Top 11 Things to Know About Your Home Before Crisis Strikes

by M.D. Creekmore on December 14, 2012 · 40 comments

This guest post is by Buuurr in Ohio and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

The recent arrival of Sandy had many of us who consider ourselves prepared making the usual checks. Those that were not did not fair so well. May our prayers be with them. But for those of us who do make the case of being prepared and go through all the efforts and extra work I bet there were some eye openers if you were affected by the last big storm. Me and mine were… Here is the list of things around my home that I need to correct in order to affect the most comfortable conditions in another of these situations. I hope it will lead some of you to ask the same questions and make the necessary changes. Here they are in no order of importance, just a straight list of things.

#1 Do you have access to your garage without power? I don’t and my car is inside all the time. I need to correct this with a side door as soon as possible. Silly thing no side door on a garage. We took it for granted that it was there… never looked because there are always door son garages. Nope! What a nasty and confounding surprise.

#2 Does your stove, if gas, light without power? Mine does, but just the cooktop. No Oven or Broiler.

#3 Does your furnace, if you have one, give gas without power? Many don’t. There are some, like mine, with a manual switch that bypasses the gas safety shut off and allows me to light it with a Bic and keep it running. Obviously the thermostat is no longer in play without power.

M.D. Adds: This may or may not be an option on your furnace – please check your owner’s manual before proceeding with #3…

#4 Will your water still run without power? Many of you are on electric pumps and have no water once the little bit of pressure eeks out of your lines? We are on street pressure so we can at least fill two tubs and all the pots and cans we can find.

#5 Do you have adequate lighting? Flashlights? Batteries? Candles? Matches? Lighters? We discovered that we had no flashlight. We had one. In a closet. But that was before our daughter entered the world and, like many other things, it has since gone missing. We have plenty of candles but these are not my ideal in any situation. An LED lantern is on order.

# 6 How much ice is on tap? Enough to keep your food good for a couple of weeks? One thing we learned when we headed to church later the storm was just how much people lost in the way of food. Some people lost hundreds of dollars worth of food. My solution to this is simple. Paper lunch bags. Layer them on everything you want to keep and put ice over top and layer some more. The paper has a sawdust affect and you will be surprised how little your ice will melt with paper bags insulating it. We used this in a cooler on the way to Florida. The lunch meats we had had for sandwiches stayed cool (some parts froze) the whole trip through the summer heat. We left the cooler in the car all week because it was heavy and messy and the ice was not melting even with the car in the Tallahassee sun for days. On a twenty hour trip from Ohio we thought that pretty awesome.

#7 if you have no way of preserving your fridge food, do you have dried or canned on hand? A silly question, its true, but again, the amount of people we talked to at church that had to go out to get food was insane. We were astonished at the amount of food loss.

#8 How are your ammo stores? I quickly discovered that what I had was good for the everyday but that if something happened and I needed a lot of it fast (riots or looting) I was in for a hurting. This has since been corrected.

#9 Are all your firearms in functioning order? That favorite gun is nice but how about that old shotgun that was failing to extract shells? Has that been fixed? If not it is best to get on it. I also discovered that my shotgun was having a loading issue. It never had it the last time I used it but here it was during Sandy. I stripped it and cleaned it and all is good as new. Luckily I have a backup but what if I didn’t and I really needed it? Murphy’s Law and all that.

#10 If you don’t have firearms and you need a weapon, do you have one? Scary thought.

#11 Do you have simple items in order to affect repair? A tree or branch could easily have smashed a window or door in. Do you have boards and nails to add a temporary covering? How about caulking for windows that seem to have sprung a leak? Home Depot is far away and an open door or smashed in window is too close for most looters to pass on by.

Those are all the major issues I found that needed correcting and came to mind during the last few weeks. I hope at least a few will help someone else check in case they are in the same boat we were. What we learned the most was that we cannot be lax at all in how we keep our home. The shotgun having a mysterious loading issue was completely out of nowhere and counting the shells was not a good feeling when we saw what New Jersey had gone through. We learned that there will be things go wrong and break at the worst possible moment when you need it. So keep on checking and making sure your list is full of ticks and taken care of.

