight and wind are utilized through photovoltaic panels and wind generators to produce the electricity needed to power the home.  A bank of 12 volt batteries are used to store the electricity produced by these sources and the home mainly runs on fixtures and appliances designed to run on direct current or DC.  An inverter converts the DC into alternating current (AC) for appliances that require AC.  To send power through power lines over long distances requires AC; that is why alternating current is the world standard.  DC is actually much more efficient when power is not required to travel long distances.  Modern Earthships have all the amenities of any home built from conventional means including large screen televisions and high speed Internet.  Propane can also be used for refrigeration or an alternate hot water source.

It takes approximately one-year for the food growth cycle to become established and the home owner accustomed to it.  Once these factors are in harmony with each other; the balance of food production versus use, the owner will incur very minimal monthly food costs.  Earthship inhabitants can teach these methods of living to their children who can either choose to live in their parents Earthship or build one of their own.  The entire process is self-sustaining and continually replenishing itself; thus an Earthship could provide all the basic needs of an entire family.

The cost comparison from conventional home construction and Earthship construction can vary from much lower to much higher than conventional construction depending on how much the owner wants to put into their Earthship.  Earthship architecture keeps the up front cost of construction to a bare minimum because most of the structural materials are either free or very cheap.  Some owners have even built Earthships with no mortgage after completion.  Those building Earthships can rack up expense very quickly with the purchase of the water treatment units and the power generation systems.  Most builders of Earthships choose to save money by building their own wind generators and solar panels, whereas others purchase top-of-the-line, most expensive components saving time and workload. 

When one considers how much money an average homeowner will spend in utilities throughout the length of their mortgage, I believe that everyone should consider building an Earthship.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have no bills to speak of?  Earthships are self-sustaining and for this reason are fast becoming a more main stream option, attracting people from all walks of life.  Imagine never paying utilities, well into your retirement age.  My wife and I are looking for land to build our own Earthship, you should consider joining us.

References and Illustrations:

Blue Rock Station.
           
Earthship Biotecture 1.
           
Earthship Biotecture 2.
           
GreenHomeBuilding.com

Home Quotient. “Food Production”
           
Home Quotient. “Windows”
           
InspectAPedia.com.

Low Carbon Trust. “Photovoltaic & Solar Hot Water”

Specialist Stock. (Specialist Stock photo by Martin Bond used with special
permission via e-mail.)

The Open End. “Phoenix Bath”

The Practical Environmentalist. “Earthship Walls”

WhiteFence.com.


Friday, January 28, 2011


After reading “Patriots” and then becoming a regular reader of SurvivalBlog I quickly realized the opportunities I had to improve my preparedness.  As someone who enjoyed the outdoors I always felt I had some of the skills and materials but realized the task to have the right preparations in the right quantities was going to be a challenge.  Where do I start?  This was especially compounded with the semi-urban apartment lifestyle I live, in the worst state west of the Mississippi, and one that is sure to be disrupted by some type of event - a major earthquake at the very least.  I expect far worse to actually occur here.  Soon after seeing all of the valuable information and insight on SurvivalBlog I found a desire to contribute to those that need a process and a nudge to get going.  Many people like me would love to move to a retreat location but are still enjoying some of what cities have to offer as well as the inability to make a major lifestyle change just yet.  So, how do I start and how do I help others?    While I have been a SurvivalBlog reader I have not seen mention of the survival “Rules of 3” which I learned years ago and apply to my outdoor adventures. 

The Rules of 3 may not have the long term prepper appeal that is a big focus of this blog but it is the foundation for how I am looking at my personal journey to improved survival planning and preparation.  There are many posts talking about training for muscle memory and the need for skills or knowledge, this “mental memory” training is what I like to refer to as “instinct reinforcement” that will train your mental responses much like physical drills create muscle memory.  I hope that my adaptation to the Rules of 3 will help beginning preppers prioritize a plan to expand their preparedness while also developing a mental path that can help them build their “mental memory” along the way.   

The way I learned the survival Rules of 3 was very simple.  Generally, someone can survive:

  • 3 minutes without oxygen
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food  

When you get to the core of survival, understanding these simple rules will prioritize and focus your survival needs during a critical situation.  Remaining calm and stopping to rationally address each of the rules in progression will greatly improve your potential for survival in any situation whether it be simple like being lost in the woods or a full TEOTWAWKI.  The odds of being someplace other than your retreat, or even your primary residence, in a SHTF scenario is overwhelming for the mass populace of our country.  While many of the sheeple out there probably could not get themselves out of a paper bag obstacle, the way I figure it is that if something happened in the middle of nowhere, in the city or at home, at least remembering the Rules of 3 allows you to stop and to bring calm and rationale thinking in an otherwise bad situation.  My additional Rules of 3 are developed to help others develop their own plan.  One caveat:  SurvivalBlog is full of material to help you prioritize the right items and quantities.  I am not going to provide a list of lists or full checklist as there are many others far better and more detailed than I could ever be in a single contribution.  My goal is to provide you with a high level map to help you achieve you preparation objectives via a simple adaptation of the most basic survival priorities.       

So, let’s start adapting the Rules of 3.  
Hopefully 3 minutes without oxygen is self explanatory.  You have to breathe to survive!    3 hours without shelter is about protection from the elements, “shelter your body”.  Staying dry first and staying warm second are two of the most important elements to address here.  Being prepared means you need to have the right protection from rain and snow and necessary layers for warmth, or methods to cool down, which are customized to your area.  Even if the lack of dry boots or warm socks might not kill me in 3 hours, I still wouldn’t want to endure that so I use the 3 hours without shelter rule for any of my kits where weather protection and warmth are a component.  For the first big step in our Rules of 3 mapping, I include components like blankets, sleeping bags, a tarp or tent and anything to keep a temporary roof over my head and warm, dry clothes on my body.  For simplicity this is also where the tools and ability to start a fire should be captured.  A knife and multi-tool as well as a flashlight come in handy at this phase.  For those more familiar with the process, this is where we start with the makings of a bug out bag or even have a nearly final bug out bag (BOB).   

3 days without water is next.  Our Rule of 3 adaptation is not to go 3 days without water but to make sure our stores begin with a minimum of 3 days worth of drinking water on hand.  Drinking water for just you for 3 days means you generally need to have 3 gallons ready (1 gallon per day).  Multiple 3 gallons by the number of people you are preparing for and you have your 3 days without water covered.  Keep in mind you will also need to plan appropriate amounts of water for hygiene and sanitation.  After you have your water needs set you should move on to a full 3 day plan.  This is when a traditional 72 hour kit or BOB should be completed.  I could not do any better than the many articles on the web about on building a BOB or 72 hour kit.  You will find A Bug Out Bag Reality Check to be a nice article to help you build and test a your kit.  

3 weeks without food.  By now you’ve built a BOB and are starting to understand the Rules of 3 as well as how to use them to increase your preparedness and to prioritize your survival needs.  You may have included some food in the previous step building your BOB (as you should have) but now is when you start taking it to the next level.  Further adapting the 3 weeks without food rules means it is time take the next step to secure and store 3 weeks of food and water.  Too many sheeple barely have 3 days of food and water, so while others are rushing to the store during everyday emergencies like recent snow/ice storms, you can be focused on other more important efforts.  3 weeks of food can be a combination of long term items and extras of everyday items that you rotate through.  Think canned goods, cereal and combinations of items seen in the many SurvivalBlog posts.  Don’t forget preparation methods and all of the associated redundancies.  The key here is to be prepared and self sufficient for 3 weeks.  By being prepared with 3 weeks of food and water, ways to prepare that food, and all of the other preparedness needs you are advancing your readiness to a new level.  The final addition to the 3 week plan is to begin looking at your weaponry and self defense needs.  At this stage it is a personal choice that must meet your situation and local limitations.  I highly suggest you have something at this point but will defer to others that are more expert in the topic for specifics.  Just don’t come knocking on my door trying to get my stuff because I was prepared and you weren’t.  You should be prepared to defend what is yours.   

Now we expand the Rules of 3 to expanding our preparations.  The kitchen pantry is full and you have a rotation plan for your extra 3 weeks of food and water.  There is a stack of gear in a corner of the second bedroom in Rubbermaid totes, duffle bags or backpacks with a printed list of individual contents in multiple locations and on your PC.  You are re-purposing some of your camping gear and are starting to think with a different mentality as it comes to being prepared.  The space in your apartment or home is getting tighter and it is time to take a step that requires more planning and more specialized planning.  Once you achieve this level I feel you can be called a “prepper”.  So let’s move into the new rules of 3.

The first new Rule of 3 is very similar to the 3 week rule.  But this is the Rule of 3 months.  The next step in your journey is to ensure your planning and preparations are enough to cover your needs for 3 months.  If the SHTF so bad that it goes into 3 months then this is a Rule of 3 phase where things are really starting to deteriorate.  While expanding your food, water and other stores to the 3 month level is not a simple or cheap task it is your priority for this stage.  This is a bridge period where you may not be able to store 3 months of water so you should have a plan or source of replenishment and water treatment.  Even more critical, at the 3 month level, your armory becomes a priority and should begin to evolve and expand based on your situation.  While it might not be time for a long range hunting rifle it is definitely time for the localized defense of a shotgun and probably a battle rifle.  Types and calibers are for you to decide and while not previously mentioned, a pistol is already in my BOB. 

My personal pistol choice is the Glock brothers where you can get a pocket size version (little brother) of a full size frame that allows for redundant ammo supply and some parts interchangeability (like magazines).  The 3 month plan also includes building more ammo and related shooting accessories into your reserves.  Other supplies and maybe some items to help others or trade can come in play here too.  It is very easy to start running out of, or missing things that you need a 3 month supply of.  This is true for others too so the insurance of an oversupply on a couple of items everyone needs will help you get 1-2 of the items you need or ran out of.   

I personally have achieved many of the needs outlined for the Rule of 3 months but I am working to fine tune the list, storage, tactical plans and redundancies needed at this stage.   When you get to this stage you too will be well above the average person out there living next door to you.    Moving from 3 months to 3 years is a very big leap.  Now we are at a true TEOTWAWKI scenario which brings us to the Rule of 3 years.  The best map to get to the 3 year mark is to continue to build from your 3 month level as you go.  Based on resources (time, talent and treasure) you may be able to leap to a one year supply of food.  Great.  Make sure you prioritize other needs next.  Check.  Now make sure your ammo and shooting supplies expand.  Or maybe, given the current political climate, you prioritize armory needs now and then move on to other needs second. 

The final objective of a true Rule of 3 years plan is really a Rural Retreat.  Having 3 years of food in your apartment will do you little good at this point but don’t get discouraged.  This is about process and planning.  The preparation road map is about building your preparedness bridge from 3 months to 3 years of readiness and determined the next step for you.  There are many stages between 3 months and 3 years that can be achieved so go for it.      

In conclusion, as referenced too many times on SurvivalBlog, we all see how evolution combined with the comforts and conveniences of the 21st century has removed many of our survival instincts. Utilizing the survival Rules of 3 will provide a preparedness map and the “mental memory” assistance to think through your needs if there is ever a time to call them into action. - Slightly Above Average (SAA) Joe


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


In an event where supplies of food and water or your access shelter have become compromised due to natural disaster, civil unrest or an unplanned scarcity of commodities, it would be comforting to know that in spite of the unplanned event you have planned for it. 

This is not a detailed itemized list of what to get. There are numerous books, internet sites and clubs that offer all kinds of advice on preparedness. By doing your own research you will see that there are ample lists and dialogs to glean from. What this is is a method to keep you focused and ultimately successful in your plan to prepare for what may come.

When beginning to form a plan to put away necessary provisions for an emergency event it can be overwhelming as to what and how much would be needed to provide for simple survival. The first thing to do is break it down into manageable parts and start working on a basic inventory. Once you have covered the basics then and only then do you proceed to a more complex inventory. The logic of working up a basic cache of supplies is that once it is in place you are secure in your ability to survive, albeit simply, for a determined amount of time. Without a plan you will be tempted to start gathering an unorganized pile of “stuff” that has value, but does not ensure that you are prepared. Haphazard gathering is incomplete gathering and if you leave out an important item you leave yourself open to disaster.

Here is my way of staying organized as you put together a cache. Before you buy a can of food, a box of Band-Aids or a set of camo’s start first with this simple plan that relies on meeting three levels of preparedness;
Good, Better, Best.”

To illustrate the levels and give guidance as to when you move from one level to the next, let’s use the basic necessities of survival for our goal. As stated in the first sentence they are: food, water and shelter. 

Again, your own research will be needed to determine exactly what to get and how to use it.  

Good

This is your basic level of stuff. If you have a good level of provisions you will be ready to survive in a basic manner for a short time period. At the good level you also have acquired some simple skills on how to maximize your basic provisions. Here is how it looks…

FOOD:

  • A one week supply of usable non-perishable nutritious food stuffs kept at your home
  • A grid down means of cooking, i.e. propane stove, gas stove, etc
  • A grab and go kit of food in case your home becomes untenable

WATER:

  • An amount of clean stored water equivalent to 2 gallons/day per person to last one week ( 28 gals per couple)
  • Knowledge of secondary water sources (hint: 40 gal water heater)
  • Means of water purification (pump, chemical, UV light)

SHELTER:

  • Your home…with grid down heat and light (kerosene heater/lamps)
  • A RV (fully self contained and stocked with propane)
  • Quality tent and sleeping bag ( as part of your grab and go kit)

At the good level you will be able to live in your home during a short term disruption of services or be able to leave if necessary with a grab and go kit that contains a basic amount of survival items to support you for a short time.

Better

You have the good level covered now it’s time to step up to doing better. At the better level you build upon the amount and variety of provisions in your cache and work to improve your skills. At the better level you will enhance your survival odds and make the situation more comfortable through thoughtful and more thorough preparation. Here’s how better looks…

FOOD:

  • In depth study and procurement of long-term storage staples, i.e. wheat, corn, rice and beans.
  • Food in adequate amounts correctly stored with the bulk of it in a secure location. In addition; sundry food stuffs like powdered milk, spices, sugars, fats, vitamins, etc.
  • Cooking and cleaning supplies and a reliable long term grid down means to heat food (wood stove)

WATER:

  • Reliable and safe access to water source, i.e. lake, stream, spring, etc.
  • Large capacity filtration system, i.e. “Big Berkey” or reverse osmosis
  • Water storage with ability to heat large amounts for bathing (wood stove and tubs)

SHELTER:

  • Your home has been retrofitted to off the grid capabilities with solar and deep cycle batteries
  • Wood heat with enough fuel for six months
  • A bug-out plan to your long term cache at a fall back location

 

Best

This is what the well prepared person has been working towards. At the best level of preparedness you have been steadily building your cache and skills to a level that allows you to live in relative comfort and security. Things may have gone very wrong in the population centers, but you have placed yourself, family and friends in a remote retreat location with the means to live through a cooperative effort for the duration of a societal collapse. There will be hardship at times and hard work constantly, but with the tools and provisions you have cached and the varied skills of the group you will make it through. You will not only survive, you will thrive.

FOOD:

  • Livestock, poultry, bees and other regenerating food sources
  • Non-hybrid seeds and garden space with an established orchard to grow sizable crops with the means of food storage, i.e. canning, drying, cellaring, freezing
  • Tools and skills to hunt game and catch fish locally to augment diet
WATER:

  • Easily accessible potable water source at the retreat with back up gravity fed storage tank
  • Water heating capability; solar in summer, wood stove with coils in winter
  • Irrigation system installed to both garden and orchard along with fire suppression plan for structures

SHELTER:

  • Retreat layout to provide living space for all members with adequate sanitation facilities
  • Work spaces with necessary tools and equipment, i.e. shop, outdoor kitchen, wood shed, livestock paddock, coops etc.
  • Complete off the grid capabilities with redundant systems combining as many of the following as possible: solar, wind, hydro-electric and generator.

So, here is a start. By following this outline of the “Good, Better, Best” plan you can stay on task in your efforts to lay in supplies and learning valuable skills.

Whether you need to ride out a storm for a week before the power comes back on, or you been forced to bug out to your completely stocked group retreat; your careful, deliberate preparation has made the difference between success and failure.

Preparedness provisioning is not only wise, it can be fun.


Friday, January 14, 2011


James:
The following is mostly for the benefit of SurvivalBlog readers who live in Israel, but other readers might find it of interest.

Here we go again! Hizb'allah has apparently taken down the somewhat western-aligned government in Lebanon. I want to put not only Israeli readers on warning to have some extra supplies on hand but also collect bedding and blankets to be ready to accept people into your home seeking refuge from the north along the Lebanon and Syria borders. This time around it is important even for people living in the merkaz and possibly even south of Jerusalem to be on alert since the Hizb'allah has been re-equipped since the last rocket war with a far larger arsenal especially of longer-ranged weapons. Stocks now include mobile launcher SCUD ballistic missiles. I don't think much anymore of the Iraqi WMD migration to Syria but keep NBC precautions in mind anyway.

If not equipped ask if there are still stocks of subsidized gas masks for the whole family at the post office -- now designated by the Interior Command as the new mask distributor. Atropine injectors for nerve gas are no longer issued in the package. Hotels keep stock of masks for all visitors. Find out now who is in charge of your community bomb shelter if you do not have one in your home. Volunteer to help clean out cluttered or overloaded shelters especially in your own home. Most community shelters are either a hardened basement in a public building or purpose built shelter which is used by community groups. If their is a drainage or maintenance issue with your community meklat (bomb refuge) addressing your city or area council is probably the fastest way to get repairs done. You should have grab-n-go bags if you do not have a shelter in your home with a minimum of toilet paper, your gas mask, a trash bag, 2-4 liters of water, ready to eat food, and a AM/FM radio to listen for bulletins on army radio and other stations. Home shelters and some public shelters can be pre-stocked if you know the keeper but anything in a public shelter will end up being shared.

Lastly, I ask readers worldwide to address our creator and keeper and pray for peace. Shalom, - David in Israel     


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


CPT Rawles:
Rolled [woven] cattle wire and green landscaping cloth strike me as something that could be whipped up into a do-it-yourself HESCO barrier. And then there's good old-fashioned Basket Weave from saplings. (which is still in the current US Army Engineer field manual, believe it or not)

To save on wire (i.e.: Eliminating the end panels on a HESCO that but up against each other), perhaps two parallel fences can be run with posts and filled in between them with rock, dirt, etc.

