Mar 182018
 

Original containers are sometimes a good choice for food storage. But for longest life, often there are better choices.

A large part of prepping is the art of storing provisions and other necessary items in anticipation of a time when they will not be readily available, due to a breakdown in society and its usual services.

Many articles are written about what to store, but very little is written about how to store the things you are collecting.  We suggest, and this article explains, that your choice of storage materials is very important.

The best storage container depends on what it is you’re trying to store, and the environment in which you’ll be storing it.  For example, you might be okay storing some items in cardboard boxes indoors, but clearly you’d probably never use cardboard boxes for outdoor storage.  Or, while you might be okay with storing clothing in plastic containers, you might not want to store food items in the same containers.

Here are some issues to consider when choosing storage containers.

What Are You Protecting For/Against

Some of the biggest reasons for using containers, other than the simple convenience of having everything together, is to protect against one or more external factors.

The most common considerations are

  • Heat or Cold
  • Humidity or Water
  • Oxygen
  • Light (particularly UV light)
  • Insects, Pests, Rodents, etc
  • Grouping items together into convenient and compact collections
  • Miscellaneous External Factors

Understanding the factors you are protecting against will help guide you towards the appropriate container choices.

Container Life

Do you want a container that will last six months, six years, or six decades?  Probably no-one reading this would settle for a six month life, and indeed, most of us would consider six years too short too, but somewhere in the ‘more than six and less than sixty year’ range we’ll likely find a sweet spot.

How do containers age and wear out?  Anything that sees the sun will be impacted by the UV rays from the sun.  Many natural products will dry out or go brittle or in some other way lose their desirable properties.  Plastics will lose their plasticizers and start to crack and break.  Metal might rust.  Rubber will perish.  Wood might rot (or be eaten by termites or chewed through by rodents).

In addition to unavoidable age-related wear and tear, containers might also fail due to things like accidental mishandling and breakage.  Drop a glass jar onto a concrete floor and it will probably smash, and you just know that sooner or later, everything made of glass will be dropped – and even if the glass object is already on the floor and therefore unable to be dropped, something will instead drop on it.

Depending on the product you are storing, and where you are storing it, these life related issues will impact to varying degrees.

Container Reusability

Do you want a container than can be reused countless times, or are you happy with a single use container?  A tin of food is an example of a container that is single use, a Mason jar is an example of a container that can be reused very many times indeed (albeit with new lids each time if you’re using them as a long life canning alternative.

In the middle between the single use and the virtually unlimited use are containers with a varying number of potential reuses – items with plastic hinges, cardboard flaps, flexible metal detents, plastic bags that will eventually get holes in them, or whatever.

One other aspect of container reusability would be what ongoing use you can get from the material the container is made from.  There’s not much you can do with a cardboard container, but with many other materials, you can use them for other purposes.  Metal may be able to be worked into other shapes for other purposes.  Glass could be melted down and then blown or molded into other shapes, and the same possibly for plastic too.

Container Repairability

Maybe you’ve a container with a limited life, but which can be either readily repaired or have key wear items easily replaced, and so given repeated life extensions.  The lids in a Mason jar are an example, gaskets in other lids is another example.

A wooden box can probably be repaired with extra pieces of wood, a hammer and some nails. Maybe super glue can be used to repair other items.  Glue – super or ‘regular’ – can also fix some types of breakages in glassware and ceramic items.

And in other cases, cracks don’t even matter too much.  A crack in a water container would be a problem, but in a container that is simply storing clothing, not so much.

But in choosing your containers, consider not only their susceptibility to wear and damage, and but also their ability to be repaired, and make sure you have the tools and materials to carry out such repairs.

Permeability

Are you storing something that needs to be fully sealed in (or, a similar concept, have external things fully sealed out)?

Water, for example, ideally should be fully sealed into a container to avoid evaporative loss and environmental contamination.  Many food items need to have external things (usually but not exclusively oxygen) fully sealed out.

If so, the permeability of the container becomes an important issue.  Many plastics, and obviously most natural products (wood, fabric) are somewhere between moderately and very porous.

If you want impermeability to gases, then you either should look for mylar or nylon type plastics, or glass, or metal.

Interaction with Contents

If you are storing an acidic food, you don’t want it in an aluminum container.  If you are storing a liquid, you don’t want it in cardboard (obviously enough).  If you are storing water, you don’t want it in a wooden cask or barrel because it will absorb poisonous chemicals and flavors from the wood.  You might also not want water in many plastic containers due to the danger of the plasticizers and release agents leaching out of the plastic and into the water.

Environmental Issues

Will the container be inside or outside?  Does it need to be non-reactive to water?  Does it need to insulate its contents from temperature extremes?  Does it need to be impervious to rodents and other creatures?  Will it need to be strong to resist wind and other external factors?  How about UV issues?  Rust?  Rot?

Clear or Opaque

Do you need (or would you like) to be able to see the contents inside the container?  On the other hand, will light harm the contents of the container?

Container Sizes, Shapes and Weights

Sometimes the size, shape and weight of the container is a relevant issue, other times not so much.  A portable product should of course be in containers that aren’t too bulky or heavy to be moved.

If you are space-constrained for storing certain items, you want containers that are efficiently sized (ie usually with square rather than rounded corners and sides) and with little unused storage space inside them.

Multi-Purpose Use

Ideally, you want containers that can be used to hold different things at different times, rather than containers that only work for one thing.

Sometimes it is unavoidable to have containers that can only be used for one thing, because of the nature of the product you store in it.  It is hard to re-use a gas container (particularly a plastic one) for drinking water, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be reused for transporting waste water.

Container Materials

Containers can obviously be made from many different materials.  Some of the most common are plastic, glass, metal, and wood or cardboard.

But this list should be further subdivided.   Plastics should be divided into permeable or barrier, foodsafe or not, and their ability to resist high/low temperatures and UV.  Metal varies from iron to steel to stainless steel, as well as aluminum and more exotic materials.  Even wood or cardboard comes in many different grades (food quality or not, painted or not) suitable for different types of applications.

Other materials include fabrics and other natural materials, stone, earth, pottery/ceramic/porcelain, and even concrete.

In addition, containers commonly have a different material for their opening section and/or hinge and/or the seal between their top and bottom.

Two Are Twice as Good as One

Sometimes the ideal approach to storage involves using two containers.  For example, putting items first into plastic bags (nylon or mylar) and then putting many of the filled and sealed bags into large multi-gallon plastic pails and sealing the pails.

Even though the pails may not be food-safe, that doesn’t matter.  The plastic bag protects the food inside from the pail, while the pail in turn protects the relatively fragile plastic bags from other external environmental factors.

Smaller is Better than Bigger

Which do you think is better – one huge container that is sufficient to hold all of whatever it is you are storing, or multiple smaller containers?

We suggest that having multiple smaller containers is the better choice for several reasons.

First, when you open a container, the life of the item in the opened container may start expiring much more quickly.  So if you have a multi-year supply of whatever, but the item will only last three months once the container has opened, you’ll want each container to hold no more than three months of product.

Second, smaller items are more conveniently moved and shifted and managed.  You don’t want awkwardly bulky and heavy items that only a strong adult can manhandle – what happens if the strong adult is absent or unwell or indisposed?

A related third factor is one of risk of injury.  No-one is likely to risk serious injury if they drop a ten ounce container on their foot, but if they drop a ten pound (or a 100 lb) container on their foot, that might become a life threatening injury (particularly if healthcare is not conveniently at hand).

A fourth factor is to protect against random unexpected container failure causing the loss of your total supply of something.  As you of course know and are planning/preparing for, ‘shit happens’ in many different forms.  Perhaps one of your containers might have a bad seal or a hairline crack or something in it.  If the container has 10% of your supply of whatever inside it, then that’s a disappointing loss; but if it has your entire supply of the item inside, and the failed container has caused the contents to spoil, then that’s a very serious loss.

In this case, the adage to not put all your eggs in one basket is quite literally true!

This also leads to our next point.

Multiple Storage Locations

We suggest not only storing your provisions in multiple containers, but also to store them in multiple locations.  If you do this, then events that might cause physical harm to the storage location no longer endanger your entire inventory of stored provisions.  Maybe there’s a fire, maybe a flood or even a tornado.  Perhaps a tree falls onto the building, or a car crashes into it, maybe there’s a landslide, maybe a satellite falls out of the sky and lands on the storage area!  Maybe the zombie horde manage to wrest control of one of your supply dumps from you, maybe anything at all.

No matter what might happen, if you have your stores split over two locations rather than one, your risk is reduced so that, hopefully, a worst case scenario sees you losing only half rather than all your provisions.

Needless to say, be sure that your multiple storage locations are safe and appropriate.  You’re just substituting one risk for another if you take some of your provisions and remove them from your protected retreat and instead place them in a shed on the far side of your property, making them vulnerable to anyone passing by.

Containers We Like

We really like glass.  It is one of the most unreactive materials, and has an extremely long life assuming it isn’t broken (its biggest weakness).  Glass containers with glass stoppers are the best of the best, but you might find yourself needing to accept some other type of seal such as metal or plastic, possibly with or without a rubber or plastic or natural material seal.

You really need to think through the potential challenges of glass breaking.  For example, if there’s any chance of earthquakes or other events causing containers to fall off shelving, you need to either ensure the integrity of the shelving or avoid using glass.

For inert products, we like wood and metal, and our favorite metals are either stainless steel (very expensive) or aluminum (a great compromise between strength and weight, but beware of having acids in contact with aluminum).  Note also that in some types of fire, aluminum will either melt or even start burning.  The average house fire reaches temperatures of 1100°F, and aluminum melts at 660°.  Steel on the other hand doesn’t melt until temperatures go above 2500°.

For large liquid storage, either metal or concrete containers seem to be the best solutions.

While we acknowledge the convenience and ubiquity of plastic, we try not to use anything plastic in our long-term storage.  Plastic bags – particularly made with a mylar or nylon component – are probably okay, but most other plastics just have too many issues in our opinion.

Many times, with food storage, it is a great idea to add a desiccant, and/or oxygen absorber, to the container of bulk food before sealing it.

Summary

It isn’t enough just to own a lot of provisions and other ‘stuff’.  You need to very carefully plan out how and where you store your supplies so as to avoid nasty surprises and problems.

Aug 292014
 
A bizarre approach to dispensing toilet paper.

A bizarre approach to dispensing toilet paper – sighted at a rest stop somewhere between SD and MN.

A little known side effect of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant problems in Japan was a shortage of toilet paper that affected the entire country.

Japan has had toilet paper shortages before, back in the oil crisis of 1973 (you never thought that expensive and scarce oil would create a toilet paper shortage, did you!) and so the nation has become particularly sensitized to the potential of future shortages.  As a result, the Japanese government is now urging the public to stockpile toilet paper, and has even arranged for a special type of toilet paper roll (without the inner cardboard sleeve) that allows more toilet paper to be stored in less space.  You can read more about their public promotional campaign here.

We see two interesting things about this.  The first is the government’s determination that it could take a month for any disruption in supply to be resolved, either due to factories returning to production or by way of importing supplies from other countries, and so they are recommending everyone keeps at least a one month supply in their homes.

Depending on your point of view, a one month supply is either a generous amount or woefully inadequate.  A lot would rest on the type of disruption to local manufacturing, of course, and if it was a broader global disruption (such as another oil shock) then even a one month supply might be exhausted long before new supplies were on hand.  Of course, this is a Level 1 type preparation only, not a Level 2 or 3.

The second interesting thing is the focus on stockpiling a month of toilet paper.  We don’t disagree with this at all, of course, but how about other things, too?  Like, ummm, water and food?  If toilet paper is liable to disruptions in supply, surely food supplies too have to be considered as being at risk of some future disruptions, and if we had to choose between no toilet paper and no food, well, that’s an easy choice, isn’t it!