40 comments

worrisome December 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

Good Article Burr………and on the garage door? Right On! I have no side door and when the power is out, the door is way too heavy for me to lift. Gonna think on that one a bit………..normally I park outside, but in a big storm? I too could have an issue with that one. Flashlites. Using the kind of clips you use to hang a rake, I fastened flashlites to the wall in every room of my house. Sometimes behind the doors, sometimes in the closet and one kind of low on a wall, behind the bedside table where I can reach as I get out of bed. The tip on ice is very cool!

JP in MT December 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Buuurr in Ohio:

Great post. Although I have gone through a list similar to this, it’s always good to review. Our current house is totally dependent on public services; water, sewer, natural gas. These are all items that we will mitigate once we move, but can only make short term fixes now. We’ve done what we can, for now.

One of the little things is the flashlights. I have plenty, plus batteries, and a way to recharge those. However, I just recently moved one to the place where I usually am downstairs. The old location was inside the basement door. Great if you don’t set too far in the dark!

We had a large firearms collection that has since been pared down and consolidated. Commonality of ammunition, repair parts, magazines, were items that we considered. I had several rifles that didn’t have scopes on them or more than 40 rounds of ammo for them; that’s getting fixed as we speak.

Sometimes I get wrapped around the big items, that the everyday things get overlooked. Posts like your keep my head in the game. Thanks!

Linda December 14, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Thought-provoking article. I am inspired to do a little checking about the house. Thanks.

j.r. guerra in s. tx. December 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Very interesting post – those are some great idea, I had never thought of many of them. Thanks!

j.r. guerra in s. tx. December 14, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Another thing to check for in item #1 – make sure you can open that garage door if the power goes off – they are pretty heavy and some people may find their vehicles trapped inside.

HikerLWT1010 December 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I am puzzled on Q#3. For a gas furnace how would I “move the heat” without power even if the furnace could be lit. W/o power the fan will not run.

In the event of a generator, then power is available to light and distribute heat which would make it a moot point.

Buuurr in Ohio December 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Some furnaces have the ability to be lit and stay on without the fan blower and still maintain a good amount of heat. Ours basically works more like a wood stove when in this mode but it is terrible hard on gas and will kill your pocket book. To answer your question the fan does not run but the furnace continuously heats a metal plate to provide radiant heat. This feature is common with older models I believe.

OhioPrepper December 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm

It depends on the furnace and where it is located. If for instance it’s in the basement, since heat rises, you can get some convection or “gravity” flow. The house I grew up in had one of these furnaces until it finally rusted out and was replaced. It might also be possible to use a manually powered fan (perhaps with a bicycle) to force air into the system and force it out of other vents. It would be a PIA, but beats freezing.

Soggy Prepper December 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Good one Buuurr. I like the lists and idea’s. Now to go check everything to yours.

Rod Zeigler December 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm

This is an extremely dangerous and potentially fatal suggestion:

#3 Does your furnace, if you have one, give gas without power? Many don’t. There are some, like mine, with a manual switch that bypasses the gas safety shut off and allows me to light it with a Bic and keep it running. Obviously the thermostat is no longer in play without power.

Just lighting the burners on a furnace without the blower running (Thermostat does not work? That means no power to furnace and no blower) will do nothing but overheat the heat exchanger and eventually ruin it. It will also send most of the heat up the flue, which is not designed to handle that kind of heat. The blower removes heat from the furnace in delivering that heat to the home, cooling the heat exchanger and flue gasses in the process. The heat exchanger keeps the flue gasses from reaching the air in the home. Once breached it starts delivering carbon monoxide along with the warm air, to every room in the house.

Bypassing the gas safety could easily cause a house fire, and create a carbon monoxide problem. THIS SHOULD NEVER BE DONE!

Rod Zeigler
Retired Fire Officer and Fire Investigator

M.D. Creekmore December 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Rod,

Thank you for mentioning this issue…

Hunker-Down December 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Rod Zeigler,

I always thought that our gas furnace would be dead weight if the electricity went out. We have CO2 detectors on every floor because of a close call decades ago.
Thanks for explaining the threat.

