Monday, February 11, 2019

Preparing for a Power Outage while living On-Grid

It's funny how things change!  For eighteen years, we lived off-grid, doing everything the hard way.  Winter was like a challenge course, one that if you persevered to the end, it meant that you got to do it all again the next year.  I never would have thought that we would once again be living in the world of grid supplied electricity, and truthfully, it has been like a breath of fresh air.  Grid power is so inexpensive compared with generator power!  For roughly $25 to $50 dollar a month we run an entire household (plus additional living quarters for both Master and Serenity) compared with $50 - $75 dollars a week to live off grid (and that's just for fuel for the generator - not including heat or hot water).  We take showers when we want, flush the toilet every time, water the garden without thinking......we just enjoy first world living at its finest.  But, there is one thing that we weren't prepared for......power outages!!

Living off-grid we rarely had a power outage.  We knew our system inside out and were intimately involved in every process of producing our own electricity.  Now, like a majority of American's we are merely consumers rather than producers.  We are far removed from producing our own electricity, therefore we never know when to expect to lose it.  And lose it we do.....a lot.

We live in a very, very, rural part of America.  And we live about 15 miles out of the nearest town on a gravel road.  There are only about 3 other families that live "out here" and because of that, we are low man on the totem pole when it comes to repairing failed power lines.  In addition to living "out" we are also in a snow belt.  We get roughly twice the amount of snow (or more) out here than we do in town at our butcher shop.  We truly do live in Narnia......where it is "always winter and never Christmas".

It will be fun to see our roof slide again!!

And here we have Narnia
As with the rest of the Northwest, we are experiencing a large snow-producing weather system.  We have gotten roughly 18" of snow in the last 24 hours are are expecting an additional 21" before Wednesday.  And so, I prepare.  I am expecting the power to go out, at least for a while.  Of course it may not, but you know me - I'd rather be prepared and have the power stay on than do nothing and be without power with no preparation.

Without a generator backup (we do have one, but won't use it unless really necessary) or solar panels and batteries, our preparations look different than when we lived off-grid.  Knowing that we have a winter weather advisory, there are a number of things I do, just in case.

Today I've spent the day making sure I'm caught up on everything that may require water.  I've done all the laundry, gotten children in the shower, done the dishes a few times and filled pitchers and coolers with water.  I have a large military water cooler with a spigot that is perfect for kitchen use.  It holds enough potable water for our needs for at least a day.  I also have another large stainless steel thermos (its huge, really) that I fill and put on the bathroom vanity for bathroom use.   We do have an outhouse, however, we'd really rather use the toilet in the house.  In anticipation of no power, I fill the bathtub to the tippy top and put a pitcher nearby, which enables us to use the indoor plumbing by filling the back of the toilet with water out of the bathtub.  Used appropriately, this method lasts for quite awhile.   The bathtub also provides us with water to heat to keep up with dish washing.  We also have a large number of Water Bricks on a shelf in our bedroom, in case we need even more potable water.  If we run out of potable water in all of our vessels, then we start the generator for a few minutes to fill everything.  In a worse case scenario we  have (my parent have) a hand pump for our well, along with two year around creeks that we can draught water from.

Water at the ready in the bathroom

Bathtub full of water

Potable water at the kitchen sink

Pitchers full
The cooking/heating part of our life on grid is about what it was like when we lived off-grid.  We still have a wood cook stove, so meals are easy, and heating is the same, only easier.  Our house is very well insulated and heating our home, even during the coldest of times, takes nothing more than a few dry pieces of wood.  We also have a propane stove/oven, which requires no electricity, making cooking when the power is out no different than when the grid is up.

Our little wood cook stove
One of the biggest differences to off-grid living is lighting.  When we lived off-grid, we used LED lighting and were easily able to keep the lights on, even with minimal battery back-up.  Now, we have no batteries so lighting is a little bit trickier.  Our off-grid lighting is what it was when we first moved off-grid - oil lamps!  I have kept our favorite oil lamps and make a habit of keeping them cleaned and full in the winter (when we are most likely to experience power outages).  I have them placed around the house so that they are easily pulled into service when we need them.  I also keep a hurricane lantern by the door to take to the outhouse should we need to.  I spent the morning charging our rechargeable batteries.  I have a number of electric candles (which I find make a house cozy, while providing just enough light to keep us from tripping over things) and flashlights that take AA batteries.  It only makes sense to make sure they're fully charged while the electricity is on rather than find out they're dead when you can't charge them.  I also take some time to make sure the electronics are charged.  It's nice to be able to put music on when the power is out, and perhaps watch a movie on the computer.  I even have a converter that has a car adapter so that computers (or larger electronics) can be charged - that can be pretty handy.

