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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Preparing for Power Outages on the Homestead, Part 1


Four Dead, 1 Million Lose Power in Destructive Northwest Windstorm

Losing power is a reality that homesteaders must prepare for. It is not a matter of if, but when, and for how long. As a homesteader/farmsteader we have a responsibility to keep the home running regardless of “power.” Animals do not care if the grid is down! Here are some thoughts from the last power outage that impacted our homestead in Northern Idaho.

This is not a matter of bragging or pride, but the historic storm that just slammed into us amounted to a mere inconvenience. It is not that we are completely off-grid or that we do not have gaps, because we do, but our general preparedness allowed us to easily navigate a power outage and still take care of a household of 11 and more than 100 animals.

1. Keep a well-stocked fuel storage. Gas stations were closed and pumps were off, so whatever was in the fuel tank is what you have. On the local forums, people were frantically asking what gas stations were open a mere 12 hours after the storm struck, even though the storm was predicted several days in advance. Keep your tanks at least half full and keep a fuel storage that is regularly rotated, and use additives to increase shelf life. A simple way to have a fuel storage is with 5-gallon gas cans. With 10 gas cans, you can store 50 gallons of gasoline. Of course, buying a large tank that is stored in a cool, dry place that can utilize gravity would be even better. If you plan on storing gasoline for longer than 6 months without rotation, then you should add additives. It is common myth that diesel fuel will store for many years. With the advent of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, storage times have reduced significantly. If storing diesel, use additives to increase shelf life.

2. Most gas stoves will work without power as long as you can light them manually. With a significant propane or natural gas storage in tanks, you can continue to cook for a very long time. The other great aspect of propane and natural gas is their shelf life. If you have an independent source of these gases, they will last for many years and still maintain functionality.

3. If you do not have a backup source of heat, get one! We consider wood stoves to be mandatory for a prepared homestead in temperate climates. Having a good wood fuel source is invaluable. Even better is a wood cookstove that can provide not only heat for the home but also cooking, heating of water, drying of food and much more. As a long-term solution, the prepared homesteader needs to have or develop a good woodlot for fuel.

More to come in the next post!

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and strategies for the property. The property will eventually become a demonstration and education site where they raise dairy goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted more then 50 productive trees and enjoy wildcrafting, propagating mushrooms, and raising and training livestock guardian dogs. Listen to The Courageous Life Podcast and read all their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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12/12/2015 3:30:50 PM

TMoney, yes those are just free floating pallets for the floor. We used posts from the property, farm milled planks and some OSB and roofing from the hardware store. This wood shed cost us less than $300!

12/11/2015 8:38:42 PM

I love that wood shed, and plan to copy the design. Are those just pallets for the floor? Thanks

11/30/2015 10:19:13 AM

From my experience over the last 10 years, it is best to have two generators. Get a smaller fuel-efficient "inverter-generator" in the 2000-3000 watt range for the base loads (lights, wood stove fan or furnace, TV for news). Run that 24/7 and you'll still only need around 3 gallons/day. . Then if you have larger loads, like an electric water heater or well pump, get a cheap contractor screamer in the 6000-8000 watt range. Only use that to power the big loads which means you'll only need it 1-2 hours a day for showers and gathering enough water to drink and wash dishes for the next 24 hours. It will need about a gallon per hour. . In a major emergency when gas may not be available for weeks, you can run the smaller generator for 1 hour on, 4-6 hours off, and even go an entire 8 hour sleep shift with it off. That will be enough to keep fridges/freezers cold and if you are using a furnace, enough time to keep the house temperature out of the danger zone (to prevent frozen pipes). That will stretch your fuel supply 4-6 times longer. Concentrate on using up the food in the fridges/freezer and after a few weeks you can stop running the genset most of the time unless you need it to keep the house warm. . While LP lasts a long time, larger whole-house LP/NG generators use a LOT of fuel and so you need to keep a LOT of fuel around. It can be 10 times more expensive to run both in fuel cost and amount of fuel used. If you think you'll rely on NG (if it is available) remember that a major emergency will likely take away your NG supply, too. Think major California quakes, for instance.