How to Prepare Your Home Prior to a Bug-Out

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Randy W

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo  courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
  2. Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat)  a $119 value courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and a Survival Puck  courtesy of Innovation Industries.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .

One topic that I have not seen a lot of coverage on in recent years is the topic of getting one’s home prepared just prior to running out the door due to a forced evacuation or a “Bug Out” scenario.

If you live in an area susceptible to Hurricanes, tropical storms tidal waves, Wild fires and the like there will certainly be public service announcements, and News programs contain many of the things I am discussing here but in a situation where you do not have a large “ time budget”, due to impending disaster, there are several things that should be addressed (if there is time to do so) prior to evacuating your home. (Please note all of these procedures should be followed if sufficient warning allows for the time to do so).

Personal property and belongings can always be replaced, take care of your loved ones and their safety as the first priority, then if there is time address these measure to prevent your home from sustaining additional non-storm related damaged caused by a compromised utility or system in your home.

First of all, I believe it is essential to leave you home as secure as possible being certain to remove, or secure any pets, cash, jewelry, valuable papers, documents firearms and ammunition. If possible, rare antiques, and valuable should be wrapped, boxed or protected, where they will be out of harm’s way. In case of potential flooding any and all household items that can be moved, should be placed on upper floors of the home rather than left in the basement or on the first floor if applicable. Valuable Items that cannot be moved or taken away should be left out of sight. If valuable electronics or furniture can be seen from an open window then cover all windows and doors with the blinds, or curtains so no one has the ability to see the contents of your home.

If you live in areas where storm evacuations occur such as along the east coast, it is a good Idea to have functional storm shutters installed on windows that face the prevailing direction a storm will usually come from and have plywood (at least ½ inch thick) pre-cut to size to fit all other doors or windows not so equipped. Having plywood precut to size, and properly labeled in advance, can save valuable time and ensure protection is afforded if sufficient warning for such measures is given. If you are forced to leave your home for long periods of time, this practice that will not only protect your windows from windblown objects, wind compression damage, and hail, it will also offer some additional security, protection should the area be overrun by vandals, looters or marauders.

Another good Idea to protect your home prior to evacuation is to learn where the main water shut off is in order to prevent non storm related, water damage. Once the water main has been shut off, it is a good practice to test a low lying faucet to see if the water is off prior to departure (if the is sufficient time to do so). More than one home owner has returned from vacation or a short evacuation to find the exterior of their home in good condition but flooded from a damaged washing machine hose, ice maker water line or other non-storm related, water damage that could have been prevented if water to the home had been shut off.

In rare instances if you should be forced to evacuate your home in winter conditions or for extended periods of time, the water meter should be disconnected and capped, the supply lines should be drained, pressured cleared, and all drains filled with a few cups of RV anti-freeze. This will prevent pipes from bursting in colder climates. While this would be rare in most evacuation scenarios weather related steps should be taken. In most cases of short term evacuations the possibility of frozen water lines would be small, but it is of course weather dependent.

In an event of a possible Forced evacuation there may not be time to drain and winterize the lines but be aware there are conditions where this could be warranted.

One of the scariest cases of having to evacuate your home would be due to a possible wild fire looming in your area. The Local Fire Marshal may ask to have home owners leave their water on with garden hoses at the ready (should the home owner be forced to leave, at least the fire department would be able to douse the roof or siding should here be a save opportunity to do so). Each forced evacuation may be different and the Local authorities will announce their methodology for such an evacuation. This is by no means a comprehensive guide and is just mentioned for educational purposes.

In addition to shutting off water flow to the home in case of a Bug-out, the natural or LP gas supply to the home should be shut off at the meter or the LP tank dome.

There are certain appliances that rely on pilot lights to start the flame when they are placed in use (water heater, gas log, etc.). These appliances will need to be re-lit once the home can be re-occupied. Most modern stoves/ovens, furnaces, and fire places have electronic ignition or igniters and do not need to be relit prior to use. Learn were the shut offs to you gas supply is located (Meter or tank) and educate yourself and others in your family how to shut them off. For most homes the gray colored gas meter will have a pipe coming from the curb (buried at least 2 ft.) carrying the gas to the meter and a pipe running to the ground that will enter the home on one of the exterior walls. Once located, the gas line shut off will generally be on the pipe line coming to the meter from the curb. This valve will look like a brass spool valve with a tab standing out from the spool. This should be turned 90 degrees from vertical or in the horizontal position to shut off gas to the home. In situation where the home is fueled by an LP tank the shut off valve will be in the tank dome and may be a ¼ turn ball valve or a screw valve similar to an outdoor hose bib (water faucet). Each valve application may be different so familiarize yourself with safe and proper procedures prior to performing these precautions. A trained professional, utility employee or contractor may need to be contacted in order to familiarize you with your own home system and how it functions, but do not wait until an emergency to find someone to show you the ropes.

