HVAC Category

Monday, December 30, 2013

I was in a bad pickle this summer.  A housing opportunity came by and my family moved to a nice country home in Minnesota farm country.  It's low traffic, well sheltered from the wind on all sides by mature trees, and safe for outside pets.  There is ample space for a large garden that will produce a surplus while feeding the entire family.  Yet there is one problem.  The house, while well kept, is a century old.  It is not very well insulated, and we knew from the previous tenant that it is difficult to heat in the winter.

The heating system we inherited is a central heating oil furnace.  It is a good backup unit and we did fill the tank completely, but we knew that trying to heat the house that way would take most of our spare money and prohibit us from expanding other necessary preparations.  So before the weather got bad we decided to get a wood burning furnace.  I decided we should get a coal/wood stove, just to have additional options.  It must have been the Lord's providence because that decision is now proving critical in this bitterly cold winter season.

We started heating the house with wood.  We got the place too late to properly harvest dead trees around the property, so we bought $500 worth of wood at $125 a cord.  Even before December we had burned through about $350 of it.  So we decided to try something different and searched for a source of coal.  About four hours away in North Dakota we found a source for lignite coal at $35 a ton!  And it's been an absolute godsend.  Where we got 3-5 hour burn times with wood, we get 6-10 hours with coal, and it's been a bitterly cold December!  We've often been in the single digits, and lows are commonly in the -10F to -24F range.  In fact the forecast is predicting three straight days of subzero temps with lows in the double digits!  Throughout all of it, we have kept the house a cozy 70F during the day and 65F at night.  And instead of $500+ a month for heating oil or $300+ for purchased firewood, it will be about $100 a month for coal!  That's even including our inefficient purchase of only 4 1/2 tons of coal that we had to truck 8 hours round trip.  In the future we plan to get a larger rig together or hire a trucker and take a much larger delivery of coal.  I'm sure we can get the cost down to $45-50 a ton, delivered!

After my experiences I've been pondering how your American Redoubt region has been especially blessed with two great heating sources, wood and coal.  If you have the access and physical capabilities, nothing beats the price of your own harvested firewood.  For many that don't have access or are up in age, coal is going to be a better choice.  Laying in a nice supply of coal would also be good insurance even if you are well situated to harvest lumber, in case an injury prevents you from harvesting.  There are large coal mines in Wyoming, Montana and Northern Colorado.  A friend of mine informed me that the prices in Montana and Wyoming are about double that of North Dakota coal, but the heat output is even better and there is less ash production, so it's still a great bargain.   For those of you that live near Pennsylvania, Virginia/West Virginia and Kentucky, there is even higher quality [hard anthracite] coal available!

I have personally chosen a manual feed furnace as it will provide convection heat throughout the house even without electricity, and it can burn wood if I run out of coal and cannot obtain more.   For those that don't have the time or inclination to run a hand fed stove, there are stoker coal furnaces that will automatically feed the fire from a large hopper and using a computer they will perfectly regulate your home temperature.

I find myself driving and using gasoline less and less and spending more time working on the farmstead, so coal has definitely become the "Other Black Gold" for me!  With the money I have been saving using coal, I will be able to afford to buy some yellow gold very soon!

A handy web site has a cost/BTU calculator as well as a calculator that will let you input your current monthly costs to compare what it would cost with other heating sources.  I invite your readers to check it out and see what they might be able to save by heating with coal.

The same web site also has lively and very informative discussion forums on modern and antique coal stoves and furnaces, with links at the top and bottom of the page.  Please keep in mind that the majority of members are from the Eastern States, so I do recommend keeping political talk to the proper sub forum.  My experience is that most are rough cut but good natured blue collar workers, probably many Reagan Democrats that feel abandoned by both political parties.  In that regard they are no different than many of us.  Also, many in the forums experienced the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy, and it was the push they needed to start making good preparations.  It could be that God lets such disasters occur to wake up his people to what greater tragedies may befall us in the future, and to allow us to get ready before it is too late. - Mark in Minnesota

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:

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
Roofing Cement
Bailing Wire
Steel pipe and sheets (in any sizes)
Aluminum Flashing
Fiberglass Insulation
Chain Link Fencing
Chicken Wire
Concrete Block
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.


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
Pipe Wrenches
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.


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.


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. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I don’t know about the Baker's Salute Oven (that another reader asked about), but there is a man in Springville, Utah that makes a similar one that can be mounted on a wood burning stove or on a expedition tent stove.  They are much less expensive as he makes them from repurposed propane cylinders and they are called Grover Chimney Ovens.   They cost $205 instead of $539 like the Bake's Salute Oven but they are not as large inside.   They are a double-walled oven, so the heated gases from the chimney stack surround the oven itself.  I am not affiliated with, or have any interest in these products other than to say that I want one.  He also makes one that will fit on top of a wall tent stove and he also makes a rocket stove using repurposed propane cylinders. - Brad M.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

 Many of us that have been prepping since before the Internet have welcomed all the new information, knowledge, and interaction with our fellow preppers. But for someone who is just starting out, it can all be overwhelming. So overwhelming that they don’t know where to start. The sad part is that many of them don’t start. They feel that they have to  spend so much money at one time to get all the gear that the experts say they need, that they just can’t do it. This is in large part due to shows like Doomsday Preppers. While I watch these shows regularly, and enjoy them, they are, in my opinion, a two edged sward. They have made many people aware of the need to start preparing for _______(fill in the blank), but they also go so far beyond the basics (where we all started)  that they leave the new prepper with the wrong idea of how to start.
None of us started out with everything we needed. For some of us, we had no idea what we would need. We knew we had to prepare, maybe we had a vague idea what we were preparing for, and a kernel of a plan in the back of our minds. Before the Internet came along, we had to search through stacks of books and magazines for information. If we were lucky, we found a survival school nearby. We slowly built up our supplies, made a Bug Out bag, practiced our skills, and continued the search for information, gear, and more skills.
For those that are just beginning, I am glad you found this site. It will offer you many tips and suggestions. The gear, gadgets, and most of the advice have all been tested. The advertisers have all been vetted, so if you choose to purchase their products (and I hope you do as they help keep this site up and running) you can be assured that they will deliver on their promises.
I hope that with a few tips, the new prepper will continue to become prepared and will continue to seek knowledge to help them and their families become more self reliant. The tips and suggestions I offer are based on my own experience, I do NOT consider myself an expert. In fact I learn more each and every day. I have had to replace my bag a few times, often on a very limited budget. These suggestions have helped me through the years, that is why I offer them to you. These suggestions are for a bug out kit, not a bug in kit. (although it can be used for both)
By way of introduction, I am 44 years old and I have been prepping since I was in my teens. I took my first survival course at 16 in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I am a Nurse and an EMT, I have also been a volunteer fire fighter and a storm spotter. I have been through ice storms and tornadoes in Oklahoma, and earthquakes and forest fires in California.
When you pack your bug out kit, think of the five priorities you have; Water, Food, Heat, Shelter, and Security. Everything you need in your bag falls into one of these five categories. You need to try to have at least three days worth of supplies. Of course, if you can’t have that at first, remember that something is better than nothing.

  A source of water would be your first criteria for your bug out location. (I will talk a little about this later). The recommendation is one (1) gallon of water per person, per day. So you would need 3 gallons of water for your own use. That would be about 24 pounds (8 pounds per gallon, approximately). Since most people can not carry more than 50-60 pounds for more than a short time, I suggest carrying two liters and having a way to purify or filter the rest. (search You Tube for your best choices on how to do this)Two liters should last you through most of one day’s drinking requirements. I prefer to carry mine in military style canteens, with a military style canteen holder and canteen cups. An alternate method would be using 2 one liter bottles or a two liter bottle such as a clean soda bottle.

 In my bag I usually carry three MREs, three dehydrated meals I made myself, a few food bars, a jar of peanut butter, M&Ms, and several pieces of hard candy and gum. Hard candy can provide sustained energy by keeping your blood sugar up while burning more calories than normal, but can also keep your mouth moist when exerting yourself. If you carry canned food, which is heavier but easier to come by when first packing your kit, make sure to pack a can opener. Also make sure you pack eating utensils. You would be surprised at the number of people who forget these.
Remember to check your food often for expiration dates. I do this by setting my e-mail ca lender to send me reminders a few days before I go shopping at the beginning of each month. That way I can check everything and add it to my shopping list as needed. Anything about to expire gets eaten or donated so nothing goes to waste.
 Like me, many of you have watched the various survival shows and watched while they made a fire out of whatever is handy. Building a fire this way is a great skill to have. You may need it, and if nothing else it builds your confidence. But, as my first instructor told me “It’s easier to flick a Bic than rub a stick”. That’s the reason I never leave the house without a lighter and a pocket knife. Disposable lighters are easier to dry than matches, or even a Zippo lighter, if they become wet. I carry all three of these with me in my bag or on my person. The matches are in a water proof container (available at almost any sporting goods store) along with a small piece of sand paper, since I have found that “Strike anywhere” matches actually do NOT work everywhere.  You should also pack some type of tender in your bag. I have cotton balls, dryer lint, paper (from the note book I carry) and I always have a few business cards in my wallet and in my bag (most sales people and many other businesses will be more than glad to give you one or two). There are also commercial fire starting fuels out there like Trioxane. A small saw and hatchet are also part of your heat providing gear. There are many choices out there for these items, so do your research and choose the best ones for you.

In this category would be the clothes you wear and pack. You should have a sturdy pair of shoes or boots, at least two extra pair of socks, long pants ( I always pack jeans or military style BDUs) a long sleeve shirt (I pack either a work shirt like Dickie's brand or, again, BDUs) and a cap or hat that can shade your eyes and keep your head warm.
You should also have a good sleeping bag appropriate to your climate and season, and a small water and wind proof tent. I like to have a few hand warmers as well as a good pair of insulated gloves, and a pair of work gloves for handling wood, rocks, etc. My bag also has a military surplus folding shovel and carrier that hangs on it. This is used for digging a fire pit as well as sanitation and preparing a shelter area.
A roll of duct tape is also useful, both for securing and repairing your shelter. as well as repairing almost anything else. I also have a Multi-tool so I have small wire cutters, screw drivers, etc handy to help repair anything that breaks.
If you have never built a shelter, you can start learning on YouTube or similar site online. Once you have watched it done, practice you methods of choice until you have it down pat. It is never as easy as it looks.

When most people think of security in a SHTF scenario, they think of firearms. While I believe everyone should have a few of those and the training to use them properly, they are not the only form of security.
First aid is also a vital part of your security. Being able to treat wounds or illness is vital to being and staying alive. If you have never taken a first aid course, do so. They are available almost everywhere, and they are cheap or free. Most commercial $10 first aid kits come with a small first aid handbook. Study it. Once you have chosen a first aid kit appropriate to your level of training, check it often and replace anything that is expired, just as you do your food.  Many people have written about this topic, from lay people to doctors, so I will not go into it again. Search out these articles, essays, videos, and books, then practice the skills described in them.
Hygiene is also important. Staying clean is the first step in fighting disease. Having a place away from your shelter and water source to “do your business” is very important. You should have a bottle of hand sanitizer in your kit. I would recommend having a complete hygiene kit in your bag that has anti-bacterial soap along with a wash cloth and small towel. You can also pack shampoo, and deodorant in there if you choose. Make sure you have a toothbrush, tooth paste and dental floss in your hygiene kit, as well feminine hygiene products if you need them. The one thing a lot of preppers seem to forget is toilet paper. So pack that too. If you wear glasses, then get an extra pair and keep them in your Bug Out Bag in a hard case, as well as a repair kit for them. If you wear dentures, make sure you have your cleaning and care supplies in your bag.
For me, one of the most important security items I have is a Bible. The one in my G.O.O.D. bag is the same small Gideon one I was given when I joined the army. The New testament, with Psalms and Proverbs, has given me very good sense of security all of my life.

The next step is finding the place you will be bugging out to. As I mentioned, you will want a place with a good source of water. You also want to have a place (or places) that has good security, or that you can quickly make secure. Your site should be away from whatever disaster you are getting away from. And it’s location should never be shared with anyone outside your immediate family or group. When the excrement hits the oscillating device you don’t want everyone and their brother trying to show up at your retreat.

The most important piece of gear you have in the one above your neck and between your ears. I can not stress enough how important your mental attitude is. Having the right mindset is the most important skill in surviving any situation. Whether you are preparing for total societal collapse, or the more common natural disasters, you can not survive unless you want to survive.  Mental preparation is the most important preparation you will do. Think about the two or three most likely disasters, then prepare for them. After that you can go on to preparing for any other disaster you think may happen.
By finding the SurvivalBlog site and reading the notes, articles, and essays in it, you have already taken the first step. By thinking about and following through with making a BOB, you are on your way to being able to get through almost any disaster.
I personally invest at least an hour each day to my preps. This can be anything from reading magazines, blogs, or books (which I do every day) to cutting wood, to food preservation and storage, to learning a new skill or practicing one I learned already. I practice one of my bug out plans at least once each month, and my bug in plan at least twice a year. I also try to exercise at least three times a week. Sometimes that is walking, sometimes I combine exercise with other activities, such as cutting, splitting, or stacking wood. In colder months I use a tread mill and do calisthenics inside.
I hope this has helped at least a few people to become more self reliant. Remember that you can not count on anyone but your self to come to your aid in an emergency. Good Luck, Good Prepping, and God Bless.

Friday, July 19, 2013

 "If I have seen for miles, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton

This line sums up SurvivalBlog and the contributing writers: it is a community of concerned preppers trying to share knowledge to help each other out.  My focus today is residential heating with wood as your fuel based on my experience heating with my airtight cast iron stove.  Pretty boring topic for the seasoned prepper, but I think there are plenty of new preppers who have recently seen the light and can feel the stuff hitting the fan and hopefully this article will have a little for everyone.  Personally. I am a new prepper and was astounded to learn that this country and world is in one big mess, financially. I bet that a lot of us reading SurvivalBlog are just like me: Newly Aware and Astounded.

If you live where it can get cold and many of us do you need to think about a heat source.  I would rather save my fuel oil, propane, and gasoline for other uses rather than heating my abode. I like wood myself because it is and should be readily available before and after any kind of world changing event.  If you live in an area that does not have access to much fuel wood than you probably already know that you live in area that will not be very pleasant when the balloon goes up i.e. any kind of larger city so G.O.O.D. and God bless. 

Here is my motive for writing this article related to heating with wood.  What I love about my woodstove is that I use it now and it is very practical for comfort and saving money on my heating bill. But after the SHTF it will become a necessity that could make the difference between living or freezing to death. (I have seen my thermometer hit 39 below)   I have acquired many things trying to get “prepared” that I will rarely use unless the crunch occurs but my wood stove is something I use every day 5 to 6 months out of the year.

But to raise a serious question to all preppers, have you thought very hard about heating your home?  Do you know how much fuel you would need, no matter what type that you would need to heat your house for one, two or three or more years.  Truly I enjoy survival blog but there is an enormous amount of discussion of what is the best gun, knife, caliber, bullet etc… But freezing to death is just as dead a catching a bad case of lead poisoning, probably worse if it involves family and friends.  If you do not have a reliable off grid heat source then I suggest you consider a wood stove before you get your next backup MBR.  Warmth could be a wonderful barter item in a SHTF world.
Let me give you my opinion of what could be the most desirable heating sources to have in order of most important to what you would use if you have no other options.
                1. Wood cook stove
                2. Masonry heater
                3. Airtight EPA approved wood stove or fireplace insert
                4.” Earthstove” or old style wood stove
                5. Makeshift wood stove e.g. Fish house stove, barrel stove, homemade stoves
                6. Electrically dependent wood stove, furnace, or boiler
                7. Open fireplace (but there is good news!)

First, a wood cook stove is a no brainer, if the grid goes down what better way to cook and heat at the same time.  Though I do not have a wood cook stove yet, I am keeping an eye out for one on Craigslist that is reasonably priced.  Next on my list is a masonry heater.  I am only going off of what I have read here and other places but this seems like the cat’s meow for high efficient fuel wood heating.  The one major problem I see is that a masonry heater is very large, heavy, and expensive.  I would love to have one but it would never work in my own house and I am sure that I am not alone.  But if you have a generous budget and the right layout of you home then why not since all of our money won’t be worth much in a few years anyway. 

What I use is number 3 on my list, an airtight stove.  These types of stoves are covered in previous SurvivalBlog articles so I will not get into it to deeply except to explain that the EPA airtight stoves and fireplace inserts use advanced stove design to increase the efficiency of the wood that is burned.  This also gives the benefit of burning cleaner which decreases the amount of build up in your chimney therefore it is safer, also the more efficient burn creates less visible smoke/emissions which should appeal to everyone related to opsec .  When my wood stove is burning effectively there is no visible smoke and surprisingly no smell.  But smoke will be present when you first start your stove or when you add more wood and this is from the moisture in the wood cooking out and is typically blue and rises (even well seasoned wood has some moisture.)  Also your chimney will emit a lot of smoke if your stove is not burning hot enough to ignite the wood gases, this is often grey sinking smoke.  The point being is that the smoke or lack of visible smoke coming from your chimney tells a lot about how well your stove is burning.  My stove is a Jotul Oslo 500.  It is a cast iron stove with a 3 cubic foot firebox with a side door and has the ability to have a cook plate installed.  A large fire box is nice when you want to have a long burn and the side door is where I load all of my additional wood when I have a fire burning or I am putting fresh wood on a bed of coals.  And I am sorry to say I have not tried a lot of cooking on my stove yet but it is in the plans. 

Modern stove are usually made out of plate steel, cast iron or soap stone.  Cast iron and soapstone are most expensive but they are known for their durability and heat retention which is very desirable when wanting a good heat source.  Plate steel is cheaper but gets hot fast and then cools fast but might be better to cook on, I do not know for sure.  Plate steel can also warp if it gets too hot.  Soap stone has a great reputation of having “soft heat” that does not get too hot and stays warm longer than cast iron and a lot longer than plate steel, but you are going to pay for it!  

Number four on my list are the older cast iron or plate steel non-EPA approved wood stoves.  To be fair I have never used one of these stove before in my home, I have only been around other people who have had them and I will say that they work just fine. But from what I have read about the advanced burning systems is that the newer stoves make for a much better burning system which is from the higher efficiency and cleaner emissions i.e. less smoke. 

From what I understand the old style stove are around 50 percent efficient while the newer stoves are 70 to 80 percent efficient.  That may not sound like much but if you need to get wood and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself by using a chainsaw and a gas wood splitter, then 20 percent less wood to cut, split, and haul by hand will be a very big deal. 

I have one comment on makeshift wood stoves and cheap wood space heaters for heating residential homes and that is they make me nervous.  If you have nothing else when the balloon goes up then that is what you have to do, but if we are truly prepping than I would plan for something else.  Added note I have never used a barrel stove but the design with the 30 gal barrel inside of the 55 gallon barrel with crushed rock as a heat sink does look reasonable but my reminder to you is that if you run into problems after the SHTF then the fire department might not be as accessible as before. 

Electrically dependent wood burning systems are not high on my list. Number one is that they are dependent on a source of electricity to run blower fans and circulate air or hot water and second they are also around the 50 percent efficiency rate for firewood.  Two good reasons to look elsewhere for reliable wood heat sources.  And don’t be duped into buying a pellet or corn stove because I would not suggest to someone to stockpile tons of wood pellets for TEOTWAWKI and corn will be more valuable as a food source.  Finally the topic of open fireplaces, these are very inefficient, around 10 percent.  The best news about these is there are many manufactures that produce EPA approved airtight fireplace inserts.  Now wouldn’t you want to improve the efficiency of your heating system by 70 percent?  (Just for the record, I do not endorse the EPA, it is just a good way to distinguish the newer style of wood stoves.)

Now that I have covered stove options the most important topic in any wood burning system is the chimney.  You need a good working chimney to burn wood safely and effectively.  A good working chimney does much more that carry away smoke, a properly built and located chimney provides a good draft and is well insulated.  A good draft, which is negative air pressure created by a chimney, is what pulls air into the wood stove.  Unlike wood furnaces that will blow air into the firebox to generate or increase the fires intensity a wood stove is dependent on good chimney draft to operate optimally.  Air tight wood stoves are passive machines unlike their electrically dependent furnaces.  Airflow into EPA stoves is fairly low which leads to a higher efficiency level.  One thing to keep in mind related to air flow is that air is usually drawn from out of the room/house and then leaves up the chimney, or basically your house needs to “leak” some outside air into the house for the stove to work properly.  So if your house is built very tight you could run in to difficulty with obtaining a good draft.  A lot of the airtight stoves have outside air kits to increase efficiency so I hooked mine up to an outside source when I did some remodeling.  I was not happy with how it worked because if my stove was not burning then cold air would still be drawn into the stove from outside by normal chimney effect and then I would have a 400lbs piece of cold cast iron in my living room.  The problem with the outside air kit is it is an unrestricted air source much like an open window, I guess I would rather have some "leak" from windows, doors, outlets etc. created by my woodstoves draft rather than the open window effect from the outside air kit.  Other factors for a good chimney is that Ideally it should run through the middle of a house to stay warmer since a warm chimney creates a better draft and the cooler surfaces of the chimney is where unburned wood particle can stick to and create creosote.  Additionally to note is that a stove in a basement sometime will not work very well since the chimney does not develop enough draft located that low in the house.  Check out woodheat.org, this is the best web site I could find related to residential wood heating.  The stove in my house is located on a ground level with a class A stainless steel chimney running through the middle of the house.  My suggestion is talk with local dealers that sells wood stoves and have them give you advice on what would work best for you.  Additional note class A chimneys are stainless steel and insulated and are designed to withstand a chimney fire of up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.  My final comment on chimney draft was reminded to me the other evening when I went to light my stove.  When I opened the stove door I felt cold air coming down the chimney.  At first I did not think much about it and proceeded to light my fire.  My fire did not take off and then I started to get some smoke into the room.  I then realized that my wife was using the clothes dryer downstairs and that was blowing air out of our house which then affected the draft of my chimney.  So I turned off the dryer, lit my fire without difficulty and after I had a good fire going I was able to turn the dryer on without problem.  I have also noted this same problem lighting new fires when the bathroom fan is running.  The point is that chimney draft is very important and can be influenced fairly easily so be aware of it and place your chimney appropriately.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The next topic is about wood cutting, splitting and storing.  First is cutting, and pre SHTF you will need a chainsaw or even better two. The second saw is to cut out the first one after you have pinched it in a tree (right now there are a lot of wood cutters nodding their heads and sadly I did just this last week when I was out cutting wood).  What type of chainsaw to buy as your main saw is probably as discussed as which brand/caliber gun to carry as your main sidearm.  Let me give the best advice that I got from a book titled The Wood Cutters Guide to Woodland Management and that is there are only three brands of saw to buy and they are Stihl, Husqvarna, or Jonsered.  Everything else falls short of what these saws have to offer as professional wood cutting tools, but other brands would make good cheaper second saws for the occasional wood cutting snafu.  Next is what size, 9mm or 45 ACP? The same argument as before because there are many different opinions but let me recommend a saw somewhere between 50 to 60cc.  Why this range?  It is because the majority of your cutting is limbing the tree and you don’t need a big saw for that and working with a big heavy saw for a long time is tiring which then increases your chance of having an accident.  I got a good nick in my protective chaps one day when I was getting tired and not paying attention, which made those chaps the best 39 dollars I ever spent.  When it comes to cutting through the big part of the tree it is hard not to love a lot of power but what I have learned is that taking the time to make sure you have a sharp chain (so sharpen frequently) makes up for having less power.  The woodland management book recommended running the correct sized hand file through all of your chainsaw teeth every time that you filled up a fresh tank of gas.  So practice sharpening by hand and buy a gauge to check when you need to file down the racker teeth before the cutters. A note on safety is I highly recommend some chainsaw chaps, they have small fibers that bind up the chain of the saw when they come in contact with a spinning chain and they have already saved me from an accident.  I also use a woodman’s helmet with a mesh face shield and integral ear muffs.  I really like to wear this when I am cutting.  Since I first wrote this my safety gear saved me again, I had a big red oak hung up in another tree.  I was able to give it a push and it started to fall but was hooked on a branch from an adjoining tree.  That 5 inch diameter branch pulled off of the tree and came down straight onto my helmet.  It hit hard enough that parts of my left arm went numb for a split second but otherwise I was fine with no lasting damage.  Without my helmet I could have been hurt very badly.

After the SHTF sawing becomes a much bigger challenge because of the sound signature of a chain saw and how far this sound will travel in the new more silent world.  Heck, if I hear a chain saw running close by I hop in the truck to go see if I can “help” and maybe get some free fire wood in the process, just a tip to add to your firewood pile.   But the “help” you would get in the post crunch world might not be so friendly so a good hand saw or felling ax might be a better idea.  I have just started to experiment with some different types of hand saws.  My first has been a Japanese type pull saw.  It is very efficient and easy to use.  My next acquisition has been a one-man timber saw, not my dream way to cut up a tree but if millions of board feet of pine were cut using these in the early 1900’s then I am sure they will still work today.  I also bought a timber saw sharpening set from the Crosscut Saw Company.  Kind-of spendy but if I ever truly need it, it will be worth its weight in gold.  Like much SurvivalBlog advice education is everything and experiment with different types of saws and how well they work before the balloon goes up is important.  I think the sharpening kit could be the most important tools to have since there are often old saws that have been turned into “art” but might need to be sharpened and polished and put to work.  A painted or powder coated saw might not slide through the wood very easily so plan on having some sandpaper or paint stripper handy for refurbishing these old saws.  (Maybe a good post TEOTWAWKI job?)     

Splitting is easy advice to give, buy a maul and swing hard!  Okay, I have some opinions here also; first a 6 lbs or smaller maul is all you need.  Splitting wood effectively is mostly dependent on velocity over mass.  So the faster you can swing the maul the better chance you have to split the wood.  I have an eight pound mall I barely use; I have never noticed a difference in my ability to split wood between the 6 and the 8 lbs mauls.  I also own a 4 ½ lbs maul and a Fiskars 4 lbs splitting maul.  I don’t like these for splitting big rounds, they just don’t do the job as well as my 6 lbs maul but they are great for splitting kindling or making medium sized pieces smaller by my wood shed before I bring them in the house.  Additional note the Fiskars maul comes in two handle lengths.  Do not buy the short handle maul because the blade is scary sharp and my fear is that it would be easy to miss the wood and put that sucker right through my leg, so I rarely use that maul.  The long handle Fiskars works ok but I would advise you to save your money and buy a generic well built 6 lb maul for general splitting and a 4 ½ maul for kindling.  Also you don’t need a sharp maul to split wood, some sources even recommended dulling the edge to lessen your chance of the maul sticking in some hardwoods.   A final note on mauls is from my friend who has something called the “wedge,” it weighs around 13 lbs.  He tells me it works great for holding open the door to his shop in the summer. 

If you have made it this far thanks!  Let me give you my best tip I can offer related to splitting wood, I got it off the internet.  Take an old tire, one with a wide tread is preferable, and mount it to a nice splitting stump.  When you split your rounds place them in the tire, as long as it is not a tight fit, and swing away!  If you have the right thickness tire the wood does not go anywhere after you hit it and you can hit it three or four time without having to bend over every time and pick the wood up of the ground to hit it again.  This is a back saver if you split your wood in a designated area and after you are done splitting it into nice size pieces you just grab it out and stack it on the wood pile.  Now if the wood fits in the tire to tightly then you will wedge the round into the tire with every swing and then it is really hard to get it out and yes I know this from experience.  I do not always bring my rounds back to my wood pile and spit them in my tire.  I often will spit my firewood out in the woods were I dropped the tree or found my deadfall.  There are two reasons why I do this, first is ease of splitting.  The round sometimes are already lying in a position that they can be split (I have split a lot of smaller piece lying on their side; just slide them up to another piece).  Also in the woods you can use your foot or your maul to right the round the way you want them for the best splitting.  This is another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual and the focus is to save as much wear and tear on your back as possible.  With this approach I routinely drive the maul into the ground, which dulls the edge over time but you do not need a sharp maul to split wood and additionally swinging into the ground is much safer than swinging at something 12 to 18 inches of the ground.  Try splitting your firewood out in the woods sometime; you will be surprised how well it works (another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual.)  After you split that wood, throw it in a quick pile and leave it there for a few weeks or months, this will allow it to lose more of its weight from moisture content.  When you come back the wood will be lighter and easier to handle and haul.  Finally don’t worry about the dull maul that you have been sinking into the ground, the metal if soft enough that a little work with a metal file will get you all the edge you could ever want. 

The real purpose for splitting wood is to dry and season your firewood for successful and safe heating.  Live or wet wood will have moisture content over 50%.  For the best burning firewood your moisture content should be 15 to 20%. Firewood with high moisture content does not light easily, does not put out much heat, and produces a lot of creosote that can collect in your chimney which creates a fire hazard.   To get this low moisture content your best strategy is to split and stack your wood in single file rows where it gets exposure to the sun and the wind.  I personally stack my wood in double rows so there is less chance of the piles tipping over.  How long to season your wood gives a variety of answers.  First, is it a live cut or a dead fall?  Dead falls are always my first choice to cut because some of the drying is already done.  But the most important factor for effective drying is the species of wood that you are trying to dry.  (My apologies to readers outside of the areas that do not have hardwood forest like I have access to, I know a lot of trees like larch and Doug fir are burned for heat in the redoubt.  I mostly burn deciduous hardwood, but I will try to explain that I think of my local hardwoods as different levels of “hardness” and use and dry them accordingly.)  First for drying my hard hardwoods I like to have these stacked and drying for at least two seasons/years.  This is my oak trees both red and white.  Every time that I have burned oak that has not had two years to season I am reminded by a sizzling smoking lousy burning piece of wood.  All other species for me have done well with only one drying season, therefore this wood cut and stacked in spring or early summer have all burned very well that fall and winter.  But I am several years ahead in my wood supply so all my wood gets 2+ years of seasoning (I like it very dry). 

Now I will try to explain how I burn my wood stove.  First we all need dry wood, but next I get specific about what type of wood that I like to burn and at what time that I burn it.  First I like to have a good supply of “soft” hardwoods.  I consider this to be firewood like poplar, basswood, cotton wood, or any wood with wide growth rings.  These are all low BTUs woods but what I like about them is they dry fast and light very easily.  When I first started cutting wood I was after oak and iron wood because it had high BTUs, but my Grandma said “you need some other wood like poplar to get the oak started.”  And boy was she right.  I use these softer hardwoods to light my morning fires and restart fires that have burned down to only glowing embers.  Also for ease of staring my fires I cut over half of my soft hardwoods into 10 to 12 inch lengths.  This works well for stating my fires since I build a small square “tower” of wood inside my stove with usually only one piece of crumpled newspaper at the bottom.  I also cheat a little and add a couple pieces of fatwood to help my fire get going.  Fatwood is a natural fire starter that you can buy at local hardware stores, I get mine at Menard's and it is about a buck a pound.   I build my fire typically with 6 pieces of soft hardwood and 2 pieces of medium or hard hardwoods.  The starter pieces I split by my wood shed in my “kindler” which is the back tire of a lawnmower mounted 28 inches off the ground on top of a bur oak round.  It is a smaller version of my wood splitting tire where I can split the wood and hit it multiple times without having to pick the split pieces up off of the ground.   This set up has save me a lot of time and wear and tear on my back since it is at a good working height for making small pieces of wood and the tire holds it in place while I swing my  4 ½ lbs pound mall at the wood.  I like to get the pieces down to one to two inch square pieces.  The reason I started burning my stove this way is that it gave me the quickest lighting fire without having to use a tremendous amount of really small kindling to get the fire burning hot so that the secondary burn began inside of the firebox.  Secondary burn is the burning of the wood gases usually seen as smoke (though some smoke is always moisture).  The sooner you have secondary burn the more safely and efficient your stove works.  Or in prepper terms the sooner you have secondary burn the less smoke you produce thus lowering you signature related to OPSEC.  To find old tires go to your local land fill or watch for them at garage sales.

My favorite type of wood to burn is dry or seasoned wood.  As stated before I like some soft hardwoods for fire starting purposes, but it is also excellent wood for general burning especially if I am at work and my wife is tending to the fire.  Poplar and basswood tend to light up really fast and get burning nicely without much futzing.  This is nice for my wife since throwing in 3 or 4 pieces of oak or iron wood can leave her with a smoldering smoky fire without much heat and no flames if she does not have a lot of embers to work with.  These smoky fires are also the type of fires that deposit significant amount of creosote in chimneys.  “Hard” hardwoods are great to use when thrown on a robust bed of red coals or mixed with several pieces of softer wood.  So my advise is don’t be a firewood snob and turn your nose up to “inferior” species of trees when accumulating your winter pile because I have found that my wood stove does not care what I burn in it, it all makes heat. 

My final thought about firewood is on how easy is it to split.  Firewood will not season correctly if it is not split and will not burn well in an airtight stove if it is not dry.  Species like American elm and box elder are awful to split and I avoid them, sadly around here these are the two species that your buddy always needs help getting rid of and wonders if you “want the firewood”.  But looking at the glass half full these rounds are not impossible to split just not easy or as fun as some red oak or black ash.  What I do is cut the rounds shorter, around 12 inches and then splitting is easier, maybe still not easy, but easier.   It is good to learn how to recognize different species of trees so that before you cut up or buy a bunch of rounds you know what you will be getting into when it comes to splitting.  (If you think some fresh cut rounds are elm smell it, if it stinks it is probably elm hence the nickname piss elm.  Red elm also sinks but it has a deep red color and this species of elm splits very easily and makes great firewood.)  Box elder has a grayish bark and often has streaks of pink in the rings of the wood when looking at the end of a round. )

Final thoughts
1. Get a wood stove and a good chimney and put it is the right place in your house or retreat.  I have had mine for 5 years and the money I have saved on fuel oil has paid for the stove the chimney and the chainsaw.  It is about 150 gallons of fuel oil for every cord of wood I burn.    
2. Stock up on lots of leather work gloves.  Handling wood can eat up a pair of leather gloves quicker than you like.  I think work gloves could be some of the most valuable barter items in a post SHTF scenario and often not cited as items to stock up on for barter purposes.  Leather repair could make a great post SHTF occupation so keep that in mind. 
3. Cutting wood is hard work.  You could cut out the gym almost altogether if you frequently cut, haul, and hand split your own firewood.  Several articles on SurvivalBlog have addressed physical fitness and wood burning would then be both beneficial for the purposes of one’s health and practical for heating.
4. Shooting practice!  I always carry a pistol with me when I cut.  An inside the waist holder works best tucked in the small of my back because carrying in a holster on my hip got my gun full of wood chips and gave it a scratch on the barrel (now it looks tuff ;)) For my safety I do not have a round chambered while cutting wood because sometimes I get hung up or fall down etc. but I then practice drawing, pulling the slide, and shooting in one smooth motion.  I do that because I know of a guy that shot himself in the heel getting into his vehicle and I have practiced where I can chamber a round pretty quickly if a threat presents itself in the woods (rabid skunk?).  For the target practice a knotted up round makes a great target.  If you are on someone else’s land check with the owner first before you start shooting a lot. 
5. Stock up on ibuprofen and other OTC pain meds.  Cutting wood is hard work and you will get sore.  Once again great barter items because post SHTF will be a lot of hard work.
6. Always be on the lookout for wood sources, it could be neighbors cutting down trees or checking with local farmers if you can cut up some deadfallen trees on their properties.  Compost sites are also great places.      
7. Stress reduction and improved mental health.  I truly enjoy cutting wood.  Time in the woods is relaxing and peaceful while being and feeling productive.  I think God wanted us to heat with wood, to give us a task where we can see and feel the product of our hard word and labor.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh split oak, you gotta try it, or the feel of the radiant warmth from a wood stove.
8. Cost can be expensive, but check Craigslist for airtight stoves.  Many people have become disenchanted with wood burning and “just want to get rid of it.”  I often think it is because too many people try to put the stove in the basement and then the chimney does not work correctly.
9. Cost estimates:
Jotul wood stove $2,500 (can find much cheaper versions used, check online but truly good stove are hard to find used.)
Chimney with instillation $1100 spend the money here and get a good chimney installed correctly that will burn correctly which will keep you safe!
Chain saw Stihl 270 $425 back up Poulan chainsaw $50
Kevlar chainsaw protection chaps $39 woodsman helmet $50 (both have paid for themselves!)
Pistol(s) for target practice $400-600 tell your wife you NEED these.  Ammo? I presently can’t find it
Splitting mauls $160 remember two is one and one is none and possible barter items
Hand saws and sharpening kits $280 the sharpening kit was $160 pull saw $90 but can buy timber saws at flea markets for under $40
Gas, oil, transportation, etc… $???

Rough total: $4,600 (could be a lot less expensive if you buy used equipment)

Savings: I burn about 2-3 cords of wood a year to supplement my fuel oil furnace which I think saves me about 350 gallons of oil a year, maybe more.  At $3 dollars a gallon that saves me over $1000 dollars a year.  I have had my stove for five heating seasons and have probably broken even at this point.  Best news is my stove is still in great shape and should last many more years.

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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I know this blog is primarily aimed at folks preparing for a long-term crisis, but I have a unique perspective on living without electricity after a regional disaster that I thought some might find informative. I live in the hills of northwestern New Jersey, and I have lived through three sustained (my definition: 4 or more days each) power outages caused by extreme weather events during the last two years. These power outages were caused, respectively, by Hurricane Irene, 19 inches of wet, heavy snow in October before the trees had lost their leaves, and Hurricane Sandy. I have learned important lessons from each power outage that I would like to share.
A wood stove and lots of firewood are necessities. I live in a county with tens of thousands of acres of forest. Today, however, most folks are too lazy to cut and process firewood. As each generation passes, fewer and fewer know how. Fortunately, I grew up on a farm and my dad always heated our home with firewood so I learned the joy of hard work and more about trees than I could begin to write here. As the temperatures plunged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the inside temperature of homes in my neighborhood dropped to near freezing and those of us with woodstoves became havens of comfort each day for friends, children, the elderly and neighbors in need of warmth. I think anyone who doesn’t have a wood stove and 10 cords of split, stacked and dried firewood in the backyard by October is unprepared. It’s a low-technology essential that works on simple principles, it warms your home, cooks your food and dries your clothes. Get a wood stove. Trust me when I say your wife won’t complain about the mess that comes with one when it is warming your house. Get a bigger wood stove than you think you need, it will make it easier to load and you won’t have to work as hard cutting small pieces of firewood. The side benefit is that a wood stove will save you thousands in heating costs each winter and will pay for itself in short order.
Water. It seems so obvious, but even most country folk today are dependent on electricity to run their well to provide them with water. Having a generator is much more useful if it powers your well. For starters, this means you can flush your toilet, wash your hands and take a shower, things we take for granted when the electricity is running. I learned after our first extended power outage that I wanted to get a generator and a lot of gas cans to protect the venison in my freezer. After the second one I realized that I wanted a Reliance transfer switch to hook up my generator in a safe way to my electrical box so that I could provide power to my well pump. As a bonus, I could also run my freezers, a refrigerator, a few lights and outlets. But I needed water. For a longer-term crisis, I am looking into a hand pump such as the Simple Pump that has the capability to pump water by hand from my existing well. Because I believe in redundancy when it comes to water, I also picked up some high-quality water containers that hold 7 gallons of fresh potable water. You can use it for drinking, cooking, washing and filling up the toilet. There’s a stream about a mile from my house that I could drink from if I had to (I strongly discourage this unless it is a true survival situation because of water-borne illnesses found in most surface streams), and I would be glad to haul the water back home in a wheelbarrow each day if it came down to it.
A generator coupled with a transfer switch. I made this a separate category because I think it deserves special attention. I personally bought a 5,000 Watt generator that can surge to 6,250 Watts, made by Briggs and Stratton. There are myriad choices in this area so do your research, evaluate your budget, and get the most appropriate generator for your circumstance. It has performed admirably for over 100 hours and has only required minimal maintenance. For starters, it is recommended that you change the oil every 40 hours or so. You should also drain the gas out when you are done using it. No problem here, but if you don’t use the generator for six months you ought to run it for half an hour or so. This means you are bi-annually putting a little gas in, running the generator, and draining the fuel out. A model which lets you easily detach the fuel line to drain the leftover fuel out makes this chore much less of a hassle.
I suggest having a two-week supply of fuel on hand, because it is amazing how quick it runs out during a crisis. I never would I have believed that I would live to witness gas lines, gas rationing, people driving to other states to get fuel, etc. until I actually experienced it. It can happen. That being said, I believe that within two weeks after a regional disaster, supply chains will develop to get things moving around again. If they don’t, then we are talking about a situation that is truly dire and you’d better think about how to live without electricity from any source for the long haul. My generator burns a little less than 4 gallons of gas in twelve hours (I turn mine off each night), so 10 gas cans gets me there if I conserve a bit. I could get by on eight hours, but my wife immeasurably appreciates being able to open and close the refrigerator with four kids. If I have learned only one thing in thirteen years of marriage, it is that having an appreciative wife is invaluable.
I had a neighbor with very large whole-house generator that was burning over 10 gallons of gas a day, and he ran out of fuel within a few days. So bigger is not always better. I also learned that diesel fuel is more available than gasoline during these situations, so if I were to do it again, and money were not an issue, I would consider a diesel, natural gas or propane generator. I found out the hard way that having a can of carburetor cleaner and a small piece of wire is invaluable because carburetors get gummed up easily if a little gas sits in there for a few months. If this happens, you have to clean it (which is easy once you have done it once) or run your generator on partial choke all the time (which is less than ideal and may not work). Drain your gas completely when you put it away and this shouldn’t be a problem.
Food. This was actually the least of our worries. We had plenty of food on our shelves to last for months if necessary, and we didn’t really even plan it that way. I guess with four kids and one income we are just used to buying in bulk when sales hit at the local grocery store. There has been a lot written already on this subject, so I will defer to other essays on this topic.
Medical Supplies. Everyone has different needs here, but it is just good sense to keep a few extra of whatever you need around in case the pharmacy isn’t open (which it won’t be if the store doesn’t have a back-up generator).
Feminine hygiene products. Keep a few extra boxes around.
Lighting. Because we had plenty of firewood and a fireplace, we lit the fireplace each night and everyone in the family loved it, but it didn’t light up the bathrooms or the other rooms in the house. And when I went out in the dark each night to turn off the generator and bring it in the garage, a lantern came in really handy. LED lanterns that can run over 100 hours on one set of batteries are great, and are easily available on Amazon.com. Get two of them because you need one in the bathroom and the rest of the family doesn’t have to sit in the dark while they wait for your return if you have two. I also purchased two old-fashioned kerosene lanterns and a gallon of kerosene after the last power outage. The more flashlights and batteries you have around the better when the power goes out. Those little LED book lights are nice luxuries as well when you want to settle down and read a book in the evening.
A hand crank radio. This is one item I used every day during lunch. We sat around and listened to the local AM radio station as people would call in with all sorts of useful information, such as which gas stations had gas to sell and a generator to power their pumps, which stores were open, where one could get potable water (some buildings have emergency generators), what roads were cleared of trees and now passable, and where the electrical crews were working. On top of this, listening to a radio lifts your spirits when you have no other contact with the outside world.
Relationships with your neighbors are vital. No one knows everything, and a plumber, electrician, farmer, mechanic, doctor, dentist, police officer, etc. each possess unique and valuable skills and knowledge. You can only access those skills and knowledge if they trust you before the crisis and are regularly communicating with you during the crisis. Build friendships now with your neighbors. Find out what their strengths are. Forgive those whom you have had past disagreements with, as those arguments will seem truly unimportant if the SHTF. One of the unexpected benefits of Hurricane Sandy was that I built several long-lasting friendships with neighbors as we spent two weeks cutting trees, dragging branches, splitting wood and stacking firewood. We worked together to get warm, make food, get gasoline and other supplies, take showers and watch children. And everyone in my area has give a lot of thought about surviving when the government and the utility companies cannot help you. I can honestly say it was, in some ways, a blessing.  
Cash. Try buying something when nobody in town has power and you find out real quick that cash is still better than a credit card or a debit card.  A few hundred bucks was more than enough for the short-term outages I have experienced, but a longer-term situation would require more. In a truly long-term disaster situation, actual goods that you could barter with would have the most value.
Intangibles. I would like to conclude by suggesting that maintaining a positive attitude in spite of adversity is of immense value. Being a person who smiles while working to meet daily challenges lifts the spirit of everyone you come into contact with, and your attitude will have a marked impact on children. My children actually think that power outages are something to be celebrated (no school and you get to pretend like you are living Little House on the Prairie)! Having faith helps us see the good that comes with difficulty, and gives us strength to forge ahead, no matter what.
Our world is becoming more like a Rube Goldberg machine every day. Our infrastructure and supply lines become more fragile as they become more dependent on new layers of technology. My advice to everyone is to build redundancy into every system you control, and pass on practical knowledge to the next generation. A co-worker who was not prepared for any of these circumstances suggested to me that preparing for them was wrong, that it amounted to cynically saving yourself at the expense of your neighbor. I replied that quite the opposite was true: those who are prepared are far more able to help their neighbors than those who are not, and my real-life observations actually back up this assertion. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay and God Bless!

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Eons ago when people lived in caves, one of their most important tools was fire.  Its ability to keep them warm, cook food, provide light, and scare away predators was of the utmost importance.  Some kind of a societal upheaval may not necessarily mean returning to a stone age existence, but when the systems that keep our everyday life humming along go down, fire will once again have a huge impact on our ability to survive.

This fact was brought home to my wife and me two winters ago, when a February blizzard knocked out the power to several counties.  It was early evening - the lights flickered a few times, and then the house was plunged into darkness.  Everything became eerily quiet, save for the wind howling outside and snow pelting against the window.

Then there was another sound – the reassuring popping of a log in our big airtight Franklin stove which continued to throw off its heat, oblivious to the fact that the juice was off.  For the next thirty-six hours we used it to keep us warm,  melt snow to flush toilets, and even did a some cooking over its coals.  While other folks along our country road bundled up in sleeping bags and shivered until the outage ended, the disruption to our lives wasn’t nearly as great.

If you live in a northern climate, staying warm is important for nearly half of the year.  Did I say “important”?  Make that “vital” because without a way to keep the temperature in your home or bug-out place at a life-sustaining level, you will die of exposure!  Your gas or oil furnace will be fine… as long as your fuel supply lasts or the electricity doesn’t fail.  These are finite resources, however, and during a long-term disruption of goods and services, your pilot light will go out at some point (probably just when a January blizzard comes howling in). 

The only logical solution is to turn to wood heat, or more precisely, a wood-burning airtight stove (fireplaces are fine for ambiance, but horribly inefficient for warming you since most of the heat goes up the chimney).  The next question, then, is where will your wood come from, and what skills and tools do you need to convert it to usable fuel for your stove? 

The countryside is full of burnable litter.  Next time you’re out and about, take a look around.  Fallen branches and even a downed tree or two are common sights in any woodlot or park, or along rural roads.  Most of it, though, is too small to keep a fire going with the BTU output that’s needed to warm your home.  Real “firewood” consists of pieces of thick branches or trunks that have been cut and split to a size of about 16” long and roughly 5” or 6” in diameter.  Anything smaller will require re-stoking the stove every few hours, while bigger pieces may smolder unless the fire is wastefully large.

At present, I get most of my firewood supply from a local landowner, who doesn’t like downed trees lying around and sees it as a favor when I clean up the woods for him.   After a big summer storm, city folks without saws will gladly offer you a tree that’s toppled in their yard.  Likewise, a downed tree across a rural road usually belongs to the first one who’s there to cut it up.   During bad times it would likely be possible to barter for timber with a landowner who doesn’t have the tools or know-how to utilize it himself -probably working together and then sharing it.  State or federally-owned hunting land and wildlife areas also have downed timber, which can often be claimed by anyone with the gumption to go get it.

If we ever arrive at a point where vehicles and trailers are no longer available, all of your wood will have to be hauled by hand.  That means that laying in a good supply now, when you can still move it efficiently, would be a good idea.  Having a sizable woodpile to begin with puts a buffer between you and calamity.  Get your wood from the more distant locations while you can still truck it, and leave the easier pickings for when you may have to move it manually. 

Wheel barrows are, in my opinion, a poor way to transport anything heavy for any distance due to their chronic balance problems.  With their single, small, pneumatic tire, they are not made to move loads over uneven ground.  Take one into the woods and roll over a few blackberry brambles, and the tire will inevitably puncture and go flat.  A better alternative is one of those “game haulers” with large, hard rubber wheels.  They’re made for going over rough terrain easily, and can handle a maximum load with a minimum amount of effort (they can also haul around a lot of other heavy stuff that might need moving).

Literally any wood will burn.  One year we survived two months of a Wisconsin winter heating with willow – a wood near the bottom of the BTU list.  Likewise, this past winter we used a fair amount of box elder – another low grade tree.  Woods like this certainly will throw out enough heat to keep you warm, but they burn fast, requiring a larger supply.

The “primo” varieties include oak, hard maple, locust, hickory and apple.  Next down the line but still good, are ash, birch, cherry, and hackberry.  Unless there is nothing else available, however, avoid any of the evergreen species, since their resin content tends to start chimney fires, spit sparks, and can flash back when you open the stove door.

Firewood should season for at least six months after being cut green (a year is better) although a few varieties, like ash and locust, will burn without much drying.

We’ve just been through a mild winter here. Spring has arrived and, after checking the wood shed, I see that we’ve gone through about six face cords of mixed hardwood (a stove face cord is a stack four feet high, eight feet long, and 16” deep).  A bad winter, like last year’s, would probably have required another cord.

A household could get by on a lot less, though.  For one thing, we have a large stove and heat the entire place with it.  The fire is usually lit in November and doesn’t go out until late March.  A smaller stove heating a smaller area would take far less fuel.  And if our wood supply had been limited, instead of basking in 70 degree temperatures all winter, we could have stretched the supply by burning less – in an extreme case, just enough to keep the place at 50 degrees.  This would have been uncomfortable, but it would have enabled us to survive.

If you envision doing your cutting with a chain saw after society falls apart, picture those last precious (and irreplaceable) drops of gas disappearing into its tank.  Even if you’ve stocked a large supply of fuel and bar oil, gas has a shelf life, and how many chains do you have?  The other problem with a chain saw (besides the fact that, being a machine, it will need unobtainable replacement parts at some point) is that it makes noise.  This broadcasts a message to anyone within a mile that someone’s cutting a pile of firewood that could be pilfered from the producer as soon as he’s finished the work.

Long-term survival requires stepping back into the 19th century and taking up the hand saw.  Do you have one capable of cutting through a 30 inch tree trunk?  Probably not, but realizing the need for producing burnable chunks suitable for splitting that will hold a fire all night should inspire you to get one.

A crosscut saw capable of handling tree trunk needs to be either a one or two-man model 48” - 56“ long.  If you’ve got a partner, go with a two-man type.  I’ve got one that can be set up either way, with add-on handle on one end that converts it from a solo saw to a duo.

There are two basic tooth types – “Lance” and “Tuttle”.  The former is designed more for softwoods, so go with the latter.  One company that carries a good assortment of saws in various designs for serious cutting is the Traditional Woodworker (www.traditionalwoodworker.com).

Also consider buying a second smaller, less cumbersome saw with a standard tooth arrangement for doing the medium cutting jobs.  This one would probably have a 24” - 30” blade with 4 ½ to 6 teeth per inch.  Such a saw could also be used in a pinch for the big stuff.  For cutting up smaller branches for kindling or your cooker (which will be discussed shortly) bow saws work fine.  They’re cheap, so get a couple of different sizes and a number of spare blades.

But having an assortment of saws isn’t going to keep you cutting indefinitely.  No matter how good the steel is, that blade is eventually going to get dull.  A good stock of files will be important for keeping your saws working efficiently.

Do you know how to sharpen a saw?  Are you familiar with things like “Fleam”, “Rakers” and “Jointing”?  Do you have a tooth setter in your tool box?  Becoming proficient at sharpening your cutting tools is a skill you can’t overlook (the afore-mentioned saw dealer also sells an excellent book by Harold Payson on setting and sharpening hand saws).  And besides keeping your own tools chipping away efficiently, being the local “saw sharpener” can make you a vital asset to a small community of survivors.

Axes can play a role in firewood production, too.  They’re not as efficient as a saw, but a century ago lumberjacks used them to take down mature trees.  Felling a tree with an axe, however, requires a lot of skill as well as effort, something you will soon discover when tackling anything bigger than a mid-sized aspen.  I’ve found that the best use for an axe is limbing a downed tree.  Just remember to stand on the opposite side of the trunk, and chop off the limb from the root end of the trunk towards the top. 

Like saws, axes come in several styles and sizes.  The “limbing” axe, with a 25 inch handle is also good for cutting up small limbs on a chopping block, while a full-sized axe can be used for splitting smaller pieces with a straight grain or, if you have to, felling a tree.

One more thought on axes:  Like any edged tool, keep it sharp!  The old saying, “a dull knife is a dangerous knife” holds true for axes as well (and you can do a lot more damage to yourself with one).

To round out your wood processing equipment you should have a good splitting maul, two or three wedges and a sledge hammer.  If you’re lucky enough to get into some straight-grained ash or oak, the maul alone will do the job, but often you’ll need the encouragement of a wedge or two to get many pieces to split to the size you desire.

Not all wedges are the same.  Get one that has a narrow entry edge for efficiently starting a split, and a wider one to open it up when you bury the first wedge (which often happens).  I like the model made by True Temper which has two built-in “wings” near the top for my second wedge.  The wings open the crack far enough to allow the head of a sledge hammer in, so you can continue to pound on the wedge until the split is complete.

A couple of final thoughts on cutting firewood:  If you don’t know what you’re doing, standing timber can kill you in a heartbeat.  Any written description here of exactly how to take down a tree would not be adequate, so go out and find someone who works in the woods, and ask if you can tag along sometime to learn how it’s done.  Some of the important things they’re likely to point out are:

  • The “hinge” (the uncut area between the notch and the felling cut) controls the direction which the tree will fall.  If you cut through it, the tree can go anywhere (including in you lap).
  • More branch weight on one side will influence a tree to fall in that direction.
  • A dead branch near the top that comes loose due to vibrations while cutting can be lethal (that’s why they’re called “widow-makers”).
  • Be aware of wind direction.  This can influence a tree’s fall – especially if it’s leafed out.

Fire is important for more than just keeping your core temperature above 98.6 degrees. In the event of a prolonged TEOTWAWKI catastrophe, everyone will need some way to cook food and boil water.  White or bottled gas, however, is not the answer, since eventually your supply will run out.  At that point you’ll once again have to turn to wood.

A traditional campfire will work, but is hugely wasteful of your hard-earned fuel resources.  The best option is to use something that will give you a big boost in efficiency over an open fire, and that “something” would be a well-designed wood-fired cook stove.

Some Preppers’ stocks of provisions include large amounts of freeze-dried food which doesn’t need to be “cooked” per se, but does require a cup or two of boiling water.  The most effective way to do this is with what is known as a “Kelly Kettle” (sometimes called  a “volcano kettle”). 

The Kelly Kettle is an odd-looking stainless steel stove that resembles a cross between a miniature milk can and a bowling pin.  It has a small fire chamber in the base which draws air from below, and the heat rises through a long chimney.  Surrounding this chimney is a hollow jacket that holds water.  The heat coming up it contacts a far greater surface area of the water than it would if it were merely concentrated on the bottom of a pan, and brings it to a boil in only a fraction of the time.

Another thing that makes the Kelly Kettle a great survival tool is the fact that it can be fueled with just about anything that burns.  Collect the wood chips from where you’ve been cutting and splitting your stove wood, break up small, fallen branches or twigs, or use pine cones or even bark – it’s all the same to the Kelly Kettle.  The bottom draft arrangement (the same principle as a Dakota fire) will make just about anything you put in it burn hot and fast.

For your actual cooking needs or for heating larger amounts of water, a special stove based on the Kelly Kettle will work far better than an open fire.  The only problem is that as far as I know, there isn’t such a stove on the market.  This means you’ll have to make your own.

 There’s a plan on a survival blog for a pipe stove with a “rocket elbow”.  I followed the basic design and tweaked it just a bit.  My version consists of an eleven inch length of  6” stove pipe nested inside a twelve inch piece of  8” stove pipe.  A vent (1 ½” diameter piece of exhaust pipe) goes from the bottom of the inner pipe and sticks out an inch past the outer one.  This tube serves both as an air intake and a chute to add fuel.

The interior pipe is closed off at the bottom using a removable standard 6” stovepipe cap and then cement is poured in the space between the two pipes.  This acts as insulation as well as giving the stove more weight, and hence, more stability.  Several one inch deep scallops are cut into the top rim of the outer pipe to allow smoke to escape, and what’s left supports the utensil you’re cooking with.  Like the Kelly Kettle, the fact that it draws air from the bottom and has a long chimney, will make the fire burn with a hot, focused flame.  A stove such as this also allows one to utilize easily collected scrap wood as fuel.

Following the basic design concept, it might be possible to build larger stoves for bigger cooking tasks.  The only drawback I’ve noticed with mine is that because it uses small pieces of wood that burn quickly, it needs to be fed often and hence, can’t be left unattended for long.

A bonus to cooking with wood is that the ashes the fire produces can be used as soap to clean up with.  Since they contain lye, merely mixing them into a paste with clean water and using it as a scouring compound will allow you to keep utensils clean long after your supply of soap has run out.
The best “starter” wood to get a fire going - whether it’s you cooker of wood furnace - is dry cedar.  If you can find an old telephone pole lying around somewhere, saw it into short lengths and then split each round into thin pieces. Unless you hit a knot, the straight grain of cedar splits easily into extremely thin sticks which take a flame in seconds.  I call this stuff “fire candy”.  It catches quickly and burns intensely for starting a fire, as well as rejuvenating one that is nearly out.  If you can’t find cedar, something like well-dried aspen or willow is also a good starter.

Don’t forget that before you can burn anything, you’ll have to have a way of starting your fire.  A large stockpile of traditional matches, metal matches and butane lighters take up little space and have no maximum shelf life.  If you run out, though, you’ll have to resort to a fire bow or a magnifying glass.

And for each fire you light, you’ll need some tinder to get it going.  A supply of newspapers and dryer lint will work, but know that when it’s gone you’ll have to rely on fuzz sticks or natural materials like mouse nests.

If and when TEOTWAWKI arrives “keeping the home fires burning” will be right up there with food and water.  Prepare for it now!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wood is one of the most readily available materials for homestead construction projects and is also an important fuel source for many of us. I’ve always loved forests and trees, so I drew on my experiences growing up in Alaska and my work in the timber industry in Western Washington to write this post. 

If you are lucky enough to own your own forest, I highly recommend the book A Landowner's Guide to Managing Your Woods by Hansen/Seversen/Waterman.  This book will give you an excellent overview on how to keep your forest healthy and profitable, as well as giving you a broad overview of the logging industry. 

You are most likely already familiar with some logging tools. The most versatile and important tool is the axe, and you should have several. I prefer a double bit axe for felling and a single bit for limbing and pounding in wedges. Antique/junk stores can really help out here, as old axe heads of high quality can be had on the cheap often only needing to be sharpened and cleaned of rust. Supplement your limbing axe with several small hand saws.  A Peavey is another important tool that consists of a long lever with a hook for rolling logs. Again, you may be able to find one on the cheap at an antique store. Make sure to have a good supply of plastic felling wedges, which come in very handy when you are felling trees with a funny lean to them, as they take pressure off the saw when making the back cut. When using a chain saw, never substitute metal wedges for plastic or hardwood, as this could result in severe damage or injury if the chain makes contact with the metal. For moving logs, you will want a choker, a cable that can be wrapped around the end of a log to drag it from place to place. Additionally, you may want some extra cable, a come along, and few blocks or shivs.  For some larges species of tree to be cut by hand, you may need a spring board, which is a 2 x 4 with a steel spike at one end. Placed in a tree above the gnarled flare of the tree, it allows the lumberjack (or lumberjill) to make cuts with axes and saws in the softer, narrower part of the trunk. If you are going to be doing a lot of felling and bucking, you will want a logger's tape measure to ensure you buck to just the right length. Otherwise, you can use an ordinary tape measure for the job. 

