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Published on December 31st, 2019 | by Barry A.F.

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A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part Two

December 31st, 2019 by  


Due to climate change, 100-year, 500-year, and even 1000-year weather events are happening with alarming regularity. Unfortunately, we are still not at a mitigation level to avoid 1.5°C or even 2°C (2.7° F to 3.6°F) temperature rise, but of course we hope to get there before runaway climate change destroys us. Part of what we can do is to be prepared for extreme climate events. They can happen to anyone, and there is no way to know who that will be and when.

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. Nothing posted here is gospel, it is only a basis for further research. Take everything posted with a grain of salt, feel free to personalize any advice to your own unique circumstances, and neither the author nor CleanTechnica takes any responsibility for any omissions, oversights or errors.

Previous: “A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part One.”


There are many possible types of disasters that can leave you stranded and each type will dictate what you need to do to survive till services are stored. In part one, we examined the supplies you should have on hand for food/shelter/clothing. In part two, we will delve into how to handle the loss of electricity, heat, and air conditioning. While an emphasis is put on renewable energy, fossil fuels are also discussed.

Heat: Typically provided by burning fuel or using electricity either by resistance, heat pumps, or geothermal.

Air conditioning: Typically provided by heat pumps that use electricity. There is thermoelectric cooling but the efficiency is dismal.

Electricity: Typically created by burning fuel/atomic decay, which creates steam to run generators, or created by wind turning the generator directly. Also available is solar, which is an electronic solid-state device that converts photons of visible light to usable voltage.

Batteries: Do not create energy — simply store it to timeshift its use.


Fossil power vs renewable power

Obviously, CleanTechnica is a renewable energy website and the solutions will favour renewables where appropriate. That said, there is an interesting facet to the consideration of renewables vs fossil fuels. When you’re using fossil fuels, you can only survive in a disaster situation for as long as your stockpile holds out. Renewables can be generated onsite, basically indefinitely. So if you’re using a gasoline generator for power, you need to have enough fuel to last the length of the emergency, and you often cannot know how long that will be. Ditto for oil/coal/propane or wood heating. These often tend to be at least monthly or even once a season/year refills, so they should get you though a disaster situation if you’re using them for heat.

With renewable energy, your solar/wind keeps generating, though output from solar will go down in winter and wind generation will typically be lower in summer. However, you may have issues with intermittency if you’re islanded from the grid and have no battery in your system. The sizing of your system will determine how much power your system generates each day (plus the outdoor conditions, solar works in overcast weather but at a reduced duty cycle, wind often produces more in cold conditions and at night, though this is a generalization). You must also ensure you’re not exporting power to a deactivated grid, which can electrocute electricity company workers trying to restore grid power. If you have a grid tie system, ensure this was part of the grid tie controller/inverter and also that you are able to use your own power, something that is unfortunately commonly omitted from many grid tie/net metering systems.


Heating/cooling

Your climate will dictate how to handle each of these facets. A high percentage of our energy is used to maintain the temperature inside our homes. In a situation without power or fuel, this becomes incrementally more difficult. If the outdoor temperature is close to room temperature, then you will likely manage without active interior conditioning. That said, in sunlight you can still expect the building to heat up, the rate depending on the level of insulation in your walls and ceilings and the insulating value of your windows, and if any coatings to retain or reflect heat are present. However, if the outdoor temperature is amenable, you can open every window, which will help equalize the temperature indoors.

Heating

When it is below room temperature outside, your house will cool; the rate of cooling is dependent on the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, insulation, how windy it is outside, and snow accumulations, if any. Your home (house, apartment, cave, etc.) has a great deal of thermal mass and should have insulation (if it’s missing insulation, you can look into safely retrofitting it). This affects the rate of cooling down, a Passivhaus in a “mild” climate could survive for days before getting below freezing while an uninsulated and air leaky house could cool to below freeing within hours when the temperature difference is large. If you are unable to keep your house warm, then follow the advice in Part One, turn off your water service and drain the pipes at the lowest point to hopefully prevent pipe bursts when water freezes in the pipes.

Depending on the cause of the emergency, outdoor temperature, and your available supplies, you may not be able to heat the house at all, or you may be able to heat it partially or intermittently, or you may be able to keep your residence at room temperature as if there was no grid outage at all.