Also, I grew up on a farmstead in New England that was built in the 1760s. This was a somewhat unstable time with frequent "Visits" by hostile, indigenous neighbors. Every home up there had "Indian Shutters" as a result.  Since many new Englanders throw nothing away, these shutters were still up in our barn a couple of hundred years later. These were made of thick oak, wrought iron fittings, with a cross cut into them for a musket.

There was also a local community "Blockhouse" centrally located and stocked with supplies. - Jim in Virginia (Currently on an overseas deployment)


Monday, January 10, 2011


I recently got an irate letter from an outspoken Peak Oil commentator who often stresses "community agriculture" and "sustainable development." He castigated me for "advocating a fortress mentality..." and "encouraging gun-buying..." I think that he meant those as insults, but I took them as compliments.

I am indeed an advocate of the fortress mentality, and fortress architecture. The two go hand-in-hand. As I pointed out in my book "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It", modern American architecture with flimsy doors and large expanses of windows is just a 70 year aberration from a global norm that dates back many centuries. The real tradition in architecture outside of the tropics has always been to build homes with small windows, very stout doors, and lots of mass in the walls to absorb projectile impacts and to delay entry by evil-doers. Since 1945 we've been blessed to live a country that is relatively safe and peaceful. But don't expect that to last forever. Plan and build, accordingly.

Just look at the long history of the mote-and-bailey and castle in Europe and Fujian Tulou (Hakka) in China. Or look at the stout walls that are still the norm in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And consider the HESCO bastions that are almost always used by the U.S. military when deployed in any of the world's hot spots. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There is no substitute for mass. Mass stops bullets. Mass stops gamma radiation. Mass stops (or at least slows down) bad guys from entering a home and depriving its residents of life and property. Sandbags are cheap, so buy plenty of them. When planning your retreat house, think: medieval castle.

The fortress mentality necessitates adopting fortress architecture. Whether you turn yourself into a moving fortress (with body armor), or you decide to design fortress features into your next home, I recommend that you prepare for as many different threats as possible. If you cannot afford to build your house like a fortress, or if that would "stick out" where you now live, then at least add a combination vault/shelter basement room to your house. (Either via new construction, or by remodeling.) Several SurvivalBlog advertisers can supply the know-how and crucial components for such a project such as inward-opening vault doors, blast valves, and HEPA filters. These companies include: Hardened Structures, Safecastle, and Ready Made Resources.

The bottom line is that in the event of societal collapse, looters will prey upon those who are obviously weak and defenseless. Unless they are suicidal, looters will consciously pass by any well-defended retreats. Why would they go up against an Alpenréduit when they could instead go pick on some defenseless granny living in a veritable glass box, a mile down the road? Why would they risk getting ventilated by a group of well-armed Rawlesians who are standing behind ballistic protection--especially while living in a world without readily-available medical care?

Planning ahead for bad times isn't paranoia. It is prudence. An integrated national defense should start with every hearth and home, and proceed systematically all the way to national borders. This is the true and righteous fortress mentality. The Swiss call this an "intellectual defense of the homeland" (Geistige Landesverteidigung). Their well-armed citizenry and their extensive system of réduits (many of them very well-hidden) have kept them free and essentially independent for 720 years. We should learn a lesson from that.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


Jim:
Some folks tested .50 BMG bullets on unprotected 18"-thick earth bag (Compressed Earth Block (CEB)) walls. See; "Bullet Resistance of Compressed Earth" located at the Earth Bag Building Blog. There is a YouTube video attached though.

I thought this was pretty important, as this is the type of housing structure my husband and I are using. - Sky Watcher.


Friday, December 24, 2010


Three Letters Re: Question on Burying a CONEX

Jim:
I have buried a CONEX for cold storage.  I put a 6" thick reinforced concrete slab on the top to ensure the 3-4' of dirt on top would be supported. Also the shelving inside has a support post every 4' on both sides of the CONEX and this helps support the roof.   It takes a lot of waterproofing to ensure the metal sides and bottom won't rust out.  The only advantage of the CONEX is the excellent doors and locks.  After finishing the project I would agree with you on simply building the room with poured reinforced concrete walls.  I would do this using insulated concrete forms (ICFs).  Using ICFs will allow anyone to be able to build an insulated storage room themselves [without having to hire a crane.] - Gary


Sir:
Regarding the recent post on burying a container to moderate the temperature.

I have extensive personal experience with using shipping containers for long term storage in adverse environments. I've run year long tests on containers with hourly data logging, so these comments are actual results, not speculation or parroting something I've read. Note that containers tend to amplify external temperature excursions. On a hot sunny day, inside temperatures can reach 150 degrees F and on cloudless nights, the interior temperature can actually drop below outside air temperature due to thermal radiation. Basically, the worst of both worlds.

The roof can support a layer of wet hay bales or 3-4 feet of snow, but that's getting close to the limit. The roof and walls are not designed to handle large forces that push towards the inside of the container. However, the walls do give significant torsional and vertical strength to the container. If you cut openings in the walls exceeding 12" or so, do not stack containers on top of each other or attempt to move the container when it's loaded.

The internal temperature can be kept under control in the following ways, ordered by effectiveness;

1) Keep sun off the container. A wooden / cloth shelter with 1-2' of space around the container for airflow will dramatically cut down the temperatures inside. If that is not an option, hay bales or almost any similar material can be stacked around the outside to insulate and shade. Use trees of other natural sun blocks if available. If no shade is available, try and orient the container so the front or back faces south to minimize surface area exposed to the sun. A cover for the container will also limit thermal radiation at night and thus provide additional warmth.

2) Glue 1" foam insulation into the inside of the container. Cost will run around $500. This will keep interior temperatures reasonable pretty much anywhere in the USA. Expect temperatures under 100F in full sun, on a 90 degree day. Winter temperatures will be within 10 degrees of the average of daytime high and nighttime low,. If you need to prevent freezing, you will need burial to just under the frost line. In very cold locations like the northern midwest or Alaska, you will need some form of heating to keep the temperature above freezing.

3) Having the container full adds thermal mass, thus evening out the temperature excursions. If you have space, adding 55gal drums full of water can also help. However, if the drum leaks, the water will flood the content of the container, as they really are almost 100% water tight.

4) Partial burial (under 25% depth) is OK and helps with moderating temperature.

Combining methods 1, 2 and 4 will allow you to keep the interior temperature around 50-70 degrees year round.

I recommend buying two 20' containers instead of one 40'. This limits the empty weight to under 5,000 lbs. Movable by most medium sized forklifts, cranes and trailers. 40' containers are much harder to move. Two 20' containers can be places side by side, with an air gap between them, thus providing shade to each other for 1/2 of the day. 3 or 4 containers can be arranged to do the same or one of them can be used as the "temperature sensitive" container and be placed such that it is 100% shaded by the other units.

Burial and hay bales trap water, so they may present long term rust issues. Come containers are made out of rust resistant steel. None of them are rust proof in the long term. Expect 15-20 year lifespan in a typical US environment and a non-burial application. In a marine environment, life can be as short as 5 years. With upkeep every 4-5 years (painting, gaskets, hinge lubrication) they will last virtually forever. - Cactus Jim

 

James,

My husband and I where close to being in the same boat as Karla. Do something, or not anything. We did something, I never thought was possible. We had looked into similar things, but realized they wouldn't work.

We live in southwestern Missouri. It is flat land with no hills. It seemed impossible to have buried food storage. Until we researched. It was a daunting task, but it's doable.

It took us the better part of a year, some favors, and some luck, but we did build a root cellar/tornado shelter. We built it for less than $3,000. I understand that seems like a lot. But we now have a concrete 8 foot x 12 foot structure that is buried four feet underground, and houses our potatoes, apples, melons and provides us with some needed tornado protection.

We laid each concrete block by hand, planned out each detail, laid every air duct and sealed it up. We did hire a back hoe operator, but he was a friend, and didn't over charge. It was the longest year I remember but the reward is, peace of mind.

We've had a great deal of success over the past few years storing food.

One of the best books on the subject in my opinion is Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. It is available through Amazon, and written by Mike and Nancy Bubel. They have plans, instructions on how too, and some amazing root cellars of the past. The advice is spot on too. If I remember correctly six chapters are dedicated to what foods to store. - Pam


Thursday, December 23, 2010


Dear Mr. Rawles,  
My husband and I live in rural North Central Florida.  We have been working on our food storage and supplies for years.  I keep everything in my house but my husband and I are frugal and we keep the air at 80 degrees in the summer and 68 - 70 in the winter.  Not ideal for long preservation.  

We have been discussing a storage shelter for years and I would like your readers and your input on an ideal that I've been kicking around.  I was thinking of purchasing a steel freight CONEX container, coating the outside of it with tar and burying it underground. 

This particular part of Florida is higher about sea level so a rising water table would not be an issue.  I would pack gravel or sand around the unit after setting it on a cement foundation.  I would ideally pack about 2 feet of soil on top and eventually build a shed over the entrance.  These particular containers are stacked on ships so the reinforcement of the structure would allow vehicles to drive over it without impact.  I am interested in is an insulated refrigeration container that no longer runs.  This would give me the insulation to keep the underground temp.  Some of these containers are 8 ft wide by 10 ft high by 40 feet long.  If this idea would work we would have plenty of space for food and emergency items.   What are your thoughts on this particular approach? - Karla D.

JWR Replies: Yes, it can be done, but the short answer to your question is No. This because CONEX containers are designed to take tremendous loads on their corners, but not on their sides or tops. Two feet of wet soil would easily crush the middle of a container! You could add a lot of extra bracing, but with the amount of material required you are better off building a reinforced concrete structure from scratch.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


My interest in ultraviolet (UV) light systems began a number of years ago with the introduction of a UV system in the discharge effluent stream of water at the wastewater plant where I work. If it works in water I thought, then why not air! The removal of pathogens from the water was most impressive and a mystery, So I hit the books and the Internet to learn more.
 
Here is a light summary of what I learned:

The sun generates ultraviolet rays. These rays are natures way of purifying the air. When sun passes thru a prism it’s broken into its component colors, thus giving the colors of the rainbow. Each color in turn has it’s own wavelength.
Ultraviolet light has three specific wavelengths that have particular applications:

UV-A is the source of suntanned skin, With its relatively longer wavelength, can penetrate the atmosphere. Applications include tanning beds and treatment of some skin diseases.
UV-B is in the middle wavelength of the ultraviolet spectrum and has principally been used to treat skin diseases.
UV- C or short-wave ultraviolet radiation, is used to destroy bacteria and other biologic containments in the air, in liquids and on surfaces. This is the area of my interest and study and use!

X-rays, BTW, are adjacent to UV-C on the spectrum. (They have even shorter wavelength).

It should be noted that the aforementioned are not all of the wavelengths available. Certain short-wave UV energies can be created by specially designed UV lamps, such as Ozone.

I learned that for many years the medical industry has been using UV light to sanitize rooms and equipment.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends UV lamps for their germicidal effect.
Through firsthand lab testing, I have seen the effect UVC has on pathogens (bacteria) in water. It renders them sterile.

So How Does it Work?

Using UV lamps provide a much more powerful and concentrated effect of UV energy than can be found naturally.
UV-C rays break through the outer membrane of microbes like yeast, mold, bacteria, viruses, algae. When the radiation reaches the DNA of the microbe it causes modifications. The DNA then transmits incorrect codes, rendering the microbe sterile and thus unable to reproduce.

Many industries utilize this type of process. Understand that  I am not advocating that all microbes are being destroyed or sterilized in this unit! Only that through my use (Private and Professional) that I have seen a reduction in the overall colony count of microbial life forms. I use this system as just another line of defense in cleaner purer air. To put it into a simpler form, would you rather have to deal with hundreds of thousands of bacteria or hundreds?

My research found that UV light air purification systems were available and being used in schools, commercial  buildings, federal buildings, many places.
Now that you have a light understanding ( pun intended ) of Ultraviolet Light you can see how I put this information to use to help better protect all my loved ones.

How I Used UV
The ability to protect yourself and loved ones from biological intrusion is a many-layered thing we all are preparing for: chemical suits, positive pressure safe rooms, filter masks, OTC medications and prescriptions to name a few.
 
Never being satisfied with the amount of space in my safe room (NBC-protected), I decided to see if  I couldn’t incorporate a germicidal Ultraviolet Light System and positive pressure environment in my main living quarters to use as first line defense against poor air quality. I was off and running.

I knew since I constructed it, that my house was sealed exceptional well. Little did I know until I used a Slack tube manometer and did a static test with the air handler running and the house closed up tight. I had a negative pressure of .45" water column vacuum. I concluded that I needed a fresh air return duct if I was going to use my air handler to try and pressurize the house.

My heating system uses a four speed motor (switchable) on the squirrel cage fan unit. All readings were taken with the fan set on a speed of med-high, resulting in a standard cubic feet per minute (scfm) rate of 1,170 cfm. My home has a combined cubic foot measurement of 4,940 cubic feet, thus resulting in the turnover rate of once every 4.2 minutes.

So, doing the math on the unit's scfm capacity, and taking advantage of the variable speed motor I came up with a needed 60 to 75 sq. in fresh air duct to compensate for the tight construction [of my house] to bring my static pressure to 0. With full confidence in my math, I started. Next I needed filtration, HEPA filters of course. (I must state here that I’m working on a better filter arrangement than this but it’s sufficient for the time being). I installed one filter through the floor.

I then re-tested the static pressure. The static pressure in the house dropped to zero with one fresh air filter installed. The second took it to .2" positive.

Here were my results:

  • One filter  = Equalized pressure       
  • Two filters  =.2" positive pressure              
  • Three = .45" +  positive pressure   

Things looked pretty good at this point. I installed a third filter and the pressure went to .45" positive with the in house air return in the full-open position. However, I still had a few concerns about air return temperature through the heat exchanger of the unit during the winter. But I pushed on.
 
I took a pressure reading from the slack tube at this point from the outside ambient pressure against the inside pressure with the air return in the full-closed position.
My pressure system looks pretty good @   .35” positive pressure running state.
 
Next, after researching the various light systems available I decided on the Calutec Blue UV, 72 watt, 2 bulb system. The system was designed for a 2,000 square foot house, but I have only 1,200 square feet. Bulb replacement cost is $18 ea. and the manufacturer says yearly replacement is advisable. Through personal hands-on experience, I’ve found that UV lamp life is reduced significantly after about 5,000 hours and I plan to replace them at that time on my system.

Having a raised platform on my heating system the return air duct was the perfect location for installation. The unit looked easy to install and would give me all the protection I felt could be attained with any such system. The return air and the fresh make up air would both be treated by the UV system before exiting the duct work with the fresh air being run through a HEPA filter. There are various locations for the unit and each has its merits depending on [the climate and] the configuration of the individual's system.

I received the unit.  I read the manual and then installed the unit. It was a very straightforward installation with minimal electrical work.

Safety Warnings
Here is a good point to tell you that UV-C light is nothing to play with:
NEVER expose eyes or skin to the UVC light from any source. Looking directly at UVC light can cause retina damage or even blindness. Only install unit in a closed area or duct system.
UV Lamps contain Mercury.  As a kid, 50 something years ago mercury was cool to play with. It is a wonder that many of us are alive today. Use all necessary precautions if exposed to possible Mercury contamination from a broken bulb or any mercury for that matter.

So that was that, just another line of defense added to an expanding arsenal of personal protection apparatus.


Friday, December 10, 2010


My wife and I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and we have been in serious preparation mode for about a year now. Let me explain what I mean by serious preparation: I am talking about creating a defend in place (bug-in) plan and a bug-out plan along with identifying and obtaining the necessary resources to carry them out.

Understanding how to Hunt, fish, trap, raise livestock, garden, can and preserve food along with the necessity of having an alternate heat and readily available water sources are still a way of life in the Appalachian Mountains. My gardening is the most vital resource for food availability, I could write an entire article on gardening for preparation. For now I will just say that I use heirloom seeds and some hybrid seeds. I keep them in my freezer until ready to use this keeps them fresh. I always have a supply of various seeds on hand. In a without rule of law (WROL) situation seeds may be more valuable than gold. Until the last few years our main concern has been natural disasters, i.e. snowstorms, flash floods, thunderstorms, tornados and the like, so we like many others across the nation are raised in a culture which teaches us to be prepared for the unexpected. Also our heritage is one of being a self reliant people relying heavily on our Christian faith and each other. I feel we are blessed in the area of understanding preparation.

Where my wife and I fell short was the realization that in a TEOTWAWKI situation people will be stealing, looting and scavenging without regard for human safety or life. About a year ago I realized our weakness and began to establish what I call defend in place, some call it “bug-in” so I began evaluating my property and home for adaptation, this is what I wound up with. We have a small home, about 1,000 square feet of living space with a full basement. I only had one access to the basement and it was outdoors, I immediately saw that was a real problem. I began looking for ways to create an indoor access, without remodeling the house along with a means of better securing the outdoor access. I removed an old abandoned in place floor furnace, kept the floor grating and built a set of steps from the opening into the basement. I then made a swing open access door that can be locked in place from the basement, while unlocked it can be opened from either side and with the grating in place and the door closed it looks like the opening has been attractively boarded closed and the grating used as a floor covering. By the way I sold the old furnace for scrap metal and had enough money to finance the project. I built a new door for the outdoor access out of two 3/4” pieces of plywood and used barn door hinges on the inside with security hasp padlocks on each side.

Why worry so much about the basement? I’m glad you ask, my basement doesn’t have windows, instead I have four 8” x 12” vents, if they are removed these make excellent observation ports for my hilltop location and if necessary shooting ports without providing an access point for any troublemakers on the outside. I have a small wood stove down there for supplemental heat and alternate cooking means for my propane camp stove. For an alternate lighting means we have propane lanterns and candles. I also store a supply of food down there (right now we have several weeks of canned and dried goods). I have ABC fire extinguishers and I am looking at a few gas masks with eight hours of cartridges. These would be for short term use by those using firearms in a defensive situation. Others may need to cover their face with wet cloth to help filter smoke or gas. Right now I have a basement that can serve as a bunker if necessary and we can even accommodate our married children and their families. This would give us the ability to function as a compound with security 24/7.