Every prepper should have at least one large crosscut saw, preferably a two-man. Some of the older saws are superior in quality and craftsmanship, but ones in good condition can be very expensive. There are kits available for sharpening crosscut saws, and you will need to get one of these as well. Sharpening crosscut saws was specialized work back when they were in wide use, and it is a skill I have not mastered. Youtube has a few excellent videos on the step by step process for this, but I think the best way to really learn is to find someone who is willing to teach you. Another tip to make your lumberjacking easier: If you look at photographs of the old time lumberjacks with their “whips of misery,” you will often see what looks like a whiskey bottle off to the side. These bottles were filled with the oil used to lubricate the saw to make cutting through large trees easier. 

After you've cut a few trees by hand, you will think of a chainsaw as your best friend. I’ve always been a skeptical about keeping machines running post TEOTWAWKI without the benefit of substantial stockpiles of fuel, lubricants, and extra parts which most of us can't afford. The one machine I make an exception for is the chainsaw. There is no power tool more versatile to the homesteader. Besides its obvious use for felling and bucking logs, it makes log construction a much easier task. Post-TEOTWAWKI, I believe that anyone with a reliable chainsaw and a good stockpile of premium gasoline, 2 cycle oil, bar oil, chains and spare parts will be able to trade their services for a high price. In one afternoon, a man with a chain saw can do the work work that 24 men with crosscut saws did in a day. When electricity is unavailable, the chainsaw can be pressed into use for carpentry projects as well. Of course, keeping a low profile may make using a gas powered saw unacceptable, so always have the much quieter crosscut saw as a backup. 

Although there are many brands of chainsaw, Stihl and Husqvarna are the only two that I trust. Both of these brands have saws at the lower end of the price range that are intended for the suburban home owner market. Avoid these and choose a saw that is professional grade. The Stihl Farm Boss is a good choice for many people. It is a reliable saw, big enough for most tasks that a homesteader has to take on, but light enough that it can be used by smaller folks. In keeping with the “two is one” mantra, I recommend that you have multiple chainsaws of the same model, as well as spare parts.  

With a little maintenance, you can keep a quality saw running correctly with minimal problems. The most important preventative maintenance you can do is cleaning the air filter often. Remove the filter and use an air hose to clean it out from the inside and remove the junk that it accumulates. If you don’t have access to an air hose, you can use a can of compressed air duster for electronics. Use quality 2 cycle oil, this is definitely one place not to skimp, ideally from the saw’s manufacturer. For bar oil, you might be able to find cheap stuff at Wal-Mart or the like. Some folks I know use old motor oil for bar oil. This is not a good idea because the viscosity is different from real bar oil, and may damage your bar. Additionally, bar oil is biodegradable, which will help ensure the health of your forest. Some important spare parts to keep around are extra bars, air filters, chain sprockets, and a cylinder replacement kit. You will need lots of extra chain, which can be purchased in bulk rolls from Bailey’s, an online logging supply store. 

For safety equipment, a hard hat, Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps, eye and ear protection, and boots with excellent ankle support are musts. If you are going to be doing a lot of logging, you will also want a pair of caulks (pronounced ‘corks’), which are spiked boots for walking on slippery logs and soft hillsides. 

An important thing to understand is that felling trees is the easiest part of the job. You make your cuts at the butt end of the tree, and gravity does the rest. Moving a tree that weighs several tons once it is on the ground is much more difficult. For the logger working without the benefit of heavy equipment, felling timber in exactly the right place can mean the difference between successfully harvesting the tree and leaving it on the ground to rot because you are unable to move it. The best resource for learning about safe felling is a booklet from the State of Oregon entitled “Fallers Logging Safety,” available free as a PDF online. Follow safety procedures and stay within your skill level. Nothing can replace hands on experience, and I can't emphasize the importance of proper falling technique enough. Seek out real experts who will teach you the safe, correct procedures for felling so that you can develop good habits (as with many aspects in life, people who tell you they are experts are often anything but).  

Hand logging is the art of moving timber to the mode of transport with human power. Old time lumberjacks would typically work a hill side from the bottom to the top. Trees would be felled across the hill, limbed, and the rolled downhill to the stream, sea, road, or railroad by lumberjacks using peaveys. Sometimes, trees would be felled down the hill on top of several small logs laid perpendicular to the larger tree. The log could then be skidded down the hill on a path made of these smaller logs. Moving large logs uphill is going to be nearly impossible, so make sure you always fell trees into the best position for being moved. 

The sheer difficulty of moving large logs without heavy equipment may necessitate the adoption of building techniques that use shorter, smaller pieces of timber. My friend and former employer lived on the tree line in the mountains of Alaska where most of the timber was on the scrawny side. Never the less, he was able to build a sturdy log cabin with spruce logs that he cut to lengths of  6’ to 12’. If you live in an area with a good snowfall, winter can be the best time to harvest timber, as logs are much easier to drag across the spring’s firm snow pack than the summer’s uneven forest floor. A snow machine (called a snowmobile by you lower 48ers) is excellent for winter timber harvest because they can get to areas inaccessible by wheeled vehicles. A timber sledge for a snow machine is easily constructed by using two long 2x6s as runners, allowing you to haul long logs for cabin ridgepoles and larger structures. Another reason that winter is an ideal time for harvesting timber is that the sap will all be in the roots, meaning there will be less moisture content in the wood, always a consideration for firewood. Spruce and Douglas Fir harvested for cabin logs in the winter will be perfect for peeling in the spring. Often the bark can be removed in large strips using nothing but a hatchet. 

During summer months, you can use trucks and ATVs to harvest timber, vehicles with a winch being especially useful. Using a choker, logs can be dragged out of the woods to the road or trail so that you can pull them to where they are needed. The problem with this is that you will be restricted to only those areas accessible roads and trails. Another primitive way to move timber is with draft animals, giving you a much better option for those hard to reach timber stands. I think for any sort of large scale post-TEOTWAWKI logging, this is going to be the only way to get any real logging done unless fossil fuels are still available. Without machinery and only human power, you will reduced to using only the smallest logs, greatly diminishing the size of structures that can be built. An Alaska mill another possible solution to the problem of moving timber without heavy equipment.This device uses two chainsaws to form a primitive sawmill. With one of these, you can rip felled trees into lumber while still in the woods, allowing you to avoid moving large logs. 

On a closing note, my favorite story from the Hebrew scriptures has always been the story of Gideon, one of Israel's judges. It is a story about faith versus doubt, the importance of watchfulness, and God giving victory to the righteous in the face of overwhelming odds. While doing some research the other day, I was interested to learn that Gideon in Hebrew means "destroyer," "mighty warrior," and also "a faller of great trees." Happy cutting, and stay safe in the woods.       

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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

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.

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!

Friday, March 23, 2012

D.P. 's article "Fire -Your Partner in Survival was very good! 
I would like to add that firewood storage life depends greatly on the type of wood.  Oak and other similar types can be stored for well over 20 years with no problems. (Especially if split and covered with a quality tarp or stored in a woodshed with a good roof.) But in contrast, un-split white birch will start to rot in a single year. Poplar and some other species also degrade quickly.
D.P. is right on about the type of heater to use.  When I built my house back in the very early 1970's, I just had to have a conventional Heatilator type fireplace for the open fire romance.  I should have listened to the old timers back then who told me to just put in a stone hearth and plain wood stove!  In the end, I wound up closing the fireplace damper, filling the flue with fiberglass insulation and putting a steel cap on it!   Now I'm just using the wood stove in the basement [with a separate chimney] to easily heat the entire house with lots less wood than the fireplace consumed.
Gasoline to run chainsaws can be kept for a very long time with the addition of PRI-G stabilizer. The same company also makes a stabilizer for diesel, called PRI-D.
(I recently started a gas engine that has been sitting for over 12 years with the original gas in the tank. Started right up and ran fine.  (I did add a little extra PRI G every few years during it's storage time)
I have no financial interest in PRI G or PRI D. I'm just a very satisfied user.

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

To say we have had a mild winter here in Iowa is an understatement to say the least. That was until recently. It would be safe to say that with temperatures in the 50 degree range I have gotten a little complacent this winter. Like many who read SurvivalBlog I spend time watching the news and trying to keep an eye on the big picture. At least in this case it came at the expense of some of the details. Like everything in life I would like to remind myself as well as all my Brothers and Sisters out there that might read this that like all things in life we need to take a balanced approach.
We did have a snow storm and nature reminded us that it was still winter. I guess this would be one of those situations that Attitude made the difference in the whole day. That was something else that I think I may have forgotten. At my house we don’t prep just to survive. If all I was interested in was surviving I would not put so much time and effort into what we have done. Personally I want to survive with a life worth living.  I personally am not someone that is going to wonder through the woods with a backpack eating bugs having lost everyone and everything I love. If they are going to get to the people and pets that I love and care for then they are going to have to go through me to get there. So if those things are gone they would have had to take me out to get there. So while I’m here I might as well enjoy the life that I have.
Instead of taking the doom and gloom look at what all went wrong let’s take a positive outlook on the day and see what I was able to learn from our experience. Life is a choice. Where you are in life is a sum of the decisions you have made so you are exactly where you have chosen to be. Look at it this way: If you are now willing to make changes to your lifestyle such as giving up cable or eating out then you have made a conscious choice. You have chosen to keep things exactly the way they are. Since you are not willing to do anything different you must be happy with the way things are in your life. So let’s take a look at where the choices I have made took me for the day.
Waking up to about 4 inches of snow meant that my first duty of the morning was to get out and get rid of the snow off the driveway and sidewalks. Not a big deal. My Cub Cadet has a two stage snow blower on it and I race my neighbor to see who can do the others sidewalk first.

The first thing I notice is this has got to be the heaviest and wettest snow I can remember in a long time. As soon as you step down on the snow it instantly turns to ice on the sidewalk under your feet. This is the first time I can ever remember my machine struggling to throw the snow out of the way. I’m usually having to angle the shoot down so the snow does not go too far and end up where I don’t want it. I happily spend an hour or so removing the snow from our property and a couple of my elderly neighbors. Rats, Rick has already gotten the sidewalk. Score one for him. I’ll get him next time.

I pull the tractor back into the garage and notice that it is unusually dark inside. I thought I had turned on the lights in the garage when I went in but must not have. Well no big deal there is plenty of light coming in from the open garage door. I put the tractor away and pull my truck back in and prepare to go back into the house. Like most people I go to walk out the door and hit the automatic garage door switch and nothing happens. Click, Click, Click? I looked over and I had turned on the lights but they were not on? I guess all this heavy wet snow has taken down some of the trees in the area.

A power failure is not a huge deal. I pull the release cord on the door to disconnect it from the drive and close the door manually. Here is where our first learning experience comes into play. Don’t you just hate those? With the door being connected to an automatic garage door opener there are no operating locks on it. Being an accountant by trade I’m not the most mechanical person on the planet so I have to subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle.  So believing in this instead of trying to do something elaborate I just grab a set of vice grips and clamp them on the rail to secure the garage. It would have been no big deal if the door had been closed when the power went out but since the side was all the way back there was no way to secure the door. A nice set of Vice-Grips on the rail worked quite well in my opinion.

At this point my vicious guard dogs decide to wake up and come downstairs and see how much of my breakfast they can talk me out of. This is where I would really suggest one of those LED head lamps if you don’t already have one. The kitchen is on the North side of the house so does not have a great deal of outside light this time of year. Having both hands free makes tasks much easier than trying to hold a light with one hand and do everything with the other. Of course there is always the hold it in your mouth and slobber all over yourself method. Personally I prefer the head lamp. Slobber all down the front of your shirt first thing in the morning seems to bring a lot of pesky questions. Or at least it does at my house.

At this point the power has been out from probably an hour and a half at my estimation. With Winter having shown up with the snow the temperature outside was far from what we had gotten used to. No big deal “I HAVE PREPS”. Quite proud of myself for having thought ahead I have a backup heat source. I have a kerosene heater out in the garage that I keep around for just such an occasion. So closely watched by my ever vigilant guard dogs we go out to the garage to get the heater and bring it into the house.

I do have to interject here that I was quite proud of myself at this point. I have read here on SurvivalBlog quite a few times that you can never have too many flashlights and the read many praises on the new LED flashlights. Having done so a while back when I was at Home Depot I saw bulk packs of them on sale and picked up several. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I then went around the house and put at least one flashlight in every room of the house. Several rooms we put a couple. Luckily for me the flashlight was right where I expected it to be and worked great.

The Dogs and I then went out and brought in the heater and wiped off the dust and checked it over for proper operation before I tried to light it. I used to use it regularly to heat the garage before having a heating system put in. Since then it has sat patiently on the shelf waiting. This is when I noticed that last time I used it I had forgotten to refill it. Not a big deal. I was prepared. I knew I had extra kerosene in the garage. I had several unopened cans that I had purchased for just such an occasion. So the dogs and I trekked back out to the garage to get some kerosene to top it off before we put it into operation. I knew the cans were unopened and therefore full. I checked on them by looking over at them to make sure they had not been damaged several times a year but had never physically touched them since I had put them off in the corner against the wall. I know they were full because I had purchased them and put them over there.
This was when I realized that Murphy's Law had not been repealed. The cans were strangely light when I went to pick them up. Almost as if they were empty. I look at the top and the seal is still in place right there where it is supposed to be. They simply can’t be empty could they? They were new when I put them there and the seal is still on top right where it was supposed to be. I shake the can and there is no slosh like there should be. No one ever told me that if you put a steel can on a cement floor that the bottom of the can will rust out. It must have happened over a long period because I never remember smelling kerosene in the garage but the bottom of the can was rusted and the cans were empty.

Well we must keep our beautiful wife warm so we go back into the house and strategically place the heater in the kitchen on the bottom floor of the house and light it. I did this because heat will radiate up. So by putting it at the bottom of the house farthest away from the stairs the heat will radiate through the bottom floor and eventually upstairs. The sun has finally come out so I open up the curtains on the south side of the house to let in as much sunlight as possible. I was surprised that within a half hour I had to go back downstairs and turn the heater off. It was starting to get way too warm upstairs.

Not knowing how long my existing kerosene still in the tank was going to last I went to plan “B”. Being a believer in "two is one and one is none", I had recently purchased a backup heat source to my backup heat source. Truthfully I had picked it up for the 5th wheel we have recently purchased and placed out our bug out location. On another trip to Home Depot I had purchased a Mr. Heater tank top heater. I had plenty of propane. All of my back up cooking is based on propane if the gas were ever to go out I had stocked up with the normal grill tanks with the adapter to fill the small tanks our camping stove uses and had a supply of tanks for our grill as well as three different 100 lb tanks to take down to the 5th wheel. We are still in the process of setting up the camper so they have not been moved down there yet. All were fully charged for just such an occasion.  With no better time to test our new heater than the present I assembled our new heater and attached it to the tank. I was amazed at the heat this thing put out and had to quickly turn it back off. I was confident that we were going to be nice and warm for as long as we would be without power.

So that gave me a few minutes to sit down and go through my checklist to see what needed to be done:

  • Shelter is in place and safe? Check
  • Water? Plenty stored and water still running check
  • Food? Well stocked for both 2 pawed and 4 pawed family members so Check
  • Everyone Safe and warm? Check
  • Light? Plenty of candles, flash lights with back well over 100 back up batteries (Sale at Bass Pro shops on back Friday), Oil Lamps with extra wicks and oil, all in place so check  

Not being the type that would be willing to leave a heater on and unattended this gave me some time to sit by the window and go over our situation and evaluate what still needed to be done and see where I had missed things. As I sat there in the a comfortable chair looking out the sliding glass door watching it start to snow again I noticed a few things. Please let me share them with you.
As I sat there in front of the window I had a sense of calm and peace flow over me. It had started to snow again fairly aggressively. I could see several neighbors loading up their cars forced to trek out into the storm looking for a warm place to go. Meanwhile I was sitting there in my chair warm and comfortable. Knowing my family was safe and warm. I didn’t have to care what the roads were like. I didn’t have to care how much it snowed. I didn’t have to care when the power came back on. For the first time in several years the house was quit. I could almost hear the house talking to me. Those subtle noises that a house makes that are always there but are hidden behind the background noise of all the gadgets of our modern life create. I had a calmness and peace that I had not felt in quite a while. The simple things in life were all taken care of because we had the foresight to prep not just for the big disaster but also for the little things.
I realized the mistakes I had made. I had gotten complacent in knowing my preps were there and had not taken the time to periodically check and make sure they were still in operational condition. Luckily I had subscribed to the "Two is one, and one is none" theory and that had saved us.
My pointed out an area I had thought of once and had completely forgotten about. As unromantic as it sounds at this point feeling so good about how well things had gone overall we forgot about the toilet. Where we live we have a high water table so the sewer system cannot be buried very deep. Because of this we have what is called a grind pit in our back yard. All the waste from the house drains down into this pit and a device in the bottom grinds up all the solids and then pumps them “UP” to the sewer system. With no power there is no pumping action and the pump would become full rather quickly if we did not monitor how much water went down the drain. Of course this is when Murphy decided to make his presence known again. I had not really worried about it too much because I had a nice Kohler generator. Well as you might guess we don’t currently have our generator. It is over being worked on by the small engine person of our Mutual Assistance Group. We are experimenting with retrofitting the generators of our group with automobile mufflers in an attempt to quite them down considerably so they will be safer to use at our bug out location in a SHTF situation. The loud roar of several generators will carry for quite a ways in that type of situation and we are attempting to lower our decibel output as much as possible. Because of this my generator is not currently available.  Not a severe problem I can always grab one from work and bring it home once the storm passes if necessary but defiantly something that I need to work on.
At this point there is only one thing left on the list to do. So I go upstairs and see my beautiful wife and my vicious guard dogs all curled up on a pile of pillows on the bed. This is a scene that would make the cat proud. My wife is comfortably reading a book basking in the sunlight coming in from the window. My lab is comfortably curled up on my pillows and my Shepherd is sprawled out across what is left of the bed.
I update my wonderful wife on our situation and my conclusions. Then I inform her the only thing we have left to do to insure our survival is work on shared bodily warmth and comfort. That this is a critical part of our survival plan. The fate of the world could depend on it.
My loving wife then looks up from her book. She looks at me with those beautiful hazel eyes. Her long beautiful hair cascading down across her shoulders and pillows. The absolute picture of loveliness. A gentle smile crosses her face only to be replaced by her tongue sticking out followed quickly by a raspberry thrown in my direction. Dejected and rejected I was banished to the couch where I had to spend the afternoon taking nap lessons from the cat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Some of my long-time friends can’t believe me now.  I was definitely a “city girl,” but now I’m a “wannabe homesteader.”  We’re living in the country now and I’m having fun learning to do a lot of “new” things.  Some of these things are just ordinary, every-day chores for people who grew up on farms, but for me, it’s a whole new way of life.  I’ve really enjoyed making butter and yogurt from the fresh milk we buy from the local Amish.  The first day I bought a gallon of milk from them, I told them I’d never had fresh milk before and the look on the young man’s face was priceless!  He couldn’t believe it.  Making laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent is saving us money, too – and it’s fun for me.  Something else that’s saving us a ton of money is heating with firewood.  Cutting firewood is something my husband and I do together several times a week and we really feel like a team, working our land together.  Working out in the timber, I feel so blessed that God gave us all those resources to help us.

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in the Ozarks and fell in love with the area.  A friend had found a very nice, reasonable mobile home near a big lake to use as a cabin.  We told him if he heard of another good deal to let us know and it wasn’t too long and we had our own “lake cabin.”   We lived in a major city in the Midwest and had high pressure jobs, so it was really good to get away as often as we could.  We enjoyed our lake cabin for a few years, but we both knew eventually we’d want to have an acreage with lots of trees and some kind of water like a pond or creek.  I was always watching the real estate ads and found an interesting acreage listed.  We called the realtor to get directions to view the property.  She was very nice and offered to meet us there, but we said no, we just wanted to take a look.  The directions were from the south end of town and we started from the north end, so the mileage was off and we had trouble finding it.  We stopped at a farmhouse to ask directions and after visiting awhile, discovered the man’s grandfather and my husband’s grandfather were brothers!  We really hadn’t thought of it, but my father-in-law was born in the area and moved away while in his teens and then his father moved the rest of the family later.  We didn’t even think about possibly having relatives in the area.

My husband started having health problems in 2008 and was in the hospital five times in three months.  In 2009 I had surgery for melanoma and had a second surgery in 2010 which turned out to be benign. (Praise God!).  We decided it was time to make the move, so as soon as we could get our house sold, we were heading down!  Our house was an old farmhouse I bought before we were married.  My dad helped me do a lot of repair when I bought it (because it was a dump!)  He was a contractor for over 50 years, so his help was greatly appreciated.  Later on we did more improvements, like aluminum siding, building an additional shed, an additional driveway, etc., but I wished we’d kept on doing little improvements and updating through the years.  When we were getting it ready to go on the market, we had so much work to do, it was overwhelming.  Our retired friend Jim, who had worked in construction for many years, offered to help us and I don’t know what we would’ve done without him!  The house was finally listed August 1, 2010 and we made a deal with prospective buyers on August 30th.  The deal fell through, but with much negotiation, had another deal with the same people towards the end of September and we closed on November 2.  Our last day at work was October 28.  We signed the paperwork at the title company ahead of time, so we were already enjoying a little time in Missouri, to celebrate.

It was several months before we actually felt like we actually lived at the acreage, instead of vacationing.  Part of that was due to several little trips we took within that first year.  I’ve told several people that feeling like you’re always on vacation, is not a bad problem to have!  My husband says retirement is a good job, if you can get it.  The only way our life could be any better, is if we had more money.

In the late winter and early spring, I started some seeds for the first time and boy, did I have fun!  My plan was for container gardening since the soil is very rocky and has a high clay content.  Unfortunately, there was a terrible hail storm while my plants were sitting out on the deck hardening off and they were hit hard – literally!  A neighbor down the road received $19,000 in hail damage and the people across the road from him had $25,000 damage.  We are ¾ mile from them and we had our roof checked out and the roofer said he only saw three dings!  Later our neighbor said he thought he saw damage on our roof, just while standing on our driveway, so we had another roofer check it out.  He said he saw a couple places where it’d be good to pound down a couple nails and caulk, but that was all.

I had a big container garden to try out a lot of different plants to see what I’d prefer.  According to many long-time gardeners, I picked the wrong summer to try gardening for the first time!  People that had gardened for 50 years were not very successful that year, so it’s no wonder my gardening efforts were pretty much a flop.  With the extensive heat wave and the “varmints,” I didn’t have much to show for my efforts.  I learned a lot. One of the lessons was to do a better job of fertilizing!

I was looking forward to canning bushels of produce from my garden, but that was not to be.  Even without a successful garden, a friend was church taught me how to can and I’ve canned peaches, apples, apple butter, loose meat hamburger, meatloaf, chicken, chicken soup, ham, bacon, navy beans and beans with bacon.  I’ve also had fun “vacuum canning” dry goods like pasta, rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc.

I had hoped to invest in solar power, but we just didn’t have the money for it.  We have a Hardy brand outdoor wood burning stove to heat the house and the water.  We love it!  Since we have a double wide mobile home, we weren’t able to “plan” any of the construction details, like insulation, windows, etc., so we try our best to be frugal and conserve energy.  I’m extremely frugal anyway, so it’s kind of a challenge to see how little electricity we can use during the month.  I keep track of the actual usage – not counting the connectivity fee or tax.  The lowest we’ve used is $29 for the month.  We’ve had a couple $29 months and a $30 month.  It was harder when we had the heat wave last summer.  I think the highest was $77, so after the fee and tax it was almost $95.  That month some friends had a bill of over $300, but they have a two story stick-built home.

In past years, there have been some serious winter storms with some areas being without power for more than two weeks.  After experiencing a terrible storm several years back and being without power for a few days, we wanted to do the planning and prep work to be able to sustain power for our home during an emergency power outage.  We have two generators – a small one and a new larger one.  We had a licensed electrician come and figure the best way to avoid trouble.  Now if there’s an outage, we’ll throw a power transfer switch and plug in the generators and we should be okay.  The smaller generator will service the water pump and larger one will be for the house.  We still have to go through and identify the primary circuits we want to power during an outage.  It feels good to prepare as well as we can to avoid trouble.  We have built up a reserve of gasoline and have treated it with stabilizer to keep it good.

I believe that everyone needs to prepare as much as possible for other types of emergencies as well.  Last year we installed a storm shelter and I’ve been putting supplies in the shelter.  It’s pretty small, so I’m being selective about what to put in there.  The devastation of the Joplin tornado gives cause for reflection and inspiration to stock our shelter well.

An economic emergency is something else I think people should consider.  The state of our government is a big cause for worry for many people – including me.  It wouldn’t take much to disrupt our normal distribution system, which could mean that the grocery stores would be empty within a few days or maybe even a few hours.  I believe it is very, very important to keep that in mind.  Too many people only have enough food and other supplies for a few days or weeks.  A friend of mine told me her son and daughter-in-law in New York shop for their groceries daily.  Their apartment is so small that they don’t stock any groceries.  Apparently, that’s common in New York – yet another reason why I prefer to live in the Midwest.  In case of any kind of disaster, there would be a whole lot of hungry people in that big city!  Imagine the unethical people thinking they’d just take what they need from others.  I think everyone should be building up their supply reserve – even if it’s just a little at a time.  When you’re grocery shopping, try to prioritize so that you can buy a little extra of the basics that will store long term.  Space is an issue for many people, but what I’ve found is, the more you look around and the more you organize, the more space you can find.  It also inspires me to get rid of excess “stuff” and ours goes to a thrift store that benefits the Humane Society--one of my passions!  The more you prepare, the more peace and security you will have – regardless of what’s going on in the news.

Thinking of the evil people who were too lazy to prepare and thought they’d just take what they want reminded me of something I heard a few weeks ago.  We’ve been attending some readiness meetings put on by a discount grocery business that specializes in helping people prepare for emergencies.  A man in attendance said he has a bumper sticker on his truck that says “Don’t tread on me.”  A young guy at a gas station asked him where he got it and he told him.  The man was suggesting that he start preparing for difficult times.  That young guy said he didn’t have to prepare – that he and his ex-military buddies would just take whatever they wanted from others.  He said they could go into anyone’s place and just take what they want.  That was right here in our little (ostensible "safe") town!  One year in the 1990s our town was voted the safest city (per capita) in the nation.  Something else that some of my long-time friends probably would be shocked at, is one of the ways we chose to prepare.  Both my husband and I decided it was wisdom to get our concealed carry permits.  The world is changing – and not for the good!  I truly believe we have to be prepared for all kinds of trouble.

I don’t know your religious beliefs, but I believe that my husband and I were being led to prepare.  Our preparing isn’t like some people, with bomb shelters or the like.  That could be due to financial lack, but I like to think it’s more the path of our leading.  I felt that we were being led to “prepare for difficult times.”  I believe that God has been leading many more of His people to also "prepare for difficult times."  Part of His plan may be to have certain people strategically placed so that they can help others.  I’ve known for several years that part of my calling is to help others – this may be one of the ways.  The friend at church who taught me to pressure can foods at home also feels that she may be called upon to share her reserves with her church family.  That’s why she and I both have been packaging some of our long-term storage into smaller containers – in case we need to share a quart or two of beans and rice or whatever with our friends and neighbors.  If everyone will prepare with the thought of sharing with friends, relatives and other people in need, then those difficult times may be a little easier! 

I want to encourage people – everyone – to prepare.  A little at a time, can by can, jar by jar – week by week, and month by month. Before long you could stand back and admire your “investment” in peace and security.  If an ignorant “city girl” like me can learn how to make butter and yogurt, to can all kinds of food, to make her laundry and dish soap, to help cut firewood almost daily – and to actually enjoy it, then anyone can learn the skills necessary to start on the road to self-sufficiency!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mr Rawles,
To chime in on the "heat to electricity issue": A Stirling engine or "hot air engine"), might be what Dale from Vermont is looking for.  There are not many commercially available - one company was making them in New Zealand before the earthquake, but a quick Google search has also revealed that they moved their manufacturing to Spain. There may be others.  According to their web site they haven't yet resumed their 'off-grid' line of  engine production.

They can be quite efficient, and run off any heat differential.  For example: Hot air temperature and a cold spring, or a wood stove and cold air outdoors.  They do need the heat differential, or in other words a heat sink, to provide convection and motive power.  They are several generations/styles that have been developed over the years.  I believe they could be made to turn an alternator.  There are many 'do-it-yourself" videos on the net by people from all over the world. Hope that helps! - E.B.


In response to article Some Thoughts on Burning Coal, writer Dale from Vermont:
There are possibilities for building a 12 or 24-volt low voltage direct current system using automotive or aviation industry components and a wonderful little device known as a RhoBoiler, devised by the Rhodesians during the time of economic boycott by the world's bully nations, which drove the Rhodies to greater self-sufficiency. The RhoBoiler varied in design and construction materials [often a former 44-gallon fuel drum] but was in general a low pressure remote boiler from which hot and sometimes pressurized water was supplied.
A recent web search turns up a few descriptions and pictures. An obvious starting place might be a scrapped-out water heater boiler, but obviously, pressure release valves are critical, lest a boiler explosion result. Most of the RhoBoilers were wood burners, given the local availability of wood as a fuel source, but the concept can certainly be adapted to coal-burning and electricity generation as well.


Regards, - George S.

Dale from Vermont wrote about the idea of a coal-fired home generator. Here's a link to a $13,000 steam engine unit. The electrical output isn't specified, but based on the 3 horsepower rating of the steam engine and
assuming about 40% heat-to-electricity efficiency, it might be as much as 1,000 watts - D.B. in Oregon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Probably the biggest gap in our survival preparations at present is having a good source of energy if we have to stay underground for an extended period. If surface conditions are such that we cannot venture outside, then most likely there will be problems with our photovoltaic panels, solar water heater and hydropower, all of which are above ground. With currently available technology, propane seems to be the only reasonable solution to support heat, hot water, and electricity. Propane can be stored indefinitely and furnaces, stoves and generators that run on propane are readily available. However, storing enough propane underground to support our group for several years would be impractical. I'm also uncomfortable storing large amounts of propane for many years, since it seems inevitable that it will leak eventually, presenting a safety issue as well as a loss of the resource. Most people, including serious preppers, don't plan to rely on propane for more than a few days. For those with solar and hydro solutions that can work without pause for years, a 3-day backup system in the form of propane seems superfluous.

I keep coming back to coal. Like propane, it can be stored forever [if protected from weathering.] (Before it's mined, it's basically being stored indefinitely underground in a mine.) With existing, mature technology, coal can support all the things propane can be used for: heat, hot water and electricity. Unlike propane, there's no danger of leaking, and it's much more practical to store tons and tons of coal underground than it is to use buried propane tanks. There's only one problem: unlike propane, electrical generators that run on coal are not readily available for individual household use. This seems strange, since coal is the number one energy source for electricity generation at the utility scale.

Are you or my fellow readers aware of any practical, reasonably efficient solutions for home electricity generation using coal as an energy source that don't require an engineering degree to implement (if I had the skills I'd just build the generator from scratch myself)? I would be willing to pay a significant amount of money for such a system.

Thanks in advance, and best wishes. - Dale from Vermont

[JWR Replies: When ever wood heat or coal heat are mentioned in the blog, invariably someone will then Thermoelectric generation (TEG) technology . Unfortunately that technology hasn't matured sufficiently to be reliable. Sadly, TEG circuits burn out with alarming regularity. So steam power--at least for now--seems to be the only reliable way to turn heat into electricity. Perhaps some readers would care to chime in with some alternatives.]

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

We now have indoor plumbing and a Wal-Mart, along with the millions of acres of wooded wonderland. Some of our forests are so dense and vast that even the DNR officers have become lost. We are alive with moose, wolf, cougar and black bear, to name a few. My husband and I are in our mid 50s and bought our 40 acres of forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 20 years ago. Can you believe it; we paid only $13,000 for our woods and small cabin? Back then, no one in his or her right mind wanted to live in this harsh, almost Siberian-like wilderness, especially in the winter. It was a time when the only good paying jobs were in logging and mining and we still had a four party telephone system. Many places did not even have electricity. It is crazy how much things have changed in a few short years.

Back when we were settling into our new forest environment, we quickly discovered that the old-fashioned back yard garden becomes a lesson in futility until one learns that Mother Nature owns your butt. You do not do anything in this neighborhood, without her permission. Mesmerized by the warming of your world in early spring and the arrival of the first fawn, the chances are good that you have forgotten who is running the show. By mid spring, dear Mother will send a massive cloud of no see ems to eat out your eyeballs. By late summer, her army of Deer flies and Mosquitoes arrive to finish the job of reminding you that her justice is real.

At the beginning of winter, which can come anytime after the second week in September, Mother Nature unleashes her heavy cloud formations and delivers them in off Lake Superior. By mid-December, cranky, old man winter gets his gears moving and orders his cold winds to storm down from the Canadian arctic. The old guy mixes it up with Mother Nature and together they can dump an average snowfall for the season of 100 to 300 inches depending how close to the pristine, moody, Lake Superior you are. The Upper Peninsula is rich in soil minerals, however most soil for growing crops is horrible. A soil PH of 7 is a great find and is much treasured.

My reason for setting the stage is that one of the biggest obstacles of living up here will be fresh food. Having the ability to hunt and loads of dehydrated food is great but we need live, fresh food too. Therefore, the question is; how do you grow food in such an inhospitable climate and rotten soil? There is very little farming in the upper peninsula, and only one or two families make a living from strawberry u-pick farms, a couple of blueberry farms and a select few potato growers, that is it. Notice the crops mentioned like an acidic soil?

Our mission has been to grow a years worth of food without spending a shipload of money. Our ideal system would be a sturdy greenhouse and a low or no cost heating unit. Solar is almost useless during the time that we would need it the most, so we crossed it off our list. In the beginning of our homestead, we built a makeshift greenhouse out of windows the neighbors had donated to get them out of their garage. It was fun to build and use. Glass is wonderful for use as a greenhouse but the wooden frames eventually rot due to moisture and mildew. It served us well for almost 8 years but the needed repairs exceeded our budget, thanks to a lot of wind and a falling tree branch.

With paper and pencil in hand, we figured out the size of the new greenhouse we would need and the amount of cash we could afford to spend. We wanted to be able to extend the season by two months in both directions since our growing season barely makes 90 days some years. (Some of the old timers say that they have seen it snow at least once, in every month of the year.) It is also not out of the realm of possibilities for the temperature to fall to -40 or -50 on a clear night, although normally it only gets 20 below. There is just no growing anything from November to February here either, even if you had megabucks to spend on heating a greenhouse or had a good south-facing window. There just is not enough sunlight to do the job without very expensive artificial lighting. People living in Maine for example, do not seem to have the problem we do with dark cloud cover for those 3 months of the year. During December and January, it is totally, 100% dark at 4:30 P.M. (central), in the afternoon, another reason we won’t even try to grow in that part of the winter.

We began saving some our limited dollars and eventually were able to purchase a corrugated polycarbonate greenhouse, 16ft. X 20ft. (It is smaller than what we had hoped for, but money being hard to come by we settled on what we could afford.) I want to kiss the person who invented this type greenhouse. I was in love! It was delivered the second week of March during a blinding snowstorm. Needles to say, we did not get it up until June and much bad language from hubby. For the first couple of years we were unable to use it from late October to late April. We could only extend the season a couple of months in the spring and a few weeks in the fall, we wanted more. It needed heat to take advantage of what this beautiful polycarbonate building had to offer. After a winter’s worth of research, we came up with a plan. Using ideas and experience from several authors, we put something together that is relatively inexpensive to get started but holds up well and works fabulously. Most of it is made from scrap or junkyard salvage. For the very first time, I grew beautiful sweet potatoes. (These critters are delicious but space intensive. I just wanted to see if I could do it.) Here is what we did.

Before we put up the polycarbonate greenhouse, we had 3 yards of gravel brought in and dumped. At the time, we were only interested in making a level spot for the greenhouse. The spot we had chosen had a great south facing view but had a sizable slope to it. The hill had too much of a slope to put up a greenhouse without added material. The dump truck left a mountain of gravel right where we wanted it. We hauled and leveled the huge pile by hand which took about three full days. The instant the area was leveled and smooth, we unboxed the greenhouse parts and got things sized, measured and eventually, up.

When the time came to put in some sort of heating, we decided on a modified version that we found in a book called “Solviva”, by Anna Edey. Anna had a grant to build her experimental greenhouse, so she was able to have solar panels and all the gizmos and gadgets that go with solar as a back up heat. Too expensive for us, but what she covered in the book that we used was the example for a wood fired device she had in the center of her massive greenhouse. We used her idea and modified it to fit our greenhouse.

Parts list;
55-gallon metal barrel cut in half, long ways.
An old metal bed frame, taken apart.
Angle iron, one eight footer should be enough.
Steel plate 26” x 40” 1/8 inch thick. Thicker would work but this is what we had on hand.
4” chimney pipe, purchased~ not very expensive.
Two small hinges, taken from a barn door.
Woodstove gasket
First, we found an old 55-gallon barrel and cut it in half-long way. Make sure the barrel did not have toxic material in it. Next we hand dug a hole in the back center of the greenhouse, deep enough to fit the half barrel. I think the hole was about 20 inches deep, 45 inches long and 30 inches wide. You will need room to lower the half barrel into the hole and backfill around it.

Next, we found an old metal bed frame and dismantled it. We kept only the sidepieces, the two pieces that hold the mattress. Hubby then cut two lengths to fit either side of the half barrel, since the sides will be weight bearing. Next, he found some sturdy angle iron and cut four of them slightly longer than the width of the barrel; these will sit on the bed frame sidepieces. Fill in any gaps with wood stove gasket. (The first year we had this up and running, we put the barrel level with the gravel as that is what Anna did in the book. She also used longer angle iron across the barrel and sunk them into the backfill before laying down the sheet metal. Her model was much bigger due to the size of the space she was heating.) Next, hubby cut a sheet of steel plate ½ inch longer and wider than the half barrel. Looking at the steel plate long ways measure in 14 inches and make a cut on that line. On this, you will put two small hinges before placing it on the top of the barrel. The hinged flap becomes the door where you load the wood into your new in floor wood stove. Our design worked great for the first year but the second year we had such heavy snowfall that when the snow melted it filled the greenhouse with water. We have found that if our half barrel sticks up from the gravel about two inches or so, the spring melt will not leak into the barrel and put out the fire.

The first in-floor woodstove we made: Hubby cut a 4-inch hole in the end of the half barrel, and this was where the original chimney connected. It worked fine for the first few years but the connecting elbow filled with creosote, which clogged the pipe. We had to dig up the pipe from the backfill to clean it. Since then we made a new stove and put the chimney on top through the steel plate. It is much nicer but limits the space on top of the unit. The chimney should extend 2 feet above the surface of the greenhouse roof. It is better for draft and heat and smoke will not damage the plastic roof material. The re-enforced steel plate is used because once your in floor woodstove is finished and ready to fire up, you will want a waterproof container sitting on the steel plate. Once your bucket or barrel is filled with water and is heated, it acts like a pan of water on the kitchen stove. The heat and moisture add comfort back into the room. In addition, what we have found is that the gravel around the woodstove stays warm for a long time even when there is no fire in the stove. This area makes a nice place to put seed starting flats. The bottom heat is perfect for little sprouts to come alive. Even when it is minus 4 degrees outside and I will have little pale green life making their first debut against the rich black soil.

Here we are, the second week in December and we have just finished the last of the salad fixin‘s. We served a robust tossed salad for our Thanksgiving meal of Butterhead lettuce, green and red spinach, Tah Tsai (spinach mustard), Pac Choi and Kale. Once the last of the salad greens are harvested, it is time to clean the greenhouse and put her to bed for the winter. About the second week in February, I start the seed flats with new potting material and lovingly place the seed into their new home. Depending on weather conditions, how cold nighttime temperatures, I may let my seed flats stay inside the cabin for a week longer. Hubby cuts an extra cord of firewood in the fall just for the greenhouse. I do not want to use it all right away, so I may wait to fire up the greenhouse. In addition, I have better control of germinating temperatures when the seedlings are in our cabin at super cold night temperatures. About the end of March, I can use the greenhouse floor for germinating.

Another maneuver I used before the woodstove was installed, that turned out well, is making a greenhouse inside the greenhouse. I made a small wooden frame about 24 inches tall X 48 inches long X 48 inches wide and covered it with plastic. Place this mini greenhouse over the growing seedlings. Cover with a blanket at night to keep the daytime soil heat from escaping. It is surprising how efficient it is. If you do not mind using a little electricity, you can place a small electric heater in there too. I have started spinach and mustard greens and kale in September, placed them under the mini greenhouse in the greenhouse raised bed and had them spring to life when there was enough sunlight to make them happy. They were in a kind of holding pattern during the dark months.

Money is an issue

No money for a fancy greenhouse? Not a problem. For the price of a few feet of 6-mil white/clear plastic, you can have a nice greenhouse and can still use the woodstove idea. We experimented this year with an almost no cost way to extent the growing season.
We had some scrap 2 x 2s which we used to erect a frame. We also had on hand, scrap fencing material, some galvanized cattle fence and some chicken wire fencing. Whatever the material you use, it needs to be bendable. After we were satisfied with the frame construction, we mounted the fence over the framework and stapled to the 2 x 2s. Next came the plastic sheeting, which was also stapled onto the 2 x 2s. Because it can get quite windy in the fall and winter, I used regular clothesline rope to tie it down. We drove 6 stakes into the ground, three on either side of our new greenhouse. Next, I took the rope and went back and forth over the plastic knotting the rope around each stake as we went until all the rope was used, leaving enough to tie the end to a stake.
We have not yet, put a woodstove in this plastic covered greenhouse, but there is certainly no reason why you couldn’t. I would recommend, however, that you use a section of plywood to mount the chimney through the roof. The heat coming off the chimney can wreck havoc with plastic. Our plastic covered greenhouse sits in the garden where we previously made a raised bed. For this winter, I placed over wintering perennials in it. It held up very well through all the nasty windstorms we have had this fall. I was very happy with this setup.

You can see pictures of the in floor woodstove and the wire and plastic covered greenhouse here.

Some key reference books from our library:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I am writing this because I have talked to so many people who believe that there is little they can do to prepare because they have no job.  There is a difference between having a job and working and although I have not had a real job now for over three years, I continue to work six days a week.  I had already been unemployed for almost a year by the time I started reading your books.  Having moved to this small city for a job in finance, I paid cash for an old mobile home in a trailer park rather than rent an apartment.  When I found myself out of work a few years later, I owned the mobile home and my aging sports car free and clear.  I also had a little money in a retirement account and what I had saved from the difference between trailer lot rent and an apartment.

Disadvantages to Riding Out TEOTWAWKI in a Trailer Park:

  • No privacy – Several other mobile homes can see everything you bring into the trailer
  • More crime – One night I came home to find police officers looking for drugs someone had thrown in my yard while being chased.
  • Nowhere to hide – 2” thick walls and no basement or even a block crawlspace
  • Nowhere to run – Mobile homes lots are small and there are only more trailers in every direction.
  • Public water – Even if mobile homes had gutters, hundred of other people would see the rain barrels.
  • No storage  – I had a shed, but no such thing as a cool, dry, place.
  • Rented lots – Most leases state the mobile home is security for the rental payments.  It’s like having a mortgage that never pays off.

Within every problem lies the seed of opportunity.   Looking for work takes less time than working 60 hours a week.  I qualified for the unemployment which was more than my modest living expenses.  Leaving my employer meant I could move or withdrawal my retirement.  Knowing the withdrawal of my retirement would incur a 20% withholding for taxes and penalties, I opted instead to borrow out some and roll some of it over into a self-directed IRA capable of owning real estate.  This gave me the added benefit of asset protection as retirement plans are generally exempt from bankruptcy or attachment by creditors.  Most people decide where they want to live and then look for properties in that area.  I decided to look for good deals and then evaluate their appropriateness. 

Finding Good Deals in Any Market

  • Never deal with just one agent – Search the MLS web site every morning and contact listing agents directly.  I found this by visiting several local realtor pages until I found one of them had embedded it in their site.  Good deals go too fast to involve a whole other firm.
  • Watch the auction sites – More rural foreclosures are showing up as the economy worsens
  • Tax Sales – Most of these are unimproved, abandoned lots or land.  Make sure you are in a state where you actually get the deed and do not have to wait out the redemption period.
  • Ask around – Maybe another prepper will sell you some of their land.  It takes several people to defend a position.

(These tips come from the YouTube video)

It did not take long to hit pay dirt.  One morning the MLS spit out a few acres about an hour from my home.  It was about half the price I had seen for comparable properties so I followed the directions on the MLS page.  It was on a former logging road off a road that dead ends into a hollow near a national forest.  This forms a natural cul de sac where vehicle access to the community can be controlled at one bridge.  I immediately called the listing agent, met with her and the seller and made an offer on behalf of my IRA for full asking price.  The seller had been forced to sell the property as part of a divorce settlement so he listed it with his sister not caring what it brought.  She had listed it for the minimum price her broker allowed and I was the first person to whom she had shown it.  To her credit, she had a list of interested parties by the time she met with me.

I borrowed enough from my retirement account to buy a monster box of silver when it was $16.16 per ounce from what was left in my retirement account after transferring the funds for the real estate purchase.  During the same period that the stock market recovered about 10%, my investment in silver has about doubled.  I have to repay around $100 a month to my own retirement account, but the only consequences of defaulting on this loan would be that the balance would be taxable as income in the year of default.

While the seller was showing me the property lines, he made a comment about the disagreeable hermit that has the only other residence on this gated former logging road.  Instead of confronting him about a key to the gate, I left a letter in his mailbox introducing myself and inviting him to lunch.  After lamenting that he would have bought the property for privacy (I can't even see his property line), we became great friends and he willingly handed me the key.  He has been a great resource and informed me that we do not post our properties with no trespassing signs.  Later this may change, but for now I can traverse hundreds of my neighbors acres without worrying about breaking the law.  This being different from the laws in my home state, I confirmed it with the largest land owner adjacent to my retreat.  He is an elderly cattle rancher who works and lives on the other side of the mountain.  One day as I was loading up my truck I heard someone yell 'Hello' which is really rare.  I peered through the trees to find an old man sitting on a stump.  I walked up the gravel road to meet my neighbor.  He had been riding his fence lines on a four-wheeler when it broke down.  I went and got my truck and ferried him back to his side of the mountain.  During the ride I made sure I can use his land. 

It took longer to sell my mobile home than I expected.  I finally got an offer the following winter contingent upon waiting for the buyers tax refund to arrive so he could pay me.  Since I needed the funds from the mobile home to finance building materials, I redeemed the time by meticulously searching Craigslist for things I need.  Here is a partial list of acquisitions:

  • 1980s diesel 4 x 4 pickup (I gave my friend a great deal on my sports car to pay for this.)
  • Wood/coal stove
  • Windows and doors for the cabin
  • A couple CB radios and a CB base station
  • Rabbit hutches (free for hauling away)
  • 2 one year supplies of Emergency Essentials survival food packed in 2008 from a guy who was moving to Mexico
  • Food grade water barrels (not the soda pop ones as sugar feeds bacteria)
  • Steel 55 gallon barrels with clamp on lids

Because I believed that food inflation would soon come, I also purchased a thousand pounds of various grains during this time which I packed with oxygen absorbers in Mylar lined buckets using dry ice as per the instructions in JWR's book, How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It.  When others were hitting the Black Friday sales for flat screen televisions, I was picking up solar power kits nearly half off.

The pickup truck was one of my first purchases because without it I would not have been able to pick up many of the things I found.  The mountain retreat is so remote that even in the summer I have to shift into 4WD.  Winter snows require tire chains.  By the time I closed on the sale of my trailer, the rear of the retreat property looked like a junkyard with little piles of material covered with camouflage pattern tarps.  Since the cabin site cannot be seen from even the gated former logging road and I built no driveway, everything was perfectly safe.

The thought of moving out of my mobile home and into a tent in the middle of winter was not very attractive.  Just because I can build a debris shelter does not mean I want to spend the winter in one.  Fortunately, I knew a single mother whose maternity leave was running out.  She did not want to put her child in a daycare so we made a deal whereby I stay with the baby during the day in exchange for room and board.  I continue to collect parts and inventory which I store in a rented storage unit a few miles from my retreat property.  During this time someone I knew from high school was arrested on felony charges.  Since he would soon be unable to own firearms, I picked up his entire gun collection complete with ammunition at a very good price.  When winter turned to spring, I was ready to start building on weekends.  The basic structure of the cabin is complete and soon comforts like the solar electric system and hot shower will be finished and I will be able to move on to the outbuildings.  I already found a multi-unit rabbit hutch free for the hauling and I am waiting on a chicken coop to not sell before another party accepts my offer to do the same for them.  Everything I build is mobile so as not to be improvements to the property itself which would violate the terms of my IRA.  Once I move there and start using the retreat, the funds I spent on the land will be considered a distribution from my IRA.  As this will only happen if I do not find another job, the penalties and interest should be offset by my standard deduction and exemption as I will have no other income in the distribution year.  

I continue to look for work in my field, and despite having several interviews I still have no offers.  The last interviewer told me that about a hundred people had applied for the one position.  Hopefully my experiences will help those in similar situations realize that as long as we practice thrift no matter our circumstances, we can turn obstacles into opportunities.  Complaining about setbacks do nothing but waste time better spent progressing toward the goal.  Steady plodding brings success.   

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanks for the blog. I have been been one of those avid readers that does not provide very much input, but I have some useful "how-to" information on heating your house in the temperate climate.  I live in Iowa at the current time.   A lot of this is hard to even put into words, because this style of heating is unique, and even more unique as I built the heaters my self.  I recommend anyone trying to do these, to do additional homework before attempting any of this.  I also studied “The Book of Masonry Stoves: Rediscovering an Old Way of Warming" by David Lyle, and “Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction ” by Thomas J. Elpel.  What I built was the “Missouri Masonry” stove which was and is a free booklet PDF from the Missouri DNR web site called the “Missouri Masonry pdf”. After I called Roger at the DNR, he said the booklet was made almost 20 years ago and he was not to worried what I did with my information I got from them.  At the time they had worked with the Missouri Department of natural resources and the US Department of energy to come up with the guide. Also I should note there is a company called Temp Cast.  If you want to buy them pre made, and some Russian Masonry heaters on You tube that are really neat.  I am a cable television technician by trade, but I took on all the brick laying skills myself, and by all means I'm no expert.  Any mistakes that I made were entirely mine, and yet the bread oven masonry stove that I built has been working  for years.   

Why would you want a masonry heater versus a wood stove or ordinary furnace?  I think the ultimate advantage I enjoy is that I don’t have to wake up at 2 a.m. to feed the wood stove.  Also, once I have fired the stove on around four loads of wood, I have to do nothing, for around three days in my not so well insulated house.  I do believe if my house was insulated correctly, that I would last for four to five days with doing absolutely nothing.  Yes wood is a pain to chase, and dangerous to fall but it feels better and is radiant, and has been cheaper than normal sources of heat.  The Masonry heater is more efficient in the use of the wood as it burns the creosote more cleanly.  The ash tends to be more fine and whiter.  The Whole of the heater is placed in the middle of your living quarters and acts like a big battery for heating anything within range of the heater.  A lot of people are going out and installing, outdoor wood stove furnaces , which throws a lot of smoke on their neighbors, and is less efficient because the heat is wasted around the heater and up the chimney.  With my masonry’s you can’t hardly tell I’m firing because after the initial start up smoke, there is very little smoke afterwards. It even feels good to cuddle the Masonry when sick or when your hands are almost frostbitten.  Kids can touch all parts of the stove except the metal parts, and not be burned.  The heat does not really blow since the heat is radiant, you could almost open all the windows, but the warm air escapes, but heat remains. 

First I made the Missouri Masonry with a Bread Oven,  I had moved into a brick building, with a thick concrete floor.  I got my Firebrick from some old clay tile kilns nearby.  Also to my advantage was that there was some arch brick which is important for temperature gains in the initial combustion.  I used a refactory cement called flue set on the fire brick core.  On the outside layer I used Menard's cement for the base and Menard's masonry mix for the ornamental brick. I built the chimney from Menard's double layer stove pipe.  The Glass Door I bought from a wood stove dealer, a blacksmith made the adapter for the door to swing on.  The little clean out doors are all from Menard's.   I built a homemade damper into the brick right under the chimney pipe with a metal plate. 

Okay, the second Missouri masonry is without a Bread Oven but has extra Flues to grab extra heat.  This time I used new Fire Brick  and parts similar to the bread oven. The square footage for each room with a masonry heater is 486 sq feet,  I think these spaces come out about perfect for the heaters, down to 30 below ;  could place a inside temperature around 62 degrees requiring more firing to keep heat up.

I feel that a lot of people, could benefit from my videos on you tube. I do have still photos as well. Since the design is a free download I hope to encourage masonry heaters instead of most other options. I am sure I made some mistakes, but I improved each time. I now know that I would not use aggregate brick and mix for fill, instead on the second one I cut all my bricks to fill in the arch gaps to make it sturdier and more square.  Also my clean out doors did not come out perfectly flat.  I also did not care if I had the bricks clean, and shiny as I just wanted heat not good looks.  Using a Miter saw with a diamond blade to cut bricks and a rubber mallet became invaluable.    
Here is a video on my bread oven.
And here is a video on my later masonry stove project, sans the bread oven.

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

While remodeling our kitchen several years ago we purchased an antique coal/wood kitchen stove.  This stove was a replacement for a wood-only cook stove that had seen better days. With the economy crumbling and living in New Hampshire where winters can be long and harsh we thought it would be a good idea to have an alternative to our all-electric kitchen.  Power outages are relatively common here as well. Several years ago we lost our power for 8 days due to an ice storm.

We have lived in our current home for 33 years. It is a log home several miles outside of a small city of approximately 25,000 people.  For the most part we have burned wood and home heating oil for heat.  My only previous experience with coal came 35 plus years ago when we lived in town in an 80 plus year old cape with little insulation.  My father-in-law was an experienced coal-burner and set us up with a small coal stove in the cellar. 

Our original cook stove was given to us by a friend who found it in the barn of a house he had purchased.  The stove was in sad shape, but the price was right; free, just take it away.  After having it sandblasted and reassembled it sat in our kitchen for 30 years.  We only used it when the power went out or when the temperature got below zero for a couple of days.  Other than that, it was only lit on Christmas and Thanksgiving when I would cook a turkey or prime rib in the oven as a special treat. 

Our original plan during the kitchen remodeling was to get the old stove restored.  After searching on-line I contacted a father and son team in southern New England and brought the stove to them for an inspection.  It was in worse shape than we suspected, so a replacement was in order.  Replacing the stove opened up options we would have not had if we had stuck with the old stove.  I had not given coal any thought for many years.  When we walked into the stove shop they had a coal fired base heater running…it was fantastic! 

After wandering around the stove “junk yard” for several hours we settled on a coal/wood burning model from the 1920s.  This “new” stove had several options our old stove did not; a warming oven and a compartment under the oven for storing pots and pans.  It was also narrower in length than our original which helped the overall design of the new kitchen. 

We got the stove up and running during January of 2010.  There is a “learning curve” required to burning coal.  After getting the hang of it, you can light your fire in October and shut the stove down in April if you want.  I shut ours down every couple of weeks so I can clean out the fire box, ash pit, and the area around the stove so the ashes don’t build up. Ash build-up around the oven makes the heat transfer to the oven less efficient. Unlike wood that burns up rather quickly, coal will burn constantly as long as you are available to shake down the grates and restock the fire box several times a day.  I have also found that the coal burns at a more consistent temperature without the “highs and lows” you get with wood. 

The first season I purchased my coal locally through the last remaining coal dealer in the region as well as one of the local hardware stores that happened to have a supply.  I chose to buy bagged coal for convenience and ease of handling it.  Even at 61 years old I can handle the bags without much trouble.

Depending on your area coal may or may not be readily available in bulk. Bulk deliveries require a specially designed truck capable of lifting the bed and dumping the coal through a chute into a bin, usually located in the cellar.  In most areas bagged coal should be fairly easy to find.  Coal is available in several sizes.  Our stove uses “nut” coal; others may require “pea” or “stove” coal.  Some experimentation may be in order to find the optimal combination for your stove.  For me bags are easier, no coal bin, less mess and unlike cordwood, it can be stored just about anywhere.  Bags are either 40 or 50 pounds each depending on the supplier.

This year I got together with three other people and arranged for a tractor-trailer delivery of bags from Pennsylvania.  The truckload consisted of 22.5 tons of coal in bags on 18 pallets.  I borrowed a skid steer with forks from a friend to unload the truck.  You could unload it with a tractor or by hand. But I would plan on getting some younger, strong backs to help. In the end I kept 10 tons for myself.  The savings by buying in bulk was almost $170 per ton over purchasing the coal locally!  The cost per ton, delivered, was $270.  10 tons will last several years heating my house and shop which also has a coal fired boiler. 

According to a chart I picked up at the local plumbing and heating supply store coal at $270 per ton has the equivalent BTUs of oil at around $1.70 per gallon, propane at $1.10 per gallon, wood pellets at $190 per ton and [hardwood] cordwood at $200 per cord. 

I recently filled my oil tank with #2 fuel oil at $3.499 per gallon. Last week I bought propane for our gas cook top at $3.53 per gallon  Earlier this fall I bought some cordwood as well; 16” lengths were $180.00 per cord and 10” lengths (for the cook stove in the early fall and late spring) was $200.00 delivered.  Makes the coal look like a pretty good value to me considering how much easier it is to deal with.  Keep in mind, the closer you live to the source of the coal the cheaper it will be, we had about $1100.00 in transportation costs with our 22.5 ton load and it was still a “deal”.

Once I start the stove in the kitchen in the fall we do the vast majority of our cooking on and in it for the rest of the season.  In fact it’s rare for us to start the electric oven or our propane cook top in the winter.  Once you master the “art” of burning coal there is very little work involved. 

When I get up in the morning I open the damper on the smoke pipe and open the air intake under the grates.  This causes the fire to burn hotter.  While I am waiting for the fire to pick up I put my percolator and water for my oatmeal on the cook top.  After a half hour or so I toss on a shovel or two of fresh coal.  It takes a few minutes for the new coal to take off.  When it is going good I shake down the grates letting the ashes fall into the ash pan in the bottom of the stove. If we are not going to cook anything until supper time or the outside temperature is moderate I will shut the pipe damper and leave the air intake about 1/4” open.  On our stove this equates to about a 200°-250° oven, just right to keep the kitchen area warm during the day.  Every couple of days I empty the ash pan out back.  That’s it.  (Be aware that every stove is a little different; every chimney draws a little different so you need to adjust you technique to your situation.)

When I get home at 5:00 p.m. I repeat the process from the morning and normally cook supper on the cook top or in the oven as I feed/shake down the fire.  I repeat the process at bedtime.  Typically I put between 25-30 pounds of coal through the stove daily. 

Like just about everything in this life there are pluses and minuses to burning coal. Nothing is as easy as walking over to the wall and turning up the thermostat on your oil or gas fired furnace…but we’re talking about alternatives here.