Don’t get us wrong.  It is great to see a national government advocate a one month stockpile of anything, but we see this as begging the question – why do we need to maintain a one month supply of toilet paper, but not a one month supply of everything else, too?

Aug 222014
 
A backup hand operated water pump is a great reassurance, but note that hand pumps can also fail.

A backup hand-operated water pump is a great reassurance, but note that hand pumps can also fail.

Many of us rely on wells for our water supply, and in such cases, we have an electric pump that lifts the water up and into a supply tank.

These pumps are usually long-lived and reliable, and draw little power (at least by present day standards where we have access to virtually unlimited electrical power at comparatively low cost).

But what happens in a future adverse scenario where first our power fails and then secondly our pump fails?  The obvious answers are backups and spares, but there are also some design issues that should be considered well before any such problems occur.

Operating Electric Pumps When Electricity is Scarce

The first problem – power failing – will hopefully be addressed by your on-site power generation needs.  One of the ‘good’ things about needing power for a water pump is that – assuming you have a reasonably sized holding tank above the well, the power your water pump needs can be time-shifted to those times of day when you have a surplus of (eg solar) power – use the power at those times to pump up water and to fill your above ground storage tank, and use the water from the storage tank at those times of day (eg night-time) when you have no free power.

Water pumps vary in terms of how much power they require, depending on the lifting height they need to bring the water, and the number of gallons per minute of water desired.  Obviously, greater heights and greater gpm rates require more power.  Fortunately, assuming moderate lifting heights and gpm requirements, you can get a lot of water from a pump that uses only 1000 or 2000 watts of power.  From an energy management point of view, you would probably prefer to have a less powerful pump running for longer, than a more powerful pump running for a shorter time.

This also allows you to get good use from a well with a low replenishment rate.  When specifying your well and water needs in the first place, you should give more importance to assured continuity of water supply at a low instantaneous flow rate but with sufficient total flow each day to meet your needs, rather than limiting yourself only to wells that can support rapid draws down of water via a high-capacity pump.

Chances are you can get the better part of a gallon of water lifted up your well and into your holding tank for every watt-hour of power – 1000 gallons per kWh if you prefer to think in those terms.

We discuss the energy costs of pumping water in this article.

So the first problem – loss of utility sourced electricity – is hopefully not a huge problem (and see below for a discussion on hand pumps).

Planning for Pump Problems

However, the second problem – pump failure – quite likely may be a big problem, and so we offer several solutions to consider.

The first solution is a very simple one.  If your water pump fails, simply replace it with a spare one that you’ve kept in storage, in anticipation of just such an event occurring, as it undoubtedly will, sooner or later.

Water pumps aren’t very expensive (probably under $500) and are fairly long-lived.  You’re unlikely to need to be replacing pumps every year, indeed, assuming that the duty cycle for the pump is moderate and appropriate, it is realistic to at least 10 – 15 years of trouble-free life.  With clean water and a light cycling rate, some pumps give up to 40 years of service.

When you do have a water pump problem, it is probably something you could – at least in theory – repair rather than fix by a complete replacement, and many of the problems actually relate to the fixtures and fittings and tanks outside the well, not the pump inside the well.  But, if it is a pump problem, and to keep things really simple, obviously a total replacement should work (assuming the problem isn’t somewhere above ground, outside of the well, in particular the electrical and control wiring that goes to the pump to turn it on and off as needed).

Depending on your level of skill, your supply of spare parts, and how long you can manage with the pump system down, repair would always be preferable to replacement, of course.  It would be a good strategy to talk to whoever installed and/or maintains your pump currently to find out what the likely failure points may be and to keep those appropriate spare parts, as well as a complete second pump assembly too.

For many of us, having a complete spare water pump would be all the protection and preparing we feel we need.

Here’s a useful but slightly muddled website with a lot of information about troubleshooting and repairing well based water systems.

A Large Temporary Holding Tank

These considerations point to a related point.  You should have a larger than normal above ground temporary tank, and keep it full to half full all the time.  Your choice of above ground holding tank should be such that you can live off the remaining half of its capacity for a reasonable number of days, if the pump does fail.  That gives you the luxury of some time in which to respond to the failed pump and get it fixed, before the toilets stop flushing and the taps stop running.

There’s a related benefit to a large temporary tank.  It means your pump doesn’t cycle as frequently.  It is the starting part of the pump’s operation that is most stressful; you’ll get much more life out of the pump by reducing its frequency of cycling on and off.

It is common for the well water to be pumped to a small pressure reservoir, and then to travel from there to the taps as needed, primarily by the force of the pressure in the reservoir.  In such cases, we suggest adding a temporary holding tank between the well and the pressure reservoir (rather than creating an enormous pressure reservoir).  We also suggest locating the holding tank as high above ground as possible, so as to reduce your dependence on the pressure reservoir.  A gravity fed system from the reservoir to your taps would be much more reliable.

Typical domestic water supplies have pressures in the order of 40 – 60 psi, sometimes a little less, and sometimes going up as high as 80 psi.

Yes, there is such a thing as too much water pressure.  We’d recommend keeping the water pressure to around the 40 – 50 psi point so as to minimize stress on taps and pipes.  Each foot of water height creates 0.43 lbs/sq in of water pressure.  So even a 40 psi service would require the water level at the top of the holding tank to be 93 ft above the tap level – this is almost certainly impractical.

There are two workarounds.  The first is to have large diameter piping and high flow rate taps.  This will compensate for the lower pressure in all situations except showers.  If you want to have good showers, you’ll need to have a pressure booster of some type, either just for the shower, or perhaps for the entire house.

The problem with holding tanks appreciably above ground level is that they are insecure.  A vandal or attacker will see the tank, and almost certainly, rifle rounds will penetrate through the tank wall and while the holes might be readily repairable, the water you lose may or may not be so easily replaceable.  Without wishing to over-engineer a solution, our preference sometimes is for two holding tanks.  A large one that is mainly underground, and then a smaller ‘day tank’ type tank that is above ground at a high up point.  That way your main holding tank is relatively secure, and your vulnerability reduced; indeed, you could even have your day tank built into the attic/inside the roof of your retreat.

Adding a Hand Pump to the Well

So far, we’ve recommended adding a large temporary holding tank, set into the ground, and a smaller ‘day tank’ located in the ceiling/attic of your retreat.  We’ve also suggested keeping a complete spare pump and some replacement spares for those parts most likely to wear out.

But wait.  There’s still more!  We’d feel more comfortable if we also had some type of hand pump, so that pretty much no matter what else happens, we can always get water.  It goes without saying that if we can’t get water to our retreat, everything else becomes irrelevant and our entire retreat becomes unlivable.  Water is an essential part of any retreat, and abundant water allows our lifestyle to move massively up the scale.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind our water needs probably extend way beyond what we directly personally use in our retreat.  We have agricultural needs too, for our crops and livestock.  We might even have ‘industrial’ type needs if we have any sort of manufacturing processes.  You’ll probably find a hand pump, while able to provide the essential water for living, would be inadequate to provide all the other water you might need over and above your domestic and personal needs.  Perhaps better to say – the pump may be adequate, but your supply of pumping manpower may be inadequate!

Hand pumps come in many different shapes and sizes, and come with various types of claims and promises about being easy to operate and providing so many gallons per minute of water from your pumping actions.

There are, however, two main types of hand pump (and many other types of less relevant ways of raising water too, starting with a traditional well and bucket that is lowered down to the water level and then lifted up again).

Pumps that are designed to lift water only a short height are probably suction pumps (also called pitcher pumps) – their piston is above ground, directly connected to the pump’s operating handle, and simply sucks the water up the pipe and eject it out the other end of the piston.

But suction pumps quickly become less effective when the distance the water needs to be lifted increases.  A sometimes cited rule of thumb is that suction pumps are good for about 25 ft of lifting.  At that point, a totally different type of pump comes into its own, the lift or piston pump.

pumpoperationdiagThese pumps have their operating mechanism at the far end of the pipe, down where the water is.  Each stroke of the pump handle causes the cylinder to lift another measure of water up into the pipe.  Eventually, the water has been lifted all the way to the top and comes out the spout.

These pumps can lift water hundreds of feet, but the greater the lift height, the more effort is required to lift the water, and the more stress on the cylinder’s seals and the tubing in general.

Treat all the claims of gallon per minute (gpm) outputs and ease of use of hand pumps with a grain of salt.  There are unavoidable physical laws of nature which dictate how much energy is required to lift water from your well to your holding tank, and while a hand pump can operate with a greater or lesser degree of efficiency, thereby influencing how easy/hard it is to pump the water, it can never be more than 100% efficient (and more likely, never more than perhaps 70% efficient) so you’re always going to have to put some effort into the pumping.

Adding a hand pump to your current well system is probably much easier than you’d think.  Well, it is easy now while society is still functioning; it would be much harder subsequently!

The good news is that your current well comprises a pipe that is probably 6″ in diameter, and the pipe for the electrically powered pump water that comes up is probably only 1″ – 1 1/4″ in diameter.  This leaves lots of room for more pipes, so you simply lower down an extra pipe, and mount a hand pump on the well head.

Now for a clever extra idea.  You can have the output of the hand pump go to a valve, which can direct the water either to an outlet/tap or to feed into the water line from the electric pump (through a check-valve of course).  That way, if your electric pump fails for any reason, you can still feed water into your holding tank, your pressure tank, and your household water system.  This is a bit like having a distribution panel for your electricity, allowing your house wiring to be fed from utility power, a generator, batteries, or whatever other power source you wished to use.

What sort of hand pump do you need?  Our first point is one of warning.  Hand pumps are not necessarily long-lasting just because they operate by hand rather than by electricity.  We’ve heard of people having their hand pumps fail on them after less than a year of moderately light use.  In alphabetical order, we’re aware of Baker Monitor, Bison, Flojak, Simple Pump and Waterbuck Pump brands.  You might also find used Hitzer pumps out there, but after some years of struggling, the company finally liquidated a short while ago this year (2014).

There are other brands as well, but we’ve not uncovered as much information on them so hesitate to mention them.  We’ve not experimented with all the different makes and models of hand pumps, and hesitate to make a recommendation.  We suggest you speak to a couple of different well digging and maintaining companies and see what they recommend, and roam around online user forums and see what type of feedback the different makes and models of pumps are getting from bona fide users.

The Waterbuck product seems impressive, but we don’t fully understand exactly what it is or how it has the apparent advantage and extra efficiency it claims.  It seems to still be a fairly new to market product – maybe by the time you read this there is more feedback from people who have been using it for a while and who can comment accordingly.

aermotorbWindmill Powered Pumps

If you are fortunate enough to be somewhere with a reasonable amount of wind, maybe you can supplement your water supply with a windmill.

The classic American windmill can provide a reliable regular supply of water, ideally into a reasonably sized holding tank so as to buffer the differences in supply and demand as between the vagaries of wind powered pumping and the water draws for your various requirements.

Windmill powered pumps can lift water up to almost 1000 ft, and the more powerful pumps can lift up to 1000 gallons per hour (albeit more moderate heights).

Windmills can therefore work well, even as primary water supply pumps, just as long as there is a reasonable amount of wind to drive them.

Well Depth Issues

There’s no avoiding gravity.  The deeper you have to drill for water, the more hassle it becomes to then lift the water up to the surface and on into your retreat, the more energy it requires, and the more stressed every part of the pumping process becomes.

It would be time and money very well spent to explore widely around your retreat property to find the best location for the shallowest well.  A well digger can probably tell you fairly quickly, based on logs from past drilling projects in your area, what the typical well depths might be and if there’s likely to be much variation in the distance down to the water table around your property.

It is massively less costly, from an energy point of view, to run a water line horizontally across your property than it is to dig down in the first place.  Our point here is that if you had to choose between a 50 ft well, half a mile away, and a 200 ft well, right next to your retreat, we’d probably choose the 50 ft well (assuming there were no other risks or negative factors associated with then running half a mile of pipe from the well head to your retreat).

