Category Archives: power cuts

Your Resilience Plan – Housing

In a climate where cold and rain are frequent features, your house is a critical resource. Unless you can afford to build your own, you will have to make do with a standard model, not designed with resilience in mind. Very few houses in Britain can function independently of mains services (‘off-grid’).

There’s still a lot you can do. Living off-grid is a major lifestyle change, and you can cultivate the correct attitude from any starting position. Then you’ll know what opportunities to look out for and be ready to seize them, as well as being better prepared for domestic emergencies.

Heating is important. You can always keep warm by wearing extra clothes, but a cold house soon become damp. This is a health hazard. Cut the high cost of heating energy with good insulation. There are many low-cost options, such as using double curtains and draught excluders in winter.

Use any outside space you have. You can grow herbs in pots and put up a washing line in the smallest of gardens. With a larger space, cultivate vegetables or hold community gatherings.

The structure of your house may be resistant to resilient improvements, but it’s filled with furniture, which is under more control. Consider quality and ease of cleaning in purchases. Learn how to care for furniture and you can afford to spend the extra on better made, or even locally crafted, items. Buy second-hand to save energy costs and help reduce the waste stream.

Taking this further, you could learn to repair or build your own furniture. For example, your landlord might not allow you to put up shelves. Find an old wardrobe and convert it to a bookshelf. If woodwork is too daunting, try making a rug or learning to upholster a simple stool. It’s important that you learn how much effort and skill is required, so that you know the true value of hand-made goods. Always try and source materials to benefit your local economy for your DIY projects.

making a rag rug
This method uses a hooked needle to make a rag rug

These are all easy tasks, which you can carry out at any time. Suppose things go wrong in the outside world, upon which you depend? Do you know how to turn your mains services on and off? Where’s your water shut-off tap? You’ll need to know this if your system springs a leak! How would you make your house safe and secure if you have to leave it? Remember the two basic emergency situations are evacuation and isolation.

Let’s assume the latter case. You’re safe at home, but isolated from mains services and new supplies. Is your emergency food store independent of mains power? Many people rely on freezers to see them through. These are valuable in most circumstances. However, after a couple of days without mains electricity, all you have is a waste disposal problem. It’s very difficult to keep a freezer going on the sort of off-grid power you can easily access, but you’d learn a lot by setting this up.

How else could you provide essential services in your house in an emergency? What would you actually do if the water, gas or electricity went off? Make a plan. Would it see you through overnight? Could you last a few weeks? Understand what you might need and source the necessary equipment. A loft or shed are important as storage spaces for this.

For example, a well-insulated house can be kept from freezing or damp with the smallest of heaters. As long as you don’t keep leaving doors open, even a 500 watt oil-filled radiator can keep a room warm.

Never use a barbecue or other charcoal-burning device to heat a room or to cook indoors. They give off dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, and could quickly kill you.

The truly resilient can make their own candle-powered flowerpot stove, using the proper instructions. The excitable inventor gives you full details to make your own if you scroll down, as shipping costs to the UK from the USA are quite high. Use this design and no other! All I’d add would be to use stainless steel for the inner metal workings, as ordinary steel nuts and washers are coated with zinc. Find out why this isn’t ideal, using your own research.

flowerpot candle stove
A flowerpot candle stove

Once you’ve given household resilience some thought and tried out a few ideas, you’re in a better position to assess a new place. Value a garden, food storage space and a large kitchen. Take a day trip to a historic house as your adventure for this section. Study the facilities people used before mains services.

A community eco-housing plan is the ultimate in resilient housing. It’s a major investment, so do plenty of research. Study the issues involved until you can discuss this possibility with confidence. Many communities offer places to rent. Being able to work from home opens up more possibilities.

Finding a resilient house is a challenge. Most builders of large estates are motivated by financial greed. They source cheap materials from overseas, while British farmers produce enough straw as a by-product of grain farming to build 600,000 straw bale houses every year! Research and lobbying are important. Allow no new major development to go unchallenged as every single one costs land which could be used for resilient housing instead.

‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience’ is available from New Generation Publishing, where print-on-demand ensures they never run out of copies or make you wait for an order. It contains the updated Resilience Assessment. Signed copies can be obtained by contacting me directly.

Same goes for ‘Recipes for Resilience’ your go-to book for food security strategies. Over a hundred simple adaptable recipes, plus many tips for growing vegetables and for storing food.

Your Resilience Plan – Energy

During the design process for the practical resilience programme, we considered using the very broad definition of energy used by the Transition movement. While it is true that transport, farming and many other resources use energy, often in the form of fossil fuels, we found this definition to be confusing for our students.

Energy in the Resilience Wheel refers to domestic and industrial power supplies. Heating, cooking, lighting, and running appliances or machinery are the factors considered here; the direct use of energy.

We are conditioned to think of electricity as something that just comes out of the wall in an infinite stream, the only constraints on its use being the price. Then there is a problem with the power distribution network and suddenly electricity is not there at all. This lacks resilience.” (page 20)

The main concept you need to work on in this section is coming to terms with a finite power supply. You should be looking at ‘off-grid’ solutions for emergencies, which will serve you well during inconvenient power outages. The ones we are considering here are the sort of low voltage systems used in old style touring caravans. The ambitious could acquire a small generator. Neither of these will produce enough energy to run appliances drawing 1000 watts (1 kilowatt), or over, for very long.

