Homestead Hints ~ Dealing Without Electricity

by Merissa on July 30, 2011

in Homestead Hints

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Out here in the country, life revolves a little differently than it does in the city. We put hard, long hours into making our homestead a self sufficient haven for our families. Homestead Hints will be a series following things that we’ve learned over the last several years on how to make our homestead living a little better. Welcome to the Little Homestead on the Prairie…

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I thought that Thursday's Living Like Little House post opened up a good topic of discussion. Regardless of whether or not we want the progression that we are seeing, it's still here. However, you and I both know how unreliable it can be. My electricity blinks on and off all the time, regardless of whether or not there is a storm. And when there is a storm it usually goes out and I have no idea how long it will take to come back on.

I know there are all kinds of machines and things that you can buy to help you be able to do things without electricity, I haven't purchased any of them yet but I'm curious...have you? What kind of things do you do differently to prepare for the days when you may not have electricity? Or do you even worry about that?

We put a wood stove in our house last year to prepare for being without power in the winter. And it did happen. It was the middle of a horrible storm, it was something like -40F outside and the power went out. It was already fairly cold in the house because of the wind but when the power went out and we could still sit in front of what fireplace, I was so grateful. The power stayed off for hours and the house got very cold, but we had the fire to keep us warm. I was glad we had thought ahead and prepared for that time.

Another time was in the spring. It was raining so hard and something happened with the rain flooding around our electrical box. The power went out and I had no way to make food. It stayed off for a long time. This time I didn't have to worry about keeping the house warm, just prepping food. Thankfully, I had prepared for this as well and I had food in my pantry that didn't need to be cooked or warmed up, it was ready. And I was glad that I had prepared for that.

So I think preparing to have times without electricity doesn't have to be a big deal. I don't think you need fancy appliances or equipment. But I think it does make sense to be prepared for those times.

So let's chat..what do you do to be prepared to go without electricity? What do you wish you did more of? What (if any) non-electric products do you recommend?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 scallahan July 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

It sounds like you are really trying to deal with any situation. Where we live, it gets cold and snows and rains and we have wind storms. And the electric will go out. We have always had a nice gas grill with a side burner. You can cook anything on that. It has really saved us alot. You don’t need electricity for that. You could also just get a charcoal grill too.

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2 marci357 July 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

The old house, now a rental, had a woodstove – and I miss it. This house has a fireplace insert – which is not as good, but helps. Both put heat out, the stove way more than the insert. Both are flattops – by my choice… I am able to cook on top of them in my cast iron pans and dutch over, and on a trivet, keep water going. So… Heat, Cooking, Hot water, and a little light from the glassfronts.

Camping lights, a afire pit, rain water – hopefully it doesn’t stay out too many days. In the processing of doing more meat canning and less freezing… just in case! Got books to read, sewing and scrapbooking to do, cards and board games, so all is well as far as entertainment goes – which actually, is the same as every day as I don’t have tv :)

I am thinking of getting a sun cooker, as well as the BBQ, but as we have so few days of sunshine, I’m not sure that would help in the winter. Also, thinking of getting a wind generator, now that they are getting in the $400-$500 range – just in case! We get plenty of wind here!

Aside from the freezer and refrig, I can go a very very long time without electricity. :) It’s ok :)

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3 Amanda July 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm

We live completely off-grid, so we don’t usually get power outages, but we do have to prepare ‘just in case’! We own not one, but two propane back-up generators in case the normally high wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

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4 Merissa July 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I’d love to chat some time Amanda! We are planning on building our new home next year and going off the grid as well!

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5 Jenny July 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

My biggest concern with power outages is my fridge and freezer. I have a lot of money invested in the food in them, and would hate to lose it to a power outage. I know that my chest freezer will keep cold for quite some time, but only so long. In the winter I could just load all the stuff outside, but in the summer there’s nothing I could do.

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6 AManda Y. July 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Crank flashlights and crank cell phone chargers along with the previous suggestion about grills (propane or charcoal) are my top suggestions.

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7 Anita August 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

We live on a farm and will be celebrating our one year anniversary in October.