Most homes are heated by natural gas, electricity (either resistance, heat pump, or geothermal), or other bulk fuel. If you’re on grid electricity and the power goes out, all three of these will likely fail. If you have natural gas but not electricity, in most cases, your home won’t be able to be heated since the furnace controls and motors require electricity to function. If you have a generator, you could use it to run the furnace in order to utilize that natural gas (explained below). Gasoline generators are a perennial favourite, and will work until you run out of fuel, which depends on how large your petrol stockpile is. Remember to keep fuel fresh, and add stabilizer as soon as you purchase it. If you have solar/wind/battery on site, and your residence is wired to self utilize them, then you can use them to keep your furnace running, assuming they generate enough surplus to do so. Battery backup is uncommon at the moment (this will change in time), but even if you have only solar you can heat your home in the day if it’s generating enough to run the furnace. In this case, you want to overheat your house in the daytime to try to carry you through the night. This may not work perfectly, and will use more fuel since the greater the temperature difference, the faster it tries to equalize (thanks to thermodynamics), but if it’s the best you can do, you should do so. Aim for 5–10°C (41–50°F) overheat (>5°C can become quite uncomfortable). The lower the heat load of the home (well insulated and air sealed and the lower the temperature difference to the outdoors), the longer you can coast.

Just having electricity is not enough. You have to make sure you have the ability to use it for your furnace. A standalone generator needs an interconnect, which is wise to sort out beforehand. A solar/wind system even if grid tied has to be able to be self consumed (proper inverter/interconnect) either by plug or hard wired into the home’s panel. If you have a battery, it’s more likely to be integrated for this already but ensure it is well before the emergency. In a crunch you could rewire your furnace, which typically uses 120V or 240V AC, to plug into a standalone generator, but if you screw up, you could electrocute yourself, set your home on fire or destroy the furnace’s electronics, meaning no heat when you need it most — during an emergency — and a huge repair bill later. It’s a better risk than dying (if you cannot evacuate) but it’s much smarter to prepare beforehand so this risk becomes unnecessary.

If you lose natural gas service in an emergency, heating your home electrically if the grid is still operating is possible, but it will get expensive very quickly, and if too many people in your area try to do this, it could overload the grid. You can use multiple space heaters, which are not expensive to buy. The larger the load or the lower the insulation level of your home, the more units you will need. If you know the 99% design temperature heating load, you could buy enough space heaters to somewhat exceed it, though this will likely mean many units and the storage space to keep them in could take up a shelf or two. To determine this load, get an energy audit of your home done or find out if the construction plans have this information (depending on the age of the home and your local building codes). There is also a method to determine your peak load based on your bills and HDD. If you’re using geothermal or air source heat pumps, then your electricity should continue as it was before the emergency, though be prepared in case grid power fails.

A caveat: if you have fossil generators, renewables, and/or battery backup, be sure they can handle startup surges.

If you heat your home with coal/oil/propane/natural gas, it’s likely to need electricity to run the motors and associated electronics. But not always, some fireplaces and stoves can run without power, and may heat only a room or in rare cases the whole structure. However, if their air source is indoor air, you will find they heat the rooms they are in, and drastically cool the other rooms in the home, ideally they should have piping to use outdoor air. Some units can have this retrofitted if desired, while others cannot.

At present, fossil fuel generators are typically more cost effective than renewable assets to do the same but the costs of renewables are continuing to decline. And the focus on cost has another interesting wrinkle: a gasoline generator and fuel is only good for camping/emergencies while solar/wind/battery can pay for itself and even earn you profit when self consumed or grid tied, which is most of their decades-long lifetime, much longer than any emergency you will likely face. Renewables also have no external costs, such as exacerbating the climate crisis or respiratory health issues.

Finally, if heating is not feasible (which is remarkably common), you can instead use clothing to keep the occupants warm. You can also partially heat your residence, and then use warm clothing — maintain the residence at, say, 10°C (50°F) and make up the difference with warm clothing. Choose a partial temperature to heat to considering the outdoor conditions, your available fuel supplies, and bearing in mind that too close to freezing can harm the building (temperature gradients can still cause pipes to freeze because they are getting cooler than other parts of the structure), and many high-efficiency furnaces don’t like being used at low temperatures — for example, many gas furnaces have a 15°C (59°F) lower temperature limit per the manufacturer. The biggest problem with partial heating is that you need to know the heating load of your building and the heat output/amount of fuel you have. If you’re only going to get 5°C (41°F) at -25°C (-13°F), you might be better off saving your fuel for more important uses or evacuating/combining resources with neighbours if it’s an option.

