What I Did This Week To Prep

and Storm After Action Review

Anytime you use your preps–after you neatly put them away for the next time–it’s important to review how things went. What went well? What needs to be changed or improved? And what did you learn? We were pleased with how our preps worked during the storm, and because of them the power outage was only a minor inconvenience.

However, there were a couple of things I needed to follow-up on. I checked the generator to see why it had stopped running. As stated, I assumed it had stopped because it ran out of gasoline. I looked in the tank, it still had plenty of fuel left, and it started just fine. I let it run for about 20 minutes and there were no issues. I don’t know why it had stopped. My only concern was the age of the gasoline in it. When we bought it a year ago the tank was full and we still had that same fuel. The previous owner had added Sta-Bil, but I don’t know when. I decided to drain the tank and fill it with fresh gasoline. I siphoned as much as I could into the Jeep, then let the generator run until it was empty (it ran for over an hour before it stopped – an inadvertent but useful test). Then I added new gasoline and Sta-Bil, started it up to double-check, and put it away.

While working with the generator, Sarah, Ryan and I all practiced starting it.  It’s important that all adults (and as many of the kids as possible) in the home know how to run the critical prepper equipment. We had been concerned that Sarah wouldn’t have the ‘bulk’ to pull-start the generator, but she was able to do it without much trouble.

Next, when the battery bank was in use it had shut off earlier than I expected; I thought it was because of some kind of a surge. But my understanding may have been flawed. Fellow prepping blogger Homestead Fritz send me a link to The 12volt Side of Life; a 12-volt battery information site. I’m going to do some additional research on that topic. I’ve said before, I have a decent amount of knowledge about a variety of topics – but electricity is not one of them (though I’m learning).

Finally, I went by the hardware store and bought an 8-foot, 14-gauge extension cord that will be dedicated to use with the furnace. During the power outage I realized I was one cord short, so we had to shuffle cords around. The battery bank and the furnace are only about six feet apart so it seemed like a waste to use a 25-foot cord, but the smaller ones I own were only 2-prong household types and I needed a heavier duty 3-prong one.

Also this week, I found out my favorite collapse medicine experts, Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy of the Doom & Bloom Hour, had written a book. The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook was published last week. I immediately ordered one and just received it in the mail. I’m very excited to have what I believe will be a fantastic medical reference. I’ll post a review on it soon.

I’ve started posting more to the TraceMyPreps Facebook page. I’d encourage you to “like” it and join our budding community; use that forum to comment, ask questions, and give advice. To make it easier I’ve added a ‘TraceMyPreps on Facebook’ like button on the top of the right side of my blog page. Also, right below that is a ‘Follow Blog Via Email’ box, if you sign up there each post I write will be automatically sent to you as soon as I publish it – this is an easy way to keep up on the posts as they come out.

What did you do?

Weathering The Storm

Winter Power Outage = Good Chance To Test Preps

Western Washington had a pretty good storm last week. I realize, in the larger category of “winter storms”, this wasn’t anywhere among the worst. That being said, it was a big deal around here – we don’t have storms like that very often. What started off as a good amount of snow coming down, transitioned into an ice storm. The tree branches were weighed down and many broke, taking down power lines and causing a power outage that affected close to 300,000 homes.

We were one of those homes, our power was out for about 36 hours. So when life gives you lemons… I figured this was the perfect opportunity to test our preps! At 7:30 am, as Sarah and I were in the Jeep driving back from the train station (the trains were cancelled because of frozen switches), I got the call the power was out. As I drove up to the house, even though I knew the power was off, I still tried to use the garage door opener (habits). First lesson of the power outage: make sure everyone knows how to manually open the garage door.

Since we have had a couple of “lights-out” drills we knew where to start. We:

  1. ‘Fired-up’ the battery bank and, using a volt meter, checked and recorded the starting voltage (12.6 volts).
  2. Ran a 50 foot, 14-gauge extension cord into the house and plugged it into a surge protector for inside use.
  3. Connected another extension cord to the natural gas furnace to run the blower*.
  4. Put a temperature probe inside the deep freezer (in the garage), with one end out so that it could be easily read, and recorded the starting temperature (10 degrees).
  5. Brought lamps, with low energy bulbs, into the main room and plugged them into the surge protector.

The battery bank operated well that day. My parents, visiting from Colorado, were able to appreciated all our preps. My mom was especially grateful to be able to blow dry and curl her hair (before leaving to see more family) – she felt this alone justified all our preparations. We had heat (though we kept it lower than normal, 62 degrees), light, Ryan was able to play Xbox, and we watched a movie after dinner. Every couple of hours we’d check and record the battery voltage and the deep freezer temperature.