A co-worker of mine introduced me to the bug-out concept and we realized we were not prepared for this either. So I took an inventory of what we had on hand measured it against what we needed and quickly figured out we had everything, we only had to organize it into a bug-out bag(s) and plan. I now have a main pack with tent, sleeping bags, and clothes, two types of fire, folding saw, cook kits, leg hold traps, connibear traps and related items in it. I have a secondary pack with 3-to-5 days of MREs and food supplies in it. We also have a medical kit (not first aid) my wife assembled. She is former Army medical and has been a tremendous help with not only the medical side of things but also with planning and application. We have an older small pop-up camper that serves our camping needs and now fits into our bug-out plan just fine.

I can’t leave out self defense. Having a heritage in hunting and the outdoors I have at my disposal an assortment of hunting firearms that can also serve as a means of self-defense.  I realized it is impossible to take a cache of firearms on bug-out. My wife and I decided on a 12 gauge pump shotgun with choke tubes a .22 rifle and a .30-06 bolt action rifle along with three handguns. A .357 Magnum revolver for me, a 9mm pistol for her and a .22 revolver for general purpose use. I will carry the .357, she will carry the 9mm and the 22 revolver is in a hard plastic case for packing. For ammo we have a load bearing vest already prepped with ammo ready to grab and go.

Now that you know a little about our inventory let me discuss our plan with you. Concerning our defend-in-place scenario it is pretty simple since the basement is already supplied we would only need to move weapons and ammo in, lock it down turn on a radio (AC or batteries) or television if power is still on and organize the area for the situation at hand. The food we have stored in the basement is in five gallon containers they are easily stacked and don’t take a lot of room and they store quite a bit of canned and dried goods (food dehydrators and vacuum sealers are great investments). [JWR Adds: I discuss both of these in the Rawles Gets Your Ready Family Preparedness Course.] The five gallon buckets when empty can serve many other uses, i.e. planters, toilets, water containers, just to name a few.

Concerning a bug-out situation; first let me say that a bug-out situation is possible for my location but not really probable. In the event we had to bug-out I would hook up the pop-up camper; this takes me about two minutes. Then move the two packs the med bag and ammo vest to the truck. While I am doing this my wife is gathering the firearms along with five gallon buckets of food from the basement, the camp stove and lantern along with a five gallon bucket filled with propane canisters and candles. While doing all this I am carrying the .357 and she is packing the 9mm. We can do this in about five minutes with our four-wheel drive truck loaded we still have room for others who need to go with us and their supplies. If we need to lose the camper we can use the tent and sleeping bags. If we need to lose the truck we can as well and back pack it.

When considering a bug-out you need to decide on where you’re going in advance, we selected three locations, one local, one within a hundred miles and one west of the Mississippi river, the type of event will determine which location we will move toward. When planning a bug-out have multiple routes picked out, use an old fashioned paper map and don’t depend on a GPS, under certain situations they may not be operable or they may take you the most congested route. Know the gas mileage of your vehicle when loaded and store enough gasoline to carry with you for the trip, this way you do not have to stop and risk safety or pay extremely high prices for gas if it is even available. You never know how bad things may be and how restricted travel may be having options will only increase your chances of safety and survival.

As I am learning my way through preparation I see it as something that will always evolve. One of the fundamentals is that all of us must have a plan ready to activate which allows us to be flexible with its implementation; I personally see this as an important component of preparation. Since we do not have a specific scenario to prepare for its imperative we have the ability to adapt and improvise for many different situations.

I want to change gears just a little, let’s not lose sight of charity; I am not asking for anyone to give away the farm only to do the best you can to help others during a TEOTWAWKI situation. Set aside something for charity, we know there are individuals in our community who for various reasons cannot do much for themselves and they will not have much to barter with when the time comes. I’m sure there are similar people in your area. This area of preparation is something each person must determine for themselves. There will be con-artists, men and women who will even sacrifice their children if necessary in order to get hold of food and supplies. It’s difficult to comprehend but those people do exist and we must be prepared to deal with them. Also there will be those in true need, orphans, widows, elderly and the disabled. It will benefit everyone to consider it and have a plan in place to deal with it. We have some pre-made packages that contain some food, hygiene supplies, matches, an emergency blanket and a home made fishing kit (hooks, line, sinkers and bobber) and a personal New Testament. This kit cost a few dollars each and may make the difference in someone living or dying.

Learning self-reliant skills isn’t difficult it does take creativity, patience and some practice. For instance you don’t need several acres to plant a garden. Ten inch deep by three feet long plastic planters are available at most home improvement centers, dollar stores or lawn and garden centers of variety stores. They will work great for a mini-box garden they can be used indoors or in a garage or basement moving them outside occasionally for daylight. Several of them can grow a variety of vegetables that are nutritious and flavorful. Also don’t try to be a mountain man, while that may seem adventurous it is for the most part not possible for the average person today. You don’t have to kill all your meat, as a matter of fact hunting is a very big waste of energy, most of the time you will expend more energy hunting than you will gain by the game killed. The question comes; what do I do about meat? The answer is simple raise it. With a few exceptions most people can raise chickens and rabbits for eggs and meat. Did you know that rabbit is actually a white meat and has more protein than chicken, if you have never eaten rabbit you have missed a real treat. Hunting and trapping is great for alternate meat sources and should be learned and done when safe and practical.

Use your head, think, plan; read different magazines, books and forums listen to various ideas and adapt them to your specific circumstances. Most of all remember God, pray daily, read the Bible for guidance and encouragement, if you will allow Him the Lord will help you prepare for the difficult days ahead. I hope there is something in this article that will help others adapt what they have for a TEOTWAWKI situation and still be functional for day to day living.

Since I have a background in electrical and electronics systems my current plans include a photovoltaic (PV) power system that can be used in house to supply low voltage power 12/24 VDC for lighting and power for CB radio, scanners or other devices that would make life more comfortable and safe during a difficult time. This PV system would be portable and could be taken with me in a bug-out situation. Or I could build a second system and install it onto the roof of my pop-up.

Like I said in the beginning of this article, preparation is an evolutionary process that will grow with your experience and location. We must once again learn how to learn so we can be creative and live a fulfilling life. In the event of a TEOTWAWKI event I plan on living not just surviving and I plan on being as comfortable as possible given the circumstances we are in. My prayer for everyone reading this is that you will be able to do the same.


Thursday, December 9, 2010


JWR:
A fellow citizen of the Great White North is building his house, off-grid, out of CONEXes (commonly called sea cans).

Check his web site out, and his YouTube videos (from local television news channels).

My understanding is that he's only 75% done, but what an effort!  (I'll bet that having two metal towers on your house would be good for a couple of LP/OP positions..)

God Bless, - J. in the Great White North


Saturday, November 27, 2010


Jim:
In regards to running a small “window” air conditioning unit off of a solar powered system, I can convey some of my experiences. I have a total of 3,160 watts of solar panel power on the roof; about 1,700 watts feeds my 24 volt DC “house” system (mostly lights, computer, entertainment system, ½ of the kitchen outlets, and the fridge) while the remaining panels are wired for a totally separate 48 volt DC water heater system. Two 2,500/5,000 (peak) watt inverters are used for each system, each “slaved” to the other of the same voltage to synchronize the alternating current frequencies and amp loads. Importantly, each inverter has “soft start” technology to “soften” the instant high amp draws from motors, compressors, etc.   I have run my small bedroom air conditioning unit (rated at 700 watts) successfully using only the solar powered system, but will only do so when the battery bank has been almost fully charged and the sun is still out. Once the sun starts going down and the air conditioning unit load gets transferred to the battery bank (capacity of about 2,100 amp-hours), I would guess that I’d have maybe 2-3 hours of operation before the inverters shut down from an undervolt condition (considering all of the other system loads; lights, fridge, etc still in use at this time).   If you wanted to run a similar sized air conditioning unit (and nothing else) continuously from only solar power/ battery banks, you’re looking at a whopping system- I’m guessing 3,500 to 4,000 watts worth of panels, and at least 5,000 amp-hours of battery bank capacity. Even at that, you’d better hope for at least 4 hour’s worth of sunlight every day.

I’m basing this “guesstimate” on my lessons learned from my 40-gallon water heater system- it draws about 4,000 watts and drains a fully charged 3,300 amp-hour battery bank (down to the 44 volt undervolt inverter alarm) after about 30 minutes of combined total usage (or about three normal showers’ worth of water heated).   The feel of a bit of freedom from the electric company makes it all worth it, but the most enlightening aspect of this whole “project” of mine towards electrical self-sufficiency has been the quantity of deep-cycle batteries needed for a system that can “get you through the night” (I have a total of 50 now, and need more!). If you are just getting started on planning your own solar project, don’t forget to add in the cost of all those batteries!  - Wayne E.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


First , to tell you a little about myself.  I was a prepper in anticipation of Y2K, had the property, cabin, most of the works and of course nothing happened. (my family thought I was nuts) We all went back to our living.  Unfortunately sold our property, because of an illness.   I never thought of continuing on for future problems.  I was awakened by talking with my brother earlier this year when he told me about SurvivalBlog.  So needless to say I am a prepper once again, but this time my whole family is. 

I am preparing my parents home to "shelter in place" because they are too old to move now or when the SHTF.  It’s a concrete block home, my dad built plywood covers (I know, he needs metal) to fit over all windows when a hurricane comes through.  The property is only one acre but in a very rural area.  We have started a garden and trying to talk him into chickens. He grew up on a farm so he has an idea of what to do. 

My father is a builder of furniture, homes, or anything you can think of.  I knew that because of the humidity and area we needed a safe place to put our food storage, we called it an "above ground root cellar". But it is really just a controlled temperature pantry room--a heavily-insulated shed.

So last summer dad drew up the plans and got it built.  We have a barn/shop with a lean-to. It is a a two car garage type building. We built "above ground root cellar" adjoining the barn under the lean-to but didn’t go all the way up to the roof, so that we could double insulate it.  Inside, it measures approximately 6’x10’. It is insulated on all the walls, including the roof.  Two of the walls already existed from the barn which were constructed of 2x4s. We also used the same 2x4 construction for the other 2 walls.  We used R-13 batting on everything because 2 - 2" solid poly foam pieces would not fit between the 2x4s.  For the outside walls - we put 15 pound roofing felt on the 2x4s, then 7/16" oriented strand board (OSB) on top of the felt.   All the inside walls were sheathed in 1/2" plywood. On the ceiling we used 1/4" plywood and with a double layer of R-13 insulation -- that ended up being 6-to-8 inches deep.  The insulation inside the door is 3" and again we used R-13. 

Just a note:  Because my dad is a carpenter, we used what he had on hand, without buying much of anything, so you could substitute here and there.)  My father used to build freezers back in the 1940s (when they had wooden doors) so he knew how to build a freezer door out of wood with rubber around it with insulation.  The walls are lined ceiling to floor with storage shelves. We were originally going to leave the floor dirt but decided to lay down a floor of concrete patio steps. 

We placed a small room size air conditioner near the floor. We leave it running, set to 62 degrees at all times.  Initially, we had problems with dampness, then we placed some charcoal on tin plates, that cured our dampness.  If we have more problems we thought of a dehumidifier; not sure if that would work.  We place everything in there right now but will have to divide it up later as we get more items.  At present we place our potatoes, apples, and onions on the floor in crates. These last us two months or more.  So we are extending our fresh food shelf life, so we can buy in quantity or harvest large quantities from our garden.

You can’t easily see the cellar door in the barn/shop; but we are planning to build shelves in front so it will be hidden.
We are also looking for a solar backup for the cellar because we don’t want to depend upon the air conditioning if and when grid goes down.  There was only about a $20 difference in our light bill, so not bad. 

We only have a six month supply of stored food, but we are buying a little more each month, gradually building our stocks.  I know it’s not enough but it is more than most people have stored. 

If anyone could help us out with some information on a solar system to run small room size air conditioner, we’d appreciate it.  I’ve read some books on it, but I'm confused on what we need, besides panels.

JWR Adds: Air conditioners draw a lot of current and are hence some of the biggest power hogs of any alternative energy system. The key specification for a refrigerator, air conditioner or other device that includes a compressor pump is is the locked rotor amps (LRA) rating. The LRA rating is the peak load (expressed in Amps) that the air conditioning unit will draw from your inverter, right when the compressor starts up. Even a small air conditioner can have a high LRA. A typical air conditioner might draw only 30 or 40 amps in the middle of a cycle. But on start-up it may have a LRA of 70 amps. Multiplying this by 117 volts, this means that the inverter must be able to supply a peak load of 8,190 watts. Yikes!

Unless you have a strong background in math and electronics, the process of "sizing" and specifying the components of an alternative power system is best left to professionals. Your key part of the sizing process is adding up all of the loads. Each electrical or electronic device should have a rating expressed in either Watts or Amps. You will provide an aggregate Amp figure, a brief description of your daily routine (how many hours per day each device is used, and seasonal differences) and an estimate on the number of direct sunlight hours available for your solar array's location. A system designer can then determine your system requirements, namely: how many PV panels, what size and type of inverter, and how large a battery bank is needed. In the hopes that you will buy system components from them, the folks at Ready Made Resources offer free consulting on alternative energy system design. You can reach them at: 1(800) 627-3809.


Thursday, October 28, 2010


Description
A quick “how to” system that will gather air on one end, run it underground, and output it to another system that collects the moisture from it in order to produce drinking water while altering the temperature of a living structure to a level that can sustain life.  Please note that every house, landscape, and geographical location can be vastly different than the next and it’s therefore impossible to give a thorough how to, independent research must be conducted by the reader.

Introduction
Preppers have the amazing talent of separating need from want in life, and the need factor basically falls into two master categories – food and shelter.  Every other “need” need can be easily placed under one of these two headings since keeping things simple is also a prepper trait (e.g. water would fall under food even though it’s not food per se).  Overcoming the challenges of each category in the most efficient manner possible is one of the keys to survival, which is why buying the latest and greatest technology may not always be the best answer.  In fact, nature has provided a free solution to many survival dilemmas and in most cases it’s just a matter of piecing together the puzzle.  Take that same completed puzzle, wrap it in a shiny plastic housing, find a catchy name, and now it can sell for loads of money…there’s not a product out there that somehow defies the laws of nature and is original.
With these things in mind, a simple solution to keeping a structure at a suitable living temperature can be pieced together using the very basics of science and carrying a price tag ranging from extremely low to really no more than the price of a good used car.  A basic system of heating and cooling used today has an input, a temperature conversion, and an output.  Depending on the process there may be other outputs as well but most of those are based on mechanical processes and ultimately go to waste.  But what if multiple outputs could be generated and put to use in a more natural, efficient manner. See this illustration.

Gathering the Input
No matter where a retreat is set up, there will be varying temperatures, sunlight, and precipitation.  The simplest and most independent way to gather the needed input (air!) is to harness one factor and protect from the others.  In other words, a solar powered fan system with a housing to cover the actual fan components is going to be a simple solution to gathering said air.  There are many window mount, solar powered window fans on the market now and with some slight modifications these can become an air moving system.  Choosing which fan (and how many) is going to take some additional research because of the next step in the process…not to mention the actual square footage to be heated and cooled at the output level.   Calculating cubic feet per minute (CFM) against anticipated system length into the space cooled may not be everyone’s forte, so luckily there are plenty of web sites out there to assist in the process (even Sears has one) – after all, they are trying to sell an HVAC system.  While solar power is not mandatory in this case, it’s going to provide the most independent and renewable source of airflow.  The cost of solar room fans is also fairly low, and although they are not made to take a beating from the elements, once again some simple modifications in the form of a fan housing can extend their lives indefinitely.
Hiding the input is another consideration, for example four solar fans mounted in a small housing and blowing into a hole is not only interesting to any passerby but is also a direct path into your living quarters where even smoke from a fire could make life hard.  While keeping the panels themselves uncovered, it’s entirely possible to camouflage the rest of the structure – prevention is gold.

Temperature Conversion
At 4 feet below the surface of ground level at any given point in the more populous latitudes on Earth it is very likely that a constant temperature of 55-to-60 degrees Fahrenheit will be found.  The system used in this design uses that constant to cool or heat the inputted air.  There are some factors to consider in this design, especially in the long term.  Assume that a four fan system is pushing enough air into an 8 inch PVC pipe that drops 4 feet below the surface, zigzags across a 75’x75’ area (a typical backyard for example) using over 500’ of pipe and emerges at the other end with the output air.  If the air goes through too fast then it’s not given the chance to drop (or raise) to the desired level, and a lack of CFM would give off the proper temperature but only cool or heat the output area.  These are factors that have to be considered when designing the conversion area, even the thickness of the pipe.  Some other factors that are critical would be keeping it level, drainage, and making certain mold accumulation does not occur.  While this would all seem an insurmountable task, with the abundance of current technology and better yet, the qualified people in this field these are actually easily answered questions when it comes to design.  Picking out the site, having the facts about the site and designing the conversion chamber will be the easiest of the process.  Renting and running backhoe, laying pipe or venting with graveled bottoms, and attaching all the pieces together will be a bit more of a challenge.  Don’t hesitate to walk into smaller HVAC businesses and start chatting about such things, most people in this field become instantly intrigued and want to explore the possibilities.  Lastly, try and think ahead 20 years and consider what the system will have to endure, design it to last.

Drainage And Mold
The system described herein has not been tested for the long term.  A simple ditch structure with a brick tunnel might suffice in some areas while 8” pvc with drainage holes may be necessary in others.  I cannot stress the importance of preventing mold in a system that goes underground and obviously is capable of not only attracting mold spores but giving them a place to thrive.  The number one preventer in mold growth is to not have standing water. I suggest with the time we have that owners look at their chosen site for such a structure and begin some independent tests.

Output
The outputted air will carry whatever humidity there was from outside, and any accumulation that occurred while underground.  Once again, a single design cannot be expressed for the purposes of this document because of the plethora of variables.  It’s within the occupant’s bests interests to remove at least some of that humidity from the air for the sake of comfort and to convert it to drinking water.  A simple Internet search for “air well” reveals an age old design of collecting moisture from the air through the simple process of natural heat exchange.  Even the ancient condensation collectors discovered in long gone civilizations were efficient at collecting the water from the air.  A higher end design would include an actual powered unit that costs around $1,500 USD and will output at least 5 gallons a day…just have a generator on site to handle its power needs (a medium grade solar generator can easily handle this unit with power to spare).  Bear in mind that powered units will also produce a warmed air that goes above the ground temperature so that could be put into a very advantageous position for the retreat dweller.   In the event that nothing electrical is used on the output side and moisture were collected naturally then the 55-60 degrees would be enough to keep people alive, perhaps not comfortable, but ultimately only needing another 10-15 degrees to be in a good range.  Having a good way to measure hacumidity and temperature will do a person a world of good when fine tuning the system.

