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But I Don’t Want to Bug Out!

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from John D. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


Are you comfortable and secure in your home? Would you still be comfortable and secure if you no longer had electricity or natural gas service? Can you get by without your furnace, stove, and refrigerator? You may be able to live comfortably under these conditions in mild weather, for a short time, but how long could you last in the winter? Loosing electricity for an extended period of time is not a far-fetched notion. Freezing rain caused an extended power outage at my residence a few years back. Fortunately that incident was localized. When the roads were cleared I was able to go out for supplies. Nevertheless, if I had not been able to heat my home, I would have had to leave. My food would have spoiled, and I may have returned to find extensive damage due to broken water pipes. My home and belongings would have been an easy target for looters.

The ice-storm I experienced was a rare occurrence, but not the only circumstance that can cause an extended power outage. A failure of the power grid could be the result of a terrorist attack, or simply due to an aging infrastructure. Additionally, an outage caused by a tornado or earthquake can’t be ruled out as a possibility.

I don’t want to bug out!

In an effort to avoid problems associated with bugging out, I’ve taken actions that allow me to remain in my home, comfortably and securely, for an extended period of time. I won’t discuss my ability to defend my family and property from looters, but I will describe the systems that enable me to live comfortably.

To be self-sufficient in my home I needed an alternative to my furnace, and that alternative needed to be able to function for an extended period of time, perhaps several months. At the same time, I needed the ability to keep food from spoiling, and to be able to cook. Being able to cook implies that I also have the ability to boil water, making it safe for drinking. I’ve accomplished those goals with two main systems.

My alternative heating device is a pellet-burning stove. The stove can run for 12 hours or more without attention. This solution requires me to keep a good supply of wood pellets on hand. The stove burns one bag of pellets a day when the weather is cold, and less than that in milder conditions. I prefer to have no less than 10 bags available.

50000 BTU’s Pellet Stove with 120-Pound Hopper

The second of my two main systems is an off-grid solar electric system. I’ve sized this system in such a way that it can provide the electricity required by the pellet stove, especially at night, and fully recharge the batteries during the day. Additional capacity provides the necessary power for running a refrigerator, lights, for cooking, and for a variety of other devices.

The solar electric system was designed to meet my basic needs during an extended emergency. While the system produces more electricity than I need during mild weather conditions, I have to keep an eye on energy usage when it’s very cold outside. I have a few solar panels, not an entire roof full. The batteries store energy generated from the solar panels during the day, and apply that energy to the pellet stove, refrigerator, and other devices as needed.

Since my solar electric system is dependent upon sunshine, and since the sun sometimes doesn’t shine, I’ll have to conserve energy at times. I’ve discovered many opportunities to conserve, and still remain comfortable in my home. I can cut back on the biggest energy user, the pellet stove, by limiting heating to one or two rooms. On other occasions I may choose to use an electric blanket, not using the pellet stove at all. I’ve found that my small chest freezer uses much less electricity than my full-size refrigerator. Using that instead I can keep food from spoiling, and have enough energy left over for cooking and lighting. My lights are the LED kind, using only 10 watts each.

The main components of my solar electric system are:

7 – 85 watt solar panels mounted on my roof
6 – GC2 deep cycle batteries
1 – 60 amp Charge Controller
1 – 1100 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter
1 – Relay Driver (A programmable device used to provide battery protection and system automation)
1 – Automatic Transfer Switch (Used to switch between grid power and solar power)

Solar systems give you off-grid options many won't have.

Solar systems give you off-grid options many won’t have.

The Relay Driver allows me to better control energy use from the batteries, and therefore extend their life. While solar panels may last 25 years, battery life is dependent on how well they are maintained. I hope to get in excess of 5 years from the batteries by taking exceptional care of them. The relay driver prevents accidental over discharge. It does that by turning off the inverter (which powers all of the loads), when the battery voltage drops to a level that I programmed into the device. It does not turn the inverter on again until the batteries are fully charged.

The Automatic Transfer Switch allows me to use some of the solar-generated power to run my refrigerator on a day-to-day basis, therefore cutting back on my electric bill and recouping some of the cost of the system. I override this control, with a switch, when the grid power fails.