We’ve had power go out here often in the spring and so far in the summer. My biggest concern is the water. Our water pump is electric. So when it doesn’t work we only have access to the water in the cold water tank and the hot water tank. Which should be enough, but what if the power was out for 2 days or more? I have filled several 2L bottles with filtered water and dated them so I can change them in 6 months as was recommended by this site: http://www.grandpappy.info/indexhar.htm There is a lot of information on this site and helpful hints. We also have a wood burning source of heat in the house for winter. So my only real concern for when the power goes out is the possible lack of easy potable water.

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8 ann September 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm

If you have a soda processing plant near you see if you can purchase some containers from the syrup they use. I got 2 13.5 gal barrels that had Dr. Pepper syrup in them. I hosed them out and they are in my garden shed ready to go should the need arise. They have a twist plug on top so now I have to hunt up some type of hand pump for them.

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9 Susan March 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Ann, Walmart sells 5 gal water bottles and there is a hand pump that goes in the top of the bottle. I don’t know if one of these could be adapted to use on your 13.5 gal barrels. The pump costs about $10. This might help. I hope so.

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10 Donna Hoaks March 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

There are many little things that I have done to prepare for loss of power. I installed a hand pump for the well. The one I have is installed in the basement, where it is warm and dry. :) It will charge our pressure tank so we can use taps and toilets. I also have hand crank blender, food processors, and other items. We have oil lamps, kerosene heaters, crank flashlights and radios. We have canned heat ready, which is made with alcohol and gives heat, light, and a cooking fuel. I have a gas stove and a percolator. I even got an air pot so I can make it in the evening and have it ready when I wake up. Most of these items were second hand finds. The well pump was from a small mom and pop shop in Canada, and is American made. We try to have two or three ways to do anything we might need to do.

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11 Barbara Weil April 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Went thru hurricane Andrew and went without elec. for a month. Filled trash cans with water so we could flush toilet and wash other things. Filled every container I had with water and waited. Tub is not reliable unless you have a bladder inside. If frozen food is packed tightly together wrapped with paper and frozen gallon bottles of water you might be okay for 4 days so consider feeding the neighborhood fast. Numerous tealights under a baking dish can cook chicken so I’m melting down old candles into tuna/catfood cans with 2-4 wicks to use as a cooking source along with charcoal, gel fuel, solar oven

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12 tammy ferencz October 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm

There are many great ideas here for being without electricity. I also lived through three hurrincanes, back to back. Without power for 7-10 days with each, on maybe a week, off again. Didn’t fill freezer, but refilled fridge; lost fridge stuff again. We lived on sandwiches, cereal, cans, and milk. Cooler of foood, another of drinks. BBQ was big help. There was nothing available in stores, gas stations ran out of gas, couldnt get money out of bank. We all learned (us and neighbors) a lot during these emergencies.
We then stored gallons of water, cans, flashlights and batteries, candles in plastic bins labeled hurricane supplies. First aid kit and over counter meds also.

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13 Jessica October 29, 2012 at 8:52 am

This just reminded me to pick up some wicks for my oil lamps after my dentist appointment today! I wouldn’t make it in the dark, my one year old leaves his cars & Legos everywhere & they HURT! We’re not in the direct path of Sandy, but we will get some wind & rain from her.

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14 Merissa October 29, 2012 at 9:36 am

Ouch! Yes, it sounds like those are needed!

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15 Katherine October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

Living in a condo in the city, some options are limited. But in cold weather (under 40 degrees), I can put food in the car in a shady spot. Before storms, I freeze as much of the refrigerated food as possible so it’ll last a a little longer. Then I feast on that stuff until it’s time to move on to the canned goods. I’m lucky that my stove is gas (one with no pilot light), so to cook or boil water I just light up a burner. If that becomes not useable, I have small grill for outside. There’s plenty of fuel for fire in the woods along the property. In case of not being able to make fire at all, I keep bleach on-hand for sterilizing water. I fill the tub and a bunch of 5-gallon bladders with water. For keeping warm — layers and lots of cuddling with the dogs. For keeping cool — water and not moving much.

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16 Merissa October 29, 2012 at 9:36 am

Good idea to freeze food ahead of time to make it last longer!

