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Friday, December 20, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

To say that I’m a neophyte in the electrical world, or as we say here in Alaska a “Cheechako”, is making a big understatement.  So, a couple years back my co-worker and friend got me into Amateur Radio, also affectedly known as Ham Radio.  I studied my ARRL Technician book and passed my test, but it just barely rattled what I had in my head 20 years ago from my only electronics class I had back in High School where we studied Ohm’s law, identified a resistor, and made a strobe light.  So, I’m on a big learning curve. 

I searched around and studied lots of reviews and settled on a nice hand held radio, a Yaesu VX-6R.  It works great for VHF and the 2M repeaters that I have in my town.  As with anything, you always strive for bigger and better!  Must be the Tim “The Toolman” Taylor gene that all guys have (emphasis on the Toolman grunt)!  So, I’m studying to upgrade my license from a Technician to General and get into HF.  Not only am I doing this to get more into my hobby, but I feel this is part of prepping that is just as important as beans and bullets.  Besides studying to upgrade my license, I have been assembling gear for my “shack”.  Again going around the net (great review site for Ham related stuff is and talking with fellow Hams, I decided to get a radio that is not only good for a base station, but mobile.  I ended up getting another Yaesu, a FT-897D.  That turned out to be the easy part, the rest of the gear list is probably going to be never ending and always changing.  This brings me to what I wanted to write about, the Anderson Powerpole.

From what I read and have experienced so far is that the Anderson Powerpole is the gold standard for 12VDC power connection.  There are probably people reading this and saying “Whoopee, who cares about connecting wires”!  I was there too at one time, being upside down hooking up trailer lights by twisting 2 wires together and wrapping them with electrical tape.  The genius with Powerpoles is not only the ease of installation, but the mobility and adaptability of this product.  One of the best features of the Powerpoles is that they are genderless, no male or female fittings.  One reviewer called it a hermaphroditic plug.  Because of that several emergency groups like RACES and ARES make Powerpoles a standard for equipment so everyone has the same ability to hook up all their equipment into various power sources.

So, I went to Powerwerx and bought several sets of Powerpoles, a roll of 12 gauge red/black zip cord, extra clips, a RIGrunner (more about that later), and a few other sundry items.  A set of Powerpoles are 2 plastic housings, one red and one black (for positive and negative wires), 2 metal clips, and a roll pin.  Now came the important question, to crimp or solder?  Well, I tried both and found that solder worked the best foe me.  I didn’t buy the fancy crimping tool for the Powerpoles and ended up deforming a couple of clips, and deformed clips won’t fit into the plastic housing.  The lockup for the clip and housing is very precise.  Same with over soldering the clips, if you have a blob of solder on the outside of the clip, it won’t lockup, but at least one can correct that easily.  There are several great sites for assembling Powerpoles like from the Powerwerx web site and Youtube.  What worked for me was to put the zip cord, whoa what is zip cord? It’s basically just like the power cord on your lamp at home, two wires side by side, but in this case they are red and black and can be pulled apart if need be.  So, zip cord in my vise straight up and down, and a great tip.  RED on RIGHT!  It will help keep the poles in alignment.  Place a clip, straight on top, with the “tongue” away from you.  I stripped off about an 1/8 of an inch more than needed to wick the solder, bottom up, into the wire.  Let it cool and click into the plastic housing.  Now after getting both housings done, you will notice that there are tongues and grooves in the sides of the housing.  If you want, you can take the red and black housings and join them together to make a “plug”, and to make it lock up just push in the roll pin in the hole provided by the joining of the two housings.  Again there are awesome videos on Youtube showing how to assemble Powerpoles, both crimping and soldering.

Now I mentioned a RIGrunner.  This is another little gem I discovered in this adventure produced by West Mountain Radio that uses Powerpoles in a central power distribution box.  Basically it’s a little metal box with several Powerpole connector outlet stations (the number dependent on model) that uses standard ATC fuses like in your car.  All the stations are the same, both input and output.  All you need to do is attach a power source like a 12v battery and your equipment like a radio and antenna tuner and you are in business.  Make sure to use the proper fuse with what is coming in or out.  I have a 40amp fuse for the power in and 20 amp fuses for my radio and tuner.  The model I got also included two USB charging ports for phones and pads.  So, what does all of this do for me?  Well, I have a very clean and safe setup for my “shack”.  All my power cords are in plastic housings, ran through a box with fuses, and are very adaptable and mobile.  Adaptable?  Let me explain.  My current power source for my radio is a box that plugs into a standard wall plug, so it converts 120 VAC to 12 VDC for my various equipment.  If the power goes out, then what?  I made a few adapters with my Powerpoles. I got a set of battery clips from Radio Shack, just like the ones you see on battery chargers.  At the end of the wires I installed a Powerpole set, so now I can use a 12VDC battery from my truck or camper.  I also got both male and female cigarette lighter plugs with Powerpoles on each end to either attach to a battery or insert into an existing adapter.  I also made a six foot extension cord.  The amount of adapters is dependent on your imagination.  You can set up inline fuses, filters, splitters, and so on.  Mobility?  I picked my radio just for that.  So, let’s say its bug out time.  All you need to do is just pull plugs and go.  I have most of my adapters in a canvas bag and pelican case for my radio.  So, aside from my antenna and coax, I could be unplugged and ready to go in a couple of minutes and have the ability to hookup to just about any 12VDC source.

Well, there are probably people out there saying “what good is that for me”, or “I’m not into Ham Radio”!  Let me expand on that.  I just recently moved from one place in Alaska that measured snow in feet to another place in Alaska that measures rain in feet.  Now driving on snow isn’t that bad, driving on ice is just plain horrible.  There is no steering out of it, or braking.  It’s just hold on for a terror of a ride, which happened to me on my little hill of a driveway.  So, I grabbed a few bags of salt and did my best impersonation of Johnny Appleseed and hand tossed out all the salt.  That wasn’t very easy or efficient!  So, after rummaging around the garage and shed, I found a hand held/hand cranked grass seed broadcaster.  That worked a little better, but still wasn’t what I was looking for.  So, I remembered seeing an ATV mounted broadcaster once on a hunting show.  They were putting in food plots for deer, and why wouldn’t that work for salt?  I found a not too expensive one on Amazon and placed my order.  In about a week I got my seed broadcaster, and I put it together.  Now when they said universal mounting, they were being very liberal with that statement, but I got it together.  This is basically a tub with a 12VDC motor that spins a segmented disk around and you control the spread by the size of the adjustable hole by the hopper.  Now came a problem, the power hook up was with a 12VDC cigarette lighter, and I don’t have one on my ATV.  I pulled off the seat and looked at what was a standard motorcycle battery, so I came up with a solution.  I cut a length of zip cord and soldered on battery connectors and bolted them to the battery.  I installed a set of Powerpoles to the other end that terminated right near the edge of the cowling and ran it under the seat near the engine zip tying it to the frame.  I also used some heat shrink tube near the Powerpole plug and zip tied both ends to give it some tension relief.  So, it’s all protected somewhat from the elements.  I made another female cigarette adapter with a longer piece of zip cord and now my problem is fixed.  Yeah, I know, not the most efficient, and I could have gone direct to the battery!  Tell me, who doesn’t have at least a couple of items that run on a cigarette lighter?  With this set up I can use my salt spreader in the winter and then take it off during hunting season without a huge hassle.  I also gained another 12VDC power source for my equipment.  A couple of tips, I bought some end caps to seal up the plug when not in use, a great item!  Also, a clip that locks two plugs together, so that they don’t rattle apart.  Another great item!  I just want to mention that I have no affiliation to any items, businesses, web sites, and nor do I receive any compensation.  Just one man’s opinion about a great product.

I hope this Cheechako in the electrical world was able to show you a great little component that I consider to be the equivalent of duct tape.  When I first opened my box and saw the bag of Powerpoles my first thought was, “what is this, Legos?”  Well it’s just like Legos, they snap together and with a little imagination you can build just about anything.
73, - Dan from Alaska

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dear JWR:
This might have been thought of before, but I just stumbled into something called LED strip lights. Here is a sample.

They come in 15 meter rolls, are about 1/2 inch wide and have 300 individual LED lights. They can be cut into segments between every third light. They run off of 12 volts DC and are actually rather bright while using little electricity. If you purchased one of those little strips the reloading companies sell to mount inside the press so you can see what's going on, it is probably this stuff. There are several versions. Some have 150 light and some have larger LEDs that put out more light. There are several colors available including multi-color ones for holiday lighting.

I'm seeing a lot of possibilities for emergency use. A strip with six LEDs on it will light most of the rooms in my house well enough to get around in. It will also provide enough light to read by if placed close to the book. It isn't the most pleasant light, though I haven't sampled the other color variants, but it beats no light. I took a battery holder that holds 8 AA cells I got at Radio Shack and made a portable light for about $4 plus the cost of batteries. It isn't elegant, but it sure is cheap. If I'm doing the math right, a strip of six LEDs are using .02 AH, so those eight AA batteries should provide several days of run time.

You could probably improve the quality of light with lens or diffusers.

I just checked it outside and if placed about seven feet in the air, a strip of six will light about a 20 foot in diameter circle reasonably well. It's not a floodlight, but if you are in a darkened house looking out, you will be able to see what's out there.

It also seems to run well on NiMH rechargeable batteries . A solar charger and some rechargeable batteries should be able to keep you in light for quite a while. I'm also sure the more innovative can come up with better ideas for implementation.

Should you want to post it, I trust, of course, that you won't use my full name.

Thanks and God Bless. - T.M.G.

JWR Replies: Although LED light strips and tubes have been mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, this topic bears repeating.

If you buy either red or blue LEDs, then they won't spoil your eyes' natural night vision, for when you step outdoors.

My favorite suppliers for LED lights is Creative Lighting Solutions, a small company launched in February of 2007 and based near Cleveland, Ohio.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thanks for the information you deliver every day. I have recently gone on Social Security Disability and have some money to further our preps. My wife and I will hunker down in place, that being said, we have done what we can to make this as easy as possible. We can heat our home without electricity, but still need a solution for limited electric needs in the event of power outage. We are looking at the Honda EU2000i portable generator with the multi-fuel upgrade. In our years here we have never lost our natural gas supply, but have often lost our electric power. We propose to hook the genny up to our house gas supply, ready to go into service when the lights go out. 15 amps of 110 AC plus the 12 DC power would be a great addition to our supplies. Given we have beans, band aids and defense, this is a big purchase at $1,200 or so. I'm looking for advice.
Thanks, - Michael From Pennsylvania

JWR Replies: That is probably a decent solution, but only if your local gas utility provides natural gas via local wellhead pressure (possible in Pennsylvania, given your oilfields) or if they supply remotely-sourced gas via natural gas-powered line compressor stations.  If they use grid electricity-powered compressors stations (which is still the norm), then the gas pressure could stop after a couple of days of a power grid failure. But if they use natural gas-powered line compressors FROM END TO END, then you'd be fine.

You need to call your local utility and ask for a subject matter expert to talk to, to be sure. DO NOT settle for "happy-happy" front office assurances of system reliability and continuity. You need to talk with an engineer who knows about their set-up, first hand.

The second issue is the requisite size of your generator. Most residential refrigerators normally draw around 12 amps, but the peak load (on startup), expressed as Locked Rotor Amps (LRAs), can be substantially higher. Your generator needs to be able to handle that LRA load. You will need to research the LRA rating of your particular refrigerator's compressor. Here is an example: (Click on "Specifications.") This is a typical modern 23-cubic foot refrigerator that draws 8.5Amps when running, but the Minimum Circuit Required is 15 Amps. The latter reflects the LRA requirement.

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, December 1, 2012

Mr. Rawles;
As a young researcher in the field of indoor and household air pollution, I felt compelled to respond briefly to the commentary on kerosene lamps in today's "Odds 'n Sods". Additionally, having met two and worked with one of the authors of this paper, I feel that I may have a perspective on the article that is unique among your readers.

While it may be true that a natural disaster contributes more to atmospheric carbon levels than emissions from kerosene lamps in the United States, it may not be true when considering kerosene lamps in other countries -- which I believe was the focus of the article.

Kerosene lamps and lanterns in developed countries are much more highly engineered than in third-world areas. I have personally worked with and tested Ugandan kerosene lamps, which are nothing like the hurricane-style lanterns here in the US. The Ugandan lamps, known as "tadoobas", are non-systematically constructed of old aerosol cans and thick round wicks with no wick control. These things smoke like crazy. In my experimentation, I found that adding a flat wick with wick control (much like US kerosene lamps have) and adding a simple reflector decreased smoke emissions while maintaining light levels. The point, though, is that basic lamps available to third-world customers are smoky, poorly made, and dangerous.
I've also found in my research that it's not what you burn, it's how you burn it. Any fuel can be made to burn cleanly under the right conditions. It would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater to immediately condemn all kerosene fuel use.

I sincerely hope that this article is not used to demonize kerosene lamps stateside, as I do not believe those to be the source of the problem identified by the researchers. Anyone citing this article to crack down on kerosene use here in the US would indeed be misusing science. As a warning against using shoddy, poorly engineered, or inefficient kerosene lighting devices, however, I believe the article to be well within its bounds.

I hope that my perspective adds clarity to the article, and I would be happy to continue to dialogue with any readers who have further questions. Thank you very much. Sincerely, - K.G.

Monday, August 13, 2012

James Wesley:

While the compact fluorescent bulbs are good at saving energy, even better are LED bulbs. I know they are expensive, but they are coming down in price and can be had at very reasonable prices on eBay. Not only that, but they "burn" cool to the touch and contain no mercury. A broken CF bulb practically warrants a HAZMAT crew! L's last even longer than compact fluorescent bulbs and are made of plastic so there's no worries about breakage. I'm building a solar power system for my home, and plan on switching to LEDs. - Dave, RN

Friday, July 6, 2012

There has been much talk on many survival/prepper blogs about when and if our electricity goes out. Lots of speculation by folks who have experienced short power outages. My husband and I have experienced numerous, long power outages. They are very common in the remote area where we live. As we are the last house on the power line, when the power goes out we are the last to get our power restored.

Our most recent long lasting power outage was in January, when our area experienced a rare ice storm. In 17 years of living in our present home, we have witnessed only three ice storms. One minor (three-day outage, minimal damage) and one pretty big  (10-day outage and some significant damage) to the major storm we had in January. The tri-county area was completely out of power and phone (land lines as well as some cell service) and major damage to homes and properties. Our power was out for three weeks and our land line for four weeks. One can still see the effects of this storm when driving around now in the early summer. As we lay in bed at night, we could hear the trees exploding and cracking around us, it sounded like a war zone. Let me tell you, when a tree that is as big around at the base as a small car, and as tall as 100 plus feet crashes down in the forest, you are definitely aware of nature's power! It causes an incredible sound, similar to an explosion. Multiply that by hundreds of trees and you have an idea of what we listened to for several days and very long nights.

Since we live in an area with lots of wilderness – national forests on three sides of the community, there are lots of trees. During this particular storm, the freezing rains came down; followed by heavy snows that lasted for days. This all fell on top of several feet of snow already on the ground in these parts in January.

All of our power outages have taught us much more than reading about it ever could. During this last, particularly trying storm, my husband decided to keep a list of things we wish we had for future power outages. Once we prioritized our list, we were surprised to find not only how short the list was, but some of the top items we wanted, that we had never before considered, or had believed them to be already covered sufficiently.

Since we have gravity spring water, and gravity septic system, water was never an issue for us. Also we heat with wood all the time anyway, so heat was not an issue for us. We regularly practice storing extra food – for us a way of life for many years, long before the prepping craze – so food was not a big issue either. Our biggest three issues were lighting; washing clothes and cleaning our carpeted floors.

When you live in the boonies, your floors can get mighty dirty, mighty fast. When you add to that the fact that we were out using chainsaws all day long, then tracking in all the snow, mud, slush, sawdust and fir needles, our floors, and our clothing became filthy very quickly.

Since we already had the wash board, large sink and washing tubs, a way to heat water and soap to hand wash clothes with, I tackled the job a couple different times during this outage. Let me tell you, for any having dreams of quaintly washing clothing by hand and then hanging them in the gentle breezes of summer to folding all that freshly cleaned clothing, it “ain’t” like that at all!

Washing clothing by hand is extremely difficult and although I knew the clothes had at least been boiled, soaped and rinsed, they were not clean to the standards that we were accustomed to. Also, finding room to hang clothing indoors proved to be a bit of a challenge, and we have a very large home with only two adults. Once dry, the clothes were stiff and itchy and didn’t have that fresh smell you can get when using a dryer and dryer sheets, or even being able to hang them outdoors in the summer sun. I got blisters on my hands and my hands were extremely sore, for a couple days, and I am used to very hard physical work. My shoulders ached and there was water everywhere. Carrying boiling or near boiling water from the woodstove to the large kitchen sink proved to be very challenging, and at times even dangerous. During previous outages, there has typically been power “in town” so we could go to a friend’s home and wash clothes. Also my husband could take a load or two to work and wash them there (they have a washer/dryer at his work) or we could load up and drive to the “big” city (population about 8,000) about an hour away and use the Laundromat. Unfortunately all the power was out for miles. Our only option was to wash clothes by hand.

When we bought all the scrub boards, soap, and wash tubs, I guess I assumed I would just spontaneously know how to use all that stuff if we ever needed it. My first attempt was a colossal failure. The clothes smelled and didn’t look any cleaner. Out came our old Foxfire books and other simple living books that we have had for decades. After reading about how to wash clothes by hand, my second attempt was better and by the third attempt the clothes came out reasonably clean. Who knew that you were supposed to rub the soap on the actual scrub board, and not the clothes? We learned to dunk them in boiling water first, swish around with a stick (we used a broom handle). Then when cool enough to touch comfortably, but still hot enough to help with bubbles and rinsing, scrub up and down on the scrub board, rubbing extra hard where there were stains. Then squeeze as much water out as possible, and dunk into another tub of hot water. I would let them soak that second time for a while. After they had soaked, I still didn’t find them rinsed out enough, so I then rinsed them under cold running water in the big sink. Then you wring out as best you can, and hang as near to the woodstove as possible. Even with the woodstove going 24/7, it still took days for some of the heavier items to dry completely. It wasn’t a horrible experience, but can’t say as if I truly enjoyed it either! As soon as we can afford it, I am getting some better way of washing clothes. It is not a good feeling to be able to bathe ones body and then put on dirty clothing.  A generator, or James type washer would have been much better, also at the very least we need a better way to wring out the clothing. Wringing out clothes by hand is not only physically demanding, but it is nearly impossible to hand wring out jeans or blankets, they just never get completely squeezed out and then they drip all over your floors and take days to dry.

Lighting was an issue that we felt we had under control. We have numerous oil lamps, spare parts, and even one Aladdin lamp, plenty of lamp oil as well. Lots of candles and flashlights too. However, we had only one LED type, battery powered lantern. Although it gave off the best light, it still wasn’t bright enough once it was dark outside. In these parts in January, it is dark usually by about 4 p.m., which is much too early to go to sleep. We found our eyes were straining when we tried to read or play games – which is about the extent of entertainment with no power. So we walked around looking like miners with our headlamps on all the time. We learned quickly to look at the floor or ceiling when talking directly to one another after temporary blindness from lights directly to the eyes! We have determined to get more, and brighter, LED type lamps for future use. If money allowed, a generator or alternate power system would be ideal, but until then, we found we needed much brighter lighting. It is also very nice to be able to use our headlamps as we entered the house in the dark evenings to simply turn the knob and have light, rather than light a match, trim wicks, etc. Obviously lighting a match is not that hard to do. But when you are doing it day after day and dealing with wick trimming and refilling oil bases and smelling the oil all the time (as well as watching your white ceilings turn black because you didn’t trim the wicks!) it does lose it’s romance factor quickly. So the short term solution, more and brighter LED lanterns and a solar powered battery charger. Long term, we'll need generator or alternate power source.

Last on our top three was our carpeted floors. Again, we have plans (aahhh that ever elusive money!) to put laminate/wood flooring throughout the house. For now, we have most rooms in our large home covered in carpeting. Lovely, old, stained indoor/outdoor – cheap office type carpeting. Simply gorgeous! Even if it is ugly, I still want it clean. When power is not an issue, I vacuum daily. Even though there are only two of us, we do have two dogs and a cat and tracking back and forth to bring in wood make a mess. It seems that clean floors would not be that big an issue in a major event. Perhaps for many people it is not a big deal, but for me it was huge. I like my house picked up and neat. It does affect ones attitude when your environment is out of sorts. Not to mention it could be a health issue if you have asthma, allergies, or little ones that crawl around on the floor.

Since our carpets are the “flat” type carpets, one-day I attempted to sweep them, all 2,000 square feet of them. Not only was this task extremely physically taxing, but was pretty ineffective as well. Although I did manage to sweep up some of the major debris, there really wasn’t any way to sweep up the dust or tiny parts. I had huge blisters on my hands at the end of the day. It did look “better” but it was not up to the standards that I wanted.
The only solution we could think of, besides our long term plans of putting in laminate wood flooring or getting our generator or alternate energy source, is one of those old-fashioned “sweepers” like my grandma used. Haven’t found one yet, but I am sure they are still out there somewhere. We have also been told there are some battery operated light vacuums.

We managed to conquer all the issues that came up during our long power outage. Admittedly, we had a head start since water, septic and heat were not an issue. We also had some other rather big problems that I did not mention. We had to throw out all the food in our freezer that we could not eat. It was cold enough outside to keep our refrigerator food good in coolers on the porch. It was not cold enough to keep our frozen food frozen. I cannot tell you how hard it is to throw away a freezer full of food. With all the helping we were doing with neighbors as well as keeping our own road clear, there simply was not time to can up the foods in the freezer, nor did I feel entirely confident doing canning of meats on the woodstove. I know my ancestors did so, but I have always had the convenience of an electric or gas stove for such endeavors.

Another issue we had not anticipated was we had no way to bake. Our short-term solution is to find or make a metal box to place on top of the woodstove for baking and heating up food. A nice big wood cookstove, generator or gas powered stove and oven would be nice, but a lot of things would be nice if we only had the money. Barring that, we need to find ways to deal with the problems that we didn’t realize were problems until we were in the midst of a major power outage. The issues our friends described after this event varied from, “We are planning on moving back to civilization” (dumb move on their parts!) to “We are buying a generator” (great if you have the money). Most of them simply talked about what we needed to change and brainstormed about ways to make life easier in the event of another major power outage. For many, water was the main issue as they had wells with electric pumps. Second seemed to be septic systems that required electricity to be usable. One or two days of using one of the few trees left standing and doing your business in a hole in the ground (which is really hard to dig when there is several feet of snow!) is one thing. Three weeks without operating septic is another matter altogether and can pose major health risks. Lack of heat (very few folks up here have only electric heat – but there are some) caused many folks to trek to the homes of friends with wood heat. Then a few of those people found that they were running out of food as they had planned for their own needs, but not adding 2, 3, 4 extras to the mix. A few drove all the way to the large city, about two hours away, to stay in motels and several went to shelters. All the folks that used the shelters (a high school about an hour away) said they would never do that again if it could be avoided. In spite of the fact that our area is a close knit one and stealing or foul language was not an issue in the shelter, there was absolutely no privacy. One lady said, “I thought listening to my husband snore at night was annoying, try listening to several husbands snoring all night!” Seems kind of humorous, but after a very short time, exhaustion would set in as well as that feeling of total lack of privacy.  The overwhelming talk though, seemed to come around to being able to clean ones home. Maybe it isn’t a big deal to many or even most people, but for the vast majority of folks around here, it seemed to be quite the deal breaker about whether they would stay put or go stay in the city a two hour drive away, where they did have power.

Another (very pleasant) surprise was that during this outage, there was not one incident of looting, stealing, or even panic-stricken behavior that we ever heard about. People in our very small, remote community pulled together and helped one another out. However, in that large city two hours away, where we have relatives, there was chaos after only about 20 hours of power outage. Lots of looting, stealing, and just plain thuggery. One relative commented on how people in their neighborhood not only didn’t reach out to help one another, they often didn’t even help themselves, simply waiting for the city to come clean up the storm damage. One person (I am embarrassed to say a relative) actually said after this city’s rather small crisis (a windstorm, power out in much of the city for 1-to-3 days) that she was “appalled” that the city didn’t at least keep the schools open.  After all, what was she expected to do with her three children for two whole days?

This same person criticized the stores for not being “better prepared for an emergency” as they had run out of all the “good food” (I am guessing candy and sodapop) before she had a chance to get anything. It was the stores fault, she maintained, that her children were hungry and had to eat food they weren’t used to. (Probably vegetables and fruit!) Luckily, we not only experienced none of that attitude here in our remote blissfulness, but also had folks coming out of the woodwork offering to help one another. I realize not all small communities are like this, but when searching out where you’d like to raise your family, look hard at the residents before you move there.

During a crisis, keeping things as normal as possible can really help to lessen the stress. That includes being able to keep one's body, clothing and home clean. While we had plenty of food, access to clean fresh water, the ability to drain our sinks and flush our toilets, as well as stay warm – we were lacking in being able to wash clothes, clean our carpets and have good, dependable, strong lighting. We are remedying these as time and money allows. We also realized that in times past when we have lost power, many of our friends in town still had power. So we could always “borrow” their electricity for clothes washing or computers. This past January it was different, no one had power. There was one business in town that had a generator, and they offered for folks to come and wash clothes and shower there, but we never got to that point. Many did, but the ones I spoke to said it was first come first served and some waited hours for a washing machine. It was definitely a different experience when everyone for miles around is in the same boat as you.

Next time you are planning for the big SHTF episode, think about how you will clean the floors; light the rooms and wash the clothes. As with all prepping, you should certainly practice before the skill is needed.  If I had only read about and tried hand-washing clothes before I needed that skill, I could have saved myself some time and struggle. If we had gone without using our electric lights long term using our one LED lantern, we would have realized we needed lots more. And we had never really considered keeping the carpeted floors clean as being a prepping issue, now we know for us, it is a big issue.

When all of our normal routines are upset, it can help immensely to be able to stick as close to our normal diet and routine as possible, in order to stave off added stress. It was a real eye opener to have power out, long term, for miles around. We realized in talking to friends after the fact that even in this very remote, gun toting, “always prepared”, help your neighbor environment – just how ill prepared many of us are. It has been suggested by many to turn off your power for a weekend; or use your “get home” bag to hike from the city to your home. How many of us have actually done this? Maybe you should try it now, this weekend and see what your family is lacking and how you could improve, before an outside force thrusts it upon you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I enjoy your blog and support you in a small way with the 10 Cent Challenge.  After reading your response to the Battery-Powered House Interior Lighting letter, I want to add some information that I learned at a FAA seminar that I attended.  The FAA is now endorsing blue or green lighting in the cockpit of all aircraft (general aviation and commercial).  The green and/or blue takes less energy output for the eyes to see details.  Also, red lighting can be seen from further away than blue/green (red is used to designate towers and tall buildings at night, where blue is used for taxiway lights because it stands out less at a distance).  I would strongly advise the use of controlled blue or green lights for interior lighting and keep the bulbs/LEDs out of direct line of sight of windows.  - Carl


I wanted to add a few tips.

We recently purchased a set of low-voltage,solar-powered LED string lights from a Target chain store.  They are similar to Christmas lights, but the bulbs are of various shapes/designs (we opted for a set that looked like little snow globes or disco balls.)

These lights don't have any sort of connector (12 VDC nor 110 VAC.)  Instead, they only have a small solar panel, that's [directly] attached to a sealed battery pack.

During our first camping/outing with the lights, we read the instructions, which said that they required five hours of full sunlight before they would be ready for use.  (We had arrived at our campsite about an hour before sunset, so we had no hope that they would work...)

Much to our surprise, they worked perfectly.  Initially, their light source seems pretty weak.  But, as the skies grow dark,and your eyes adjust, they actually begin to seem pretty bright.   We strung them above/around the opening of our tent, and they functioned like some sort of "street light" of sorts (making entry/exit of our tent safe & sure.

We attempted to sleep with the lights still on, to see how long they would last.  (A mistake.)   At 2 a.m., they were still so bright, that we were having trouble sleeping.  So, I turned them off.

The next day, we angled the solar panel to face the sun.  (The panel/battery has a clip,which we attached to an external tent pole on our dome-style tent.)  We then departed for the day (which turned out to be a windy day.)

When we returned,the little solar panel had spun on the pole (due to the winds,) and was now face-down in the tent (instead of facing the sunshine.)  We still had an hour of sunlight before sunset, so there was still hope...

After sunset, when we turned the lights on, they (again) worked like champs.  We wondered, though, if they would still hold-up as long as the night prior?...

About an hour later, as we were building our campfire, they died...  (We assumed they just didn't get enough sunlight, and we were regretting that they didn't have a 12-volt plug or alligator clips.)

Later, however, as the fire dimmed, the little lights sprung back to life!!!

Go figure -- they also have a built-in light sensor/switch.  They automatically turn off, when there is sufficient light (to save their battery.)   We had light from them all night (again.)

I have been disappointed by so many "solar yard/path lights" in the past.  I almost didn't buy these.  But, their LED functionality got the best of me -- and I'm so very glad that I bought them!

Granted, they are not "high beams."  These are essentially "super" night lights (or minimalist emergency lighting.)
They are enough light to "get the job done" -- and not much more.  But, they are kind of cute, too!
As outdoor lights, they are also water-resistant.  As low-voltage, they are also safe to the touch (even if/when wet.)

This essentially-free lighting was enough for 90% of our tasks in/around our tent and camp site.  Only a few times did we need to turn on a lantern, or flashlight for specialized tasks (like cutting in our kitchen area.)

On that note, this was also the first time we tried using one of the new LED-style Coleman lanterns.  We still brought our Coleman-fueled lanterns, as well as our propane lanterns along, too.  We are life-long campers,and Coleman-powered lamps just seem to be as natural as S'Mores over a camp fire.  But, the sensitive mantles, and glass lenses, plus the Coleman white-fuel cans, and the propane bottles, and the small funnels, and such add up to a lot of possible "points-of-failure."  I was pleasantly-surprised by the amount of zero effort light that our new battery-powered LED Coleman lanterns provided!

One of them was powered via a pack of four D-cell batteries.   The other had an integrated battery pack, which you could wall-charge (or hand-crank!!!)  I'm somewhat sorry to say, that our old-school lanterns will be moved to the bottom/back shelves of our garage now -- because we now favor the newer, lighter-weight, easier & safer to operate LED lanterns.

We have also purchased a roll-up solar panel to charge any/all of our batteries, too.

Granted, there isn't always a sunny sky.  But, one full charge of these little lights, seems to last for multiple nights.

We also bought a hand-crank handheld LED flashlight, too.  Again, it's not as powerful as our Mag-Lites. (I think someone on the Moon could see our Mag-Lites!)   But, they are much lighter and a quick crank of the handle for 30-60 seconds or so, provides us with hours of lighting.  (Whereas dead batteries in the Mag-Lites provides zero light.)

Peace & Preparedness, - J.H.

Another option that has worked well for me is the use of marine-type [low votage DC lighting in the house.

I have a LED chart light set up as a reading light on the back of the head board that I use day to day for my reading and as a bed side lamp. It is powered off of a deep cycle battery in a battery box under the bed. (Yes batteries make hydrogen gas while charging and anyone who is not a big boy and understands this should probably not do it.)

This combo will run many days without a charge and makes a great bed side light as well. One of these days I am going to run the numbers and see exactly how many hours this thing will run, but the battery is so ridiculously over-sized for this application I have not bothered yet. - S.D. in W.V.

Monday, May 14, 2012

James Wesley:
We have frequent power outages.  We bought a [deep cycle] marine battery from Bass Pro Shops that was intended use with a trolling motor.  We keep this battery continuously trickle-charged.   A small inverter from Radio Shack provides 120 VAC for three strings of white LED Christmas lights attached to the uppermost part of the most important wall.  A charged trolling motor battery will keep these efficient lights on for a very long time.  All we have to do is to plug the lights into the inverter socket. Very safe. - Anonymous

JWR Replies: It would be much more efficient to buy strings of DC LED Christmas lights. This is because going from DC to AC and back to DC is inefficient and adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. (You never know when an inverter will fail.) BTW, if you buy the LED strings in red and/or blue, then they will preserve your night vision when you step outside. (Blue seems to provide the most useful light for kitchen tasks and reading with minimal eye sstrain.) You can also build a fairly efficient dimming switch. As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, adding a DC-to-DC charging tray for smaller batteries will prove invaluable.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Looking at today’s troubling times I cannot help but wonder about how to best prepare for them. I am new to this arena and in the last ten years. Yes its taken me that long, I have come to realize that being prepared is not being some Nut Case, but the very real, important, job of every family to ensure survival. Its too bad most of us are not even aware, or willing to acknowledge what is happening. Only in the last two years have I started to react to this and start preparing my family. I regret my “Head in the Sand” outlook. Besides the Beans, Bullets and Band-Aid preparation approach, which we should all know about and practice, there are many other areas that also need to be examined and implemented. It is very interesting reading to see all of the ideas put forth in your blog. The ideas are great and I have learned a phenomenal amount of information from it. Since I have started prepping, its amazing to find out just how many did it, many on tight budgets.

When I moved to my current location, I was naive with regards to relocating and after reading Mr. Rawles' books I would probably have made a different choice. But I am here, fully employed and likely to stay for at least four to six years. I chose a smallish city, or at least that’s what I thought. I moved to the high plains in 2006 from Phoenix to get away from all the issues Phoenix has, from gangs, crime and population congestion. Realizing how bad Phoenix is, and wanting to still stay in a city offering all the amenities, I chose a small High Plains city of about fifty-five thousand. It has a low crime rate, good affordable housing, employment and is generally a pretty nice place. This, of course is what, I am sure, most would say about their cities, that is until The Schumer Hits the Fan. At that point all will change and many, many will seek shelter elsewhere. Leaving me, and many others with choices: Leave, take your chances and go with the multitudes, or stay and hunker down. I keep both options open. flight with truck, flight with truck and trailer and hunker down at home.

Whatever locale you choose, lighting should be considered. We all need some form of it. 

There is so much to do and so little time to do it. However, I must approach this with a budget in mind. I don’t want to be in debt, any more than I have too. Any approach to preparedness must be calculating. I wanted to bring up lighting. I am sure that a lot has been said about it and being new to the forum I hope that I am not being redundant. We all should know that when it (The Schumer) hits, and I believe it will, your home becoming the target of looters, or worse, is a very real possibility. While power is still available, and after even  when it is not, lighting discipline will be critical. I don’t think that I can stress that enough. This could very well mean your life and that of your families.  No light must be allowed to emit from you home/dwelling/retreat/cave….whatever. None! If they can see the light, well can you say “target”?  

HIDE THAT LIGHT: I suggest that you make a real effort to black out your home, or whatever. Not just putting up some extra curtains.  And don’t think tart cut up black trash can liners will do the trick. I suppose that several layers, duct taped to the inside of your windows could work. But do you really want to risk your life and that of your families to trash can liners? Better to spend the extra money and get good quality 4 mil or thicker opaque black plastic sheeting. This can be purchased at home improvement stores, or on the internet for about fifty dollars for a nine foot by one hundred foot roll. And of course the almighty, ever useful Duct Tape. I personally do not believe that you can ever have too much Duct Tape. For that matter doors could be an issue as well, so check them, sheet them and tape them. By the way this all should be practiced before TSHTF. Think of it as a good Saturday dry run and follow it up with a good barbeque meal for the family.

OPTIONS: There are a lot lighting of options out there. If power is still available, then lighting is not a real problem, just hiding that light could be problematic. If power is out, you don’t want to advertise your presence with a noisy generator. But even if you do, once again, hiding the light would be an issue. Please put into practice a strong effort to hide that light. Good light discipline is going to be an essential element to survival. This is especially true on Refugee Line of Drift, such as homes near interstates, or other highways. They will seek out visible light as possible places of shelters or as a means of sustenance. 

Some lighting alternatives are:

  • Flashlights are good. But they are very battery-needy. Hopefully you have thought about NiMH re-chargeable batteries and solar chargers. Flashlights are really good for directed light when needed for a specific task/target. They can also have filters attached for even more light discipline. Flashlights with LEDs are very efficient, offering extended battery life. My suggestion is to have plenty of them. I have several different varieties even tough I also have too different batteries as well. I am a functionality nut, every tool has a job and every job has a tool. I prefer rechargeables….always.
  • Lanterns also offer good lighting options, again, hopefully you’ve have thought about both types of re-chargeable batteries. Lanterns with LED capabilities are very efficient, offering extended battery life. The old battery lanterns were of very limited use. They quickly ran down batteries and offered limited lighting. Today’s models are a different story. Their uses are multi facetted and offer good battery life while providing fairly decent light. They are easily transported and charged. They are effective for a stationary element. Their downfall is that while mobile, they are not space efficient for a bug out situation. . 
  • Solar walkway lighting is another good alternative. Think about it. They charge all day long and then provide light for hours at night. Yes, its true it won’t be white, blinding, dazzling brilliant light, but it will suffice. It will provide adequate to find things and move discreetly about the house. The light will be dim enough not to brightly illuminate the world, but adequate for needs of the household. And the are a renewable resource. The sun will re-charge them daily for you. Wal-Mart sells a cost effective variety at $20 for eight lights. I use them as driveway lighting and garden outline lighting. This gives me about 20 solar power lights for use inside. And yes I have tried them and though they are not especially bright, they do give off satisfactory lighting. Which is all I require of them. Best of all…You guessed it, they are sun-charged.

  • Candles are a good choice, [is used with sufficient safety precautions] but a disappearing one. By that I mean that they will slowly be consumed. They also will require an ignition source such as matches or a lighter, of themselves not bad items to have around. Depending on variety they produce by products such as smoke, order etc. Not especially desirable, so choose them wisely. I am not saying you should not use them, just select the best ones. Though when TSHTF, any will be better than none, and I have many of them. The devotional candles that come in glass jars are cheap and effective. [JWR Adds: These have on rare instances been known to shatter, so they should be used with he same fire safety precaution of any other candle:They are best burned in the center of a discarded cookie sheet with a rolled-up lip, placed on a surface that cannot tip over.. Used cookie sheets are available for a pittance from almost any thrift store.]

I try and have several alternative options on hand at all times. I keep spare batteries (rechargeable) in storage. I have a solar charger on hand and I keep about 30 solar garden type lights on hand, including two spot lights.

Whatever you choose to do with regard to lighting don’t forget all the other things that need done. I personally have a decent armory with ten thousand available rounds. I am working on one year food supply for a family of ten. I keep all of my vehicles in good running order. I am also working on fuel storage, both gasoline for my vehicles and propane for heating and cooking. I keep my options open and read, read, read. SurvivalBlog has provided hundreds, if not thousands of very good ideas.

Hopefully this gives someone, maybe a newcomer like myself, some ideas and maybe, just a little thought provoking. I hope so, as I am getting tons of ideas from the blog and it would be great to give back to this community. I do bring some experience to the table. I a former US Marine and have been in law enforcement for 27 years.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have you seen the latest reality television show, “Doomsday Preppers”, from National Geographic?  I made a mistake a few years ago – after 20 years of successfully resisting the cries and moans of my children, I gave in and allowed cable television to be installed in my house. Should have known better, but as they say, that’s a whole ‘nother subject.  Now, every week, National Geographic brings us “Doomsday Preppers,” Animal Planet serves up “Meet The Preppers,” Discovery beams in another episode of “Doomsday Bunkers” and the new pay-to-view internet network GBTV fires off a round of “American Preppers.”  Can some kind of copycat show from TLC be far behind? I guess maybe the good thing about these shows is that I no longer am tempted to confide in my friends about my efforts to be prepared for fear they might profile me into the same category as the folks they’re watching on television.  Better to keep it under the radar anyway.

I don’t really watch the shows but I’ve seen little bits and pieces of them as I walk through the room when they’re on and seeing the barns and bunkers filled with years’ supplies of food and water can give a guy a real sense of inferiority.  Am I doing enough?  How can I ever be as prepared as the stars of those shows?  Is my family at risk because I’m not taking this all seriously enough?  My total larder isn’t up to the level of what those guys spend in a single episode!  My steel trash cans filled with vacuum packed bags of rice, beans and oatmeal seem like just a thimble-full compared to the warehouses of canned goods kept by the celebrity preppers.  Since I’m not being paid thousands of dollars an episode to parade my efforts in front of a voyeuristic audience, I just don’t have the disposable income to lay up that kind of stash overnight.  Am I going to be a failure at this?  Not a chance.

In spite of the fact that we’re experiencing 8% real inflation and even though I live in a state where the economy is in a deep ditch and I subsequently haven’t had a raise or a bonus in four years, I’ve still been able to squeeze $10 a week out of my budget to engage in the process of laying up the things I might need WTSHTF.  I would dare say most people waste more than $10 a week on things like soda, fast food and movie rentals.  Think about your own expenditures for a moment.  How much could you save just by brown-bagging your lunch?  Plenty - like $5 or more per day!  Or kiss Starbucks goodbye and take your own coffee from home – treat yourself to a really nice travel mug and some quality beans and you’ll still save.  My wife and I do the cash-in-envelopes budget thing so on pay day I go to the bank and take with me our cash for the week.  In that cash is my $10 for prepping.  Lately I’ve been swinging by the nearby discount grocery store and grabbing ten bucks worth of rice, beans, peanut butter or cooking oil, and when I get home after work, into the larder they go.  Or some weeks I’ll stop at a big box department store and grab a couple 2-packs of propane cylinders or a gallon of Coleman fuel.  If I skip a week because the beans and rice are piling up on the kitchen counter waiting for me to vacuum pack them with the FoodSaver, I’ll grab a box of ammo or a couple replacement chimneys and spare wicks for my oil lamps.  While the 15-minutes-of-fame guys on TV might be spending $1,000 a month on supplies, I can’t do that.  But $10 a week is $500 a year and that’s a measurable step in the right direction that almost anyone can afford.  It would be nice to do this all overnight but you’ll be surprised at how your stockpile grows if you just are consistent and disciplined about working your smaller scale plan.

Sometimes, we’ll save up our $10 weekly allowance and splurge for something special or bigger.  We live about an hour from a large settlement of Amish folks and they have a great mercantile in their community filled with items designed for simple living.  My wife and I took a Saturday awhile back and drove there for the day.  We came home with an awesome stoneware crock for making sauerkraut and a pile of re-usable canning lids.  I was drooling over the hand powered grain grinders but we’ll have to save a little longer before I can come home with one of those!  They also sell basic foods in bulk in that community.  We came home with a 25 lb. sack of oatmeal for $11.25 and a big brick of Strike Anywhere matches.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a store like this you can find almost anything you need for off-the-grid living at very reasonable prices.  If you don’t, just click on one of this blog’s banner ads and send a little business to one of them.
     I’ve also learned that the local big box membership warehouse isn’t necessarily the best place to find things on the cheap.  I assumed that if I bought a big bag or rice there that would be the cheapest way to go.  Wrong.  My wife the Coupon Queen showed me that it’s actually cheaper to buy in three-pound bags at the discount grocery – 30 lbs. for $16.90 versus about $25 at the “club”  store. Shop around and save.

     You might be asking, “Okay, but from a practical standpoint, what can I really lay up for $10 a week?”  Well, here’s what I’ve been doing:

Unit Cost
+/- $10 Purchases
Rice     3 lb. bag @ $1.69  6 bags = $10.14
Dried Beans 1-1/2 lb. bag @ $1.99 5 bags = $9.95
Vegetable Oil  48 oz. bottle @ $2.49 4 bottles = $9.96
Olive Oil    17 oz. bottle @ $3.49   3 bottles = $10.47
Flour 5 lb. bag @ $1.65  6 bags = $9.90
Sugar 4 lb. bag @ $2.39 4 bags = $9.56
Peanut Butter    18 oz. jar @ $2.29 4 jars = $9.16
Wood Matches 3 ea. 250 ct boxes @$2.89  9 boxes = $9.18
Coleman Fuel  1 gal. can @ $9.68 1 gal. = $9.68
1 lb. Propane Tanks    2 pk. @ $5.37 4 tanks = $10.74
Ivory Bar Soap  10 pk. @ $4.27 20 bars = $8.54
Winking Owl Cabernet $2.69/bottle (really!)  3 bottles = $8.07
Coleman lantern mantles 2 pk. @ $2.37 8 mantles = $9.48
Oil lamp wicks 5 pk. @ $2.07 25 wicks = $10.35
Chlorine bleach 96 oz. bottle @ $1.19 8 bottles = $9.52
Toothpaste  $1.79/tube   6 tubes = $10.74

The key is to be consistent and disciplined and make that $10 purchase every week.  A few months into it you will be amazed at what you’re accomplishing.  A year down the road, you’ll be experiencing a lot less dread about facing an uncertain future.  Two years . . . well, you get the picture.  Obviously there is much more to be done before I can call myself “prepared” for a grid down situation or the collapse of civilization as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we never really “arrive” anyway.  I’m finding it’s more of a journey.  I’ll do it this way while the lights are still on and look for new ways if and when they go out. 

Not to digress too far from my main topic of $10 prepping, but we’re also doing additional things on the home front that will help us be further prepared.  We left the city six years ago for four acres of paradise in the country.  Even though I hadn’t yet begun prepping at that time, I thought now that I was a country gentleman I should do something country-gentlemanish so I put up a little chicken pen and bought some chicks at the local tractor store’s “Chick Days.”  We’ve been raising birds and selling pastured eggs at our roadside stand ever since – a child could do this and succeed at it.  And since my favorite food group is bacon, a couple years later my oldest son and I trenched in some “hog panels” and built a shelter out of an old pickup truck camper shell and put in a few feeder pigs.  I now raise premium Berkshire pork for our freezer and for a few friends and family.  Food, water, shade and six months – that’s about all it takes to raise a hog.  Now we’re constructing a cow pen and I’ll be picking up a recently-weaned Angus steer next month.  It’s comforting to know that I can actually raise livestock and the meat is just so much better than the factory farm stuff you get at the store.  By the way, the livestock operation doesn’t fit into the $10-a-week scheme but rather comes out of our grocery budget.  I’ve also started gardening at almost zero expense.  Last year I grew 64 tomato plants and my wife canned over 160 quarts of various tomatoes, juice and sauces.  We also canned copious amounts of sweet corn and green beans.  There’s a real learning curve to gardening, though, so start now. You’ve heard it before – if you wait until the grid goes down you’ll starve to death before you master growing your own food.  Start with a few tomato plants, some beans, a few zucchini and a potato barrel.  Just take it one step at a time and eventually you’ll get somewhere.  Once again, it’s about being consistent and disciplined.

Like the Good Book says, “A Prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”  (Proverbs 22:3) Prudent or “simple” – what’s it going to be for you?  While $10-a-week prepping won’t get you on TV, if it’s all you can afford (like it is for me) I believe it will earn you the title of Prudent.  While you won’t be a celebrity like the television preppers, you will be at least somewhat supplied in the event of TEOTWAWKI.  And if that day doesn’t come for awhile yet and you’re consistent and disciplined between now and then you’ll be a lot more than just somewhat prepped.  You’ll be ready to face an uncertain future with one less thing to worry about.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thank you for all you do. I recently found SurvivalBlog, and have enjoyed it immensely!
I live close to Wiggy's [in Grand Junction, Colorado]so when I read about their Amazing Perpetual Light on SurvivalBlog, I thought I would give it a try. This morning, I purchased three of their 4”x6” mini size. They only weigh 10.84 grams, 10.85 grams, and 12.15 grams each (for comparison, about the same weight as the combined weight of 3 or 4 pre-1982 copper pennies).

I let them charge in the sun (it is actually mostly cloudy, and hailing) for 30 minutes, and took them into a dark closet. After waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark per the included instructions, the light from just one of them let me read 10 pt font just fine. The light from it is enough for me to see objects three feet away. It has been 1 hour since they were charged, and they are still glowing strong.
I will be buying more, and getting some of the bigger sizes. At first I was skeptical, but these really are amazing! (I am not affiliated with Wiggy's, just a happy customer! I bought and like their 0 degree sleeping bag too.) - Brandon L.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Perpetual Light [marketed by Wiggy's] is in fact a resale of another company's product, also made in the Grand Junction, Colorado area.  The other company is  I've had their products for close to six months now and I have been using them the entire time.  Some notes on the lights:

1.  The Glow in the Dark Spots (GIDS) are great to mark emergency gear.  I have one on the ends of several flashlights so I can find them if the power goes out.  I also have one on the end of my bed so I don't walk into it in the middle of the night.  They do last all night and I can't say enough good things about the GIDS for marking purposes.  The only other marking spots I've used that are as good are ones which contain tritium.

2. The Paqlite (the flat "bag" of crystals) do last all night long ... by morning they are close to nothing more than a dim glow that you can't navigate or read by but for several hours after dark they do provide a "night light" level of light.  I've got one in each of my map cases for reading them at night without turning on a flashlight.  And they are easy to recharge with even a small key chain flashlight.

3.  The Tooblite is about the size of a chemical light stick ("chemlite") and while it does not last as long as the Paqlite (about half the time) it is basically a clear test-tube shaped and sized container of the crystals embedded in a clear plastic.  Not as usable as a chemlite for navigation or reading.  Durable as all though and my large one is attached to my computer bag all the time -- its been through multiple airline handling experiences and isn't even scratched.

4. The material used has a definite preference for the type of light used to charge them up -- light sources with UV (such as natural sunlight) create a much brighter, longer lasting, and more natural light (a whitish green glow) vs. incandescent lighting (a soft green glow).  So while any light source can be used, the use of lighting with the UV spectrum is better.

5. At this point I have yet to lose my night vision when using one of these lights.  While its not the usual reddish glow we associate with night-vision saving lights, it seems to work the same.

Finally, as with all sorts of lighting, since it is greenish hued you do not get true colors from objects so lines on maps tend to look the same (blue, green, gray) and even blood vessels are hard to distinguish (red for arteries and blue for veins). Regards, - H.D.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hi Jim: 
I came across a really neat little phosphorescent light source that your readers might like.  It is sold by Wiggy's, a maker of high end American-made sleeping bags [and a long-time SurvivalBlog advertiser.].  They call it a Perpetual Light and you can use sunlight, headlights of cars, et cetera to charge it up.   Its not a flashlight, its more of a general area kind of light and their pretty cheap.   I  bought one for general camp use and I really like it.   Go to to check it out. - SmokecheckTim

Economics and Investing:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So, you think anyone can make candles.  Well, now that I’ve made a hundred and have tried to teach my friends, I’m not so sure!   I decided a month ago that I wasn’t going to wait for a TEOTWAWKI situation to figure out how to make them!  I’m making them now and thought I would share my “lessons learned” with you.  I know that all of us have plenty of flashlights, batteries, oil lamps and kerosene lanterns packed away.  But if the poles shift and batteries don’t work, if you run out of oil and kerosene…. then candles might just be something you need to know how to make.  Or at least stock up on them so you have them when you need them.

Please note that many of the links in this article are to youtube videos that will clearly show you how to do the things I am talking about.

You can use sand or fine dirt for a mold.  Empty tin cans.  Hollowed tree limbs.  Milk cartons.  Anything that is hollow.  You can drill a hole in the bottom of it and tie your wick through it, or you can simply tie your wick around a penny or a small stone and drop that to the bottom of the container.  There are numerous commercial molds on the market today.  Stick with simple designs that do not waste space when stacked for storage.

Mold preparation
If you want a clean mold, attach a copper-scouring pad over a bottlebrush to get down inside crevices and corners.

If you have a mold with a hole in the bottom such as one of the many pre-formed molds available on the market today, put your wick through the hole and then putty it securely shut.  Once this is done, anchor the other end of the wick with a wood skewer, dowel, or metal rod at the other end.

There are three common types of wicks: 
1. Cored wicks.  These are basic braided wicks with a piece of metal wire in the middle providing sturdiness. (I do not recommend metal core wicks.)
2. Flat braided wicks. They look like a standard braided wick, but are flat.
3. Square braided wicks.

You can make your own wicks using three strips of heavy cotton string or yarn.  Soak it in a mix of 1 tablespoon of sale, 2 tablespoons of boric acid and 1 cup of water for 12 hours.    Hang to dry, then braid together.

To prime a cotton wick, dip it in hot wax and allow it to dry.

Wicks can also be twigs, piths (stems of plants).   From an old kitchen cloth mop – use 1 strand from the braid as a wick.  Twist strips of cotton and use as a wick.  For longer burning candles, pre-wax the wick by soaking it in wax and allowing it to hang dry.  (You can do 25 repeat dips to get a simple taper candle). 75 yards of wick at your local craft store will run about $10 with your 40% off coupon.  Pre-waxed wicks are lightweight and can be stored rolled up inside newspaper.

Thick wicks are needed for larger diameter candles so the wax does not pool and burn out the flame.  Thin wicks are used for narrow candles.  Pre-waxed wicks burn longer.

There are over 100 wick sizes on the market.  Most manufacturers have charts.  Just make sure you use the same wick with the same manufacturer’s wax or it might not work.

The earliest known candles were made from whale fat in the 3rd century.  And while I doubt I have whale fat in an emergency, I can probably find a beehive, tallow (animal fat) or fish.  Boiling 15 pounds of bayberries will give you one pound of wax.  Not profitable, but not impossible.  If you live in a tropical area, coconut oil can be used as well as palm oil from palm trees.  Olive oil from pressed olives is the most ancient oil used. 

Commercial waxes that you can purchase include paraffin, veggie, bayberry, beeswax and pre-blended candle wax.  Each type of wax has a different melting point.  Beeswax will burn longer and with less odor than other waxes.

Did you know that Paraffin wax could also be used as an electrical insulator?  Might be a handy product to pack in your BOB.

Wax must be heated until it is fluid.  It does not need to boil.  You don’t need a thermometer, but may want one if you use a variety of waxes, as each will have a different melting point.  Do not melt wax in a pan directly over a burner.  Put the pan with the wax inside a larger pan with boiling water.  This will prevent any possibility of a fire. 

Soy wax is new, and can be melted in a microwave.  It’s very soft, so use it in a container, or add candle hardener.

When the wax is fluid, pour it into your mold or dip your wick into it.

Heat the bottom of the candle to make it flat if it wicks up the wick.

Use sandpaper to get a flat bottom.

