by Andrew Skousen – WorldAffairsBrief.com
Thanks to a reliable power grid Americans aren’t used to the “lights going out” often, but when they do many are surprised to also lose their cooking means—stovetop elements, ovens, microwaves, toasters, and coffeemakers. Everything Americans use on a daily basis for food preparation needs a plug. Even gas stoves rely on power to light the burners (a few gas ranges have battery-powered igniters). In the coming hard times power will be down for at least several months and possibly several years depending on your area.
Worse, the best retreat sites are in rural areas which won’t merit priority for restoring power. Even natural gas, which relies on electric power to operate its pipelines and distribution, will fail—unless your service is one of the few that use natural gas generators to keep pumps going.
A 1000 gallon propane tank is the easiest way to store a lot of cooking fuel: it is cheap, lasts indefinitely and is easy to put in and have filled. Propane is cheapest in the summer so get enough propane on-site that you can go a whole year without having to dip into your reserves—preferably several hundred gallons.
If you need to get another tank as backup now is a good time—propane prices have been so cheap recently, you can install another tank for 1/3 the cost. Connect both tanks together with an isolation valve between them so a leak in one doesn’t empty both tanks.
Even if you have natural gas, it is worth getting propane as a backup. You can buy replacement jet nozzles for all your natural gas appliances like the stove, oven, dryer and water heater and convert to run on propane. Many modern gas appliances already also have an “LP” (liquid propane) attachment point and have two sizes of jets inside, so switching over is easy.
Furnaces, however, require more technical knowledge to switch over to propane. It is sometimes easier to simply install a few propane radiant wall heaters, which don’t require outside venting. Put them in the living spaces, as you can make up for cold bedrooms with more blankets on the beds.
Whatever fuel you use, you will want to stretch it as far as possible—budget yourself to 100 gallons per year. Fortunately this is enough for cooking and topping off the water heater (preheat the tank with solar or wood heat). The furnace uses the most fuel so prepare backup heating options to reduce this load (a wood stove is the best alternatives). The clothes dryer and water heater use the second-most fuel so get a clothesline and a solar water heater. Also avoid ovens that keep a pilot light burning. Home Power magazine recommends specific stoves that ignite a pilot light only when needed with a battery-powered spark.
You can also save cooking fuel by just putting a lid on every pot—it will come to a boil much faster. But nothing saves fuel better than a “hay box” or thermal cooker. These insulated containers were used back in WWII to save on gas by keeping the heat in the food so you didn’t have to leave it simmering for hours.
Cooking with food storage involves a lot of simmering—hydrating dried food, and cooking grains, rice and beans takes a lot of time. With an insulated “thermal cooker” you just have to get your pot boiling and then put it in the insulated box. It takes a little more time to finish cooking but it doesn’t take any more fuel.
The best part is it will never burn. Meat dishes left in all day come out falling off the bone. Just be careful not to let it sit so long it cools below 140 deg. F. where bacteria can flourish. If it does, just heat it back up before eating.
There are many options and variations of thermal cookers: the slightly bulky Wonderbag ($60), the vacuum insulated Thermo Pot ($185) or the cheaper insulated Sunpentown thermal cooker ($60). Of course you can make one with a big box, newspaper (or hay), and an old blanket. Pile at least 2″ of insulation all around the hot pot (which is wrapped in the blanket) and let it cook itself tender. I’ll cover more options for cooking without electricity next week.