Buuurr in Ohio December 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I thank you for the concern Rod but this is an option we have on our furnace. It states in the manual that this is a alternative way to run our furnace (all the time if we want) if we do not have a whole home central air fan installed (which many don’t). I am sorry if I used the wrong wording. For some this may be dangerous but for us it is no more dangerous then switching from wood to oil on a combo furnace (which are popular in Canada).

Could you amend the text, MD? Thanks,

Buuurr in Ohio

Rod Zeigler December 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Buuuurr in Ohio, Overall, I like your list and will add it to the many I already have. Thanks for submitting it! One thing I would like to mention to everyone is to be mindful of who is reading not only this, but every other survival/preparedness article. They run the gamut from seasoned “professionals” to rank amateurs. We all want to help each other out, which moves some of us write responses, or submit articles. I would also like to tell the amateurs, read, read, read, do, do, do, BEFORE the real deal. Many lessons will be learned, and mistakes made, when the repercussions are minimal. When the wolf is at the door it is not the time to read the instruction manual for the first time!

Buuurr in Ohio December 15, 2012 at 12:26 am

This is true. I like to think that people check, check and check. Always do your research with what YOU have when checking these things.

Thanks, Rod.

OhioPrepper December 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Good points. I was thinking a furnace with a standard chimney, but one with a forced draft using PVC pipe would not make a good candidate. Ours is like that, but we rely on a ceramic panel heater for backup and spot heating. It’s plumbed into the whole house propane supply and requires no electricity.

Buuurr in Ohio December 15, 2012 at 12:29 am

Yeah, no. PVC pipe is a no no. Ours vents through the chimney. Not much we can vent out through besides that due to living in a 150+ year old house. We have the old-school furnace you talked about above. We love the thing. It should last forever if kept free of moisture. We haven’t had an issue with it. I think if we trashed it for metal it would cost more than the installation of a brand new furnace.

bill_b March 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

If you have a 12v to 110v power inverter, you could run the central heat fan off the inverter by using a car battery. This is much safer than no fan. But much safer still is to turn on your gas stove, or your fireplace may have a gas log starter that will run with no electricity. Safest yet – Big down sleeping bags and down coats.

riverrider December 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm

does everyone in your house know where the gas shut-off is? water shut-off? electric panel shut-off? if your house is damaged/flooded theseneed to be turned off to avoid a dangerous situation. many of the sandy fires were caused by same. good post, great reminder to get everybody on the same page. thanks!

Pineslayer December 16, 2012 at 11:47 pm

riverrider, excellent point about shut-offs. I put labels on all the important stuff for the ladies. They seldom need to deal with any of that, I think that is why they keep me around.

MountainSurvivor December 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Buuurr in Ohia,
Good tips! A few hurricane (outdoor types of) oil lamps can take the chill off if the room isn’t too large and light the way outside at night. I have a small kerosene heater to heat and cook with. It’s nice because it’s portable, can go with me in an emergency. I prefer doors that I can open myself, rain or shine. I knew a couple who’s electric door got stuck and they had to pay a pretty penny to get it fixed. Your experience says to practice living off-grid (turn off the electricity to the house) a day or two a month. Doing everything involved in packing up and taking off or battening down the hatches like there is a storm or disaster on the way. The ice you used, did you use large gallon-size plastic bags or unscented trash bags to put it in before covering the paper bags so you could boil and drink the water if you had to?

Big D December 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Buuurr in Ohio
Great article! I really feel that the best way to know what to prep for comes from people that have been through it.They know all the little things that we miss sitting at home,they know what fancy,expensive gadget that worked or failed,the know what they needed more of or what they didn’t really need or use. Some good will come from these tragedies. Info gained will be used to keep them from happening, and to better respond to them, and for us how to better prepare for them.

OhioPrepper December 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Buurr,

Interesting and thought provoking list, but better yet, I pretty much got an ‘A’ on the test. As prepared as I am, that often doesn’t happen here, but in any case it’s a useful exercise.

#4 requires the generator and fuel, but that’s not a real problem. My estimation is that I get 300-500 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline, and hopefully propane by the spring.

