Monday, September 25, 2023

Preparing for emergencies by layering your resources


The concept of "layering" is applied in many fields.  For example, "layered clothing" means wearing multiple layers of clothes, so that when cold, all of them work together to keep you warm, but as things warm up, you can take off one layer at a time to stay comfortable.  It's less useful to have just one warm garment, which may leave you too hot (with it on) or too cold (with it off).

I apply the same technique to planning for emergencies.  Say you want to prepare for a weather emergency such as a hurricane or tornado that takes out power, water, etc. to your area.  Ideally, you'll have a selection of preps that can be used depending on the conditions at the time.  For example, when it comes to food, having some that can be eaten without cooking or heating is a good idea for the first day or two, in case those facilities aren't available.  Longer term, have multiple means of cooking (e.g. electricity, propane, firewood, charcoal, etc.) so that if one isn't available or usable, another will be.  (See my earlier article about rocket stoves;  we have a couple of them standing by, plus fuel for them.)

I've just taken delivery of our wood supply for the winter;  about a cord of good hardwood (oak, pecan, etc.).  Some can go in our fireplace as is, for regular fires during winter, because we like them;  but there's enough extra that if power went out for a week or two, we'd have enough to keep the living-room warm 24/7 (and the cats sprawled out in front of the fireplace!).  However, we're not limited to firewood.  We have a kerosene heater, with enough fuel for a week or two;  three small propane heaters that can warm bedrooms;  and a cylinder-top propane heater for bigger rooms.  We should get by for the likely duration of an emergency.  If it turns into something long-term, well, we'll have to figure that out as we go along - but then, so will everybody else.

As far as electricity goes, having a standby generator has long been good practice, as well as battery-powered backup lights, radios, etc.  More recently, electric backup "power stations" (such as those from Bluetti, Ecoflow or Jackery, to name only a few well-known brands), have come on the market, challenging the supremacy of generators, and are making inroads.  I like the idea very much, particularly because they can be recharged using solar panels, but their prices are still pretty high compared to a generator's power output (especially when factoring in the solar panel cost in addition to the basic power station).  I'd love to find a portable solar panel setup that can be used to charge any "power station" or battery bank or something similar, regardless of manufacturer, but so far I haven't found anything affordable.  Can any reader suggest a good solution to that need?  If so, please let us know in Comments.  I'm sure there'll be lots of interested people.

So, dear readers, how are you layering your defenses, and your preparations for emergencies?  Share your ideas with us in Comments, and let's learn from each other.  The way things are going, we're likely to need them.



Jennifer said...

To go along with your meal options, I would highly recommend having specific meals planned out for your various situations, whether the electricity is out, or the water, or it’s too cold to cook outside, or you can’t risk attracting others with the aroma of your food cooking, etc. About a decade ago, my family and I had a little practice run for 3 days. Nothing had happened, but we just wanted to practice how we’d prepare food without any outside water or electricity or gas coming into the house. I had a house full of food, charcoal, camp stoves, Dutch ovens, etc., and I couldn’t think of what to make for dinner, because I wanted to conserve water and not generate many dirty dishes! It was extremely eye-opening.

As far as medicine goes, we first focused on acquiring OTCs and basic supplies that are commonly needed, then we expanded to antibiotics, prescription (non-narcotic) pain relievers, and steroids. We added more advanced equipment and supplies as well as IV fluids and antibiotics. But even those will eventually be exhausted, so we have also begun acquiring and growing our own herbal medicines. We may not have the training to use the more advanced supplies, but as history has demonstrated time and again, in a crisis, regardless of duration, it is usually easier to find a doctor than to acquire the items needed to treat a patient. And finally, do not rely on just one off-grid medicine book. I’d recommend a minimum of three or four at the very least.

tweell said...

I have a propane grill with a side burner so that I can cook if the power is out. Keep at least one full spare propane tank in reserve.

For charging stuff and small loads, I picked up a deep cycle 12v lead-acid battery from Walmart and a 100W solar panel kit from Amazon.
Add a power inverter that has alligator clips. I went with this one because it has a pure sine wave output, even though it's more expensive.

This keeps me from having to use my vehicle to charge stuff, although I do have an inverter and 12v t0 USB devices in case there's no sun.

Anonymous said...

Primary, Alternate, Contingent, Emergency

P - Tap filtered with Berkey
A - 16 oz water bottles in 24 packs (a lot)
C - Stored tap water in cistern / 6-gallon tanks
E - grabbing H20 in larger, semi-portable tanks from local river for treatment; rain water catchment if season is right

P - Normal kitchen gear
A - Propane BBQ; propane stove top; instapot running off solar batteries
C - Camp stoves with white or unleaded gas
E - Rocket stove cooking or direct over fire

P - Power company
A - Generator
C - Solar
E - Hand crank for small battery charging; deal with it

P - Fridge, freezer, pantry and garden
A - Dehydrated food
C - Long term storage buckets (old)
E - More long term storage buckets (new)

P - normal everyday
A - radio (local or regional for just info)
C - hand held air horns
E - yell

B said...

THose power stations seldom come with enough solar panel to really recharge them, even in north Texas.

Look at what the REAL size needed for recharge for say a couple of hundred watt-hours of backup power from any "Power station".

They really aren't a good backup plan except for the first 24 hours (at best) or so, then they are a waste of time.

Having said that, a "Power station" and a small genset to recharge it can be a useful thing to have...or a battery bank and an inverter and a small genset.
But it takes (more or less) an average of 10 square feet of solar panel for 150W of output...and that is in direct sunlight, so you only get that for about 6 hours on average....less during cloudy days. so 10 square feet gets you about 900 watt hours of juice....enough to run a fridge 16 hours or so, maybe a bit longer.