Coal is not for everyone.  If you are considering an alternative to your oil/electric/gas heat, give coal a look.  In my opinion there are several distinct advantages to coal.  The BTU content of coal is superior to most other fuels per dollar spent, it is more convenient to store than wood, either in bulk or bags, it will not rot like wood (it’s already millions of years old) so you can buy years ahead and store it without fear of losing you investment.  It takes up much less space than the equivalent amount of wood or pellets.  As I get older I find it is easier to deal with a bucket or two of coal than the amount of cord wood that it takes to provide the same amount of heat.  From a safety standpoint coal does not produce creosote, so chimney fires are unlikely. Stoves designed to burn coal will also burn wood; wood stoves can not burn coal without the proper grates. 

On the negative side:  Coal is harder to obtain than wood, and unlike wood you can not mine it yourself [unless you are very fortunate to have a surface coal seam on your land].  Burning coal is dusty no matter what the hard-core proponents tell you.  You will be vacuuming and dusting more often. I have not heard of a use for the ashes other than as fill, and as a traction compound under your tires if you get stuck in snow or on ice. If anyone else has any other uses for the ashes I’d like to hear about it.

A side note that might matter in a SHTF situation is that coal burns without any visible smoke.  Looking at my chimney you can see heat “waves”, but no smoke.  Coal does have a distinct odor but in my experience wood smoke is more of a problem from an OPSEC perspective.  My closest neighbor is 1/8th mile away; I know when he has his wood stove running, I have been at his house and there is no indication that anything is burning at my location.  Being able to cook and heat in a grid-down situation without attracting attention could be a real asset.  Another advantage to coal when/if the SHTF is the ability to store large quantities out of sight.  It can be left outside, in a cellar, or even buried to be dug up years later…try that with cordwood. It also never goes bad…try that with fuel oil, kerosene or gasoline. 

If you are planning for a SHTF or a grid-down scenario I would look for an older stove that was designed/built in the late 1800s to early 1900s when coal burning was prevalent.  These stoves were state of the art at the time, burn relatively cleanly, are simple to operate, and require no electricity to run. Vintage (and new) cook stoves are available with options including warming ovens, cabinet models with storage underneath the oven,  left or right side fire boxes, fire box extenders for burning longer pieces of wood, water tanks, and water heating coils.  Many times the original users of these stoves also got their domestic hot water from them as well.  There are also coal fired stoves used for heating only, these can be used in a living area or in the cellar to provide heat throughout the living space. I am also experimenting with a small coal boiler that I have attached to my oil fired boiler for our radiant heat and domestic hot water.  I will report back as I make progress on that project as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I am 69 year old Connecticut native, grew up on 100 acre farm in Eastern Connecticut during the 40’s and 50’s. [The late October 2011 snowstorm caused a lot of damage and the lengthy power failures upset a lot of people. See: Tempers flare over six days of Connecticut power outages.] I know most of the hardest hit areas, and am also a prepper!  Like most of New England, our state was clear cut during the 1700s and 1800s.  I have seen old photos of our rolling hills with nary a tree to be seen.  As a child on our farm, I never remember a winter power outage, and I do remember big snow/ice storms!  This is because the 2nd and 3rd growth timber was small and not overhanging power lines, and the many rural subdivisions had not yet been built.  Most people lived and worked in our then wonderful cities and the local manufacturing plants. 
Over the last 30 to 40 years, due to higher taxes, many businesses have left, people have left the inner cities and been able to buy a new home in the suburbs.  We have had a huge residential building boom, and people were happy to live in mostly upscale communities with tree lined lanes.  We are paying the price!
We had many power outages in last August due to Tropical Storm Irene, and most people were not prepared with supplies, and most could afford the basics.  They did NOT learn!  We have become soft and dependent on the Government!  They complained in letters to the newspapers, and to television reporters, and even complained about the MREs given to them from the local fire departments.  My little shoreline town is a very wealthy town and even here, they complained and many were not prepared.  Even the elderly people have not prepared!
Propane stoves and companies that sell the tanks and service them are readily available in our state, and are safer and easier for our aging population to operate.  We have one in our living room with three large tanks.  Enough to take us through most of the winter.  These citizens can afford to do this, but have chosen not to.  For a few hundred dollars, they could have a little camp stove, a twig stove, a sterno stove, a charcoal grill (we have all of these) and dried and canned food.  No need to go hungry or freeze to death.  Food from the freezer can be put in large plastic totes, weight the lid down with rocks or bricks and put it outside in the shade.  We have five months of cold here, and the frozen food will stay frozen. 
I am equally frustrated that the town officials do not have town meetings to talk about how to prepare.  In fact, though my elderly sister and I want to keep a low profile, I think I will e-mail our Town Selectman and tell him that I will personally give a brief talk and provide a list of what every homeowner should have so that they are safe, warm and fed when the next outage occurs. 
I have read all of Cody Lundin’s books, your books, the Army Survival Manual and other such literature, and we had parents who were always prepared.  Perhaps I can get through to some of our citizens! - L.H. in Lyme, Connecticut

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stanley no longer sells replacement gaskets for their older thermoses, but a large industrial O-ring will suffice. Find a hardware store with a large selection of O-rings and you're good to go.

In fact you can often find old Stanleys very cheaply at thrift stores or garage sales simply because they no longer have a good seal. - DB in Oregon


Just a quick note with some info that might help. One liter liter/quart Lexan Nalgene bottles (an presumably other brands, though I haven't tried them) make great Hot Water Bottles when filled with boiling water and covered with an old boot sock.  Just make sure the lid is screwed on firmly and then tighten it just a bit more once the lid is good and hot.

The Hot Water Bottle I have the most experience with is nothing more than a 2 liter soda bottle that I filled 75-80% full of water and then squeezed all of the air out before closing the bottle.  This allows it to expand as it is heated in the microwave without rupturing.  If it gets firm when it is hot let a little more water out until there is no pressure on the bottle once it is good and hot.  Kept in an old boot sock and heated in the microwave each night (Experiment with how long it will take with your oven) it will keep you warm for more hours than most of us get to spend in bed in a couple of nights.

Many mornings we awoke with ice on the inside of the windows and our breath readily visible while being nice and warm all night with this simple combo while living in an uninsulated cabin a few years ago.  The 2 liter soda bottle was heated nightly for something like two winters or a bit more before it failed so they can be pretty durable. - S.D. in West Virginia

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I have long believed that quality hot water bottles and steel vacuum thermos bottles and are very valuable survival tools. They are a wonderful intersection of high and low tech that can serve in a number of helpful roles.


Fireless Cooking (retained-heat cooking) - I have cooked in WIDE-mouth thermoses many hundreds of times since the 1970s. There are a couple of other articles on this sight covering that fuel-saving application. I would amend the recommendation given re: Aladdin Stanley vacuum bottles, and I will cover that below. Using WIDE-mouth thermoses for “fireless cooking” is one very useful role for thermos bottles that saves fuel and allows mobility even while your food cooks. Summarized, fireless cooking in a wide-mouth thermos involves immediately transferring boiling-hot food into the thermos which is then sealed up for approx. two to three hours. It won’t burn or over cook the food. If the food temp drops over time  into double digits fahrenheit, the food will eventually begin to spoil. If cooking grain, leave a half inch space empty at the top for expansion. If it is to be carried in a pack it should be maintained upright and placed within a plastic bag which can be secured against leakage. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Because of a long-term interest in vacuum bottles I have tested the heat-retention abilities of every brand I could lay hands on. The winner consistently is the Nissan stainless steel line with their premium vacuum technology marketed as “Thermax” insulation. “Thermax” is also available in the higher-end Thermos brand products, from the formerly American-owned Thermos Co. now owned by the same Japanese conglomerate that years ago acquired the Nissan line. (Not connected with the car company). Stateside, the Nissan products are marketed as Thermos-Nissan while the lower-end lines have the “Thermos” name as a stand-alone. The Nissan line incorporates tensilized stainless steel which allows them to be lighter weight than other metal bottles on the market while also being more thermal efficient.

The venerable, heavy old Aladdin-Stanley bottles worked pretty well and were built like a tank. Now they are Stanley-PMI, made in China, and their online reviews are deplorable. I have only tested the old A - S models which performed pretty well against the Nissans, for someone who didn’t mind the extra size and weight. Search out old, used American-made models and replace the pour-through stoppers with a solid stopper that must be removed to dispense the contents (available in some hardware and outdoor stores).

JWR Adds: Look for the older Aladdin-Stanley stainless steel bottles on eBay or through Craigslist. These are available with scuffs and minor dents for the fraction of the price of the new bottles , yet they are better made!

Having hot water readily available for warm drinks or for preparing instant foods throughout the day or night, whether at home or on the move, is a comfort and convenience. It may be more than just convenience in frigid weather. In a situation where hot water requires a wood fire – or, in some cases, solar devices -- having the ability to maintain a goodly supply of hot water for immediate use over extended periods without starting a new fire - or waiting for the sun - can be a treasure. Having hot water for washing first thing in the morning, before a fire is started, can be an invaluable comfort. Having hot water to refill a hot water bottle which you’re using to stay warm on a frigid night is another comforting convenience.
In a situation where starting a wood fire is necessary to heat water, having the means to store a gallon or more of hot water, without the fire start-up and fuel use, is a no-brainer, esp. when hot water is the only reason for burning the wood. (This is a scenario where having a “rocket stove”, e.g. the Stovetec, makes a lot of sense since the fire goes right into heating the water rather than also heating up several hundreds pounds of a woodstove’s steel and firebrick, something you especially don’t want to do in warm weather.) Working with a finite supply of any fuel, it makes good fuel sense to heat some extra water to put into a thermos rather than restarting a stove later on.

I have not found glass-insert thermoses that will perform anywhere near the efficiency at which high-quality steel units will function. Don’t throw the glass ones out if you have them, but be aware that there is a large performance jump with Nissan or the old Stanley steel units. Glass thermoses are, of course, considerably more fragile, too.

Two-quart thermoses will maintain higher temps for longer periods than one quart units so, for a family, a couple of these might be a wise choice. One ‘two-quarter’ is also a cheaper investment than two one-quart units. If it’s going to be carried in a pack though, choose what will make sense for you or your group.

The Thermos-Nissan one liter “Compact Bottle” thermos (FBB1000), besides being more efficient than the Stanleys (new or old), is also lighter weight and smaller. The Nissan WIDE-MOUTH “Food/Beverage Bottle” (FDH1405) is a 48 oz (1.5 qt.) unit as opposed to the Stanley’s one qt. which does not have a very thick stopper – the critical design element for maintaining heat long term in a thermos.

Efficiency of the any thermos can be increased by wrapping it with closed-cell sleeping-pad foam or other good insulating material. Concentrate extra insulation around the cap as this is where most heat is lost from a thermos.

DIY expedient thermoses
can be made using a sturdy glass bottle thoroughly wrapped with closed-cell foam, Thinsulate, packaging foam, or various other insulators. An inner layer of heavy duty aluminum foil, shiny side in, will add the insulation factor of a radiant barrier which  reflects heat back to its source. A radiant barrier needs a little air space between it and the hot object to work properly. A couple layers of onion bags (or similar open, lattice material) inside the foil layer should adequately meet this airspace requirement. Do not allow the foil any direct exposure to the surrounding air as this creates a point of conduction-convection heat escape. Over the foil is placed your standard insulation. All-weather duct tape should keep it all nicely intact. Preheat for a couple minutes with hot water, dump that out and fill with freshly hot water. If they are well-insulated these improvised thermoses may actually outperform some so-called thermoses currently on the market.


Good quality hot water bottles (HWBs) can help with much more than pains, upset stomachs, and flu chills. They might even save a life in frigid situations. I would recommend two minimum per person, especially in cold climates.

One brand I’ve found to be particularly versatile is Fashy out of Germany. They make a tough thermoplastic hot water bottle that can resist repeated sanitizing in hospital sterilizers.
I’ve lived in cold houses where in winter I have sometimes gone to bed with two HWBs on nights some of which probably qualified as ‘Three-Bag Nights’ for those who remember the reason for having three dogs around you on such cold nights. With a good HWB (should have a very trustworthy stopper or be put inside a sturdy zip-lock bag) you can place near-boiling water in it and wrap it with terry towels to protect your skin and retard the bag’s heat emission so that it will provide heat for you throughout the night. Holding one HWB between the thighs may work as a good placement because most of the heat is transferred to the body. Against the spine and kidneys, backed up with a pillow, may work for side-sleepers. Experiment to find what works for you. If you haven’t tried a HWB (or two) on a cold night, you’re in for a real treat. Not quite as lovable as a couple of big, friendly dogs, but they’re a lot easier on the budget.

Diverging slightly here, in Chinese and Japanese medicine it has been known for centuries that maintaining the warmth of the kidney area of the back helps to maintain strength, alertness, resistance, and efficiency in the cold. Hara belts, scarves wrapped around the trunk to cover the kidneys, have been a common clothing accessory in these countries for centuries and are something for westerners to consider seriously (a German company called Medima, has nice, elasticized ones that are fashioned into a step-into garment). Our military has found the same benefits but adds the whole spinal column into the equation. There is clothing marketed now that is insulated with this awareness in mind and even has small behind-the-kidney pockets into which hand warmers can be inserted.

Strapping a HWB over the kidneys with a scarf inside a shirt may be a trick to consider in cold weather when a lot of movement is not anticipated. Putting the HWB inside the front of one’s shirt so it is bottom-supported above the belt may work with greater levels of activity. Experiment. Keep the stopper up (maybe padded, too) and remember the Ziploc bag if uncertain about the stopper’s integrity.

A back-up thermos of hot water can dovetail with this stay-warm trick to refill your HWB when it cools down to the point of not providing warmth. As with use in your sleeping bag or bed, near boiling water can be used providing the bottle is wrapped with a towel or other  insulation which protects the skin and slows down the bag’s release of heat.
I look forward to hearing what tricks others have found for using these valuable tools for everyday use and survival applications.

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!

Friday, September 16, 2011

My wife and I have been hard at work obtaining supplies, developing practical skills, knitting key relationships, and generally preparing for societal disruption for about four years now. Our journey into this endeavor began after some research into the nature of the U.S. dollar (or more appropriately, Federal Reserve Notes) woke us up to the fragility of our world systems.  For this and other reasons, we have taken the message of Proverbs 22:3 to heart: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.”

Achieving a level of satisfactory preparedness for what life may have in store has been no easy task in Northern Arizona, where we have little water, poor soil, and high property prices. However, we have made great strides toward system independence in large part by consistently finding uncommon uses for commonly available goods.  One often-overlooked item has become almost indispensable to our day-to-day activity, and would surely make even more impact to our well-being in an extended grid-down or TEOTWAWKI type scenario.  I write about it because I see it get very little mention in survival-type forums, and I think others may find it helpful as well.

I’m talking about newspaper.  Newspaper has myriad useful properties of interest to a prepper or homesteader.  Newspaper is many things, including: absorbent, insulative, filling, soft, flammable, easily reducible, compact, lightweight, non-toxic, and perhaps best of all, cheap and highly available.  Let me highlight a few of these properties and show some practical applications of each.

Cheap and Highly Available
Although newspaper publishers have fallen on hard times with more Americans getting their information from television and the Internet, it is not at all hard to come by paper supply. I live in a small town of about 30,000 people and our local Lion’s Club drop-off bins are always jam packed.  While I do not suggest raiding charity bins for your stash, here are a few things that have worked for me:

  • Ask around.  I get all the papers I can use for free.  At one point I simply asked my co-workers for their back issues when they finished reading them and they gladly obliged.  To them it was clutter and something to tote to the curb each Tuesday.  Just ask the paper subscribers in your life for their supply and prepare for a constant stream of material.
  • The trash.  Certain places that sell breakfast often have tables of early morning readers processing their daily dose of information over a cup of coffee.  I’m not personally above gathering them off the tables as patrons leave or picking up a pile left on top of the  garbage sorter at a fast food joint.
  • Curbside recycling bins and drop-off location dumpsters. These are jammed with paper.  While some cities frown on people taking anything out of their containers (they are, after all, a source of profit), it might be worth a call to get permission.  At the least, checking out either will let you know which neighbors to hit up the night before garbage day.
  • Newspaper facilities. If you have one in your area, publishers will willingly sell you the unused portions of their rolls, typically for pocket change.  At my local press a leftover roll will run about two to three bucks.  The upside to this is they are completely free of ink and have been stored indoors.  Teachers will often utilize this for cheap, clean craft project paper for the kids.
  •  Recyclers. If you have a recycling facility nearby, newspaper can be had for mere pennies per pound.  Last I checked, the going rate was $.03 per pound/$6.00 per ton.  You’ll have to pay them a little more than they bought it for, but not by much.


            This is what first got me to asking for old newspapers in the first place. Newspaper, at its core, is very dry wood material in thin form.  It burns fast with when “fluffed” or crumpled to allow air movement, and slower if more compressed.  Here is how I’ve used it in the past:

  • Fire starter.  A few pages of newspaper crumpled into loose balls, topped with kindling, topped with a split dry log is usually all it takes to get a roaring fire built in my indoor fireplace or outdoor fire pit. 
  • Charcoal grilling.  Two balls of newspaper at the base of a charcoal chimney starter, whether the store bought types such as the Weber version, or a homemade one made out of an old can works much better than lighter fluid.  Not only will it light all your coals easier, it’s cleaner and unlikely to blow up in your face.
  • Cooking.  My grandparents used to have a grill that utilized only newspaper to cook on. Quite a while back I even saw these advertised on late night TV. These cookers worked like a charcoal grill, but somehow made use of newspaper balls as the heat source instead.  How it made crumpled paper burn long enough to make raw burger and steak into a family meal is beyond me, but it always worked like a charm on Grandpa’s back patio with very little muss and fuss.  These are somewhat hard to find, but I remember it working well and would certainly pick one up if I happened across one at a yard sale. 
  • Log alternative.  Not only does newspaper make for good fire starter, in a more compacted form it can produce a fair amount of longer-term heat.  In a pinch a section of newspaper rolled into a cylinder and bound with masking tape will burn much like a log.  You will have trouble lighting it outright, but when thrown into an already established fire or placed over a bed of newspaper balls and tinder it can replace firewood to some degree.


Newspaper is made of wood pulp, which can also be said of paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissue.  As such, in a pinch it can be used as a cheap replacement for these functions, though the ink has a tendency to smear a bit.  One extra benefit to newspaper’s absorbency is that once used you can dry it out for other purposes, such as fire starter or composting. Some other ways I’ve used newspaper over the years:

  • Gardening.  Here in the southwest our soil runs two varieties: hard-packed or dusty fill.  Very few raise crops successfully without full-on soil management efforts.  Newspaper has been key in improving my food production efforts considerably. For one, it serves well as the carbon or “brown matter” base necessary to speed the decomposition of the nitrogen or “green matter” materials in my compost bin.  Worms love to bed in the stuff, increasing my compost breakdown all the more.  Best of all, it serves as a better moisture trap than almost any other common garden materials I have run across, and is certainly the cheapest.  When judiciously added to compost or directly to the soil it decreases my need to water as frequently and allows for better root growth.  That said, one cannot just add bales of paper to compost or soil, or it will suffocate microorganisms and plants.  It took me a while to happen on the best method for breaking it down to manageable bits, but I now use the “bucket method” (described below) extensively. This little bit of effort provides me plenty of loose, carbon-rich, absorbent, and mixable material to work with when planting crops.  I am currently experimenting with its use in applications which require potting soil.
  • Animal bedding.  Confined animals make messes in the same places they eat and sleep.  If these messes aren’t taken care of it makes for an unsanitary situation.  If one is raising animals for food purposes, this can lead to an increased likelihood of food-borne illnesses.  Newspaper is a cheap way to provide your animals soft bedding that can absorb their “downloads” and be thrown out/re-purposed before it becomes a problem.
  • Rags.  Doing laundry would be much more of a hassle during disruptions to modern lifestyles.  As such, it may not be in one’s best interest to use cloth rags or towels for common cleanups.  At the least newspaper can alleviate the burden by taking the initial brunt of the mess.  When I clean my guns I usually do so on a good layer of newspaper to absorb cleaners and grease while simultaneously preventing scratches from my bench.  When my kids or I dirty our hands, I will wipe the bulk of it off with a newspaper before coming in the house to wash up.  Newspapers are amazing window cleaners, and are a constant companion when I’m trying to keep the area clean when working on vehicles and machinery.  In the ongoing debate between the supremacy of disposable or cloth diapers in TEOTWAWKI in SurvivalBlog, it has been noted that one can extend the life of either type of diaper by padding it with newspaper. 
  • Deodorizer.  Not only does newspaper absorb liquids, it does a fairly competent job of absorbing odor.  This is one of the reasons old time butchers would wrap up fish with it.  Balled up paper will alleviate musty areas or the after-effects of a spill in a refrigerator drawer.  This function is also a side benefit to using it in animal cages. 


If you go to a hardware store that sells blown-in or “loose fill” insulation, you basically have two options: fiberglass or cellulose.  The cellulose type is typically composed of 75-85% recycled newsprint.  Some frown on cellulose as an insulator because of two of its other main properties, namely flammability and absorbency (ask anyone who has had a roof leak into an attic with cellulose fill). However, if accounted for, your old newsprint can serve you quite well as an insulator.  Some common usages, outside of raising a building’s r-factor:

  • Plant protection.  My wife and I, and many other gardeners over the decades, have saved several of our food plants from late frost by simply covering them with a good layer of newspaper.  For added effectiveness, we will sometimes then cover this layer with a plastic sheet to prevent moisture from getting through.  When the threat is over, simply remove it all and let your plants get some fresh air.   
  • Airflow barrier.  In the winter when I am no longer making use of our evaporative cooler I will place a layer of newspaper behind the grates to avoid the cold air blowing through.  Rolled up paper placed at the base of doorways reduces drafts from outside.  You get the idea.  I caution you to only use newspaper where moisture intrusions won’t happen or can easily be detected and cleaned up, lest you harbor mold.
  • Avoiding heat damage.  Newspapers are great to have around when one needs to handle slightly hot items (obviously, given its combustibility you don’t want it around things that are flaming hot).  If my wife and I are canning or cooking multiple dishes, we save our countertops by laying down a layer of newspaper to act as big oven pads.  When I’m zeroing in a gun in the wilderness, I will lay newspaper on my car to avoid paint damage before putting the gun down (rolled up, it also makes a decent bench rest in a pinch).  Newspaper spread over metal, such as siding or pipes will help it to avoid getting too hot on a summers day.  If wrapped around a skillet handle or building material it will allow you handle what you’re working with.
  • Food storage. In the days when my grandfather ran a grocery store, ice came packed in an insulative layer of sawdust, which allowed it to be shipped long distances, even through Arizona, without too much loss of product.  Since newspaper is essentially composed of refined sawdust one can utilize this same effect by wrapping cold/frozen items in newspaper, or conversely, hot items.  Not only will this allow you to transport the item and keep it at its preferred temperature longer, it will protect more fragile items such as jars.  When my wife and I travel any distance, we will often wrap our food packages, place it in a cooler, and surround it all with ice bags. 
  • Human bedding.  Go to any major city and in all likelihood a good portion of its homeless population lays on or under newspaper.  Certainly the more sophisticated of us can make use of it, too, for the same purposes.  Newspaper can be shredded and stuffed into sleeping bags and mattresses for an extra layer of warmth. 
  • Sound barrier.  Newsprint is, relative to more common forms of insulation such as fiberglass, much denser.  As such, contractors recommend it to those looking to muffle sound in homes.  If one seeks to lower one’s noise footprint for operational security (OPSEC) purposes, newspaper can be shoved into spaces between windows or sliding doors, crevices through which sound can travel, between wall beams, etc.  On structures which creak where two pieces of building material rub together,  I’ve found that placing a few layers of newspaper between the offending parties, then refastening the joint provides for a better fit and dampens the noise in one shot. 

As effective as newspaper is all by itself, here are three pointers for those intending to make use of it:

  • Newspaper and tape go hand in hand.  The handiest tape for any of its purposes is masking tape. It sticks well enough to the paper itself. Furthermore, when using newspaper there is often a need to adhere it to another surface, whether I’m using it under my kids’ paint pads or as a jar insulator, and masking tape will typically not harm such surfaces or leave residue.  It can also be left with the newspaper through its transitions to other purposes, such as fire starting or composting.  I recommend keeping a few rolls of painter’s masking tape on hand if you’re going to keep a pile of newspaper on hand.
  • Some care must be taken when storing newspaper.  Don’t store it near any source of flame or radiant heat.  Don’t expose it to liquids.  Even in safe, dry places it can become a haven for mice and insects if left in the open.  I recommend using plastic storage bins for indoor storage, and a plastic barrel with removable top works well for outdoor storage.
  • Depending on your use, you may have to break newspaper down into smaller pieces.  For the most part I can perform most tasks simply by tearing it by hand.  When I need to make it into finer strips a “guillotine” paper cutter (the type elementary schools use) works extremely well. In order to break it down into a fine pulp I use the “bucket method”:  I simply fill a standard 5 gallon bucket halfway with paper and the rest of the way with water.  Let this sit for a couple of days until the newspaper is thoroughly saturated and easily torn by hand.  Then get a power drill with mixer (mortar or paint) attachment and blend to a fine pulp.  Do this in an area and with clothes where splatter won’t matter.  You can now use the newspaper in its semi-liquid form for purposes such as gardening or spread it out to dry for purposes that require dry cellulose material, such as some insulation applications. 

Newspaper has literally hundreds of uses around the home.  I have but touched on those  of special interest to the prepper/homesteader community which I can personally attest to.  May you find newspaper to be as helpful to your preparations as it has been to mine.           

JWR Adds: Don't neglect using fire retardant (soaked or spray-on), depending on the application. For example, whenever newspaper will be used as insulation in an application where people might be sleeping or periodically absent, then flame retardant is called for.

Friday, September 9, 2011

In this day and age of being able to go to a store and get practically anything you would ever need or want, the concept of preparing for a disaster escapes some individuals.  The time of “Victory Gardens” and canning your surplus vegetables and fruits have fallen by the way side in our current culture.  Our society sees people storing vast amounts of food and supplies as paranoid because they are simply not accustomed with the practice, nor do they see the need.  Most people cannot conceive the idea that they can be left without food or water, or that they may need to leave their homes in an emergency for a prolonged time.  The need for preparations extends to living day to day so you will be prepared for any situation that may arise.  Below I will share two separate instances during my childhood where my family being prepared either saved our lives or made life a lot easier to live.

When I was a teenager, myself, my parents, and two of my three brothers lived in rural Oklahoma.  One summer we had a massive barn fire which not only destroyed the majority of our cherished belongings but also burned our well pump house to the ground.  With the well pump buried under charred wood and sheet metal we were effectively cut off from our fresh water supply.  Luckily we are an avid outdoors family and had several water containers for fresh water, and a camp toilet.  We were able to simply go to the nearest State Park to get free drinking water for whatever we needed it for.  Seeing that we were stuck waiting for the insurance company to provide a settlement to replace the well pump for several weeks, we saved quite a bit of money not having to buy water to survive.  Since the barn was so far away from our house this was not a life or death situation but being prepared definitely made life a lot easier for the time being.   

Several years later we had a massive ice storm.  Several inches of ice covered completely everything, effectively causing the power lines to break under the weight of the ice knocking out power to a large portion of the state.  The roads were so iced over that when they sent out a repair truck it promptly got stuck in our hilly region.  For approximately one week our region was out of power.  Seeing that we only had two wheel drive vehicles and no snow chains we were effectively stranded from the outside world.

Luckily my parents loved to buy things that in my adolescence I thought were simply not needed, such as a wood burning stove.  Not only did it lower our heating cost but it had a substantial cooking surface.  We also spent several summers at our grandparents’ ranch clearing trees and picking pecans to sell for extra money (being a kid I thought that those pecan trees were like a gold mine).  We either hauled the trees to saw mills so we could use the wood to build our own furniture or we chopped them up for firewood (our wood pile would have made Paul Bunyan proud).

Furthermore since I was a child we always kept some form of livestock (mainly pigs or cattle) which we raised and butchered.  I learned how to care for the livestock and was responsible for their feeding and upkeep (as well as their far too often escapes from their pastures or pens).  We also always kept a large garden.  Being a teenager you can imagine how much a teenager loved to spend his afternoon picking vegetables, followed by a green bean snapping session.  The majority of teenage summertime bliss was spent pulling weeds, tilling, watering, and fertilizing the garden.  More than half of these vegetables were then canned and put away for whenever we needed them.  Over the years we accumulated quite a bit of surplus canned items and frozen beef and pork.  I also learned the extremely valuable art of canning.

During that ice storm we were able to put that woodstove to work and not only survived on our stored food, but we thrived.  Due to not having electricity we turned our wood box into our new freezer, keeping all of our frozen food frozen.  Turns out that all of those summers chopping wood and keeping up the garden paid off and being prepared saved us.  Also we saw the writing on the walls for the electricity going out and used our water containers to store more than enough water before the power went out.  The living room where the woodstove was located became everyone’s bedroom.  Since we were prepared, even though at the time we didn’t really see ourselves as “preppers”, it wasn’t a horrible experience.  Cooking on the woodstove and spending a lot of time reading and listening to my parents stories of their life experiences and the experiences of my grandparents living through the dust bowl, it was actually kind of fun, living like our ancestors without electricity for a week. 
In those real life experiences I learned very valuable lessons, which are always be prepared for whatever may come your way and learn everything you can to prepare yourself.  Luckily I always listened and learned from my parents. 

No one knows what will happen or when, take for example of the current wildfires in Texas (Summer of 2011) or the all too often hurricanes or tornados that devastate towns or entire states.  You never know when a natural or manmade disaster might displace you from your home, take out your utilities until god knows when, or strand you from the rest of the world.  Also it is possible that you might need to utilize your preparations for smaller emergencies.  In a time in which our nation’s unemployment rate seems to grow by the minute having the knowledge to grow your own food and having your previously stored home grown food can get you out of a hopefully temporary loss of wages. 

Nothing says that you have to go out and spend a small fortune on freeze dried foods or MREs.  I am sure that there are some people that say that they don’t want to prepare because of the price of the food, but canning is a good alternative.  You also don’t need a garden to can food.  Some grocery stores and a lot of farmers markets sell un-snapped green beans for a reasonable price, which cuts out the growing and picking aspect.  Although your canned food will not last as long as freeze dried food you will just have to rotate it more often meaning you will need to eat it and nothing tastes better than food you produced with your own two hands.  Keeping a garden not only reduces your grocery bill but if a disaster occurs in which the food supply is disrupted or non-existent you will already have the knowledge on growing your own food and the experience of knowing what grows best in your region.  Also using heirloom seeds you can learn to harvest seeds from your current crop to use the next year.  Another option is the use of five or six gallon buckets in conjunction with heat-sealed mylar bags and oxygen absorbers can enable you to store grains and beans for an extended amount of time (over 20 years for white rice, dried beans, and wheat).  Pinto beans may not sound great to some to eat for an extended amount of time but they are high in protein and will keep you alive in an extended time line emergency.  Keeping long term storage food in buckets also gives you the ability to be mobile if the need arises.  There may come a time in which your home may become compromised and you have to leave, or bug out to a safer location.  If you have your items in buckets they will be easier to transport to your secondary location.

Keeping drinking water grade containers around the house also helps a lot.  Most people that don’t prepare just flock to the store when a massive storm is heading their way and clean out the shelves of bottled water and canned goods.  Due to the current stocking practices at major retailers (what is on the shelves is what they have, they only order more when that particular item is bought), if you wait little or no supplies will be left.  But if you have containers handy you only have to go as far as your kitchen sink to fill your containers.

The preparations I have talked about should only be your first stepping stones to a well rounded plan.  The need for medical supplies, self-defense equipment, communications equipment, etc. and the know how to use all the items is still needed. 

I make frequent trips to our local Atwood's Farm and Home Store, where they carry everything you will need for canning at great prices.  The last time I went I was able to obtain a case of quart jars with lids and rings for approximately $8. (One of their frequent sales).  Canning requires a canning pot, a jar rack, a jar funnel, and a jar lifter all of which Lehman's carries for a decent price and they even have a starter kit including a canning book. There are multiple books available to learn how to garden and can food but unless you get out and do it and use trial and error when there is not an emergency you will not know what works the way you want it to and what just simply doesn’t work at all. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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.

I enjoy your site and have learned a lot from you and others of a similar mindset.  I enjoy the fact that the info you present is from the perspective  of  a Christian. 

I have been looking at land in Wyoming and while there is some very affordable land I have to wonder how anyone is going to heat their abode when "cheap oil" is gone.  I cannot find land that is in my budget that has any trees.
I have spent most of my life in the southern US and some time in Central America and I cannot imagine a winter in Montana or Wyoming with out a lot of firewood (or a big tank of propane).  Just wondered if I was missing something that was obvious to you mountain state people. Thanks, - Alan W.

JWR Replies:  One of the greatest self-sufficiency advantages of living inside the American Redoubt is that the majority of the populace cuts their own firewood. This means that unlike some other northern regions (such as the northern Plains) when the Schumer hits the fan, fuel for home heating will not be a critical resource, at least as long as a small quantity of gas for chain saws holds out. If someone doesn't have a sufficient number or a suitable species of trees on their own property, then they will usually cut their firewood on nearby National Forest land. Home firewood cutting permits are very inexpensive. (Typically, $5 per cord, sold in a four cord increment, with a $20 permit.)

In the vicinity of the Rawles Ranch, most families heat their homes with Red Fir or Western Larch. Both of these trees make excellent firewood. The National Forests have long term renewable supplies of both--essentially unlimited, given the low population density in this region.

One other possibility for you in Wyoming is buying a property that has a surface coal seam. Such properties are surprisingly common, and they don't sell at a huge premium over otherwise comparable properties that lack them. Just be sure that your purchase contract explicitly includes mineral rights! While it is not as hard as eastern anthracite coal, western coal burns fairly well. After quarrying, it should be stored in a shed to protect it from the rain.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Now is the time for those in the Southeastern United States to check their preparations for hurricanes.  Below is a list of steps I go through anytime there is a hint of a potential storm.  These steps were derived from past experiences and lessons I have learned from other Survivalblog.com posts.  I do this prep so as not to get caught up in panicked crowds on the days immediately preceding the storm.  Should the storm not hit me directly I consider this prepping chance to practice and shore up my supplies.

7 Days Out

1)    Water (1 or 5 gallon jugs) is purchased and any filter systems, storage systems and well pumps are checked. 
2)    Storage food is checked and additional food is purchased if necessary.  During his phase any non-perishable food needed, including comfort food should is purchased. 
3)    Fuel Stores such as gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, Coleman White fuel, kerosene are checked and topped off as needed. 
4)    Cooking fuels are checked and purchased as needed.
5)    Battery stores are checked and additional batteries are purchased as needed.
6)    Flashlights, lanterns and other alternative light sources are tested and batteries are replaced, fuel is added to each device as needed.
7)    Alternative cooking devices are tested.
8)    Radio communications are tested and made ready.
9)    Storm shutters and fasteners are made ready for deployment.
10) Blackout curtains are located and made ready for use.
11) Generators - run on a load for 30 minutes, tanks are topped off and any maintenance need is completed.
12) First aid supplies - are checked and additional supplies are purchased as needed.
13) Double check prescriptions and fill if necessary.
14) Firearms (If you have them) are checked and cleaned and lubricated if necessary.  Ammunition is checked and the amount needed for a possible event is moved from storage to an easily accessible, but secure location.
15) Daily used household items such as cleaners, soaps, tooth care; toilet paper etc. should be checked and purchased as necessary.
16) Start making Ice and have bags ready for when the container for the ice maker gets full.
17) G.O.O.D. packs are checked and replenished as needed.
18) Fuel tanks for vehicles from this point on are not allowed to go below ¾ths filled and as a normal procedure should not be allowed to go under ½ full. 
19) Check vehicles for tire pressure, fluid levels, belt tensions, and any pending maintenance critical to the operation of the vehicle should be done at this time. 
20) Communicate with your preparedness group, family and like-minded friends; discuss the possibility of implementing your preparedness plan assuming you have one.

4-to-5-Days Out
1)    Grocery store – last minute items and surprisingly perishable items such as fruits and vegetables that do not need refrigeration are purchased.   The event may be short term and this will allow for one to two weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables before the need to move to dry and canned food.
2)    Mail all bills due in the next 30 days if possible.
3)    Start freezing water in 2 liter soda bottles. This will help freezers and refrigerators stay cool longer when the power goes out.
4)    Have family or group meeting and discuss preparedness plans to include responsibilities for final preparations and survival responsibilities immediately after the event and contingency plans for when things go wrong.  
5)    Start consuming primarily refrigerated perishable food.
6)    Assuming the garbage trucks are still running; make sure all trash is removed. 
7)    Any member of your family or group who has to work will need to place a survival pack in their vehicle, that should include 3 to 7 days of food and water and one or two Jerry can(s) of fuel if possible.  If possible, preposition short term emergency supplies at the place of employment. 

Experience has demonstrated the hordes of panicked people are beginning to start at this phase, but depending on the event and how the event is covered in the media, the hordes could potentially start earlier than expected; making some of the preparations at this stage more difficult to accomplish.  

48 Hours Out
1)     Impact shutters are installed, leaving one or two off on the back side of the house to allow natural light in.    When shutters go up it gets dark and gloomy fast.  The last few shutters can be installed right before the storm hits.
2)    Loose objects outside of the home are secured or moved inside.
3)    Rain gutters and downspouts are cleaned out.  
4)    Charge any remaining batteries and radios.
5)    Data from computers is backed up and securely stored. 
6)    Paper records are secured.
7)    Important personal items, such as family photos are secured.    
8)    Persons doing prep work in the immediate vicinity of the home should have a two way radio with them at all times, with someone in the home monitoring the radio.  This is especially important for those living in rural areas with large amounts of property and when working a fair distance from the home.  
9)     One person at all times should be monitoring Radio, Internet and television news. Continue to monitoring these sources while available.

10 to 24 Hours Out
1)    Any items still outside the home are secured.
2)    Remaining storm shutters are installed.
3)    Vehicles are moved to the garage or a secure location. Depending on the situation and location this step may be done sooner in the process.
4)    Internal alternative light sources are made ready and strategically placed. 
5)    Food stores and water for the next 24-72 hours are made ready.  Some perishable food for immediate use can be moved to coolers, which if properly packed and insulated will stay cool for two days. A layer of dry ice on the bottom of a cooler separated by a dish towel can keep items frozen for up to 4 days in the proper cooler)
6)    Turn freezer refrigerator temps down).  Get them as cold as possible without freezing the coils.
7)    Turn air-conditioning down and get the house cool before the power goes out.
8)    Entertainment such as games, books are located and made ready.
9)    Charge laptops and cell phones.
10)  Wash all dishes by hand.
11) Any remaining laundry is done (earlier in the 24-hours before landfall and well before the likelihood of power failures).
12) Depending on the water situation, sinks, bath tubs and containers should be filled with water and treated appropriately.  
13)  Move some frozen bottles to the refrigerator.
14) Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed (once the power goes out, It may be 12 hours or more before the generator can fired up). 


3 Hours Out – (Power is Out )
1)    Alternative lighting sources are activated.
2)    All AC Powered lights and appliances, televisions, computers (except one lamp) are unplugged.  The breaker for the HVAC unit and water heater is shut off.   Leaving one light connected to the AC [utility power] and in the on mode will provide an indication when the power returns.  Once power returns, lamps and appliances can be powered up gradually to avert the effects of a power surge.  Those with standby generators will handle this step differently depending on how their backup system is designed.    
3)    If possible, use the remaining hot water; take a shower(s) assuming conditions warrant.
4)    Once hot water is used, and if using a hot water tank, close the incoming water valve; a fresh supply of water is now available.  
5)    Activate the battery operated television or radio and monitor events.
6)    Sleep when and if possible in rotating shifts.
7)    If the situation warrants, move to a storm shelter or the most secure part of the house.  
When prepping for a storm, I print the list and the items are checked off as they are completed.  Doing so allows for a fast and efficient approach to prepping for a storm and helps to ensure nothing is forgotten.   The list is tweaked as needed and steps are added and /or removed based on the perceived severity of the storm in my general area.  Regards, - Florida Dave

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Most of us do not have the funds to purchase and maintain a survival retreat, however there are effective things the ordinary citizen can do to help themselves and their families get through the troubled times ahead. I could write reams on this subject, but for the purposes of this article I will concentrate on a few basics to help your family get started on the path to survival.
I have been watching in horror for months as the U.S. government races towards the abyss. The British press truly nailed it when, after the debt ceiling vote was announced, the BBC referred to the vote as increasing the United States’ “overdraft authority”. Hurricane Katrina showed everyone with a brain that the government cannot and will not help you in the event of a disaster! Nuff’ said here.

Shelter Where You Are
In my opinion, people who live in rural areas are going to be generally better off. You are still going to need to stock up for long term difficulties and the sooner the better! The American people have become far too dependent upon outside systems and people, and when and if our infrastructure collapses, you going to be in a world of hurt if you don’t act now!

Here are some examples of things my family is doing. I am buying several extra cans of food a week. I buy at several different stores in nearby communities. I do this because any sudden large purchase gets the attention of our local paranoid Sheriff’s department. I’ve been given several 2½ and 5 gallon plastic buckets by the manager of a local mini-mart after they’ve finished with them. I clean them out, and then put the extra canned goods in them. We live in a humid area, and storing the cans in the buckets prevents the outside of the cans from rusting.

One other thing I plan do very soon is to purchase three large plastic totes in which I can place 4 weeks worth of canned foods to throw in our car if we do need to evacuate. In a 4th tote, I’ll have 3 changes of clothing for my wife and myself along with some cooking implements, a one burner butane stove and 6 cans of fuel. I can also carry 14 gallons of drinking water as well as food for our dog for a month. Do not forget to assemble a complete emergency medical kit for this evacuation pack! In our case, I have packed 60 days worth of our prescription medications.
Back to the homestead, however. Here is what I’m planning to do at our place.

50 gallons of drinking water and two 200-gallon [service life] filters. In my case I’m lucky enough to be about two miles from a large creek which runs all year. I can take a few dozen containers in the car and fill them from this stream. I do not, however drink this water without treating it first! I boil it for 20 to 30 minutes, and after it has cooled, I filter it. I use the Katadyn Hiker which is rated to filter up to 200 gallons. After it has been filtered, I add a teaspoon of unscented bleach to each 7 gallon storage container. These containers are kept in a dark and cool storage shed, and will keep for a very long time. Purchase as many of the 5-7 gallon containers as you can. If this is not possible or practical, save your two liter soda bottles as these are an excellent alternative. Be sure to treat the water before storing it. As for your tap water, depending on where you live, you might want to treat that as well, before storing it.

One-Burner Butane stove: These can be had at Wal-Mart and most other big box stores. The one I use has a Piezo-electric spark which ignites the fuel. We also have 40 extra fuel canisters for it. I estimate this will provide 2 hot meals each day for two people for up to six months.

Kerosene: We heat our home with it. We usually store 60 to 100 gallons, depending on the severity of the Winter. We have an indoor use Kerosene heater which does not require electricity to operate. We also have a large stock of candles for lighting as well as a few hand crank rechargeable LED lights.
Solar Shower for indoor use: Don’t laugh! This does work! We simply heat some water in a pot on the butane stove, pour the heated water into the Solar Shower, and hang it on the shower head in the bathroom. Hot shower off the grid! If it works on the trail it will work in your home!
Not enough can be said on this subject. I mentioned the 2-½ gallon buckets earlier. The reason I prefer these over the 5-gallon size is very simple. Older folks and children will have a much easier time moving the smaller buckets around. There is nothing wrong with the larger containers and I certainly have a few of them as well. As with the larger totes, I put the extra canned goods in there to prevent them from rusting, and this allows us to move the most food possible with the least amount of effort.

Important Note: Most people don’t do these things because they are daunted by the size and expense of a project like this. There is a way to deal with this. Whenever you go to the store, buy two or three extra cans and put them away for lean times. Your wallet will hardly notice the extra few dollars and in a year’s time you will be amazed at how much emergency food is in your pantry or your shed.

At my house, my wife is annoyed that I’m buying extra canned food to put away whenever I can. She tells me that she will take care of the matter and won’t let me starve. I know she loves me and takes excellent care of me: However, if the world around us takes a nose dive there will not be any food available for her to take care of me with! So, with no disrespect towards her, I am ignoring her protests and buying the food anyway!

As a side note, I highly recommend purchasing a subscription to Backwoods Home Magazine. The editors and staff there have developed self-reliant living and emergency preparedness into an art form! I have not seen a more in-depth and comprehensive source for these matters anywhere else!!

Learn First Aid and CPR. While I have good reason to have no love for the American Red Cross, they do offer the best basic training available in this area. Build the biggest medical kit you possibly can! Whether you can evacuate or not, having as much first aid gear as possible could well be the difference between life and death for you and your family. Do not forget to include prescription meds for every family member. Visit your doctor and explain what you are doing. Be tactful! Explain that you are simply trying to build up a small extra supply for emergencies such as a natural disaster, long-term power outages, etc. Do not say anything about your political concerns! Most of the medical personnel that I work with are very liberal. My two concerns here are first, they may view you as a nut-case and deny your request for extra meds. Second, though not likely, they may report you to the local authorities as a “Rambo” type or a “dangerous survivalist”. All you are attempting to do at this point is to have some extra medications on hand in the event of an emergency and you can’t get to medical care or they can’t get to you. Make sure they understand this and keep it simple!

Which brings me to the final point of this article, personal protection.

Personal Protection
I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Some people suggest you have a reliable handgun for personal and home defense. I suggest getting two! Ideally, one of them should be unregistered. If at all possible buy one or more guns privately so there is no ’paper trail’ to tip off Big Brother.

For home protection my first choice is a 20 gauge shotgun. They are lighter and easier to handle than a 12 gauge, so women and teenage children can handle them. They are also usually a bit shorter which makes them more maneuverable in a high stress situation. They will do less damage to your walls and furniture and at the ranges being discussed here, and will drop an intruder just as effectively as a 12 gauge. Another advantage here is that if you have to shoot outside, a 20 gauge is less likely to damage a neighbor’s property. [JWR Adds: Some ammunition makers might disagree with some of the foregoing, given the relatively comparable penetration of buckshot and slugs from 12 gauge versus 20 gauge shells at less than 20 yards.]

I also highly recommend a reliable handgun for each adult. There are pros and cons to revolvers and semi-autos, and the debate will not be settled here. Generally speaking, revolvers are less likely to jam at a critical moment. For people with less experience with guns, I suggest you start with a revolver, and there are some very good ones out there. I personally own a .357 Magnum which I can get to very quickly if I need to.

I despise 9mm! If someone trying to get into your home is high on Methamphetamines or PCP, he won’t even feel a 9mm and a .40 Smith will only enrage him. The bare minimum I would have is a .38 +P or a .357 Magnum. Jacketed Hollow Points are the order of the day here! A .357 SIG in my opinion is also inadequate in these circumstances. Bottom line: Buy either a .357 Magnum for anyone or a .45 ACP such as a 1911 type semi-auto.

Why do I advocate personal ownership of firearms? Well, taking the Second Amendment out of the equation for a moment, it is quite simple… At best the local cops are 6 to 30 minutes away. Where we live, it can be up to an hour, depending on how many donuts they have yet to consume. Another reason is that most dispatchers will tell you to do nothing and wait for officers to get to you. Yeah, right! Meanwhile, the burglars are in your garage, your shed, or your bedroom and you have been shot or your wife raped or your children abducted! No thank you! If an intruder comes into my home and he, she, or they are armed, it is the intruder who is going to be lying dead on the floor, not me or a member of my family, thank you very much! As the old saying goes, I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6. To keep things in balance however, let me say this: While I will act to protect myself and my family, I pray to God that I never have to put this to the test !

In closing let me also stress that it is best to keep as low a profile as you possibly can. You do not want nosey neighbors knowing you have extra food and supplies. You might want to suggest to them that they start doing things for themselves, but keep your own activities secret from them. You may think they are your friends and that they can be trusted. Do not fool yourself! If push comes to shove and they know you have provisions and they don’t. And some of them are liberals.

My last thought is this: I am very irritated by the mainstream media’s treatment of freedom loving, conservative Americans. I am constantly hearing talk from the media that it is the conservatives who are going to rise up and riot in the street. I submit that the exact opposite is going to be the case. It is my considered opinion that it is the liberal element of the population who will be the problem. It will be the welfare recipients, the illegal aliens, and the social engineers who will be the ones to riot and cause destruction. Why? Because they are the people who have lived off the system for nearly two generations, who have no work ethic, no sense of self worth, and expect everything to be handed to them, who, when the system does fail and America goes into default, will demand that the gravy train continue. When they see that their meal ticket no longer exists, their veneer of civilization will come off and it is they who will rise up against the government, not us! It will be far worse for our country than the Civil War ever was!

Prepare now. Prepare quietly. Do have a plan of escape if at all possible. If you cannot evacuate, or even if you can, lay in your supplies now. Because once it hits the fan it will be too late.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wood heat: Is it really the best source, and why? This seems to be a popular question. I’m sure you have heard about the many benefits of an alternative energy source, but how much do you really know about wood heat? Maybe you remember that you grandmother used to cook on a wood cookstove back in the day, but you probably assume that wood cooking is old fashioned and outdated -- think again!  How much do you spend a year to heat your home? Not to mention the additional cost of cooking your food, and heating your water. We just filled up our propane tank the other day, and the cost was over $1,200! For that price, you can almost buy an alternative heat source, water source, and cooking source. If your interested in switching your home to a simpler, cheaper, more self-sufficient abode, you’ve come to the right place. In the following paragraphs I plan to answer common questions about heating with wood; I will share with you what I’ve learned about using wood heat, and how beneficial it has been for my family.

I have been living in Montana since age six. For many of my younger years, my parents chose to live a very simple lifestyle; one that happened to be off grid.  Having lived off grid, I am now able to understand the benefits of solar energy and biofuel.  My dad became interested in solar energy and pursued building a house completely disconnected from all electricity. We powered our home from sources such as the sun, wind, and wood. My family lived off the land. We had a wood cookstove called the “Kitchen Queen” to heat our home. Before moving to Montana, my parents started an e-commerce business called Obadiah’s Woodstoves which sells products used for a more self-sufficient lifestyle. We sell many different products such as wood furnaces, free standing stoves, fireplace inserts, zero clearances fireplaces and other fuel burning products such as gas and pellet burning appliances. After working the business for nearly 10 years, I have learned much about using alternate sources as a way of life.

For the first few years living in Montana, we didn’t have “instant” hot water. We had a ten gallon water tank that had a wood firebox underneath the tank to heat the water. Every time we wanted to take a shower, we had to go outside and chop kindling to build a fire for hot water. After a few years, this became a major hassle; it took nearly an hour to get a tank of hot water large enough for two very quick showers. My dad came to the realization we needed a more efficient source to heat our hot water. He began to research how we could possibly heat our water through our Kitchen Queen cookstove and found an invention called the “thermo-front” hot water heater.  Not only did the Kitchen Queen heat our home, it was plumbed into our domestic hot water as well. The thermo-front is a steel box, lined with Teflon; this box fits inside your firebox on the right-hand side. You then plumb from the thermo-front directly into your domestic hot water system. You also have the option of plumbing this into radiant heating; which is another option to heat your home. The only thing better than hot water, is free hot water!

Domestic hot water is not the only water source the Kitchen Queen has to offer; it also has an optional stainless reservoir that sits on the rear of the stove. The reservoir can be plumbed through your firebox with a stainless water coil. However, it is not a pressurized system; since the tank is not pressurized, it cannot be plumbed through your domestic hot water. You have the option to install a water spigot on the side of the reservoir for easy access to the water, otherwise the water is accessed through the lids on the top of the reservoir.  Many folks without access to electricity or plumbing such as the Amish, will use the water reservoir for their main hot water needs. You can use the water for bathing, doing dishes, cleaning up around the house, or taking care of children. When installing the water coil with the reservoir, you have to be sure not to let the water boil in the reservoir; if this happens, it can cause mold and mildew to grow in your home. However if the reservoir is used properly, it works great as a humidifier. Although the reservoir is made of stainless steel, the water is not safe to drink.  Standing water in the tank creates a breeding ground for bacteria and other airborne contaminants.

 A wood cookstove has many options and benefits to suffice your domestic needs. One of my favorite features of a wood cookstove is that it offers the luxury of a wood heat oven; it is much like one on an electric stove -- minus the fixed temperature. This oven serves two purposes; it gives your home that cozy warm to the bone feeling and it also has potential to make the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Many cookstoves offer a large firebox, which is great for overnight burn times; no hassle, no worries. If you burn properly seasoned firewood, and have knowledge of how to pack a full firebox; you can sometimes get a 20 hour burn time!

Because I work in sales for alternative energy products, I come across many people who have no expertise in wood heat. Most people don’t realize how simple it is to use wood as your main energy source. Most wood cookstoves are non-catalytic, which implies they aren’t as efficient. Although cookstoves may not be as efficient as a catalytic wood stove; cookstoves are a care free stove; you can easily burn paper and bark in your firebox with no problems. Catalytic wood stoves have a type of a filter that re-burns the smoke, thereby reducing emissions and making the stove more efficient.  With a catalytic converter, you cannot burn any green wood, wet wood, bark, paper, or any trash without clogging the catalyst.   Currently, there is a national exemption by the E.P.A. for wood cookstoves.  This means that a wood burning cook stove does not have to be E.P.A.-compliant for emissions.  Emissions measures the amount of particulate that is being put into the air when the stove is burning.  Studies indicate that more pollution is created in the environment from fallen dead trees that are left in the forest to rot.  These trees out-gas more pollution than a wood stove!  We can thank our environmentally friendly “green” organizations for closing the woods off to the public.  The roads are literally gated to prevent the harvesting of firewood, hunting, or other recreational use of the vast National Forest lands here in Montana.  Well, that is another subject for discussion at a later time.

The average household will use between 8-to-12 cords of wood a year [in northern climates]. According to the Consumer Energy Center: “The dimensions of a “standard cord" is a stack of wood piled 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. You won't get a full 128 cubic feet of firewood with a standard cord because of the airspace between the pieces of the wood; the amount of wood in such a stack will depend upon the size and straightness of the pieces, how they are split and how the wood is stacked. Because of this, the total cubic feet in a cord can vary from 70 to 90 or more cubic feet.” Depending on your location, a cord of wood cost around $100, or you always cut your own wood for free -- it doesn’t get any better than free. Its comforting to know that no matter what happens with the economy, you can always chop down a tree to provide heat, water, and food for your family.

Not only was our heat and water sourced from alternative energy, we also had solar panels that produced on sunny days; if the sun wasn’t shining, we also had a back up generator that would keep our battery bank charged. It is reassuring to know that no matter what happens you can always be warm, cook your food, make hot water, and light your home! By using alternative energy sources you are able to do all things listed above. It’s amazing how simple, economical and self-sufficient a person can survive when having the correct tools.


"Kitchen Queen 380 Wood Burning Cookstove." Obadiah's Woodstoves.

"Firewood." Consumer Energy Center.

"Kitchen Queen Cookstove." Obadiah's Woodstoves.

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

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 3, 2011


Just wanted to thank you for your blog and all the good information available through it.  Several times in the section on selecting the midwest for a retreat, you mention the lack of available fuel sources.  Corn burning stoves are fairly common in this part of the country.  They tend to be in the hands of those who don't pay retail for corn at this time, and certainly given modern means of agriculture the Midwest (Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska) can produce enough corn for its people and corn stoves.  Who knows if this would hold true in a disruption that moved agricultural production back a century;  on the plus side, the appetite of the ethanol refiners for the stuff would be quenched. - M.L. in Iowa

JWR Replies: Pellet and corn stoves require electricity. They are also more complicated to maintain than a traditional wood or coal stove. If either motor in the stove fails, then you have no heat. As I've mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, I do not recommend them.

Further, you have to consider the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) for burning dry harvested corn kernels, including the costs of the initial seed corn, fertilizer, pesticides, milling, transportation fuel, and finally the elctricity to run the pellet stove's motors. Even if you have a plentiful supply of corn and a reliable off-grid power system (to provide power for your stove's fan and auger), will all of your neighbors be comparably self-sufficient? If not, then you may be surrounded by folks that are both hungry and freezing.

I recommend that you move to a region where you can find a property with plenty of trees, or with a natural gas well, or with a surface coal seam in your back yard. Another consideration is the variety of crops where you live. If you live in a monoculture farming region, then chances are that it is a poor choice for self-sufficiency, post TEOTWAWKI. Truck farming regions make more sense.

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.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear plant melt-down situation, I called a safe room manufacturer for a hand cranked air filter.  It was over $2,000.  Too much.  I did learn that you need both particulate (HEPA) and gas (carbon) filters.   I have jury-rigged an NBC air filtration system.  Here it is:

Go to a hydroponics store or find one online.  Yes, the one's that people go to in order to grow marijuana. You will need an inline fan.  I used a  continentalfan.com AXC150B-C fan.  It is a little more expensive but German engineering costs more.  (Quieter too). You will need a carbon filter.  I used a Can-33 activated carbon filter (made in Canada) You will need a 6 inch Greenhouse HEPA filter.  It can be washed and reused but only put it back in your system if it is completely dry.

Total cost about $450.

The HEPA filter is attached to the air intake of the fan. The Carbon filter is attached to the air exhaust of the fan.

This is a recirculating system, not an overpressure system. At 300 CFM, it will clear the air of a 10'x10'x10' room in 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

It stands completed at 30" high and 16" wide at it's widest point. It uses 130 watts of current. - SF in Hawaii

JWR Replies: A HEPA filter system with air pushed by an electric fan is best suited to someone that has a fairly capable alternative energy system. Anyone without a large power source that can be relied upon for weeks should substitute a hand-cranked fan. And even those that do have a large alternative energy system should always have a "Plan B": An electric filtered ventilation system should have a hand-cranked or pedal-cranked backup. There are too many potential points of failure to entrust our lives to continuity of electric power.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear plant melt-down situation, I called a safe room manufacturer for a hand cranked air filter.  It was over $2,000.  Too much.  I did learn that you need both particulate (HEPA) and gas (carbon) filters.   I have jury-rigged an NBC air filtration system.  Here it is:

Go to a hydroponics store or find one online.  Yes, the one's that people go to in order to grow marijuana. You will need an inline fan.  I used a  continentalfan.com AXC150B-C fan.  It is a little more expensive but German engineering costs more.  (Quieter too). You will need a carbon filter.  I used a Can-33 activated carbon filter (made in Canada) You will need a 6 inch Greenhouse HEPA filter.  It can be washed and reused but only put it back in your system if it is completely dry. You will need a can flange 6".

Total cost about $450.

The HEPA filter is attached to the air intake of the fan. The Carbon filter is attached to the air exhaust of the fan.

This is a recirculating system, not an overpressure system. At 300 CFM, it will clear the air of a 10'x10'x10' room in 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

It stands completed at 30" high and 16" wide at it's widest point. It uses 130 watts of current. - SF in Hawaii

JWR Replies: A HEPA filter system with air pushed by an electric fan is best suited to someone that has a fairly capable alternative energy system. Anyone without a large power source that can be relied upon for weeks should substitute a hand-cranked fan. And even those that do have a large alternative energy system should always have a "Plan B": An electric filtered ventilation system should have a hand-cranked or pedal-cranked backup. There are too many potential points of failure to entrust our lives to continuity of electric power.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'd like to suggest to Yvonne with the woodstove that she could mount a half inch thick [steel] plate to the top of her stove to get more cooking area.  The plate could hang out past the edges of the stove to give her more cooking area.  She could bolt or weld it on.  It sounded like she was tight on money, so this would be a cheap and easy fix. - Tim X.