Conclusion
If TEOTWAWKI occurs, food and shelter and all their little subcategories will be our main concern.  If a person can dig a trench, hook a fan (or fans) on one end and on the other end enjoy the natural temperature of the earth then that person is already ahead of the game – and it beats living underground.  A few tweaks to the design might be in order depending on exact circumstances, but if a person sticks to the principles of simplicity then they are easily overcome and handled.   Perhaps one of the strongest selling points of this system is that it’s very versatile due to the fact that it can be integrated into almost any survival retreat or plan – no matter how great or small.  It can also be accomplished on a budget that is less than the average family output on dining out, or can become a professional endeavor that a person looking for a way to become self employed and all the more independent.  When a person successfully sheds the bonds of society’s “have to have” luxuries and gets back to the basics, it’s amazing what can be done.


Monday, October 25, 2010


Greetings Jim,
I am finally closing on my house next week and have been putting together a plan (on paper) for turning the back half of my basement into a secret room accessible via a hidden staircase from one of the main-floor bedrooms. The basement is currently accessible only via a door in the floor of a utility room on the back side of the house and I plan to build a closet over the door to conceal it. However, making another hole in the floor to add a staircase leading to the basement will require far more skill than I am capable of if the structural integrity of the floor beams around the secret entrance is to remain intact.

At the same time, I'm concerned about any would-be construction workers knowing about the very project I'm seeking their help on--how many home-construction workers have enough knowledge about certain homes and homeowners that they could be an OPSEC risk to the homeowner?

So what's a homeowner to do in an instance like this? My fiancee is disabled and uses a wheelchair outside the house, so I could frame the issue from that perspective, but that still doesn't address possible OPSEC problems.

It's an old house--built in the 1890s--and I'm guessing that there would have to be some kind of steel support structure around an added stairwell leading into the basement. But I'm neither an architect nor even much of a handyman at this point, so I certainly wouldn't want to try something like this on my own. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. God Bless, - S.C.

JWR Replies: I recommend that you simply hire a carpentry contractor who lives at least 40 miles away to do the job. At least that avoids any local talk. Then hire a different contractor to construct the closet and/the basement partition.

Tell the first carpenter that you want a "framed laundry chute hole with a 24-inch square opening", since your wife-to-be is disabled and cannot walk up and down stairs. You should be able to handle much of the rest of the work yourself. That should include the ladder that leads down from the "laundry chute" aperture, the partition in the basement, and a secret door between the two halves of the basement.

Build the ladder and the concealed shelf unit/door last, after the carpenters have finished all of their work and won't be back in the house


Thursday, October 21, 2010


James Wesley:
In the article "Keeping Secrets in Surburbia--Constructing Our Hidden Basement Room, the author describes the difficulty they had removing hard-packed dirt with the consistency of dried concrete, and using an air chisel to break it up for removal and excavation. I've faced a similar problem with an underground excavation of a basement and egress tunnel in the granite and sandstone beneath the foundation of my own retreat home in the Western US.

My answer came in the form of a good deal on a slightly used Bosch #11304 "Brute" breaker hammer electric jackhammer, suitable for use either with 115-volt/15 Amp household current or a 1,500 kilowatt electric generator. Though I picked mine up used for a bit under $1,000 [less than an ounce of gold, and well worth it!] they're available from such internet retailers as ToolBarn for $1,389 plus shipping or can often be found as rental equipment at industrial tool rental outlets for around $50-to-$75 a day.

The advantage for me in owning one rather than renting is that this allows me to minimize my use of my own tool to an hour or less a day, then moving on to other projects so as to minimize exposure to noise, jackhammer vibration and dust. I also found it much easier to remove the broken stone from my workface in two-gallon metal pails rather than the more common 5 or 6-gallon plastic pails around the place; these were both easier to maneuver in the close confines and, of course, lighter in weight. - George S.

 

Jim:
I loved the fact that everyone pitched in on this [excavation project]. My wife puts up with my tin foil expenditures, and would help if I asked but it is reluctant help at best. My basement is a full basement and wide open and unfinished, on purpose. While we do tons of Martial Arts and I store foodstuffs downstairs, I don’t really want it to be a hang out place. I wish I could fashion a “cave” in the fashion that Andrea did, the layout of the land just wouldn’t allow it. I did however use some carpentry 101, and created a false room in the basement where I keep all of my tactical gear (four load bearing vests, shotgun bandoleers, et cetera), ammo, etc. Basically there is always space under the steps and since I have 10 ft ceilings in the basement that can add up. Basically I enclosed the walls of the steps with drywall, and cut out a non-load bearing stud and dropped in a doorway. Under the highest part of the steps I built shelves on the inside to hold ammo cans. On the outside of the doorway I built a closet space to hang all of my hunting camouflage coveralls, cold weather gear etc. On the inside of the closet it looks like an unfinished wall with plywood on the wall but there is a hidden pull string that opens a section of the plywood allowing access. Inside I have a string of Christmas LED lights to see. This cleared up a lot of space in the basement shelves for more food and provides more OPSEC for those things that people shouldn’t “run” across.

Thanks for all you do Mr. Rawles. Your words and blog site influence a lot of sheep to become sheepdogs and I for one appreciate it. I have listened to the unabridged “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" audio book three times now and it is worth every penny. I have it in my personal library, but I have more time to listen than to read. Thanks again. - A.J.K.

Hi Jim,
As a general contractor, one important item which was not discussed in the construction of the hidden basement is the subject of drainage.

I hope the author will have no problems with this, but given the clues regarding snow and clay I personally would be concerned. Perhaps drainage is already taken care of in some fashion with the already existing basement...I don't know details...but anyone considering such construction needs to give serious thought to how they will handle moisture. Groundwater has a remarkable knack for finding its way in. I would include a perimeter drain and a sump pump (assuming there is no way to [gravity] drain to daylight (i.e. a hillside slope)) in my plans if considering such a project.

Many thanks for the blog. - Tom in Southern California


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A year ago our preparations had grown to a point where it was becoming noticeable to the guests who visited our home. Our ability to keep our tin foil hat craziness under raps was becoming increasingly difficult. Aside from the fact that we have teenage boys and a daughter and all of their friends regularly tromping through our house, for security reasons alone, all of our assets were virtually displayed in our basement and needed to be hidden. Yes, our guns are in safes, but the last thing we need is some parent freaking about ammo cans, reloading equipment or even food storage. It is none of their business and keeping our prepping secrets was nearly impossible and privacy was becoming a high priority.

So the discussion became focused on hiding all of our stuff. Our house is of a modest size for a family of five. There is only so many places you can put things. The one thing we do have though is a sort of mish mashed house. The original house was built in 1949. It has a partial basement and a crawl space under one room. Then an addition was added during the 1970s. The addition has a large crawl space. So, we have a basement and two crawl spaces. We thought about simply putting our storage in the larger, newer crawl space, but rotating food would be extremely difficult and the door to the crawl space is obvious and ultimately we want our stuff hidden.

However, the other crawl space had an entrance from under the clothes dryer. Nobody would ever know or suspect that another crawl space was there. We are unsure why this space was never dug out during the original construction and made part of the basement. The only problem with this space was access - under the dryer is a fine entrance to a hiding place we never need access too, but that was not what we were looking for.

So, I basically resolved myself to organizing our existing small spaces and freaking out when the kids had friends over. My husband, Dan, would just have to deal with reloading in a tiny area and our guests would just magically not notice all the tactical gear, and TEOTWAWKI supplies, etc.

Then one day last September my husband said “Lets just dig out the older crawl space and make a hidden room of it.”

“Yeah, whatever” I thought.

But not long after that I came home to a 1’ x 3’ hole in the cinder block which was at chest level, right through the basement wall and just above the poured concrete foundation wall. I peaked in the dark hole with a flashlight to find a creepy, cobwebby, cold crawl space. The earth was about chest high and there was maybe 3 feet of space between the dirt and the ceiling.

Dan and I have taken on many projects together. We enjoy working side by side and since I am young and able I never like to see him do a project alone. But this time I looked at him and said “I want nothing to do with this!”

Over the next month he peeked daily into the hole, trying to figure out the best way of tackling this. He estimated there to be about 42 cubic yards of packed dirt. But, he figured with our boys’ help, they could fill up the other crawl space and that would just about empty the room.

He found a concrete guy on Craigslist to open up a small doorway. Dan first had to make his hole a little bigger, climb in and dig out the area behind the foundation wall where the door would be cut. The concrete guy needed space on both sides of the wall to get his cutter in so he could cut all the way to the ground level.

This gave my husband a taste of what the project would be like. The dirt was packed. Packed hard like concrete. You couldn’t just shovel it into a bucket. No, no. The top foot and a half was like hardened cement and below that was densely packed clay. He had to use his air chisel to break apart the top 18” of dirt. It was unbelievably difficult to dig out - especially while crawling and lying on his stomach - just trying to make space behind where the door would be. But he managed to get it done and the concrete guy was happy to work efficiently for cash. No questions asked.

Once the doorway was cleared of the neatly cut concrete wall, the real digging could begin. Dan and our boys set up an assembly line with Christmas lights for light and sleds to pull the buckets to dump in the far reaches of the large crawl space. My boys, crawling, could empty about 20 buckets in 3 hours working together. They could barely walk afterward from being so contorted in such a small space maneuvering extremely heavy buckets. 20 buckets doesn’t make a dent in the amount of earth needed to be moved. Not a dent! And my husband could only dig for 2 to 3 hours before being completely exhausted. They did this maybe four times before we had to rethink the whole project. Besides, it became clear that there was no way that e other crawl space could hold even a quarter of the dirt from the space he was digging. Not a chance. We didn’t consider how packed dirt takes up so much more area when dug and loosened.

So, a couple of months passed and the potential hidden room sat neglected. The kids were all very busy with school and our business was still in its’ busy season, so the secret room went on the back burner.

But, then the New Year came. Our business comes to a screeching halt in January for about three months. So it was decided that the room must be completed.

Because we were wanting to keep this whole thing obscure - we had a major dilemma now with what to do with 42 cubic yards of packed earth. We are friendly and chatty with everyone on our block, so there was absolutely no way we could have an ever growing pile of dirt in our yard without every neighbor wanting to know and see what we were doing. Not to mention that we were not getting the proper permission (permits) from our local government, so we had to keep this covert. Thankfully, the block tends to somewhat hibernate during the winter. The neighbors aren’t out in their yards as much, so we thought a small pile might go unnoticed. But, we would need to get rid of it frequently and discreetly.

Dan dug, filled buckets and carried them out and made a small pile of maybe 2 cubic yards of dirt. We put an ad on Craigslist for free dirt. Within a few days a couple people had come by and shoveled a few buckets worth full of dirt - but not even enough was taken to remove our small pile. At this rate we would never get rid of it. It took people too long to shovel it up into their truck beds and anyone needing a large amount would never come and remove our small piles one at a time. This process would take forever.

But then Dan had the genius idea of putting an ad on Craigslist saying “Free dirt, you bring your trailer, we’ll fill it, you haul it away.” Within a couple of days we received a call from a lady not too far away who needed fill dirt to raise up an area around her garage because her home was in a flood plain. She would take as much as she could get. So we got started - she brought a small trailer over, never asked us what we were doing and we told her we would call her when it was full.

I decided I couldn’t watch my husband dig alone, so during the days while our children were in school we dedicated two hours to digging, each and every day. At first we could only handle doing 40 buckets in about two hours time. The work area was so small at this point we would have to take turns axing the big chunks off the hard top and then I would fill the buckets and he would haul them through the basement, up the stairs, out of the garage where he would dump them into the trailer. Yes, the dust and dirt was excessive which helped motivate us to get the job done. On snowy days, there would be a mud trail through the basement to the trailer. Thankfully our basement has hard floors and not carpet. What a mess.

At first we were completely exhausted after 40 buckets, sweating profusely and totally worn out. But within a couple of weeks we were marveling at how our stamina had increased. At the start I was having trouble heaving the buckets out of the doorway for Dan to take, and his legs were exhausted from going up the stairs with a minimum of 50 lbs in each bucket, a bucket in each hand. But, our strength was growing by leaps and bounds and by dedicating two hours a day we were making incredible progress. It wasn’t long and we could do 60 buckets in two hours and that filled the small trailer. The trailer lady was great at first about coming daily and getting the trailer emptied and back the same day. But, soon we could do 60 buckets in 1 hour 15 minutes and we wanted to keep going. Her daily pickup slowly became every other day, then every 3rd day. This was not moving fast enough for us. We were starting to see a room emerge which made us want to dig all the more.

We also were getting really good at digging. We joked about how we should be miners since we had been digging in near darkness by the light of two corded mechanics trouble lights in what became known as “The Cave“. Soon I could wield the big mattock and fill buckets faster than any girl and Dan was virtually running up the stairs with buckets in each hand. We were having fun.

One day we decided after filling the trailer to go ahead and start making a pile behind a hedge in the rocks next to the driveway. That day we moved 120 buckets. We spent every day after that doing as much as we could - both filling her trailer and adding to the pile. When the pile was around 8 cubic yards big, we decided we had to get rid of it immediately. We found a guy offering Bobcat services on Craigslist for removal of dirt, concrete, rock and such. Due to the economy and his willingness to work, he gave us a very fair deal on the removal of the dirt. And because he could dump it on the Trailer Lady’s land he didn’t have to pay for disposal of the dirt. We were all happy.

We had our Bobcat guy come two more times all the while continuing to fill the trailer again and again. The last day of digging we squared the 2’ thick earthen ledges and leveled the floor. That day we moved more than 200 buckets.

Due to the fact the two most outer walls did not go down to the floor level, we had to leave an earthen ledge. In researching, we found a 2’ thick earth ledge could keep the walls from shifting, especially since the earth was so hard. So, now we had a level dirt floor, squared ledges and it looked like a room.

The digging was complete! Now it was time for real lighting so we put in 10 recessed can lights between the floor joists above our heads and electrical outlets on the walls. Ahhh, let there be light!

Okay, now we had to decide how to get concrete into this room. We have a lean to structure designed to house our trash cans. This sits on the exterior wall of The Cave. We opened up the trash house, pulled out the cans and cut a 2’ x 2’ hole in the outer wall at ground level. Because we have a raised ranch home, he was able to do this. Dan installed a fire-rated panel access door for commercial buildings he found on Craigslist for $20. The hole, not only was a secondary egress, but also a way to bring in the concrete.

The hole was just big enough to get the concrete chute through it. We called back the same concrete guy who cut the door through the foundation wall. We set up the concrete delivery, and he and his son poured and leveled 6” of concrete on the floor and up and over the earthen ledges. The room - for our purposes - was done.

After the concrete dried we spent several days moving all of our preparations into our new 12’ x 24’ room. One half of the room is dedicated to food storage, canning supplies, distilling equipment, barterable items, etc. The other half is for firearms and tactical equipment, including a reloading area, large safe and ammo storage. The temperature remains almost constant because there is no heat coming in and it is mostly underground. It is cool, dry and perfect for storage.

The room is concealed in the following ways. The opening under the clothes dryer has been sealed off. The exterior hatch in the trash house cannot be opened from the outside and is concealed behind a door and trash cans. The interior opening (the main door going into The Cave) has a heavy 5’ x 3’ steel door with a commercial non electric push code lock. Right now we have a large wardrobe/armoire in front of it which has been discretely bolted into place to conceal The Cave entrance. The armoire houses various jackets and coats which hides the false back which can be slid over easily to reveal the steel door entrance. Just picture The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, from The Chronicles of Narnia.

The room is perfectly hidden. Nobody would suspect it is even there. Our assets and preparations are finally out of sight. We go “shopping” in our Cave about once a week to bring up food that needs to rotate and Dan spends quite a bit of time in there reloading ammunition. It is spacious and organized. We have built shelves and it is the perfect way to keep this stuff secret while living in the crowded suburbs. Ironically, our neighbors never inquired about the dirt pile or the concrete truck and I imagine they have long forgotten.

We wanted this project to be as minimal in cost as possible. It was a large undertaking for us in terms of labor, but to add almost 300 square feet, the $2,000 we spent (for concrete work and lighting, etc.) was really quite worth it. We are not engineers, but due to common sense and research [and concrete], we knew what we needed to do to keep our house from falling in on us. We were confident in our abilities and judgment to not need to involve the local building authorities to give us permission to do this. But, this is a decision that needs to be taken seriously because one can destroy the foundation of their home if they dig improperly, not to mention get themselves in a lot of trouble, both with the law and financially.

But, you never know, you might have lurking in your suburban home quite a few extra square feet to hide the things you want out of sight. Think creatively, and don’t be scared of hard work. It gets easier every day. And ladies, don’t make your husbands do all the physical work. We can do far more than just the food-related preps. Build the chicken coop with him, learn to shoot, dig out a cellar with him. It will build your marriage and you’ll get stuff done twice as fast.


Sunday, October 17, 2010


After college (in the early 1990s), I was educating myself about finance even though I was not employed in that industry, I felt that if I was going to be responsible for my own financial well being during life I better start my education. I learned quite a bit, but failed to act on any of the information.  I was constantly seeking more and more info, then I had a series of jobs changes and got married, our first house and hence missed the "dot com" stock rally on all levels. Looking back I associate this with information paralysis.
Lesson:  Action beats collecting information any day!

Leap forward to Y2K, I spent some time researching Y2K but was not concerned about the outcome (perhaps still naive). And we took no action to be ready in the event something did happen.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that shook me to my core not only did we lose loved ones it showed how fragile our society and systems truly are.
My anxiety grew and grew knowing that this would only be the start of 'events', I felt almost paralyzed with inaction, I knew I needed to do something, but didn't know where to start or who to turn to for help or help getting started. For instance, I wanted to start a garden but didn't make the time and kept busy with other projects around the house. I was my own worst enemy.

