You can hope for the best but prepare for the worst with these durable off-grid innovations ready to reliably take on any homestead crisis.
From wind storms to power grid failures, and collapsed outbuildings to floods, you never know when an emergency will strike your homestead. Whether you're considering how to handle a specific crisis or simply aiming to boost your home's self-reliance, it's important to account for water, shelter, food, power, communication, and transportation.
The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, Nevada, was home to a wide variety of the latest innovations and technologies to help you manage any number of unforeseen calamities. Covered below are some of the most inventive and impressive emergency preparedness technologies I encountered at CES, or tried out at my family's solar-powered homestead. These products can help keep your family safe, hydrated, nourished, and connected in an emergency.
A disaster hitting your home may seem far-fetched, but problems can strike anywhere and anytime. While writing this article, I experienced an 8-hour power outage that plunged my family's homestead into darkness — at least until I got my hands on the Cat S41 smartphone and Bigfoot charger (below). In a real crisis, emergency preparedness technologies like these might become key to keeping your family secure.
$129.99 at ToughTested
For those who don't mind a large portable charger — or who need to keep some extra juice on hand — ToughTested's new Bigfoot solar battery bank may save the day. The Bigfoot's 400 milliampere-hour (mAh) solar panel charges up its massive 24,000 mAh internal battery, which can be used to charge everything from mobile electronics to small laptops via its USB and USB-C ports. Designed to handle the outdoors and rugged emergency environments, the 4-pound Bigfoot has a built-in multi-mode LED flashlight, is shock-resistant, and has an IP67 waterproof rating, meaning it can stand being submerged in up to 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.
In addition to standard light and blinking modes, the LED flashlight includes a third mode that blinks out a repeated SOS pattern — three short flashes, three long, and three short. This is a fantastic feature to signal for help in an emergency.
$60 per panel at YOLK
Most of our communication devices rely on electricity and are vital in emergencies, so battery life becomes a priority in power outages. While you could purchase a small battery bank, its stored electricity will eventually drain as well. YOLK's new Solar Paper is a modular array of small, paper-thin solar panels that magnetically link to create the perfect portable solution for keeping your mobile devices charged and connected while you're off-grid.
The Solar Paper's output can range from 5 to 15 watts, depending on how many panels you've linked in your micro array. According to YOLK, a basic two-panel, 5-watt unit will fully charge a smartphone in roughly two and a half hours on a sunny day.
An array with two linked panels is only 3.5 by 7.5 by 0.4 inches when folded — a perfect lightweight emergency charging station. The thin design and convenient mounting points make it easy to clip an array onto a backpack and charge while you hike, camp, or walk to safety in an emergency.
$4,000 for two-panel array (not including shipping and installation fees) at Zero Mass Water
If you live on a homestead, odds are you grow your own food, so why not harvest your own water? In a power outage, you won't be able to pump water from your well or let it flow from a faucet. But Zero Mass Water has created an easy, sustainable, and safe way to produce water from the air. The easy-to-use SOURCE Hydropanel harvests clean water from vapor in the air using proprietary vapor-collection panels. The sustainable SOURCE is powered entirely by built-in solar panels, and it outputs the collected water via a small tube, so it can be independent of your homestead's grid and water well.
"The SOURCE uses a built-in solar panel to power the process of collecting water vapor from the air and bringing it into our special material, which it then converts into drinkable, safe water," says Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, who handles marketing and communications at Zero Mass Water. "The water then comes from the SOURCE on the roof or in the yard to your kitchen, or anywhere you'd like a dispenser, via a small, 3/8-inch tube."
On a sunny day, Zero Mass Water estimates that a standard array of two SOURCE panels is able to produce the equivalent of 8 to 20 standard 16.9-ounce bottles of water, depending on the climate. Each SOURCE panel has an internal 8-gallon reservoir, and a built-in battery to continue production on overcast days.
$249 at GoSun Sport
While many solar ovens claim to be portable, they're typically too boxy and large to carry easily. The new GoSun Sport is an ultra-convenient solar oven designed to be the perfect piece of gear in which to bake, roast, or steam your favorite small foods while camping, or in an off-grid emergency.
The Sport is compact and lightweight thanks to its unique form. Unlike the box shape of most solar ovens, the GoSun Sport features a central tube for cooking food, with two solar reflectors that fold out like a clamshell. The cooking chamber is 2 feet long, with a 2.1-inch diameter, perfect for preparing a nice meal of vegetables, meats, or small muffins or rolls using only the heat of the sun.
With an operating temperature of up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, GoSun estimates you can have a meal ready with the Sport in just 20 minutes on a sunny day. Once you're done cooking, the Sport can be folded into a sleek, 7-1/2-pound package.
From $329.99 at Cat Phones
Communication is key in a homestead emergency. One of the most important tools for modern communication is the smartphone. However, most smartphones aren't built to operate for days without power, or to handle rough usage and climates. While you probably know Caterpillar, or Cat, for forklifts, excavators, and trucks, the company has recently taken its expertise in reliable design into the mobile world. Cat offers a line of ultra-durable Android smartphones, targeting consumers who want to use their smartphones in extreme environments with little fear of damage.