Clothing is available to keep you warm in most climates outdoors (do further research and purchase judiciously), and for night time, sleeping bags are also available that can go down to -40° (C and F). Aim for the 99% design temperature or a bit lower and with vents since not every day/night will be this cold in an emergency. These can get pricey quickly and should be purchased well in advance of an emergency (also giving you the opportunity to keep an eye out for sales). Keep all clothing dry, since wetness harms insulation value. Also, buying quality, imitation, and knockoff products with fake ratings only serve to harm you when you need them most.

In many locations, if you can you get to 5–10 ft (152–305 cm) underground, the temperature gravitates towards 7–10°C (45–50°F) year round. You can use this to your advantage — while it may not be room temperature, it’s easier to stay warm when the temperature difference is reduced (you can combine this with your cold temperature rated clothing/sleeping bags). Many homes and other buildings have basements. If it is insulated from the earth, it will gravitate towards the above-grade floor temperatures unless the basement ceiling is also insulated, which helps minimize this, something to bear in mind. Basement windows hurt insulation value. Secure a couple blankets on them if possible, but be careful not to make your basement completely airtight, as CO2 causes issues for humans at levels as low as 1000ppm.

It may also be a good idea to keep adequate numbers of sleeping bags also rated to your 99% design temperature in the car in case you or your family ever get trapped away from home in winter, as well as having an auto club membership and a cell phone. It’s also a good practice to always have a minimum of half a tank of fuel (electrons or fossil) so that you have a buffer if you’re trapped somewhere but the engine/heater still functions. In most countries, even if your phone does not have service it can call 911 or your local equivalent if there are cell towers in range. Some guides advocate leaving an old cell phone you no longer use in the glove box in case you need it to call emergency services and your primary phone (if applicable) is dead or goes missing. This may not work if it cannot boot when plugged into a USB power source (assuming you have a USB source in the vehicle and charging cable) because the battery bricked itself being left uncharged for months or years, which will vary by phone model. Repeated high temperatures can also cause lithium batteries to explode, so a phone left in a vehicle in hot summers is not a good idea either.

Summer cooling

If you live in a location that needs air conditioning, then you need electricity to run it as non-electrical cooling is extremely rare. However, once you lose power, there is a lag time before the indoor temperature equalizes with the outdoor ambient temperature (plus sun warming). In the daytime, when the sun is out, your building is receiving high doses of thermal energy plus the air temperature difference between inside and outside is slight. If the structure is uninsulated (or even sometimes if it’s not well insulated), it could become hotter than the outdoor temperature quite quickly. Beyond insulation, the thermal mass of the building means there is an additional lag before it heats up. However, on the flip side, when the outside air is cooling back down, this thermal mass will be cooled down as well. Try to manage with the least amount of cooling possible if you don’t have renewables.

If you have renewables, you can use them in the daytime when you will likely have excess solar to keep your residence at room temperature. If applicable, balance charging your batteries with your air conditioning usage— you may decide to charge batteries first, then cool the indoor air; or half and half; or cool first and then charge batteries; all depending on your situation and capacities of your solar/wind/batteries. Try not to use any cooling at night unless you have excess wind generation/solar gain. Your home will not heat up nearly as quickly at night as it will during the day if the temperature at night stays below room temperature.

