A reasonable plan toward residential solar or other renewable energy

Solar Installed

Solar energy is expensive. It currently costs more than grid energy, leaving many people to conclude it isn’t worth it. If your motivation to choose alternative energy is mostly to save money – you won’t get that outcome with this information.

At present – establishing alternate energy at home has not yet reached financial parity with grid power. For most of the general public, an investment in your own private renewable energy infrastructure is going to be more expensive, or at best break even. There are exceptions – like those with exceptional wind or hydro capacity on their property, however, most people won’t be the exception.

So…. is saving money the only reason to pursue renewable energy? No! Here are some other solid reasons for doing so:

  • More energy independence
  • Emergency power
  • Energy reliability or performance
  • Earth stewardship (* this is a nuanced idea)

In our case, we work from home – one of us as a web technology consultant. Lost power = lost work = lost income. Rather than have to pack up and go to town every time the power goes out (which is often not possible due to weather), it made good sense to install solar for backing up the business.

For those just interested in living on the cheap – stop reading this now. Other than some tips that might help you save 10-15% on your current energy bill, you’re not going to find much else below.

Below is a plan for “baby steps” one can take toward obtaining and using renewable energy. This is a plan that requires on-going, incremental changes and investments rather than a large, all-up-front expenditure. This approach delays the more significant costs until they are the only remaining ‘next step’. Doing so helps avoid financing these steps and also allows one to learn along the way and revise the plan as necessary. This should ultimately make renewable energy less expensive to implement in the long run but still allows a family to benefit along the way.

The following steps will allow your household to accomplish energy reliability, security, and sustainability in increasing measures over a period of time. You could compress these steps into months, or stretch them out over years of decades. Anyone can follow this approach in a time-frame that meets their budget.

Step 1: Measure and Monitor Usage ($)

If you don’t know how much energy you consume, you cannot adequately determine what you will need from a renewable energy system.  Likewise, if you cannot adequately size an emergency backup generator system without knowing what you need. You could easily spend an unnecessary $1-2k on too large of a generator sheerly for not knowing the loads you will need to support.

Measuring consumption is uber important! Our first step doing so was to purchase a Kill-a-watt (~$40). This allowed us to see what individual appliances were consuming, find and remove “ghost loads” (things that consume power when not “on” or “in use”) and gain insights into our usage.

Next, we invested in a system called The Energy Detective (TED). TED allows us to measure all our energy use for the entire household, down to the second. We have a large and complex household electrical system, so we got the TED version that monitors up to 4 panels. Our cost was around~$500, but a typical cost would be between $150-$299. Though we’ve not tried it, Neurio, another home energy monitor looks promising.

Some may already be balking at such expenses. Let me encourage you with this: It is typical that when a household starts to monitor usage to see a resulting decrease in use of around 10%.  Awareness of use causes changes to behaviors and patterns. What is 10% of your electric bill and at what point is a $200-299 investment worthwhile to make such an investment?

Step 2: Reduce consumption (FREE to $)

With an awareness of how you are using energy comes an almost-automatic reduction in usage. When you begin to associate dollars and cents with things being on/off, you start to change your behavior. You also start to consider what can be done to reduce your usage.

Get this idea in your mind now… By reducing your consumption immediately, you are ultimately reducing the size (and therefore cost) of a renewable energy system. Make sense?

There are three main ways once reduces consumption:

  1. Changing behavior
  2. Managing use
  3. Replacing offenders

Changing behavior – These are mostly simple changes – like choosing to run your dryer less or at times that are less expensive. Or, even better, get a clothesline – one of the best and cheapest solar appliances ever invented! Changing behavior might also entail turning lights off when you leave a room, turning your computer off when you’re not using it. That sort of stuff. These changes are usually zero cost.

One idea we really like is taking one day a week to have an ‘energy sabbath’ of sorts. Turn off / unplug everything non-critical and focus on togetherness. You could stand to save 15% of your power bill, reduce pollution, and be better off for the time spent together.

Managing use – Similar to changing behavior, managing use includes establishing minimal devices that manage how and when power is consumed. An example might be power strips that turn off peripheral devices  (printer, DVD player, XBOX) when a related main device such as a tv or computer is turned off. These require minimal investment but reduce consumption.  Another great example is the addition of low-cost means of reducing electric energy consumption. This might entail installing (and using!) a clothesline (can you tell we’re fans of clotheslines?) or installing a wood stove to rely less on electric heat.