Dear Mr. Rawles,
Tom in Juneau is correct. Tulikivi soapstone heaters from Finland are the cat's meow. They are the gold standard for contra-flow masonry heaters and I am sure worth every penny. But, for many readers of this blog their price tag is just not within their grasp. So, I would like to suggest that there is more than one way to skin that cat.

I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in owning a safe, clean-burning, and efficient wood energy appliance, or anyone interested in learning to build the latter as a meaningful profession, to do an internet search for " brick masonry heaters ", " Russian bell heaters ", " grundofen ", " kachelofen ", " Finnish contra-flow ", or " " Russian stoves ". I'm sure I left a few out, but the point is, there are many designs, plans, and workshops available for building, heaters, cook tops, bake ovens or any combination of these. Finding the proper hardware, however, may require another extensive search. But, hand building these things from primarily locally available materials is feasible.  A wonderful condensed history lesson for many masonry stove types can be found at Low Tech magazine. They have been around for quite awhile, apparently due to the need to conserve fuel. Sound familiar ?

I have never met Tom nor have I ever been to Alaska, but I share his passion and enthusiasm for these increasingly important energy saving inventions. Thank you, for allowing us the space to covey this message of hope and encouragement as we face increasingly unsustainable fossil fuel consumption levels. - Henry L.

Friday, March 11, 2011

For the true self-sufficient survivalist the Tulikivi soapstone heater (with bake oven) [from Finland] is the supreme method of heating and cooking in a home.   We replaced a dangerous old fireplace with a Tulikivi four years ago and admit they are very expensive, but worth every dollar.  A two hour fire heats our wel- insulated 1,200 square foot home via one two hour fire per day. On very cold days...15F and below. We burn two shorter fires in the morning and evening of one and a half hours each. The wood savings over a conventional wood stove is approximately 50% and the even radiant heat is absorbed in the far corners of our home. The big bonus is that a we enjoy a fire from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m .in the evening and when we arise in the morning the house is usually a consistent 70F, even with at any outside temperature.   

Our Tulikivi consists of 7,000 pounds of soapstone and is very fire manageable....you can adjust the warmth of your home in infinite values by controlling the burn times and quantities of wood. And the radiant heat eliminates the stuffy "hot air" of a conventional wood stove and the overheating of a dwelling. Some claim radiant heat provides a healthier climate. I don't know about that but we haven't had a cold or other illness in four years.  

The bake oven is a joy to use. It works like a convection oven and bakes bread and roasts to perfection. We have baked pot roast, chicken, beans, etc... and the result is always better than a conventional oven. And cooking time is much shorter.   The expense of $10,000 to $20,000 was daunting but we decided not to buy a new car and invest in the Tulikivi. It is estimated that they pay for themselves in ten years and then you have a working heirloom for life. What would a car be worth after ten years?   This is not a sales pitch. We do not sell these units. But for someone who likes to cut wood and cook it is the cat's meow.   - Tom in Juneau, Alaska  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being without electricity in the middle winter is cold. We didn’t have any heat during an ice storm. With that winter in mind, we finally purchased a wood stove for heat and cooking opportunities.

As the wife and mother, I had this horrible image of an old black pot bellied stove belching smoke and catching the roof on fire. I could hear the neighbors complaining about the smell and my kids going to school smelling like they had just burned down the house. Images of black walls and ceilings and truck loads of firewood haunted me with every winter wind. I finally relented after four years of planning and saving.

The first thing in purchasing and planning our wood stove was to check with our local city government to make sure there were no permits or codes that had to be met.
The second thing was many years of research on the internet and attending trade shows.
The third step was saving what money we could spare and finding a stove that would fit into our allotted room space and budget.
We finally purchased a stand alone Lopi cast iron wood stove.
This Lopi stove is 79% efficient, burning the smoke before it leaves the stove. Thus no complaining neighbors or smoke smell in our home. When loaded with wood it can burn up to eight hours and warm a 1000 square foot home. It is lined with firebricks and will hold heat after the wood has burned. We did purchase the optional electric fan, but the stove will warm up the house without the fan running.

For the mother in me, it does not smell up the house, it is clean burning, sealed, and with the clearances recommended by the manufacturer, and following the installation instructions, we hope it won’t burn down our house. (For my further comfort I made the men of our house pull all the insulation away from the chimney in the attic.)
For the wife in me, it is stylish and functional. It looks great in the corner. The stove is matte black with matte black accessories. It does have a glass window.
For new chimney installers I would recommend the double walled chimney. This allows you to set your stove closer to the wall and also gives the wife and mother a larger piece of mind.
We purchased our chimney with our stove and the owner of the business talked us through the entire installation. Each box of the chimney, and there were six, had its’ own instructions. The telescoping inside black pipe was the best and most expensive part of the chimney. This pipe allows you to place your stove in your room and not have to cut, fold or bend the inside pipe to the correct length. It telescopes up to a box collar on your ceiling and then the attic part attaches to that box. Or, you don’t have to be exactly precise when measuring how much inside pipe you need. The brand we purchased was Metal-Fab. The inside telescoping pipe is black and very stylish with the stove.
My son and husband were able to install the chimney and stove in one day.  They did have to find more sheet metal screws.
This stove does allow you to cook on the top.

Cooking on a Woodstove

After learning how to light and burn the wood in the stove, I decided it was time to learn how to cook on the stove. I was amazed at how small the top of the stove was compared to the look of the stove. My cast iron skillet was too big for any area on the top of stove. I had to purchase a smaller skillet and lid. You do want to use a lid as you don’t want any grease or food build up on your stove.

We found that purchasing a small, inexpensive, oven temperature gage helped in knowing when the stove was hot enough to cook on and with a cast iron skillet, we can start cooking around 200 degrees. It is very warm standing in front of the stove while cooking, but you must have a very hot fire to cook. I have cooked many meals on this stove for practice. This practice has led us to some new and different realities of food storage and preparation.

We have found that we use more oils, and starch foods such as potatoes, corn and beans. Having pre-canned cooked foods such a vegetables and meat shortens the cooking time. We will probably eat more popcorn than we are used to. Coffee should be started as soon as you start cooking a meal.  Smaller but deeper skillets and Dutch ovens work better and stay hot longer. Baking on the inside of the stove takes time and patience. Using breads with the least amount of moistures helps in complete baking. Cast iron cookware will burn off its season when left on the inside of the stove too long and cast iron is the only pan to use when cooking on the inside. Cast iron will also continue to cook after you pull it out of the stove.  Metal bread pans will warp and can get a burn hole in them. (Only experience on my part.) We can not use our canner on this stove. We have no way of heat control and not enough space. (Nor would I want a wood fire in our home in the summer.) We will be building an outdoor fire pit for summer cooking and canning.

After having a melt down in knowing we had wheat stored, had purchased a grain grinder and then not being able to make bread in the new stove, I finally found a way to bake. A Dutch oven with lid and low burning coals is the only way this stove will bake bread. If your Dutch oven is seasoned well, don’t grease the Dutch oven. Greasing the Dutch oven will cause the bread to burn on the outside of the bread.  Don’t expect a loaf of bread to come out of this kind of stove looking like it came out of an electric oven.

Things we would have done differently:
1. Saved more money and bought a larger stove, we need a larger cooking surface. Think about the kitchen stove you have now, four burners, you use the oven and the microwave when cooking a meal. Think about no electricity, you now have maybe two spots to cook with. A larger stove would have allowed us to have more room to cook, to use larger firewood and have a longer burn at night.
2. Installed the stove on an inside wall. Inside wall installation makes for better heating. You are not heating up an outside wall. We could have used less wall protection in the way of ceramic tile.
3. If money would have allowed, we would have bought a real wood cook stove and installed it in our kitchen with a water heater attached.
4. Built a higher platform for the stove so we don’t have to get on our knees to clean and load the stove.

Our stove was our most expensive prepraedness purchase. I am thankful that I have time to learn to cook and heat with this stove.  We have “survival night” once a week and only cook with this wood stove. It brings up a lot of different scenarios that we thought we had taken care of. We need another hand can opener. We also need a moveable table near the stove when cooking and much thicker potholders. We need more first-aid items for burns. We need to purchase more and longer metal spatulas and spoons. We also need to stock up more pre-cooked items when we home can during the summer and we need truckloads of firewood.

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.

Home Quotient. “Food Production”
Home Quotient. “Windows”

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”


Friday, January 28, 2011

Being in preparedness mode opens your eyes to a number of factors, not just Beans, Bullets and Band-Aids. As a battalion coordinator for the Los Angeles Fire Department's CERT program, I was asked to give a presentation on Alternative Energy sources for an emergency situation. My research into this was very enlightening, and I found a number of great ideas. This does not encompass everything available, but it is fairly thorough.

So, why Alternative Energy? In an emergency, such as a major earthquake, there can be a loss of power, gas and water. If it is a short-term problem e.g. a couple of days, then no big deal. But what if it is two weeks, or even longer before gas, electrical and water services are restored? Being prepared for such a scenario is just one more area that will make our lives, as well as our families lives easier in the event of such an emergency

There are three areas of Alternative Energy that we need to be concerned with in an emergency: Heat, Cooking and Electricity. The first, heat, means staying warm in your home or shelter and is a huge priority. Once you get cold, survival can become extremely difficult.   Wearing warm clothes, wearing layers, and being prepared for rain, are the very basics. Have blankets and well-made sleeping bags for nighttime when the temperatures drop. (Wiggy’s makes a Flexible Temperature Range Sleep System (FTRSS) which is similar to what the the U.S. military uses.)

Fireplaces- These are designed more for show, and traditional open masonry fireplaces should not be considered heating devices. Traditional fireplaces draw in as much as 300 cubic feet per minute have heated room air for combustion, and then send it straight up the chimney. Although some fireplace designs seek to address these issues with dedicated air supplies, glass doors, and heat recovery systems, fireplaces are still energy losers. When burning a fire, you should turn your heat down or off and open a window near the fireplace. 

Fireplace Inserts - Only high-efficiency fireplace inserts have proven effective in increasing the heating efficiency of older fireplaces. Essentially, the inserts function like woodstoves, fitting into the masonry fireplace or on its hearth, and use the existing chimney.  A well-fitted fireplace insert can function nearly as efficiently as a woodstove.  Studies have shown that proper installation of fireplace inserts is very important.  Inserts should be as airtight as possible. The more airtight it is, the easier it is to control the fire and the heat output.

Wood Stoves and Pellet Stoves -
Wood stoves are the most common appliance for burning wood. New catalytic stoves and inserts have advertised efficiencies of 70%–80%.  Advanced combustion woodstoves provide a lot of heat but only work efficiently when the fire burns at full throttle. Also known as secondary burn stoves, they can reach temperatures of 1,100°F—hot enough to burn combustible gases   These stoves have several components that help them burn combustible gases, as well as particulates, before they can exit the chimney. Components include a metal channel that heats secondary air and feeds it into the stove above the fire. This heated oxygen helps burn the volatile gases above the flames without slowing down combustion. While many older stoves only have an air source below the wood, the secondary air source in advanced combustion stoves offers oxygen to the volatile gases escaping above the fire. With enough oxygen, the heated gases burn as well.

Pellet Burning Stoves -
Pellet fuel appliances burn small, 3/8–inch (100–254 millimeter [mm])-long pellets that look like rabbit feed. The pellets are made from compacted sawdust, wood chips, bark, agricultural crop waste, waste paper, and other organic materials. Some models can also burn nutshells, corn kernels, and small wood chips. They are more convenient to operate and have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces. However, they do require a supply of pellets, and electricity.  A pellet stove is often cheaper to install than a cordwood-burning heater. Many can be direct-vented and do not need an expensive chimney or flue. As a result, the installed cost of the entire system may be less than that of a conventional wood stove. Pellet fuel appliances are available as freestanding stoves or fireplace inserts. Freestanding units resemble conventional cordwood heaters in that they generally heat a single room well, but not adjacent rooms unless you use a fan to force the warm air into those other spaces. There are also fireplace inserts that fit into existing fireplaces. Because they require electricity for their pellet conveyers and for their fans, pellet stoves are NOT a good choice for disaster survival unless you have a fairly capable alternative energy system with a battery bank and have the dry storage space for a large stockpile of pellets.

Space Heaters - There are 3 basic types of space Heaters:
Electric Space Heaters, Propane (or natural gas) Space Heaters and Kerosene Space Heaters.
Electric Space Heaters are the most commonly seen by most of us. They do a pretty good job at heating up a room.  The problem is that you have to have back up electricity of some type to make them run. They are good for the short term if you have a back up system, but can be draining on back up batteries. Next are the Gas or Propane Space Heaters.  They run on Propane or White Gas and don’t require any electricity. They will run on your barbeque propane tank, or other sources of natural or propane gas. These heaters have to be properly vented, and can be very dangerous used indoors without proper venting.

The last type of Space heater is the Kerosene Space Heater. It uses a wick that soaks up kerosene (only K-1 kerosene) from a refillable tank.
These heaters have double the heating capacity of an electric heater -- ideal for heating large areas. You should look for a model with an automatic shut-off feature

Space Heater Safety
- When using space heaters, it's important to be aware of the risks involved and how to prevent accidents. Here are some guidelines to follow to maximize your safety:  Select a space heater with a guard around the heating area to keep children, pets and clothing away from the heat source. Keep all flammable liquids away from the heater. Place the heater at least three feet away from bedding, furniture, curtains, or anything else that could fall on the heater and cause a fire. Never leave the heater unattended. Look for a heater that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratory. This way you can be sure that specific safety standards have been met.  If you use a heater that burns kerosene, LP, natural gas or wood, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed on every floor of your house.  When purchasing natural gas or LP heaters, look for a model with an oxygen depletion sensor feature. These sensors will automatically shut the heater down when it detects the air is low on oxygen.

Cooking -
Alternative methods to cook food and sterilize water may become necessary.
In the event of a major disaster or other Emergency, there may not be availability of gas or electric for cooking addition, due to possible water supply contamination, it may be necessary to boil water for drinking and possibly laundry.

There are a number of possible solutions to this problem. We will start with the simplest, and work from there.

Soda Can Stove -
A beverage-can stove (or pop-can stove) is a homemade, ultra-light portable stove. The simple design is made entirely from cans (typically soft drink or beer cans) and burns alcohol, typically denatured. Countless variations on the basic design exist.  A ring of holes is pierced into the top with a pin. Parts are glued with high temperature epoxy or sealed with thermal foil tape. The total height is less than two inches (50 mm), though dimensions can be increased to hold more fuel or decreased to take up even less space.  This can be made by yourself, or purchased online for very cheap.  Another Alcohol Stove Option is the Vargo Titanium Alcohol stove which comes with a built-in pot stand. Note that these must be operated outdoors or in a very-well ventilated area!

Propane or White Gas Stoves -
These are lightweight camping stoves that run on propane, butane or white gas.  They can be found online or at most backpacking and camping stores such as REI, Adventure 16 or even Sports Chalet or Sports Authority. These types of stoves rely on canisters of gas to work. My Favorite Mini Stove is The Jetboil, It is an ultra compact 1 liter unit that can quickly heat water for dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. The JetBoil Personal Cooking System (PCS) weighs about a pound.  It lights with the click of a button. It can bring two cups of water to a boil within two minutes (at sea level). Jetboil also makes the larger Group Jetboil system. This is sized for small groups of 2 to 3 and has a 1.5 liter fuel capacity.

Volcano II Collapsible Stove - This is a Tri-Fuel Stove that can use Charcoal, Wood or Propane for cooking. It is a very versatile cooking system: You can grill right on the stove or use a skillet or pot or even a Dutch oven. You can cook a meal with as few as 12 Charcoal Briquettes. A 20 lb bag of charcoal will cook 1 hot meal per day for several months. Overall, a really great, compact system. Note that these too must be operated outdoors or in a very-well ventilated area!

The Solar oven - For those who are very patient with a solar oven, if the sun is shining, you can cook.  Solar cooking is clean, it keeps the heat out of your kitchen, and it uses a free source of energy...the sun.  With solar cooking, you can’t start dinner at 5 pm because you’ve lost your source of fuel. Your best cooking hours are during midday. You may want to do what our ancestors did; have breakfast in the morning, a big meal in the afternoon and a light snack before bed. See SunOven.com for more information

Electricity - Keeping appliances going, lighting at night, Radio and television for information. If the grid goes down during an emergency, It could last an hour, 24 hours or weeks.
Power may come back on then go off again, as in a rolling brown out scenario.
It is important to have a number of alternatives for electrical needs.
You need to evaluate what it is you simply cannot do without that uses electricity, and plan accordingly.

Lighting -
There are a number of options for your lighting needs.
The simplest solution to lighting issues is the use of candles. 120 hour emergency candles are a great start. There are also liquid candles, propane lanterns designed for camping and Kerosene lanterns.  Be sure to take appropriate precautions to avoid fires.

Flashlights and Batteries -
Multiple flashlights are a good idea. LEDs will last much longer than traditional filament bulbs, and draw less current per lumen. If you have any lights with filaments bulbs, then sure to have plenty of spare bulbs. There are also LED lanterns available which are very convenient.
It is also a good idea to have a head lantern, this will allow you to work with both hands, so you don’t have to hold a flashlight.  Loads of batteries are a must.

Rechargeable Batteries -
After much research I recommend the following: The Sanyo Eneloop battery comes fully charged up upon purchase and even after hundreds of charge-discharge cycles; it will retain 85% charged up capacity after 12 months. This means that you can charge up these batteries, put them away in your drawer or cupboard and in a year’s time when an emergency occurs, you can whip them out and they will still be charged up to 85% capacity. As well as this, Sanyo claim 1,000 recharges are possible before deterioration and the Eneloop is renowned for its long life even when consistently used in high drain devices such as digital cameras and transmitters.

Battery Charger
The ultimate small battery charger is the La Crosse Technology Battery Charger is a “smart” charger. It has sophisticated monitoring circuitry that controls the charging process, and it is also capable of “renewing” batteries by running full controlled discharge-recharge cycles. The charger shows battery voltage and charge status on its digital display.
It has four separate charge channels so you can charge one, two three or four batteries at a time – even on individual charge programs. This allows you to test one battery while charging the others. The package deal comes with four AA and four AAA batteries, four battery adapters (which convert AA sized battery to C and D sizes) and a carry case.
Generators - Before you buy a generator, you need to figure out how much wattage you really need. You also need to decide where you are going to run the generator; it has to be in an open area. Having done some research on this I can give a couple recommendations. For a large generator, I'd suggest the Powerland Portable Generator.  It has 10,000 Watt Surge/8,000 Watt Continuous duty capability.  It is mounted on a steel frame with four point isolated motor mounts and has and oversize a muffler to reduce engine noise. These have a typical small power panel with a "low oil" warning light. They have a key start switch voltmeter circuit breaker and power outlets. Like most other generators, it has an idle control that holds a constant RPM.

On the smaller, quieter side is the Honeywell HW2000i Generator. This generator uses an inverter, which keeps voltage consistent and reduces the risk of damage to electronics such as computers and televisions.  It's great for emergency scenarios because it's relatively small, lightweight (58 pounds) and quiet. Two AC outlets and one DC outlet are included. But if you don't need to power electronics, you can get about twice as much power for the same price with a standard (non-inverter) generator.

Gas Generator Problems -
Gasoline is not a fuel that professionals ever choose to use on emergency generators.  Hospitals and other large facilities "never" install gasoline powered emergency generators.  They always use natural gas or diesel.  Gasoline has a very limited shelf life and will actually cause engine failure.  Worst of all when power outages occur due to ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and all other disasters, the first commodity to be hoarded is gasoline.  The hurricanes that hit Florida were sad proof of that.  Propane, and especially natural gas, were more plentiful and just the ticket to keep the lights on and the crews working.    Unfortunately, as some have learned the hard way, if not used often enough, gasoline will gum up the carburetor and will render an engine on the emergency generator useless. If you have invested in an emergency generator, make sure that it runs when you need it the most.  Modify your emergency generator to run on propane or natural gas or even keep the gasoline option if you like and have the option to run all three fuels on the same engine

How to build the tri-fuel generator -
Buy a Coleman Powermate Emergency Generator - (6,875 Watts Peak) or a similar generator.  Then buy a Low Pressure Tri-Fuel Type C Kit priced for most engine brands up to 12 h.p. These cost $187. They are available from Propane-Generators.com. Propane and natural gas can save you time, money and aggravation.  This do-it-yourself change over kit allows you to run your gasoline emergency generator on propane (LP Gas), natural gas, or all three. 
Propane and natural gas are truly backup fuels for a backup emergency generator.  Your engine will last longer, start better in cold weather and even start next year when you go to use it in an emergency.  The best part is, with one of these do-it-yourself kits you can change your engine from gasoline to propane or natural gas all by yourself.

Why use propane or natural gas to power my generator?
If you have propane available you know you can store propane for years because it does not gum up, or go bad like gasoline does.  You can use the 100# (24 gallon) cylinders, little barbeque grill type 20# cylinders, which is equivalent to 5 gallons of gasoline, or big tanks like 250, 500 and 1,000-gallon ASME tanks. If you have natural gas available you would certainly agree that it is probably the most dependable fuel on earth and virtually an unlimited supply.   It does not gum up or go stale like gasoline. 

Solar Panels - Photovoltaic panels with battery banks, charge controllers and inverters are available from a number of vendors. [JWR Adds: Be careful to size your system to match your power needs and be sure to do some thorough comparison pricing. Unless it you are buying a specialized transportable PV system, the bottom line is the cost per watt. There is at least one vendor that heavily advertises nationally using the phrase "Solar Backup Generator" that sells packaged systems with a very high price, per watt. The good news is that there are many reputable vendors out there that offer high quality equipment at competitive pricing. Some of these vendors advertise on SurvivalBlog.)]

As you can see, there are a lot of options out there. I haven’t covered everything, such as DC appliances, propane refrigerators, or making your own Bio diesel fuel. With a little research, you can set up a back up system for all of your energy needs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just to let everyone know, I am new to the prepper lifestyle, and new to the kind of changes one must make in one's life to begin saving as opposed to spending, or maybe a better way of saying it is to say “ changing what your spending your money on ”   where before it may have been a new dirt bike, man toy,   or flat screen television, now my extra cash (after my tithe and savings) is going to preparations.   My change in spending habits quickly brought about a realization , that some items that I need are truly big ticket items, and require a significant investment.  

I already live in a house on 1.5 acres, in a semi rural area .   we have our own well, and we are on a new 2,000 gallon septic system just replaced three years ago.   I just recently measured static water depth of my well in late summer,  the well is 180 feet deep and I have standing water up to 135 feet. I did this so that I could purchase a deep well hand pump . I purchased it from www.survivalunlimited.com it is 1” PVC pipe with a stainless spigot and stainless foot valve. The foot valve is driven by a fiberglass   rod that goes down the center of the pipe. The nice thing about this unit is that it can be installed alongside my existing well , with a stainless cap that is provided by the pump manufacturer. My well water is currently sanitized by an ultraviolet filter, with no power that will not be an option, a Big Berkey filter is next in line.  I have no farm animals yet, but a coop is in the plans, and goats maybe before next fall if I can get the pasture fenced in.  

Our homestead also has a 12 kilowatt Generac generator that automatically comes on in the event of a power outage, we have a few of these every year because of the large amount of 100 foot plus tall Douglas firs that seem to love to fall over onto our counties power lines, which are overhead, as opposed to buried as in modern towns . It runs off natural gas, and can be switched over to propane with a few simple modifications.    

What I don’t have is a source to heat with wood, and if the natural gas goes out, I will not be able to heat our house, which has nine people living in it. So my next purchase will be a wood stove. Both Quadrafire and Lopi make excellent stoves that are EPA certified and can be installed easily. The stove, along with chimney and installation is going to run almost $5,000, although there are state and federal tax credits that will help ease the pain somewhat.  

Food storage is another item I have begun. I decided right of that I would begin researching food packaging solutions, and scrounging buckets. Most restaurants will give you there leftover food grade white pails, and if you are lucky lids to go with it. I purchased mylar bags and oxygen absorber s from Jan over at www.healthyharvest.com   and pieced together a nitrogen bottle along with an old helium regulator, wand and nozzle to charge the bags. I purchased a Teflon cover for my iron so that I could seal then bags without buying an impulse sealer, I just place the edge of the bag on a 2x4 and iron it shut. I purchased my grains from Bob’s Red Mill. They have a wholesale division, that will sell in bulk if you order over 350 lbs of product from them.  Beans, rice, wheat, kamut, spelt, and oat groats. A $1,000 order will give you enough staples to feed a large crew for a year or so.  Also from Jan I purchased non-GMO open pollinated seeds stored in #10 cans, so that I may begin growing at the first sign of TEOTWAWKI  With food, water, shelter provided for--or at least in process--I am on the road to sufficiency. I will let you know how the journey progresses. Sincerely, - T.C.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let me introduce your readers to propane and the many possibilities it offers your planning and TEOTWAWKI preps, that you will likely never have thought of before. Over the last number of years I have carefully thought out and planned a “system” if you will of key pieces of equipment which all operate on a single, inexpensive and highly efficient and large mobile fuel storage system. Naturally, I have the standard wood stove and gasoline operated family vehicle(s), but what is most interesting is some of the items I have been working on and extensively testing/ using on the side.    

1986 Chevrolet 3/4-Ton Pickup on Dual Fuel    

I have recently finished building my ideal Bug out vehicle (BOV) and a number of other very interesting and related items of interest which all fit in with a "one fuel system" for my preps.    I own a customized flat tan-painted 1986 Chevrolet/GMC pre-CPU or fuel injected 3/4-ton 4x4 pickup truck with a long bed on 33 inch high performance tires. It has the very tough NP 205 transfer case. This truck has a manual transmission without the hydraulic clutch (easier to repair), 4 inch suspension lift, custom built heavy duty roll bars and light bar, custom built heavy duty Front bush guard, bumper/ grill guard made from oil field drill stem. My spare tire mounts directly in the center of this heavy duty grill guard. All of this is great and the many features and modifications are too many to mention. But what is interesting about this truck are the most recent modifications which have the greatest impact on this trucks ability to be a high performance BOV. I have recently had this truck;s fuel system modified to a "dual fuel" system. The truck now runs on propane and gasoline.

Directly in the front of the truck bed, I have a 230 liter propane tank mounted between the roll bar mounts. It sits just out of sight below the top of my truck box. With the pull of a manual cable  just above my left knee while driving, I can switch between gasoline and propane in a moment's notice, moving from my 150 liter reserve of gasoline between my two twin gas tanks, to my 230 liters of propane and back again.

I specified manual "IMPCO" brand propane controls installed as opposed to easier to use electronic controls which are slightly more convenient to use but that are less reliable and have the potential to "fry" during an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) event. The system is old school and has been used and tested in many thousands of vehicles for about 30 years. My mechanic tells me that the fuel efficiency difference between gas and propane in a Chevrolet/GM 350 engine with a manual transmission is hardly noticeable and not a concern. The difference in power is also barely noticeable from my findings as well. However, the savings in cost for me are substantial which I will explain near the end of my posting. 

As a side note, my truck starts and runs much better on propane than it ever did on gasoline even in the coldest months. The last thing I’ve done is to ensure an adequate level of EMP protection is that I decided to purchase a GMC 3/4 ton pre-1987 vehicle. You see, 1987 was the first year Chevrolet and GM introduced electronic fuel injection. Although more fuel efficient than a standard carbureted engine, they are vulnerable to EMP as they are CPU/ Microprocessor controlled.

Even though it was a pre-1987 model it came standard with a high energy ignition (HEI) system which is prone to vulnerabilities and issues during an EMP event. I’ve recently had my mechanic swap the HEI ignition system out for the older style points, rotor and coil ignition system which can be easily fixed or replaced with spare parts stowed away in a Faraday box under the seat of the truck. The total cost for all of these brand new ignition parts and complete system was less than $150. A spare set of replacement condenser, points and coil will run me less than $90. In the event of an EMP, I have the ability to quickly replace these parts within minutes while on the road and I’m back up and running. My fuel capacity would take me well over 1,500 kilometers with a single fill up.  

Propane Heaters      
I did a fair bit of research into propane heaters for use in a home, cabin, tent, etc. The two models of heaters which I settled on were infrared radiant propane heaters made by "Mr. Heater" brand. The first one I bought was a "Big Buddy" portable heater which I can run off 1 pound propane "camping" bottles or a 20 lb barbeque tank or larger if I really wanted to. Currently I use a 20 lb propane tank with this heater in my home office which happens to be an atrium which tends to get a little cold in the winter otherwise with this heater. This unit is an 18,000 BTU per hour unit and can easily heat my un-insulated atrium/office from -20 degrees to + 20 degrees Celsius in under an hour.   The second heater I purchased was a 30,000 BTU per hour wall mounted/free standing with included legs heater. Currently I have this heater mounted to wall on the main floor of my three-storey 8 bedroom home and it heats my entire home even on the coldest night thus far. I am presently running this heater from a 20 lb. barbeque tank and find that I have to refill or swap out tanks about every 48 hours.

My heating costs are approx $150 per month at this point give or take a few dollars. In the event I need to bug out, I can simply grab the heater off the wall and go. Both of these Propane heaters have all the stamps and badges of approval from both the Canadian Government and the US safety agencies. They both use a catalytic conversion process which vaporizes or burns all the dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) from the burning process. I run three separate CO detectors in my home and none of them have ever registered a single reading thus far except one day early on when I had a very small propane leak from a poorly threaded propane hose line to which my alarm promptly let me know that it was "Sniffing" propane. The main advantage to these units is that they don;t require an exterior vent. Unlike your furnace which sends a plume of wasted hot exhaust into the atmosphere, these units send that clean, moist and very hot air into your home as opposed to wasting it. When the heater claims 30,000 BTU per hour as its output rating, its likely much higher when compared to the output rating of your furnace or wood stove simply due to the fact that its a vent free system and not wasting significant amounts of hot air by pumping it out the chimney stack as a byproduct.

In deciding on the generators to own and use, I did a lot of research. I wanted to have a mid-sized generator (5,000 to 7,000 watts) that could run nearly all of my home systems at the same time if need be.( Well pump, sump pumps, furnace, a few lights, fridges, deep freezes, washer and dryer et cetera.) This unit also had to be easy to start, use and move around in the event my wife or children had to use it for whatever reason. In preparation for this I had a generator backup electrical panel installed next to and in conjunction with my current grid power panel. Basically, the power goes out, you flip a big switch on your power panel disconnecting you from Utility power, and fire up the generator. Using this type of panel eliminates the risk of a "back feed."

The generator I settled on was a dual fuel (Gasoline and Propane) 5,000 watt unit from Northern Tool for around the $700 price. It came standard with wheels and handles to move it around, an electric start battery system with a backup pull cord system and all the propane lines and fittings a guy needs to hook up to a standard 20 lb barbeque tank. I’ve tested it out numerous times with 100 lb propane bottles and 20 lb tanks. Everything seems to run very well thus far and my 10 year old son has no problem wheeling it around, hooking it up and operating it with ease after a little safety instruction.  

The second genset I have on hand is a Honda 2,000 watt inverted super quiet model. I purchased a propane conversion kit online for about $150 and within an hour had it converted easily to run off propane. Works like a charm off my 20 lb tanks.   The last thing I’m hoping to do and I have not had any success in finding any reliable information is to convert an ATV to burn propane as there doesn’t seem to be much information out there. If there is anyone that knows a reliable method or where to obtain information it would be much appreciated if they e-mail JWR a reply.  

I mentioned that I would get into the cost factor of the propane I use. I live in the country and there are many farmers who use mobile propane tanks mounted on trailers for irrigation and construction. I contacted my local propane dealer for more information. After a little discussion, here is what I found out:   My dealer leased me a brand new 1,000 gallon (3,600 + liter) propane tank mounted on a brand new 16 foot dual axle trailer for $260 per year. The trailer has a standard 2-5/16 " ball hitch and trailer brakes. When asked by my dealer what I was going to use the propane for, I told him I would be using it for a number of uses but mostly filling propane bottles and tanks. Because I didn’t mention it would be used to fill up my vehicle the rate was significantly less. He charged me only 40 cents per liter to fill the entire tank up ($1,400). Currently this is 60 percent less expensive than filling up my vehicle with gasoline at the pump and I get about the same mileage.

The benefits of using propane in these ways are substantial just to name a few:

  • Low profile purchasing. Unlike home gasoline tanks, propane tanks create no suspicion
  • Virtually unlimited shelf life
  • Large volume fuel storage on hand (1,000 gallons / 3,600 liters per tank) in most jurisdiction with no restrictions.

Propane offers mobility and bug out possibilities in a grid down situation where transportation legalities won't matter. A number of key pieces of equipment are available which operate using propane.   The possibilities with propane are endless and in my opinion its a far superior option for fuel and flexibility than gasoline or diesel fuels. The cost savings alone would make a person do a double take and reconsider all options.  - M.B. writing from the Frozen North

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.

Friday, January 7, 2011

In the spirit of "off-the-gridness" and in an effort to be more self-sufficient, my wife and I recently tackled a new project at home.  We built a wood-fired oven (WFO).
A few times a year we loose power for various reasons.  We can cook (and have) on and in our woodstove.  During the summer months, this makes the house very hot.  An outdoor wood-fired oven gives us another option for many kinds of cooking.  It also provides a great accompaniment to the barbecue.  The WFO is a lot of fun to built and use.  It provides a lot of feel good factor for having done it ourselves with little money.  Of course, it also makes great tasting food.

We over-researched the subject by reading several books and by searching online before finally building it.  Two of the most helpful resources were http://www.traditionaloven.com and the book Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer.

Location:  One of the most important and also most difficult parts of this project was picking a location.  The WFO requires a location that places its back to the wind.  Ideally, it should be out of the elements.  It also needs to be accessible enough to be useable.  We finally decided to locate our WFO off the end of our screened front porch, facing away from the wind.  This would require rebuilding that end of the porch to allow for a screen door, building a shed roof for protection from our very frequent rain, and leveling the ground in that area.

Type:  We discovered that there are several types of WFOs.  Which is "best" depends on who write the article or book.  Our primary concerns were the difficulty of the project, the cost of the project, and the look of the project.  A $15,000 brick and marble WFO would look silly sitting next to our farmhouse, would be way beyond our budget, and might be beyond our construction ability.  We decided on an adobe, cob, or clay oven.  They exact material seems to be interchangeable.  Since we are part-time potters, we happened to have a sixty-gallon garbage can full of left over clay from the past couple of years.  We decided to use what we had.  I also salvaged, for free, a couple of hundred concrete building blocks (CMUs), along with a corresponding quantity of concrete capstones.  Using some of these would make a fine foundation that would put our oven at a convenient height.

Size:  We wanted something big enough to bake a small pizza, a small roast, or turkey, or a couple of loaves of bread at the same time.  We wanted it a bit on the small side so that it would use less firewood and so that it would blend in.  We settled on an inside diameter of 22 inches wide by 16 inches high.

The Foundation:  I started the project by locating the oven far enough away from the porch for safety yet close enough for convenience.  I dug a square hole 54” wide and about 6” below the frost line and leveled the hole.  Into this square hole I packed level about 4” of 5/8” minus gravel.  Upon this base I laid a square of the 8”x8”x16” concrete building blocks, three blocks to a side.  I stagger stacked five more layers of building block.  After each layer of block, I filled the square with “urbanite” and large rock, filled all of the spaces and covered the rubble with 5/8” minus gravel, and compacted it all with a length of 4”x4”.  I did not fill the last layer of block so that the insulation layer would be deep enough.  I capped the last layer of CMU with the 4”x8”x16” concrete cap. 
The resulting 12” void was filled in with an insulation mixture made of sawdust, perlite, and clay slip.  Equal quantities of sawdust and perlite were carefully measured by the shovel-full into a wheelbarrow.  Clay slip, clay mixed with water into a sour cream consistency, was added until all of the particles were coated with clay.  A rough ball made of the insulation mix did not splatter or break apart when dropped from waist height.  This insulation layer was packed and leveled.

The Oven Floor:  We purchased 16 medium-density firebricks from the fireplace shop and set them into the insulation layer.  More of the insulation material was used to level the floor of the oven prior to building the oven itself. 

The Oven:  I used a string with a pencil to draw a 23” diameter circle on the firebricks.  Sand from the nearby river was screened and used to make a sand dome.  We dumped wet sand in a pile on the bricks and painstakingly molded a dome.  It was not as easy as it should have been.  This was the most frustrating part of the project!  Finally, after starting over a few times, we achieved a nice looking 16” high, rounded dome.  Several layers of wet newspaper were plastered over the sand so that the clay layer would not stick to the sand.

Our soil is very heavy with thick red clay.  Either it is too wet to work, or is so hard that you need a pick to get it out.  We had originally thought to dig our own clay, mix it with sand and straw, and to use this material for the oven.  However, we decided to cheat a bit and used our business license to buy some very rough clay intended for large structural structures. 
We packed this clay 4” deep around the sand dome.  Layer by layer we pressed the clay into itself around and over the dome, being careful not to press into the sand dome. 
My wife then used a 2”x4” to not-too-gently smack the clay dome into a proper shape.  The smacking helps consolidate the clay into one cohesive shell.  Just do not smack it too hard or you will end up with a bulge on the opposite side or around the base.  An arched door was drawn onto the front of the inner clay shell.  It was about 66%, or 10.5”, high by 12” wide.
Over the inner clay dome, we laid up a 4” layer of the same insulation material used for the floor.  The insulation layer stopped about 4” short of where the doorway was going to be cut. 
The 3rd and final layer of the oven was a 2” layer of clay.  This exterior shell was layer up in the same fashion as the other two layers with great care not to push the clay into the insulation layer.
The doorway was then cut into the dome.  The doorway was cut with a bevel to keep the door from falling in.  The exterior clay shell was wrapped over the exposed insulation layer around the door.  This created a continuous clay shell with a 2” reveal around the doorway.
The oven was now firm enough to remove the sand.  Using a garden trowel my wife carefully dug out the sand.  When she hit newspaper, she knew that she had reached the inside of the dome.  After the sand was removed, the newspaper was carefully peeled off the inner clay dome.  A smooth piece of rounded wood used for shaping bowls on the potter’s wheel was used to smooth out the rough spots on the inner dome.
The exterior shell was paddled and shaped into a smooth cover.  The final layer had to dry a bit before it could be smoothed completely.
My wife threw an onion shaped finial for decoration on the top of the oven.  She then carved various designs into the dome.
A door made from 2x6’s was cut to shape.  1x6’s were cut to go over the face of the door and to extend 1” beyond the door in order to act as a flange to keep the door from falling in.  An extra chunk of tile-backer was cut to shape and screwed onto the inside surface of the door for a heat shield.  A pair of handles left over from a previous project completed the door.

Getting it to work:  A small fire was lit inside the oven to slowly dry it out from within.  The sun worked to dry it from without.  Patience is a virtue.  Impatience, or rather firing it too soon, caused serious cracks on the outside due to the different shrinking rates caused from uneven dryness.
After it was dry (enough), we brought it up to white hot, pulled the coals out, put the door in place, and soaked it for about 15 minutes.  While it was very hot, we cooked up a few small pizzas.  It actually worked!
Since then we have baked bread, pizzas, and bagels in it.  We have learned when to pull the coals so that the food does not taste too smokey.  The oven is a big hit.  Many of those who have seen it want to build their own.

The WFO’s potential and use are obvious in a grid-down situation.  We have never used “firewood” in this oven.  We have always used sticks, branches, and other left over non-treated wood products for firing the WFO.  Usually about ½ of a five-gallon bucket is all that is needed per firing.

I used less than 1.5 yards of 5/8 minus gravel for the entire project – about $40. 
Concrete block – free.
Sand – free.
Coarse Sawdust – free from a local lumber mill.
Perlite – about $30 from the hardware store.
Clay – $150.  (It could have been free with more elbow grease)
Material for the door – free from around the property.

Total cost:  under $200.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Editor:
Can Michael M. provide a bit more detail in his process of developing a UV air treatment solution?  The part about" "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" is difficult for me to visualize.  Is the manometer on the upstream side of the Air Handler fan or the down stream?  Also I don't understand the math used. I do understand the 4940ft^3 / 1170ft^3/min =  4.2 minutes, but how did he calculate or measure the 1170ft^3/min of airflow?  How did he come up with "a needed 60 to 75 sq in fresh air duct to compensate for the tight construction to bring my static pressure to 0?"   This appears to be very important information but is difficult to understand.   Thanks for the good work and words. - Mark X.

I Forwarded This to Michael M. and He Replied:

Daer Jim & SurvivalBlog Readers:
Let me first explain what the Slack Tube Manometer can be used for:
Mainly it is an instrument that can be used to measure static pressure, pressure differential, or total pressure. In my case I used a Dwyer Model 1212  to measure pressure differential from the outside ambient air pressure to the inside air pressure. One could call it a static pressure. I did this by putting one side of the tube on the outside through a window and blocked the remaining area of the open window and the other side of the meter on the outside of the door of the heat exchange closet. It could be placed anywhere as long as one side of the meter is outside and the other inside. I used this area as it was easy to change the fan speeds and see the result. When the air handler was on a negative pressure was seen on the tube.  

Next would be the issue of the 1,170 cfm air rate. This number was supplied to me through the Manufacturer's manual as to the cfm at the various fan speeds available. i.e.: fan speeds available Low--820 cfm Med low--1,003 cfm Med high--1,170 cfm High--1,532 cfm.  

How I came up with the  fresh air return needed and wanted:

First I obtained a copy of the Rules and Rules of Thumb for Duct Systems on the Internet. This gave the necessary numbers for a filtered grille area to compensate  for the negative pressure. At this point with the fan on the med high speed I open a window away from the air handler till the pressures equalized in the manometer. I measured the calculated the square inches of the opening and had my filter size to equalize pressure per the rules. I added the other 2 filters and with the air return from the house blocked achieved a positive pressure of .35" of pressure.

It should also be noted that not all homes can use this type of system as many are not sealed tight enough to maintain the slight pressures.

Another interesting side note is that we are also able with this configuration to use one small bedroom as a negative pressure room simply by opening the window in the room making a perfect place for a quarantine room for the sick.   I hope this helps, - Michael M.

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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

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.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In an attempt both to think through the issue and to stimulate other to do likewise, I present my personal analysis of our family's current and future electric power usage. First some background: We live in a 2,400 square foot two-story home the suburbs of a southeastern city. Currently there are 3 of us, with one child away at school. Our summer temps are as high as 95F and winters can drop to the 20s. Currently is is between 50 and 80, which is great - windows often left open.  

We have grid power, for which we pay $150-300/month. Additionally, I have recently installed 720 Watts of solar photovoltaic on a south-facing roof which gets 6-8 hours/day of direct sunlight. This is tied through a charge controller to a bank of eight L-16 6 volt lead-acid batteries set up in a 24V configuration (4 in series, paralleled with 4 more in series). This system drives a Xantrex inverter and serves mostly as an emergency standby for absolute essentials. The batteries can also be recharged from the grid or from a generator. The generator (5 kilowatt diesel), when running, operates more systems, as well as charging the batteries in the solar system (if needed).  

So, we currently have three layers of electrical power:  

1) Solar running a few lights, television, radio, and the central heat blower motor (we have gas heat) and, most important, the controller for the on-demand gas hot water heater,

2) Generator (perhaps an hour a day) running more lights, computers, router/modem, one window heat/AC unit, refrigerator, freezer and microwave, and

3) Grid - running everything else (washer, dryer, range, central AC compressors).  

A separate system (three 12 Volt deep-cycle car batteries with float charger) powers the CB/ham communication gear.   

Although not nearly approaching off-grid, this arrangement lets us have essentials during a grid failure, with additional luxuries during brief generator runs. During the day, when we require little power, the solar system can run the house with energy to spare, leaving the batteries fully charged for evening use.  

We are overly dependant on piped natural gas; and, although we have reserves of propane for cooking, we would need to provide for heat and warm water in other ways if gas pumping stations were off-line.  Also of interest, our potable water drums are arranged to backfeed into the house's plumbing after the water main is turned off.  We use a 24 volt DC water pump designed for boating (fed by the battery bank) with a built-in pressure sensor that actuates the pump when water pressure falls (from opening a spigot).  

I would welcome any readers' comments on better optimizing our power use and prioritizing our demands during emergencies.   In closing, please get you final preparations ready soon - things are deteriorating faster than you think!   - J.B. in Tennessee

Thursday, October 28, 2010

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm writing from the Mid-West - the sea of corn (mostly) and other grains. As of this writing we are getting some relief from the humidity. "Hearsay" says corn is a guilty culprit for contributing to our high humidity. Corn is in high demand for purposes of food and fuel. Besides corn syrup, a byproduct is humidity, and perhaps, rain - which eventually leads to the subject of this letter - ice. Something that I think will be tremendously missed, is refrigeration - either for food or humans. Having stated the obvious, think of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature, making ice cream, making gelatin set-up, or a cool cloth on a hot forehead or an ice-pack for a medical treatment - or just plain comfort. Even with the air conditioning on, there is a fan trained directly on me.

Oral histories, village histories, biographies, living histories, and diaries are all good sources for knowledge of sustainability. However, systems, germs, allergies, and knowledge keep evolving. Generations have been blessed with new technologies and new products (plastic, thermal coolers, etc.) and new insights.

Before there was electricity - and before refrigeration there was ice - harvested from a local water source - kept in storage - with sawdust!

The following are some random stories heard through the years:

  • Our village history reveals there was a building near the railroad track that stored ice. I do not know if the ice came by train or if it was harvested from a local pond. This area is only known for ponds - not too many natural lakes.
  • There was a house in our town that had ice delivered - probably stored in an ice box - the kind that had a drawer to hold a block of ice.
  • The ice house in our village kept the deceased on ice until the mortician from a neighboring town could arrive. (Hopefully not anywhere near the ice for houses!)
  • Our family seems to have a high percentage of births in August. In the 1950s before we ever dreamed of air conditioning (in either a car or house), my father took a garden hose and ran well water through a car radiator and set it in a small room on the shady side of the house with a window fan. He brought in the lawn lounger to make Mom comfortable. Our teeth would absolutely chatter! I was around seven at the time, so this is stretching the memory - seems that the radiator was in the room - but it may have been just outside the room under the carport. In a TEOTWAWKI scenario, one would need a generator or solar powered system.
  • In a house that my father lived in when he was young, there was some sort of a hand pump and stone trough in the basement. They would place butter and food in crocks that sat down in the water.
  • My husband’s grandparents had a cold storage cupboard. A cupboard door opened to an outside wire cage with shelves.

Back to the evolved knowledge. If you do try storing ice in sawdust, use caution on the types of woods and lumber used to create the sawdust. Some woods - or parts of trees and shrubs - may be allergens or even poisonous! This may be a factor in not only the use of the ice, but also if the melted ice water is saved as "gray water" for other uses.

For our preparations for daily use, we plan on placing ice in thermal coolers (type used on camping and picnic trips) to keep foods cool. At the thought of raw pond water ice, think maybe during the coldest months, we will use safe drinking water and make ice for drinks and food and store it in our freezer chest.

Think I will add to the pre-TEOTWAWKI shopping list ice block tongs, ice saw and ice picks. Where is that "To Do" List with the chicken tractor, rabbit hutch. "Hi Honey, can you please pick up lumber and hardware to build an ice house? You know, TEOTWAWKI. Well, do you think we will need ice for next summer or the summer after. "

Thank You, James Wesley Rawles, for your blog site and books - may thousands of lives be saved and life more comfortable from your dedication in recording, editing and maintaining all this survival information!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Being married to an accountant, former government financial inspector and a finance director for a company opened my eyes to the concept of getting a return for my investment. For large tangible items, that concept is important. Oh, I certainly could fill a wall with a 55 inch plasma television, but what do I get in return for that investment? A wannabe movie screen that has a limited lifespan and sucks a chunk of energy? Will it help my long term bottom line of being financially independent and ready? The idea of investing in tangibles in a serious downturn made sense to me, even as described in Mr. Rawles’ novel, "Patriots". By no means is our family wealthy or “super preppers,” but we believe in the need to be prepared for any major disaster or incident, whether natural or man-made. We wanted to not be a drain or liability on what will be a fragile infrastructure and be able to independently stand. While not religious, we believe in the need to be there to help our neighbors when possible. It is our moral obligation.

In 1998, my wife and I invested in our second house after our first was declared to be in the way of a future realignment of a state highway (that explained why we could not get natural gas piped to the house). I was developing into a neophyte “prepper” due to my active duty and National Guard service as well as being a cop and living in earthquake and volcano zone. As a result, my focus was shifting into a more sustainable type of house. We found a great house about a mile away on just over an acre of land, with a year round salmon stream in the back part of the property. Of course there were some drawbacks: it was much older and needed work, sat on a reasonably busy road and with the salmon bearing stream buffer rules enacted by the federals, we were space limited. But the positives were that is was close to my work, the house was solid, had copper piping throughout (we preferred copper to PVC or similar), a septic system, detached shop, natural gas throughout, “legacy” type 60-100 year old cedar and fir trees backed by a greenbelt and a real, working fireplace with a first generation Heat-a-lator type system big enough to heat the 1,500 square feet of house if the power should go out or there was a gas disruption. We re-invested the money received from the state buying our other house into the current one and were already into the positive equity side. We knew we would invest some sweat equity in fixing things so that dropped the house price even more. In our eyes, the return on our investment in this house (our largest tangible asset) was big. In fact, during the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001 in the greater Seattle area, our house survived with nothing more than items knocked off some shelves in the garage while newer homes in the area suffered wall and chimney damage. Very good for a house that was initially built in 1938!

As time progressed and we added children to our family unit, we began to discuss moving to a better location, one that had more room and further away from concentrated urban and suburban cores as well as meeting our growing preparedness mindset. However, all of that came to an abrupt halt in 2007. It was at that time that my youngest daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease (as discussed several years ago on SurvivalBlog). I had to take a hard look at my dream of moving away and faced the reality that I would be looking at suburban preparedness. My wife and I discussed our options and realized that due to my daughter’s needs, our proximity to the local Children’s Hospital as well as various food vendors that catered to “Celiacs” weighed the greatest. We needed to stay where we were at and make the very best of the location. We began to look back at our largest investment and realized that it was time to invest some more in tangibles to improve the house now that we would be remaining.

My wife and I have been and continue to be blessed to be in what are essentially recession proof jobs. We also saved what we could, received a small inheritance and began to make our list. Over the last several years, we invested in big ticket house items that as little as six years ago, would have been nearly impossible to afford due to the “hot” economy and housing/remodeling market. I am not ashamed to state that we took advantage of hungry remodelers and contractors to get fair but reasonable prices on projects we weren’t able to tackle ourselves. We shopped dealer scratch and dent sales, Craigslist and other places to get new (but cosmetically damaged) appliances and fixtures. We upgraded the septic system to a gravity fed long life drain field and tank, allowing for our family to have a system that not only would meet our needs in the future but in a grid down situation, would function while the sewers failed (and could act as a privy with a portable outhouse that could sit on top of the tank). We replaced our decaying torch down roof with a sturdy metal roof while also improving the insulation in the ceiling while the surfaces were exposed. While the metal roof was nearly two-thirds more than a comparable torch down or commercial roll roof product, the return on that investment was a 40 year roof, fireproof to prevent possible roof fires and sturdy to prevent damage from the limbs of the trees surrounding our house. It met severe wind requirements due to the anchoring system.

Windows were replaced with new energy efficient designs that would work to better insulate and protect the house. We upgraded some of the electrical in our home, adding a connection point for a like new generator I received from a deceased family member. We learned through testing based upon ideas at SurvivalBlog and other sites that with the use of natural gas or propane in all of our major appliances as well as low energy lighting and energy efficient appliances, the 7,500 watt generator we had could easily power everything but the washer and dryer at the same time. All were immensely valuable tangibles that added to our return on the investment in our house.

My family and I continue to make some final investments in our house as well as our overall sustainability in nearly any situation save a nuclear strike directly over our house. But the idea of returns on our investments by investing and buying tangibles right now have made us more secure and in a much better preparedness position. With the mortgage payoff only a few years away, we will be in an even stronger position. When that biggest balloon pops, we will be all the better for it. - MP in Seattle

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.


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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You've heard it before, "Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it."  That principle can be, and should be, applied to every facet of your survival preparations.  It applies to the possession of material items such as food, weapons and first aid.  It applies to your skills such as how you find your food, use your weapons and administer first aid. It applies to your physical abilities such as endurance, speed and agility.  It applies to your state of mind such as courage, honor and ingenuity.  And, of course, it applies to your actions such as being pro-active, studying and employing measures to safeguard you and your loved ones.
One could argue that being fully prepared requires quite an investment.  You can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on all the equipment and supplies needed to insure that your existence continues, for as long as feasible, relatively just as comfortably in a social collapse, military attack, natural disaster or grid-down situation as it does today (depending, of course, on your geographical location).  The list of necessary items goes on and on.  What is necessary?  Some might argue that aside from having a cave and a club, nothing else is needed.  After all, man did survive that way for quite a long time, right?  Sure, when wild food was plentiful, the earth's waters were cleaner, their adversaries also had only clubs and they wiped their asses with, well, who knows.  Others might argue you need many year's worth of everything you use today and a back-up for every device that could break.  And consider all the great gadgets and products out there to help make every single facet of survival that much easier.  You could fill a warehouse with things you "need" but do you already have some of them without knowing it?

Certainly not everyone has the means of acquiring everything they want or even what they would need.  Many people, even if they wanted to, can’t even afford to stock up on food.  If you fall into the category most of us find ourselves in, be determined but not dismayed if your preparedness budget is chronicled into the 22nd Century.  After all, primitive man survived and pioneers did pretty well with just a wagon full of supplies.  They all learned to forage, adapt and invent.  Although this is modern day with many technical differences and new challenges for one wanting to survive and/or live off the land, there are just as many advantages.
I remember when I was working as a carpenter.  When I wanted to heat up part of my lunch, something you'd put in a microwave or oven, and the sun was shining, I'd go get our black wheelbarrow with the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) tub, put my lunch in it, turn it under the sun, and set a single-pane window or large piece of glass over the top.  It would heat up to 200 degrees inside the wheelbarrow in minutes and then usually hovered around 250.  It made a great oven and could also be adapted as a dehydrator.  Today they sell solar ovens constructed with the same materials.  But you don't necessarily have to buy one to have one.  Again, if you can forage, adapt, and invent, you can increase the longevity of your survival. 

When it comes to preparedness, implement intelligent priorities and, God-forbid, if you find yourself ducking from Schumer that hit, embrace your challenges and learn to improvise.  We dispose of a wealth of materials in ordinary garbage.  Glass containers laid flat and stacked into a south-facing mud or adobe mortared wall could make for great passive-solar heat in a cabin.  Metal cans can be flared at one end and then stacked together to build a flue pipe.  Add the flue pipe to a steel barrel and you've got a wood stove.  Two large garbage bags, one inside the other, stuffed between with balls of old newspapers can make a sleeping bag for your child.  Plastics can be used to collect rain water.  Here's a more technical idea I've done successfully for heating a tent;  long scrap metals such as metal studs or wire rope, laid horizontally and continuous, can be buried on one end in a shallow bed while left exposed on the other end.  If the exposed end is applied a heat source such as from a Dakota fire, the other end will radiate heat in the same manner as hydronic or electric in-floor heating.  You can pitch a tent over the shallow bed and keep warm in the middle of winter without worry of asphyxiation.  The depth of burial is dependant upon the materials used and their spacing for the transfer of heat.  I laid five 10' long, 20-gauge 4" metal studs 10" on center, buried 3" under the dirt.  If you like warm toes, keep them on the end closer to the fire.  And it takes a few hours to heat the ground, much like pitching a tent over buried coals and rocks from a campfire.

Next example, crime is growing.  You are worried that someone might break into your root cellar in the middle of the night and steal all the cans of yams and tuna you just put down there.  You never did purchase that security system or the remote motion sensors you’ve always wanted.   But you’ve got a pile of pop cans and some fishing line.  You could set up a trip wire around the perimeter.  As a minimum you'd want to lay out a triangle with one pop can set upright and weighted with a rock at each corner.  Drop a couple of pebbles or small bells from the Christmas-ornaments box into each can.  Tie the fishing line to the pop-top of each can at each corner of the perimeter and you have an alarm system.  Even better, you could use a small pulley at each corner, tied to a stake, tree or bush.  Still attach the cans somewhere on the trip line, preferably in a concealed location.  Attach one end, the dead end, of the line to something fixed or solid.  Attach the other end to an anchored trigger-switch on a batter-powered flood lamp.  Then if someone trips the line, you'll get clamor and illumination.  Or you could build a completely concealed and remote alarm by utilizing a pressure plate buried flush with the ground surface.  I've done this by using two boards, a hinge, two copper pennies, a spring, a loop system of low-voltage 12 gauge wire, and a 9V battery all tied into a doorbell.  I will spare you the electrical details in order to keep this brief.  If you really wanted to, you can create your own security system. 

The point I am trying to make is the importance of your resources and the value of ingenuity.  Mankind is intelligent enough to put human beings on the moon and bring them back again (or at least smart enough at the time to get the rest of the world to believe it).  At the least, if we are smart enough to build a space station, we can certainly figure out how to adapt in a survival situation to obtain water, food, good hygiene, medical care, shelter, heat and security.  Virtually every item around you can be adapted for multiple purposes.  So if you're on a tight budget, I'd start out with the necessities like dried or canned goods, garden seeds, matches and ferrocerium fire starters, and other items where the benefits greatly outweigh the cost, like first aid supplies.  And don't forget items like 100% stearine candles and soap.  Sure you can use animal fat to make candles and soap but it is very time consuming and yet cheap to purchase.  In a survival situation, your time would be extremely valuable.  So stock up on the inexpensive stuff and save the big purchases for items like firearms. 

My final mention goes to references.  As you know, right now you can search the internet and easily learn about almost anything you want.  Search for information that would be valuable if times get tough and print it out.  Seal and store your references.  I label mine and put them in binders.  For example I recently embarked in a short geology lesson in order to be able to identify flintstone in my area.  I was guessing that flint could make a reasonable barter item.  I found that high carbon steel such as an automobile spring and quartz or jasper are a great substitute for common flint and steel.  And that if using flint and steel (not to be confused with ferrocerium igniters) to start a fire it is extremely beneficial to use charcloth.  I printed out information on how to make charcloth and put it in my files.  Then I printed out references to help me build a hydroelectric generator from items I have around the house.  Even if you don't have time to read it now or work with it now, get your references printed out while they are readily available.  If the grid went down tomorrow, think of all the information lost that was at your fingertips.  My comfort level and confidence in my own preparedness increases every time I add references to my library, which I try to do several times a week.  Knowledge increases potential ingenuity exponentially.  The more you learn the more you can learn, adapt, invent, and be better able to help yourself and those around you and survive on a poor man's budget.  Chance favors those who prepare. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Jim:
There has been such a great response to the article I wrote about using the basement in my home as a survival retreat, and I want to thank everybody for taking the time to read both parts—and to respond with some great questions. I wanted to take a moment and address a few of the questions, and perhaps give a little deeper insight into the arrangements, processes, and the solutions I have found to each of the various questions.

First, and most importantly, I would like to stress that I’m not claiming this to be the ideal solution. My intent, and the thought process I used while setting up this retreat, was to create a very short-term means to provide for the safety and security of my family. In no way do I recommend or expect this arrangement to be a long-term, permanent solution to a survival situation—instead, my goal was to create a way to lay low during the opening salvo of a major catastrophe, let things sort themselves out for a few days, and then move on to better arrangements.  Ideally, I would not hope to be confined to this arrangement for longer then 10 days, with the real intention of using this as a viable survival retreat for a period of 3-5 days, or until a time where we can begin the journey to a more permanent place set up for an extended collapse---and this may be the subject of a future article because it’s one of my current projects.

