December 22, 2014

Review of the SmartCharge™ LED Bulbs

Review of the SmartCharge™ LED Bulbs

I was recently asked if I wanted to review a LINK SmartCharge™ light bulb. It is an LED light bulb that contains a 4 hour battery backup. I said “yes,” as I think this could fill a role in power loss preparations for many of us. A flashlight is great, but unless you have them scattered around the house, you need to go looking for one. Flashlights are great for providing direct light, but not great for lighting up a room. Preparedness Club members, make sure to see the bottom for special pricing!

The LINK SmartCharge™ turns on as soon as a loss of power is detected. The following are some features provided by the manufacturer.

SmartCharge™ Features:
• Works with a Standard Light Fixture
• 4 hours of Light During a Power Outage
• Built in Rechargeable Battery / Charges during normal use
• Turns On/Off from the Switch During Power Outages
• Energy Efficient, ROHS Compliant
• Instant On
• Rated to last for 40,000 hours, 25 years

– Brightness – Minimum 350 lumen
-Annual Energy cost – .72¢ USD
-Color Temperature – 5000K
-Wattage – 5.5 Watt
-40 Watts equivalent
-Bulb Voltage – 110-240V
-UL, CE, FCC, & ROHS certified certifications

It fits in a standard light socket, and acts as a normal light bulb until the internal circuitry detects a loss of power, then it switches to the battery backup power. As you can see from the pictures, there is less light in “grid down,” running on batteries mode.

I see this as a good fit in a few situations.

If you have a battery backup UPS on your computer, you know that if power is lost, your system and any peripherals attached to it stay on. Though some units have a long charge, the purpose of a UPS isn’t to keep you up and running until power is restored. The purpose is to let you finish your work, save it and shutdown, thus making sure you finish your task. I see the LINK SmartCharge™ as a product that can let you finish what you were doing. That is, unless it was something that required electricity of course. It then provides a light source for you to get your Lights Out Kit and get ready, just in case the outage is a bit longer than 4 hours. It will also provide that 4 hours of constant light, more if used sparingly.

While our grid is fragile, in that it takes little to bring it down, it is pretty reliable in the amount of time it is up. The founder of the LINK SmartCharge™ is from India, where there are a lot of power outages. If you live in a place where the grid isn’t reliable, the LINK SmartCharge™ could be a very effective tool to provide light in between outages, as well as during.
 
 
My Take

Normal Bulb

Normal Bulb

Please forgive the quality of the images. They were taken with my iPhone, and I am just pretty happy my thumb isn’t in them. I’ll start by saying that I prefer a softer light bulb. The 40 Watt is what I normally use in the office. So, for me, the LINK SmartCharge™is a great fit. If you prefer a very well lit room, this might not be the best option, unless there are other lights on as well.
 
 
SmartCharge on grid power.

SmartCharge on grid power.

The LINK SmartCharge™ gave off a whiter, cleaner light than the yellowish tint the regular 40Watt put out. Now, if you watch any of the videos, I really think they do themselves a disservice. To simulate a blackout you need to do more than just unplug the lamp. Simply unplugging it from the wall does not simulate a power outage. In a power outage, there are still things connected to the circuit in your house, such as the stove, etc., that are plugged into the outlets. The bulb needs to detect something else to complete the circuit to stay on.
 
SmartCharge on battery power.

SmartCharge on battery power.

To get by this, they seem to use another light as the other electronic device drawing power. This makes the room look very bright while power is on, and very dark; darker than it really is, when power is “out”. I used a fan as the other device, and the difference in the light provided between modes is very minimal. I was surprised how much darker the picture was in the after picture, because I thought it was almost the same level of brightness while I had it on in battery power mode.

Size comparison

As you can see, the LINK SmartCharge™ is bigger than a standard bulb. It doesn’t bother me, but if you have an enclosed fixture, it might be very tight, or not fit at all.

The price is $34.95, which isn’t too bad when the average LED bulb goes for around $20.00. Pay an extra $15 and you get one that will sense when the grid is down, and run off of the battery for another four hours.

I’m going to give this item 4 stars. I think it is a very clever idea, and designed well. If they would have changed the design so that power just needed to be lost from the source, and the bulb would stay on, I would give it 5 stars. That would allow for one to charge it with a small solar panel, and have 4 hours of off grid light at night.

The folks at LINK SmartCharge™ have agreed to give Preparedness Club members a 25% discount until January 5th 2015! Log into your account to find the coupon code.

 
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Review of the MPOWERD Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern

Review of the MPOWERD Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern

Every once in a while I get to review an item that, because of features, potential and its price, is an item that I am happy to tell you about! LUCI is one of these! Created by MPOWERED, LUCI is an inflatable solar lantern with a diameter of 5”. It’s about 4” tall when inflated and 1” tall when collapsed.