Replacing Offenders – Though not always necessary, sometimes the best investments one can make in their energy consumption can entail replacing appliances or devices that inefficiently use energy. Still using a fridge or freezer from twenty years ago? Upgrading those appliances to Energy Star, or otherwise, more efficient versions will offer your more payback in the long run than keeping them. The same can be true of water heaters, furnaces, etc. Again… remember that the lower your energy consumption now, the smaller the renewable energy system you will need, and you may potentially have more funds to dedicate to such from paying less for electricity.

Step 3: Isolate critical loads ($$)

You are going to quickly discourage yourself away from backup or renewable energy if you try to size either system based on your total electricity use. Forgeddaboudit! Instead, determine what are your “critical loads” and seek to first back them up (ie. with a generator) and secondly, later on, to run them from renewable energy. You’ll thank us that you took this approach if you do since you’ll have much better understanding of how things work.

This step involves auditing all your electrical circuits to determine which ones are critical or essential. For example, if you live in the country, this might include your well pump, septic pumps, etc. For most people, it will include a refrigerator and/or freezer. It should include some lights. Here’s a great way to determine this… Carefully consider what your “must haves” are in the event of a power outage of seven days and place every circuit in one of three columns: “Don’t need”, “Nice to have”, “Must have”. If you take our “energy sabbath” idea to heart and try this throughout the year, you should already have an idea what things you must have operational.

Once you’ve done this, you should begin to physically isolate those critical loads. This is often done in either a generator panel or a sub-panel that is wired into/alongside your main electric panel. The goal here is two-fold. 1) Separate the circuits and 2) provide switchable backup power to these circuits. This is work best done by professionals or very capable DIYers.

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

In the future, if/when you get to renewable energy, it will be far easier to do when your physical infrastructure has organized these critical loads into one place.

Furthermore, measuring your critical loads (ie. with a TED or other energy monitor) is also easier at this point. This point is worth emphasizing. When your loads are isolated – even if not yet backed-up, you can now measure them independently and begin to do so right away. Measure them for a few months, or a year or even better a full year. You will gain valuable information needed to accurately size a backup power solution and/or an alternative energy solution.

Why? Because you will gain information such as your persistent, average, and peak electrical loads on your critical circuits. With this information in hand, you can determine the exact size of a backup generator, solar panels, wind turbine, batteries, etc. You will also be able to determine what items from your “Nice to haves” might be able to be moved to your “critical loads”.

Take it to the next level: Energy consumption is meausured  (in North America) in kWh (killowatt hours). That is a measurement of “watts hours” (Wh) divided by 1000. A Watt Hour (Wh) is the measurement of watts consumed x the hours used. If you had a 100 w bulb on for 24 hours a day (100 W x 24h = 2400 Wh). To get the kWh, divide this by 1000 (2400 Wh / 1000 = 2.4 kWh). Add up the watt hours of all the appliances you want to support with solar, and you’ll get your total Watt Hours. Just don’t overlook that not all appliances run constantly, but at intervals throughout the day. A simple enery monitor such as a Kill-a-watt does all this work for you.

Watts is a measurement of  Amps x Volts. So if you have an appliance that uses 15 Amps and a voltage of 12oV it will use 1800 Watts. Now… if you then run thata 3 hours a day, what do you suppose the Wh might be? If you guessed 5400, you’re correct. And in kWh? Yes, 5.4 kWh!

These numbers are important for all conversations pertaining to sizing backup or renewable energy.

These steps require the help of a qualified professional and WILL cost money – perhaps several thousand dollars. However, they are a worthwhile investment into your future and will save you potentially thousands of dollars wasted on over-sized solutions later on.

Step 4: Backup Essentials ($$)

When you isolate your critical loads, it is now far easier to back them up. Usually, this is done with a generator, some sort of physical transfer switch, and a generator input receptacle. If you’ve done the steps above, especially monitoring, you will know what your critical/essential loads require and what size generator is necessary to meet those requirements.

Once again (unless combined with the previous step), the services of a qualified professional electrician are required here. The cost is not trivial, but not unbearable either. You will need to purchase a generator, transfer switch, and a means of connecting the generator to the transfer switch. Additionally, you will need to secure the services for connecting all these things together.

When you are done, you will have the means to run your critical electrical circuits on backup/emergency generator. You will also then have much of the infrastructure in place for eventually powering these same loads with renewable energy.

How we did it: When we were at such a phase, we used a simple double pole, double throw (DPDT) switch that had two inputs – one from our main service panel, the other from a generator outlet. When we needed to run the generator, we’d move the switch into the “generator” position, start the generator, and be on our way. When we were finished with the need, we’d shut down the generator, return the switch to the “Utility” power position, and resume normal life. This is not automatic but is also very affordable.