I’ll probably add one or two more solar panels to the system this year. I’d like to see my batteries recharge faster on cloudy days. Additional solar panel capacity will also allow me to use appliances during the day, without significantly reducing charging power.

Providing design details for a solar electric system is beyond the scope of this article, but you can learn everything you need to know from the following site: http://www.wholesalesolar.com/

Start by determining your daily electricity needs in kilowatt-hours, and then determine how many solar panels and batteries you’ll need to meet those needs. Solar panel capacity should be high enough to fully recharge the batteries in a reasonable time, perhaps with one full day of sun. The battery bank should have sufficient capacity to operate all of the loads (stove, refrigerator, lights, etc.), all night long. And remember, batteries will last longer if they’re not discharged too deeply, too often.

A “Kill A Watt” meter is an inexpensive, but useful, tool for determining energy consumption of your devices. Look for that device at eBay or Walmart, you’ll be glad you did.

You may decide to purchase a prepackaged kit with everything you need. If so, it should have the ability to automatically remove the load, once the batteries reach a certain state of discharge. Accidental discharges beyond 50% will shorten the life of your expensive battery bank.

I don’t claim to be exceptionally well-prepared for a SHTF event, but at least I’ve made significant progress. I have a small stockpile of MRE’s, and a water-purification device. I’m also an avid gardener, and I save seeds. I can see myself using energy from my solar electric system to provide security lighting to my garden area. But now I’m just rambling.

Many thanks to the others who’ve provided advice here and I hope that the information I’ve provided inspires others to do similar things.

If you liked this article, please rate it.

  • Arcangel911

    Nice setup you have going on there…

  • S. Cullen

    Doing all my prepping with the idea of staying put.

    Working up a system that is multifunctional so I have a back up to the back up to the back up.

    From freezers to power sources to multipurpose cooking means… Propane, charcoal and wood.

    If nothing ever happens all I can say is there’s going to be on hell of a yard sale going on locally.

  • Ten days supply of fuel doesn’t seem like much to me. I can see a lot of scenarios where you’d be freezing cold because you ran out of fuel. We have a regular wood burning stove, and we start each winter with a full winter’s supply of wood, which in our case is one cord for our 1500 sq ft house in central Oklahoma. Several years ago, we spent $14K to retrofit our 1929 era house so it would remain comfortable in the event of an extended outage of the grid energy systems.

    1. We have 9 inches (R-33) insulation in the walls and 14 inches (r-50) in the attic. We achieved the wall r value by insulating the original walls (4″) and then we built new walls, 5 inches inside the existing exterior walls, and insulated those.

    2. We have R-20 insulated shutters for our windows that we built ourselves.

    3. We installed 120 sq ft of glass on the south face of the house, and yes, we have R-20 insulated shutters for that sun porch too. When the sun shines, even if it is freezing cold, sunlight coming in helps keep the house comfortably warm without building a fire. We installed vents above the doors to create a convection loop so the warm air would move through the house without a fan.

    4, We have a propane cook stove.

    Our only heat is the wood stove and the sun porch and that’s plenty and its nice low tech that keeps working irrespective of our ability to maintain high tech. We do have a small generator, inverter, and marine batteries to keep the freezer going until the food is gone, and we have lots of candles. We have solar small battery chargers and rechargeable small batteries.

    We know our neighbors and they know us and we are part of a local food cooperative so we get all of our meat and dairy and most of our vegetables in season from local farmers. We have lots of edible landscaping here at the house.

    The nice thing about this is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that everyone here can stay warm in the winter, and also reasonably cool in the summer, even without grid electricity. Our summer preps are another story, lol, that starts with shade, and continues through properly sized overhangs, and in the summer, we put our insulated shades up when the sun is shining and take them down at night (the opposite of the winter drill).

  • Huples

    Couple of things stop me from doing the same.

    Wood pellet furnaces, I heard they only use pellets and I prefer a wood fire and a wood stove. I can burn anything.