However, when we woke up the next morning I realized the heat wasn’t on. I checked the battery bank and it had powered off. Even though it registered plenty of voltage (11.3 volts) the indicator light showed the batteries had gotten too low – this shouldn’t have happened until it reached 10.0 volts. It’s possible this occurred because I had left the inverter plugged into the wall and the line may have surged, but I don’t know for sure. We got out the generator, fired it up, and connected it to the:

  • inverter, to recharge the battery bank. As soon as it was plugged in the inverter began to charge and work again.
  • freezer, even though the temperature was still below 20 degrees.
  • furnace blower, and turned the heat up to 70 degrees.
  • laptop computer and all other rechargeable devices.

Once the generator was running we used our Volcano Grill and percolator to make coffee, then boiled water for oatmeal.

Sarah and I then left for work. The generator ran for about three hours, then Ryan called and told me it had stopped. I assumed it had run out of gas. I had him plug things back into the inverter and continue to power the house from the battery bank (Repetitive & Redundant). That evening the power came back on. We put everything neatly away, ready for the next time.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep including Storm After Action Review)

*Last summer my good friend, fellow prepper, and HVAC/R technician, Rick helped me rewire the line that powers the blower on my natural gas furnace. This allows me to plug the blower into an alternate power supply if needed. Rick has agreed to guest blog for me next Monday (1/30/12), when he’ll write about how you can do this same project yourself, complete with a detailed how-to video.

What I Did This Week To Prep

Chanse, Ryan, Sarah, & Emily with green tomato salsa

We got our green tomato salsa made and canned this week. From our garden we added tomatoes (some red, mostly green), two onions, and three jalapenos. We combined them with additional peppers (red, yellow, more jalapeno, and Hatch chili), garlic, lime juice, cilantro and other spices (here is the green tomato salsa recipe – next time I’ll leave out the sugar). We ended up with six quart jars (including two hotter ones with habaneros added). We waited several days and opened a jar (allowing for the flavors to blend), and it was really good – and gone in no time. It was interesting how you could taste so many different flavors in each bite. This will definitely be an annual tradition.

As described last week (What I Did This Week to Prep-11/4/11), I determined that the circuit breaker between the inverter and battery bank had failed and the batteries had not recharged before the last test. So I removed it, connected the wires, and it was time to test the battery bank again. This time I ensured that the batteries were fully charged (12.70 volts).

Goals (take 2): Power two lamps to light the living room / kitchen area (each with two CFL bulbs), power a 29 inch TV, DVD player, and use the microwave for limited cooking.

Outcome (better than expected): No issues or problems at all! We powered the lamps, TV and DVD player for six hours, ran the microwave for 10 minutes – and the batteries only went down to 12.35 volts. Based on this test, I believe that if we conservatively used power for about four to six hours a night we could run the battery bank, roughly, for a full week before it had to be recharged. Then (and this is the next thing that needs tested), I believe I can use the generator (with one tank of gas) to recharge the battery bank, and then run the batteries for another week. I think this test has tentatively shown that with our gasoline stored we could maintain a usable amount of power for over six weeks. Also since Sarah and Ryan helped me with both tests, they know what needs to be done and can do it if I’m not here.

The last thing, though it wasn’t an emergency by any means, was that I used my Bug Out Bag (BOB). Chanse (Ryan’s best friend) invited us to his football game. Sarah got there at the beginning of the game and I met her, just after half-time, when I got off work. Driving to the game, as I went by the time/temperature clock (41 degrees), I realized I hadn’t thought to pack any warm clothes and all I had was my light jacket. Then I remembered the BOB I have in my car (we keep one in each of our vehicles) and the problem was solved. I had a warm fleece, Gor-Tex jacket, stocking cap, warm gloves, and a wool blanket (I could have even put on my insulated boots and thermal underwear if I had chosen). Needless to say, I was warm and comfortable (and prepared) for the game.

What did you do?

(Monday: ‘Course It’ll Always Be There)

(10/5/11)

The Hassles of Storing Gasoline

To become more self-reliant we try to determine what ‘needed’ items to store; one to think about is fuel. Though there are several types of fuel preppers store: gasoline, propane, diesel, and kerosene; gasoline is the hardest to store long-term and, yet, is the most commonly used.