In the event of a storm surge, flood, or even earth quake such precautions could prevent further damage to your home caused by a gas leak and resultant fire. It might even prevent being overcome by gas fumes as you reenter your home. Advanced training in systems functionality may prevent additional non-related storm damage to your home.

One additional potential for non-storm related damage to your home would be your electrical system. It might be possible for it to sustain damage from severe weather. While it takes a Utility employee to shut current off to the home at the Mast head (Location where the lines come into the home). Most new homes do have the ability to shut off the circuit panel using the main shutoff, located in the circuit panel (many times this is the first breaker at the top or bottom of the panel, this will appear at least twice the size other circuit breakers in many cases). In some regions, building codes may also call for an exterior, electrical, main, shutoff, breakers, between the circuit board and the meter.

This is very convenient for the Local fire department in case of a home fire, but unless secured by a seal or padlock can also allow a thief to shut off power to the home in order to bypass security. While contriversial, cutting power to the home at the circuit panel, during extended evacuations, may be a viable option. It is probably lower in priority that the other utilities, but if there is a large windblown objects that strikes the exterior wall or you home an electrical line can be damaged in the wall, causing an ark and resultant fire at this location, especially if the object happens to be metal. In most cases of flood, the utility company will shut electricity off as a main distribution switch to prevent emergency workers from coming in contact with live lines. But do not assume this is the case without first contacting the utility prior to entering your home, after a natural or manmade disaster

Extreme caution should be used when reenergizing the main circuit to your home after a natural disaster due to potential damage to your wiring. Never stand in front of the main circuit panel when activating the main shut-off to the on position. Use a protected stance, off to one side of the panel with as much of your body away from any potential electrical fire ball that may form if a large ark occurs due to a power surge in the panel.

Please consult your utility or a professional electrician if you have any questions about shutting your power off to your entire home and prior to re-energizing the home if you have any concerns, this article is for educational purposes and is by no means an all-encompassing manual.

Many people have returned home to a natural disaster to see their home in ruins due to damage that occurred from non-related storm damage that could have been prevented by following a few simple steps to insure that damage to the systems of their home that we take for granted in normal times. Please do your homework so this.

We have taken time today to explore 3 of the systems in your home that may fail or cause potential damage to your home due to a natural or manmade disaster but this is not all inclusive as there may be other sources that I may have over looked that may be unique to our own situation such as solar array and batteries, Exterior wood furnaces, water or steam heat to your home just to mention a few. Making all of the systems of your home as inert as possible prior to bugging out may prevent additional non-storm related damage occurring to your home in your absence.

In summary, it is prudent to be knowledgeable about the main utility systems of your home and how they can be de-energized or shut off in case of an emergency. The main systems we have discussed today all allow us to live in relative ease and comfort compared to our ancestors of less than 100 years ago, but they also have the potential to cause harm to our property or loved ones if they are not properly shut down in times of emergency evacuations. Electricity, Gas, and water when properly controlled are truly a blessing but when they are not contained or controlled in their proper infrastructure, can lead to additional damage to our home should they be left unchecked during a disaster. With proper knowledge these modern conveniences can be shut off or disconnected in such a way that they will remain in a contained and controlled manner that will allow our homes escape unintended damage that can easily be contained with proper education.

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Comments

  1. You have some great points, Randy. Thank you.

    • I agree!
      I will say though that almost all security systems are set so if you turn off power or disconnect wires to the security system, It will immediately active the alarm (audible or silent). There are of course, ways of bi-passing these systems, but only very skilled people with the right equipment actually know how to do this.

      • Tactical G-Ma says:

        Ray L
        There is also a slew of unskilled laborers who help to install the systems that know how to defeat them. Case in point, in the Hamptons on Long Island about 10 years ago the installer/programmer not only became involved with the home owners wife, but used the passcode he had programmed into the panel for the homeowner to gain entry and kill him so the wife would get the husband’s money and they could marry.
        Alarm systems are only one deterent. Although I subscribe to central station monitoring, the response time for aide is increased in a real home invasion. Nothing will beat a firearm within reach.

  2. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Randy W
    Good article and very timely. In the event of a disaster, it is wise to have a building inspector have a look-see before firing up the utilities.
    I was in a 500 year flood back in the 90’s. Water levels caused the sewage to back-up and basements became huge cesspools. Oil tanks tipped over and made homes that were otherwise untouched, uninhabitable. So I would like to offer this tip.