Portable Generator outlet - just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Portable Generator outlet – just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Step 5: Add Batteries, Inverter, Charge Controller ($$$)

Now it’s time to determine how much energy you want to store. This is done by multiplying your critical loads by the number of hours you want to operate them by batteries, factoring in the percentage of the battery that can be used without reducing their longevity. For example, if your critical loads required 10 kWh/day, and you wanted two days, and you wanted to never draw down more than 20% of your batteries, you would need to have enough batteries so that 20% of their combined stored energy amounted to 10kWh per day for two days (or 20kWh).

In industry terms, the number of days you wish to be able to run without recharging your batteries is referred to as “Days of Autonomy” or “DOA”.

Here again, knowing your real needs/usage (through monitoring) is critically important. Otherwise, the best you can do is guess and your guess is likely to be way too large (expensive) or way too small (inadequate).

This may seem an odd step to some. Why install batteries before any sources are producing power?

Here are some reasons for doing so:

  1. They are the infrastructure for off-grid or grid-interactive solar or wind applications. If you never want to be able to use your renewable energy when the utility power is unavailable, you don’t need this step. However, what sense does it make to have potentially tens of thousands of dollars in renewable energy and not be able to use it when you need it most – in a utility outage? Believe it or not, most home solar installations in our country are what are called “grid-tie” systems and cannot operate, or operate at a greatly reduced capacity during a utility failure.
  2. With batteries and a generator in place, you can operate a generator only long enough to re-charge your batteries during an outage. For example, if it took two hours to charge your batteries but they could support your critical loads for 24 hours, you’d only need to run the generator for two hours every day vs the entire length of an outage. In short, batteries extend generator fuel.
  3. Optionally, using the right equipment, you can program your system to use grid power or battery power based on peaks and lows of cost. This can be done by re-charging batteries using grid power when rates are low and using generator power (in the case of automatic backup generators) when grid power is at peak rates.
Solar batteries can be heavy - this one is 2200lbs

Solar batteries can be heavy – this one is 2200lbs!

Step 6: Add Renewable Collectors ($$-$$$)

With all the above done and with the proper equipment, you can add in renewable energy products such as solar panels, wind turbines, or micro-hydro. It’s important to know how/what you intend to do at this step before purchasing the equipment from Step 5 because you need to ensure everything plays nicely together.

With renewable energy sources, you are probably not going to save a lot of money. In our case, we probably save $15-$20/month. That’s nice and all, but not even close to worth the investment if it were for financial gain. What you will gain is “fuel extension” and additional (redundant) source of energy.

Step 7: Learn, learn, learn

Owning and maintaining equipment such as above is NOT simple, hence one of the reasons we’ve avoided blogging about it 🙂 Nevertheless, it is doable! To get the most out of the experience, invest time into learning everything you can about these subjects.


Why your family should own a quality water filter

We’ve blogged plenty of times about water and the need to have access to good, clean, quality drinking water.

Something every family in the world should consider is this… Where and how do we get access to good, clean, healthy drinking water?

Many in the world cannot answer this question because they have nothing but unhealthy, compromised water to drink. That’s why our family supports organizations like World Vision. However, even those in well-developed countries such as the United States can have compromised drinking water. Most Americans and Europeans wrongly assume that they will always have access to good, clean, healthy drinking water. So let’s ask a follow-up question to the the above question.

Is there anything that could happen that would interrupt how and/or where we secure good, clean, healthy drinking water? Or how about this… What dependencies are there for us getting this water? Is a utility company responsible. Must electricity be present? Must we be able to drive to a store to get water?

Water is essential for life. Without it, most people can survive just around 3 days or so. Yet, for something so important, we invest very little thought, time, and resources into making sure we can continue to have access to such a necessary resource!

Most of us are utterly dependent on systems and variables beyond our control for our water and many other needs. Consider this… A utility could encounter a problem and need to shut off water. The power can be turned off. The store could run out of water. Bottled water companies could shut down. Truckers could go ons strike. A water main could break. The weather could prevent you from reaching the store. The well could break.

These are not extreme, apocalyptic scenarios. These are common events. These things WILL  happen – and they do all the time. Just ask anyone who has been without power for several days due to flooding, hurricanes, etc. All the victims of these events have quickly realized how delicate access to clean water and other necessities can be. A few gallons of water squirreled away in the closet is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough!

Our family has developed our own “Preparedness Pyramid” approach for planning for unexpected things like this. This process allows us to determine how we would meet any need for our short term, intermediate, and long term needs. You can read more about our planning strategy here.