Refurbishing old candles.
I pick up old candles at thrift stores, often for 50 cents each.  It doesn’t matter if they’ve been burned or not as I will melt them down, use new wicks and pour new candles.  It’s the least expensive method of getting wax.  Some have been sitting on a shelf in someone’s house for years and need to be cleaned up.  The best product on the market is called “Wax Away” and it can be used to clean old candles and make them look brand new.  You can use a heat-it tool or hair dryer to smooth out flaws on the top or the sides of old candles.

Many used candles come with a thin colored film over it, or painted elements.  These can be removed quite easily using a potato peeler.

Practice makes perfect:
My personal experience making candles has been filled with many mistakes in the learning process.  Make sure the hole in the bottom is well plugged.  You do not want a pint or so of hot wax running out the bottom and all over your counter, table and floor.  If this does happen, quickly life the mold over the melting pan.  Or have a stack of folded paper towels that you can use to stop the leak.

Research and study as much as you can before you start!  There are great instructions on the web.  But the key is to study before you start, not after!

If you have a mold with a hole in the bottom such as one of the many pre-formed molds available on the market today, put your wick through the hole and then putty it securely shut.  After you’ve done this, then anchor the other end of the wick by tying it around a cross bar (wood skewers work great for this.)

When you first light a large candle, burn it for an hour so that the wax melts and is absorbed by the wick.  If the wick drowns in the wax, your wick is too small, too narrow, or the wax is too soft and needs to have more hardener added to it.

The opposite is true.  If there is no melt pool, or you get a flickering flame, your wick is too large, or your wax is too hard.

Always cut the wick to ¼” each time you light the candle.  Do not burn in a draft as your candle will burn unevenly. Glass hurricanes work well to protect the candle from wind. If the wick was not well centered, the candle may burn unevenly as well. 

And while candles cannot tell time, they can be used for timekeeping.  Burn it 1” for study, 1” for prayer, 1” for duties, 1” for rest….you can divide up your day into equal periods of time burning a candle.

As you experiment and practice, you will learn the right sized wick for each mold that you have.  I usually pour a candle once and burn it for an hour to see what will happen.  I can easily re-melt the rest of the candle if I’ve made a mistake or need to correct something.

The difference between candles and oil (lamps):
Olive oil, any type of cooling oil, liquid fat or grease will work.  You will need a container to put the oil in and a wick.  The oil is drawn up the wick where it vaporizes and gets burned by the flame.  A few ounces of oil will burn for several hours and in some cases, may be cheaper than candles.  That’s not my case since I recycle old candles from thrift stores.  But I would recommend storing wicks and oil as an alternative.  Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable for eating, but for burning, and it is cheaper than cooking olive oil.  For an oil lamp, you can use a kerosene wick – about 1” wide and flat.  These will put off a great source of light.  You can run a thin wire down the middle if you want the wick to stay in a certain position. 

Finally, something to consider.  If power goes out and something happens to where batteries will not work, and you run out of kerosene (heavy to pack) and oil, at least you will know how to make candles with something as simple as beeswax or tallow, plant piths and sand or fine dirt.  I highly recommend practicing now so you have these skills when needed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The following is a chronological list of events and occurrences when the lights went out on September 8th, 2011, or what I like to call “The Great Blackout of 2011”.

3:38 p.m. - I live in San Diego, California, and when the lights went out I was at home taking a nap. For some reason after I got home from teaching that day I was exhausted (probably the heat) and needed to rest.  It was a good thing too because I would need my energy in the hours to come.  While I was sleeping I could hear my phone going off with the sound of text messages and calls but I ignored it.  The calls and texts kept coming and so finally I got up to check my phone since I thought it must be important.  It was.

4:00 p.m.- The second I got up I didn’t sit down again until much later that evening.  I was inundated with messages from friends and contacts from all over with messages saying: “The power is out everywhere!”, “the SHTF what are you doing?!”, or my two favorites “I’m bugging out” and “Is this an EMP?”  I texted my friend back that it couldn’t be an EMP because otherwise our cell phones wouldn’t be working.  After more information started coming through I learned that this was a massive power outage that had spread from southern California to as far as Yuma, Arizona.  As soon as I was informed of the potential that this could be a long term power outage I put the phone down and started preparing. It was around 4 p.m. and I wanted to get everything done before nightfall.  First things first, I went into all three of our cars and took out my emergency bags no sense leaving them in there.  I had made bug out bags for every person in the house as well as for every car.  These bags were essential since I basically took the necessary requirements of food and water and tripled it. Since we wouldn’t be mobile anytime soon with traffic backed up everywhere I knew it was best to stay put. I also didn’t want to have to worry about potential looters breaking into the cars and stealing the contents.
I decided to prepare for our first night without electricity.  I had to hurry since I knew it would be getting dark soon.  I gathered all of our flashlights and put them on the kitchen table, next I took out all the candles and battery powered lanterns.  I immediately pulled out all the batteries and spare batteries and began checking them.  This took a while.  I know I should have checked my batteries months prior - but hey, “shoulda, coulda, woulda”.

5:00 p.m.- Next up was safety and protection. At this point in time the information was that the power could be out for as long as three days.  The possibility of looters or riots in the days ahead came to mind and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down.  I gathered all our firearms, checked to make sure they were ready to go and placed them in strategic places throughout the house.  I went around and checked to make sure all the doors were secure, fences were locked and dogs were okay.  I still had no idea how long this outage would last and I knew that I would be relying on them heavily for alerting us to any strangers or possible looters in the days ahead.  Both were large Shepherd mixes, one actually a fourth generation Rhodesian Ridgeback/Shepherd whose bloodline had been in our family for 30+ years.  My hope was that their size would play a huge part in the deterrent factor and if that wasn’t enough I knew that their bark was just as bad as their bite. 

This entire time I had the Ham radio up and running, as a member of the local CERT team I knew they would be giving out information and taking questions.   I was listening to the traffic reports throughout the county.  People were running out of gas and with gas stations unable to open for business the advice was for those who were low on gas to pull over in a shady spot if possible and get off the roads.  I knew my sister was in that traffic and I was worried.  She was seven months pregnant and had been sent home from work because of the blackout.  She had picked up my two year old niece from daycare but was low on gas because of being stuck in traffic for two hours for what was usually a 30 minute drive.

6:00 p.m.- Problems start happening.  I had not heard from my sister yet but I knew she was on her way to my house.  She was very low on gas but was still going to try and make it being that the only open gas stations were in Temecula, a city 20+ miles away.  The same was true for my brother in law who was coming in the opposite direction from work.  He had been stuck in traffic for hours and was low on gas as well.  To make matters worse no one was able to get hold of their son, my nephew.  This was due to the fact that all the cell phone lines were jammed.  We tried to go online to see if he tried to reach us via facebook which was still working for those who had Internet.  No messages.  At this point I started getting worried and annoyed.  I had friends texting me asking me if I had all my survivor gear out, or asking me what I was doing, or what they should do.  Meanwhile I was thinking that they were draining my phone battery (I know I could have charged it in my car but I needed it with me as I was going about the house trying to get everything done) that I might just need for that important call from my sister, or nephew, or brother in law who had still not arrived yet.  I knew some of them thought their messages were funny.  I didn’t have time to entertain or further enlighten them.  There was still so much more work to do.

6:30 p.m.- My sister finally arrived.  Not long afterwards so does my brother in law, then my other sister, her husband, and their two kids.  Everyone’s gas tank is pretty much on empty.  I fill up the car that uses the least gas so that my brother in law can go around looking for my nephew who we still weren’t able to get a hold of.  I give him my cell phone so that he can charge it as he drives around.  We soon find out that for some reason that part of San Diego - Rancho Bernardo to be exact was not able to receive any calls or text messages to cell phones incoming or receiving.  In addition my nephew was not able to access the internet via cell phone unlike others who were able to in different areas.  We were able to confirm this information later when my brother in law left to try and find my nephew.  While he was in that area he tried reaching us and us him to no avail.  He finally found my nephew at their house.  One of his friend’s parents had dropped him off and he was with the neighbors waiting when my brother in law finally arrived.

7:30 p.m.- It was now dark.  Everyone had safely arrived at my house and I was busy making dinner on the front porch.  I had spent a good amount of time digging out the portable propane stove from in the garage and setting up an outdoor makeshift kitchen.  We still didn’t know how long the power outage would last so I was trying to cook as much meat as possible.  Needless to say we ate pretty well that night. 

8:30 p.m.- Dinner time.  We had our dinner inside using several of our lanterns as light.  The kids seemed to be having fun.  We discussed what would happen in the days to come if the electricity still was not back in place.  We did have a location in the mountains about 1 hour away with other extended family.  We had two very large delivery diesel trucks which would be able to hold most of our important belongings the only problem was I knew we didn’t have enough diesel gas for both of them. We decided to wait it out.  At this time information we were receiving on the radio was that electricity would be restored later that night.  I was skeptic but hopeful.  I wondered if “they” were telling the truth or if they just didn’t want to stir a mass panic.

11:30- Bed time. After dinner we had cleaned the kitchen, washed the dishes, and given the kids baths all by lantern light.  I walked around the perimeter of the house again making sure all was well.  I looked around at my family most of them were already fast asleep together in the television room.  I looked at the time and realized how tired I was.  I had basically been working nonstop since I found out the power had gone out.  I climbed in bed.  Having no electricity sure was exhausting and the electricity had only been out for 8 hours!  I couldn’t imagine another day like this, though I knew if this was a possibility I had already done most of the work for things to be easier tomorrow. 

As I lay down to sleep that night a few thoughts went through my head.  Thank God we at least still had [utility-piped] running water.  And Thank God that everyone made it here safe and we were all together.  Thank God things weren’t worse. Other thoughts that occurred to me while the power was out and later the next day:

  1. I should have put the insulin in the freezer right away or in at least a colder compartment than the refrigerator (insulin gets ruined if it is too cold as well as too warm).  I practically kicked myself for not doing this first thing!  I was so wrapped up in everything else this completely slipped my mind!
  2. I should have bought that portable ice machine at Target.  It was only $130. 
  3. I really need to get out of the city.

Here is what I learned:

  1. The vast majority of the population is poorly prepared in every sense for any type of emergency.
  2. You can never have enough gasoline and even if you think you do get more.  It would have been an excellent selling or bartering item at times like these.
  3. Candy is an absolute necessity in preparedness.  Especially when there is no television or computer to send the kids off to to occupy themselves.  When adults need a few moments of quiet time, candy makes everything better, instantly.
  4. Having a Ham radio is an essential part of preparing.  The Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids saying needs to add that extra “C” for Communication as well as the “E” for Engineering.  Being informed just makes you feel better and in a strange way gives you hope when you know you can still reach someone on the other “end”.
  5. Handheld battery operated lanterns are awesome! You can hang them when cooking outside for a good source of all over light.  They are better than flashlights when walking down the hall or when going to bathroom and taking a shower.  You can just set them on the counter and you have pretty good visibility of the area around you.
  6. Survival preparedness isn’t really about you.  It is about protecting your loved ones. 
  7. Having properly prepared for an emergency makes you feel like gold.
  8. I really need to get out of the city. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles: 
In reference to D.B.C. in Minnesota's letter regarding rough service lamps and their availability.  I recently read PUBLIC LAW 110–140—DEC. 19, 2007 which impacts incandescent light bulbs has language which directs the "Secretary" to track the sales of "exempted" bulbs and if their sales grow above historical sales/growth levels, then energy conservation standards will be imposed for exempted lamps, including rough service. Here is a partial excerpt from the bill:

‘‘(i) IN GENERAL.—Effective beginning with the first year that the reported annual sales rate for rough service lamps demonstrates actual unit sales of rough service lamps that achieve levels that are at least 100 percent higher than modeled unit sales for that same year, the Secretary shall—
‘‘(I) not later than 90 days after the end of the previous calendar year, issue a finding that the index has been exceeded; and
‘‘(II) not later than the date that is 1 year after the end of the previous calendar year, complete an accelerated rulemaking to establish an energy conservation standard for rough service lamps.

So this means that over time many of the exempted lamps could eventually be phased out also if people start substituting them for banned lamps.   As D.B.C. points out there are substitutes available such as halogen lamps which have the same fit, form and function of an incandescent (with substantially longer lives) ... the lifetime cost of each bulb type (initial cost + energy usage) can be found on most manufacturers web site for comparison. God bless you all, - D.P.

Friday, December 2, 2011

You recently posted a link to an article titled: "Time to Stock up on Light Bulbs". I appreciate very much the helpful instruction I receive on SurvivalBlog. You put a lot of effort into credible and accurate information. It is with that in mind that I share the following with you. I have been selling light bulbs into the Commercial / Industrial market for 17 years. While it is true "most" 100 watt A19 incandescents are outlawed as of January 1st 2012, NOT ALL are. One quick search under "EISA 2007" category "lighting" will yield the real story. The only bulb outlawed is the inexpensive household 100A19 120 volt you find today in the Big Box and Hardware stores. These bulbs are usually sold in qty 4 plus packs for $1-2.00. These bulbs are not well made and do not last long long (600-to-1,500 hours). Rough Service and Vibration Service bulbs are excluded from the EISA 2007 legislation. These bulbs are currently available at the Big Box and Hardware stores for a small increase in cost, usually not more than an additional $.50 ea. But you have to ASK where they are located on the shelf. If you look closely at the life rating on the Rough Service and Vibration Service bulbs you will notice they are rated at 5,000-to-10,000 hours. They achieve this mainly two ways. The industry uses a 130 volt filament versus 120 volt, and they have from 5-7 filament supports. In terms of light output, you do sacrifice about 10% to get this gain in longevity. I hope you see the value proposition here. A 30 cent bulb that lasts 1,000 hours, maybe or a $1.00 bulb that lasts 5,000 hours. The point is that some 100 watt incandescents will be available after January, 2012. It is my opinion a repeat of what happened with 1992 EPACT legislation will occur. When EPACT 1992 took effect in 1995 several bulbs were outlawed and the manufacturers just changed the bulbs slightly to meet the new guidelines. I was able to supply my customers with modified versions (Rough Service) of the outlawed bulbs well into the 21st century.

In addition to this, Philips Lighting will begin to market more efficient Halogen lamps in the same shape and size as the 100A19 that you buy today. The main difference is they will only take 70 watts more or less, to do what your 100 watt does today and they are designed to last 3,000 hours. Cost will be $3.00-4.00 ea. You can find these under the Trade name "Halogen Energy Advantage" and "EcoVantage". No, these Halogens do not cause fires in light fixtures. Some did many years ago but those were a totally different design. They are not available for the fixtures we use 100A19s in. In addition we buy from a manufacturer that makes their Rough Service 100A19 to last 10,000 hours in a 120 volt application. I have sold these for 17 years at $2.00 ea. I can sell these now and for years to come. If I know anything at all about the lighting business, I would bet more demand for a premium product means more producers, which means competition, hence the consumer wins unless we experience TEOTWAWKI. - Blessings from D.B.C. in Minnesota

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 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

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, October 21, 2011

I'm writing to comment on something in your nonfiction book "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It": On page 206 you state: “Without proper blackout precautions, your house will be a
'come loot me' beacon that can be seen for miles at night.”I can’t stress light discipline enough. Here’s an example: About fifteen years ago my parents went to dinner at The Cougar Inn on Lake Wenatchee [in eastern Washington]. It was a dark night and on the way back from dinner they looked across the lake and saw a faint green flashing light it the vicinity of their un-lit cabin. Arriving at the cabin they found the light source for the flashing: The light that could be seen from slightly over one mile was the reflected light inside their cabin of the video cassette recorder (VCR) flashing "12:00, 12:00, 12:00."

That was one mile away. The VCR was sitting in a corner in a built–in cabinet, and not pointed directly at the window.

Don’t ever tell yourself, “Oh, it’s okay, it’s not that bad.” What’s not that bad? The act of being raped, robbed, and murdered, or the light leaks? Even the smallest light leak can be an invitation to disaster [in a grid-down situation, where all of the houses are blacked out.] - Rick B.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Having worked as a counselor in various positions, I have had the opportunity to view the system from many angles. What I am seeing scares me and should scare you too, not the type of fear that freezes you or drops you into a strong state of denial but the fear that motivates you to take close inventory of what is important in your life and causes you to initiate a plan to protect yourself and those you love.
I must have looked like an odd duck when I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor. My co-workers were left wing liberals and I am very conservative. While they ate their tofu products for lunch, I ate deer, rabbit, squirrel, or something I grew or collected myself (much to their horror). When I ate the eggs from my chickens, one of my co-workers exclaimed she would never eat an egg from a chicken as all her eggs come from the store; the same woman was working on an education degree to become an elementary school teacher with full intention of working in a public school setting.
I am seeing people from all walks of life fearing 2012.… as if the doctor diagnosed them with a terminal disease with a set number of months left to live. I see various types of reactions:
*Individuals in complete denial - asserting our system could never fail - believing there are too many programs to help people that are having difficulty. These individuals view the government as a parent with an endless bank account that can continually bail out its delinquent dependent children.
*Individuals trusting their pastors who tell them preparation is equivalent to a lack of faith because God is going to rapture the believers up right before anything bad happens.
*Individuals who realize that they should prepare but don’t want to make sacrifices with their current financial budget so they ignore what they see and write it all off as a y2k scare.
*Individuals at various levels of preparing and many that believe totally preparation is not necessary as imagining a world without electronics and electricity is beyond their comprehension.
*And there are those who are living their lives the way they want to now with the intention of taking by force what they need from those who have been diligent in preparing.
The best advice I could give is sit down with your loved ones and make sure that you completely understand each other and are on the same page. After a 4 year courtship with a man who claimed he wanted us to become self-sufficient, I found myself single again when he left after a series of tropical storms hit our area leaving much devastation. My property held - just had the minor inconvenience of no electricity which I saw as a time to test our resources. He left after the power came back on - with the belief he was running to a world that would never change… would always have the lights on… would always have stocked grocery stores and convenient marts full of gas. He ran to a place he felt he could live it up and experience all the things he was not going to willingly ever give up. He ran to his friends that call us “preppers” loony like those who called Noah nuts for building an ark in the dessert. The rain is coming folks. In fact… pun intended… it never really has stopped where I am at.
I have had some time to contemplate what happened to my failed relationship and it made me realize that he will not be the only one of us who runs. Some will run right into the arms of the enemy and gladly share what they know and where they came from. Some will jump off the cliff with the others when the SHTF. Some times we won’t be surprised at this and sometimes we will.
Make sure you are on the same page as your loved ones. Everyone has a special talent or ability that they can bring to the survival package. If things are not working now before anything catastrophic happens, then you can pretty much count on them not working at all if something happens. Change … dramatic changes… have the potential to bring out the worst in people. Panicked people can’t think and often do stupid things.
Also make a plan for how you are going to deal with all those who will not be in your immediate family/group but show up after the collapse. If you are a survivalist or prepper, you are noticed no matter how inconspicuous you try to be. We are noticed because we are different and there is nothing wrong with that. But that difference will be why they will be headed our way and not to their buddies who didn’t do anything to “weather the storm”. What is your plan to protect your own? How far will you go to accomplish that? Is everyone in your family and group on the same page with this? Figure this out now - because during a collapse, there are too many other pressing things you will be faced with you may not have anticipated.

I found out how panicked a community can become when the power went out for almost a week during tropical storm Irene. Panicked people have difficulty thinking as it is hard for the average person to imagine a world without electricity. Some basic things got my neighbors through the week once I explained how to use some basic items most people have around their homes already.

1. Garbage pails cleaned with some dish detergent or bleach can become great rain collectors to collector house water that runs from a gutter. This water can be used for bathing, cleaning, flushing toilets, and when filtered - using a coffee filter set in a strainer can be used for consumption. This water can also be boiled for those concerned with drinking filtered rain water.
2. Those cute solar lights that outline people’s driveways, walkways, gardens, etc make great indoor lanterns at night. They can be placed in a Mason jar or plastic bottle (stake down) and carried around the house or set on a table or shelf. The more sunlight available that day - the longer they will be lit at night. This not only saves batteries and candles but is a safe alternative that many people already own.
3. Use items thawed items in your freezer first. If food seems questionable it is still probably safe enough to be used as feed for dogs or cats if used right away. At my house - the saying is - nothing goes to waste. If we can’t eat it, either the cats, dogs, goats, ducks, or chickens can. The very little that is left over after that ends up in the composting bin for use as my medium for starting seeds in late winter for spring planting.
3. Restless adults, teenagers, or children can find entertainment in board games, cards, or story telling. Devastating storms don’t have to be devastating to families. This can be used as a bonding time without having to fight distractions from electronics, television, phones, etc.
4. Humor… humor…humor… Use it generously… Laugh. Depression is contagious …. But fortunately so is a positive attitude which is what you are going to need to recognize resources you already have around the house if you get caught with your pants down and did not prepare.
5. Toilets do not need to be flushed every time you use them. Flush them if someone has a bowel movement - all other times keep the lid down until the smell tells you it needs a flushing. This conserves a tremendous amount of water. Placed any used toilet paper in a lined garbage can to be burned later - clogged pipes or overflowed septic tanks can only make matter worse at this point.
6. Your hot water heater is a good source of water along with your pipes in your house when you run out of rain water you collected in a storm.
7. Bathing - collected rain water can be heated up with a gas stove, wood stove, or even a pot on your grill. What is really nice is the grills that have the burner attachment to them. Do NOT bring your grill into your home. That is dangerous. At our house we heated up enough water on our gas stove for each person to get cleaned up by a modified sponge bath accomplished by placing the heated water in a bucket in our bath tub. With a cup, we would scoop out just enough water to get our bodies wet and pour it on ourselves, then lather up, and use the rest of the water to rinse - if you use a cup you will use less water which means less waste and less time to heat up the amount of water needed. Since we were in the bath tub while accomplishing this the water and soap suds stayed where they belong.

I found that the things that concerned my neighbors the most (ones who had no survivalist prepping mindset) was eating, bathing, lighting at night, and ability to use toilets all of which I showed them can be accomplished with a few simple items they already have around their house.

Good luck with your prepping. Make it fun. Maintain your humor. Hug your loved ones frequently - well not so frequently they think you are completely nuts. If you are reading this blog then you are already concerned about what you see in the world and see that some changes need to be made to ensure long term survival. Give yourself a pat on the back for it - you are already ahead of the masses--even if you feel you have a long way to go in your preparations.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hi Jim,
I’ve been chasing some practical technologies that have proved useful to me. I hope that you find them useful as well.
As you know, power usage in an off-grid environment is a purse to be tightly controlled. After all, when you make your own, you cautiously guard it’s use.
I‘ve been using LED strings from for the past number of years at the off grid ranch and have been well pleased. 
I’ve used the warm white and the cool white and learned I like warm white inside and cool white outside.

Recently I got adventurous and toyed with the Chinese/Hong Kong manufacturers on eBay. Most of my lights use the 1157 single pole DC light sockets so that’s what I centered around. I started out with these since the US guys have already toyed around and found what they liked but, of course, their price is higher.
Then I also got the cheap Chinese ones to try out. I also found these. They work well and put out light in 360 degrees.

Next, I tried the plate style light fixture. They come with Velcro backing so you can stick them up. They work very well for overhead or desk lights or simply put into RV-style house lamps. Here are three different eBay offerings: One, Two, Three

Then I ran across a super nice floodlight, 1,000 lumens and pulls ~.6 amps. A lot of light with a very minimal current draw.
All in all, the overall current reduction has been ~80% less than I was using and the lights are comfortable and reliable.
Nice thing about putting these floodlights on the ATV and tractor is at night, I can turn off the engine and leave all the lights on and not worry if I'm going to run the battery down. 5 to 6 hours of very bright light at night and the engine always starts.

One convenient method for portable applications of the floodlights has been to use a (military) BB-2590 lithium battery (rechargeable of course) powering a single floodlight and it ran continuously for seven days.
All in all, should power go away, using the aforementioned DC lighting solutions makes life a lot more tolerable. And before that should happen, the cost of illumination is drastically reduced I hope you find an acorn or two in the foregoing that helps you.
Best Regards, - The Army Aviator

Friday, September 16, 2011

I have been a prepper most of my life.  Growing up in a foreign country is a relatively rural area everybody was a prepper by definition.   Limited services, almost no government, many subsistence farmers. I also spent a fair amount of time in the Navy doing bad things to bad people. Enough said.  

When we lost power out here in San Diego County I was almost happy!  Finally I would get to put into use some the plans that many of us have been making. Maybe that sounds bad but after lugging my bug out/bug home bag for years I actually was looking forward to using it.  Initially they said the power would be out for several days and for most areas it turned out to be much shorter.

My government job required me to stay at work long after the outage occurred but eventually I headed home. I live near a small town in the mountains in the eastern part of San Diego County so my plan was a bug in style.  I don’t have a concrete bunker with hidden escape tunnels and a gun at every window, but I do have a secluded house with excellent fields of fire, on four acres of land with an orchard and the start of a garden.   I have a good 870 shotgun, an MP5 9mm and my faithful SIG [9mm pistol].  We have a large pantry with lots of canned food and various freeze dried items.

My journey home went smoothly, I used a non-highway route that avoided heavy population areas and traffic lights, so I never got to pull out my bag (d**n it!), the small handgun sat next to me the whole way home. This small emergency was a good lesson learned and trial run for what may come further down the line.
Lessons from the blackout:
*Maintain your gas tank a half or better. With no electricity, no gas, and no ATM.  I was able to cruise home while many had to sleep in offices and in their cars because they had no gas to get home, and no way to get any.   People with bug out bags were looking very smart at that point.

*The big box stores that had generators were immediately swamped. With people looking for everything, ice, batteries, flashlights, canned food, etc.

*The more rural it got the more I witnessed people willing to help others.   In some areas outside the city, people actually pulled their barbeques into their front yards and turned the blackout in to blackout parties.   Once outside San Diego the tension in the air was almost gone.

*Most people became almost catatonic when their cell phones stopped working. Many had no idea how to leave once their primary route became a parking lot and their Smartphone could give them alternate directions.  Plan those routes now! Don’t wait until after TSHTF.

*Sometimes the bugout bag gets in the way and it ends up in the garage. Don’t make that mistake!  Keep it in your car.  I didn’t use it but knowing that it was there was almost as comforting as the small inexpensive 9mm on the passenger seat.

*Prepare your family well.  Whenever I start talking about prepping, food storage and the like my daughter would usually roll her I eyes and give me an "Oh dad!" comment. However when I did get home my daughter had turned to kitchen table into a command post!  She had candles, multiple flashlights, the crank radio and the Remington shotgun (although she couldn’t tell me what kind of shells she had loaded it with) all doors were locked and both of our large dogs were with her.
Although my preps don’t reach the level of many who read this blog, I continue to improve my condition.  I’m not moving! This is my home! I will defend it and I think that within my means I’ve got a good plan so far and it will improve it as I can.  I will continue to read this site and gleam whatever nuggets are printed.  This blog helped make a potentially long weekend into an event free ride home.

In passing, I'll add that with things under control at home I visited several people in the area to check on them and actually ran into several people on their way to check on my family.  I stopped in the small town below my mountain and our local brewery/pub was doing a great business.  The lights were out but with an abundance of preppers in the area, there were a lot of lights and lamps and the owner was taking IOUs.  This was a good test for me. I found areas that I will improve and met some like minded people.  Spending a couple of hours discussing the cause of the blackout with fellow preppers over a beverage, instead of sitting in a dark car or office proves that this stuff works. - Smokecheck

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In 2003 I lived in what can only be described as "The Hood" when Hurricane Isabel arrived. Today I find myself in a middle class neighborhood for Irene. The difference between the two and how my neighbors are handling these semi-SHTF scenarios gives a very instructive view of operational security (OPSEC) and its effects.  These two hurricanes came ashore about the same place and the same strength, but its two different worlds I have seen the aftermaths effects on.

During Isabel I lived in one of the worst sections of Virginia Beach, the sort of place that other people who claimed they were from tough parts of town gave you a wide berth. I am talking deep Hood rat territory. In one year alone half of all murders in Virginia Beach happened within walking distance of my house. I used to tell people my mortgage was cheap, but I lost the savings in ammo costs.  I lived there for ten years and integrated with the local population to some extent and frankly, there are some things to learn from the Hood for all preppers.  The number one thing is that the Hood is one of the last places in America were the residents routinely live in a condition yellow environment.

This is the neighborhood where I first learned OPSEC without knowing what it was called. A good example of this was going to get some range time in. I knew intuitively that if I let it be known that I had a collection of guns in my home I would quickly become a target to every wannabe gang member on the street. So when range time came the guns went to the trunk of the car, not in nice hard cases or rifle socks, but in laundry bags and baskets. Few people had washing machines in this neighborhood. So the sight of people carrying laundry to their car to head to the laundromat was common. If I had something nice coming into the house, new DVD player, new television, etc, it came in the same way. You never left a product box whole and put it prominently in the trash, and never put a box out to the curb. You had to keep what you had hidden or someone would get the idea to take it.

This is our first big difference between Irene and Isabel.  If I wanted to I could go and brand shop a generator for my house right this minute. I just need to drive down any of my current neighborhood streets and look at the boxes at the curb. I could compare wattages and outputs. I can see the generator running right there in the driveway with a full can of gas right next to it all shiny and new.  The moment the power went out I knew who had a generator and who did not in less than 15 minutes. They are loud, out front, and proudly displayed.  Even better, there are no street lights and I can see all these people in their houses right now with the lights shining full blast, clearly marking which rooms are occupied and which are not. In suburbia what good is living in comfort if no one can see you living in comfort? During Isabel I did not hear a single generator in the six days that my neighborhood had no power.  To run one would have been bordering on suicide.

During Isabel no one showed off what they had. Maybe someone would bring a small cooler with a couple drinks outside, but that was all you saw. In my Irene neighborhood everyone has been out front on their grills all day cooking away and drinking their beer. A neighbor down the street has been having an after party of sorts. They have several large screen televisions setup in their garage and are watching the game while their generator runs and they cook out. They have several very large coolers filled with drinks they are dipping into. In my Isabel neighborhood you would have been overrun with a mini version of the golden horde as the neighborhood came around looking for a handout, and not taking kindly to you not sharing. 

This leads us to a second difference between Isabel and Irene. When the lights went out during Isabel, and the storm was past, the neighbors all went outside and formed groups.  These groups usually represented 5 or 6 houses worth of people gathering together.  In the strictest terms you could almost call these groups gangs, but in reality they were neighborhood watches. I was lucky that my next door neighbor was a lady by the name of Miss Wanda who had several teenage kids. Miss Wanda had been shot several times and grown up in the projects so I used her as a sort of mentor and a connector to the neighborhood grapevine.  We pulled several lawn chairs and benches into the yard between our homes and this became sort of a command center for our courts neighborhood watch. Once again I want to stress nothing here was planned; this was pure instinct of people who were used to dicey situations and knew that you had to keep an eye out. These were people, who would take every dime they could from the government, but did not trust their government and fully expected to be the last to receive any form of help. People talked and visited with each other, drank, and played music but you better believe every single person who traveled those streets was verified as needing to be there and was vouched for by someone else.  The neighborhood as a whole knew who should be there and people were strongly vetted.  

Have you ever been in a bad neighborhood and been frustrated by the groups of people walking slowly in the middle of the street who won’t seem to get out of your way? Thought they were just being disrespectful didn’t you. That’s not what was going on at all. You were being vetted. Your victim status was being evaluated, your profile was being noted, and your business was being judged. Only after all of these calculations are done will the group get out of your way, or rob you, or harass you. Once you have lived on a street for a while those groups won’t even slow you down, as you approach them at speed a gap will form and you can pass by, usually with a wave and a hello. New girlfriends would always complain about this at first when they came to visit. I would always tell them to give it a few weeks and these groups would learn they were supposed to be here and they would have no more problems. This is what happened every time and they would always comment on how right I was.  I should also mention here that you should never ask for directions. There is a reason that all the street signs are either spun 180 degrees or missing. If you don’t know that "X" Lane is the second street after the apartments then you probably don’t belong there. No one gave directions by street name, it was pointless, all directions where in the form of when to turn.

The teenage children worked as a system of runners between these groups. Again no one was designated as a runner, or overtly sent on this task. Simply information was passed as the natural flow of teenagers going to visit other teenagers happened. They would stop by and questions would be asked about other parts of the neighborhood, who was home, who had what, all very casual and noted. I found out things like Meatball's sister with her three stomachs was mad because all the ice cream was melted ( I laughed so hard at this description at the time that I literally went down to one knee), who had hot water still and who didn’t, who had ice, etc. This news service was far more informative than the radio and television with their shrill hysteria. It was immediate and direct and concerned my local area. I even found out regional events on a very timely basis, like were the local FEMA depots were and what they were giving out, that there would be extra welfare checks for people who lost food because of the storm at this time and place, All of this beating the local news by several hours at the minimum.

Contrasting this with the aftermath of Irene and I get some disturbing changes. My neighbors throughout the day have been forming there little local cliques and then breaking up again, but are definitely not inclusive. Most disturbing is what I saw this night. No one is outside. Everyone is inside their homes, with the light they have plugged into their generators blasting out. They are running window unit air conditioners and have the windows closed. Meanwhile their generators are making such a racket outside I could literally run a tank platoon down my street and they would have no idea. If my Isabel neighbors decided to launch a raid to get supplies my Irene neighbors would be wiped out completely one house at a time. No one is talking, no one is coordinating. My neighbors have been kind, they have offered me lights, seeing my house is not lit up like a Christmas tree, and I can feel their pity because I do not have a generator. What they do not seem to realize is that I am doing these things by choice. My efforts at education have been rebuffed as to hard.  

If I had a chance these are the tips I would share with them, so I give them to you fellow preppers. 

  1. When a storm is coming you need to protect your windows. If you have a window break not only will you have glass flying but the structural integrity of your building is now compromised. The water getting in is the least of your worries. The wind having access below the roof can create a suction effect that will lift it off. You have to keep the wind going over your home, not into it, so it pushes down on the roof; it is very easy to create a lift effect not unlike a plane’s wing if you lose too many windows. At the minimum you should do is tape your windows. There is a lot of argument pro and con on this, but having lived through a lot of hurricanes I urge you to tape. Tape is not going to stop your neighbor’s garden gnome coming through the window at 100 MPH but what it does is give the glass more tensile strength against the windows pressure of the wind blowing on it. Also if you have double pane glass then for goodness sake tape both sides!
  2. Cover your windows if you can. The best is storm shutters, but these are actually hard to come by at this point. The next best thing is plywood. ½ inch will give you strength, but something as thin as veneer sheets will get the job done. All you want is a standoff between the windows and the windblown objects.  We are trying to avoid breakage. If you use plywood the urge to cut it into neat little sections should be avoided. At most, if you can, cut sheets in half for smaller windows. The reason for this is that after the storm large sheets can be used for repairs.  Only if the half sheets are going to offer too much edge to the wind and are not flush to the house should they be trimmed to fit.
  3. Make sure you pull all objects in your yard into a garage or they are tied down. This includes garbage cans and furniture. A storm can throw just about anything around. The time to move this stuff is not in 50 mile an hour winds. I was treated to the very amusing sight of my neighbors in the middle of the storm chasing their garbage cans down the street and all the empty beer cans spilling out of them. Bring it in or tie it down is the name of the game.
  4. Only use as much light as you need. During Irene I developed and tested a new system for lighting I like a lot. I bought some fake tea lights before the storm. These are the kind restaurants are using in place of candles these days.  They last for 60 hours off one battery and are about a dollar each. I placed these in each room I needed to navigate and they gave off enough light to find the fridge or the potty, which is all you really need, but gave almost zero light out the windows.  Next to each tea light I also set a flashlight or something similar. If I needed more light it was at hand, but most of the time I did not. The only thing I did not have that I have had before and missed has a light on a headband. In a lights out situation these are wonderful. It like having all the lights on because everywhere you look, magically it is lit up. They are excellent to read with.
  5. Prioritize using resources. You should make a list of what to use first. For this hurricane I had lots of neat gadgets designed to bug out with I never touched. I had a propane cylinder lamp and stove for example that are still in their boxes. The reason for this is I had charcoal and my tea lamps. I could not move the charcoal if I had to leave, so I used that first. I did not need the lamps light, so again it is still in reserve. My cases of MREs are still sealed because I was still going through my fridge when the power came on. Eat the items that will go bad first as the fridge heats up.
  6. Plan for long term usage of built in resources.  When wife and I heard the hurricane was coming we started making ice. We filled plastic coffee cans half full with water and froze them, we kept making ice cubes and putting them in bags until the freezer was full of ice. Then, when the power went out, we transferred some over to the refrigerator side.  I am happy to say that after two days my fridge was still at the same temperature it was when the power went out and I still had cold drinks.  The same thought went into my water heater.  I installed an 80 gallon tank in my house for this situation. During Isabel I had at least luke warm water for 6 days off of a 40 gallon heater, this time I had hot water for the duration of the outage. If I had gotten a message that tap water was contaminated I could have shutoff the valve to the heater and had 80 gallons on tap as needed. This storage capacity is the number one reason I will never have a tankless water heater in my home. I also had the ice for water and I filled all tubs with water before the storm to make sure I had plenty of clean water on hand in addition to my emergency stores bladders I had bought for SHTF scenarios.
  7. Your car is a generator and a cold room. After a hurricane it gets very humid and hot. You will be doing physical exercise clearing debris in uncomfortable temperatures and heat related illness is possible. Start your car and run the AC and cool off while you have no power. It is quick and not obvious. Make sure if you do, you maximize the gas usage by charging all your battery-operated devices. An inverter is great for this. I have one that plugs into my cigarette lighter. [JWR Adds: As I've mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, direct DC-to-DC battery chargers (available from RV accessory vendors such as Camping World) are much more efficient that using a DC-to-AC Inverter to in turn operate an AC-to DC battery charger!] Make sure the tank is full before the storm and this method can last for a long time. 

Finally I want to mention the only item I did not have I wished I did. I wanted a kayak or something similar as a final backup. We had record flooding for Irene.  At one point I could have literally launched a kayak off my front porch and not stopped paddling until I reached England. Some form of ultra-stable boating device would have given me that extra sliver of peace of mind that if the flooding got too bad, I could still leave. I would have also liked some solar panel recharging devices and these have now moved up rather sharply on my too buy list.    
With the steps I outlined for you I could have held on in my home for at least a week comfortably. After a week I might have started to dip into my long term stores.  With my on hand emergency supplies I could have gone months more, but I like the fact that with a just a little operational security and forethought I built a buffer to keep me from consuming my emergency supplies. Rings of security are a great thing, if you keep quiet about them and don’t advertise them with a blatant display of consumption.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to hold out the welfare queens, whores, and drug dealers I used to rub elbows with as examples to be emulated. I do think though that when everyone is suddenly thrust to the edges of society, it is a good idea to steal a page or two from the people who have always been there.  Wherever you are today Miss Wanda I hope you are happy and doing fine because I am. Your Stickman learned his lessons well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hi Jim,

Just bought a bunch of these 'underwater' solar floodlights, from Northern Tool:

Sunforce Solar Powered Underwater LED Floodlight, Item# 121178

They are very bright for a single LED and they will stay on until dawn if they get a full day's charge. The light is more of a spot light and is better than most flashlights being able to light up over 60 feet away fairly well.

These are great for low maintenance perimeter lighting and [unlike typical solar pathway lights,] are waterproof. Their batteries are NiMH AA cells and are replaceable. The lights plug into the panel with a standard DC barrel connector. They have both stake and screw mounts for all sorts of mounting options.

They are currently on clearance for $19 and won't last long. They are a great deal at this price. - SBReader

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This experience was thought-provoking, and many of D.M.L.’s ideas were interesting.  But there were two ideas that have not been tested or proven, so at this point they are only ideas.  First, J-B Weldwill not repair a cracked Briggs & Stratton two piece fuel tank.  They are made of black HDPE, and there is no proper glue for that.  I have personal experience with this.  HDPE is heat welded when two pieces must be joined.  You have to determine your Briggs & Stratton model number and order a replacement gas tank from  I got mine for my Briggs & Stratton 6.0 hp Quantum engine for about $31 and it came in only three days. [JWR Adds: This underscores the importance of regular maintenance and starting up you backup generator under load, monthly. That is the only sure way to be 99% sure that your genset will start on the first pull and run smoothly, when disaster strikes.]

Second, the pump on an old Coleman white gas stove usually has a leather gasket in it that dries out so it won’t seal.  Use a pliers to pry off the C-ring and disassemble the pump.  Massage some vegetable oil into the leather gasket to fluff up the leather and put it back together.  Be careful and don’t put the leather gasket in up side down.  Usually the pump will work unless it was so bad it was cracked.  Don’t use motor oil on leather; it will deteriorate.  Like D.M.L., I used to rely on my Coleman stove and lanterns for emergencies, but I got tired of rehabilitating those leather gaskets.  I found a [Chinese] propane canister stove at 99 Ranch Market for $15 with 8 oz propane canisters for $1. I picked up ten of the canisters.  Your local Asian market should carry them.  This setup is very highly reviewed on, which also stocks them. 

I love your blog.  I’d like to contribute when I can. - R.E.R. in San Diego

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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

While reading the very informative article "Re: Some Observations on Non-Electric Lighting" and the response letter, I thought that it might be of interest to SurvivalBlog readers to know of another source of good brass lanterns and wicks. 

I have bought several brass lanterns over the years from Vermont Lanterns, including a couple of discounted and "scratch and dent" models. They are of very high quality, all brass, imported from India, though marketed by a family business in Vermont.  The company sells spare globes and wicks for each of their models, as well.  A bit more expensive than the typical stamped steel lanterns (that rust and sometimes leak) typically found in big box stores and on-line, they are nevertheless worth the extra cost, at least to me. For those so inclined, see:

Also, I have bought high quality wicks for both lanterns and kerosene heaters from Miles Stair's Wick Shop. The products are reasonably priced and the site is very informative about types, quality, construction of wicks, maintenance and types of kerosene lamps and globes, and has good description of the composition, use, and maintenance of kerosene fuel. See:

(I have no financial interest in these companies, other than to have patronized them.)

Thanks for the great blog. - T.D. in West Virginia

JWR Replies: The best source that I have found for inexpensive lamp wicking in fairly large quantity is to buy it by the yard or by the roll, via eBay.


James Wesley:
IKEA offers solar hanging lamp, table lamp and desk lamp.  Here is one example.

Other than it is a safe and modern looking, it is cordless which adds flexibility to your placement. The lamp can be charged during the day, even on a cloudy day by a window, and functions well at night.   Regards, - Frances

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ron B. presented some good information in his post, "Re: Some Observations on Non-Electric Lighting"; however, I would like to make a correction and several additions.  He states, "everything that burns gives off carbon monoxide" and then goes on to list several items, none of which give off  [any significant] Carbon Monoxide (CO) if they are functioning properly and are operating with adequate ventilation.  CO is produced [in detectable amounts] only when there is incomplete combustion due to low oxygen or a temperature. too low for complete combustion.  Cigarettes, Cigars, and Incense are designed to operate with incomplete combustion and do not burn, but instead smolder, producing smoke and CO.  Open flames like a birthday candle  produce mostly CO2 and water vapor.  I would point out that all modern combustion appliances contain (or should contain) an oxygen sensor, which will shut off the device long before the oxygen is low enough to produce CO.

On the vegetable oil lamps, or any liquid fuel lamp instead of using cotton, a fiberglass wick works well and is nearly maintenance free.  We had an old Kerosun heater that came with a cotton wick that needed to be trimmed a few times per heating season and replaced every few years.  We spent a little extra money and replaced it with a fiberglass wick that operated maintenance free for years.  A search of "fiberglass wick" brings up numerous suppliers with wicks for most equipment and uses.

Finally, I would like to put in a good word for the Aladdin kerosene mantle lamp.  These are mentioned in passing toward the end of the article, but I personally think they should be place high on the list for consideration.  They will burn 12 hours on a quart of lamp oil or kerosene, produce a bright white light output equivalent to that of a 60-75 watt incandescent bulb, and produce about 3,000 BTU per hour of heat.  The heat may be an issue in the summer, but can take the chill off of the room in the winter.  These lamps are a little expensive, but in my opinion, well worth the money.  I have a half dozen of them we keep ready for emergencies, and they are used by all of the local Amish, which is where I first learned about them more than 30 years ago. - L.V.Z. in Ohio

Monday, August 22, 2011

I began work in Toronto on August 1, 2003.  The lights went out three weeks later.  The entire Northeast was dark for several days.

The company had provided us with three months of free housing.  By my standards it was quite posh ¾ pool privileges, chandeliers, weekly maid service. 

But we knew nobody, had little food in the cupboard, and no local currency.  (Then again the cash registers didn’t work anyway.)  When the sun went down it got dark and stayed dark.  We had no light of any kind.  Granted, the two huge candlesticks on the mantle were a blessing, though some candles for them would have been nice.

Afterwards, my wife confessed how close she had been to begging:  “Let’s go home.  I’m scared.  I don’t care about the job.  I don’t care about the money.  Let’s get the hell out of here.” 

Fear of the dark is both primitive and powerful.

I later retired and began work on a book entitled:  No Lights?  No Batteries?  No Problem.  A Handbook of Non-Electric Lighting.  After three years of research and hundreds of “science experiments,” I submitted a book proposal to a publisher.

They kept my chapters three months and sent me a very nice rejection letter.  It began to dawn on me (at age 71) that there were not enough months left in my life to locate a publisher.  No doubt I’ll self-publish electronically at some point but in the meantime I’d like to share some of my findings.  I wish I’d known this stuff myself in 2003.

Everything that burns consumes oxygen.  So be sure to crack a window and provide ventilation. 

Also, everything that burns gives off carbon monoxide: your gas range, your KeroSun heater with catalytic converter, your gas clothes dryer, your boudoir incense, your wood stove, your kerosene lamp, your fireplace, the candles on your birthday cake.

As a check to see that it’s working, the directions for my carbon monoxide detector suggest bringing a stick of burning incense close to the detector.  Wow!  The detector screams!  A very impressive demo!

Vegetable oil lamps are less expensive than candles to burn.  One tablespoon of vegetable oil will produce a candle-sized flame for two hours.  Cooking oil has been burned in lamps since Biblical times.       

You can use a tuna fish can to hold the oil but a clear glass container allows more light to escape.  It should be Pyrex; a wine glass is the perfect shape but will probably break (trust me on this).  You can buy small Pyrex custard dishes at the Salvation Army store for 50¢ each.  They have brand names like Glasbake and Fire-King.

Soak a length of cotton string in the oil and let it dangle over the edge of the bowl.  That’s your wick.  Light the wick with a match.  The flame burns right at the lip of the bowl.

Do not use synthetic material for a wick (polyester, nylon, etc.).  Oil is drawn to the flame by capillary action.  Synthetics melt in the heat of the flame and seal off the capillary action.

The best wick material I’ve found (for heavy, viscous vegetable oil) is a strand from a cotton-string floor mop.  Actually, a whole strand is too much.  Just one of the four plies within the strand will do the job.

String mop-heads can be purchased at the Dollar Store.  For a buck you’ll have a lifetime supply of wicks.  An edge seam from your handkerchief will also work.  Ditto for a strip of your flannel pajamas or flannel shirt or denim from your jeans.  Just nothing synthetic.

You can dangle several wicks over the side of the bowl and light all of them at the same time.  That’s a nice arrangement because, when one of the wicks builds up a big carbon goober on the end, it can be cleaned off by the light of the still-burning wicks.

The string lamp is very safe because vegetable oil is fiendishly difficult to ignite.  If you spill vegetable oil, you’ll create a mess but no fire hazard.  In fact, a string lamp is best extinguished by pushing the burning wick right into the oil.  The flame will go out instantly.  (If you merely blow out the flame, the wick will glow and smolder and stink.)   

TIP:  Put a saucer under your string lamp.  It will drip. 

TIP:  Use the least expensive vegetable oil available.  You’re not going to eat it; you’re going to burn it. So don't buy olive oil for this purpose.  

TIP:  The generous use of mirrors will enhance your light output.   

The terms “lamp” and “lantern” are almost interchangeable although a lamp is generally used inside whereas a lantern is used outside.  A lantern shields the flame from wind and rain.

A crude but serviceable lantern can be made by pouring a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of Pyrex measuring cup or a pot from your Mr. Coffee.  (A cup or jar made from ordinary glass will break for sure using this design, no “maybe” about it.) 

Wad up a 2" x 2" square of paper, light the paper with a match, and drop the burning clump into the oil.  Voila!  A lantern.  The flame is down inside the container, shielded from the wind.  The paper serves as a wick.  And a wide range of paper can be used ¾ paper toweling, newspaper, bond paper, paper bag.

The bottom becomes very hot.  You’ll need a trivet under it.  In the case of a measuring cup, the handle becomes very hot.  You will need a potholder or gloves to carry it.  You cannot regulate the flame size so the lantern will smoke, making it suitable for outdoors use only.  After half an hour the glass will become smoked up. 

On the plus side, it will light your way to the privy and back at midnight. And, like the string lamp, should you spill this lantern, the vegetable oil will create a mess but the fire hazard is very small.

This idea came from a booklet entitled Light by Dawn Russell. 

You’ll need:
(1) A candle (i.e. a taper, not a tea candle).
(2) A 3-pound coffee can (well . . . today it’s 2½ lbs.)  And make it a metal can, if you please.  Not plastic and not paper sprayed with an aluminum coating.
(3) A wire coat hanger (for a handle).

We’ll operate the flashlight with the can on its side, not eye-to-the-sky.   What served as the can’s bottom when it held coffee becomes the back wall of the flashlight.     

In use, the candle is vertical while the can is horizontal.  The top of the candle sticks up through (what has become) the floor of the flashlight.  The flame is at the top of the candle and inside the can.  The candle’s bottom end protrudes down through the floor and hangs under the flashlight.  Hence you can’t set the flashlight down; it must be carried or hung on a peg. 

NOTE:  In case you can’t visualize it from my description, the following link shows a picture of the candle flashlight as well as the string lamp and the vegetable oil lantern:

To build the flashlight, first remove the top of the coffee can (and the coffee, too, may I add).  Then cut an X in the can wall, midway between the two ends.  Each arm of the X should be an inch long.  Push a candle partway through the X and into the can.  The points of the X become spurs holding the candle in place. 

To cut the X, first punch a hole through the can wall with a nail and hammer.  Then cut the metal with a utility knife.  (Cans aren’t very thick these days.)  Use a sawing motion.  Some strength is required.

A piece of wire coat hanger forms a handle.  Punch two holes in the top of the flashlight (the “top” being the roof over the flame).  One of the holes is at the rear of the flashlight; the other in the front. 

Push the wire into one of the holes (from the outside) and, with pliers, crimp the end of the wire inside the flashlight to form a foot that will not pull back through the hole.  Bend the wire as necessary and repeat the process on the second hole.

A 2½ lb. coffee can is 6" in diameter.  I allow 4" of headspace between the top of the candle and the flashlight’s ceiling.  It works well.

There is not much to be said about [traditional wick] kerosene lamps (the $6 variety from Dollar General).  They are simple, reliable, and reasonably safe.  And smelly.  They give light equivalent to a 7½-watt nightlight.  Ditto for Dietz-type barn lanterns.  If you want more light than that (ignoring antiques such as Rayos), you’ll have to enter the world of pressure lanterns.

There’s one exception, the Kosmos.  It’s made in Europe, burns kerosene, and outputs light in the 15-watt range.  But it costs $100.  Before you buy, may I suggest a cost-benefit comparison to a propane pressure lamp...

Lamps that run on small cylinders of propane represent one type of pressure lantern.  The cylinders are pre-filled with fuel in contrast to liquid-fuel lanterns that are messy to fill. 

A single-mantle propane lamp (Century brand) is $20 at Wal-Mart.  It will produce light equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb.  One cylinder of fuel ($4) will last 12 hours.  That’s a run rate of 33¢ an hour which is a fairly steep.  But because no filling is required (and thus no spills) and because there is no smell while burning, propane lamps have largely replaced liquid-fuel lanterns within the camping community. 

Note that the cylinders used in camping lanterns, and the skinnier cylinders used for Bernz-O-Matic soldering torches, and the 20 lb. cylinders used on barbeque grills, and the 200 lb. cylinder behind the house for the kitchen stove, all contain propane.  And it’s all the same stuff, C3H8.  You can buy adaptors to hook up your little camping lantern to a bigger tank.

Liquid-fuel lanterns are less expensive to operate than propane.  Unfortunately, pressure lamps that run on white gas belong to granddad’s era and not many people today understand the technology.  A little bit of homework, though, will help ensure your family’s safety.  So let’s have at it.

Oil refining is a two-stage affair.  First, distillation breaks crude oil into five major fractions:  refinery gases, gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, and residues.

After fractional distillation comes cracking.  The world’s thirst for gasoline is bigger than fractional distillation can satisfy.  Cracking breaks down heavy oil into lighter products.

White gas is (and was) pure gasoline with no additives.  It is clear as water and 50 octane.  The Model “T” Ford, with its 4.5:1 compression ratio, ran fine on white gas.  So did Coleman lanterns.

Better auto performance required higher compression engines.  Higher compression required higher-octane gas.  Tetra-ethyl lead was added to white gas to increase its octane rating.  A bit of red dye was also added so that consumers didn’t accidentally pump the old-fashioned 50-octane stuff, now called white, into their cars. 

White gas at the pump became hard to find but Coleman lanterns still needed it.  Coleman began selling white gas branded as “Coleman fuel.”

Leaded gas is no more.  It poisoned people and was phased out 1975-1995.  But “unleaded” does not mean “no additives.”  Unleaded means different additives.  No additives would put you back to 50 octane.

Today, Coleman sells “Dual Fuel” lanterns that are billed as running on either Coleman fuel or unleaded automobile gas. 

I was surprised to discover that my new Coleman Dual Fuel 285 produced light equivalent to a 150-watt light bulb on Coleman fuel but only equivalent to 100 watts on automobile gas. 

Would auto gas plug the lantern’s generator (as some claimed)?  I decided to find out.

Day 1.  The 285 started out (on auto gas) at 100 watts.  I kept it pumped up hard.  Eight hours later it had faded to 40 watts.  At nine hours it was almost empty.

Day 2.  It started out at 100 watts.  Six hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 3.  It started out at 100 watts.  Three hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 4.  It started out at 40 watts.  Total hours at 100 watts (actually, 40 watts or more) were seventeen.