My main reason for storing gasoline is for use in our (gasoline) generator during a power failure. When people believe that disaster is looming–recently during Hurricane Irene, for example–they rush out and buy generators. But how many of them think to store fuel to run those generators? Our Generac 5000 generator has a five gallon fuel tank, it will run approximately five to seven hours on a tank of gasoline. My plan is to use our battery bank (four AGM deep cycle batteries) until depleted, then use the generator to recharge the batteries while still maintaining power to needed appliances. To ensure enough energy to last most power outages we need to store a reasonable amount of gasoline. But couldn’t we just drive to the gas station and get more gasoline? Maybe, but does the gas station have power?

We also want to store gasoline for our vehicles if we had to evacuate; gasoline may either be unavailable (gas station closed because of a power outage) or there may be excessively long lines to get it. We’d also like to have enough gasoline to take with us: to ensure we can reach our BOL, and to use there if power and/or gasoline aren’t available at our destination.

As we’re discussing storage it has to be stressed that gasoline is very flammable and must be stored in an appropriate container in a safe place. It is also relatively heavy–approximately 6.1 pounds per gallon–but at about 30 pounds for five gallons it can still be conveniently handled.

It’s hard to find definitive information about how long gasoline can be stored before it goes bad. But what does ‘bad’ even mean? Gasoline is a refined petroleum-derived chemical which–over time, and compounded by improper storing and temperatures–can break down by:

  • evaporation causing it to lose it’s volatile components (necessary for igniting)
  • drawing in water vapor that can cause separation – where water, since it’s heavier, settles to the bottom of the tank
  • oxidation causing it to become sludgy which can build up inside of small parts *

There are other unknowns, beginning with how old was the gasoline when you bought it (was it fresh from the refinery or already a month old?). What temperatures has it been exposed to and for how long? Was it properly stored by keeping it tightly covered, clean, dry, and cool? So, as a rule of thumb, if you plan to store your gasoline for more than a couple of months you should add a gasoline stabilizer.

The most common brand of stabilizer is Sta-Bil Gas Stabilizer. According to Sta-Bil’s website, using their product will keep fuel fresh for 12 months; you can double the dosage and fuel will remain fresh for 24 months. It’s added at a ratio of one ounce of Stabilizer to 2 1/2 gallons of gasoline. A 32-ounces bottle costs about $12, so it’s roughly $0.40 an ounce, which is only $0.80 for each 5-gallon gasoline can you store. If you store 30 gallons (check with local ordinances on amount you can legally store) it’d cost you less than $5.00 per year.

I add three ounces of Stabilizer (I want an extra buffer) to each 5-gallon container of gasoline (including the generator); we rotate the gasoline every 12 months (staggered so we rotate 1/2 every six months). When it’s time to rotate, we just add five gallons into each vehicles half-full tank. We’ve found that pouring gas through the pour spout can get heavy and messy. So instead of pouring we use a Super Syphon; it self-primes, it’s easy to use, and it’s affordable. It takes about three minutes to syphon a 5-gallon can.

Plan ahead. If you invest in a generator, you need to have fuel for it. Remember that generator is for an emergency situation; don’t depend on a one that has old, or not enough, gasoline.

(Wednesday: Self-Reliant vs Self-Sufficient)

* Minnesota’s Dept. of Agriculture article Storing Gasoline, has good information on the specific storage problems of weathering, moisture, and oxidation

What I Did This Week To Prep

We had our first ‘lights out’ drill this week. Unfortunately I can’t call it a success, other than in the sense that we learn from our failures (hopefully).

Coming off the successful test of powering the deep freezer (for over four days), using the batter bank and inverter – I was ready to take the next step. This one was to see how the battery bank would do powering devices inside the house we would like to be able to use during a power outage.

My goal:

  1. Power two lamps, to light the living room / kitchen area, each with two CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent lamp – low energy)
  2. Power our 29 inch TV (older cathode ray tube type) and DVD player
  3. Charge the cell phones
  4. Use the microwave for limited cooking

Outcome:

  1. Batteries were discharged after about 1 1/2 hours of watching the movie (The Sting), and having the lamps on
  2. I forgot to charge the cell phones
  3. The microwave tripped the breaker after less than two minutes

What I learned:

  1. LED flashlights are great; I love our new Duracell Daylite LED two D cell flashlights
  2. Thoroughly check, and be familiar with, your equipment – before the incident
  3. Ensure the battery bank is fully charged
  4. The inverter shuts itself off when the batteries reach 10.50 volts
  5. Buying a quality system and running it through a cheap circuit breaker is dumb

What went well:

  1. Storing the main extension cord near the battery bank (14 gauge, 50 foot)
  2. Taking the opportunity to teach Ryan about the circuit breaker box
  3. Having plenty of accessory extension cords
  4. Once lamps were on (from batteries), putting the flashlights in a central place (easy to find in the dark)

If the power had really been out, we would have fallen back on our redundancy planning and gotten out the lanterns and candles.