    Solar panels on the roof in my neighbourhood would make taking me out very desirable. I’d install if 25-50% of the homes have done it. I’m looking for a portable system to use on my 650 sq foot deck. It’s on the second floor and is invisible from below. I found a system but it is 10000 USA $ so too much for me. Emp hardened but outside my range. For now low tech and a trickle of juice for small batteries from the wood stove.

    Can Anyone recommend a portable solar system that can run 120 for an hour a day and has a battery that isn’t going bust after six months of daily use? I think I may have to make one but I’ve zero electrical skills

    I liked Bob Waldrop’s set up much more than John D’s but it would depend on the area and how well you can trust the neighbours

    • John D

      I decided on a pellet stove because it can run all night without any attention. The output adjustable, and stays pretty constant. There’s very little ash, and the house stays clean. I prefer storing bags of pellets to cut wood. My supply can be relatively low, since there are several stores in the area where I can buy pellets.
      From your comment I’m not sure what your needs are. 120 volts at how many watts? 120 volts at 100 watts for one hour would require a small system that could be built for less than $1000. When sizing your system, think watt/hours. In other words, how many watts for how many hours? My system had to be large enough to run the pellet stove (auger motor, and room air blower), around the clock. I built my system from scratch, making upgrades and adding solar panels as I could afford it. But if you’re still interested in a small system package, Wholesale solar dot com has them for $1,300 and up.
      I understand that solar panels on my roof might attract undesirable attention. That’s where I would have to rely on my two friends, Smith and Wesson.
      Good luck Huples!
      John D

      • Huples

        Thanks John.
        Yeah about 1200 watts. Just basically want to plug a dehydrator into one socket. I’m lazy and fall can hit up in Canada quick and in shtf I’d like the last harvest to be the day of the first frost.
        I heard pellets were super efficient and clean. I’ll stick to the wood stove in case the need for it is long. It also gives the girlfriend something to do!

        • BobW

          if fire wood is readily available, no reason to go with a pellet stove, IMO. Off-hand, a fireplace is less efficient than a woodstove/pot belly and both are less efficient than a pellet stove. Downside of the pellet is restocking challenges, and of course, electricity.

  • S. Cullen

    I am learning that prepping should be a Masters degree program for some college since it tends to get rather involved with electrical, thermal, water purification ballistics, geothermal as well as culinary topics… All that weren’t taught back in the day or I missed in school.

    Therefore I am now in my hmmmm let’s say I was in HS when JFK passed but not yet around for WWII.

    Anyway some good ideas here… However

    NOT one size fits all…but my prepping is for the SHTF situation.

    I worked through hurricane Andrew down in the Miami area back when and we were 14 days w/o electricity… Our station ran off diesel generators.

    Those who had gas generators were all major targets.

    But I’m very remote out in the boonies and well protected, not to mention I’ve got 16 dogs on the property as well. Yeah wife never met a puppy she diddidnlike like and after 5 who’s counting anyways.

    I’m looking for a wood stove for heating approx 2000 Sq ft area.

    Cooking will be done using propane or charcoal or wood fires outside.

    “juice ” for now will be generators… 9K down to a 3K unit. 4 on hand. I also am storing 800 – 1000 gals of gasoline in my mini on premise gas station in 55 gallon drums originally came with racing fuel so they are lined for fuel. Secure the hidden & the under lock and key as well as high powered sniper scoped protection.

    4 acres, rural surrounded by 45 acres of dense woods & 15 acres of woods and hidden into tree line covering.

    I think I’m good here.

    But now looking for solar energy Powered system as a backup to the gas & generator system.

    But really wasn’t in school when they were talking about solar… Actually back then solar power wasn’t really a concept. Therefore I am totally clueless less about solar…

    Yes it involves the sun and solar panels… That I get… After that it gets a bit murky to say the least.

    What I was looking for is a 3K +/- system, somewhat portable where panels can be moved in house at night.

    Freezers… Small, medium & larger for frozen food, some basic appliances such as coffee maker, table top microwave (both with limited ude) a 5cu ft frig. And several window A/C units run during peak hours when it gets into the 90 degrees here. to prevent house from turning into a oven.

