Most survival writers (including me) recommend bugging in (sheltering in place in their homes) as the preferable solution for the majority of the people, in the majority of situations. While we should always be prepared for the idea of having to bug out, just in case we have to, it is much easier to survive at home, than it is to survive away from home. It’s especially easier to survive at home, than it is to survive in the wilderness.
But that doesn’t mean that our homes are necessarily prepared for such an ordeal. While we may have our survival stockpile and all our survival gear in our homes, that doesn’t mean that we have properly prepared. There are a number of things that we can and should do, to ensure that our homes are ready to be used as a survival shelter. At the same time, many of these will make us more self-sufficient and not dependent upon the system.
I’m really talking about a long-term survival situation here, rather than just surviving a natural disaster. In a natural disaster scenario, the biggest thing our home needs to do is survive the disaster and protect us from the weather. But if we were faced with a major, life changing disaster, such as a total failure of the electrical grid, we would have to be ready to change our entire lifestyle into something much more akin to our ancestors of 150 years ago.
There are many ways in which we would be at a distinct disadvantage to those ancestors, simply because they were used to living without electricity. But we are addicted to it. So, while we may have a few things in our modern society which accrue to our advantage, we are missing much of the knowledge and tools necessary for life in their times. Yet we would have to adapt.
The biggest issue here, besides working without the assistance of electricity and the myriad of electronic devices we use daily, is self-sufficiency. In our modern society, we are highly dependent on the infrastructure that we have created. Our homes have been built with that in mind. Yet without it available, we would have to find other ways of doing things.
This article is about those other ways. More specifically, it’s about making sure that our homes are ready for those other ways. I want to look at the major areas of survival, applying them to sheltering in place in our homes, and see what we should be doing to make sure that our homes are ready.
Heating & Cooling
Let’s start with heating and cooling. Most modern homes use forced air heating. This requires massive amounts of electricity, even if it is a gas-fired furnace. At a minimum, your system requires electricity for the controls and for the blower. Air conditioning is even worse, as in addition to the interior air handling unit, you’ve got the compressor and fan outside to provide electricity for.
So, chances are high that you won’t be able to use your heating and air conditioning if the grid goes down. Few of us have enough solar panels to power these systems, unless we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars. Just to give you an idea, I was given a quote of $60,000 for enough solar panels to provide for my “average” electricity use. But that doesn’t cover my peak electrical use in the summer, when the air conditioner is battling the heat.
The solution that most preppers turn to for heating is wood. That makes sense, since mankind has used wood for heating for millennia. Wood is generally plentiful, renewable and you can harvest it yourself. But it does take a lot of wood to heat a home. People who currently use wood to heat their homes burn somewhere between four and six chords per winter.
Of course, you’ve got to have somewhere to burn that wood as well. That means a fireplace, or better yet, a wood-burning stove. Do you have one of these already installed in your home? If not, why not? How are you going to heat your home with wood in the midst of a crisis, if you don’t have someplace to burn it?
Not all home lend themselves to the installation of a fireplace or wood-burning stove. If you have a two-story home, you’ll find it extremely difficult to add either, as there usually isn’t anyplace that you can easily run the chimney. My dad installed one in our house when I was a kid, and he had to block off about a third of one of the closets to do so.
If there is no way that you can run a chimney up through the roof, there is a second option, which you could do in an emergency situation. That is to make a temporary installation, with the chimney running through a window. It would still need to get above the roof, but you wouldn’t need to cut any holes in the roof to get it there or run the chimney pipe up through an upper floor room.
To do this, you’d need to have all the necessary materials stockpiled. That would include:
- The wood-burning stove itself
- Enough chimneys and elbows to go out the window and above the roof
- Necessary brackets to hold the chimney in place
- Something to close off the window that you’re running the chimney through
- Inflammable material to put on the floor, underneath the stove (building code requires this for safety)
- Wood to burn
Even if you already have a fireplace in your home, you might want to consider getting a wood-burning stove and the necessary chimney pipe to run it through your fireplace chimney. Wood-burning stoves are much more efficient than fireplaces, giving you a lot more heat per chord of wood.
Keep in mind that when heating with wood, about all you manage to heat effectively is the room that the wood-burning stove is in. So you’ll need a plan for keeping warm while in other parts of the house. Our ancestors had a number of ingenious ways of doing this, including bed warmers, sharing body heat and using a lot of blankets and quilts. They would also wear warmer clothes in the winter, because the house would not be as warm as what you and I are accustomed to.
One last point, if you do have a fireplace or wood burning stove in place, is it ready for use? If you don’t use it regularly, the chimney could be filled with soot or even bat guano, rendering it unusable. Having it isn’t enough, if you don’t do the necessary maintenance work.