Best of all, of course, would be to do both wells, giving you another element of redundancy and assuredness of water supply.

Summary

Typical well water supplies have water feeding from a well to a relatively small and pressurized reservoir and then from there to the household plumbing.

We suggest a better design for a prepper has the well feeding to a holding tank, of sufficient size to store several days of water.  The well pump should be configured to deliver water infrequently with fewer starts and stops, making it less stressed and therefore more reliable and longer lived.  A second system then feeds from the holding tank to a pressurized reservoir and into the house.  This makes it easier to troubleshoot your water supply system and, in the event of the well pump failure, gives you some time to fix the pump before running low on pumped water on hand.

In addition to the electric well pump, you should have a second pump line going down your well tube, with a hand-operated pump at the top.  The pump should also feed into your main holding tank supply, plus have the ability to have water drawn direct from the pump itself.

Lastly, a backup system to feed water from the holding tank to your retreat would make sense also.

Aug 122014
 
This lovely large root cellar dates back to the mid 1800s and is underneath a farmhouse in Lancaster, PA.

This lovely large root cellar dates back to the mid 1800s and is underneath a farmhouse in Lancaster, PA.

Many people add a root cellar to their retreat.  This is good, but if you are not careful with what you store in your root cellar, the gases (notably ethylene) given off by some stored fruit and vegetables may interfere with the longevity of other stored fruit and vegetable items.

In addition, some items give off strong odors which could contaminate other stored produce.  And some produce prefers warmer or cooler temperatures, and greater or lesser amounts of humidity, than others.

So maybe you potentially need multiple root cellars – or at least some barriers or partitions across your single root cellar.

Let’s first consider root cellars in general, then look at why you should have more than one – and/or how to avoid needing to have multiple cellars.

What is a Root Cellar

Root cellars have been used in the US pretty much from the days of the first settlers, and are thought to date back to the 1600s in Britain (in the ‘modern’ form of being a walk in cellar).  They are not experimental or innovative – they have truly withstood the test of time over many centuries.

A root cellar doesn’t actually need to be underground.   Many are actually above ground.  And the term ‘root’ doesn’t necessarily mean either something down among the tree roots (that would be a mistake, keep well away from tree roots) nor does it mean a cellar only intended for root vegetables.  So it is a bit of a misnomer.

If we had to come up with the absolute essence of what a root cellar is, the answer would probably be ‘a naturally cooled dark space with stable low temperature and high humidity for storing food in an optimum environment to enhance its storage life’.

More specifically, root cellars aim for a temperature range ideally between 32º and 40º F, and a humidity in the range of 85% – 95%.  The cool temperature and high humidity greatly reduces the moisture loss from stored food items, and the low temperature also slows down the rate of micro-organism growth and related decomposition processes.  Not all root cellars manage to get down to these temperatures (or up to these humidities), nor maintain them for much of the year, but that doesn’t completely matter.  The cooler the better, and even if you are ‘only’ in the low 50s, you are still getting longer life than if you had your produce in your main retreat at room temperature.

Root cellars went out of fashion when at-home refrigerators became widely used, and as part of a general trend to city living with nearby supermarkets that carried fresh food year-round.  In that context, there’s little need for a root cellar any more, but if the assumptions of convenient home refrigeration and ever-present fresh food in a nearby supermarket start to fail, then a low-tech way to store food becomes helpful once more.

Note that while most people associate root cellars with the storage of fruit and vegetables, there is no reason not to use your cellar to store anything else that likes a cool dark environment.  Cured meats, cheeses, fresh milk, and beverages in general could also be kept in a root cellar if space allowed, as can dried goods such as grains and nuts.

Three Types of Root Cellar

There are basically three ways to build a root cellar.  The first is the most obvious.  Dig.  Start in the basement of your current house or retreat, and just dig down and out until you’ve created sufficient cellar space.  Note that the classic size for a root cellar seems to be about 8′ x 8′ x 8′, but there’s no reason not to make a cellar larger or smaller, but note that the larger you make a cellar, the more the ratio between the volume of the cellar and the surface area of its sides will change, affecting the cellar’s ability to naturally heat/cool the cellar contents.

So, perhaps, it is best not to build a huge cavernous cellar, although the chances are you weren’t planning to do that anyway!

The second approach can sometimes be easier.  Instead of digging down vertically, you dig ‘in’ horizontally, going into the side of a hill.  The net result is the same, while the excavation process might be simpler.

The third approach involves some lateral thinking.  Instead of going down into the ground, bring the ground up to you.  Create an above ground structure, or perhaps a slightly sunken structure, then layer sod over the top of it.

If you are building an external above ground cellar, you want to have it as much as possible in the shade – ie with little direct southerly exposure, and in particular, you don’t want the doorway (which is probably the least insulated part of the structure) to be in direct view of the sun.

How to Create and Maintain the Cellar Environment Needed

Depending on where you live, you’ll probably need your cellar to do two opposite things.  In the summer, you want it to be cooler than the warm/hot outside temperatures, but in the winter, you want it to be warmer than the below-freezing temperatures outside.

The best way to do this is by either digging deep into the ground, or covering an above ground structure with a lot of sod.  Even a foot of dirt provides substantial insulation and will allow for as much as a 20º temperature differential between the cellar and the outside, but the chances are you’ll want more than this, so you need both more dirt ‘insulation’ and also the ability to ‘suck heat’ out of the cellar if too hot, and ‘pour heat’ into the cellar if too cold.  This requires a lot more dirt, and the dirt changes from merely being insulation to becoming a ‘heat sink’.

The first few feet of soil tend to seasonally vary a bit in temperature, but by the time you get down 10 ft or so (or ‘in’ a similar distance if digging into a hillside) you are then in a region where the soil temperature remains more or less unchanging, year-round and there’s no point in going any deeper.  As long as you don’t stress the soil around your cellar by introducing too much heat or cold – more than the soil can absorb/conduct away – the walls, floor and even ceiling of your cellar will all act as ‘automatic’ heat sinks, helping maintain a reasonably steady temperature inside the cellar.

Having said that, although the walls will stay much the same in temperature, it is probable there will be some variations in temperature inside the cellar itself, because the ability of the walls to soak up or give off heat is not very great, and outside factors such as the air temperature coming in can overwhelm the natural heat stabilizing of the walls.  A good cellar will keep temperatures above freezing in the winter, and perhaps 40º below outside temperatures in the summer.

The air flow in the summer will obviously have much warmer air coming in from outside than in winter.  You can moderate this a bit by having a ‘solar heater’ that you can attach to the air intake during the winter (nothing fancier than simply using a black painted inlet that the sun can shine on and warm up) and take off during the summer.  During the winter, have most of your airflow when the sun is shining on the inlet, and least during the cold of the night.  The opposite would apply for the summer, with little air flow in the hottest times of the day and more airflow in the coolest times of the evening.

You can also use evaporative cooling in the summer, with the air flow into the cellar passing over a wet cloth.  This helps to cool the air down and also increase its humidity at the same time.

In an ’emergency’ some people provide some gentle heating by simply leaving an incandescent light on in the cellar, while making sure that its light doesn’t harm any of the stored produce.  An incandescent light converts nearly all its rated power to heat, so if you wanted a mild 60 – 100 watt heating element, a light bulb would be the easiest approach.

One more thing about temperature.  By the time midsummer and the hottest temperatures come along, you’ll probably have emptied your root cellar from the last season’s stored foods, and so it won’t matter so much if it warms up a bit then, although you want to always keep temperatures as close to optimum as possible so as not to cause a gradual build-up of heat in the dirt walls.

You also want to have a high humidity.  Again, the ‘magic’ of a root cellar is that the water contained within the dirt walls and floor and ceiling will ‘automatically’ release moisture to keep a high humidity – assuming you don’t overload the ability of the cellar to maintain its humidity by creating too many air changes and therefore removals of moisture/humidity as part of that.

If you need to increase the humidity, you can simply spray water onto the walls, floor and perhaps ceiling of your cellar.  If you need to decrease the humidity, the usual solution is to increase the air flow, but that may cause other problems if the outside air is very hot or very cold, so don’t get too carried away with spraying extra water.

So as to get the most direct impact from the dirt, it is best not to line your cellar any more than might be essential, although it seems that most of the cellars we see these days are at least partially lined – perhaps because it looks ‘cleaner’ and ‘nicer’, even if it harms the cellar’s functionality!  If you are lining the cellar at all, make sure to use materials that won’t be harmed by the moisture – the moisture in the soil and the moisture within the cellar.

Shelving in the cellar is traditionally made of wood rather than metal.  The wood itself changes temperature slowly, adding further to the thermal inertia.  If you are using wood, we recommend you do not use treated wood (due to the poisonous chemicals in it) but rather choose wood that is least likely to rot in moist conditions (such as cedar).  Bricks and concrete blocks can also be used for part of your shelf construction – these are odorless and last a long time in damp conditions.

Shelving should be as open as possible, and set back from the walls, so as to allow for air flow everywhere.  This will keep down the growth of mold.  Be careful also when stacking produce so as to allow air to flow through the produce, and generally it is best not to store anything directly on the ground.

One other aspect of your cellar – you want it to be normally dark.  Light is an energy source which variously activates the sprouting of some produce and encourages the growth of undesirable organisms.  Keep the cellar dark except for when you visit it.

The cellar does need some fresh air flow, however.  There’s a trick to this to create a natural air flow without needing as much machinery.  You should have an air entry on one side of the cellar and an air exit on the other side, so air flows between them.

Now for the clever part.  Your air entry inlet should come in from outside and open at close to the floor level.  The air exit outlet should start at a point close to the ceiling.  This means the hotter air in the cellar will naturally rise up and out the exit, sucking in replacement fresh air from outside, where it will land in the cooler lower parts of the cellar, before gradually warming and then exiting again.

Of course, both the inlet and outlet need to have dampers on them so you can regulate the flow of air.  They also need screens so that rodents can’t enter your cellar through the air vents.

There is always a temperature gradient within your cellar, perhaps of 5º, maybe even 10º, as between its floor and ceiling.  You should keep that in mind when deciding where in the cellar to locate the various different produce items you’ll be storing.  Onions, garlic and shallots are probably the most temperature tolerant things you might be storing, so put them on upper shelves.

Visiting Your Cellar

We suggest you limit your visits to your cellar to no more than one a day.  If you’re struggling to keep the temperature optimized, you might even cut back on your visits to once every two or three days.  The less you stress your cellar with unwanted adverse changes of air and introduction/escape of heat and moisture, then of course the better it will perform.

This should not be a problem if you accept the discipline and requirement of moving things in/out of the cellar no more than once a day.  Surely it is easy to transfer produce from the cellar to a convenient at-hand storage facility elsewhere in your retreat on an occasional basis, and then whenever needed, take from the at-hand facility.  And, when replenishing, you can build up a pile of new produce immediately outside the cellar, and at the end of a day’s harvesting, then move everything in to the cellar all together.

If this is a problem, and if you’re struggling with maintaining a suitable cellar temperature, you might want to consider making the entrance into an ‘airlock’ type double door arrangement so as to cut down further on the environmental impact in the cellar every time you open the door.

You should carefully monitor your cellar’s temperature and humidity, and you will need to adjust the ventilation going in/out of the cellar to keep the temperature optimized.  We suggest you either have thermometers and hygrometers visible through an inspection window, or alternatively, if using electronic sensors, of course these can display remotely, anywhere in your retreat you wish.

The vent adjusters should either be routed mechanically to a point outside the cellar where you can open/close them, or else be operated by remote-controlled servo-motors.

Oh yes, please also remember to keep the light switched off in the cellar when you’re not present.

Do You Need Multiple Cellars?

There are two major concerns that some people feel can justify either the creation of multiple cellars or at least partitioning off one single cellar.