It is our belief, that every family should have a water filter on hand. Not the water pitchers with carbon filters found at Stuff Mart, but a quality product built to make undrinkable water potable.  Yes, these will cost you money. However, the costs are very small and would be of no consequence when clean water is necessary for life to continue! Is your life or the life of your loved ones not worth $50, $100, $200?

My past experience consulting with those going on extended outdoor adventures gave me the opportunity to get an education on these matters, and also learn about some great vendors and products in this arena. Further my own experience backpacking, camping, and several extended trips to third-world countries have given me practical experience in with the tools and processes for making water potable (drinkable/useable) and, unfortunately – what happens when you don’t 😦

So it was without doubt or hesitation that we recently purchased the Katadyn TRK Gravidyn Drip Water Filter. Katadyn has been a world leader in water filtration for a looong time. We’ve been following and using their filters for about 20 years. This filter is perfect for a family of group of families looking to provide emergency fresh water. If you can have only one device for making water drinkable – get this one!

We like this filter because:

  1. It can provide for a family or reasonable-size group of people (1-6 people’s full-time needs) – this could be stretched to meet the needs of more in my opinion.
  2. It can be cleaned and used over and over again for an average of 150,000 litres of water. The cleaner you can make the water going in, the longer it will last.
  3. It’s gravity-fed, meaning it’s simple, passive – requires no pumping and has no moving parts
  4. It can serve functions on picnics, camping trips, and emergencies
  5. It’s robust enough to meet your families needs for weeks to months – long enough for normal systems to come online again or more permanent alternatives to be developed.
  6. It’s a Katadyn, duh!
We’d be happy to answer any questions about sustainable, emergency water source planning you might have. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

The shelf-life of money

Money, as we know it, is quite an illusion. Think about it. We place extreme value on very complex pictures printed on special paper. We live, work, and die to accumulate this treasure that is really no treasure at all, but worthless resources. We cannot eat money, it cannot make us healthy. It cannot keep us warm (unless burned) and cannot keep us dry or secure. Does money let us purchase items that will give us those things? Sure. However, that’s based on an assumption that money will always have the value we place on it today. What happens if and when we no longer value dollars as having value?

As we’ve said before, the path to sustainability also prepares one for weathering difficult times. It’s with that understanding that we propose to you that you think long and hard about this thing called money. Many people will think nothing about storing three months of money in their bank accounts, yet won’t have three months of food on hands. They’ll be very proud of their investments, but have no way to secure clean water in an emergency. Money has no value when people collectively experience hardship. At that point, money is the enemy of sustainability. For many, money is the enemy of their sustainability even now. These are perilous ways to view money. Money is a tool that has an expiration date. It must be used in order to have value.

Are we saying doom and gloom is headed our way? No. We don’t know what the future holds. However, we do know, that our understanding of money depends on the combined support and interest of our culture. If that stops due to a change of mind, calamity, disaster, or any other reason, those with money will find themselves empty handed. We’re not saying don’t have money or don’t invest. But be wise! First invest in tangible resources first that will allow you to sustain your lives and others around you. Many do not to this to their potential peril and destruction.

Many who understand the above just go out and buy gold and silver. Are those things bad? No. However, just like money, they have limited value to the beholder. When the essentials to life are hard to come by, no amount of gold and silver is going to be worth trading food, water and shelter. Don’t misunderstand, we do think precious metals have their place in sustainable living  and are far, far better than dollars. However, they too stop short of preparing a family to live sustainably now and in the future.

I our opinion, money is best used to secure useful resources and eliminate debt than it is to secure and store. Kinda like the old fable “a bird in hand is better than two in the bush”. Money in the bank is only good as long as it can be used for what you need. If you’re lacking essential resources to live for several months or more without the need of purchasing supplies, then you might want to consider using your money more effectively. Get out of debt. Get the supplies to take care of you and your family.

Many will see this as unwise. Oh well! We’re hoping that many will consider these words and think about their future. If we can help, drop us a line.

Sprouts – add this tasty super food to your emergency meal planning

Sprouts: Fresh produce all year long – no garden required!

Many people (ourselves included) who value eating healthy, organic, nutritious foods and who also concern themselves with securing a sustainable food supply will eventually ask themselves the question “How will we continue to eat healthy foods when we cannot harvest from the garden?”. There are many natural and disastrous circumstances that could keep one from  growing healthy produce – namely Winter!