Day 5.  I switched back to white gas.  Light output was 75 watts, half of what it had been prior to running automobile gas.  Auto gas had clogged the lantern’s generator.  A new generator was $11.49 plus postage:

Aside.  The term generator might sound complicated but a “steam jenny” was a generator.  Jenny was slang for generator.  A steam jenny generated steam.  A teakettle is a steam jenny.

And the generator for a Coleman lantern is little more than a length of brass tubing.  Liquid fuel enters one end.  A check valve stops it from reversing direction.  Heat is applied to the outside of the tube.  The liquid inside the tube turns to a gas.  Gas (in the “solid-liquid-gas” sense of things) has been generated from a liquid.

Question.  Will older Coleman lanterns, engineered for white gas, run on unleaded automobile gas?  Yes.  Safely?  Yes.  Will automobile gas slowly clog the lantern’s generator?  Yes.  Did I personally test it?  Yes.  Why didn’t they advertise the old lanterns as “dual-fuel”? 

Why?  Because the auto gas of that era contained lead.  Not good for baby’s little brain.

An “orphan” is a lamp for which you cannot find spare parts.  An otherwise perfect lamp without the necessary wick or mantle or pump leather is effectively junk.  And when, exactly, is that critical part going to fail?  When the water’s five feet high and risin’.  It’s a law of nature.

[With the exception of Diesel fuel,] kerosene is the least expensive liquid fuel ($3.75 a gallon versus $10.50 for Coleman fuel).  If you want a pressure lantern that runs on kero, your choices are a used Coleman 237, a used Coleman 639, a new Coleman 214, or a new Coleman 639C.  You can find these lanterns on eBay and spare parts at Coleman.  Everything else in the Coleman kerosene lineup is an orphan.

(Petromax is a non-Coleman lantern that burns kerosene and for which spare parts are available.)

Older Colemans that run on white gas and for which spare parts are readily available include the 220, the 228, and the 200A.  Other older Colemans are orphans.

Other older brands (J.C. Higgins and Ted Williams from Sears; Hawthorne and Western Field from Wards; Thermos; KampLite; Diamond; etc., etc., etc.) are orphans. 

Even new lanterns can be orphans.  Today, NorthStar is Coleman’s top-of-the-line lantern but requires a unique pleated, tubular mantle.  No other lantern has it or can use it ¾ domestic or foreign, new, used, or antique.  I own several lanterns but, because of its unique orphan mantle, not a NorthStar.

This is a hot-button topic.

Pressure lanterns require mantles.  Mantles are made of cloth coated with a rare earth that glows in the heat of the flame and produces more light than the flame itself.

Thorium was the rare earth used in lamp mantles from the 1890s to the 1990s.  Thorium, however, is slightly radioactive.  Thorium has been largely replaced with yttrium, another rare earth that is not radioactive.  The new yttrium mantles are not as bright as the old thorium mantles. 

So how radioactive is radioactive?

A “Roentgen equivalent man” (abbreviated rem) is a measure of radiation.  A millirem (abbreviated mrem) = 1/1000 rem.  Background radiation is about one mrem per day in most parts of the world.

One dental X-ray is equivalent to 0.5 mrem.  One mammogram is equivalent to 300 mrem.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that “avid campers” (making 26 two-day camping trips per year, using Coleman-type lanterns with thorium mantles) receive 0.05 to 6 mrem per year.

Let’s express the foregoing in more familiar units, Dollars: Background radiation is $1 per day.  A dental X-ray is 50¢.  A mammogram is $300.  An “avid camper” would receive between 5¢ and $6 per year from thorium mantles.

Today’s Coleman mantles are the #21 and the #11.  They replaced the 21A Silk-Lite and the #1111 respectively (which were the old thorium mantles). 

The #21 mantle is used on Coleman’s new Dual Fuel lanterns as well as Coleman’s older gas models (220, 228, 200A) as well the Coleman 214 (kerosene).  The #11 mantles are used on Coleman’s larger kerosene lanterns (237, 639, 639C).

Personally, I use the #21 mantle on my Petromax 150CP (i.e. 150 candlepower) and the #11 mantle on my 500CP Petromax.  Petromax is a brand of lantern to be discussed next. 

I’ve given up on Petromax-brand mantles because they are too fragile.  With all the finesse I can muster, I usually break them when starting the lantern.  At $2 apiece, it’s an expensive game.  Fortunately, however, Coleman mantles work fine on a Petromax lantern.  As a consequence, I use only Coleman mantles on my Petromaxes.

I used to have a friend at work who pulled into the parking lot each day in his clanking Volkswagen diesel.  He would get out, shaking his head.  “When you go to the dealer, they brag about German engineering.  They neglect to mention that it’s built in Mexico.”

Petromax lanterns are like that. 

The Petromax was a German, WWI-era lantern.  Its patents have long since expired so it is freely copied by everyone.  The Petromax trademark is another story.  The original trademark lapsed and was reregistered by other sellers.  In the USA, BriteLyt in Florida currently owns it.  Other countries, other owners.

In the USA, Coleman is the big name.  But worldwide, many more Petromax lanterns exist than Coleman.  Petromax’ brothers, sisters, cousins, and clones include BriteLyt, Butterfly, Anchor, Sea Anchor, Tower, Santrax, Egret, Solex (Italy), Aida, Geniol, Hipolito (Portugal), Primus, Optimus (Sweden), Radius (Sweden), Hasag (Switzerland), Buflam-Petroflam (England), Big Wheel, Light, Red Heart, Silverray, Crown (Iraq), Kohinoor (India), Wenzel (Sam’s Club), Prabhat (India), and Col-Max (USA).  Col-Max?  Yes, just before WWII Coleman made a Petromax clone for export, intended to compete directly with Petromax itself.  

All of which testifies to the excellence of the original Petromax design.

Many of these brands are no longer manufactured (although most appear on eBay from time to time).  All of the new ones (of whatever trademark including Petromax itself) are made in the Far East and any given factory produces several different brands.  Unfortunately, it’s nearly universal that the tooling is worn, threads are rounded and don’t hold, holes don’t line up, pumps don’t pump, and prickers don’t prick.  I feel certain that few if any would meet the old-time Petromax specs.

Advertising hype notwithstanding, if you Google for BriteLyt or Butterfly or Sea Anchor you will discover a whole new world of bitching.  The best advice I can give is to buy a Petromax only where you can return it!  You may have to go through several lanterns before you find a good one.

Why bother?  Because Petromax lanterns will burn diesel fuel with today’s yttrium mantles.  Coleman lanterns won’t. 

In 2006, a contributor to The International Guild of Lamp Researchers said, “the Petromax can be used with diesel - at least for five or six hours (or so, depending on the quality of the fuel). After that time you will most probably find the generator clogged with a coal-like substance . . .:  (ref. question #3644)

Sorry, but that statement is an example of armchair science.  I ran my 500CP Petromax for 50 consecutive hours on diesel.  The generator (Preston loop) was clear before, during, and after the test, ready for another 50 hours. 

The Petromax is a kerosene lantern.  There’s a running war between The International Guild of Lamp Researchers and BriteLyt on the safety of burning gasoline in a BriteLyt.  BriteLyt says you can.  The Guild says you can’t.

There are reported cases of Petromax lanterns “exploding” when run on gasoline.  Neal McRae best covers the design issues.

I have to side with The Guild on this one because, in addition to design issues, there’s the poor workmanship so widespread in today’s Petromax lanterns. 

For example, I own a BriteLyt that will not turn off when run on gasoline.  I returned this lantern when it was brand new to BriteLyt in Florida because of the incredible quantity of gunk in the fuel tank.  They sent it back to me a month later, all better.  

Now, with the control valve in the OFF position, the lantern continues to burn.  It will not shut completely off.  (To my mind, this is a factory workmanship issue more than a Petromax design issue.)

The only way to turn the lantern off is to crack the thumb screw on the filler cap and release pressure . . . thereby releasing flammable gasoline vapor mere inches away from a burning mantle.  Not safe!  (That practice may be acceptable with kerosene ¾ the Coleman 241, for example, a kerosene lantern, was designed that way ¾ but it is decidedly unsafe with gasoline.)

So . . .  Can you burn gasoline in a Petromax and get away with it?  Sure.  Can you pump gasoline while smoking a cigarette and get away with it?  Sure.  Now riddle me this:  Is it a smart thing to do? 

This article is only the tip of the iceberg.  We haven’t touched on mineral spirits or burning fluid or animal fat as fuel.  Or Rayos or Duplexes or Aladdins.  Or carbide miner’s lamps or candle-making or lantern repairs or a host of other topics.  But I hope it gives you some light and I hope it helps keep you safe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not own any stock in any company mentioned in this article.  Nor do I own stock in any competitor of any company mentioned in this article. JWR Adds: Here is my own disclaimer (per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, none of my advertisers that sell the products mentioned in this article have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I am not a stock holder in any company. I do, however, benefit from sales through the SurvivalBlog Amazon Store. If you click on one of our Amazon links and then "click through" to order ANY product from (not just the ones listed in our catalog), then we will earn a modest sales commission.

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 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

Monday, August 1, 2011

James Wesley:
In follow-up to the mention of lights and headlamps in The Will to Act: Your Ultimate Bug-out Kit by R.B., I just thought I'd add that Fenix makes an excellent head mounting system for 1" lights. It is a quality item, very good indeed.  What plastic headlamp is going to keep up with a 200 lumen light (or two), such as their equally excellent and very stout 2xAA-powered LD20?

I have a handful of high-end Petzl headlamps, and while they're very nice items, they fall rather short in output, durability, water resistance, and ultimately versatility to this setup.  If I could have only one system, this would be my choice.

Sincerely, - Stan S.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Most of us are accustomed to having safe, easy, instant access to electricity. After a disaster electrical power is low on the hierarchy of needs.  On the other hand, avoiding electricity may become a priority.  Damp clothes and wet, lacerated skin make us much more vulnerable to electrocution.  By definition, improvised or post disaster grid power won’t be as safe as we’re used to today.   After a disaster, electricity becomes an elemental threat that can kill you dead if you miscalculate.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to prepare a bastion with solar and generator power, do a good job now and you won’t have to worry later. Many of us don’t have the means to make this choice, and will instead make do with a combination of bugging out or bugging in.  What follows are my suggestions gained from experience doing off grid solar work in the Third World, disaster relief and maintaining remote scientific equipment.  I am not a licensed electrician.

If you find yourself needing AC power in a location you haven’t prepared, or your existing environment has suddenly changed for the wetter and worse and you want to improvise a solution, stop!  Turn off AC breakers and avoid AC power until you have the time and mental space to make sure things are done right. In the mean time, if you've prepared, an affordable toolbox-sized 12 volt DC power system can keep you in charged AA batteries, light and radio communications. It is possible to hurt yourself with a low voltage system, but the starting risks are much lower than with 120 VAC. You’ll also have the benefit of traveling with a system you prepared and know you can rely on. Home Power magazine's web site and the Internet have plenty of advice for building portable DC photovoltaic (PV) power systems, so I’ll cover aspects unique to this audience. The product links are examples rather than specific product recommendations.

Must-Have Tools

Multimeters help make safe improvisation possible.  You can buy a simple meter for AC/DC Volt-Ohm meter for around $5 on eBay and not much more at a local Radio Shack. Used ones will work fine. Buy a stack of them, so that you can afford mistakes and to allow for wear and tear on their test leads. Older analog panel [pivoting needle] volt meters that don’t need a battery are more repairable, but less protected against humidity and drops.

Splicing Wires 
Plan A is to buy a butane powered soldering iron and learn to solder. Learn how from YouTube or at First practice getting two wires to stay connected and how to solder a wire to a copper pad. That will cover most of the repairs or modifications you may need to do.  12 volt and A-battery powered soldering irons exist, but a butane soldering iron has consistently worked best for me outdoors.  

Plan B is to stock up on [solderless] splicing hardware.  For temporary work, I prefer Euro style terminal connector blocks. These are fully insulated devices that let you securely join two wires using a flat blade screwdriver. They’re hard to use incorrectly. Wire nuts work too, but be sure stock up on tape to use with them.   A cheap and sturdy screw driver spice for larger wire can be found in your hardware store as a “well pipe waterproof splice kit”.  If you need waterproofing and strain relief, then wrap the wire in self-fusing silicone tape. This tape stores well for several years in Ziploc bags or in a heat sealed plastic.

Strongly Recommended Tools
At some point you’ll need a tool that requires a 17.1 volt proprietary battery.  DC-DC switching converters are the solution for using a standard battery with this tool.   Most readers have used an adapter to drop a 12 volt battery down to something safe for a cell phone or radio. Older models got very hot to the touch, as they converted excess voltage (and half of the precious watts) into heat. Newer models use a “Buck Converter” which can be more than 90% efficient.  If you need to get from a pair of AA batteries to 5 volts, you need a “Boost Converter” to increase the voltage.  Some circuit designs combine the two. A “Buck/Boost” allows 9-16 volt input to produce a constant 12 volts output.  The catch is that Buck and Boost converters require the output to be 1-3 volts different from the Input. So you may not be able to get from 12 volts to 11. Buck/Boost circuits tend to allow a smaller input range, and usually handle fewer watts than comparable dedicated Buck or Boost circuits. 

Commercial DC/DC products exist, but tend to require small proprietary parts too easily lost in an emergency. I recommend buying parts used for industrial prototyping. These tend to be made in China using the exact reference specifications of the DC-DC chip maker.  Look for models that allow a screwdriver to change the output voltage, and if possible, allow you to set the output current (this reduces the number of fuses required). Well-built models include heat sinks, potting/ plastic to protect the circuit, and ideally screw terminals for the inputs and outputs. I’ve had good luck with models from Keywords to look for on eBay or other sites are LM2577 (boost) and  LM2596 (buck). With a current limiting Boost converter and a multimeter, you could permanently power that 17.1 volt device directly from a 12 volt solar panel or a handful of double AA batteries.

Fuses exist to reduce the risk to you and to equipment you won’t be able to replace in an emergency.  This includes things like wires we now take for granted.  For DC systems, put fuses at the battery, between strings of batteries, and on the cord of every item you can’t replace. Put fuses between the solar panel and the power plug used to connect it to the charge controller. ATC automotive blade type fuses have many advantages:  They’re easy to use, water resistant holders are cheap, and you can get them in a wide variety of amperages down to 1 amp.  ATC form- factor circuit breakers are available.  Standardize and stock up, particularly on the small sizes that make debugging short circuits safer for your equipment.

Obtain several microprocessor-controlled DC-powered chargers for AA batteries. You’ll want the ability to charge just one AA or handfuls at the same time.  

Nice to haves:
For circuits below 1 amp, manufacturers use cylindrical glass fuses in too many different sizes. Whenever possible I avoid them by switching to a self-resetting fuse called a Polymeric Positive Temperate Coefficient (PPTC) thermistor. These devices get hot and trip like a circuit breaker when there’s a problem. After power is removed, the PPTC will cool down and reset.  You can buy radial  PPTCs from or for about 40 cents each. If you're very lucky, there's a local electronics supply or television repair shop selling them near you.  PPTCs can be used in parallel, but may not be appropriate in very hot or cold conditions.

Many SurvivalBlog readers have already discovered Anderson Power Pole connectors. By combining colors and polarization you can make a DC power system that’s hard to assemble incorrectly. I use yellow and black connectors for the solar panel to the charge control, then red and black for the charge control to battery. I use color beside black to mean 12 volts. With 5 volts I use violet and place the color above black. This looks different and is impossible to plug into 12 volts.  This is not the Anderson standard, but I try to use polarization for things that would be disastrous to plug together, and colors for reminders that are protected by a fuse and can wait until I have a light.  

Buy an older copy of the book Illustrated Guide to the National Electrical Code (NEC). You may never need it, but a used copy is less than $10, and you’ll have the answers.  Mirrors of and the John Wiles Code Corner would also be useful.

Thanks to car culture, there is a wide choice of waterproof 12 volt LED light strips.  I find that most of these crack and fail within a few years. I’ve found the UV-stabilized strip lighting for ponds seems to wear better.

A non contact voltage tester like a Fluke AC Non-Contact Voltage Testeris handy today, and could be a lifesaver when testing if pipes or other unexpected items are electrified.  A ubiquitous receptacle tester is a more simple way to do the most useful AC checks around a house.

The last and most optional part is a DC watt meter like the "Watt's Up". These devices measure voltage and current, but also keep track of watt hours used. Track the power put into your battery by day to know your power ration at night.

Saving your life with a multi-meter
Fallen and flooded power lines are obvious threats, but there are two subtle AC power problems likely to increase after an emergency: poorly installed systems and grounding issues.  The good news is that checking for these problems is fast and simple.  You may not have the luxury of fixing things, but you can quickly leave or reduce your risks.  

The normal NEMA ("surprised face" style) North American wall outlet has three wires: The tall slot is the neutral wire, the short slot is the hot wire and the round one is a ground.  If you look at a light bulb socket, the outside rim is the neutral, and the inner dot the hot wire.  Modern appliances will have the outside metal shell connected to ground.

If everything is built to code, back at your circuit panel, the neutral wire is connected to the ground line and a big copper spike in the earth.  This makes sure that when you stand on a wet floor and touch the outside of a light bulb socket, the neutral line will have a better connection to the earth than your body and you won’t get shocked (as badly).

In practice, people frequently wire things backwards so that the outside of the light is hot and your body is the best path to ground. This is particularly common on cheap generators that require some assembly.  Dangerous inside a dry room, but suicidal outside after a hurricane.

Having multiple connections to ground can be dangerous. A common example is a site between two widely spaced generators or long extension cords between houses. Under the wrong circumstances, simply touching both grounding wires can give you a shock, and touching the ground from one and neutral from the other is likely to be fatal.  The fast fix is to remove all connections to one power source from your area. All other solutions are more complicated, requiring study and spare equipment you might not have.

To find out if you have a wiring problem, first pause and reflect if you can test a socket without increasing your risk and if you are certain you can test without your body becoming part of an electrical circuit. If so, use a receptacle tester or follow your multimeter’s instructions to measure AC voltage. There should be roughly 120 volts between neutral and hot.  If it’s down around 90 and you’re using a lot of power, someone probably disabled a circuit breaker and your risk is higher. If there’s .05 or zero volts you probably don’t have a real ground spike connection.  This is common with inverters.  If there are 90+ volts between neutral and ground, measure hot to ground. The circuit is probably installed backwards.

If there are more than 2-3 volts between neutral and ground in an average house, there had better be a good reason. Sadly, there are both legitimate reasons and dangerous reasons, which is why we have electricians and the NEC. The danger increases with the voltage. Above 5 volts, you almost certainly aren’t getting the protection you and your equipment want.

Finally, measure voltage between the plug ground and water pipes or other metal things that are likely to connect to the ground. If you might have two sources of power, measure the voltage between ground plug holes.  Anything above 2-3 volts between grounds is cause for concern.

You now know if the outlet is good, gray area, or obviously bad.  Your safety is up to you. Reflect if near this outlet is likely to get more dangerous (wetter).  Avoid combinations of temporary electricity and any existing plumbing or electrical infrastructure.  Set up the generator powered radio out of reach of the sink and tape over the nearby wall plug.  Put one hand behind your back before flipping circuit breakers, touching new appliances or testing circuits.  This is all common sense, but many of us have to unlearn decades of being lucky breaking the rules. The AC checks show if your environment is really as normal as it seems.  

Photovoltaic Power for the Bug Out Bag
There are four problems to overcome: Getting enough watts from the sun, building something that travels well, keeping it affordable, and having it work when you need it.  

There are some great looking solar chargers that would fit in a normal bug-out bag. Most of them tend to be fragile, non repairable, and have about 5 watts of solar power. When combined with bad weather and poor solar tracking (lashed to a backpack), this frequently isn’t enough to keep up with the demands of flashlights. 

I favor 20 watts in a more luggable 25 pound system using standard parts. I can’t carry it at a dead run, but it travels well by car or bike and I can take it to a new house if need be. Most important, one sunny day can get me several days of power.

Smaller panels cost more than larger ones and need more mounting hardware to be useful.   Unbreakable panels cost 2-4 times more, so I’ve chosen to buy more  breakable panels as spares and trade goods.  Right now the best value /portability compromise is a 20 watt glass panel with a surface measuring about 2 feet by 1 foot. Sandwiching between pegboard and foam insulation protects them. Look for UL-listed panels, since that filters out the most dodgy imports. Using 10 watt panels does allow a wider choice of luggage, so decide if you want cheap containers or cheap panels.

Flexible solar panels are designed to curve around boat decks, not be stuffed into a backpack. I haven’t tried the $400 military models, but the affordable thin film folding designs tend to quickly wear out at the folds and are impossible to repair if pinched. Thin film requires much more surface area per watt.  Since I have to protect the panels anyway, I’ll stick with crystalline ones.

Rigid panels have a second advantage: they’re easier to point at the sun. Tack a nail straight into a flat scrap of wood. Point the nail head at the sun. When the shadow disappears, match the solar panel’s angle to the wood’s. Paying attention and tracking the sun increases your power by 20-50%. A small tracked panel can exceed the output of a larger floppy panel on the ground.

Panels have to be visible to the sky, above grass and not shadowed by bushes. This makes OPSEC difficult, particularly in northern latitudes where the panels must be near vertical.  Camouflage netting works well to cover the sides and back of panels.  Black solar cells flash less than blue ones.  Try to place your panels behind a bush to avoid flashes down hill, and look out for where you can be seen from above.

While there are great solar charging lithium battery systems for sale, the price per watt hour is too high for most people.   The best compromise is still a sealed Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) battery. A 15-20 Amp hour AGM mower battery weighs less than 20 pounds and can survive a few accidentally deep discharges.  When you buy a battery, write the manufacturer’s preferred charging voltage and current on the side of the battery. Print out the data sheet and store it with the battery.

Unfortunately, different brands and models of AGM batteries have different charge voltage limits, and chargers ignoring those limits will damage them.  Everything will work for the short term, but a bad charger can burn out your battery in weeks.  If you aren’t going to be able to produce a spare, spend more on a charge controller that allows you to specify charge voltages or has an AGM setting matching your battery. The Xantrex (formerly Trace) C12 is the only low watt commercial controller I know of that doesn’t require a computer and will work with any battery.

MPPT charge controllers are  advertised as increasing daily watts by 10-20%. I find the true advantage is being able to get from zero watts to barely useful (AA charging) watts with shadowed panels. I’ve bought no-name MPPT controllers that worked, but they wouldn’t be my choice for an emergency. A solid state PWM charger is a better bet.

Charging cordless electric hand tools requires compromises.  Manufacturers of lithium-ion power tools love to create bulky and expensive cradles for 12 volt tool chargers. Using an AC charger with a 150-300 watt pure sine inverter has more general utility for same price and bulk, but is 30% less efficient in charging the tool [than a DC-to-DC vehicle charger.] Cheap modified sine inverters have been known to kill DeWalt and other brands of AC-to-DC microprocessor-controlled battery chargers.  I’ve tried using small lithium ion chargers intended for remote control hobbyists, but fear I’d use them incorrectly under pressure. A DC to DC converter will charge NiMH tools, but manufacturer's own chargers seem to be the only good choice for lithium battery packs.

There are two phases for keeping your solar suitcase useful when you need it:

1.) Put a small solar panel out today. Even positioned flat in a bad site, it will recharge your AA batteries. This will familiarize you with the system and keep it topped up.

2.) After the SHTF, constantly disable unneeded power draws. Most small inverters draw 5 watts when idling.

Hopefully the Morningstar SureSine inverter will spur competitors.  I’ve accidentally killed batteries by leaving just the wattmeter and charge controller status lights plugged in for a few weeks. I now disconnect the battery when I know I won’t be using panels for a few days.

Be careful and be prepared!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Early Stages of Preparation, by St. Croix

Over the past couple of years I have had a few people, two in particular, hint to me that it would not be a bad idea to begin picking up a few extra non-perishable items on my weekly visits to Wal-Mart or the local grocery store.  I began realizing, like most of the population, when me or my wife go to the store, we normally only pick up a "few things", or just enough to get us through the week.  However, thanks to their continuous subtle remarks, and the assistance of the many fine web sites, this one being a major one, we have finally decided to actually start preparing for a real TEOTWAWKI and WTSHTF scenario. In only a couple of months, I feel one hundred times more prepared than before I started learning and made a choice to start living this life.  Now let me state,  I am no where close to the magnitude of preparedness we would like to be, with a single income and family of four, the money is hard to stretch to get all of the preparation items we would like.  However, the fact that we are now at least no longer oblivious to the fact that not IF but when something of great magnitude will happen (EMP, Major Rapid Decline of the Dollar, really any number of unknowns) will happen, I know I sleep better with just the small adjustments we have and will continue to make.

Convincing The Spouse
I will be the first to admit that I was not sure how the wife would see my new outlook on life and what the future holds.  We are a middle income family of four in a mid-western city with a population of a little over 500,000.  We have always been able to go down the street for fuel or a couple miles to the local grocery store or a few miles to Wal-Mart.  Now I have to get my wife to understand that in some time in the future, that gas station down the street will not have fuel in the tanks, and the local grocery store will not have food on the shelves, and the Wal-Mart will not have batteries.  And so I associate it with something she understood.  Since she for some crazy reason has gone out on "Black Friday" looking for the best deals, I associate what this would be like if you took the trampling at the Target store on Black Friday that killed a lady x10.  In explaining to her, that scenes like this will be common when TSHTF, she begins to listen.  And with the help of a few books and showing her some great survival sites, she is more than happy to join me in this life alteration.

Small Changes That Will Make a Big Difference
As with every single person or family, how you prepare will be different.  My family is still in what I consider to be in the first stages of preparing, things we have begun doing or already have had in place include:

Batteries, Radios, and LED Flashlights
These are available from eBay, Wal-Mart, Harbor Freight, and many other sources. As far as flashlights go I have begun to rely solely on LED flashlights for many years now.  I am a Fireman, and even in the darkest, smokiest conditions, I have found that Light Emitting Diodes (LED) bulbs far outperform traditional Halogen bulbs.  This is not to even mention the extended battery life an LED light will give you.  As far as batteries are concerned, I have not bought into the rechargeable batteries, not that I do not believe that these can be very beneficial in a worst case scenario, but I just have not yet invested in the solar powered equipment to charge them when/if the power grid goes down, plus factor in the fact that they do not hold a charge anywhere close to the amount of time a lithium battery does without continuous charging.  I will continue to stockpile my traditional batteries.  Radios will drawl minimum power from your batteries, and can/will give you vital information as to what is going on in the world, given the stations are still broadcasting

Five Gallon Food Grade Buckets
The ability to purchase fifty pounds of rice today for under twenty dollars, and be able to store it in a Mylar bag inside of a 5 gallon bucket that will last for 25-50 years seems like an insurance policy that not one of us can afford not to purchase. Let alone the uses these buckets will provide after the food inside has been used, for example; hauling and storing water, using as a toilet, using to start seedlings or covering plants from the cold, hauling fish, small game, berries.  We must remember that once production of items such as these cease to exist, what we have, is all that that we will have. Once-used buckets are often available free from local and large chain bakeries. I have not been charged once for them.

Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers
I found 10 large bags for 5 gallon buckets and 20, 1,000cc Oxygen Absorbers (2,000cc per 5 gallon bucket/pail) on eBay all for twenty dollars, total.  These bags and O2 absorbers will not only kill and keep out any unwanted pests or bugs, but will extend the life of any food that it contains by many years.

Dried Beans, Rice, Pasta, Water, Canned Goods
You have to do your research here for the most product for the least amount of money, look for sales, and when you find them, load up!  I for one can not go out and purchase two years worth of food in just one week, so this is an on-going process for me and my family.  For example, my local grocery store is offering, ten cans of Chefboyardee products at 69 cents a can. ($6.90 for 10 cans.)  That is about what a can of green beans or slice carrots costs, however, with these I am getting servings of vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, and numerous other vitamins. I think I have found the perfect survival food!  Plus, with an expiration date well into 2013,  I know I would feel comfortable with my family eating them well after that date, this is a good long term storage food.  Also, if you have not stored enough dog food for your K-9 friend, he or she will have no problem with cleaning up your left-overs, whether it be rice (one of the main ingredients in many "top brand" dog foods anyway, not that it's right, but it is one of the main ingredients in many) or half a can of raviolis (waste nothing). [JWR Adds: Whenever anyone mentions canned soup, chili, and ravioli in SurvivalBlog, I get letters that complain: "What about all that salt?" Well, relax: High Sodium Levels Protect Healthy Hearts, European Study Suggests. Yes, there are healthier foods available than Chefboyardee, but it sure beats eating your lawn.]

Guns and Ammunition
Having a means to protect your family, your shelter, and your food will be paramount.  You do not want to be easy prey for the hundreds of thousands that have not been preparing.  Trust me, these people will be everywhere, the same people that are so adjusted to the government making sure everything is in order, and the same people that think food just magically appears on the shelves and fuel is always in the pumps.  When the food is not on the shelves, and no fuel comes out of the pumps, they will eventually go to desperate measures to attain these things, especially the food.   I would also like to add that I have some friends that continually tell me which guns that I should have because when TSHTF this is what everyone else will be using because these guns are so common, and I am going to want to be able to take their ammunition that is laying around, but every time I hear this, one of my favorite quotes from the movie We Were Soldiers comes to mind:   Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: I think you oughta get yourself an M16.
Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: Sir, if the time comes I need one, there'll be plenty lying on the ground."

Security / Dogs -
In relation to security, better than an alarm system, with the exception that they do not require electricity or power.  I have also found that the majority of criminals these days look at alarm system decals or actual systems as nothing more than maybe a nuisance.  Even if your alarm system is connected to a monitoring system, the alarm first has to be sent to the alarm company, the company then has to try to contact you for your "security word/phrase" to find out if this is a false alarm, then, after multiple attempts of not being able to contact you, they then contact your local 9-1-1 system, who then has to contact a beat officer in your area, then, this beat officer, whom is complacent of "system alarms" because he has made hundreds of security alarm calls which 99.99% of the time are false, takes his time getting to your residence because his Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.s) do not allow him to run red light and siren to your residence.  How long do you think this all takes?  Trust me, a good watch dog is worth a hundred "monitored" security systems   

High Power Pellet Gun
A decent high powered BB and/or pellet gun will easily shoot 1,000 feet per second on the low side, easily hard enough to kill a bird, squirrel, or rabbit with the right placement (especially with a Polymag Predator pellet).  Memories of picking off birds and squirrels (food) as a youngster has made me decide to add this gun to my list.  Add in the fact that ammo for one of these guns is extremely inexpensive.  This gun will also serve me well teaching my sons to shoot.  As well as the quietness of this tool while hunting, not to alert anyone nearby, makes it a nice addition.

Fishing Throw Nets
I already love to fish and have plenty of gear, and after some thought, decided to buy a couple more throw nets.  We have a water source near, and if TSHTF, I will be fishing to supplement feeding my family.  I'm not going to be out there looking for an exciting top water bite, especially early on I will want to get there, pull some fish out, and get back.  I have a couple of 6' throw nets (opens to a 12' diameter) that I have caught everything from small Shad and Bluegill,  to over three pound Bass and much larger Carp. It is quick and efficient.  Many times while catching bait or just practicing throwing this net thirty or forty feet away from a friend or my wife that is fishing with a rod and reel, I get called a cheater because while they are catching nothing, I am pulling in net after net full of fish.  However, these nets definitely take some practice, throwing them is easy, getting them to open up to a nice circular pattern to entrap the fish is another story.  Put me and my net up against anyone and their rod and real for five or ten minutes, and I guarantee I will come away with more fish then them. Many more fish.  Get one now, and learn how and where to throw it.

Fire Starters
Matches, lighters, magnesium fire starters, once TSHTF, and it will, these will fly off of the shelves.  Simple items like these, that people walk by everyday will become scarce in the future.  I recently purchased  a decent full tang knife with fire starting capabilities on Ebay for only $10, things like this will be worth their weight in gold.   How else are you going to boil that water to make it safe to drink, or cook that 200lbs of dried beans and 200lbs of rice in your food storage? 

Iron Skillets
I work at a Firehouse that has been there for 30 years, and we still use the same iron skillets they did when the Firehouse was opened, this is where I began using iron skillets.  They are virtually unbreakable, and would also work very well in a solar powered oven since they are black in color.  At home we have multiple that we use in everyday cooking (10" and 12" Pans,  Pots (Dutch Ovens), Tortilla Warmers), easy to clean, and everlasting.  Once you start using iron cookware, you will never go back to your old stuff, try it.

Life Saving References
There are so many good survival books out there now, don't rely on the internet to be there when TSHTF.  Print your favorite articles and guides, but hard copies are a must have.  The information in these books will be priceless, they will be your new guides to modern day living.

I know I have left more than a few things out, but this is just some of the initial important things (to us) we wanted to start with.  The list will honestly never end, and this is something that you have to continually monitor and add to.  Best of luck friends, and I'll see you on the other side of civilization as we know it. - St. Croix

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Good Morning, Jim,
I just wanted to pass on this information.  We bought a black Mag-Lite 2D Cell LED Flashlight from Wal-Mart for $33.88 a couple of weeks ago.[JWR Adds: I've seen the same 2-D Cell LED Mag-Lite advertised for a low as $20.88 at]

I would like to highly recommend this light as an inexpensive item to have in your kit.  It provides 114 lumens with an adjustable focus and effective lighting up to 298 meters. I can light up my driveway all the way to the bottom, approx. 125 feet. It is available in several colors including black, gray and camouflage. We like it so well that we bought another one for our primary vehicle. - A.K.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. Rawles:
I own a pretty densely-wooded 40 [acre property] in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) [of Michigan]. The land on 2.5 sides of ours belongs to a timber company, and the land across the road belongs to the state. We live in a typical "stick built" house. It was built in the 1980s, with lots of big windows and two double-glazed sliding [glass] doors. We are four miles out of a town (about 2,000 population) but our house is only 60 feet from a somewhat heavily traveled county road. So our house is what you would probably call a tactical disaster!!!

My wife recently inherited $212,000. We also have about $60,000 saved in silver and gold. We want to use the cash and liquidate a small part of the gold to very quietly (using some contractors from 90 miles away) build a 1,420 square foot aboveground hardened house/shelter at the back end of our property. I'm presently having a civil engineer link up with my architect for the design. My wife calls our little project "The Hatch", in honor of [the bunker in the television series] Lost. It will be our "fall back", in case everything goes to heck. It'll be set up like a regular house with kitchen, bedrooms, and bathroom--all the comforts of home, except windows!

Because we've got a high water table here, we plan [to build] it above grade, and then haul in soil to make an artificial hill. The entrance will be hidden by a fiberglass "rock", like you talked about in one of your old posts [about concealing cave entrances]. (Thanks, for that.) Inside of that [camouflaged door], the main door will be an inward-opening vault door we'll be getting through Safecastle. The nuclear [fallout protective] ventilator (A.C., with a pedal frame backup) will be out of Ready Made Resources. And we plan to get a Pelton wheel DC generator to power The Hatch. We have a blessing: There is a small river going through the back corner of our land just 90 yards behind [the construction site]. (Yeah, yeah I know, with the [low voltage DC cable] line loss we'll have to invert to 120 Volts, AC.)

So here is my question: How can I construct a temporary road to the work site, without laying down rock and gravel? It is almost dead level between our house and there. I'll cut as few trees [to clear the roadway] as possible in a bunch of S-shaped turns so that it won't look obvious. Here's what I'm picturing: I want to make the road disappear, after the construction is a done deal. We just want a little footpath that winds through the trees. If I scrape the road gravel back off, it will leave traces of the road, even if I plant trees. And we can't skip on [using gravel], because the construction will likely start late in June and continue until about October. It would be axle-deep muck if we've got all those trucks going back there [with no gravel on the roadway]. So here I am, racking my brain... How do I make a temporary road that I can remove, and not leave a trace? Help! - B.D. in the U.P.

JWR Replies: I believe that the best answer is buying or renting a quantity of military surplus AM-2 airfield matting. These aluminum mats were designed to be laid down on leveled ground and linked together to form military runways and taxiways. Earlier generations were made of steel and are often called Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) or Marsden Matting. (The latter is after the name of the town where it was first produced.) There is also now some Soviet-era Russian military surplus runway matting now available in the U.S.

After you are done with your construction project, you can very likely re-sell the matting, probably at just a slight loss. (Since it is always worth at least its scrap metal value.) AM-2, or its earlier generation steel equivalents can often be found at little more than scrap metal prices through DLA/DRMS sales yards and their auctions.

Good luck with your project.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I have read and enjoyed both your books. I have told all my like minded friends about them.

Regarding LED flashlight batteries: I have a flashlight from Sportsman's Guide that uses two of the CR123 batteries, it will also use the #18650 lithium ion battery. One of these takes the place of two of the CR123 batteries, and last much longer, and is rechargeable. The charger can use either 120 VAC or 12 VDC input voltages. I have a system set up that uses the Harbor Freight 45 watt solar panels. I bought mine on sale for $149 and use them to charge a NAPA-branded Booster PAC ["aka "jump pack"]. I can then use the booster pack to power my Accu-Manager battery charger or to power my Yaesu 2800 ham radio. The booster box has a 12 VDC outlet on it.

Keep your powder dry, - C.K.M.

JWR Replies: Keep in mind that there are now rechargeable Li-Ion CR-123 batteries available. Previously, I was only able to find inefficient 120 VAC-sourced chargers available for these batteries, but now DC-to-DC chargers are available.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mr. Rawles,  
I have been a follower of SurvivalBlog for about a month now and have found great resources, deals and most importantly, useful information with your blog.  
As a business owner that has a focus on lighting (and energy efficient lighting of all sorts), we would like to offer SurvivalBlog readers a 20% discount coupon on any purchase from us for LED Lighting.  This discount does not apply to already discounted or clearance products.   Pretty simple – on any order of 10 bucks or more, your community can use coupon code: prepared-sb20 for 20% off their order in the shopping cart.  We will hold this promotion open until the SHTF!  

Thank you for your blog, the archives and most importantly, the quality information for those that are astute enough to “get it”.   I am just an average guy in Ohio that is not looking for any sort of promotion. I just want to extend a gesture to the preparedness community as I have found a ton of value in what you are doing. With all my best, keep up the great work,  Don Perkins, owner of,, and Phone: 1(877) 877-2340

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thanks and God Bless for your wonderful blog. You do mankind a great good every day your site is up and passing information to the masses. Please keep it coming.

I find it a rare and surprising occurrence when my real world work experience and professional knowledge actually prove some use to the on-going threads found at SurvivalBlog. Since I'm a career Maitre' de in fine dining restaurants, it really isn't surprising; I seriously doubt anyone will be worried about wine vintages or the proper service of escargot after TSHTF. However I was pleasantly surprised after I read Andrew D.'s post on Forever Preps. I found his info extremely helpful, since I quickly added a few amendments to my master prep list, with many valuable links.

I must disagree with Andrew on his candle substitute option, the paraffin oil cartridges. I have chosen, purchased, and used dozens of varieties of paraffin oil cartridges, and the lamps that burn them, throughout my 25 year career and in my experience they would be next to useless in a survival situation. They work well for what they are, which is a simple light source used to provide ambiance. They give virtually no use-able light and generate very, very, little heat. Mainly, because they are not meant to do so and they cannot be opened or adjusted, since the tiny wick is part of the sealed self contained unit. I once had to purchase small penlights for my entire waitstaff due to the ineffectiveness of these items with dim room lights, much less total darkness. These units are inexpensive, well sized and store well, but unless you can rig an alternate adjustable wick, which I don't recommend, or transfer the oil to a proper lamp or lantern, I can't see recommending this over candles or larger containers of oil. You don't need the extra bother. However, I still trust candles as the ultimate back-up lighting. I live in the deep south and have also had candles melt to nothing in storage, so I tried a trick from a local candy vendor. This guy makes and sells Roman candy, i.e. taffy, from a horse drawn carriage even during the hottest summer days. To keep the candy from sticking and mal-forming when it's soft from the heat, he would roll a stick in several layers of over-sized waxed paper and simply twist the ends. I tried this and it works well for tall candles and tapers. However the larger and detailed candles may mal-form a bit upon hardening and lose details. Plastic wrap will also work, however it may stick to the re-hardened candle a bit. Thanks. - W.N.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dear Sir,  
I’ve been making “permanent” candles for years, using empty cat food cans, pipe cleaners, and store-bought paraffin wax. The cans are quite stable and, because of their volume, the wicks don’t “float” until they’ve been burning a long time. Rotating candles solves that problem. The wicks don’t burn up – they wick – unless you touch them and knock the built-up carbon off them. If that happens, you can easily repair them using lint from a clothes dryer – a good thing to have anyway. The candles must be fed to keep ‘em burning and to adjust the flame; the wax is the consumable. I’ve had many candles last literally years, and I always have ‘em handy, with some spare fuel, for emergency lighting. With inverted ceramic flower pots, they also make decent small-space radiant heaters, and will warm up a can of soup in a pinch. Hope this helps.   Thanks and best wishes,   - Rick O. in New Mexico


Greetings Mr. Rawles,

A fairly low cost alternative for low level lighting is the solar LED pathway lights. Just place them in the sun during the day, and they are good for several hours during the night. Just remove the charged batteries when they are not needed, or add a simple switch to turn them off and on. With minimal soldering skills you can replace the white LED's with red, to make them easier on your night vision. Blessings, - M.I.A.

Using candles as lighting tools should be considered as a last resort. A much better option would be a small capacitor with a solar charger, powering LED lights. I have been to too many residential structure fires that resulted from improper use of candles.  Often the candles pollute the inside of the house, so the occupants open windows, allowing winds to blow combustible fabrics into contact with candle flames. Usually I have seen this during periods of high-wind related conditions, that have blown down electrical utilities, thus leaving residents to figure out how to deal with the mess themselves. - "Split Hoof

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mr. Rawles:  
I ran a recon/sniper unit in Viet Nam.  We had first generation starlight scopes and tweaked M14s and we shot the dickens out of the bad guys.  I was tasked with keeping a critical part of Hwy 1 open and would often do road security taking a jeep with a borrowed xenon searchlight to provide additional infrared (IR) support for my snipers. It would cast shadows at 500 plus meters and you could not see it with the naked eye.  

Many of us have more prep to do than budget to spend... but being able to see at night can literally amount to life or death. An inexpensive Yukon Gen 1 device (under $200) with a $40 Brinkman 3Meg Searchlight (comes with a yellow, red and blue plastic filter) and eight 4" x 4" sheets of red and blue cellophane ($2.99 per roll at Hobby Lobby) will create a situation where you can light up your surroundings (no visible light) to make sure the bad guys are properly welcomed.  

Powering up the Brinkman (with the blue filter and cellophane sheets), you do not see anything but a soft blue/red (barely visible at 10 feet) haze, yet you can see into and behind bushes, trees and all other types of cover at distances far enough out to make a difference.  The down side is that with and active IR emitter you do become a target for other night vision devices (unless they shut down due to overload... which the Brinkman will provide if they are looking at it directly)... unless you have a standoff.   Several of us are working on mounting the Brinkman (multiple locations) with remote directional turning  and on/off switch so we can activate, point and take action and not be in any light splash or reflection.  

This combination works almost as well as the equipment I used 40 years ago in Viet Nam.   Just wanted to pass on a good solution. - David R.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I have learned WSHTF, that after dark, subdued lighting is mandatory. A complete conversion of a home into a cave is not my idea of living so my thought is to choose one often used room and black out the windows with black plastic, duct tape and heavy curtains. Hang a thick blanket in front of the room's door and specify bright lights out before any one enters or leaves that room.

The rest of the home would be dimly lit. With preferably one, no more then two at a time candle-like devices behind heavy lined curtains.

The thinking behind this is that a lot of other folks in urban settings will be hunkered over candles and oil lamps during grid down time So you are blending in with the majority.

Tea candles are drip free and easy to manage if left in one spot. [The wicks tend to shift if lit and moved].

The candles can be easily by removing the metal wick holder, turning it upside down an fitting it in a 5\32-inch hole drilled near one end a 3\8-inch thick 8 inch long board held in a vise [orthe hand if you are carful]. Using a ice pick push out the old wick stub and enlarge the wick hole.

Insert a new slightly thicker cotton wick holder and push and pull it till it sticks through about 1 inch. Remove the wick holder from the board and using a pairof smooth jawed pliers grip near the hinge and gently crush the little nipple on the upper part of the wick holder till it holds the wick snugly.

Scissor off the bottom of the wick so that the holder and wick sits upright in the little metal pan.

Get wax from old large discarded candles or other sources, chip off wax with a 1\2-inch wood chisel and rubber mallet into a metal 11.5 ounce coffee can with a formed pouring spout. Use the lowest gas setting of the lowest gas fire and position the can of wax chips in a double boiler. (The can inside a larger pan of water). Never, ever leave the melting pot unattended! [Since fires can easily result.]

Place the tea candles to be filled on newspaper. When about one-half of the wax in the can has stared to liquefy, slowly fill the tea candles cup to the rim.

Turn off the gas burner and leave the can on the burner it will cool slowly. But keep the wax liquid for a long time.[never allow the wax to get so hot it smokes danger danger]

Once the tea candles have set up, add more wax around the wick to top them off. - Axman

JWR Replies: Wax tea candles are available in bulk for as little as 12 cents each, if you buy them 200 or more at a time. And as you describe, they can be re-filled.

All the normal safety precuations for open flames must be observed when burning tea candles. One advantage of these is that they are much less likely to tip over than tall candles. But keep in mind that nothing is ever foolproof! I recommend that you position tea candles in the middle of a large ceramic plate or a steel pie tin. (Old plates and pie tins are usually available from thrift stores for less than a dollar each. Use these mis-matched pieces instead of your matching kitchen china, and you will get along better with your spouse!

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 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 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.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My wife and I own  a 50 acre place in Northern Maine that was originally intended to be a home-building site.  It is remote, quiet  and off-grid.  Along with an outbuilding/bathhouse I constructed,  there is also a 40 foot shipping container I set up as a  secure storage building/shelter.    The land  has  plenty of water nearby  and the entire property is wooded in White Cedar (weatherproof/rot-proof) Balsam Fir , Birch and Spruce.  Unfortunately over the years the location has became less ideal for us.  The  political climate (until very recently) is unfavorable ( taxes, government regulation, overall policies).   The economic situation was bad before the current recession, now parts of Maine  remind me of what I saw in East Germany after the wall came down.   Because of this, I abandoned the project about four  years ago and moved most of our  belongings to the Western United States. 

Why We Went Back

I work as an independent contractor  all over the US.  This year I managed to get  a short contract within a 2 hour drive of the Maine property.  My wife and I were carrying minimal gear with us from  Montana  (See Survival Trip, a 10% Test, archived in Survival Blog).   We planned to stay on the acreage part-time during the work assignment, then remain there afterward for at least a month. 

We wanted to make no major purchases during our stay, so the big question was:  would we be able to live there (essentially camping out) with what we brought with us as well as what was 'left behind' on the property?  After a  three to four  year absence,  I could not remember exactly  what equipment and supplies were there.   Considering this, I began thinking:  what would happen if we  had to return to this place to try to survive in  an unplanned emergency? I knew I did not have a complete survival set-up in Maine.   I also knew the high taxes and poor  (anti-business)  economy made it a bad  retreat choice.   However,  if we were 'stuck' in the northeastern US during a crisis, returning to the 50 acre property seemed the logical solution.   The land  was paid-for, and it did have natural resources.   We also had friends there we could trust.    Plan A in a crisis would be to get back to Montana, Plan B called for returning to my home state of Missouri.  Maine was plan C.  With our travel lifestyle, maybe Plan C would be all we had to work with, someday. 

 My return to the property last Summer could not be defined as a 'Survival Emergency'.  We had enough resources to return West.  In Summer 2010 it was still relatively safe (but expensive)  to travel across the US.  I decided to think strategically and  look at things  as if I had  to  remain in Maine  for an indefinite period of time.  As per  my previous article, we had already loaded our trailer with survival gear and attempted to travel from Montana to Texas during the blizzard of 2010. Now having  left Texas to work  in Maine, I saw re-occupying the land as another type of  'Test'.   Anyway,  despite the economy the fishing is pretty good in Maine, lobster was $4.50 per pound  and we were technically on vacation.  We also had good friends living there, or should I say trying to live there, suffering under the heavy taxation and oppressive government.  There was one final practical reason:  The property had not been occupied in four years.  The road and  existing structures needed maintenance.  

Doing Business in Maine

Four years ago I moved to Montana.  Returning to Maine, my first regret was that I had transported  some of the heavy, easily replicable items out west four  years ago.  About  10% of the 'stuff' I moved at that time:  pry bars, hammers, chains, shovels, and splitting wedges could have been left behind in Maine and duplicated in Montana for probably less cost in both time and money.  Now I needed the tools that were over 2,000 miles away.  I had other things I owned (and needed), but were impossible to carry around.  For example:  my  5000 watt generator, the clothes washer,  the bench grinder, and the welder were all  sitting idle in Montana.  In Maine, it has been my experience that  new (or even used)  tools are relatively expensive compared to the Mid-west or West.  .

When you try to buy used stuff,   people in the Northeast don't tend to bargain at sales, often refusing to sell an item on a whim!   For  example, I saw a beat up circular saw at a garage sale for $20 (firm).  In Missouri, one would have been embarrassed to put $5.00 on such an item.  One person refused to sell me some of the scrap wood he had piled in his yard in preparation for burning.  On the retail side,  the nearest lumber store claimed to be out of chimney parts  (even though the computer said they were well-stocked).   They did not look very hard to find the items, or offer to order what I needed.  The clerk at the lumber store told me that people don't buy stove parts 'during this time of the year'.  'When do they start thinking about heating with wood, when the first  snow falls?' I thought.  There were other such personal experiences occurring on an almost daily basis.  My prior visits to  the Northeast prepared me for such 'customer service' but,  returning 4 years later, I could see things were getting worse.   

Another war story:  A friend of mine tried to pay cash in advance to get a large  propane tank filled (he owned the tank).    The company refused to fill it without my friend completing a credit application (social security number, Drivers License Number, etc.)   for the cash-up-front fill! This and other experiences  proved to us  that it was expensive and troublesome enough to get what we needed in a non-emergency (on a 'good' day), what would have happened if I we were really stuck with  no reliable transportation,   and needed additional  tools or supplies in a collapsed economy?   We won't count on it  in the Northeast!

  To be fair, there are some bargains to be found in the Northeast.   When I was in downtown Boston MA, I loaded my pickup with Craftsman hand tools a lady had put on the curb to throw away..     Apparently a relative died and she was cleaning out the basement.   I had just been passing by at the right time

  We found good, used furniture just by driving around an getting what was left at curbside.   Watch out taking stuff  from a dumpster, I was almost for arrested picking out a sheet of plywood that was being  thrown away.  I also almost cried at the sight of #2 2x6x8 lumber in another dumpster  at a construction site (they would not give me permission to take these boards that were destined for the landfill). 

What I Stored in Maine

Fortunately I did leave some basic things on the property. Here are some of the following items I was pleased to find 'left behind' .  These were stored in the 40 foot shipping container.  :

  1. Bow Saw (2, one over 30 inches)
  2. Ax (1)
  3. Dual-fuel gas lantern (2) (the generator on one lantern failed-I had no replacement part)
  4. Cast Iron Cookware (cheap china stuff, but better than nothing)
  5. Plates, knifes and forks.
  6. An old hammer.
  7. Chain Saw cutting oil (two jugs)
  8. 5 gal Gas Can (2)
  9. Propane Cylinder, full (!) (2)
  10. Log chain.
  11. Rope, various lengths. 
  12. 5 gal Kerosene Can ½ full. 
  13. Large inventory of Screws, Nails, Paint, wire, hinges.
  14. Loping sheers (anvil loppers).
  15. A hand Scythe.
  16. mouse traps (a very welcome find)
  17. rat poison
  18. Strike Anywhere Matches in Plastic Bucket
  19. 5 gal buckets, food grade
  20. Plastic Mixing  Bowls
  21. Splitting Maul (2)
  22. Hatchet
  23. Various Books and Magazines (However, No reference materials or dictionary, no owner's manuals)
  24. sharpening stone.
  25. Cleaning supplies: bleach, tri- sodium phosphate, soap and shampoo. 
  26. Electric/Electronic parts:  copper antenna wire, power cords, replacement plugs, outlets conduit
  27. Co-axial cable, connectors.
  28. Sledge hammer, small hand sledge.
  29. Garden Rake
  30. Broom
  31. Leaf Rake
  32. A mattock. 
  33. Carpentry Saw, rusted and dull.
  34. An Anvil, made from a piece of rail road track. 
  35. Coleman Fuel. 
  36. Some 8 foot lengths of ½ inch concrete reinforcement bar.  Some angle iron, and misc. scrap metal.
  37. 30 ceramic-wire-closure type beer bottles and gaskets (more on that later)
  38. Wheel barrow
  39. 50 gallon water container for water transport from a spring nearby. 
  40. Two Plastic barrels for rain water collection. 
  41. Contractor Grade garden hose. 
  42. Gas Camper Stove

Along with the above list, we had left a gas stove/oven, a propane heater, and a hand washing device plus clothes wringer. 

We  did not arrive empty-handed.  I use a four-wheel drive Toyota towing an insulated 5 x 8 foot cargo trailer (modified for camping use).  We travel with firearms, carpentry tools, 700 watt generator, sleeping bags, cold weather gear, wet weather gear, auto mechanic tools, come-along, SW radios, first aid and medicines, propane heater,  computers, weather radio, gloves, insect repellent, chain saw, electronic repair kit, head lamps, spot light (LED), Sure-fire light, mosquito net, extension cords.  

Among the food items 'left behind' in the shipping container were  the following:

  1. Lentils, beans and rice.  Some wheat. 
  2. Small jar honey.
  3. A fifth of Ever-clear.
  4. One 2-liter can Olive Oil, unopened. 
  5. A few miscellaneous items: salt pepper and ramen noodles.
  6. One standard container of salt, iodized. 

The Olive Oil was in good shape, considering that it was 3 years old and had been exposed  to extreme heat and cold.  Based on this experience, I feel Olive Oil in metal cans store well.  I plan to stock up with greater confidence. 