I've used Cat's midrange S41 model for the past few months as my daily phone, and I've been impressed. Unlike many modern smartphone exteriors built from metal or even glass, the Cat S41 has Corning Gorilla Glass 5 ultra-durable screens, and the exterior is made of textured rubber that offers military-grade shock and drop protection. It's super-grippy, making it easy to operate in any harsh environment or emergency situation. The Cat S41 also features tight rubber seals on the charging, headphone, and SIM and SD card slots, sealing water, dust, and other particles out and keeping your connectors clean. It can safely operate in temperatures from minus 13 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. An IP68 waterproof rating completes the package, allowing the device to be completely submerged in up to 6-1/2 feet of fresh water for up to an hour.
The Cat S41 features standard midrange smartphone specifications, including the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system and 32 gigabytes of storage. The 5,000 mAh battery is the standout component, offering up to 38 hours of talk time or 44 days on standby. The battery is so large that Cat even provides the ability to recharge other small electronics off the S41 via its charging port. In addition to stellar battery life and all the standard Android smartphone specifications, Cat's latest device, the Cat S61, also includes an improved IP69 water-resistance rating, a built-in FLIR thermal camera, and an indoor air quality sensor to alert you to high levels of indoor air pollutants.
Built from the ground up to be sustainable, Green Builder Media's Flex House showcases the potential of synergized smart home technologies to save energy, reduce wasted water, keep families healthy, and improve residents' safety in the event of an emergency. The Flex House takes a modern, high-tech approach to the classic concept of living off the land, with the house producing all of its own energy and utilizing the latest in water conservation technologies to minimize waste.
At CES 2018, Green Builder Media showcased a full-scale prototype of the Flex House. I had the chance to tour the house during my time at the show and check out all the sustainability technologies packed into the 760-square-foot home. Every room was intelligently designed and filled to the brim with ecologically minded smart technologies. Green Builder Media estimates that Flex Houses will soon be commercially available and cost between $85,000 and $100,000.
"The Flex House is fully powered by a cutting-edge solar system with battery storage," explains Sara Gutterman, CEO. "The home can produce all of its own power and serve as a microgrid, and can therefore be grid-tied or independent."
The Flex House has a high-tech greywater system by Nexus eWater. Even outside the house, water conservation is a priority. The Rachio smart irrigation system uses data from local weather stations to create a watering schedule that only waters plants when they need it.
The modestly sized Flex House is built for a couple or small family, and it's designed to help homeowners use precisely the resources they need to live comfortably and affordably. "To us, 'right-sized' living doesn't just refer to square footage," Gutterman says. "It also means having the flexibility to adapt your home to your evolving lifestyle, and consuming only the natural resources you need — no more, no less."
$199 at ēdn
Indoor gardening systems that bring farm-fresh produce to urban homes gained traction in a big way at CES 2018, with numerous companies revealing their high-tech approaches. I had the opportunity to see how OPCOM Farm and ēdn are aiming to provide smart indoor gardens that increase people's ability to grow their own food. In the event of a heavy storm or another natural disaster, stand-alone smart gardening units can provide fresh produce without you ever setting foot outside.
The SmallGarden 2 by ēdn looks like a high-tech toolbox and can grow everything from flowers and herbs to leafy greens. It replicates sunlight with full-spectrum LED lights to help your plants grow. And, using a built-in reservoir that can last several weeks, the SmallGarden 2 automatically waters plants to optimal levels without the need for manual oversight. A mobile app for users utilizes the SmallGarden 2's array of sensors to guide you through your garden's growth by calculating the plants' statuses, stages, and estimated harvest dates, simplifying every step of the process.
$179 at OPCOM Farm
OPCOM Farm's indoor hydroponic gardens come equipped with lighting that simulates the spectrum of sunlight. They are available in a wide range of consumer models varying from shoebox- to refrigerator-sized, so you can choose an indoor garden unit to fit your space and food needs. "We make it simple for people to pick and place plants into our system," says Ray Shih, the sales director for the company. "With our pricing going from $200 all the way to $150,000 mass-production containers, we have a wide range of products for everybody who wants to do hydroponics, from individuals to schools to professional growers." Hydroponics allows plants to grow in areas that are normally inhospitable — a huge benefit in an emergency situation.
$2,199.99 at OjO Electric
The boom in all-electric scooters continued at CES 2018. The latest included the Commuter Scooter by manufacturer OjO working in partnership with Ford, and the R1 by CES Innovation Awards honoree Relync. In the event your car breaks down, leaving you stranded on your homestead, electric scooters such as these could deliver you to safety.
The OjO Commuter Scooter will soon be sold in select Ford dealerships nationwide. Based on OjO's previous electric scooters, it comes equipped with the latest technologies, such as a built-in security system, a wireless speaker, and a touch-screen display. With a range of 25 miles per charge and a top speed of 20 mph, the Commuter Scooter is the perfect way to stay mobile using only electricity in the case of an emergency.
About $3,000 at Relync
Relync aims to rethink electric mobility with its ultra-convenient R1 folding electric scooter. This mobility scooter is incredibly small and portable — 1.6 feet wide, 1.9 feet long, and 0.9 feet tall when folded up. The R1 isn't designed for speed, though, with a maximum of 8 mph and a total range of 18 miles. However, thanks to its compact design, the R1 can be handy in a pinch for getting to a hospital or shelter in an emergency.
Liam Kivirist is a tech writer, programmer, nature lover, and freelance web developer. He lives with his family on a small organic farm in rural Wisconsin. Connect with Liam on Tech Socket and his website.
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