#5 From a Coleman and Aladdin lamp with fuel, and many flashlights and lanterns with batteries. The Aladdin and the Coleman will also provide a lot of heat to a room in the winter (or the summer), so use accordingly.

#6 Also requires the generator, but your paper bag trip is well worth trying.

Thanks for the challenge. Real world often shows us things we overlook.

OhioPrepper December 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm

err, that’s “paper bag trick”

Wildman December 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Without a furnace Wouldn’t a wood burner come in handy? I meet a lady from Montana that had her family out for Christmas. They had a storm that killed the power..She said that the wood burner kept the house warm, that she would never live in a house without one.. I have plans on putting one in in a week or two.

Water, I plan on getting a Katadyn Pocket Water Microfilter it does 13,000gal a filter… Just a few thought’s… sorry just only my second post.LOL

Buuurr in Ohio December 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm

It would, Wildman. Many of the furnaces sold in Northern Canada (where I come from) are sold with a wood box so you can switch from oil or gas over to wood if needed. I’ve only seen the single use furnaces since moving to the US or in newer water radiated homes. So my old house with its switching furnace is a comfort to us.

Piddles December 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

Buurr,

Thanks for a great article. I really loved the tip about using the paper sandwich bags and ice. I will have to remember that one. In regards to adequate lighting that is one area I really made sure we had covered ranging from LED lanterns to oil lamps. One product that I would suggest you check out is d.light S10 solar latern. We have ordered several of these and place them in windows until we need them. They put out good light not as bright as an LED lantern but much brighter than candles. Anyways thanks again for the great ideas.

Thomas T. Tinker December 15, 2012 at 1:34 am

Burrr in Ohio: Thank You! I like these ‘reminders’ and ‘reality checks’. like OP, I passed on 1>10. As for #11…. crappolla…How many tools are enough….. hell.. I’ll never know. As to ‘spare parts’, my stash has become a pile.

axelsteve December 15, 2012 at 2:54 am

Maybe a good ol fashioned fireplace or woodstove would be good secondary heating source. My neighbor recently had a new pellet stove installed.

Buuurr in Ohio December 15, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Yes, a fireplace is a must. Me and the wife are trying to work out if we can add one to our current furnace/chimney setup without it being a draft/fire hazard.

We did look into pellet stoves but they have the same issue without power. There are some that have battery backups but these are sketchy at best. There is a pellet stove company in PA that makes a pellet stove that acts like a regular wood stove and adds a large pile of ash and cinders into a fairly big pile without the ‘cleaning’ method most pellet stoves have. This particular pellet stove is most like a wood stove for its radiant heat and simplicity (it can take regular wood if needed). Most other pellet stoves just have a fan that blow across a hot area on the stove and off no real heat outside the room it is in without the fan running.

That said, any secondary heating to fall back on is a must.

NANN! December 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I have a woodstove in my basement, and it’s an excellent source of heat. I live in a ranch style home and the woodstove heats my entire home, sometimes too warm. It does a fine job of brewing my coffee too! Bought myself a couple percolators a few years ago, and that’s all I use now.

Mari December 15, 2012 at 9:58 am

Good questions. We are covered on most, with all but one of the rest to be covered shortly. Only one thing would remain — continuing to beg & plead with dh to get the fireplace chimney fixed or replaced so that we can add a woodstove. Very expensive, unfortunately, as the mfg’r out of business and those certain blocks can’t be easily replaced.

And, if dh would really actually fulfill some of what’s on my Christmas wishlist, we’d be golden.

Donna H December 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

Buuurr
Fortunately when I lost power and phone for a week last July, my freezer kept things frozen for 4 days. I kept cartons of ice in it just for that reason before the storm. But then on the 5th day I had to cook all the frozen food that thawed. Cooked food lasts for a few more days in my cooler with ice I bought from a store who had a generator for their ice machine. My dogs ate well!

I also thought of drying/dehydrating my thawed food in my truck (since it was very hot in July) but I was notified electric would be coming the next few days and it did. If it were winter up here, all I would have to do is put my frozen food outside in a cooler in the shade with temps always below freezing. I stored deer meat this way because I didn’t have room in my freezer for it all.