Ramen Noodles did not store well in the open.  They had a petroleum after-taste when cooked, the probably absorbed fuel smells from being stored  in the closed shipping container.  The lentils, etc seemed okay and even sprouted. 

The salt turned into a solid cylinder after three years in the humid environment.  In the future I will be more careful to store in three or four plastic bags with a roll of toilet paper in the outer bag. 

I was very surprised at what I forgot I had.  For the future, I took  a detailed video of the interior to better plan what I need if I return.  

First Priority:  Reclaiming the Area

The  Leaf Rake, Loping sheers (anvil loppers), mattock  and Bow saw were necessary tools.  Our first job was to get  rid of the three-year accumulation of leaves and saplings efficiently.  This work helped  prevent fire damage, rodent infestation, and, most importantly clears the area where one can see  (not to mention find lost items).  It was a psychological boost  getting the area cleaned up.  I plan to always make sure these tools are in good working condition and may duplicate items in case of breakage.  Anywhere we go, they will be high priority.  Why use an Ax to cut brush  into burnable pieces when one can use the anvil loppers?  It's not 'mountain man' but I found it safer and more practical.  Sure, I used the chain saw a lot to cut firewood, and brush but these hand tools worked just as well, especially close to places where one risked damage to structures or plastic drains. 

A Note On Cutting Wood

The long, 30 inch bow saw was used extensively to cut standing dead  firewood up to 4 inches into usable lengths about 50% of the time. Except for camping I never thought much about the routine use of a bow saw  until observing the German Wood-Cutter.  The German woodsmen  are masters of the Bow Saw.  Gas is expensive in Germany, over $8.00 per gallon and they can't run a chain  saw during certain times of the day due to local noise ordinances. Thus, they plan their work and are careful to not waste fuel.  During chain saw work I have observed a German step over marginal wood and say “Not worth the fuel.”  I learned to use the technique of reversing the Bow Saw and holding the wood with two hands-working the wood over the saw instead of the normal method.  You put one end of the saw on the ground and brace it with your foot, steeping on the inside of the saw so your knee projects through the opening between the blade and the handle.   You can cut short pieces of wood without a saw horse using this technique.  It seems to go faster since you are using both arms.  It is more dangerous. 

In Maine there were no noise restrictions (yet) but sound carries for miles around here.  I could hear someone hammering at least two  miles away.  I don't like the idea of calling too much attention to my location even in a non-emergency.  A local official investigated my operation when he heard my generator (I had to pay for a building permit after he showed up).   The skills and tools necessary for a 'low key'  means of cutting wood such as the bow saw could prove essential in the  future, even if one owns  a chain saw. 


I had brought an 18 volt battery powered circular saw, drill and LED light (all using the same battery) as well as a car charger,  three AC chargers, several 18volt batteries and a small (700 watt) generator.  With the generator, I  charged three batteries at once.  The 18 volt circular saw for me  was one of the most convenient off grid carpentry tools  to have.   A regular AC powered saw would have been okay, but it would require running  the generator at the same time.  I kept trying to buy a used A/C saw, but they proved too expensive.  The saw, drill and work light batteries can be charged anytime one is running the generator for other uses, such as at night with the laptop computer or radio.  I have used solar and wind in the past, but this was not practical in our situation, at that time. 

Small Problems Add Up

I ended up buying a good chalk line and new chalk.   My 25 foot tape failed  and needed to be replaced.  The hand saw (rusted after improper storage)  was taken to a re-sharpening service about a two-hour drive away (they took forever to get the job done. What would have happened in a collapsed economy?)  The lumber store told me they get few orders for re-sharpening.  I thought:  'What are people doing, buying a new saw when the old one gets dull?' .  Doing without  measuring tools would have slowed  things down too much.   I plan to duplicate them.  Sharpening saw blades was an unforeseen problem and must be addressed in the future.

After I built a couple of saw horses, The carpentry work went pretty smooth for the most part.  I  re-learned that protective eye wear and clothing are a must in a remote location after a few 'mistakes in judgment'.     I could see how the use of protective equipment, including boots and gloves would be a strict rule in a collapsed economy with a lack of medical care and increased risk of infection, not to mention being unable to work due to injury (or worse). My chain-saw helmet, Kevlar chaps, and ear protection were critical. 

We had barrels to catch the rain, but needed to be covered with screen wire.  It was not pine needles or sticks that caused trouble it was the mice that my wife found floating at infrequent intervals.  I don't think the wood mice will contaminate the water if removed in a timely manner.   We don't drink the rain water.  But,  my wife is from South America where all rodents (and lack of sanitation/medical care)  mean life-threatening disease. 

What I Really Regret Not Having Left at the Maine  Property

Moving 'stuff'  is heavy, slow and expensive.  Fuel was relatively cheap during this trip, but what  if gas were to hit European prices of  $8.00 per gal? What about No Gas Available?  One has to weigh the risk/return of transporting 'stuff' vs. stocking in place and risking theft or vandalism on an unoccupied property.  I now will adopt the strategy of stocking things that, if stolen, the loss would not be monetarily or psychologically devastating.  Things such as a prized firearm, stored data,  expensive short-wave radios are transported.   Cooking and eating tools, gardening tools, even some guns are, to me worth the risk.  I have to keep in mind the extensive snow fall, and the possibility of having to walk  the 2 mile private road to the property.  This list is both what I had mistakenly  removed, as well as items that I wish that I had on the property that I would need to purchase. 

  1. A hunting rifle.  A cheap one would have been better than no rifle or  trying to transport one's best rifle all over the country.
  2. Extra ammo.  I had only a small amount of ammo at the property.  A large store of ammo could have been hidden somewhere. It's way too heavy to transport. 
  3. A large selection of tools, including a complete socket set.  I had one with me, but I would have felt better  with another set at the property.  Harbor Freight stuff would be better than no tools at all and I like high quality tools.  Again think: Walk-In. 
  4. Spare Bow Saw Blades. Buy many!
  5. Two or three circular saw blades.  Metal cutting blades. 
  6. Motor Oil and Air and Oil Filters. 
  7. A grease gun, and supply of grease.
  8. Chain saw engine oil.  A dedicated spare chain saw gas can.
  9. Spare Chain Saw Chains and extra parts.  (Again, I brought these heavy items with me to Montana.)
  10. Chain saw files, at least 10. 
  11. Spare parts for the Gas Lanterns. (as previously mentioned I did not have an extra Coleman gas lantern generator. I did have a few mantles.  I will buy more.  
  12. A kerosene heater.
  13. More propane tanks, at least four.
  14. Malt Extract, yeast and hops. For making beer.  Hops do not store well without refrigeration. 
  15. Wheat, Beans and Rice.  
  16. Canned Meat.  We brought a supply of dried elk meat from Montana. 
  17. Vitamin C (However there are plenty of apples around during the right time of year) A root cellar would be a "Must-Build: just to get a supply of fruit during the winter. 
  18. Garden Seeds.  
  19. Extra Work Clothing
  20. Work boots  (I had at least two older pairs in Montana) 
  21. Extra Kerosene Can, 5 Gal.  Tip: have your non-preparedness-minded friends give you all their empty charcoal lighter fluid plastic bottles. Store extra Kerosene in those. That way you wont have your eggs in one basket if a 5 gallon container gets punctured. BTW, the same principle applies to fifths versus half gallon liquor bottles.


What I Had to Buy or Have Shipped (What I Could Not Do Without)

I had a high quality (Montana Canvas) canvas wall tent (12' x 12') that I really missed not bringing.
A friend of mine did a huge favor boxing the canvas-only and shipping it to me from Montana.  I built an exterior frame out of white cedar and spruce poles. I bought locally a plastic tarp for a rain fly and sewed-in a spare stove gasket.  This allowed the 5 inch stove pipe to project through the existing stove gasket of the canvas (through the roof) , then out of the rain-fly forming two seals.   It rains a lot more here in Maine than it does in Montana.  The rain fly is a must.    The stove was a cast-iron second-hand model bought for about $50.00 (one of the few good deals I found in Maine). I built a raised floor out of chip-board and shipping crates.  This made a big difference in giving us a warm, sheltered  living space.  

Notes on wall tents:  1.  get a good quality tent (  2.  Use a big stove and make sure you use sheet metal screws at each stove pipe section.  Screw the pipe to the stove as well.  The high wind will balloon the tent, and pull your stove pipe apart if you don't do this.   If you stare at the stove pipe during the highest wind it will not come apart.  When you leave, that's when it will come apart.  Put an aluminum shield around the stove. 

Another tool I bought was a 18  volt angle grinder.  The property is three miles from the ocean and even that far one gets excessive rust corrosion.   One day I was reading the fine print on some exterior grade wood screws that recommended rust-resistant screws within 5 miles of the ocean. That recommendation mirrored my experience.  The angle grinder allowed me to wire brush corroded parts, saw blades and other metal tools.  I used a lot of silicone spray and Liquid Wrench and rust resistant primer.  These are stock-up items  I will add to my list, as well as preventative measures. 

I hate to admit this but I failed to bring a good carpenter's hammer.  This was a serious error in judgment.  The hammer I had left on site was probably 50 years old and the handle broke after a few weeks of heavy use.  I bought an East-wing with the stainless handle during a trip to  nearby (sales tax free) New Hampshire.  I feel extra tool handles will be important in Maine, there are no hickory trees even to make one with.  Even Oak is hard to find. 

I also neglected to bring heavy work boots.  I will always carry this essential item in the future.  It was amazing how fast jogging shoes fell apart after a few weeks of  work. I purchased a good pair of steel toe logging boots, but winced at the Maine  sales tax (Montana has no sales tax). However:  I  also can't afford an injury (who can?).     Again, I have no one to blame but myself for this oversight. 

I ordered off eBay two propane lanterns (used-reconditioned) at a good price.  I refilled the small propane cylinders myself. 

Beer Making

On a lighter note, I did bring beer making supplies.  The beer bottles mentioned earlier can be re-used forever.  The replacement gaskets are re-used many times.   One word of advice:  making beer on an open fire requires a bit more planning.  Be sure the wood is dry, or your final product will have too much of a 'smoky' flavor.  If I stayed over the winter, a root cellar would be necessary to keep things from freezing.   Come to think of it, staying over the winter would require insulating the container and installing a wood stove. 


Good friends were our greatest asset.  My best friend living close by  is a master gardener who provided us with plenty of fresh vegetables.  A propane powered refrigerator or freezer would have allowed us to take full advantage of the surplus, not to mention a root cellar, even if we did not start a garden.    The other good friends we have cultivated over the years gave use moral support, great dinners (and dinner conversation), books and plenty of friendly advise.  Our friends in Boston loaded a hard drive full of excellent home building and survival documentaries for our evening's entertainment. 

Getting Cleaned Up

One of the structures I built on the place was a well insulated bath house. It is heated by propane and also has served as an emergency shelter.  I know outside campfires are and inefficient use of wood, but we used the stainless steel basket out of a washing machine supported on rocks.  With a large supply of dry brush, scrap wood or wood not 'worth' burning in the stove we heated 10 gallons of bath water much quicker than using the stove in the tent, especially on hot days.  We used a separate fireplace  for grilling steaks and outdoor cooking.  Again, I cut small branches with the Anvil Loppers.  You don't have small sticks flying up in your eye as  with an ax or hatchet. 


Lessons Learned About Retreating

  1. Don't assume you can carry everything with you.  Pre-position supplies and hope they don't get stolen or otherwise destroyed.  The shipping container is completely vermin proof as long as you keep it closed.  Have plenty of toilet paper, plastic bags (the 2-gallon size for maps and books when using under wet conditions), soap, rice, beans, oil and bleach.
  2. Have at least one or two 'working guns' stored, it may be all you have to use  in an emergency.  I use Mel Tappan's definition of Working Guns.  This is admittedly hard to do in a humid, coastal environment. 
  3. Really think about what you want and need for an extended period.  Be honest with yourself.   It's better to get it now if you think you will need it rather than think you will  improvise or do without. 
  4. When you provision your retreat, don't forget to oil and grease the tools. We live three miles from the Atlantic Ocean.   I spent too much time removing rust from tools.  Before leaving three years ago I could have greased the tools and upon return,  used Coleman Fuel or gasoline to wipe off the grease, then use the rags to start fires later (or in a real pinch re-use the grease soaked rags later to wipe down the tools again.  For this reason I also (plan B) stored the used motor oil (in plastic oil bottles marked 'used') when I changed the oil in my truck.   A very good friend suggested cosmoline, which is apparently still available.  [JWR Adds: Since used motor oil is carcinogenic, if you must resort to using it, be sure to wear plastic or rubber gloves when apply or removing it!]
  5.  You still need friends. I can't emphasize this enough.  
  6. I really, really need to purchase the necessary tools to sharpen drill bits and hand saws.  In a real emergency there is no way one could have the time or money to 'outsource'.  In fact, getting it done via  a sharpening service in New England 2010 was time consuming and expensive.  I believe a saw sharpening shop would be very valuable in a collapsed economy, as well as bulk saw blades for bow saws,  hack saws, etc. 
  7. There are many things one can make out of wood, but now is the time to experiment.  If you have an electric drill, a  chain saw  and a few boxes of wood  screws it's amazing what one can put together out of pieces of scrap wood, saplings  and standing dead lumber.  This  includes drying racks, chairs, benches, temporary scaffolding  etc.  If you can't afford exterior screws, get the interior ones, they seem to  last quite a long time.  If you can't recover the screws from the wood burn it in the fire and sift out the screws later (This approached is based on a  story my grandfather told about people in the mid-west 100 years ago,  burning down houses when they moved to recover the (more valuable) blacksmith nails) I tried this with scrap, broken  furniture that   I did not want to disassemble.  It worked. The fire often does not seem to affect the screws, unless already bent or abused.   
  8. Everyone who reads survival blog  probably realizes you can't store regular automobile gas for any length of time (how long will  fuel stabilizer work anyway?) .  This is a weak link when one depends on a chain saw for firewood and yet also   would like  to prepare for shortages.  I mentioned this problem to one of my German  Friends who happens to be a Forest Ranger and expert woodsman.  He said  they have a dedicated chain saw gas (pre-mixed or regular)  over there that will store for about two years. He said it was an 'alkylate petrol'. Brand names are: Green Cut, Motomix, Aspen, Oecomix, Clean Sprit, CleanLife. I contacted Stihl which sells the Motomix brand.   At this writing, the Stihl representative said it was 'unavailable' in the USA  (then I found out you can buy it in Canada).   My German friend  told me it is about $18.00 per gallon (pre-mixed).  I could see storing  about 20 gallons per year in the most extreme circumstances.  The 20 gallons per year figure assumes no gasoline available on the market for mixing with the stored oil.  I would sure sleep better at night with a supply of this 'special stuff' around.  In addition to this 'special chain saw fuel' they use  cheap Vegetable Oil for routine chain lubricant instead of regular Chain Bar Oil.  
  9. The canvas tent and stove combination worked well  until the weather stayed below freezing day and night.  It then became very hard to keep the tent warm under these conditions.  I made sure a supply of split, dry white cedar was available each morning.    I will need to build a permanent structure if we plan to stay during  winter (or return in the winter).  A possible solution is to insulate part of the shipping container, and modify it for a 'efficiency apartment'.  An advantage to this approach would be that no one would know for sure what was inside the unit, once the doors were closed.   With insulated chimney pipe being $100.00 a section in Maine,  I would camouflage the  pipe with a ventilator fan during our absence). 
  10. I ended up buying a lot more rope.  We  also would go beach combing,  which was a source for free short lengths of usable cordage.  Would there be intense competition for this 'trash' during a period of hyperinflation or material scarcity?   I have made rope out of the white cedar bark here using primitive weaving techniques.  It does work.
  11. Finally, I want to say something about 'camping' stuff'.  Many Germans, by tradition,  discourage talking at the dinner table, with the saying 'Eating is Eating and Talking is Talking'.  This strangely reminded me of  Camping equipment!  Camping is Camping and Survival is Survival. If I visit the place for one or two days I will be camping.   For real in-place retreat survival  I found few recreational camping supplies or equipment practical.  Cast Iron, Canvas, Big Heavy Lights, Heavy Work Clothes, Full Size Shovels, Leather, Thick Goose Down Comforters and 30+ inch bow saws (you get the idea) were the rule for us.  We did however depend on the $1.00 fold up toaster quite often. 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation  on the Maine Property

The shipping container had originally been placed on a foundation of crossed  logs (cribbing).  Over the 5-6 years since placement,  it had sank about 8  inches on one end.  I decided to level the container and place a more permanent treated post and beam foundation under the structure.  I first hired a backhoe (a reliable  neighbor who moved there from New Hampshire)  to dig holes 4 feet deep  on 4-foot centers under the container.  I then rented a 20 ton jack.  After two weeks of careful lifting and shimming, it was ½ inch above level (I had brought a survey instrument).

A Safety Tip:  Don't try to jack up a shipping container all at once,  to avoid a crush-injury (or worse) lift maximum 1-2  inches (3+ cm)   per day and redundantly reinforce everything. Rope the jack so it won't fly toward you if it springs out unexpectedly.  I know this from experience.  This was my second shipping container project.  Poor judgment lifting a 40 foot container in Missouri nearly cost me my leg. 

 When the container was completely lifted to spec,  I then placed 6x6 treated posts in the holes and used rail road ties as cross-pieces.  Again, this was all done off-grid with the available hand tools.  The survey instrument was a restored model from the 1950s (no laser).  The only thing that really bugged me about the project was that if the container fell on my arm or leg (or worse) it would be a long time before someone came to check on me in that remote part of the woods.  Carry a cell phone or radio within reach if you try this alone.     

Summary and Conclusion

There are a lot of problems in the Northeast.   I don't want to have to retreat there long-term. But things changed, bringing me back  due to work opportunity.    My wife and I at least had a place to go to that was paid for, relatively secure and had a small network of friends.  Most importantly,  it was close to where we were working  at the time.  I did not go to the 'retreat' as well prepared as I wanted to be,  and the retreat was not as well equipped as it should have been.  However, I learned a lot about what I needed, and what I 'thought' I could do without .  I can use this information no matter where I go.   For me this experiment was a worthwhile set of lessons that I had to re-learn and reinforced what I already knew.  It gave me the experience to set (or re-set) priorities.   The project  reminded me of how important it is to always be asking oneself the questions:  how can I  be more prepared?  What obvious things am I missing in my preparedness program?  I learn more from these real-world experiences than reading a ton of books  after I make the mistakes then read the books  it is much better understood for some reason).    Anyway,  will one ever have the perfect conditions to travel to one's refuge  in an emergency?  Conditions for finally moving to one's retreat are never ideal.     We  can only try to do our best, improve our condition and learn from our mistakes---while we have the time and resources to make them. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

It’s one or two years after an EMP attack and you are safely tucked away in your retreat somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  Your storage foods have mostly been used and your high tech electronics is useless.   The really bad stuff is mostly past.  Now it’s try to stay fed and alive and pray that civilization as you know it is coming back.  You’re going to have to work your environment to live.  Ever wonder what life might be like?  What would it really be like to have no running water, electricity, sewer, newspaper or Internet?  No supermarket or fire department close at hand?

I have a good imagination but I decided to talk to someone who would know first hand what it was like: my mother.  She grew up on a homestead in the middle of Montana during the 1920s and 1930s.  It was a two room Cottonwood cabin with the nearest neighbor three miles away.  She was oldest at 9, so she was in charge of her brother and sister.  This was her reality; I feel there are lessons here for the rest of us.

There was a Majestic stove that used wood and coal.  The first person up at four thirty A.M., usually her father, would start the fire for breakfast.  It was a comforting start to the day but your feet would get cold when you got out of bed. 

A crosscut saw and axe was used to cut wood for the stove and after that experience, you got pretty stingy with the firewood because you know what it takes to replace it.  The old timers say that it warms you when you cut it, when you split it, and again when you burn it.  The homes that were typical on homesteads and ranches of the era were smaller with lower ceilings than modern houses just so they could be heated easier.  The saw and axe were not tools to try hurrying with.  You set a steady pace and maintained it.  A man in a hurry with an axe may loose some toes or worse.  One side effect of the saw and axe use is that you are continuously hungry and will consume a huge amount of food.
Lights in the cabin were old fashioned kerosene lamps.  It was the kid’s job to trim the wicks, clean the chimneys and refill the reservoirs. 

The privy was downhill from the house next to the corral and there was no toilet paper.  Old newspaper, catalogs or magazines were used and in the summer a pan of barely warm water was there for hygiene.  During a dark night, blizzard, or brown out from a dust storm, you followed the corral poles-no flashlights.

There were two springs close to the house that ran clear, clean, and cold water.  The one right next to it was a “soft” water spring.  It was great for washing clothes and felt smooth, almost slick, on your skin.  If you drank from it, it would clean you out just as effectively as it cleaned clothes.  Not all clean water is equal.

The second spring was a half mile from the cabin and it was cold, clear, and tasted wonderful.  The spring itself was deep - an eight foot corral pole never hit bottom- and flowed through the year.  It was from here that the kids would fill two barrels on a heavy duty sled with water for the house and the animals.  They would lead the old white horse that was hitched to the sledge back to the buildings and distribute the water for people and animals.  In the summer, they made two trips in the morning and maybe a third in the evening.  In the winter, one trip in the morning and one in the evening.  They did this alone.

Breakfast was a big meal because they’re going to be working hard.  Usually there would be homemade sausage, eggs and either cornmeal mush or oatmeal.  More food was prepared than what was going to be eaten right then.  The extra food was left on the table under a dish towel and eaten as wanted during the day.  When evening meal was cooked, any leftovers were reheated.  The oatmeal or the mush was sliced and fried for supper.  It was served with butter, syrup, honey or molasses. 

The homemade sausage was from a quarter or half a hog.  The grinder was a small kitchen grinder that clamped on the edge of a table and everybody took turns cranking.  When all the hog had been ground, the sausage mix was added and kneaded in by hand.  Then it was immediately fried into patties.  The patties were placed, layer by layer, into a stone crock and covered with the rendered sausage grease.   The patties were reheated as needed.  The grease was used for gravies as well as re-cooking the patties.  Occasionally a fresh slice of bread would be slathered with a layer of sausage grease and a large slice of fresh onion would top it off for quick sandwich.  Nothing was wasted.
Some of their protein came from dried fish or beef.  Usually this had to be soaked to remove the excess salt or lye.  Then it was boiled.  Leftovers would go into hash, fish patties, or potato cakes.

Beans?  There was almost always a pot of beans on the stove in the winter time.
Chickens and a couple of milk cows provided needed food to balance the larder.  They could not have supported a growing family without these two resources.
The kitchen garden ran mostly to root crops.  Onion, turnip, rutabaga, potato and radishes grew under chicken wire.  Rhubarb was canned for use as a winter tonic to stave off scurvy.  Lettuce, corn, and other above ground crops suffered from deer, rats, and gumbo clay soil. Surprisingly, cabbage did well.  The winter squash didn’t do much, only 2 or 3 gourds.  Grasshoppers were controlled by the chickens and turkeys.  There was endless hoeing.

Washing clothes required heating water on the stove, pouring it into three galvanized wash tubs-one for the homemade lye soap and scrub board, the other two for rinsing.  Clothes were rinsed and wrung out by hand, then hung on a wire to dry in the air.  Your hands became red and raw, your arms and shoulders sore beyond belief by the end of the wash.  Wet clothing, especially wool, is heavy and the gray scum from the soap was hard to get out of the clothes.

Personal baths were in a galvanized wash tub screened by a sheet.  In the winter it was difficult to haul, heat and handle the water so baths weren’t done often.  Most people would do sponge baths. 

Everybody worked including the kids.  There were always more chores to be done than time in the day.  It wasn’t just this one family; it was the neighbors as well.  You were judged first and foremost by your work ethic and then your honesty.  This was critical because if you were found wanting in either department, the extra jobs that might pay cash money, a quarter of beef, hog or mutton would not be available.  Further, the cooperation with your neighbors was the only assurance that if you needed help, you would get help.  Nobody in the community could get by strictly on their own.  A few tried.  When they left, nobody missed them.
You didn’t have to like someone to cooperate and work with him or her.

Several times a year people would get together for organized activities: barn raising, butcher bee, harvest, roofing, dance, or picnics.  There were lots of picnics, usually in a creek bottom with cottonwoods for shade or sometimes at the church.  Always, the women would have tables groaning with food, full coffee pots and, if they were lucky, maybe some lemonade. (Lemons were expensive and scarce)  After the work (even for picnics, there was usually a project to be done first) came the socializing.  Many times people would bring bedding and sleep out overnight, returning home the next day.

A half dozen families would get together for a butcher bee in the cold days of late fall.  Cows were slaughtered first, then pigs, mutton, and finally chickens.  Blood from some of the animals was collected in milk pails, kept warm on a stove to halt coagulation and salt added.  Then it was canned for later use in blood dumplings, sausage or pudding.  The hides were salted for later tanning; the feathers from the fowl were held for cleaning and used in pillows or mattresses.  The skinned quarters of the animals would be dipped into cold salt brine and hung to finish cooling out so they could be taken home safely for processing.  Nothing went to waste.

The most feared occurrence in the area was fire.  If it got started, it wasn’t going out until it burned itself out.  People could and did loose everything.
The most used weapon was the .22 single shot Winchester with .22 shorts.  It was used to take the heads off pheasant, quail, rabbit and ducks.  If you held low, the low powered round didn’t tear up the meat.  The shooters, usually the kids, quickly learned sight picture and trigger control although they never heard those terms.  If you took five rounds of ammunition, you better bring back the ammunition or a critter for the pot for each round expended. It was also a lot quieter and less expensive [in those days] than the .22 Long Rifle cartridges.

If you are trying to maintain a low profile, the odor of freshly baked bread can be detected in excess of three miles on a calm day.  Especially by kids.
Twice a year the cabin was emptied of everything.  The walls, floors, and ceilings were scrubbed with lye soap and a bristle brush.  All the belongings were also cleaned before they came back into the house.  This was pest control and it was needed until DDT became available.  Bedbugs, lice, ticks and other creepy crawlies were a fact of life and were controlled by brute force.  Failure to do so left you in misery and maybe ill.

Foods were stored in bug proof containers.  The most popular was fifteen pound metal coffee cans with tight lids.  These were for day to day use in the kitchen.  (I still have one. It’s a family heirloom.)  The next were barrels to hold the bulk foods like flour, sugar, corn meal, and rice.  Everything was sealed or the vermin would get to it.  There was always at least one, preferably two, months of food on hand.  If the fall cash allowed, they would stock up for the entire winter before the first snowfall.

The closest thing to a cooler was a metal box in the kitchen floor.  It had a very tight lid and was used to store milk, eggs and butter for a day or two. Butter was heavily salted on the outside to keep it from going rancid or melting.  Buttermilk, cottage cheese and regular cheese was made from raw milk after collecting for a day or two.  The box was relatively cool in the summer and did not freeze in the winter.

Mice and rats love humanity because we keep our environment warm and tend to be sloppy with food they like.  Snakes love rats and mice so they were always around.  If the kids were going to play outside, they would police the area with a hoe and a shovel.  After killing and disposing of the rattlesnakes- there was always at least one-then they could play for a while in reasonable safety.

The mice and rats were controlled by traps, rocks from sling shots, cats and coyotes.  The cats had a hard and usually short life because of the coyotes.  The coyotes were barely controlled and seemed to be able to smell firearms at a distance.  There were people who hunted the never-ending numbers for the bounty.

After chores were done, kid’s active imagination was used in their play.  They didn’t have a lot of toys.  There were a couple of dolls for the girls, a pocket knife and some marbles for the boy, and a whole lot of empty to fill.  Their father’s beef calves were pretty gentle by the time they were sold at market - the kids rode them regularly.  (Not a much fat on those calves but a lot of muscle.)  They would look for arrow heads, lizards, and wild flowers.  Chokecherry, buffalo berry, gooseberry and currants were picked for jelly and syrups.  Sometimes the kids made chokecherry wine.

On a hot summer day in the afternoon, the shade on the east side of the house was treasured and the east wind, if it came, even more so.
Adults hated hailstorms because of the destruction, kids loved them because they could collect the hail and make ice cream.
Childbirth was usually handled at a neighbor’s house with a midwife if you were lucky.  If you got sick you were treated with ginger tea, honey, chicken soup or sulphur and molasses.  Castor oil was used regularly as well.  Wounds were cleaned with soap and disinfected with whisky.  Mustard based poultices were often used for a variety of ills.  Turpentine, mustard and lard was one that was applied to the chest for pneumonia or a hacking cough.

Contact with the outside world was an occasional trip to town for supplies using a wagon and team.  A battery operated radio was used very sparingly in the evenings.  A rechargeable car battery was used for power.  School was a six mile walk one way and you brought your own lunch.  One school teacher regularly put potatoes on the stove to bake and shared them with the kids.  She was very well thought of by the kids and the parents.

These people were used to a limited amount of social interaction.  They were used to no television, radio, or outside entertainment. They were used to having only three or four books.  A fiddler or guitar player for a picnic or a dance was a wonderful thing to be enjoyed.  Church was a social occasion as well as religious.
The church ladies and their butter and egg money allowed most rural churches to be built and to prosper.  The men were required to do the heavy work but the ladies made it come together.  The civilizing of the west sprang from these roots.  Some of those ladies had spines of steel.  They needed it.

That’s a partial story of the homestead years.  People were very independent, stubborn and strong but still needed the community and access to the technology of the outside world for salt, sugar, flour, spices, chicken feed, cloth, kerosene for the lights and of course, coffee. There are many more things I could list.  Could they have found an alternative if something was unavailable?  Maybe.  How would you get salt or nitrates in Montana without importing?  Does anyone know how to make kerosene?  Coffee would be valued like gold.  Roasted grain or chicory just didn’t cut it.

I don’t want to discourage people trying to prepare but rather to point out that generalized and practical knowledge along with a cooperative community is still needed for long term survival. Whatever shortcomings you may have, if you are part of a community, it is much more likely to be covered.  The described community in this article was at least twenty to thirty miles across and included many farms and ranches as well as the town.  Who your neighbors are, what type of people they are, and your relationship to them is one of the more important things to consider.

Were there fights, disagreements and other unpleasantness?  Absolutely.  Some of it was handled by neighbors, a minister or the sheriff.  Some bad feelings lasted a lifetime.  There were some people that were really bad by any standard and they were either the sheriff’s problem or they got sorted out by one of their prospective victims.
These homesteaders had a rough life but they felt they had a great life and their way of life was shared by everyone they knew.  They never went hungry, had great daylong picnics with the neighbors, and knew everyone personally within twenty miles.  Every bit of pleasure or joy was treasured like a jewel since it was usually found in a sea of hard work.  They worked hard, played hard and loved well.  In our cushy life, we have many more “things” and “conveniences” than they ever did, but we lack the connection they had with their environment and community. 

The biggest concern for our future: What happens if an event such as a solar flare, EMP, or a plague takes our society farther back than the early 1900s by wiping out our technology base.  Consider the relatively bucolic scene just described and then add in some true post-apocalyptic hard cases.  Some of the science fiction stories suddenly get much more realistic and scary.  A comment out of a Star Trek scene comes to mind “In the fight between good and evil, good must be very, very good.”
Consider what kind of supplies might not be available at any cost just because there is no longer a manufacturing base or because there is no supply chain.  In the 1900s they had the railroads as a lifeline from the industrial east.
How long would it take us to rebuild the tools for recovery to the early 1900 levels?

One of the greatest advantages we have is access to a huge amount of information about our world, how things work and everything in our lives. We need to be smart enough to learn/understand as much as possible and store references for all the rest.  Some of us don’t sleep well at night as we are well aware of how fragile our society and technological infrastructure is.  Trying to live the homesteader’s life would be very painful for most of us.  I would prefer not to.  I hope and pray it doesn’t ever come to that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Awhile back I put up several strings of same color strings of  LED Christmas tree lights from Inirgee. They have been just wonderful to deal with over the years.

The blue strings work great in the outhouse at night because you don't lose your night vision.

Outside around the house, I tried the cool white but the warm white strings worked much better outside under the eaves. They make a very nice non-obtrusive lighting around the house at night and they are extremely conservative on power. They really make it nice on the driveway and walks.

Then I found a photoelectric controller, the Flexcharge Night Watchman Photoswitch, 12 volt DC / 10 amps from It works great.

When I get home at night, I don't need a flashlight to walk in the house.

Just an FYI. Warmest regards and Merry Christmas to you and yours. - The Army Aviator

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

James Wesley;
Vlad wrote at the end of his piece, "Wish I had a better closing line but it is getting late and I need to go dig up a potentiometer for this lamp."  Unfortunately, that isn't going to do a lot of good.  Because an LED is a diode (the D in LED) it is pretty much on or off.  Dimmable LEDs are usually dimmed via Pulse-width Modulation -- essentially, turning the LED on and off very quickly.  This doesn't harm the LED, but it needs a particular circuit to do it.  Reducing the voltage will dim it -- but it will happen with such a quick drop off that the "sweet spot" you are looking for will be minisculely tiny and not something you are going to hit without a very sensitive pot and a steady hand.  Several web sites detail how to make a PWM dimmer with the ubiquitous 555 timer chip (The piece at Instructables on this topic  is good).  That would be the best way to dim the LEDs themselves.

Since LEDs draw so little current, I do my "dimming" in stages by either switching in a different number of LEDs for different levels.  PWM isn't hard with a timer chip, but PWM isn't hardened at all against EMP (since a timer chip is an IC) and introduces more points of failure.

Also, on rigging for red -- remember that the opposite is also true.  When you want to get the most vision for the least number of LEDs, go to the other end of the spectrum and get one of the blue LEDs.  I end up putting something over most of the blue LEDs that manufacturers love putting on electronics now, because a single one of them is more than enough to be a nightlight, and having just a few of them going at once will light a room up brighter than a full moon.  Because they also produce virtually no heat, you can put them virtually anywhere without a fire risk, including boxing them up with only a slit or pinhole to control the light output. - Phelps

Sunday, December 19, 2010

James Wesley:
I am writing by the light of a post-apocalyptic reading lamp I just constructed. From a string of LED Christmas lights, I removed two sections of just three LEDs each. To each of these I attached in series a single 100 Ohm resistor from the parts bin at Radio Shack. A goose-neck work light provided a good reflector and glare control. I cut the plug off the other end and crimped on the connectors appropriate to my battery. The battery was salvaged from a defunct computer UPS. They are common to alarm systems and are not expensive new. About 12" of electrical tape to cover my splices and some string to arrange the bulbs just so in the work light. For a more permanent project I would solder and heat-shrink the splices and add a fuse.

In addition to looking like something just a bit too civilized to make it into a Mad Max movie this lamp puts out enough light to read by easily or do fairly detailed hand work. This is far more than my oil lamps can do. It draws .055 amp at 12 volts or seven tenths of a watt. Add a few bits of solar panel from some garden lights and the right diode and it can be made rechargeable. Tie it in to a more sophisticated off-grid power system for even better results.

I have small ones around and fear fire. Glass oil lamps are a nightmare. Even kept high and out of the way I can picture a high spirited little darling tossing an object just right and chaos follows.

If I can figure out how to integrate it aesthetically I plan to 'nightlight' the whole house. The same series circuit can be reproduced over and over in a parallel run using a light gauge wire.

Any parent can probably sympathize with trip hazards due to small people around. Stumbling around in the dark is dangerous and inefficient. Integrating something like this in a discreet way could be valuable. Maybe add a light sensor so they come on dimly as path lighting all night, and include an override switch to turn them up to full brightness as needed, or cut them entirely for light discipline. A relay powered by the solar panel could hold the circuit open until it had no more energy to contribute, then the lights would come on.

The same approach could be managed with unmodified Christmas lights and an inverter. Running an entire string of 60 lights plus the paying for losses in converting from AC to DC is fine of you have power to spare. But it silly when all you need is half a dozen lights at the right place.

Wish I had a better closing line but it is getting late and I need to go dig up a potentiometer for this lamp. - Vlad

JWR Replies: Low power DC lighting is great for retreats with alternative energy systems. And of course LEDs are the most energy-efficient source of light. For use at retreats, I recommend getting segmented strings of red LED lights. Several vendors make LED "Rope" strings divisible into three-foot segments that are custom made to work on 12 VDC power sources with no modification. (This is a plus for those that are not adept at wielding a soldering iron.) Why red, you ask? For preserving your best natural night vision. This is the same reason that many navies around the world still "rig for red".

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, September 16, 2010

This has been covered before, but I'd like to reinforce that use of garage sales for low-key cash purchases of essential survival items. In the past two months I've been making weekend trips to various community garage sales - spending an average of less than $20 per weekend. Most of the items cost me less than $10 each and I often only paid $1 or $2. The following is a partial list of the haul:

2 - Complete dissection kits with scalpels, forceps, etc
1 - Craftsman toolbox, steel, in good condition
1 - 19th Century wrench
1 - Drawknife
1 - New two-mantle Coleman lantern with spare mantles and fuel can with can
1 - Glass kerosene lamp with bottle of fuel
1 - Used Coleman lantern, one-mantle
1- Good condition 5 gallon USMC metal gas can
1 - Set of woodworking gouges
1 - 9mm holster new
1 - Shotgun cleaning kit
2 - Police band /Public service band/Aircraft band scanners (1 base and 1 portable)
1 - Wooden ammo box suitable for storing boxes of .22 LR
2 - Working portable radios, battery powered
1 - Crank/battery solar powered radio (suitable for recharging rechargeable batteries)
1 - Set of socket wrenches and assorted hand tools (hand drills, screwdrivers, etc)
1 - Large crowbar
1 - Fishing outfit -- rod, reel, and tackle
1 - Backpack
1 - Coleman camping stove -- small one burner
1 - Army mess kit
3 - .50 caliber military issue ammo cans
1 - Bench vise

I passed on a number of other good items -- for reasons of space, budget, or lack of need including several portable Coleman propane stoves, tents, winter clothing, tools, at least two 10-gun capacity steel storage cabinets and an Egyptian AK-47 rifle. I did pick up a single shot 12 gauge shotgun for $80 as my "big purchase". Perfect firing condition except for needing cleaning -- so I spent another $45 for a full disassemble, checkout, and cleaning by my local gunsmith. - Joe T.

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 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.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Introductory biographical note: The author is 64 years old, father of nine children, BSAE Aeronautical Engineering, Ex-Army Infantry Training Officer (1970-1974), former Gym Trainer (1996-1997), Firefighter and EMT training and certification (2009-2010), Real Estate Broker/Owner

Phase I
I began realizing my vulnerability in 1998-1999, when Y2K-induced turmoil was a potential real possibility. I began, in all haste to find and prepare for the possible disaster that might come when the clock struck 12:00 midnight and 2000 would ring in. My first step was to find enough land that would be secure enough for my family and to design a place we could live and that would handle any disaster, whether it was of nature, man-made or God directed. My requirements were simple. It needed to have relatively high elevation (1,500ft+ above sea level), close enough to a populated city , but rural enough to not easily be found, basically within a 1 hour drive. Secluded, but not to isolated, and not to far removed from all civilization, but yet be sparsely populated and hard to find. It had to have access to running water and have soil to grow crops. 
I found a piece of property that was nearly 50 acres on the top of a ridge line, that was part of a 1,000 acre tract, with only 15 other property owners, with tracts ranging from 15 acres to 200 acres. The 1,000 acres was gated with one main, electrically operated secured gate leading in and a permanently locked gate leading out for emergencies only. The community had two 400 ft wells, with creeks running through the 1,000 acres and touching my tract. One of the wells was at the bottom of my property and had a 5 h.p. pump. The well was on a timer and delivered water to multiple tanks at different locations on the three highest elevations. Gravity feed then brought the water to the 15 property owners. I purchased an 8kw mobile generator, for standby power, to run the pump, if we were to loose electricity for any long period of time. The owner of the 200 acre tract reserved his for hunting and kept it seeded, to attract deer, rabbit, bear & turkey. The developer of the 1,000 acres paved the main road coming up to about 1,500 feet and then graveled from there to all the tracts ranging from 500 ft to 2,500 ft. My parcel sits at about 2,200 ft. ASL. All of the tracts are heavily wooded with hardwoods as well as evergreens.

My next step was to design and start construction of an impregnable home (fortress) that would withstand any disaster within the constraints of my budget. My plan was to dig into the mountain such that only one side would be open and dirt would surround the other three sides up to 12’. Because time was a factor, I knew I could only get the basement part completed before the New Year would ring in. This meant my roof would be the floor of the home that I would need to finish someday in the future, if the world was still around after Y2K.

I sent my floor plans to the engineering department of a nearby university and asked for help.
The dimensions I gave them were to be 37’X 52’ split lengthwise by a 12’ separation wall 12” thick of poured reinforced concrete surrounded by 12’ walls of the same. To handle the load of a semi-truck driving over my roof, they told me I needed  8” of poured concrete, reinforced with rebar, 10” on center and 6 by 6 [heavy] wire mesh. I added an 8’ wide X 5’ high fireplace on the open side of the basement with large racks for grilling my kill. The basement floor was 4” poured concrete that I ran one inch polyurethane tubing 4’ apart throughout the basement floor, which ran into a plenum in the base of the fireplace and back to a recirculating pump and holding tank. In addition, valving was added to reroute the heated water into the hot water system of the house. A small, electric hot water heater was added to the system capable of running from standard 120 VAC as second water heater capable running at 12VDC from solar panels via deep cycle storage batteries I purchased (4) 2’X 6‘ solar panels with frame, and a windmill.
Prior to having the roof poured I dropped in a 500 gal urethane water tank built into a frame that raised the tank from 6’ to the roof. This would allow me for gravity feed system in the basement.. I constructed two fiberglass shower stalls for two bathrooms, a work/mechanical room, two bedrooms and a kitchen on one side of the divided wall. Two metal framed doors secured this area from the large living room that is between the divided wall and the outside open wall. There are two metal doors exiting the basement. One is through a stairwell to the roof (future floor of the main house) and the other through the open side.
I also decided to add one additional piece for security, as well as escape. At the back of the basement going into the mountain I put in a 30’ X 10’ cleaned out metal fuel tank (25,000 gal to be exact). This is what I called my Survival Tank. I found the tank at a scrap metal yard out in the boonies and had a local welder cut one end out and put in a double hinged door secured by 1” X 1” sliding bars that were lockable with the largest master locks I could find. On the top of one end of the tank I had him cut out a 3’ X 3’ square and ran 4 walls, 6’ up with a latchable top, secured from the inside, as well as a metal ladder to go from the floor to the top of the latch. I then had a floor frame put in that was 30” from the bottom of the tank and added 2’ x 6” wood removable flooring. This is where I store all of the 5 gal urethane storage buckets.  From the 2”x 6” floor I built metal shelving with 2”x 6” wood shelves to the roof of the tank. That left me with about an 8’ walkway front to rear down the center of the tank. The hard part was getting the tank up the last 500’ vertical 30 degree incline to the homesite. For this I had to find the largest wrecker in the state. We had to winch the tank up the 500’ and then drop it in the ground before we poured the 12” back wall around it, leaving the welded doors as the entry from the basement to the tank. The tank was now about 4’ underground, with the escape hatch protruding above the surface. A few years later, after Y2K became a no- event, I enlarged my floor plan above the basement and added an additional 1,000sq ft and poured concrete over the entire area where the tank was buried. With all this, an oversized septic system and drain field needed to be designed. I have since changed the design of the house to have a castle look that is an additional 26’ above the basement, using split face block that is reinforced with rebar and filled with concrete. Other things that have been done are the purchase and installation of an inverter system, solar array and windmill. I have a 600 gal gas tank and 1,000 gal propane tank. I have an extra 5kva generator which has been converted to be a dual-fuel system, i.e. gas/propane. After nine years I have the walls up from the basement roof and hope to have a metal/concrete roof put on before 2012, for what I hope is also a non-event.

Phase II
This is really a continuation of Phase I, but it is the process of preparing the list of lists and then accumulating the items necessary to insure a plan A, B & C and in some areas a plan D.

  1. CACHES- I keep most of my equipment& supplies that I cannot easily replace or want to safeguard the most, in the Survival Tank. But I have also build special caches for firearms and ammo that I can bury in different locations, if for any reason any of my residences become compromised. I did this by taking 8” X 5’ sections of PVC pipe and capping each end. They are waterproof, can hold two rifles, hand guns and ammo each and can easily be buried and retrieved.
  2. EMERGENCY LIGHTING- Purchased wall-mounted LED kits that can easily be mounted above telephone jacks, thus utilizing the 2nd pair of phone wires on a 12VDC circuit wired to a single automobile battery with a small solar panel for emergency lighting.
  3. EXERCISE/MILLING/12VDC GENERATOR- I purchased a Country Living Mill and then found an exercise bike. I also mounted both the mill and a 12VDC automobile generator, pre-1975, to a board with a 12 VDC battery. I can generate 12 VDC power for my emergency lighting  or charge up the car battery or grind wheat into flour, while getting in our daily exercise.
  4. TRANSPORTATION- Purchased a customized  ’71 & ’74 4WD Chevy Blazers on the internet. The ’71 was customized for brush firefighting and the ’74 was customized as a dual fuel
  5. GARDENING- I have just applied for a subsidy grant, and received it, from a program launched in December 2009 by the Department of Agriculture, whereby I will be reimbursed up to $3,300 for materials to construct up to 2,175 sf of high tunnels for growing crops. A high tunnel or hoop house are miniature greenhouses without all the fancy bells and whistles The grants are being awarded to 38 states for the purpose of extending the growing seasons of food crops and most families can qualify if they have a small tract of land to put them on. Last month I had a bob-cat grade out about a half acre and will start planting in the fall for a early spring harvest.
  6. FOOD- Thousands of  rations of  MREs. Freeze-dried , dehydrated and raw wheat, rice, sugar, honey etc.


Mistakes I have made:


  1. I put 2-8’x10’ sectioned windows on the open side of the basement. Twice I have had ATV renegades break in, through the windows, even through the metal-doored tank, cutting the locks and thereby taking my guns and ammo and trying to hot wire my dirt bike.  I have since then boarded up the windows and put larger Master locks on the doors. I have found that there is almost nowhere safe from a dirt bike or ATV. A security system is my next step. Booby traps are illegal in most jurisdictions.
  2. Metal tanks, underground, will sweat, making large pools of water in the bottom of the tank. It is difficult to control the temperature, but since I installed dehumidifiers, everything stays dry and cool. Dampness accelerates the deterioration of metal cans making them rust from both inside and outside the can.  Mold or mildew starts to take over everything from bedding, to books to any type of paper products and boxes will fall apart over time Dampness also invites rodents you do not want, as well as insects, so use plenty of rat bait and seal up all possible points of entry. I also fog the place every time I leave.
  3. If you are going to build an oversize fireplace make sure you find someone who knows how to calculate the ratio of the flu and damper.
  4. When building a basement underground, be sure you study up on removing water from the walls created by hydrostatic pressure and have a good wall and below floor drainage system.


  1. Rotation of Food- MREs do last more than 10 years [at temperatures under 60 degrees], with a few exceptions such as high oil content foods which begin to deteriorate. Fruits break down and start to ferment or just go bad.


  1. I'm not yet sure how to handle long term supply of female monthly needs or what to substitute when supplies run out. [JWR Adds: I've had several readers enthusiastically recommend washable fabric sanitary pads. Patterns for making your own are available on-line. Or if you'd rather have someone else do the repetitive sewing work, then I recommend a small, family-owned business called Naturally Cozy. From all reports, their pads are very comfortable and made to last.]

Don’t run out of money, because your eyes are bigger than your wallet or borrowing power is.

My Belief System

For those who believe, have repented and have chosen to follow in his teachings, he has promised eternal life. Although all things are in God’s hand, and it has been ordained as to the end and how and when it will happen, as Christians, we have a responsibility to God, our families, our church and our fellow man to be prepared both spiritually and materially. We may choose that “God will provide”, “ What is meant to be, will be” or “God helps those who help themselves” attitude. Through out the Bible, God gave direction, through his word, directly and indirectly to be prepared at all times.

Most agree on at least the distinction that we live in an unprecedented time in History. Before us, cities, kingdoms and nations have been destroyed by God or God has removed his hand and blessings and they have been destroyed or have destroyed themselves. God has, through his mercy, given guidance and direction for us to be prepared for his second coming. He has warned us of upcoming famine, destruction and the wrath that will be unleashed upon the earth before Jesus Christ returns. [We've also been warned of] the possibility, if not the absolute certainty, of some form of collapse in our system, as we know it. This may come in a variety of forms - flu pandemic, economic depression, or an EMP attack, all of which are likely scenarios. Regardless of the form, the result will be very similar and our concerns are as well: How do we protect ourselves and our families and provide a living? While stocking up on beans, bullets, and band-aids is the initial response, further preparation encourages us to find a defensible, as well as productive retreat. But then what? So you have your retreat (or not), you’ve stocked up on seeds and a food mill, and “the event” actually comes. Are you prepared to provide for yourself when the food runs out or if society never returns to “normal”?

Although it may be difficult to learn and find the time for, the ability to provide for yourself provides incredible rewards. If we should need to return to a less technologically “advanced” society, many people will not have the knowledge, skills, and determination to do so. A few forward-thinkers will. Which do you want to be?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just sending a note to remind your readers that the time to plan and plant a fall vegetable garden is right around the corner. Check out the USDA Hardiness Zone Maps for your area to find out what generally grows well in your area. Even better, check with your local Land Grant College Extension office for specific varieties as well as gardening tips and techniques for your area. In Oklahoma, mine is the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. See their home page for the Fact Sheets. For example, see the Fact Sheet for Fall Gardening.

Here is a quote from that Fact Sheet - "Some of the best quality garden vegetables in Oklahoma are produced and harvested during the fall season when warm, sunny days are followed by cool, humid nights. Under these climatic conditions, plant soil metabolism is low; therefore, more of the food manufactured by the plant becomes a high-quality vegetable product."

BTW, an excellent source for open-pollinated gardening seeds is Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I do not have any financial interest in the company but I am a well satisfied customer.

God bless you for all you do, - Tom B. in Oklahoma


Thanks for keeping up Survival Blog. It's been an invaluable resource.
Just a note on the referenced article based on long experience in the lighting industry
and in growing stuff here in the Frozen North

Save some money by not falling for the "Full Spectrum" lamp nonsense. 6500K refers to the apparent whiteness of the light output when compared to a THEORETICAL chunk of black iron heated to 6500 Degrees Kelvin. This is called Colour Temperature. It has no bearing on plant growth. It is an attempt to quantify a subjective individual perception.
"Full Spectrum" is a meaningless term that conveys no information other than the light source emits light in the full range of the visible spectrum. Almost all lamps do this especially fluorescent lamps.

A more appropriate measure is "Colour Rendering Index" (CRI). This is a measure of the apparent rendition of colours from a standard chart called the "Munsel Scale" They show colour samples to people within normal colour vision range and record the results. If a majority of subjects report seeing colours within the acceptable range, the CRI rating is applied. Roughly. 81% reporting of "accurate" color judgment gives a CRI of 85. Thus a Lamp whose catalogue number ends in 735 has a Colour Rendering Index of 70 and a Colour temperature of 3,500 Degrees Kelvin. This is useful when lighting my wife's make up mirror but useless in the growing area.

A few years ago I worked with a physician who was treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with Light Therapy. After I got him Fixtures for about one tenth of the cost of the usual advertised scam units I asked him if he wanted the fancy "Full Spectrum " lamps to go with them He laughed at me. Then he told me that the cheap .99 cent ones did the same job as the $12 ones.

The advertised "Full Spectrum" Lamps almost never reference the CRI and are touted on the basis of the higher Colour Temperatures being somehow better. This is all part of the scam.

The real determination of the effectiveness of artificial light in home winter growing is the amount and positioning of light & the photo period. (How much light for how long)
Just get around 100 Foot Candles on the growing plants for the same length of light that they would get in a normal summer growing period
Note that a foot Candle is one "Lumen" per foot or the light of one candle. You can buy a meter to read this level at most photography supplies
They are usually available in an inexpensive model that does very well. The growing of an indoor garden is not Rocket Science.

Use the cheap lamps (light bulbs) & spend the extra money on ammo. With Regards, - George, Casa Frejole


Thanks for your blog and what you do. I'm not just a 10 Cent Challenger, but also a fan your books, "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It", "Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course, "Rawles on Retreats and Relocation", "Patriots", and your earlier writings before this. I'm a retired [U.S. Army] 11B [infantryman] mostly active duty, but did tours in Somalia and Kuwait among other. I appreciate the content and comments of your blog.

In "The Winter Salad" the author gave some great information and alternatives, and your OPSEC comments are valid, one small thing was perhaps omitted and that is sprouts, this may be a good alternative as well as sprouts do not require as much energy input to get good nutrition. Granted there are some precautions to take, some plants are okay to eat of the seed or fruit, but not leaves or roots and the like, Consulting your local county agricultural agent may be a good place to start.

I mention this more for a "grid down" situation where one has a static location and is not in movement or the like.

Also the addition of multivitamins with minerals may be a good addition to a nutrition issue.

Thanks again for an excellent blog. - T. in the Pacific Northwest

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If you even so much as glance at the news or if you're like me and check out The Drudge Report every morning, you can't help but realize the world is becoming more and more uncertain. It seems that anything could happen at the drop of a hat and without little, if any, fore-warning. Volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods seem to be changing or taking the lives of unsuspecting people almost daily. The threat of nuclear warfare is always just beyond the horizon. If we ever experience an EMP, we could be without power and [utility-supplied] water for months. Most of western civilization isn't nearly prepared for something like that!

My family and I don't live in fear, though, because we take comfort in God's word which tells us to not to fear or be anxious about anything. However, He also tells us to have understanding of the times we live in. My family and I live day to day with an awareness in the back of our minds that we're living in uncertain times and need to be diligently prepared for anything that might happen. For my family, preparedness is a part of our daily lives. I've noticed over the last few years that the more we practice living prepared lives, the more naturally it comes.

My hubby and I keep two large green totes in the back of our van at all times. We packed these totes (which we got at a local hardware store) with MREs, cases of bottled water, a large first aid kit, hand sanitizers, blankets, tools, and other things that might be necessary if we have to leave at a moments notice or, if for some reason, we just won't be able to go home because of an unforeseen emergency.