Cooling without electricity is all but impossible. But there are a few things you can do. First of all, plant fast-growing trees on the south side of your house, if you don’t already have them. Shade is an important part of cooling without electricity. The temperature difference in the sun and shade can be as much as ten degrees.
The other thing you need is good ventilation. If your home doesn’t have enough operable windows on the side where the prevailing wind comes from, you need to do something about it. For that matter, it wouldn’t hurt to have more windows all around your home, allowing additional light in.
Water & Sewage
We all recognize the need for water. Many an article has been written about it, some with good advice and some with not so good advice. The problem, as I see it, is that most people aren’t really understanding how big a problem waster will actually be. They are either assuming that they can actually get by on a gallon of clean water per person, per day, or they think that hauling water from the local pond won’t be that big a deal.
As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not self-sufficient for water, you’re not really ready. During early Medieval times, one of the sure ways of capturing many a castle was putting it under siege and waiting until dehydration set in. That led to castles being built where there was a good water source, with a reliable well in the middle of the courtyard.
The same problem could exist for any of us, if we depend on outside water sources during a time of social unrest or a general breakdown of society. People who want out food could simply camp out in front of our homes, and wait till we have to come out in search of water.
I don’t care how much water you have stored away, it’s not going to be enough, especially when you start raising your own food. There are only two viable solutions, as far as I’m concerned. Those are to have your own well or to use rainwater capture. Of course, which one is preferable for you will depend on how much rainfall you get and how high the water table is.
In either case, you should have a cistern to go with your means of harvesting water. That way, you will have water to get you though the dry spells. That cistern might be nothing more than an above ground pool, which is my favorite “stealth” water tank, but that will work.
Don’t forget that you can reuse grey water (water from washing) to flush toilets and water your garden. You won’t want any water going down the drain that doesn’t have to. Each gallon you save is one more that you have to use.
Although I mentioned flushing the toilet, I wouldn’t count on that, unless you have a septic tank. If the city water is down, the sewage system will be too. All it will take is for the sewage pipes to fill, and your flusher won’t flush any more.
I am fortunate in that I have a septic tank. So I don’t have to worry about the city’s sewage treatment plant. But if I didn’t, you can be sure that I would have a spot all scouted out and prepared for putting in an outhouse. Considering that we have a lot of clay in our soil here, that would probably mean actually digging the hole for the outhouse and then filling it with sand, so that it would be easy to dig out when the time comes.
Cooking & Preserving Food
With the power out, your stove and oven are going to become rather large paperweights. Maybe you can use the oven for extra storage and if you have one of those glass range tops, the stove can be extra counter space. But that’s about all the good it will do you.
Most people assume that they’ll be cooking with wood if the power goes out, but are you prepared to do so? Do you have a wood-burning kitchen stove or is your heating stove usable for cooking as well? Most of the new ones are insulated to the point where you really can’t cook on top of them like you could with the old ones and cooking in a fireplace is tricky.
To cook in a fireplace, you need to have either a dutch oven or a fireplace crane. When we’re talking dutch oven, that’s not the enameled cook pot that you put on your stove, that’s a cast iron pot, with what looks like an inverted lid. The lip on the lid is so that you can heap coals on top of it, surrounding the food inside with heat, turning it into an actual oven. You’ll need this for baking bread and even the occasional pie.
You’ve probably seen a fireplace crane at some time, at least on television, if nowhere else. It’s the hook that you hang a pot over the fire with. They attach to the side of the fireplace, and swing out of the way when you are not using them. But when it’s time to cook, it allows you to put the pot over the hottest part of the fire. You can buy one of these for about $80 and install it in your fireplace yourself.
The other option to consider is cooking outdoors. This might be a bit rough in the wintertime, but it will help keep your home from getting quite as hot in the summer. But that means having someplace to cook, such as a fire pit. While building one isn’t difficult, it would be much better to do it now, rather than later.
While we’re talking about building things, what about a clay or brick oven? Along with your fire pit, that would make it much easier for you to cook outdoors. Bread, pizza and other baked goods come out great when cooked in such an oven.
An outdoor kitchen, like the one in the photo above, would be ideal for survival, as well as being a good place to entertain in the mean time. Just add a table, and you’ve got a great place for a barbecue.
Cooking your food isn’t going to be your big problem, preserving it will be. You’re probably going to be depending on canning for a lot of that, which is also going to require a good fire, as well as a good supply of canning lids. But you can’t can everything.
Even if you plan on canning all your produce, you’re going to have trouble doing it. First of all, that would take an enormous amount of canning jars to accomplish. Until you have a year’s supply of canned goods in storage, you won’t have any idea how many jars I’m talking about. As I’ve written in other articles, a small vegetable garden isn’t going to do it. You’re going to need to turn your entire backyard into a garden.