From 2002 - 2004 I had submerged myself back into my work putting in 80-to-100 hours per week, seeking advancement, because that is what I felt I was meant to do.  When the job opportunity passed me by I was devastated, but stepped back and took the time to re-evaluate where we were in our lives (across the board).  We lived in one the nations largest  'metro' areas (OPSEC desire not to reveal info) away from any other family member. I was also feeling the pressure to get closer to family in case I needed more help with care for my wife; with her being a cancer survivor. I looked into a career change to allow us to move closer to family.  We felt it prudent to move while we were financially capable and she was in remission. 

Lesson: We can go through life with blinders on and not see that God's Grace carries us though even when we do not deserve.

Move forward again to 2005, I was very concerned with the state of the union and the zero down mortgage loans being offered to anyone who asked. To compound my fears my co-workers were leaving our well paying industry to become home builders... my mind was working overtime thinking about this gigantic bubble.  I re-read my financial books and started to pull together all the ways this could go wrong on a macro and micro level. This also reaffirmed that the days of keeping your nose to the grindstone is a big, shortsighted mistake.  As I had just spend the past 3.5 years burning both ends of my candle in my work and ignoring more relevant issues; even though I should have known better.

I discussed my fears and presented my findings with my wife and we moved all our 401(k) accounts into cash investments; keep in mind this was only 2005. I regretted that tactical move a few times as co-workers were proclaiming how much their funds had moved up this quarter or over the past year.   We had moved into some gold as an insurance policy. Note I didn't say inflation hedge as some of the materials I read show it isn't a hedge against inflation.

By 2007 my worst economic fear(s) were still not coming true; was I wrong?  Not according to the facts... then things were just starting to unravel across the edges of the US financial systems. To compound my anxiety I was still seeking to move to a state which would position us closer to family but not really doing anything to be prepared for such a move or self reliance.  We fully put our faith in God to deliver us on his time frame and in June 2008 our prayer came true. I was offered a position in another state where we could be very close to family and the icing on the cake was I could work from home a few days a week. 

We moved in Sept. 2008 (ring a bell as the start of the maelstrom?) and we were able to sell our home in Nov. 2008 (the height of the financial storm). During the crisis we both had more peace in our lives than we had in a number of years even as the markets fell freely; we were safe in God's grace and close by family. We lived with family and rented a home as our new home was being built (I know how contrarian) and we picked an outside the new metro area. Even while being repeatedly questioned by my new co-workers what would cause me to drive 1 hour + to work?  My initial response was, why do you drive 1 hour to cover 15 miles while I select to drive 70? How is that so different?  This "issue" quickly became a non-issue.   We selected the new living area due to it being close to natural spring and tons of wildlife (Deer, Turkey, Fish, Ducks, etc) and it is far enough away that we can ride out from most of the major waves from the coming failure. We also have two fallback locations to go to if conditions require it.

Since moving we have picked up some hunting and fishing skills, now I can catch, scale and filet a fish, I can also bring down small game, and we will see how I do this fall when deer hunting season opens. Don't laugh I had to learn it because I never was exposed to these activities growing up.

Lesson: The ' financial collapse' took longer than I could have ever imagined, and caused us considerable anxiety while falling into place (no pun intended). The collapse felt like we were moving in slow motion until the slippery slop inverted then it hit the gas like a road rage driver. We had placed full faith in God for our job and move process and he took care of it even as things were falling down across the globe. Sometimes, we rationalize away such discussions with God, how intently do you listen? Another lesson is that skills can come in all sizes, large and small and you never know when you might need them.

In 2009 we found the awesome SurvivalBlog web site and started to learn more about self reliance and we started small garden 60'x40' (or so we thought it was small), we had great ambitions however, between the manual tilling, weeding and bugs we realized many a great lesson (soil, soil treatments, hardiness zones, workload to till that much land by hand). Overall, we did get more out of the garden than we put into it, so we were intent on having a bumper crop in 2010.  We used the long winter learning about soil and how to treat it properly for crop growth. We had been collecting coffee grounds from the local (National) brand shop up the way (when they were available because the other home based farmers were collecting them too).  We also treated the ground with commercial fertilizers, wood ash (to bring down it's high acidity levels). With our efforts we were sure this years crops would be much better based on our efforts. Although, I was confusing effort with results! Mother nature had been blessing our area with plenty of rain right up until May then it just stopped raining and the garden suffered even more in mid-summer when we had to travel extended distances for a couple of funerals, needless to say the summer garden was a total loss. We have since scaled back our garden vision and re-worked it toward new smaller square box garden style (20x8) built using 2x10x10 pieces of wood.  To ensure more garden success I removed the non-fertile soil (at one shovel depth all the way through the new square box) using the 5 gallon bucket method to move the dirt out. To help the square box blend into the surrounding ground we painted it brownish. We strove for the mnemonic Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds and Deep soil (WORD) using deep layers of manure to properly support crop growth.  In order to get that manure I needed to do some 'horse trading'. Here is how I did it; I helped a friend cut down several large trees (> 110 feet) and then section them and haul them off. In return, I now had a friend  and who owed me a favor (instead of dinner). I have since made another friend  who in turn has a need for manure too. The new friend also had a truck with a trailer, all we needed to complete our manure equation as I had made a friend  in the spring who had all the manure we could haul away.  Now we feel we have the proper soil to get a successful fall planting. 

This year's global drought impacted crop growth and reinforced what we had seen in our area. With that in mind, I took the time to learn about PVC piping and how I could use it in my garden. Then I designed and installed my own 3/4" PVC irrigation garden soaking pipe system (quick overview version = one long pvc pipe with "T" connectors with shorter sections coming off the main supply pipe drilled through with smaller drill bit to allow water to drain and soak the designated section. I also installed a hose connector on the supply side so, I can just hook up the hose directly to the new under ground irrigation system and flood the square box garden).  I feel this is going to be more efficient way to water my fall crops; this remains to be seen.

We also started to "compost" using four 5 gallon buckets (free), I vented the buckets using a large drill bit and then spray painted them black to allow the proper air exchange and get the heat up on the compost matter.  The 4 buckets were originally desired for a one for each week of the month cycle, there by allowing each week to be further along in the compost cycle than the next. We also envisioned our compost maintenance being simple by stirring each week to ensure proper air / water mix.  However, the compost process took longer than we imagined even though the buckets were solid black and in full sun 90% of the day in the SW position on our property. Since, April we have made 4 complete compost deposits into our garden (beware this stuff is 'HOT' and will indeed burn your plants even the Asparagus which is a strong feeder).  We learned we can put in saw dust and shredded paper for 'brown' material as part of our mix.

Lessons: This year we learned that rain is very critical to crop growth even if you can get water to your garden at regular intervals, something about mother natures version that plants love.  Lots still to learn about proper gardening, we are glad we are learning this now while we can still run to the store for items we need for the menu.  Free items for compost are easy to get (wood ash, sawdust, shredded paper).

We also learned that we can get about 9 months of hard yard / garden work out of a pair of leather gloves before they are worn out.  We learned that moth balls last 2-3 weeks in mid-summer heat (90-100 degrees). We also learned that it took two cans of wasp spray to control the wasp nest creation on the exterior of our new home this spring. We learned that a 5 gallon of bug spray will allow six exterior applications as we used it every two weeks to control the exploding spider population. (Our desire is to keep the bugs out of the house and not have to spray indoors).

Road Warrior:  when I do travel  to / from work or other job sites I always travel with my BoB (which has the essentials such as a normal ankle carry firearm for most state patrol officers loaded with defensive rounds, extra ammo, a full first aid kit, poncho, flash light, large pocket knife, compass, lighter, spare clothing, gloves, food and water).  The water gets replaced daily since, I drink from it on my journey.  If an "event" takes place my wife and I have a standing arrangement that I will do everything I can to keep in constant contact and get home ASAP. If I fail to arrive after 3-days she is to follow the Bug-out plan and proceed to our double-up home.  One of our first self standards for our firearms is to rotate ammo between magazines monthly, to keep the spring(s) in healthy condition. It's easy to remember on the 1st of the month.
I was never a fan of the big box stores (where you were required to pay to for the ability to shop) until I found this web site, while on the road and of course after my work is complete, I can (and do) swing by one of these types of stores and pickup items in need and items for storage as we don't have any close by our home.

Final Lessons:  please understand some of the new warning signs currently flashing are for the coming double-dip recession/depression/collapse. For example, all the Federal stimulus money that was spent and produced something like 11 jobs as governments don't produce anything they only consume from others. The consumer "shadow home inventory" is going to hit the market very soon (Alt-A, Alt-B, and jumbo loans coming due), the looming US commercial real estate collapse,  the delay in home foreclosures can't continue forever as the banks will need to move the 'toxic assets' somewhere. The growing pension crisis (most if not all, are underfunded); do you know what the condition of your pension is in? How concerned are you?  The biggest piece of the pie in my mind is the US Dollar continues to weaken (part of the unannounced deleveraging strategy or think of it as the race to the bottom for all fiat currencies) while foreign governments are seeking gold as an alternative in their currency basket(s).  This market pressure pushes the US Dollar down even more, making the cycle even tougher on US citizens or those holding US Dollars.  You still have time to plan and act.

We trust that you Lesson from our journey that even during the storms (Financial meltdown, jobs, etc) God's Grace and comfort are still above all else!
Things will come on God's time not ours! You must pray for divine insight and listen to your Lord!  Take the proper action based on the previous step and go out and expand your life by learning something new. Even if the bottom of the economy doesn't fall out I have learned new skills, made new friends and have had fun along the way. While the most important is we have drawn closer to God for his Grace!



After a 19 day dry spell, we were hit with one heck of a storm here in southern Pennsylvania last week. I thought I would share with Survivalblog readers the lessons to be learned from this event.

The first 29 days of September had been warm and lovely here, with only about 3 inches of the normal 21 inches of rain we should normally see by the end of September. On the last day of September we received the missing 18 inches. With the long period of dry weather preceding the storm, the ground was incapable of absorbing much of the water that came down. As a result of the weather and soil conditions there was a great deal of flooding.

I woke Thursday morning to find that there were a couple of inches of water in my basement. We have just bought this house 3 months ago, but we have known all along that the drainage for the basement was not in a good state of repair. There is a drainage pipe at the low side of the basement that is designed to provide a path of escape for any water that would pool in the basement. At some point in the recent past, this cast iron pipe corroded through and collapsed. At this time the drain pipe is totally blocked in the middle. This is a problem that needs to be addressed by us for the basement is one of our primary storage locations. We have been looking into a method of repair and fortunately there is a process to restore the integrity of old cast iron drainage pipes that lines the pipe with a maintenance free plastic/fiberglass material without the need to dig up the pipe. This repair is now on the top of our list of needed repairs to our new home. After this repair we will be undertaking the process of painting the basement with Drylock, and re-grading some of the land next to the house to reroute water away from the foundation. To insure that our stored goods stay dry even in the event of some water beyond our methods of control we will be storing all of our dry goods on pallets or shelves, and keeping it all from direct contact with the floor and walls. Lucky for us, the basement on north side of the house is at ground level, and we are on much higher ground compared to the surrounding areas. The two inches or so of flooding is the worst case scenario for us. It was more than enough to get me thinking about repairs and modifications to my structure and property to avoid this level of moisture in the future.

When I left my house to go to work another whole set of lessons were in store for me. I live in an area that is literally awash with small creeks and streams. The area is very hilly and every valley and hollow has a creek of varying depth and width. On this day, creeks that are normally are 6 or 10 inches deep were more like 6 or 10 feet deep. When I came to the creek that passes between the county I live in and the county I work in I was not met with a crossing. This creek, which was normally 15 to 20 feet wide, had swollen to over 100 yards wide. Every bridge had been washed out as had several of the roads next to the creek. There was no way to cross on my normal route to work. I ended up driving up an unmarked road and found a covered bridge, on high ground, that I was unfamiliar with. Bear in mind that I know this area pretty well. I was able to cross the flood waters and get to work after some unplanned exploration. On the way home from work the flooding I experienced on the way to work had subsided, only to be replaced by other flooding and high water on the roads home. The rain was still really coming down, the sun had set, and visibility was much less than desired. I had to drive significantly slower than normal to avoid entering high water beyond the capability of my car to cross. When I was almost to my house, even traveling at low speed, I was surprised by high water on a road after I had already crossed a bridge that forded the creek I had just passed. I was able to stop before entering the water and assess the danger of crossing it with my car before finding myself midway with no way back.
So the lessons learned I learned (in spite of the fact I was able to get home with no major problems);

  1. Even in a known area, it is a good thing to know routes not usually traveled in case an alternate route must be taken- take alternate routes from time to time so you know firsthand what your options are without consulting a map.
  2. Understand before leaving the house what areas on your normal route are prone to becoming impassable or pose potential problems for your travel.
  3. Take the right vehicle- I drove my sedan, which handles better in rain but does not have the clearance or fording ability of my pickup truck.
  4. Make sure that all the safety equipment on the vehicle is in working order- my fog lights were not working, and it would have been a great help to have them.
  5. Never leave without a G.O.O.D. bag- though I am a bug in guy, I did not have a bag packed in the car. If I had been forced to leave my car I would have been unequipped to deal with the weather and the impending hike to safety, on foot.

I am a fan of using real experience to influence the unprepared to become prepared. I found out first hand last week that I still learn the lessons of preparedness every time I leave my house, so long as I have my eyes, and mind, open enough to see them.
Thanks again for this useful web site, and keep up the great work.


Monday, September 27, 2010


Editor's Note: The following letter, suggested by a SurvivalBlog reader, is reprinted with permission of Backwoods Home magazine--which was one of my favorite print publications, even a decade before they became SurvivalBlog advertiser.

Dear Jackie,
I have to disagree with your Ask Jackie column answer to Joe Leonetti's questions about getting started in self-sufficient living in Issue #124 (July/Aug 2010). They missed all the most important points that a "city" person would have to master first. Here are my own suggestions:

Joe, forget thinking "self-sufficient" and start thinking "frugal;" if you have the consume-and-spend mindset so prevalent today you'll need to do this anyway to prepare for retirement. The excellent news is, many things you'll need to know no matter where you live can be learned and practiced right in the middle of town, and little by little. For instance:

*Start by preparing all food and beverage at home­then with no frozen foods­then from scratch­then from storage foods (e.g. canned goods)­ then with only a stove (no microwave, other gadgets)­then without refrigeration (for ingredients or leftovers). If you're an average urbanite, you'll save a boatload of money that will help you to...

*Get out of debt completely. Debt is a chain that will imprison you to your current job forever. It may be the single most common reason why people fail at a simplified lifestyle change. Pay as you go with cash, use credit cards only for car breakdowns and other emergencies, and pay the plastic off every month. And speaking of cars...

*Trade your late-model, banker's-dream for a used, great-condition vehicle that will serve you well on rougher roads (my advice: one without a computer "brain" where everything goes when it goes) and start learning to maintain and repair it yourself. This is a rough lesson but your vehicle is your only lifeline in remote living and doing work yourself will save you more money than almost any other single thing. A car repair class (or full course at your local community college) will also teach you what tools and equipment you'll need. Then get the car totally paid off. While this is in progress, start learning how to...

*Live without electricity, unlimited running water and central heating. Practice washing laundry, dishes and yourself using very limited quantities of water; use only electronics that have solar chargers; get up with the sun, go to bed when it's dark, use a flashlight or battery lantern in between. You'll also find that you need to adjust many household choices to accommodate the new regime­the type of clothes you wear, wearing them more than one day, your soaps, your hairstyle, and a whole lot more. You'll also need a wooden drying rack, a charming rustic decorator touch for any contemporary condo. Boy, will you ever feel sorry for yourself at times, but once you get good at it, it's also very empowering. And very soon you'll figure out that...

*You won't adapt to everything, so find out what is crucial to continuing and then keep going. Concentrate on paring down your present lifestyle to as little expense, as little stuff and as little time as possible, and then it's all forward progress. You can also whittle transportation expenses if you investigate public transportation, or...

*Get a durable pair of walking shoes, a big backpack (used) and create a sturdy, homemade wheeled wire shopping cart, maybe even a bike and bike cart. These things may be your lifeline if the car goes kerflooey one time too many. Do shopping on foot or by bike several times a week, in all kinds of weather; you'll be out in it anyway if you build or garden in a remote area. And speaking of which...

*Now that you're outside more, start practicing being comfortable inside with no central heating. Turn the thermostat down to 60 and wear long underwear, warm vests, heavy socks, hats, and gloves inside the house. Heavy bedclothes are good here, too, especially a rectangular sleeping bag zipped open for use as a comforter. Scout out every thrift store in your county and find these gems there; if your present lifestyle permits, you'll need a good selection of warm clothes if you...

*Purchase a used, self-contained (bed, toilet, kitchen) travel trailer or camper and learn your skills­carpentry, wiring, plumbing, gas piping, whatever­restoring it. You can use this for living in when you first move onto your rural land­that's where the warm clothes come in. When it's ready, take it out camping frequently for practice. As you sit in the silence, you will also realize that...

*Urban areas have lots of entertainment, but rural areas do not have sports stadiums, multiplex theaters, opera halls, megastores, even chain video rental places. You can't work all the time and you must learn to entertain yourself in other ways; with solar chargers you can still watch a DVD (for free, no less) obtained from...

*Your regional library that participates in an inter-library loan system, without which you won't consider moving to the area anyway. Get over any attitudes about libraries being for students and go apply for your card. Then order every book they have on camping, outdoor living, bike repair, cooking from scratch, wood-stove use and the basic design and construction of small homes. Libraries also stock popular DVDs and CDs, magazines and newspapers, and may have public-use computers as well as free wireless access for your own laptop. College libraries may be open to public use as well, and their inventory might include a selection of more specialized periodicals geared to their high-tech classes. Your taxes are paying for it, so you might as well get your money's worth.

*Lastly, you stated that with your background it would be very easy for you to get into teaching. Begin now getting the proper certification and begin job hunting for weekend or evening teaching spots; it may be harder to break into the field than you anticipated, and if you ever suddenly need new employment, nothing works in your favor like an established track record.

*Now, are you still with me, Joe? Have you thrown down the magazine and run away screaming yet? The majority of these lifestyle-changes can be done even if you're presently living in a high-rise condo with a view of Manhattan. Bear in mind, the very best hedge against future money troubles is the ability to live well on very little. Think ahead to retirement (just how much will you collect on Social Security?) and start planning now for a total lifestyle that is exactly what fits you and sustainable well into the years ahead. - Liz C. in Washington

(Reproduced with permission of Backwoods Home magazine from Issue 125, Sept./Oct., 2010.)