The first of these is that some things – apples, peaches, pears, plums, cabbage and tomatoes in particular – emit ethylene gas while stored.  Unfortunately, the released ethylene harms produce – even the produce that releases the ethylene in the first place!  So you need to keep the ethylene releasing produce as separate as possible from other produce, especially the root veges, and well ventilated to protect it from itself.

That’s the hint that can suggest how you could manage with one cellar instead of two.  Put the ethylene emitting items close to the exit vent so the ethylene mainly gets swept up and exhausted out of the cellar, while keeping the root vegetables in the other corner, and closer to the air inlet.  This keeps the ethylene away from other produce, and also vents it away from the emitting produce too.

The other main issue is odor control.  Some things – turnips, for example, or cabbage – give off odors that would get absorbed into other items if stored close to each other.  One solution is not to grow and store turnips and cabbage!

Another solution is again to put the smelly stuff closer to the air exhaust outlet, and to keep the more sensitive produce far away.

So you are probably correctly now sensing that managing ventilation is an essential part of having a successful root cellar.

There is another consideration as well that might influence whether you have one or two root cellars.  Different produce items are best stored at different temperatures, and if you had sufficient fine control over your root cellar temperature as to be able to ensure one cellar was (say) 10º different to the other, and if you had a range of produce items that could benefit from this temperature differential, then having multiple cellars might make sense.

But unless you’re going to be supplementing your natural heating/cooling with artificial heating/cooling, you’d probably find that two root cellars would have very close to the same temperature.  The better approach to temperature management is simply to stratify the location of your produce, keeping in mind that the higher up in your cellar, the warmer it will be.

So, for most of us, we can probably get by with ‘just’ a single root cellar, but keep these issues in mind when deciding where to locate the produce within it.

For Further Information

This article, although spanning over 3000 words, only lightly touches on the topic of root cellars.

Unless there is a reason why a root cellar would be impossible (ie, you are an apartment dweller with no plans to have any sort of land or rural retreat) you should definitely add a root cellar to your retreat and so it is an important topic to understand and get right.  A root cellar is a wonderful and energy-efficient way to store many different types of produce, giving you well-preserved food long out of season, without any need for the hassle and energy costs of boiling, blanching, bottling, canning or freezing.

To learn more, you can certainly roam via Google to other articles on root cellars, but can we modestly say that you’re not likely to find much more than you’ve already read here.  The best thing to do is to get a copy of the definitive book on the subject – Root Cellaring :  Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, by Mike and Nancy Bubel.  This 320 page book not only covers cellar design and construction, it also guides you in the choice of produce to store in your root cellar, and even tells you when to harvest and store the items you grow.

Amazon sells the book both as a Kindle eBook and in regular print.  It is better, if buying the regular print edition, to ensure you are getting the latest edition – not the original 1979, but the second 1991 edition.  For about $10, this is an excellent investment.

Aug 102014
 
A store of 3.5 gallon 'brick' water containers.

A store of 3.5 gallon ‘brick’ water containers.

Water is the third of the survival essentials.  Air is first, shelter is second, and food is fourth, and you’re probably familiar with sayings like ‘you can go without air for three minutes, shelter for three hours, water for three days and food for three weeks’.

Actually, we’d not like to have to prove any of those four claims!  But you get the general point that they try to make.

So, having acknowledged the essential need for water, the next question becomes ‘How much water do you need to store?’.  That’s an easy eight word question to ask, but we’re going to take just over 3500 words to answer it, because the first part of the answer is ‘it depends’.

Let’s have a look at some of the dependencies that go into answering this essential question.

How Many Days of Water Do You Need to Store?

The first thing that is a massive dependent variable is how long you believe you will be without water.  Are you planning for a Level 1, 2 or 3 type situation?

If you’re planning for a short-term Level 1 situation – something that you’ll stay at your normal residence for, then probably it is prudent to consider a two-week outage as a sort of reasonable period to have water on hand for.  If you’re still without water by the time two weeks approaches, you’ve probably got other very pressing worries on your mind as well as water (ie probably no utilities and no food and increasing problems with the maintenance of law and order) and you will be needing to consider ‘getting out of Dodge’ for all these reasons.

That’s not to say that having more than a two-week supply of water is a bad thing.  We’re simply suggesting, that for a Level 1 type response, two weeks of water should be the minimum you have.

In a Level 2 situation, you may also choose to prepare for that with stored water, or you may instead ensure that you have some type of ongoing water source/supply (such as a well).  Quite possibly, you’ll have a mix of both.

Pretty much by definition, Level 3 preparations require you to have a viable ongoing supply of water rather than be relying on stored supplies.

However, although both these other types of more severe scenarios have a growing dependence on renewable sources of everything, you should still keep an emergency backup supply of stored water too.  For example, what happens if your well pump fails?  You’ll still need water until such time as the pump is repaired.  What happens if the well runs dry?  You’ll doubly definitely need some stored water while urgently seeking a new ongoing source.

Note that even a Level 1 response can also consider sources of ongoing water as well as relying on stored water.  Maybe you have a rainwater collection system, maybe you have a creek and water purification capability.  But in most parts of the country, there are times of year when no rain will fall for more than two weeks in a row, and if your creek is seasonal, that’s not a guarantee of water either.  So we suggest that you probably should keep at least two weeks of water on hand.

How Much Water is Needed per Day?

The classic rule of thumb is to allow one gallon of water per person for each day of water you are storing.  Now that’s not the same as saying you all need to drink a gallon of water a day, although many people confuse these two points.

The amount of water you need to drink to maintain reasonably good health depends on how much work you are doing, what you are eating, and the temperatures around you.  The more work you do, the more water you need.  Similarly, the hotter it is, the more water you need.  But some – most – of the foods you eat contain water within them and so help you get towards your daily water needs.

One rule of thumb says you should drink eight glasses of water a day, each with 8 oz of water, making a total of 64 oz, 4 pints, 2 quarts, or half a gallon.  This is probably on the high side of normal, and also can be adjusted down for the water you also receive from food (and, ahem, from wine or beer too!).

In addition to drinking water for basic survival, there are other close to essential needs for water.  The most immediate is water for cooking.  Try boiling vegetables without water to boil them in!  Try steaming rice without water to steam.  And so on.  (Actually, there are ‘dry’ steamers that use little or no water to cook vegetables, and also fatless fryers too.)

If you are able to keep the water you’ve used for boiling vegetables chilled, you can store this water and reuse it for several days, and then use it as a soup base.  This is a very good thing to do because you are capturing all the vitamins and minerals and flavors that leach out of the vegetables and into the cooking water.  It improves each batch of vegetables that reuses the same water and makes for wonderful soup at the end, as well as reducing your water consumption, too.

You also have some water needs for basic hygiene.  Try brushing your teeth without water.  Or washing your hands.

Beyond these essentials – drinking water, cooking water, cleaning water, you then start to move towards more ‘luxury’ type water uses.  For example, one of the greatest aspects of modern civilization is surely the flush toilet, and each time you push the flush lever, you are using 1.2 gallons or more of water, depending on your toilet design.  If you still have a working sewer system, how many times a day will you treat yourself to flushing your toilet?

Note that it may be possible to re-use your washing up water for flushing the toilet (ie using your ‘grey’ water).  There are some issues and considerations if you were going to do this long-term, but for short-term needs, it is perfectly fine to fill the toilet cistern with the water you used for washing your hands or dishes or whatever else.

In normal life, a typical American uses an average of between 50 – 100 gallons of water a day for all purposes, possibly also including outdoor/gardening activities as well.

So there’s an enormous gap between our normal lifestyle consumption of 50 – 100 gallons of water a day, and our bare minimum need of – well, of what?  Is the one gallon of water per person per day a useful number of rely upon?

A one gallon per person per day allows for half the gallon for drinking and half the gallon for all other uses.  In a dire emergency, this is sufficient to survive, but clearly, the more you can add, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Doing the Sums

So let’s see what happens now that we are saying we want to store at least one gallon of water per person per day, and at least 14 days of water in total.  If you have three people in your residence, that would be something in excess of a 42 gallon store of water.

Our point, in case it is not obvious, with the ‘at least’ emphasis is that there’s really no such thing as storing too much water, but there definitely might be a problem if you have too little.

How much is 42 gallons?  A couple of easy ways to visualize this is that it is less than a single 55 gallon drum, and it is the same as about seven or eight typical 5.5 – 6 gallon plastic gas ‘cans’.  It is also the same as about 80 2-liter plastic soda containers.

Hopefully you’ll agree this is not a ridiculous or impractical amount of water to store (and based on the calculation above, we’d massively increase the amount we stored, to something more than 100 gallons).  Water weighs 8.34 lbs/gallon, so 42 gallons has a total weight of 350 lbs – you’re not going to have any floor loading problems.  And you can already visualize the very limited amount of space you’ll need (there are 7.48 gallons of water per cubic foot so in total there is 5.6 cu ft of space required – think of a cube with each side measuring 20″ and that’s how much space 42 gallons needs, if stored in the most efficient manner possible).

Which of course then begs the question – if you can easily store one gallon of water per person per day and keep 14 days worth of water on hand, why not store more than this?  That’s a great question, and we’re delighted you’re asking it!  Yes, absolutely, you should keep very much more than this so as to be able to treat yourself to a more comfortable lifestyle during the water outage, and/or so as to have additional essential water supplies if you are sheltering other people, or have unexpected water needs, or need to survive for more than 14 days.  Water is cheap and easily stored.  You’ve no conceivable excuse for not having a lot on hand.

And more water – some ‘spare’ water – would also to allow you to occasionally flush a toilet!  Make sure at least one of your toilets is a modern very low water consumption per flush type – it seems that currently you can find them using as little as 1.2 or 1.3 gallons per flush.

What to Store Water In?

recycleThe two best types of storage containers for water are stainless steel and glass.  These are the most impervious, longest lasting, least reactive and easiest to clean.

The other obvious alternative is some type of plastic container – either a container you’ve purpose-purchased specially for water storage or one you’ve repurposed from some prior use.  Plastic is ideal for portable water storage, because it is less breakable than glass and lighter than both steel and glass, and is more likely to be shaped into suitable sizes for storing and carrying.

If you are using plastic, you want to limit yourself to food-grade plastic that won’t leach out any of the moderately poisonous chemicals that are often used in the manufacture of plastic containers, and which aren’t made of poisonous plastic to start with.

The recycling number shown on the side of most plastic containers (and illustrated here) allows you to understand if it is suitable for storing food and water or not.  If it is type 1, 2, 4 or 5, then it is made of a suitable type of plastic.  Some types of #7 plastics might also be okay, but you probably have no way of knowing if it is a suitable or unsuitable type 7 plastic, so best to leave well alone.

This page tells you more about each type of plastic.

Note also that plastic is somewhat permeable and allows gases to migrate through itself.  Water can’t leak out, of course, but smells can leak in.

That means that if you are storing your water in an area with strong smells or other gaseous products, the water will gradually acquire those smells through the plastic.  Glass and steel are, for all intents and purposes, totally impermeable.

Because of the permeability of plastic, when we are reusing plastic containers, our preferred choice is to use soda type plastic bottles that originally held some sort of carbonated beverage, because these types of plastic containers have lower permeability (so that the soda or sparkling mineral water inside doesn’t lose its fizz).  The least desirable are the small size plastic bottles that hold regular water.  These are so thin these days that they offer very little gaseous barrier.

If you are re-using a container, you want to be sure that it is thoroughly clean prior to adding water to it.  Some things are easier to clean than others, and according to this page, milk jugs are surprisingly difficult to clean.

The chances are that you’ll be storing your water not in the same place that you’ll want to use the water, so we’d be tempted to keep the water in carry-sized containers – ie, probably less than ten gallons per container.  Otherwise, if you have a more ‘industrial grade’ bulk tank of water, you’d simply want a tap (or a siphon or a hand-operated pump) that you can use to then fill transfer type containers to take the water from where it is stored to where you’ll be using it.