Ironically, all of the questions and issues which have been brought up are issues I’ve had to address in one form or another during this process—and when I wrote these articles I decided to focus more on the main theme to keep it at a readable length, and omit many of the logistical and technical needs, details, and solutions associated with this arrangement for the purpose of expediency.

Greg L. asked about restroom and sanitation arrangements, along with cooking scents. The restroom issue, for obvious reasons, was one of the first issues I had to address. How I decided to address the bathroom issue was by three methods. First, I have a curtained off area in the rear of the basement to use as a bathroom area. I have purchased a store of 5 gallon buckets, with lids, to use for the purpose of storing waste. Please remember, also, that we are not completely confined to this basement—so during certain times these filled buckets of waste could be moved to an upper level of the home or outside and hidden in a nearby wooded area. I have also gathered a supply of lye powder soap and sawdust to add after each use to eliminate smell and help with decomposition.
For the basic toilet set up I currently have a lawn chair with a hole cut out in the middle—eventually, if I ever get around to it, I would like to create a better solution for the seat. The area where the bathroom is curtained off also contains one of the window wells now blocked off, and I have kicked around the idea of running some PVC pipe back up through the window, rocks, and soil, for the purpose of venting—but this is going to be a major undertaking, and I wish I had thought of it before I filled the window wells.
As far as the smell of food cooking, the plan is to use MREs while in the basement; for ease of use, ease of waste disposal, and to minimize cooking smells. I don’t expect any group to set up squatter’s rights in our home in the first few days of an event, so I’m not really expecting a parade of people moving through the upper levels. Maybe I’m dismissing this issue too easily, but it’s just not something I’m too worried about right now.

Dave in Missouri asked about the furnace, A/C, and hot water heater, and how these impact the useable space. Our A/C is located outside of our home, so it’s not a problem. The furnace, water heater, and water softener are in the basement, but due to the size of the basement and the placement of these appliances they do not cause much loss of space or hinder any of the plans and preparations.

Kathy H. had some great points and issues. The issue of waste and sanitation I addressed above. The issue of CO2 buildup will not be a problem because the basement area is not completely sealed off, and the size alone, coupled with the fact I do have a hidden and secure window I can still open and use to vent gases has me pretty secure in using this basement for the short-term.
The one issue Kathy did raise that has caused me a great deal of thought is the issue of moisture or flooding. I have only had one issue of water in our basement in nearly ten years, and this was due to getting 7 inches of rain in an hour and a half one summer night long ago—so the basement has proven to be fairly impervious to normal rainfall amounts so far. We do have a sump pump, and I’m still in the process of determining the best options for a backup power source I can rig up to use should the weather during our stay in the basement be less then ideal. To find the solution I’m working by the premise of having total failure of the power grid, so battery backup or a solar powered alternative will be what is needed, and I’ve yet to come up with the ideal solution as of this point.
Water is among my greatest fears right now for the basement retreat, and if I ever need to use this retreat for the purpose and reasons it was created I would like to have this issue put to bed—so I’m open to any good ideas from anybody out there.

Dr. A.W. mentioned the need to have the basement area, or any underground area, checked for Radon gas. In our area every home is inspected, during the sales process, for Radon gas. I have also tested it myself with a home test kit that can be purchased at any hardware store—and so far I don’t have any problems with Radon. Great point, A.W., and thanks for the suggestion.

Again, I would like to stress I don’t think of this as the ideal solution---but it is a solution available to me at this time, and instead of dreaming of distant retreats, endless food stores, and the utopia of survival land I decided to use my the things at my disposal, within my budget, and in a way that presents the most realistic scenario should the worst events come to pass. I do hope to improve my plans, upgrade my arrangements, and hopefully someday create that “perfect” retreat—but for the time being, and with the current problems we are facing in this nation, I wanted to have a place I could use now—today—to keep myself, my wife, and my children alive and safe.

I hope some of you may be able to incorporate some of these ideas into your own plans and arrangements, and I’m happy to answer any question that might help.
Thanks and good luck! - Jeff W.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

At the young age of 17 and a half after having completed High School earlier than most of my peers and with parental consent, I joined the United States Marine Corps.
The date was June of 1999. The next four years of my life would be interesting, exciting, dangerous, and eye opening. Quickly making me leave the naive boyhood I had then, and realizing what a dark place most of the world really is. At the end of my four year commitment, I returned home from a year deployment in Afghanistan, and chose to discharge honourably once my contract was completed.
A few adventures later, found me moving to Ontario, Canada. By adventures, I mean my current, and at that time, future wife. We just married May 1st of this year, 2010.
Arriving back from the Honeymoon a few days ago, I was surfing through many of my favourite internet survival sites, and came to Survival Blog as I always would at least once or twice a week but had neglected to do so lately, with all the wedding preparations and stress the past few months.

Up until recently, I felt that my own TEOTWAWKI plans were not to the point I would like them to be. So I told myself I would write a piece one day, when I finally had reached the comfort and safety blanket that I thought was finally good enough for myself and my wife. If I felt it was good enough for us, it should be good enough for others, right? Or so the thinking goes.
Having been a combat Marine, I of course have advantages that a lot of people that are only recently waking up don’t have. But let me tell you. Even having been in the military for four years did not prepare me nearly enough. The knowledge I have gained in the last six years from reading resources on sites such as these, if not outweigh, definitely are the defining attribute to complete the brute force survival instincts one receives in the military.

Lucky for me, my wife has been willing to humour my survival instincts and supports me, so long as I don’t make us bankrupt in the process! So without further adieu, I will tell you how we slowly prepared for TEOTWAWKI. Due to the space constraints necessary for this story, the juicy storyline details are going to be left out with just the necessary ones included. The planning stages began of course, in the spring of 2006 after having stumbled upon some “nefarious” web sites such as Infowars, SurvivalBlog, and many others. It didn’t take me long in the military to realize that while I was a patriotic, country loving American that you could not trust the government completely. If anyone was going to secure our future, it had to be us.

The first thing that really caught my eye was an event still fresh in my mind, Hurricane Katrina. We had opened our wallets immediately, donating to help the tragedy stricken people of the area. But the more we followed the story over those months. The more we realized the complete disaster it was.

How could a government of 300 million people of the largest and richest nation (in terms of resources) on the earth be so unprepared? While this event was big, it was not nationwide and it was not global. It affected only a few percent of the entire population of our great nation. The response was mind numbingly slow.

This is when we decided to take matters into our own hands. This wasn’t even close to a TEOTWAWKI event, and it was obvious just from watching the news just how devastating it really was.
The first thing I began to do was research on methods of food storage and water purification as well as making some emergency kits. A first aid kit, water, candles, all the primary goodies a kit should have. Wound up getting a food dehydrator, and lots of #10 cans to dehydrate food and store it. Ultimately after a lot of trial and error, over the next two years we wound up storing away almost 200 of these cans. We stored beans, rice, quinoa, oats, wheat, honey, salts, sugar, spices. I Dried fruits, vegetables, meats, all sorts of delicious things. Even as I write this, I had opened one of the cans now being almost four years later. This dried fruit still tastes amazing. Yum.

Fast forward two years. I’m cruising on my survival web sites and come across the web site for Mountain House foods. After doing my due diligence and research I head to the local survival / surplus store and buy a few individual pouches to try out. Wow, I’m blown away by the great taste of the freeze dried foods. After going home and doing some more research, I’m saddened to learn that nearly of all them have monosodium glutamate (MSG) in them, but I think to myself: "We all eat some terrible things once in a while in peacetime. Who among us hasn’t headed down to the pub for chicken wings and beer once a month or so with the buddies?" I’m guilty as charged. Eating some food with MSG has got to be healthier than not eating at all.

Comfort food is sometimes just as important as any other food. We decided to buy 2-3 of these #10 cans from Mountain House every month to add to the stash. Normally we were against buying pre-packaged stuff like MREs because the shelf life was only 5-6 years on average, and the per unit cost was (at the time) too high to justify the short shelf life. Dehydrating was far more economical. The 25-30 year shelf life of this, what I called “The fast food of survival food” was more than enough to convince me (along with the taste of course) that they were worth the prices listed.

Fast forward another year. After our diligent monthly purchase (and a few times throughout the year we decided to purchase a case of them when we came into unexpected extra money) we had about 50 of these cans. They varied from breakfast foods, desserts, dinner entrees, and even frozen ice cream! Between these, and all the other things we had purchased and or dehydrated in the past, based on some rough calculations I figured we had nearly two years supply of food for the two of us combined. That’s two years of eating at 2,000 calories. We definitely weren’t planning to skimp. I mean, it’s TEOTWAWKI. We aren’t going to be going to our office jobs all day, then playing PS3 all night like we do now. There is going to be a lot of physical labouring going on right?
Yet something still wasn’t sitting right with me. We had food. We had water purification systems. We had written plans to execute for the day the emergency did strike. We had our cozy little condo that we could hunker down in on the umpteenth floor. We had means by which to defend ourselves with. Even a solar powered generator that ran almost silently on our balcony in the sunlight to charge the icebox and emergency communications equipment that we would almost certainly need. What was missing?
Then it hit me. We were sitting ducks. And sitting ducks in the city which is even worse. How long before our neighbours and others realized we didn’t look like we were starving and still somehow paying our mortgage (with the silver and gold we have also stashed away in the form of bullion coins.)
Did I really think we could defend ourselves in some kind of Rambo: First Blood scenario? A mob will always win. They have the same determination to survive that you have. But they have numbers on their side. They can sleep in shifts. They can wear you down or just brute force you.

I somehow convinced my wife of this. Our search for a property outside the city began. We eventually came on a piece of land a few hours outside the city that was off the beaten path. There was no electricity on the property, no roads leading onto it or anywhere near it, no plumbing, nothing. The parcel of land was surrounded by what we call “Crown Land” which is owned by the government. There wasn’t a neighbour or a building within 50 miles of us in any direction. The fact that this land is so remote meant another great aspect. It was cheap. Believe it or not, we got near 75 acres for under $12,000 dollars Canadian. We had rights to the trees but not minerals. Oh well, we weren’t planning on digging for gold anyway.
I’m going to break down an entire years worth of anguish for you in a few sentences here. If you have ever had the boyish dream of building your own log cabin or cottage in the woods, please let me warn you of the absolute agony you’re going to put your body through. It is hard, hard, hard work.

A year later, I am looking around proudly at my little 650 square foot handmade log cabin. It looks like a snap shot out of a Lincoln cherry wood scene. It’s not the prettiest site. But it has held up all winter and is weather tight. The wood stove keeps it toasty as can be. The outside is nicely done up. My wife just has this amazing ability to bring out lovely flowers and gardens anywhere she goes!
We even built a few really cool things like a small patio covered outdoor kitchen with a stone/brick stove and oven. Powered by, you guessed it, just wood or charcoals. It has a stone water basin with drainage system for washing dishes with a tank above that slowly releases rain water collected from the patio roof. The water runs through a filtration system of course. A large fire pit is in the center, to help provide some heat in the winter if any cooking needed to be done outside. You have to be able to get back to the basics right?

My wife suggested that we attempt to build some sort of refrigerator system into the ground. It was freezing here 6-to-7 months of the year. Mild three months, and the others were just plain warm. A little procrastination and a few youtube videos later, I was back up at the cabin and managed over the course of a month (during the weekends) to dig in a very nice root cellar as well as an underground, very well insulated refrigerator. It keeps things very cool in the summer, and prevents them from freezing in the winter. It is between 2 and 3 feet underground.
It took a long time (several months) to get all of our supplies moved to the cabin and its root cellar. Trucking the supplies up and then ATV-ing them off-road style to the cabin. I had to do other work to the root cellar just in case some sort of rodents or animals managed to burrow into it by mistake and find it, lest our tin cans be discovered. Although they were all properly packaged and sealed so should have been odourless. The entrance to the root cellar was cleverly disguised to appear as part of the hill it was dug into.

We have even managed through a close relationship with our family doctor, to obtain prescriptions of antibiotics that neither of us are allergic to, for our retreat. The only stipulation that he gives us is when they expire we return them to him for a new prescription. They expire about every three years if stored properly. He gave us lots of training and literature on how and when to use them and only under the circumstances that of course, no medical help is available at the time. No one should ever try to diagnose themselves if they are not a doctor.

Fast forward again (I know, you must feel like you’re in that Adam Sandler movie “Click”) to the present day. With our retreat in place and our supplies stored in it, what now you ask? Continue to live life. Continue to gain survival and knowledge skills. We are even considering taking a year off work to move to the cabin and see if we can live at it long term. Maybe even build a chicken coup and small building to raise some rabbits in for meat.

All you can do at this point is to try and continue to live life, and thank God for every day that he gives you. While we are now very much in our minds prepared for what is or what may be to come when TEOTWAWKI happens, five years ago we were ill-prepared individuals and I was naive enough to believe being a marine I could just “bug out” into the bush and survive.
When we first began preparing, I can tell you, I felt like the end of the world was around the corner any minute and I would never have enough time to prepare. None of us middle class citizens can afford to instantly build a hedge against a society collapse. This feeling of helplessness and hopelessness engulfs many of us and probably prevents many of us from acting in the first place.
I can assure you from experience that all the baby steps will eventually come together. Don’t hesitate to begin planning for your future. I think society has brainwashed us to believe the end is always “just around the corner” or maybe it is our own survival instincts. It may be 20 years from now or 50 years or 200 years from now. But isn’t having some sort of peace of mind worth it? I don’t any longer feel that same desperate sense of impending doom that I used to when we were unprepared.

Rather than being sitting ducks like the government wants us all to be, my wife and I took charge of our lives and made our TEOTWAWKI retreat. Could we defend our retreat against a mob should they find it? Of course we couldn’t. But we’re investing in the fact that it is so far away from civilized life that an angry mob shouldn’t be tramping around in the middle of nowhere in a forest hoping to find our garden of Eden. We’ve told no one of it. When the social breakdown begins, we will get into our truck loaded with ATVs on the back and head for the retreat and hope for the best along the way. If your circumstances can help it, don’t bunker down in your condo like we were planning unless it’s absolutely your only option. If it is your only option, then prepare as privately and quietly as you can. All any of us can do in the end is hope that our preparations were enough. God Bless America, and all of humanity!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Author’s Background
I live in Northeastern Minnesota with my wife and four children ages: four to seven.  I teach and am a sports coach at the local high school in town (population 1,200).  We live two hours away from any type of big city, which in our case is Duluth, Minnesota (population 85,000).  My wife is a stay-at-home mom.  Three years ago, we built a new house four miles outside of town on 15 acres that my parents gave us.  Combined, we make just over $56,000 a year.  In just this past year, my wife and I have started making the transition to a more preparedness-minded lifestyle.  As I have scanned and read hundreds of articles online, I have found a wealth of practical information, but little in the way of practical advice for families.  I hope this article helps young families that are either on a limited budget, may feel overwhelmed in their initial stages of preparation, or both.

My Introduction to Preparedness
I didn’t know it at the time, but my introduction to preparedness came in 1999 when I sat at a large table with about 15 other men in a small town café for our weekly bible study.  A small portion of these men were worried about Y2K and urged others to prepare.  I thought they were “nuts.”  I did respect them as Christian men, however, and prayed for guidance.  Looking back, I was a squared away 24 year-old but was still spiritually immature.  At that time in my life, I felt no urging by the Lord to prepare for Y2K. 

About ten years later in the middle of a bitterly cold 2009 winter night, the power went out in my newly-built home.  My home, at the time, ran completely on electricity with no form of back-up heat.  I was lucky to have in-floor heat on both levels of my home, but the wind was howling that night, as the temperatures outside kept dropping and eventually hit 30 below zero.  With the wind chill effect, it was probably near 60 to 70 below.  My kids didn’t like how dark the house was, even though we had flashlights on hand for each of them.  I put my four children to sleep early and piled on some extra blankets.  At 7:00 p.m. it was 60 in the house and I wasn’t worried as my new home was well-insulated and built tight.  I went to call my parents, who own the 20 acres bordering the western boundary of our place.  Our phones in the house, however, all depended on electricity so I decided that my call could wait until the morning.  When I went to bed at 11:00 p.m. it was now 50 in the house and I just assumed the power company guys were having a hard time in the wind and cold.  I woke up in the early morning and noticed that it was about 40 degrees in the house and still no electricity.  I was now a little uneasy as I didn’t need pipes freezing up on me.  At 7:00 a.m. I bundled up the kids and took them next door where I knew my dad had a gas fireplace.  To my surprise, his electricity was up and running.  To make a long story short, it was just my place without power as the wires from the transformer came loose when my box moved from winter heaving.  I called the power company and they had my box fixed within the hour.  Nothing bad had happened, but it did get me thinking about a few questions:

  • What if we were without power for a few days, a week, or even longer?
  • What am I going to do to make sure I don’t have to be up all night worrying about my children?

Later, I called up one of the men in my bible study from years back….one of the “nuts.”  We started talking regularly and then I started emailing back and forth with his brother who lives in Alaska.  Both guys are solid Christian men with a heart for being prepared and ready.  They borrowed me the book, One Second After by William Forstchen.  Reading that book gave me a sense of urgency.  In addition, I also teach Economics, Political Science, and Finance and am very weary of today’s economy for numerous reasons.  When I got to the point where I was ready to make a commitment to preparedness for my family, here are the steps we took to get started (these are in no particular order - just how they worked for us):

Step One: Get on the Same Page with your Wife
While my wife and I agree that the man is the spiritual head of the family, it sure makes life easier in all respects when you both agree to commit to something together.  Depending on your circumstances, this may take some time, substantial prayer, and even some tutoring.  This may mean having your spouse read Mr. Rawles' excellent book,"Patriots".  It may mean having them read One Second After.  I have a friend of mine right now that would like to start preparing, but hasn’t had the courage to bring it up to his wife yet.  How is that going to work?  It isn’t.  We need to be on the same page with our wives.

Step Two: Make a Financial Plan
I first thought to myself, “I can’t afford to buy any of these items.  We live paycheck to paycheck with a nice big mortgage payment on the 25th of each month.”  My wife and I then had to decide how serious we really were.  Is this just talk, or are we going to commit to being prepared?  Do I want to watch my kids freeze to death if TEOTWAWKI takes place?  I suggest each family assess their own individual situation and then plan out their finances in two phases if possible:

  • Decide if you can make a “down payment” to jumpstart your preparation.
  • Then, factor in a monthly stipend for preparation goods and materials.  Think of it like paying a monthly life insurance premium, only this one will save your life.

Step Three: Evaluate Your Situation and Prioritize Your Needs
One thing to mention here:  Just because you have something on your priority list of preparation items, doesn’t mean you can go get it right away.  You have to balance your “priority list” with your checkbook.  My wife and I won’t buy anything we can’t afford.  If we have to use a credit card to get it, we simply don’t!  In our individual situation we created this prioritized list:

  • A Wood Stove to heat the house and to cook on in case of an emergency.
  • Installation of a hand pump on our current well for water
  • Back up food:  Both short-term and long-term
  • Learning new skills (Making our own bread from wheat, canning our vegetables from the garden, using non-hybrid seeds, splitting our own wood, etc.)
  • Buying some added security (Guns and ammo)

For example, we decided to cash-in a $6,500 investment that I could get without paying a penalty.  We first used some of that money to purchase a new wood stove and a hand pump for our well.  Heat and water were no longer concerns for us.  What was next for us?  Back-up food.  Each time at the grocery store we spend an extra $50 on canned goods, rice, cereal, staples, toilet paper, etc. to build up a rotating pantry that will last our family of six approximately three months.

The next step for us was the hardest: long-term food.  In my humble opinion, once you decide to buy long-term food, you have entered the official prepper stage.  Now you are in.  We took $1000 from my investment and used half of it to buy a Country Living Grain Mill and all of its extra parts.  We then bought 1000 pounds of hard red wheat, 200 pounds of rye berries, and a few other staples like wheat, sugar, etc.

My friend (from the bible study) and his wife then taught us how to make the following: bread from scratch using the mill, corn meal mush from feed corn, and bannock native biscuit-type bread).  We then set up future dates to learn how to make Ezekiel bread over an open fire, as well as many other helpful tutorials we could use around the house.

Last, but not least, I used my tax return and bought a DPMS AR-15 and 1,000 rounds of ammo for an added sense of security.  If anyone would have come over to our place in a threatening manner and we had to defend ourselves, before that purchase, I only had the following: a single shot Remington Model 37 Steelbilt 20 gauge shotgun, a Remington 30-06 Model 700 hunting rifle, and my .380 Bersa with just one magazine.  With some remaining money left over, I found two spare magazines for my .380.  I have much more on my wish list that we just can’t afford at this time.  I really don’t want to have to use any of these weapons, but if the time comes where I must protect my wife and kids, I will be ready with the resources that I have.

Don't Be Intimidated By What Others Have!  Everyone’s financial situation and priorities are different.  My wife and I could have easily read what others have in the way of supplies and knowledge and just said, “There’s no way we can do that.”  Instead, we just decided to do what we can with what we have.  We have to give our plan to the Lord and let him provide for us in the ways he sees fit.  Start where you can, and get on the same page with your family.  What are you immediate needs?  Can you get them now?  If not, now you have something to save for.  If yes, that is great.  Now you can move down your list to the next priority.  We are now currently saving up for a case of freeze-dried butter powder and a case of freeze-dried egg powder.  My next big wish is to build an underground root cellar somewhere on our property.

Step Four: Include Your Kids in Everything so They are Prepared
If I tell my kids that we are having a fire drill, they can get out of their beds, crawl on the floor, open the window, take off the screens, and get out of the house in less than one minute.  All four kids also know to meet behind the shed if such a thing were to happen.  Our kids need to be a part of the process.  If TEOTWAWKI happens and our kids are so terrified that they can’t function, surviving will be twice as difficult.  I once did the fire drill while throwing pillows at the kids.  That day we taught them to be focused even if there is chaos all around them.

Our kids also help in the bread-making process, each to their own abilities.  The oldest can now turn the mill; one mixes the flour, etc.  All four of our kids also know where we store our food and they know not to tell anyone.  We tell them, “Lots of people don’t have extra grain.  It is like bragging.  Just tell people that dad’s hunting and fishing gear is in that cabinet.”

As a kid I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad, but my dad always did the “messy” work like gutting the deer and cleaning the fish.  My wife and I are doing our best to teach our kids how to fish, a healthy respect (not fear) for guns, the tips to wood splitting, how to start a fire, etc.  Our kids are too young to do a lot right now, but we always take the time to teach the “how and why” of what we are doing.  Our kids love it and are now starting to ask if they can help.  We never deny them that opportunity.

Even if your kids are young, don’t underestimate what they can do.  Here are some things we have been introducing our four young children to:

  • Fishing
  • Stacking, hauling, cutting wood
  • How to start a fire
  • Lighting a candle in the house on their own
  • How to identify animal tracks
  • A respect for guns – an introduction to shooting with the Red Rider
  • How to cook various meals
  • A familiarity with our property and our trail system
  • How to use walkie-talkies
  • Fire Drills and places on the property to meet
  • Camping skills and helping put up a tent
  • How to use a compass
  • How to use a slingshot

Obviously, I am not going to hand my three year old a 12-guage shotgun and let him go in the woods.  All of our boys, however, the four-year old included, can start a fire from scratch in my wood stove or in our fire pit.  As they get older, we challenge them with the next level of preparedness.  Not only are you giving your kids invaluable skills for the future, you are helping them become self-sufficient and not reliant on others.

Step Five: Use Discernment in Finding Like-Minded Friends
My wife and I have been fortunate to find an older couple to mentor us.  We are careful not to open ourselves up to just anyone.  We live in a small town where if one person tells others something, you can assume a large minority of town knows about it.  We have many close friends that have no idea about our level of preparedness.  When we see an opening in a conversation with someone we trust, we will feel them out, and take it from there. 

Step Six: Continue to Research and Don’t Get Discouraged!
I can’t believe how much I have learned in just a year’s time.  SurvivalBlog alone has thousands of outstanding articles written by people who have been preparing for years and years.  Use the internet and any other resources of information you can find.  Like many others, my wife and I have started our own little library of books, articles, etc.  We even learned how to seal up Mylar bags in our five gallon buckets of food storage on YouTube!

In conclusion, if you are a beginning family or have a tight budget, don’t get discouraged!  Even if you just start by putting away $20 a month and save up your funds for a while.  Over time that money will grow and you will have a nice start to your preparedness plan.  Checking out books at the library is free.  Take down the notes you feel are important and then move on to another book.  Before you know it, you and your family will find that preparedness is a way of life.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I am a public school teacher with five kids and one income. There is little in the way of extra cash to protect the family, but I will do my best to prepare for TEOTWAWKI. If you want to plan well; plan as if it was a lesson plan and you are going to teach it to a class. My class is my family the the goal being not to get anyone panicked (Refer to # 9 below). Having a receptive audience is difficult, because of what I deem…complacent comforts. These are built into the core and routine of our everyday lives that we depend on all to often (you know what they are).

Suburban survival is a surreal world of isolation. You feel alone although you are surrounded by tens of thousands of complacent people who are very comfortable in their grid dependent homes and lifestyles. Try living in suburban New York in which neighbors think you’re getting wacky because you talk of preparing for an event that they deem impossible or extremely remote.

You ask that I provide what works. I provide to you what may work and what does not work when trying to explain to neighbors the concept that more people prepared the less people in need . Going Social and leading a group of individuals is not an option. Sorry, but human nature is 90% reactive and 10% proactive. If you are reading this wonderful blog and this story I tell, then good for you, welcome to the proactive10%. But does anyone really know what will work? You ask for what is proven. Nothing is proven when it comes to TEOTWAWKI. Just prove to yourself that you have prepared for the worst and hope for the best to the greatest of your ability without losing your mind.

What may work is what I have planned for this summer.

1. Two years ago, this house I bought has a chimney with the wood stove removed. I have since bought a wood stove on eBay and will install it this summer. Contact local tree services for what is known as a hook (someone who can give you free wood because around here it costs them money to get rid of it).
2. The back 6 feet of my garage is walled off as a walk in pantry and safe room. Steel racks from target $80 to store the basic recommended foods and three 5 gallon clear water containers. Stores such as Target.com and Harborfreight.com sell a nice three bottle storage rack and a $4.00 hand pump.
3. We like to go camping, so the escape gear is packed and ready to go in the garage. I have three day MRE food packs for each child. Books, games, toys and blankets. I like the items from www.lifesecure.com if you want it all pre-packaged.
4. The Aqua Rain Gravity Water Filter will be used for long term water consumption because I have a fifteen diameter above ground pool that maintains 5,000 gallons of water. Fun to play in and a nice supply of water when filtered. Five gallon clear containers will be wheeled to and from the pool to a basin and then filtered and stored.
5. As an alarm. We have a small barky Cairn Terrier. He has proven to be very territorial. I have encountered many dogs in my life and the small ones seem to bark at strangers the best. Not to scare them off but to let you know there is an intruder.
6. Pray. With the Lord there is confidence and the resolve that you are giving it your best shot and some things are just plain out of you hands and in His.
7. Stay fit. Run and stretch. Exercise with you family. Personally I run and work out with a 1” by 3’ wooden staff. [These are commonly called "dog chasers'] It is cane-like and there are many defensive and offensive forms that can be used.
8. I have friends who are police officers and have never fired their weapon in the line of duty. Do you really want to shoot someone? I train my family for a chaotic attack. We have code words and all have set actions when the code word is mentioned. No matter how crazy things get remember that everything is negotiable. Have a planned system for dealing with a threat other then sending bullets all over the neighborhood. If you can offer an item or two to the desperate individual (who may truly need help) then do so. If they really look like trouble or if they are armed then at least have pepper spray ($11.99 per can here in New York). If you are going to shoot someone, then expect to be shot at as well. You can always think from the other end of the barrel as well, by checking out this web site.
9. Communication - The FEMA and Ready.gov have suggestions on how to communicate to you kids so they know that what you are preparing for is legitimate. The other type of communication Midland Nautico NT3VP VHF 88-channel Two-way radio covers many of the important radio bands as well a my CC SWPocket AM/FM Shortwave Pocket Radio From C. Crane Company.

10. My preparedness approach, in a nutshell:

Heat- Wood

Cook- Wood Stove

Light – Oil Lamps

Food – Stocked bulk items

Water - Aquarain Water filter 2000gallons per filter

Books - Survival (I own three right now), and fiction

Kids - Lots of Books Games, Toys (Legos) and art supplies

Long Term:

Food – fishing and trapping (raccoon/squirrel, locally)

Barter – Lots of practical things and 1 ounce US Silver Eagles (Currently @ $19 each)

Money - $5 Bills (x 50) as a cash reserve

Protection - The Lord gave us our eyes, ears and intuition.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It’s the dead of winter. Snow is flying. There is nothing more comfortable in the cold of a winter season than knowing you are cozy in your home. You are warm and oblivious to the penetrating cold of the outdoors. But just how vulnerable are you to a sudden and unexpected power outage from an ice storm or another failure of the electrical grid? Do you depend on oil, natural gas, propane gas or electricity for your home heating? Under any circumstance, could your home heating system become unworkable? This article should help prepare you enough so you and your family won’t freeze to death if the grid goes down.

I have spent 37 years of my life working as a chimney sweep and/or a brick mason. So my first love of heating alternatives are solid fuel heaters. When I say solid fuel, I am specifically talking about wood, coal, or other biomass, which can be combusted in a controlled environment in exchange for the heating value--as measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs)--of the fuel source.  Wood fuel will average up to 8,500 BTU of heat per pound. Coal is approximately 12,000 BTU per pound. Variations of the actual BTU of heat potential will be specific to the density of the solid fuel being combusted and moisture content. Lighter density woods like pine and cedar will take a larger amount of wood to make the heat potential that a smaller amount of oak or hickory will produce. Of course one is limited to whatever is locally available. If you have a good source of coal locally available, that could be your fuel of choice.  However, it is unfeasible to import coal or wood from other regions of the country because of the transportation costs and energy expense of the transport.  For this reason I do not recommend pellet fuel as a viable survival fuel. I will talk about pellet stoves specifically a little later.

There are three types of solid fuel appliances. Fireplaces, free standing stoves, and central furnaces. Each has unique properties, advantages, and disadvantages. Out of the three categories, a fireplace is the most inefficient. A fireplace will achieve perhaps a 10% efficiency rating because most of the heat goes up the chimney. Dampers must remain partially open during all phases of the heating cycle. Glass doors help efficiency considerably over an open fireplace. A better fireplace will have ducting around the outside of the firebox to allow more heat exchange. Masonry fireplaces store more ambient heat than metal box fireplaces. But a metal box fireplace will put out more radiant heat in a shorter period of time. And a masonry fireplace is relatively difficult to add to an existing structure without major modifications in footings and other structural considerations.

 The installation of a wood burning stove in an existing fireplace, called an Insert will increase the efficiency of a fireplace upwards to a comparable free standing wood stove. But before installing an insert stove in any fireplace, be sure to check manufacturers instructions for both fireplace and the stove insert for compatibility! Failure to follow the instructions or the use of mismatched parts can lead to unsafe and potentially deadly consequences! Safety cannot be stressed enough when using solid fuel heaters. When properly installed and maintained, solid fuel heat is safe, efficient, and economical under any conditions.

If you choose to have a gas fireplace, or gas log, be aware that the convenience comes with an expense. If the fireplace has an electric igniter and the power is off, that appliance will not function. Without blower circulation heat build up can become excessive and unsafe. Gas logs can be added, but they are relatively inefficient and ever an increasing expense to operate. Also keep in mind that if there is a disruption in gas supplies and distribution, your gas appliance may become useless within a very short period of time. Propane gas appliances allow storage on site, which may buy you some time. But under a prolonged disruption of gas supply, that appliance will no longer be useful.

Free standing wood stoves are the most popular. They can be located centrally in a house or cabin for maximum heating. Many stoves come with an electric blower system, which improves efficiency. However in a power outage, the stove will still produce enough radiant heat to keep you warm.  Stoves that have no blower,  rely upon their design to produce area heating. EPA Certified solid fuel heaters will have an efficiency rating of 85%, which is nearly as efficient as gas heaters. You may be able to pick up an older, used wood stove for not a lot of money. But be aware that the stove may not have the highest efficiency and by law may not be legal in some environmentally sensitive areas. But in a survival situation, the goal is to keep from freezing to death. On a tight budget, an older stove is still a worthwhile investment if it is sound working condition.

 There is also a class of solid fuel heater called pellet fuel heaters. While they may be the current rage of environmentally friendly solid fuel heaters, they will not function without backup electricity. I used to own a pellet stove. They are nice when you have electricity, but worthless if the power goes off. Unfortunately the cost of transporting the wood pellets is making the fuel source very expensive per BTU of heat. If there is a disruption of the transportation grid, the fuel would become unavailable in many areas of the country. By and large, I would never recommend a pellet heater for a survival heater.

Third category of solid fuel heaters is central a furnace. My home was originally "all electric". A couple years ago we had a severe ice storm in Central Missouri that knocked out power to thousands of homes for over a week. My neighbors essentially had to leave their all electric homes because the temperature became unlivable. But I was able to remain in my home. Why?  I have a central wood furnace that is ducted into my heating system. Without electricity, the blower circulation will not function. But the radiant heat rose from the top of the furnace duct and circulated naturally through my central ductwork.  When it became evident that the power might not be restored for several days, I brought my portable generator into use. I located my generator in my detached garage and ran an electric cord through my clothes dryer vent, into my furnace room. From there I was able to power the wood furnace, freezer, and extra refrigerator. Warning: Because of the risk on carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, never place a generator in an attached garage or living space! Also be absolutely sure to "lock out" the circuit breakers to prevent a back feed condition to the grid power lines. During the power outage, several people needlessly died due to carbon monoxide poisoning because they placed generators in their attached garage and the CO gas entered the home. The goal is to survive here so be smart.

Another popular wood furnace is located outside the house. A generator could run that system from outside. But one disadvantage to an outdoor wood furnace is having to go outside to add fuel. If there is some kind of outdoor environmental situation that makes it unsafe to go outside, the indoor furnace can be fueled from inside wood storage for a few days. Not having to open doors preserves the indoor air quality. The indoor furnace will still send heat into the ductwork without a fan. The outdoor furnace has a much more difficult ducting system that may not transfer enough heat to sustain livability if power is lost completely.

Having a generator is very good for short term survival circumstances. But you may be limited on how much use you may get out of a generator if there is a long term disruption of gasoline delivery. You may be able to use a good generator sparingly and operate a wood stove or furnace fan for many days on 5 gallons of gas. But in the long term your solid fuel system should be capable of sustaining enough heat in your home to make it livable under the worst of winter conditions.

A solar electric panel with battery storage will operate a blower , so that could be another consideration for power to circulate heat or other power needs. [JWR Adds: An inverter would be required to run an AC fan. But when sourcing your power from a DC battery bank, running a DC fan is much more efficient.]

You may have to consider blocking off some rooms to keep the heat in the main area of habitation.  If your wood appliance has a cook top that is capable of basic cooking or boiling water that is a plus. If there is a disruption of water supply, the ability to melt snow or boil water on a cook top wood stove could allow you to process enough drinking water to sustain an ample survival water supply.

One last item to consider for a survival situation utilizing any solid fuel appliance is the chimney. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a clean and structurally sound chimney system. If your masonry chimney has cracked tile liners, or is unlined, I strongly suggest you have a Certified Chimney Sweep inspect your chimney and perform any necessary repairs before you consider using a solid fuel appliance. There are stainless steel chimney liners available to reline your chimney. If the chimney has ever been used to vent a gas appliance, the mortar becomes weakened by chemical reactions and is unsafe to use without the addition of a stainless chimney liner. Under no conditions should you vent a solid fuel appliance into a chimney being used by a gas furnace or gas water heater. This can create a dangerous condition. In addition, the gas damages the structure as I've already outlined.

The other type of chimney system is called a Class A Chimney. These systems consist of insulated, prefabricated sections of stainless steel pipe that snap or lock together. They can be fully supported by the ceiling rafters, which allow installation in areas where a masonry chimney is impractical. Where a masonry chimney requires a concrete footing, a prefab Class A chimney can be easily installed into any existing structure. A chimney should be cleaned and checked prior to use in the fall, and cleaned and rechecked at least once during the heating season to insure safety and long term durability.

All in all, as a matter of long term survival, alternative heat should be a top priority as an equal to food and water storage. Winter may be almost over for many, but now is the time to start gathering firewood for next season. As a rule, one acre of timber produces, by natural turnover, about a cord of wood every year. Not many trees need to be cut to heat your home. I will heat my 1,900 square foot home with two to three cords of firewood a year with very little electric furnace operation. But if you do cut a tree, be sure to plant one for sustainability of your wood supply. In a survival situation. One can never have enough dry, split firewood handy if the power grid goes down in the dead of winter.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dear Editor:
The Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2010 is now melting away and as usual there were lessons learned.   Many of these should have been “known” before but we are never as prepared as we should be.  In that vein I am going to rehash several things that went right, a few that went wrong, and others that we can improve on the next time that “life as usual” is not.

First, the setting: I live in Southwestern Oklahoma and have been here for almost three years.  About January 22nd we started getting word of an impending ice/snow storm scheduled to hit on about January 28th.  As the storm came together we received updates that refined the details.  The reports of January 27th were remarkably accurate to what we would receive as well as the specific times that each type of precipitation would start to fall.

In our town it started to rain at about 7 a.m. on January 28th.   As the temperature dropped that rain froze on metal objects, then on trees and plants, and finally on roads.  At approximately 3 p.m. the rain changed over to sleet and ice pellets and by 9 p.m. we were getting snow.  Unfortunately an inch+ of ice and two inches of sleet/ ice had already destroyed many trees and power lines (both the small distribution lines in town and the major transmission lines into town) were down.
Electricity went out about 11 a.m. and was restored by 3 p.m.  It went out again at 4 p.m. and would remain off at our house for the next six days.  This power outage was universal for every house in town and every town within a 30 mile radius.  I should mention that throughout the storm we had full water, sewer, and natural gas service.  There was concern at one point that the sewers would back up, (the sewer lagoons are at an elevation where the sewage has to be pumped to them) and those concerns brought about the possibility of the city turning off the water to prevent sewer backup but power was restored before this eventuality.

Second, the good news list.  Now that we are settled into what we hope is our last home, we keep on hand sufficient food to last for approximately six months.  With reasonable rationing we could go even longer.  We have a good rotation system and keep on hand about four months worth of food that we eat every day and two months worth of emergency type rations.

We enjoy camping and backpacking and have all the equipment to do both activities year round and be comfortable.  This includes lighter weight stoves, packs, tents and sleeping bags and water purifiers to campsite sized Coleman cook stoves, lanterns, Dutch ovens, tents, cots and heavy sleeping bags.  While most of this equipment was not used it was comforting to know that if the situation continued to deteriorate, that we could adapt.

We bought a standard frame house with brick veneer when we moved to Oklahoma which is approximately 35 years old.  We haven’t spent money on kitchen, bathroom or carpet upgrades but we have put 20 inches of blown insulation throughout (to include over the garage and the porches) and we replaced all of the original double pane aluminum frame windows with energy efficient vinyl frame windows.  Realizing that it is possible to do better, we were still pleased that during one seventeen hour period without any heat source in the house, outside temperatures from 17 to 26 degrees, and 20 mph winds, the temperature in the house only dropped five degrees from 67 to 62.

The house has two hot water heaters-one electric that services two bathrooms and one natural gas that services the kitchen and laundry room.  It was very easy to take hot water to the bathtubs and perform personal hygiene.  Showers were courtesy of the two gallon watering bucket that my wife uses to keep the sun room flowers fresh.

The regular phone system remained operational throughout the storm and recovery period.  However, folks that only had cordless phone systems could not access the lines.  In some cases phones with integrated answering systems could dial out but the phones would not ring if the ringer depended on plug in electricity.  We have one of the old style rotary phones that works perfectly on the telephone line current and were able to send and receive calls.

We topped off all the vehicles and gas cans a couple of days before the storm.  I anticipated trouble getting more fuel trucks to town.  What I did not think about was the gas station could not pump gas without electricity anyway.  Ultimately one old fashioned gas station in town hooked up a generator and could run receipts in his office.  Credit cards did not work so cash or an established charge account with the owner was the way to do business.
Third, what we can do better.  We have a lot of candles.  I have not done an inventory but there are boxes of them.  We discovered that candles that are about an inch in diameter are optimal.  Larger candles, 2-1/2 to 4 inches burn down in the center and leave a candle rim that blocks light. Ultimately they just shine a small circle of light on the ceiling.  We also learned that the best candles put out very little light.  We have a couple of antique oil lamps but they are for decoration and did not have wicks in them.  We are going to acquire more oil lamps, maintain them, and keep sufficient oil on hand for 4-to-6 months.

In the brain dead category we have Coleman stoves and lamps that are dual fuel.  Unfortunately I gave all of our Coleman fuel to the Boy Scouts so we failed in “Being Prepared”.  We shifted to our propane stoves.  I need to point out that these stoves should not be used indoors.  We cooked outside on the patio.  When we do get around to remodeling the kitchen I am going to replace the stove top with a gas appliance.  While we did not bake, we did have the capability by placing a Dutch oven on the propane stove.

In the final analysis we look at the Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2010 as being the most lavish camping trip that we have ever been on.  We never felt as though there were any true hardships and after the initial storm period we spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the snow and volunteering at the local Red Cross warming/feeding center doing whatever was asked of us.  We look forward to implementing a few changes and the next opportunity to test our preparedness.

I am new to reading your blog and love it! I wanted to comment on the ice storm post. I live in Oklahoma so we know all about these ice storms. I started reading a lot of blogs on prepping and storing food during the holidays. I decided to make a menu and strict food budget so I could afford to buy extra food for long-term storage. I bought a month's worth of food this January. I also bought my first water storage container - a 7 gallon Aqua-Tainer from Wal-Mart. Last year, I had a gas heater mounted on my dining room wall, preparing myself for the next inevitable ice storm. A few days before the storm, I bought emergency candles and I am so glad I did! We didn't lose power (thankfully!), but our little town was cleaned out of generators, candles, Coleman stoves, propane, kerosene....everything. I went to Wal-Mart a few days later (when power was still out all over the county) and the shelves were completely empty in some areas. That was a wake-up call to me. In just a few short days, stores can be emptied. It is wise to not wait until the last minute. I am a single mom and a teacher and I know how difficult it is to come up with extra money to help become better prepared. I am doing a little each month and will sleep soundly knowing that my kids will be warm and fed if anything happens. By the way, the ice storm hit seven days ago and people are still without power.

Thanks for the wonderful blog and such useful information! - Kay in Oklahoma

Friday, February 5, 2010

I have just returned to my house after 6 days without power. I Thought I was ready. I had plenty of beans, Band-Aids, bullion and bullets. What I didn’t have was the stuff I needed to get through the first week of a massive power outage. We still had water, even though I had an additional 50 gallons of fresh, treated water for myself, The Beautiful Wife (TBW) and the pets. We had enough short term food that we were able to provide a chili meal for some of our friends and coworkers that were doing without. We had more money of all kinds than we needed. What I hadn’t planned for, was the first week. We had enough flashlights, but a headlight would have served much better. Cooking with a flashlight leave the cook one hand short. I knew that I had a Coleman propane camp stove, but I had neglected to put the propane and the connector hose with the stove. I had a Coleman lantern for light, but I had used the last pair of mantels and had not replaced them, you know, I’ll get them on sale or when we go to town next. And then I forgot! I would have paid three times what the cost just to be able to read after dark. Same thing for the propane, I had one for the grill, one for the stove (Oh, yea, I don’t know where that one is), and a spare. Oh, the spare is in the travel trailer, and has an inch of ice over the storage door. Hummmm! Thank goodness for deicer. Oh, yea, I had to go dig that out of storage in another box.

Have a list! Know what things you need to rotate, replace, use up, whatever. Make sure your BTW or your closest friend knows where that list is, and what it means. Abbreviations on a list that have meaning to you, are worthless to your partner, unless they know what they stand for.

Drill! Work with your partner to fine tune the list. We both knew where the spot flashlight was, we thought! We had moved less than a year ago, and the spot flashlight we both thought we knew the location of, well that was in the old house. We found it in the travel trailer on the fourth day. Have a scavenger hunt and find random items on the list. Where is the fire extinguisher, the spot flashlight, the propane for the stove? What do you need to splint my broken arm from a fall in the ice? How am I supposed to get you to a medical facility without a phone?

I have been reading SurvivalBlog for a year now, and I thought I was doing pretty good. Boy, was I wrong!

Keep up the good work and God Bless. - Ray B.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mr. Rawles:
As an engineer interested in long term sustainability I was most interested in the item from Troy H. mentioning Juhnde, Germany. I took a look at their web site and ran the numbers to look at whether such an installation is commercially viable.

The capital costs listed were EU 5,400,000 or about USD $7,900,000 at present exchange rates; It's not clear when the overall system was constructed but the hot water pipeline system was built around 2005. Apparently, and I will have to look into this further, all of the capital costs were from public funds. This translates out to about $10,395 per resident in capital expenses, excluding operating and maintenance costs. Amortized out over 20 years, straight line amortization with no interest cost, the principal cost would be ~$520 per resident per year. If you included reasonable capital costs, a 20 year fixed 6.0% mortgage would cost $74.51 per month per resident. It might be possible to play with the financing costs and rates to find a sweet spot, but I thought that was sufficient for a first assessment.

Assuming an average family of four, this would mean about $3600 per year (about $2,080 for principle and $1,500 interest) for heat and electricity capital cost plus the unknown operating costs, which I would estimate by rule of thumb for large installs at 50% of the amortized capital expenses. That is $5,400 per year per family, not for housing but just for heat and electricity.

If we include the return from the electrical power (an estimated annual surplus of 2,500,000 kWh) that is a total annual savings of $150,000 at $0.06 per kWh or $197 per resident per year, for an estimated net cost of around $4,600 per family for heat and electricity. (Obviously, electrical costs vary tremendously and affect the analysis)

My costs for my home's physical plant, which include a propane furnace with electric heat pump and associated tanks, duct work, woodstove and chimney, etc., were about $13,000 to support a family of four. My annual energy cost, electricity, propane, and the costs of cutting/splitting wood are about $1,400 per year. (Yes, I have good insulation, and I also don't have a huge house, and I turn off the lights!) Plus an allowance of $500 for repair and replacement. Using the same logic and rates, my mortgage cost for heating is $93.14 per month or ~$1,120 per year capital expenses plus $1,900 in operating expenses including preventative maintenance (PM) and repair allowance. This totals $3,000 per year.

What this analysis tells me is that interesting as Juhnde is, it is not economically sustainable. Sustainable designs have to be sustainable from an economic perspective as well as a technical and biological one. A truly sustainable solution offers economic benefits and a competitive advantage. Now, a highly productive society such as present-day Germany may be able to afford to subsidize a 50% increase in energy costs and a 25% reduction in crop output, at least in a small area over the short term, and this example may be useful as a 'proof of concept' test bed, but in my judgment this is not a viable long term solution for the USA. The real push behind this may be found in the proud statement that the village has reduced it's carbon output by 60%. Regards, - Larry

JWR Replies: Also missing from the grand cost accounting equation are the costs of the fossil fuels used in producing and transporting the crops used in biodigesters. Traditional agriculture in a partially forested region (for firewood) with good topsoil and reliable rains provides a much better shot at true local mutigenerational sustainability. But of course that flies in the face of the uber-greens that are fixated on carbon emissions. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Our forests are enormous solar energy collectors, renewably providing countless billions of BTUs, there for the taking.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last night I watched Jesse Ventura's "Conspiracy Theory" show which centered around the government's cover up of the coming 2012 scenario. The show featured people converting missile silos to survival bunkers. Historical precedent will quickly point out a glaring problem with this approach.

Consider that relative to the technological level of their day, European castles were more heavily fortified than any bunker being built today (by virtue of the fact that your average monarch of Medieval times had far more resources available than anybody seeking to build a shelter). Still, no castle ever withstood siege indefinitely. No matter how much planning, preparation and defense was put into a stronghold, it was eventually overrun, and in these cases the incentive to do so was a fraction of what it will be in the coming scenarios. Today the ante has been upped; more tech exists to create these bunkers, but the same level of tech exists to break down their defenses and it all comes out in the wash. Bunkers will suffer the same fate that any medieval castle suffered, if people know they exist. Given the social chaos that's going to hit well before the 2012 solar event(s), history will repeat itself. If people know a shelter exists, it's going to become a target when they become desperate enough (which isn't going to be long). Being holed up in one of these places, you just became a resource for every starving person who didn't plan ahead. Hordes will gather in desperation to raid a shelter and retrieve whatever is inside. What's actually inside doesn't matter; what will drive these hordes will be what they think is inside.

The best possible defense is to be invisible. People won't raid what they don't know is there. My own plans are quite meticulous in the area of staying hidden. Nobody in town (a rural Central Georgia town) knows that I even know what a shelter is. The subject is never discussed. Building is done in secret. Rammed Earth construction is used for the shelter itself because I don't have to go out and purchase an inordinate amount of materials which people will be wondering what I did with. What I do need to purchase is broken up among various hardware stores in the metro Atlanta area so that I don't spend too much time or money in any given store.

What about covert power sources? Here is one theoretical approach: Milkweed grows just about anywhere; it grows very quickly and breaks down even faster in salt water. Since salt water is an excellent conductor of electricity, putting current through the water may help the milkweed break down even faster. The goal is to generate methane with the milkweed dissolving in an enclosed container. Methane can run a generator. Organic trash goes into this container as well.

Air filtration has outside air running through several stages of an algae-rich water system; exhaust air goes through the same system. Algae converts CO2 to oxygen quite efficiently. A very high voltage Tesla coil in the filtration water ionizes the water and breaks down impurities; this is applied in a later stage of filtration, after the incoming air has passed through the algae-rich water stage. Further filtering (charcoal, etc.) as a final stage completes the process.

Waste is recycled. Like a septic tank, solid waste is separated from liquid waste. The solid waste is dried (in an enclosed airtight container), pulverized, then burned to help heat the shelter. Handling of liquid waste is still being explored; ammonia and other chemicals need to be extracted but can be bonded with other elements to produce something useful.

Go too deep underground and you get into very negative biological effects on the human body. These are very subtle and gradual to start, but with prolonged, consistent immersion in a deep underground environment, they do intensify.

From the beginning of time, history has shown that unless you have a Mongol horde behind you, you're going to fall if there's any reason to attack you. The Maginot Line was simply marched around and France fell in a few days. The Normandy defenses took a lot of American lives but still fell in a matter of hours. Those attacking you will not be restricted to isolated individuals wandering onto your land. If it's perceived that you have goodies inside (i.e. food), you're going to face mobs and hordes that your little home defenses are not going to compete with. Staying hidden is your only real defense. The government thinks they're going to be safe in their massive bunkers, but they hired countless contractors who helped build the things. These contractors, in desperate times, are going to gather together large assault forces (not difficult to do when everybody is starving) and go after what's inside. My guess is, nearly every government bunker is going to be overrun well before the 2012 event(s) ever occur because social breakdown is going to hit well before that time and the necessity of raiding these shelters will be extreme.

Historical precedent says that you're not going to fight your way through this, no matter what you do. If people know you're there, they're going to come after what you have, in droves. The best option anybody has is to avoid being attacked in the first place. The only way to do this is to remain hidden. - Chris

Dear James Wesley,
The following is a method of obtaining hot water in an off-grid situation. Even more exciting than the 6.5 earthquake this week was our new hot shower! We still have "no" indoor plumbing on our rather recent homestead. Showers in hot weather consist of a hot garden hose. Cold weather requires heating water on the stove and pouring it over ones self while standing on the yurt porch. Or just a spit bath with a washcloth if it's too cold to stand on the porch.

But I have seen what other clever off-grid folks cook up for showers, and so we now have a compost water heater. We built a pile about 8' across and 2.5' deep, then laid a 300' roll of 3/4" poly pipe in the center and piled on more leaves, manure, hay, coffee grounds and household scraps, leaving the ends exposed. Hooked one end up to the garden hose, and the other end to an outdoor shower
stand I bought some years back but never used. We set it up inside the greenhouse so it is private and weather protected.

Presto! After "cooking" for a few days, our water was up to the mid 90 degree range, and 300' makes a decently long shower. By today,I found that it is hot enough to require mixing in some cold water! I have never built a compost pile quite this large before, but most of my big piles have been getting up to 150 - 160 degrees for a week or more, then gradually cooling back down. We expect to get a few
weeks worth of hot showers out of this pile. As it begins to cool down into the low 90s again, I will build another pile adjacent to it and use the second 300' roll of pipe we bought on sale awhile back. By running the pre-warmed water through the second pile, we should have a great supply. Sheer luxury. And free, except for the labor, since all the equipment was purchased months or years ago and for other purposes. And when it is all said and done, I'll still have the compost for the garden. Kinda helps balance out all the gray skies and mud. - Respectfully yours, T. & D. in California

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
First, let me extend my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family on the passing of your wife. As a Christian, I am confident she is in a good place and free of her suffering, though sorely missed by the rest of us.

I have been a heating/ air-conditioning / refrigeration technician for the last 30 years. I own and use combustion analyzers to maximize performance of my customer’s appliances and both minimize the carbon monoxide (CO) they produce but also take a snap-shot of the ambient CO level in the building. I feel it is important to point out that while CO detectors are worthwhile (or at least a little better than nothing), they are not infallible! Far too many of them are improperly installed near kitchens, water heaters, furnaces and other combustion appliances! Nearly ALL fuel burning appliances produce CO at some point of their operating cycle. If a good, sensitive detector is placed too close to that appliance, it will “FALSE” on that short period emission of CO. False alarms desensitize the residents to the alarm, a very bad thing indeed. The solution to this problem by the Underwriter’s Laboratories (at fire department requests) has been to create a testing standard that is targeted to preventing FALSE alarms rather than insisting the device alarm when needed. I have seen this demonstrated, repeatedly, by placing a detector in a zip lock bag then filling the bag with 100 PPM CO calibrating gas. After an hour, none of the UL approved detectors did anything!! Scary, to say the least. IMHO they are unreliable as a result.

An AC powered detector will not work during power interruptions – a time when alternate, untested heat sources are likely to be in use! A battery powered device should always be present if any alternate heat sources not using utility power are used.

CO detectors have a finite life span, on the shelf or installed in the home. They can be “poisoned” by exposure to certain chemical fumes or very high levels of CO. Once poisoned, they will never respond to CO – at any level. My suggestion is to properly install a CO detector near all sleeping areas as high on the wall as possible. However, in addition to installing a detector, do not depend on it as they are, IMHO, unreliable. Far too many times I have measured high levels of CO in homes so equipped where no alarm ever sounded. In others, I have repaired serious heating plant problems where the alarm had sounded but the fire department condemned the detector rather than finding the problem !

Like most risks, proper understanding of the problem can be most helpful. In the case of CO, at least some things to consider are;

1. All un-vented heaters are extremely high risk. Oxygen depletion sensors do not address the problem AT ALL.

2. Cook stoves, particularly ovens, put out large amounts of CO and the standards consider it acceptable! Heed the warnings NOT to use them for space heating!

3. Space heating appliances that burn gas, oil, coal or wood can, and often do, produce high, unacceptable levels of CO in the flue gas. This can ONLY be measured and corrected by a properly trained professional – spend the money to protect yourself by hiring a well qualified technician to service your appliance(s). If he does not have a modern combustion analyzer, FIRE HIM !! Either get a printout of the readings or try to observe them on his instrument.

Note that LP gas is the most common fuel used (but certainly not the only fuel) where people are overcome by CO due to several factors including the higher carbon content of the fuel and it’s tendency to be difficult to burn cleanly. Gas can truly produce odorless CO! The most common warning I have seen is high indoor humidity. Fuel oil and solid fuels are, IMHO, the least likely to cause problems as a blocked flue or defective appliance will produce enough smoke and odor to warn of CO risk. In many cases, soot on the walls is a pointer to serious problems.

A lot of detective work can be required to find / correct CO problems. Sick appliance(s), exhaust fans, clothes dryers, inadequate combustion air, defective chimneys, improper installation, missing blower doors are just a few of the possible issues. With all due respect to firefighters, a CO problem often is not something that can be found during a short visit !! It requires a thorough knowledge of the systems involved and, quite often, a lot of time. It has been my experience that, in my area, the vast majority of systems are improperly installed or maintained.

Here is a link that echoes much of what I have written.

My combustion analyzers are less expensive than his (all four of them) but my results remain consistent and also prove the finite life span of the expensive detectors I use. Mine are sensitive enough to often tell if there is an active tobacco smoker in the house!!

Please use my comments in any way you feel will benefit your most useful blog!

Sincerely, - Mike G

Hello Jim,
It's been a long time since we've corresponded, and I'm glad to see you're still around and active. I was also saddened at the loss of your wife, and hope you and your family are otherwise healthy and prosperous.

I wanted to give folks a second option on intermixing their common combustion heating systems (e.g., Propane, Natural Gas, Fuel Oil), with the less common one (e.g., Wood, Pellets, Corn, etc). In order to do this, one must first understand how a conventional furnace functions. It is actually two independent systems, with an emergency interlock. The first system simply ignites a burner when the thermostat requests heat. That generally involves a series of steps, such as forced draft fans, pilot lights, electric spark, etc.; but the primary function is to safely light the main burner. Once the main burner is burring, the heat being produced heats up the air in the furnace plenum. The plenum is the large metal box to which all of the ductwork attaches. The plenum has three temperature sensors (usually simply b-metal switches) which operate as follows: The High On switch turns on the furnace blower when the temperature reaches some value (usually about 120 degrees F), the second low off switch turns it off when it reaches some other value (typically 80-90 degrees F), and the third sensor (typically 180-250 degrees F) is the high limit protection switch which directly turns off the main gas or oil valve to shut down the burner. This final switch should generally never be tripped. Finally, when the thermostat no longer requires heat, it drops its heat request, shutting down the burner. Since the plenum still contains latent heat from the burner, it will continue to run the fan until the low limit sensor turns the fan off.

With this simple explanation, we can see that the plenum system doesn't actually know or care (yes I'm anthropomorphizing here) where the heat comes from; so, if you connect the forced air out of the wood/corn/straw burning device, into the furnace plenum, the plenum will automatically turn on and off in response to the heating of the air, regardless of where the hot air originated. You may have to place a gravity damper, or and electric damper connected to the alternative heat blower motor control to act as a check valve and ensure that heat doesn't flow backwards through the secondary heat plenum when it's not running. When no alternative heat is being produced, the conventional furnace operates normally.

I've installed this system in homes of several friends over the years, and it works quite well. - LVZ in Ohio

Friday, November 27, 2009

This article explains one way that you can configure a hybrid heating system for your house in a Schumeresque environment, but it is also potentially a way to cut your heating bills before TSHTF, depending on the prices of various heating fuels in your area.

We live in North Idaho, in a house that would be better suited in Hawaii.  It’s watertight but mostly a heat sieve.  Each of the last few years as the propane prices jumped each winter, we ended up getting hit with astronomical bills to keep the inside of our rather large home livable in outdoor temps that, for months, hovered between 20 °F and –10 °F.  We use the wood stove that was already upstairs when we bought the place, and we have added some house insulation, installed double pane windows, and done all the usual maneuvers to limit heat loss, but the basic structure of most of the house is still about R-3 and right now we don’t have the money needed to get it all up to snuff.  We have a forced air propane-fired furnace, but in our region wood pellets are much cheaper than propane and that was the basic reason that I started thinking about how to take advantage of that fact.