The biggest mistake was assuming that since the battery bank, through the inverter, had been plugged in for almost a week that the batteries would be fully charged – so I didn’t think to check first. Yesterday (several days after the drill) I discovered the circuit breaker (a cheap plastic one)–between the batteries and the inverter–had failed and wasn’t allowing the batteries to charge. After seeing that I realized that during our drill our batteries probably weren’t fully charged (likely very low charge to begin with).

I rewired the batteries directly to the inverter (there’s still the inverter’s internal circuit breaker, the external one was a backup) and the batteries immediately began recharging. I’ll order a higher quality circuit breaker this weekend. When the breaker arrives, I’ll do an unofficial drill during the day and see how long the fully charged batteries will run the lamps, TV and DVD player. (Buying stuff is easy, this testing and figuring out is a pain…)

We also transplanted our pepper plants (one jalapeno and one habanero) from the garden into pots so we could bring them into the house for the winter. I hadn’t known until recently that peppers, in their natural habitat, are perennials; we think of them as annuals because our winters get too cold for them to survive. Next year we’ll just put the pot outside for the summer. So instead of starting with brand new plants again, we’ll have mature ones and see how they do. As a baseline, this year we got three, very mild, jalapenos and no habaneros at all.

Lastly, we had budgeted money for buying fish antibiotics this month. So I ordered AQUA-MOX (amoxicillin 500 mg, 100 capsules), AQUA-FLEX (cephalexin 500mg, 100 capsules) and AQUA-ZOLE (metronidazole 250mg, 100 tablets). I stored them away in a cool, dry, dark location in their original containers.

What did you do?

(Monday: The Hassles of Storing Gasoline)

(10/30/11)

What I Did This Week To Prep

Last spring, working on our energy category, I bought a used Generac 5000 generator. My goal is to test it each quarter to ensure it still works properly. I especially wanted to be sure this time of year with the cold winter months approaching. So Ryan, his best friend Chanse, and I got it out. It took us a minute, but once we got the choke properly adjusted it fired up. I need to remember next time that the garage (even with the door open) isn’t the place to test it – it’s loud! Though we haven’t used it other than testing, so far I’ve been pleased with it – but I definitely need more experience using it.

Not long after buying the generator, continuing in the energy category, I bought four slightly used AGM deep cycle batteries and a refurbished Magnum inverter/charger. It took me a while to get all the appropriate knowledge and pieces together. But with the help of a couple TSP forum friends (thanks Dan and Rick), and their electrical/alternative energy knowledge, by early summer I had everything wired together and functional. This past week, after it had quietly sat in the garage for a couple months, I finally did my first test of the system. The test was to see how long our 14 cubic foot deep freezer would run (without opening the freezer) on the batteries. The battery bank, fully charged, started at 12.60 volts. I recorded the time and battery voltage several times a day. It ran for a about 100 hours, until the batteries were at 10.71 volts. A few days after my test I realized that the breaker from the batteries to the inverter had tripped and, after looking at the manual, I determined that the batteries probably should have discharged to 10.50 volts before the inverter tripped off; so add a few more hours to the total. I need to do more testing and develop a better understanding of my backup electric system, but it was a start. Next I’ll do a ‘lights out’ test and see how the battery bank does running some electrical appliances in the house. I also need to use the generator to recharge the discharged battery bank and see how long, and how much gas, that takes.

Ryan & Brynn with our combined order

Lastly, we went to the Mormon Family Home Storage Center (cannery) and canned food to add to our LTS. I previously posted about the Mormon canneries, and included a link to a video of the process, in Long Term Storage (Food Part 2). The staff (Mormon volunteers) were super friendly and helpful. The cannery is scheduled by groups; you can form your own group (Mormon or non-Mormon), or you can be added to a smaller group (we were added to a Mormon group from the Auburn area). A friend had planned to go with me but was unable to go that week, so I offered to do his order as well. Since it was going to be a large order (combined 91 cans) I brought Ryan and Brynn along to help. In addition to us, there were about eight other people in our group. We had each previously submitted our order forms, and all the bulk storage bags we would need had been pulled from the shelves and were ready to go. Start to finish, including orientation and cleanup, took just over two hours. We were assigned a task and, assembly line style, the process started: opening bulk bags, pouring into #10 cans, sealing the metal lid on the can, adding a label, and placing the can in a box for the appropriate order. When all the work was completed, we inventoried and paid for our order. We added 55 #10 cans to our LTS.

What did you do?

(Monday: Antibiotics In Your Preps?)

(10/23/11)