Surviving a Power Outage with Sanity Intact?

Reader E.B. writes:

“How we survived without power” has been a hot topic in my workplace the last few days, as it has been for many others, I’m sure. While we all (by now) know the obvious things (batteriest, kerosense, wood for the stove, etc.), I’ve heard some good suggestions that I wish I’d known about and/or never thought of in the first place (for me, it was to have a french press coffee maker). What are some ideas for things to have on hand, recipes, tips for entertaining children, etc?

I know I beefed up my preparedness list last weekend, adding candle holders, hand sanitizer, and Sterno.

50 Responses to “Surviving a Power Outage with Sanity Intact?”


  • Here are some of the less obvious things that are on my list. Some are definitely overkill for a couple of days without power, but I like to know that I’d be in good shape for a few weeks.

    lamp oil
    5 gallons of gasoline
    extensive first aid kit
    yeast & flour
    bleach & vinegar
    steel-cut oats
    cornmeal
    powdered milk
    Gatorade powder
    rennet
    water filter
    ammunition
    full propane tank (& grill)
    facemasks and N95 respirators
    1.5 gallons drinking water / person / day

    I’m looking forward to see what suggestions other folks have, especially in the realm of activities, work-saving measures, and that kind of thing.

  • Okay, here’s where I try and learn…

    1. Yeast & flour – in a power outage what do you do with those?

    2. Steel-cut oats – what are those? How are they better or different from Quaker Quick Oats instant oatmeal?

    3. Rennet – No clue at all what that is – What is it? What function does it serve?

    4. Facemasks and N95 respirators – Okay I can imagine Facemasks… Don’t know what N95 Respirators are or what benefit both of these items would serve in an emergency situation.

    Okay.. it’s your turn… educate me! :)

  • *A bathtub full of water and a bucket are tops on my list. We have no running water when the power is off.
    *Instant coffee.
    *Soups that don’t require additional water.
    *Oil lamps and lamp oil. And matches.
    I have a wonderful oil lamp, made by the Aladdin company that I strongly recommend: http://tinyurl.com/y9e8y3l It has a glowing mantle and gives off some 40 watts of power that you can easily read by. Hugely better than candles or ordinary oil lamps.
    *Small=sized grains, like cous cous, that you can cook quickly, with little water.
    *A wind-up radio.
    *Sterno and a Sterno stove http://tinyurl.com/yl7lkkv
    (Note that a can of Sterno, once opened, will evaporate and may well fail to light the next time you try to use it. Always keep fresh cans around. They sell them at Foods of All Nations.)
    *Down comforters and down sleeping bags and down jackets can make life much more bearable when the heat is off.
    *Take the ice cubes out of your ice dispenser. They’ll just melt and drip out onto your kitchen floor. Put them in a bowl and put them back in the freezer or refrigerator to keep things cold.
    *Board games for kids (and grownups).
    *For this last storm, I got bulletin board paper from Teachers Edition (over on Commonwealth Drive) for my grandchildren. It was 4 feet wide, and I bought three yards of it. Taped it to the kitchen floor and they entertained themselves for quite a long time.

  • Beer! Bleach and vinegar only go so far in satisfying a thirst.

    Great to know Waldo is making cheese and baking bread come hell or high water.

    Instant oatmeal = yuck!
    This may be overkill, but it’s a good way to learn how easy good oatmeal is.
    http://www.chow.com/stories/11620

  • I lived off the grid for 18 months once, so I like to think I’ve learned a lesson or two?

    Have a lantern other than battery powered. When you finally need it those batteries are likely dead. Coleman fuel or propane canister is the way to go. Have a camp-stove that runs on the same fuel, nothing fancy, single-burner will do (the gas grill is great for most things but you don’t want to be out there in the a.m. warming up water to pour over your head or make coffee with…
    If your lantern isnt all that bright, take a mirror off the wall and place it on a table propped against the wall. Put lantern in front of mirror. Now you can read.

    Additional lights in the form of led puck lights to scatter around. They’re easy on batteries and beat dragging your lantern to the bathroom.
    If room allows, keep a few plastic water bottles 90% full and frozen in your freezer. That solid block of ice melts far slower than cubes. If the power is just out for a few days they’ll keep things cool enough to avoid having to throw it all out. Transfer one or two to your fridge when it feels like its warming up.