We obviously suggest hand rather than electrical operation of a water pump because electricity might not be available, and to keep the pump’s operation as simple and trouble-free as possible.

Note that if you’re using a hand-operated siphon/pump, that too needs to be food grade.

There is an obscured issue with large-sized water storage containers.  As you’ll see below, we recommend replacing the water every year or so.  This is relatively easy to do when you just need to carry the containers to the sink, pour out the old water, and run new water in from the tap.  It is harder to do when you have to drain in place a large container of water, then refill it also in place.  That’s a lot of water transferring.

Needless to say, Amazon has a wide variety of water storage containers of varying shapes and sizes and costs.  Even if you don’t buy from Amazon, it is a useful reference to start from and gives you a great range of idea generators and a feeling for costs.

When looking at cost, we consider both the utility/good sense of the container and also what the cost works out in terms of dollars per gallon of water stored within the container.

We do like the stackable 3.5 gallon water bricks (see image at the top of this article), even though they are fairly expensive in terms of dollars per gallon of water stored.  They are easily carried, emptied, filled, stacked, and moved about and generally ‘managed’.  They are an efficient size and shape that allows you to make best use of the storage space available.

Their ease of use encourages people to actually do what they should be doing and rotate their water supplies, disposing of the oldest and refilling with fresh water (see the next point below).  Even the children in our group can usually carry one of these at a time, and most adults have no problem carrying two.

Note that most water containers should not be stacked on top of each other unless specifically designed to handle the weight of the extra containers on top.

There are also some excellent 7 gallon water containers that we like as well.  When full, these weigh just under 60 lbs.  Some people can carry two of these, others prefer to carry one at a time.

Anything heavier than this is not really portable and becomes too hard to pour small measured amounts from, and instead becomes more ‘fixed in place’ storage that you then transfer water to and from.

Containers should have lids or in some other way be sealed, and should be filled with water to as close to the top as possible.  This not only keeps out obvious sources of contamination, but it also stops oxygen from getting into the water and possibly feeding any micro-organisms present.

Some people have wondered about storing water in old-fashioned type wooden barrels.  These are acceptable for very short-term storage of water, but not for longer term storage.  Sure, wine and whisky is stored in wooden barrels, sometimes for years, but you don’t then drink half a gallon of wine/whisky every day, and cook with it too.

There are not only flavor-imparting and flavor-modifying chemicals in wood that react to the wine/whisky, but there are also poisons in the wood.  They’re not too poisonous when enjoying the occasional sip of bourbon or glass of wine, but not only would they flavor your drinking water, they’d eventually start to cause some undesirable heath issues too.

The Optimum Storage Environment for Water

Water should be kept in a cool dark environment, and the containers should be filled and sealed prior to storage.

The colder the water is, the better, and if you can freeze it, that is even better still.

Note that if you are freezing water, the water will expand 9% when it freezes, so make sure you have some headspace for this within the container and the cap on loosely, or else it may burst.

Talking about freezing water, we recommend filling up your freezer(s) with containers of water to use up any available spare space.  This does two things.  It gives you more water, and it also gives you a ‘battery bank’ – a thermal reservoir – of cold so that if the power fails in your freezer, it will take longer for the cold to leak out of the freezer and for the food in it to spoil.

The reason to keep water both cold and dark is because even the purest water probably has some micro-organisms in it, and over time, these will tend to grow and make your water taste bad and possibly even be harmful.  These organisms need warmth, light and oxygen to grow.  There’s probably enough dissolved oxygen in the water to allow them to grow to a certain extent, so your best way to slow down their growth is to keep the water as cold as possible and as dark as possible.

How Long Can You Store Water For?

This might at first seem like a ridiculous question.  We know that food has a finite storage life, but water?  What can age in water?

The answer to this question is that the water itself will remain stable and not change.  The concern instead is with the various micro-organisms that might be found within the water.

The best type of water to store is of course water that has as low a contamination level to start with as possible.  Where do you get that from?  The answer might surprise you.

Most of the time, the water direct from the tap in your kitchen is a better choice than any sort of special ‘triple distilled’ ‘ion exchanged’ or whatever else water you might buy from a supermarket or water supply service or anywhere else.

Not only is most city water purified to a very high standard to start with, but it is almost always also chlorinated, which acts as an inhibitor to slow down the future growth of things inside your stored water.  Some people add a splash more chlorine (ie bleach, or iodine instead of chlorine) to the water they store to extend its life still further.

This type of water, optimally stored as we suggested above, will be good for a year or more.  You’ll pretty much know, when you open it, if it remains good or not.  If it looks clean, smells clean, and – yes, tastes clean (by all means have a test sip) then it is clean.

If it isn’t, well, at least you have slightly impure water, which you can variously use for secondary purposes and also which you can then filter or boil (actually, you don’t need to boil water to make it safe, but an easy rule of thumb is that by the time you’ve brought water to the boil, you’ve probably killed off anything within it during the heating time up to boiling) to use for drinking purposes too.

Fortunately, water is cheap, so apart from the hassle factor, there’s no reason not to turn your water over every year or so.  What we do, to try and control the hassle factor some, is we recycle some of it every month, meaning that at any time, we have water of different ages from nearly brand new to about a year old.  Of course, if we ever had to start using it, we’d start from the oldest first, although being as how there is only a few weeks of supply, it probably doesn’t matter too much what order you then drink it!

Obviously, the cooler and darker the water, the purer it was to start, and the more airtight the container, the longer it will last.  The opposite is of course also true – if you’re storing water in ambient temperatures in the 80s or 90s, then it will need replacing very quickly – definitely at the end of every summer and maybe partway through the summer, too.

A Tip for When You are Filling Containers With Water

When you fill a container with water that you intend to store for the next year or whatever, try to pour the water into the container ‘smoothly’ without introducing a lot of air.  Think of filling a beer growler, perhaps, as an example of how to do this.

You should ideally have a plastic hose that runs from the tap to the bottom of the container.  Turn the water on slowly, and only increase the flow rate as the bottom of the container is covered, and make sure there is no bubbling or undue agitation of the water while the container fills.  Don’t shake it after you’ve filled it, although if you do find air bubbles on the sides of the container, definitely tap the sides to dislodge them.

If you’re filling straight from the tap, have the water run down the side of the container.  Again, think of the water as if it were beer, and your objective is to avoid the ‘beer’ foaming and getting a big head as a result of your pour.

Level 2 & 3 Storage Requirements and Considerations

This article is primarily focused on how much water you need to store to get you through a short-term disruption to your water supply.  As per the definition of a Level 1 situation, this is a short-term problem where you can realistically foresee a relatively fast and certain restoration of normal service, and in such cases, a fairly limited store of water is all you need.

If a scenario lengthens and becomes more a Level 2 or worse situation, then your issues and your preparing changes.  Your focus becomes on bulk water storage and ongoing water resupply strategies.  We suggestion you read through our other articles on water for further ideas and suggestions.

Note we also suggest you keep a supply of water stored, even as part of your Level 2/3 preparation.  So that probably means stored water both at your normal residence and at your retreat.

Summary

How much water do you need to see everyone in your normal residence through a Level 1 event?  Do you have that much water, and hopefully a bit more too, stored and not too stale?

If you don’t have sufficient water, we urge you to start adding to your water supplies right now.  Even if you do nothing more than clean out 2L soda bottles and fill them with water as you occasionally may buy and consume such things, that is at least making progress (and at close to zero cost) towards having sufficient water for Level 1 problems.

Ideally, we recommend you keep your water in 3.5 – 7 gallon sized containers, because they are easiest to manage – easiest to fill, to store, to rotate, to empty/refill, and to work from if you ever need to use them in a water-down scenario.

Jul 152014
 
Suffering a flood would be devastating, but such a risk is foreseeable and can in large part be prevented/minimized.  There's a much graver risk you should be considering.

Suffering a flood would be devastating, but such a risk is foreseeable and can in large part be prevented/minimized. There’s a much graver risk you should be considering.

You know that when you design and build your retreat structure(s) you want to ‘overbuild’ and build it (them) way above minimum code requirements, right?

Although building codes sometimes seem unnecessary and adding extra layers of cost to what should be a simple process that you are free to do as you wish, there are two parts to the reality of building codes that people seldom appreciate.

The first is that most of the code requirements represent good sense and good design/build practice, and are in place to protect the investment that you (and your mortgagor) make in your residence.  You don’t want to sign up for a 30 year loan against a building that will fail after 10 or 20 years, and neither does the mortgagor want to have the ‘security’ of a building that is not well constructed.  From this perspective, building codes protect us all.

The second concept is to realize that in most cases, building codes represent the bare minimum needed rather than the best case ‘deluxe’ option.  Whether it be the spacing between studs in the wall or the amount of foundation needed or anything else, most building codes have been written to reflect the requirements of developers who want to be able to build houses as cheaply as possible.

Yet another – a third concept to realize, is that it is acceptable to construct any sort of structure and to expect it to require ongoing maintenance, based on the assumption that materials and labor will remain freely available, convenient, and affordable.  That is why many houses and other structures have short-lived roofs, even shorter lasting carpet, fewer coats of paint than optimum, and so on.  But if/when TSHTF, those assumptions become no longer valid, and any type of repair and maintenance activity becomes challenging and somewhere between difficult and impossible.

For our purposes, it is better to spend more money up front to build a more robust, lower-maintenance and longer lasting structure in the first place.  We discuss these issues in more detail here.  In this article, we concentrate on one specific type of ‘hardening’ to make your retreat structure more long-lasting and secure.

Okay, now with that as lengthy introduction, what do you think is the biggest risk to your structure?  What is most likely to be the thing that causes it massive problems at some possible time in the future?  Is it an earthquake?  Flood?  Tornado?  Attacking marauders?  Or something entirely different?

Depending on where you live, you of course can evaluate and guess at the risks of earthquake, tornado, flood, and other types of natural disasters (hurricanes, etc).  If you’re in the American Redoubt states, then these risks are generally low rather than appreciable.

The Most Likely Risk for Most of Us

But there’s one really big risk that, for most of us, is probably the biggest potential problem of all.  Have you thought of it already?

We are referring to – if you’ve not already thought of it – fire.  Most of us have lived our lives and never had direct close personal contact with an uncontained fire, and that has lulled us into a false sense of security.  You really have to be personally threatened by a fire to understand the awesome and evil nature of a fire – there’s a reason that hell is said to be in flames, and it is easy to understand how some people view fires as living entities, possessed of a ravening destructive sense that seeks to destroy as much as it can, as quickly as it can.

Indeed, many of us think of fire as a friendly nice good thing.  In a fireplace, it brings warmth, and possibly a hint of romance to a room.  It enlivens the room with its sounds, its smells, its ever-changing light patterns, and not just the temperature type warmth but the ‘warmth’ of the light it throws off, too.

Outside, a bonfire or campfire is also associated with fun times and leisure.  But friendly fun bonfires for toasting s’mores are as different to a ‘real’ fire as is a child’s plastic toy gun to a Barrett .50 caliber rifle, or, if you prefer, as different as a candle is from a 2500 gallon napalm drop on a village, as different as a water pistol to a 250 ft flame-thrower.

Until you’ve stood and watched, helplessly, as a fire either destroys your home from inside, or approaches it unstoppably from the outside, you have little or no comprehension of the power and magnitude of a ‘real’ fire.  Unless you’ve been up close, you’ve not experienced the primal fear that lies within most animals and, at a deeper level, within us too when confronted by an out of control fire.  Please do not ever underestimate the danger of fire.

You have at least three types of fire risk.

1.  External Semi-Random Risk

We are referring here to something like a forest fire (if in a rural area) or a spreading urban fire leapfrogging from building to building if in a city or town.  You know your area and so can assess the risk of some of these events, but after you’ve done so, you then need to upgrade the threat rating for two reasons.  First, particularly in urban areas, there is a much greater danger of a fire starting after TEOTWAWKI, and secondly, if/when a fire does start (anywhere) there will be much less fire-fighting resource to contain and control it.