Hanging oil lamp in the dining room

Hurricane Lanter

Car adapter power converter
When it comes to food and supplies, I don't head to the store, but I do head to the container.  I sent the kids out earlier to bring in toilet paper and tissues.  They filled gallon jars that were getting low (salt and oatmeal, powder milk and baking cocoa) and brought in water containers.  We shoveled snow (its easier to shovel now and then after another big snow) and took care of animals.  We filled the hearth with firewood (just so we don't have to head back outside) and made a fresh batch of hot chocolate mix.  And now we can just watch it snow!

Electric candles

Just the right amount of light!
We still prepare.  It just looks different.  In some ways it is much easier and in others I feel vulnerable.  We'll keep working and get to the point that we have backups for our backups, but these things take time, and money.  We'll get there.  But ultimately, you can take the off-grid out of the girl, but you can't take the girl out of the off-grid!

Stay safe.  Stay warm.  Be prepared!!


  1. Great to see you adding a new post. Your snow looks quite intimidating. I am from north central Illinois and last week a friend in our nearest town had -27 degrees. The lowest I remember back on the farm was -22, it must be that global warming? Much better than that here in north Texas where I am now.

  2. It's good to point out that off-grid living is tough and expensive. Too many folks romanticize it. You have covered it well on this blog for years.

    I might add that we love to read at night. You can beat low-lumen LED head lamps. They also make outdoor evening chores so much easier allowing both hands free. We keep them right at the door.
    Montana Guy

  3. Really appreciate this update with details and your thinking behind choices. I'm a new subscriber to the blog. DM

  4. I live in the heart of the metro area of Vancouver and we still lose power. In preparation for the 'snow event' here, I made sure I had prescriptions refilled. Then filled up some water jugs to keep in the bathroom. Love reading your blog. Cheers, SJ in Vancouver BC

  5. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who
    has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me dinner simply because I stumbled upon it for him...
    lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending time to discuss this matter
    here on your web site.

  6. Enola - so good to "see" you back and posting! We had a fluffy still snowfall like yours this past week (not nearly so much snow) and it was BEAUTIFUL! We usually get it carried along with 20 mph winds pilling it only in the places it is not welcome (or so it seems)!

    As was commented on above it is good that you let people know the costs associated with "off grid" power. So many folks think that it is cheap because it is "free fuel" when in reality it is considerably more expensive and requires effort, knowledge and mechanical/electrical ability. I would also assume that living in your location you only have one feeder coming in to provide electricity so regardless of where there is an "open" (circuit or line down) between you and the generation source it will affect you. (While we are rural we can have a feed from the west or the east which will keep our "lights" more reliable. The Grid is designed to allow for that in most places.)

    You also answered my other question when you mentioned chores and livestock. I was wondering if you still had chickens and any dairy or beef cows/steers. While not giving specifics, few people refer to laying hens as "livestock", but rather "hens" or "chickens".

    I always enjoy how homey your place looks and again, thank you for sharing.
    May God continue to bless you and your family. Natokadn

  7. Thank you for another enjoyable post.
    I am surprised how rarely I lose power out where I am, but I try to prepare for it also. I have a wood stove and am on county water (very few people are on wells here due to mining), so I only really lose electric.
    I miss playing in the snow - both because I'm now an adult, and because we haven't gotten much snow in several years: in the 7 years I've been here on the farm, the most we've gotten at once in 4 inches.

    You mentioned taking care of animals - can you tell us more about what animals you have?

  8. We had ice here which knocked out the power. My cooking stove is now propane and I installed a ventless propane heater a while back in the living room. While I also have a generator, its a dog to start when its super cold (not as young as I used to be lol). That would power the well, but I've opted to fill some 5 gal jugs and a 30 gal. barrel instead (plus the usual bottled water). The only thing I would suggest that I've found helpful is a battery powered camp shower. Boil up a quart of water and then add enough cold to make it the temp you like. Wire up the sprayer in the shower and turn on the pump. Not like a spa, but luxury compared to a sponge bath.