What Do I Need In Order To Survive An Economic Collapse? Living Without Electricity

What would happen if you woke up tomorrow to a home with no electricity? No lights. No running water. No heat or A/C. No stove to cook breakfast on. No coffee maker. No toaster. No microwave. Nothing. How inconvenienced would you be?

What if this lasted for a week? Two weeks. Months. And for whatever reason staying at somebody else’s place wasn’t an option. What if everyone lost power.

Would you be able to survive? Sure, you’d learn to improvise. You’d figure out how to cook in an empty aluminum can over an open flame. But wouldn’t it be better to begin preparing for this possibility before it happens?

Oh, that’s right. It’ll never happen to you. This is America, after all, not some third-world country. We might lose power for a couple of days at most, but the utility company will have it back on again in no time… right?

If that’s your thinking then you can go ahead and keep believing we are invincible, and above calamity. I’ll choose to live in the real world, and begin preparing now. Just in case. I prefer the “better safe, than sorry” approach. Especially when it comes to the well-being of my kids.

So, what do you need in order to live comfortably without electricity? I’m so glad you asked. (And I’ll assume you aren’t rigged with solar or wind.)

1. Heat Source

If you live in a region where winters are cold, you’ll need to think about this. Since it’s gonna be 7* F tonight for us, right now especially we realize that a source of heat for our home is extremely important. If we lost power for a long stretch of time, it wouldn’t take long for our house to get really, really cold. A non-electric source of heat is something that we are working on getting in place.

A generator would work for a while, but once you are out of fuel it won’t be any good to you. The same goes for kerosene and propane heaters.

Installing a wood burning stove is probably your best option, if at all possible. That’s what we are doing, anyways. Outdoor boilers, or water stoves as they are called, are great for heating your home without using the furnace, but they still require a small amount of electricity. If you do opt for the wood stove, try to get one that you could cook on as well.

If you do not have a fireplace to install a wood stove in (and even if you do), you’d be wise to at least have some warm clothing and blankets on hand. Long underwear, thick socks, gloves, hats (something comfortable enough to sleep in), warm outer clothing, and good sleeping bags and/or blankets for every member of the family are a must. I’d consider co-sleeping as a family during the coldest of nights as well. Nothing like body heat to warm you up!

2. Clean Water

We all know how vital it is to have a source of clean water available to us at all times. But when the power goes out, how can we access it?

A well with a hand pump would be ideal. Unfortunately, not all people live on land with a well, and even if you do, if you are like us and have a deep well you can’t afford to install a hand pump on it!

Until we are able to get a hand pump rigged, we are relying on a few other sources for water. Since we are fortunate enough to have running water on our property, that’s gonna be our main source. We invested money in building this homemade water filtration system, so if we do have to drink from the creek, at least we will know it’ll be safe. You can also buy water purification tablets to have on hand.

We also bought a 275 gallon water tank off of craigslist, which we’ve hooked up to our gutter system to catch rain water. Amazingly, it’ll fill up in one good downpour. We use it to water the animals and the garden, but it would be good for drinking and bathing water as well. If you can get at least one rain barrel installed, it’ll be a good start.

3. Cooking

Without the use of a stove, microwave, or toaster oven, how do you plan on cooking when the power goes out? Even if your stove runs on propane, if you have no way of accessing more fuel when you run out it’ll be of no use to you.

A good thing to have in place is a way of cooking food using wood for fuel. I realize that not everybody has wood readily available to them. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to start piling up whatever wood you can get your hands on now. Or you could store up a good supply of charcoal. If used wisely, a little can last a very long time. Remember, in an emergency situation, you can burn a lot of other stuff in place of wood, too. It’s just important to have somewhere outdoors or in a well ventilated area to burn an open flame.

Here are a few ideas to think about:

  • Build a fire pit. Even if you only have a patio or balcony, you could have a small steel fire pit to burn in.
  • Burn wood in a charcoal grill.
  • Cook in an open fireplace.
  • Cook on your wood stove.
  • We also have a water stove (outdoor boiler) that we could use to cook in.

There are some other great ideas here that you might like to check out as well.

Don’t forget that you’ll need cast iron cookware for cooking over an open flame. Frying pans, a bread pan, and a camp dutch oven are a must.
Also remember to have a good stash of matches and lighters kept in a waterproof container!

4. Bathing

Without running water, bathing will take a little more effort. Hopefully you’ve set up a rain barrel or something to collect water in. If you have a way to heat your water, you’ll be able to boil enough to take a shallow hot bath in a tub. A nice large enamel pot would be good to have on hand for boiling large amounts of water in. Make sure you have a good bathtub plug too!