For the rest of your produce, you’d be better off with a root cellar. This could either be a makeshift root cellar, created by burying an old refrigerator or a heavy-duty large plastic tote in the ground. The cooler temperature would keep your food fresh longer, allowing you to save your canned produce for later in the winter.
Then there’s the issue of meat. While it is possible to can meat, you can’t possibly can it fast enough to keep a deer or side of beef from going bad. That leaves dehydrating or smoking as possibilities. The American Indians used to dry their meat in the sun, making jerky. That would work too and doesn’t require anything more complicated than a clothes line. But smoking, especially smoking at that scale, requires a whole lot more than a smoker made out of a 55 gallon drum. You’d need a smokehouse.
Granted, building a smokehouse now, for some future need, may seem a bit extreme. Chances are, you wouldn’t use it until such a time. But you could always build one and use it as a storage shed, ready for the day that you’ll need to smoke a whole deer or steer.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago about turning your entire backyard into a survival garden, so I’m not going to go into depth here. I just want to mention that you don’t want to wait until the last minute to prepare for that. It takes a good year, at least, to get the soil for your garden to the place it needs to be. Then you’ve got to figure in time for learning how to grow a vegetable garden that will give you the greatest possible harvest.
Likewise, growing animals for food is not easy. It will take time to learn how to do so, especially learning how to deal with diseases and other problems. Starting now will help ensure that you’ll have food to eat when the time comes that you have to grow your own.
This is another area where I’ve written several articles. Basically, you need to prepare your home’s passive defenses, so that they will hold long enough to allow you a chance to grab your guns and fight back. The conventional wisdom in home security won’t do that.
If your home is attacked by a hungry gang, looking to steal your food, you will be better off if you can keep them outside, using your home as a fortress to fight from. That not only means making it hard for them to get in, but making it hard for them to shoot through the walls to get you. Prepared firing positions, with either sandbags or steel plate will help ensure your survival.
But there’s one other area I need to mention, that’s your backyard. There’s nothing to keep people from hopping the average fence and raiding your garden and animals. Done at night, they could steal you blind, without you even knowing it.
The solution to this requires two things; some sort of alarm, like dogs and improving the security that your fence offers you, without making it look like you’ve done that. A lot of that will depend on what kind of fence you have now and what you can do to make it a better barrier. But something will have to be done, or you won’t have anything left.
While true survival doesn’t require electricity, there are many things that electricity does for us. Being able to have some electrical power will make a huge difference in your survival and especially in your comfort. I’m not talking about enough electrical power to take care of your entire home and everything you use now, but at least enough to take care of a few critical needs.
If you’ve been around the prepping community for any time at all, you’ve probably read articles and even books about going off-grid, using wind and solar power. Both of these are great survival power sources, as long as you have a battery backup system to go with them. They’re even better when you use both, because when one isn’t working, chances are the other will be.
Of the two, wind power is much less expensive to buy or build than solar is. But of course, you’ve got to have enough wind coming through to make the wind turbine actually produce electricity. That usually means a minimum of 10 mph winds, which is a fairly stiff wind.
However, wind turbines only work when there is wind, hence the reason for combining wind and solar power. While solar panels are fairly expensive, you can save quite a bit of money on them, if you build your own.
The biggest problem with wind and especially solar power is that you don’t get a whole lot of power out of just one wind turbine or one solar panel. If you are going to have enough to really use it for anything more than charging a cell phone, you’re going to need a bunch of solar panels.
I got a quote on solar power for my home, and based upon my average usage, I’d need to spend $60,000 to have enough solar power for everything. While you really don’t need to have everything working in a survival situation, I mention that figure just to give you an idea of how much of a system you will need.
The battery backup system is necessary for those times when neither wind or sun is giving you power. In fact, I’d have to say it is the most important part of the entire home energy system. Like the solar panels, one battery won’t be enough, although there are a lot of one battery systems out there. When you start converting the 12 volts in the battery into 120 volts for home usage, you quickly find that one battery doesn’t go very far.
One very effective way of using your home generated power is for lighting your home. Today’s LED lighting is much more efficient than either incandescent bulbs or the newer CFLs. Just switching over to LED bulbs would make it possible to light your home off of the power you will generate.
But there’s an even better option, although it requires more work. That is to wire your home so that you can use 12 volt LED lights, such as the kind they use in recreational vehicles. While they don’t produce as much light as a normal home bulb does, they eliminate the need to boost the 12 volts from the batteries to house current. That saves the electricity that would normally be wasted in the process of the voltage inversion.There are two keys to this. The first is locating the lights right where you need them, rather than trying to light up the whole room like the sun is shining. The second is running separate wires for the lights through the attic or basement, and then from there snaking them into the walls. You won’t need the same sort of wire normally used for wiring up a home, as the lights will draw much less current. You can use 18 gauge zip cord (lamp cord or speaker cord) and it will work just fine.