Saturday, September 11, 2010


Five years ago I really started watching the economy and the way the whole world was going. I started preparing then. I recently purchased two of JWR’s books. Both are great resources for those who have no idea of how to do things in a back to basic scenario. Being a former Eagle Scout, military man and a current Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), I already have skills to rely on. I never thought that being high tech was good, so I have centered on a low tech plan. “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid) is my motto. The easier the better and most unskilled people can learn quickly. My budget is not huge so I have to really think about what are important and needed verses wanting to have. Here is what we did to prepare for TEOTWAWKI.

First have a plan. If you have other like minded people talk about it, then decide on what you will do, stay or bug out. I prefer the bug out as there will likely be a lot of panicked people out there. Second have a set point to meet, preferably way outside the urban setting. A lot of states have a gazetteer map of you state. These are good because they offer both topographical, city, and land maps with easy to find reference points along top and bottom. Make sure each one of your groups has one and has the area remarked so it is easy to find in the chaos. If you have a retreat that’s the best. Make sure its rural and away from the big cities. If your like me because money is tight, have an area picked out where you can build something and regroup. Someplace to hold up that is defensible until other plans can be made or you meet someone willing to let you stay and hold up. Good field defenses can be made out of logs and dirt. Its inexpensive and easy to find. A good book on making field defensive fortifications can be found in most US armed forces manuals and can be found at most guns shows, half price book stores etc. Earthen retreats are also naturally camouflaged. Even with that said be prepared to move if its compromised. Have an alternate spot picked out and ready to move into.

Second is food. MREs are good because they don’t need water. Have a good supply (we personally have a three month freeze dried emergency food supply outside our normal stocked pantry) of bug out food. I used a company called “Daily Bread”. They had here three-month supply based on a family of five instead of the usual 1 person supply. The price was comparable and they took split payments making it affordable for a public servant's salary like mine. Water is also a must as much as you can stock. We have a small two burner propane stove with a small stock of propane (we live in the desert and it gets hot so we don’t store a lot) for it. I also bought two folding metal back pack stoves. They are easy to use and can burn anything, wood, coal heat tabs etc. Water also can be gotten from outside sources, creeks, streams etc. These can be boiled and clarified for human use. There are several good books on this and other skills so I won’t suggest any. Having said that I also got each one in my family two (cause two is one and one is none) US military canteens with cups. They fit on a belt easily and take up less space than a mess kit. So with freeze dried food I can use the folding stove to heat the water from a canteen or other source and in some cases boil it to kill bacteria in the metal canteen cups. Then add the food and in 10 minutes your meal is done. Afterward, you have one cup to clean, fold up the small stove and your off. I also found a three piece interlocking silverware set sold as a four pack. So each member has silverware. All easily compact and easy to carry.

Three is a good vehicle. I currently own a 1994 Chevrolet 1500 4x4 Suburban. It was a former Forestry Vehicle (cost me just $2,000) so it was well maintained. It has 82,000 miles on it now. Its our only vehicle at this time (went through some hard times lately with wife being sick). I keep up the maintenance on it so it’s ready to go. I don’t leave the tank under 3\4 full (We are currently looking to secure a diesel crew cab pickup truck. With dual tanks and possibly a third. Keeping those tanks full and having a lot of non-perishable stuff pre-loaded in the bed, better choice of fuel and range with three tanks). It’s a good tough vehicle and has been around a long time and is reliable. If you don’t own a good SUV or truck I would suggest highly securing one. Trucks and SUVs are a lot tougher than cars and most have four wheel drive and can go anywhere. And if you need to push through something you have a lot more weight than a car. With my Suburban I have a 42 gallon tank and with the third seat removed I can reliably store all our G.O.O.D. gear. My vehicle is a pretty simple 350 4 bolt main Chevy engine. I bought the Haynes manual for the whole vehicle and the engine and electronics manual. Most repairs on this can be made from the top of the hood. I do most of the maintenance myself so I learn how to work on it. When I was younger I hung around my grandfather a lot. He was a self educated man having grown up in the depression. He had a natural skill at figuring things out and knowing how to fix them. So I got a good hands on education at fixing stuff. When I don’t know how to do something I call a good friend of mine who was a mechanic by trade . He comes over and helps me, shows me what to do. In trade my wife usually feeds him well. As far as tools go I usually go to Harbor Freight. They are decent tools at lower cost.

Fourth are firearms. I have heard a lot of people talking about whether to have or not to have. I am a firm believer in the “right to bear arms”, but I also have a lot of training with guns. So if you have never used one get trained on safe handling and use of them first. Don’t just go out and buy one and think you can shoot. Having a gun is serious business and requires a lot maturity, safety and practice. Over the past five years I have tried to minimize having too many different calibers. I suggest finding out what you are comfortable shooting and what works for you. Go to the local indoor shooting range and spend a little money and time renting different guns to try. This way you can figure out what works for you before you dump a ton of cash on something you can’t shoot. Secondly again “KISS”, don’t go out and buy the most expensive gun with all the toys. Nothing makes up for the skill of being able to hit what you are shooting at. Example…Mr. Weekend Warrior with money to blow has never shot a gun but he goes out and buys an AR-15 for lets say $2000 that has all the latest and greatest gadgets. He rarely shoots it and has it for just in case. Now Mr. Middle Class has let’s say a Russian Mosin Nagant M-44 bolt action rifle that he purchased at Big 5 Sporting goods for $99. He goes out and shoots regularly and knows his gun. He doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on it but he knows how to shoot it and can really reach out and touch whatever he wants if he needs to. It severs dual purposes, defensive and hunting. Ammo is inexpensive for most old military rifles and there is a large surplus on the market. Whatever you choose to do make sure you know how to use the tool you are carrying. I personally have two Mosin’s and they are quite accurate. Ammo is inexpensive. I can buy 440 rounds [of corrosively-primed ammunition] in a sealed tin for roughly $85. I also suggest a good .22 handgun or rifle. They are inexpensive and you can carry a lot of rounds on you. A good caliber pistol is essential as a secondary weapon (Most LEOs carry two on them for this reason). I would suggest also a good shotgun, pump action preferred. You can hunt and defend yourself at the same time. With so many rounds for these guns it is so multipurpose. I would suggest if you decide on a shotgun get one with a turkey barrel. They are usually a little heavier barrel and are straighter than a smooth bore. I personally have made accurate body shots at the target range with slugs at 100 yards. So if I had one long gun to choose from it would be a pump action shotgun with a turkey barrel and rifle sights. You can hunt small game, large game, have close in protection with buckshot or reach out and touch something if you had to. Over the past two years I have tried really hard not to have to many calibers. I have three Glock 9mms. All have interchangeable parts and can use the same ammo and magazines. I have two Hungarian PA-63s in 9x18 Makarov. I got these in trade but they have turned out to be a simple robust pistol. Again they use the same mags, interchangeable parts and ammo. I have two Mosin Nagants. These are simple robust bolt rifles. Again, interchangeable parts, and commonality of ammo. I also used the "buy in pairs" .22 caliber pistols, rifles, shotguns and AK-47s. Do you see a trend here? Most Eastern European weapons where built with more loose tolerances than US made weapons. They are simple to use, very robust and less expensive than a lot of US made weapons. They work, and keep on working.

Fifth is gear. You can buy so many different types of gear. There is so many to choose from. And the prices range from cheap to I wouldn’t pay $2,000 for a backpack. If you have a family like me and a civil servants pay, you got to get the most from your dollar (not that it will be worth anything anytime soon). I personally bought good quality used ALICE packs and frames for my family. They are tough, roomy and work. I have carried one before and you can’t kill them. There are a lot of sites that have wholesale bargain prices like my personal favorite the sportsman’s guide. I have found a lot of things there that were discounted and if you’re a club member you usually get 5-10 dollars off the price and discounted shipping. The products I have ordered are good quality surplus items that are battle tested and work. Again learn your gear, try it out cause if you don’t know how to use it its worthless. Also look around your house first, you can find a lot of useful stuff to put in your gear before you go spend a lot of money (have personally went out and bought stuff then found something similar at home I could have used and saved money) so check first then go out and buy. You can find good quality new and used BDUs and sometimes you can find deals like 5 sets for $25. They are durable and have lots of pockets. Good quality boots are essential so here you will spend a little money. I like Bates LEO boots. Lace up fronts with side zippers. I have a pair that I bought five years ago. I still wear them for kick’in around in. I also had a pair that I was wearing at work and had to get real wet to save a family from drowning. I let them dry for a day. I still use them for duty use and they have shown no ill effects from getting wet. Socks are also essential you can find 12 packs at Costco for a low price. Good folding knives and sheath knives also a must. Again you can find them a most sporting goods stores like Big 5 when they have sales. Medical kits are important. I put together my own in a back pack that has a portable stretcher inside. Has two side zip detachable pouches that hold medicines, surgical tools, bandages etc. I also like the Medic M17 bag. You can get them for around $150 to $200, depending on which site you go to. One kit has pretty much everything you need. Dental temporary fillings and picks are important too. You can find temporary dental filling at Wal-mart for about $2.50. Most surgical tools and Dental picks you can find inexpensively at your local gun shows. You can also find a wide array of medical supplies there also, trauma bandages, sutures etc., that you can’t find in the local drug store. Costco is a great place to find big packs of pain relievers, vitamins etc. So finding good discount gear is affordable, you just have to look. 

The most single important thing you can do in my opinion though is learn. Train to survive. Take classes on firearms, self defense and living on little to nothing. No one can prepare for every scenario. I live everyday life not knowing what I am going to walk into being a LEO. So because of that I have taken every course I could, first aid, dealing with stressful situation, self defense, combat handgun, rifle and shotgun etc. In the end your mind is the most dangerous and best weapon you could ever have. I believe in being a jack of all trades master of none, so I am well rounded. Be prepared for stress it’s going to happen. There are a couple of good books on the psychology of combat and killing by a great man, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman. I have personally attended his seminars and read his books they have great insight on what to expect and how to deal with it. Any good books you can get your hands on, and I mean good reputable authors not some fly by night writer, read them and then read it again. It’s not necessarily the ability to remember but rather the ability to recall what you learned when you are presented with a situation. When it happens it’s like a file in the back of your head that surfaces and you go, wow I remember reading this somewhere and I can do this. Believe me there are so many things that I do day to day that people ask me how do you remember all that stuff, how can you multitask without thinking about it. Well for one I read a lot, two I train all the time so it is instinctive, three I have a mindset that I am going to get through this and survive. It becomes instinctive. Think about it everyday you do things without having to think about it. So add survival skills, combat skills and mental preparation to your every day life. Before long you won’t even have to think about it, you will just react. You have to believe in yourself and be confident that you can do this. If you panic your no good. Be a sheep dog…..be a warrior." Be a leader, not a herd animal. There’s an old saying amongst warrior types…"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil….For I am the biggest baddest guy in this valley”. Usually there are some colorful metaphors added but I will keep it clean. Having a winning survival mindset is imperative. If you believe it, it will happen. If you believe you can do it you will. Just remember to temper it will common sense. Get your spouse and children involved too. You can teach your kids valuable skills without making it look gloomy. Take them camping, learn to build fires, pitch a tent, cook over a fire. Take them to a shooting range, my kids love to go as a family and learn the skills to shoot while having fun. Changing the oil in the car, etc. Anything you can do together is valuable and good family time.
Oh and don’t forget to buy silver, probably the only currency we will have to fall back on. Be safe, prepare, be a good Christian, help others when you can because in the end we will rebuild and carry on!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Hi,
I just wanted to bring up something after reading article about hiding gardens and animals in rural areas, recently linked in SurvivalBlog. Something that people might want to consider, that we have done. We chose to build a barn rather than a house. And I know you can quite often find properties that already have a barn or large outbuilding. We have a 46' x 60' pole barn. Within that we framed in about 900+ square feet for our home. The rest is divided up between stalls, a run in area for large animals, and a shop. One of the 12' X 12' stalls houses our chickens and our rabbits. There is a back door right out of the kitchen area and into the aisle of the barn portion. We only have two windows, one next to the front door. And that door and window also has a regular big sliding barn door that we can slide closed, so that there is no sign of either. And it can be latched closed from the inside. The other window is the bathroom/utility room, which has a dutch door covering it and when closed looks like another stall door.
We can care for the animals without ever leaving the cover of the building, if we need to.

The garden is placed in a small sub irrigated valley slightly above the grade of the barn. And we have large open pastures all around everything for good sight of anyone approaching. No one can see you if your in the garden area unless they come from the top of our property and we will have someone on watch from that highest point at all times, if it comes to that.
Anyway, I just wanted to give folks some ideas of alternative housing that they might not of considered. And because barns always have large lofts or "attic type areas" you have more room to expand if more room is need.

Take care, - T.T. in the Northwest

JWR Adds: It is noteworthy that Charles "Pa" Ingalls of the mostly factual 19th Century Little House on the Prairie book series kept a padlock on his barn, to help prevent Indians stealing his horses at night. Some things never change. There's just a new cast of characters.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Dear Jim and Family,
I can understand why [the gentleman that writes Laptop and Rifle, a blog recently mentioned in SurvivalBlog] should go forthrightly into the wilderness this way. Its taking control of his life, with his own hands. But it is a pity that some important stuff got overlooked. There's a wonderful (and necessary) book called the "Uniform Building Code" (UBC) that all contractors know and love as their bible of legal building laws, which also happen to be good engineering. The google programmer is doing the equivalent of writing bad code by ignoring this book. His second hut has no poured concrete footing, so the first time it rains, its going to sink/tilt and no longer be level. Considering the area he's building is heavily volcanic, the soil will also be composed of swelling clay, which means its also going to tear apart his concrete block foundation, something it would also do to a poured concrete footing. In that territory, you have to build in spring after heavy rains or water down the site for 30 days in order to allow the clay to swell to saturation. Thus, once the foundation is poured the concrete is put under compression, the only way its physically strong. Most homes in California are built this way due to the common prevalence of swelling clay soil that formed subsequent to the lengthy volcanic system that predated the San Andreas fault line. If he'd asked the county building department in Chico, he'd know that. Or ditto if he had just looked it up with a web search. Cheers, - InyoKern


Monday, August 30, 2010


Hello James,
I recently stayed with a friend in a little German village northeast of Frankfurt . My friend is restoring his family’s 350+ year old Tudor-style home. I was amazed at the ballistic mass involved. The old walls are 6-8” (15-20cm) thick timber and clay/loam brick, covered in plaster/cement. As part of the restoration, they are adding an additional 6” (15cm) of timber reinforcement on the inside and filling it with 6” of lighter loam bricks for insulation. This results in a total thickness of at least 12” (30 cm) of solid wood and brick. Compare that to our standard 4-6” wall filled with fiberglass insulation and sheetrock! Many first-floors are built of sandstone or basalt. Furthermore, the modern homes that perhaps half of the villagers live in (built in the ‘50s-60s) are 10-12” of solid concrete block. Roofs are fire-proof tile or slate. Most windows have full rolling security/privacy covers that can be actuated from inside.

Additionally, the layout of the village struck me as very defensible and survivable. It’s been established around a reliable water source. Homes are clustered together for protection, and are interspaced with small kitchen gardens, workshops, dairies, wood-fired bakeries, and barns. The fields surrounding are filled with crops. Property lines are a mess (everyone owns little plots of land intermixed with everyone else – an acre here, two acres over here…). In the back of most barns you can see the old hand-tools, still in excellent condition, waiting to be used once more.

It really struck me how ill-prepared our homes and lifestyles are in America . My current home certainly won’t last 300 years and how long can a solitary family farm hold out in uncertain times? The one saving grace we have over them: the second amendment. Firearms are heavily restricted and licensed in Germany. - Isaac S.


Sunday, August 29, 2010


When purchasing or building a home, there are no shortages of choices that must be made. From type of home and features needed to financial matters, literally hundreds of choices must be made. Though some decisions may not have a direct impact on your prepping (the color of the countertop will not matter in a SHTF scenario) many will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your home, your financial well being and thus, your ability to prep. This article’s purpose to introduce the new homeowner-to-be some of these choices and to give you some background on each so that you may further investigate those that interest you. It is not intended to be a how to build a house guide!

As the host of The Homeowner’s Friend Podcast, I have explained many of the items I will cover in this article in greater detail. Like with any choice having to do with finances or big-ticket items, you need to research these items yourself carefully. Though I believe my information to be true, it is ultimately up to you to make the best decision depending on your particular circumstances. I make no warranties, expressed or implied.

I have worked on and have toured many homes under construction and found most to be of the generic cookie-cutter variety - perfectly suitable to the "grasshopper" lifestyle. Long on features like Jacuzzis, fancy kitchens and large spaces but short on practicality, strength and sustainability. Any home built or purchased by a prepper must be, above anything else IMO, sustainable to the greatest extent possible.
By sustainable, I am not trying to save the planet (though that is a definite by-product), I am trying to make your home require the least amount of external inputs necessary to keep it functioning. This has everyday advantages and is even more valuable in a SHTF scenario. In normal times, it saves you money and/or effort. An efficient home simply costs less to operate, leaving more money for “bullets and Band-Aids”. In a SHTF crisis, it is easier to maintain comfort in the home and will save precious resources, hopefully allowing the few you have or can obtain to get you through till things get put back together.
In this article, we will look at the major systems of your home, which consist of the water system, both fresh and waste, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), electrical, construction, and security issues. Most have at least some effect on the others and must all be properly integrated to obtain the most sustainable design. For example, HVAC and insulation are related as is the water system and your gutters. Both can be designed to compliment or help each other.

I will not look at home styles in this article as that could be one of its own. However, I will mention that as Americans, most of us desire to live in a larger home than we currently occupy, but actually need less home than we have now! We need a home that is comfortable and safe. We all desire a nice home, but a definite balance needs to be struck as the larger and fancier the home, the more resources (including money) it will require to operate, maintain and defend if necessary. When the gas is flowing, its easy to heat 5,000 square feet - but nearly impossible when the gas stops flowing! Remember most families (with 4-5 kids no less) survived in 800 square foot ranch houses in the 1970s just fine! Today, most home are two to three times that size - and are occupied by smaller families.

