I live in Western New York. We are no strangers to lake-effect snow squalls which create whiteout conditions so bad that you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. We have snowfalls that, by the time you finish shoveling your driveway and look back up it, there’s another 2-3 inches of snow already accumulated on it. We have lake-effect conditions which often produce a mixture of snow/ice/rain, which sometimes will “glaze” everything outside with anywhere from 1/16″ to 3/4″ of ice.
Sometimes, the ice brings down tree branches and power lines.
This is what the folks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and other areas are experiencing right now. And yet, for some reason, this seems to have taken many of them by surprise. They piss and moan and whine and criticize utility workers because they have no heat, no power, no way to cook, no lights, no information.
Now, I lived in Massachusetts, up on the New Hampshire border, just about in the center of the state. I remember driving home one day in a snowstorm that was so bad, I had to stop every few minutes and clear my windshield of snow because the wipers just couldn’t keep up with the rapidly accumulating snow. It snowed like that for three days and, when it finally stopped, we had more than three feet of heavy, wet snow on the ground. And we had no power for almost a week.
We had a gas stove, so we turned on the oven, and started cooking and baking. We took heavy blankets and covered rooms that didn’t have doorways in order to contain the heat in as small an area as we could, got out the sleeping bags and had ourselves a nice, old-fashioned family “camp-out” right there in the kitchen. The kids, who were 11, 8 and 4 at the time, had a great time. We played games by candlelight. We made up silly stories. We ate. We pretended we were pioneers on the frontier. We made the best of the situation. During the day, we checked on neighbors to make sure they were all right. It was an adventure. We made the best of it. What else can you do?
Over the years, we have had more experience than a person would really want in living through these types of inconveniences. We’ve learned self-reliance if we’ve learned nothing more. That self-reliance got us through a few harrowing experiences in recent years. Intelligent people PLAN for these emergencies and are prepared. What a concept.
But, just in case you’re a resident of Massachusetts and, due to your own lack of preparedness and personal accountability, this recent ice storm caught you by surprise, here are a few helpful hints for your emergency preparedness kit(s).
Kerosene: Kerosene heaters have come a long way, safety feature wise. Kill switches that activate if the heater is turned over, preventing fire hazards are one of the key important features. If properly maintained and properly used, Kerosene heaters leave no smoky film and have additives that you can pour into the tank which will rid your home of the kerosene smell and replace it with pine, cinnamon or other more pleasant odors. Kerosene heaters provide not only heat but light in the immediate area. Affordable, as low as $120 per unit, these heaters can heat and maintain warmth in about 1200 square feet of space. We place ours inside the fireplace with the flue open for ventilation. If you don’t have a fireplace, you need to turn off the heater every few hours and open the door or window to allow fresh air into the area — fire-producing heaters consume oxygen and if oxygen levels become too low, you can succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. Kerosene heaters, contrary to popular belief, CAN be used indoors provided you ventilate the area periodically. Our small one runs off a one-gallon tank of kerosene for up to SIXTEEN HOURS.
With more safety hazards than kerosene heaters, propane heaters are very popular with hunters, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Propane heaters require a trained, intelligent eye to evaluate tank and pipe connections to ensure there are no leaks, as well as taking precautions to ventilate the room as you would with kerosene heaters. Smart people are not injured by propane heaters. People who incur injuries from them are people who use them inside a closed, unventilated area like a tent, hunting cabin, or closed room — contrary to the safety precautions in the user’s manuals.
Fireplace: Fireplaces should be self-explanatory. But, if your fireplace is for show and not for blow (you don’t use it because you don’t want the mess), be sure that you have your chimney cleaned before the heating season begins. Bird’s nests, creosote buildup and other debris can and will catch fire from the sparks that go up the flue and a chimny fire results — this is fire that is inside your walls and spreads throughout the house quickly. Bust the buck and clean the chimney each year. As an added safety measure, buy one of those Creosote cleaning logs about halfway through the heating season and burn it. It helps minimize creosote buildup.