    Aside from the food items you’ve listed, paper plates, bowls, plastic silverware, instant hot-chocolate, ramen noodles, you want things that are easy to make in one bowl/pot and easy to clean up! Always keep one good size pot clean, you’ll need that to heat up water to wash the rest of them with.

    Crossword puzzles, sudoku?, and a few good books you’ve been meaning to read.

    Carbon monoxide detector! if you’ve got gas/propane, your furnace won’t work. You can use your cook-top units to keep some level of heat in at least part of your house, but crack a window (same is true if you’re using kerosene) and have a working CO detector.

    $10 power inverter that plugs into your car cigarette lighter will allow you to charge up cell phone, laptop, ipod, etc, but run the engine now and then too, those things suck power from your battery like you wouldn’t believe.

  • **** So, what’s the deal with using camp stoves indoors? Like the Coleman stove you recommended for heating water, etc.? I’ve read it’s for outdoor use only. I’ve also read that in countries like Cambodia, it’s what everyone uses in their kitchen. It’s okay, maybe, as long as you have a carbon monoxide detector?

  • For short outages, we keep batteries, both standard and re-chargeable. We use a portable, rechargeable battery-jumper battery and a DC-AC converter to power our Internet modem and router. Our outdoor BBQ provides for our cooking needs.

    For long-term outages, wouldn’t a whole-house generator with a good supply of gasoline be easier, and safer, than all of this?

  • For “Intact Sanity” with teenagers in the house you need:a fully charged deep cycle 12V battery, power inverter and a laptop (or preferably two or three) with good batteries. Then, as long as your phone line with its DSL or your cable stays up and running, you plug the modem and router into the inverter and presto, you gots interwebs to pass the hours, check the news and weather, watch Netflix Instantview, etc. And you can use the battery and inverter to recharge the laptop batteries while you sleep to prepare for the next day without power. Worked like a charm for us for three days.

  • 1. Yeast & flour – in a power outage what do you do with those?
    2. Steel-cut oats – what are those? How are they better or different from Quaker Quick Oats instant oatmeal?
    3. Rennet – No clue at all what that is – What is it? What function does it serve?
    4. Facemasks and N95 respirators – Okay I can imagine Facemasks… Don’t know what N95 Respirators are or what benefit both of these items would serve in an emergency situation.

    “the boss of me” explained a couple of these: steel-cut oats are much tastier than quick oats, but cook a lot faster than whole oats. Rennet is used to make cheese (it’s actually scraped from the lining of a cow’s stomach). Yeast and flour allow you to make more food if you exhaust your provision of prepared foods. (With flour you can make pasta, and with yeast and flour you can make bread.) An N95 mask is for dealing with seriously contagious illnesses. When worn correctly, they’re awfully uncomfortable, but it’s important if you want to avoid getting, say, the flu from somebody who is already sick if you’re stuck inside a house with them during a blizzard.

  • I have an emergency radio that you crank that has a flashlight and a siren. About 2 minutes of cranking gies you almost an hour of radio. It also has batteries but the crank worked great. I think it was about $20- 25

  • Thank you, Janice, for the heads-up on Sterno.

  • Janice, I’m looking at a can of Coleman’s butane/propane mix fuel now, and far down the list is a warning to “use in a well ventilated space” rather than an admonishment to use outdoors only. But if you’re not sure, crack a window open.

    For long-term outages, wouldn’t a whole-house generator with a good supply of gasoline be easier, and safer, than all of this?
    You’d think so, but those things burn through gallons of fuel per hour, so how big is your tank going to be? 500 gallon? And are you going to run it 24/7? If not then you’re still going to need many of the items listed above…
    For the many thousands of dollars invested, I’d rather have a solar array and be making power whenever the sun is out than a generator that I may never use.

  • Good point, Rob. I was mainly thinking of those who live in the country and need power to provide the basics such as drinking water.

    I like your idea about the solar cells. That would be a better investment. One problem, though, is that the kind of weather that takes out the power also often blocks the sun.