We’re big fans of freezing, canning, root cellaring, cold storage, etc. However, those options don’t provide the participants with fresh green produce (typically). Enter sprouts! Sprouts are just what they sound like – sprouted seeds of vegetables, beans, grains, or grasses that are just days old when harvested and consumed. Sprouts are a wonderful addition to a simple, sustainable, healthy, and prepared lifestyle. Sprouts are super-easy to grow, offer superior nutritional and health benefits, require little to no energy to produce, can be eaten fresh, and require little investment.

Getting started with sprouting

Making sprouts is easy and requires little investment. While you can sprout seeds in mason jars, clear plastic or glass containers, etc. we chose to buy a sprouting kit. The kit below was a small $12-$14 investment was well worth it and allows us to sprout up to three kinds of sprouts at once with just a few square inches of counter space, a few cups of water, and a few days. To sprout three trays of sprouts probably requires us about 30 minutes of total time investment.

A great, simple sprouter

This great little sprouter is available for about $12-$14 at Amazon. Click to see.

The sprouting process is simple. You place a small amount of the sprouting seed (more on that in a minute) on the tray, fill the top reservoir with water, and let it trickle down through all the layers of seeds, wetting each layer of seeds. Do this twice a day and in about three to five days, keeping the sprouting container in a well lit area of your home and you’ll have fresh sprouts ready to eat. How’s that for quick and healthy food?

Sprouts as a survival/emergency food

Sprouts should be added to the food strategy of anyone looking to create a secure and sustainable food supply. Firstly, sprout seeds are vegetable seeds so they can serve the dual purposes of sprouting for food, or growing to fully mature plants in the garden. Secondly, seeds are easy to store. As long as they’re clean, dry, cool, and dark, they should hold up in storage for a between 1-10 years! We consider them sustainable because we can plant the seeds, harvest harvest the crops from those seeds, keep seeds from the crop and store them again and again (if using non-GMO, non-hybrid seeds that is). They’re also great because the don’t require much space, require no real “labor” to speak of (compared to gardening), very little water, and tolerate most indoor temperatures. In summary, sprouts are hard to mess up!

Sprouting seeds – a smorgasbord of flavors and variety

If all you know of sprouting is alfalfa sprouts you can buy in the store – it’s time to expand your horizons! There are tons of varieties of sprouts to choose from. Leafy sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, and arugula. There’s “Bean” sprouts such as mung bean, garbanzo (chick pea), pea, lentil and peanut. Then there’s Brasicca sprouts such as broccoli, radish, mustard and more. Perhaps you might like Grasses (wheat, barley), Grains (spelt, quinoa, kamut), Nuts (almonds, sunflower), or Allium sprouts (garlic, leek, onion). There’s not shortage of things to sprout! You cannot sprout everything (ie. never sprout nightshades like tomato, potato, and eggplant).

When we got started, we were not sure what we’d like, so we purchased a 12lb variety pack (seen below). It’s been a great way to add to our emergency food supply as well as discover what we like. So far, the clear winner in our home are lentils!

This is the 12lb organic sprout seed sampler we purchased. It's a good way to get a lot of seeds, and also discover what you like.

Ancient wisdom with modern repercussions

Sprouting seed has been around for a loooong time! Take a look at this scripture verse:

“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. – Ezekiel 4:9

I don’t know about you… but if there were a food that I knew could keep me alive for 390 days eating nothing else, I think I’d add it to my emergency food supplies. In the verse above, God instructed the prophet Ezekiel to make a bread from sprouted grains and eat it (exclusively) for just such a duration. It’s no wonder… take a look at the nutritional value of sprouts:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K
  • Calcium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Chlorophyll
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • All Amino Acids
  • Trace Elements
  • Protein: up to 35%

Do we want to eat sprouts/sprouted bread for 390 days? Of course not. However, it’s nice to know that there are simple, healthy, inexpensive, and sustainable foods that can sustain our lives and the lives of those we love. Heh, sprouting was worthwhile enough for God to instruct Ezekiel to give it a shot – maybe you should give them a try too?!

Please post your own thoughts about sprouts in the comments below.

Our principles for emergency preparedness

The following are some principles that we’ve learned, pondered, and/or developed in the area of preparing for the unexpected – particularly for disasters or long emergencies. It’s not a complete list and we’re likely to update it as often as new principles begin to emerge in our thinking.

Fear Not
Fear leads people to make stupid, knee-jerk decisions (believe us, we’ve done it often). Fear will lead you to making poor decisions, secure the wrong resources, not to mention, cause you unnecessary anxiety. Emergency preparedness should not be fueled by fear, but by a sound mind set on wanting to sustain a flourishing lifestyle despite what’s happening in the world –  even in adverse circumstances.