I am also going to focus on the most common type of home, the above ground standard framed home. Certainly, many interesting types of homes exist, such as subterranean, Earthship, straw bale, dome, yurt, etc., but again, I am not intending to write a book! Many of the systems, however, are common amongst all types so much of the discussion will be valid, whatever your choice.

Also, I will not cover locations. I have several podcasts on this topic, as it is an in depth topic in itself. From choosing a community to a specific lot, many considerations have to be made. Please though, investigate the area and lot carefully. Are there water problems, bad soil conditions, bad neighbors, high taxes, bad schools, a declining tax base or increased foreclosures? Is it a twenty mile commute to get to a job or store? As I mentioned in the podcasts, sometimes the cheapest land may prove to be the most expensive after you take into account all the variables!

Fresh Water

Water basically comes from two sources, wells and city mains. City water is supplied from wells or reservoirs, is filtered and treated, and pumped into the system. Extra water flows into the high water tanks to provide static pressure for the Town ([roughly]1 PSI for each feet of height (or "head") when the pumps are not needed or in time of high demand. Typically the tanks hold a day or so worth of water, so even in a power outage with no generator backup at the water plant, water will continue to flow for a day or so unless people hoard it. A very reliable system in normal times, but vulnerable in a SHTF scenario. I prefer my own water system, as I can control it - but currently we are on city water, with some backup stored and more unfiltered available locally.

Wells are perhaps the best for the prepper as this option allows you to basically operate your own water company. Two main types exist, dug and drilled. Dug wells are often 3 or so feet wide and several feet deep, often made of stone or a large pipe. These are installed over an active spring and can provide ample quantities of great water (or not). They are vulnerable to surface water contamination and as they rely on surface water bubbling out of the ground, as the surface water levels drop in dry times of the year, yields can suffer. In some areas, these can not be used as a water supply for a new home because of the risks involved.
Drilled wells are drilled into the earth using (usually) heavy well drilling equipment. These go down hundreds of feet (300-to-500 feet is common) into deep ground water sources typically found in cracks between the layers of rock. The top section, which goes from the surface through the soil and loose rock down to the solid bed-rock is lined with a steel pipe, called a well casing, that is cemented into the bedrock. This isolates the vulnerable surface water from the cleaner deep ground water. Ground water levels are also more stable, providing a more reliable water source for the homeowner.

In most cases, except in springs that are above the level of the house, a pump system is required to push or pull the water out of the well and into the home. Jet pumps are the most simple and pull the water from the well. These work well, but are best for more shallow wells. Submersible pumps located in the well under the water level, are clearly superior as it is easier to push than to pull water and are self priming (something you will appreciate if you sometimes run out of water). They are also more expensive and difficult to install, however. Storage (pressure) tanks are used to allow the pump to cycle at reasonable intervals. Rapidly cycling wells (more than once per minute with a moderate flow or so) indicate either a bad or undersized storage tank. Both types of pump have foot valves at the input to keep the home water (which is under pressure) from running back into the well. Occasionally, you are lucky enough to find an artesian well, which is basically a drilled well that is naturally under pressure. In this case, just pipe it to the home and you may not need a pump!

Using a simple generator or solar-powered pump, one can have water without the use of a grid. Be advised, many standard pumps are 220 Volt AC (VAC), so small inverters and generators will not work. A water storage tank can also be installed at the highest part of the home or land and used to supply water pressure between generator or sun fueled pumping sessions. Since well water is generally safe to drink without filtration or treatment, even during most SHTF scenarios, it makes the most important life sustaining item easy to provide.

Inside [city limits on metered] city water supplies, however, it may not be practical (or legal) to install a well just for emergency use. As an alternative, one can store potable water in an installed tank (approved for storage of drinking water) in the basement or yard and use a pump to supply it to the home. 12 Volt RV pumps (preferably the kind with the attached storage tank) are ideal for this coupled with a generator or solar recharged battery. Simply pump from the tank into the drain at your city water hookup or other cold water hose fitting, with the city water turned off to keep from also supplying your neighbors! Using just a few 55 gallon tanks and a pump like this, you can go a few days if you conserve - utilizing your normal household faucets. You could even take a quick shower, if needed. If you have a gas water heater with a pilot lamp, you can even have hot water.

Refill the water tanks with portable tanks hauled in a vehicle or behind a bike in a trailer. Fill the storage tanks by hand or with another pump and battery at local streams or other water bodies. Filter the water as you pump it with a simple RV filter and add some bleach to eliminate most water born bacteria or other contaminants. The EPA recommends to add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Many books and Internet sources cover the finer points of water filtration, so I will not dwell on it here. You can also take advantage of roof water using a cistern buried in the yard or a pool to provide non-potable water for watering plants or flushing toilets. Be creative!

Waste Water Systems

If you are on city water, you are likely also on a city sewage system as well. If your on a hill, this may work even in a SHTF scenario (but understand it will exit somewhere downhill from your house - perhaps in another house..) but if you are not that high, it may back up as the pumps that keep the stuff flowing to the treatment plants shut down. Worst yet, it may back up into your home if you are lower in the system. Remember what flows down hill. This is why I never recommend having a gravity drained basement toilet or shower below grade (in a basement), as this is a prime release point in a backup - even a clog in your own drain pipe to the street can cause extensive damage. If you want to install a fixture below grade, use a sewage basin and ejector pump to raise the waste water to a higher pipe, a pipe that will only overflow from fixtures on the first floor - something that is much less likely to happen as they are higher than the ground level. It is also a good idea to install some sort of valve on your sewer hookup in the basement where it enters the house to stop any backups from entering your home. Some of these are even automatic.

If the city system is backed up, you will not be able to get rid of waste water without installing a basic septic system yourself. This may be something you do so quietly if you know what I mean. Just a “T” on the outlet from the house with some valves where you can temporarily pipe the waste into a couple of buried 55 gallon drums buried outside to settle out the solids and into some stone to drain the water will be better than nothing. And remember, gray water from sinks and showers can be used to water your garden or other plants, if you use biodegradable soaps. If you are building your home, installing this “T” will be easy as will separating your drains to take advantage of the gray water availability. Again, to meet codes you may want to plan for, but not execute, this till needed.

Of course, those homes with septic systems will not have these problems, unless you have a pump chamber as part of your system. Because of elevation issues, sometimes a pump is required to push the water that flows out of the house into the septic tank or even from the septic tank to the leach field. These tanks (especially those after the septic tank) are usually large and can accommodate some usage without power, but will eventually fill. As you run your generator, make sure these can run as well to keep things flowing.

Heating and Cooling

As for heating and cooling, choose the most efficient system that is practical for your area. There is a limit to this, though it may be hard to understand. In Florida, it makes sense to spend more on a super-efficient air conditioner because you will use it all year and the electricity saved, at today's rates, will offset the initial added expense before the system is obsolete. In northern climates though, where air conditioning is only used for 2-3 months in a year, you may never save enough to make it worth the added expense. In a heating system, the reverse will be true. However, I recommend pushing the limits of the practical savings limits a step or two as fuel will only get more expensive (and it may skyrocket soon..) and in a SHTF scenario, fuel will be nearly impossible to get. Our installer indicated most folks go with a 12-14 SEER air conditioning in our area. For a couple hundred bucks more, I went with the [moore efficient] 16 SEER - 2 stage unit to account for future fuel price increases - putting me just above the norm.

Air conditioning systems are quite straight forward, and are powered overwhelmingly by electricity, save the few by natural gas, so I will not talk to much here about them, except to push the efficiency ratings as mentioned above. Remember that central air conditioning is a big load for a generator to handle (more on that later) but a portable window unit, strategically placed, will provide relief while on generator power if needed. Buy one (they are cheap these days) for this purpose ahead of time and store it, even if you have central, if extreme heat is a life/death situation in your area.

Heating is much more complicated. With having to choose both a fuel source and system type, the options are many. Let’s first briefly cover fuel choices. This is a choice dominated by both personal opinions and local availability. Natural Gas, for example, may be the best option - except if it is not in front of you house! Also, regional differences in costs may also effect your decision. You must also understand the cost of the fuel and its relationship to BTU output (or heating power) per unit of fuel and the common efficiency ratings of appliances. For example, oil has about 140,000 btus per gallon, whereas propane only has 91,600 and natural gas, about half of that. Gas and propane burners can easily hit 95% efficiency while oil units generally peak out in the 86% range. Also take into consideration costs of maintenance. Oil units need regular cleaning (which can cost $100 or more, depending on the dealer, location, equipment, etc.) whereas gas and propane ones really need minimal maintenance (but should be inspected for safety regularly).
A comparison chart is generally useful to try to compare each effectively by comparing an expected BTU use per year, the quantity of fuel needed for each category and its costs, including installation and maintenance costs over the life expectancy of the equipment. Some web based resources are available to help with this, try this calculator.

Propane is my favorite, from a prepper’s standpoint. Propane can be stored essentially forever, as it does not go bad. Large underground tanks can be installed to supply your needs for a full year, or more. This also allows the home owner to take advantage of off-season purchases, which may save quite a bit of money each year. One warning: leased, rented, or company owned tanks are often a rip-off. With them, you are typically required to buy the gas from only the tank owner and they know it! Buy your tank if at all financially possible, then you can shop for the best deal on propane.

Propane is the most versatile fuel, from heating, hot water, cooking, grills, drying clothes, fireplace logs and gas stoves, it can be used in many areas of the home in normal times. Some of these appliances, such as stoves, water heaters, and some space heaters even operate without any electricity - check for availability. When the power goes out, you will be glad you can still use these appliances as usual.
Oil would be my second choice, but it is hard to store in large quantities. Buried tanks are basically too expensive due to regulatory requirements and insurance companies hate them. Having more than two tanks of fuel (500 gallons) in your basement takes up significant space and again invites insurance headaches. You cannot cook with it, so you still need an electric range or a separate gas system and stove. I am also not aware of an oil burner that can operate without power. One nice feature, is you can burn diesel or kerosene in a pinch, which can be bought or bartered for locally and hauled in 5 gallon buckets and dumped in your tank - try that with propane! Learn how to prime your equipment though, as this is necessary when you run dry. Oil is also pretty safe, compared to propane - leaks are less of a problem.

Natural gas is my favorite, except that you cannot store it and availability is limited geographically - it is mainly in the cities and suburbs where lots of customers live. Also, if the gas mains are shut down for some reason - you are out of business. Being underground, disruption is infrequent - but definitely possible, especially if we have transportation or grid failures or terrorist attacks. It has all the other advantages of propane, however, so it is still a good fuel. It is also mainly domestically sourced, which is also an advantage.

Wood is ideal if you have access it and if everyone in your home who will have to use it is healthy enough to cut, split, and move it - remember the strongest person may not be able to do these things in a SHTF scenario if they are hurt or worst. [JWR Adds: As I've mentioned in my writings before, cutting firewood with a chainsaw in the midst of societal collapse presents a security dilemma. A gas chainsaw can be heard for miles, and it leaves the ear muff-wearing operator vulnerable to attack. To be safe, any wood-cutting party will need an accompanying security detail.] You can easily heat with wood and some (including me) argue it is the best heat. You are also able to cook with it on most standard stoves and certainly on wood fired kitchen stoves. If you have trees on site - it can be next to free, save for some and gas for the saw and splitter. Expect to get around 1 sustainable cord per acre per year in a good forest lot. You can stack an ample quantity in the back yard and can always get more. It is not always as easy to regulate as some other fuels, but if the cost is low, who cares?

A simple wood stove will likely heat your home quite well. If you are in a northern climate and are looking at wood to provide your main source of heat and hot water, I recommend using an indoor boiler, such as those made by HS Tarm which I have no relationship with. They are real efficient, can be used with storage tanks to allow a clean hot burn - while saving that excess heat you are not using for times when the stove is out. They can easily provide enough heat to keep the house warm (in a controlled, efficient manner), heat hot water, and even heat outbuildings. They have marginal power requirements though, so plan for that. Outdoor furnaces and boilers are great too, but they are less efficient typically and if not run hot, can really smoke up the yard. Many places have outlawed them. However, please make sure your wood burning appliance is installed correctly. Many homes burn each year, sometimes killing family members, because of improperly installed wood stoves. Follow the manufacturers instructions, use quality materials, and get a permit for the stove and inspection after it is installed, if applicable in your area. Some fire departments will also do a courtesy inspection as well, call to inquire. Should a fire start, these inspections / permits will protect you from the wrath of the insurance company!

I will not even mention electric heating, though it would work in some warmer climates, I guess. It is just too expensive and vulnerable to power failures to make my list, sorry! Heating plants themselves come in two flavors powered by your choice of fuel, hot water (hydronic) and hot air (furnaces). Hydronic systems utilize boilers to make the hot water used to heat the building. Boilers are more expensive to install, especially counting the plumbing required to distribute the heat, but can be better regulated with the ease of having multiple zones powering various types of heaters. For example, you can use baseboard heaters, antique steam radiators, forced air heaters (such as Modine units which are popular in basements and garages), and even the newer popular in-floor radiant heating systems or any of these in any combination. The boiler can also make your hot water either by using a coil within the boiler itself, or in a separate tank heated by a separate zone of the boiler (most efficient).

Furnaces heat air, which is blown though the home. These systems are typically more simple and less expensive to install than boilers and are easily adapted to also provide air flow for air conditioning as well. Installing the air ducts is relatively simple, once designed, especially with today's flex-duct. Using electrically operated valves, the units can be zoned as well or in larger installations, multiple units can be installed.
Becoming more popular, are hybrid systems, as I like to call them. These utilize a boiler to make the heat and air handlers with heat-exchangers (radiators) in them and often air conditioning coils as well, installed in the home to provide warm-air heat and air conditioning. In a two floor home, one might be installed in the attic for the second floor and one in the basement for the first. These systems can also use in-floor radiant or baseboard heat as well, as a boiler is utilized. These can be expensive to install, but do provide a nice option for the homeowner with a larger home, especially those with a wood boiler!

Again for the prepper, the choice of how to heat and cool the home must be made with a lot of thought to the future. Higher efficiency means higher complication and more expensive and specialized parts than their simple lower efficiency counterparts. However, I feel it is worth it as the money saved can be significant. Most of today's equipment by reputable manufacturers will work fine for years. I have personally owned Burnham and Buderus boilers and Trane / American Standard (same company) for hot air and air conditioning systems. Others are fine as well, I have just used these and think they are top notch. Again, I have no relationship with these companies.

Hot Water Heaters

Water can be heated with electricity, gas or oil. Stand-alone tank heaters come in all three flavors, and work well. Any boiler can be adapted to heat water with either an internal coil or external tank as previously mentioned. The best option, in my opinion, is the tankless heater powered by propane or natural gas. I have a Rinnai and love it. These units provide hot water when you need it and shut down when you do not. They save gas by not cycling to maintain water temperatures as do normal tank heaters. Since most people sleep 8 hours and are at work for at least another 10 with commute times, hot water is only used a maximum of 6 hours per day - why heat the water the other 18? From a cold start, my Rinnai puts out hot water in about 3-4 seconds and will do so until either the water runs dry or the gas tank empties! It puts out enough hot water to run the dishwasher, and two showers (I have tried this). The flame level varies according to the flow rate and selected temperature - its quite high-tech actually! The slight lag in hot water generation is noticeable, but just barely and sometimes a brief shot of cool water comes out as the hot water in the pipes flushes out, then revealing the 2-3 second warm up period, but again, it is not a big deal at all. The other downside, is that they require electricity. Just a little bit, but when it disappears, the water goes cold instantly. I was told a small computer UPS will both protect the electronics and keep a tankless hot water heating going for quite some time after the power drops - a good idea. The savings are more than worth these minor inconveniences.

Electricity

Nearly every home has commercial electric service and we have become reliant on it in nearly every aspect of our lives. From our alarm clock, lights, razor and coffee pot to our heat and air conditioning, entertainment, security and communications, we use it in ways that we do not even realize! Electricity is not only a convenience though, it is also a life saving necessity in many cases. Having some sort of back up power is vital for the prepper - especially where young and old persons are present.

A generator is the ideal solution for short to medium term use. I will categorize them into two groups for our discussion, portable and permanent. Portables are just that, portable. They can be moved from place to place on wheels or via back-grunts and can usually produce 1,000-10,000 watts or so. Trailer mounted ones are available and can certainly run much more, but their costs are beyond what most of us can afford and they are larger than necessary. Permanent generators are installed outside or in a specific room and are powered by a fixed fuel source. These are generally larger, from around 10,000 watts and up. Though these are nice, I feel they are more than most people need and the portability of the smaller units is nice, quite frankly. However, both certainly will do the job. Remember that generators are a mechanical device and can break. If you have the funds, it would be best to have two - perhaps a larger primary unit and a smaller backup.

Without fuel, generators are useless. So many people I speak with have a great generator ready to go, but I find they have no fuel stored, save for a few gallons for the lawn mower. I tell them that without fuel, they have no generator. When the SHTF, the gas stations will either be closed or will have lines of cars from one to the next. Having an ample amount of fuel on hand is crucial.
Most units run on gasoline, with some running on diesel or propane / natural gas (or some combination of the above). Gasoline ones are cheapest, and are fine for emergency use. Heavy use units are generally diesel, as they are generally more long lasting and are also typically better on fuel. Propane / Natural Gas ones are great because of the low maintenance and, if you have propane or natural gas anyway, the availability of large quantities of fuel may already be available.

My generator is a 4,000 watt unit and it burns .5 to 1 gallon each hour or so, depending on load. Running it 3-4 hours per day, you would need perhaps 2-4 gallons. To make it a week, I should have at least 20 gallons, or 4 - 5 gallon cans full. This should be a minimum to shoot for - a week's supply to keep your unit running for 1-2 hours 2-3 times per day. This allows you to pump water, charge batteries, cool the refrigerator and keep the freezer frozen, and do some other chores. If for medical or other needs it needs to run more, then plan for it.

With any fuel (except propane), rotate, rotate, rotate! I buy fresh gasoline in the spring and fall after dumping the old fuel in my car. Today's gas, with ethanol, can cause problems if you let it sit around too long, from the many reports I have read. With equipment too expensive to ruin, I rotate it every 6 months regularly. To help negate this risk, I add Sta-Bil to keep it fresh. The maker indicates a one year storage time is possible with its use, so being conservative, six months should be no problem at all.