  • **** The idea of opening a door or window for proper ventilation would be fine in good weather, but in a house where you’re desperate to keep warm, I can’t imagine keeping a door or window cracked open! Makes the Sterno look like a better wintertime option.

    Tom: The deep cycle 12 volt battery and inverter are completely new concepts for me! I’ll have to google to find out what these are and where to get them.

  • When I was a wee child in the midwest, we ran our generator to power the pump for awhile so that we could refill the tub. And we used it to run the furnace (the blower was electric, furnace was gas) for a little while to warm up the main part of the house. But we didn’t run it nonstop.

    Our power was only out for 14 hours and we live in town, so we had water (and hot water, thanks to our gas heater). We had to dig out the grill. I intended to keep the deck and grill accessible, but we all ended up with a really nasty cold just prior to this most recent snowstorm, so we only did our civic duty shoveling (front sidewalk).

    We have an auxiliary burner on the grill. I had tea. I do have a french press (and coffee filters a funnel. and a moka pot), so I’m set if I have a burner. I did wade down to our basement (exterior, more like a cellar) and fetch our single propane burner. I boiled my husband’s eggs while he made oatmeal on the grill’s burner. And then I threw leftover pizza on the grill and had breakfast myself.

    We kept the kid in footie pajamas and convinced him to wear a hat. We have blocks and trains.

    I can’t eat them anymore due to allergies, but boil in the bag Indian meals are awesome for camping/outages. Boil in the bag brown rice is pretty tasty. We always have grillable food or something we can cook quickly over a propane burner. And we have a camp grill, too, so if the big LP tank runs low, we can run off the little propane dealios. (I can’t eat on the road due to allergies, so we have a rotating stock of foods which don’t require cooking or which can be prepared quickly on those little camp implements we own.)

    If I lived in the country, I’d have significantly different stores/plans. I live someplace where I can call up a coffee shop to see if they’re open. And if they are, I can hike to it and charge the laptop and ipod touch, thereby saving what little remains of my sanity after parenting an almost three year old.

    I have pillar candles I keep on hand for power outages. A foil covered plate makes a decent candle holder for the big ones.

    Hope nobody’s dealing with frozen pipes.

    Now I’m trying to figure out if the icemelt stuff I have will damage my shingles if I throw it up in a nylon sock to try to prevent the developing ice dam on the north side of the roof.

    For the gluten-free, quinoa, millet, and starch noodles (rice thread noodles, potato starch glass noodles) cook quite quickly in just a little water. Brown rice pasta can be thrown into a pan of boiling water, stirred, then taken off the heat source and set aside.

  • One day soon we’ll have plug-in capable gas/electric hybrids for everyone. The same system that’ll allow you to plug in and recharge your car at night will let you run your car in your driveway to power essentials in your home! Now there’s a thought.

    **** The idea of opening a door or window for proper ventilation would be fine in good weather, but in a house where you’re desperate to keep warm, I can’t imagine keeping a door or window cracked open! Makes the Sterno look like a better wintertime option.
    Probably more necessary in a super-efficient home. I personally don’t crack a window when using my camp-stove at home, but don’t want to be in the position of telling people its fine. And the heat loss incurred is probably

  • Steel-cut oats are the BEST. Yum.

    We want a woodstove for the future. Actually, a pellet stove insert for our fireplace would be the top choice.

  • In anticipation of this last snow, we purchased a carbon monoxide alarm at Lowes for about $25. It runs on AC or battery backup.

    Although we didn’t need it, we found it comforting to have the alarm should we need to use our wood burning stove during the night.

  • “When I was a wee child in the midwest, we ran our generator to power the pump for awhile so that we could refill the tub. And we used it to run the furnace (the blower was electric, furnace was gas) for a little while to warm up the main part of the house. But we didn’t run it nonstop.”

    That’s what we do. After having to haul water from town for almost two weeks after Isabel in ’03, we had an electrician friend install a switch box next to the breaker box that lets us switch up to 4 15A house circuits plus the well pump over to the generator – of course we can’t use that much all at the same time with the small portable generator we have, but that kept the cost pretty low. No heat, stove, or hot water, but we can use the fridge and the toaster oven, which, with a propane stove, gives us more options for meals. It’s also handy for recharging laptops, phones, etc.