There’ll be no city water supply or even fire department and fire trucks in an urban area, and in a rural area, there’ll be no helicopters dumping monsoon bucketloads of water, no planes dumping even greater loads of special fire-retardant chemicals, and there won’t be hundreds of firefighters from all over the county, state and nation rushing to help put the fire out.

2.  Deliberate External Causes

The dark side of human nature seems to embrace the evil of destructive fire.  Just look at Detroit with its ‘Devil’s Night’ when arsonists go on the rampage, and suffering over 9,000 fires a year in the city limits alone, 95% of which are the result of arson.

In the future, you’ll not only have to anticipate random acts of senseless arson and how they might impact on your retreat and lands, but also, if you do encounter attacking marauders, they are more likely to be throwing Molotov cocktails at your retreat than grenades.  If your attackers want to ‘smoke you out’ then they’ll attempt to do so quite literally, by trying to burn your retreat down around you.

3.  Accidental Factors

Even at present, the risk of an accidental household fire is much greater than you might guess.  Although we’ve seen varying statistics from various sources, this page, citing the National Fire Protection Association, seems very credible.  It says that over a lifetime, we’ve a one in four chance of having a fire in our house that is sufficiently major as to require us to need to call the fire department.

When you think about an uncertain future, when we’re more likely to have open flames in our retreats, whether as a heat source, a cooking source, a light source, or whatever else, it is reasonable to predict that the risk factor will increase in such a case.

Prevention

Prevention is always better than cure, right?  And particularly, in the future, there will be very little resource available to help you with fire fighting, and even less resource to help you rebuild if your retreat is destroyed, so your main focus needs to be on fire prevention.

The most important part of fire prevention is to construct your retreat from fire-proof materials as much as possible.  This means no wood on the building exterior.  Have concrete, stone, ICF, fiber cement stucco, or brick exterior, and absolutely do not have a wooden shake roof!  Use long run roofing iron or some type of slate, stone or brick/tile for your roof.

Be sure to seal up any gaps in your roofing and exterior walls so cinders can’t blow in and ignite anything within.

With an eye to being attacked, make sure that your windows have sturdy shutters (and not made of wood) that can be pulled across them so that attackers can’t break windows and throw Molotov cocktail type fire bombs into the interior of your retreat.

Your windows should also have heat-resistant glass in them, so that outside fires don’t cause them to break, and to insulate your interior from any high temperatures outside.  Steel is the best material for window framing, and of course, plastic and wood the worst.

Inside your retreat you will unavoidably have things that can burn.  But you want to keep the use of wood to a minimum, and have some firewalls within the retreat that will contain a fire within part of your structure rather than allowing it to spread throughout.  Line your rooms with fire-rated drywall rather than regular drywall and use as much metal rather than timber framing as you can.

Use ‘fireproof’ carpet, and spray ‘fireproof’ retardant on your furniture and rugs (these things are in no way fire-proof, but they do slow down the propagation of a fire).

Keep vegetation, bushes, trees, etc, back from your retreat structures a way, so if there is any type of approaching fire, there is a ‘fire break’ of sorts separating your house from the closest point the fire can easily reach.

If you are adding decking around your retreat, use fire-resistant composite materials or wood that has been treated to a Class A fire rating.

If there is an appreciable chance of major forest fires getting very close to you, maybe you need to add a ‘wash down’ feature to your roof – basically this just means a way to have water trickling down from the apex of your roof, cooling the roof and both extinguishing and washing off any burning embers that might fall onto it.

You might augment this with a sprinkler system that trickled water down the sides of your retreat as well.  If nothing else, it might help to cool the interior of your retreat if there was a major fire passing by.

Cure

The easiest way to fight a fire is with water.  Lots of water, lots of flow, and lots of pressure so it can be delivered at a high rate and from a safe distance.

You need to have an onsite supply of fire-fighting water and a way of delivering the water at suitable pressure and volume to wherever the fire is located.  Ideally, the water supply should be gravity fed, because no matter what else might go wrong, you know you can always rely on gravity.  But this might pose problems, particularly if it requires an external water tower which adds a new high visibility structure to your retreat compound and which is, itself, vulnerable to attack.

Each foot of height gives you 0.43 pounds per square inch of water pressure.  A typical domestic water supply has water pressure in the range of 40 – 60 psi, and city mains water supplies are usually somewhat higher.

So to get even 40 psi would require your water tank to be 100 ft above the outlet.  In other words, you’ll probably need to have an ultra-reliable booster pump with an ultra-reliable power source – and make sure that all parts of your water supply system are themselves protected from fire impacts.

If your water comes from a well, you probably should augment this with a holding tank, unless you are sure your well pump will be able to deliver sufficient pressure and volume not just for normal household needs but for fire-fighting as well.

As well as pressure, the other important consideration is flow rate – how many gallons per minute of water can the service provide.  A typical 5/8″ garden hose usually delivers about 10-17 gallons of water a minute.  A fire hydrant can sometimes deliver up to 1500 gpm, and even a smaller hydrant can probably provide about 500 gpm.  How much water do you need to be able to deliver to the fire?  The more, the merrier.  If you can deliver 100 gpm, that would be good, and 250 gpm would be even better.  Water damage issues to one side, there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ water when fighting a fire, and just because you have a very high potential volume of water to be used, you don’t need to use any more of it than you need at the time.

This leads to the next part of the equation – how many gallons of water do you need in your fire fighting reservoir?  That’s a bit like asking ‘how high is up’, because clearly the more you have, the better.

A typical multi-purpose fire truck that carries some water but which isn’t a dedicated tanker probably holds about 1000 gallons of water (and can pump it out at maybe 1500 gpm, so in theory, could use up its entire on-board supply in merely a minute).  A garden swimming pool can have many thousands of gallons of water, and as long as you were sure to have adequate and reliable pumping capacity, might be a great way to keep water on hand for fire fighting.

If you’re having to establish a specific water tank for fire fighting, we’d suggest you have at least 500 gallons of water in the tank, and of course, it will presumably have a lower flow-rate pump replenishing it as soon as the level begins to drop, so maybe by the time you’ve used up your 500 gallons, you have added another 100 or 200 gallons to the tank, and so on.

One study (the ‘Scottsdale Report’ – a 15 year study on fire sprinklers) suggests that fire-fighters typically use 2,935 gallons of water to control a fire.  (Sprinklers used only 341 gallons.)  So the more water you have, the better.

A Stitch in Time

Our point here is that it takes very little time for a fire to go from a spark to a conflagration.  Truly, in five minutes, a fire can go from a tiny thing to a monster, raging unstoppably through your house.

If a fire starts, every second counts.  You need to detect it as soon as possible and respond to it immediately thereafter.

You can’t have a system that when you have a fire, you have to go somewhere to turn on the water supply pump, then grab a fire hose, take it to an outlet, connect it up, turn it on, and deploy it.  By the time you’ve done all of this, the fire has enormously grown.  Where possible, you should have hoses pre-deployed (but sheltered from the sun so they don’t age and crack from the UV, and also sheltered from any extreme cold), and activating the pump should be something that can be done from several convenient locations.

You also should have extinguishers at strategic locations throughout your retreat.  These will probably/unavoidably be single use devices, but when you need one, don’t stop to think about saving it for another time.  Use it without hesitation.  Almost every fire that ends up defeating multiple fire trucks, and which destroys the building it started in, could have been extinguished in the first minute or so of its life if a fire extinguisher were at hand and effectively used.

We suggest having fire alarm buttons throughout your house so that people can push the alarm if they encounter any type of fire, to alert and mobilize everyone else in the house – both to get them to assist and possibly to get them to evacuate.  A loud distinctive alarm should be sounded that can not be confused with other types of alarms you might also have (in particular a security alarm).

Smoke Detectors

You of course have one or more smoke detectors in your residence at present – building and fire codes require them pretty much everywhere these days, and good practice suggests one per bedroom, one per floor, and maybe some more in other strategic places too.

We’re not arguing against this at all, quite the opposite.  The more smoke detectors, the better.

Did you also know there are two different types of smoke detectors?  One sort detects the smoke by way of the cloudiness of the smoke interrupting a light beam, the other sort detects the ‘burning products’ associated with a fire, but not necessarily the smoke itself.  They are referred to as photoelectric and ionization type detectors.

Photo-electric detectors work better with ‘smoldering’ type fires – fires that start first with a whisp of smoke, and only slowly change to a flicker of flame, and on from there.  Ionization detectors respond to flames and ‘invisible’ byproducts of the fire.

Neither sort is heat-sensitive.  Note also that carbon monoxide detectors are not very helpful at detecting fires.

Which sort of detector is best?  They are both good.  Some units have both types of detection built in.  We suggest you have some of each in your retreat.

Oh yes – do we need to add the bit about testing the batteries?  Probably not, because most good smoke detectors also include a ‘low battery’ alarm.

Sprinklers

This is something you normally associate with commercial buildings, but there’s no reason not to install them in private residences.  Indeed some local authorities are now requiring them in some private residences, even single family dwellings (including the entire states of CA and PA), and either supplied with water from an oversized line from the city mains or from an on-site tank.  If you do have sprinklers installed, you’ll probably get a small reduction in your insurance premiums, too.

There are many different types of sprinklers and designs of sprinkler systems.  A typical system in a low fire hazard area would be designed to provide 0.1 gallons of water per square foot per minute – in a 150 sq ft room, for example, that would require a water flow of 15 gallons per minute, and in a 2500 sq ft residence, if all sprinklers were operating simultaneously (an unlikely scenario), that would be 250 gpm.

Most sprinkler systems are automatic, and (unlike in the movies) activate one by one as they each individually detect a certain level of heat.  In the movies, it is common to see the activation of a single sprinkler result in an entire floor or building having all sprinklers start operating – looks good in the movie but doesn’t normally happen that way in real life.

There are a range of different heat-activated capsules that will be triggered by different heat levels, from as ‘low’ as 135°F up to as high as 500°F.  Perhaps the best type of sprinkler systems these days use water mist rather than water spray, and will give similarly effective results while using massively less water.

It makes sense for sprinklers to automatically activate, and on an ‘as required’ basis. But for a retreat which usually has people living in it, we’d be tempted to suggest a simpler approach.  Manual sprinklers, on a per room ‘deluge’ basis, whereby you simply turn a lever (probably by the room’s entrance, or at a central control station) and that causes all the sprinklers in the room to activate simultaneously.

The downside of this is also its upside.  The system doesn’t automatically activate, but it also won’t accidentally activate or leak water or in other ways be maintenance-prone or problematic.  If you have dual-mode smoke detectors in most rooms, you’ll have reasonably appropriate warning of a fire in an unattended room, and can then quickly react and activate the sprinklers in the affected areas.

Needless to say, you’ll probably want your sprinklers to operate from a reservoir (perhaps with boost pump) than from a city mains water supply, so as to have your water supply guaranteed.

Summary

House fires are more common than you think, and will become even more prevalent WTSHTF.

A fire can potentially destroy your retreat and everything in it.  There goes your shelter, your food, your everything – and possibly also your own lives.

In addition to accidental fires, deliberate fires will be more prevalent too when law and order disintegrates, and a common technique by roaming marauders may be to ‘smoke you out’ of your retreat by setting fire to it.

On the other hand, making your retreat at least fire-resistant and as close to fire-proof as possible is not an unduly expensive proposition and is a prudent part of generally ‘hardening’ your retreat and making it long-lived and low maintenance.

We urge you to ensure your retreat is as close to fire-proof as possible.