ELECTRICAL POWER (from cheapest to most expensive systems)
Power Inverter: This is the cheapest way to provide power to your home for small electrical needs such as running the sump pump for a few minutes every hour or so. You can get them that are as small as 350 watts for about $70 all the way up to a 3,000 watt one for $450. These little babies hook right up to your power outlet in your car or you can connect them directly to your car battery using small cables similar to your jump cables. The 3,000 watt one will run your freezer for a few minutes every hour, and will also handle your lights and television.
Mini-generator: I’ve only seen a couple of different types of these, but they are cool little units. About the size of a 9″ television, these are basically large batteries that, when fully charged, can run a television (small) for about 8 hours. They can charge your tool batteries, run your coffee pot, even jump start your car. The are easier to use and less complicated to set up than a power inverter, and run about $100-150.
Portable Generators: These little babies are hot commodities during a power outage caused by mother nature. But if you buy one during the “off” season, you can get a nice unit for a very affordable, reasonable price. The number of watts it is rated for is the max number of watts it can handle. Research how generators work before you buy one. They’re not that complicated to learn about — as far as how many watts you might need. It all depends on what you want to run with it. Ours is a small, inexpensive one — we paid just about $200 for it. It’s only 1,800 watts but we ran our freezer, refrigerator, and 32 inch television on it. In the previous paragraph I mentioned a power inverter that handles up to 3,000 watts and costs about $450 — for that kind of money, you can have yourself a very nice generator that comes with a handle/wheels for easy movement, as well as an electric start. Generators are very safe PROVIDED you vent the exhaust. We pull ours into the back door of the garage and point the exhaust outside — we then run heavy duty extension cords into the house from it, leading to whatever we want to run. A word of practical caution, though. If you live in an area where you lose power frequently, generators are probably something that get stolen a lot. But you can chain your generator down to something — using a heavy duty chain that can’t be cut with bolt cutters, as well as a lock that can’t be cut. If it’s running, thieves can hear it, and they’ll take it — so secure it. During the “off” season, you can get an electrician to hard-wire your fuse/panel box so that the generator can be connected directly to it, providing electricity to the entire house. You need a pretty decent sized generator to run the whole house, but this is a great way to power those essential items without having to run cords everywhere.
Standby Generators: These are large generators that, when the power goes out, can automatically kick in and run your household without any loss of power. These are the types of generators that hospitals use. A standby generator could set you back up to $10,000 between purchase and installation but because it’s permanently installed in your house, it increases your property value/resale value of the house exponentially if you live in an area where the power goes out a lot.
Heat and power are the two main things you require most in a cold climate when the power goes out. Everything else is basically gravy. So, here’s a list of basic items you should have in your emergency tote.
Flashlights — LED flashlights are the new thing now and they use up less battery life, and don’t go yellow as the bulb ages.
Batteries: D, C, and AA are the three most common types of batteries you will need.
Matches: Books of matches are OK, but the smart money is on the large boxes of wooden matches (kitchen matches). They are better for lighting candles when the wick is inside of something.
Butane lighter: Bic cigarette lighters or “fireplace” lighters.
Lanterns: We use battery operatred, LED lanterns. We got a package of 3 for under $10 at BJ’s and leave them at strategic places throughout the house.
Tap lights: These are great little items to install at the top and bottom of stairs for safety. Tap them on or off. They come in a package of 10 lights, various sizes, for under $20.
Candles: We’ve found, at the dollar stores, huge bags of tea lights which, when you do the math, make each tea light cost about 3 cents. Hurricane candles are also awesome for power outages because they burn slowly, with very little drippage.
Can opener: Hand operated. Obviously.
First aid kit: Bandaids, burn ointment, antibiotic cream, eye wash equipment, gauze pads, gauze, scissors, you get the idea.
You should also have a list of important documents and medications that you might be on, along with their locations in the house. If conditions warrant you having to leave your home, you’ll want this important stuff.
And remember, just because it’s winter, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your gas grill. We use ours year-round. Keep your propane tank filled all year. We actually have two — one that’s ON the grill, one as a spare so that if/when the tank that’s on the grill runs out (when dinner is only half-cooked) we have a full one to replace it with.
You don’t have to sit in the dark, freezing, wondering when someone is going to come and bail your ass out of trouble. You can be prepared and live with as little inconvenience as possible, or you can be unprepared and freeze/starve in the dark.