    Fill nylon knee-highs or legs of pantyhose with 3-4 cups of oatmeal. Tie off. Stuff down any drains in the house including basement floor drains and washing machine drains. Leave a tail so that later the oatmeal can be pulled out. The oatmeal expands with moisture sealing off the drain. Don’t forget to sandbag around basement windows!

    • I love your idea, Tactical G-Ma. I am more concerned about sewer back-ups than many other things weather related.

    • This is a great idea for sewage backup, but wouldn’t this also prevent your basement from draining water? How would you know when to plug/leave the drains open?

      • Rob in Ontario says:

        there a rubber float stopper that allows water to drain out but when water is coming up from sewers rises up to seal against rubber ring , or there is also a more expensive way to remedy this and that’s with a “backflow preventer ” its about 20′ long plastic box you cut into your sewer pipes below the floor it allows water to flow by by has a one way flapper that floats as water comes in and as more water is in the line it seals against a rubber stopping flooding

        • Tactical G-Ma says:

          If you live in a 100 year or less flood plane and are on a sewer system, it’s adviseable to take more permanent measures. Keep in mind that the drain in your floor does not always connect to the same sewer system so check valves may be required in more than one location.

  3. Good points for us to remember.

    We don’t have too much cause to evacuate up here. Usually if there is going to be anything, it’s getting things secure for a long “Bug-In”. Several of your points are still applicable to this.

    Thanks again.

  4. From personal experience, if you shut power off make sure you have the fridge and any freezers cleaned out and propped open. Just one less thing you’ll have to clean up when you return.

  5. axelsteve says:

    Great article Randy! there was things that I never thought about before.In my state there could be many reasons to bug out and you covered many subjects well.

  6. Hunker-Down says:

    Thanks for the reminder that we should always (in the frozen North) have a gallon or two of RV antifreeze on hand.

  7. Good article, Randy. Thanks.

    Another reason for shutting off water lines at the street, or as far outside the house as possible, is storm damage to the water grid. We have two water valves, one immediately outside the house, the other at the street. At least the one at the street must be shut off before a hurricane.

    Reason: In Hawaii we have huge residential areas very vulnerable to hurricane damage, and if a house blows away, the water lateral can be snapped off. If the water wasn’t shut off at the street, the lateral then drains the entire system, making it impossible to restore water service until the possibly hundreds or even thousands of valves for the laterals of destroyed houses are found and closed.

  8. riverrider says:

    after tornado, hurricane, or other strong windstorm, fires often spring up. when a large storm threatens, i run out n shut off my propane tanks. if the storm collapses the house, i’ll be trapped in the basement momentarily. hate for a lp leak to catch during that time.

    • Tactical G-Ma says:

      Riverrider
      That is such an important step. If power goes out and you are in a strong storm. Throw your main breaker/s to off and turn off any gas NG or LP. Again a thorough inspection must be done before turning things back on.

  9. mom of three says:

    Oh my gosh we have had our water pipes, burst twice on us at our vacation rental. My hubby, is going to be re doing a large area of a home, that had so much water damage the whole kitchen has to be re done he wired it 9 years ago. He was sick to see how much damage water does. If you have good neighbor’s to watch your place or trust with a key, to check up on your home when your gone too. We shut off the main breaker, when we go for a week or more.
    Great advice, just one more topic to help and keep us one step ahead.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      If the water pipes bursting was from loss of heat and the pipes freezing you should look into PEX pipes. PEX doesn’t burst or break when it freezes. But you still could get a water meter burs because it is metal. Make sure you shut the water off when you leave. But if you do re-plum the house PEX is the way to go.

      .

      • Rob in Ontario says:

        Pex is great it will take a freeze much better then copper pipe for sure and can be repaired too with water still in the lines , but it will burst also, I am a plumber in Canada

  10. k. fields says:

    Very good article Randy, thank you.
    A couple of things I would like to add:
    Electrical –
    I’d suggest shutting off all your breakers before you re-energize your system when returning home – especially if your home has suffered some damage. Turn on the main breaker (taking the precautions listed in the article) and then one circuit at a time. Be sure all the receptacles on that circuit are working, they don’t feel hot and there are no strange smells. Be sure to do this before reconnecting your house to your gas supply lines.
    Gas lines –
    When leaving, shut off the gas at your source and then attempt to light one of your gas appliances to be sure the gas is actually off. As you pointed out with water lines, that extra check is worth the time.
    Gas pilot lights – If you’ve changed your gas appliances to versions that don’t need electricity to ignite the burners, there will be a hidden valve to shut off the gas to the pilot light. For example, on kitchen stoves you will probably have to lift up the stove top to find it. Make sure these are off else-wise when you return they will be leaking gas until you get around to relighting all the pilots.
    Living here where earthquakes are a possibility, I’ve installed a pressure gauge fitting at the end of my gas line. When I’ve had the gas off for some reason, the first thing I’ll do upon returning home is to re-open the main gas valve to fill the lines, shut it back off and watch the pressure gauge for a few minutes to be sure the pressure remains steady. If the pressure drops after the main valve is re-shut, then there’s a leak in the house side of the system that I need to locate.
    Sewer lines –
    Install a back-flow-preventer on your sewer line where it exits your house – especially if you are on a municipal system. Yes, they can be a pain at times when they become clogged from your using too much toilet paper, but an occasional cleaning is a lot better than a major backup into your house.