Often night time is cooler than daytime, which can be used to cool your residence. Window fans if you have a good amount of stored electricity can help to keep your home cool. However, on nights with the outdoor temperature above the indoor temperature, this will not work. Though, you can still cool your home even if it’s slightly warmer then your ideal, if your residence is, say, 33°C (91°F) and outdoors is 25°C (77°F), for example, you can aim to cool to this temperature even if it’s not at the 22°C (72°F) you wanted (all numbers simply used for demonstration). Indoor and outdoor temperatures can be determined with thermometers if you have them — it is worth keeping several on hand, one per floor and one for outdoors. Purchase devices that do not require batteries or can run months or years on cheap batteries. Make sure the calibration is adequate before an emergency. If not being used regularly, do not leave alkaline batteries inside them, as leakage can destroy products. Most phones and tablets have temperature sensors inside them and can be read by different apps, but if they are in your pocket instead of on a table for the last couple of hours, they will give the wrong readings. Once you start using it, the temperature will rise quickly — you want to turn on the screen and get the temperature within a few seconds for accuracy. Be sure to check its calibration well in advance of any emergency. If you still have cell service, and the data works when you take it off airplane mode, a weather app may give you current outdoor temperature and expected forecast conditions. Screen capture the forecast for the next week or two to save battery and in case data stops working later. Go back to airplane mode after you check the weather.

When cooling with outdoor night time air, the building’s thermal mass can often make it feel like you’re making no progress even if you are but very slowly, plus you need a large volume fan(s) to achieve significant cooling depending on the size of your residence. If you have whole house ventilation fans, these can be useful as well, but determine their energy consumption before deciding if you should use them. If you don’t have electricity, leaving all windows open with no fans running can cause some cooling, though this is highly dependent on the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, if there is any outdoor wind (the more the better) and how much thermal mass you have to cool. You can also use the stack effect to your advantage, as warmer air rises — if you have an attic access you can open it to allow warmer air to escape which would bring in cooler air from lower level windows. This can also be used in multiple story homes, opening upstairs and downstairs windows and ensuring airflow between floors (keep the doors open). This can also help if there are chimneys with dampers that can be opened in addition to lower floor or basement windows.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, at 5–10 ft (152–305 cm) underground in many places, the temperature gravitates towards 7–10°C (45–50°F) year round. In summer, the radiant and conductive heat from above grade floor will also heat basements, but they still tend to stay cooler than above grade, which is even more pronounced if they are uninsulated. If the basement ceilings have insulation, they can also help keep them cooler without active air conditioning. Be sure to not use any basement appliances unless you have the power to run the air conditioning, as their power consumption adds heat to the basement. If you have fridges downstairs, try to empty them if possible and turn them off or at the very least move the food upstairs and do any cooking upstairs if you choose to do any indoor cooking at all (covered later).


Electricity

There are many methods to generate power in an emergency:

Solar

Solar panels can be installed on roofs or poles or other structures and allow you to generate power whenever the sun is shining. As someone once said, a solar panel is like a rock that generates electricity.

They typically come in panels designed for permanent installation (choose an installation mount that can stand up to hurricanes even if it costs a bit extra), but they also come in portable and even fold-up panels for portability. Permanent installations cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but they offset your electricity usage, reducing or zeroing your bill, and if grid tied, and eligible in your location, you can sell power to your local utility, hence they pay for themselves over time (and they can even earn you profit), which is something that you can’t do with fossil fuel generators. You can buy them starting from 0.25kW to 20kW or more, depending on your funds available, and the amount of space you have for installation. You want to install them on the roof side that gets the most sun, and place them in unshaded areas of your roof if possible, as shading cuts panel output. If they get covered in snow in winter, it doesn’t hurt to have a suitable, extendable snow removal tool.

Small portable panels tend to have much lower output, but they are also cheaper in absolute terms. You can get many in the USD$20–200 range. They come in various sizes, some are even foldable and can be rolled up like a yoga mat. These panels are best for small uses such as charging phone/tablet batteries, rechargeable lanterns, portable power banks for your electronics, and so forth.

Wind

Wind power is not as common for residential use but small units in the 250–1,000W range are available in many countries. They generate power, and are ideally mounted above obstacles in the near vicinity that slow down the wind (buildings, trees, fences, etc.). They typically have a lower capacity factor than solar and produce more intermittently during the day but tend to do better at night, and on windy days/nights can produce impressive amounts of power. There are even DIY wind power systems on YouTube if you are handy, and adventurous.

Batteries

As mentioned earlier, batteries do not generate power, they only store it for future use. At this time, bulk battery storage is expensive, but the prices will come down over time. The uses are becoming more innovative. Recently, CleanTechnica reviewed this unit, which provides 100Wh of power in a 120V usable form. This would not power a fridge or furnace but would power a small fan, LED lights, phones, and other small power uses. Expect more varieties of battery storage to become available in the future.