LUCI is waterproof and shatterproof. It is very lightweight and affordable; the Luci Solar Lantern I was sent retails for only $15! Other models can run up to $25.
 
 
Features

LUCI Dimensions

LUCI is made up of 10 LED lights, a solar panel and a rechargeable battery.

It is rated for 500-2000 cycles, meaning full battery cycles from full to empty. If you use it every day for twelve hours, it is expected that it’ll work for about two years! If you use LUCI occasionally you can expect many years of use.

The LED bulbs have a lifespan of 25,000 hours, and the manufacturer states that they will not burn out during the life of LUCI.

LUCI solar panel

LUCI will hold a full charge for about three months. After that it will retain half a charge for up to two years!

There are three power settings; low, high and a slow flashing.

LUCI produces enough light to illuminate up to an 8-10’ square foot room.

LUCI is rated to run in temperatures from 15-122 degrees.

There is a plastic strap on the top and bottom. A carbineer would be needed to hang it from something to cast light or hang upside down to charge.

LUCI can be charged from with sunlight or incandescent light and takes 8 hours for a full charge.
 
 
Potential

LUCI is being marketed as offering “solar justice” to the 3 billion people in the world who either live without electricity or can’t afford it. They even have a program where you can MPOWERED for a LUCI to be given to someone in need!

LUCI will effectively lengthen the ability to get things done after the sun goes down. That is the case for those living without electricity now, and for anyone who owns one if the power goes out!

LUCI in colorLuci doesn’t act like a flashlight. To be fair, flashlights don’t serve the same purpose as LUCI in my book either. A flashlight is a great tool for casting light at length or lighting a specific area for a short time. LUCI is geared toward lighting a general area for a length of time.
 
 
LUCI roadside
Just some of the uses I can see are: In the BOB, lights out/blackout kit, glove box or trunk for use during roadside emergencies, lighting an outdoor area for night gatherings, floating in the pool for evening swims (did I mention it’s waterproof?!?!?). I think LUCI will give a scared child much more comfort in a blackout than a flashlight, as it lights up a bigger area.
 
 
Price

As stated above, the Luci Solar Lantern that was sent to me costs $15. You can visit the MPOWERED site to find all four versions, including the ones in various colors! They range in price from $15 – $25.

At these prices, I think they make a great addition to anyone’s preparations! They would also make great gifts for those who may not be preparedness minded!

 
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Emergency Heat

Emergency Heat

This is a topic I haven’t covered in a while, and I’ve gotten some questions related to it recently, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit emergency heat. Going without heat is something that hundreds, if not thousands of people face every year. Many of those affected have electric heat and above ground power lines, which can be brought down by storm damage from falling trees or from ice storms and blizzards.

Energy is one of the Five Basic Human Needs, and the rule of three’s tells us that we can only live 3 hours in poor weather without it. Depending on how low the temperature is, that number could be less. Be aware that hypothermia can set in at temperatures less than 50 degrees, so this isn’t just a topic for northern states!
 
 
Back Up Electricity

One might think the solution to being without heat due to a power outage would be to provide backup electricity with a generator and that might be the case for short term outages. The catch is making sure you have enough fuel to run the generator. I heard stories after Hurricane Sandy about whole home generators that used an entire 500lb propane tank. If the outage is large enough and long enough, nearby gas stations will, most likely, be without power to operate the pumps.

A small generator would sufficiently run space heaters, but the fuel usage is still prohibitive. I own a generator, but my plan for it is to run the freezer and fridge for an hour in the morning and evening to keep the food inside cold.

I’m not going to go more in depth on generators, but if you’re interested, here is an article I wrote called Portable Generators and an article on storing gasoline and diesel long term.
 
 
Scope of the Problem

Before we can really come up with a solution, we need to know the scope of the potential problem. Because of the type of events that are most likely to cause us to need emergency heat, it is safe to say there will be a large portion of the people in our area affected.

A side note; we had a large storm here in Minnesota last year, leaving thousands without power in the summer. It was unbelievable the number of people on the news and social media accusing the power companies of not doing anything. The electric grid is a very complex, interconnected and in many instances outdated beast. In a large scale power outage, it is far more complicated to correct say a fallen tree, than just removing the fallen tree and flipping a switch.

Yes, the tree needs to be removed and lines repaired, but there is also a very good chance that the tree falling caused damage to other components down the line. The line must remain off for utility workers to repair all of it and replace said components.

I digress; in a large scale power outage, it is safe to say that it could take a number of days but will probably not take weeks for power to be restored. Hurricane Sandy saw many people without power for several weeks and some saw months. However, that was an aberration caused by wind damage, water damage, flooding of the underground grid and several other factors. I know of several large scale storms across the country where utility companies have brought in crews from other states to get power back to their customers.

What this means is that we need to be prepared to provide emergency heat for our families for up to a week. If the damage is so significant that it will require you to be without power for longer than one week, you might be best served finding another location to reside in until power is restored.
 
 
My Emergency Heat Plan

For me personally, a whole home generator with 500lb+ of fuel stored isn’t feasible. If we lose heat in cooler temperatures, my plan is to have everyone cohabitate in one room. It is far easier to heat and maintain warmth in one room versus the entire house. I own Mr. Heater F232000 Indoor-Safe Heater, and have multiple 20lb propane tanks. To use 20lb or larger tanks, you also need to purchase a propane hose assembly.

Caution does need to be taken to make sure fresh air is allowed to circulate while using the heaters, but modern day indoor rated heaters are a safe and viable option.

I plan on placing blankets over windows to add a layer of insulation to cause heat loss through them to be minimal. Since water lines freezing is a real danger, water would be shut off going to most of the house, and a small trickle of water would be maintained to the rest of the rooms where running water was needed.

If you’re looking for an emergency heat/off grid heat option that is a bit bigger and could heat the entire house, there are several options. It is out of the scope of this article, but you could research wood stoves, pellet/corn stoves and Rocket Mass Heaters from Permies.com for just three examples.
 
 
Candles

Candles can provide some heat, and light but we will only use them as a last resort. As I explain in Candle Safety:

“We had a couple different scented candles burning for a few days when Trudee noticed her asthma was acting up. Then she noticed a thin layer of soot on the surface of things here and there. (Note: We don’t have a fireplace.)”

We still have several candles for emergencies and barter if needed, but don’t burn them anymore.
 
 
Cooking

While this article is about heat, there is a good chance that if you don’t have heat, you might not have a means to cook. I personally decided to use propane as my fuel for cooking as well. I have camp stoves and the BBQ that can be used to prepare meals. We also have a fire pit and a small amount of wood that would last us a couple weeks or so for cooking with.
 
 
Other Information

I’ve written two other articles that might be of interest. One is called Off Grid Fuels,. In it, I explain the pluses and minuses of various storable fuels. I explore propane in depth in Propane for Fuel Storage.

 
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National Geographic’s American Blackout

I had the opportunity to watch National Geographic’s American Blackout
National Geographic’s American Blackout and thought I would give you my thoughts on the show. If you haven’t watched it, be warned, there are some spoilers in this article.

The premise of the movie is that there was a major cyber-attack that brings the electric grid down from coast to coast. The show is presented as if the content from citizens who took the video on their phones and video cameras was collected after power was restored,

The show mainly follows five groups, though video clips are shown from others. One group is comprised of a family of preppers and the boyfriend of the daughter. The second group is made up of four students trapped in an elevator. The third group is a wealthy couple somewhere in New York who live on the 46th floor. The fourth group is a family with a young daughter and a pregnant wife is who is due any day. The last group is a mother and teen-aged son. The mother is a nurse who leaves the son alone for most of the blackout.

The movie flows from day to day, giving viewers an idea of how quickly thing get bad. I had originally thought about reviewing it day by day but I think a better approach might be to go by categories. Just after the show starts and the power goes out, the groups mentioned above are often filming themselves. There is an occasional newscast report from a television station that is on generator power.
 
 
Water

Water is the most important of the five basic needs (occasionally security trumps it) and the only family that was prepared for this was the family of preppers. In one scene the man from the couple in New York goes into a store and tries to cut in front of everyone else, attempting to buy a gallon of water with his credit card. People were willing to pay $40 for one gallon of water!

I realize that many of us cannot store enough water, but knowing how to filter it and make it safe to drink is something every prepper should know. I cover several methods in the article The Storage, Filtration And Purification Of Water.

Nat Geo also made a comment about the average home in America using 400 gallons of water a day. That seems high to me but I have not researched it. In a survival situation the number that is often given is 2 gallons of water per person per day for drinking and miscellaneous uses.
 
 
Food

In the beginning of the blackout, people were throwing blackout parties, cooking a lot of the food before it went bad. The New York couple was eating caviar and drinking warm champagne. The man got sick later in the movie. Here are some tips on Keeping Food Cold Without Electricity.

The prepper family had quite the setup. They bugged out early to their remote location. It was stocked with some food in a closet inside the home. They called that their “decoy food”. If anyone broke in, they would steal that and quit looking. The preppers had 2+ years of food stored in their bunker. There was a neighbor who came to the fence asking for food. The father told the neighbor they could not help him, but the daughter’s boyfriend piped up and said they had plenty to spare. This raised the tension and the father ended up pulling his firearm and telling the neighbor to leave. The daughter’s boyfriend later snuck out and gave the neighbor some canned goods.

Nat Geo, made a text comment about the quantity of foods that are shipped and transported every day in the USA. Since the power was down, the cranes that offload ships in ports that require electricity weren’t functional and the gas pumps were unable to pump diesel into trucks. Therefore, none of those goods would be transported. I covered the impact this would have in When the Trucks Stops

There were many food related riots and eventually the federal government stepped in, instituting “rationing and fair allocation” of resources such as food, water and gasoline. Priority was given to EMS, police and military.
 
 
Power

Nat Geo stated that a cyber-attack could cause power surges, causing damage to the electric grid. I have read several articles over the years about municipalities and state and federal government finding proof that hackers from other countries have hacked into the grid.

The prepper family had a solar energy system and a bicycle generator. The father stated they had enough energy stored in their battery array to last two months.

One of the people in the elevator has a wind up cell phone charger that he used to keep his phone charged.

Nat Geo said that only 10% of the traffic lights across the countries have any type of backup power. This was leading to a lot of accidents.

I have covered multiple ways we can Prepare for the Grid to go Down. Just follow that link.

They said that cell towers often have backup power but that service would be drastically reduced due to load. This is often the case in any type of emergency. Often times a text message will still go through when a phone call will not.
 
 
Shelter

The couple on the 46th floor, having to go up and down the stairs was hating life by the third day.

The four people trapped in the elevator were all college students who were heading home for spring or summer break. No one knew where they were, let alone that they were trapped in the elevator. They tried to pry the doors open without any luck. Long story short, one student fell to his death from the top of the elevator. The other three made a harness to climb up the elevator shaft and were able to use a knife that one of the students had to cut through a grate of sorts and climb out. They were still trapped on the top of the building. A second student later died on the building roof.

Since there was no light at night, people were using candles, which was leading to fires. In fact, the family with the young daughter and pregnant wife were chased from their home due to fire. They had candles scattered throughout the house. I’m guessing that was the cause of the fire.

Many fires were out of control, as there was no water pressure to put them out. Nat Geo gave the number of 3,500 gallons of water being needed to extinguish the average house fire.

 
 
Security

Security for all of the groups was laughable. Multiple times people went to areas where there were known riots and gang activity. While I do think Nat Geo had the characters venture into these areas so we could see what things were like, I also know that this behavior isn’t limited to a few people in this youtube-driven, “selfie” taking, YOLO world we live in.

The prepper family had firearms but no real security procedures or plans in place. The son was standing the late watch when the neighbors who got food from the daughter’s boyfriend earlier came back to get more. They captured him and forced him inside the home. The son directed them to the decoy food. He then woke everyone. The father brought them all into the bunker at that point.

Later that day, the neighbors, now turned bandits, came back to see what else they could find. The family had a surveillance system and could see them coming. The dad went out alone to confront them, and got his rifle taken away.

The New York couple ended up near a riot and stole a can of peaches that they then brought back to their building. They were followed by a man who demanded the can of peaches. When he was told “no”, he attacked. The husband used the “assault can” to pummel the man. They heard sounds in the hallway of their apartment building and went to explore each time. This never ended well, and in the end, might have cost them everything.

The young man whose mother was a nurse had been on his own for over a week. He found a pistol in his mother’s room but had no idea how to use it safely.

As of the third day, there was a dusk till dawn curfew, which was largely ignored. The National Guard was asked to help patrol the streets in several cities. Martial law was talked about a few times.

 
 
Miscellaneous Items

People had little to no cash and, since ATM’s weren’t working, they had no way to pay for goods. One of the shops shown was willing to take trades. Many people don’t think cash will be valuable in such a disaster. I think it will be extremely valuable for a short time. In the show, the media frequently said the government was close to solving the problem. As long as people think the system will go back to what it was, cash will have value. If weeks and months go by, it will then lose its value.

Hospitals were overrun with people. Hence the nurse being kept from her son for many days. Because there was no power, people were doing things that they had never done before, like opening a can of peaches with a butcher knife. This led to a major laceration, which seemed to get infected and make the man quite ill.

I think it was around the seventh day when the President requested international aid, to deliver goods to the American people.

It was mentioned that there are roughly 700,000 HAM radio operators in the US. In this type of scenario this might be the most reliable form of communication.

It was also said that there is an estimated 3 million preppers in the US. I would love to know how they got to that number.

The lack of ability to have a working water and sewage system was mentioned a few times, but I think they grossly undersold the damage this would cause. I covered Survival Sanitation sometime ago. I linked to three great articles from Tactical Intelligence and I highly recommend all three. If you live in an area that is on city sewer and water, just think for a minute about what might happen if all of the toilets in your neighborhood stopped working for a week or longer. Knowing how to manage that, and all of the garbage is something we should all consider.

If memory serves, the power came back on to all of America after nine days. Things just don’t work like that. If power fluctuation can cause damage to parts of the grid all across the nation, it is going to take a lot longer than a little over a week to get them all repaired or replaced. I listened to a podcast with an electrical engineer named John Kappenman who has testified before Congress on the dangers to the power grid from EMP. He stated that we have some components in our grid that have a 30 year shelf life and are 50 years old. If that wasn’t bad enough, he said we no longer make some of these power plants and would need to have them shipped from other countries. Power might come up for a portion of the country, but there is no way a switch can be flipped and the entire countries’ power restored.

The father of the prepper family came off as a jerk to me. I agreed with most of what he said but he could have used far better arguments to make his points.
 
 
Final Thoughts

American Blackout is worth watching, if for no other reason than to decide what you would do differently. If we see a nationwide blackout, things are very, very bad. It would take a major event to bring down our entire electric grid and I would expect it to take much longer than nine days to repair.

I think this would be a good show to have a non-prepper watch. It could plant the preparedness seed.

If you had a chance to watch it, please let me know what you thought!

 
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Preparedness and Batteries

battery

Have you ever considered how many things you come into contact with every day that use a battery?  How about the items that are in your various preparedness kits?

I remember reading a few news stories that spoke about cities providing generators so people could recharge their cell phones.  Because we have become so dependent on technology and the items that use batteries, both in normal times and when “it’s hitting the fan”, not having the ability to use an item can make a bad situation worse.  Whether it’s a remote control, weather radio, cell phone or flashlight, these devices only work if they have a charged battery.  Below are some things I have discovered over the years.  If you have something to add, please do so in the comments.

 

Disposable Batteries (Alkaline)

We try to keep a good supply of the various sizes of batteries.  Over the years, I have heard various prepping tips about batteries and have looked into them.  Unfortunately in my experience most have turned out to be false.

For example, have you heard that storing your batteries in the fridge or freezer can prolong their life?  According to Energizer, this isn’t the case!  In this FAQ on Non-Rechargeable Batteries:

“No, storage in a refrigerator or freezer is not required or recommended for batteries produced today. Cold temperature storage can in fact harm batteries if condensation results in corroded contacts or label or seal damage due to extreme temperature storage. To maximize performance and shelf life, store batteries at normal room temperatures (68°F to 78°F or 20°C to 25°C) with moderated humidity levels (35 to 65% RH).”

I also read on a Prepper site that someone said they had compared the life of name brand batteries against the cheaper batteries found at dollar stores.  They said the life of the batteries was relatively the same.  I mentioned this to Trudee, who then purchased some batteries from the dollar store.  It was our experience that they only lasted from ½ to 2/3 as long as the better known, name brand, batteries.

How often have you reached for the remote or another electronic only to discover the batteries were dead?  Something you might not be aware of is that batteries don’t necessarily lose their charge at the same rate.  There could be one battery that is dead and another with ½ a charge left.  To remedy this there are several inexpensive battery testers on the market that will show you how much life is left on a battery.  I haven’t purchased on yet, so I won’t make any recommendations, but make sure that the one you buy will test a variety of battery sizes.

 

Rechargeable Batteries

The technology and terminology can quickly get over my head, so here is a novices explanation: There are six types of rechargeable batteries.  Only the following three; Nickel Cadmium, Nickel metal hydride, and reusable alkaline are found as replacements for AAA, AA, C, D, and 9 volt batteries.  Since these are the most commonly stocked battery types, I will give some pluses and minuses of using them.

 

Reusable Alkaline

Reusable Alkaline batteries hold their charge longer than any other type.  However, they have the lowest amount of charge/discharge cycles of any other reusable battery.  (A charge/discharge cycle is one complete depletion and recharge of the battery.)

 

Nickel Cadmium (NiCd)

This is the oldest type of rechargeable battery.  The technology has been improved over the years.  A nickel cadmium battery has a long shelf life and can be stored in a discharged state for long periods of time.  When it is needed, it is recharged quickly.  It also has a high number of charge/discharge cycles, numbering over 1,000.

Nickel Cadmium batteries have a high rate of discharge.  Just while sitting on the shelf, they lose 1% of their charge per day.  Due to this, batteries would need to be recharged after storage.  Nickel Cadmium is also subject to memory effect.  According to Wikipedia, memory effect is an effect observed in nickel cadmium and nickel–metal hydride batteries that causes them to hold less charge. It describes one very specific situation in which certain batteries gradually lose their maximum energy capacity if they are repeatedly recharged after being only partially discharged. The battery appears to “remember” the smaller capacity.  This has been corrected with newer technology.

 

Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)

This is probably the most available and lowest-cost option of the three.  They have 30-40% higher capacity than a NiCd battery and are less prone to memory effect than NiCd batteries.

NiMH batteries have a high rate of discharge losing up to 4% a day, more in warmer climates.  It also has a limited service life, probably around the 500 charge/discharge cycle range.

 

Low Self Discharge Nickel Metal Hydride (LSD NiMH)

This type of reusable battery loses significantly less charge than any other type, roughly only 15% a year.  They also have a high charge/discharge rate.  LSD NiMH batteries can be charged with a NiMH battery charger.

 

Battery Chargers

There are many different ways a battery can be recharged; trickle, simple, timer based, fast and pulse.  There are also battery chargers that are intelligent.  These should not be confused with “smart chargers”.  A Smart charger has a microchip, as does the battery, from its manufacturer and they are designed to work together.

A charger that is intelligent can monitor the temperature, voltage and other characteristics and stop charging when the battery is fully charged.

There are chargers on the market that accept not only the 110 volts from your home, but also 12 volts DC from your car lighter or from a solar charger.

 

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, I think a good set up for Prepper’s might be to keep some disposable alkaline batteries on hand, and a battery tester to go with them.  It’s also a good idea to have a supply of LSD NiMH batteries with an intelligent charger and a small solar panel to go with it.  There are also solar chargers that can charge your cell phone as well.

The power these batteries provide might not cover all of your needs in a blackout, but it could very well provide for a radio, flashlight, cell phone and other small electronics. This would be enough to keep you informed and your loved ones in another part of the country updated. If you store LSD NiMH batteries charged and top them off once a year, they’ll always be ready for use!

 

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Survival Sanitation

Survival sanitation is a subject that doesn’t get much attention. It’s not surprising. This isn’t a subject for polite conversation and, it’s gross. But, not knowing what to do with waste in a grid down situation can lead to a dire survival situation. This is fair warning; this information is important, but will cover some information that is a bit disgusting.

In researching this article, I found a series of three articles at Tactical Intelligence, that cover almost everything I wanted to write on. So instead of writing a similar article, I am going to ask you to take a look at his articles and I will just add my $.02 here.
 
 
Survival Sanitation: It all Begins with the Hands

This article covers how many diseases are spread from bodily fluids to hands then to the mouth. He even gives instructions to make your own chlorine bleach, as well as good and bad hand hygiene habits.
 
 
Survival Sanitation: Disposing of Garbage Off-Grid
 
 
Out of the three, this is the one area I think people should hold out on. Only go this route if garbage pickup is on hold for a long time. That is, unless you live in a densely populated area such as New York. Due to the day after Christmas blizzard in 2010, New Yorkers went without trash collection for a week and limited collection for another. There were mountains of it and soon the rats came out. This is good information to be aware of.
 
 
Survival Sanitation: How to Deal with Human Waste

This is a topic that while mildly unpleasant, is very important. If you are on city sewer and water, in a grid down situation there won’t be power to the water pumps to provide water for disposing of the waste. This article explains what to do if you have water available and what to do if you do not.
 
 
Backflow Valves

I only have one other thing to touch on and that is the back-flow valve. A back-flow valve will keep sewage from flowing back into your plumbing. Backwater-Valves.com hosts the image below. They explain the need, based on your location, hypothetically; on a hill in a flooding situation.

I also contacted a local plumber via e-mail asking if the power going out would have any impact on sewage back flowing.

“Hi Chris,
The back water valve is only required if the plumbing fixtures are below the manhole in the street. ( most are but some houses are on hills ). The power going out has no effect unless you have a lift station in your home.

You can tell if you have one because they are required by code to be accessible. ( somewhere in floor ).

They are not a huge project but we would need to locate the drain, remove the concrete, install back water valve and patch the floor. There are any variables that would raise the costs but a minimum price would be $450.”

Where I live, back-flow valve installation became code in 2009. It might be code where you live. If you have an older home and think you might be in danger of back-flow, contacting a plumber in your area now might be a prudent idea.
 
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Preparedness Tip: Keeping Food Cold Without Electricity

In the event of a power outage, here are a some things you can do to help keep your food cold, if not frozen;

  • During times when there is power, the fuller your fridge or freezer is, the longer the temperature will stay cold and the less the motor will have to run to keep it cold.
  •  If your freezer isn’t full, you can add frozen containers to fill the empty space. Any container will do, but 2-liter bottles are shaped well for stacking. (In writing this, I have a chest freezer in mind, but it should work for a fridge based freezer as well.)
  • When there is a loss of power, a full freezer will keep food frozen for approximately two days, a half full freezer for a day and a fridge for roughly four hours, if they remain closed.
  • If there is a power loss another good idea is to write down the contents of the fridge and freezer and post it on the outside. When someone is hungry, they can browse the list with the door closed, keeping the cold where it belongs.
  • If you have a generator, you can connect the fridge and freezer to it and run the generator once or twice a day, for an hour or so and that should be enough to keep things cold.
  • If the outage is going to be longer in duration, it is important to keep meat, poultry, fish and eggs refrigerated at 40 Fahrenheit and frozen things at 0 Fahrenheit. These would be good things to cook and eat first.
  • If you live in an area with snow, it’s not a good idea to place frozen food directly in the snow. The temperature isn’t controlled and things could thaw and refreeze. One possible solution might be to take a clean 30 gallon garbage can and bury it in snow, then place the food in it. If you bury it with snow nearly to the top and place the lid on it, this should keep things cold but probably not frozen, depending on the temperature outside.

If you have any other tips please add them to the comment section.
 
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Off-Grid Laundry

Off-Grid Laundry

To do laundry in an off-grid situation, we can just look to the past and add a few modern twists. There are three parts to doing laundry, washing, rinsing/wringing and drying. Let’s take a look at how to do those three off-grid.

Washing


 Washing Board
I’m sure many of us have seen pictures of people using washboards to do laundry. While it might get   the clothes clean, it can take a lot of effort.

 


 
Non-electric Washing Machines

A more modern, yet off-grid means, is with an item like the Pressure Handwasher from Lehman’s, the Wonder Wash from The Laundry Alternative Inc. or Laundry Pod. The designs of the Pressure Handwasher and the Wonder Wash are similar to each other. From simply looking at the designs web pages and the videos that are available, the Laundry Pod design seems superior to me. The process of the three is similar; add a gallon or two of water, a bit of soap and turn/crank for a minute or two, drain, add more water and turn/crank for a minute or two to rinse.


 
Do It Yourself

If you’re a do-it-yourself-er or just frugal, you can do something similar by using a five gallon bucket and a laundry plunger. Take the lid for the five gallon bucket and cut a hole in the middle large enough for the handle of the laundry plunger. Fill the bucket half full with clothes, add a gallon or two of water add a little soap. Now put the laundry plunger in the bucket and place the lid securely over the plunger. Push the plunger up and down to agitate the clothes for a couple of minutes. Some people use a regular plunger. It is my understanding that laundry plungers force soap and water through the clothes more effectively. Lehman’s has two version of laundry plungers or hand washers, they are the Rapid Laundry Washer and the Breathing Hand Washer.


Rinsing/wringing
The non-electric washing machines have a means to rinse and wring the clothes, but there are other methods for those not using one of these machines. Lehman’s Clothes Wringer has some off-grid options but they’re a bit pricey to me.
 
Do It Yourself

Here is a three bucket system I found that I think is very clever and would go nicely with the other do it yourself system to wash clothes.

Drying

Many people use clothes lines and pins for drying their clothes, either to save on the energy bill, or just for the fresh smell. As a kid we used some that were made out of clothes line rope, but you can also use wire strands. Another option for drying clothes is a drying rack.

While this isn’t completely off-grid, it might be a nice option for some. The Laundry Alternative Inc. has two products for Drying clothes that would be great for people with limited space.

One last thought: water that was used for laundry can be recycled and used to water the garden or lawn.

 
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Portable Generators

Portable Generators

To go with the last article Off grid fuels, here is a look at using portable generators for emergency power. I know I had some misconceptions about generators. Maybe this can clear up some you might have as well.
 
 
Price

A portable generator is one of the most economical ways to provide electricity in a power outage. It’s true they can be expensive and the more you spend the more power you’ll have and the quieter it might be. If you’re selective about what you use it for, you can spend as little as a few hundred dollars. This would be great if you just want to run it for an hour in the morning and evening to keep the freezer cold.
 
 
Fuel Types

I mentioned in Off grid fuels that I chose propane as one of the fuels I store. There are generators that are available off the shelf that will use propane and there are companies that will make after-market modifications to permit its use as well. I have read that a generator will go through more propane than gasoline in an hour. If this is true, I can store a large propane tank that doesn’t need to be rotated as it doesn’t go bad; the same can’t be said for gas. I have also read that propane runs quieter. I don’t know if this is true. I was able to find a company that will take the new carburetor and modify it to use gasoline, propane or natural gas. There are kits to do this, but that’s a bit out of my depth.
 
 
Noise

Noise is a factor that many people don’t take into consideration and is often a later complaint. I have read how some people will take the generator to the edge of their property line and run extension cords back to the house, just to limit the noise. Honda generators boast some of the lowest decibel ratings on the market, but Honda’s can be expensive. Review Portable Generators reviews many different generators and they look at noise as one of the factors.
 
 
Security

If your neighbors can hear your generator, you may be asked to help keep their food cold. If Joe Dirtbag can hear that you have a generator, he might try to make off with it. If you have it away from the house, chaining it down might be a good idea, if for no other reason than to slow Mr. Dirtbag down.
 
 
Wattage Calculator

Review Portable Generators has a decent Watt Calculatorbut here is a sample one. There are some items such as a refrigerator, freezer or washer that require more power at start up and require less as it runs.

You might not be able to power everything in your home at one time, but a generator of even 2000-3000 watts can simultaneously power multiple smaller electronics such as a TV, DVD player and microwave for popcorn. Or it could power one or two larger items such as a washer or dryer.

If your main goal is to keep food in the fridge or freezer from going bad, you don’t need to run the generator 24/7. A couple of hours in the morning and evening should suffice. Also, the fuller the fridge and freezer are, the longer they’ll take to thaw out. You can take up empty space with 2-liter bottles of water.
 
 
Connecting to Your Home

There are two ways to do this, either run extension cords from the generator to your appliances, or with a power transfer switch. To connect a generator directly to your home you’ll need to have an electrician install a power transfer switch (As can be seen below). This will allow you to connect the generator to the power transfer switch and then select which breakers you want powered. This will also prevent you sending power back down the line, which could harm a utility worker.
 
 
Final Thoughts

You’ll also want to store oil and filters so that you can do maintenance as needed. I was asked once about whether or not a person should start their generator or just leave it new in the box. My answer was that if you leave it in the box, you won’t know if it works and you won’t know how to use it. If you take it out of the box then you’ll need to run it once or twice a year to exercise it and make sure it runs and you’ll also need to do maintenance on it.

Generator Joe is one resource that you can use to delve deeper into the subject, there is a huge amount of information under the resource and Information tabs at the top.

 
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Off Grid Fuel

Off Grid Fuel

One of the five basic human needs is energy. We use energy to cook, to keep us warm and, in the modern world, to keep our food cold and provide entertainment. In a grid down situation some of the dependencies on this need might be scaled back or removed completely. With some forethought you can provide warmth, hot food and a maybe even a running TV and DVD player to help occupy some time.

All of these needs require fuel in one form or another. Here is a breakdown of some (I know I am missing some) types of fuel, broken up by what need they can help meet. As I am writing this I am thinking of an event such as an ice storm that has brought down the overhead power lines and my entire town is without electricity. The power company will be able to fix it, but it could take as long as a week.
 
Cooking
Wood, Charcoal, Propane and Natural Gas
 

Heating
Wood, Charcoal, Propane, Natural Gas and Kerosene
 

Emergency Power
Diesel, Gasoline, Propane and Natural Gas
 

Wood

Wood can take 6-12 months to “season” or dry out before it is best for burning. You must have a wood burning stove or fireplace to utilize it indoors. If you have an indoor fireplace, please have it inspected and don’t just keep it as the “I’ll use it if I have to” plan. It takes a lot of work to get wood to the usable size sold in local stores. Unless you have the tools and know-how, going out to get wood “if it hits the fan”, isn’t a great fall back plan. You can buy wood now and pile it, let it season until needed, but then you still need to have an indoor method to use it.
 
 
Charcoal

In my opinion charcoal is great for grilling. Having a bag or two stored might not be a bad idea. However, in my opinion, it’s not great for a grid down situation. It is for outdoor use only. You can cook with it outside but that’s about it. I don’t have much experience with storing charcoal for long periods but I have had trouble starting some that was left in the bag from the last season.
 
 
Kerosene

In truth my knowledge of kerosene is limited. What I know is from the little research I have done. I believe you can buy kerosene at Home Depot or similar stores. Other than that I can only think of one place I could buy it in bulk quantities. I have read that it can store for a very long time in a metal drum but in plastic containers, only for months. I think that has to do with the plastic leeching, but that is only a guess. The heaters that I have looked at are expensive and most say they are rated for outdoor and indoor use, with proper ventilation.
 
 
Diesel and Gasoline

Diesel stores better then gas does but neither store indefinitely, even with additives. You could use a rotation system similar to having four, five gallon containers full in the garage. Each week before you go to the gas station to fill up, you pour one of the 5 gallon containers into your vehicle. You would then take that container and put it in the back of the rotation. This way you always have 20 gallons of fuel and it should all last the month it will be in the garage. These two would primarily be used for a generator or extra fuel for the vehicles.
 
 
Natural Gas and Propane

Natural gas and propane have a lot in common. Many homes use them as their primary fuel now. Here is an article that explains some of differences between propane and natural gas. One important thing to be aware of is that both gases store indefinitely, without any additional additives.

My home uses natural gas; for the furnace, water heater, stove and dryer. If you’re in the same boat, as long as the gas company has power, we’ll have natural gas. In the ice storm scenario with no electricity, I am faced with some of the appliances having an electric start, such as the stove. I would have to carefully use a lighter on the burner to get flame. The blower in the furnace is electric as is the ignitor, so a means of powering the fan, lighting the ignitor or an alternate way of heating would still be required.

From my research on the two, natural gas is most commonly used to fuel households and some vehicles. Because propane is more easily available in smaller tanks, it is used for both of those as well and small heaters, generators, camp stoves and camp lights. It is also much more readily available. I can think of one place to get natural gas and multiple convenience stores as well as two businesses that sell propane, all within a 5 minute drive.

A warning about using the propane quick exchange machines at convenience stores, often they will only fill a 20lb tank to 15 lbs. My guess is they think they could over fill it and explode. Using those machines would be a good idea if you have a beat up tank and you wanted to exchange it. (A commenter later pointed out that it was federal law that prohibits exceeding 15lbs)

Because of the storage life, the variety of things it can be used for and the availability of it, propane is the fuel I have decided to store.

 
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