We always keep "to-go" bags packed, too. We have four young children (twin girls who are six years old, a daughter who is five years old, and a little boy who is two years old.). Needless to say, things need to be as prepared as possible when there are such young children in the picture. The girls have one bag with numerous articles of clothing. My son's bag is simply his huge diaper bag which has been fully stocked since the day he was born. We also keep small totes filled with clothing that we could easily throw into the van at a moment's notice. My own personal bag contains a few days worth of clothing along with weeks' worth of toiletry items for the whole family (those handy to-go toothbrushes with the toothpaste already in them, single use Clorox wipes, soaps, etc.) These bags don't just sit around in a closet forgotten. We use them often and keep them "updated." They come in handy when my hubby and I decide to take a getaway to a hotel or camping trip while the kids stay the night with Grandma. We can make plans with minimal notice and everything's all ready to go.

Two years ago, we had a power and water outage that lasted five hours. The kids were already in bed but the sudden pitch-blackness woke them up and they started crying. We let them get out of bed to play with flashlights and glow sticks for an extra hour. We gave them a small LED light to use as a nightlight. Thankfully, everything was right where it was supposed to be and we had everything we needed. Once they got used to the power outage, the kids went peacefully back to bed.

While it's hard to imagine living without power or water for weeks or months at a time, I have to admit that a short power outage can be a bit of an adventure. It's also a learning experience. Let me pass along one interesting tip I learned during our "adventure." By the time my hubby and I had put the kids back to bed, we were getting thirsty. It was August in the southwestern desert and the house was beginning to get a little warm. I was only too excited to use some of the bottled water from one of our emergency totes in the garage. I opened my bottle and took a nice big gulp before rushing to the sink to spit out what was left in my mouth! The water, which had been stored with candles for about two years, tasted distinctly of Glade Vanilla. I'm not sure if it was dangerous to ingest but it sure tasted like it! Note to the reader: never store bottled water with scented candles!

Besides candles and bottled water, it's also a good idea to have some good, old-fashioned items handy. Do you have a washer-board and a clothesline? You just might need that. Do you have a battery-operated or wind-up radio in the house? You just might need that, too. Do you have a water filter? Do you have a dehydrator? Use them now! Use all of these things now. Especially if you have kids, using these things can go hand in hand with a history lesson and can be just plain ol' fun and interesting.

Just this year, we began growing our own fruits and vegetables in our backyard. We don't have as much yet as I would like, but it will help supplement our food stores. I home school my children and based an entire month long curriculum on gardening and cultivating our own food. The children love it and it's helping to prepare us for anything from inflation to a deflated or non-existent marketplace. My two year old son was incredibly excited when he got to pick his own blueberry from one of our bushes and eat it. Besides being a good preparation for a future catastrophe, gardening is daily rewarding (especially if you live in a warmer climate where you can grow food year round). It is also possible to turn one of your rooms into a greenhouse. I don't know much about that myself since it's always so warm here, but that might be worth looking into if you live in a colder climate.

Since my four children were born (the first 2, six years ago), I haven't spent more than a few hundred dollars on clothes for them and those few hundred dollars were spent on holidays and birthdays. I swap for everything. I very rarely buy anything new and no, we don't run around looking like vagabonds wearing someone else's cast-off clothing. I don't have to do this but since I do, I can spend the money I save on more important things. Certain friends brag about the good deals they get at garage sales. I get just as many things as they do but don't spend nearly the money! Once in awhile, I pay a small postage cost to mail something to someone, but often I'm getting something for nothing at all but my time. I can use those extra funds to store up canned food and other necessities. I can invest in charities and my church, storing up treasures in Heaven where there is no rust or moths to destroy. Because frugality is already so much a part of my life, I'll be more able to adapt to a lifestyle of bartering and trading if TEOTWAWKI ever comes.

I think most people reading this blog are prepared to learn, considering the wealth of useful information on this web site alone. There could come a time, though, when the Internet might not be accessible for weeks, months, or even years at a time. You might not be able to call friends for help. You might not even feel that it's safe enough to venture out of your house. You need your own special survival bookshelf to go to in case of an emergency. Even a very well-prepared and knowledgeable survivalist may not know how to create a solar still, or remember which mushrooms are edible off the top of his head. Books like the SAS Survival Handbook by John "Lofty" Wiseman are a necessity in case of TEOTWAWKI. Cookbooks like "Food at the Time of the Bible" tell you how to prepare, store, and trade food like they did back in the day. These are just a few references I want to always have near, but there's such a wealth of good survival books out there! Build up your library now, while times are good (enough) and bookstores are easily accessible. Someday, they might not be.

Maybe it can be like that old REM song: "It's the End of the World as We Know it and I Feel Fine." I'm being a little facetious; I don't know how fine I'll feel if and when TEOTWAWKI really happens. I hope I will be able to sing. Singing brings joy when there is none, peace when it seems distant, and comfort in uncertainty. In any case, there is quite a measure of comfort in knowing that you're living as prepared as is practical for you and your family. Living this way is rewarding in itself even if that day never comes. For me, living diligently prepared, having things ready, acting frugal, practicing for unexpected changes to life's plans, and gardening makes each day richer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The 12 volt DC lead-acid batteries employed in most readers' vehicles, power storage systems and backup supply systems are expensive, have finite life spans and are a critical link in the timely operation of
equipment required to respond to short term and long term grid-down situations. Aged batteries become unreliable, but are difficult to keep in a state of readiness and when deemed "spent" their replacement puts a drain on already limited financial resources.

Most people have battery chargers and the know-how to use them in an effort to keep older - or infrequently used - batteries in a charged state so they can be relied upon when needed. This is, however, time
consuming and the unpredictability of battery depletion, through sulfation and other age-related deterioration, makes it difficult to keep your batteries in a constant state of readiness in a cost-effective manner that is not manpower intensive.

If a battery has reached a truly terminal stage of decay, such as failure of inter-cell connections, lead plate breakage or separations and similar situations that require mechanical reconstruction, then the battery should be recycled - it's beyond repair by ordinary mortals. But if the battery is mechanically viable and just badly aged, there is a very good chance that it can be brought back to a very useful state with a device that is relatively unknown but commercially available. I will not claim that it can be made as good as new, but my own results were very satisfying.

A neighbor of mine - a Ph.D. Chemist - came across, researched and subsequently purchased a device known as the Renaissance Charge Rejuvenator. He has already brought a dozen lead-acid 12V batteries back from near useless states. I borrowed the 'Rejuvenator' unit, and attached it to three different 12V lead-acid batteries of my own over a 4-day period. In each case the battery, which had previously been unable to retain a decent charge, was "brought back to life" and held a good charge making it usable for employment as a car battery, a source of energy in an inverter set-up or other traditional arrangements.

The Rejuvenator works best if you use it repeatedly, drawing down the battery between applications. For my own batteries, I used the unit until it indicated "done" (green light), then I placed a load on the battery and drew it down to about 11V, gave it a rest period of about 8 hours and then ran the unit through another cycle to charge it back up and apply a "second dose" of the unit's proprietary repair process.

The Rejuvenator is not exactly cheap at $200 (delivered) but if you bring two "mostly dead" large capacity car batteries (or just one heavy duty tractor battery) back to useful life you've pretty well paid for the unit and after that everything is free. You might consider splitting the cost with a good neighbor or two.

I submit that readers would be well advised to do some research and consider purchasing one of these units to extend the life of the many batteries they already have in use, in order to avoid the high costs associated with replacement. I was stunned when I counted and realized that I have fourteen 12V lead-acid batteries on my ranch. Just as an aside, I have no vested interest in the company that makes the units, and will receive no compensation if this recommendation should result in sales for the Renaissance-Charge Company, though it couldn't hurt if you mention that "Ted from Careywood" sent you. They may be inclined to give some sort of small discount, though I have no control over that. In any case, the cost/benefit analysis seems to make it a good deal, especially for those who use lots of battery banks to avoid dependence on the electrical grid. Best Regards, - Ted

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 and 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 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 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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hi Jim,
I just heard about this, and although expensive it sounds like the perfect long term TEOTWAWKI light:

The 5.11 Tactical 'light for life'. It is a Capacitor/LED flashlight. Here are the basic specifications:

  • 90 second recharge time
  • 12 VDC recharging
  • 2 hour run time (step down 90/60 lumen - 1 hour each)
  • 270 lumen peak (90 normal)
  • 135 year life span
  • 100 yard throw

Thanks, - Greg W.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mr. F. has written a very good article on a subject often neglected by many. As a fire service professional working for one of the largest municipal agencies in the country, I must warn against the use of candles whenever possible. Paranoid? Not after seeing burned up children, loss of property, etc. If you must, please place them well away from any combustible materials, and never carry one when lit. - SplitHoof.

JWR Replies: I generally discourage the use of candles, but if and when they are used, my advice is to: 1.) Never let them burn unattended, and 2.) Over-engineer their supports. Don't just use a cup-base candlestick holder. Place candles in the middle of a large cookie sheet or a broiler pan. (Look for well-used ones at thrift stores and at garage sales.) That way, even if a candle were to burn unevenly and tip over, there would be no risk of a fire.

Mr. Rawles-
The subject of fire safety is seriously overlooked in preparedness, as evidenced by the large losses of life and property we experience even in "normal" times. Mr. F's piece is a needed wake-up call.

Allow me to add that there is good reason for owning the proper fire extinguishers in the event of an attack on your retreat/home.

Those of us that remember the 60's will recall that the Molotov Cocktail was a favorite weapon used by rioters and general trouble makers. These were generally gasoline filled bottles with some primitive ignition device like a fuel soaked rag. Some had more sophisticated ignition. Generally they were not good weapons and not too effective. However if one lands in your living room it can at least distract you from more important matters.

A portable fire extinguisher rated as ABC for the three classes of fire in the 10 to 20 pound range is sufficient to quickly take care of one of these improvised incendiary. I have both demonstrated this and seen it demonstrated in more controlled tests. A few extinguishers at the ready can do dual duty in peace and war. Consider them as you would firearms and get them big enough and in quantity. - Palmetto


Mr. Rawles,

I'd like to add a quick aside to Mr. F's excellent article on Survival Fire Safety:
I've always had an interest in firefighting, but not so much that I ever considered it an appropriate career option. About a year and a half ago, we moved out of a major metropolitan area to the outskirts of a very small town (census population less than 100) a few hours away to establish a retreat and small family farm where we now live.

Shortly after moving here, I realized that most all the fire departments were staffed by volunteers. I asked around, and eventually got in touch with the chief of our local volunteer fire department. Long story short, I went through a few dozen hours of state-funded training and am now an active member of our local department. I was issued a full set of structural firefighting protective gear (boots, turnouts, gloves, Nomex hood, and helmet) which stays with me at all times. I was also issued a pager, and a radio is soon to come. There are ongoing training opportunities available, including medical training which I plan to take advantage of later this year.

Over the past six months, I've responded to a number of fire calls—ranging from very minor to one recent call where a just-vacated house burned clear to the ground in the middle of the night, having progressed much too far by the time a neighbour discovered there was even a fire. To say I've gotten valuable real-world training and experience in even this short time span would be an understatement. It's made me re-evaluate how and where we store liquid fuels, more closely monitor our woodstove/chimney and electrical system, and generally be more cognizant of combustibles in and around our home and how we should respond in the event there is a fire. We've always kept fire extinguishers on hand and maintained smoke alarms, but I'm now much more deliberate about these important items. Our department historically deals with quite a few brush/woodland fires in the warmer months, so I'm anticipating those learning experiences to come as well.

What's more, in addition to now being trained and equipped, I'm on my way to becoming a much more active and recognised member of the community. My wife's family has been here for generations, but we're new and our name was previously unknown. Now, I'm serving my community in a unique and important way, getting to know folks, and in the process getting valuable training and access to gear which no doubt will help me serve my own family in a SHTF scenario.

If anyone has a similar interest, I would highly recommend at least looking into it. - CH

Mr. Rawles,
I would like to add too your posting on this subject, I am a member of a volunteer fire department in Tennessee. For chimney fires, we use what we call an "One Pounder" to put out this type of fire. A One Pounder is a plastic bag (zip lock, lunch bag,or a a thin small plastic bag) that weighs an about 1 pound after the dry chemical fire extinguisher powder has been put into the bag. (Baking soda has been used as well, but it takes more of it). We get on the roof, throw the bag down the chimney, the bag melts and release the powder, and the fire goes out. Some what clean and simple, please don’t get buried and/or fall of the roof. If the fire does not go out, in goes another one, but that is very rare this has to happen.

Always check with your local fire department on their process for putting out this type of fire. Support your local Volunteer Fire Department.

Have a good day. - Jason B

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dear Jim,
I have some comments on the comments regarding batteries:

Nickel Iron (Ni-Fe) batteries do indeed have very long shelf and operating lives. But they also have some significant downsides. Similar to NiMH cells (they are not the same) they have a very high self-discharge rate. In some cases approaching 40% per month. If you have a large solar array that is always making excess power, you are all set. But if you are charging with a generator, and have a large bank to keep power available for extended periods, you will waste a lot of the generator's output on self-discharge.

Ni-Fe batteries also do not like high charge/discharge rates, which means you may need a larger bank of them for the same type of service. This effect gets worse as the temperature drops. If you have a big bank, you will also need to waste more energy keeping them charged. Basically, there is a penalty for having your battery bank too big for the application. You would want to make the bank last you no longer than a week or so of typical service, thus limiting the amount of energy wasted to keep it charged.

On the plus side, you can leave the battery discharged for long periods without any problems and they will not freeze (in any sane temperatures). That's good for a little used location. There is only currently one importer in the US that I know of.

There's no conspiracy to keep them out of the market, it's just that most applications work better, smaller or cheaper with lead acid. As the cost of electricity goes up, no one wants to use them for standby applications anymore due to the energy cost with keeping them charged. But as photovoltaic solar power becomes more common, perhaps there will be a revival of the technology.

Regarding lead acid cells with no acid, there are several issues with drying out a new battery for storage. If any acid is left it will cause undesirable changes to the plates. If you attempt to air dry the battery, the air pumped through the battery to dry it out will lead to oxide forming on the plates, ruining the battery in the drying process. There's at least a few patents out there to address some of these issues, but none of them are ideal. Realistically, you would need to discharge the battery, then partially re-charge it, dump and flush the acid and then use inert gas to dry out the plates. Probably not worth the effort, and the required discharge/charge levels would vary based on
interior construction. Not likely to be economical or produce reliable results.

It's too bad that none of the manufactures sell "green" batteries that have not yet been converted, but the required acid mixture and charge cycles to form the plates are most likely a proprietary process that they have no interest in sharing.

You can make your own batteries, but they won't have anywhere near the capacity of a commercial product. Consider that the standard car battery has dozens of square feet of surface area and has been optimized over years of experience. Home made batteries, especially large ones, can lead to seriously unpleasant accidents. Having seen smaller batteries explode due to internal shorts, I would want nothing to do with a 5 gallon bucket of H2SO4 and rolled up sheets of lead.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned simply not using batteries at all. If you live in a sunny location, one can simply use electricity when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Not perfect, but virtually guaranteed to work even after sitting idle for 10 years. Regards, - Cactus

James Wesley;
I found an interesting short video linked at Silver Bear Cafe about Nickel-Iron Edison Cells--a design battery I hadn't about previously. I thought you might enjoy it. Thanks for the web site and all of the information. Regards, - Joe

Monday's post mentioned the Nickel-Iron Edison battery. During its evening broadcast on 1-29-10 The Intelligence Report described a method to build your own Ni-Fe battery was discussed in the second half hour of the 8 PM broadcast. It was also mentioned where one could get Nickel without having to resort to melting nickels. At The Intelligence Report's web page, click on "archives" in the left hand part of the screen. Scroll down to 1-29-10 then click on the "8PM" to download the mp3 file.

Great job with the blog! Thank you for the work you are doing. - Mr. C.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dear Jim,
There is new info on the Aladdin Lox-on mantle shortage that was mentioned in SurvivalBlog. The new post on the Aladdin site is dated February 10, 2010. It indicates that there are still a number of issues to overcome before production can begin. According to Aladdin's web site pre-production is possible at the end of February with production runs in March and deliveries in April. I hope they have solved their issues and can get this important component of their wonderful kerosene lamps back on the shelves. Thanks for getting this news to those who need to know. - Jay H. in Ohio

Monday, February 15, 2010

I have been following with interest over the last several days this thread on batteries and feel I have some information to share. To begin with, the only solution to a long term lead-acid battery bank is to make your own cells. Lead has a perpetual shelf life and oxidizes very little over time if protected. Contrary to the confusion established by the battery manufacturer cartels, both plates begin as simply pure lead (Pb). It is only after the initial charge is applied that the positive plate changes chemically due to the sulfur ion action. While home made cells will not have the high ampacity to pound ratio of commercial cells, they would have qualities most suitable to the long term prepper; namely serviceability and parts replacement. In addition, the positive plates could be made as thick as one wanted to prolong their life span. One could make them in 3 gallon HDPE buckets using standard stud mounted battery posts on the lids. The electrolyte is simply 30% sulfuric acid to 70% water. The plates need maximum surface area exposed to the electrolyte so one must drill many holes or corrugate the lead sheet to increase the surface area. Older plumbing stores still sell large sheets of lead for roof vent stack flashing. Or if one is handy with metal fabrication, a grid plate mold could be fashioned from steel and lead cast into it. Wheel weight lead-alloy will work too. Additional compounds such as antimony are not essential in a home made cell when you have a room full of replacement plates stacked up. They can be either coiled or flat plates. Do not expect the performance of a commercial cell from these, but when sustainability is all important, performance can be compensated for. Just add more cells to the array bank.

However, the real solution to perpetual deep cycle sustainable battery power for the long emergency lies not at all in the lead-acid cell. It lies in the lowly Edison cell. A little known fact is that there are still banks of Edison cells in deep cycle applications today over 80 years old. Edison cell plates are nickel and iron and use lye and water for the electrolyte so they are alkaline and not acid cells. The plates do not corrode over time and they can be stored dry forever before filling and charging. All those nickel [US five cent coin]s that everyone is saving could [conceivably be melted down to provide the material for] the nickel plates for your grandkids batteries if you are wise today. Edison had over 50 patents on these cells and at the turn of the century entire fleets of delivery trucks used these day in, day out hauling massive loads with electric motors running on Edison cells. They were in direct competition with standard oil and big oil plans for gasoline vehicles so they had to be stopped. The electric car industry was eradicated as gas vehicles could go so much faster. Exide eventually bought all the dies and machinery and was still making them until they sold everything to china some years ago. The only importer now from that china plant to the U.S. is a company called which is where I bought mine. They only order like 4 times a year and it takes 3 months to get here and they are pricey, but I personally felt the investment was justified and truly multi-generational for my family. Companies like Eveready began several years ago making what was touted as "new technology" and called the cells "nickel-metal hydride" or NiMH as we all know them today. When they first hit the shelves, I just laughed and told my wife, "Look honey Edison cells in AA size". - Dad4Him

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hello Jim -
I took interest in your response to the post by Steven J S "Letter Re: Some Real Life Battery Data" and the concept of storing "dry batteries". From my long and intensive research on this, you are absolutely correct. Finding a true dry battery (one that was not flooded and then emptied) is nearly impossible. Perhaps some other SurvivalBlog readers can provide some help on this topic, but I have found that in order to truly get a dry battery - one that has never been flooded with acid - one would almost have to work at the manufacturing factory or component supply level - i.e. be an insider in the industry. My interest in this topic, as I am sure most of your readers', is in the area of deep cycle and commercial batteries. I do have a small solar generation system, and would love to be able to buy shelf-stable batteries to put up for the future. I find that I get about seven years out of my Trojan L-16s [before they sulfate to the point that they will not hold a charge.] It frustrates me that I can't store extra batteries for future use. Really, most all the companies (Including Trojan) that I have talked to tell me that they can not (or will not) sell true dry batteries to the general public.

So here is the question I have for the chemists out there in your readership base. Would it be possible to buy some freshly manufactured batteries, and then remove the acid yourself and store separately? How difficult is it to evacuate a battery? Can the plates then be neutralized by adding an alkaline solution to stop the small amount of sulfation that has/would take place if the batteries plates were not neutralized? Should the battery then be flushed with fresh water? There has to some way to accomplish this and produce a shelf stable storage strategy for what will become very precious assets in the future. Any help your readers could offer would be much appreciated, and of course, all the safety precautions you mentioned in your first must be strictly adhered to when doing this type of work. Thank You, - Fullclip

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dear Jim,
I was trying to buy an Aladdin Loxon Mantle #R-150 for my Aladdin kerosene lamp and found that all suppliers seemed to be out of stock. Even Lehman's Hardware here in Ohio was out of stock and showing an April delivery. I spent some time searching and found some very expensive ones on eBay but that was all. I then did a search for "Aladdin mantle problems" and found a cached press release from the Aladdin company. It looks like we have a major problem for Aladdin Lamp owners. From a loyal reader, - Jay H.

JWR Replies: Hopefully this situation will be resolved soon. An aside: My parents thought that I was going overboard, when I bought three spare Aladdin wicks and a dozen spare mantles, back in 1979. In those days, an Aladdin lamp cost around $60, and spare mantles were less than $2 each. I still have a few mantles remaining from that first batch. As with most of my other Alpha Strategy tangible investments, items bought early on and stored properly have proven to be better that money in the bank!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Battery technology has come a long way in the last 10 years since Y2K. Back in the late 1990s, I stocked various types and brands of batteries for long term storage or use. Batteries ranged from store purchased alkaline, rechargeable alkalines, NiCd, generic deep cycle marine
batteries, gel-cell sealed lead acid, lithium and even the ubiquitous flooded lead acid Trojan T-105 floor scrubber batteries. I wrote dates on all the batteries and rechargeable batteries had logs kept of use and maintenance.

In most cases enough batteries were purchased to allow for a reasonable statistical sampling, thus providing a real level of confidence in the results. Note that the word battery and cell are often used below in singular, even though the same test was repeated multiple times on
different units. All voltages and times are given as composite averages of the tests, removing clear outlier data, such as an obviously failed cells that leaked electrolyte during storage.

10 years later, most of those batteries were still in my possession, untouched (with a some exceptions) and I decided to run controlled experiments on them to see how they fared. Each battery type is discussed by type and brand if applicable. Finally, as technology has
provided for improvements, some additional battery types are discussed that have only received short term testing due to being recently brought to market.

All batteries were stored in 60-to-75 degree F conditions with <50% relative humidity.

Generic Alkaline
These are what you find at most stores on the shelf, having virtually eliminated the old carbon-zinc batteries that were still sold in the 1990s. An extensive selection of all standard sizes was tested, including Energizer, Energizer commercial use (not sold via retail) and
Duracell. The cells offered 2-4 year lifetimes based upon their expiration dates. All were stored for 10 years, with the exception of the commercial Energizer D cells, which were 12 years old at the time of testing.

Several of the Energizer cells (2 out of a lot of 50) had developed leakage failures during storage, in one case contaminating a co-packaged battery. This matches my anecdotal experience with this brand, with several case leak failures damaging equipment that had Energizer brand
batteries left in them for longer time periods (1-2 years). I expect these are design related failures since even newer batteries of this brand leaked, spanning a sample period of five years.

Interestingly, the commercial Energizer batteries, of which I had over 50, did not have a single failure. They also performed slightly better even though they were older. No failures were seen with the Duracell alkaline batteries, but there was a smaller sample available (20 of each

The aged batteries were tested on a constant resistance tester that tracked battery voltage until the cells were completely depleted, to a voltage of 0.2V, which would not provide even the smallest amount of usable light in a flashlight. Initial current drain of approximately
1/20th of manufacturer recommended maximum was used. (12 Ohms for AA cells, 2.75 Ohms for D cells)

The output voltage of the 10 year old batteries started out at approximately 0.1V different from a brand new battery and maintained this difference until the battery chemistry failed, leading to a rapid decline in voltage. For AA batteries, the usable lifetime (to the 0.9V mark) was 18 hrs for the 10 year old battery vs. 22 hrs for a brand new cell. The voltage discharge curves tracked each other with the noted 0.1V difference. At the 18 hr. mark, the old cell dropped to under 0.2V a matter of minutes. The new cell soldiered on, declining slowly from
0.9V at 22 hrs to 0.2V at 27 hrs.

The commercial Energizer cells matched their retail cousins almost identically to the 0.9V cut off. However, they did not exhibit the sharp 20 minute decline to 0.2V once the battery chemistry started to fail. Instead they provided another 5 hours of possibly usable output with a slow decline between the 0.8 and 0.2V marks. This would be indicative of a slightly longer life span in an intermittent on/off usage where the voltage would creep back up to a more usable range during the off cycle.

When batteries were tested at high loads, the 10 year old units showed excessive voltage droop very quickly. This matches with published manufacturer recommendations that alkaline cells should not be used in high current draw applications.

All working cells showed an open cell voltage of 1.4V before being connected to a load.

Alkaline batteries are usable well beyond their expiration dates.
Alkaline batteries properly stored for 10 years will still provide functional capacity of 75-80 percent with lighter loads such as flashlights and radios.
There will likely be a fallout rate with some percentage of cells showing complete or partial failure during storage. Thus large packs of batteries should be broken up into smaller packs to limit the amount of damage one leaking cell can do and extra batteries should be purchased to take into account such failures.
Batteries sold for commercial use may be built better and will last longer than stuff sold into the general retail market.
If the battery shows a voltage of 1.4V or so after storage, it's still probably usable.

Nickel Cadmium Rechargeable
The entire lot of 1990's era NiCd batteries were found to be unusable, showing shorts or inability to take a charge of any capacity. This technology has drastically improved over the last ten years, although such batteries are still of limited long term storage use due to rapid self discharge and not having a design criteria for long life. There are also many variables that affect the durability of NiCd and NiMH, both from a cycle life and long term storage standpoint. My anecdotal evidence points to cheap batteries not lasting long (as little as 0-3 months for cheap no-name brand packs) and expensive brand name cordless tool packs still going strong after eight years of light use. The well known self-discharge and memory problems are still issues with this chemistry.

Not suitable for long term storage.
Expensive portable tool packs might have long life spans with periodic use and charging.
Probably acceptable for daily use, but there are better alternatives available in NiMH.
Cheaper than other rechargeables.

Rechargeable Alkaline (no longer made)
A group of Eveready rechargeable alkalines were also tested. This technology was produced for a few years but never really saw commercial success. The batteries had low self discharge, thus being ready to go after longer storage periods but could also be re-charged. The recharge
cycle was unusual in that if the battery was heavily discharged it's recharge cycle life was very short, only 16 cycles or so. With shallow discharges, the battery could be "topped off" hundreds of times. Looked like a perfect fit for long term storage, provided that could be topped
up once a year.

The 10 year old AA and D cells were fully charged before testing. All fell significantly short on both voltage and life, even compared to 12 year old alkaline cells. Starting voltage was only 1.2V and within minutes was 0.2V lower than the 10 year old cells. The cells chemistry failed at the 22 hr mark vs. 28 hours for the 10 year old cells.

Be careful with new untested technologies.

Nickel Metal Hydride
No Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) cells were used in the long term test due to their very high self discharge and the technology being in it's infancy in the 1990s. However, this chemistry deserves mention due to some recent innovations. Although NiMH batteries have higher capacity and most of
the memory effect has been overcome, they continue to suffer from very high self-discharge. A fully charged battery can be at 50% in under a month of sitting idle. In general, the higher the capacity of the cell the faster the self discharge.

Recently a new internal construction was designed that allows NiMH cells to retain up to 80% of their initial charge up to year later .[JWR Adds: These are also sometimes marketed as "Low Self Discharge (LSD)" batteries.] I have been extensively testing these over the last year with very good results. No outright failures to date, good capacity compared to alkaline batteries, very good tolerance for high current drains such as radio transmitters and good shelf life.

These cells are often sold as "pre-charged" or long shelf life NiMH. Duracell Pre-charged and Eneloop are the two most commonly available brands.

A technology to watch, may replace alkaline batteries in many applications.
Long term life span is currently unknown or unpublished.

Lithium primary batteries
Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are the king of long term storage. They have been around for decades and are well understood, with devices still working 20 years after installation. There are many different chemistries that are used, with the actual type not disclosed to the consumer, so be aware that not all lithium batteries will have long shelf life.

The CR123A battery size almost always comes in a chemistry that will allow for 10+ year storage without a problem. I'm still using up my 12 year old batteries and even in bulb style Surefire lights they last so close to a new cell that it's hard to tell the difference. No tests were
performed on this stock of batteries since they are so well understood and quantified.

I had a limited stock of AA lithium cells from the 1990s and they too appear to be at 80+ percent capacity. When they reach 15 years I will test a few and see if the group test should be put at the 15 or 20 year mark. Note that the 1.5V batteries use a different chemistry than the 3 volt CR123, thus they may have a shorter life span, but that remains to be seen. At 10+ years, they are still the top choice with the exception of price.

Low weight.
High capacity and high current.
Best for low temperatures.
Extensively verified 10+ year shelf life.
Available in AA, AAA, CR123A and various non-consumer sizes.
Industrial/commercial availability in 9V but metal body versions are slightly oversized.

Lead acid gel cells
Gel cells are a type of truly sealed lead acid battery. They are commonly used in backup devices such as emergency lights and alarm systems. Typically seen as 6V or 12V batteries with connecting tabs, but available commercially in over a hundred different sizes, shapes and

The small batch (5 units) of lead acid gel cells I had from 1999 all died various deaths over the last 10 years. All were 12V 7Amp Hour packs of the commonly available 5.94 X 2.56 X 3.70 size. All showed degraded performance (over 10% capacity loss) after the 5th year, even packs that
were 100% unused and one pack that was under a constant charge. All were trickle charged at least once a year to 13.8V to make up for any self discharge and four of them were used intermittently for various purposes from charging a motorcycle battery to powering GPS in aircraft. None were
ever subject to severe discharge cycles or overcharging.

Each cell was charged and then test discharged to 50% once a year to check remaining capacity. Charging was done by constant voltage to 14.2V and discharge test was done at 1/20 capacity, constant resistance to 50% state of charge, as indicated by voltage.

At the seven year mark the first cell had a complete failure. The last unit, which had been installed in a trickle charging backup application failed this month.

Realistic safe life span of five years.
After the five year mark, sudden failures may take the battery out of service without warning.
Require yearly charge maintenance due to self discharge.
Very high current capacity, allowing for use to minimally re-charge much larger lead acid batteries.
Often used inside of car self-jumpstart packs and for backup batteries in alarms and lighting.

Flooded lead acid batteries
I'm going to skip right past car starting / dual use batteries as they are 100% unsuitable for any long term application. While I have had certain vehicle starting batteries last eight years, there has never been any consistency between brand, size or use. I consider any car start battery over 2 years old to be suspect. The fact that they can be seriously degraded or destroyed by a single deep discharge makes them worthless in any situation where one must depend upon them. Even the consumer branded "deep-cycle" batteries are suspect from my experience.

The long term test batteries encompassed two large deep cycle "maintenance free" Energizer batteries from Wal-Mart and a bank of 24 Trojan T-105 6V industrial units. All were maintained as they would be in an industrial setting with water level, specific gravity and voltage checks each month.

The Trojans were connected to a grid-tied solar system and kept at peak charge for the first three years of their life. They were more heavily discharged at least once a year during power outages or for testing. In 2002 the system was converted to use the batteries each day for a period
of 6 hours, with cycling to 25-50% depth of discharge each day. Although their capacity is currently at about 60% of rated and there has been one hard cell failure in the bank, they continue to function.

The deep cycle batteries from Wal-Mart didn't make it past two years. They were used a few times a year to power tools and lights through an inverter. Note that "maintenance free" often means that there is just a slightly larger reservoir of water and acid in the battery. If you want
to try and use these, cheap batteries you should pop off the top caps with a screwdriver and re-fill the water just like any flooded lead acid battery. I consider any such off the shelf consumer batteries as a poor choice and false economy compared to a commercial battery such as the

Buy true commercial/industrial batteries.
They cost more, but even my bottom of the line T-105s lasted five times longer than the cheap "deep-cycle".
Flooded batteries require maintenance (water & charging) or they will fail.
Note: Flooded batteries make hydrogen gas and a fine mist of sulphuric acid when being charged. These must be vented to prevent explosions and corrosion of battery terminals other any nearby items.

Absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries are a type of true maintenance free lead acid battery. They have no ports to add liquid and will re-combine any generated gas internally. The military and aircraft industry use this technology due to low self discharge (1-3% per month) and no liquid to
They have only recently become widely available, both in starting applications and for deep cycle use. My actual test time with them has been limited to only two years.

I have three units in starting applications. All are in vehicles that sit for extended time periods (6-12 months), but then get used frequently, thus creating a cycle of many starts followed by long periods of inactivity. I have had one internal cell failure on the most used
battery in it's first year. The two others have worked perfectly, allowing me to start a car that had sat idle for six months as if I had been driven the previous day.

One unit was subject to a severe discharge, showing less than 3V when disconnected. The unit was charged overnight on a commercial bulk charger and then load/capacity tested back down to 10V. All indications were that the battery suffered no damage and it was returned to starting

Current specifications for heavy industrial AGM batteries and accelerated life tests indicate life spans of 20+ years even under heavy use. This would not seem unrealistic given that old industrial telecom backup batteries are often sold after 20 years of service with buyers reporting acceptable capacity of these 20 year old batteries.

There are many cheap imports being labeled as AGM. As it's difficult to tell the difference between a gel-cell and AGM battery from the outside, stick with brands that have been making AGM for commercial use.

May be the best longer term / large capacity battery technology if weight, space and price are not an issue.
Stick to name brand and industrial battery makers.
Heavy industrial AGM batteries are very expensive but will offer a real 20+ year life.

Contact Corrosion
When batteries are placed inside and object that is subject to motion, and left there for extended periods of time, there is the strong possibility that atmospheric oxidation various types of corrosion will occur. Basically the contacts will become dirty and poor overtime,
leading to the dreaded weak or intermittent flashlight output that magically restores itself when you bang the light a few times. Even sealed flashlights will develop this problem, especially if subject to temperature cycles or vibration, such as storage in a car.

This can be addressed in several ways. The batteries can simply be replaced every year. The contacts can be gently cleaned once a year or whenever low output is noticed. Never use an abrasive to clean contacts, as you may scrape away any protective coating that has been
plated on. Coatings such as gold, silver or nickel are often very thin. The contacts can be safely cleaned by rubbing with with a pencil eraser or clean sheet of paper. The batteries contact areas can also be cleaned in this fashion. Finally, you can place fabric or paper barriers between the batteries and the contacts to prevent metal to metal contact until you want to use the device. Note that this can be useful if you have devices such as radios that slowly drain the battery even when powered off. Some newer electronics use solid state ON/OFF switches or run a clock or memory retention device from the battery, thus slowly draining it. You will want to verify that any any stored settings on the device are saved even without a battery present before disconnecting the battery in this way. If the settings are stored for two weeks, it should be okay to leave the battery out indefinitely.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dear Editor:
With regards to the battery powered carbon monoxide (CO) detector, I just want to second that. When my family went through the Nov. 2007 ice storm that took out the power to half of Oklahoma, we were running off our generator for two days. The first night I put it outside, but close to the house to help shelter it from winds. Our CO detector went off in the middle of the night. We ended up having the fire department come out and check things. It was determined that the CO came in through either the dryer vent, which was close to where the generator was, or through the attic. Our home was built in the 1960s and has attic vents on the sides. We ended up moving the generator about 10 feet farther away from the house and didn't have any problems after that.

We've also found that one of the plastic kid pools works well with some duct tape to provide a temporary shelter for a generator in case of rain. Thanks for running the site, it's a wonderful resource. - Chad in Texas


I really enjoyed reading "Lessons Learned from an Ice Storm", by G. in the Zarks. I went through a similar experience when I first moved to the hills, and resolved to buy a generator so I wouldn't lose all my perishables (not to mention my mind).

Connecting the generator to the home electrical system was easy enough: simply purchase a transfer switch or a "double throw switch" or a "break before make switch" to the tune of about $200 bucks at any contractor supply house. These handy devices are mechanical switches that route your generator power directly to your home electrical system, and physically separate this source of power from commercial power, thereby preventing the generator's electricity from feeding back into the power company's lines and injuring their linemen trying to restore the system after a power outage. Plus, you don't have to worry about tripping over all those pesky extension cords running to your refrigerator or freezer or whatever.

Next, hire yourself a licensed electrician to install said switch. This cost me under $200, but this was over 10 years ago, so YMMV. Knowledgeable, experienced electricians able to do this work are common in the Ozarks, as many make their living installing transfer switches on chicken houses.

When I bought my generator, all I could afford was a 6,500 watt gasoline-powered screamer. I wish I could have bought something bigger and better (read: diesel), but just couldn't come up with the bucks. Consequently, I am unable to power everything in my (unfortunately) all-electric house simultaneously. This necessitates careful load management. For example, I can run a couple of lights,my well pump and hot water heater at the same time, so hot showers are possible. Once showers are done, the well pump and water heater circuits are turned off and the refrigerator or freezer or what ever else needs doing are turned on.

Not the best situation, but until I can come up with the money to buy a larger generator, it sure beats sitting in the dark and cold praying the power comes back on soon. - L.H.


Mr. Rawles:
Re: The article "Lessons Learned From an Ice Storm, by G. in the Zarks" in the Friday, February 5th posts of SurvivalBlog, can I offer the some lessons I've learned in 40+ years as an Ozarker?

First, I listened and learned as much as I could from the fast-dwindling group of Ozark natives when I moved here. Second, I learned to watch the weather and know something about it. I didn't waste my time with the media weather female meteorologists or guys outstanding in the rain. I looked at the weather maps, remembered my years of experience here, and the stories told me by those whose experience preceded arrival of power lines and pavement. About 8:00 the morning the big ice storm was to hit the Ozarks, I committed to not being here when it did. Experience told me I'd be iced in for some time and the come-latelys would be in the ditches or otherwise draining the resources of our overtaxed and under-staffed sheriff's deputies, volunteer fire, and EMT crews.

It took me just two hours to load up and be on the road in my 16 year old conversion van, further converted to a self-sufficient home on wheels kept well stocked. That included preparing the house for what was ahead too. RV antifreeze in all drains and traps including washing machine and dishwasher, drain the water lines and shut off the electric water heater. Since the house is primarily heated by wood, two electrical strips were left on at low level to keep the inside above freezing. Six inch walls and a modest size make my house easy to keep above freezing and at adequate food storage levels, even in below zero times.

I called my sister-in-law, who lives a few miles away, and told her to drop by when conditions allowed to clean out the refrigerator as appropriate, and check for damage from trees in my 10-acres of hardwoods that surround and hide the house. She did, about a week later when the others who live down my road had cleared a path. The storm had given a war zone background to the beautiful mountains and valleys, but nothing hit either my house or two metal-clad outbuildings. A melted quart of ice cream was the worst clean-up problem.

I met the leading edge of the storm about 75 miles south of home, on the crest of our mountain range, where ice began appearing on the antennas on the van. I was out of danger on the flat land another 25 miles south and headed toward Texas via the shortest and fastest route. Once there and rested up after an overnight in a state Hospitality Center parking lot, I began a leisurely 30 days in the Lone Star State's state parks and other favorite and cheaper Texas camping places. With middle seats removed, my van contains a bed, 40-quart chest-type Engel 12 and 120 volt refrigerator with efficient rotary compressor. I can cook on either microwave or propane stoves. There's a Porta-potty tucked under the table holding the microwave, and food, water, coo ware and other
necessities in cabinets made from Sauder kit furniture units all bolted together and anchored to the mounts that held the middle van seats. Plastic storage units fit elsewhere for other supplies. Solar power panels, discreetly mounted inside the luggage rack on the roof to be invisible to any but someone climbing the van's ladder, keep the refrigerator going through a deep cycle battery. The 190 watt solar system also powers a 750 watt modified sine wave 120 volt power supply that runs the microwave for limited cooking such as my 2-minute oblates, 60-second brown and wild rice and meals. The 120 volts can run the laptop computer's TV module when TV stations are in range. Its own batteries handle e-mail. Some Texas State Parks are sources for free Internet hookups.

The van also is outfitted with three amateur radio and two scanner radios and antennas, to keep friends advised of my whereabouts beyond cell phone range or need, and keep me appraised of what is going on around and above me.

What I've learned from my resourceful and self-sustaining Ozark native friends is not to rush out and stock up after the first warning from the Weather Channel but to be ready to adapt to what ever may be coming, and to know if and when it is coming by experience, monitoring the real news sources of public service and other early warning media.

"Lessons learned from an ice storm?" Really be prepared. Prepared in priority. Power outages, winter storms and summer tornadoes or hurricanes, New Madrid acting up, heat, cold, rain or snow; I can ride them out or bug out in hours or less. Financial collapse, civil unrest, madness spawning something else; look for me gone in these less-likely but slower moving crises. I'll be out there somewhere, identifiable from the next vehicle only by license plate, if you happen to come upon me camping or rolling down some highway or back road. - Vern M.

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

While watching the local weather over the last few days, it has become apparent that a winter storm is heading for our part of the world, bringing with it the distinct possibility of not just snow, but significant amounts of ice. As I pondered this, it brought to mind our recent experiences with ice storms over the last few years, most notably in January 2007. I thought some of our “lessons learned” were worth sharing with others.

We had been blessed with several years of reasonably mild winters leading up to the 2007 storm. Unfortunately, the good times often seem to lull people into a state of complacency, characterized by an artificial sense of well-being and overall lack of awareness. This is, of course, what the late Colonel Cooper referred to as Condition White.

I freely admit to being somewhat guilty of the “All is Well” syndrome where the weather was concerned also. While I have spent my entire adult life trying to make sure my family is prepared for the myriad of difficulties we experience, I must confess that when the weather man said “Chance of ice,” I didn’t really take him all that seriously. I failed to properly evaluate the nature of the threat. In that particular instance, I didn’t think through the potential ice storm scenario to any great degree, because I considered myself and my family to already be prepared for this event. At the very least, I should have gone through the mental exercise of “what if” and reviewed the supplies I had in contrast to what I was likely to need in this situation. In a real emergency, “All is Well” can get you killed.

The ice came. In the early hours of the morning I awoke to find the power had gone off. This was, frankly, no surprise to me. Temporary interruptions in the grid caused by weather are far from unusual here. What I couldn’t know at the time was our power would not be back on for 8 days. Neighbors not far from us were out for 13 days. In contrast, power in the closest town was only out for hours.

Upon waking, I immediately got up, woke my wife and told her the power was out, and took a hot shower before the water in the tank had a chance to cool. My wife did likewise. A hot shower can become an unbelievable luxury in a surprisingly short period of time when the power is out. (Yes, our hot water heater is “gasp!” electric.) Also, I filled the bathtub and several buckets with water in case the generators failed at the local water district. I already had several cases of drinking water and approximately 200 gallons in drums in the garage as well. These are standard precautions on our part, regardless of the time of year.

Heat was the next issue we tackled. Our home is all-electric, but we supplement the electric furnace with portable kerosene heaters in order to keep utility bills manageable. I isolated the living room, which is where we spend most of our waking hours, by stapling blankets over the doorways leading to our hallways and kitchen. This five-minute modification allowed me to more efficiently heat the living room with a kerosene heater, and minimized heat loss into the unused areas of the house. I used the same “compartment” approach at night when heating the bedroom. Of course, kerosene heaters should never be left unattended for any period of time, and a battery-powered CO detector is a must.

A second important lesson regarding heat is to have ample fuel supplies on-hand to handle an emergency. We were burning kerosene on a daily basis before the storm. When the weather forecast seemed ominous, I asked my wife to pick up an extra container of kerosene on her way home from work, since I work long shifts and would not be away from work before the station closed. She forgot, and we faced the storm with less than 5 gallons of kerosene. On the heels of the ice came painfully low temperatures for several days. It became clear that we would not have sufficient fuel for our heaters to last throughout the cold snap. Furthermore, a large percent of the local population had turned to kerosene heaters in the absence of electricity. Local suppliers soon ran out of kerosene. As a result, I eventually found myself standing in line for approximately four hours in order to purchase 10 gallons of kerosene, when it became available. Fortunately, I did have enough cash on hand to make the needed transaction. ATMs were only intermittently operational. The wait, outdoors in single-digit temperatures, with a few hundred other unfortunates, was by far the most valuable lesson I received during this time. The helplessness, anxiety, and shame associated with my lack of preparation have impacted me deeply. By the way, I now buy kerosene in 55 gallon drums. No more queues for me.

That covers water, shelter, and heat. Our next issue was light. I keep several Dietz lanterns and two Aladdin lamps along with several gallons of high-grade lamp oil on hand. Illumination was not a problem. In addition, I have a wide variety of Surefire brand flashlights and spare lithium batteries for nighttime chores around the house. All of the above were put to good use. I was even able to supply some of my neighbors with Dietz lanterns and oil during the time we were off-grid. Several valuable lessons concerning light were learned. First, the Aladdin lamps are excellent, albeit somewhat expensive. They are bright when used according to the instructions. So bright, in fact, that I recommend anyone planning on using them also spend the extra money for lamp shades. They are definitely bright enough to read by without undue eyestrain. They also give off significant amounts of heat, which was helpful in the cold temperatures. They would be less pleasant to utilize in hot weather, however. I was actually able to boil water by holding a metal cup over the top of the chimney for a brief time. This was an excellent technique for preparing some of the freeze-dried Mountain House food we ate during the event. Buy at least twice as many mantles and chimneys as you think you will need, as these are the most fragile parts of the lamp. Also, read the instructions.

Dietz lanterns are excellent tools for the money, but are significantly less bright than the Aladdins. They are easier to use when you are moving around as they have handles and can be carried while lit. All the standard precautions apply when using anything that is actively burning while you handle it.

Surefire lights are also outstanding illumination tools. The major shortfall is battery life. I discovered that when you are using them as a primary illumination source, you will go through a surprising number of batteries. The good news is the batteries generally have a shelf life measured in years, so you can afford to stock up without worrying too much about discharge rates. Don’t buy CR-123 batteries from places like Wal-Mart; they are too expensive there. Instead, order them directly from Surefire’s web site. You can get them in bulk for less than $2 per battery. The battery life problem can also be mitigated somewhat by buying the newer generation of LED lights, as opposed to the older ones with the xenon bulbs.

Food was not an issue due to pre-existing stocks. All our cooking was done outside on a propane burner from a turkey fryer. Coffee prepared in an enameled percolator was definitely the biggest morale-booster from day to day. We even had friends over for “Mountain House night” to provide a little levity and fellowship in an otherwise dreary situation.

The same morning that the power went off, I removed all perishables from the refrigerator and stored them in a Rubbermaid tub in the cold garage. That food was prepared and eaten first. The freezers were left closed as much as possible, and wrapped with blankets for additional insulation. I keep a 5kw generator with the tank drained along with several gallons of stabilized fuel (religiously rotated) and sufficient oil. My only purpose for the genset is to keep the freezers frozen in just such situations. Only one of my freezers in indoors, the others being outside. It was only necessary to run the generator for a couple of hours every two to three days to maintain the integrity of the frozen food. In retrospect, it would be advisable to have the ability to connect the genset to portions of the house (with the appropriate safety measures, of course) for added flexibility in using a limited number of electric appliances.

During the crisis, I had two different coworkers whose homes were “cased” by potential thieves. Each home was rural and isolated, with no neighbors in direct line-of sight. Fortunately, in both cases, when the armed homeowners confronted the would-be thieves, they wisely ran away.

Keep in mind that, while the power was off for several days, this was in fact only a pseudo-disaster. Roads remained passable, and within a day, Wal-Mart was open for business. Within hours they sold out of bottled water, candles, lamps & lamp oil, manual can openers, flashlights, batteries (D-cells were the most in demand), milk, bread, and most foodstuffs that don’t require preparation. Over the course of three days, I watched my closest neighbor make at least two trips to Wal-Mart per day, returning with armloads of white plastic bags each trip. Also, within days, there were enterprising individuals selling small generators out of the back of tractor-trailers. You could hear the rattle and hum of Briggs & Stratton engines in almost every direction.

On a personal note, the experience was also a validation of the preparedness mindset for my wife. While she has always been supportive of my efforts to prepare, she was from time to time also prone to grumbling about the amount of space occupied by our preparedness supplies. More than once during the storm, she would say something like “Gee, it would be nice if we had…” upon which I would go to the back room, rummage around and return with the item she was requesting. By the end of the storm, her most frequent comment was, “I’m glad you’re my husband.”

Lessons Learned:

  • An "All is Well" attitude will get you killed. Take threats seriously.
  • Have your water taken care of now. It will be one less critical thing to worry about in an emergency.
  • Keep fuel in sufficient quantities for emergencies.
  • Batteries, batteries, batteries.
  • Be able to cook outside.
  • Thieves and looters will come, even in rural areas.
  • It’s not really a disaster if you can still go to Wal-Mart.

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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Your readers recently bring up good points about the advantage of battery powered tools with solar recharging. The advice to use an inverter connected to a 12v deep cycle battery and regular corded AC tools was good advice also, since the batteries may not last very long.

Having just recently purchased a set of Ryobi one+ tools myself, I found a seller on ebay selling an adapter for the one+ tools. It plugs into the tool in place of the battery then you can plug an AC DC power supply into it. This will give the best of both worlds. Use of the Ryobi batteries, then once the batteries no longer hold a charge, you can connect an AC/DC power supply to your 12v deep cycle battery and basically have a corded tool.

Search eBay for "EX-One use AC adapter replace Ryobi One+ P103 Lithium" or seller "lcdpayless". The adapter is only $20 but doesn't come with the AC/DC power adapter. I am not the seller and I haven't ordered one of these yet. I just thought your readers with Ryobi One+ tools might be interested to learn of this possibility for backup power for their tools. - D.L.

A clarification for your readers on the article titled: A Simple Off-the-Shelf Solar Power System and Off-Grid Power Tool., The “Bill of Materials” for this project included; “Interstate Marine/RV 12 volt battery #27DC-1 ($68 from Sam's Club)” I spent some time on the internet trying to find exactly what this battery was, given that there aren’t any Sam's Clubs nearby.

A search of Interstate’s web site leads me to two conclusions:

1) The part number cited is a Sam’s Club number and not likely to be useful elsewhere.

2) Interstate only makes (in Group 27) Start Only duty or Start/Deep Cycle duty batteries for marine use, neither of which is optimal for this application.

The best type of marine/RV battery to use for this application is one rated for true “Deep Cycle” duty. Deep Cycle batteries tolerate more frequent and deeper (more than 10%) discharge without early failure. These are not often found in warehouse stores. My local BJs had one this week, but this is the first time in over two years that I’ve seen one there and I live in a “seaside community”. Deep Cycle only batteries are not often found for under $100.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thanks for the interesting article on the Ryobi 12v solar setup.

Just wanted to chip in some advice on Ryobi batteries: Of the name brand cordless tools, Ryobi seems to have the worst NiCd battery quality. When used carefully, they will work well for a couple of years. If pressed hard, they will die a much earlier death. I have found that some packs will have a bad cell, dramatically shortening the entire pack’s life after only a few months. I’ve experienced this with 9.6v, 14v, and 18v Ryobi setups. Even the healthier packs, when pushed hard, particularly with a high drain device like a circular saw, die a quick death. To maximize the useful life, do not push them to the point where the battery pack gets hot and is completely drained. Such hard use guarantees the pack will lose capacity and cease to hold a charge for extended periods of time.

Ryobi’s latest 18v sets (“ONE+”) can be powered by either their lithium or NiCd packs. If the purchaser can afford the lithium setup, it is a better investment, as the lithium packs last longer in use, hold a charge longer, and have much better shelf life. If you cannot afford the lithium battery packs with the initial purchase, consider adding them later, as the same 18v charging setup you describe will work with either type of battery.

Also, Home Depot’s Rigid cordless tool line currently come with a lifetime warranty that includes the lithium battery packs, and they will replace the batteries if they fail to hold a charge, regardless of the reason. The Rigid line may be a good alternative for those purchases who intend hard use for their cordless tools. The Rigid line is typically twice as costly as the Ryobi line, but they do occasionally go on sale and represent a better value for people who wear out their battery packs. Regards, - Rich S.


With regards to A Simple Off-the-Shelf Solar Power System and Off-Grid Power Tools, I must object to a portable tool solution based on short ("2-3 years") rechargeable batteries which are fundamentally non-replaceable after TSHTF as opposed to a contrasting setup using inverters to operate 117 VAC-conventional power tools - all other parameters being identical. Just skip the 18 volt rechargeable tools and batteries and DC-to-DC chargers and stick with regular AC tools.

In order to prolong the deep-cycle lead-acid batteries into the "unlimited" range: stay within the top 10% of the battery capacity. Not only will you not have to worry about replacing high-technology 18volt portable batteries every three years, but you won't even have to worry about replacing deep-cycle lead acid every seven years neither. - R.S.

JWR Replies: I agree with the simplicity of your approach.

Sadly, there is no such thing as a "forever" or "unlimited life" lead-acid battery. Even if they are kept fully charged, they will eventually sulfate. That chemical reaction is inevitable, and can at best just be delayed. One evidence of this telephone companies spending millions of dollars rotating their deep cycle batteries that they they use for backup at the Central Offices (COs). IIRC, they are replaced once every eight years. And those batteries only rarely get drawn down. ("Cycled.") If there were some way to make lead-acid batteries have unlimited life, the phone companies would have implemented it long ago.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This article is written for those who have no experience with solar power and would like to set up a simple beginner system. I have been using this system for over a year and have found it to be efficient. My goal was to put together a system which is easy to use and does not require a lot of technical knowledge.

1. BatteryMinder #SCC-015 Solar Charger 12 volt with 15 watt solar panel ($150 from Northern Tool and Supply)
2. BatteryMinder #BC2410 battery clip assembly ($10 from Northern Tool and Supply)
3. Interstate Marine/RV 12 volt battery #27DC-1 ($68 from Sam's Club)
4. Battery box for group 27 size battery ($10 from Wal-Mart)
5. Vector #VEC005 12 volt battery clips with accessory outlet ($6 from local hardware store)
6. Ryobi #P130 18 volt vehicle battery charger ($40 from Home Depot)
7. Ryobi #P824 18 volt tool starter kit with drill, circular saw, two 18 volt batteries, house current battery charger, and case ($89 from Home Depot)
8. A two or three level heavy duty shelf

Obviously, you can purchase your equipment wherever you like. If you would like to support SurvivalBlog, you can purchase the BatteryMinder solar charger and battery clip assembly from Northern Tool by starting at the "Affiliates" link on the SurvivalBlog main page, left side, third item from the top. Northern Tool also carries a number of battery powered tools. While at the blog's the "Affiliates" page, you may also want to look at the site to see what is available in the way of rechargeable batteries and chargers which may be used with this system. The aforementioned equipment reflects the exact hardware that I use, so I know it works. The prices give you an idea of what your system could cost. I have listed Ryobi brand tools because I've used them for a number of years and found them to work well. You could use other brands such as DeWalt, Black and Decker, etc. I suggest you purchase tools which use at least 18 volt batteries.

SETUP: Begin by reading and heeding the instructions with all of the listed equipment. Let's start with the BatteryMinder Solar Charger (item #) and follow the instructions on setup. The instructions are four short pages on how to wire the system, position the solar panel, and how the system works. I leave my system set up 24/7 so that when sunshine is available the system is charging/maintaining the 12 volt deep cycle marine battery and even on a cloudy day some charging activity is going on. I positioned the solar panel near an exterior door of my garage so the wire from the solar panel to the charge controller can be run under the door to a three level shelf just inside the door. This way, the charge controller and the battery condition indicator are not exposed to the weather. I placed the BatteryMinder charge controller and battery condition indicator on the shelf one level above the lowest shelf.

Next, place the Interstate 12 volt marine battery (item #3) into the battery box (item #4) and place both on the bottom level of your shelves. In order to use battery clamps do not place the box top on the battery. The battery comes with two types of posts on the positive and negative sides, one post is larger, smooth sided, and designed for a battery clamp and the other post is threaded. The BatteryMinder's battery connections are the spade style with holes, these can be fastened onto the threaded posts, remember red to positive, black to negative. Northern Tool offers an optional accessory, item #2 in the Equipment List, which replaces the spade style battery connectors with battery clamps. These make it quicker to disconnect the system from the battery. I use the battery clamps instead of the spade style connectors. I connect the clamps to the large, smooth sided posts, again, red to positive, black to negative.

At this point, you have assembled the BatteryMinder system and hooked it up to the 12 volt deep cycle marine battery. When the sun is shining the battery is being charged/maintained. Now you are ready to hook up the Vector 12 volt battery clamps with accessory outlet jack (item #5). It's easy, just hook the Vector battery clamps to the unused post on each side of the battery, in my case, I use the threaded posts, again, red to positive, black to negative, I know, it's getting repetitive!

Last step - place the Ryobi vehicle charger (item #6) on the shelf above the bottom shelf. It needs plenty of space for air circulation because it puts out some heat when in use. Just plug the Ryobi charger male end into the Vector accessory female outlet.

OPERATION: With the Ryobi vehicle charger hooked to the 12 volt deep cycle battery just plug an 18 volt tool battery into the vehicle charger and wait until the green light comes on. Ryobi says a cold tool battery could take about 1 hour to charge. With the 12 volt deep cycle battery at full charge, you will have no problem charging 4 to 6 tool batteries without discharging the 12 volt deep cycle battery too much. That number of fully charged batteries would be able to do more work than I care to do at one time. If you charge a number of 18 volt tool batteries at one time, be sure to use the battery condition indicator to check the 12 volt deep cycle battery. If the indicator says "Good" you are okay, but if the indicator shows "Fair" or "Poor" you should stop charging tool batteries until the BatteryMinder has had time to catch up and fully charge the 12 volt deep cycle battery. On the battery condition indicator "Good" means the 12 volt deep cycle battery is holding a charge of 12.5 to 13.2 volts, "Fair" is 12.0 to 12.5 volts, and "Poor" is 11.5 to 12.0 volts. My BatteryMinder maintains a full charge on the 12 volt deep cycle battery of about 13.1 volts. Be sure to disconnect the Ryobi tool battery charger when not in use, it does use electricity when not charging a tool battery.

Use of tools - I have found that I use the drill the most, followed by the circular saw, reciprocating saw, and jigsaw. With occasional daily usage, the drill battery will last 2-3 weeks on a single charge. I have found these tools so useful I packed away my corded drill and circular saw. Ryobi and others have a number of other tools which use the 18 volt batteries.

Other uses - Of course you can use this charging system for other things besides charging 18 volt tool batteries. Anything that calls for a 12 volt DC car charging source can be charged, i.e. cell phones, rechargeable batteries, laptop computers, MP3 players, etc. You can also use this system to run 12 volt DC gizmos, just remember, use the battery condition indicator so that you don't too deeply discharge your 12 volt deep cycle battery.

MAINTENANCE: Not much. Other than checking the condition of the 12 volt deep cycle battery the only other thing to check is the level of water. Just fill according to the battery instructions using distilled water. If you were to use a sealed battery you can forget the distilled water. The 18 volt tool batteries last about 2-3 years with fairly steady use so they will have to be replaced. Once this system is placed into use you can stagger your purchases of new 18 volt tool batteries so that all of your tool batteries don't die at about the same time.

CONCLUSIONS: With careful monitoring, I expect the 12 volt deep cycle marine battery in this system to last seven years or more. There are no moving parts so unless an electronic part fails, the rest of the system should last a long time. BatteryMinder says you can maintain 2 parallel connected medium sized 12 volt batteries at the same time. Also, you could rotate any number of 12 volt deep cycle batteries, one at a time, to maintain a bank of fully charged 12 volt deep cycle batteries. The ability to have power tools available when there is no grid power could prove to be very useful. Even if you have a generator, it is very handy to have fully charged tool batteries available without using the generator to recharge the tool batteries. In the event that there were no new 18 volt tool batteries available, with proper battery management, you could still have the use of power tools for several years.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dear James,

I recently was walking through Ikea with my wife here in Minneapolis and came upon a candle sale. They are currently having a sale on red 8 inch, Unscented Christmas candles rated at 70 hours for 99 cents. I promptly filled the cart with 40 or about 2,800 hours worth of candlelight for 39 dollars. Not wanting to recommend anything I had not already tried I promptly lit one to see how long it would last and right now it is still burning on hour 85 – will probably be done between 90 and 100 hours. Thought your readers might appreciate a good buy on candles. Kind Regards, - Troy

JWR Replies: I'm also a proponent of stocking up on candles, but keep in mind the obvious fire hazards. In a disaster situation where candles might be left unattended, burn candles only on a steady surface, with a deep cookie sheet or or broiler pan beneath. Also, be advised that many of the decorative candles on the market are not truly long-burning. "Large" doesn't always equate to long burning. Unless candles have an hour rating marked then avoid them, or you may be wasting you money on fast-burning candles made of wax with a low stearic acid (aka stearin or octadecanoic acid) content. (The higher the stearic acid content, the better.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Dear Jim:
First, thank you for your informative site. I know you`ve helped me, and many others fill in the gaps in knowledge for preparation for times to come. I live just three miles from the San Andreas Fault , so even if the Schumer doesn`t hit the fan, "the big one" could come at any time. Thus I`ve been prepping for many years, but it was a wind storm that helped me think of this trick.

The local utility power recently went down and the girls broke out some candles,while I grabbed a couple of battery powered lanterns. Candles are great, and would not be with out them, but have inherent fire danger, I had just purchased a dozen solar yard [pathway] lights, on close-out sale for about $30 [for all 12]. With all the lights down in the neighborhood they seemed very bright all of a sudden, so I twisted off the fat Frisbee-shape tops ,and brought them inside. I started placing them throughout the house, and was able to bring a little light to each area, they are not bright, but you could walk around the entire house,with out bumping it to anything ,without any other supplemental lighting.

I started playing with improving the lighting produced by them when I realized what a great safe reusable alternative they could be. One easy way is to set them on top of a glass,and set a piece curved foil behind them, or place them in front of a mirror, I even made a little chandelier with four of them that was bright enough to play games under. I became so enamored with them that we use them every night now instead of leaving any lights at all on to make your way to the bathroom, et cetera. Another use they have is you can recharge your size AA batteries for flashlight or radio with them, they also are not going to attract a lot of attention, people may think you have a couple candles going, and [that you] are [just] as unprepared as they are. Meanwhile, you'll save on propane and white gas.

I hope this is of help to others. If you give it a try then I'll bet you`ll put a few in the house at night. Thanks for everything you do Jim, and may the Lord bless you , your family, and your readers, - Steve K.

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.

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!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
I am enjoying your "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It" book, which I purchased on Friday and have read most of it by now. I have something to offer to you by way of experience regarding votive candles as good emergency candles. We are practicing Roman Catholics and, as such, have lots of experience with the 10" candles that you recommend for emergencies or even small-scale food heating. While they cannot be beaten for long-term service ( a week to 10 days per candle), the amount of light and heat you obtain from the candles deteriorates significantly after the 4th day. I believe it has to do with the narrow cylinder of glass the candles are encased in allowing lower and lower amounts of oxygen in the "throat" as the candles burn, leading to smaller and smaller flames. By the 9th day or so, the flame is a tiny 1/4 of an inch high. Good for devotional purposes to be sure, but not for any kind of light or heat. I would recommend the smaller 4" tall votive candles which are constructed the same way but whose shallower depth allow more oxygen at the base of the candle. God Bless, - Tim in Miami

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mr. Rawles,
To counter the ridiculous prices of heavy duty lined upholstery fabric and pre-made retail offered curtain panels with "supposed" 99% light blocking out fabric liners, or the use of fabric remnants of odd sizes and black dye, this alternative suggestion beats the cost of other approaches hands down. They can be put up in a hurry with two staples or my preference is to apply them up with screws at both chord ends using para-cord through the holes, which will allow them to be cinched open and closed during daylight hours, if you chose to do so.

I purchased the darkest-colored shower curtain liners from a local dollar store in bulk. I started with tan colored ones. They are heavy duty plastic with weights embedded in the hem bottom to keep them straight and taut. I hung them up on an outdoors clothes line, (yeah, remember those?), so that I could have access to both sides. I spray painted them with non-toxic latex flat black paint, (which I also purchased at the dollar store), and also found para-chord there as well.

Once thoroughly dried, these blocked even the sun which was shining bright that day to dry them in the wind.
I let them hang out in the sun one more day after they were found dry to the touch, to cure the paint and also rid them of the plastic shower curtain new smell. I then rolled them up individually, marked them by number which was assigned to each window on each building and corresponds to a master log sketch picture sheet which also depicts the same numbering system on our OPSEC house "security plan", and stored them away in the closet of each room. They are now ready for a TEOTWAWKI day that they will be hung up in a flash.

The end cost to do all my windows in the house, barn and outbuildings was 1/4th the price of what it would have cost to hang newly purchased rolled black visqueen material in the widths that I needed.

The second alternative suggestion for economy and successful black out affect, for kitchen windows, or use on those short, small windows, is to go to your local variety store and look for heavy Black bath towel blankets. They are oversized like a beach towel, plush, and very black. They were found on sale now at our local Wal-Mart for $5.00. I used these and made "cut to custom" width and length covers for those odd-sized windows that are used for house perimeter monitoring and are designated "target ports", and the curtains have no signature sound "rustle" when you pull them open.
Again, this was far less expensive to complete this project, than starting with base materials. It was a fast, efficient use of goods, effective for blocking out light, ( we tested them) and inexpensive project and the materials are available right now. - KAF

JWR Adds: For any new SurvivalBlog readers that are wondering why they might need opaque window coverings, consider this: In a disaster situation where the utility power grid goes down, there will be very few people that will have have electric lights for more than a few days. Most SurvivalBlog readers have either a photovoltaic power system, or a propane-fueled backup generator. But having your house lit up might attract the attention of looters, in search of lucrative targets. So it is wise to be prepared to black out your windows, and perhaps even add a "light lock" foyer (similar to a photographic darkroom entrance), just inside your house's main entrance. (In a disaster situation, that will most likely be the utility room door.) Once you've set up your blackout shutters or drapes, be sure to check for light leaks, preferably with a starlight scope or goggles. Add opaque duct tape to any glaring cracks, as needed.

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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dear Mr. Rawles,

This sale ends Saturday so maybe it's too late to share it, but True Value Hardware stores around the country are selling boxes of six (6) solar powered pathway lights for $11.99.

These would be great to use for an extended power outages - just bring them in inside each night without the pole. There's two LED lights in each one, and they will shine for 8 hours. I tried them out last night and was able to read with two of them. Using all six lights in the box lit up my small house enough to where I wouldn't need a flashlight or lantern to get myself safely around.

I just thought I'd share since the price was so low. Wouldn't this be great for those living in apartments? - Rod McG. in Virginia

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I saw the following post concerning Gober ("dung") gas, dated 27 April, 2009, over at Michael Yon's web site:.

"During breaks from tracking training – I was sweating like crazy in the jungle heat – I asked many questions about Afghanistan and Nepal, and he talked about a simple way to make many of the Afghans lives easier. Most Afghans don’t even have electricity. When he was about fifteen years-old, his dad installed a “Gobar Gas” (methane) generator next to the house in Nepal. The generator is simple: the owner just collects human and animal waste, and through a fantastically simple process, the contraption creates methane, which is then used for lighting, cooking, heating in the winter. It also creates excellent fertilizer, all while improving sanitation. What’s the catch? None that I’ve heard of. He said that his dad made the first Gobar Gas system in his village, and today it would costs maybe $300 total investment. Between their own toilet and four cows, they create enough methane to cook, heat and light the house. More than two decades after his dad made it, the thing is still working and doesn’t cost a single rupee to operate. When the other villagers saw it work, hundreds of Gobar Gas systems popped up around the village. I’ve seen these systems in use in Nepal, and photographed one about five years ago. It worked like a charm. But this Nepalese man, a British soldier, never saw a Gobar Gas system in Afghanistan, but he is certain that the idea would take hold in the villages. My guess is that the only real disadvantage is that the idea is incredibly effective, simple and cheap, and so we probably wouldn’t want to get involved."

Wikipedia has an entry on Gober Gas.

Regards, - Larry

JWR Replies: The usual safety (for piped explosive gasses) rules apply, and of course the usual sanitation rules must be enforced, but this looks like a great set-up for anyone that keeps livestock. Aunty Entity would be proud.

Friday, April 24, 2009

None of us here can know the hour when 1 Thessalonians 4:16 -17, will come to be. There are Prophesies that seem to indicate that that time approaches. But we don't know. We are not Prophets ourselves. We can just know to be ready. But until that time comes, there are also many other possibilities for which to prepare. We are in the early stages of a world-wide economic meltdown. As that grows worse, it can lead to all sorts of interesting events. Unemployment will likely lead to increased crime and even food riots. That can lead to the break down of systems. And that can cause the loss of health care, electricity, sanitation, water and so on. And that will inevitably lead to epidemics.

The Sun is the "quietest" it has been in many, many years. The last time Earth experienced so little sun spot activity, hundreds of thousands died from cold and lack of food because it snowed during the summer. The Yellowstone Caldera, a super volcano, is 40,000 years overdue to blow. When it does, it will spread ash across the entire US and block sunlight for years. There is an undersea volcano off Africa that is in danger of collapse. That could cause a tidal wave that would take out the entire east coast of the US. ...And then there is the ambitions of our governments "new friends" in Venezuela and Iran, and Al Qaeda and N. Korea. An EMP attack will surely make us all take notice that being "friendly" and acting weak is no solution to bad behavior by evil people. ..Not to mention what the closing of the Hormuz Straits will cause, if certain folks decide they can get away with it.

And all that is just some of the possibilities as televised on PBS shows in the last week. Not even alarmist conspiracy theory or doom and gloom, just Public TV science and reporting.

I am of the opinion that the "first world" industrial societies are so complex, that they could collapse fairly easily. It's just like my tractor. For lack of grease, the bearing spun. For lack of a bearing, the field didn't get plowed. With no turned earth, there was no garden and no food.

In these kinds of economies, small events can have remarkable consequences. Several years ago, a tree fell against a power line in Ohio. That small outage spread. Power went off in parts of Canada and as far away as New York. A couple more trees, and there could be no power anywhere. And then who would there be to help Florida or Texas, after a hurricane.

So what are we to do? Certainly reading survivalblog everyday is a great start. Acquiring knowledge thru books is absolutely necessary. Getting training and practical experience at such schools as Front Sight and Midwest Native Skills Institute is crucial. You can also volunteer at any of many the open air museums, and learn about appropriate non-electric skills and tools. But, there is more. We really need seven day, everyday, experience.

For example, there has been a good bit of discussion lately about "city retreats". Some folks believe they can make it in a well equipped "abandoned" factory or warehouse. They will hide in plain sight. That may work for a time, but what happens when the power goes out, and your stored fuel is used up? You might have bullets and food stored to last three years, then what? In my opinion, if you are concerned enough to be reading survivalblog, you ought to be realistic enough to get where you need to be to survive. And, IMHO, that ain't the city. You simply won't learn the practical skills needed to be self-sufficient, if you live on cement

It is remarkably complex to be self-sufficient. Without daily experience, you are unlikely to make it. It can easily take three years to successfully cultivate and grow an organic garden. It can take years to really learn to save seeds or prune a fruit tree. If the electricity goes out, you'll need to be able to do that and much more. If you can't, your children will suffer. It may take you a season or two to learn to get your fences built before the deer eat your crops. (They can clear a garden in one night). It can take years to learn what you actually need to run a farm. Little things like having lots of nails and screws on hand. If the big box stores close, how are you going to build shelter for city family refugees if you don't already have the supplies? And do you know construction? Do you have the tools? Or, without lots and lots of files and hack saw blades, how will you work metal when the gas runs out? It takes more than just having an anvil and hammer. Do you know the simple things like stacking hay bales on their sides, instead of "strings up"? If the hay gets wet, the water will run through the bale if it's on its side. The hay will much more likely mold if you store it with the strings pointing up. Right now, we all have the time to make such mistakes. It's not yet life or death. But soon, it may be.

In a crisis, being efficient also becomes much more important. You'll waste all kinds of time until you learn to carry a tool box on your equipment when you go to the field. It can be pure aggravation to need a wrench, screw driver or piece of wire, and have to walk all the way back to the barn. A simple fix can easily turn into a wasted hour, if you don't have the experience and tools to know better. And an hour lost is a job undone. That can be very costly.

It's taken me quite some time to learn to consistently keep certain things lined up by the back door. If I turn on any lights at night, a raccoon or coyote going after the chickens will run. I've learned, if I hear a noise, to get up in the dark, put on my boots, which are always where they need to be, have the other necessaries in easy reach, and to get out the door, silently, to take care of business. That's not something learned easily or quickly. Just developing night vision and how to see in the dark, and how to listen to the sounds of night in the country, can take a lot of time. Not knowing that can mean losing half your chickens in one night. It happened to me.

It can also take some time to learn which neighbors are reliable and which farm equipment dealerships are best. You don't want to buy major equipment from a dealer that has poor service and inventory. And asking for help from the wrong neighbor can be worse than no help at all.

It can take many seasons to learn the weather of your farm. I know that there is always a dry week in April when I can till the gardens. If I miss it, and it rains, it may be May before the ground will again dry out enough to plow. And when snow comes from certain directions, it may mean I need to clear a roof before it falls under too much weight. ..It's happened.

It's taken me some time to learn to put a broody chicken in wire cage inside the hen house. I put as many eggs under her as will fit, put in a bit of water and food, and shut the door. I've had many a hatch of eggs go bad because the chicken got up and didn't find her way back. With this little trick of confining the chicken, I get chicks every time. That's not something you learn just bugging out from the city.

It's also taken some time to learn that its hard to read by candle light. An oil lamp is better, it can give between 2.7 to 4.4 candle power, depending on how wide the wick is. And having an oil lamp with mantle, which gives 40 candle power, (or the equivalent of a 60 watt bulb), is really important if you have any medical needs at night. I know I much more appreciate sewing myself up when I can see where to stitch, instead of kind'a poking around by candle light.

And so it goes. We all know something is coming. Most of us believe it in our cores. We wouldn't be here otherwise. So, what are you going to do? I believe the time has come to take action. It may not be comfortable to leave the city and a well paying job. But you have so much to learn, and so little time. You really need to get moving. Because the mistakes you will certainly make today, just may do you in, tomorrow. - Jim Fry, Curator, Museum of Western Reserve Farms & Equipment, Ohio

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.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hi Jim,
Here are a few links for Beeswax survival "cooking" candles. They burn cleaner and longer than paraffin and are also considered safer. (Though they may not be the best choice for burning outdoors in bear country!)

Pheylonian Survival Candles
Pheylonian eShop
Zen Stoves

- All Grace, No Slack, Really-Reformed Kris

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I sat down to see what I could offer to share with other SurvivalBlog readers. Many topics have already been covered, so I will attempt to go somewhere new.
I am a law enforcement officer by trade, and hope to provide a unique perspective as such. I have seen shootings, stabbing, burglaries, robberies, etc. I have served both search and arrest warrants. I work in the southwest US, and have worked in very affluent areas as well as very poor areas. What follows are some observations of my time on the job, relating to a few different areas and crimes that occur. Hopefully some people will get something out of this. None of this is to be construed as legal advice, strictly observations. All are very applicable to everyday life, and will be highly applicable at TEOTWAWKI .A good teacher once said “I am not showing you the way, only A way.” I apologize in advance if I jump around between topics:

Of all the shootings I have seen, whether officer involved or not, shot placement has been the key to success (success being the death or incapacitation of attacker). Regardless of bullet or weapon type, a solid hit will end a fight. I have seen Black Talon .45 ACP ammo through the stomach fail to incapacitate someone, as well as .223s with poor shot placement fail to stop an attacker. Both subjects lost a lot of blood, but were able to continue to fight. A few recent shootings involved 9mm FMJ ammo. All were fatal, and all were solid hits to the heart/lung area. The take home lesson is that shot placement is key to survival, regardless of caliber. Obviously, proper ammo choice with proper shot placement is best. (I know it has been discussed before, but bird shot is not an effective defense load)
So how can we improve our shot placement? Shoot more. Dry fire. Practice. Then practice some more. If you do not shoot, learn. Whether you are a beginner or advanced shooter, do not forget to work on the basics- sight alignment and trigger control. There is no substitute for trigger time and fundamentals. 22 conversion kits are widely available for many guns for practice at reduced cost. AR-style sights are also available for 10/22s if you prefer that route over a conversion kit. Shorter, more frequent practice sessions are more beneficial than infrequent longer sessions, whether live or dry fire.

After improving static shooting skills, focus on stress shooting. Attend a training course. Practice what you learn in the course. A 2-4 day course will expose you to a lot of new ideas. It is up to you to reinforce them [with practice] when you return home. Only through repetition will these movements become second nature. Join a local IDPA league. The stress of competition will help. Become physically fit. Studies with police and simmunition/judgmental shooting scenarios showed that the more physically fit an individual, regardless of all other factors, the more likely they were to succeed on the simmunition portion and the less mistakes they made on the judgmental portion. (Think about how sports teams make more mental errors late in a game when fatigue sets in) All subjects showed an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The more fit individuals showed a more rapid return to normal levels, often before the end of the scenario. Combine physical exertion with shooting. Try doing sprints/pushups/jumping jacks, then shooting. Use your imagination.

Learn to clear a malfunction on your weapon. All guns will jam at some point. Ejected shells have bounced off walls and landed back in an open recoiling action. Strange things happen. Know your chosen weapon’s action of arms. Learn to do so with economy of movement. You can purchase dummy rounds or assemble them from spent cases. Throw a few into your magazine next time you shoot, and clear the malfunctions as they happen. It will also show any flinching problems. Teach someone else to shoot. You will be amazed at how much you will learn teaching someone else.


A-Points of entry-
Residential burglaries are an all too common occurrence. The most common points of entry I have seen are door and open windows. For some reason, crooks have an aversion to breaking windows on houses, though it will happen. (Perhaps the Broken Window Theory is true…) “Smash and Grab” activity does happen, but tends to be more vehicle related. (Practice good OPSEC in your vehicle. Do not leave valuables in plain view. Do not place gun stickers on your vehicle, etc)

A few bad guys that have been willing to talk have mentioned that you can shut a door after kicking it in, but a broken window is harder to hide from neighbors. Go and look at your front door. Find your lock plate. When a door is forced, this is the part to give, with the plate coming loose and breaking the trim. Get a screw driver, and remove one of the screws. Realize that this is what is securing your front door. Now go buy longer screws, and replace them immediately. A security door is also a huge plus, as it opens out and requires different techniques to remove. They are not fool proof, but do more to make someone choose another house which is the ultimate goal.

Open windows are the other really common method of entry. Any time any work is done on your house, check all of your windows. It is disturbingly common for workers or anyone in your home to leave a window open in a unused room, or unlock a seldom used door and then return later. Follow workers when they are in your house (Side note on this… I recently had a water heater replaced. I would have done it myself, but it was still under warranty and was free. While chit-chatting with the worker, he asked if I was a cop. I told him no, then asked why. He replied that the only people who watch him work tend to be cops. Just like you are observing others, do not forget that you are being watched as well.) Sterilize your house prior to allowing workers in. Do not leave out firearm accessories, bank statements, etc. Bars on windows are also effective in limiting possible points of entry. They may be against fire code (check your jurisdiction), and reduce points of exit as well. Roll shutters are another really good option here. Many newer homes have a window to the side of the front door. Consider a metal grate or something similar inside to prevent breaking the window, then undoing the locks. These windows, even when frosted, also provide a visible indicator about how many people/when someone is coming to the door, eliminating surprise.

B- What is taken
Cash, firearms, jewelry, electronics, tools, credit cards, personal info, bank statements. Anything that they can pawn or trade for drugs. If you go on vacation, take your spare vehicle keys with you. A recent trend has been to load up the second car parked in the cover of the garage, then drive it away with all of your stuff. Buy a gun safe, preferably a heavy one. Don't forget to lock your safe (No, I am not kidding about this.) Bolt your safe down. I have seen studs cut from the wall to remove a safe. I personally have not seen one pried from the floor yet, although I am sure it has happened. Bolt it to both floor and walls and be safe. Write your serial numbers down also, especially for firearms. (Be very careful with this list, for obvious reasons, especially with private party gun sales. Keep a copy somewhere other than your safe also) It is very hard to prove ownership or log an item as stolen without the serial number.

Robberies occur all the time, everywhere. Situational awareness is the most beneficial for preventing these. You are most vulnerable at times of preoccupation. Fumbling with keys, exiting/entering a car or residence, running with your headphones on, etc Carry bags in a manner to leave your gun hand free, assuming you are carrying concealed. Pay attention. Pause before entering exiting anywhere. Stop, look, and listen. Take a few seconds to do this anytime you enter or exit anything. Make it a habit. You see all the time on surveillance footage of people walking into a liquor store as it is being robbed. Try to stop, look and listen before you enter the store. After you enter, step to one side and do it again. Park in well lit areas. When in your vehicle, keep your doors locked. Do not pull up directly behind the car in front of you and box yourself in. Know where exits are in restaurants and businesses. Listen to your hunches. Home invasion robberies are increasingly common as well. Security doors pay huge dividends here. Even a highly trained SWAT team either has to pry or yank these with a vehicle, before dealing with the interior door. This buys you time. Time equates to distance and options, which equate to safety. Have a dog, and lock all of your gates. See above about window bars. A fenced yard helps. Most states have laws that recognize fenced yards as having a higher expectation of privacy than a non-fenced yard, and a corresponding reduced standard for lethal force action inside said fence. (i.e. the "reasonable person" test, an intruder climbing over a locked gate into a yard with a dog would be expected to be a greater threat than an intruder that was at the front window of an unfenced yard.)

It is not unreasonable if the “police” come to your door to ask to see a badge, preferably a commission card, as these have an officer’s photo. Look though a different window and see if a car is outside. Call the agency they say they are from and verify they are who they say they are. If in doubt, wait and verify. Keep your doors locked when you are home, not just when you leave or before bed.
Police are not trained to look for "bad guys." They are trained to analyze behavior and patterns. When something looks out of place, it is cause for concern.


I work nights, so most of this section will be related to this. I have approached many houses. Let me walk you through what is typical for my squad. Hopefully it will grant some insight into the mind and method of potential attackers.It starts outside of the residence, down the street. Turn off your vehicle lights before you turn onto the street. Park your vehicle so it is not in plain view. Take advantage of other parked cars, as well as the shadows in between street lights to conceal your car. Exit the vehicle quietly. Do not slam your doors. Turn of/disable your vehicle dome light prior to opening your door. Secure any loose or rattling equipment. Stop, look, and listen while still at your car. Let your eyes adjust. Identify the target residence. Depending on the threat level of the suspect or call type we number anywhere from two to six. Approach the house, again taking advantage of lighting and concealment. At the house, stop, look and listen. Are there motion lights? Video cameras? Is there a fence? Is the entire yard fenced? Is the gate locked? Are there cars in the driveway? Are the hoods warm? Most residences have an exposed front and a fenced back yard, so we will assume that is the case. Is there an alley? If so, send one or two people to cover points of exit/look through rear windows. What do you hear? Television? Fighting? Screaming? A shower? A racking shotgun? Whispering? Is there a barking dog? (Pepper spray is effective and commonly used to silence barking dogs. Many SWAT teams now carry suppressed weapons strictly for this purpose. Many cops also carry dog treats.) Look at windows. Can you see through the blinds/curtains? Do an experiment at your residence. Turn on an interior light in a room, and go outside to the window. How much can you see in? Can you see through the corners? What about where the curtains are supposed to come together at the bottom? Do this for all the windows. What do you see inside? How many people? Men, women, children? Are they calm? Are they armed? At the front door, we unscrew light bulbs, adjust cameras, cover them with rubber gloves if they do not move. Spray paint would be effective also at taking care of cameras that do not move. Consider installing a light fixture with a completely surrounded bulb, one that takes a screwdriver to change, or mounting it higher up.. When you knock on the door, move away to a position of cover. Again, stop look and listen. Does the television go off? Who yells to who to get the door? Corners of buildings provide more “cover” than the middle of a wall, as most construction backs multiple 2x4 or 2x6’s up at this location. Have someone watching through a window. Usually by shadow or change in light you can tell when someone is coming to the door, and often how many.

When entering a house

The most common mistakes when clearing a residence are noise discipline and speed. Slow down. Do not move faster than you can take in important details. Be as quiet as possible. The idea is to catch them before they catch you. They are waiting for you. Do not give them any advantage.
There is much debate about building clearance, and many schools of thought. Here are some universal points to all methods:

You need at least three people to be safe. Never search by yourself. More people are better. Cover reflexive angles of one another. Smooth is the goal. Do not stand near the walls. You do not want to risk giving away a position by running your equipment against a wall. This also gives you more options should you engage and have to move. Move slowly (one minute per hundred square feet is not unreasonable). When “pieing” [or "pie slicing"] a room, examine each new degree of the pie from top to bottom , and back again. Hunters will understand this better, but you are not looking for a whole person. You are looking for parts. A toe, an ear, an elbow. Likewise, when clearing, have your upper body move before your lower body (i.e., lean and clear, then move your feet underneath you….repeat….practice with a friend/spouse or a mirror [with and absolutely cleared and double-checked firearm]) and keep your elbow tucked under your weapon, so the first thing the bad guy will see is half the barrel of your gun and half of that eye. (Notice I said “that” eye. Learn to shoot with your off hand, and practice. It is impossible to safely clear a house with the gun in one hand the entire time.) Practice house clearing. Get a friend, family member. Go through your home. Go through theirs. Take turns being the good guy/bad guy. Do it during the day. Do it at night. Repeat. People hide in all sorts of places. Cupboards, washing machines, inside couches, between mattresses, etc. Do not move past anything you have not cleared. You do not want to be worried about something behind you while clearing. If a door is locked and you have to bypass it, get creative. Lean something up against the door so you will know if it is opened behind you. Tie it shut. Do not make more noise than you need to. Do not be afraid to kneel or squat when pieing. People are expecting certain things. Think outside the box.

As far as lights go, there are two schools of thought. The first, turn on lights as you enter the room. You can see, but the enemy can also. The second, use a weapon mounted or handheld light. You can illuminate an area, kill the light, then move. Try both and see what you prefer.

B-Defensive Measures
Consider all of the proceeding section of what attackers do. Apply this to your home. Imagine you are at home, watching television. The neighbor’s dog starts barking, or your's does. The dog suddenly stops. You still get up to investigate, wisely. You go to turn on your outside light, and the bulb does not work. At this point in time the hair on the back of your neck should be standing up. Pay attention to all of the small things. You check your security camera, and suddenly it’s looking at a view of the wall. If a security camera is not working, blocked, etc, lights not working, dog stopped barking (or still barking like mad) these are clues to put on your vest and load your weapon. (You do always put on your vest and grab your weapon when you go to investigate bumps in the night, right? )

Look at your home. Put up a fence around your entire yard. Build a full size fence, not a half one. Clear an area for 8-to-10 feet on either side of the fence, the entire way around. Do not take the time to put up a fence and then provide an easy means over it. Lock the gate. Get two or three large dogs and let them have free roam of the yard. They make “shake” alarms for fences that will go off when the fence is disturbed. They can be made to ring your cell phone (As in your phone rings, you answer, a computer voice states "You have a fence activation on the north side of your property."). Look at your outside lights also. Where are the dark spots? Where are blind spots that you cannot see from your windows? Consider discrete mirrors in strategic locations to check blind spots. Mount your lights high so they cannot be unscrewed, and get fixtures that protect the light bulb. Install security cameras. Consider a few camera pointed towards your house, possibly under eaves or overhangs that will be easy to miss. Where are your children’s rooms in relationship to yours? Where are the bullets that you may be shooting going to be flying? What walls can be made bullet resistant? I have been in homes where the people literally filled the half walls at the top of the stair case with sand/sand bags to provide a fortified fighting position for the family. Other ideas include surplus vests, Kevlar sheeting, etc stuffed in this area. Another option is to fortify your children’s rooms if they are on the other end of the home, but this also provides an intruder with a potential stronghold. Consider interior flood lights. The same people with the sand bagged half walls had flood lights above the stairs, facing down. With the positioning of the lights, it blinded everyone to the defenders at the top of the stairs.

Every home has ambush spots. When you are practicing clearing your house, think about what spots give you problems. Blind corners or multiple doors in close proximity are nightmares while clearing. Find a spot on the far side of the room or down a hallway where you can view these problem areas. One where you can view a problem area and fortify is an ideal location. Stairwells make good options. While you are practicing clearing your house with someone else, take turns being the “bad guy.” See where you want to hide, where you have the best advantage.

I hope this helps. People often talk about hardware versus software. In these tough economic times, hardware is not easy to come by. Software is cheap. Try to still obtain what you can when you can, but focus on learning skills--any skills. Plant a garden. Change your oil. Help someone with a construction project. Read a book. Learn to bake bread. Learn to distill alcohol. Reload. Take a first aid course. Cook with your food storage. Volunteer somewhere where you can learn something. Practice bartering your skills for goods or services. YouTube is an amazing resource out there if you are unsure how to do something and don’t know anyone that can teach you. If you already have skills, teach them (while still learning new ones.) Spread the word to those that will listen. Post a youtube video about preparation, or about any skill that you have. Teach someone to shoot. You can pick up a surplus Mosin-Nagant rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition for around $150, depending on where you live. Encourage everyone you know to buy one or two.) is a great resource also regarding questions about ammo ("I wonder what happens if I shoot layers of sheet rock with "X" caliber...") Show your friends SurvivalBlog. Sow the seeds of preparation in all you come across. Continue to prepare, pray, and be safe. - Eli

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.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lighting systems in a retreat home (not connected to the grid).

My home does not fit the definition of a retreat. I built it about 30 years ago in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) when the idea of a retreat location was not on my radar screen. Only by coincidence has my home worked out to fit a retreat definition, better situated them many, not as good as some. It is quite secluded, the only house at the end of a dead end dirt road. It has never had grid power run to it. The utility company wanted as much money to run the power lines through the woods back to my cabin as the cabin cost me to build. It’s not that I didn’t know that when I built the cabin, I just did not think it was anything I needed to have at the time. This is not that unusual in the UP as it may seem to most people. There are lots of homesteads too far off the beaten path to have grid power connected up here in the UP. The cabin is 2000 sq. ft. with three bedrooms, two baths, living room, kitchen and dining room. Also a full basement, not included in the square footage above. It is as modern as most houses today except for how every thing works. I will only concentrate on lighting in this essay. In later essays (if anyone is interested) I can explain cooking, refrigeration, heating, electricity, etc. I hope you don’t mind my folksy/personal writing style; it’s just the way I am.

Today we are heading into a monumental depression of historic magnitude. No one truly knows how bad it will get or how long it will last. I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” and that’s as true today as it was over 200 years ago. I know the subject of lighting may seem somewhat mundane and even silly to some, put a few candles away and we will be OK, they hope. But without sustained, reliable lighting, day to day life can get pretty difficult at best. It’s important to try to keep your home as normal as possible in the hard times ahead for you, your family and whoever may be seeking refuge with you. All lighting systems take energy of some form just as cooking and heating do, this is the first thing to keep in mind when planning for your lighting systems.

As Mr. Rawles has said in the past “two is one and one is none”. I have learned this the hard way, by experiencing a failure in a system. I have four, separate, distinct and independent (from each other) lighting systems in the house. So a failure of one or even two will not make my lights go out.

The first lighting system is AC electric. The cabin is fully wired for 110/220V AC power, normal household electrical current. Supplied via gas generator, wind generator, and inverter/charger battery bank system, again if anyone is interested I can go into greater detail about the electrical systems in another essay. For the most part the electric lights in the house are compact fluorescent with a few exceptions. One of the exceptions are the under-cabinet 10 watt halogen lights in the kitchen. Ten watts is not much but there are 13 of them under the cabinets. I must admit that they are nice to have on and 130 watts is not all that much either, however I tend to forget about them being on and along with the TV and lights on in the living room, bathroom and a bedroom (kids, you know how that is) the batteries are drawn down much too fast. Well I can’t use the kids excuse anymore, it's grandkids now. We all know how electric lights work; you flip a switch and the lights come on. That is true with inverter power also, as long as you use the right inverter system.

Just to be clear about electricity, it is by far the most convenient and at the same time the most susceptible to failure of all the lighting systems I use. I have run out of gas, aggravating at the time but not a major problem, unless gas becomes unavailable? I have had generator and/or inverter system failures; yes even the best will not last indefinitely. The worst electrical failure I have experienced was lightning hitting the phone line coming into the cabin. The phone lines are underground but the lightning hit it anyway. It followed the line into the house, blowing every phone jack off the walls and ruined all three of my phones. It also crossed over to the electrical wiring and fried most every thing plugged in to wall outlets. NOTE: I have plug strips supposedly with electrical breakers built into them, so I can turn off the TV, stereo, and the like so they will not run down the batteries. All modern electronics and appliances use power even when there not in use. [JWR Adds: These are so-called "phantom loads", typically caused the microcircuits for clocks and other sub-modules.] The lightning went across these plug strips as if they were hard wired in. This was a major system failure. My homes owners insurance covered all repairs and replacements. However in a TEOTWAWKI there would be no insurance and no repairs or replacements unless I fixed them myself and, spare parts would be out of the question.

My second lighting system is propane gas. The cabin is plumbed for gas lights in most of the main rooms down stairs and the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs. These are gas mantle lights. To light them I use a Bic lighter under the mantle and turn on the gas, and I have instant light. When I first installed the gas lights, I would use a kitchen match (wooden matches), to light them. I soon discovered I was very good at poking a hole in the mantle with the match; I soon switched to a Bic lighter. Mantles cost about $7.00 each. They are about as bright as a 65 to 70 watt incandescent light bulb. I have two styles of gas mantle lights in my home. The first and the ones I started with are Humphrey gas lights; I only have two of them. These are good dependable well made lighting fixtures of sheet metal construction; the only drawback is there a little homely. As far as I know there is only one style, a wall mount fixture. Humphrey gas lighting fixtures can be found at most propane distributors and country hardware stores.

The second gas lighting fixture and the one I prefer is Falks gas lighting fixtures. These are a much more elegant lighting fixture made in Canada out of solid brass. There are three styles of Falks lighting fixtures to pick from. A single mantle wall mount, double mantle wall mount and a double mantle chandelier, I have all three styles in my cabin. Both the Humphrey and Falks gas lights use the same globes and mantles. I have several spare mantles and globes on hand at all times. Falks gas lights can be ordered from Lehman's. The cost for the single Falks gas light is about $80 US and $75 US for a Humphrey gas light. Gas lights are just as bright as electric lights.

When I installed the gas lights I used 1⁄2” soft copper tubing for main runs and 3/8” soft copper tubing off the main run for a single lighting fixture. If you put in gas lights never use hard copper tubing that requires soldering the joints. Only use soft copper tubing and flare fittings that are designed for gas applications. Use a soap swab to check for gas leaks at every connection. Never use a match to check for leaks. If there is a leak (and there will be some) at a connection you can have an instant blow torch on your hands, and that blow torch can just as well be in your face. If you do not know how to install gas fixtures have a licensed plumber do them.

Both Falks and Humphrey gas lights use about .085 lb of gas per hour per mantle. I think a little math is in order here.

One gallon of propane weighs about 4.23 lb.
A 20 lb. propane tank (type for gas grills) contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.7 gallons of gas. If you did the math you will find that it isn’t exactly 20 lbs., the numbers aren’t carried out properly to the last decimal place.

Therefore a 20 lb. propane tank will run one mantle light for approximately 234 hours of continues use. If you ran a gas light for 5 hours a night one 20 lb. tank will last for 47 days. However refilling 20 lb. tanks is the most expensive way to buy and store propane gas.

A 100 lb. tank will run one mantle light for approximately 1,176 hours of continues use. And if you ran a gas light for 5 hours a night, one 100 lb. tank will last for 235 days more or less. I’m sure someone will check my math to see if it works out and that’s Okay, I make lots of mistakes.

I have a 500 gallon propane pig (tank) for gas, which is kind of a lot for just lighting. I also use propane for other things in my cabin. The last time propane was delivered last October it cost $2.49 per gallon. At that price it cost approximately $0.05 per hour to run one light. Also propane will store for ever with no degradation of the gas (it doesn’t "go bad"). You can’t say that for gasoline, kerosene or diesel. A side note: I am told that we are in a deflationary spiral, but the only things that I can see going down in price is real estate and gasoline. Food, clothing, repairs of anything and the stuff you need day to day haven’t gone down at all. (Just a little whining).

My third independent lighting system; kerosene lights. I use two types of kerosene lights in the cabin. The first is Aladdin lamps. I have four Aladdin lamps, one is a Majestic Table lamp, and three Genie III shelf lamps one of which is in a hanging fixture in my bedroom, and the two others are on each end of the fireplace mantle. Aladdin lamps can be a bit temperamental to operate. All Aladdin lamps are mantle lamps similar to Coleman Lanterns however they use a round wick like an old kerosene lamp. The temperamental part, the wick must be trimmed evenly all around the top. If it is not you will get flame spikes (I call them horns) coming up into the mantle and if, (not when), these little fiery horns touch the mantle it will start building up with carbon. All you have to do is turn down thee wick so the horn is not touching the mantle and the carbon will burn off the mantle. However if you don’t turn the wick down, the mantle will continue to build up carbon and eventually put out copious amounts of lovely black soot, to coat your ceiling and fill the air with a witches' brew of noxious gas and smoke. On the bright side, Aladdin lamps will generate the equivalent of a 50 watt incandescent light bulb and at the same time will put out about 2,700 BTU’s of heat, that’s a lot of heat in the summer time from one lamp. In the evenings in the fall and spring of the year, I can heat my cabin with nothing but Aladdin lamps (if it’s not too cold out). A log cabin retains heat very well, and all my windows are triple glazed. If you would like to try Aladdin lamps they are available at many country hardware stores and Lehman’s by mail order. After making it sound awful, I like my Aladdin lamps, it just takes a little practice to learn how to use them. If you are going to use Aladdin lamps you will need to stock up on Aladdin Chimneys, Mantles and Wicks. There are two types of Aladdin Chimneys. The first is the Lox-On Chimney; I’ve had them last for years and also had them break in a week. In my opinion the Heel-Less Chimney is superior, it allows the glass to move as it heats up and cools off without breaking. For about $12.00 a Gallery Adapter will convert a Burner to use a Heel-less Chimney. Newly manufactured Aladdin Lamps come with Heel-Less Chimneys.

I have several table and wall mounted old fashion kerosene lamps. I also have one very ornate Victorian hanging library lamp in my dinning room. It is solid brass with a ruby red hob nail, glass shade, and lots of prisms. If it sounds like my cabin is old fashioned, it is. One rule of thumb in lighting any kerosene lamp, light the wick with a low flame and let the lamp and kerosene in it heat up. As the kerosene gets hotter its viscosity goes down and flows much faster. As the kerosene flows faster the flame will get bigger and bigger. There is no reason for the chimney to soot up if you just start with a low flame and let the lamp heat up. After the lamp is hot you can adjust the brightness. If you plan on using kerosene lamps stock up on wicks and chimneys. The wicks are consumables and no matter how careful you are chimneys break. Almost forgot, every time the lamps are filled the wick should be trimmed, I trim the wick just to clean it up flat across its top and I cut a small 45º angle off each end of the wick, so the flame will have a domed appearance. If that is not clear just experiment with it, you will learn as you go.

How mush kerosene should be stored? I am told that kerosene will last for about 15 years before it goes bad. In 2008 I used about 30 gallons of kerosene; I use more in the winter then in the summer. In a TEOTWAWKI I would be mush more conservative than I am right now. If you’re going to use kerosene as one of your lighting systems I would suggest storing from 100 to 200 gallons in 55 gallon plastic drums.

The last lighting system is just old fashion candles. Several years ago I was able to acquire about 200 pounds of wax from a company I worked for. The company applied wax to one of the products they manufactured. When they had a product change on the coating machine they had to purge all the wax out of the machine and put in a different formula for the changeover. The purged wax was pumped out into five gallon buckets and discarded. It is amazing how much stuff is thrown away that could be used in a grid down situation. All this wax I have stashed will someday have to be made into candles. There are two basic ways to make candles. The first is to mold (cast) them in a candle mold. I have had one of these for a very long time; it casts 8 candles at a time. The candle mold is simple to use. Just feed a pre-waxed string (wick) through the hole in the bottom of each candle mold, bend it over so it will not come out. Tie the other end to a rod across the top of the mold and fill the mold with wax. Let the wax solidify, dip in hot water and pull out the candles. Trim the string off the bottom of each candle and store in a cool place until needed. Candle molds can be made fairly simply to just about any length and diameter you desire. I have made 1” diameter x 14” long candle molds. Use hard copper tubing, or PVC plastic pipe would work also. Cut to the length desired and chamfer both ends inside and out side (de-burr it). Take a cap that fits over the end of the tubing and drill a hole in the center of it to fit the size of wick you have, or make. Use the same procedure for casting candles above. After the candles are cast and hardened put the molds in vary hot water to loosen the wax from the mold. Remove the mold from the water and using a wooden rod with an end on it that fits the full diameter of the candle push the candle out of the mold and let cool. The ends of the candle will be flat, but this is not a drawback in my mind.

The second way to make candles is by dipping them. This way is a little more cumbersome [and time consuming] and I don’t recommend it. But if anyone is interested in hand dipping candles, just Google the subject to learn how.

One more safety concern, never melt wax in your house and never on your kitchen stove. Melted wax is highly flammable. A wax fire is almost impossible to put out with water; it just spreads the fire over the kitchen and all over you, and anyone that is with you at the time. Do not take this warning lightly. I make candles outside away from any buildings on a nice summer day. - The Old Yooper

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Our family lives full time in our camping trailer and have found out there would be many advantages to keeping one in any situation. I am not talking the big 5th wheel or the ones with a motor, just a plain travel trailer [with a traditional vehicle hitch].

Our trailer is 27 feet long and weighs in at 9,500 lbs empty and almost 11,000 lbs full. It is a bunkhouse model and can sleep up to 11 people. It has a 40 gallon fresh water tank, 40 gallon black water tank (waste) and a 40 gallon gray water tank (drain off water from tub and sinks). It has 12 volt battery backup which power lights and the water pump when power is unavailable. The stove and hot water heater run on propane, with the fridge working on both.

Storage can be short, but there is some – under the bottom bunk, the full size bed in the bedroom, under the seats in the kitchen, 2 closets (very small) and cabinets in the living area and bedroom.

Our heater will heat up enough hot water for an eight minute shower and the tub is the size of a 10 gallon bucket. When we are parked in an RV park with power included in the lot fees, we heat our trailer with electric heaters. This saves us money on propane. If we just cook and shower using the propane, then we will go through two 35 pound tanks in just under one year.

We have been buying or having a friend collect empty older propane tanks and then we have been trading them in at Wal-Mart for under $18.00 each. Small solar panels were purchased from Harbor Freight Tools for under $40.00 each, they will [slowly] recharge a 12 volt battery. We will be purchasing more panels as we go so that our entire trailer could be run off them.

We have inline water filters and portable ones, we have potable aqua tablets and shock. Our water tank can be filled by hose or in a pinch by bucket and funnel. After Gustav most of the water here was very bad (boil water order for all of our parish, even for bathing in some areas). When some of our neighbors had no hot water for their special needs family member they came to us and we hauled hot water for them (we were they only ones in an RV to come right back within 72 hours of the passage of Hurricane Gustav). We also have an external shower.

We do have a propane burner for outside, most people here use those for crawfish. We have one very cheap charcoal grill and a good supply of charcoal. We can make our own if need be.

After Hurricane Gustav we were without power for two weeks and used our interior 12 volt DC lights for night time only and for about 20 minutes at a time. Our battery gauge didn’t indicate any voltage drop.

When we do our shows and are in practice we can be ready to move out within 1 hour and we are still working to par that time down even further. What this means for us is that here we could drive out quickly with our home or even put it on a platform on numerous pontoons making our trailer into a riverboat. We live near a very rural area and large uninhabited waterways, where you can go out all day and not see of hear anyone at all.

Our retreat will have a home and a large barn that will house our RV, keeping prying eyes away from it and also giving us a place to go to if heating ever becomes an issue. When the SHTF we can camouflage the RV in another location for a further retreat position, still have shelter and a way to keep everyone fed.
Our trailer is a 1995 and we bought it for under 5,000. You can get them very cheap further north during the off season and move them fairly cheap now that gas has come down a lot. We went smaller because of the towing needs. No matter what you still need to haul it, even if it’s to your retreat.

Granted, it would be more difficult, but not impossible, to utilize in colder climates. Good windbreaks and insulation in the under compartments helps tremendously. Plastic on the windows with the exception of the vents also helps.

In some states that get a lot of hurricanes also are places a lot of people actually live in trailers year round. What sometimes happens when they are lived all the time is they get stripped out to the bare walls and customized. They are cheaper and easier to reinforce that way. A 40 foot trailer stripped out can run you about $1,500 to $2,000 dollars. Most people here take out the kitchen area which I wouldn’t do. They also remove the fresh water tank and if anything I would make the fresh water tank larger than 40 gallons, leaving in the electric pump. With full solar capability you can leave the power system intact and go from there.

In our closets we added small shelves that will hold two weeks of clothing for each of us, four all together. The fridge and freezer will hold 1 gallon of milk, a weeks worth of leftovers, four dozen eggs, one 2-quart juice pitcher (from Camping World, made for trailer size fridges), condiments and the freezer will hold more than one week's worth of meat. The cabinets will hold three weeks of canned goods, spices and what we need for baking for six months. Under the little counter extension we have flour, sugar and rice (large storage containers from Wall-Mart), those last us about three months. We also have food stored under one bed and under both seats in the kitchen. By the garbage can we keep a one month supply of dog food for our 90 pound German Shepherd cross.

To keep our space requirements smaller, we went small flat screen television, a cheap and tiny DVD player and low profile PC tower. Movies are not kept in single cases, they are kept in DVD folders with zippers. Our children are limited to what toys they can have and it must all fit in toy hammocks or collapsible toy boxes at the end of their beds. Our guns are easy to stow in the trailer and are always within reach. On hand we also keep quite a bit of ammo and buy more weekly. We do maintain an inexpensive storage unit elsewhere, and we keep the bulk of our SHTF supplies there for under $80 a month.

There are a lot of extras you can buy for your RV, including wheeled containers to drain black and gray water into for disposal. Pots and pans made for smaller areas, heavier dishes that will last through everything including travel. RV size washers and dryers or the all in ones, which are no bigger than an RV stove. Shower organizers can be installed easily to increase your bathroom storage.

One of the biggest things to like about an older trailer is that no one even looks twice at it, people who don’t own one have no clue how self sufficient you can be in one. It’s not new enough or dressed up enough to get a second look from a trouble makers and family never wants to come stay, none of them can figure out why you would want to trade down and live in something so small. It also makes it easier if you have others that will join you when the SHTF and you are running out of places to put people.

Hi Jim.
I have been a long time reader of your blog and have spent quite a bit of money with many of your terrific advertisers. I am writing to tell you about the serenity of my day in the midst of the hard hitting ice storm up here in New England. Thanks to the information you present in your blog and the preparation that I have taken over the last few years, all I had to do to prepare for this storm the day before was two things - fill the fire wood box and fill the bath tub for toilet flushing water.
I already had food stocked up. I had drinking water available. I had heat via a wood stove. I had a generator. I had plenty of fuel for the generator. (I was even able to loan a spare generator and fuel out to a friend.) I had fresh batteries for the flashlight and radios. I had a scanner to listen to all the emergency calls in the area. (You will realize how under-prepared your neighbors are by all the assistance calls.) I had plenty of alternative lighting (candles and LED lights). I had sufficient quantities of ice melt and sand on hand.

The great thing was that I wasn't stressed out before, during or after the storm. My family mentioned over and over how terrific it was to be prepped. I was fortunate that they were on the "let's get prepped" band wagon with me over the last few years. I got to enjoy the ice sculptures of the day and was able to help out someone else, too. The simple fact of all this is that by being prepared you get to relax a bit during a potentially stressful time. This wasn't an end of the world scenario but nonetheless the preparation was almost the same. Being prepped for any emergency isn't that hard to do and the resources you collect over time are useful in nearly any condition. It was actually a bit fun to see all this preparation fall nicely into place. Thanks for all you do! - Relaxed in New England

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hi Mr. Rawles:

In your comments to the family living in Trinidad & Tobago, you wrote: "As your budget allows, buy a small solar charger for your AA and AAA NiMH batteries."
Do you have personal experience with any of these solar chargers? Can you recommend any? Many thanks, - Larry T.