    A fraction of the cost of a whole house generator or solar array, and 10 gallons of gas can last a week or more if you’re careful.

    I do need to get a better kerosene lamp.

  • I have most of the above, but instead of a bathtub full of water I have these…

    http://www.waterbob.com/Information.do?forward=faq

  • Cecil, think twice before getting a pellet stove. You are forever in the grip of THE MAN with one of those. There are some good things about them, but when you’re snowed in with no corn or pellet supply nearby, you are screwed.

    I’m not sure what I was thinking when I only listed Beer! and forgot to add Bacon! to my list of essentials. With that, I could cross country ski out to Waldo’s for some fresh grilled squirrel, crow, rabbit, or whatever he brought back with his ammo topped with some bacon and fresh made cheese on a homemade bun. Yum! Too bad the boy is married, and well, I don’t think I’m quite his type.

  • thanks for the tip on pellet stoves. what do people know about kerosene or propane heaters that are safe to use indoors? is there such a thing?

    did no one list red wine yet? red wine.

  • City dwellers have the option of whole house generators that run on natureal gas supplied by Charlottesville’s underground lines. Properly installed, when the AC fails they start up automatically and your house continues as before.

    We have an unused gas line available, and seriously considered the WHG option. We rejected it. Here’s why.

    A generator sized for our house including installation is $13,000 plus an exhorbitant fee to the city (like $400)to turn on the gas valve and opan an account. Thereafter we’d pay a gas bill every month even if we used zero gas, because that’s how it’s done.

    Generator installers charge $100 a year for a once yearly inspection and oil change. Do it yourself? Just try. The designers of the only generator of proper size sold locally appear to come from the bottom third of their engineering class. For example:

    The oil filler is on top of the valve cover, as usual, 3″ below a large cowl that covers the motor and the oil hole. The cowl is welded in place. To add oil, you need to find or create a funnel connected to 2 feet of flexible hose. And you would need to grow a third hand to add the oil while your other two steady the two ends of the funnel.

    That’s the glaring design flaw for all to see. Would you want to bet $13,000 they didn’t goof up basic design elements we can’t see? I wouldn’t.

    The option to use a smaller generator to power only the oil furnace and it’s hot water circulators, the fridge/freezer, the 110-volt stove top heating elements and the AC outlet by the stove (for coffeemaker or whatever) involves rewiring, carpentry, plastering, and painting. And for how many days a decade do we need this on Rugby Road?

    I sold my 1948 white gas boy scout camp stove for big bucks on eBay five years ago. It was the devil to light, so no great loss. But I’d like to buy a quality propane canister camp stove now to replace it. Any recommendations welcome.

  • I have most of the above, but instead of a bathtub full of water I have these…

    http://www.waterbob.com/Information.do?forward=faq

    WANT.

  • I was awfully glad that the ipod was fully charged. Tropical sounding tunes and a nip of single malt helped get me thru. Cheap tea lite lanterns from ikea, glow sticks, and some kero lamps for light. I have a propane stove with electonic igniters . The burners will light manually but the oven apparently has a safety feature which prevents manual lighting. ( I discovered this AFTER I mixed up the cake batter) When the lights started flickering, I filled every vessel I could find. .. including the tub- thanks Janis for that tip. Dragged a wood stove I hadn’t used in years and jury rigged it to the fireplace. Very glad that there was chainsaw and fuel handy. I fixed a pipe that burst today-probably got a little too stressed during the alternative heat period. Spent lots of time outside building an igloo.

  • So, that waterbob thing is essentially a big bag, with a spigot, that fits inside the bathtub, is that correct?

  • According to the reviews at Amazon, the waterbob is for one-time use, only.

  • Hmmmm….. [puzzled, scratching chin] That is certainly an interesting list. Quite eclectic and quixotic.

    Are you sure that this list isn’t taken from the bottom a Jaquith recipe box or kitchen drawer?

    The Survivalist Casserole

    Ingredient list. (Remember, culinartists, be sure to check the labels and shop for freshness).

    lamp oil
    5 gallons of gasoline
    extensive first aid kit
    yeast & flour
    bleach & vinegar
    steel-cut oats
    cornmeal
    powdered milk
    Gatorade powder
    rennet
    water filter
    ammunition
    full propane tank (& grill)
    facemasks and N95 respirators
    1.5 gallons drinking water / person / day

    Begin with the full propane tank. Lightly coat the inside of the propane tank with a thin glazing of lamp oil. This will make cleanup easier — not easy, but easier.