When not If
Plan on a disaster or emergency happening in your lifetime. That might sound apocalyptic or dystopian, and some approach this topic from this point of view. The rest of us think it’s just good sense. Do you keep jumper cables in your car? If so, why? Because it’s reasonable to expect that some day, your car or someone else’ won’t properly start. Planning for disaster or long emergency stems from the same understanding on a larger scale. Instead of you car not starting, maybe the normal food or water supply breaks down. Planning for disaster forces your brain to develop a model for handling the resulting adversity. If you do so without growing fearful, it will be a positive exercise that will result in greater stability during times of crisis for yourself and your community. Furthermore, advanced preparation in many areas will also lead you down the path to sustainable living in those same areas of life – hence why we discuss these issues here on our blog.

Stockpiling is NOT a sustainable strategy
When thinking about preparing your family for a long emergency or disaster, this principle is essential. This idea is the foundational driver behind how we plan for every aspect of emergency planning. The encouragement to stockpile resources is found everywhere in disaster/emergency preparedness literature! Yes, you SHOULD have adequate supplies of certain items, but you cannot stockpile enough resources to be an adequate solution. The length of an emergency or disaster could always be longer than your stockpiled supply will last. Then what? You must have a plan for securing your fundamental needs when your stockpiles are diminished. Otherwise, you’re just delaying your demise rather than preventing it. So, when it comes to stockpiling resources for a long term emergency, you need enough of a given resource (food, shelter, water, etc) to see your family through until you can implement a more sustainable means to secure these resources.

Think of this like the top-down triangle below. At the top (the beginning of an emergency or disaster), your needs of a resource are small and compact. That’s what you need to have on hand for immediate consumption and survival. Next, you have some intermediate needs. That’s the part of your strategy for obtaining additional resources before you can implement a more permanent (if necessary) solution. Lastly, the base of the triangle represents a sustainable and ongoing means for obtaining a given resource. This principal should apply to every aspect of disaster preparation and should guide your preparation strategy.

The Preparation Triangle

The Preparation Triangle

Example: Food. A common idea found on the internet among emergency supply vendors is to stockpile things like “textured vegetable product” (umm, sounds good! NOT!). If you look at the space required to store the amount of food recommended, it’s prohibitive to many people. Not to mention, once the food’s gone, it’s gone! A better strategy might be to store several 1-3 months worth of food, then develop a strategy for hunting, gathering, raising and growing additional food items. To put this in really simple concepts, it’s better to have a fishing pole than a few fish.

No expectations or assumptions
As the old saying goes, when you assume, you make an ass of u and me. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of people in western culture assume that things will always be okay and will always work out. There’s a distinction between faith and optimism. Faith is essential in life. Optimism, while helpful at times, can lead to complacency and a lack of planning for lean times. An overly optimistic worldview is ignorant of world history, modern events, and human nature. An overly optimistic view expects or assumes that if the power goes out for a month, or you run out of water, that the government, neighbors, charity will sweep in with salvation and rapidly meet those needs. The reality that one can see from events like hurricane Katrina, the Northeast blackouts of 1977 and 2003 is that services can take a long time to restore. Meanwhile some people become quite inhumane and criminal rather than helpful. Bottom line – don’t expect someone else to be responsible for the essential needs of your family. Expect nothing from others unless you’ve worked out a plan in harmony and cooperation with your friends and neighbors. That leads us to our next point…

“We COULD do it ourselves” vs. “We CAN do it ourselves”
Americans thrive on a self-sufficiency mindset and attitude. So do survivalist usually. Having the knowledge and preparation to be the sole provider for your essential needs is a good idea, and could save your life. A better ideal is that have this knowledge, share it with your friends and neighbors whom your trust, then work together on a cooperative plan for dealing with emergencies. This allows for the sharing of labor, resources and responsibilities and increases your ability to weather long emergencies and disasters. Aside from the fact that there really is increased safety and security in numbers, there’s also increased happiness in having people to share adverse experiences with rather than being alone. Know how to be on your own in a disaster – because that could always happen, but plan on handling emergencies as part of a group. That’s the ideal.

Saving Money is not preparation

Many people will seek to have three months worth of living expenses in the bank, but not consider having three months of food and water on hand. This view assumes that money is all that will be needed to handle emergencies or disasters. You cannot eat or drink money, and it won’t keep you warm (unless you burn it). Having some cash on hand for emergencies should be part of your preparations for the unexpected, but don’t think that you’ll be able to rely on money alone. You’re better off using your funds to purchase resources that will allow you to be better prepared.