How may watt-hours do you need? Watts over time, remember.

Anonymous said...

I have just completed a small block enclosure to store gas cans, using border blocks from the back yard. Located it in the most distant corner of the yard. There is masonry "landscape glue" in a tube now that works at least as well as my attempts at conventional mortar construction.

Anonymous said...

Renogy fold up 100w panel has worked well for me.

Old NFO said...

And I would add some actual cash. If power is out, credit cards won't work either.

Hightecrebel said...

10 square feet? Maybe if you're using older tech panels and the super cheap ($3) PWM eBay charge controller. Spend slightly more for even a middling quality MPPT and you'll get much better than that. I get 150w+ consistently out of my 215w panel here in Maine

Stan_qaz said...

We added solar to the roof but went with a system from Enphase that makes power for our use when the grid is down. Fridge power from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM in the summer, half an hour later we have freezer power and from 10:00 to 4:00 we have enough for light cooking and such.

We have a couple battery packs, with solar panels to run essential things at night. In Phoenix we can get a pretty decent recharge but it is essential to limit discharges to essential stuff.

We have an assortment of small device chargers with solar panels left over from earlier plans. They aren't much but I can keep my phone and Kindle tablet going.

Michael said...

After seeing how a home fire wiped out a friend's emergency supplies, I strongly suggest that you put some in a trusted friends care and he the same.

NOT Having all your eggs in one basket kind of thing. Works for Red Flag events also, just saying.

Hamsterman said...

Portable? Man-portable is going to be small. Enough to charge phones, lantern, maybe a small 150W device in short bursts. They are not going to run appliances.

As an added pain, most 'power stations' have a maximum current input, so you can't just oversize the solar panel without running some numbers. For example, I won a small YETI which I determined could only take a 50W panel in direct summer sunlight without overloading and possibly damaging its input. That same panel will probably accept a 60-75W panel in the winter.

And, of course, they will often use proprietary connectors.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

BRM, one of the individuals on our recent hike had a Goal Zero set of panels. I have to say that I was very impressed for the amount of charge that could be achieved for a phone in a pretty short period of time. Also quite light and portable.

Anonymous said...

joelsgulch gives away an ebook about his solar power experiences. He has a lot of experience.

John C said...

Good suggestions all. My parents were into self-sufficiency and emergency planning and I have continued that mindset. Bugging out is not really an option for my family, but layered prep has always been the rule.
You can get away with cheap, but spending a few extra dollars on your solar backup or rechargeable batteries will give you better and more dependable results. For example, I chose to use 6 smaller batteries instead of a couple bigger ones. If a battery fails I can remove it from mix and only lose 16% of my capacity instead of 50%. A $150 Epever controller gives me far more reliable charges than the $30 cheapo it replaced. Have a 110v inverter. Configure your setup to cover small medical devices, such as nebulizers (my mother-in-law uses one). Home Depot sells a 175w inverter that attaches to their 18v batteries that works for this. I have the solar set configured to recharge these batteries as well as the AAA, AA, etc. Generator for house as needed. If you can, have a tri-fuel one.
As already mentioned, backup cooking source. I purchased a couple of 30# propane cans and hoses/adapters for the grill, camp stove, etc. Propane cans should not be used inside, but you can cook in a garage if you have a hose to connect to a large can
Canned food, freezer, dry goods, etc. You can only keep a freezer cold for so long if the power is out, so plan for that. Have some long term freeze-dried food for the long term end-all. Protein in this form could be very important.
Invest in some basic antibiotic medications to keep on hand. I use Jase Medical, but I know there are others out there. Also keep and rotate a supply of basic OTC medications. Tylenol, vitamin C, cold medicine, etc.
Modern houses create heating challenges. I have a portable propane heater that is indoor rated so we won't freeze to death, but ventilation will be needed. Layered clothing as mentioned will be key here. Again, a long propane hose to keep a large can outside.
Invest in a bucket water filter. You can use it to filter water for cooking and sanitation. Also get some smaller water filters to further refine the bucket water for drinking. Sawyer (among others) makes good little units.
Keep your important documents, some money, spare firearm and ammo in a fire safe. Preferably, locate the safe in an area where it is not subject to so much burnable material (garage wall for example) but is also not observable when a garage door is open.
Consider items that are barterable. Some spare food, whiskey or possibly an ammo cache that is separate from your primary supply.
Know your neighbors. I know who I can and can't rely on up and down my street.
Where possible, as mentioned, keep some things offsite in a place you can trust. I happen to have a storage unit that is less than a half mile from my residence. I don't keep a lot there because it is not climate controlled. In fact, consider where you store some of your prep items in regards to climate control. That can and will make a difference in their long term usefulness.
Consider family members who are close by but are not up to speed yet on prep. I have two adult children who are local but don't have much on hand due to space and economic reasons. If they need to relocate to my home for a while, air mattresses, sleeping bags, and extra blankets will be useful.
I know this is a lot. I have had a lot of years to accumulate and get to the point I am at. Never easy for the person just starting.

B said...


What solar panels are you using that give more watts per square foot?
Seriously, all the [panels I can find are about 150 watts per 10 square feet, and that has been a standard for over a decade for silicon solar panels.

150 watts peak in maine sounds about right for the solar insolation at that latitude. But how man hours can you really get Peak? Maybe 4? Have you ever looked at that number on a daily basis rather than just for a few minutes? Peter will do better in North Texas, but still he needs to do the real math.

So that 215 watt panel that gives you 150 watts Peak output is what dimensions?

Feel free to email me if you'd rather not admit it here.