Portable generators

The most popular are gasoline generators that are available in most countries for somewhat reasonable prices. These are typically noisy, smelly, and can be unreliable unless you buy premium brands. In addition, they need fuel, typically gasoline, but you can get models that run on propane, natural gas, or other fossil fuels. All of these pollute the air, so they are less desirable than the renewable choices. If you are going to use these devices, purchase inverter generators. More information here.

These will last as long as you have fuel for them. In some locations, regulations only allow you to legally store a certain volume of fuel, so be careful not to break these laws as your building insurance could deny your claim if your house were to burn down either because of the volume of fuel present or if something else causes a fire but the insurance company learns you coincidentally had too much fuel onsite.

The maintenance requirements of these devices typically includes oil changes, regular carburetor cleanings, and so forth. It’s also a good idea to use them occasionally to make sure they are still working correctly. If you’re mechanically inclined, learning to repair and rebuild the engine is a useful skill to have, but as the world moves more and more to renewables, the value of this skill diminishes.

Natural gas generators

There are several types, combined heat power units (if you can find them, they were a very short-lived fad) or a whole house energy generator such as a Generac natural gas powered generator. These are expensive and work as long as you have natural gas service (which is more reliable then electricity but not guaranteed in a natural disaster scenario, and it sometimes causes building explosions). These are typically permanently linked to your power supply, and automatically take over and provide electricity if an outage occurs. They typically require regular maintenance, in some cases only available by a professional.

There are many technologies available, from lithium ion (Tesla, sonnen, and others) to lead acid (fickle but cheap), nickel iron (expensive but incredible durability), lithium iron phosphate, NiMH, and more. Lithium ion is sexy and well known, so it’s what most people go for, but the others have advantages and disadvantages over lithium to consider — from lower cost to superior durability to greater safety to higher availability. Hence, don’t limit your scope when looking for batteries, and don’t assume lithium ion is the only technology that can meet your needs.

Finally, sometimes you can exploit batteries from products you have, such as power tools, travel scooters, UPS systems, etc. You might have to use an inverter to convert the voltage to match your needs. Don’t forget to scavenge batteries from your remotes, game controllers, clocks, and anything else battery powered in your home.

Vehicle battery

If you own an EV, you can use it for power as mentioned in Part One. You can also use an ICE vehicle for power, but this is very inefficient. With the engine running, you can use an inverter plugged into a cigarette lighter to provide 100–150W (check the fuse rating/owners manual for your vehicle(s) to determine how large of an inverter you can use here), or you can hook up a larger inverter to the battery also with the engine running. Generating power from a vehicle engine will use fuel at an accelerated rate but will provide electricity as a last resort. If you have a meter built into the vehicle that can measure liters used over time (or you can purchase an OBD plug and pair with a suitable cell phone app or purchase a Scangauge or similar), then you can estimate how long your remaining fuel will keep you powered (bearing in mind many non-numerical gas gauges are not linear with the first half lasting longer than the second half). This of course adds lots of engine wear, as long idling periods are not good for an automobile engine.

In general, you do not want to use the car battery without the engine running because it’s made of a thin-plate lead-acid chemistry designed to provide high startup current to get the engine started but that is very intolerant to deep discharges or many cycles. You can easily destroy a car battery by draining it, and keeping it drained for a few days. Plus, it won’t be able to start the car to recharge itself if you use it too long with the vehicle not turned on. However, if you have no other choice, as a last resort, you can drain it for extra power. Expect that unless it’s less then a year old, you won’t get the Ah rating on it, as starting a vehicle actually only uses a very small percent of its capacity and its capacity can be mostly gone and still be able to start the car but not power much else for long with the car not running.

Other

Finally, at least two unlikely candidates are available, the first being a bicycle connected to a generator producing electricity. An average human can generate 100W continuously for many hours a day. The better shape you are in, the more power you can generate. Where to find a generator to attach to a bicycle is an open question. Consume extra calories to offset the power being generated. Expect to use about 400–500 extra calories per hour of cycling at 100W output. You will also increase the amount of heat your body is putting into the room from about 100W/h (340 BTU) at rest to 500W/h (1700BTU) while cycling.

Finally, you can go the Tesla route.