    Put in the yeast and the flower, the steel-cut oats (for regularity and cholesterol-lowering benefits), and cornmeal. In a separate bowl, mix the powdered milk with the gatorade powder until homogeneity begins to gel with several days of electricity deprivation. This should form a hardened and gelatinous frown. The power of ‘G’. Maybe.

    Place N95 respirator on. Add rennet. Be sure to hold counter top with both hands during the mixing process.

    Keeping N95 respirator in place, slowly begin to add water, gasoline, and bleach and vinegar. Mix thoroughly, until the mixture becomes a smooth, rich paste. Fumes should help reawaken you from several days of sleep deprivation.

    Some survivalists may prefer added spice and a bit of kick to their casserole. If so, add a glazing of ammunition.

    Bake at 375 degrees for one hour and a half. Don facemask, stand back, brace yourself, and serve.

  • No one has ever seen the bottom of our kitchen drawers. Especially the junk drawer.

    My favorite thing, so far, is the gigantic bathtub condom. Think I’ll give that a pass.

  • When our old range died (electric, came with the house) I contemplated replacing it with a gas range, but didn’t want to deal with extra installation issues. There’s a capped off gas line there, but I can’t do a gas installation myself. Since power outages are rare for my neighborhood, I went for the easier option. I’d have strongly considered paying for a different stove/installation if I lived in a different neighborhood where power outages might last longer.

    I assume one can still purchase gas ranges which can be lit without electric power, correct?

    You can bake bread in a dutch oven over a grill or in a fire. You can also make breadsticks to cook on the grill. Or tortillas. I grill corn tortillas often while camping. Didn’t need to do it this time.

  • Hmmmm….. [puzzled, scratching chin] That is certainly an interesting list. Quite eclectic and quixotic.

    The list is actually much, much longer than that—a full page of handwritten items that I like to keep on hand, and some items that I’m gradually building up. I just listed the less obvious things.

    Your recipe sounds…bracing. :)

  • Living in the city means not losing water(unless pipes freeze). And generally power outages don’t last that long here in town.
    In the country,thats when one needs to plan ahead for essentials like water and heat.
    I suspect its the newcomers to rural life that get hit hardest. The oldtimers(like my family was) were alreasy prepared.
    Have one question. Have heard that its good to keep landline phone service because it can work when cell phones won’t. But storms can wreck telephone wires too, so not sure if that is necessarily true. Anyone know? Of course a lot of rural counties don’t have much in the way of reliable cell service anyhow.
    Got a laugh at a piece in the Hook about people rushing out to rent video games if they got snowed in. Those no good if you lose power. Better to hit the library or the bookstore if you need something to pass the time or stave off boredom.

  • Our landline was in and out constantly during the power outage I went by the Sprint/Embarq/Century whatever phone station near my house and they had a generator running there. I guess our phone went down everytime it stopped. Is this new because of DSL? 25 years ago my parents never lost phone when the power was out.

  • And if you’ve had enough and want to get out –I first saw a facsimile of these at one of Hawes Spencer’s slideshows,–after watching him use these steel grippers, I decided had to have a pair, just in case. Bought them for Christmas and what a good idea that was –of all winters, and have made 4 rescues so far, the last, 2 days ago in Md. after their 20″ blizzard. Wouldn’t be without a pair of these.

    http://www.tractionaids.com/

  • Someone asked if new kitchen gas ranges were available that did not require electricity. Last time I looked, the answer was no. But you can still buy used ones.

  • blockhead, not to encourage intentional misuse of an appliance or ever over-ridng any built-in safety feature it might come equipped with, BUT…. just as an explanation of what a thermocouple does…

    If your fire were to go out in a gas appliance, your house would fill with explosive gas fumes. To help reduce the chance that will happen, there is a little thermo-elcetrical device called a thermocouple which sticks out into the flame. If there is no flame, it cools off and sends a signal to a valve that shuts gas flow off.