The simpler, the better
Choose the simplest solutions you can find for your needs. Complexity during an emergency is your enemy, not your friend. If everyone in your family cannot be made to understand how something works, work on making it simpler!

Emergency Preparation: Water Strategy

A friend and reader recently posted a comment regarding our recent post, “it’s more than just flashlights and duct tape” asking how we handle securing/storing water. Here’s the comment:

“I’m assuming you have a well. Any advice on stockpiling for those of us who have city water? Water jugs?”

As we pondered our response, it seemed fitting to address this as a new blog posting since this is a practical issue that many people might find worth considering.

While it is nice in some ways to have a well, common domestic wells require pumps which in turn require power. Because of this, those who have wells are often more vulnerable to power-related emergencies than most people – at least in longer-term emergencies.

All that to say that a well is not necessarily the best source of water in an extended emergency – at least not the way North Americans use wells. Having a well does not necessarily aid in emergency preparation, especially if you have no way to produce electricity. In fact, it could actually be detrimental to have well water as a single source of water in an emergency.

In an extended emergency (ie. 14 days or more), a person or family is likely going to require more water than can be realistically stored by the average citizen. Stored water should only provide for your immediate water needs for the first days of an emergency until a plan for a sustainable water source can be implemented. A good preparedness plan should entail a sustainable means for acquiring potable water for as long as necessary (within reason).

At present, we have a multi-tiered water strategy consisting of several elements. Most of this is just common sense and should be tailored to meet the needs of your family. It’s based on a strategy we developed in general about preparation (which we’ll post later on) where we plan for emergencies from an immediate to long-term need. The triangle below represents how we apply this principal to our water strategy.

Progressive Water Strategy for Disaster Preparation

Progressive Water Strategy for Disaster Preparation

Water Storage
We start with storing enough water to maintain life (drinking and essential personal use, not stuff like laundry, coffee, etc) for several days for our entire family. We do that by keeping 7-Gallon containers ( these exact ones ) filled with water and stored in our home – one per person. This gives us at a minimum 1 gallon per person per day for 7 days. We have additional water stored in 55-gallon water drums, should we ever need them.

It’s important to note that clean water in an appropriate container does not go bad. That is, if you have water free of contaminants stored in containers that don’t leach anything into the water, it should not develop problems. It might end up tasting flat, but that is usually rectified by aerating the water.  Keep this in mind when choosing containers and the source to fill them from! Start with good, solid, and sealable containers and then fill them with the clean water. Never let water sit in open containers. This will invite disease and further devastation in an emergency.

Water collection and treatment
Some may have no hope of keeping enough potable water on hand for a long emergency or disaster, our strategy includes measures for treating non-potable water to make it potable. This means water found in streams, lakes, and other outdoor sources. The problem is, the majority of the surface water in the world, including North America, contains viruses, bacteria, organisms, etc. These can cause sickness and discomfort ranging from mild to severe/life-threatening. In an emergency, that last thing our family wants is the trots! We suggest handling this problem through expending effort and resources to do the following:

  1. Maintain the knowledge of where to look for and locate treatable water in the immediate area.
  2. Maintain supplies to boil water.
  3. Maintain supplies to chemically treat some water if necessary (not a good long-term solution – not sustainable).
  4. Maintain supplies to filter water and how to use them.
    In our case, we purchased a Katadyn Vario Microfilter and several replacement cartridges. We do not use this filter for leisure or recreational use but maintain a separate water filter for those sorts of uses (which also serves as a backup).  This too is also not a good long-term strategy since it’s not sustainable if/when the equipment fails. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable!
  5. Maintain the knowledge of how to primitively filter water with natural, or readily available materials. Books like “When Technology Fails“ are an excellent resource for this sort of thing. Make sure you read and understand this stuff as much as possible before you need to know it!

Long Term Water Strategy
One needs a long-term strategy for the collect and storage water. For those in suitable climates, this could be from rain and snow (plentiful in the northeastern United States where we live).  We’ve pondered that next time our roof requires replacement, we’ll replace it with a suitable metal roof then build a cistern to collect this roof runoff, then an additional methodology to filter this water. If you have an occassion to erect an outbuilding, consider a metal roof for this added benefit.

Two books we intend to get are “Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use” and “The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store, and Conserve It“. These books discuss how to use a variety of materials and methods to collect and store water.

Is it worth the investment?
Consider this… in the right emergency context, water would be worth more per ounce than gold! When without water, no other resource abundance matters. Water is fundamental to life, and yet despite this when we were considering these issues, there was plenty of hesitation to spend resources to help us store and secure water!