JWR Replies: Depending on your budget, solutions can run from "micro", to "mini", to "maxi." These inexpensive solar chargers sold by Ready Made Resources (one of our long-time advertisers) work fine as a "micro" solution., but be advised that they are not waterproof. I recommend setting these up on a windowsill, inside a south-facing window. In my experience, it is best to buy at least two of these chargers, since they charge slowly, via "trickle charging".

Moving up to the "mini" solution, there are these 6.5 watt flexible (amorphous), photovoltaic (PV) panels. Even modest-size PV systems with a small deep cycle battery bank can make a huge difference in providing small scale lighting and battery charging for crucial security measures such as radios and night vision equipment. There are so many LED lights, battery charging trays, and various pieces of electronic gear available that will run directly from 12 VDC or from a DC-to-DC converter, that you might be able to skip the expense of a full-up system with a large AC inverter.

If you have a bigger budget, Ready Made Resources (RMR) and other vendors can also supply larger pre-packaged PV power systems, either with or without an AC power inverter. (Without an inverter, they will provide only 12 volt or 24 volt DC power.) RMR even has experience designing "maxi" systems--6 KW or larger. (BTW, they offer free alternate energy system design and consulting.)

Keep in mind that starting January 1st, grid-tied PV systems will be eligible for a 30% Federal tax credit in the US. Many states also offer their own tax credits. In some states such as Florida and California, the combined Federal and state tax credits may reduce your expense by as much as 70%, when all is said and done.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Here's a beginner's list I made for my [elderly] father today:

{Brown pearl] rice does not store well. Neither does cooking oil so that needs to be fresh. No, Crisco doesn't count.
Coconut oil would be your best bet.
Wheat berries - 400 pounds - bulk order at your local health food store
Beans - 400 pounds - bulk order at your local health food store
Mylar bags
Country Living grain mill
propane tanks, small stove and hoses to connect
freeze dried fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat if you can find them.
500 gallons of water [storage capacity. Rainwater catchment is a common practice in Hawaii]
Water filter

Cast Iron Cookware

FN PS 90

10 PS 90 magazines

5.7 handgun

10 FN 5.7 handgun magazines

5.7 ammo

Training: Front Sight four day defensive handgun course. (Note: eBay sometimes has course certificates for $100!)

Body armor: Nick at

Personal medications
Augmentin antibiotic
Up to date dental work
Anti-fungal spray

$10,000 cash in small bills
100 one-ounce silver coins ( or

Gasoline in 5 gallon cans or better yet, this.
Gas stabilizer
Mountain bikes
Air pump

Rechargeable Batteries
Battery charger
Hand held walkie talkies
Topographical map of your area
Spare eyeglasses
Shortwave radio
Home generated power
12 volt battery system
Good backpack
Good knife
Good compass
Good shoes
Bar soap
Dental floss
Toilet paper
Fishing kit
Salt licks
Connibear traps

Regards, - SF in Hawaii

JWR Adds: The following is based on the assumption that SF's father also lives in Hawaii: Because of the 10 round magazine limit for handguns, I recommend that Hawaiians purchase only large bore handguns for self defense--such as .45 ACP. Both the Springfield Armory XD .45 Compact or the Glock Model 30 would both be good choices. The "high capacity" advantage of smaller caliber handguns is not available to civilians in Hawaii, so you might as well get a more potent man stopper, given the arbitrary 10 round limitation.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My preparedness journey began when my mother in law was dying, and we had to get out of the house for a while. At a flea market, on the bottom shelf, was a book titled “Making the Best of Basics”. The cover caught my attention, and before we went home that night, I had read and re-read the book. I am a union electrician, subject to layoffs, and my husband is a self-employed painter. The idea that I needed to prepare came easy for me. I thought I had done well, always buying extra for the pantry. But water? Oops. I hadn't thought about that one. So, I started doing the things in the book, and my mind was always going, and the lists got longer.

When I started to realize that I had a lot to do, I shared my thoughts with my best friend. Instead of laughing, she got on board. We discussed my home as the retreat. Although it doesn’t fit every need, it has a lot to offer. We are on a gravel, lightly populated road, about 20 minutes from a medium city. We have a well, and two acres. Our home has a basement, where we are working to get things organized. We know most of our neighbors, and have a community here. One neighbor plows our drive when it snows, and has for two years now. We treat him to his favorite brew on occasion to thank him, and I have even taken him a bowl of hot soup when he arrives.

Worst case scenario, we could have as many as 30 family members here, with varied skills, but it is a momentous task to try to prepare for that many people.
Last spring, my friend and I built raised garden beds that are still producing. We used recycled bleachers for the boxes, old shelving and other “trash” for the trellises. An old hog waterer with the waterer cut out, set in the ground at the proper angle, with a double pane window on it, became a cold frame. We also have the supplies to expand the garden next year. It is actually a very pretty garden!
I have dried tomatoes, onions, cabbage, apples, mushrooms, eggs, plums; canned anything that I had time to, and jellied, with new recipes for dandelion jelly, zucchini jam, and cantaloupe jam. My three garage sale dehydrators run most of the time. I have studied new and old methods of drying. I keep sodium metabisulfite, but also use the older method of using salt and vinegar rinses to preserve color. I have learned a lot, and my family is scrounging for jars for me. The supply is dried up here, mostly due to the awakening of some of the sheeple.

After consideration of a generator, it was decided that the best route for us was to just ready ourselves to be off grid. Second-hand shops have provided hank crank blenders, food processors, meat grinders, and other kitchen helpers. A friend helped build an Amish [summer canning] kitchen from some table legs, wood, and a Freecycled propane cooktop. One plus to this that we didn’t consider—the stove is lower in height, which is helpful when working with canners. One thing that we did consider—a hundred gallons of propane will work this stove, or the propane stove in the kitchen, for a year and a half. A couple of extra tanks are on the list to obtain! By putting the cooktop outside, we don’t heat the house up, which now helps the air conditioning bill, and will definitely help later, when it is just hot, and there is no air conditioning. We can also use it in the barn or basement if the weather necessitates. We also have propane heaters, and for emergencies, canned heat. (The latter is a 1-quart steel paint can, with a roll of toilet paper with cardboard liner removed, 16 ounces of alcohol. Directions for making these can be found on the LDS preparedness sites [such as].)

We have been learning to save our own seeds, and I have been studying some animal husbandry, expecting to get some small livestock. We also have laid in a supply of sprouting seeds, and use them.
I now store water, and using the PACE system means that we have several means of getting more. For now the well is primary, the hand pump is alternate, the stored water is contingent, and the rain water, pond water, etc. would be the emergency. However, we also have our eyes on a pump that would be inline, and pressurize the tank. This will happen soon if things hold out a while! Although I store drinking water, I also started saving detergent bottles for non-potable water. I don’t even rinse them. When we are without water, and have dishes or laundry to do, those bottles will work perfectly, even offering up the remnants of the soaps in them.

Solar and human generated power are ideas that I am investigating, and if time permits, we should have minimal power, with minimal outlay. I hope that my electrical abilities will help here! Several years ago I installed some solar powered flood lights on my parents’ home, and now plan to put some both on and in my home. I do understand that during the probable turmoil, their use would be limited to avoid the target on our backs. However, eventually things will settle, and they would be of great use. By eliminating the motion sensor and photo-eye, and direct-wiring a switch, these lights could work in the house as well, and would need only a path for the solar cell wire, i.e. through a window. This would be fine as a temporary fix until more permanent work could be done.
I was able to find a supplier locally for wheat, where I am the only customer. Not only do I grind flour, making our own breads when time permits, but we sprout it for both us and our dogs. Incidentally, our older dog was having some health issues, and I started adding sprouts to the dog food. Within a couple of weeks, he was acting like a puppy, and his chronic halitosis had vanished.
I also found a neighbor who grows corn, who took my order for about 10 bushel, when the moisture content is down and we can store it. Guess some cornbread with all those beans would be a welcome thought.

I found an article for a vacuum pump, which is worth sharing. I had seen build-it-yourself pumps, but with all the preps, building one was not in the time allotment. However, you can go to your local auto store, and get a brake bleeder, with a gauge and several attachments, very reasonably. I obtained the mason jar sealers, and now seal all my dehydrated foods with vacuum on them. Just put the conical end on the bleeder, press it into the jar attachment, and pump away. When you remove the pump, the jar seals. A mason jar will hold 20 inches (Hg) of vacuum, which, by the way, will collapse a five gallon bucket. Don’t ask me how I know. Seal your buckets with a little less vacuum!

My friend and her mom got on board early, and are both also prepping. We are in the process of getting a community inventory, so we know what we all need to work on. My mother was supportive, but not overly helpful until this month. Along with jars, tins, and the usual things on my list from garage sales, she has started getting winter clothes, socks, etc. She also gave me a nice check to help with whatever we need, and pledged to give more. My husband has become more supportive as the economy teeters, and is also now actively engaged in the OPSEC end of our needs.

Our children are like most kids, struggling to survive. However, they also pick up an extra bag of rice or can of beans when they can, and send it. I have given them ideas on putting things away when you can barely afford to eat. Every week, get at least one item. Even on a bad week, you can afford a box of salt, rice, beans, pudding, or a can of milk. They also know (thanks to SurvivalBlog) what they need to look for, and when to get headed home.

If you had told me 10 months ago how very many hours I could find in a day, week, or month, to do all these things, I would have laughed. Now I look at the garden, and see not only hours spent with my best friend, laughing as she learned to use a drill, but the many meals we ate, and will still eat, from our bleacher boxes. I walk to the basement, and see the supplies there. I see the full jars of home processed foods, and enjoy just looking at the fruits of my labor. I see the first aid box, and the many other medical supplies, and feel some peace. I look in the closet in my office, and find sleeping bags, blankets, and other items to help out family when they are forced here.

I don’t throw anything out any more, without asking myself if it has another purpose. My family has lists of things that they are to watch for, and I often come home from visits with the car full of goodies.
Remember, having all your supplies means nothing if you don’t know how to use them. Eat wheat, sprout seeds, grow a garden, learn to use the canners, and lay in a supply of jars and lids. Learn to cook with your essentials, stay warm with less heat, and amuse yourself without television.

Are we ready? Not by a long shot! The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know! But knowledge is power, and I do know that when things happen, I am much more prepared that most, and we have a plan. Your blog site has been invaluable, and as times become more unpredictable, you are the first thing I check when I log on. Although I struggle with the fears of not having enough done, I know that we will not panic. What we have begun is a new way of life that takes what we have today, and builds on it for tomorrow. Lists will be filled, and peace grows. God is good, and gives us much. It is our responsibility to use it wisely. He can only guide our steps if we start walking. Then we have to count on Him to take care of the things we can’t. Thanks again for what you do! Sparky

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

As this is not a competition entry, it has not been reviewed by an outside set of eyes yet, and I'm sure its kind of disorganized, but this is some info about third world life, as I can see it here, after things stabilize.

My wife is from Peru. She was born during the Peruvian hyperinflation and transition to its next fiat currency, the Nuevo Sol. (Yeah, we're young whippersnappers) She recently started to help out in getting ready. What helped her was comparing the current economic climate here to Peru. This allowed her to correlate things that occur in her former patria with our situation. She is a source of info on the Third world medium sized city way of life.

In Third world Peru, everyone cooks with propane camp stoves, with big seven gallon bottles. There is no space built for an American style range, even in nice houses. All water is boiled before ingestion, except [commercially] bottled water. Trucks come with semi-clean water and people line up to fill up their buckets for washing and drinking. (after boiling) Hopefully you have a big tank on your roof to gravity feed it through your pipes, as the power goes out regularly, and your personal well and pump wont work.

Everyone had bars on every window and door. Houses not made of cement block are broken into through the walls. They're also too cheap/poor to put enough steel in the buildings, so they fall down easily in earthquakes. Re-bar is [used] only in the corners. Nobody has an exposed to the street yard. A courtyard inside larger places is the norm, off street parking, if you can afford a vehicle, is a must, or you wont be parking anything soon. Inyokern told me this concept: When things go really sour, everyone steals everything so often that everyone ends up with the same trash that nobody wants to steal anymore. e.g. I have a nice bike, it gets stolen, I get a new bike but not as nice as the first, it gets stolen, I buy the worst looking bike I can find. It stays. This is very true. People with nice hats walk around with a hand on their head. Political corruption is the norm. Most any government official can be bought for a couple hundred nuevo sols. Farmers carry guns. People walk on your roof at night.

Just about everyone is self employed. Selling food in the streets, tricycle and moto-taxis, home based Liquor stores, etc. Often if you sell higher "dollar" stuff, your customers don't even come in your building, money and product are exchanged though the door bars. Keyed locks on both sides. There is no such thing as a big box store. Even disposable diapers are bought one at a time.
People wear sandals called yanki. These are said to be made out of used car tires, but most tires I know of are steel belted, and you can't cut that with a knife. My two pair are made from rubber mining belt I think, as the tread pattern is cut by hand. The poor wear them, and they supposedly last a loooooong time.

In Peru, the power goes out all the time. Candles are common. People don't stock up there, the stores I guess have sufficient on hand to handle the outages and subsequent candle runs. The stores here are obviously not prepared for that.

Traffic in her small town is nearly non existent, but traffic in Lima is suicidal. Regards, - Tantalum Tom

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hi Jim,
I'm a long time reader of the blog and I liked your novel. I have been amazed at your ability to acutely foresee coming events. More and more yours is the first site that I read every day. I noticed your article on glow sticks and I have an excellent upgrade for your readers.

Forget using glow sticks and graduate to Krill lights. Now glow sticks still have their place, but 98% of the time this will be a better item to use. I have purchased several of these over the years and have always been impressed. They work like giant [electro-luminescent] Indiglo watches. They run for what seems like forever on AA batteries, comes in different colors including infrared (IR), they have 360 and 180 degree models, flashing models are available, all at greatly reduced cost verses equivalent glow sticks. I am rough on equipment and have yet to destroy one of these tough little lights. Your friend, - Kevin S.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hi Jim,
I just read your novel "Patriots" and studied the Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course, and both are excellent. [In them,] you talk about chem lights (otherwise known as glow sticks) for in your car for changing tires, handy around campsites, and what not. The shelf life on these, as you mentioned, is very short (couple of months in a car [in a hot climate]) and they are not cheap (or maybe just I am cheap). I found this video on making an LED version of them that is reusable.

Seems to me like a good idea for recycling the older ones that are now dead. You can buy LED glow sticks as well which may be cheaper and easier from places like this. I have no affiliation with them and have never bought from them, but just wanted to show an example.
Thanks, - Rutger (Temporarily in Costa Rica)

JWR Replies: Perhaps the easiest method for creating a glowing wand was suggested by The Gun Plumber over at The FALFiles: "After the light stick is expended, cut the end off, dump the liquid and glass ampoule [and discard safely], then tape the plastic tube to your Mini MagLite flashlight to make an IR wand--the plastic tube is the IR filter! As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, there are some huge tactical advantages to using infrared light sticks if you own any Starlight-type (light amplification) night vision gear.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hi Jim,
I figured I’d better write about my experience with PetroMax (BriteLyt) Kerosene lanterns.
I’ve had their 150CP (Candle Power) (100 watts of light) for a couple years now and really like it.
BriteLyt is now providing their 500CP (400 watts of light ) to the US Government as Model MR-2 with a federal stock number.
BTW they also make a nice 11,000 BTU kerosene stove which they are also making for the government.
So I got two of the new USG MR-2s and tried them out. Right away I had a problem!

As you know, I’m [living and own a retreat at] at 6,600 feet MSL and 9,800 feet MSL. (I should have picked up on this earlier. Altitude! Lack of air! Ha!) Okay, sometimes I can be slow witted.

Anyway, I had a miserable time of it with these two lamps. If I’d have been at sea level, I wouldn’t have had any problems.
Working with BriteLyt, I used the jets for their 150CP lamp and now the MR-2s series work great at my altitude. I’m going to try their 350CP jets (a little bigger gas flow) and see how they work. More light should be the result. Actually, I like the way the 150CP jets work.

How great are these lamps? Really great.
Nice light! Absolutely. [Because of the intense glare,] I highly recommend the lampshade style reflector.
Burn anything. Gasoline, Paint thinner, kerosene, diesel, JP-8. What do you have, I’d probably try it in these lamps.

The word I’ve got from my research worldwide is “If you have a PetroMax that works well, it’ll be a thing of joy for a lifetime.”
BTW, repair parts are really inexpensive and worth putting in a supply if you get these lamps. As you know, the [US] military has geared up for exclusively JP-8 and done away with gasoline, except for those darned never-worked-right gasoline lamps. Now one more thing is JP-8 capable. A lantern that burns JP-8 diesel.

I heard we had some boys freeze to death in Afghanistan last year and the inclusion of the kerosene stove will make sure that doesn’t happen again. With the kerosene stove in a pit under a tent or tarp, you’re not gonna freeze.

All in all, for a good prep, I recommend these lamps. However, as with all technology, toy with them and learn the little quirks that they have. Overall, I’m well pleased especially with the [large quantity of] diesel I have put away.

I’ll update you when I get the 350CP jets and also when I can get one of their stoves. - The Army Aviator

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It was June, 1998. Y2K was a salient topic of conversation. It got my attention. When the electricity went off and there would be no water to drink, and no fuel to move food to the JIT grocery stores, I could see things getting very ugly. I had been willing to fight for this nation as a member of the US Army. Now it was time to fight for my household. I bought a Springfield Armory M1A. I bought a safe to store it in. I bought another M1A (for the spousal unit of course!) I bought ammo. Lots of it. I bought gear. I bought food. I became awakened to the idea of being self-reliant.
That was 10 years ago. Y2K didn’t cause a global melt down. (Although I have a friend in the service that sat in a command bunker holding his breath at Y2K – the government didn’t know what was going to occur.) I have not had to live through or endure Hurricane Katrina. No participation in the 9/11 attacks. In fact, I can’t claim a campaign ribbon for any disasters. Am I upset or sorry that I have changed my life to follow a path of self-reliance? Most definitely, absolutely not!

Let me share with you the good and the bad of what I have done in the last ten years. So often, people new to self-reliance are like ants at the foot of a mountain staring up with their head touching their back wondering how in the world they will ever be able to replace modern society and be able to take care of themselves WTSHTF. Well, truth be told, you can’t do it overnight unless you’re Warren Buffet. I am walking, talking living proof, however, that you can make significant progress. Let me show you!

In order to show you that you do indeed have cause for hope, let me share a few of my screw-ups. How about the initial purchases I made while in a state of “marked concern” when I became “self aware” with regard to self – reliance. The money I invested in self-reliance was my spousal unit’s “down payment on a house”. Do you think this view of “my nest” versus “the world may end” led to some intense “discussions”? You bet your last dog flea it did. For much of the intervening 10 years I have been the one prepping while my wife harbored a severe grudge against the entire topic because I spent our money for the house down payment on crazy self-reliance materials. A grade of “F” to me for consensus building. She is just beginning to come around in the last two years. Poster child example of a bucket of wet sand. (If two guys fight, they belt each other like two crazed wolverines. Eventually they realize they were stupid for fighting, shake hands, forgive and are back to being friends. Kinda like a cow urinating on a big flat rock – big splash and splatters, but it dries up pretty quickly. Get in an argument with a gal and it is like pouring water into a bucket of sand – the surface may dry after a bit, but it stays wet down in that bucket for a long time.)

I very religiously squirreled away Gillette Atra razors because that is what I used each day. The handle that you click onto the blade cartridge gave up the ghost after many years of faithful service. The stores don’t sell them anymore! Now I have three dozen packs of five cartridges with no way to use them to shave! Fortunately, I did find a second/spare handle in my stores and will be able to use them up. Did I re-learn some valuable lessons? You bet!

Two is one, and one is none.
You need to see what you have (inventories!)
Store what you Eat/use – I did great on the cartridges, but forgot spare handles!

In the run-up to Y2K I bought a dozen 6 volt golf cart batteries to be able to set-up some kind of power system in the house. Great intent. No photovoltaic panels No wiring until last year. They have been “stored” sitting on pallets in a friends storage building for 9 years because I have not been able to get to the replacement power system yet. I could have used that money for a higher priority item.
The spousal unit and I built our home last year. We did many things very right. Some learning experiences occurred, however. Maybe chief amongst them is my underestimation of the massiveness of the size of this endeavor! I joke with friends about not being free from the To Do list to be able to get into trouble for at least five years! Fix the septic pond berms. Sort out the “scrap” lumber. Put a deck on the back of the house so the [building] code Nazis will give us the permanent occupancy permit. Fix the leaking pressure tank in the basement. Fix the DR mower. Mow. Clear 30 trees dropped to get the septic pond clearance (not done with that one yet). Cut and split and stack firewood. The list goes on. Don’t get me wrong – I would not trade my homestead back for city living for anything. Was I able to foresee the "second & third order effects” of the change to a country homestead? Nope. Not even having read Backwoods Home magazine for 8 years. Thank God I listened to my in-laws and did not try to finish the upstairs interior construction while living downstairs!

Prior to Y2K I tried very hard to create a group. It failed in many ways. Had Y2K caused the feared problems, we would have been road kill. Okay, we would have been the third or fourth critter on the highway run over by life, but we were nowhere near ready to deal with WTSHTF/TEOTWAWKI. The Yuppie Queen and her husband went right back to spoiling their princess/daughter, buying Jaguars, clothes, and hair implants. You know - living the typical American city life. The other couple moved out onto 20 acres in a very rural county and raise goats and chickens. I am on 20+ acres and moving in a self-reliant direction. Two out of three ain’t bad!

I endured the gauntlet of multiple careers trying to find a fit for who I am. Thankfully, my spousal unit was trained well by her farmer parents. We never carried any debt other than the mortgage. One thing we did do smart was under-buy on our home with a condo (sixplex) in town. No car payments. No credit card payments. We kept 3-6 months of expenses in savings. One business venture was as a franchisee for Idiotstate. Massive mistake. Four years with no income for me and a net loss of $60,000 overall. What preps could you get done with an extra $60,000? I am certainly not happy I put one in the “L” column. I am not proud of failing. I am proud of jumping into the fight and giving it my 110%. As they used to tell me in the military, “What an opportunity for character building!” Learning lesson for me was that I should never have stopped Soldiering. I simply have green blood. I have returned to the Army by working as a tactical/leadership contractor at a nearby Fort and getting reappointed into the National Guard. Will a deployment take me away from directly protecting The Lovely Spousal Unit (TLSU)? Yes. Does staying employed doing what God designed me to do mean we’ll have a steady income? Likely. Does a pension check from age 65 on make us better able to care for ourselves? You betcha. The world may not disintegrate in 30 days. It may actually remain fairly normal. One has to prepare for that contingency as well.

By now you have to be thinking “What a knothead! This guy couldn’t find his fourth point of contact if you put one hand on a cheek!” Well, not so fast there Skippy! I have a thing or two that should go in the “W” column. I should give you a massive dose of hope! Let me describe to you in a quick overview where I have come to in my 10 year quest to become more self-reliant. First, about our home…

Your home is your castle, right? Well mine actually kinda is. It sets on a chunk of land that is 20+ acres. The terrain is rolling and 95% wooded. It butts up against a cemetery to the north, a 900+ acre conservation area to the south, a river to the west, and a section line to the east. The home is an Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) structure. The walls are 1” of concrete fake rock veneer, 2.5” of foam, 8” of reinforced concrete, 2.5” of foam, 5/8” of sheetrock. It is “round”, being made up of 12 wall sections each 8 feet in width. Two stories with a basement. About 1,800 square feet of living space. (2,700 with the basement, however, that area is not finished yet.) Geothermal heating/cooling and a soapstone wood stove. Metal roof. No carpeting – oak floors and tile. The wellhead is inside the home so I don’t have to worry about winter breakdowns or freeze-ups, nor losing access WTSHTF. We are running at top speed towards the 20% equity checkpoint in order to get rid of the bankster-invented Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) extortion racket. (We have a credit rating of 804, so the “risk” the bank incurs by carrying our note is a freaking joke!). It suits our lifestyle very, very well. Our intent was to have a very low maintenance home. Having lived here one year in two more weeks, it looks like we have a very big check mark in the “W” column. More details on the design/floor plan in a future article!

Weapons & Training
We have an M1A set-up for combat, and one set up for long-range precision work. The Glock 21 [.45 ACP] is the base pistol for the household, with one for each of us and a G30 [compact Glock .45 ACP] as back-up. The Lovely Spousal Unit (TLSU) doesn’t carry a rifle or carbine, just the pistol. (More on that later.) Training for both of us includes Defensive Handgun 1 and Team Tactics with Clint and Heidi Smith at Thunder Ranch. I have also had General Purpose, Urban, and Precision Rifle with Clint. I completed a special symposium at Gunsite (pistol, rifle, shotgun, carbine). I am an NRA Certified pistol, rifle, and home defense instructor. I have several other weapon platforms as a “Dan Fong” kind of guy. The two rifles with accoutrements, and the four pistols with same were certainly not cheap. Nor was the training. I do, however, know how to properly employ them now.

Food & Supplies

The spousal unit & I could stretch the on-hand food to cover two years. Canned freeze dried is 45% of it, bulk buckets is 45%, and “normal use” food is the last 10%. We have built a rolling rack set of shelves for the 3rd part to ease rotation of the canned goods with each grocery store trip. No, I haven’t found the secret spy decoder ring sequence on how to rotate the bulk and freeze-dried stuff with our normal, both of us work, lifestyle. The sticking point for this area I see is that WTSHTF, Mom & Dad in-law, Sister-in-law, Brother-in-law with wife and two princesses (one with hubby), and my Mom & her husband will show up on our doorstep. That makes for an even dozen mouths to fee

Now for a bit more detail. First topic up, IAW my military training, is Security. The base of everything here is God. I have chosen to bend my knee to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I can amass all the weapons, ammo, food and “stuff” you can imagine, but He is the one ultimately in charge. I am charged to be a prudent steward of His possessions - my family, property, vehicles, food, weapons, ammo, etc.. I am definitely striving to be the ant storing things for the winter. If you ain’t right in this area, it will really matter in eternity.

Part of your security is weapons. There are sheeple, wolves, and sheepdogs. I am definitely in the 3rd category. In today’s world your “teeth” are your firearms. I plan from a Boston T. Party paradigm of having a battle rifle. Hence, the M1A. Were I starting over today, I would likely go with a FAL, but now "I will dance with the one that brung me". Or maybe just accept the brilliance of the M1 Garand at $620 delivered to your doorstep from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). I do have two of these. Hard to argue with .30-06 ball. I renovate Mausers as my hobby and so have a .35 WAI scout rifle. A second one in the more common 7.62x51 chambering is in work now. I laos have a Mossberg 835 [riotgun], two Ruger 10/22s (one blued, one stainless), Ruger MKII stainless .22 LR pistol, S&W 625 pistol in .45 ACP/.45 Auto Rim, a few Enfields, and a couple of Mosin-Nagants round out the field.

Let me detail for you the path to get to the Glocks. I think it may save you some of your money. I received a Colt Gold Cup [M1911] .45 ACP pistol from my Dad as a graduation gift from the Hudson Home For Boys [aka USMA West Point]. Great intent. A weapon as a gift – how can you ever be wrong in doing this?! However, a terrible choice as a combat weapon. The Gold Cup is a target pistol. Tight tolerances. Feeds only hardball, and that can be tenuous proposition. I carried it on the East-West German border leading patrols. The rear sight broke twice. The front sight shot off once and tore off twice. It was a jammomatic. I hated it. Sold it to a guy that wanted to target shoot.

Took that money and bought a stainless Ruger P90DC. Sack of hammers tough. always goes bang when you pull the trigger. Inexpensive as far as handguns go. After some marked de-horning, you could even make it run in a fight without shredding you at the same time. One marked problem. Two [different weight] trigger pulls [for first round double action versus subsequent round single action.]. This started to teach me to throw the muzzle down as I pulled the trigger in double action. This nasty habit caused a problem when you were firing the 2nd through X rounds, as now it operates as a single action. TLSU had a heck of a time with it at Thunder Ranch. Clint loaned her his G21. No more trigger problems.

Still bowing at the altar of the 1911, I bought a Kimber Compact to carry instead of the Ruger. (I still have the Ruger – it is still “the gun that my Dad gave me” and no one buys the P90 used for anywhere near it’s initial cost, so I can’t sell it without taking a significant bath on it.) The Kimber was going well. Then I got a little too aggressive at slamming magazines home in the shortened grip and jammed it. Then the recoil rod unscrewed itself during an IPSC run and seized the gun while messing up the trigger. Off to Kimber. Free warranty work and 48 hours without my self-defense pistol. Now I have no confidence in the pistol. I Loc-Tite’d the recoil rod and staked it so it wouldn’t come undone again. Then I sold it.

Glocks cost roughly one-half of what a Kimber does. Crummy factory sights, but all my pistols wear tritium anyway. No ambidextrous safety required. My short fingers are mated to big palms, so I can handle the grip. TLSU has been trained on the Glock Model 21 (G21). It ain’t an issue of psychological derangement like many guys get about their 1911/Glock/H&K/Springfield, but it is a comfortable and working relationship between Glock & I. I have a G21 and a G30 for both of us. They always go bang accurately and they have never rusted. I am not pleased with Gaston [Glock]’s refusal to take responsibility for any mistakes they make in manufacturing. No problems with the G21 however. A pistol is what you use to fight your way back to your rifle, which you shouldn’t have laid down in the first place.
M1As hit my safe because it is what I knew from the service. They also fire a full power cartridge, 7.62x51. It makes cover into concealment. I don’t have the other 10 guys in an infantry squad fighting with me so I can maneuver under their covering fire. I have to hit the bad guy with a powerful blow once and move on to the next wolf/bad guy. Mouse guns firing rabbit rounds don’t scratch that itch for me. To each his own. My two are old enough to have USGI parts and good quality control. Here are the mods I made to my “combat” M1A. Maybe they will help you:

Krylon paint job to disrupt the "big black stick" look
M60 [padded] sling
Front sight filed down so that zero is achieved with the rear sight bottomed out
Handguard ventilated
National Match trigger group, barrel, and sights (came as a “Loaded” package from Springfield)
Rear aperture drilled out to make it a ghost ring
Skate board tape on slick metal butt plate
For the “Surgical” M1A (it shoots1/2 minute when I do my part):
National Match loaded package
Trigger assembly additionally tuned at factory
Unitized gas system
Factory bedded
Stainless barrel
Swan rings and QD bases
Leupold M3 3.5-10x40 scope
Handmade leather cheekrest

Other weapons - I have two M1 Garands. Both were bought from the CMP. One is stored offsite with a "Bug-In Bag" (BIB). One is a Danish return, less wood, that I re-stocked. TLSU has claimed this one as hers. Ammo from the CMP is cheaper than any other cartridge out there, save the communist surplus stuff. An M1917 Enfield (also from CMP) is in the safe, along with a 2A, a #3, and a #4. A VZ24 is stored offsite. The first Mauser I renovated is sitting there as an additional .30-06 with a Trijicon 3-9x40 tritium-lit scope. A Remington 700 with Leupold VX-II scope is in the safe, but likely to be sold soon. A Mosin-Nagant (M44 or M38) ride in each vehicle.

I formerly had [Ruger] Mini-30s. I could never find any 20 or 30 round magazines that would function reliably. I sold them and got SKS carbines. When I quit holding out for TLSU to become a Warrior and carry one, I sold them off to fund other toys. I am pondering the purchase of an AK folder because it is a sack of hammers tough and can be transported discretely. I don’t know if I have ever come out on the positive side when selling a gun. Now I have to re-buy an AR-15 to have one for training purposes. The SKSs could be useful for arming the family showing up on your doorstep. Hindsight being 20/20, I would caution against selling any gun you buy. (The 700 mentioned above is a 2nd precision weapon and I have no AK to train with. Still deciding.)

Ammo is required to feed these weapons. I have over 10,000 rounds of 7.62x51. I have over 10,000 rounds of .22 LR. No, I don’t think these amounts are enough. Now that the costs of ammo have risen to heart stopping levels, I really don’t feel like I bought enough in the past! I need to plus up the quantities/smatterings of other cartridges that I have like .30-30 Winchester, .270 Winchester, .40 S&W.

The location of my home is the best I could get balancing competing requirements. It is as far from the city as we can get and still stomach the drive to work. It is between two major line of drift corridors – 12 miles to the major one, 8 miles to the secondary one. It is bordered by neighbors on only one side. The folks in the cemetery don’t say much. The critters in the wildlife area are more vocal - the ducks, turkeys, geese, hoot owls, loons, coyotes sound off regularly. We don’t mind. About 95% of the property is wooded. A few hickory, lots of oak. walnut, (unfortunately) locust trees are all there. The local river comes out of it’s banks about every other year and blocks our driveway for several days, but never comes near the house. The German Shorthair is long in the tooth for security, but she is there. A new pup is in the pipeline.

I would feel a great deal more secure if the homestead was picked up and dropped into Idaho or Alaska. It is about as good as we can do, though, staying near a major city so we can have decent paying jobs. There are some improvements we can make though. I just bought a weather alert radio from Cabela’s today. Tough to hear tornado sirens when you live miles away and have 1 foot thick walls! We need a driveway monitor/alarm. Again, the superior insulation of the walls means we hear nothing outside. I can see the utility of sandbags if things got really ugly. Some more land line communication assets would be useful. I think an AR-15 for training people would be useful, as would an AK. Overall, I think we have done pretty well in the security arena.

Our Home
We started the 10 years in a condo. It was part of a six-plex set on a small pond. I hate Homeowner’s Associations and their covenants! We could afford the mortgage on one of our two paychecks. Good thing! I didn’t get a paycheck for four years. We scraped by. Two years after re-entering the job market we built our house. We worked on the plans for five years. Beware! Finding a property piece and building a non-shoebox home on it is not for the feint of heart! You effectively are funding the construction of a mini town. You build and maintain mini roads (your driveway). You must build and maintain a mini sewage plant (Your septic system/pond). You must build and maintain a mini water plant. (Your well.) You must perform mowing and tree removal for the mini parks of your town (Your “yard”/acreage). I will write a separate article detailing our construction woes.

Let me highlight some of the self-reliant features of the house for you. We did not want to spend a constant stream of Federal Reserve Notes [FRNs]on maintenance. We used insulated concrete form (ICF) construction for the structural strength and the energy efficiency. The metal roof should outlast us. The geothermal and the R-50 walls of the ICF are paying us back the initial investment in construction costs. We opted for no carpeting due to the track in mud nature of the property, having a dog, and me having allergies. Wood and tile floors don’t hold dirt like carpets do. Less fire hazard as well. We used commercial steel doors for the exterior and security-need spots. They have ASSA [high security] locks. They have peepholes.

The basement has a 10’ square root cellar for the storage of canned produce from the garden. It also has a safe room/shelter. 12” of concrete overhead. The well head is enclosed in it. Land line telephone and power service into it via buried lines. Food stored in it. DC wiring in place to the attic for when we get to the photovoltaic [PV] system. We also ran DC wires to each room in the house for the use of LED lighting off of a battery system. The soapstone wood stove augments the electrically driven geothermal. (In spite of several damaging thunderstorms this past year, we have not lost power so far – great job juice Coop!)

The stairwell was kicked out onto the W/NW of the house. This shields the house from the hottest part of the day’s sunlight, and the coldest winter winds. We made the stairwell an extra foot wide. What a huge nice difference that foot makes to walking up and down each day, not to mention moving stuff up or down them! The mud porch/entry was set up for coming in with muddy boots, or for snow covered coats. We should have made it 1’ wider, as it can be a little tight. The bench is great for donning/doffing boots. The tile is easy to clean the muddy paw prints, human or canine, off of.
Windows were one of the few areas that caused some fireworks. TLSU wanted a green house in order to take advantage of the great view of the property. I wanted firing ports to defend against mutant zombie hordes. I am still hugely uncomfortable with the nakedness the windows leave us with. Yes the view is great, but what about when we experience incoming rounds, or more mundanely, when someone comes out to the property while we are away from the house all day at work and they help themselves to our stuff? Some relief is in sight, however. We are pricing Shattergard vinyl film for the ground floor windows.

Things That are Still Need on the Home
The great thing about the R-50 ICF walls is that they are R-50 and pretty tough. The bad thing is that they are R-50 and pretty tough. We can’t hear anything without a door or window being open. Hence the just purchased weather alert radio for us from Cabela’s this week. It is kind of eerie waking up at 0200 hours and having no idea if the thunderstorm is just a thunderstorm or if it is a tornado. The television is useless when the rain is so heavy that the dish won’t get a signal. With regard to 2-legged varmints, a driveway MURS Alert system is on the purchase list as we have had multiple invited guests show up, beat on the front door, and have to walk around to the living room windows to get our attention so they can be let inside. Okay for invited guests – certainly too close for uninvited varmints!

The entry hallway was one of TLSU’s “must haves” in the house layout. It has worked out well in terms of traffic flow and such. The security door at the foot of the stairs is a tough choke point to deal with at 0500 in the dark. No light installed there means nothing is visible through the peephole. I will have to install a camera and/or light so I don’t open it to let the dog out in the morning and get rushed by 2-legged varmints.

So far, the only commo needs are between myself and TLSU. When the sister-in-law, brother-in-law, parents-in-law and my Mom show up and we start pulling security, we will need to be able to talk more. I have an old set of TA-312 [field telephone]s and wire for the primary LP/OP, but obviously will need more in this area. Just not a sexy/fun area to spend FRNs on for a combat arms kinda guy, but I am working on the self-discipline needed.

We did look ahead and sink the FRNs into running 12V wires in the home for future installation of PV panels and batteries. Obviously things like the Shattergard film, more food, more Band-aids, etc., are of a higher priority though. We are working our tails off to reach the 20% equity mark to get rid of the PMI extortion as well. I still have an ASSA lock to install on the shelter door, and one to put into the basement door. Other projected door enhancements include armor plates for the front, outside basement, shelter, and outside storage doors. There just never seems to be enough $ to go around, does there?

The other major source of fireworks during the home design/build was on-demand water heaters. Having taken a 30 minute hot shower with one in Germany for 5 marks while on an FTX, I well understand what a brilliant piece of technology they are. TLSU, having never been outside of CONUS cannot give up on the electric water heater. She still doesn’t believe that the electricity will ever go out for more than an hour or two. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to draw hot water at the kitchen sink, and take a hot shower from a propane fired on-demand heater? She doesn’t get it yet. Obviously not something to break up a marriage over. We really did very well on the whole house building thing. The opposite of what everyone warned us about. I am pretty proud of that performance!

We started a garden this spring. So far, it is an endeavor run by TLSU. Spinach, onions, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, beets, and some herbs. I have not been able to convince her to expand the size. She wants to learn in steps and I am the whacko that orders 100 seedlings at a time from the conservation department, which then overwhelms us in the planting department. For example, the first iteration of this tree-planting endeavor, we got them the Thursday before Easter weekend. Friday night and all day Saturday we planted our buns off. TLSU was indeed a great Trooper about it, planting right along with me. Sunday was spent at church and pigging out at family’s homes for Easter. Monday I had shoulder surgery to grind off bone spurs and remove cartilage chips. Too much, too fast. But at 7 FRNs per 12 seedlings, how can you argue? I have to admit though, that after two years of the 100 seedlings, I am ready to give it a rest. This year we settled for seven apple saplings. Initial inspection of the cherry, pecan, oak, walnut and persimmon seedlings around the house reveals about an 80% survival rate. Only another 10 years and we will be getting food from them!

The initial freeze dried and bulk storage food needs to be rotated. Anyone figured out how to do this kind of at home cooking when the two of you work? The canned/”normal” food is now being rotated with each grocery store trip. We have canning jars for this year’s veggies and the root cellar has a robust collection of shelves to store them on. How much is enough? I don’t know. Four geographically separate and secure stashes of three year’s worth of food for all of the family? Who knows!?

I have Boo-boo kits just about everywhere now. You know, the band-aid and antibiotic salve with ibuprofen kit that handles 90% of life’s issues in this area. Now comes the high-dollar investment stuff. The combat blow-out packs for gunshot wounds or serious car wrecks. I did go along on a buying trip to a medical warehouse and got some catheters, sutures, gauze pads, etc.. I did get in on the last great iodine buy before our loving big brother government banned the sale of iodine to us mere citizens. (It is a stewable ingredient to make drugs, you know – “we must deprive/punish all to protect you from a few. Oh, well, you don’t need to be able to sterilize water anyway – we’ll take care of you on that too….”)

TLSU and I eat very healthy food – locally raised beef with no antibiotics or growth hormones. No growth hormone dairy products from a local dairy. Spinach from the garden. There are sugar detectors on the doors. Also, no chips allowed. We get to the dentist regularly. We both do Physical Training (PT) . She jogs 3 miles, 3-4 times per week. I run over lunch at work about 4 miles, 4-5 times per week and lift weights twice per week.

“Needed Still” list includes: Blow out kits, more bandages, more hospital type stuff, more medicines, syrup of ipecac, more antibiotics, more feminine stuff (think of a vaginal yeast infection with no drug store open), drinking alcohol, poison Ivy soap and remedies, athlete’s foot cream, more baby wipes, more hand sanitizer, all forms of baby stuff, get the bone spur ground smooth in my other shoulder and the cartilage chips taken out, get rid of the cat (allergies).

We still have the same vehicles we had in 2001. A 1998 Toyota Corolla bought with 30,000 miles, and a 1999 Ford Explorer bought with 45,000 miles. Both were paid in full when bought. Both avoided the 25% loss of value when driving a new car off the lot. The Corolla gets 37 MPG. I hate it. Every bit of plastic on it has broken – the car door locking mechanisms, the trunk lock, the ventilation system fan. It gets 37 MPG. I can’t find anything to touch that. The Ford is too big to get decent mileage, and too small to really be a useful truck. It is paid for and has AWD/4WD. It always starts. Both vehicles have BIBs and gas masks in them. Both have trunk guns. Both have roadside gear to help ourselves out of a jam. We are saving for the replacement of them both. We are going to be saving for quite a while. We need more cash in the BIBs and Bug Out Bags (BOBs)

All of the preps in this section were done via Cabela points. I bought gas and paid for business expenses - everything I could pay for with a credit card was paid for with the Cabela’s credit card. You get points at some sickening rate of $.01/FRN spent, $.02/FRN in the store. However, when you buy $6-8,000/month of stuff between personal and business stuff, it adds up! The gear for the BOBs & BIBs, weapons gear and parts – a significant percentage – 85%+ - came from Cabela [credit card bonus] points. When I got birthday or Christmas monetary gifts I spent them on self-reliance items. We did this never incurring any interest penalties because we zero the balance out each month. Our BOBs are set-up to sustain us for 10 days. They are packed in Cabela’s wet bags for load out in five minutes. Originally I sought to wear a tactical vest and ruck. After two unsuccessful winter BOB campouts where I could barely waddle one mile with both of them on at the same time, I dropped the vest. TLSU’s back is in tough shape due to scoliosis, so she is not humping any mammoth rucks with the extra three mortar rounds and can of 7.62 linked. We also decided that the G21 was what she could carry and dropped the SKS and chest pouches of 10 round stripper clips. Her ruck is a Camelback Commander. That is as big of a ruck as she can hope to carry without killing her back. We are not leaving home to go on a combat patrol in Hit or Fallujah. We are fleeing some kind danger and have every intention of avoiding additional entanglements, to include government hospitality suites in stadiums.

The Lovely Spousal Unit (TLSU)
I started self-reliance the wrong way. No consensus development. I saw a danger and acted. I am a male/sheepdog/warrior type. I am not sure that I could have ever persuaded her to participate in any meaningful manner before Y2K. She has only recently begun to do so after eight years of seeing me provide for and protect her. I was, however, stubborn/strong enough to do what I thought was the right thing and to heck with what was popular. Most “males” check their gender specific anatomical gear at the wedding alter and continue on in sheeple status. I get that females are the nurturers. I get that they work from an emotional starting point, not logical. Not wanting the tornado to destroy the house or the hurricane to wreck your and the adjoining three counties is, at best, the French method of addressing life. TLSU is finally helping me to rotate food via the grocery store purchases. She no longer rolls her eyes or sighs disgustedly when I spend my Cabela points to buy gear. Once I explained to her that I was planning to shelter and feed her parents and siblings and that our one year of food wasn’t going to feed all of them for very long, she started to get on board. She even likes spending the points off of her Cabela’s card now. She is running 3-4 times per week and gets some PT from work outside in the garden. She has come a long way. As best as I can tell, she will not ever be a warrior. We have come a substantial distance from sleeping on the couch each time a self-reliance topic hits the table of discussion though. A definite and growing check mark in the “W” column!

Skills that I have acquired:

Rifles – renovating Mausers and training at Thunder Ranch helps your ability to use these tools immensely.
Soldering – fixing plumbing leaks myself vs. paying a plumber $200 to show up and start billing me for work
Building – I invested 13 full work weeks of time during the building of our home helping the contractor. Some of it was the nubby work of cleaning up the scrap and sawdust. Some of it was banging in joist hangers. I laid all the tile and 95% of the wood flooring in the house.
Fix-it – the DR Brush mower has long passed it’s warranty period and while performing quite admirably, does need attention every now and then. The 1974 F100 demands attention regularly. Each of these repair work challenges teaches me a little more about mechanical items and taking care of things myself.
Sewing – Yes, my dear Grandmother taught me to sew buttons, and my Mom taught me to survival sew/repair things. A 1960 gear driven Singer sews nylon gear though!; )
Skills still needed:
More First Aid – it appears that a first responder or wilderness 1st aid course may be in the cards for this year.
More Hand to Hand – my goals and objectives list has had this goal on it for several years. Good news – I got started on knocking it off the list. Bad news, it revealed an “old man” shortcoming in my shoulder. Good news, I am getting the shoulder fixed (hopefully) during “normal” times versus after Schumerization. I just may get ambushed and not have my trusty M1A in hand. Having unarmed defense skills means never having to be a steak dinner/victim.
More riflesmithing – each birthday or Christmas gift of money has been partially apportioned to the purchase of gunsmithing tooling. I need more practice with the tools I have. I still need more tooling. I recently secured Parkerizing gear, but have not gotten the metal stands for the tanks built. Still, progress is progress and I can already do more to maintain weapons than 95% of the population.
Knife making – I just cringe at the idea of spending $300 for top quality knives. CRKT is my friend. Even better is learning to assemble the scales and blank myself. Eventually, knowing how to forge blanks myself would be useful.
Mill lumber – with 95% of my property wooded, I have the material to be self-reliant with regard to my lumber needs. I need a way to saw the tree into lumber though. First, the mill, then the skill to use it. Then I have the gear to diversify my income and help others.

Have I always done the smartest thing? Absolutely not! Much to the crazed satisfaction of a former operator buddy, I have cycled through the “best/high dollar” gear approach to the “sack of hammers USGI/AK” school of self-reliance. Don’t get me wrong – I ain’t surrendering my Kifaru rucks anytime soon! However, there were a great number of FRNs spent on those self-reliance tuition payments! Have I learned a lot? Absolutely, yes! Am I better able to maintain my independence and protect and provide for my family? Absolutely, yes! Could you do better than I did? Good chance. Have you done as much as I have in the last 10 years? Only your freedom, loved ones, and the quality of your life post-TEOTWAWKI depend on the answer to that one.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I was wondering: How many batteries should I store for all my radios, flashlights, smoke detectors, and so forth? I'm also planning to get night vision goggles, soon. I assume rechargeables, right? If so, what kind [of rechargeables], and who has the best prices? - T.E. in Memphis.

JWR Replies: I recommend buying mainly nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Stock up plenty of them, including some extras for barter and charity. Unlike the older Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) technology, NiMHs do not have a "memory" effect. (The diminished capacity because of the memory effect has always been one of the greatest drawbacks to NiCds batteries.) The best of the breed are the latest Low Self Discharge (LSD) variants, such as the Sanyo Eneloop.

One discount supplier with a very good selection that I can enthusiastically recommend is They also have great prices on "throw away" batteries, such a lithium CR-123s.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The power grid is down… maybe forever

There are hundreds of scenarios which can cause the loss of electrical grid power. These include everything from a faulty relay to a strategic EMP strike that would precede a full scale nuclear war. There are, however, several inexpensive things which can be done in preparedness that could make the difference between life and death. Before explaining, “exactly what to do”, there are a few simple rules to keep in mind.

1) If you die, it’s your fault.
2) If you don’t have the gear, you will probably need it.
3) Be flexible. No battle plan survives first contact [with the enemy]

My wife and I live on 40 acres in southeastern Ohio near its border with West Virginia . Our nearest neighbor is a mile away, so being prepared for emergencies comes with the territory. Even though we have incoming electricity from rural electric, it is not to be counted on and is notoriously intermittent. From the beginning we installed solar panels, batteries and a generator as a primary energy source with the co-op being the backup. Recently I took the solar panels and inverters off line to upgrade the system. The job took a week and sure enough [soon after I disassembled the alternate power system] the co-op grid went down.

I decided that it was a good time to test out my emergency lighting by firing up a kerosene lamp. I have propane lanterns, but I wanted to use the lamps to see how well they function. I filled the lamp with some spiffy blue fuel and lit the wick. After a few minutes the wick turned to ash. I looked at the label of the spiffy blue odorless lamp oil and found that it was odorless because it was not kerosene. It was paraffin. I tried several different things to make it “wick” properly, but the result was that eventually the wick would burn up. Great, my spiffy blue fuel didn’t work. Doom on you Wal-Mart.

Well, I had flashlights and those propane lanterns, but I wanted to use something cheap, like a candle. That’s right, [I had] no candles. Doom on you, Chuck.

Finally the electricity came back on and I turned off my propane lantern and made a shopping list. I bought real K1 kerosene and 244 count 15 hour votive candles with more matches and a package of butane lighters. I even tested the 15 hour candles and [determined that yes,] they really burn for 15 hours so I now have 3,645 hours of votive candle light available.


Buy some. Then buy some more. Store them with matches and/or butane lighters. Any candle will do, however, votive candles are cheap when bought in boxes of 12 or more. 36 count, 15-hour votive candles will provide over 500 hours of light. You can even cook with them and they do provide a little heat.

The good: Candles are cheap, EMP-proof, with a little effort a low tech society can make them, they won't tip them over and spill fuel, their shelf-life is indefinite and they are the most portable of all lights. They are EMP proof.

The bad: Their light (lumens) is low; they are useless in wind and rain unless they are confined. Use caution. Candles are an open flame and can start a fire. Stored in dampness, they are not waterproof because the wick can absorb moisture. [JWR Adds: Also, in the aftermath of an earthquake or landslide, open flames are a bad idea because gas lines may have been broken. My top choice for household emergency candles are Catholic devotional jar candles. There are cylindrical glass jars, about 11 inches tall and 2.5 inches in diameter. Like other votive candles, their candle wax is formulated for long burning. (A formulation that is high in stearic acid.) Watch for these on sale at discount stores. The paper labels can quickly and easily be removed by immersing them in water for an hour.]

Kerosene lanterns and lamps.
Lamps are the next step up from candles and should be in everyone’s home. Most have a ribbon-like wick and some have two wicks. Others have a shaped burner which will greatly magnify the burn surface, producing more light. They have been used successfully for over a hundred years and some, like the Aladdin are quite decorative and burn brightly.

Kerosene (K1)

A lamp uses fuel. The better fuel is Kerosene. Pure kerosene has a strong odor, but refined kerosene like K1 has less odor and still wicks properly and burns brightly. Another fuel is the odorless paraffin lamp fuel. It does not wick (climb the wick from the reservoir) properly unless the reservoir is at least half full.

The good: Kerosene lamps are an excellent reading light compared to a candle. They are fairly portable depending on the way they are designed, and are reasonably inexpensive to operate. They are EMP proof.

The bad: Most are quite fragile because of the glass used in making the globe or chimney. They can also spill their fuel creating a fire hazard.

Lanterns burn brightly because they have a mantle (something akin to a little silk sock) which when lit produces a bright white light. Used mainly for camping they are either powered by white gas or unleaded gas. Another type uses propane gas that comes in a screw-on cylinder. The Coleman North Star has a much longer mantle which produces more light and uses less fuel. It is a good idea to have at least one of each type of lantern. [JWR Adds: The Aladdin brand mantle lantern burns kerosene. All mantle lamps have very fragile mantles, which are little more than a meshwork of ash after they have been burned for the first time. Don't use mantle lanterns in any application where they will be subjected to jarring or heavy vibration.]

The good: They are extremely bright, efficient and inexpensive. They are EMP proof.

The bad: The liquid fuel has a limited shelf-life and if spilled is dangerous. The propane fuel is explosive if it leaks. The lanterns are quite noisy making an escaping air sound.

Flashlights come in numerous sizes, shapes and brightness. Some can be recharged from an outlet, some require replacement batteries. There are even wind-up and shake-up powered flashlights. A flashlight is absolutely essential for the home, car or when camping. Two notable hand-held lights are the MagLite and the Surefire. The MagLite most used is the one like a policeman carries. It has a large adjustable beam and the MagLite bulb has a long life span. The Surefire comes in several sizes too, but the Surefire L2 Digital LumaMax LED is surprisingly bright. The L2 uses lithium batteries which have a shelf-life of several years.

The good: Flashlights are a time-tested life saver.

The bad: Good flashlights can be expensive and battery replacement can be costly. The LumaMax is not EMP proof.