    In an oven that has an electric spark device to light it the first thing that happens is that an electric element gets current and begins to heat up and glow. That glow will eventually be hot enough to ignite the gas, but what it does first is to heat the thermocouple, which allows the gas to flow to the burner.

    If someone were to ignore my stern warning that it should never be done, and during an electrical outage take a long fireplace type match and hold it under that thermocouple after turning the gas knob on, it would be perfectly possible for that foolish daredevil to light an oven which might then bake bread, warm beans, or brown a delicious roast that would otherwise have spoiled in his or her slowly but persistently warming freezer.

  • I dont know Janis, you ever drank 5 day old water out of a bathtub?

    Betcha some Katrina folks would have loved one of these…which was my thoughts when we had that Hurricane come through a few years back.

    Me, better safe than sorry. Anyway, my thinking goes like this: If I buy it I will never need it. If I do not buy it then we get a hurricane next year that kills the water system for a week.

    So it sits in the closet with my old tableside waiter propane burner and a case of propane cans, the coleman stove, the propane lights and candles etc etc.

  • @danpi: The bathtub water is mostly for flushing and washing, but yes, I’ve drunk water from the bathtub after it’s been sitting there for a few days.

    If stored water tastes sort of flat, you can stir it up. I also have a special pitcher, with a built-in plunger, that’s designed to aerate flat, stored water. (Part of my Y2K stash. Haven’t regretted those preparations one bit! It was good practice for times like these.)

    If you think you might be reduced to drinking that bathtub water, it’s wise to clean the tub and rinse it thoroughly before filling it.

    You could get crazy, I suppose, and improvise a cover if you’re worried about stuff falling into it. (I was worried about my toddler grandson falling into our filled-up tub last weekend. I kept the door to the bathroom closed, and luckily, he didn’t discover it.)

  • I can’t believe no one mentioned chocolate. It’s nature’s perfect food: calories, caffeine, and a mood-elevating affect.

    Our gas range is only ten years old and we can light the burners with a match. A mouse chewed through the electrical connection for two of the burners, so we always have to light them manually anyway.

  • Here’s my recommendation for summertime power outages: ALWAYS have one pint, minimum, of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the freezer.

    That way, when the power goes out, you MUST eat the ice cream, or it will melt and be a total loss.

    NOT to eat the ice cream would be a sin.

    Very seldom does life present us with the perfect circumstance for eating ice cream without a scintilla of guilt. This is one of those circumstances, if only you plan ahead.

  • cuddle, cuddle, cuddle then cuddle somemore –that’s what animals do when it’s cold.

  • Cuddling. Chocolate. And Icecream. This power outage now officially feels like lamaze class. I may stay. You don’t suppose those popsicles and ice cream sandwiches will melt as well, do you?

    I smiled a knowing smile at the words “junk drawer”. Those two words are well-understood in any culture.

    Kitchen junk drawers are somewhat portentous — because you never know what may be in them — and incredibly useful — because you never know what may be in them.

  • About whole house generators…I ran mine for four straight days and used $300 (130 gal) of LP (calculated by refueling). It cost about $75 a day to run. You will never recoup the cost of buying a generator in actual dollars. But, it’s money well spent to have heat, power and peace of mind. I was the only one in my neighborhood with power. So, during power outages, I have an open door policy for my neighbors, if they so choose to drop in and hunker down. BTW: unlike the portable generators, a whole house delivers 2 phases of 120V. So, your well pump and other 240V appliances will keep running.

  • Cecil, the other knock on pellet-style stoves… don’t they require a fan? My sister has one, and she says it doesn’t help during a power outage. Similar problem with any fireplace-insert stoves. The fact they are enclosed by the fireplace severely limits the efficiency of getting heat into the room, which is why they generally have fans.

  • The comments here have been really helpful. Thanks to all!

  • Ditto—I’ve learned a lot. The reminder that pellet stoves require power was a eye-opener!

  • Steve, you are a saint. If I was paying $75 a day plus infrastructure costs to be the only one with power in my neighborhood, I think I’d have a doorman and a cover charge.

  • Thanks boss of me for the thermocouple tutorial.

  • 30,000 watt generator
    Large tank of diesel fuel.

    Thats my plan.

Comments are currently closed.

Sideblog