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17 Debbie October 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

Well last summer (2011) we had 3 major storms roll in within a 3 week span, lost power 3 times. 1st time was for a day, 2nd time was for 3 days and the 3rd time was for an entire week. For us here in IL that is pretty unusual, usually it’s a day at the most and we are done. But we had such bad damage it just wasn’t possible.

A few things we did was cook on our grill (lots of burgers, hotdogs and mac nc cheese, etc), we also have a 7 day cooler that i loaded all of our refridgerator stuff in with ice, the fridge freezer we loaded as a one time load in our big standup that was downstairs, we also added bags of ice in there to help keep it cold. We also used our solar outdoor lights that lined our deck as lighting in the house at night, so we didn’t waste our flashlights/batteries and have to keep candles burning all the time. That helped tremendously! The kids loved it, they each had a light. I also would take their Nintendo DS games to work to charge during the day so they had something to keep them occupied at night.

By the 3rd storm when we realized that we weren’t going to get power for quite a few days we did buy a generator, with 3 kids and an elderly grandparent we knew we had to do something, so we got one (took FOREVER too find one!), drove an hour and half to get it and hooked up the basic essentials, fridge/freezer, 1 lamp, and whatever else we could that it allowed, like a tv/satellite box. But we still cooked on the grill and husband and I sat on our deck in the evenings as it was cooler outside and just enjoyed our time. :) It all worked out just fine for us!

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18 Erin October 29, 2012 at 9:33 am

Living in New Jersey right now, and with Hurricane Sandy to show up this afternoon, we have our bath tubs filled with water, big storage tubs filled with water, flash lights, candles, canned food, baked bread, and cell phones ready to be charged… Bring it on!

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19 Merissa October 29, 2012 at 9:36 am

That’s the best thing you can do, have a good attitude about it!

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20 Mel Free October 29, 2012 at 9:58 am

I put Yankee jar candles in every room,with lighters, have games at the ready, I bought a coffee pot that isn’t electric :), have bottled water, water filled in a crock in the kitchen, took everything hanging outside down, am keeping the house warmer ( just in case), have several flashlights / new batteries), 2 radios that run on batteries/new batteries, got all my cleaning done=no electricity means no vacumn,got all my washing & baking done…Now, we are just waiting for Sandy..a most unwelcome guest! :(

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21 Karen October 29, 2012 at 10:27 am

When we lived at the farm, I’d fill all the stock tanks and buckets. I’d put buckets in the bathtub and cover water vessels in the barn with a tarp and straw if it was freezing. I kept kerosene heaters, propane and a butane stove for heat and cooking. I put 5 gal Igloo coolers on the sinks for hand washing and one in the kitchen for fresh drinking water. Plenty of non perishable food, board games, flashlights and blankets. Bring it on! Living in the city now has only change the water storage. We have city water so it’s not necessary to store so much for livestock. I live with a Scoutmaster, Eagle Scout, and a Life Scout – why worry?

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22 Merissa October 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

All kinds of experts in your household!

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23 Karen October 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

Keep in mind, you all have 30-50 gallons of potable water in your hot water heater. You will have to open a faucet and open the water heater drain valve to tap it, but it’s safe and available. Be sure to turn the water heater OFF if your power is out so it doesn’t come back on empty.

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24 Vicki October 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm

We lived for three years without electricity or running water. It can be done and it isn’t difficult. We also didn’t get cell phone service. With three small children. I cooked on a 2 burner camp stove or outdoor grill in the warmer months and the woodstove and camp stove during the winter months. I would have a big pan of water on the wood stove all day to use for dishes, or cleaning/bathing (in a rubbermaid container). Used portta potty down stairs and an easily portable empty coffee can for upstairs. We used propane lanterns and candles for light. Or flashlights if just going upstairs to sleep. We would use ice chests for our food that needed to be kept cool or a snow bank during the winter. We had to travel six miles to a spring to collect water in five gallon water containers. We had several that we would fill every week. We actually look back at that time with smiles and wish we could do it again. You realize how little you DON’T really need in order to live comfortably.