This brings me to my power system sizing discussion. Most feel larger is better, and in some ways they are true. However, larger also is heavier, more expensive, and more demanding on fuel. My home can run on 2,000 watts fine all day (except for the air conditioner). I intend to buy a Honda inverter generator in the 2,000 watt size range. These run at variable speeds, depending on load, and supply clean, computer grade electricity. Because of this, they can run as long as 9.6 hours on 1 gallon of of fuel - something that I feel is so valuable in a SHTF scenario. My 20 gallons will go weeks instead of a days, that is a definite advantage. These are only 110 VAC, though, making them impractical for those on a 220 VAC well pump.

Look at the loads you must power, and understand they don’t all have to run at the same time. Some lights, a refrigerator, a fan, a furnace, and even some non-heating small appliances all added together do not add up to 2,000 watts in most cases. Your big loads include your well pump (220 Volts) and anything with a heating element. Even these can be used, if some of the others are shut down. With careful planning, a huge unit is not always necessary.

One can use extension cords to tie the generator to the loads, but this is both a pain and somewhat dangerous as well. As such, I recommend that any new home be wired for a back up generator at the very least. If you must wait to buy the generator, fine, but at least install the transfer switch while the electrician is installing the service. The best way is to switch the main with a large knife switch made for the purpose. These will have three positions, up (typically) will power the house from the commercial mains, the middle will turn off all power and the bottom will feed the house from the generator. Interlock kits are also available to be able to safely back-feed power into your panel via a regular circuit breaker while preventing you from turning on the back-feed breaker without first shutting of the main breaker. See Interlockkit.com for details. In either case, the mains are disconnected while the generator is feeding the breaker box. This is an absolute necessity for safety’s sake.

A heavy cable will then be run from the panel to a convenient location outside the structure where a jack will be installed. A jumper cable will then be used to connect this jack to the generator itself, completing the path to your panel. Electricity travels easily, so place the plug where it will make your life easy for hook up. Remember also that you will have to protect your generator from theft, so take that into consideration in determining its location. You may even wish to bury the cable out to a “dog house” where the generator can live and operate, if well ventilated with a lift-up roof and opening side panels for example.

Another option to consider, is a battery backup system charged with either the generator or, better yet, a renewable source such as solar, wind, or water. With a modest bank of batteries, an inverter, and a DC power source to charge these batteries (with the necessary charge controller, etc.), this system can provide an amount of electricity basically forever. This power can be piped into the breaker box, just like a generator would. 12 Volt appliances are also available, eliminating the need for the inverter while being more efficient. Many people live off-grid with these kinds of systems and they are truly sustainable, as they will operate for years with no external inputs. Certainly, having some level of non-petroleum based electricity makes tremendous sense in a long-term SHTF scenario. Again, entire books have been written on this subject, so I will leave it at that.

Lastly, for a prepper, it would be good to install emergency lighting in your home. This can be accomplished by either buying commercially available battery back-up emergency lights like you see in every commercial building, or installing a battery bank, several 12 volt lights, and a switch or relay to turn it on when the power fails. In either case, it will provide better lighting for short term emergencies in an automatic way. Definitely an advantage and not very expensive.


Building Structures

My first recommendation, if you build a home (and I strongly recommend this as the option for your permanent home as you can control the variables better), is to consult a competent architect or engineer (or at least a real knowledgeable carpenter) and ask them for the details on how to build a home that will survive the calamities that are common in your area. In the Southeast, that may be hurricanes - in California, earthquakes and fires. No home can hold up to everything, but, for example, you will be surprised how much stronger a roof system can be made with some simple wooden braces or metal strapping! The building codes often require these things, but many times you can improve upon the codes yourself - going above and beyond the required elements. These kinds of improvements may mean you still have a home after a storm instead of a pile of rubble.

Secondly, insulation is your friend. This amount needed varies by location (more insulation is needed in Northern climates than the in South, for example) but is necessary everywhere. The “R” value is the measurement of insulation that is used in the industry. A higher “R” value resists the transfer of heat more than a lower one does. This is not the only factor to consider, however. Air transfer is also very important.

The most popular insulation, fiberglass batting, has great “R” values but allows air to flow through it basically unimpeded. With a house wrap (like Tyvek) this is minimized, but hard to stop completely. It is also hard to install perfectly. Look in an un-sheet-rocked attached garage at the back side of a typical house wall insulation job in any subdivision and you will see gaps in the bats around the wires, pipes and even along the sides of some of the studs. These areas are not insulated at all. Though it is easy to install and cheap, it is not always the best choice.

My favorite is sprayed-in foam. This goes on like a spray paint and then almost immediately expands to fill all voids in the wall. It comes in different densities which have different “R” values, but all forms are at least as good as fiberglass. What they excel in is stopping air infiltration and assuring uniform insulation values. By filling all voids and gaps, it stops all air infiltration ensures an evenly insulated wall system.

The effective insulation value of foam can be double that of common fiberglass - and as a bonus, the foam adds greater rigidity to the home (especially the higher density versions) - adding to its strength. It is, however, messy and needs to be applied by an expert and costs 2-3 times as much as fiberglass insulation.

Is it worth it? In my opinion it is. My current home uses 500 gallons of propane to heat it annually whereas my last home (smaller) used 700-to-800 gallons of oil to heat it. Being that oil has more BTUs per gallon than propane, our new home with its foam insulation is performing twice as well from my calculations. This saves us substantial money each year and allows us to eliminate debt, save for the future and live a better life, as Jack Spirko would say. If things go bad, I know my home will be the easiest to heat in my entire neighborhood! A small wood stove, run intermittently, will keep us comfortable with little effort.

The most popular framing material is wood. It is inexpensive and easy to work with and is quite versatile, especially with today’s engineered options. With common carpentry know-how, anyone can build with wood. Metal framing including I-beam structural members and lightweight metal wall framing options exist and are great where wood eating bugs are plentiful or high-winds are likely. They also allow for longer open spans as well, but often require the help of an engineer to build. Some homes are built using stone or block and insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are a great option as well. I don’ have the room to investigate each, but they each have their advantages depending on your skill set and location. I cover these to some extent in my podcast.

Choose siding and roofing materials for your area and home design. Concrete board siding (Hardy Plank for example) is gaining popularity but is expensive. Vinyl is final, cheap and easy to install. In a fire prone area though, you may kiss the concrete siding after a wildfire! Roofing choices include metal or tin, fiberglass, wood and other more exotic materials such as concrete, plastic or slate. Each have their advantages, but it is hard to beat fiberglass shingles for ease of installation and lasting value. However, metal is the ideal choice in areas with high snow loads or fire danger. On flat roofs, a membrane is hard to beat as they will not leak if properly installed. Again, simplicity will save money and allow for easier maintenance for the homeowner so choose wisely depending on your location and needs.

Lastly, design your home smartly with ample room for your needs, but not in excess. Allow room to store your supplies - a basement is a great option if feasible. Don’t skimp on the structure of the home - these things are very hard to change out. Skimp, if you must, on interior treatments such as flooring, cabinetry, and lighting. These things can be upgraded as your budget does the same.

Security Concerns

Lastly, build to defend if this is a priority of you. A home that is smaller and perhaps two floors is easier to defend than a rambling ranch. Fewer points of entry and a second floor definitely are advantages. Storm rated windows are harder to break and heavy metal or wood doors are harder to penetrate - look at the options. Storm shutters are also a great option as are metal grates, if you think they are necessary. Sometimes, a row of thorny briars, a fence / gate and a big dog will make a criminal think twice. Remember though, if they want to get in, they will. And if they are mad enough, they can just burn you out - this is hard to prevent. Remember that your best offense is to just look like every other house, or one that has nothing to offer. Don’t pick a style that will make your house stand out on the street.

Alarm systems and or video monitoring / recording systems are also a big plus. A security system can alert you to danger from either a bad two-legged creature or fire, smoke, high water, low temp or any number of other perils. This information can be reported to a central station by the alarm or even to cell phones on some systems. This can, and has, saved many properties from fire. Personally, I installed a system that saved a home from a kitchen fire. Minor smoke damage and some charred wood was the result, whereas the whole house would have gone up without the early call by the system to the fire department. Also, early warning to occupants is very important. If your sleeping, a warning of a break in can buy you the time to prepare to handle the threat, rather than having the threat wake you up by opening your bedroom door.
In conclusion, read books, listen to podcasts like the Homeowner’s Friend Podcast (HofPodcast), and talk to friends who have build. Get their recommendations and by all means, try to do the project (or at least parts of it) yourself. I never went to carpenter’s school - I hung around with my father and brothers and did things myself - there is no better institute of higher learning than the school of hard nocks! Build a chicken coop, dog house or storage shed first, to get the basics down. Once you have these skills, they can not be taken away and will make your life better till the day you leave this earth. Good luck! - S.S. of the HofPodcast.



Hi Jim,

Sheila's article ["Food for Long-Term Survival"] contains a lot of good information, but seems to me to take the safety consideration of canning low acidic foods a little lightly. I've been canning for more than 30 years and even if you follow all of the rules, you occasionally get a bad jar of food. Low acid food, which include most vegetables, and all meats must be either pressure canned, or have their pH lowered (made more acid) below 4.6 by adding an acid like vinegar or citric acid. I've had good luck using a boiling water bath with pickled beets and pickled cabbage, and have done the same with beef using a German Sauerbraten recipe, which makes a somewhat different tasting pickled beef. Many Tomatoes sit just below the threshold of 4.6, but making something like Salsa which adds onion or peppers dilutes the acid and raises the pH above 4.6. Also, many modern tomato hybrids are bread for low acid content to make them easier on the stomach.

Foods with a natural pH above 4.6 have too little acid, and can allow the spores of the Clostridium Botulinum to grow and release a toxin. This toxin shuts down the communications between the nerves and muscles, and can be deadly in extremely small quantities. Boiling food containing the toxin for 10 minutes will destroy and deactivate the toxin, but this should be used as a precaution, and not as an excuse for poor canning practices. It seems to me to be akin to keeping QuikClot around for gunshot wounds, instead of avoiding being shot in the first place.

There are a lot of good books out there on canning (my favorite is Putting Food By, by Janet Greene) which I started using 30+ years ago. I'm on my third copy, and you can find a link to it on the Book and Video Shelf link on this blog. Get a good book & follow the directions, and you should have a great time putting your own food by. - LVZ in Ohio


James:
Sheila C. mentioned a root cellar in Saturday's article, "Food for Long Term Storage". Mother Earth News put out a special summer edition entitled "Guide to Great DIY Projects". On page 84, there is an article entitled "Build Your Own Basement Root Cellar".

It looks like a fun and fairly easy do it yourself project. In our family, that means only one trip to the hardware store, and one weekend. It could take longer if you're not familiar with home construction projects. - BLW.


Friday, July 30, 2010


Introductory biographical note: The author is 64 years old, father of nine children, BSAE Aeronautical Engineering, Ex-Army Infantry Training Officer (1970-1974), former Gym Trainer (1996-1997), Firefighter and EMT training and certification (2009-2010), Real Estate Broker/Owner

Phase I
I began realizing my vulnerability in 1998-1999, when Y2K-induced turmoil was a potential real possibility. I began, in all haste to find and prepare for the possible disaster that might come when the clock struck 12:00 midnight and 2000 would ring in. My first step was to find enough land that would be secure enough for my family and to design a place we could live and that would handle any disaster, whether it was of nature, man-made or God directed. My requirements were simple. It needed to have relatively high elevation (1,500ft+ above sea level), close enough to a populated city , but rural enough to not easily be found, basically within a 1 hour drive. Secluded, but not to isolated, and not to far removed from all civilization, but yet be sparsely populated and hard to find. It had to have access to running water and have soil to grow crops. 
I found a piece of property that was nearly 50 acres on the top of a ridge line, that was part of a 1,000 acre tract, with only 15 other property owners, with tracts ranging from 15 acres to 200 acres. The 1,000 acres was gated with one main, electrically operated secured gate leading in and a permanently locked gate leading out for emergencies only. The community had two 400 ft wells, with creeks running through the 1,000 acres and touching my tract. One of the wells was at the bottom of my property and had a 5 h.p. pump. The well was on a timer and delivered water to multiple tanks at different locations on the three highest elevations. Gravity feed then brought the water to the 15 property owners. I purchased an 8kw mobile generator, for standby power, to run the pump, if we were to loose electricity for any long period of time. The owner of the 200 acre tract reserved his for hunting and kept it seeded, to attract deer, rabbit, bear & turkey. The developer of the 1,000 acres paved the main road coming up to about 1,500 feet and then graveled from there to all the tracts ranging from 500 ft to 2,500 ft. My parcel sits at about 2,200 ft. ASL. All of the tracts are heavily wooded with hardwoods as well as evergreens.

My next step was to design and start construction of an impregnable home (fortress) that would withstand any disaster within the constraints of my budget. My plan was to dig into the mountain such that only one side would be open and dirt would surround the other three sides up to 12’. Because time was a factor, I knew I could only get the basement part completed before the New Year would ring in. This meant my roof would be the floor of the home that I would need to finish someday in the future, if the world was still around after Y2K.

I sent my floor plans to the engineering department of a nearby university and asked for help.
The dimensions I gave them were to be 37’X 52’ split lengthwise by a 12’ separation wall 12” thick of poured reinforced concrete surrounded by 12’ walls of the same. To handle the load of a semi-truck driving over my roof, they told me I needed  8” of poured concrete, reinforced with rebar, 10” on center and 6 by 6 [heavy] wire mesh. I added an 8’ wide X 5’ high fireplace on the open side of the basement with large racks for grilling my kill. The basement floor was 4” poured concrete that I ran one inch polyurethane tubing 4’ apart throughout the basement floor, which ran into a plenum in the base of the fireplace and back to a recirculating pump and holding tank. In addition, valving was added to reroute the heated water into the hot water system of the house. A small, electric hot water heater was added to the system capable of running from standard 120 VAC as second water heater capable running at 12VDC from solar panels via deep cycle storage batteries I purchased (4) 2’X 6‘ solar panels with frame, and a windmill.
 
Prior to having the roof poured I dropped in a 500 gal urethane water tank built into a frame that raised the tank from 6’ to the roof. This would allow me for gravity feed system in the basement.. I constructed two fiberglass shower stalls for two bathrooms, a work/mechanical room, two bedrooms and a kitchen on one side of the divided wall. Two metal framed doors secured this area from the large living room that is between the divided wall and the outside open wall. There are two metal doors exiting the basement. One is through a stairwell to the roof (future floor of the main house) and the other through the open side.
I also decided to add one additional piece for security, as well as escape. At the back of the basement going into the mountain I put in a 30’ X 10’ cleaned out metal fuel tank (25,000 gal to be exact). This is what I called my Survival Tank. I found the tank at a scrap metal yard out in the boonies and had a local welder cut one end out and put in a double hinged door secured by 1” X 1” sliding bars that were lockable with the largest master locks I could find. On the top of one end of the tank I had him cut out a 3’ X 3’ square and ran 4 walls, 6’ up with a latchable top, secured from the inside, as well as a metal ladder to go from the floor to the top of the latch. I then had a floor frame put in that was 30” from the bottom of the tank and added 2’ x 6” wood removable flooring. This is where I store all of the 5 gal urethane storage buckets.  From the 2”x 6” floor I built metal shelving with 2”x 6” wood shelves to the roof of the tank. That left me with about an 8’ walkway front to rear down the center of the tank. The hard part was getting the tank up the last 500’ vertical 30 degree incline to the homesite. For this I had to find the largest wrecker in the state. We had to winch the tank up the 500’ and then drop it in the ground before we poured the 12” back wall around it, leaving the welded doors as the entry from the basement to the tank. The tank was now about 4’ underground, with the escape hatch protruding above the surface. A few years later, after Y2K became a no- event, I enlarged my floor plan above the basement and added an additional 1,000sq ft and poured concrete over the entire area where the tank was buried. With all this, an oversized septic system and drain field needed to be designed. I have since changed the design of the house to have a castle look that is an additional 26’ above the basement, using split face block that is reinforced with rebar and filled with concrete. Other things that have been done are the purchase and installation of an inverter system, solar array and windmill. I have a 600 gal gas tank and 1,000 gal propane tank. I have an extra 5kva generator which has been converted to be a dual-fuel system, i.e. gas/propane. After nine years I have the walls up from the basement roof and hope to have a metal/concrete roof put on before 2012, for what I hope is also a non-event.

Phase II
This is really a continuation of Phase I, but it is the process of preparing the list of lists and then accumulating the items necessary to insure a plan A, B & C and in some areas a plan D.

  1. CACHES- I keep most of my equipment& supplies that I cannot easily replace or want to safeguard the most, in the Survival Tank. But I have also build special caches for firearms and ammo that I can bury in different locations, if for any reason any of my residences become compromised. I did this by taking 8” X 5’ sections of PVC pipe and capping each end. They are waterproof, can hold two rifles, hand guns and ammo each and can easily be buried and retrieved.
  2. EMERGENCY LIGHTING- Purchased wall-mounted LED kits that can easily be mounted above telephone jacks, thus utilizing the 2nd pair of phone wires on a 12VDC circuit wired to a single automobile battery with a small solar panel for emergency lighting.
  3. EXERCISE/MILLING/12VDC GENERATOR- I purchased a Country Living Mill and then found an exercise bike. I also mounted both the mill and a 12VDC automobile generator, pre-1975, to a board with a 12 VDC battery. I can generate 12 VDC power for my emergency lighting  or charge up the car battery or grind wheat into flour, while getting in our daily exercise.
  4. TRANSPORTATION- Purchased a customized  ’71 & ’74 4WD Chevy Blazers on the internet. The ’71 was customized for brush firefighting and the ’74 was customized as a dual fuel
  5. GARDENING- I have just applied for a subsidy grant, and received it, from a program launched in December 2009 by the Department of Agriculture, whereby I will be reimbursed up to $3,300 for materials to construct up to 2,175 sf of high tunnels for growing crops. A high tunnel or hoop house are miniature greenhouses without all the fancy bells and whistles The grants are being awarded to 38 states for the purpose of extending the growing seasons of food crops and most families can qualify if they have a small tract of land to put them on. Last month I had a bob-cat grade out about a half acre and will start planting in the fall for a early spring harvest.
  6. FOOD- Thousands