Much of what has been recommended here can be done for  $250 or less. That is for a water strategy (books, storage containers, filters, etc) which would provide a family with thousands of gallons of potable water.

We consider that a pretty good investment into the health and welfare of our family in the event of an emergency or disaster. This is one area you don’t want to skimp or depend on others!

Using dandelion roots as a coffee substitute

We’ve had a growing interest this summer in foraging and the use of wild edible plants. While cleaning up the garden today for the upcoming fall/winter, we decided to use some of those pesky weeds that have infiltrated our vegetable garden.

Roasted coffee substitute, here we come!
We thought about pan-frying or sautéing the dandelion roots, but roasting them and making a drink out of them sounded a bit more fun. We gathered about 3/4-1 lb of dandelion roots for this process. It’s important to note that we have not treated our lawn with harsh chemicals or fertilizers that could cause health concerns when using these weeds as a food source.

Dandelion roots prior to roasting for coffee alternative

Dandelion roots prior to roasting for coffee alternative

Preparing the roots for roasting
The first step was to prepare and clean the dandelion roots. This was done by removing the leaves where they meet the roots and inspecting the roots for rot, damage, insects, etc. It should be kind of obvious where the “joint” between leaf and root is – that’s where you cut. We then took the cut roots and sloshed and soaked hem in a large bowl continually replacing the water with fresh water until the water was clear.

Chopping the Dandelion Roots

Chopping the Dandelion Roots

Next, we took the root pieces and using a hand-chopper (a food processor would be another way to do it), we chopped up the roots into smaller pieces. We left the stringy roots as is – they’re no problem.

Once this is done, we rinsed the chopped pieces again using a strainer until the rinse water was clear. This is not something you need to be super careful about since roasting will likely kill anything harmful.

Preparing dandelion roots for roasting on cookie sheet

Preparing dandelion roots for roasting on cookie sheet

Once rinsed and as clean as we could get them, we spread the pieces out on a cookie sheet and placed in our oven at 250℉ for about two hours, gently agitating the pieces every 20-3o minutes or so during the roasting process. The roots smell pretty nice while roasting – something akin to roasted sweet potatoes. The final result will be much smaller than what you started with.

The finished roasted dandelion - about enough for 8 cups of brewed drink

The finished roasted dandelion - about enough for 8 cups of brewed drink

Ready to brew!

After the pieces cooled off, we placed them in our coffee grinder and ground them to a fine powder, just like we would for coffee. These roots are not as potent as coffee, so for every tablespoon you would normally use in coffee, plan on using two tablespoons of the dandelion roots. The ground roots are quite pale in color compared to coffee when ground. It was almost a khaki color.

Here's the ground roasted dandelion roots, just before brewing. Notice the color!

Here's the ground roasted dandelion roots, just before brewing. Notice the color!

While brewing, the dandelion drink gives off a rather pleasant, earthy aroma. It looks very much like coffee in the coffee pot and in the cup, unless you are accustomed to dark-roasted coffees.

Down the hatch boys and girls!
When finished brewing, we added cream and sugar to taste as we would coffee and enjoyed our new drink. Our whole family tried it (ages 4-37) with everyone thinking it tasted fine, just a tad bitter (like coffee). If you’ve every drank Cafix, this drink is not far off in flavor, although we enjoyed it more than we have enjoyed Cafix in the past.

Happy campers enjoying the caffiene-free roasted dandelion drink

Happy campers enjoying the caffiene-free roasted dandelion drink

Why are we doing this again?
We did this primarily for the experience of doing so, and to share with others. However, if circumstances of life were to place us in a context where coffee was unavailable, knowing this little process would provide us to come pretty close to our normal routine of starting the day with coffee. Additionally, there are plenty of nutritional and medicinal reasons to know how to use dandelions to our advantage (read on). Lastly, why work hard to eradicate dandelions when they offer useful benefits? It’s always good to know how to use our resources to their full advantage.

A bit about nutrition…
According to our trusted standby “Prescription for Nutritional Healing“, dandelion has the following useful chemicals and nutrients: Biotin, Calcium, Choline, fats, gluten, inositol, inulin, iron, lactupicrine, linolenic acid, magnesium, niacin, PABA, phosphorus, potash proteins, resin, sulfur, vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, E and P, and zinc. Apparently, it also has many useful medicinal uses. Since providing medical advice is beyond the scope of our blog, we’ll leave you to look up the specifics and determine if it’s an appropriate means for your needs.