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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Preparing for Power Outages on the Homestead, Part 2


Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

Use Generators Wisely

Generators are magical at bringing power back to the home. However, it is imperative to understand that they will not be able to run everything. Most people do not have military or commercial generators that can easily power a home. Additionally, those generators burn through gas very fast.

A small generator in the 3-5K range will take care of most people’s needs. Notice I said "needs" and not wants. In an extended power outage, it is important to run things like refrigerators, freezers, well pumps and communication devices, such as cellular phones or radios. Keep in mind that many well pumps may not be capable of being powered by a small wattage generator.

It is important for the individual homesteader to understand his or her system to ensure the appropriate generator is obtained. Small wattage generators sip fuel and large generators guzzle it. Use whatever generator you have sparingly during power outages. Refrigerators and freezers only need to be ran a few hours a day to keep food from spoiling. With measured use, a basic fuel storage can prolong the life of your food many weeks. This, combined with the knowledge of pressure canning will ensure no waste of food should a power outage extend for a long time.

Maintaining Communications During An Outage

HAM radio nets and FRS/GMRS radios worked flawlessly. You should not rely on cell phone service as a communications plan. In this case, cell service continued to work but it may not next time. It is recommended that every homestead have a licensed HAM operator or a way to tie in to a HAM operator.

Many HAM operators monitor both HAM and FRS/GMRS nets. HAM operators are trained to pass crucial information, especially during emergencies. If you are not close enough to someone who is a HAM operator then consider getting licensed yourself.

Develop A Regular Maintenance Day

Every homestead is different but every homestead has equipment that needs regular testing and maintenance. For us, once a month we schedule a regular maintenance day where we run our small machines if they have not been run in the previous month. Utility vehicles, chainsaws, generators and any other small engine equipment should be started and run regularly.

Additionally, you need to make sure you have spare parts, extra chains and lubricant to take care of minor problems should they arise. We try to run non-ethanol fuel in our small engines and if they are carbureted with a fuel shutoff, we will run them for a while and then turn the fuel off so that all gas is used from the carburetor in order to avoid any gumming up of the device.

In addition to running small engines, we test our gas furnace. We heat primarily with wood, so the furnace will rarely turn on, and so we test it once a month. The maintenance day is also a good time to check levels on propane tanks, clean firearms or anything else that needs regular maintenance but tends to get neglected.

Develop Multiple Water Strategies

When I ask people what their water plan is, I usually get an answer like, “I have a well and a generator.” This is a good start, but it does not go far enough.

What if your well pump fails during an outage (it happened to us)? What if stray voltage is preventing your generator from powering the pump (it happened to us even though our generator normally powered it without any problems)? What if your generator fails? What if you forget to store fuel so you ran out in 24 hours? What if lots of sediment suddenly shows up in your well water and you have no way of testing the water? The list goes on.

Having a well and a generator is a great primary plan for power outages. Having water storage is a must for any well prepared homestead and makes for a good secondary plan. Even a few hundred gallons can take care of people and animals (depending on type and number) for quite some time. Make sure you keep water storage above freezing temperatures, ideally in a dark place and periodically rotate the stored water. Even better is to have a hand pump on your well in addition to the above.

Rainwater catchment is an excellent way to build resiliency into your water strategy. For every 1,000 feet of catchment area, per 1 inch of rain you can collect more than 600 gallons of water. In cold climates, rainwater catchment is seasonal, but when it is time to drain the rainwater tanks just increase the water storage.

Additionally, ponds, swales and existing streams can be used for emergency water. However, you have to be realistic with your own capabilities on collecting water. I have heard many people tell me if they need emergency water they will just go to the local lake or even to the stream on their property to collect it. Great plan! How are you going to filter it? What if you cannot use vehicles to get at it due to downed trees or no fuel? Are you capable of carrying buckets from the local stream? In the snow? Be realistic.

Foster Community

Do you have good relationships with your neighbors? Are you willing to help them out, and vice versa, in times of need? In this last major windstorm, I had to cut through three downed trees to get to a neighbor in need. Do you have communication links within your community?

Social media sites with local forums are great but cannot be relied upon as the only source of communications. Develop redundancies, use those social media sites but also have a good contact list for phone calls and have a radio link as well.

Build a Dry-composting Toilet

Consider building a dry-composting toilet even if you cringe at the thought of using one. A dry-composting toilet is a normal-looking toilet with a bucket inside that has a layer of woodchips, sawdust, ash or some other carbonaceous material in it. You do your business in the toilet, cover it up with more material, dump the bucket into a separate compost pile (as necessary depending on usage), and that is all there is to it — no stink, no mess.

The amount of water used in the typical household toilet, per flush, is obscene. Do we use running water and flushing toilets? Yes, however, we conserve as much as possible. We live by the general rule, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, and if it’s brown, flush it down.” If things are becoming a little stinky, then we flush. As our toilets eventually need to be replaced, we will likely swap them for lower flow toilets but will still keep the same policies.

Water is everything. During this last power outage when our generator would not power our well pump due to stray voltage, we had a simple conversation at the breakfast table. I said to the family, “boys/men pee outside, all pooping shifts to the dry composting toilet in our “outhouse” except the little ones who can go inside.” Without running water we had to bucket in water to flush the toilets. We did this once a day but for the most part, everything functioned normally. It was not really a bid deal. Even if you only use the dry-composting toilet during emergencies, it is worth having. We use the dry-composting toilet during emergencies and during the warmer months of the year.

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 of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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