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The Keys to Surviving Off the Grid
by Nancy Castleman

It's a pretty safe bet that in the near future, for one reason or another, some of us are going to lose power for a week or more. How would you handle a massive power failure?

Marc and I live a pretty simple life, but even for us, no power gets old pretty quickly, especially in the winter. A few years back, Marc researched generators, picked one out for us, and installed it. It cost $479, which is a lot for us to spend on anything, but it makes me feel a million times more secure.

If you're open to making a similar investment or giving a pricey present to a loved one, I urge you to consider a generator -- plus a check to cover the electrician's bill. Unless you're fortunate enough to have a Marc in your life, someone who has a strong background in all matters electrical and a willingness to learn how to safely install and use mechanical devices, you'll need to bring in a pro. When installed wrong or misused, generators can be very dangerous, as well as expensive.

Once, when the lights went out, we couldn't get the generator started. We learned that you can't plop it in the garage and forget about it until you need it. If you haven't maintained yours and kept it filled with fresh gas, it probably won't act like one on ER, automatically coming on at the first sign of a blackout.

But once your generator's safely installed, if you're willing to maintain it, you'll be able to weather major power outages. For us that means we can have heat, cold and hot water, lights, refrigeration, the greenhouse, and Good Advice Press all up and running in no time, for a long time.

High and Dry
The average person needs a gallon or two of water a day, at least 2 quarts for drinking and 2 for food preparation and sanitation. Assuming you'd like to be prepared for at least one week off the grid, and yours is a four-person family, that's 28 to 56 gallons.

In theory, between our deep well and our generator, Marc and I don't need a separate water supply. Still, I always feel better about having some extra drinking water on hand, and when a power failure looms, we fill the tub. (Being able to flush makes off-the-grid living a lot more tolerable!)

Even if you have city water, something could happen that would leave you high and dry. So build up a water reserve and/or consider other water sources. For example, we can get water directly from our water tank. Maybe you can, too.

Important: Experts say that when you store tap water for drinking in a container, you should purify it. For detailed instructions, go to: www.fema.gov/library/emfdwtr.htm.

A Simple Way to Cook
Since our stove is electric, if the lights go out, we can't cook. But since we can boil water with a handy little one-burner, propane stove that I've had for decades, we can quite comfortably weather any short-term blackout without even bothering to fire up the generator. Don't have a camping stove? I highly recommend one, for yourself and as a gift.

How Long Could You Live Off Your Larder?
The pantry's always pretty full around here, and we could certainly survive quite nicely for a few weeks if the supermarket was closed, its shelves bare, and/or the road to town impassable. But we're always happy to stock up when the items we regularly use are on sale.

Do it too, and take advantage of an unbelievably powerful investment opportunity, while you prepare for emergencies. For example, if you buy extra cans of tuna on sale at 50 cents apiece, and the price goes up to $1.00, you've netted a 100% yield on these "supermarket stocks." Buy bottled water at 3 gallons for a buck, instead of $1.00 each, and get an immediate, guaranteed, incredibly high return of 200%.

Focus on canned goods and dried fruit that can be stored without refrigeration and eaten without cooking. Don't go for warehouse-sized cans, unless your family can eat the contents in one sitting. Without refrigeration, food can go bad quickly. And if you don't have a hand-crank can opener, pick one up.

These days, Marc and I make sure we've got a generous supply of the medicines that we take, and we've asked our doctor for back-up prescriptions, in case the info stored in the pharmacy's computer is lost or unavailable when we need it.

Don't forget to keep a supply of the items you buy at the health food store, any paper goods that you regularly use, and include some comfort foods, too. You'll all be happier campers if you've got some special treats squirreled away.

Don't Forget Fido! Consider what your pets will need, and put that amount of food aside, with additional water for each dog and cat. In case you're wondering, the rule of thumb is 30 ml of water per pound of pet, which translates to 2 1/2 cups for a 20 pound pooch.

Where to Store It All
Before you start spending for your emergency stash, think through where you're going to store it all. That may help you more than anything else to find the right balance between your anxieties, your space, and your purchases. Ideally, you want a cool, dry, dark spot for storage, say in your basement, away from old paint cans and other hazardous chemicals.

Live in an apartment? Think about empty corners and spots under tables and beds. You could always cover stacked boxes with tablecloths and use them as end tables. If it'll make you feel more secure, why not?

Get Smart
Here are two Web sites that can help: www.fema.gov and www.redcross.org. Others will pop up if you search online, but you may not be able to get online. So here are three books you'll be glad to own. We've recommended two in previous issues, but thought they deserved another mention, given the events of recent months.

1. Making the Best of Basics: Family Preparedness Handbook, by James Talmage Stevens ($22.95), is the bible on self-sufficiency. It contains very reasonable, down-to-earth advice to keep you watered, fed, and healthy during tough times.

2. Back to Basics: How to Learn & Enjoy Traditional American Skills, edited by Norman Mack ($30.00), is truly a treasure trove of useful and fun information for family projects, whether you want to garden, fish, raise chickens, make your own cheese, yogurt, beer or hand-cranked ice cream, build a sauna, or make your home more energy efficient. We really love this book, which makes a great gift.

3. The American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook ($17.95), covers all the basics (treating burns, bites, and sprains) and much, much more. There are clear, easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations, so you'll be able to quickly learn to cope with virtually any emergency, even delivering a baby! It's an excellent guide.

These three titles are all available through us -- see our order form.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor, Issue #32
© 2001, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman
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