    • Thisall H says:

      On electrical Safety

      Good article overall but I find I need to correct this statement.

      “Use a protected stance, off to one side of the panel with as much of your body away from any potential electrical fire ball that may form if a large ark occurs due to a power surge in the panel.”

      As a professional electrician this is highly unlikely unless it’s from igniting some other flammable that should have been Identified and rendered safe before turning on the electricity. Even at very high voltage/ampere’s as I currently work with11000V and 65MW, when connecting 2 conductor we might see a small arch 6” to 12” long between the 2 when switching, with a Normal domestic/ small Industrial Supplies a fireballs are unlikely.

      Normal electrical switches, boards and equipment have flash guards that are tested and approved to prevent just this.

      The Best practice to re-energise a system after it may have been damaged is by using all your senses.
      If any of the step fail. Call a professional Electrician.

      Visually Check to see if the Item Switches/Boards appears undamaged you should not be able to see bare wires or metal though any gaps or holes.
      Listen for anything Unusual arching; crackling.
      Sniff to see if you can smell burning or the ozone smell that you can get after arching.
      Feel place you hand near and feel for any heat.
      Touch the front of the panel then switch with the Back of your Hand ( We use the back of the hand Because if the object is live, your arm along with your hand will by reflex pull away from the contact. If you used the front or worst your fingers you risk your hand grabbing hold of the object and not being able to let go)

      If you have more than one board you need to do this at each board.
      once all have been check turn off all breakers in each board.

      turn on the outside supply Breaker if applicable ( stand to one side if you like )
      turn on the main Breaker Only to the 1st Panel.
      do the same senses checks listed above.
      If you have more than one panel the next biggest breakers/isolators will be the supply to one of those panels.
      Turn that one on and check the other panel as well.
      you then repeat the process turning one breaker on at a time, Until all are on.

      If at any point one of the breakers refuses to turn on or trips any other breaker s it mean you have a fault on that circuit and need to talk to a Electrician.

      Hope that Helps

      Thisall H

      • k. fields says:

        Thanks for the expert knowledge Thisall, esp. using the back of the hand.

        • Thisall H says:

          Your welcome
          I might not be up to speed or able to give sage advice on Prepping, but at least on this I can.

          • Thisall H,
            Another safety tip along with yours is to keep the other hand in your pocket so you can’t form a circuit accross your chest.

            • Tactical G-Ma says:

              OP
              When I attended Basic Electricity and Electronics School, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we were tought to place one hand behind or backs and hold onto our belt loops!

              • Tactical G-Ma,
                Those were generally different times with somewhat different rules, since we were still using tubes with voltages and currents that could easily be lethal. Poking around in almost any circuit could get you seriously damaged or killed. My father was a WW II vet and used the G.I. Bill in part to take training from the National Radio Institute (NRI), which was a mail order correspondence course. At about age 9 or 10, I started taking the same course using his old books, with him grading the tests and I was hooked. Once again, tubes and high voltages, but circuits you could actually see and measure. I converted numerous old TV chassis’s into other gadgets in the radio realm. The equivalent of the Baofeng radios we’ve discussed here would have cost thousands of dollars and taken up racks full of space; but, it was still a memorable time.

  11. Chuck Findlay says:
  12. In almost any disaster scenario short of a mudslide, burying or otherwise caching your valuables underground outside of the home is the best way to ensure they’ll be there when you come back. It’s definitely something that can be prepared ahead of time and allows you to not have to immediately assume anything left behind is a loss in the even your home was damaged and/or looted.

    Wildfire’s — I’ve always heard that leaves in gutters are the primary starting point with brush around ground secondary. Australia is actually a great place to look for fire options. They have everything from foil whole house wraps to whole house sprinkler systems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ncyKe14nwg
    Regardless, if you live in a rural area prone to wildfire, a couple water tanks reserved for firefighter and/or personal use for protection under wildfires makes a lot of sense (it’s unlikely your well will be able to pump enough volume to serve immediate firefighting needs anyways). Obviously, that is in addition to landscaping, gutter protectors, and building materials fireproofing mods.