In an emergency situation, where you use your power is vitally important, and you need to cut your power usage to the minimum necessary levels. You must determine your available power and then correlate this with your needs and wants. Fortunately, in many cases outside of heating and cooling, you can actually do with very little electricity — though, it does make life much more convenient if it’s available.

If you’re in a situation where you can run your entire home on your daily renewable production or utility-fueled natural gas generator, then you can continue your normal usage patterns. Bear in mind the natural gas generator could stop receiving fuel at any time. If you’re using stored fuel (gasoline, propane, diesel, etc.), you must use only the bare essentials, and assume you’re going to run out before the emergency is over because you do not know how long the supply has to last you. If you have both renewables and fossil fuels, you can use the renewables to supplant fossil fuels where possible, extending their supply and reducing pollution. If your renewables are able to cover your entire emergency needs, you may not need fossil fuels at all.

Keep in mind, if you are powering your entire home instead of items specifically plugged into a generator/battery, make sure you unplug everything in your home not in current use, as most devices have some phantom power usage and you can’t afford to waste a single watt of energy. Items such as cable boxes, internet equipment, items with power bricks, TVs, VCRs, and other appliances can have huge cumulative phantom loads you might not be aware of, and they can add up to several kilowatts a day.

The essentials typically include lighting (LED lanterns are miserly) and lifesaving equipment (if applicable). Before an emergency, measure exactly how much power lifesaving equipment uses per day so you can determine how long your stored battery or fossil fuel will last. Next comes heating, cooling, and refrigeration if feasible. If the outdoor temperature is suitable, you can use it for refrigeration or freezing while properly protecting your food from animals. As mentioned earlier, juggle all of these against battery charging if applicable, whether this includes phone/tablet/power banks/NiMH batteries or larger kW-scale batteries you might have. Beyond this, you can continue to add other essentials, and optional usage if you have the extra renewable supply. In some cases, renewables will have excess in the daytime, which you can use for over-heating/cooling and then for luxuries after you have fulfilled your other essential needs. In general, you should follow the rule that fossil fuel power should be reserved for only essentials and renewables should first be used for essentials and then for discretionary uses if you have excess.

If you have battery storage and fossil fuels, but none or not enough renewable generation, it may be prudent to charge the battery off of your fossil generator, which will cut idling losses. Do the math on this one before choosing which option is best.

Some items will have a startup surge, which can be problematic for generators/batteries. These surges can come from refrigerators, air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, and so forth, and may require a large amount of power for under a minute for startup, and this can tax your energy source’s peak output ability. Plan for this when planning your backup systems. You may need professional assistance to determine if your plans will cover these, sometimes you can get away with google. Don’t forget the old adage, trust but verify.

One thing to bear in mind is that low-quality inverters can produce poor-quality power, and some electronics are very sensitive to imperfect AC power. The last thing you want is to burn out your appliances because the inverter powering them produced a modified sine wave or noisy/spiked power. Research this on any inverter you intend to purchase beforehand.

It is prudent to know before an emergency how much power everything in your home uses, especially all essentials. A Kill A Watt or similar measuring device is extremely useful to measure the power needs of any plug-in product. For items like furnaces, you may need a clamp meter or a whole house energy monitor, or you might try contacting the manufacturer.

As mentioned in Part One, you want to avoid food preparation that requires energy. However, if you have excess renewables, then there is no harm in using it. Bear in mind you don’t want to start cutting into your fossil fuel or battery reserves. You may also consider a charcoal or propane BBQ or burner for cooking that can be used outdoors in warm weather to not further heat your house, and also outdoors in winter so you avoid carbon monoxide concerns. If it’s too cold outside to use your propane/coal, do not use them indoors due to the fumes that they generate.

During natural disasters, there are often reports of deaths from monoxide poisoning by people attempting to heat their homes with BBQs, natural gas, gas stoves run continuously, or other types of combustion. Do not become a statistic. Do not burn combustibles outside their intended uses and even kerosene lamps used indoors with windows closed can lead to deadly monoxide. Avoid them.

Also, it’s typically wise to avoid “unvented” heaters. They have oxygen sensors but no monoxide sensors and vent their pollution indoors. Breathing untreated and concentrated pollution is extremely hazardous to your health.

