A day without electricity: candle lit in dark room

A Day Without Electricity: Part 1

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As people in the 21st century, we take all sorts of things for granted. When we see grass on the mud room rug we immediately think to get a vacuum instead of just taking the rug outside and shaking it off. When we walk into a room we flip the light switch out of habit instead of using the natural sunlight that’s already coming in.

Truly, electricity has conditioned us into thinking we need something when, a lot of the time, we can make do without.

Recently, our family went one day without electricity to see what it would be like in a situation where the grid was down either due to a weather event, attack, or whatever.

In this article, we’ll focus on the negative aspects of losing electricity from a survival aspect and what we learned. In a future article, we’ll look at the positives of what life could be like without electricity. 

Let’s begin.

The parameters of the experiment were as follows: We taped all light switches in the off position, taped faucets in the closed position, left cell phones on but didn’t use, allowed 1 flush per toilet for the day, refrained from using the stove, and unplugged the sump pump. Since this was a 1-day experiment, we didn’t shut down the fridge but did transfer the food to a cooler to add to the realism.

We also agreed we wouldn’t prepare anything in advance and wouldn’t run to the store to buy more supplies. We were simply going to make to with what we had.

The biggest thing we learned was that no matter how prepared you think you are, there’s nothing that can replace actual practice.

In this experiment, the first thing we realized was there were some serious liabilities we didn’t know about. Most of our bottled water was expired, our two-way radioes were broke, the back-up sump pump failed, we had poor conditions for cooking outside, and our basement was in the process of flooding because the sump pump was unplugged.  

Right away we started off in a tough position. Although these problems caused a lot of anxiety, they definitely added to the realism of this training event.  

The first thing we did was take care of our hydration because it’s one of the most important things you can do. Without water, there is no life. We decided to drink the water that wasn’t expired and marked the expired water with the letter “H” to be used for hygiene purposes. I’ve read from multiple places the average person needs, at minimum, 2 gallons of water per day either for drinking or personal hygiene. From this experience, that was pretty much correct but more would always be better – especially if there were serious medical injuries or you were living in a hot climate. For my personal usage, I used about 1 1/4 gallons for drinking and cooking and 3/4 for hygiene.  

a day without electricity: bottled water

One thing we would have liked to have would be a Berkey water filter sitting on the counter. That way, we could have a larger supply of filtered water rather than burning through our 1-gallon jugs. We did have an MSR gravity filter but nothing tops the efficiency of the Berkey for in-home usage. 

For the sump pump, this was a nightmare. There was way too much time spent trying to make sure the basement didn’t flood. All morning was consumed with checking on the back-up pump to see how long it would last. After a short time the back-up system failed and we were forced to power the primary pump through a gasoline generator. I didn’t want to waste the fuel resources but didn’t want to take the risk of flooding the basement.

We had a transfer switch installed a few years ago and, gratefully, it was operational. The sad part was that for all the years we owned the transfer switch I never checked to make sure it worked. This was incredibly foolish.

a day without electricity: transfer switch panel

The transfer switch combined with a Honda generator allowed us to run the sump pump flawlessly. However, we were burning through gas which was not a renewable resource and going to the gas station was not an option in our simulated day of “fun”.

a day without electricity: honda generator outside

After a day of running the generator, I really began to wonder what we would to in a long-term power outage. Would the basement eventually flood? Would we have to leave our home? What if someone stole the generator sitting outside? At the end of the day, that sump pump was a huge liability. 

But the plumbing issues didn’t end there. 

Of course, there was a leaky pipe in the basement; and because it was a critical pipe that was used for very high volumes of water, I didn’t want to fix it myself and run the risk of causing a bigger problem. Since there was a pretend large-scale power outage, getting a plumber wasn’t something we could do so we found an alternate way to control the leak.  

For cooking, we couldn’t heat food and water over an open flame because the fire pit was full of water as it sits in a lower part of the property. We decided not to expel additional calories to make a new pit so we used our camp stove. Again, we were burning fuel resources that weren’t renewable. 

Besides fuel, the main things we used were batteries and candles. Although we didn’t use either a full set of batteries or an entire candle, the idea of long-term sustainability was in the back of my mind. We know how to make candles but were low on wax pellets and those can get pricey if you don’t have your own bees. Having some solar-powered rechargeable batteries would have been awesome.

a day without electricity: candles and battery powered lights

Although there were plenty of negatives, one huge positive was having a Yeti cooler. That was a lifesaver for the food in the refrigerator. Although you could probably keep things in your fridge for at least a day if there was no electricity, we wanted to see how it would perform and how much stuff we could actually put in there. What we did was add the frozen food with the non-frozen and everything was kept very cool. We estimate it for could go at least a week without spoiling. At the end of the day, here’s some of the biggest things we learned:

-Living in a grid down situation was physically and emotionally tiring (I didn’t fully recover from the madness until later the following day).

-We had serious deficiencies with renewable and sustainable energy like rechargeable batteries and solar power. 

-Even just one day of eating only freeze dried food was gross. You definitely want to have other back-up food (we had fresh produce but wanted to test the freeze dried food). Being able to cook regular food, have canned items on hand, and sprouting equipment is vital. Don’t rely solely on “emergency food kits”.

-In trying to prevent the basement from flooding, there was limited time for anything else.

If there were just two things I could tell people about practicing for bad events, it would be to get your mind, body and spirit ready; and, now is the time to not only assess but also address any liabilities you have.   

By doing these two things, you’ll be in a much better position should you ever encounter long-term power outage.

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