PS: There are dozens of different types of flashlights. There are headlamps and lights that attach to the belt. Some are made for mounting on the barrel of a gun and ones that divers use. I only named two different types. There are stores on the Internet that specialize in flashlights. Do some research and choose a couple of different types that would suit you and your lifestyle. - Chuck Fenwick, Medical Corps

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hello Jim,
I am a prepper who is trying to do so on a very tight budget (wife, four kids, and two jobs just to make ends meet-you get the idea). Here are some random ideas that others might find useful.
1) Try drying your own fruits and vegetables for food storage. Whether homegrown or bought. This can be done inexpensively and dried food takes up very little storage space.
2) Consider making your own biodiesel. I am in the early stages of doing this myself. It's not that hard. Just pay attention to detail and do it right. Besides saving a lot of money now this will also allow you to build up a large amount of fuel storage for vehicle and generator use inexpensively. This will become much more critical as fuel prices skyrocket in the future.
3) You need a diesel vehicle to use the biodiesel in. In addition to a diesel truck, think about getting an older Mercedes Benz diesel car for an everyday driver and second BOV. Don't laugh. The W123 chassis cars, specifically the 240D and 300D models made from 1977 to 1985 are built like tanks, lots of space and they are fairly simple to work on. I am not mechanical at all and plan on doing all the work on mine. has great pictorials and do-it-yourself DVDs to help you. These cars have no computers so they should be EMP-proof.
4) If you have a high quality roto-tiller such as a Troy-Bilt or BCS brand (and you should if your serious about food production) it could be used to earn money/barter. If things get really hard gardening will make a dramatic comeback. Most people don't have tillers and there should be a good market tilling ground for people. Assuming you have enough fuel/spare parts this could make you indispensable in a small town.
5) A recent [SurvivalBlog] post talked about a vehicle as an improvised generator. While probably somewhat inefficient in terms of fuel consumption versus electricity produced it sounds perfect for someone on a budget.

I have two questions: Will running the inverter straight from the battery prematurely wear out the starter battery in the car or should the inverter be wired directly to the battery cables? Will using this set up overwork the alternator and cause early failure?

Some Useful Web Sites:
Look at the eBay Motors listings if you want to see what these Mercedes vehicles look like.

This is just my little contribution to the blog and I hope others find it useful., - Jeff S.

JWR Replies: I recommend having at least one diesel tractor, one utility pickup or quad, and one diesel car at every retreat. Although they are fairly scarce, in my experience, a pre-1986 Mercedes diesel 300D series station wagon (on the W123 chassis) is worth looking for. These share a common drive train with the much more common 300D series four-door sedans, so parts are readily available.

Ready Made Resources (one of our most loyal advertisers) offers an affordable small-scale biodiesel making system. The recent spike in diesel prices will give you a big advantage in bargaining for a price when buying any diesel vehicle.

In answer to your questions: As long as the engine is left running at low to moderate RPMs, then using a vehicle's alternator as a power source--for either DC loads, and/or to run a small 120 VAC inverter--will not cause excessive wear and tear on your battery or alternator. You may have to rig a manually-controlled set-throttle. Just keep in mind the usual safety precautions, such as carbon monoxide venting, and making sure that the transmission lever does not get bumped into "drive". To conserve your precious fuel, it is probably best to buy a bank of deep cycle ("golf cart") type batteries that you can charge whenever you run the engine.

Rather than using jumper cable clamps, for safety it is best to attached heavy gauge battery cable and terminal lugs, Use a detachable high-amperage-rated 12 VDC polarity-protected "Pigtail" block connector, in parallel with your vehicle battery cables. That way you can quickly disconnect and still be able drive your vehicle without a time-consuming cable un-bolting procedure. Ideally, your battery bank will be the heart of an alternative power system that will also--as your budget eventually allows--include some photovoltaic panels. (This online primer is a good starting point.) As previously mentioned, in SurvivalBlog, for 12 VDC devices "downstream" from your battery bank that draw 30 amps or less, I recommend standardizing with Anderson Power Pole connectors rather than flimsy cigarette lighter plugs and jacks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Note from JWR: The discussion of use of force in retreat security (and "Less Than Lethal" means) has elicited large number of e-mails from readers. For the sake of brevity, and since so many letters covered the same ground, the following are just three of them. The first of these is from "FerFAL". He is SurvivalBlog's volunteer correspondent in Argentina.


Hi James,
I’m glad to see that you are advising people to have non lethal weapons [in addition to guns] and (when the situation allows it) deterrent approaches when dealing with trespassers.

Some situations require immediate lethal action, but that does not mean you’ll never require non lethal solutions on occasions. Life isn’t always black and white. On the contrary, most of the time it’s a plethora of shades of gray.

This is awful common in these parts, I’ve often seen people fire warning shots, fired a few myself on occasions when visiting my friend’s farm. On one occasion it was just kids stealing some fire wood. A few .22 LR shots sent them away.

Not long ago we saw some poachers well within my friend’s land, too close to the house. I shot a couple of .44 Magnum rounds and they got the message, changed direction immediately.

People, as James warns, this is a last resort, or almost last resort alterative. Be careful of the legal consequences! Over here it is common practice but it’s still serious business, be ready to explain the cause for such action.

I keep a couple of Less Than Lethal rubber pellet 12 ga shells in my Mossberg's 500 stock shell holder, ready in case I need a Less Than Lethal alternative. As you explain, it portrays you as a humane person that cared enough to at least have the non lethal alternative, even if lethal action was required afterwards.

Another word of caution, "Less Than Lethal" 12 ga ammo [such as rubber pellets and beanbag rounds] can be lethal. The one I have is military ammo designed for riots and clearly states that it can be lethal if shot directly at the target at less than 10 meters.

The knock down power of these rounds, even against healthy, robust adults is pretty impressive.

God bless you and your family during these special days, take care. - FerFAL


Dear Jim:
As a proud 10Cent Challenge subscriber, I know that the recent subject of Levels of Force could be argued back and forth for a long time. What may help all your subscribers and readers are articles on the defensive use of firearms by Massad Ayoob. I found them at, for example, and any internet search should come up with them. He gives excellent practical advice on gun situations, what to do, not do, as well as what to say and not say. The reader in Maine who fired a warning shot would know this is never done by law enforcement, too much liability. If one is involved in a shooting, tell law enforcement something like "...I was afraid for my life (or another's) and had to fire my weapon to save a life, I want to clear this up as much as you do but I need to speak to an attorney first..." and then SHUT UP, which is exactly what they would do in the same circumstance.

People need to know the use of a gun is serious, life is not a movie, and shooting people, even those that deserve it, is not glorious. Folks will come back and get revenge, either with a civil or criminal complaint or violent ambush at a later date.

Living here close to the Mexican border, being once mugged at knife point by three illegal aliens (for $1.30 in my pocket), working all hours in these mean streets, I have never had to pull a gun on anyone, thank goodness, and survived many altercations none the worse for wear. My job with the power company for the last 30 years has me on occasion cut electrical service for non-payment at the pole or junction box when the tech's cannot cut it at the meter because of access, dogs, etc. Having encountered angry biker gangs, meth labs, and all other sorts of bad people and bad situations, the use of a gun has always been kept as a last resort. My truck has reverse to get away from most problems and luckily I'm paid by the hour and not by how much work I do. (-:

The point is pulling a gun will get you in a lot of trouble, shooting a warning shot will get you arrested, shooting someone may very well cost you everything you have worked for up to now in your life. Your home, retreat, guns, food reserves, retirement account, everything. I would definitely shoot if my life or another's life were in danger, but that is indeed very rare and most situations can be avoided with a little education, forethought and by setting aside one's ego. Take Care and God Bless. - Cactus Jim


I'm assuming that many patrons of this blog who read and digested the two letters referred to in the subject line have never served on active duty in a combat arms branch and/or never served as a law enforcement officer. Because of those two letters, many are possibly over thinking self defense reactions to would be criminals/trespassers/thieves? The effect on law abiding citizens who choose to possess firearms for defense is that they subconsciously and automatically hesitate to defend themselves because of all the legal discussion and, 'it happened to me' type cautionary statements. Police officers are guilty of the same thing because of legal double talk (i.e: I don't want to get sued so I better wait as long as possible to ...a real disaster for us cops since it's either our lives or possible jail time). In order to clear the air, as I believe many readers are confused and probably have reached out to the closest friend or co-worker they trust for clarification. What and when to do something is not complicated. I hope to eliminate the ubiquitous 'what if' in so many people's minds (including cops, former military who have returned to civilian living).
OBTW: I have been serving as a law enforcement officer for 18 years, and I served five years active duty with the US Army. Most of my army experience was as an Airborne Ranger and served in the Middle East for 13 months. No, I don't know everything about the subject but have spent the majority of my working life considering all these issues pre 9-11 and post-9-11.

1. The cops are not your friends (see: letter by Gary B in Maine who shot off a warning shot with a 12 gauge). Cops are for one thing: to prosecute you. That's it. They are resources for the state's attorney, period. Sure, the other guy may be guilty, but until proven guilty, you are right there with bad guy facing charges involving firearms. Not good, especially with so many anti-Second Amendment types in office. So, in such scenarios, do you spill your guts to the first cop who shows up while other guy tells lies because as a criminal he knows what to say?
2. If you are threatened, you're threatened. What else is there to know? (a threat is a situation where you 'feared for your life or feared serious bodily injury'. Using lethal force because somebody stole/attempted to steal your XYZ isn't justification for lethal force. However, read on...). If threatened, then immediately go to the next level and take care of business at that level. Make sure you can articulate that you were threatened. If in doubt as to how to articulate that, just do an Internet search engine on lethal force. As an 18 year officer, I tell you that if someone refuses to obey a legal and clear command to do something, they are resisting (and they know it). Because a subject resists, I know that I am permitted to take it to the next level. Said bad guy will continue to resist until you do something about it. If you don't do something that gives you the upper hand, he's got the upper hand. Better to maintain the upper hand and act from that position versus from the other. Waiting spells potential disaster. As a citizen just trying to protect themselves and their retreat, if it comes to that, it isn't any different. In my mind the big difference is if you/me were in a survival times situation, are you really expecting some cops to respond? They'll probably be more concerned with their own property, family, neighborhood, garden plot, et cetera.
3. The more training you have, the more your confidence will rise.
4. Sending your dogs after an intruder(s) who have entered your property is stupid. If your dogs were trained for such things, the intruders wouldn't have intruded. Sending an aggressive untrained barking dog into the the field/yard where you feel intruders pose a threat (a real threat, after all, you have the guns, night vision, IR floodlights, ....) is an great way to get them killed. If the dogs barked while they were in the house, you were alerted. So why send them out? They did their job, [now] you do yours. If you have trained dogs in protection (and related skills), that's a different scenario. Most people don't have that kind of dog. If bad guy kills one or all of your dogs, now you have a less secure retreat than you did before. The only 'threat' to fear, is the one who poses a 'real threat'. He'll take those dogs out if they aren't trained to threaten him. - Flhspete

Sunday, March 23, 2008

First, thank-you for posting my question on SurvivalBlog. Second, thank-you for posting your thoughts. They are well thought out and very well presented.
Your response sparked an additional couple of thoughts:

Dogs have been man's early warning and engagement system since the dawn of history. A barking dog tells the potential visitor that he lost any advantage of stealth and that he is facing a team. Two barking dogs are even better. Dogs over 50 pounds also represent a physical threat.

The second thought is to split the axis (axes?) of confrontation.
Killing flies by clapping one's hands over them is a great parlor trick. Flies, and other vermin, have very highly developed strategies for dealing with threats that come from one direction. That is why they are almost impossible to slap with one hand. However, it is comical how they lock-up when confronted with a threat from two directions. You actually have to slow down your "clap" so they can become airborne. They are almost paralyzed.

Confronting men with evil intent from a single direction does not present them with much of a dilemma. They would level their arms and start shooting. Good-bye lights, good-bye dogs, good-bye people who are down range, good-bye to people and objects in unhardened buildings.

I think the ideal situation would be to have a couple sets of flood or spot lights pointing inward from different corners of the garden/stock corral/asset to be protected. Then release the dogs from one point (another family member would very helpful here) and post-up with a shotgun at a good strategic point that is in a different position than where the dogs were released from. Lights, dog, shotgun should push the bad-guys down a reasonable line of retreat. That is, it should push them toward the road or where their vehicles are. Most opportunist will gladly bail out if they are not cornered.

A couple of key points:
-I don't want to paralyze the intruders, just like I don't want the flies to freeze.
-I want them to leave if they are opportunist.
-If they do not leave, then they reveal evil intent or extreme stupidity
-The overload of stimuli gives me strategic advantage

Thanks, - Joe and Ellen

JWR Replies: If you want to throw attackers off balance, there is nothing quite like the flash and sound of explosions on multiple flanks. Some Tannerite might prove useful.

Spotlights and floodlights are very vulnerable to rifle fire. If you are using them to distract, then only turn them on for about five seconds each. If you mount any floodlights on your occupied structures, then use only the IR variety, which only give off a very faint glow to the unaided eye.

There are a variety of fireworks that can be used to create distractions or diversions. Keep in mind that many fireworks can be set up to be ignited electrically, using model rocket igniters (such as Estes "Solar Igniters"), which are available from most hobby shops. The flash and sound of M-80 firecrackers (aka "cherry bombs") is not too much unlike the sound of rifle fire.

For the full psyops effect, don't discount the effectiveness of voices or music on amplified loudspeakers to un-nerve your opponents. At the risk of sounding trite, might I suggest a little Johnny Cash or some Credence?

I just read the letter regarding use of force. Since I'm a cop, in Colorado, and a trainer of lethal and non-lethal force - it might help to know that the use of force model is moving away from the escalation principle and towards the 'toolbox' principle. You pull the appropriate tool out of the box for the job at hand. For instance, in many many areas of the country an officer need no longer justify his actions concerning use of force by explaining the escalation from the typical 'command voice' to use of potentially lethal force.

Accompanying this is a simplified assessment of the threat at hand. With alarming results, police officers are trained to expect the worse case, take action to neutralize it and de-escalate their use of force, rather than use the stair step approach to using greater and greater force. It revolves around the Saucier v. Katz supreme court decision. Wherein "The Court plainly stated that while uses of force by police occur that are clearly excessive or clearly appropriate, a gray area remains in between. The Court went on to say that when an officer's use of force falls within this gray area, deference must be paid to the officer and qualified immunity granted." There are essentially three other court cases that apply in determining whether an officer used excessive force - but Katz is the most applicable to the question of how we train police officers in deciding what force to use, it was a precursor to the 'toolbox' approach.

One of the pivotal elements of determining in what constitutes excessive force for anybody is what they perceived at the time of the threat, and what training they had in recognizing a threat. Pre 9/11 a box cutter was just a simple slicing weapon, now it's considered a 'terrorist threat' to possess one under the right circumstances. [JWR Adds: In the aftermath of any use of force, do not hesitate to admit that you were frightened. If you can honestly say "I was very scared!", and "I was afraid that he was trying to kill me!", then do so, repeatedly, for the record. This may carry considerable weight at a later date, if you ever have to go to trial--either criminal, or civil.]

Rather than concentrate on the use of force of any kind, I would recommend people seek training that helps them recognize threats of all kinds and more importantly how to articulate their perception of the threat. It's true that most people who misuse force, in my experience, could probably have avoided criminal prosecution if they had just known/learned how to articulate their assessment of the threat. The examples are endless really, I won't go into illustration here.

While a multi-generational SHTF situation is in your opinion unlikely, I must point out that our mere technological advancements do not preclude this, I think it simply makes us more complacent because of our perception of the layers of social and technological protection we believe insulate us from it. Rome probably believed itself the pinnacle of modern civilization, I would imagine that the fall that preceded the Dark Ages had it's own 'it will never get that bad' detractors also.

I have a different view of things. I'm pretty certain that the three people running through my orchard armed with knives were shouting, "Kill them!" and not there to cut fruit. In Colorado, for instance, our 'Make My Day Law' from which the Castle Doctrine seems to have sprung, states that deadly force may be used when a person believes that the person about to commit the illegal entry is there to commit any level of harm to the occupants of a dwelling - and most importantly, it takes away the burden of proof from the citizen to substantiate why they believed it.

Less-lethal (no such thing as non-lethal (pepper spray has [on rare occasions] killed, Tasers too, beanbag rounds improperly used are 'deadly', etc.) force being available the most important thing to remember about their deployment is that no police force ever deploys less-lethal force unless another officer is ready to use lethal force if the less-lethal does not stop the threat. If you're in a tussle and the taser is what you use, then it's what you use - but if two officers (or more) are confronting someone and a Taser is deployed - one officer is designated [as] the backup in case lethal force is needed. - Jim H

JWR Replies: The Castle Doctrine actually got its start in Florida. Since then, many states including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas have adopted similar laws. It is not surprising that the majority of the states are in the South or the West, where individualism and respect for property rights are part of the culture.


About 15 years ago, I bought a house on 70 acres that was rural, but not remote. As I worked on the place, painting and getting it ready for me to move in, I was distressed that every time I went to the house, the door had been kicked in. Replacing the trim got to be an irritation so on Halloween, 1993, I drove down to my house and found the lights on. As I gunned the truck and drove over the front lawn, I saw two people run from my house. I got out with my Winchester Model 12 and yelled, "You get the hell out of here and don't come back or I will kill you" and blew off a round of 12 gauge in the ground.
I searched my house and found a six pack of beer, some wine coolers and a blanket. Apparently, some kids were using my house for their love nest. I slept at the house that night in case someone were to come back and burn down the house. At about 11:30 pm, there was a knock at the door. Two County Sheriff's deputies were there with the lights flashing. I invited them in and said, "There is the wine and beer, there is the blanket." Things then took a turn.
"So you fired a warning shot," he asked?
"Yes", I said.
"So you shot at them?" he probed
"That isn't what I said." And then they jumped me, threw me on the floor and handcuffed me. I was dragged to the cruiser where I was strapped into the back seat. "We got him," the County Mountie crowed to the neighbors assembled at the end of my 250 yard driveway. I was taken to the county jail where I was booked for reckless conduct with a firearm, a felony here in Maine.

For the next two years, I was in legal hassles with the County. The District Attorney didn't want to press charges. The Sheriff's Department didn't want to back down. And I was wondering what country did I live in where the victim could become the criminal so fast. It all worked out in the end. But I would counsel your readers to think twice about firing shots. I know this about myself, I will pull the trigger. I just know better when to do it. The thing about it was that for the next 12 years that I lived there. No one came down my driveway uninvited, and nothing was ever disturbed in my house, garden or barn. - Gary B., in Maine

My sincere thanks for your response to Joe and Ellen's letter on "Rules of Engagement." Most of the so-called preparedness experts out there talk only about "guns, guns, guns." (Well, 'cept for the "I'd never own a gun" uber-naive liberal-granola crowd.) Your are absolutely right about using less-than-lethal means, when [it is] safe and practicable. It sure beats getting your *ss sued off. by some ambulance-chasing lawyer. You truly are the survivalist voice of reason, following in the footsteps of Mel Tappan.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge in SurvivalBlog, Jim. I often feel like I'm getting free consulting. Oh, BTW, I'm re-upping my 10 Cent Challenge subscription for another two years! - C.T.M.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hello Jim and SurvivalBlog Readers:
I have enjoyed reading the vast knowledge shared on this topic and the awakening you have brought to us about our fragile economy! How can one put a price on a wake up call?,… well, it’s easy, renew your 10 Cent Challenge! Admit it, your year is probably up, but the education is still coming to you!

I have not seen any talk on your site about a "miniature" diesel genset. My thought is that while the large Lister type genset's are proven to last, ... their will be a time when running something with a much lower noise signature, vibration signature, and fuel consumption will be necessary to survive. It seems foolish to fire up 5KW,10KW, 25KW, etc... Watts of power, when you may only need enough to run your furnace and the freezer. Fire up the big boy for pumping water and what not once a week, and pump as much as you can into storage containers. Not to mention that diesel engines last longer when left running, not starting and stopping all the time. Whereas the gas unit would not know the difference.

My thought is this,. at today's price of diesel, one could afford to buy a 1,000 or 2,000 watt Honda portable unit with the savings of storing 200 stabilized gallons of gasoline vs. diesel. The Honda units are totally amazing! Almost silent running, easy to start, easy to throw into the vehicle, and the 1,000 watt unit will easily run a freezer and furnace for a day on less than a gallon of gasoline. Use your head and run the generator only as needed, (10 minutes or so several times a day to keep the freezer going), and you just greatly extended the days in which you will have portable power. Since the freezer is so important, it will be worth considering super insulating your freezer when not running.

In a post-SHTF scenario where we would be very vulnerable early on, and while gasoline is fresh, we could consider using the little guy first, expend your gasoline fuel supply, barter off the genset after that, then use caution and go with your primary Lister type genset. At the rate of one gallon of gasoline per day, you would have 200 days of run time before even really counting on your diesel genset. Use your head and run the gasoline genset 6-10 times a day for shorter duration, and you could have 400 days of gasoline portable power.

Given the cost of gasoline versus diesel, it appears that you would obtain more kilowatt hours per dollar in this scenario. It seems like the big genset could be very valuable in offering you the ability to weld, etc... at a time when most will have already been wearing out their big gensets and consuming their fuel. Here you sit with everything fresh and ready to go. Might make a fine job opportunity to be able to [arc] weld, run 220 VAC equipment, etcetera, all many moons after the onset of TEOTWAWKI.

I know this thought defies what has been discussed, but a few hundred gallons of gasoline stored almost pays for the Honda generator in savings over buying diesel [fuel] at today's prices. Thought I would put it out there for thought, of course, run the figures with an expert to make sure you are not starving the electric motors which would prematurely burn out the appliance.
All the best! - The Wanderer

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Let there be light. We take it for granted these days, but in the woods on a dark night, during a power outage, or--most importantly--in a long-term survival situation, you'll quickly learn just how important light is, and how important it is to choose your illumination tools wisely.

My purpose here is not to recommend specific lights. There are web sites that can better help you make that decision. I'll include a few links at the end to get you started. What I want to do is offer my opinions about what I think makes for a good survival light. Other people will have other opinions. While I don't consider myself a flashlight expert, I own over 20 of them and have put a lot of thought into using flashlights in long-term survival scenarios. Following are what I consider the most important criteria in evaluating a survival flashlight (not necessarily in order of importance).
1. Small and lightweight is better
Bigger flashlights are usually bigger (or longer) because they hold more or larger batteries than smaller flashlights, which usually translates into increased light output. On the other hand, they're also heavier and more unwieldy than their smaller cousins, and do not necessarily enjoy a longer runtime than lights using fewer or smaller batteries. Ideally, a survival light uses just one or two batteries, and is small and lightweight enough comfortably carry in your shirt or front pants pocket. This gives you more carry options and makes carrying the light for long periods of time more comfortable.
2. Uses a common battery size
Currently, the most common flashlight battery sizes are AAA, AA, and D cells. Very few lights use 9-volt batteries (though there are some that would make decent back-ups, such as the PALight or PakLite), while most D-cell lights are too big and/or heavy for consistent, comfortable carry. That leaves AA- or AAA-cell lights as the most logical choices. Using a common battery size is important for obvious reasons. Many new battery types and sizes have hit the market in the last few years, and while these are (slowly) gaining in popularity, they're still not as common as AAs and AAAs. They also tend to be more expensive. Remember, we're talking about serious, long-term, dedicated survival lights, not the fancy whiz-bang or cheap-o flashlight you keep by your bedside, in your glove box, or take car camping. Depending on the severity and duration of the survival scenario, it will probably be easier to either purchase or barter for AA and AAA batteries than the newer, more exotic sizes. In fact, if possible, it might be wise to standardize all your survival-related electronics so that they use AA and/or AAA batteries.
3. Uses a variety of battery types
It's important that survival flashlights be able to function whether using alkaline, lithium, or rechargeable batteries--especially rechargeables (along with a portable solar recharging system), since you could be facing a long-term survival situation. Each type has its own particular advantages and disadvantages. Most lights will function using all three types, though some manufacturers don't include lithium primaries in their list of recommendations. That doesn't mean lithium batteries will harm your light, but don't assume there won't be a problem using any type of battery that the manufacturer doesn't specifically recommend. Find out exactly what batteries your survival light can tolerate before you purchase it, or test the batteries in your light before you have to rely on them.
4. Fewer batteries is better
Obviously, the fewer the batteries needed to operate the light . . . the fewer batteries you'll need to operate the light. This is a good thing in a survival situation, even better in a long-term survival situation. Your two-cell light may get a total runtime of 60 hours compared to just 40 hours for my one-cell light. But I'll get a total of 80 hours using two batteries compared to your 60 hours. Of course, comparisons like this don't always apply: run times vary greatly between different manufacturers and models depending on the type of light source and the electronics employed. Still, as a rule, a survival light should use no more than two batteries, preferably just one. Currently, there are many one-cell AA lights on the market that not only produce a lot of light (for their size), but also enjoy excellent run times. Twenty-plus hours of usable light is not uncommon, and even longer run times can be found. There are also a few 1xAAA lights available that might make adequate primary or excellent back-up survival lights.
5. Simple to operate
There are lots of fancy lights out there that sport multiple output levels, including SOS and strobe modes. Some are even computer-programmable. While that's not a bad thing in itself, when it comes to survival lights (as with most survival gear), simple is usually better. A light with just one medium-intensity level will usually suffice, or perhaps a two-level light with low and high output levels. In
the end, it doesn't matter how many light levels or modes your light offers, just so that it's dirt simple and intuitive to operate.
6. Reliable operation mechanism
" Twisty" or "clickie," that is the question. Which is more reliable? There is no definitive answer, because operation reliability depends more on the quality of the light (and its constituent parts) than on the particular mode of operation. And even a good company can turn out the occasional bad light. I've heard of $200+ Surefire lights having clickie malfunctions. I've also heard of twisty lights failing because the circuit board was displaced after repeated use, or by using too much torque while tightening the bezel. Most clickies have the on-off mechanism on the rear of the light, while some have it on the side (e.g., Maglite). Most twisties are operated by turning the bezel (head) or tail cap. And there are also hybrid models utilizing both twisty and clickie operations. If at all possible, obtain spare clickie mechanisms and/or twisty bezels (depending on the type of light) to use as replacement parts. [JWR Adds: Changing a MagLite "clickie" switch assembly require the use of an Allen (hex) wrench. Thankfully, MagLite sells large maintenance & repair spare parts sets at a very low price, considering the number of parts included in the sets. I have been told that they sell these parts sets at near their cost, to keep their biggest customers (such as police and fire departments) happy and loyal to the brand.]
7. Well constructed
Look for lights where the bulb is reasonably protected within the bezel, that are shock resistant and water resistant/proof, and that won't accidentally turn on while in your pocket or backpack. Clickies are most prone to accidental activation. This can usually be prevented by rotating the bezel or tail cap (depending on which end the batteries are inserted into) counterclockwise while the light is on until the power cuts out, then clicking the clickie button off.
8. LED versus incandescent
No contest here. A flashlight that uses an incandescent (or similar type) bulb is simply not a primary survival light. Period. If the bulb itself can burn out or malfunction due to shock (broken element), then you don't want to trust your life to its operation. While light emitting diode (LED) "bulbs" technically don't last forever, a 5,000- to 10,000-hour use life is close enough to "forever" for survival purposes. And no, LED bulbs are not impervious to shock, but they're a heck of a lot tougher than other bulb types. Over the last few years LED technology has improved exponentially, to the point where they now favorably compare to or out-perform most other lights in almost every category, including output (brightness). There are still brighter bulb types out there, but the newest and brightest LEDs are more than bright enough to meet virtually every basic need you'll have for a flashlight. The older Nichia brand LEDs, still commonly found on store racks (it takes time for new technology to trickle down to the retail level) emit a slightly bluish tint. Many people find this tint objectionable, though it's really a matter of aesthetics. I still rely on a relatively dim Nichia LED as my primary survival light (a CMG Infinity Ultra, now redesigned and marketed under the Gerber name), and am more than willing to put up with the bluish tint due to its superb runtime (80+ hours of usable light on just 1 AA battery). My current back-up survival light (an old Arc-P 1xAAA) is also a Nichia. Other people are not so forgiving of the tint. Not to worry. The newer generation LEDs (e.g., the so-called Cree lights, and others are on the way) boast a lily white tint--or maybe even whiter than lilies. The bottom line is, go with LED technology.
9. Good compromise between output and run time
Other than the "LED versus incandescent" issue (which is actually a non-issue), this is arguably the most important criterion, and it's what separates most lights from true survival lights. Look for a run time of at least seven hours to 50% output (which would probably translate into 8-12 total hours of usable light). This is the minimum that you should settle for. The longer the run time, the better. Let's make sure you understand that last point. The longer the run time, the better. Don't get hung up on the whole output (i.e., how bright it is) thing. Super-bright "tactical" lights are great for impressing your friends, but will usually suck batteries dry much more quickly than less powerful lights (although improving LED technology continues to give us brighter lights and better run times.). Also, the darker your environment, the less light you need to see well enough. Brighter lights can actually be a disadvantage, because they more readily attract unwanted attention, and can also impair your night vision more than moderate-output lights. These are important considerations in a survival scenario. Again, we're talking about survival lights here, not tactical (super bright) lights. While it might make sense to also take along a super-bright light for "tactical" use (e.g., disorienting or disrupting the night vision of a potential threat), in most cases these lights will not meet the necessary criteria to qualify as true survival lights. And to repeat: the darker your environment, the less light you'll need to perform most essential tasks.
11. Quality of light beam
What this refers to is the illumination pattern, or beam characteristic, of the light. It's sometimes referred to as "spill." For survival lights, a wide spill beam is usually preferable to a tight, bright spot beam.
While the former won't illuminate specific objects as well, it provides illumination to a wider area, facilitating a broader picture and better peripheral vision. The latter will illuminate specific objects or smaller areas much better, and will have greater (longer) "throw," but will also tend to draw your line of sight inward, so that you focus more on what's illuminated in the spot beam than on what may be around it. Tight, bright beams are also more detrimental to night vision than wider, dimmer spill beams. A few lights seek a compromise between the two, claiming to offer both a bright center beam as well as decent spill. Some are more successful at accomplishing this than others. Personally, I prefer lights that do one thing or the other over those that take a "Swiss Army Knife" approach to illumination, though you may feel otherwise.

If you happen to choose to also carry a more powerful "tactical" light, just in case it's needed, you'll probably prefer that it have a bright, fairly narrow beam. But for a general purpose survival light, you want a wider, more diffuse beam, allowing you take in more visual information at one time.
12. Lanyard hole
The lanyard hole is just that--a hole [or loop] in the light [body or tail cap] through which you can attach a lanyard (cord) or a split ring, to which the lanyard can be attached (I prefer this setup). The lanyard can then be tied around your wrist, for example, or through a belt loop to prevent the loss of your light. Instead of a hole, some lights employ other means for lanyard attachment, and some have no dedicated lanyard attachment at all--except, perhaps, a (removable or screwed-into-place) pocket clip under which you could thread a cord. Unless you choose to forgo the lanyard and attach your light to a key ring along with other needed items (which I advise against, though that might be a viable option for a small back-up light), Always use a lanyard and secure it to your person, your clothing, or your gear, even when not in use. Your survival light is an essential, life-saving, possibly irreplaceable tool, but it will do you no good if you lose it. To be honest, I don't think I'd buy a light for serious survival that did not feature a dedicated, foolproof lanyard attachment, preferably a hole through some portion of the body.
13. Pocket clip
Most smaller lights these days come with pocket clips. They are usually detachable (slide-on, slide-off), and are useful for securing the light to the inside of a pocket, or for clipping it to your clothes, gear, or hat brim while performing tasks that require both hands. (I would always use a lanyard in addition to the clip). Pocket clips are nice to have. If your light doesn't come with one, it would be worthwhile to find a clip from some other source (such as another light of the same diameter) that fits snugly around your survival flashlight.
14. Can stand on its tail
This is not an essential criterion, and I certainly wouldn't reject a light simply because it isn't designed to stand upright on its tail end (and FWIW, my current primary survival light doesn't), but lights that can do so add an additional level of functionality. They are especially useful when you desire ambient (rather than direct) light, such as when reading or dressing in your tent. Of course, you can always prop your light up or clip it to something to get the same effect, but it's not quite as handy.
15. Caring for your light
Other than lubing the bezel and/or tail cap threads with an appropriate wet or dry lubricant, and avoiding cross-threading when attaching the bezel and/or tail cap, flashlight maintenance is pretty simple. Don't put the battery(ies) in backwards, keep it dry, don't drop it, etc. I'd suggest keeping your survival light empty of batteries until needed. Otherwise, keep lithiums in there. Alkalines can leak and ruin your light.
Q: What about headlamps? Can these be used as survival lights?
A: Very handy items to have. The light shines right where you look. Including smack dab into the face of the person you're looking at. Maybe it's just me, but I don't much care for light in my eyes when I'm trying to preserve my night vision. They might also make a handy head-shot target for hostiles. Let's put it this way. While most small flashlights can usually be rigged to serve as makeshift headlamps (with the aid of a pocket clip or headband, for example), most headlamps cannot readily be used in the same manner as one might use a flashlight. Headlamps could possibly serve as back-up survival lights (if they use only one or two batteries), but I would not recommend them as primary survival lights. A flashlight will, in most instances, prove more versatile.
1. The best flashlight resource on the Web is Candle Power Forums
. Lots of traffic and more info about flashlights than most people would ever need to know. Also a good source for obtaining custom lights.
2. One of the better flashlight review sites is It's no longer updated regularly, but many of the lights still being sold are reviewed at the site.

JWR Adds: I agree with W's recommendation to get white LED flashlights. Here at Rawles Ranch, we mainly use the older late 1990s-vintage C. Crane Company blue-white LED lights that are compatible with NiMH rechargeable AA batteries. I realize that many SurvivalBlog readers have a lot invested in incandescent bulb flashlights. Rather than selling them at a loss, keep in mind that LED replacement heads now available for most or the major brands including MagLite and SureFire. OBTW, if you decide to transition to LEDs, save those original incandescent light bulb components. You never know when someday you may need a lot of light--for example for impromptu surgery out in the field. The other exception is truly SHTF tactical use. While I do not advocate using a visible light flashlight or rail-mounted weapon light where you are up against and armed opponent. (Since they provide your opponent with a convenient point of aim.) They are fine for shooting marauding bears, but almost suicidal when confronting two-legged predators. However, I do advocate using the same lights with an infrared (IR) filter installed, in situations where you have night vision goggles (or a Starlight scope) and you have a high level of confidence that your opponent does not. This will give you a tremendous tactical advantage in low-light fighting. In these circumstances, for short periods of time you will want all the light that you can get! For this purpose, I keep the original incandescent light heads for my Surefire lights handy. I also keep a 50 piece box of the standard Panasonic brand CR-123 lithium batteries in my refrigerator, as a "tactical reserve." These have a 10+ year shelf life. Our current box, (which, BTW, was generously donated by a reader in lieu of a 10 Cent Challenge subscription payment), won't expire until 2018.

Regarding lanyards, I recommend using a long, stout lanyard that is a full loop, preferably with a ball-shaped spring button slider. I mainly use olive drab paracord. The longer the better, for the sake of versatility. If the lanyard is too short, then there is not enough slack to loop the flashlight through (in a Girth Hitch--a.k.a. Lanyard Knot) to be able to hang a light from a branch, belt loop, tent d-ring, or other object.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jim -
Great blog! I wanted to point out an important calculation everyone missed - internal combustion engines produce less power at higher elevation. Generators are (of course) rated at sea level. It's important to de-rate generator capacity by 3.5% per 1,000 feet of elevation or your generator will be undersized. (A 5,000 "label watt" generator is [effectively] only a 4,000 watt generator where I live at 6,000 feet.) Density altitude on a warm summer day can easily be 2,000 feet higher than that. My rule of thumb: after sizing for load, size generously for elevation or you'll be buying twice. Hope this helps everyone...
Other food for thought: You don't need to run all your big loads simultaneously. If the grid stays down, it'll be a blessing just to have refrigeration - it doesn't need to be like today where we run everything at once while blow-drying the dog! There's no reason you can't shut off the freezer if you need the well pump. The simplest transfer switch allows you to control power to various loads, and this allows you to use a smaller generator to accomplish everything. My genset is home built using a Listeroid (Lister clone) diesel engine and generator head purchased separately. This generator (significantly oversized to run a MIG welder, lathe, mill or compressor/plasma cutter combo) cost me less than $3,000 including truck freight and welding up a stout steel frame (probably $4,500 now, given the weak dollar, steel prices and current shipping rates). Based on decades of British Empire experience with these beasts in third world countries, I expect it will give 30,000-to-50,000 hours of service with minimal maintenance. It gingerly sips fuel and is easily operated on biodiesel or waste vegetable oil without modification.
Regards, - Fred H.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mr. Rawles:
I saw that you recently posted my question to the blog, so I thought I'd update you. I ran the tests again and got what I believe to be a more accurate assessments.

My second test showed the refrigerator consuming right at 2.7 KWH (2,700 watts) over a 24 hour period for an average of 112.5 watts-per-hour. Now mind you, that includes all the hours we were asleep and so no one was opening the door, using up ice, etc.. During hours of heavy usage it was using about 150 watts-per-hour.

Test #2 for the chest freezer yielded the following results: KWH usage for the full 24 hours came to 1.02 KWH or 1,020 watts. This is an average of 42.5 watts-per-hour. Mind you, this freezer basically only gets opened once per day when we take out whatever we're defrosting for dinner. All in all, I'm pretty happy with those results.

The next step is to test our other refrigerator and our upright freezer and to calculate the Amp Hours required (how many deep cycle batteries I'll need) to build my homemade UPS system.

FYI, I found a really good deal the other day on a 4 KW emergency gasoline genset, and went ahead and bought it. My next big purchase will be a tri-fuel conversion kit from US Carburetion, so I can run her on propane. I know you guys usually endorse diesel as a primary genset/retreat fuel, but I really like the stability and shelf-life of propane - in my area, I can rent a 300-gallon tank (I own two 100-gallon cylinder tanks) from the propane provider for around $50 per year and fill it a little at a time as opposed to making an expensive all-at-once fuel purchase. My logic there being that I can dump a little in each month, so that it'll be full when I actually need it to be. - JSC in West Virginia - A "10 Cent Challenge" Subscriber


Dear JWR:
I was catching up on SurvivalBlog this weekend and noted the article on generator set sizing. The main issue here is that there is a significant difference in the average electrical energy consumption of an appliance and its peak usage. This issue is compounded by electrical devices such as motors which are not purely resistive (i.e. inductive load) and thus have up to 3 times the energy demand to start as opposed to running. This is commonly referred to as “starting current” verses “running current”. When sizing an electrical generator, one needs not only to calculate the total energy consumption of all electrical appliances one anticipates to be running simultaneously, but also to cover the starting current for the item with the heaviest draw. Most electrical motors are labeled with their electrical current needs, commonly listed as starting or peak current and continuous current. In regard to an appliance which doesn’t list this information (such as a refrigerator), the owner needs to use his Kill-A-Watt [meter] to determine the current used while running (typically 3-5 amps) and multiply this by 3 to get a good estimate of the starting current demands.

The process should be to add up the total draw for all the appliances, and then double the highest one and add that also to the total. This will give a rough estimate of the peak current draw, in Amps. To convert Amps to Watts, one simply needs to multiply by the operating voltage (typically 120 or 240 Volts). This assumes that no more than one heavy draw appliance starts at the same time, but to cover all the starting currents would require a much larger generator.

Several years back, during an ice storm, we were living off of an emergency generator rated at 5,000 Watts (6,200 peak Watts ). One should disregard the “peak” rating of typical portable emergency generators since they are uniformly overrated (I have noticed that recently, peak rating is what is listed, look for the “continuous rating”). Our water heater (a purely resistive load, hence no “starting current”) consumed 4,500 Watts. In order to take a hot shower, we needed to turn off all other circuits and allow the water to heat up. After an hour, the water heater was disconnected to allow the well pump to be operated to provide water through the water heater to the shower. This constant switching of loads was a real nightmare.

As a caveat, typical consumer portable electrical generators are not up the rigors of continuous use. Their fuel economy is atrocious; our 5 KW unit uses about 5 gallons of gas in an 8 hour period. They are also typically powered by the equivalent of an air-cooled lawnmower engine. Consider taking your lawnmower into heavy wet grass and mowing continuously for 200 hours. After a week of trying to keep this loud and hungry beast fed, thankfully the power came back on-line. We went with a diesel powered 15KW unit which would even cover the arc welding unit and it uses about 1/4 gallon of fuel per hour during typical household test uses. The gas generator seemed to use virtually the same amount of fuel regardless of the load, but the diesel unit just sips fuel when it is just loafing along, with consumption roughly linear with the load.

When choosing a generator for long term use, I would make several recommendations:
First, if you pump water or want to run a welder or air conditioning unit, you will need at least 10 KW and 120/240VAC capability.
Second, get a unit with double windings so it can run at 1,800 rpm instead of 3,600 rpm (to make up 60 Hz AC power). This vastly improves fuel economy and noise level as well as longevity.
Third, the unit needs to be water cooled. While some air cooled units are built for longevity, they are the exception.
Fourth, think of fuel storage requiring long-term stability. This effectively rules out gasoline, and leaves us with NG/LPG or diesel.

While electrical generators are very useful and highly recommended, their Achilles’ Heel is fuel availability. We store adequate diesel fuel to run the generator full time for approximately two months use, which would extend to one year or more with limited part-time use, but it is still a finite resource. They can be useful as a bridge for short duration (till the power comes back on or we learn to live without). Except in the hottest climates, running a refrigerator or freezer a couple of hours twice a day is adequate with limited door opening. Once the foodstuffs in the freezer and refrigerator are used up, you will still need a manual pump for your water well in TEOTWAWKI. Hope this helps, - NC BlueDog


The Kill-A-Watt meter is a great tool but [KSC] really didn’t give it a chance to work. If you want to find out how much power your refrigerator uses over the course of the day leave it plugged into the meter for a few days at the minimum.

Most watt meters have the option to see how much power is currently being used by whatever is plugged into it. You’ll want to look at that while the appliance is cycled on. The refrigerators and freezers that I’ve dealt with generally don’t use more than about 150 – 200 watts while running, figure they use about three times that during startup.

In your situation, figure 600 watts startup power, times four appliances would be around 2,400 watts. I’m guessing that there will be other things that you will want to run also (lights, grain mill, battery charger etc.) so you may want to go with a 3,500 watt generator but as long as you aren’t looking to power your whole house from top to bottom with it you don’t really need a huge generator. - MercCom


Here's a helpful site for figuring power requirements.

By the way, we all have useful generators sitting in our garages--in our car and/or truck. An inverter will let you tap that power. COSTCO has a 1,000 watt inverter for $65. If you use good sense in using power, and keep your vehicle tank(s) full, you can ride through a temporary power failure. Not bad for $65. But you also will have to buy or make up a pair of cables that will clip to your battery. The provided cables have useless terminals (closed end type) for the battery end of the cables. - Bob B.

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.

Mr. Rawles:
In attempting to size an emergency generator for my home, I have run across some interesting questions that I hope you and/or your other readers will be able to help me with. I lived through the blizzards of the 1990s here in the southern West Virginia coal camps, and I will never forget us and all of our neighbors being without power and unable to get out of our own driveways for 23+ days in 1993.

It marked the very beginnings of my awakening to the necessity of being properly prepared. With that in mind, I am attempting to set my home up with the ability to keep a bare minimum level of electrical appliances running in the case of a long-term outage; namely 2 refrigerators w/ freezers, a chest freezer, and an upright freezer (all just a few years old, so fairly energy efficient).

I am gauging the power being used by these appliances using a Kill-A-Watt. And, honestly, I'm afraid that I am doing something wrong. My number seem awfully low.

The first test I ran was on my chest freezer; after two hours of measurement, the freezer had consumed just 0.05 KWH or 50 watts of power at 25 watts per hour. I was surprised, but not terribly because the lid was not opened during the span of the test.

Next, I tested the refrigerator in my kitchen. It is a an Energy Star compliant Whirlpool brand 25.55 cu. ft. model with water and ice in the door. As a result of the chest freezer coming in lower than I expected, I purposely skewed the refrigerator experiment with the hopes of over-estimating the true usage. To that end, I was sure to be a bad boy and do things such as holding the door open and staring in like a goober for five minutes. I also refilled the dog's water bowl from the door (forcing the pump into action) and virtually emptied the ice bin as crushed ice through the door (a big cup of ice water is yum!) to force the ice maker to have to run and make more. But, even with all that, my two hour test yielded a cumulative KWH usage of just 0.13. A measly 130 watts at 65 watts per hour.

Researching this online, I'm finding sites that estimate the typical household fridge uses between 150-250 watts per hour with peaks upward of 700+ watts. Am I doing really well on efficiency or am I missing something? I'll wait to hear back before I run the remaining tests. Thanks! - JSC

Sunday, February 17, 2008

There was a discussion about batteries a few days back on SurvivalBlog. The writer advocated using AA NiMH cells almost exclusively, with adapters for devices requiring C and D cells. While I do agree that this is a good approach for some devices, there is certainly some merit to having full size 10 Amp Hour (10,000 MAH) batteries in high [current] draw or long term use devices. Not only is capacity
significantly higher on larger cells, but the maximum safe current draw is higher too.

Good NiMH C cells have 2-to-3 times the capacity of AA cells, and NiMH D cells have 4-to-5 times the capacity of AA cells. They can be charged in a reasonable timeframe on a good quality charger like the MAHA MH-C801D. If you shop carefully you can find 10AH NiMH low self discharge D cells for around $10 each (As an example, see Thanks, - BR

JWR Replies: I recommend that SurvivalBlog readers be very careful when shopping for size C and D NiCD and NiMH batteries. Many of the batteries on the market have no more capacity than a size AA. (With those, essentially you are getting the same "guts" used in a size AA cell, but just in a bigger "can.") Look carefully and the MaH ratings before you buy! Also, be sure to buy only brands (such as Sanyo's ENELOOP) that have "Low Self Discharge" (LSD) rates.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I clicked on this link from your site, JOTW - Home Made Vegetable Oil Lamp. This got me to thinking about something I read about and tried once, some years ago. Take a tangerine, and using a knife, cut the nub off of the top, to expose the fruit, and using a spoon, separate the fruit from the peel and the segments from each other, leaving the sting like " pith " that runs from top to bottom, down the center of the segments, connected to the bottom. After letting the thing dry a bit, the pith is cut a bit to act as a free standing " wick ", a bit of olive, vegetable, or corn oil is put in, leaving about 1/4" of the pith above the oil to light. If it soaks up the oil enough, the lamp can be made to last quite a while for survival needs.

If you go to the extreme in a survival situation, a lamp could be fashioned from natural clay like the ones seen in the Middle East that have been made the same way since biblical times. . Many thanks to Hawaiian K. for the link. I like to try some of these type preparedness do-it-yourself projects from time to time to learn a new skill that may help me and my family some bad day. - Dim Tim

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Start your retreat stocking effort by first composing a List of Lists, then draft prioritized lists for each subject, on separate sheets of paper. (Or in a spreadsheet if you are a techno-nerd like me. Just be sure to print out a hard copy for use when the power grid goes down!) It is important to tailor your lists to suit your particular geography, climate, and population density as well as your peculiar needs and likes/dislikes. Someone setting up a retreat in a coastal area is likely to have a far different list than someone living in the Rockies.

As I often mention in my lectures and radio interviews, a great way to create truly commonsense preparedness lists is to take a three-day weekend TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” with your family. When you come home from work on Friday evening, turn off your main circuit breaker, turn off your gas main (or propane tank), and shut your main water valve (or turn off your well pump.) Spend that weekend in primitive conditions. Practice using only your storage food, preparing it on a wood stove (or camping stove.)

A “TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” will surprise you. Things that you take for granted will suddenly become labor intensive. False assumptions will be shattered. Your family will grow closer and more confident. Most importantly, some of the most thorough lists that you will ever make will be those written by candlelight.

Your List of Lists should include: (Sorry that this post is in outline form, but it would take a full length book to discus all of the following in great detail)

Water List
Food Storage List
Food Preparation List
Personal List
First Aid /Minor Surgery List
Nuke Defense List
Biological Warfare Defense List
Gardening List
Hygiene List/Sanitation List
Hunting/Fishing/Trapping List
Power/Lighting/Batteries List
Fuels List
Firefighting List
Tactical Living List
Communications/Monitoring List
Tools List
Sundries List
Survival Bookshelf List
Barter and Charity List

JWR’s Specific Recommendations For Developing Your Lists:

Water List
House downspout conversion sheet metal work and barrels. (BTW, this is another good reason to upgrade your retreat to a fireproof metal roof.)
Drawing water from open sources. Buy extra containers. Don’t buy big barrels, since five gallon food grade buckets are the largest size that most people can handle without back strain.
For transporting water if and when gas is too precious to waste, buy a couple of heavy duty two wheel garden carts--convert the wheels to foam filled "no flats" tires. (BTW, you will find lots of other uses for those carts around your retreat, such as hauling hay, firewood, manure, fertilizer, et cetera.)
Treating water. Buy plain Clorox hypochlorite bleach. A little goes a long way. Buy some extra half-gallon bottles for barter and charity. If you can afford it, buy a “Big Berky” British Berkefeld ceramic water filter. (Available from Ready Made Resources and several other Internet vendors. Even if you have pure spring water at your retreat, you never know where you may end up, and a good filter could be a lifesaver.)

Food Storage List
See my post tomorrow which will be devoted to food storage. Also see the recent letter from David in Israel on this subject.

Food Preparation List

Having more people under your roof will necessitate having an oversize skillet and a huge stew pot. BTW, you will want to buy several huge kettles, because odds are you will have to heat water on your wood stove for bathing, dish washing, and clothes washing. You will also need even more kettles, barrels, and 5 or 6 gallon PVC buckets--for water hauling, rendering, soap making, and dying. They will also make great barter or charity items. (To quote my mentor Dr. Gary North: “Nails: buy a barrel of them. Barrels: Buy a barrel of them!”)
Don’t overlook skinning knives, gut-buckets, gambrels, and meat saws.

Personal List
(Make a separate personal list for each family member and individual expected to arrive at your retreat.)
Spare glasses.
Prescription and nonprescription medications.
Birth control.
Keep dentistry up to date.
Any elective surgery that you've been postponing
Work off that gut.
Stay in shape.
Back strength and health—particularly important, given the heavy manual tasks required for self-sufficiency.
Educate yourself on survival topics, and practice them. For example, even if you don’t presently live at your retreat, you should plant a vegetable garden every year. It is better to learn through experience and make mistakes now, when the loss of crop is an annoyance rather than a crucial event.
“Comfort” items to help get through high stress times. (Books, games, CDs, chocolates, etc.)

First Aid /Minor Surgery List
When tailoring this list, consider your neighborhood going for many months without power, extensive use of open flames, and sentries standing picket shifts exposed in the elements. Then consider axes, chainsaws and tractors being wielded by newbies, and a greater likelihood of gunshot wounds. With all of this, add the possibility of no access to doctors or high tech medical diagnostic equipment. Put a strong emphasis on burn treatment first aid supplies. Don’t overlook do-it-yourself dentistry! (Oil of cloves, temporary filling kit, extraction tools, et cetera.) Buy a full minor surgery outfit (inexpensive Pakistani stainless steel instruments), even if you don’t know how to use them all yet. You may have to learn, or you will have the opportunity to put them in the hands of someone experienced who needs them.) This is going to be a big list!

Chem/Nuke Defense List
Dosimeter and rate meter, and charger, radiac meter (hand held Geiger counter), rolls of sheet plastic (for isolating airflow to air filter inlets and for covering window frames in the event that windows are broken due to blast effects), duct tape, HEPA filters (ands spares) for your shelter. Potassium iodate (KI) tablets to prevent thyroid damage.(See my recent post on that subject.) Outdoor shower rig for just outside your shelter entrance.

Biological Warfare Defense List
Hand Sanitizer
Sneeze masks
Colloidal silver generator and spare supplies (distilled water and .999 fine silver rod.)
Natural antibiotics (Echinacea, Tea Tree oil, …)

Gardening List
One important item for your gardening list is the construction of a very tall deer-proof and rabbit-proof fence. Under current circumstances, a raid by deer on your garden is probably just an inconvenience. After the balloon goes up, it could mean the difference between eating well, and starvation.
Top Soil/Amendments/Fertilizers.
Tools+ spares for barter/charity
Long-term storage non hybrid (open pollinated) seed. (Non-hybrid “heirloom” seed assortments tailors to different climate zones are available from The Ark Institute
Herbs: Get started with medicinal herbs such as aloe vera (for burns), echinacea (purple cone flower), valerian, et cetera.

Hygiene/Sanitation List
Sacks of powdered lime for the outhouse. Buy plenty!
TP in quantity (Stores well if kept dry and away from vermin and it is lightweight, but it is very bulky. This is a good item to store in the attic. See my novel about stocking up on used phone books for use as TP.
Soap in quantity (hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, cleansers, etc.)
Bottled lye for soap making.
Ladies’ supplies.
Toothpaste (or powder).
Fluoride rinse. (Unless you have health objections to the use of fluoride.)
Livestock List:
Hoof rasp, hoof nippers, hoof pick, horse brushes, hand sheep shears, styptic, carding combs, goat milking stand, teat dip, udder wash, Bag Balm, elastrator and bands, SWOT fly repellent, nail clippers (various sizes), Copper-tox, leads, leashes, collars, halters, hay hooks, hay fork, manure shovel, feed buckets, bulk grain and C-O-B sweet feed (store in galvanized trash cans with tight fitting lids to keep the mice out), various tack and saddles, tack repair tools, et cetera. If your region has selenium deficient soil (ask your local Agricultural extension office) then be sure to get selenium-fortified salt blocks rather than plain white salt blocks--at least for those that you are going to set aside strictly for your livestock.

Hunting/Fishing/Trapping List
“Buckshot” Bruce Hemming has produced an excellent series of videos on trapping and making improvised traps. (He also sells traps and scents at very reasonable prices.)
Night vision gear, spares, maintenance, and battery charging
Salt. Post-TEOTWAWKI, don’t “go hunting.” That would be a waste of effort. Have the game come to you. Buy 20 or more salt blocks. They will also make very valuable barter items.
Sell your fly fishing gear (all but perhaps a few flies) and buy practical spin casting equipment.
Extra tackle may be useful for barter, but probably only in a very long term Crunch.
Buy some frog gigs if you have bullfrogs in your area. Buy some crawfish traps if you have crawfish in your area.
Learn how to rig trot lines and make fish traps for non-labor intensive fishing WTSHTF.

Power/Lighting/Batteries List
One proviso: In the event of a “grid down” situation, if you are the only family in the area with power, it could turn your house into a “come loot me” beacon at night. At the same time, your house lighting will ruin the night vision of your