In most locations, the law requires you to have smoke detectors in your home. Many locations also mandate carbon monoxide detectors. It is excellent practice to have both in your home, in sufficient numbers and installed in the recommended locations. It is also wise to have an extra of each detector above the mandated minimum (especially monoxide), and to be sure that they are all properly installed.

There are ionization and photoelectric smoke detector technologies available, consider carefully which technology you use — photoelectric may have an edge despite being more costly. But far more important is to make sure they are all working, so test them at least monthly (set a recurring reminder on your phone). If your detectors are hardwired, ensure they have battery backup, and test this as well (you should be able to cut power to them at your breaker box — if the test cannot detect a failed battery, check the documentation or contact the manufacturer). Keep several extra batteries on hand and replace as soon as you use an extra. Smoke detectors typically have a 10 year recommended life; replace them when the time has elapsed. When installing a new one, if there is no date-manufactured label on the detector, write the month and year of installation on the back with a permanent marker.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors use a different sensing technology than smoke detectors, and this technology is more susceptible to VOC fouling. If the detectors are hardwired, ensure there is battery backup and test regularly. These often have a 7–10 year life after which they should be replaced. Try to avoid installing them near washing machines, clothes dryers, or where chemicals are used, as these produce VOCs, which can foul sensors more quickly. Unvented heaters are more likely to foul up the sensors on your monoxide detectors due to the untreated pollution they generate in large amounts, possibly rendering monoxide detectors useless silently, another reason to avoid using them.


The following is a list of energy requirements of common products. This is a very generalized list and you should in fact not use it for planning purposes. Determine the usage for your own appliances with a Kill A Watt or other suitable meter. Notice the huge variations.

  • Single LED bulb 5–15W/h
  • LED lantern 0.25–10W/h (use these if electricity is at a premium)
  • Single incandescent light bulb 40–150W/h
    (replace with LED or battery powered LED lanterns.)
  • Refrigerator 500–10,000Wh/day
  • Chest freezer 400–2500Wh/day
  • Phone/tablet charger 2.5–25W/h
  • Furnace (non heat pump or resistance heat) 100–1500W/h
  • Air source heat pump 1000–15000W/h
  • Plug in electrical space heater 500–1500W/h (North America)
  • Window air conditioners 500–2000W/h
  • Central air 1000–6000W/h
  • HRV 25–1500W/h
  • Window fan 25–500W/h
  • Water well pump 500–7500W/h

Stove elements on a gas range typically use zero watts but need a spark to activate. You can use a BBQ lighter for this. Be careful to ensure ventilation, since gas fumes and combustion products are toxic and you may not have air circulation or a vent fan during an emergency, not to mention the high CO2 levels and low cooking efficiency of these units, which adds to summer cooling loads. The ovens on a gas range could require 0–1000W/h but present the same CO and CO2 risks.


Avoid using these unless you have excess renewables you would be throwing away otherwise:

  • Desktop computer 50–1000W/h
  • Televisions 10–1000W/h
  • Dishwasher 200–3000Wh/load
  • Hair dryer 500–1500W/h
  • Furnace blower motor set on constant recirculation 100–1000W/h
  • Electric stove burner 1000–3500W/h
  • Hotplate burner for cooking 1000–2000W/h
  • Microwave 600–1800W/h
  • Induction hotplate 60–2000W/h
    600–800W will generally keep water boiling
  • Washing machine 200–1000Wh/load
  • Vacuum 100–2000W/h
  • Clothes dryer 4000–6000W/h
  • Toaster 500–2000W/h
  • Electric water heater 2500–10,000W/h when heating cold water

Other interesting information

If you’re going to prepare for a natural disaster and find this guide useful, it’s worth saving it to your mobile device(s). This can be done on Android: by using Chrome > 3 dots > download icon; or Firefox > 3 dots > Page > Save as PDF. I don’t have any iDevices, but they surely also have some sort of saving/offline viewing option.

In conclusion, disaster resilience is part preparedness in supplies, part preparedness in knowledge, and not panicking. There are many other literary resources available that explain disaster preparedness in more detail than this article and that have other ideas as well. As was mentioned in the disclaimer, all information presented here is only a basis for further research and it is advisable to do that further research so that you are able to make the best choices in supplies and behaviours if a natural disaster occurs. 
 

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About the Author

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism.   A link to all my articles



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