Jul 262013
 
So just exactly how many cans of spam do you need?  :)

So just exactly how many cans of spam do you need? 🙂

This question is a bit like asking ‘How high is up?’.  Clearly, the more food you store, the better you will be able to withstand a Level 1 or 2 event (Level 3 events assume, more or less by definition, that the problem will last longer than any stores you might have amassed).

There probably is an upper limit to how much food you could/should store, but few of us are going to reach that.  In case you wonder, there are two situations where you might end up with ‘too much’ food.  The first is if you have so much food that you can’t eat it all (or give it away or trade/sell/exchange it) before such time as it passes both its official and its real expiry dates.  The second would be having such a lot that you find yourself with food to last much longer than you have energy or water or other essentials.

In all cases, you need to balance your prepping.  Until you can – in all respects – survive a one week event, there is no point adding a second week of food.  Who needs food when you no longer have water?  When your heat has gone, and it is midwinter and you’re dying of exposure, food is again probably the least of your worries.  And so on.

So it is important to keep your prepping balanced.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same with prepping.  When you run out of any essential item, your survival is threatened, no matter how much of other things you still have on hand.

But having said that, it is relatively straightforward to get a retreat that will provide shelter for an extended many year period, to get a well that will provide you with all the water you’ll ever need, and to get perhaps a solar cell array to provide you with at least some ongoing power.  At that point, food becomes a key consideration because you’re in the happy point of having open-ended indefinite solutions to your need for water, shelter and energy.

Of course, you need a lot more than the most minimalist amounts of food, water, shelter and energy, but you truly do need these big four categories of preps.  Other things you might be able to improvise or make do without, but you can’t make do without these four major categories.

So, assuming you have resolved everything to do with water, shelter and energy, how much food should you store?  You might say ‘Oh, I’ll store a year’s worth’, – this seems to be a commonly cited quantity to aspire to.  However, that answer in turn begs some other questions – just how many cans and bags and other forms of food is a year’s worth?

To answer these questions, you need to consider five factors, and to ignore one distractor.

The distractor is the claim you’ll often see made in prepackaged collections of long life foods – ‘Contains a three-month supply’ or maybe ‘contains 240 entrees’ or something else.  You need to see exactly how many calories the supplier is basing these claims on, and contrast it with your expected calorie need (point 2, below); and dollars to donuts, you’ll almost surely find that their ‘three month supply’ is more like a two month supply, their 240 entrees are more like 240 appetizers, and so on!

So let’s now look at the five factors to consider.

1.  How Many People Will You Feed?

This question has some overtones that you should consider.  You probably already know how many people you’re planning to have in your retreat.  But might you have some unexpected extra people join you?

Maybe someone gets married and brings their new spouse.  Maybe a couple has a new child.  Maybe a friend or two come along and ask to be accepted into your community.  Maybe you meet someone after moving to your retreat who has an excellent set of skills and you want to have them join you, too.

In addition, you should also consider how you will handle people who come begging for food.  Will you send them away with nothing, or will you give them a token small amount of food?

However you answer these questions, you’ll probably end up realizing that it is likely you’ll have more mouths to feed than you originally plan for.

2.  How Much Daily Food Will Each Person Need?

You may already be familiar with the US Recommended Daily Allowances that specify how much of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and other elements a person should consume each day.  Here’s a link to them if you’re not.

Perhaps the most relevant issue though is not how much of each vitamin and mineral is in your diet (in theory, most ‘healthy’ diets contain plenty of all of these, in practice you’ll probably augment your stored food with a multi-vitamin supplement), but instead how many calories of energy you are getting from the food you eat each day.  This number isn’t an official standard because it varies depending on your gender, age, height/weight, and your level of activity.

So when you see labels on foods talking about ‘based on a daily allowance of xxxx calories’ they are not saying ‘this is the scientifically calculated exact number of calories you need’; they are simply basing their percentages on a somewhat arbitrary number.

The harder you work, the more you need to eat.  A daily intake of 2,000 calories a day may be enough for someone who does little or nothing every day, but if you’re going to be working in the fields, then you can expect to see your needs increase to maybe 3,000 or more calories a day.  Here’s a helpful table.

So you should adjust the quantities of food people will consume upwards to reflect the probability that people will be working harder than formerly, and so will eat more, too.

3.  Non-Essential Foods Actually Are Essential

We’ve written before about the surprisingly serious potential problem of appetite fatigue.  What this means, in part, is that you can’t optimize your food storage and serve the same food item, the same way, every day for a year, even if it is the cheapest and easiest product to store and prepare.

You need variety and so you’ll need to add some non-essential items into your food store too.

Good food can be a morale booster, and bad food a morale drainer.  In difficult times, good food can help people remain positive, and for sure, you are prepping for what will be difficult times.  So you will want to also supplement your food supplies with non-essential comfort and luxury food items.  At the end of a long hard day with everything going wrong, it will be a wonderful thing to then break out something like maybe a retort pouched piece of shelf-stable long-life smoked salmon and treat everyone to a ‘feel-good’ delicacy.

4.  Allowing for Wastage and Spoilage

We know you’re planning on not wasting a single ounce of everything.  Everything you have will be cooked, and everything you cook will be eaten.

But we also know that the real world isn’t quite as perfect as you might hope for.  For example, what happens if a water pipe bursts and water floods onto and into your dry stores?  What happens if you have a problem with rats or mice?  At a smaller level, what happens when something goes wrong with a meal?

Depending on your degree of vulnerability to such unexpected things, we’d probably add another 5% or more to adjust for these imperfections.

5.  Food as a Trading Good Too

We suggest you add further food to your minimum calculations to give you some ‘currency’ that can be used to trade for other things in the future.

We’ve written several pieces about how current US currency will lose its value in a Level 2 or 3 situation, and until such time as a new currency replaces it, all manner of different things will be used as trade goods.  When time allows, please visit our complete subsection on the site about the future economy and how it will evolve.  Understanding these issues is important.

In particular, it goes without saying that food will be greatly in demand, and would be almost universally accepted in payment for just about any other thing you might wish to exchange or trade.  You might want to have a mix of staples and also higher value items (herbs and spices and flavorings in particular) for future trading purposes.

6. How Many Months/Years of Food to Store

Now for the big question.  You know, from answering the previous five points, how much food a day or week or month you should set aside.  But now – how long a supply do you need?

We suggest that you must have at least one year of food, and ideally closer to two years.  Indeed, if you can go to three years, better still.

Think about a worst case scenario.  TEOTWAWKI occurs after the planting season one year, meaning you’ll not be able to get any measurable amount of food from your own gardening until the harvest season next year – maybe 15 months later.  (Is this the point where we extol the great sense of having a greenhouse? 🙂 )

Let’s also say that things go very wrong with your first year of gardening, and you only get six months worth of food from your efforts.  So add another 6 months to the stockpile you need, and you’re now at 21 months.

Now let’s say the next year has a flood, or spring frosts, or a drought, or something.  Let’s say you only get six months worth of food that year, too.  Now you need 27 months of stored food.

Furthermore, you really need to always keep at least 6 – 12 months of stored food in reserve, because it is an unavoidable truism in agriculture that some years are good and some are terrible.  So add another 6 months to your stored supply and now you’re at 33 months.

Make your own decisions as to how you’ll plan and project your food needs, but be pessimistic rather than optimistic, and we expect you’ll end up agreeing with us that you must have one year, should have two, and ideally would love to have three year’s worth of food in your store.

Avoiding Stored Food Expiration

You don’t want to have to regularly junk your stored food and replace it with a fresh set of unexpired food, and neither do you want to go into an emergency situation with your food nearing its expiration dates.

There’s an easy answer to this concern.  Eat what you store, and store what you eat.  That way, you are steadily eating your stored food as part of your normal everyday diet.  It means you are turning over your stores regularly, and hopefully eat everything before it expires.

It also means there is less disruption WTSHTF.  You keep eating much of the same food you’ve been eating prior to then.  That can be a bit of a comfort in itself, reassuring you that not all has been lost and destroyed in your world.

It also imposes a bit of a discipline on you when choosing food supplies.  If you’re like us, you probably have some 25-year-shelf-life pails of long life shelf stable freeze-dried foods – perhaps you bought them on special, and perhaps you thought ‘This stuff is barely better than prison grub, but in an emergency, I can’t expect to enjoy good food’.

But what is the point of buying food you don’t like and wouldn’t normally eat?  To save money?  Think about that – you’re happy spending, shall we say, $10 on a meal today, but you’re not willing to spend a comparable amount to set aside a meal for the future.  That’s a bit contradictory, surely!

So, as much as you can, considering shelf life issues, buy and stock up with the types of food you like to eat, not the types that are cheapest or which have the longest lives.  As long as you are able to eat what you have stored before it expires and keep regularly replenishing it, shelf life isn’t such an issue.

Shelf life only matters when you’re storing food you won’t eat, not when you’re storing food you will eat!

Summary

You’ll eat more food than you expect in a Level 2 or 3 situation; and you’ll probably have more mouths to feed as well.  Add to that a greater need for food variety, and allow some extra to use as trading goods, and you’ll soon realize that there’s no such thing as ‘too much food’ in your stockpile.

When you plan for some worst case scenarios, you’ll quickly realize that a one year supply is probably insufficient, a two-year supply barely enough, and a three-year supply a much more comfortable level to keep.

Jul 152013
 
The sign says 'buy local' but even if these 'fresh' apples are local, they have probably still been sitting in a cool store for many months before being shipped to the supermarket.

The sign says ‘buy local’ but even if these ‘fresh’ apples are local, they have probably still been sitting in a cool store for many months before being shipped to the supermarket.

One of the issues we as preppers instinctively accept and understand but struggle to explain to non-preppers, is the huge degree of fragility and multiple dependent layers upon which today’s society is built.

Exactly like a house of cards, if a single component in any of the dependencies fails, the entire structure is at risk of colossal failure in a manner that would not have been possible 50 or 100 years ago.

The problem we have in explaining these dependencies is that many of them are obscured and not at all intuitively obvious.

Here’s an interesting example of a surprising statistic and dependency.  70% of the food we eat passes through or is dependent on the ‘cold chain’ – refrigeration is needed as part of its processing, storage, and distribution.

Some of this we know about already.  It is unsurprising to learn that the milk we drink and the meat we eat has been chilled pretty much through its entire history from the minute it was first obtained.

Some other things are less obvious, but if we think about it, we’re not very surprised.  Look in the produce section of your supermarket, and although you’ll see things like potatoes and onions in bags or loose, displayed at room temperature, we might realize that they’ve been sitting in cool stores for months between when they came out of the ground and were put on display in the supermarket.

Oh – and of the potatoes we eat (the average American eats 36 lbs a year), most are not just kept chilled/cool, but are actually hard frozen.  Astonishingly, 29 of the 36 pounds of potatoes we eat are in the form of frozen French fries.  Who’d a thought?

The same is true of fruit as well.  Apples, oranges, etc – all these things are kept in special temperature environments – indeed, not just the temperature is managed to a very exacting degree, but so too is the humidity and even the gas mix surrounding the fruit.

But how about things as unobvious as, for example, even peanuts?  Yes, they too are kept in cool storage to extend their shelf life.

Our point is simply this.  A power failure – even a power shortage – would threaten 70% of our food supplies.  Without refrigeration, we’d have two problems.  The first is that we’d no longer be able to harvest food when it was plentiful, inexpensive, and in season, then store it for future sale/consumption some months later.  This would make for a crazy situation with some months having enormous gluts of food products and other months having nothing at all.

The second is that without refrigeration, we’d no longer be able to have vast distances separating where our food is grown and where it is eaten.  At present food travels at times almost literally half way around the world to reach our supermarkets.  If we had to rely on food grown within a day or two of our homes, that would destroy the viability of many major cities because the amount of food growing area needed to support the millions of people in the urban concentrations would stretch out impossibly far.

Anyway, food for thought, as it were. 🙂

More details in this rather pompous article and this very incomplete web site.

Jun 182013
 
Might the government be able to legally take your food supplies from you?