I came up with an interesting approach to marry the existing propane furnace system to a recently purchased, used pellet stove.  Normally, pellet stoves provide lots of heat in a limited area, at a relatively low cost per BTU.  Their drawback is that, typically, you can’t get that cheap heat spread all over the house so you end up with one nice warm region, and many cooler regions in other rooms or on other floors.  Turning on the furnace blower can help to move the warm air around somewhat, but airflow patterns and the tendency for heat to rise often thwart this approach significantly.  Then there is the fact that the two systems don’t “talk” to each other so you could end up with the furnace blower running when the pellet stove is cold, or it’s off when the stove is cranking out the heat, and manual synchronization requires constant attention.

I put the pellet stove in the same room that has the furnace closet and cold air intake (aka the cold air return).  I placed it on an outside wall of the house and plumbed the flue through an existing small window, re-framing half the glass and using a wall thimble to separate the hot pipe from anything remotely combustible.  I would have just gone through the wall but in our walkout basement it is cinder blocks filled with puffed mica and I did not want the mess, or the reduction in structural integrity.  The stove’s hot air outlet in front is aimed, more or less, at the cold air intake of the furnace.  Make sure that you install both a smoke detector (if you don’t already have one near the furnace) and a carbon monoxide detector in the room.  Consider having the stove flue professionally installed if you aren’t certain that you can do it in a way that gives you a safe and decent looking result.

Instead of putting a thermostat on the pellet stove, I installed a 7-day multi-cycle programmable timer that provides thermostat-like contact closure at the times I programmed.  This does two things.  It helps to avoid too much repeated use of the self-igniting feature of the stove – often the first part to go bad and a costly part at that.  Secondly, it assures that in the winter, the heat comes on long before we are awake so the house is fully warmed when my wife gets up.  This part is very important because If Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy (IMAHANH).   James, you might want to add that to your glossary. [JWR Adds: Done!]

The timer starts the pellet stove and heats that room quickly.  In a normal system this would soon tell the furnace thermostat that the house is warm enough and no action is required, but I want the blower to operate to spread the heat using the existing ducts throughout the house.  So I installed a second mercury-switch type thermostat and placed it so that it could “feel” both the heat in the room from the pellet stove and the cooler air returning from the balance of the house when the furnace blower is on.  Here’s the part that seems backwards – but it works perfectly.  I used the “air conditioning” side of the thermostat and tied the switch in parallel to the furnace blower’s manual fan terminals.  These are the wires that go closed circuit when you flick the house thermostat’s blower switch from “auto” to “manual.”  Now I have two devices that can turn on the furnace blower and they operate independently without interference.  I leave the house thermostat’s blower switch on “auto” so that it works with the furnace in those rare times that heat is required but my pellet stove is not on.  But when my pellet stove heats the room, the new thermostat thinks that the room is too hot (above ~76F in my case) and it “turns on the air conditioning” which is actually my furnace blower.  Voila !  My house furnace is spreading the heat from my pellet stove.  When the timer tells the pellet stove to shut down – like as bedtime approaches – the utility room starts to cool down, aided by the cooler air returning from the rest of the house.  When the room gets below the “air conditioning” setting the thermostat shuts off the furnace blower.   If, during the night the house goes below the temperature I have set for the original furnace, it can come on and do its thing as before, but I set that nighttime temp quite low since we are sleeping in warm beds anyway.

Using this scheme, my propane bills have already dropped to around 25% of what they were and even with the cost of the pellets, my total heating costs are way down!

Yes, you need electricity to run the pellet stove timer, the pellet stove and house furnace blower, but in a TEOTWAWKI scenario I’ll be using my diesel generator to keep the food freezers and critical accessories “refreshed” anyway.  The thrifty aspect is that the pellet stove’s timer has an internal rechargeable battery backup that it uses when turned off, so none of the parts of my new system produces “phantom loads” on my electrical network.  I intentionally used a [traditional bi-metal style] mercury switch thermostat ($2 used, from Habitat for Humanity) because it has better hysteresis characteristics than newer solid state battery operated thermostats. A thermostat that controls a furnace is either off or on, with nothing in between. The thermostat is a system; the input is the temperature, and the output is the furnace state. If one wishes to maintain a temperature of 71 °F, a solid state thermostat will try to stay as close to that temperature as possible, often cycling the furnace and blower on and off many times per hour.  This is both inefficient and hard on the furnace parts.  Some mercury-switch units allow you to set the “width” of the hysteresis.  So you could, for instance have the furnace go on when the temperature drops below 68 °F, and turn it off when the temperature exceeds 74 °F. This thermostat exhibits hysteresis.  It keeps the added thermostat from cycling a lot after the pellet stove is off but the room is still warm enough that stopping the blower (and the flow of cooler air into the room) would result in the thermostat thinking it needs to” turn on the air conditioning” again and again.
All my best to you, James, and your family in this difficult time.  Keep your powder dry and your Bible open  - Ted

Monday, October 26, 2009


I've recently read several of your books and found them both interesting and educational. I would like to offer some personal insights based on my experiences from living in a small rural town one of the larger Caribbean islands. Most of my notes are cheap solutions used by people in developing nations all over the world. There may be better ways, but these work and cost next to nothing.


There is something especially disturbing about opening the faucet and hearing a sucking air sound. Not being able to shower, flush, or wash dishes is the worst.

One or more 55 gallon drums and 5 gallon plastic buckets are essential items to have. When you see that hurricane on the news, put the barrel it in the shower and fill it up right away. Add a few capfuls of bleach to make it keep longer. Expect the quality of water from the town water supply to drop. Rainwater collection should be set up right away. If possible the roof should fill a large cistern with a pressure pump. A gravity tank should be put on the roof.

Washing up from a bucket is easy enough. A small plastic cup and a five gallon bucket makes is easy. If the water is cold don’t try to heat up all the water. Bring a good sized cooking pot to a near boil and add it to the cold water. A person can wash easily in 2 gallons of water.

Pouring about two gallons of water rapidly into a toilet from a 5-gallon bucket will flush a toilet.

Washing dishes from a bucket without using gallons of water is tricky. It takes some practice to do it right. If you don’t stack your dirty plates and wash them right away, you only have one dirty side and no dried food.

It is very easy to contaminate your water supply. Dirty bucket bottoms and careless bathing are common causes, be vigilant.


Our community is an exporter of meat, milk, eggs, rice, vegetables and we have a 365-day growing season. Most families have a garden plot to supplement household food. Storing food is always wise but not nearly the problem it is in some other locations. Much of our farming is done with hand work.


We have daily blackouts here and most houses have invertors with battery backups. Since we have occasional power most people do not have generators but just charge when the lights are on. Most businesses have diesel generators.

A 2.5 KW inverter system with 4 deep cycle batteries will keep a few lights on, a laptop and a fan or two for about two days and costs about $2,000. The better systems run on 24 VDC. Here we are all very aware of vampire appliances [aka "phantom loads."]. All those VCRs, TVs, microwaves, wi-fi boxes, alarm systems, clocks, all pull a significant load. You need to learn your house circuits and unplug and turn off the breakers for things you don’t need. Low wattage bulbs are essential.

Running a generator for about 4 hours will charge most battery systems. Your generator will need to be at least twice the capacity of your inverter. Operating like this you can have basic lighting for the cost of about 2 or 3 gallons of gasoline a day. Running a refrigerator off a battery backup system is just not cost effective. Many people have put up both solar and wind systems as a way to produce some additional power to keep the batteries topped off.

A few simple solutions: Computer UPS systems usually operate on a 6 or 12 V battery. It is very easy to open one up and connect a large battery by running wires through the back of the case. This will give a much longer run time. While you have the case open, take a pair of pliers and crush the annoying power alarm beeper. The charger on these systems is very small and will take a very long time to reach a full charge. An off the shelf battery charger will speed things up. Alternativel,y your car can be used to charge the batteries (12 VDC only)


While being armed is important, life is so much easier when there isn’t a conflict in the first place. Some people always seem to have problems wherever they go and need to pull out weapons while others seem to walk through the valley of death without a care in the world. Spend some time researching body language, and read books on interpersonal relationship skills. Besides improving your life right now, it could change a potential fatal firefight into a new friend.


When we have a crime wave, the police set up road blocks coming into and out of town. Rarely does this cause any real problems for honest people but you do need to have your paperwork for your car or firearms on hand. A smile and a friendly face makes things go much smoother. Acting aggressive or angry will get a messy and thorough search of your person, passengers and your car at a minimum. Knowing your local police makes a big difference. Sometimes we are asked to “help them out” which is code for a bribe. Either pay it with a smile, say sorry but you can’t today, plead poverty, or turn back. Fighting it just is not worth the trouble.


Most traveling gangs are small and short lived. They rarely survive an encounter with police. It is very hard for a crime group to survive outside of their own neighborhood where they have local knowledge, a place to sleep and the support of family and friends. On the flip side the crimes committed by these people are usually the most brutal.

Local criminals gangs are much harder to control. Often these are well-connected individuals or gangs who are very good at remaining undetected. Some of them are drug smugglers, cattle thieves or burglars. Persons who are well liked and respected in the community are usually left alone. If you see large gangs forming, seriously consider leaving the country as it is a no-win situation.

Home Security:

This is a very safe country, but it is safe because people here do no depend on the police and protect themselves. With that in mind I have noted some of the more common security precautions here.

My experience here is that a house with lights on and occupied is the house that is left alone. Your best defense is to be the least interesting but hardened house in a occupied community. Vacant houses attract soft criminals and people who need a place to sleep. Most Dominicans always have someone home in the house. Night time home invasions are rare but they do happen. People who do this time of crime are extremely dangerous experienced and hardened criminals.

Isolated houses are at the worst risk for the most serious attacks. A gated community, walled yard, electric gate, bars on the windows, dogs, even armed security guards are all common place here. Country people live in small groups of three or more houses with the fields surrounding them.

Your most vulnerable time is being ambushed entering or leaving your home or car. When designing your landscaping, don’t build easy ambush points for attackers. This sort of thing doesn’t happen much in a small town.


Occasionally when the power or water is out too much, the citizens will organize a protest/strike/riot. Often the organizers are union leaders or other non-governmental community leaders. The usual format is to shut down the with road blocks and burning tires. Much of the bad behavior is more for show than reality but trying to pass the road blocks will result in getting your vehicle wrecked by the strikers. It is important to know why people are protesting and to be sympathetic to their cause (in many cases it is well justified). Their intention is to cause just enough of a disruption to get government the government to resolve the problem without getting arrested. Trying to pass the roadblock means that you are disagreeing with the reason they are striking. Know your local area for alternate routes and don’t try to travel during strikes.


Good dogs are essential. A pair of large dogs of a known breed are a very significant deterrent. Rottweiler, Doberman, German Sheppard, pit-bulls are recognized and avoided. Dogs differ widely in personality. Be sure yours matches your needs. Be aware and realistic of their shortcomings. I know too many people who depend entirely on a easily circumvented dog for security. Professional thieves routinely outmaneuver, poison, or shoot dogs.

Don’t overlook the value of small "yippy" and intelligent dogs like Chihuahuas. They are light sleepers, a second set of eyes and ears and are cheap to feed. They often work well with the bigger dogs.

Watch your dogs. If your dogs suddenly become sick, it may mean they were poisoned and you should expect a robbery that coming night or the following day. Look for your dog before you pull into your drive or get out of your car. If there has been an intrusion it may be hurt, nervous, missing or dead. This will often be your first indication of an awaiting problem.


After a disaster (hurricane, flood, earthquake) the best thing for everyone is to keep the community together. Building a good reputation and personal relationships with neighbors and community leaders will make all the difference when resources are scarce and people are scared. The people who are capable leaders and community contributors often get first dibs on any help that does arrive and the right to make decisions on how goods are distributed.

Filling sandbags, organizing relief, passing out information, providing power, clearing roads, etc will make friends and build relationships that are not soon forgotten. This sort of thing can really bring a community back together in a hurry. We all depend on each other and leadership through positive action is a great way to rebuild. Just as looting is contagious, when people see others working together and helping, they are apt to join in. I have seen this numerous times here.


Propane is subsidized here and is significantly cheaper than gasoline. Many people have adapted cars and trucks to run on both fuels using a special carburetor. As propane stores well this is a good emergency option for transportation, cooking, and power generation. Additionally propane machines can run on biogas and syngas.

While horses are very common here there would be a shortage if things really went bad. They did become proportionally more valuable as the price of fuel shot up.

I rarely see wood gasification mentioned as a alternative fuel supply. (See the Wikipedia page on wood gasification) This is an excellent modification that was used heavily in Europe in the 1940s. In my opinion, for most people this is the best solution to combustion engine power after a complete breakdown. Both alcohol and biodiesel require working farmland and refineries.

Post crash employment:

Anyone who can provide alternative sources of food, power, fuel or light will do well. A little Google work will show what technologies work on a small scale and provide business opportunities both now and after. Additionally, people here who can repair things never seem to make much money here but they always have work and food on the table.

Currency and hyperinflation:

After a major bank failure here, the currency here devalued by a factor of four in about two years. As the slide begins there are lots of opportunities to buy up things at old prices as many people price things based on what it cost them, not what the replacement value is.

As prices shot up, wages lagged way behind. Interest rates sky-rocked. Food prices shot up. Skilled labor prices went through the roof. The economy stopped dead because it becomes impossible to price things and nobody wants to work.

At the end of the slide the asking prices for everything got just crazy high, and the bid prices so low that almost no transactions took place except as acts of desperation.

Three years later, the currency has stabilized. Interest rates on loans are still slowly retreating. Merchants learned to price goods on replacement cost. Prices are often quoted in USD instead of local currency. Asking prices never really came down, but bid prices slowly rose up and as the spread reduces the economy starts to move again. Salaries are paid in local currency, but pegged to the USD for stability.

I wasn’t expecting to write such a long letter but maybe some of this will help people prepare and know what to expect. Sincerely, - S.H.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You've had two good letters on woodstoves recently. I'd like to add a few thoughts based of heating and cooking with wood for a couple of decades in the Colorado mountains. I have never been more contented than when there's a blizzard raging outside and I'm inside next to a nice warm woodstove. That being said, woodstoves and chainsaws account for the vast majority of domestic emergencies in many rural areas and a constant source of amusement for EMTs.

As has been written, the importance of a properly installed chimney cannot overemphasized. Do get a quote for a good professionally installed chimney and then source the woodstove based on how much money you have left, not the other way around. A semi-okay chimney may not be a problem for years, but eventually that rafter up in the ceiling crawl space that's been getting too warm all those years will eventually cook off one cold winter night when the woodstove is nice and hot. Also get the chimney top nice and high and serviceable. Downdrafts will occur even if they are built to the 2'/10' rule if you have a higher addition near by and the wind is in the right direction. Smoke will also condense on the chimney top spark arrester and clog it up so figure out a way to brush that clean in a safe way. Best to do that as regular maintenance and not in the middle of the night when you find your chimney won't draw and the room is filling with smoke. Lightning will also find the chimney one day. Get a lightning rod installed before you're hit. Do attach a magnetic chimney pyrometer to the chimney. It will tell you how the stove is doing by just glancing at the meter and will also alert you if things are getting too hot. My house did survive my youthful learning curve, but only just. Hopefully, some of your readers will profit from my experiences.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the area around the stove. I've seen red hot coals from resinous pine fly through a small slot in the air intake and all the way across the room. You'll never get a good night sleep if you just have a small fireproof pad around your stove. Woodstoves and carpet don't mix well. If nothing else the dirt tracked in from carrying wood will drive the wife crazy. If you do have carpet, pull it up and put down tile or stone flooring. If you have a modern springy framed plywood floor, a couple of layers of 1/4" plywood glued and screwed in alternating directions to the existing ply will stiffen it enough for tile.

Also, the wall behind the stove is equally important. Unless you're several feet away from a framed wall do something like this:
Cover the wall behind the stove with fire stop drywall a couple of feet above the top of the stove (or chimney if it exits through the wall). Install a steel lintel at floor level using large bolts screwed into the studs. Leave an inch air gap between the lintel and drywall using spacers. Lay up a brick wall on the lintel and tile over that. The air gap behind the brick wall allows a cooling draft. The brick also provides a good source of thermal mass which leads to a final point.

There's nothing much worse than getting out of a warm bed in the morning to start up a cold, dead woodstove. The stove that I owned when I lived in Colorado was made of Soapstone by a company in Woodstock, Vermont. They aren't cheap to buy but they are worth ever cent they cost. Once that stone gets warm, it stays warm for hours, even if the stove runs out of wood. I used to load my stove in the evening with whatever wood I had, generally pine, aspen or even hem/fir framing offcuts, not oak or hickory by any means and yet that great little stove heated the entire second floor of my house and the stove was still toasty warm well into the next day. Although I had been told this, I still was amazed at how a small properly built stove could heat such a large space and still not cook me out of the room it was in.

I cannot recommend highly enough the use of thermal mass over cast iron in a stove. There are other manufacturers of soapstone woodstoves but if and when I move back to a cold climate, I'll be getting another Woodstock Soapstone Stove. Thanks again for the interesting blog. - LRM, Perth, Western Australia

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In September, 2008, Hurricane Ike--a Category 4 hurricane--pounded the Gulf Coast of the southern US. Some coastal communities like Crystal Beach no longer really exist. Inland, life was severely disrupted. For those of us on the South Coast hurricanes are a frequent reality. We were quite well prepared, but used the disruptions and dislocations as a test and opportunity to tune up our preparations.

1. Be ready to help others and to accept help We didn't need much during Ike, but the power went out before a neighbor finished boarding up his house. My 1 KW inverter, hooked up to his idling truck provide the juice for a Skilsaw and a few lights; allowing him to finish. Usually it is skills and not "stuff" that helps others and yourself. Besides strengthening a neighborly friendship, the number of damaged houses was probably reduced by one.

2. Keep your stuff squared away.. I repaired a few generators during and after Ike. I observed that every one suffering from lack of use; i.e. gasoline that resembled turpentine in the carburetor. People were at a complete loss to understand this. My daugher-in-law owned one of the generators that I repaired. She ignored my admonition to change the dirty oil ASAP and then once every 50 hours. Early in the next week it [ran out of oil and] threw a rod. She was in the dark for another week. Just a $2.99 quart of oil would have saved discomfort, ruined food, etc.
My portable genset, loaned to my daughter, was ready to go;  fresh oil, filters, valves set, exercised, load tested. It started on the first try. I came to check it and change it's oil as soon as it was safe to travel. The first thing that I did was turn it so the exhaust faced away from the house! She had placed it so that the starter rope was in a convenient spot. At least she had, like I had asked, chained and locked it to a foundation pier.

After every hurricane Darwin gets a few through accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't join them. If you have a generator, get a carbon monoxide detector in case the wind changes and wafts exhaust in your windows.

Our own [permanently-installed] genset uses natural gas (a tri-fuel generator) which in the majority of cases is superior and much cheaper to operate. Over the 11 days that we didn't have power it consumed $100 worth of natural gas. I estimate that an equivalent amount of gasoline would have cost more than $300. I stopped it every 75 hours for oil and filter. If your genset doesn't have an hour meter, then add one. There are some inexpensive self contained hour meters made for lawn equipment that work very well and require no hard wiring. It's really the only practical way to keep track of operating time, without which, intelligent maintenance is impossible.

I noticed that many generators, some still in the box, on Craigslist following Hurricane Ike at bargain basement prices. I recommended to a friend he latch onto one of these and purchase a dual-fuel gasoline/natural gas carburetor] kit. Ants can profit from short-sighted grasshoppers.

It goes without saying have all your vehicles filled up and serviced so they can be depended upon with out much attention. Pay particular attention to cooling systems, oil changes, tire pressures, belts and battery terminals.

Develop a pre-event SOP: When we hear of a hurricane in the Gulf, we pick up loose items like branches that can be thrown by high winds and cause damage (aviators call this rubbish FOD), trim trees, check prescriptions, recharge everything rechargeable, treat the swimming pool with "shock" chlorine, get all the laundry and dishes done, get all the trash out for pickup, take “before” pictures, etc., etc., etc.

3. Have backups for your backups. The portable generator above was our backup to the natural gas-fueled genset. Then an inverter and ups. After that is a 100 Watt solar array I've been tinkering with to provide power for security lighting,etc.

My daughter spent up to two hours a day foraging gas, mostly waiting in lines. She found out that the problem with gasoline-fuel generators is gasoline! It's expensive, in short supply (when it is needed most), and it takes gas to go and get gas! Needless to say I rounded up the parts and the portable is now a dual fuel machine. Had it been able to use natural gas then she could have stayed home and been one less person waiting in line. And the machine still retains the capability to burn gasoline!

Since gasoline became hard to come by (it was impossible to get for a week after Rita) but diesel fuel was plentiful we did any necessary traveling in my old diesel Mercedes (which is EMP proof, BTW).

One important word on generators: Treat yours like it is the last one you'll ever get. Try and get a good one, I prefer either a Honda or Briggs Vangard engine. My Vangard portable is approx 10 years old and absolutely dependable. The difference is methodical maintenance. Keep the manuals, and read 'em ! Keep the oil changed, keep a fresh spark plug, keep spare [oil, air, and fuel] filters. Most importantly run it under load once a month. Unless it's new, pull off the cowling and clean all the dirt and dust from fins on the cylinder jug. Closely examine the starter rope, the fuel lines, et cetera. Replace 'em if they ain't perfect.

If you get a permanently installed generator carefully consider installing a manual transfer switch and other upgrades. With the exception of automatic "exercising" fully automatic generators these add a layer of complication and cost.

Don't store gasoline in the machine other than enough for one periodic test run. Develop a ritual on test runs: such as every other payday, or the last Saturday in the month, to reduce it to a ritual. I run mine monthly whilst cutting the back yard lawn. (The mower makes more noise.)

For storage between test runs: On portable gensets [with the ignition off, slowly ] pull the cord until you can feel that the engine is at the top of the compression stroke. This is where the engine feels like you are pulling it through a "detent". It puts the piston at the top of the bore and closes both valves. This protects the cylinder from moisture. If you store gasoline then use stabilizer, after six months burn it in your car and replace it. Few experiences are worse that trying to clean out a carburetor by a dim flashlight whilst being consumed alive by salt marsh mosquitoes. Trust me on this. BTW, I've had better results storing "winter" blended gas, since t has more light fractions and starts easier year round.

If you use gas cans; stick with metal, preferably safety cans. Plastics are slightly permeable and it will go bad much faster in a plastic can. On that note, [in humid climates] don’t keep spare spark plugs with the machine. This is because in outdoor storage the insulators can absorb moisture [and the metal parts can corrode]. Keep them inside or in a sealed can with some silica gel. An old one-quart paint can is ideal.

If you have a dual-fuel machine, then break the engine in on gasoline and make sure it operates properly on both fuels under load. Keep the necessary connectors for gas operation on the machine so that you don't have to go searching for that 3/8ths-inch pipe nipple with a flashlight.

Use high quality oils, and have enough. Don't forget to also store plenty of 2-stroke [fuel mixing] oil and chain oil if you intend to use a chainsaw. Maybe store some extra for your neighbors that are less prudent. I use Rotella brand synthetic oil and Wix brand filters, and have had good results with them.

Make sure you have enough oil, filters and plugs for at least two weeks (336 hours), or longer. Don't forget about your equipment after the crisis is over: There are valves to set, oil and plugs to change, etc. Even if you own two generators and have enough flashlights, automatic emergency lights, et cetera, things can, and may likely go wrong. Small children usually do not take kindly to being plunged into total darkness. Unless it is TEOTWAWKI, keep the candles in the cupboard, especially if there are small children about.

4. Double your plans for helping other people. Several relatives from coastal areas evacuated to our house (approximately 50 miles inland). I keep a 55 gallon drum of stabilized gasoline to fill up their cars to get them home. This was a lesson learned after the Rita evacuation cluster. How much food you will go through will surprise you. It finally dawned upon us that we almost always eat dinner (lunch to you Northerners) and sometimes breakfast away from home. So what we consumed whilst hunkered down seemed out of proportion.

We also sent some food home with people to hold them over. I was able to "lend" a retired neighbor enough generated power to keep his freezer, television, and fan going. He was genuinely happy. This also meant that he was one less person in line for ice, food, and so forth.

5. Keep a dial up phone line around, after 24 hours the cell phone tower generators started running out of propane, the cable modem (and the cable) went down with the power. Remember how to make that dial-up modem work.

If you're not a Ham radio operator, then find out where the local hams conduct their emergency nets, and listen on your shortwave radio (HF) or scanner (2-meter and 440 band) and you'll know a lot more that the local television news truck can find out.

If you have cable television, then keep a traditional antenna handy. If you live near a major market the local AM news station, then it is probably a good bet. Have a good UPS, plug the computer and the desk lamp into it. If you have a cordless phone, plug it into the UPS too. The UPS will take the "bumps" out of the generator's power; your computer will thank you. Make sure you test the UPS periodically by plugging in a 100 Watt lamp and pulling the plug on the UPS. I find I need to replace that UPS battery about every 2-to-3 years.

6. Plan for the guests. Have plenty of soap, have a small flashlight (preferably with rechargeable batteries) for each guest. Have things other than television to keep youngsters occupied. Try and get plenty of rest. You'll probably be plenty busy after you can poke your head out again. In this vein don't forget dishwashing supplies, laundry supplies, baby supplies, etc. If it's a predictable event such as a hurricane, have all the dishes and laundry done. before it hits.

A television in a room by itself will keep the racket contained from those who want to read, play games or just sleep. If you have the space, then a “quiet room” where  people can just rest, read, be alone, have some privacy or get a fussy to baby to sleep cuts down on contagious stress.

7. Make sure you are medically prepared. Have a rather complete first aid kit that includes a backboard and splinting materials. There will be plenty of cuts,scrapes, bruises, sunburns and sore muscles in the aftermath. Have Band-Aids, 4x4s, neosporin, peroxide etc. Have plenty of acid reducer and immodium on hand (stress and unfamiliar cooking), have at least two weeks of prescription drugs on hand [and preferably much more for any chronic health issues]. Have a good assortment of Tylenol, cold and sinus preparations, BenGay [muscle ointment], good  multivitamins, etc.

8.Be extra, extra, extra careful. You getting sick or more likely injured can really mess things up for everyone you have prepared for. Not to mention that the local fire/ambulance is probably already overtaxed. Be extremely careful handling fire and fuels. A lot of us are not entirely fluent in using chainsaws, small engines, fixing roofs, trimming trees and moving debris.[JWR Adds: safety equipment including heavy gloves, kevlar chainsaw safety chaps, and a combination safety helmet with face shield and muffs are absolute "musts"!] Don't get in a hurry unless there is a threat to life. Be hyper cautious, be very aware of your surroundings and things that can go wrong. Don’t toil alone. Make sure you have a clear path to beat a hasty retreat if things go wrong. Wear those gloves, safety glasses, boots and maybe a hard hat.

Don't overtax yourself. Getting a fallen the tree off of the roof today avails you little if it triggers a heart attack or heat stroke. Ask God's assistance and start over tomorrow.

Keep fire extinguishers near the gas generator, in the kitchen, and near the camp stove.

Avoid using candles at all costs, and absolutely prohibit smoking indoors for the duration. Have more than enough battery smoke detectors around.

9. Be ready to make temporary repairs.. The missing shingles, damaged windows, etc. Have some plywood, a few 2x4s, some Visqueen polyethylene sheeting, batting boards, duct tape, a tarp, some nails, and so forth around. If you happen to have a good cordless drill, then you'll find sheet rock and deck screws are very superior to nails. If you're squared away then you already have this stuff , but a neighbor might be in need, so buy extra.

Debris creates flat tires for quite some time after many events. Have a tire plug kit and a 12 VDC compressor in each vehicle. Repairs to structures, especially roof repairs guarantee nails in tires. Be ready for them..

Have everything rechargeable recharged. Make sure you have some traditional non-power tools, I have a handsaw that I've had for decades, a good bow saw, ax, maul, sledge and an old eggbeater style hand drill still get regular use.

10. If I had my choice of just one utility it would be running water. Fortunately where we reside is served by a well run rural utility district which has prepared well for hurricanes. Failing this, in addition to stored water I have a portable gas utility pump (Robin brand) that can pressurize our water system from our pool and has sufficient capacity for a fire line. The pool got a good jolt of shock a day before the storm hit.

11.Keep some cash money handy. For a few days [with no utility power] there were no functional ATMs, and no way to use credit or debit cards.

12. Keep a low profile. About a week after Ike a passerby indignantly asked "How'd you get your lights turned on?" This showed his ignorance on several levels. He seemed to think someone just had to flip a switch downtown and "shazam!" his lights are on. I couldn't make him understand there has to be an unbroken physical link between a power plant and consumer, this seemed to aggravate his obvious helplessness. Telling him that we had been making our own juice seemed to irritate him. I wonder who he voted for? People with this mindset (that the world owes them something) could be a genuine liability in a real catastrophe. (BTW on a news show during a piece about energy, I actually heard a lady refer to natural gas as “just another dirty fossil fuel”) and not be challenged on the facts. Little minds scare me. I think that the hyper-liberals would love to use the heavy hand of government to force the ants take care of the grasshoppers.  Keep a low profile. The best advice I ever heard on the subject (I believe it was Howard J. Ruff ) was to "keep your principles public and your actions private".

13. Keep a notebook, keep a record of what happened, but especially keep a record of preps you overlooked or screwed up, or stuff you ran out of, or skills that need to be added or honed. That's where most of the preceding information came from! Also keep tabs on what's scarce after an event. Gas was scarce, but diesel plentiful after Rita. In contrast, after Ike there was plenty of fuel, but few operating stations due to lack of power. (There was a "mandatory evacuation" during Rita which turned out to be a fatal traffic jam for a few poor souls which quickly emptied the filling station tanks.) Out our way the local Wal-Mart made a heroic effort and opened up on locally-generated power, two days after Ike. The sheriff’s department was there to “maintain order”. (Let’s just say that they actually wear brown shirts here.). This event was a lifetime opportunity to study the varied behaviors of people under stress.

There were plenty of canned goods and auto supplies. But fresh fruits and veggies were a little thin, no meat due to lack of refrigeration for a few days, batteries, Coleman fuel, trash bags, paper plates, disposable diapers, formula, and nails evaporated. The pharmacy was closed.

Even with the numerous mistakes we made, we were able to stay safe, secure and comfortable and help others while "victims" were standing or idling their car engines in lines. It was an opportunity to try things out under more or less controlled conditions. WTSHTF there will not be controlled conditions!

Your recent link to an item in the Preparedness Forum (100 things that go first...) led me to other parts of the forum where I found a link to Lamar Alexander's Solar Homesteading e-book.

Besides the videos/pictures etc. an e-book is offered for $5. What a bargain! It is full of useful practical ideas, for example: a barrel-in-a-barrel digester that he uses to fuel his gasoline generator which he had converted to run on natural gas; how to dig a "driven-point" well; a solar dishwasher. And on and on. Your readers will want to get this e-book! BTW, I have no connection with LaMar Alexander. - Bob B.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

James Wesley,
We have heated our current home with a wood stove and a pellet stove for ten years now. I disagree with one aspect of the recent article on your web site.

Our wood stove in the basement is set up to burn coal as well as wood. Where we live in Colorado there are a large number of dead trees -- from pine beetles -- that we can and do burn for free. However, with pine wood even the best stove will not hold the coals overnight. Hence the ability to use coal is a godsend. When the weather is only a little bit chilly we can place a basketball sized lump of coal in the stove and the stove will hold the coal -- burning slowly -- for up to five days. Hence in the mornings all we have to do is toss on a few pieces of wood and they will catch right away.

During the coldest part of the winter we can load the stove with a five gallon bucket of coal and it will heat the whole house for three days. Given the cyclic nature of our weather here (a couple of days of stormy weather, followed by a couple of days of biting cold, then a couple of days of sunny and warmer weather) we can clean out the stove during a sunny day as coal produces lots of ash.

Burning coal does one other thing as well. Pine wood has a tendency to produce a lot of creosote. But by using the coal, the creosote deposits in the chimney are burned off leaving a hard discoloration. Not burned off as in a chimney fire but apparently one of the chemicals in coal smoke reacts with the creosote and chemically burns it off of the inside of the chimney. At least this is how our chimney sweep has explained it to us when he shows up and inspects our chimneys every year.

Our pellet stove (upstairs) is good for those cool cloudy days in the spring and fall when firing up the wood stove in the basement will heat the house too much.

Now one warning -- our wood stove is designed to burn coal. Your typical wood stove is not designed to do this and the coal will burn through the sides/bottom of the stove. - H.D.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heating with wood has been a “necessary” tradition for thousands of years, but with the advent of the industrial revolution, and the advancement in methods of heating homes and buildings, heating with wood became less and less popular.  During the 1970s Energy Crises, there was interest in seeking “alternative” energy sources, and people started to rediscover the benefits of heating with wood. In the early 1990s, gas stoves and inserts took the place of traditional wood burning.  People were just too busy to deal with the time and energy required with wood.  In the last few years however, wood has come full circle, yet again.  It’s funny how people go back to things that are simple, reliable, and secure, in times of uncertainty.

I am a former Technical Administrator for a Wood and Gas Stove manufacturer, and thought I might be of some help by passing on some of my experience and knowledge. Basically, I was the guy who trained “the stove professionals” at the places that customers buy their stoves.

Heating your home/retreat with wood can be very rewarding, especially in a SHTF scenario. It can literally mean the difference between barely surviving, and comfortably thriving.  If a wood stove is not installed, operated, and maintained properly, there is a very real possibility that there can be substantial loss of property, and or life.


While fireplaces do add warmth and comfort, they are far from being efficient.  Most fireplaces are only about 10% efficient, in other words, 90% of your fuels’ BTUs are going straight up the chimney.  If you do have a fireplace in your home, and would like to make far less trips to the wood pile, please consider installing a wood burning fireplace insert.

Selection of a wood burning stove

There are many types of woodstoves, and not all woodstoves are built alike, and there are a few features that are highly advantageous. Most stoves will burn wood effectively, that is, yes the wood does burn, but there is a bit more to it than that.

Catalytic Stoves – The king of wood stoves

A catalytic stove utilizes what is called a “Catalytic Combustor”.  This combustor is similar to the catalytic combustor (converter) in a cars exhaust system. Its’ size can differ, but usually is 7” round, 7 x 9 oval, or rectangular, and about 2” thick. The combustor is a ceramic or stainless steel honeycomb on which is coated a catalyst. The catalyst may be a combination of one or more precious metals, including the following: platinum, palladium, rhodium and cerium.  The catalyst chemically lowers the combustion temperature of the smoke from a wood fire, thereby allowing more smoke to burn, resulting in higher efficiency, and less creosote buildup.  The active operating range is approximately 700-to-1,400 deg. F. The unit will glow red around 1,000+ deg., but is operating properly as long as it is in the active range. Catalytic Stoves come with a “Cat Thermometer” When operating properly; all that should be exiting the chimney is a white, steamy plume.

Saves Time and money
Dramatically longer burn times. Up to 40 hours on low setting (Blaze King Brand)
Much higher efficiency
Fewer trips to the wood pile
Chimney stays much cleaner, less chance of chimney fire
Greater burn control, resulting in more even temperatures in the home/retreat
Uses less woods
More expensive than traditional non-cats
Average life of converter is 5-9 yrs, depending on use and type of fuel burned
Replacement Cat’s are expensive. (This cost is made up by time and money saved)
Note:  In worst case scenario (i.e. TEOTWAWKI) and the cat is no longer working, the by-pass door (not the loading door) can be left open and the stove will still operate. The EPA will say that it is illegal to operate the stove without the use of a properly operating catalytic combustor. If it is TEOWAWKI, I’m sure you will get a pass on this.

Non-Catalytic Stoves

Non-cats are more commonplace, yet they too, are not all the same.  You have your basic type, that is, a box with a hole in the top, and you have others that employ what is called “secondary air”.  Secondary air aids in better combustion of smoke, resulting in lower emissions.
Less expensive than Catalytic
Fewer parts to wear out
Shorter burn times (cold mornings?)
Less efficient
Uses more wood
More trips to the wood box
Woodstoves with thermostats are much better at controlling the burn, and maintaining a more even temperature in the house.  They are incorporated into the stove itself. (Not on the wall) A thermostat is comprised of a “flapper” that is controlled by a wound, bi-metal strip. As the stove gets hotter, the flapper will start to close, thus controlling the amount of fresh air given to the fire, and conversely, will open up as the fire dies down.
A stove without a thermostat will generally have a manual air intake control, in the form of a plate that you can move to control the volume of air coming into the firebox.

Positioning of stove in the house

It is generally best to place your stove in a centralized area in the home.  Natural air flow is a large consideration.  Most average sized homes can be heated sufficiently with a quality woodstove, based upon layout and natural air flow. It is preferred to have the chimney within the envelope of the home and not routed on an outside wall.

Pre-Manufactured Chimney Systems

Most installations will utilize a pre-manufactured chimney system.  It is important to understand that there is two different systems, one is standard residential, and the other is High Temperature Mobile Home/Alcove/Close Clearance. Normally, single wall pipe called a connector, is used to come off of the stove. This pipe must be 24/26 MSG Black/Blued steel stove pipe. (Do not use aluminum or galvanized pipe) Once reaching the ceiling, it will transition into a “ceiling box” that has Triple Wall (actual chimney), that runs the rest of the way.
  Always follow the manufacturer’s installation requirements, and local codes.  DO NOT MIX DIFFERENT CHIMNEY SYSTEM.

Never use more than a total of two 90 deg. turns in an installation.  Any more than that, will significantly reduce your draft.  If possible, use two 45’s instead of a 90. Furthermore, never slap a 90 deg. elbow right off of the top of a stove.  Preferably, you would go a minimum of 36” up, before turning.  Furthermore, if a horizontal run is needed, it should be 36” or less, AND have a slope of ¼” per ft., downward into stove. It is important and required, that the chimney extends a minimum of 3 ft. above a roof, and is at least 2 ft. higher than any area of the roof within 10 ft.
Note:  Chimney sections should ALWAYS funnel into the stove collar, meaning the crimped end faces down into the stove. This allows for condensation/creosote to drain into the stove, and not leak outside of the pipe

Masonry Chimneys

If you have an existing masonry chimney, and are able to route your stove pipe into it, you can save a lot of money. A masonry chimney must be lined; the liner is usually made out of clay 5/8” thick min., and appropriate cement. A chimney liner should never be smaller than the cross sectional area of the stove collar, example: An 8” collar is approx. 50 square inches.  A visual inspection of the chimney is needed prior to the installation of the stove.  Look for cracks/holes, loose field stones/bricks, and mortar that is crumbling/deteriorating.  Creosote patches are signs of fresh air being introduced through these cracks.  Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and repair the chimney if you feel that this is beyond your capabilities/judgment.  Overly large, unlined, existing chimneys often will not draft properly, will accelerate the buildup of creosote, and usually violate code and installation requirements. All installations require a thimble when the pipe enters the chimney through a combustible wall. It may be constructed of brick, or pre-manufactured.
Note: Make sure the ash clean out door on the outside base (if installed) of the chimney is closed.  This will keep cold air from being introduced into the chimney, and reducing draft.

Creosote and chimney cleaning 
Creosote is basically caused by smoke cooling and condensing on the chimney walls. It can be built up with the addition of ash and other large, unburned carbon particles. It can present itself as hard and shiny, or thick, light and fluffy. You should inspect your chimney and connector system twice a month during burn season. Pay close attention to the appearance of creosote patches inside of the chimney. The existence of these patches is an indication of fresh air leaking into the chimney, and should be repaired or replaced immediately.

Use only a tight fitting chimney brush to clean your chimney. Getting “Bubba” up on top of the roof with tire chains, hoses, and the pool skimmer, will not only result in unsatisfactory results, it can potentially damage your chimney. Remove the first section of pipe off the stove, and attach a plastic bag to the open end of the pipe. Again, follow manufactures cleaning instructions, if available. You cannot expect to get every speck of creosote cleaned off, so don’t lose any sleep over it.  Just do your best to brush as much of it out as you can. 


“Magic” Chimney Creosote Cleaning Logs/Products

My experience has shown that nothing can substitute a tight fitting chimney brush for cleaning a chimney.  While there are several products out there that claim to “clean” or otherwise break down the buildup of creosote, I would not recommend them.
Safe Operation of Stoves
Always follow the manufactures operating instructions, and procedures. If none are available, please consider the following:

Never leave the stove unattended
with the loading door left open. Leaving the loading door open, then getting distracted by a phone call, or knock at the door, can have disastrous results.  Once a loading door is opened, there is virtually an unlimited supply of combustion air available for the fuel. If left unchecked, especially if the stove has just been filled, the stove can reach temperatures exceeding that in which the stove is designed.  This can warp the stove, or worse, cause a house or chimney fire.

Never use gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid
or any other type of accelerant, to start a fire, or to “freshen up” a fire.

Never mix, or substitute chimney brands/systems
.  If you are trying to save money by mixing and matching stove pipe, you stand the chance of losing so much more. Chimney Systems are just that, “systems”.  They have gone through extensive testing for a reason, to save lives and property.  Many have gambled and lost on this issue. Do not use aluminum or galvanized “duct” piping, they cannot withstand the high temperatures of burning solid fuels.

Use only solid, seasoned wood as fuel
, unless the stove has otherwise been designed for such fuel. Do not burn coal, oil, plastics, wrapping paper, charcoal, railroad ties, particle board, and sawdust, painted wood, or anything else that is not dry, seasoned wood. Using unseasoned “green” wood will increase production of creosote, and make for poor draft up the chimney. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and allowed to “season”, or sit, for a period of usually at least 8 months. Saltwater driftwood can be death for a stove; it will [cause rust that will] eat right through it

If you are experiencing a chimney fire
and it is safe to do so, then make sure the loading door is closed, turn down the thermostat all the way (or manual air control), evacuate your home, and call 911.

Check Loading Door Gasket
twice during each burn season.  You can do this by opening the door and positioning a dollar bill on the area where the door gasket meets the opening on the stove, now close and latch the door.  There should be noticeable resistance when pulling the bill out. Try this in different areas around the door.

Ensure proper combustible clearances
to the stove are maintained.  Refer to your owner’s manual on distances.  If your stove is bought second hand, and does not have the clearances and certification agency labeled on the unit itself, contact the local authority having jurisdiction, to verify code requirements.

I have gone through most of the basics regarding wood burning stoves, and I’m sure that I’ve missed a thing or two. What I have presented are just general guidelines. I cannot emphasize enough that you follow the manufacturer’s Installation and Operating Instructions, doing so will ensure best performance, with the lowest risk of danger. - Kevin K.

Monday, October 12, 2009

James Wesley,
That was a good informative article by SGT B., however there was one glaring omission in the safety section : "Which brings me to the always wear appropriate safety gear rule. Always do. Period. Long sleeves and pants, boots, gloves, helmet with a face-guard or safety glasses, hearing protection."

He didn't mention Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps, which jam a chain in milliseconds are now considered required for wood cutting, one moment of inattentiveness and your thigh, shin, etc, can be hamburger. The least expensive, yet best ones out there are from Labonville.

Remember chainsaws don't just cut flesh , they tear it! There is a youTube video available for those who want to watch that shows that, thankfully demonstrated with butchered meat, not people. Sincerely, - Wayne B.

I'd like to add to Sgt B.'s information. After doing all that he discusses for 40+ years, I would add the following: I put wood in my basement where I have a woodstove. The critters did emerge as he mentioned. I used Zodiac Advanced Insect Spray and that wiped them all out very quickly. A cat takes care of four legged types. I put wood in the basement for when I'm too lazy, tired, or the the weather is just plain nasty. Otherwise, I haul it in as necessary leaving the inside wood for those times mentioned.

Woodstoves: you really don't need to spend a fortune to get some decent heat. My basement is all masonry. The block and concrete soak up lots of the heat (versus a finished basement). Still, my inexpensive little woodstove gets that basement to 70 degrees. I got one from Northern Tool & equip. Sure, a much more expensive all cast iron or fancy one would get the basement and wood floors above a lot warmer but this stove only set me back a few hundred and arrived at my doorstep via freight. Do your homework if you are new to woodstoves. Buying used is okay if you can verify that it's safe. Check for any cracks and if the gaskets / rope are ok. One method of verifying if the gaskets are ok is to place a dollar bill one the backside of the door, close the door, see if the dollar slips out when you pull it. Gaskets kits are cheap and easy to replace. My brother bought a used/antique potbelly type and it has been in use for years.

Traditional fireplace / fireplace insert: The one I just pulled out was very attractive but they sure waste a lot of heat. I finally purchased a top dollar insert as a replacement last year for the ground floor of the house and it paid off immediately in terms of having to bring in wood, using up your wood pile(s), & time/labor. This replacement once hot, remains so all night. I was a great investment.

Log splitters: I'm on my second one. The first was a 20 ton and it was a workaholic. I sold it in one day. It was about 12 yrs old and still good to go. In 12 years I did replace the engine once and the detent valve. My new 37-ton spilts everything I feed it. You may have a hard time finding something it can't split. I had to use my front end loader to push the heaviest of oak under it and the splitter had no problem. This was another Northern Tool and Equipment purchase.

Chainsaws: Useful but dangerous. Be careful. Read the safety instructions if you are new to these items. If you are going to have something go wrong, it'll happen so fast that you won't be able to stop whatever mistake you made. I have two - a 15 year old lightweight 14" Poulan that still gets the little stuff done and a 20" Husqvarna that can handle just about anything. The best accessory item when working with a chain saws is a wedge (plastic, not the steel wedges used with manual splitting...) to prevent pinching of your blade/bar. I recommend using high test gas as 2-cycle engines prefer it for long term engine performance. I also purchased an electric chain saw sharpener which has paid for itself several times over. I can do it manually in the field also and you should be equipped for that anyway. Extra chains make life easy. If the saw is going to sit 11 months of the year, you'll have starting problems. [Use gas stabilizer and] start your 2-cycle engines monthly, warm them up and they'll be kind to you when you need it.

All things wood heating: I enjoy the outdoor time doing all this. It's both exercise and refreshing cold weather outdoor time. Note: it does require time and labor but the payoff is worth it. I cut my oil heat consumption back to one-third of the previous year's averages. Now I can spend more money on more wood cutting stuff. - Flhspete


That was a good article on finding wood, but I would like to see you make a special invitation to a chimney expert or someone else with similar expertise to write an article on wood stove safety. That is something that is often overlooked, or just not understood, often with disastrous consequences.

My wife and I started our "back to the land" voyage back in the 70's with a small homestead in the Ozarks and for the next 10 years we heated only with wood. During that time we saw our neighbors down the road lose an infant daughter to smoke inhalation during a bad fire and our best friends came home on Christmas eve to find nothing left but the foundation, their house had burnt to the ground. Both were caused by skimping on chimney installations. Anyone who has lived in the boonies probably has similar stories to tell. It's okay to scrimp and save on a lot of things, chimneys [with regular chimney cleaning] are not one of them. You have a wild beast under partial control inside your home, one tiny mistake and it can escape and destroy your home and kill you. I don't mean to unduly scare people but I would like to see people have the appropriate amount of respect for the hazards they're taking on. Everything has to be done right up front and maintained properly to keep you safe.

BTW, the biggest drawback to wood heat is just the fact that in the winter you can never be away from home for more than 16 hours or so or the house will freeze up. No weekend trips and if the rig breaks down it adds another level of urgency to getting home. If possible, it's great to have a small emergency propane heater you can set to 45 degrees and run off a 100 pound tank so that if the temperature drops too low it will kick on and keep the house from freezing, it makes a huge improvement in giving you some freedom in the winter. - Bill S. in Oregon

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I don’t know that you would call my father a prepper. He was more just in love with the idea of economic independence and living in the woods. When I was nine (after the woods behind us were clear cut for an apartment complex), we sold our house in the suburbs, bought ten acres far enough out that he figured the developers would never find us, and built a home in the woods.

We heated this house with wood, and as any of you who grew up with a wood stove can already guess, that meant I spent a good chunk of my young life cutting, splitting, hauling, stacking, and burning wood.

Here are some of the things I learned while I was about it. This will by no means be complete, but will reflect only my partial understanding of a subject as old as fire, and as varied as the trees.

First things first: Why wood?

Wood grows. Wood in one form or another grows in most of the inhabitable regions of the earth. If you own land, chances are you own some wood. If not, probably your neighbors have some. Wood heat is renewable energy that anyone can harness. It can be had when the economy is bad as well as when it is good, it is absolutely EMP-proof (although your stove may not be, if it uses electronic components), and so long as you harvest it yourself, it is tax-free. Wood is not necessarily the best or only way to go, and should be weighed against other options. Even for off the grid situations, heat can be provided through heating oil burning stoves (I assume) or through electric stoves if you have a generator or other form of power. That said, unless you have a super abundance of electric capacity, you probably have many other demands on your juice in any sort of emergency.

The downside of wood is that it is not free. You will have to spend either time or labor to get it. Depending how much you use, this could translate to a lot of labor. The other aspect of this is that if you are injured or disabled, you will have a rough time of it. When my father injured his arm badly, I was in school, and our wood stack was at a low point. We were supported by members of our church fellowship helping with wood, and by using on the grid backup systems. In our case this was merely embarrassing, in some situations it could be worse. I’d say follow the rule of threes and have multiple means of heat.

Other considerations: You will have maintenance and cleaning chores with this method. On the plus side they’ll be things you can do yourself with the right tools. Own your own gear for cleaning the chimney. Don’t burn chemically treated wood, and you can use the ashes in compost, but mix them with other stuff or they’ll just form a smothering layer of gray mud. Avoid burning trash for heat if you can help it. Chemically treated wood and plywood can also produce poisonous fumes, so keep that in mind.

Woodstove Selection
I am familiar with three ways of heating with wood indoors. There may well be others, but if so I don’t know them and am not qualified to speak on them. They are, a fireplace, a simple wood stove, and a wood burning water stove.

The fireplace: This is the most basic form of woodstove. They range from the small and basically decorative fireplaces of most modern suburban homes to the vast fire places of old manors, where large meals can be prepared at the hearth. Fireplaces are generally poorly situated to heat a home. They reside on one side of the room, radiate much of their heat directly up the chimney, or out through the sides, and are basically inefficient. That said, if that is all you have, it is well worth laying in a supply of wood for hard times. From a survival standpoint however, someone in such a position should probably focus more on securing their primary method of heat, with a generator or a supply of heating fuel depending what that is.

Free standing wood stoves. These are, at their most basic a big box with a fireplace in the middle, and with a stovepipe to take away the smoke. They can be situated anywhere in a room, and radiate their heat outwards. If properly designed and located, they lose much less heat up the chimney than a fireplace. They are not efficient for heating other rooms, and (like a fireplace) may be inadequate for heating a large home. Some designs can also provide a cooking surface and or an oven. I find this attractive enough to be a primary consideration, but you may feel differently. These stoves also require no electricity in their basic form. I’ve heard of designs that have some electrical features such as blowers, that can heat other rooms of the house, but I have no experience with them. (BTW, I have seen other posts on SurvivalBlog that speak of woodstoves that can handle coal. I don’t have any personal experience with this, but I think that it is a valid consideration during stove selection.)

Wood burning water [jacket] stoves. These are somewhat more complex. Essentially they are a woodstove wrapped in a water tank. Rather than radiate heat directly into a living area, they heat the water, which is then circulated through the rest of the house. They have some major advantages and disadvantages. This is what we had, so this section will be a bit more in depth perhaps.


  • Can be located outside the living area, which offers benefits in terms of:
    • Cleanliness: Lots of bugs live in wood piles, and they often hitch rides inside with the wood, no matter how careful you are. There’s also the risk of smoke drafting into the room, which is bad for you.
    • Living space not occupied by stove.
    • Safety, in that you do not have hot metal in the middle of your living area. If the stove is outside, which I have seen, it may reduce you fire risk, but you will need a shed to protect the stove.
  • Can heat larger dwellings, either through radiant floor heating or through a more traditional central blower (via a heat coil). We had a very large house, two stories with vaulted ceilings and a lot of windows, plus a full basement, and we had very good heat.
  • Can be used to heat your water through a heat exchange. The actual water around the stove is full of chemicals, but a heat exchanger can run it through a heat exchanger to heat your tap water without contamination.


  • This system requires electricity and a water supply. That means that if the power goes out, you have no source of heat. For this reason it is imperative that you also have a generator. My family put that purchase off until Hurricane Fran waltzed into central North Carolina and left us without power for over a week. Needless to say there were ten no generators to be had for love or money. Fortunately it was summer. By the time we got to learn about blizzards we had a generator. Still, between running our well pump and the stove there was less electricity for anything else.
  • You also can’t cook on these, so far as I know.
  • Unless you have backup heat or water heating methods, you will have to burn wood anytime you want heat or hot water. This means at least some wood consumption year round. BTW, when I say some, I really mean a lot.
  • Maintenance is more of a concern with these systems than with simpler designs, and there are certain unique things that can go wrong. For example, you have to monitor the fire to ensure than the water supply does no boil, or you will have “opportunities for fun” such as a flooded basement or a damaged heater, or both.

All said, my father, reluctant though he was to admit defeat, came to regret the water stove. It became a beast that swallowed a whole lot of our labor, and wasn’t particularly more efficient than living on the grid and using your labor for other things. Other pursuits, such as gardening, livestock, and hunting, suffered due to the need to feed the machine. Neighbors with regular wood stoves used much less fuel, had fewer problems, and had no need for concern with heat when the power was out. I do not recommend these unless you absolutely must heat the entirety of a large structure.

Woodlot Management

If you have a wood lot, you want to manage it. Second growth forests are often too dense for optimum growth, and culling and thinning the trees permits faster growth by the rest. I’ve heard it said that you can expect a cord a year, per acre, from temperate deciduous forest if you manage it well, but I don’t know it for an ironclad fact. Selecting which trees to cut is important. Unless you’re trying to clear a field (or field of fire) it is not a great idea to clear-cut. Pick out individual trees and cut those to clear space for other trees. Start with downed trees before they rot, and move on to wolf trees that take up a lot of space. Plan ahead too, and make sure you take advantage of downed trees on willing neighbors property. Also make sure they’re willing, otherwise it’s theft of a tangible resource. A significant chunk of our family’s firewood came from other people’s lands. People who have invested in woodlands but not yet built on may be particularly willing to allow you to take storm-downed trees. I know people with sizable woodpiles that only harvest other people’s trees. Coppicing is an interesting idea that is worth looking into, but I have no personal experience with that.

I won’t go into different types of wood here. My knowledge of that is limited and regional, and there is very good, technically detailed information out there about the burning properties of various woods. We always cut a lot of trash trees, because despite the poorer burning properties we wanted them gone from our land. YMMV, and watch for creosote buildup vigilantly. Removing trees that produce large quantities of fruit or nuts fall can reduce the presence of game on your land, and/or remove a significant emergency food source. In general quality hardwoods with long straight trunks are worth leaving to grow, in a pinch you can sell them or use them for lumber.

Cutting wood
I won’t say much about the mechanics of cutting down trees. I’ve never been much of a chainsaw artist, and others could tell you much better. I do recommend having multiple chainsaws in every size you use though, because it is darn hard to cut down a tree with a broke saw. Also, following major storms, at least one of your neighbors will want to borrow one, without fail, and it is an easy way to help someone out a lot. Barter is of course always a consideration as well. Other tools that are nice include come-a-longs, wedges and a heavy hammer - for freeing up a bound saw, log rollers, and a machete for clearing small branches and underbrush. Orange reflective tape on the ‘chete grip will save time wondering where you put it.

It is of course possible to bring down trees with hand-powered tools as well. Following the rule of threes I’d say have a felling axe and a two man cross cut saw in addition to the chainsaw. If you’re worried about noise for security or wildlife purposes, or if you live alone, you might also want a single man cross cut saw. Axes are pretty much the least efficient of these in my mind (but great exercise). Bear in mind that there is a difference between a splitting axe and a felling axe. Felling axes can also come in single bit (that’s the sharp part) or double bit (like the classic battleaxe) and can have curved or straight handles. I like the double bit, but that’s a matter of preference, and I am only modestly experienced at felling with an axe.  I have no experience with two man saws, and therefore won’t comment on them. I will say that you should always have maintenance and sharpening equipment (and know-how) for any cutting tool you keep. Finally, machetes can also be used for bringing down saplings and underbrush, and can provide a lot of small wood.  This can increase the depth you can see into the woods, and reduce fire risks around your home (so long as you clear away the hacked brush of course). Machete hacked stumps can be fairly sharp, like little punji sticks, and you may wish to break the points down with your boot as you cut to prevent future tripping and foot bruising.

Safety first when cutting (as always). Always clear any potential fall area of people when bringing down a tree, and bear in mind that a severed trunk can jab out backwards with a few tons of force behind it. That can kill you very dead. Also always check your root bole holes when cutting free a storm-downed trunk. A state worker got crushed to death while taking a squat in one after Hurricane Fran because his buddy didn’t check. Also make sure anyone you’re working with is practicing good safety and understands what they’re doing. A friend of mine got the side of his face caved in by the end of a log once because I instructed another friend poorly. He was lucky. A inch or so higher would have caved in his temple. Which brings me to the always wear appropriate safety gear rule. Always do. Period. Long sleeves and pants, boots, gloves, helmet with a face-guard or safety glasses, hearing protection. I’m losing my hearing and not quite 30 years old. I now wish I’d worn it.  In very cold weather avoid steel-toed boots as they can promote frostbite.  Remember too that after a tree has torn itself free of the surrounding canopy there may be sizable limbs left suspended that may come free and drop with a breeze. Dead trees can also break apart as they come down, or even with the vibration of the saw, so helmets are important.

Younger family members can be included in hauling small wood and burning brush and waste wood while you cut, but make sure you watch out for them. They can be hard to see, and may lack a proper sense of safety, or at least the attention span to remember it. You’ll also want to monitor horseplay. I busted a friend’s teeth out with a piece of firewood at the woodpile at the age of five, and got severely burned in a brush clearing bonfire when I was six. We weren’t working at that age, just horsing around in a work area.

When sectioning trees, make sure that there is sufficient clearance between the bottom of what you’re cutting and the ground for you to stop. Even occasionally grounding a moving chainsaw blade is too often. Also make sure the two sections won’t twist free of each other when you separate them and strike you or your assistant.

Splitting wood
For splitting wood you should have a variety of tools, because not all wood is created equal, and I’m pretty sure some trees were created specifically to build the character and fortitude of wood splitting youths everywhere.

Tools I used for various splitting tasks were a hatchet, a small axe, a large splitting axe, an 6 lb maul, a 14.5-pound maul, a sledge hammer and an assortment of wedges. Most of these are not used most of the time, but I recommend having them all, especially the wedges. Sometimes a large piece of wood will decide not to give back your maul. Small axes and hatchets can allow children to participate (and boy don’t I know it), but make sure you give them clear safety instructions and supervise them. After years of replacing handles I have given up and determined that I will never buy another wooden handled striking tool. I have not yet personally owned a fiberglass-handled axe, but plan to get one. With the heavy maul I use a steel handle.

I advise against using a chainsaw for splitting unless absolutely necessary, because it is a lot of wear and tear on the saw, and because it isn’t generally necessary. I also advise against splitting even small wood with a machete, you’ll have better control with a hatchet.

Remember to always bend at the knees when you bring down the maul/axe. This reduces the risk of back injury, and also ensures that if you miss, the arc of the maul will intersect with the ground rather than your shin or foot. I also advise against swinging from behind the back. I find that that increases strain on your back and arms and leads to significant injury. It also reduces accuracy and doesn’t add enough force to justify it. Others disagree. They have their ways and I have mine. I bring the axe gently to an overhead position, with a wide grip, and only then begin the swing, bringing my top hand down along the shaft as I swing.