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25 Connie November 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I live in a rural area and am trying to become self reliant. We have a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen and a air tight wood stove in the living room. Our hobby farm is on the side of a hill and we have gravity feed water to the bathroom; therefore, we can flush the toilet and wash. I have a water cooler in the kitchen and we try to have two or three large bottles of water set aside to drink and cook with. If I know a storm is coming in I fill several large pails with water for our animals. If the power does go off, we put old large blankets over the freezers to keep them cold. There are lots of ways to prepare for power outages, we just have to think ahead. My kids like it when we loose power because it makes them feel like the Little House on the Prarie.

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26 Linda April 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

We live at the end of the old electric line, are all electric, and often have our power go out, usually not very long. We have two generators, since my hubby HAS to have his TV. We only use our wood stove for heat in the winter and that has a cooking top, but use the BBQ if needed. The hubs is an easy keeper, so food is never an issue. We have two 2500 gallon water tanks on the side of our hill, that we keep filled and so our water is gravity fed.
We took out our land line and only use our cell phones , even tho we are isolated, we still get service.
In a pinch, if we had to, we could use our RV trailer which is packed and ready to go.

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27 Sheri April 9, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hi…
We live off-grid, and have for three years now.
We live in a 31ft. travel trailer on ten acres.
We have a generator for times of need, and we haul our water. Our fridge, and stove are propane.
We enjoy our life, and my husband, and I will be 60 this year.
We raise chickens, and rabbits right now, and have dogs, and cat.
It’s so possible, and enjoyable.

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28 Nancy May 15, 2014 at 3:33 pm

We got a camp stove and a few extra bottle of propane for power outage cooking, a stovetop coffeepot, I gotta have my morning coffee :), and we put in an extra well that has a hand pump and a working windmill. Just last Saturday our electric water pump went out and needed replacing so we just pumped water into buckets from our hand pump well and life went on. By noon the well guys had the electric repaired but it sure was nice to have the backup. The dog and chickens were happy too.

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29 Audrey July 3, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hi there! I’ve lived in an apartment with my husband and two kids for the last four years and we just bought a house a ways north where we will get snow. Our home has propane but the electric runs the kitchen and heater/a.c. I can a ton of food (thanks to our local farmer’s market) and will be able to garden and can more when we move in. I also have a Sun Oven that I LOVE!! Our apartment faced full west and the evening meal cooking could be brutal with the a.c. trying to counter it. I solved that problem with the Sun Oven and we used so much less electricity! I can even use it in the winter since it’s not based on outside heat but the angle of the sun.
I also have a French press for coffee so all I will have to do is boil water on our little grill.

I love your blog! I know everyone here has said it before, but I really do. It’s incredibly inspiring and now I don’t feel so silly wanting a simpler lifestyle and to be able to live in content.

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30 Kathleen August 28, 2014 at 1:49 pm

I too, live off-the-grid, and have for 15 years now. Over the years, the only time we had a power outage is if one of our components needed to be repaired. That happens. The thing about living this way, means when it does happen, life goes on. We do not live dependent on electric at all. So even the electric we generate ourselves, from the sun and wind, if nothing comes in, we can still get by. We lived for over 6 years without a refrigerator and just got a solar one last year. That….. I would miss, but could get by without it for a period of time.

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31 Merissa August 28, 2014 at 4:54 pm

That’s amazing! I’d love to know more about not having a fridge if you feel like sharing. :)

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32 Debra August 30, 2014 at 6:32 pm

We live in the country and when a winter storm comes, we can lose power for days. The one thing that concerns me the most with this is water. Anyone who lives in the country knows, when the power goes out, the pump doesn’t work for the well. When I know a bad storm is headed our way, I turn the heat up a little so it is a little warmer to begin with in the house. I fill all the pitchers, buckets and tubs with water, just in case. As the storm comes in, I keep a big pot of water boiling on the stove so I can cook with already hot water, make a pot of coffee or tea or anything else that I need warmed. One thing I totally didn’t think about until this last winter was the drains freezing. You think about your pipes freezing (keep them dripping), but it can be just as dangerous if your drains freeze shut. I’ve learned to put a little water in the toilet to flush it about once an hour when it’s -30 to keep the drain open. The minute the power goes out, we open a drain on the pipes to drain the fresh water out so it can’t freeze.

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33 Merissa August 30, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Great advice about the drains! Do you have a non-electric well pump you can use for back up? We’ve considered getting one but then realized our well pump has actually been converted to electric so we could simply “un-convert” it.

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