    Don’t know my or much about my watt usage/needs but will get a volt /watt do hicky to plug each item in, add up each one and figure out how & when to use & the rotate them so that not everything is running at the same time.

    So anyone out there care to give me some advice?

    Looking to spend $3K-4K range… But less is better but looking to meet my needs. I’m thinking under 4K system.

    Freezer food obviously is limited to a degree.

    AC is summer need

    Lights will be low watts LED bulbs.

    Open to suggestions…

    Thanks

    • john d

      When it comes to small solar electric systems, you can pretty much rule out electric heating and air conditioning. Those use too much energy over too long. But for $3 to $4K you can keep your refrig/freezer running, along with lights, tv, radio, etc.
      John D

      • S. Cullen

        Window ac units rather than a central unit.

        I’m hoping that I can run ac for around 8 hours during peak heat times

        TV I’m expecting that there won’t be TV running in a SHTF situation.

        Small refrig so I am not using a full size one… Again less wattage.

        Wood burning stove for heat so no electric heat.

        Plenty of firewood to be had with 45 acres of woods.

        • Huples

          If your summer s not to humid (mine is very humid) look up a swamp cooler. Run it with a small fan. I think dry deserts are the best for them. In Canada I’d just be adding to my humidex. Summer’s I’m doing midday siestas!
          The solar thing is confusing. I’m challenged as well! As near as I can figure lithium ion batteries are needed for daily use and most affordable systems don’t have them. Their batteries zero out after ? 500 recharges.
          Anyone a genius on buy and plug in systems for the incompetent like me? I’d looked hard at goal zero until I heard about battery death or am I mistaken?
          PS markets up today and loonie to. Much celebration on the media!

          • S. Cullen

            I am not sure about a humidity being in TN. I guess sometimes it can get humid but it’s not like dshe. Florida where I lived and worked as a LEO. (retired)…

            Being prepared (but for what) is the 64$ question I guess?

            I suppose that you can’t be prepared for every thing but I am thinking or looking at a SHTF situation in general.

            The main things are

            Food

            Shelter

            Water

            Protection

            Food is mainly can & dry goods but frozen as well thus the electricity source.

            Generator + gas with about 1000 gallons stored but then solar power as well.

            Got to add in all or as many variables as possible.

            Batteries if properly managed can get you several years.

            Back ups for the back ups? Possibly.

            I’ve got to do more research to see exactly how much as well as what is the best way to go and keep it in budget.

            It is both fun and challenging, but I think it is doable regardless… That’s the challenge here.

            Looking at all possible situations and covering as much as one can.

            Water is going to be rain with 300 gal capacity & stored (month supply) but here we get 54″ on average and with 1″ of rain I can get well over 500 gals.

            Shelter is staying put… 2400 Sq ft on 4 acres in the “boonies” & dead end road. Surrounded by woods 45 acres and 15 acres each.

            Most neighbors are on 5 acre tracts, so population density is minimal.

            NOT urban or suburban…

            Don’t see bugging out asas an option.

            So it’s staying put, target hardening and being self substainable…

            But also understanding how to work with being of the grid. (no electricity).. If we do have electric then that’s fine, but the idea is just in case we don’t.

            Then what.?

            No getting it done then, so you have to anticipate or prepare for the event that you don’t have it available.

            As the saying goes…

            An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?.. Or hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

            So I’m trying to get as much as I can cover here with my requirements being individualized and giving me as much flex as possible.

            • Wanda Tumlin

              I live in a 5th. wheel camper. Our A/c uses 2800 Watts. If I run it 10 hrs. per day that’s 28000 Watts. We have 4- 140 amp deep cycle batteries. 140 Amps X 12 volts = 1680 watts. You can’t discharge your batteries below 50% so that’s 840 usable watts. With my 4 batteries, that adds up to 3360 watts. Our a/c could be run 1 hr, per day with this. You would need a 3,000 watt Inverter which would use some of the left over 560 watts. You might be able to run a small refrigerator or freezer if you use a 4000 watt Inverter, for a hr. What you are wanting to do, would run around $20K or more.