I consider myself a minor artist with a maul, and am more conceited about it than anything but my fire building, but when I again heat with wood, I will have a gas powered pneumatic splitter. Yes, the purchase cost is high, yes, it requires gas. But it will save you many, many hours of labor. In my case it added days to my year when we rented a friend’s for just a week.  Pick a centralized location, and then one person brings the wood to the splitter while the other one feeds.

I would however not be caught dead without the tools for the older methods. Gas runs out. Machines break. It would just about take an Arc Light [bombing] mission to destroy a steel handled maul. Also some times it is easier to use a maul than a splitter, and sometimes you just need to blow off steam by breaking things apart (I mean firewood, not people who stress you out).

Always wear boots. Always wear gloves. Always have extra gloves in depth.

Hauling wood
Own a good quality wheelbarrow. [JWR Adds: In addition to a wheelbarrow with an air free (foam-filled) tire, if you have an ATV, then buy a sturdy steel trailer for it. Unless you live on a mountainside, an ATV can get to the farthest corners of your wood lot.] Keep spare parts for everything but the bucket. You will need them. Always store the wheelbarrow upside down if you keep it outside. Always check for snakes when you turn it back up to use. For obvious reasons I recommend using a motorized vehicle for hauling long distance up hill. Even if you have to clear a path, it will save time. Plus, you also burn whatever was in you path. Even the trunk of a sedan can be used to haul a fair bit of wood. Human chains are great for loading/unloading operations. I advise resisting the temptation to toss the wood to one another, but for short, steep gradients, throwing wood down can save a lot of time. Just don’t try to catch it. Make sure to switch sides periodically to vary which muscle groups are getting the strain.

Stacking Wood:
Stacking wood is an art form of its own. There are many ways to do it. Just remember the basics:

  • Never just pile the wood up for more than a short while. It will rot quickly on the bottom, and why should you lose wood you’ve already worked to cut and haul.
  • Always stack on [scrap wood] runners. This permits airflow underneath and greatly delays wood wasting rot. It also reduces bugs, which is good if it’s by your house. It may provide runways for little furry critters, but they are going to be there anyway, so don’t sweat it. I recommend at least one full-time outdoor mouser. Bring her food in at night to encourage hunting and to reduce instances of being woken up by her fighting off coons and possums.
  • Do sweat the snakes and spiders. Once more, always wear gloves. We had a problem for a while with a nest of copperheads. This taught us to always check the ground around the wood stack. It also taught us that in a hot enough stove, a copperhead can pop like a big meat popcorn. Remember to burn at least the heads, and that they can still bite when dead. Ant nests can be a problem too, and necessitate seeking out the wood they have built their home in and sending them on a vacation to a warmer place. Ants just sizzle though, they don’t pop. Sorry.
  • Stack tight, and stack stable. Put the longest and the heaviest pieces at the bottom. Put oddly shaped pieces off to one side and then stick them on top. Think of the stack as a puzzle and make it tight. End posts are nice with permanent stacks. BTW, small stuff burns quickly, and can cause a fire to rage out of control, with a water stove, this can be a problem, causing your water to boil. Stack skinny bits of wood separately from the big stuff, or put them on top.
  • Cover your stacks against the rain. If you use tarps, make sure they are taught, or you will wind up with pooling water that will reduce the life of your tarp and seep into your wood. I advise using solid overhead cover for at least your near term use wood. I feel that over time in a humid climate moisture and heat can build up under a tarp and permit decomposition.
  • When bringing in wood from outside, keep an eye out for vagabond critters scurrying away from you into your house. If they enjoy eating your wood stack, they’ll likely love your nice warm house. Sweep up all debris when finished and throw it in the fire. And never store wood in the house. Things that are dormant under bark in the cold weather may revive in your cozy abode and frolic, to your detriment.
  • Wood stacks can be used to provide tactical landscaping, as others on this blog have mentioned. In addition to providing cover or concealment, they can also block your fields of fire, or avenues of maneuver. Site them wisely.
  • Rotate through your stacks on a modified FIFO basis. In general this means oldest stack first, but sometimes a newer stack may be drier. Use the dried wood first. The water in wood consumes heat energy as it evaporates, reducing useful output, and also add bulk to the smoke, encouraging it to flow back out into the house.

Generally we cut down trees in the late Fall or Winter. It was a good time for hard labor with the cool weather, the underbrush is less dense and buggy, and the sap isn’t running in the trees. We would usually try and get the years supply down and cut into rough lengths. This lets it dry faster. Generally we would leave it in place or rough stack it in place and move on, and then collect it in a later season to haul to the house. This let us make the most of the time when the sap wasn’t running to bring down trees.

Once the wood is rough stacked you can leave it there for a while. I don’t bother to cover wood I leave in the woods. The rain won’t hurt the inside of the wood much, and it will have time for the outside to dry when I bring it to the house. This was an issue of space around the house for us. If you have a big wood barn, like one of our neighbors, there’s not much reason to leave it in the woods.

As for splitting wood, some say it’s easier when wet, some say dry. After trying it both ways I think it depends on the type of wood, but ceased to look into it once I discovered powered log splitters. I do know that wood dries much faster when split, and stacks better too, so I see no reason not to split wet wood.

Thanks to Mr. Rawles and to all the SurvivalBlog contributors. God bless you all and remember to change your socks. - SGT B.

Another good product for light shades is Reflectix Insulation.

Basically Reflectix is bubble wrap with aluminum foil bonded to one or both sides. I have used it to make thermal drapes for my home, and know that it blocks all visible light. You can buy it at most Home Improvement centers. It commonly comes in 25' rolls that are 16", 24", or 48" in width.

Last winter I bought a 4'x25' roll and had enough to do my entire house. (9 windows of various sizes) the cost was about $40.

Manufacturers claim that reflects up to 97% of all radiant heat, so not only will you save some energy, I would expect it to be somewhat effective against infrared and thermal imaging.
I know that the temperature in my old Mobile Home came up a good 10 degrees F in just the 45 minutes it took me to put up my blinds.

While I made my blinds so they can be rolled up during the day time, it would be very easy to find some way to anchor them on the sides and at the bottom so they would completely block all light at night.
Thank You JWR for a great site. - Fanderal

Mr. Editor:

Like Margy, I also found myself building an 'above ground cellar' for temperature stable storage of food and other goods. Working with a detached three-car garage that had just a two-car door, I converted the extra 'bay' to a bonus room. With standard framing and insulation I noticed that that room remained noticeably more even in temperature throughout the day.

I also have warm summers, 100F and occasionally more. Winters rarely drop below freezing for more than a day or two.

I did some research once on passive temperature control and learned that water has a high specific heat and in significant quantity can stabilize the temperature of a given space. I acquired several 55 gallon plastic drums and placed them in a row along the interior wall of my room. I filled them in place with water I treated with bleach and sealed them. Within days I noticed that the temperature remained nearly constant regardless of time of day. The barrels are about 3' high by 2' deep, and it is easy enough to construct shelving above them.

I improved on this further by adding more barrels and increasing the insulation. I bought 2" thick foam panels at Home Depot, the kind with reflective metal coating. These I cut to shape for the windows and blocked them off. I also bought a box fan and some furnace filters. This I mounted in a window on a clock timer. The fan pulls cool night air into the space, pulling air through a furnace filter and an exterior screen. Now that the summer has passed I have disabled the timer and will cover the fan assembly with an insulation panel as the temperature drops. I may even use it to pull warmer afternoon air in during winter.

With these steps and no significant heat sources inside the insulated envelope I have found that with no energy consumption I have managed a cool place for long term storage.

Water is cheap and readily available. Once purified, it requires no maintenance when properly stored. - Vlad

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It’s been almost two years now since I became serious about preparing for TEOTWAWKI. In that time I’ve followed the instructions of the Lord upon the death of my husband to “shore up and seal up my house” but there was always one haunting question. That was, where would I have enough space to store adequate food for my family that I could control the temperature.

Living in a mild climate in the heart of America, we have long hot summers that sometimes kiss the thermometer in excess of 105? making outdoor storage of any kind almost impossible. I’ve always stored extra paper products and a few canned goods in the garage but due to the heat, I knew I couldn’t successfully store food there for a long period of time. Soil in our region consists of a high content of clay so digging a root cellar is not a fruitful enterprise.

Although I have a relatively large three bedroom home, I wasn’t willing to fill closets with survival food, plus I wanted it to be hidden from eyes that didn’t have a need to know. I worried about this at length, feeling that I had been instructed by the Lord to make preparations for my family of eight.

A friend of ours who is a construction person often does odd jobs around the house for me. He is someone I trust like a brother and whom I attend church with. We were standing in my garage one day as I expressed my dismay over the food storage situation when he pointed to an alcove in the garage and said, “You have a closet right there. All you have to do is wall it off.”

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it previously, but the moment he said that it became very clear this would be “the” place. Within in a few days, I had my son in the garage with a measuring tape, pencil and paper and we figured the supplies I would need to make the closet come into fruition. He went to work and I went to Home Depot to arrange for a delivery of 2 x 4s, sheet rock, insulation, electrical boxes and wiring, light fixtures and screws and the complete list to make a well constructed, insulated closet with electrical outlets and ceiling fixtures where tool laden shelves once stood.

The process of moving all of the shelving and items stored on the shelves was exhausting, but I could see the benefit of this project and knew I would either get rid of what was stored there or find another place to put it. Luckily, most of the shelving was the heavy duty steel shelving on casters that we had bought at Sam’s a couple of years before. They were easily rolled across the garage and out of the way of the construction crew, their contents in tact.

The next weekend, my son and his friend came with tools in hand and began a long day of construction on a simple closet, fifteen feet long by five feet wide. Once their equipment was brought into the garage, the door went down and stayed there during the construction process. Although my neighbors are nice people, they are not on the same political thought process I am and I didn’t think they needed to know what was happening in the garage, nor did the city inspectors!

Two by fours were affixed to the concrete garage floor with a Ramset HD 22 single shot hammer device. Once the 2 x 4s were securely fastened to the floor where they would serve as the grounding base for the wall studs, the 2 x 4s for the studs followed and were stabilized by being attached to the ceiling. Next came the exterior sheet rock wall and insulation. I did hire an electrician to do the wiring of the closet as well as additional dawn to dusk lighting around the perimeter of the house.  In addition to the extra lighting in the ceiling of the closet, we added two outlets in the interior and one on the exterior wall of the storage closet so I would not lose the capacity to plug in extension cords for electrical outdoor tools. The closet door I selected was a metal exterior door already set with a lock and key arrangement.

We installed a silvery [Reflectix] insulation that was about 1/4" thick with bubbles sandwiched between the aluminum-looking [mylar] layers. We completely wrapped the walls of the storage closet with the insulation in hopes that it would solve any temperature problems. We  lined the room with it as tightly as if we were hanging wall paper, stapling it to the walls with an electric, heavy duty stapler. It looked good, clean and professional. My nine year old grandson stepped into the room and asked “Wow. What is this place for.” We dubbed it the “beam me up Scotty” room and have jokingly referred to it as that ever since. I put two thermometers in the room – one at each end –  and watched with dismay as the red line continued to hold at 90?. This was a problem that would only shorten the longevity of the stored food.

Once the closet was done my other son came to begin building shelves. My original plan was for wooden shelves but he wasn’t long into the project until he convinced me to buy metal shelving from Home Depot. We purchased three sets of Workforce Five Shelf Heavy Duty Steel Shelving Units that would hold up to 4,000 pounds. These free standing shelves were easily put together, very strong, and by using two units, I could make them tall enough to go from the floor to the nine foot ceiling. Each unit cost around $89 which was a little more than I had originally budgeted, but now that they are in I’m thrilled with them and very glad we went to this plan. The shelves are clean, smooth and without splinters and I don’t worry about weight loads plus the shelves are adjustable if I so desire.

My hot water tank is housed in a small closet inside the food storage room. I knew we had put the tank in almost immediately after we had moved into the house eleven years previously and it was a ten year tank. While I had not had any difficulty with the tank and found it still supplied me more than adequate hot water, I felt as though it would be prudent to have the tank replaced now, before the closet was full of food and shelving units. Also, I didn’t want to take a chance on the tank going out over a weekend or some other rushed time and I would be at the mercy of an unknown plumber to come fix it. Instead, I bought the tank and hired my construction friend to install it at his leisure, knowing full well I could trust him to be discreet about the contents of the closet.

Continuing to be concerned about the lack of control on the temperature inside the closet, my son and I climbed into the attic and put a roll of pink panther R-20 insulation in the area immediately above the food storage room and then a layer of pressed wood over that for flooring, thinking it would also work as additional insulation. Because of the layout of the roof line and the fact that the support beams for the ceiling of the garage ran crosswise instead of lengthwise, we weren’t able to get the insulation into the low lying areas under the eaves of the house. This worried me and I stuck as much of the blue polystyrene foam insulation back into the small crevices as possible.

As the weather began to get warmer, my concerns for the temperature of the closet room grew. Although my son had heavily insulated the new wall when he built it and I had a circulation fan going in the room at all times as well as the added insulation in the attic and on the exterior walls, the thermometer was showing an increasingly large red line. I knew enough about the longevity of  dried food to know this was not good and I would have to take evasive action.

My next venture was to add a stand alone room air conditioner. I did my research on line and bought one from a company in Austin, Texas. It looked like a great idea but looks weren’t enough! The information said it needed to stand near a window so it could be vented out like any other air conditioner. While I didn’t have a window in the room, I figured we could cut a hole in the wall of the water heater closet, run the venting tubing through that closet and up and out the vents in the attic.

My sister and I set about making this happen. In the early morning hours, before it got hot, she crawled into the attic with tools in hand and began cutting an opening through the ceiling of the hot water tank closet and pushing a very long length of flexible insulated dryer venting through the hole and then through the new hole we had cut in the wall of the closet. Pulling fifty feet of insulation isn’t an easy task, but we worked hard at the project and got it pulled through and affixed to the wall with metal brackets so it would be stable.

We followed the instructions on the stand alone air conditioner and attached the venting system to the flexible dryer vent and rejoiced when we turned on the unit and it dropped the temperature two degrees, almost immediately. We congratulated ourselves, went into the house and cleaned up and crashed in the family room. We were both very hot and exhausted but feeling good about our accomplishment as we drifted off to a well deserved nap.

A couple of hours later we went out to check our handiwork and were frustrated to find the room hotter than it had been before we began the project with the thermostat on the air conditioner showing 93?. We checked all points on the venting system to make sure nothing had come undone. I turned off the unit and set the fan back in the room; she went home. I thought about it over the weekend and tried to figure out what we could do to solve the problem. I had spent over three hundred dollars on the stand-alone unit that was only adding to the problem. Not only could I not afford that, it was maddening to think about.

After further research I came to the conclusion that the stand alone unit really is only a supplemental unit to be used in an area that already has some air conditioning but not enough. I’m sure it would work very well in that situation, but not in ours. On Monday, I called the company in Texas and told them I was returning the unit only to be answered by a Brian who wasn’t very nice about it and informed me that not only would I have to pay for the shipping back, which I expected, but I would now have to pay for the shipping to me as well since I wasn’t buying another product from them. That turned out to be about one hundred dollars down the drain. An expensive lesson in futility.

We were able to repackage all of the venting materials we used and return them to Home Depot for a refund, accompanied by a smile. At least they were nice about it which reinforces the virtues  of buying locally.

Several years before, I had added insulation to the attic of my home so I called that same company and had them come out to add more insulation, this time to the area above the storage closet in the garage as well as the original garage walls. To do so, they had to drill holes in the walls but I didn’t think that mattered - the idea was to keep the room cool enough to prolong the life of the food. It was an arduous task to remove all of the food, shelves and supporting items from the closet into another part of the garage, cover them with thick plastic to hide the contents from unwarranted eyes. Once the insulation project was done, I had to reverse the process and put everything back into the room.

Even with the added insulation, the room still wasn’t maintaining temperature below 90? on the hottest days. Although this was frustrating, I now knew I had to install a wall unit in the room. I decided the only acceptable thing I could do was to cut a hole in the new wall and put a small, one room, 120 VAC air conditioning unit in. I felt this was a gamble as well, but I now had several thousands of dollars worth of food in the closet and I didn’t want to gamble with losing it and not having food for my family.

Adding the 120 VAC unit was the smartest move of all. While they, too, are designed for windows and to be vented outside, we’ve been able to make this work. The condensation from the unit drains into a small plastic pan I placed on a shelf under the unit on the garage side of the wall. After a period of accumulation I pour that water into an empty recycled bottle, mark it “distilled” and set it aside for my iron. I’ve hung a small clip-on fan on the metal shelves, also on the garage side of the wall, next to the air conditioner. The fan blows across the unit and downward where the hot air is picked up by a larger fan and blown toward the garage door that I keep raised about two inches for circulation. 

All in all, the addition of the closet is amazing. I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way but knowing what I know now, I would have started with additional insulation as the second step in the entire process. The room is maintaining a temperature of 60 to 70? now, depending on how much I run the little air conditioner, which is normally shut off at night. I’m trusting by the end of September I won’t have to run it at all.

The closet has been constructed in such a way that I can completely disguise it by rolling steel shelves that we purchased at Sam’s several years ago in front of it. Those shelves are loaded with my husbands tools, chain saws, porta potty and anything else that is necessary for a normal life. In as little as five minutes, the garage can be made to look like a normal American messy garage where nothing could be found easily. Unless someone is looking for the closet with a metal detector, it would be very difficult to find.

The addition of the food storage room has cost me approximately $500 for building materials; $375 for additional insulation; $150 for wiring; $400 for shelving; $100 for air conditioning; $100 for shipping back the stand alone air conditioner, but the peace of mind is priceless.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In a recent phone conversation with one of my consulting clients, I was asked why I placed such a large emphasis on living in the country, at a relatively self-sufficient retreat. I've already discussed at length the security advantages of isolation from major population centers in the blog, but I realized that I've never fully articulated the importance of self-sufficiency, at a fundamental level.

In a societal collapse, where you are in "You're on Your Own" (YOYO) mode, it will be very important to be a net producer of water, food, and energy. This will mean the difference between being someone that is comfortable and well fed, and someone that is shivering, hungry, and thirsty, in the dark.

If you were to create computer models of a typical suburban home as compared to a small farm, they would probably present two very different pictures:

A typical suburban home is an energy pit. It generates hardly energy other than a bit of garden waste that could be used as compost, or fuel. A farm house on acreage, in contrast, can often be a net producer, especially if the farm includes a wood lot. (Standing timber that is suitable for use as firewood.) Properties with near-surface geothermal heat, coal seams, or natural gas wells are scarce, but not unheard of. I've helped several of my clients find such properties. For some further food for thought, see this article by Lester Brown over at The Oil Drum web site: The Oil Intensity of Food

A typical suburban home is a food pit. Just picture how many bags of groceries you tote home each week, month, and year. Compare than with the net volume of food produced by a small farm, or the meat produced by ranch. (For the latter, a ranch that is large enough to produce its own hay and grain is ideal.)

A typical suburban home is also a water pit, dependent on utility-piped water. But with a spring, or with well water and a photovoltaic or wind-powered pump, you can be a water exporter--charitably providing surplus water to your neighbors.

There are are of course some work-arounds for these limitations, such as installing photovoltaic power systems and rainwater catchments cisterns. But it is nearly impossible for a family to be a net producer of water, food, and energy, when living on just a small city lot.

Consider the inherent limitations of life on a "postage stamp" lot:

Limited acreage means that your house will always be a net importer of home heating fuel. Unless you live on acreage where you have a wood lot for firewood, you'll end up on the wrong side of the production-consumption equation. Photovoltaics are practical for lighting and running some appliances, but the big energy loads like space heating, hot water, and kitchen range cooking exceed what PV panels can produce, unless you are a millionaire. Yes, there are substitute energy sources, but most of those--such as propane-but those-are also "imported." Hmm... Perhaps it is worth the extra time and effort to find a retreat property that has a natural gas well, a coal seam or that is in a geothermal zone. At least buy a property with a wood lot, so you can heat your home and water with firewood.

Limited acreage and a location inside limits usually means restrictions on raising livestock. You might find a property that has been exempted or "grandfathered", but without the room required to grow animal feed crops, you will still be a net importer. (You will be forced to buy hay and grain, rather than grow it yourself.)

In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to have a private water well in a neighborhood that is served by a public water utility. This usually has more to do with maintaining a monopoly, rather than any genuine worries about a public health issue. There are of course exceptions, such as older houses with wells, that pre-dated the advent of a water utility. In many jurisdictions, the owners of these wells benefit from grandfather clauses. If buying such a property, make sure that the grandfather clause exemption is transferable. (Otherwise, you will have to cap the water well.)

One of the great ironies of urbanized life in modern-day America is that there has been a great inversion. In 1909, it was dirt poor farmers that lived on acreage, while wealthy people lived on city lots. But now, in 2009, owning acreage is something that most people only dream of, for retirement. In the more populous coastal states, the price per acre of land that is within commuting distance of high-paying jobs has been driven up to astronomical prices.

Have you ever stopped to think why there are large Victorian-style houses falling into disrepair in some Inner City ghettos? This is because at one time, those neighborhoods are where rich people lived. They were nice, safe neighborhoods, and were conveniently close to work, shopping, and schools. But times (and neighborhoods) change. These days, most of the wealthy have long-since moved to suburbs or to the country.

If you decide that you must stay in the suburbs, then I recommend that you at least relocate to a stout masonry house that is on the largest lot that you can afford. When you search through real estate listings, some key phrases to watch for are "creek", "grandfathered", "mature fruit trees" (or "orchard"), "secluded", and "well water." Another key word to watch for is "adjoins". It is advantageous to own a property that adjoins park land.

As I've often written, I recommend moving to a house on acreage in the country--that is if you can afford it, and your work and family situations allow it. But I'll close with one admonition: Don't bite off more than you can chew. There is no point on living on acreage if you have a large mortgage, and no working capital remaining to build up the infrastructure for genuine self-sufficiency. In fact, that would be "the worst of both worlds", since you would have higher commuting costs, a bigger mortgage, and perhaps even a bigger annual tax bill. Owning non-productive land may be worse than owning no land at all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hi Jim,
Some older neighborhood houses [in the Pacific Northwest] have large oil tanks for heating under driveways, in basements, and buried under yards. Last winter, we saw our neighbors run dry during a rare 2-week snow/ice event that even chained fuel trucks couldn't get around in. Portland and Seattle are notoriously under-prepared for ice/snow on roads, and actually have a "intentional neglect policy" of letting it melt without salt/de-icer rather than clearing the roads. Prepare to walk on uncleared pavement and stay around home!

If the predictions of temporary global oil over-supply are correct and fuel oil drops to around $1.50/gal, filling or topping-off a 600 or 1,000 gallon tank at that price would be a prudent thing to do with any extra money in the budget or even savings beyond the 6-month emergency reserve. Over-supply and clearance-pricing will be temporary as OPEC and others throttle back expensive drilling and pumping operations while the supply chain clears and prices return to "normal".

Even if a person is a renter, having a full heating fuel tank is a good thing. Some rental contracts make heating the building and a maintaining a minimum heating fuel level a requirement. The fuel in the tank remains the property of the renter, minus the amount that was there when they moved in (or language in the rental contract), and can be sold to the landlord, next tenant, or sucked up and moved by an oil company truck for a fee.

Filling before heating season allows plenty of time for sediment to settle in the tank before drawing it into the in-line filter ahead of the burner. Anecdotal commentary by furnace service men indicates that furnaces that run on mostly-full tanks have fewer burner problems than those that use "bottom of the tank" fuel. Farm and trucking supply houses have "fuel polishing" additives/fungicides and pump/filter systems that keep tanks and fuel clean that might be safely added to a home storage tank system. Being able to fill a five-gallon can of stored/filtered Home Heating Oil from a valved-spout in the basement might be useful at some point in the future [, since Home Heating Oil can be substituted for diesel fuel, in extremis]. Cheers, - Karl in Portland, Oregon

Thursday, March 19, 2009

By now most SurvivalBlog readers have gone about your preparations for your ideal home or retreat cabin, all storage food and tools acquired, fuel stored, generators ready, PV panels carefully concealed and hooked up to the battery bank. You and your family or group are ready to handle the coming collapse, but are you really? Are you ready to do without? Without that generator when the fuel runs out, or a critical piece is worn out and a new one cannot be had? At some point your supplies will be used up, storage fuel consumed and there may not be any to refill your tanks or more realistically you may be priced out, or it will be too dangerous to “run-the-gauntlet” and get more. Can you manage in your place without electricity? Can you cook with wood? Do you have space enough to process the abundant food you grow and must preserve either by canning or other means? Can you move throughout your buildings without being seen from the outside?
My point, is your place set up to function as a 19th century homestead?

My wife and I bought an old New England farmhouse many years ago, it is nothing fancy and looks like so many others in our area, it is a traditional connected farmhouse meaning that the buildings are all linked-up, yet they have different roof lines and are of different sizes. It is best summed up as a “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn” and this is the title of a wonderful book written by Thomas C. Hubka which details the reasons for the ways structures developed. (If you want a leisurely read on the history of these buildings, I highly recommend this book.) Anyway, we bought this type of farm house and have been in the process of renovating it over many years, although the renovation could more reasonably described as going back to the future. One of the many wonderful things about an old house, and when I say old I mean over 150 years old, is the ability to reuse much of the lumber in the walls, floors, and ceilings or the masonry whether it is brick or stone, Ours is a timber frame with some masonry on the exterior and is incredibly well built and has a brilliant house plan. I realize that many people are not up to the task of going through this sort of process, but you could build your current retreat or home to some of these specs. Our home for example was built just after the War of 1812 it was fully functional for a family of eight with room for boarders/labors and or relatives. The kitchen is large while many of the adjacent rooms are small (less space to heat) all the rooms are situated around two large central fireplaces and have thimbles to allow for a small wood stove in each, the rooms can be closed off when not in use, thus not taking valuable heat from other areas. In the basement there is a large hole in the floor; it was a cistern, but was allowed to fill in with junk, perhaps it was considered a “sump hole” by later inhabitants since there was evidence of long overworked pumps in under the silt and gravel. I have cleaned this up and now have a source of water right in the house, (this water will still need to be treated since it is technically surface water being only ten feet below grade), but it still offers water for cleaning or for our animals.

There is a large “root” cellar to store food stuffs and canned goods. (It could double as safe room or vault if needed and may well have been at one point since the opening is nondescript and hidden from plain sight). Also there is a summer kitchen, at first I wondered why this was necessary, it appeared to be redundant, but further study enlightened me to the fact that this area was a vital part the home complex. First it served to allow a large un-insulated cook area that was necessary during the harvest time to allow heat to escape from the constant fire in the cook stove during the canning, it was also a place that field labors had their meals prepared and ate without having to clean themselves up much and not dirty up the regular kitchen. The buildings between the summer kitchen and barn (sometimes it is one long building divided only internally or there are up to three distinct roof lines and end walls that divide them) any how these areas were used in a variety of ways to allow a small cottage industry to occur, in-fact these were simply work areas that were sheltered from the often harsh and wild weather we experience. One could be for wood storage, for tools (a sort of machine shop), or areas for processing wool from sheep. The point is not to recreate that lifestyle but to utilize that mindset and build similar multi-purpose structures.

Our Home:
We have “renovated” our home to fully function without electricity. Now, we have multiple generators, a significant storage of fuels and food. I and am currently finishing up with the PV panels and battery bank/inverter set-up, going through all the motions to secure some sense of normalcy; but in-fact we do not “need” those items to exist here, they are an extra. We can heat with wood and with a solar hot water system connected to baseboard radiators as well as a copper coil running through the wood fired furnace [for when there is not solar gain or during a heavy snowfall]. (The hot water moves via thermo-siphon no electricity needed only check-valves to keep the hot water moving in one direction). Our kitchen is “modern” but if the power is out we can cook on our wood fired cook-stove, it is about 120 years old and with a little “TLC” is now fully functional not to mention beautiful to look at. We can also bake in a bee hive oven built into the massive central chimney which I rebuilt and lined with modern flues. I left one of the original fireplaces, installed airtight doors and an exterior air vent, while on the other side made the other fireplace into a large wood storage container.

Overall, your retreat needs to be functional without electricity, things will eventually break, or you simply run out. Focus upon knowing how to live your life with little to no electricity or “conveniences”. The primary goals must be on heating your home and preparing food without petrochemical fuels, most modern homes are particularly horrible in this area. Change your mindset; you cannot store enough for the really long haul.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We may soon depend on all of what we have learned over the years. Putting all of the threads of knowledge together into a tapestry of self-sufficiency, and survival capabilities, is part of the lifelong quest for our family’s security. We learn from many sources and experiences such as: family, church, friends, teachers, teammates, co-workers, reading books and SurvivalBlog, and hopefully from our mistakes.

Preparedness Skills from our Grandmas and Grandpas

The foundation for preparedness begins with my childhood in Michigan. We lived in Lansing where my great-grandmother was next door and my grandmother lived next door to her. My father was born in great-grandma’s house after the family moved to the city during the early 1900s. My sisters and I spent weekends and summers alternately at my mom’s family dairy farm, which was just outside of the city, and at my dad’s family cabin “up north”. These were the richest times of my life. We knew all of our grandparents and some of our great-grandparents very well. My great-great-grandfather still lived in the old log cabin when I was born in 1956. We have been fortunate to have had five generations alive consistently from then until now. The wealth of love and knowledge you gain from your extended family is irreplaceable.

The “old timers” told stories of hardship during the great depression and the dust bowl era (we live an area that was the largest prairie east of the Mississippi.) Memories of crop failures with tales of early and late frosts were passed down. There were also hunting and fishing stories passed down as we learned to hunt and fish with older family members. There were bigger than life lumberjack stories and stories from Prohibition and the World Wars. I learned to safely handle and accurately shoot a .22 rifle with peep sights when I was six or seven years old. I walked the roads with my grandpa squirrel hunting. We ice fished on local lakes and went to Tip-Up Town USA every year. All of this adds to ones persona and the early experience helps awaken the necessary “survivalist” traits.

On a working dairy farm you rapidly learn about life (and death). Animal husbandry and caring for the land lead to sustainability. Animals do become food and harvesting the crops sometimes seems little reward for the hard work. The milking must be done every day and chores do not wait. As a kid I learned to drive tractors and pick-ups to and from the fields. We mowed, bailed and then stacked the hay in the mow. Alfalfa, oats and corn were the field crops. Pigs, chickens, and sheep were raised along with the dairy cows and we cleaned the barns and spread manure.

Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation such as when to plant, where to plant, when to harvest, and how to raise the animals. There were many topics of conversations at the Sunday breakfast table. Many things are debated and discussed after chores and before Church. Most times the conversations continued outside the Church after the sermon. It was the only time you saw the other farmers. When you are a little guy you tended to be quiet, pay attention and learn.

Grandpa was a farmer and Grandma was a one room school teacher. Grandma also taught vacation bible school during the summer break. Us kids learned how to tend good gardens and helped preserve the food we raised. We took care of the barn animals while the uncles milked. We hauled water to the bull pen and helped milk as we got older. Survival skill sets from the farm come from being part of a close knit community with a solid work ethic. There are strong religious underpinnings with good people engaged in caring for one another as well as the animals and the land.

Preparedness from "Roughing It”

The log cabin “up north” had a well-house for getting water and an outhouse for getting rid of water. There was a wood fired cook stove for heat and kerosene lamps to play cards under. There was a red checkered oilcloth on the table with cane chairs around it. The place was originally homesteaded by my great-great-grandfather in the late 1800s (a few electric lights were added at some point.) We used to go up on Friday night after Dad or Grandpa got out of work. The next morning started with an awakening trip to the outhouse and then fetching a bucket of water from the well house and kindling for the wood stove. On a cold morning you stepped lively until the fire was going.

Once the stove was hot, Grandma would cook buttermilk pancakes on a griddle that my great-grandmother had used in the lumber camp. Eggs and bacon sizzled in a cast iron skillet. Clothes were washed on a washboard in a wash tub and then hung out to dry. You took a bath in the river. During the summer we would fish morning and evening and water ski on the nice days. The family summer vacation was spent camping in a tent along the river or at a state park. The old cabin was also used for small game hunting in the early fall and deer camp in the late fall / winter. We would take walks in the woods and look for morels and other edible things like may apples, hickory nuts or raspberries and huckleberries. Animal tracks were learned and followed with hopes of a glimpse. Life was considered sacred unless needed for food and being a part of nature became obvious. A leave no trace and waste nothing ethic was being born.

Opportunities for further wilderness and pioneering skill development were provided by Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. My mom and dad were actively involved in Scouting when I was growing up. Teamwork and sharing responsibilities for the group were learned. Outdoor cooking and keeping things sanitary were heavily emphasized. Food poisoning is no joke – we had one patrol that damn near killed us with their meal. We learned to wash our hands and boil the crap out of everything. Hiking and backpacking skills were beginning to be developed in the Scouts. We day hiked a 20 miler once a year on the Johnny Appleseed Trail - the Scouts version of the death march. You had to carry a full pack if you wanted the patch. We also hiked the Pokagon Trail in northern Indiana and learned to camp in the winter.

While living in Pennsylvania (later in life) I started winter backpacking with a few of my buddies. We went in the winter both for the solitude it offered, and to learn the special skill sets required for survival in the cold. There are beautiful views from Seven Springs and other spots along the Laurel Highlands Trail during the winter. This experience then led to the development of technical mountaineering skills. The books Basic Rockcraft, Advanced Rockcraft and Knots for Climbers were memorized along with study of the book Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Skills were practiced and ingrained.

My first solo backpacking / climbing trip came in the summer of 1980 in the Organ Mountains of southern New Mexico. I later solo climbed most of the 4,000 and 5,000 footers in New England (many in winter). I met a like minded climber on one of those hikes and we made a summit bid on Mt. Rainier in June of 1998. I also began the solo circumnavigation on the Wonderland Trail that year. I set the first tracks both that year and when I completed the circuit in June of 2001. Map and compass skills were required. Primitive camping while carrying everything you need to survive for two weeks is a tough proposition. It was tough in my 30s and 40s. It’s even harder now that I am in my 50s. G.O.O.D. to the deep woods is doable but it would be a hard life.

Responsibility and Teamwork

We learned to be responsible and self-sufficient during our childhood. We learned to play without other kids around and had chores to do for our allowance. I learned to gather the wood and light a fire as soon as I was old enough. You pumped the water and filled the reservoir if you wanted warm water for washing up. You learned to use guns and knives as tools while you learned hunting techniques and cleaned the game for the table. Being a responsible hunter meant taking ethical shots and using what you kill. Catching and cleaning fish, then cooking or smoking them were all part of being a good fisherman. To go along with these survival skills you also need the ability to share knowledge and work as a team.

Most of the skills you learn will help you to fend for yourself one way or another. The only problem is summed up with the statement “no man is an island”. You will need others sooner or later. My sisters and I developed basic teamwork skills while setting up camp. The girls helped mom and I helped dad. We had a “system”. This was carried further in Scouting. Some Patrols set up tents while another set up the kitchen. These valuable lessons were used later in life as I went through boot camp and during service in the military. I served on small boats as part of a search and rescue team in the USCG.
Teamwork helps to overcome the steep learning curve and high risk of being a self-sufficient survivalist. You can do things as a team exponentially quicker and safer than you can by yourself. Your bunkmate becomes your partner in boot camp and later becomes your shipmate. You learn “one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat”. As a team you can survive what would kill you alone. In a bad storm someone has to steer while someone bails out the boat. One person couldn’t do it. Avalanche in the back country is another perfect example - by yourself you are probably dead. Doing things alone is great - but it may cost you your life. Skill and knowledge can’t cover your a** like a buddy. It’s nice to have someone else on the rope with you; they are your only hope.

Teaching everyone at least something you know and learning from everyone something you don’t know can only make the group stronger. If someone gets sick or is tired someone else can step up. CPR is a good example here. In the back country one person can’t help himself. One person helping may bring back the life but it better happen quickly. Two people allow you to send someone for help while rendering aid until you are too tired to continue. Three people allow almost indefinite support. Two can alternate CPR while waiting for the one who left for help to return with the defibrillator. If help is real far away, then it’s done. There is a point of no return. Remote locations usually cross that point which is a distinct disadvantage (unless the SHTF).

Without teamwork you will usually die if something bad happens. Everyone has to be a good shot. Everyone needs to be able to render first aid. The group is only as strong as the weakest link and precious resources are spent covering someone’s a** that’s not up to speed. Teach and learn and cross train. Remember what you did as a kid and don’t sell the kid’s of today short. Teach them the skills they need and allow them to grow into the responsibility. Being part of a team or extended family that functions like a team is fun. The action of being responsible for one another is at the root of any team.

The Prepared Family

The family is the primary source of knowledge. Some survival skills to learn right along with reading, writing and arithmetic are: swimming, knot tying, fire building under all conditions, where to get water and how to make it safe to drink, safe gun handling and accurate shooting, hunting in fields and the woods, fishing in rivers and on lakes, first aid, camping, boating, gardening, making things “homemade”. You can’t start learning or teaching these things too soon.

10 years ago we moved back home to Michigan after living all over the USA. I had come home for my Grandpa’s funeral and was returning to New England. Something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it. That’s when the light came on and as I drove it became apparent that I was going the wrong way – both figuratively and literally. We were chasing the so called “American Dream”. Losing my grandfather and returning to the north woods had shown me where home really is. It is with family and God and where your roots are. I had drifted away from the true values I had learned early in life.
I resigned my position, cashed out the 401(k), and bought the homestead from grandma. We planted 24 fruit trees and installed irrigation systems for the gardens. We pruned the grape vines back and tended to the asparagus beds. My wife renewed the old flower beds and I have replaced the split rail fence. We re-roofed everything. The folks put down another well up the field and had another septic system installed for their travel trailer. We had a 100 amp power drop installed and we also buried a power cable from the field to the trailer for a 12 volt system (small scale solar and wind).
I once again could use guns after living in the tyranny of Massachusetts. (I refused to get an Firearms ID card so my guns never left the house in 16 years.) I taught a niece and nephew to shoot with the same .22 that grandpa used to teach me with almost 50 years ago. My nephew, now an 8th grader, got his first deer this past year. No one believed him when he came home and told them. He did it on his own.

Things have now come full circle in our life. My grandma lives with us in her old house through the summer. My sisters are both Grandmas themselves now and they are taking care of our mom and dad. The kids have great-grandparents and a great-great grandmother. My understanding wife of thirty years and I live here on the homestead as stewards of the family heritage. The whole family gets together up here once or twice a year. We know how to provide for and take care of each other. If the SHTF my sisters and the rest of the family will head up here to the homestead and once again adopt the ways of our Great-Great Grandpa and Grandma. Everything we have learned through our lives will serve us well. Skill sets from the north woods and from the farm are derived from living simple, living manual and living with nature as part of nature.

We used to fall to sleep on a feather tick mattress while listening to rain tapping over our heads in the loft of the old log cabin. Bedtime stories were told as we drifted to sleep and the whippoorwills sang into the night. We didn’t think that the day would come that just about all of what we learned from our family and from our life would come into play. Thank God for our tight family and all of the distilled knowledge passed down to us. I now live in a home built over the site of the original log cabin and now we have 7 generations since my great-great grandparents first cleared this piece of land. It looks like we will be talking of another “Great Depression” soon and the complete cycle renews. Do we learn from our mistakes?

Preparedness Skills and Materials

We’re preparing for the future and I hope to teach what I can to as many people as I can before it’s over. We can survive well if we draw on one another’s strengths and knowledge. It starts with the family and moves out to the extended family then to the neighbors and on to town folk and into the blogosphere. Many people have grown up in similar circumstances and have similar experiences. We must practice our learned skills and trades all of the time to stay fresh and perpetuate our way of life. We must keep acquiring new skills and more materials for survival. Preparedness is a constant quest.

Survival trades that I've learned:

ASE Certified Master Auto Technician
Journeyman Machinist and Apprentice Welder.
Experience with all aspects of house construction from framing to finish work, including house wiring and plumbing for water, gas and DWV systems.
Professional ditch digger and home brewer of beer.

Survival tools, equipment, and material acquired over the years:

Comprehensive set of Snap-On hand tools, diagnostic equipment and garage.
Several redundant computers and complete wi-fi coverage with satellite internet.
All of the carpentry, plumbing and electrical tools needed to build a house.
All of the tools required to garden both manually and with gas engines.
Fence building tools and supplies.
5,500 watt gas generator.
Wood stove and saws, axes, mauls, wedges.
Stores of food, bits of gold and silver, books and manuals, and lots of lead.

Survival firearms battery:

Auto-Ordinance Model 1911A1 .45 ACP (I qualified Marksman in USCG)
Stag Arms AR-15 with 20” Bull barrel, 5.56 (I qualified Expert in USCG)
Marlin .22 WMR (squirrel / varmint gun)
Mossberg .22 LR (shot this since 1962)
Ruger M77 Mk II .270 Win. (my deer rifle)
Winchester Model 94 .32 Win. Special (got my first deer with Grandpa’s gun)
Mossberg 12 ga. 3 -1/2” Ulti-Mag in Camo (turkey / duck / goose gun)
Winchester Model 1897 12 ga. 2-3/4” (I've shot this gun since 1969)
Reloading equipment and supplies (loads for Barnes Bullets)

Survival Quest 2009 (the final pieces I'll need for grid down and "zombies"):

Ruger M77 Mk II .300 Win Mag with optics
A manual water pump (the old pump is gone)
Wind turbine and photovoltaic panels for water pumping and power generation.
Battery bank and inverter
More kerosene lamps
Night Vision for the AR-15

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In January, 2008, the outlook for people in the United States appeared bleak. I told my wife that we needed to stock-up on food because I felt that the supply lines were thin and vulnerable. I began my preparations by Internet search. I found JWR's SurvivalBlog and I bought a copy of his novel. In the meantime, I started buying cases of canned goods. I bought food that we generally ate. I looked at the expiration dates of every purchase. I tried to buy what would last through 2011. Not much would, so I bought with the idea of buying more later, looking for one year at a time.

The pantry was full. I had read Jim's book, and had found many links on the SurvivalBlog that helped me know how much of what to buy to be balanced. I bought a freezer at Sam’s Club and filled that also. I noticed that food prices were increasing at an alarming rate in August. They were up 18% on same item purchases, on average. Later that figure would reach 35%. I only talked about this to a trusted few. My wife was starting to wonder about me.

Soon thereafter, a Harbor Freight store opened in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my home base. There, I purchased several more items I saw as essential. I got a two burner propane stove with a center grill feature. I bought some LED flashlights, ropes, staple guns, and other miscellaneous items. Being a hunter and former U.S. Army officer, I had a lot of camping (survival equipment) on hand. Sleeping bags were there, polypropylene long johns, butane lighters, three 20 gallon and one 100 gallon propane tanks were filled. I use them for my barbeque grill. I told my wife that we should buy a generator. She said that if I thought we should buy it, that I should. I didn’t.

I found some water barrels at a local food processing plant. I now have eight 55 gallon drums. I found 4 red 35 gallon chemical barrels that were set aside for gasoline. I had about six 5 gallon gas cans to operate my 4 wheeler, fishing boat, and sundry other small engines like lawn equipment and field water pumps.

Day to day, I am an NRA certified training counselor/instructor. Starting in November 2008, my business started to boom. I had a 300% increase in Arkansas concealed carry classes. That hasn’t stopped to this day. I have a 35 acre facility that is a former bean field, surrounded by thousands of farmland acres and two liquor stores. I have a 1,200 square foot building for classroom and office space, a 52 foot trailer for storage. My plan for survival guns was simple. All guns were to be military calibers. Handguns would be .45 and .38 calibers. Rifles would be .22 rimfire, 7.62x39, .308 and .30-06 calibers. Shotguns would be 12 gauge. Stocks of ammunition were increased starting early in 2008.

Shelter, food, security. What is left? Communications. I bought a set of 25 mile range pair of Motorola hand held communicators with recharger on sale for $38. Stores of batteries were laid in. Cell phones. Transportation was what we already had. 2001 Dodge Durango 4x4 and a 2005 Chevrolet 4x4 extended cab pick-up.

The Storm

January 28, 2009. KAIT –TV weather in Jonesboro, Arkansas is forecasting a wet winter storm cold front with frigid weather following out of the Northwest. When it began, the outside temperature was about 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing rain collected on everything in near biblical quantity.

I was awakened in the early morning of January 29th and you could hear branches starting to snap with a sound like gunshots. Outside, you could see flashes of light as one by one, the transformers on the light poles blew out. The power was off. It was time to go to work. First, open the flue and light the gas logs in the fireplace. Inside the house, the temperature had quickly fallen to about 40 degrees. I thought to crack a window for ventilation draft to reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Then I set up a propane heater and went about blocking off all rooms except the den and kitchen, which were adjoining. I used 4 mil plastic to cover two entrances to the den. The temperature quickly found about 62 degrees. We placed a carbon monoxide detector in the room to keep us from being statistics. The propane stove was set up over the electric range for cooking and a 20 pound bottle of propane was connected to it. I started thinking about how I should have bought a generator.

By morning, we felt isolated in our home. Very few vehicles were moving. The world outside looked like a war zone with ice-laden limbs and the things they crushed. With no electricity, the phones didn’t work. We ate breakfast normally. The whole world became our refrigerator. No cable TV so we cranked up the radio and began to listen to the results. Reports of some break-ins started coming in as people abandoned all electric homes for the designated shelters in town. Outlying areas quickly ran out of gasoline and propane. Stores emptied out their goods and shelves became bare. Generators and flashlights were nonexistent. Batteries and power supplies followed suit. Many businesses were unable to sell anything as their computers were down and lights and heat were out. Sadly, no one has a backup plan for how to sell anything without electricity. Gas cans were a faint memory. I checked on our neighbors to make sure they were coping, and to exchange cell phone numbers. The telephone system actually works without outside electricity if the type of phone you use doesn’t need 110 volts from the grid. We had one emergency phone for that reason, and it was operational. I wondered how many people knew about that?

The day passed relatively uneventfully. We had everything we needed to exist in a minor disaster. Some people didn’t. A few died for their lack of preparedness.
After the passing of the first day of “survival,” tree limb removal became the priority, while everyone fought what southerners call severe cold. It was the 30th of January. The temperature was unrelenting with nighttime lows of 9 degrees and daytime highs of 20. I was able to venture out for things that would be nice to have, like a generator. You see, with a generator, our gas furnace would work. All you need it for is the electric blower. It was the only hole in the preparations. I went in to the local Lowe’s, after checking a couple of other stores. In the back of the store there was a line of about 13 people. I asked why they were there. There was a truck inbound with 75 generators. I got in line. Twenty minutes later I was in the electric department buying the necessary wire nuts and power cords needed to hook my [newly-purchased] generator to the power panel in my house.

When I got home, the first thing I did was to disconnect the house from the grid by turning off the main breaker, outside the house. You must do this before attempting to connect a generator to your power panel. Failure to do so could kill workmen repairing downed power lines and connecting transformers. To get things operational quickly, I used the cord provided with the generator, which used four grounded plug outlets. To operate the [selected] areas to connect, I bought 10 gauge wire. We turned off all appliances and I pulled out the circuit breaker for the selected rooms. I disconnected the wire from the circuit breaker and wired it directly to each wire with a male plug on the other end to mate with the wire from the generator. I did this for the heater circuit, the den wall circuit, the kitchen wall circuit, and the master bedroom wall circuit. The heater kicked on.

I offer one final note about using a generator. The operation book has a chart in it showing the watts used by each type of appliance. You must calculate the [load] amount used by your appliances. It has to add up to less than your generators running wattage rating.

We were on a main highway in town, and we had our electricity hooked to the grid after spending only a few nights without. Many in town were without electricity for three weeks. In outlying areas, some are still not connected. The line crews working to restore power were fantastic. Limbs still line the highways and yards a month after the event began.

Lessons Learned
It was nice to be confident in the preparations that we had made. It was also easy to see the holes in the plan. I now have the generator that I knew I would need when the grid goes down. After the fact, I also bought the connections necessary to hook up the generator just by turning off the main breaker, plugging the generator to an installed wall socket, and cranking it up. Cell phones go down after only a few days without a charge. I bought a portable power battery for that purpose. If we had been out of power long term, the generator would have had to have been used on a part time basis, at night. That means that daytime operations would have been using only one or two rooms, again. When power goes down, the best fallback is natural gas, if you have it. I am in the process of planning where to install additional natural gas stubs for appliances that can be added. The natural gas hot water heater was a blessing. It was on from the start. The warmest place in the house was the utility room where the water heater is located. Remember to have books and games for those evening hours when you would have been watching television. Make sure all of your gasoline cans stay filled and stabilized. Make sure all of your propane bottles stay charged. Make sure you have plenty of batteries for radios and flashlights. Make sure you have enough essential medicines. Roger’s Rangers rules #1 rule is "Don’t fergit nuthin!"

I may have missed a few issues, but I want to talk about future plans. I am going to install photovoltaic panels to run an emergency LED lighting system. This would be a small solar panel, probably 45-60 watts [and a deep cycle battery], as a precursor to getting a more comprehensive system. LED lights use very little electricity and they are very long lasting. More technology will be added as it becomes available. Reducing reliance on the grid is the ultimate goal.

Final Words
You can war game and "what if" emergency situations as much as you like. It is good to exercise your plan. The problem is that real situations have a way of waking you up to the holes in your plans. Do not wait to begin planning for the next disaster. People in tornado and earthquake zones know about being ready for these things, but Mother Nature will have a surprise for you no matter where you are. Prepare for the worst and pray to God that it doesn’t happen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
Although being an avid reader, this is the first time I have written your site. The letters posted on your site today respecting Alaska as a retreat locale raised a few possible issues in my mind. First of all, let me say that Alaska is my favorite place in the world, and I wouldn't have it any other way. However, as a retreat locale, one may want to think twice unless the situation forces their location there. Also, it is important to remember that the conditions and terrain in Alaska are very wide ranging, depending where you are. The climate can range from arctic in the north to relatively mild in the south. I have heard the climate in the south compared to that of the mid-Atlantic states on the East coast.

Most parts of the state are totally without agriculture, but there is some in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The growing season is usually around 100 days long, and can produce huge vegetables because of the length of the days. Some vegetables do well there, such as potatoes, carrots and cabbage.

Therefore, if one intends to do any kind of farming in Alaska, the "Mat-Su" Valley is where it is possible. However, there is a major drawback to this fact, from the perspective of retreat logistics. The Mat-Su valley is one of the most densely populated areas of the state. It has, as of late, been converting to suburban communities for workers who commute to Anchorage. As we all know, the suburbs are a bad, bad place to be WTSHTF. And even if one were to build a retreat in a section of the valley not yet suburban, there is no way to know that it would remain so for the next five years or more.

Prepping before the SHTF is made more difficult by the state's isolation. Building materials, fuel, food, guns, ammo, medical supplies and any other product must be shipped in from the [continental] US or elsewhere. This makes these products not only more expensive, but generally less available, especially outside of the urban centers. Ordering off the web makes them easier to get, but the shipping is still expensive. Fuel of any kind is the most expensive in the nation, and ammo is pretty over-priced, too.

Fuel, as one letter pointed out, is a major problem. Getting by without fossil fuels is a main goal of most preppers, and it may prove more difficult in Alaska. Solar is out, at least during the winter. Not only is there very little light, but it is less intense than elsewhere, due to the oblique angle at which it hits the state (as it is so far north). I don't know a lot about wind, so that may be a possibility. If it was, any parts would be difficult to get. As K.L.'s letter says, firewood is a possibility, but this raises three issues.

As he says, with no gas or diesel = no power tools to cut [and haul firewood]. Any broken hand tools would be irreplaceable, and even having extras is likely not enough when you plan to cut by hand and burn firewood for a very extended period of time. Hand cutting firewood is also time consuming.

Since it would need to be done in the summer, it would take up time for farming and other chores. This might not be a problem if you are part of a large retreat group, however. Also, felling trees, in any way, especially by hand, is extremely dangerous. I would strongly recommend a logger certification class for anyone planning to possibly use firewood as a retreat fuel. Although the course will focus on mechanical forestry, the safety principles are the same universally.

Third, unless one has a retreat on a very spacious lot, it is possible to run out of firewood to cut. Trees grow much slower in Alaska People who do not heat their homes in this manner would be surprised at the amount of fuel a wood stove can use in a winter. For instance, to heat the house on my family farm, it takes roughly 10 to 15 cords to get through the winter, with a little to spare for safety's sake. And that is back in New York, not Alaska. Imagine cutting that much firewood on a 25 acre lot for five years or more. One may be able to cut off of their property, but that is a bad way to meet the neighbors, especially after TSHTF.

This letter ran much longer than I planned, and I would like to go on further, but time prevents me from doing so. In short, think twice about a retreat in Alaska. It is absolutely possible, but would present much greater difficulties than other feasible places. In the lower 48, one can find the same type of isolated area, but with:

Better farming conditions
Lower prices in general
A climate not requiring huge amounts of fuel for the winter
Ability to travel through the US without crossing international borders (If they still exist after TSHTF)
And so forth...

If you think you can do it, then go for it. My wife thinks I'm trying to keep it all for myself. - J. Galt

JWR Replies: Thanks for that input. I have my doubts about the viability of the Mat-Su Valley in worst-case collapse. Its proximity to the hungry, teeming masses of Anchorage is troubling. Alaska cannot feed its population, even in today's economy, and one can only wonder what it would be like grid-down, with no fuel available.

I encourage anyone serious about living in Alaska to look at the Delta Junction area, in Alaska's interior. I haven't been there since the summer of 1980 (when I attended the U.S. Army Northern Warfare School), but it struck me as a very productive agricultural region.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Build an Inexpensive Outdoor Forced Air Wood Burning Heater

If wood is available but you are unable to safely utilize it as a heat source due to the fact that your permanent or temporary shelter happens to be a recreational vehicle (RV), mobile home or travel trailer, then this idea may be helpful. On the other hand, it may also have appeal to those who live in a home where a wood burning heater could be safely used but for those who do not want the mess associated with constantly transporting wood and ash. Those with large homes and greater winter heating requirements should regard the heater as a possible method of reducing heating costs and not as a substitute for your current system. Two additional benefits of the forced air outdoor barrel stove heater are very low initial cost and portability. I built mine for less than $150 last year and can verify that it has been working splendidly since then.

For the first time in my life I have not been faced with expensive monthly propane or heating oil bills. Granted, my residence is tiny but the winters here are quite long and brutal. It is nice also to know that in the event that I move I can easily disassemble the heater and take it with me.

These images pretty much tell the story:


Duct Detail


I have excluded drawings of the blower and the flexible aluminum tubing that connects to the horizontal air pipe ends with large hose clamps. Keep in mind that each four foot section of flexible aluminum tubing will stretch to up to eight feet in length. Run the tubing into your residence either through a window opening that has been partially covered with plywood or through a small port cut through the side of your residence. A small blower connects to either one of the two tubing sections just inside the window opening or wall port. Except for the barrels and a small electric blower, all of the hardware required can probably be found or ordered at your local hardware store. Ace Hardware is a particularly good source for wood burning supplies, however, and most of their stores also carry the Vogelzang Barrel Stove Kit. In the event that you can't find a small used blower locally, try Dayton Blower. They offer a number of reasonably priced small blowers that would work just fine. If you are limited to twelve volt electric power you might consider finding a used automobile heating and/or air conditioning system blower. Should the nearest auto salvage supply company require you to go through the long drudgery of pulling the part yourself then give the U Need A Part (UNAP) locating service a try. I should warn you, however, that auto parts dealers can sometimes become irritated when one is unable to provide an exact part description. If you can connect to someone via e-mail try saying something like "virtually any heating-air conditioning system blower - the more powerful the better" and see what happens.

If there is someone in your area that owns a plasma cutter I would recommend hiring him to make the barrel cuts. It will save a lot of time, effort and metal cutting saw blades. Insulating the heater is an optional step but it can obviously improve efficiency. I wrapped the sides (but not the ends) of my heater with R-11 insulation. Make sure, however, that the paper backing is removed beforehand. Although fiberglass insulation is fireproof, the paper backing is not. If you should decide to use insulation it must be covered with sheet metal to protect it from wind and rain. I used some aluminum roofing material that had conveniently blown off the roof of a nearby derelict barn erected 1913. Fortunately, the owner had no interest in having the material returned since he was planning to have the barn demolished soon anyway. I snipped a few pieces of the roofing material to size and fastened them together with sheet metal screws. Note that I created a drip edge on top made cutouts for both the barrel legs and chimney pipe. The cover laces tightly together at the bottom with steel wire. I had briefly considered using ample quantities of heavy duty aluminum foil for the job but decided against the idea because it not only punctures and tears too easily but could also blow off in strong winds. I would not be surprised, however, if there is some sort of more easily cut metallic wrap available from Menards or Home Depot, for example, that would be far more convenient to use than sheet metal. At the present time I don't use a thermostat. If I did I would try to find one that could also turn the blower off should inside air temperature fall below a certain level due to fuel exhaustion which unfortunately turns the heater into an air chiller. If anyone can suggest how to do that, then please e-mail the details to the SurvivalBlog Editor.

The parts list is as follows:
Two clean 55 gallon steel drums
One small electric ("hamster wheel") blower
One Vogelzang Standard Airtite Barrel Stove Kit # BK100E. [Barrel stove kits are available from Lehman's. Search for Item # 17120106 ]
Three 4' sections of 4" diameter steel stove pipe. One section will need to be cut to length. Avoid using aluminum chimney pipe or elbows
Two 4" diameter steel stove pipe 90-degree elbows.
One or two 4' sections of 6" diameter steel stove pipe for the chimney. A rain cap is optional, but recommended
Two or more 4' sections of 4" diameter flexible aluminum [clothes dryer type] duct tubing. The number of sections needed will vary according to the distance that heater is located from your residence and how you decide to route the tubing after it enters your home. Keep in mind that when expanded each section can stretch to 8'.
Approximately six large [stainless steel Aero-Seal type] hose clamps for the air duct tubing
Two dozen short sheet metal screws
Duct tape and silicone sealant

Optional items would include a thermostatic fan cut-off switch and enough fiberglass insulation to wrap the sides and thin sheet metal to cover the insulation.

JWR Adds: I strongly recommend that the bottom of the main (firebox) barrel be lined with firebrick. Without it, the service life of a barrel stove could be as short as two years with regular use. A rain cap for the chimney is also a must, in my opinion. Without it, rainwater coming down the chimney will cause a barrel stove to rust out with alarming rapidity.

Take appropriate safety precautions in routing the chimney, to avoid fires,and to avoid the introduction of smoke indoors. Inspect the chimney and air ducts frequently, to make certain that carbon monoxide from the chimney does not co-mingle with the air passing through the ducts! The use of a carbon monoxide alarm is a must whenever using any sort of wood-fired heater.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Mr. Rawles:
First and foremost thank you for your novel "Patriots" which I am currently reading.

I live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. As of late there seems to be a rise in the number of "home invasion" type of crimes in this area. Every morning that I go to work I hear about a new incident in the metroplex. This has led me to put inside locks on my bedroom doors and purchase my first gun. I consider myself one of those "know enough to be dangerous" people, but am planning on taking a handgun safety course . I'd like to know your thought on preparedness for these "home invasion" crimes which are on the rise. Once again thank you for your novel which has opened my eyes to just how unprepared I am. Sincerely, - Geoffrey T.

JWR Replies: You've surely heard the phrase "caught off guard." In my opinion, almost the entire American citizenry has been systemically "off guard" since the end of the US Civil War. There are two fundamental weaknesses that make American homes vulnerable to home invasions: a condition white mindset, and appalling architectural weakness. I'll discuss each.