So we begin with energy awareness. Understand your energy bills; gas, electricity, oil or coal. In Britain, over half will be used in your heating system. Adapt to this by insulating your home. Then even tiny candle stoves can keep you from freezing.

Candle powered stove, full unit with stand and base
Note – this link is to the original inventor, who helpfully provides diagrams to make your own.  Pay attention to the safety instructions.  I’ve used them for years

A 12 volt leisure battery fully charged contains a limited amount of electricity. We advise you to prioritise lighting and phone charging. A smart phone can be charged several times on this system, while a laptop will use up most of your power. Cultivate habits of economy here before they become necessary. Even leaving LED lights on carelessly can soon drain your entire battery.

A supply of small rechargeable batteries for torches and the like is a valuable asset in an emergency. Most chargers run on mains power (240 volts in Britain), but use very little. Once you have mastered the use of inverters which can convert 12 volt power to mains you can plug these into your emergency system.

Remember – when you are using inverters the electricity provided is as dangerous as any other mains power.

It’s unlikely you’ll get more than a maximum of 600 watts of mains power from a basic emergency system. You will soon use this up. This will go further if you acquire lights and chargers which run on a 12 volt supply. Inverters are convenient, but waste energy.

A small ‘suitcase’ generator can give up to two kilowatts of 240 volt electricity. These produce dangerous exhaust fumes, so must be run outside. Set up a locked, soundproofed and ventilated shed with a safe cable feed into your house. If your generator can be heard, it will not only annoy your neighbours, but may attract thieves. Generators are useful to supplement your emergency system.

Look for appliances which use less electricity. If you found a washing machine which uses under two kilowatts, you can fire the generator up to get the laundry done. Your storage batteries and devices can get a charge boost. You could boil water for flasks if you have a suitable low voltage kettle.

Understanding electricity is the key to basic practical resilience in the energy section.

There are other types of power to explore as well. Some areas of your house could be illuminated by candles to save valuable electricity. Learn candle safety. A cooker running on bottled gas will allow you to prepare foods during a power cut. Your emergency electricity will not run an electric cooker.

full sized 4 ring calor gas cooker
This full sized cooker runs on bottled gas

At worst, a small camping gas stove can boil water or heat soup. It is possible to extract gas from bio waste but not for the amateur. This would be a community project.

Local renewable energy schemes are valuable to your personal practical resilience. You need to support them – spend some time on research. How easy would it be to have such a scheme supply a small group of houses rather than feed into the grid?

Even if you’re not in a position to take your home off-grid, understand the factors involved and consider the benefits.

The page numbers are in the Handbook of Practical Resilience, which should be your go-to book. The ten tasks relating to the Energy section of the Resources Quadrant are listed in Appendix One (Your Personal Resilience Assessment).

As the familiar is swept away, you need to cultivate practical resilience. Acquiring the life skills described in the Handbook will provide the confidence to face these dramatic changes. Putting this knowledge into action in your everyday life, you can be assured that you are doing your best to cultivate a truly sustainable civilisation, despite the odds.

You are at the centre of the Wheel, the eye of the storm!

Can you make jam?

The second edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is due to hit the shelves in a couple of months. The draft Personal Resilience Assessment, currently free to download here, has been updated and is included in this print copy.

In the Handbook, I present practical resilience as a course. You can work out your current basic level with the assessment and improve this using the Handbook. Unlike sustainability, practical resilience can be measured.

The assessment isn’t just another list of ‘100 things you can do to save the planet’. It’s a professionally constructed set of questions, chosen from thousands of options and tested for over a decade. Safely sharing our team’s abilities in practical resilience was a challenge.

The tasks described are all designed to lead on to higher levels. Take the innocent-looking question from the Practical Skills section – ‘Can you make jam?’

Preserving surplus fruit is a valuable skill, and one which the resilient individual should certainly possess. So much for the basic level, and you can stop there.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

Do you – or your neighbours – have food stores kept in a freezer? After two days without electricity, these will transform into a waste disposal problem. You can salvage frozen fruit by turning it into jam, if you know how. If you’re in the habit of making jam, you’re likely to have spare sugar, empty jars and the right equipment.

Follow the Resilience Plan into higher levels and you realise that a strategy to deal with this rotting food could be important, if normal services are severely disrupted. The Local Strategies chapter touches on this, but you would have to think about it yourself, preferably in advance of any need.

Firstly, take photos. Contact your insurance providers if you can. Then preserve as much food as possible before it goes off – how long have you got? Double bag the rest and bin it outside. Make sure cats and rats can’t tear the bags open. Keep enough deep plastic or wooden stack boxes with lids to hold the whole contents of your freezer in case there isn’t room in your bin.

Suppose you don’t have an outside space for rubbish? This is where established relationships with other people in your area come in handy. If you’d paid attention to the Handbook, you’d be part of a local group and can discuss this problem with people in the same situation. Maybe someone will come up with a plan. Perhaps you could contact the nearest recycling plant, arrange to gather up the food waste yourselves and bring it over, if there’s a car trailer available.

So, can you make jam?

 

‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’ goes into more detail around food – growing, storage and preparation. Find out how to improve your personal food security in cheap and achievable ways. There’s a recipe for making raspberry jam from frozen fruit.

The first edition of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ is still available here.

Don’t delay – buy today!