              • S. Cullen

                Kills that idea if those are the #s I’m looking at…

                Back to the drawing board I’m guessing

              • Wanda Tumlin

                S. Cullen, look for alternatives to cooling. If you have any breeze, you can hang wet sheets or some muslin in your open doors and windows. You would be surprised how much they can cool down a room.

              • BobW

                Honestly, I think its a bit of a fools errand to spend any meaningful brain power trying to rig a disaster system to run AC, even a wall unit. Room temperature will be the way of life from spring to fall.

                Unless your homie is a billionaire. Then, plan away. 🙂

                Back on track, seems to me that if I was planning for some electricity AFTER, it would be for refridgeration, running water, lights, THEN cool stuff like heaters, and AC.

                Prioritizing what would most benefit the group is a good way to look at it. Everyone will have different priorities, but food storage and possibly heating should be high on the list.

              • S. Cullen

                As I initially said heat will be from wood burning stove /fireplace… No electricity needed.

                Water will be from rain collection system since no water would be from County water.

                Lights? LED lights… Low wattage

                Freezers used until frozen food used up

                Refrig used limited…

                Cooking can be done outside using propane, charcoal or wood.

                AC would be used when Temps reach mid 90’s…

                Fans could be used otherwise…

                Occasionally use items to make bread and or to cook with on limited use or once or twice every week or two while supplies last.

                Solar power can be used in conjunction with gas generators of 10K watt gens + 1,000 gallons of gasoline stored.

                It’s a back up /alternative system

                Also as far as the heating wood burning stove /fireplace goes I’m surrounded by 4545 acres of woods… So I think I will not run out of wood for the fireplace /stove

                Stove will heat 2000 – 2200 Sq ft area of house.

              • BobW

                After thinking on this a bit more, have you given any thoughts to scrounging up a couple swamp coolers in lieu of AC units, as a more energy efficient approach to cooling the ranch?

                I understand that the oppressive heat/humidity could be physically debilitating for some. The problem with many of those cheap wall units is that just like refers, the smaller units are far less efficient per watt consumed. I wonder if a trip to consumer reports might shed some light on power consumption vice believing manufacturers stated numbers.

              • S. Cullen

                I honestly at this point am simply doing my homework here (research)…

                But I’m also looking at other things as well… Log splitters electric verses gas… 10 ton for $700 verses 28 ton for $1500…effective for home use and smaller logs (16″ diameters verses 24″ diameters since most of the trees around me aren’t huge)….

                Easier to move around etc…

                Plus this and that….

                The more frugal /economical I can be then the more I have to spread around on other stuff…

                Otherwords the “best bang for my $$$…”…

        • BobW

          Be careful with small refers. The idea of small = better is good, but pursue that masters degree in electronics. Study power consumption of all refers, from small to large. Use the KISS principle. Make a spreadsheet, document the consumption rates of each and every model you can get info on. The small ‘colllege’ refers are cheaply made and often consume more power per square inch of interior space than a larger one. The data will bear out which refers are desirable and which should be avoided.

          What about pursuing a DC refer? What about a propane/DC system like the RVs use? An older, electronic free unit might come cheaply and while being sub-optimal, could cover your needs without investing in a full-house system. Still need a few panels to charge the batteries, but my trailer will run all day/night on a single battery.

          • Wanda Tumlin

            BobW, you’re using DC lights, furnace motor, etc. aren’t you? That’s the way ours is set up.
            We do run down a little faster using an inverter to run TV, Computers, and such. If we are not docked, propane for refrigerator.

            • BobW

              Yep and yep. The refer is a dual system, DC/Gas, and electric (from the genny).

              I think there is a solid angle to consider with bug out shelters and cabins to be rigged purely from DC power. The trailer industry is built on DC. I do not know about rigging solar to skip the AC conversion, but a trailer furnace is DC/gas regardless of AC powers presence.

              As to gas (propane) consumption, my modern trailer consumes a 20lb bottle with weekend usage in about 6 months.

              I’d really like to see someone with the financial wherewithall to explore a basic solar system running DC appliances.