Winter up north has knocked out power before during a blizzard and trees overloaded with snow fell on power lines. I found 16 candles kept my home about 60 degrees when it was 20 degrees out for 6 hours. This and threats of electric power becoming unaffordable with EPA regs shutting down power plants and “causing electric power to necessarily skyrocket” caused me to install a wood stove for everyday living and cutting costs 3 years ago.

I knew not to trust the government for anything, especially when they helped ruin my comfort zone of affordable living and forget the emergencies–No government official came to help those who lost their homes, cleared the fallen trees, who suffered heat exhaustion, or lost water. It was the community who helped.

There doesn’t need to be a storm, earthquake, flood, or natural event to create a crisis. Losing your job(s), inflation, high unemployment, government regs and ridiculous laws can cause a disaster. Even losing your 401K from economic meltdown this government is producing or any war/attack while our country is weakened should prepare us as though a hurricane may wipe out the country.

SheepDog December 15, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Making a house operate during a power outage or other disaster is decidedly something that must worked on ahead of time to have the best results.

Even simple things like putting hooks up throughout the house so you can have a place to safely hang lanterns makes the change much smoother. (And much safer since the lantern is not likely to be knocked over and cause a fire.)

Speaking of lanterns/lamps anyone who wants to use one during an emergency should be aware that a number of companies are marking paint thinner/mineral spirits as 1K/High Grade Odorless Kerosene. I managed to buy several gallons of it before I read the MSDS sheet and figured out what they had done.

Mineral spirits will burn very cleanly with a nice light until the lamp heats up and then it flares up to bonfire size which of course gives a goodly amount of light, but is way more excitement than I want in my house at any time and specially during an emergency.

I ended up getting a nice clear lamp oil for my smaller lanterns and Klean Heat Kero Alternative in some of the larger lanterns. This may be a good solution for inside the house since I don’t seem to get much if any odor with either of these options.

One of the other “cheats” that I do that may be unusual is counter weighting the garage door to make it easier to open when the power is out. A rope tied to the top of the door in the middle where your opener is attached and run through a pulley attached to the ceiling (beyond where the front of your car ends up) with a weighted bucket attached makes opening and closing the door very easy.

My old wooden door can be opened or closed with one hand once I get the correct amount of weight in the bucket. Oh and make sure you can lock it securely with your opener or by reengaging your opener. The pieces parts of this should be on hand and tested before needed for best results.

SD

Pineslayer December 16, 2012 at 11:53 pm

SheepDog, suhweet idea for counter weight on garage door, writing that one down. Anyone have any experience with storing and using dry-ice?

George December 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

This is great stuff–Sakrete- Leak Stopper- Hydraulic Cement. Comes in a 5 lb & 10 lb plastic bucket. a powder-so it has a long shelf life. I’ve bought it from Home Depot. I’ve only used it on dry repairs, but they say it could be used on an active leak in a wall, foundation or around a leak in a wall where a pipe is coming thu. Not sure if I’m explaining this right. Great stuff to keep on hand in your workshop.

Mandy December 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Also make sure you have a manual can opener for those cans of food. So many of us use electric ones these days that it was something I never thought about until it was brought to my attention elsewhere. I’m sure a good multi-tool knife would have one on it, too.

GeorgiaBoy December 17, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Great post, Buuurr. For number 11, a heavy duty tarp or two might also come in very handy.

Duke December 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

On the garage door issue you can add a ups like some of the newer garage door openers have to open the door with no power like a blown fuse or a power outage. If you use your ingenuity a little you might take an older ups and install a larger battery for an extended use of the opener. A deep cycle battery from a boat could keep a ups on the garage door operating for a week or better and a simple solar panel could keep it charged indefinitely. A lot of my calls as a locksmith come from people locked out of their houses when the power goes out and they get lazy about carrying keys when they only enter the house from the garage.Also good for off grid living with a garage too far away from power to run the lines. Have a friend doing this for several years now and not a problem for him to date.Duke

michael bobier January 10, 2013 at 10:44 pm

awesome doesn’t hurt to get little reminders from people who have experienced disasters and lived thru it. thank you

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