Condition White Mindset

First and foremost is an almost universal Condition White mindset. This refers to the Cooper situational awareness color code for "unaware and unprepared". The vast majority of the urban and suburban population spends 90% of their daytime hours in Condition White. They do a lot of idiotic things, like failing to keep their doors locked at all times, and failing to keep loaded guns handy. Most folks lock their doors only just before retiring each evening. So most daytime and early evening home invasion robbers simply stroll in to unlocked houses and catch the occupants flat-footed. By adopting condition yellow as your norm, and by taking the appropriate security measures, you will tremendously lessen you vulnerability to violent crime, including home invasions.

Architectural Weakness

Secondly, 150 years of relative peace, stability, low crime rates, and cheap energy have worked together to push American residential architecture toward very vulnerable designs. Modern American homes are essentially defensive disasters. They have huge expanses of glass, they lack barred windows or european-style security/storm shutters, they lack defensible space, and they often have no barriers for the approach of vehicles. Another ill-conceived innovation is the prevalence of floor plans that situate the master bedroom at the opposite end of the house from the children's bedrooms.

For the past 25 years, one of the hallmarks of "bad neighborhoods" in the US has been the prevalence of barred windows and beefed-up doors. These are neighborhoods where the prevailing crime rates have pushed the majority of the population into Condition Yellow as a full time baseline mindset. Given the upswing in crime rates that will undoubtedly accompany the coming depression, I wish that everyone in the ostensibly "good neighborhoods" had this same outlook. I don't find it all surprising that criminal gangs now specifically target wealthy suburbs for home invasions, for two reasons: A.) That is where the good stuff is, and B.) These residents are sheep for the slaughter (given the prevailing condition white mindset.)

One of the most chronic defensive lapses is American suburban architecture is exterior door design. Typically, entrance doors either have widows immediately adjacent, or set into the doors themselves. Even worse is the ubiquitous sliding glass door. Nothing more than a brick or a paving stone tossed through the glass and bingo, instant access for home invaders, with the fringe benefit of instant fright and surprise for the occupants just inside, who will likely be startled by the crashing noise and flying glass. SWAT and MOUT trainers call this a form of "dynamic entry". There are umpteen variations. You may recall the use of a piece of patio furniture in Robert DeNiro's dynamic entry of Van Zant's house in in the movie Heat. Another is the vigorous application of a 5- or 6-foot length of steel pipe or a more specialized tool, in (the proven "break and rake" technique preferred by the British SAS and SFOD-D (commonly called "Delta Team") to quickly clear any protruding shards of glass).

America in the Near Future = Welcome to South Africa

In South Africa, the crime rate has been so high for so long that it has changed the way that people live in a day-to-day basis. Every stranger is viewed with extreme suspicion. Automobile drivers regularly refuse to pull over if they are involved in a minor traffic collision, for fear that it is a pretext for a car jacking.

Threat Escalation and Proactive Countermeasures

Modern military planners often talk in terms of threat spirals. In essence, a given threat escalates and it inspires a defensive countermeasure. The ideal situation is "getting inside your opponents threat spiral"--meaning that your anticipate your opponent's next escalation, and proactively take countermeasures, insulating yourself from the future threat.With that in mind, here are some thoughts on potential home invasion threat escalation and countermeasures (perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers would care to add to this list):

1.) More frequent home invasions. The worse the economy gets, the more crime we can expect. Home invasions and kidnappings are likely "growth" areas.

2.) Use of dynamic entry tools by home invaders. We can expect them to use commercial or improvised door entry battering rams and Hallagan tools--like those use by police. This means that just standard solid core doors by themselves will be insufficient. Switching to steel doors and.or adding sturdy cross bars will become common practice.

3.) Possible use of vehicle-mounted battering rams.

4.) More frequent and elaborate police impersonation by home invasion gangs.

5.) Larger, better equipped, and better organized home invasion gangs. Larger gangs will be able to invade a home--conceivably even when there is a party in progress.

6.) The potential use of cell phone jammers.

7.) More elaborate ruses as pretexts to get homeowners to open their doors. For example, not only will the "point man" be dressed as UPS driver, but there will be a very convincing looking UPS truck parked at the curb.)

8.) More home invasions at any time of the day or night.

9.) More use of pepper spray and other irritants by home invaders.

10.) Use of large diversion such as explosives to draw law enforcement to "the other side of town."

11.) More elaborate intelligence gathering by home invasion gangs--researching exactly who has cash, fine art, gemstones, precious metals, or jewelry in their homes. (BTW, this is just another reason to practice good OPSEC.)

Given these possible threat spiral escalations, you might consider building a dedicated "safe room". I can think of no better way to get inside the bad guys' threat spiral. Such a room could serve multiple purposes, including "panic room", gun and valuables vault, storm shelter, and fallout shelter. (And hence, provide you family with solutions for multiple scenarios. The folks at Safecastle (and other specialty contractors) can build these both aboveground or underground, with special order inward-opening vault doors.

You mentioned putting a lock on your bedroom door. This is usually insufficient, since most interior doors are hollow core, they typically use lightweight hinges, and they have insubstantial strike plates. Most of these doors can either be knocked down or knocked though, in very short order. I recommend replacing your bedroom doors with heavy duty exterior type doors (preferably steel) with heavy duty hinges and one or more deadbolt locks. If your house has all the bedrooms isolated on one hallway, then I recommend adding a heavy duty door at the end of that hall, and keeping it locked at night. (Basically a "safe wing" for your house) Then, inside of that safe wing, you should have a far more secure dedicated safe room that your entire family can retreat to, before the outer layers of defense succumb to physical attack.

Redundant communications are important, so you can solicit outside help. Both the master bedroom and the safe room should have hard wire ("POTS") telephones that are serviced by underground lines with no visible junction boxes. Be sure to test using a cell phone, as a backup, from every room. Having a CB radio in your safe room also makes sense. OBTW, one of my consulting clients in New Mexico intentionally installed a vertical 3"-diameter air exhaust vent from the ceiling of his safe room/fallout shelter to his roof. Using a broomstick, he can pop the slip-fit flapper valve loose, and then use the pipe as a conduit for flares from his HK P2A1 flare 26.5mm flare pistol! He reported that he has tested shooting meteor flares "up the spout", and it worked fine. Very clever.

The Ultimate Solution: Designing for Security from the Ground Up

I most strongly recommend that the next time that you move, that you buy a brick or other masonry house and upgrade its security, or better yet, start with a bare lot, and custom build a stout house with and integral safe room, from scratch. As previously discussed in SurvivalBlog, two good starting points for house designs are Mexican walled courtyards and building with square bastions (also known as Cooper Corners). These projecting corners eliminate the "blind spots" that are common to typical square or rectangular houses.

For greater detail on this subject, I recommend Joel Skousen's book "The Secure Home." My novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse" also has some detailed design description for ballistically armored window shutters and doors, as well details on constructing neo-medieval door bars.

If you are serious about custom building or retrofitting an existing house for increased security and/or adding a safe room, then I recommend the architectural consulting services of both Safecastle and Hardened Structures.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I had been using the PACE system for years, I just didn’t know that is what it was called, or that it even had a formal name. I first read about the PACE acronym over on the Viking Preparedness site, in a post by Joe. Growing up we joked that the system was called one’s good, two’s better, and three is about right. It is the same spirit of "two is one and one is none" that the PACE system stresses.

PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency.
It is a good solid way to break down your preps to make sure that your survivability is high. It doesn’t have to be a long hard plan, it can be very simple. Ask yourself the question for each major category of survival.

What is your primary source of drinking water? If you are like most of us you turn on the faucet. Okay, your primary source is covered. Most likely all of us have the primary items covered by our “normal” living. You throw a light switch for lights, turn up the furnace for heat, and open the fridge for food. We live with our primary supply system.
The first level of survivability is at the Alternate level. When the power goes out-what next? For some it is 12 volt back up, others light candles, and still others fire up the Coleman lanterns. The totally unprepared sit in the dark and grumble. So what do you do when the power goes out and you can’t draw water from the system?
I can tell you my plan. I had to use it about a year ago when I still lived in town and the city put a No Drinking of Water notice on our block. I got the sealed water cooler bottles I had stored and opened one of them for drinking and cooking. The bottles cost under $4 each and hold 5 gallons of pure drinking water. There is no chemicals added and they store well. I checked with the dealer and found out that if I buy the natural water, same price, it will store well over five years as long as it is kept in a cool and dark place. They said it might store forever but they couldn’t tell me that. I keep four of them stored as my Alternate plan for water as well as several camping jugs, one gallon jugs and a couple cases of bottled water.

If we go into a long term situation and I run out of my stored water I have to fall back to my Contingency plan. I have a filter system that will allow me to make lots of drinking water before I have to change the filter. Either rain water or water from a point well can be cleaned and ready as needed. Another layer of my contingency plan is water tabs to us as well.

My emergency water will come from the stream a quarter mile to the west of my farm. I have a Katadyn filter to use to clear it and make it drinkable. We can also boil water to clean it. I can draw the water from my hot water tank if needed. We also have bleach. Our water back ups are more than just [three] PACE levels because water is so important. Besides, it is not that hard to develop a few good purification methods for water.

Without power we lose the furnace and our heat. We heat with propane so I can drop into the Alternate plan easily and turn on the fire place and the stove to heat our “cocoon” room. If needed, we can live in our kitchen/living room for days on end. While not really part of our PACE plan, it is good to know that we can heat a smaller area and stay comfortable during cold weather. Our contingency plan is to bring in the kerosene heater out of the barn and use it to heat the cocoon room. If we are in a long term grid down situation I can pull the fireplace insert and convert it to a wood burning fireplace in a matter of minutes. We consider that our emergency plan.

I will not speak much about food because if you have read any of the survival blogs you know that you need to store food, canned and packaged, grow a garden, store grains, harvest wild edibles, and plan on hunting and trapping.

I am very fortunate to live at my retreat. I moved back to the family farm less than a year ago. My wife and I had already stored a large amount of our preps in the barn and had planned to bug out to here even if the house was not completed. Our plan was to make as much of the house livable as possible if TSHTF. If that was not possible for us than we would build living quarters in the barn. Unable to do that we would put up a tent and camp out. Now that the house is complete and we are living in it we have revamped out plans to stay in the house and moved the living in the barn to our emergency plan.

Life in General
The PACE system is easy to understand and follow, and gets easier as you do more of it. Pick any aspect of survival you want and work out a PACE plan. Say you want to have weapons in your plan. Okay, primary will be your MBR. Your alternate might be your shotgun or bow and arrow. Contingency, sling shot. Emergency, Atlatl and spear.

Back ups to the back ups are a necessary part of life. You already use them and probably never thought about them as an emergency plan. If your car dies what do you do, call a friend for a ride, take the bus or ride a bike? More than likely you are already PACE-ing yourself. Keep that mindset toward the forefront of your thoughts and your prepping should get easier and deeper. - Wolverine

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mr. Rawles:

I see that [in your Recommended Retreat Areas page] you only list information for retreat selection in 19 western states. Do you not think other states are worthy of retreat locations?

We live on 300 acres in southwestern Missouri (Polks County). Not totally ideal I am sure, but it is home, children and grandchildren are here and more over we feel placed here by our Lord over 35 years ago.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts pro/con on the state of Missouri so that we might be better prepared. -- Paulette

JWR Replies: I consider Missouri marginal as a retreat locale, primarily because of it population density. The state of Missouri is on the safer (lower population density) side of the Mississippi River but it is still far from ideal, since the state is bisected by the Missouri River and the dramatic drop in US population density is west of the Missouri. (As I will discuss later in this reply.)

My choice of reviewing retreat locales in just 19 western states has been discussed a few times before in SurvivalBlog, but for the benefit of the many newcomers, I will reiterate:

After much consideration, all of the eastern states were intentionally excluded for my recommendations because they are all either downwind of nuclear targets and/or are in areas with excessive population density. This wasn't just the result of subjective bias. I try to use the dispassionate mindset of an actuarial accountant.

Take a look at The Lights of the U.S. photo maps. These montages of satellite photos make it clear that most of America's population is east of the Missouri River and is highly urbanized.The population density of the U.S. is dramatically lower in the west. In troubled times fewer people means fewer problems. In the event of a social upheaval, being west of the Missouri River will mean a statistically much lower chance of coming face to face with lawless rioters or looters When The Schumer Hits The Fan (WTSHTF).

The other startling thing you will notice when looking at the Lights photo montage is that even in the western states, Americans live in a highly urbanized society. Roughly 90% of the population is crammed into 5% of the land area, mostly within 50 miles of the coast. But there are large patches of the west where there are virtually no lights at all--particularly in the Great Basin region that extends from the back side of the Sierra Nevada mountains to Utah and Eastern Oregon. The average population density in this region is less than two people per square mile.

As an example of the low population density in the west, I often like to cite Idaho County, Idaho: This one county measures 8,485 square miles--bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. But it has a population of just 15,400. And of those residents, roughly 3,300 people live in Grangeville, the county seat. Who lives in the rest of the County? Nary a soul. There are far more deer and elk than there are people. The population density of the county is 1.8 people per square mile. The county has more than three million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, BLM land, and designated Federal wilderness areas. Now that is elbow room!

The northeastern states depend on nuclear power plants for 47% of their electricity. South Carolina is similarly dependent. This is an unacceptable level of high technology systems dependence, particularly in light of the emerging terrorist threat. You must also consider that virtually all of the eastern states are downwind of major nuclear targets. In a full scale exchange, the eastern US would be a bad place to be. See the target lists, fallout projections, and other data at Richard Fleetwood's excellent SurvivalRing web site. Not only are there lots of nuclear targets in the east, but easterners will also get considerable additional fallout carried on the winds from strikes farther west--including SAC bomber bases, the strategic missile fields (in Montana, the Dakotas, and northern Colorado), Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado), Offutt AFB (Nebraska), and others. The majority of the military targets are expected to be hit with ground bursts, which are the type that produce fallout. Because of the Coriolis Effect, the prevailing winds in most of the United States are from west to east, so the farther east you live, the greater the accumulated fallout that you are likely to receive. Sorry!

My general advice for easterners: If for one reason or another you are stuck in the northeast, then consider New Hampshire or Vermont. They are both gun friendly and have more self-sufficient lifestyle. But unless you have some compelling reason to stay in the East, I most strongly encourage you to Go West!

With all that said, there are some areas in the eastern US that will be safer than others (like parts of Tennessee and Maine), and there are ways to mitigate the risks that I mentioned.:

Risk Mitigation

The risk posed by the higher population density of the eastern states can be mitigated by both carefully choosing your retreat property (look for bypassed areas that are far from "channelized areas" and lines of drift") and by having heavily-manned 24/7/360 armed and vigilant security at your retreat. (See my novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse" for a detailed description of what might be needed to mount such a guard.) This will of course mean extra mouths to feed--which in turn dictates the expense of extra storage food, extra gardening space, extra housing, and extra stored fuel. But this could be viable, especially if you are wealthy.

The other obvious risk mitigation is to construct a blast/fallout shelter with a forced-air HEPA filter. If your house already has a basement, and you are willing to do some of the work yourself, a retrofit can be done for under $5,000. Constructing a new, dedicated shelter can be a $15,000 to $70,000 proposition, depending how large and elaborate you want to make it. The folks at Safecastle have extensive experience in building such shelters, tailored for all budgets. They specialize in combination storm/nuke/gun vault shelters. I highly recommend them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Greetings Jim, Memsahib, and Readers,
I wanted to mention a couple things regarding caves for shelter or storage. Many years ago, in my youth, I became interested in Spelunking (Caving) and was lucky enough to explore caves in Tennessee with seasoned Spelunkers with fifteen years experience. Depending on your climate you will not only get a 'wet season' where you have to deal with a lot of dampness but you may actually face the cave being almost totally under water. We found this out the hard way when on one trip the cave we were going to explore a lower chamber we found was totally submerged from the previous week's rains. We did manage to explore a upper chamber that was well above the water line. Even though the cave we explored was well hidden, as the one Linda H mentioned, others had used the entrance chamber because of discarded beer cans and trash left behind. And, yes, we packed out other's trash. Once we left the entrance chamber signs of others having frequented the other chambers faded away. But if you are curious about a cave, you can bet someone else has been curious also. After our trek of nearly six hours into the mountain we thought we found the end of the chamber's run. As all humans like to put their mark wherever they go I found a name, that was not very legible, and a date of 1784 carved (heavily scratched) into the rock. After looking around we located another chamber through a very small opening that had remnants of an old hemp rope leading through what would have been the ceiling of the extended chamber below us. Yep, we were reluctant to go farther or look to closely into the chamber just in case we found the remains of the person who explored before us.

To safely utilize a cave you have to have a very good knowledge of yearly rainfall patterns, and it is best to have a compilation of several years to give you a baseline of rainfall, and have a good knowledge of the variations of the water table in the area. Using a cave for shelter or storage in its natural state is one way to utilize a cave. However if the size of the chamber is large enough you may want to expend a bit more energy and expense if you intend to pass on the property to family later on. The perfect example of the best utilization of a cave for long term shelter and or storage is the old NORAD Cheyenne Mountain [Command and Control] Complex. Within the natural cavern is built a shelter system with all the comforts of home, and a few I wish I had. Of course our tax dollars built it and to go to those lengths would be problematic at best. But the basic concept of a shelter within a cave is not a far stretch and would provide a lot of comfort and protection for the occupants provided the cave is deemed habitable for the long term after compiling the climatic data. You would have to weigh such construction against not only costs but also to factors such as:

1. Would enlarging the entrance to accommodate construction materials, tooling, and manpower (even immediate family only) compromise the location?
2. Would the cave/constructed shelter be susceptible to flooding during prolonged rainy seasons?
3. Would the cave provide a source of water, or is there a close source of water that could provide the needed water or water storage for the shelter?
4. What type of power could be provided? The cave we explored could potentially provide hydropower if properly set up.
5. What are the range of temperatures through the seasons, and would prevailing winds impact the cave's temperature ranges; especially during winter months? You would have to consider ways of mitigating winter winds whipping through the cave.
6. Will the cave need a ventilation system to make sure that you don't have a buildup of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide when occupied full time?
7. Does the cave, consistently or periodically, capture and retain any gases such as methane or other harmful gases that can be emitted from deeper in the earth from the geologic formation? And it would be a good idea to know the basic geology of the area so you know the stability of the cave. A cave in even with a constructed shelter within the cave could still pose a serious danger. And you may want to reinforce the cave ceiling just in case the geology slightly active (small tremors).
8. Is there an alternate or secondary entrance that could be utilized as an emergency exit or could it prove to be an access point for others to enter during a crisis.
9. If there is no other entrance or exit point, is it possible to construct one as an emergency exit? I would be reluctant to have a single entrance and exit point. If you have to dig an emergency exit you will need some very specialized equipment and skills to prevent a cave in, or suddenly finding yourself flooding the cave by hitting an underground spring or other high volume water source. It would be too easy for an adversary to simply block a single entrance and either starve you out or to fire on your position and use the rock walls to ricochet around until they hit someone, or to build a fire at the entrance to smoke you out. And a worse scenario would be for an adversary to cave in the entrance and seal you in until you died of suffocation.
10. Could the shelter or the cave provide any method of hydroponic gardening? If your shelter is the cave proper you will have to have access to an area where you can garden if you intend to occupy the shelter over a protracted period of time as the result of a nuke exchange or protracted pandemic.

These are just a few questions that come to mind and there are others that must be answered depending on how you want to utilize the cave. If you want to really kick your 'creative engine' into overdrive and see how mankind has utilized natural and man made underground structures then watch the History Channel program "Cities of the Underworld". It is absolutely amazing how people through the centuries utilized natural underground formations, and expanded them or built and utilized underground spaces. Mankind has covered over entire cities over the centuries as new construction has been built over old. Some of these underground areas have been done as far back as the Celtics of Ireland and Scotland as well as through the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well as the modern eras. There is one common thread, of different iterations but a singular concept, which runs through all of the construction techniques from the beginning; whether utilizing natural features or new construction over old cities. And this thread is utilized today. But I'll leave that to you to discover for yourself. - The Rabid One


Hi Jim,
The best way I know of to camouflage stuff (entrances, equipment, traps, etc.) with respect to its environment is to paint it with spray-on adhesive, the same kind that automotive upholsterers use, then simply take dry dirt and sprinkle it all over the painted areas (some moving parts, etc. you would of course want to mask-off, just like regular painting).

This provides an excellent base coat, even for things attached to trees, buildings, etc.

I still think the best book on the subject is the US Army "Camouflage" field manual (FM 5-20) from 1969: Regards, - Jerry E.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I found this site in my search for a way to heat that travel trailer (that I don’t yet own). The guy with built his heating system for his RV out of a car's heater core and attached it to PV panels for power of the pump motor and fan, the heating of the tank is [accomplished with] a propane [burner]. This might be something of interest to your readers as it’s something I’m going to need since the travel trailer I’m looking in to getting is older and needs a new heater. I figure why buy new or reinvent the wheel, I’ll find an efficient way to power and heat this travel trailer with minimum funds, someone has already done this somewhere and it’s out there on the Internet Thanks, - Fitzy in Pennsylvania

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I don't know if this has been posted here or not. I have finished watching a series on the Science Channel called "Invention Nation". The show primarily feature inventors who are inventing ways to "go green". Many of these inventions and ideas fit in perfectly with being self-sufficient. Some of the topics are; used cooking oil for diesel engines, solar power technology, passive solar for heating homes and water, bicycle generators, etc... The series will rerun starting in March and may be worth a look for the preparedness minded. See the Invention Nation web site. Thanks to you and your family for all you do. - Randy G.

Friday, February 22, 2008

In the Second World War, the United States had nearly two full years to ramp up military training and production before decisively confronting the Axis powers. In the late 1970s, looking at the recent experience of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Pentagon's strategic planners came to the realization that the next major war that the US military would wage would not be like the Second World War. There would not be the luxury of time to train and equip. They realized that we would have to fight with only what we had available on Day One. They dubbed this the "Come as you are war" concept.

In my opinion, the same "come as you are" mindset should be applied to family preparedness. We must recognize that in these days of rapid news dissemination, it may take as little as 10 hours before supermarket shelves are cleaned out. It make take just a few hours for queues that are literally blocks-long to form at gas stations--or at bank branches in the event of bank runs. Worse yet, it may take just a few hours before the highways and freeways leading out of urban and suburban areas are clogged with traffic--the dreaded "Golden Horde" that I often write about. Do not make the false assumption that you will have the chance to make "one last trip" to the big box store, or even the chance to fill your Bug Out Vehicle's fuel tank. This will be the "come as you are" collapse.

The concept also applies to your personal training. If you haven't learned how to do things before the balloon goes, up, then don't expect to get anything but marginal to mediocre on-the-job training after the fact. In essence, you have the opportunity to take top quality training from the best trainers now, but you won't once the Schumer hits the fan. Take the time to get top-notch training! Train with the best--with organizations like Medical Corps, WEMSI, Front Sight, the RWVA/Appleseed Project, the WRSA, and the ARRL. Someday, you'll be very glad that you did.

The come as you are concept definitely applies to specialized manufactured equipment.You are dreaming if you think that you will have the chance to to purchase any items such as these, in a post-collapse world: razor wire, body armor, night vision equipment, advanced first aid gear, tritium scopes, dosimeters and radiac meters, biological decontamination equipment, Dakota Alert or military surplus PEWS intrusion detection sets, photovoltaics, NBC masks, and semi-auto battle rifles. Think about it: There are very few if these items (per capita) presently in circulation. But the demand for them during a societal collapse would be tremendous. How could you compete in such a scant market? Anyone that conceivably has "spares" will probably want to keep them for a member of their own family or group. So even in the unlikely event that someone was even willing to sell such scarce items, they would surely ask a king's ransom in barter for them. I'm talking about quarter sections of land, entire strings of well-broken horses, or pounds of gold. Offers of anything less would surely be scoffed at.

Don't overlook the "you" part of the "as you are" premise. Are you physically fit? Are you up to date on your dental work? Do you have two pairs of sturdy eyeglasses with your current prescription? Do you have at least a six month supply of vitamins and medications? Is your body weight reasonable? If you answer to any of these is no, then get busy!

Even if you have a modest budget, you will have an advantage over the average suburbanite. Your knowledge and training alone--what is between your ears--will ensure that. And even with just a small budget for food storage, you will be miles ahead of your neighbors. Odds are that they will have less than two week's worth of food on hand. As I often say, you will need extra supplies on hand to help out relatives, friends, and neighbors that were ill-prepared. I consider charity my Christian duty!

I have repeatedly and strongly emphasized the importance of living at your intended retreat year-round. But I realize that because of personal finances, family obligations, and the constraints of making a living at an hourly or salaried job, that this is not realistic--except for a few of us, mainly retirees. If you are stuck in the Big City and plan to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) at the eleventh hour, then by all means pre-position the vast majority of your gear and supplies at your retreat. You will most likely only have one, I repeat, one G.O.O.D. trip. If there is a major crisis there will probably be no chance to "go back for a second load." So WTSHTF will truly be a "come as you are" affair.

With all of this in mind, re-think your preparedness priorities. Stock your retreat well. If there isn't someone living there year-round, then hide what is there from burglars. (See the numerous SurvivalBlog posts on caching and constructing hidden compartments and rooms.) Maintain balance in your preparations. In a situation where you are truly hunkered-down at your retreat in the midst of a societal collapse, there might not be any opportunity to barter for any items that you overlooked. (At least not for several months. ) What you have is what you got. You will have to make-do. So be sure to develop your "lists of lists" meticulously. If you have the funds available, construct a combination storm shelter/fallout shelter/walk-in vault. It would be virtually impossible to build something that elaborate in the aftermath of a societal collapse.

A closing thought that relates to your retreat logistics: The original colonial Army Rangers, organized by Major Robert Rogers during the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s had a succinct list of operating rules. The version of the "Rules of Ranging" recounted in the novel "Northwest Passage" by Kenneth Roberts started with a strong proviso: "Don't forget nothing." That is sage advice.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hi Jim,
I have set out on an experiment in heating my home that has been interesting and is important to relay to other readers as their are many questions about using Soft Maple as a heat source. My experiment follows nearly a lifetime of wood burning, tree felling, splitting, chimney cleaning lifestyle and is of course not from a "professional", so ask a professional when experimenting with home heating.
I have used wood only heating in my current home for five years with 100% safety and 1,000% enjoyment. Before that, I had 11 years of consistent home heating by wood. I ran into a project on my property that involved felling some gigantic Soft Maple trees in order to adjust fencing and grading issues. These trees also became a looming headache about falling on my building. This past early summer was the project.

The trees were about 48"-to-60" in diameter. With all the overhead limbs that were as big as most trees appearing to start to hollow out, I felt it necessary to drop these trees with a large tracked excavator. In this scenario, we ripped the roots out from around the tree on three sides with a gigantic frost tooth/ cement tooth attachment. After ripping through the 16" diameter roots, we used the machine to drop the trees by guiding them to the ground with the hook. I could not justify being under any one of those limbs while felling the tree as it would have been instant death upon impact.
Now that this job was complete, it was saw time. I had everything cut into lineal length for the saw mill in two days and the brush cut and stacked for burning. There was no way I could fathom attempting to split the wood with the enormity of the trunks. I decided early on to sell the largest logs to the mill and "deal with the limbs" at a later date. When talking to an old boy at the mill, he recommended against all other advice. He said to split the wood late season and burn it right away. Conventional wisdom would tell you to never burn un-seasoned, (wet) wood in a stove/fireplace or dangerous deposits of creosote would form in the chimney causing a chimney fire. I decided that with my project I had over three years supply of soft maple right in front of me, so I might as well try it given my understanding of how important it is to monitor the burning, I felt completely comfortable with this experiment.

I started heating intermittently in October, exclusively with soft maple. Here are my observations:
-It starts amazingly well given an air space under it. In fact, I have been able to rekindle the fire without any matches for most of the winter by using the bark from the soft maple placed directly on the very small coals and propping up what I would call “Extremely large tinder”, (i.e.- 2” – 4” odd split off fall), give it lots of air and it is going.
-Given its properties, it does not overheat my chimney near as often as hardwood, but did not lend itself to any signs of buildup in my chimney. For the first month and a half I would add “anti-creosote” granules when the chimney was warmed up to keep things clear.
-With fewer BTUs than hardwood, I have gone through about 10% more wood than the previous winter of hardwood burning and have used my electric blower about 20% of the burn time compared to not needing it with hardwood. This was for comfort, not necessity.
-I have cleaned out the ash box and chimney 3 times as much this year compared to hardwood burning. These ashes seem to quickly choke the coals if not monitored when you first get up in the morning.
-I have decided to not use the granules any longer and keep monitoring the chimney. For the past month I have not noticed any change in buildup in the chimney. It is amazing how clean my chimney is for burning a softwood. It has yet to truly need the brush this year, but I have as habit.
-If a long burn is needed, it is imperative that you stack the wood in the fire box in a manner that would not aid in air flow to the fire. In other words, try to stack wood exactly upon itself in the exact same direction creating very small places for the flame to lick out upon the upper wood which allows the wood to smolder in the ash below and keep a more consistent burn albeit at a lower temperature. At least when you get home you have coals and a comfortable abode.This experiment has been fun as I am glad to not waste that much cordwood. I have not cut up the additional logs that were limbs from those trees yet as I did not want it to dry up and not create any heat next year. I will monitor the results and fill you in when that season is upon us. I hope that in 20’ lengths of logs, that it will still retain its moisture without rotting. Soft Maple really does not do well for any outdoor exposure in lumber form.

I wanted to share this experiment as it is against what I have known and could prove useful to someone else when dealing with a soft “nuisance” tree like Soft Maple. Please understand that other soft woods don’t share this property to my knowledge. Cottonwood plugged my chimney faster than I have ever seen before. But Cottonwood and hardwood mix allowed me to get some benefit out of that tree that could not be used at the mill. (I don’t recommend using Cottonwood, after that experiment).

A tidbit of value before cutting up your tree post-SHTF. After felling a tree, look at the rings. If you notice a sizeable, (thumb size or larger) deposit of graphite toned discoloration, then you have a tree with metal inside. Maybe it’s just a nail, but maybe it is a fence post! This is extremely important if you own the sawmill or you don’t have spare chains or teeth for your saws and you can’t get them without UPS [parcel delivery service continuing] as we know it. I would venture this to be very common among fence row trees on the property lines or near pastures of yesteryear. Avoiding that part of the tree could mean the difference between keeping your home heated for the year, or looking for a new saw at the barter faire!

Last bit of advice, the sawmill was happy to see that I over sized the logs by 5” to allow them to trim the ends. They were also glad to see the large logs compared to most customers who split the trunks and sell the limbs. What a mistake as the profit lost could put food on the table! The limbs burn 30% longer than an equivalent size and weight log that is split. I love burning round stock that is properly cured!
In my project, I did have logs that were too big for the mill’s equipment. In those cases I had to saw the logs in half. I guess that is better than trying to axe a 48” diameter log, or roll that widow maker up onto the log splitter!

A little asking around might serve us all better before the need arises. This well seasoned man just heated my family this Winter,…. Maybe he’ll heat yours too! All the Best! - The Wanderer

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ianto Evans has a book called "Rocket Mass Heaters". He is a Welsh inventor, who was hired by the government of Guatemala to develop a less polluting wood stove for cooking. It also had to be more efficient. Basic physics tells you that exhaust heat is wasted energy. The smoke out of his stoves are cool enough to put your hand in front of, and they don't emit visible smoke. They use much less wood as well and can be made for under $100.

EndTimesReport.com has interesting articles on the importance of kerosene heaters, as a way to avoid unwanted attention, for short term unrest, before wood burners are used.
Keep up the good work. - Dan C.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I was reading your postings on light security and blackout curtains for a home that would be secure in the nighttime. I thought about it on my way home after work, and realize that you're right. I've
driven around my area during power outages and know who is home, due to their having generators running and lights shining, or even just those using candles or lanterns of various types. As I was pondering those things, I pulled into my driveway and looked at my home and a question popped up immediately. Here in the Northeast, (Maine) we're in the heating season.
If anything were to happen, it would be a dead giveaway to know who is home or who isn't by looking at the chimneys and observing smoke coming out. Especially when you're just starting the woodstove.
It has a tendency to create a lot of smoke until the stack temperature begins to heat up and cause an updraft. Do you know of any way to decrease smoke from a chimney, or any way to camouflage the
Thanks for your blog and all that you do. Rob in Maine (Proud owner of an autographed "Patriots" book!)

JWR Replies: Aside from burning only well-dried wood and using your stove's damper judiciously, I don't know of any means of minimizing smoke from a chimney. (It is rapid changes in damper position that seem to generate the most smoke.) If you are in the habit of cranking up your stove with an open damper for roaring hot once a week to burn out any accumulated creosote from the upper reaches of your stove, then do so only after dark. Ditto for cleaning out ashes and re-kindling the stove.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dear Mr. Rawles,
Perhaps you could help me understand the mixing ratios for two stroke oil.
I remember buying the old Homelite oil, you could either buy it in a can to mix with one gallon of gas or a can to mix with two gallons of gas.
Most of the new two stroke oils I have seen recently state that they are 50:1.
Is this mixture acceptable for my old Homelite Super XL chainsaw and other two stroke equipment?
The rep at the Stihl store by us said that the new oils are so much better formulated than the old oils, that 50:1 is good for all two stroke equipment--old and new. Does he know what he is talking about? - Mark G.

JWR Replies: While it is true that some of the pre-1990 manufacturers' manuals called out a 32:1 or even 24:1 mixing ratio, with modern name-brand mixing oil, there is no problem using a 50:1 ratio in just about all two cycle chainsaws and other two cycle power tools that are marked 24:1 or 32:1 (such as leaf blowers, weed trimmers, ice augers, et cetera). The modern mixing oils provide plenty of lubrication at a 50:1 ratio. You can use more oil if you'd like, but it would be a waste of oil, and will also produce more smoke.

OBTW, I discovered that there is an interesting thread of conversation on this topic over at The Arborist Site Forums.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mr. Rawles:
There are so many great and not-so-great ideas on the LifeHacker site including this one I found showing you how to use C cell batteries in place of a D cell compartment in an emergency situation:

There are some other interesting things on this site like creating make-shift air conditioning systems using cold well water (others have made emergency air conditioners using beverage coolers, fans and copper coils): DIY Heat Exchanger and Make Your Own Air Conditioner.
There is this one showing you how someone made hand washing more efficient while filling the tank of his toilet. [JWR Adds: I would recommend skipping this one. The implementation shown uses plywood which cannot be kept sanitary. It also might result in a smelly toilet tank if you use an non-chlorinated water source such as well water or spring water.]

And here's one with a video demonstrating how one can cheaply acquire 8 - 1.5v button cell batteries from 1 - A23 12v battery:

Well, there's enough on this LifeHacker site to keep you busy for some time. Enjoy!, - Tanker

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I found your blog about a month ago. I received a copy of your novel "Patriots" from Fred's M14 Stocks and have probably read the thing about 20 times. It sits by the bed. I sometimes just pick it up, open and begin reading. Good stuff.

I am a former police officer (10 years) with sniper training, construction company owner( I have built everything except a church) CPA with many years public accounting and have military experience (like you in Military Intelligence. I was what is now known as a 98C [- Signals Intelligence Analyst]). I shoot a lot of IDPA both in local and state matches, am an IDPA safety officer and an NRA firearms instructor. My wife is a soon to be a Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) Federal retiree. She shoots also.

We have 58 acres in a rather remote area in the south side of Virginia. We plan on incorporating cisterns, gray water septic et cetera in the building of the house that we will start in about three months. The heating will be closed loop geothermal, radiant in the floors. We have a lot of experience in growing vegetable gardens (25 years to date). The wife knows how to can and otherwise preserve food. We generally keep enough on hand to see us through several months of problems. I would probably be better off relocating further to the northwest but moving is such a pain that this was as far as we want to go. We are about 200+ miles from [Washington] D.C.

I find your blog very informative and educational. Some of the weapon selection I agree with, some I don't. That's okay. I just wanted to say hi and thank you for your efforts. Keep up the good work. - rb

Monday, July 2, 2007

I've been lurking about SurvivalBlog for about six months now, and have found a lot of useful information hereabouts. There are lots of good tips about securing your retreat and making it less visible. One thing I have noticed though is that there appears to be a blind spot. Why go to all the trouble to screen your retreat location from view and practice nighttime light discipline if you are going to announce your presence far and wide audibly?

One thing I've noticed lately is there is a lot of discussion on stocking up on two-cycle and bar oil for chainsaws. For those of you who live in the hinterboonies already: Think back a few months to woodcutting season. I'll bet if you stop and think about it, you would be able to locate your neighbors for a couple miles around - at least - based on the sounds of their Stihl and Husqvarna--nobody uses Homelite or McCulloch anymore--chainsaws. For those of you not familiar with life in the hinterlands yet: The crisp airs of autumn and early winter carry the sound of chainsaw exhaust for miles. Those things are shrieking banshees that scream "Here I am!" Not only do they announce your location to the world-at-large, they also mask the sound of anyone approaching the woodcutter's AO. So, even if you post a security detail around your work party, they are going to be relying solely on visual contact to detect approaching hostiles.
To me, the better route would be to leave the chainsaw in the emergency stash, and do your woodcutting with a crosscut saw. Yes, the misery whip "sings," but its slight ring doesn't carry nearly as far as the chainsaw's blare and shriek. (For those who don't know -- The crosscut saw got the nickname "misery whip" because an improperly set and sharpened crosscut saw is exactly that: a miserable implement to spend your days with. Caution: Caring for and using this device requires some skills.)
Side Note: You did notice that I didn't say "Forget the chainsaws!" didn't you? I live in 'quake country and - due to misguided forestry practices over the past century - anyone who lives outside of town these days lives in wildfire country. When I want to get through the roof of a collapsed structure quickly, I'm going to reach for my trusty Stihl, not a crosscut. And, two men with chainsaws can clear a firebreak a lot quicker than two men with a crosscut. Just save the chainsaws for the times that saving time and lives is more important than keeping a low sound profile. There are always trade-offs to be made in survival situations.

You don't give up all that much in efficiency - if you learn to use and care for your saw properly - by using a crosscut instead of a chainsaw. I'm told that wasn't until the 1960s that a chainsaw was able to beat a two-man saw in log bucking contests. Those of you who take in logger rodeos know that those bucking saws are the chainsaw hot-rods -- they're anything but stock.
If you have the personnel available, you could send out multiple three-man teams with one two-man saw per team. The "odd man out" would serve as part of the security detail for the wood cutting operation. The cutting team would put their LBE and rifles aside - but close at hand - while the security person would retain his. (Yes, women can hang-to with men on a cross-cut once they learn the pace. I'm saying men for language simplicity.) Every 15 minutes the saw crew could take a 5 minute break and one of them could rotate with the security man. That way, each man spends a maximum of a half-hour on the business end of the saw before getting a 20-minute break. Once everyone is used to the drill, the interval between breaks could be stretched to a half-hour. By sending out multiple teams, you get a larger security detail, and it would be most effective to stagger the breaks so you always have one - or more - security man on point. This reduces the risk of everyone having to rely on sidearms until they can fight their way back to their rifles. (Which is the purpose of a sidearm, in my book: It exists solely to fight your way back to the rifle you shouldn't have let get out-of-reach in the first place. Or, to acquire another rifle when yours breaks or runs dry. Bad troopie! No cookie!)

Don't have the personnel? Then use a one-man crosscut saw and have your lovely bride or elder son be your security detail. Whatever you do, don't get in the habit of sending out work details without a security detail! That's the easiest way there is to take casualties and leave the door open to deadly infiltration. ([They see someone wearing familiar clothing and say] "It's Okay! That's just Bob coming back from cutting wood!") I am wholeheartedly against "going it alone" post-TEOTWAWKI. If you're single and alone in the world, you need to build a support group of like-minded individuals that you can rely on. They're just like finding the perfect bride: They are out there. The problem is finding them. Trust me - I know from experience. I come from a large clan (We're Celts -- the term clan has significant meaning for us.), so I'll be relying on family. My Dad insured that my brothers and I were all well-familiarized with the crosscut saw as a tool for doing real work. Along with the scythe, the #2 shovel, and a host of other "old school" tools. Once you become familiar with man-powered tools, you will be surprised what you can do in a day.

One way to reduce your exposure is to cut your wood to cord length (4 feet) in the woods, cold deck it, then transport it back to the retreat via horse and sledge once the snows come. (Personally, I'd leave it cold-decked for a year, and then transport it once it's seasoned -- much easier on the people loading the sledge and the horses pulling it. You should have at least two years' firewood stored at the retreat before TSHTF anyway.) You can buck it to stove length back at the retreat with a one-man saw. Better yet would be to have a water powered buzz saw at the retreat. Quiet, but much less work! Any cord lengths that are too heavy to throw up on your shoulder to tote to the cold deck can be hand split with a maul and wedges. Most hardwoods are much easier to split green than once they've seasoned. This brings up another point: Using steel mauls and wedges is just like ringing a bell. So learn how to fabricate a wooden maul and wooden splitting wedges. It's not all that hard, and the benefit of having your maul and wedges go "thwock" instead of having that high-pitched ping of steel hitting steel is worth it. (The secret is to fashion your wedges from green hardwood rounds, then set them aside to season for at least a year. You can 'smith up some top rings for your wooden wedges and put them on hot on the seasoned wedges that you've soaked in the rain barrel for a couple days. The hot rings will compress the grain on the wedges so they don't split when hit with the maul. You do the same thing on each end of the maul head, but - of course - the rings are much bigger.)
Here are some sources for crosscut saws and the necessary tools to maintain them:

If you want a good quality new saw at a bargain price, Woodcraft.com carries a five-foot German two-man saw for $74.99:

Lehmans.com carries the saw accessories that will allow you to maintain your saw.

The Federal Highway Administration has a series of articles on using and caring for crosscut saws.

Have you caught on to the fact that when you live in the hinterboonies you operate on a different time scale than the insane pace that city folk try to maintain? You have to learn to think and plan in a completely different manner when you are attempting to be self-reliant for the long term. It's not an easy adjustment. That's why I agree with Mr. Rawles: You want to be [long hence] settled in and living at your retreat when this post-modern world comes down around our ears.

One last admonition on "Sound Security:" Buy a [hunting] bow. Learn how to use it. Learn how to stalk and take game with it. Learn to have confidence in it and in your ability to provide for your family with it. Learn how to make a bow from wood from your woodlot, and learn how to make and fletch arrows. Then, when the Schumer goes through the turbines, leave your rifle slung while hunting and take your meat with a well-placed arrow. Rifle reports carry even further than a chainsaw's banshee shriek. Save your ammo for the hostiles. - Countrytek

JWR Adds: I addressed noise discipline in my novel "Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse", but you are right that it has been insufficiently addressed in SurvivalBlog. Thanks for sharing your comments on this subject. regarding bow hunting: Keep in mind that most state game regulations prohibit carrying a rifle when bow hunting, so your last comment would only apply to an absolute TEOTWAWKI situation.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I have been reading the SurvivalBlog for some time now and thought I would share some information about a retreat technology that I have not seen mentioned. I am referring to a brick oven for baking bread, pizza and a large variety of other foods. Brick ovens have been around for thousands of years, they were very common in Roman times. They are having a revival in the artisan baking community and can also be found in many authentic pizza restaurants. They do take a little work to construct, however it is very simple to operate (decidedly low tech) and just needs firewood. These ovens generate a good deal more heat that most modern electric or gas ovens. Generally around 700 degrees Fahrenheit, they can bake a large number of loaves in a relatively short time. They have a large thermal mass and stay hot for quite some time. For instance, you can bake several loaves one day and still have enough heat to bake bread the next morning for breakfast, all from one firing. This would be a valuable asset in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Also having fresh bread would be valuable for barter or charity for your neighbors. Besides being a useful skill for home use, it could also be a valuable asset for after the SHTF as people may have stored wheat but those fancy dual fuel ovens will not work without electric power.

JWR Replies: We mentioned masonry stoves several times in the first year of SurvivalBlog posts. These stoves usually have a bake oven compartment, although some are purpose-built, just for bread baking. I highly recommend masonry stoves. The higher initial investment is more than offset by their great efficiency and versatility. There are a few masonry craftsmen scattered across the US and Canada that specialize in building masonry stoves.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hi Jim,
I thought it prudent to add a bit to Mr. Savage's fire fighting equipment article. It touches two topics worth mentioning.
In the article, Mr. Savage recommends a fire truck, bladder, tank, etc... for firefighting. I have no problem with this unless it is winter. Trying to pump this much water on as "as need" basis in the event of a fire is obviously not going to work as well. Storing the water in a "non-potable" type container clearly marked, one could add the appropriate amount of RV antifreeze to the tank to keep from bursting your firefighting vessel, pipes, and valves.
Please don't confuse this with vehicle antifreeze.
For those considering using the RV for bugging out or a second retreat, then it would be necessary to understand how to winterize and de-winterize your piping if you desire to keep things relatively intact.
This would also be an important segue into learning to winterize your home in case you decide to shut off heat to most rooms, but would like the ability to have pipes that are not broken/ frozen at a later date when outside temps are above freezing.
Since we are on the topic of water, another thing to mention in addition to the corn/ pellet, wood boiler type heat, I would like to add geothermal to what in my opinion is a worthless heat/cool source post-TEOTWAWKI. Most don't know this, but in our climate, the electrical needs for the system can easily surpass 100 amps! Good luck powering that with your wind turbine. Sorry for the ramble, but wanted to bring up a few talking points. God Bless, - The Wanderer

JWR Replies: The power required to run a home geothermal heating system varies widely, depending on the water temperature and well depth. In some places like Klamath Falls, Oregon, where there is fairly hot water at shallow depth, a "closed loop" system connected to hydronic sub-floor pipes can use just a small circulating pump that draws relatively little current. BTW, Klamath Falls is one of the preferred retreat locales mentioned in my book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation. And, BTW, I once had the opportunity to buy a ranch near Wells, Nevada that had a large hot spring with gravity flow to the house. This could have provided geothermal heat with no pumping requirement. However, the Memsahib and I decided to pass on buying that property because we felt that it was too close to the I-80 corridor and hence not strategically viable.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

For those looking to create stable and “passively” cool storage in a basement, the book "How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar" by Richard Gold is a well-thought, meticulously engineered solution to many of the same issues faced by those seeking to store food at stable, cool temperatures. Regards, - Ben

I have spent much of my adult life in the construction industry and through experience and educational seminars, etc. I have acquired a substantial amount of knowledge concerning moisture intrusion into structures.
Water is the main source of problems in construction. Keeping it in, keeping it out, and getting it out once it is in. The components of a building that are constructed of concrete such as basements, foundations and slabs on grade are very susceptible to moisture intrusion. Concrete acts as a wick and when dry will actually attract moisture and move it through out the structure under the right conditions. For example a twenty-inch concrete column sealed on its sides and standing in water will wick moisture hundreds of feet straight up. A concrete basement floor set over a wet subsurface will continuously wick that moisture up through the floor and allow it to evaporate into the basement atmosphere, i.e., damp basement. For several hundred years this condition has been referred to as "rising damp". The modern term for it is capillary action.
To construct a dry basement in damp ground conditions requires some planning and a little ingenuity. Choose as dry and well-drained location as possible to build the structure. Once the excavation of the basement is complete you should proceed with water management measures as dictated by the conditions of your location. If you have a substantial amount of groundwater or springs under the excavation you will need to install a drain system around the outside of the foundation and under the floor to move this water away from the basement. There is a lot of information available on how to do this. If located in a hillside it is easy to install a gravity flow system, dumping into a dry well down hill from the basement. The only other alternative is to dump into a sump pump installed in the floor of the basement and pump the water out away from the house.
Now comes the important part. Once the drain system is completed and the forms for the foundation and floor have been constructed you will want to lay down heavy-duty plastic vapor barrier on the ground under all areas where you will pour concrete. The barrier should cover the entire floor, pass under the foundation and up the outside wall as continuous as possible. Where you need to make seams, overlap the barrier at least five feet. Applying a sealant between the layers at the seams is advisable. The concrete will be poured over the vapor barrier only after it has been completely sealed from the outside of one wall to the outside of the opposite wall. Once the foundation and slab are poured and the outside walls are constructed, the vapor barrier protruding out from under the foundation is pulled up on the wall and adhered using the standard basement wall sealant. The entire outside of the wall is then coated with sealant. You should end up with basement that is totally encapsulated in a plastic vapor barrier. Most builders that attempt installation of vapor barriers ignore the foundation because it takes a little finesse to do this right. This leaves a path for capillary action to bring moisture into the basement.
Now that you have a dry basement don't forget to properly ventilate it. It should be tied in with the rest of the house ventilation system. If you construct a safe room in one corner it will still be necessary to supply some ventilation to that room or it will become very musty.
I am presently planning the construction of a small house for my wife and I and will construct a safe/storage room as an extension of the basement, which will extend out from under the house. It will basically be an underground concrete room next to the house joining the basement wall and will be totally sealed from moisture as I have described. I will be able to easily hide the entrance through the basement wall in the back of a utility room. Being outside of the house footprint will also protect it from fire in case the house would burn down or otherwise be destroyed.
Hope you find this useful, - JR

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Mr. Rawles:

We are building a new house with a basement. I am planning a food storage room in the corner of the basement that is the furthest underground. Can you guide me with details about how to plan that room, mainly about temperature. I know that cooler is better. The basement has poured cement walls. Should I insulate the [other] two walls [that are partitions] inside the basement? The rest of the basement will be heated, should I leave the vents out of that room all together? What about the vent that pulls air in for circulation? We are in Kentucky and have cold winters and hot summers. I am excited to finally have enough room to prepare my family for anything. Any help you can give me will be appreciated.
Thanks, - Linda

JWR Replies: To take best advantage of the ambient ground temperature and isolate the food storage area from the heated portion of your basement, you should definitely construct well-insulated partition walls--preferably using 2x6s and two bats (two thicknesses) of insulation. The thickness of the door through the partition wall is not as crucial as it being relatively airtight--to keep the cool air from "spilling out" from under the door. In my experience you should omit any vents unless the humidity is high, but your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dear Jim:
As my confidence in the dollar depreciates and my desire for skills increases, I'm wanting to convert FRNs into hands-on knowledge. What weeknight or weekend workshops would you recommend? Are there any places where you can learn Army Ranger skills without joining the military? Animal husbandry, and so on? - Spencer

JWR Replies: There is a tremendous wealth of free or low-cost classes available--enough to keep you busy every weekend of the year if you are willing to drive a distance. If you have time and just a bit of money, you can get some very well-rounded training in skills that are quite applicable to post-TEOTWAWKI living. In my experience, the most cost-effective training opportunities in the U.S. include:

American Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes

Local Community College, Park District, and Adult Education classes. They offer classes on metal shop, auto shop, wood shop, leather crafting, ceramics, baking, gardening, welding, and so forth.

RWVA Appleseed Shoots. These are held all over the nation. They offer great training for very little money. The West Side Sportsman's Club, located on the west side of Evansville, Indiana is hosting the national RWVA shoot on June 30 / July 1st. The Red Brush Gun Range, located on the east side of Evansville is having another Appleseed, and they're also having an Appleseed Boot Camp. The boot camp starts on Monday October 22 thru Friday Oct. 26th. Then the Appleseed Shoot is on Saturday Oct. 27 and Sunday Oct. 28. The deal is if you want to attend both the Boot Camp and the Appleseed match, you do so for $200. Yes, for just $200 you can have seven days of top notch marksmanship training.

U.S. Army ROTC classes, the ROTC Ranger program (administered by individual university ROTC Departments), and ROTC Leader's Training Course, aka Basic Camp). The first two years of the ROTC program--including Leader's Training Course--are available to any full-time enrolled undergraduate college student (including "cross-enrolled" junior college students) with no contractual obligation. Participation in the ROTC Ranger program by anyone other than enrolled ROTC cadets is usually up to the discretion of the instructor or the PMS. When I was in a ROTC Ranger program back in the early 1980s, we had two Marine Corps PLC students and an Administration of Justice (police science) major in our Ranger program, as supernumeraries. So even if you don't sign up for ROTC classes, you might be able to be involved in a Ranger program. Of particular note: If you sign up for the four week ROTC Leader's Training Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, you will actually get paid to attend, plus get a couple of free pairs of combat boots. To be eligible to participate in ROTC, you must be under 31 years of age on Dec 31 st of the year that you expect to graduate. (Or possibly 34 years old, with waivers.) The best chance to get a slot at the ROTC Leader's Training Course is during your sophomore year of college, but when I was there I met a graduate student that had wangled a slot. (He eventually got a direct commission, by virtue of his ROTC "contact hours")

LDS (Mormon) cannery classes/canning sessions. Many "wards" have their own canneries, which are generally open to non-Mormons. (OBTW, the LDS food storage calculator web page is a very useful planning tool.)

FEMA / CERT Classes (Classroom and Internet courses, some with team commitment)

ARRL amateur radio classes.

Species-Specific or Breed-Specific Livestock and Pet Clubs

NRA and State Rifle and Pistol Association training and shooting events

Fiber Guilds (spinning and weaving) and local knitting clubs

Mountain Man/Rendezvous Clubs (Blackpowder shooting, flint knapping, soap making, rope making, etc.)

University/County Agricultural Extension and Cattleman's Club classes on livestock, gardening, weed control, canning, et cetera

Medical Corps small group classes. I heard that they have scheduled just one hands-on Combat/Field Medicine Course thusfar for 2007. It will be at the OSU Extension Campus, in Belle Valley Ohio, April 20-21-22. That class is full, but check their web site for additional course dates. They offer great training--including advanced life saving topics that the American Red Cross doesn't teach--at very reasonable cost.

Volunteer Fire department (VFD) classes (usually with some commitment)

Candle and Soap Making Clubs/Conventions

Boy Scouts and 4H. Informal, un-enrolled ("strap hanger") training is available for adults--just take your kids to the meetings and don't leave.

I would also consider these less important (but still worthwhile) training opportunities, as time permits:

Sheriff's posse and Search and Rescue (SAR) programs

Police department "Ride Along" and Police Reserve programs

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) courses.

Civic/Ethnic Club cooking classes

Sunday, April 8, 2007

One of the recent phrases the media has used almost to exhaustion is, "dirty" bomb. A dirty bomb, or radiological dispersion device (RDD) is basically an explosive device with some element of radioactivity attached, or some other means of distributing radioactive particulate matter. When detonated, it releases radiation in the form of dust or debris, which is harmful mostly when inhaled, or introduced into the body by other means, (eyes, open cuts, etc.). The main terror use of such a weapon would be to contaminate emergency services workers responding to the initial blast. In the 1990s, Chechen rebels reportedly placed such a device in a park in Moscow, They used no explosive or other means to announce it's presence; they just let it sit there and expose passers by to radiation until it suited their needs to tell the Russians it was there. They could just as well have spread the material on the ground and let people track contamination wherever they went.
What if you live near a nuclear reactor/facility? First off, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission controls all nuclear facilities in the United States. The NRC strictly controls and governs safety and security of all nuclear facilities. They mandate a "layered" approach to security systems, with redundant perimeter controls, and a dedicated, heavily armed reactive force of trained professionals. The chances of a successful attack on a facility by terrorists is slim and none, and "slim" just left town. In addition, the safety systems are layered to provide backups to backups, especially the critical cooling systems. In the event of a release of radiation, the public would be notified, and given instructions to follow, such as whether to evacuate, or to stay in their homes.
Contrary to popular belief, a detonation/release of either type would not be a "death ray, heat wave" type situation. In both situations, the radiation would come in the form of particulate matter, and affect the population according to proximity and winds at the time. For example, in both situations, depending on the direction of the wind, you could be five feet away from the release and not be affected, or be a half-mile away and receive a dose. This is why winds are important, and are taken into account by emergency officials when evaluating nuclear events. This is why having both a "bug out" (which we will call, dramatically, an 'egress' plan), and a plan to stay at home are equally important. For example, have several routes planned for several different areas in at least two opposite directions. This takes into account wind direction, as well as other naturally occurring situations, (flood, fire, riots, etc.)
I'm sure some of us remember the "duck and cover" days (no, not me, I'm not that old), of the evil Soviet empire, launching missiles at our cities, envisioning Hiroshima-like mushroom clouds. There is an important lesson in the philosophy of those times, be prepared. Have a plan to deal with emergencies at home, while keeping yourself and your family safe, and one to leave your home, and go to a safe area.
Here, we'll discuss two strategies, the egress plan, and the stay at home plan.
Egress or "Bug Out" Plan.
In the event of a radiological release due to an incident at a nuclear facility or a terror detonation of a RDD type device. (This plan will also apply to natural disasters, rioting or other scenarios). Your best option may be to evacuate, leaving your home or workplace for a safer area as prompted by authorities. You'll notice I mentioned home and workplace. What would you do if you and your spouse are at work and the kids are at school? Do you have the means to contact them or retrieve them? What kind of emergency procedures do the schools have in place? Find out. You need to have contact numbers and be sure that everyone knows the plan. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are leaving, everyone around you also has the same idea. This is why evacuation is to only be carried out if danger is imminent, and planning of at least two different routes to your safe area is critical. Picture rush hour with a "chicken little the sky is falling" mentality, that's what roads exiting a disaster area could resemble. A good idea is to have at least one of your routes on secondary roads, staying away from highways, as they could be generally congested. Your vehicle is critical. Keep it maintained. Think of your car as you would your duty weapon if you were a police officer. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. This means a spare tire, keeping gas in your tank and changing the oil, as well as regular maintenance. Keep road maps in your vehicle as well as a spare quart of oil, and spare antifreeze/coolant. A small emergency/bug out kit should be kept in all of your vehicles, and contain the following:
Non-perishable food items, MREs/canned meats.
At least 2 quarts of clean drinking water.
Matches or a fire source
Multi-tool or "Swiss army" type knife.
40' of rope capable of supporting 200 Lbs.
Duct tape, string, nails, etc.
Survival or thermal blanket.
Small first aid kit (bandages, antiseptics, bug repellent, pain medications)
This is a small compact kit, which can be assembled with around $25.00. You probably already have most of the items you will need in your garage. There are many different sources for MREs and survival foods on the Internet and in various publications, or you can pick up "SPAM" type canned meats at your local grocery store for around $1.00 a can. They have a shelf life of several years, and provide critical fats and calories when you need them most. The rope can be obtained at a local shopping center or sporting goods store. I picked up mine at a boating supply store. All of these items can be placed in a small backpack or duffel bag, or a great idea is a USGI surplus ammo can, also available on the Internet or a local army surplus store for around $5 each, They're airtight, waterproof, and strong. I use the ". 50 cal" can in my cars, and all of the items listed fit with room to spare. The idea here is to keep it compact, as it's going to stay in the vehicle. Also keep in mind that temperatures in a car trunk can soar into the triple digits in the summer and well below freezing in the winter. Checking the contents at least once a month is a good idea, and if you are using conventional tap water in containers, change the water at least once a year, cleaning out the containers before putting the fresh water in. I also carry a pair of good quality GMRS/FRS radios for communication with extra batteries if needed for communication.
A large "bug out bag" should be prepared for each family member and be stored in your home, or in cases of extreme heightened awareness, kept in your vehicle, some items to be considered for that:
Non perishable food for three days
Portable water for three days
Matches or other fire source.
Flashlight, spare batteries and spare bulbs.
Portable AM/FM radio with spare batteries
Survival type or thermal blanket.
Multi-tool or "Swiss army" type knife.
Portable pocket saw.
Small first aid kit, including insect repellent, and needed prescription medications
Small backpacking type, "pup tent" for shelter.
3 strong plastic garbage bags.
"Isolation" or particle/dust protective masks.
These items should be packed into a portable waterproof backpack, and need to be checked and maintained at least once every few months. (Author uses a frame type hiking pack) The Isolation masks can be purchased at a medical supply store and w