If you don’t have a bathtub, you might wanna keep your eyes out for a large galvanized washtub that you could fit in comfortably.

You could also build an outdoor solar shower. Here’s a really nice example of how one can be built out of an old hot water heater and some scrap privacy fencing. You can buy a solar shower for around $10-$30, or make one similar. I’ve also been thinking that a long, coiled up (preferably black) water hose left in the sunlight would create some very nice hot water to bathe with as well.

Whatever method you choose, plan on bathing a lot less frequently, and instead simply wiping down with a washcloth most days. Make sure you have a good supply of soap on hand!

5. Lighting

Obviously, lots of candles would be extremely useful. You can often find used ones for free at yard sales. Save the wax from old candles and broken crayons to make new candles from.

Oil lamps are great to have too. I’ve been picking these up at yard sales for really cheap as well. The larger, outdoor style oil lanterns would be handy as well as the more decorative indoor lamps. That lamp oil is expensive; kerosene is cheaper and works just as well, although it may produce a little smoke. I’ve also read that you can burn olive oil in lamps… something I want to experiment with.

We plan on picking up some solar flashlights on top of these other things.

Use your daylight wisely. Go to bed soon after the sun goes down, and rise with the dawn. This way you won’t use up your resources “burning the midnight oil”.

Keep a supply of lamp and candle wicks, oil, and matches on hand.

6. Washing clothes.

Of course, if you have a creek nearby you can always wash your clothes in it, right? But what if you live in town?

My first back up plan was to make a “washing machine” out of a plunger and a 5-gallon bucket. But we were thrilled to find an antique, wooden hand-crank washing machine at a yard sale over the summer!

Though all you really need is a wash basin, scrub brush or scrub board, and a bar of soap!

7. Refrigeration

If you leave the fridge and freezer doors closed, the food inside will stay good for about 3-4 days. But once frozen stuff starts to thaw out, you’ll need to either can it, dry it in a solar dehydrator, or eat it quickly.

Though most of us can live without it, a good refrigeration method would be nice to have to keep food and drinks cool through the hot months.

A while back I shared how you can make a Zeer Pot to keep your foods cooler and fresher for up to three weeks.

Again, if you have a nearby source for running water, you can use the cool stream to keep your foods from spoiling as quickly by submerging them until ready to use.

8. Sanitation

Unless you have a composting toilet, power outtages mean no flushing potties. If you are fortunate enough to live in a wooded area, then going to the bathroom won’t really be any trouble for you. But, if you live in the city or in town and can’t just dig a hole in your back yard, the build-up of sewage can become a very serious problem.

If going outdoors is not an option for you, I’d highly recommend that you stock up on trash bags. You can use smaller ones to line your toilet with, or you can use a 5-gallon bucket lined with a larger trash bag for very effective waste disposal. This will at least keep things from spilling over and stinking up the place, and creating major health hazards.

9. Communications

If some major catastrophe has occurred, and lights are out all over town, it would be of some comfort, I think, to have some means of communication with the outside world. A good solar/hand-crank emergency radio is important to have on hand.

You might also consider some good quality walkie-talkies. If you and your family members have to separate over a fairly short distance for any particular reason having a way of communicating with each other could be life-saving.

10. Books

Don’t forget what we talked about in Part 2 of this series. When the internet is down, and your phone-a-friend lifeline is no longer available, you’ll really be glad to have life saving “how to” guides on hand. Refer back to my Personal Library Essentials post for suggested reading.

Look, I don’t know if we’ll ever need to use these suggestions or not. I pray, I PRAY we don’t. But like I said before, doesn’t it seem so much wiser to be prepared, just in case? What harm could come of having a back up plan? I am reminded of two quotes,

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

-Benjamin Franklin

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

- John F. Kennedy

Although I’m not sure in which context these phrases were being used, I do believe it easily applies to survival preparedness. The more of us who are ready to take care of ourselves in a crisis, the less strain there will be on those who come to help. We all remember what happened when Katrina hit. It was a long time before any help did arrive, and those who depended upon it suffered horribly. I don’t want to see my children suffering, I don’t want to suffer… and I don’t want you and your family to suffer either.

Get prepared.


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Lea Harris founded Nourishing Treasures in 2006. A mom passionate about her family's health and well-being, Lea believes education is power. Encouraging others to take baby steps in the right direction of health for their families, Lea's goal is to raise awareness of what goes into our mouths and on our bodies, providing natural alternative information that promotes health and prevents disease by using traditional foods and nature's medicine.

Lea is a Certified Health Coach graduate from Beyond Organic University, and a Certified Aromatherapist graduate from Aromahead Institute.

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