One one hand, you can think about the ‘Grid’ (power, water, sewer, internet, etc.) as a convenience. On the other hand, our lives are now built to assume that these conveniences are there. Most people don’t have a way to get water if the tap stops running. Most people don’t have a way to heat their home without electricity or gas. When these systems are working, you can ignore them as conveniences. When they go down, you can suffer for sure, and depending on the circumstances you might die:
- Depending on who you ask, Texas’ winter storm caused 200 deaths or maybe it was 700.
- Dozens of people died across Europe due to the 2017 cold snap and gas / power disruptions.
- In a 2012 storm, Russia cut the gas due to a dispute and killed hundreds more. Europe is facing a repeat of this event due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- Water outages rarely result in deaths, but here’s a fun trick: Search Google News for “boil water notice”
- Similarly, when the sewer and the internet break down, it’s not likely to kill you. But It’s going to stink.
Unlike other articles in this series, you don’t have a lot of control over ‘running out of grid.’ Our preparation in this case shift to:
Be Ready When the Grid Goes Down.
When we talk about the ‘Grid’ we’re really taking about a series of systems. These systems are awesome. They’re awesomely convenient and effective. They’re also awesomely expensive and complicated. There is a reason we invest hundreds of trillions of dollars in building and maintaining these systems. The reason is that the alternatives to the grid are very inconvenient.
When we think about alternatives to electrical transmission lines providing power to our homes, we very quickly start making compromises about how much power we need. When we think about alternatives to getting ample clean water into our homes, it’s amazing how quickly the gallons add up. WAAAAY before that storm, earthquake, fire, or flood hits you, you need to start planning and preparing.
Before you Shop for Grid Down, Set Goals and a Budget
First things first – we should begin with the end in mind. What are we trying to accomplish, and for how long? The amount of ‘grid’ you’re using (electrical load, gallons of water, etc) and how long you need it will determine how you approach planning. A simple way to think about it is in terms of likely events that you want to prepare for:
- Power outages from thunderstorms are pretty common and pretty short. You need some flashlights, a storm radio, and maybe a cell phone charger for a few hours. That will be $25.
- Some storms can cause power outages to last 3-5 days. In addition to flashlights and cell phone chargers, you may want to keep your refrigerator running. That’s either a generator and gas OR an inverter and a battery. Either way you’re looking at about $500.
- If you’re anticipating that the grid will go down FOREVER and you can’t live without the comfort of refrigerated air blowing on your body, then you’re looking at 50-100K depending on where you live.
Dollars are an important limiting factor, but they are not the ONLY limiting factor. Many solutions to these scenarios have mass and take space. As previously discussed, our minimum planning target is one gallon of water per person per day. For a family of 4, that’s 28 gallons a week. Consider a 5-gallon bucket. You know what that looks like. Where are you going to put six of them? And that’s just to SURVIVE for one week. Forget about taking a shower or flushing the toilet.
All of this boils down to your goal for preparedness, and you may have different goals for different scenarios. Here’s what I’m ready for…
My Family’s Grid Outage Goal and Approach
- A 3-hour power outage doesn’t even register. We’ll take that in stride.
- We’re pretty well-prepared for a week-long outage. We just survived about 3 days with no power, no water, and no heat. (See the aforementioned snowstorm).
- For power, I have some large (total about 200 amp-hour) batteries and a big inverter. This ran the fridges and kept us in lights, cell phones, etc. To go a full week, we would quickly have to shift down to a single fridge. (First world problem!)
- When it comes to water, I have it easy. I have a hot-tub and I live close to a lake. I keep drinking water on-hand, but that’s the easy part. During the winter storm, we flushed the toilets with hot tub water.
- This storm taught us we weren’t ready to stay warm. I have a Mr. Buddy heater (the one that’s rated for emergency indoor use) and we ran a fire pretty much the whole time. Now, I have more firewood, more gas, and another Mr. Buddy. I’m also curious to know how much electrical power a heating blanket will draw…
- When it comes to weeks, months, or years without the grid, I guess we’re all going to be doing what we can. Like I said, I have a good answer on water. I have solar panels, but we’re really talking about a big reduction in power usage: a few lights, cell phones, radios, etc. (In San Antonio, staying warm for long periods of time isn’t a huge planning consideration).
There’s no point in painting a rosy picture here. It’s hard and it’s expensive, and (unless you’re loaded) you’ll come out WELL SHORT of the comfort you currently enjoy. But lots of people in Texas had it a lot worse than we did that week. My advice is to not let perfect be the enemy of good. A modest investment in time and money will really improve your outcomes.
Feature Image: Brian0918 at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons