June 24, 2017

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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Fire Safety, Before and After the Fan

Fire Safety, Before and After the Fan

Fire safety is something I think everyone should be practicing now when times are normal and you’re not in a survival situation, so that you can prevent or minimize the danger of a fire. In a survival situation, the danger of a fire starting and the damage it can cause are magnified. The reason for this is that people who do not normally use candles, their fireplace or other alternate heat sources, use a skill set they have minimal experience with. Depending on the situation you may or may not have electricity and if you are connected to city sewer and water, there is a very good chance you will not have running water.

Here is some information to help you develop a fire safety plan now as well as some things to keep in mind should you find yourself in a survival situation.
 
 
Have a Plan

Ideally every room should have two exits, a door and at least one window. In multiple story homes have a plan to safely get to the ground. Make sure everyone knows to check the door for heat with the back of their hand and to not open it if it is hot.

School age children have to do fire drills often multiple times a year at school. Doing them in the home is a great idea as well. Explain the primary exit and the backup ones. Make sure they understand how to unlock the window and get it open as well as getting the screens out of the way.

Have a designated meeting place that is near the home; a neighbor, mailbox, anywhere that is a safe distance from the fire. Make sure everyone knows where it is.
 
 
Sound the Alarm

The code might be different where you live, but in Minnesota it is code to have a smoke detector in every bedroom. If this isn’t code where you live, it is a good idea.

Here is a report that says that ”Only 58% of kids even woke up to the sound of a fire alarm.“. There are fire alarms that record your voice. This is a great idea, as you can say the child’s name and remind them of what they are to do.

It is a good practice to test the alarms every month and to replace the batteries every six months. You can use the old batteries for other non-life saving things, like the remote. Daylight savings is a great time to replace the batteries. There are some smoke detectors that come with carbon monoxide detectors built in, you should have at least one of these in my opinion.
 
 
Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguisher : 101 is a site that explains all things fire extinguishers, including types of fire extinguishers, how to use them and care and maintenance of them. I personally have one in each bedroom, one in the kitchen and one in the basement near the furnace, washer and dryer and one in each car.

Fire extinguishers are not meant for fighting a fully engulfed fire. They are a great tool for fighting small fires, shortly after they have started.

Here is a video to give you some idea of how fast a fire can spread.

Here is a video that covers the important information about fire extinguishers.


 
 
Important Documents

Be they family photos, wills, insurance papers or anything else of importance, it is a very good idea to have these kept in a fire resistant, waterproof container. Another good idea is to have a record of all serial numbers, model numbers and other pertinent information. Here is a Serial Number Recording Form that I created in PDF format. You can write down the important information for your valuables. I also recommend taking pictures of your valuables. You can store them on a flash drive that you use solely for important information. It should be kept in the fire resistant waterproof container.
 
 
Post Smelly Fan Blades (aka. “after it hits the fan”)

In a survival situation, the danger of a non-controlled fire is much higher. The reason for this is that often the electricity will be out and there will be no heat or light. This means that people will use alternative heat and light sources that they might not use often, such as candles, outdoor fires etc. The other reason the danger is higher is that if there is no electricity, there is no water pressure to help fight the fire.

In a short term situation, just practicing extra vigilance should be all that is needed. Make sure that if there are candles going, they are being used in a room that you are in and are not left unattended.

For an outdoor fire, keep burning restrictions in mind; if it’s too dry and windy, it might be best not to burn. If there are no restrictions and the weather is permitting, having an extinguisher nearby is a good idea. If you have a well or the water is running, a close by hose might be a good idea as well. Remember, as Smokey the Bear says “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave”.

If the situation is long term and there is no power, prudence might dictate that the scope of the vigilance be increased. Work with your community to limit burning to a few community areas or have a fire watch posted that can alert the entire community if smoke is seen.

At the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, fire “destroyed six and severely damaged about 25 booths on the grounds” I bring this up because there are no fire hydrants on the festival grounds and if there is no electricity, this means the pumps are not pushing water to the fire hydrants nearby your home, so they are uselss. In the article, it says that at one time there were twelve fire trucks being used to put the fire out. If it has hit the fan, the best your neighborhood might be able to do is get a bucket brigade going and that’s only helpful if you live near a body of water or have a large amount of water available such as a swimming pool or multiple rain barrels.

As in everything we prepare for, in a long term situation, it might be wise to do what you can to mitigate the danger beforehand. I read a fictional story once, the name of which escapes me. In the book, the characters knew they were at high risk for a fire. They took some pretty drastic measures to save their homes. They cut down any trees within 50 or so yards, dug up grass near the homes which left the earth exposed. I don’t think that I thought much about it at the time, but if there was imminent threat of a fire, who knows what might sound like a good idea.

 
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