The lights are out. Now what?
We have a tendency to take the availability of a variety of energy sources for granted. Energy supply’s a variety of needs critical to everyday life including lighting, cooking, heating, communication, and even transportation.
Consider these questions:
· In an emergency, what will you do when the lights go out and the gas ceases to flow?
· How will you manage if Cap and Trade legislation is passed and energy costs “necessarily skyrockets?
This page offers energy options for you to consider in the event of emergency. It also includes information about how to become more energy independent to so you won’t break the bank when it comes to using energy for your daily living needs, especially in these uncertain times.
Start by tackling the energy preparedness checklist below to see how you and your family stack up.
Warm Up to Winter Storm Preparedness
Preparedness is the key word. Even when winter weather is, over the long term, unpredictable everyone who lives in a place where snow storms are an annual occurrence needs to prepare themselves for the 'mother of all snowstorms.' Here are some tips for preparing your family, preparing your car and preparing your home. But, before the tips, we start with a warning:
If you don't already have one, put together a disaster supply kit that contains a first aid kit and first aid guide, any special medicines needed by family members, bottled water, ready-to-eat food, juices or other drinks, paper plates, plastic utensils, an assortment of small pots for warming up food or water, some cooking utensils and some cups, warm clothing or protective clothing and heavy shoes and boots, thermal blankets, flashlights or lanterns, candles, extra batteries and extra fuel if you are using camping lanterns, matches in a water-tight case, a battery powered radio and an easy-to-carry container for portability.
Keep your car(s) maintained and fueled up more than half way. Unless you're able to do it yourself, have your car(s) winterized by a professional; they will check all the systems to make sure your transportation is usable when you need it. If you have a car you don't use often, it needs to be started and warmed-up at least every two-to-three days.
Seal up all the places where winter winds can sneak into your home, make sure you have adequate insulation and, if you don't have storm windows or window covers, cover the windows with plastic sheeting.
Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessments
You can easily conduct a do-it-yourself home energy assessment (also known as a home energy audit). With a simple but diligent walk-through, you can spot many problems in any type of house. When assessing your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found. This list will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades.
Locating Air Leaks
First, make a list of obvious air leaks (drafts). The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5% to 30% per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward. Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Check to see if air can flow through these places:
• Electrical outlets
• Switch plates
• Window frames
• Weather stripping around doors
• Fireplace dampers
• Attic hatches
• Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners
Also look for gaps around pipes and wires, electrical outlets, foundation seals, and mail slots. Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition.
Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather stripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken. You may also wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance ones. If new factory-made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows.
If you are having difficulty locating leaks, you may want to conduct a basic building pressurization test:
First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
This test increases infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. You can use incense sticks or your damp hand to locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts will feel cool to your hand.
On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet, including:
1. All exterior corners
2. Where siding and chimneys meet
3. Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.
You should plug and caulk holes or penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.
When sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance "backdrafts." Backdrafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may pull the combustion gases back into the living space. This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.
In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood) for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor.
Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. When your house was built, the builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today's energy prices (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially if you have an older home.
If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork, and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant.
While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts, or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.
Make sure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. You also should seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.
Checking a wall's insulation level is more difficult. Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not "hot." Check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Once you are sure your outlets are not getting any electricity, remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have some insulation there. You could also make a small hole in a closet, behind a couch, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what, if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. Ideally, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material. Unfortunately, this method cannot tell you if the entire wall is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. Only a thermographic inspection can do this.
If your basement is unheated, determine whether there is insulation under the living area flooring. In most areas of the country, an R-value of 25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation at the top of the foundation wall and first floor perimeter should have an R-value of 19 or greater. If the basement is heated, the foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-19. Your water heater, hot water pipes, and furnace ducts should all be insulated. For more information, see our insulation section.
Inspect heating and cooling equipment annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a forced-air furnace, check your filters and replace them as needed. Generally, you should change them about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage. Have a professional check and clean your equipment once a year.
If the unit is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing your system with one of the newer, energy-efficient units. A new unit would greatly reduce your energy consumption, especially if the existing equipment is in poor condition. Check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near seams. These indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with a duct mastic. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.
Energy for lighting accounts for about 10% of your electric bill. Examine the wattage size of the light bulbs in your house. You may have 100-watt (or larger) bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would do. You should also consider compact fluorescent lamps for areas where lights are on for hours at a time. Your electric utility may offer rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy-efficient lamps.
[ ] Flashlight(s) and Batteries, Tested and
Note 1 : All family members feel more secure
if they have their own flashlight, even if its
an LCD light for a two year old.
Note 2: Lately the expensive self contained
perpetual electric generation by motion or
crank lights seem to be worth consideration.
There appear to be two versions, as some
have very dull lighting and some are very
bright - test before purchasing. Know usage
[ ] Matches/Lighter, Dry, Waterproof Container.
Wind Proof Butane lighters work well below
Magnesium Strikers work all the time,
anywhere (not cheap, makes ignition spark,
[ ] Oil burning lamps/lanterns, extra oil, wicks,
Oil wicks dry out and any un-used oil in the
lantern base will evaporate over time. Wicks
may need to be re-primed with a little oil -
be careful, there is a reason that oil lamps
are not used much any more - any oil-lamp
mismanagement is a fire hazard.
[ ] Fire Extinguishers
ABC Type Rating (only and always)
[ ] Candles - Long Burn Time
Warning: There are times when using
candles/oil lamps is a safety hazard (presence
of: natural gas, dust/small particles, chemical
agents, anything that can burn or explode;
also kids, pets, and wind or loose materials
create additional safety issues).
Warning: Do NOT leave candles unattended
and their benefit is for after the disaster, NOT
during the disaster.
[ ] Batteries for all battery operated equipment
[ ] Vehicle(s) topped off, and Road Ready.
Consider evacuation, where/when
[ ] Plastic Fuel Containers, Appropriate, Correct
Fuel Type, Safely Stored.
Fuel can be a hazard if not properly protected,
mostly used for your generator) (Metal cans
rust, full cans prevent water condensation)
[ ] Propane Fuel Bottle(s), Full
[ ] Fuel Hose or Fuel Siphoning System
[ ] Generator, Topped off with Gasoline and Oil.
Not to be used in a home or enclosed space,
read the operators manual, know appliance
Watt ratings. DO NOT Connect to the house
current, plug appliance into extension cord.
[ ] Extension Cords: 50 Ft, Heavy Duty, 4 to 8
[ ] Stove/Grill: Camping type.
Propane seems more useful with 10 and 20
pound bottles (which can be used for other
items). The system is most useful if it can also
function from the 1 pound bottles (which are
commonly sold in "sporting goods"
departments or stores). Caution Keep bottles
current as they expire by law (propane
suppliers/dealers know requirements).
[ ] Propane Lantern
Can run from the same fuel tank as stove
cooking system and/or from little one pound
fuel bottles. Use a "tree or gang" hose outlet
(mantels, wrench, hoses). See Propane (Cook
[ ] Refrigeration/Cooler/Ice (mix solutions if
Pre set all refrigerators or freezers to coldest
setting. Open as little as possible. Fill empty
spaces in freezers with containers filled with ice
water to keep food cool longer.
[ ] Mini Electric or Propane Operated
Refrigerator. Combination Electric and
Propane is best.
[ ] Cooler(s)
Bigger is better, more than one if possible
(coolers usually can float, if necessary)
[ ] Ice: If you have a freezer, use the freezer as a
Pre-Freeze blocks of ice in plastic bags and/or
buy (Ice can be a very valuable commodity)
[ ] Bow Saws, various sizes, and spare blades.