Might the government be able to legally take your food supplies from you?

This is the first part of a three-part article about the risk of having everything we’ve stored taken from us – not by force by a gang of armed violent looters, but by color of law, by local or federal law enforcement agents or the National Guard or even regular Armed Forces.

This is one of the most important articles we’ve published.  Please read it carefully, because if you don’t understand these issues now, you’ll surely be sadly surprised when they become relevant in some future emergency.

In the first part, immediately below, we talk about how such ‘un-American’ acts like taking one person’s possessions and ignoring concepts of private ownership (what we used to call, with revulsion, Communism) are becoming the normal accepted situation, and we talk about how such a seemingly flagrant breach of the Constitution could in fact occur.  It is important to understand this, because too many preppers – while open to the possibility of so many different types of future disasters – are insufficiently open-minded about the type of response from the rest of society when such a disaster occurs.

The second part switches from talking about what might occur and instead focuses on what laws are already on the books.  There are already laws that empower the President to command the Armed Forces to take almost everything we have, in an apparently lawful manner.  These are laws, in effect today, that have been passed and approved by (of course) both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and which have not been constitutionally challenged.

The third part introduces you to an appallingly un-American concept, civil forfeiture.

The first part is dismaying, but the other parts are terrifying.  Please do bravely read on.

We call ourselves preppers, and we stockpile food and other essentials in case of a breakdown in the normal functioning of our society and an inability to continue to live as we normally do.  We feel this is a sensible and prudent thing to do, and something to be encouraged.

But not everyone sees things the same way we do.  Instead of what we consider to be prudently stockpiling in good times, then carefully conserving and using up our resources in a future emergency, some people will describe us as selfishly hoarding.  Of course, such accusations will never be made in the present day times, not while our consumption-driven economy benefits from people buying as much of everything as they can afford, and then some more too.

But what about in the future, when all of a sudden, things which were formerly commonplace become rare, and even the most basic essentials of life – food, water, shelter – become precious and scarce?  Will the people who sneered at us for prepping simply ‘suck it in’ and say ‘Our bad, you were right, we were wrong, so we get to starve while you get to live’?  Or will they say ‘It isn’t fair that these selfish people have more food than they need, while we are without food – it is only right they be forced to share their food fairly with us’?

Historically, America rose to greatness on the basis of the first response – people were responsible for their own success or failure.  If they worked hard and did well, they got to enjoy the fruit of their labors and the flowering of their success.  If they made bad choices, or were lazy, then they suffered the consequences.

But at some point in the last 50 years or so, that has flipped around.  Successful people are no longer praised and respected for their success, and failures no longer feel humbled and embarrassed by their failure.  Now we see successful people viewed suspiciously, while people who have failed in their lives through laziness and lack of work now are proud of their failure and demand to be supported.  Our entire ‘progressive’ tax system penalizes success right from the get-go, and we increasingly hear the mantra being chanted ‘The rich must pay their fair share’.

But how much is ‘their fair share’?  Certainly, we agree that everyone should pay tax, but is it fair that some people should pay five or ten times more tax than some other people?  Is it fair that some people should pay one hundred times more tax than the average person, and is it fair that half the country should pay no tax at all?  Increasingly, it seems that many people believe these scenarios to be true.

There has been a steady shift from the overall tax burden being broadly and equally shouldered by all, to more and more of the taxes being paid by fewer and fewer people.

Here’s a fascinating chart that shows this steady trend over the last 30 years, taken from this article.

taxes

Is it truly fair that 1% of the country pays almost as much in taxes as the other 95%?  Indeed, the people who clamor that the wealthy are not yet paying their fair share seem to think that the 1% should pay even more and more.

Furthermore, the government’s role in the nation’s economy is expanding.  Our economy is increasingly revolving around government activity rather than around private enterprise, and that’s a recipe for economic disaster – just ask any of the failed communist regimes.  What that means is that increasingly people rely on the government for their income – they either work for the government or work for a company that contracts to the government or receive benefits from the government – this is a growing mass of people who have no history of making a living in the private sector; people who have learned to view the government as the source of everything they need in their lives.

This article here has a series of charts that shows how our economy is becoming increasingly a government based economy, but it only covers the last ten to twenty years in most cases.  It still provides a terrifying read of where our economy is headed.

But to look at a longer series, look simply at this chart which shows – in inflation adjusted dollars – the growth of the annual federal budget from 1962 through until 2015.  The chart was taken from this article.

budgetc

One last point on this topic.  We’ve shown you the growth in federal government.  Now match that with growth also in state government, county government, city government, and all sorts of pseudo-government organizations.  The transition of our economy from one predominantly featuring private industry to one now made up of government organizations is even more widespread than you might have thought.

So what does this commentary on our nation’s tax system and growth in government have to do with the main theme of this article – the risk of having our stockpiled supplies taken from us?

We have looked at the nation’s evolving attitude towards ‘compulsory sharing’ – another name for taxation – to show how there is a growing belief, and maybe already one held by the majority of voters, that wealthy people have an obligation to sacrifice the wealth they have created and to give it to less wealthy people.  If you agree with us at this interpretation of our changing tax collection policies and social expectations, then you understand the first point we are going to make.

US Society Now Condones Compulsory Taking From the Wealthy

Our point is simply this.  Today it is now normal and accepted to take from the ‘haves’ and distribute to the ‘have nots’, through an increasingly unbalanced tax system and via an ever larger and larger governmental process.

People say it is ‘fair’ that wealthy people should pay more and more, and people say it is also ‘fair’ that not wealthy people should pay less and indeed be actively subsidized – not only do such people not pay taxes, but they become net recipients of welfare support.

We’re the first to acknowledge that there is truly a small percentage of the country’s population that needs support and assistance through no fault of their own.  But we don’t believe that this ‘small percentage’ is actually half our entire population.  Our definition of fairness, and our view of the obligations of citizens in general, is that all people should pay taxes, albeit to a varying degree.   If only a small section of society pays taxes, our democratic process becomes perverted whereby the majority can impose whatever taxation policies they wish on the minority – all cloaked in the nebulous concept of ‘fairness’, of course.

There’s another element to compulsory taking as well.  We’re not just talking about the taking of abstract money from people who have ‘too much’ money.  We’re also talking about the increasingly aggressive use of ‘Eminent Domain’ powers for public bodies to take private property and to repurpose it for ‘public good’.  Eminent Domain is when the council takes your land to build a new road, for example, and compensates you ‘fairly’ for the taking (if it is land that has been in your family for generations which you don’t want to lose at any price, the council’s view of ‘fair’ may not coincide with your own).

But the concept of ‘public good’ has insidiously expanded – there have been examples of councils taking land for commercial developments such as shopping malls.  The most celebrated example of eminent domain abuse – Kelo vs New London – was contested all the way to the Supreme Court, which, alas, approved the taking of the land – here’s a short and easily read article on this particular case.

There are many other dubious and arguably unfair uses of eminent domain – a search for “abuse of eminent domain” on Google brings 1.28 million results.

Our point is simply that society’s respect for private ownership – whether it be money or land or pretty much anything else – is dwindling.  And that is happening during good times – imagine now, if you can, how quickly the last remaining elements of respect for private personal ownership will disappear in difficult times.

The Social and Practical Basis for Taking Our Food and Supplies From Us

There are several things to think about when it comes to considering what would happen WTSHTF.  We of course discuss these things regularly with other people, and a significant number of people refuse to accept that anyone would wish to take anything of theirs.  Much as we wish their views to be correct, we sadly disagree.  But it is interesting to see the full spectrum of opinions and denials offered to us.

Some people will acknowledge that a very small minority – unlawful gangs of ‘bad’ people – might wish to do that, but that the overall forces of law and order will prevent such things from happening.

Some people will acknowledge that there might be pressure to take our supplies from us, but that the police would never enforce an unlawful order.

But let’s look at past experiences and events to see if these two denials are founded in fact.

For the first point – the police and other agencies will protect those who ‘have’ from small groups of unlawful gangs, we have three words to offer.  Los Angeles riots.

Look at what happened during the LA riots in 1992.  During six days, large swathes of Los Angeles were in total anarchy, a known 53 people were killed, and more than 2,000 were injured.  More than 3,600 fires were set, more than 1,100 buildings were destroyed, and total damage probably came in at about $1 billion.

The Los Angeles police were supplemented by thousands of other local, state and federal law enforcement officers, and by the California National Guard and regular US Marines and other Armed Forces too.

All of this happened due to protests about the Rodney King Police Officers trial and verdict.

Now ask yourself.  If a mere court case can cause this, which takes six days to get under control, and requires the airlifting of tens of thousands of additional public safety personnel to bring the lawlessness under control, what happens when a more major event occurs, and when tens of thousands of police reinforcements are not available?

Note also our article by a police veteran, where he clearly says ‘the police won’t be able to cope and cities will collapse stunningly quickly’.

For the second point (the police would not enforce unlawful orders), we’ll again offer up three words, although one would be enough.  New Orleans Katrina.  The local police and sheriff’s offices seemed to take more pleasure than expected, and to use more zeal than is common for the Big Easy’s finest at doing anything, when it came to seizing people’s firearms – a blatantly illegal act, and carried out in an area where firearms ownership is generally positively viewed.

If that’s not enough, how about another three words.  Boston Bombing Manhunt.  Thousands of law enforcement personnel, dressed in full combat gear like they were each about to singlehandedly go to war against the entire muslim world, went door to door through Boston suburbs, carrying out house to house searches.  They had no search warrants.  They had no reasonable cause or suspicion.  And, furthermore, their searching was all to no avail – the two bombers were not detected as a result of this house to house searching.

Make no mistake.  People weren’t being politely asked if they could have their houses searched.  Their houses were being searched at gunpoint, and refusal was not an option.

Now add to this the fact that after TSHTF, police officers will be as hungry and needy as most other non-prepared people.  They will have a vested personal interest in complying with orders to search and seize food and other valuable supplies.  Maybe they’ll even get a ‘finder’s fee’ bonus based on how much food and supplies they seize.

We’ll be generous and accept that a small percentage of police officers might refuse to go along with any such orders.  But for every police officer refusing to comply, there’ll be a dozen volunteers willing to take his place.

All of the preceding has assumed that taking our food and other supplies from us would be illegal.  But that’s not necessarily a valid assumption.  Alas, quite the opposite.  Please keep reading.

Future Legal Support for Seizing our Food and Supplies

There already is probable legal support for having our supplies taken from us, but we’ll leave that for the second part of this two-part article.  Let’s assume, for the moment – as most of us naively do – that there are no laws or regulations authorizing the authorities to take our food and other supplies from us.  So let’s think – how could such laws be created, and what would we do?

Don’t get on a moral high horse and say ‘It is unconstitutional and so could never happen’.  Unconstitutional laws are enacted every day, and constitutional laws are applied in unconstitutional manners – that’s why we have the legal system, all the way up to the Supreme Courts of our state and of the entire US – to protect us from either inept or wrong-thinking law makers.  Every day, courts throughout the country find laws to be badly written and unenforceable (and also, every day, courts also choose to enforce badly written laws that should not be enforced).  So it is plenty possible that an unconstitutional law could be enacted (and far from certain that the courts would toss it out, even in good times).

And, think about it.  Politicians are not renowned for either their high moral principles, or their own foresight and preparedness, are they.  When things go bad, they’ll be among the first to be starving, and among the first to be demanding that we share our food with them.

So, there’ll be an emergency session of – you name it.  Maybe even your homeowner’s association.  Your local city council.  The county council.  And/or the state legislature.  There will be legislation drafted in double-quick time, and passed almost unanimously even quicker.

The legislation will probably have at least the semblance of fairness associated with it.  It will offer you compensation for the food and other supplies taken from you.  You’ll probably be given a check for some fair value for your food based on what it would cost in normal times, or possibly you’ll be given a voucher that can be used to get replacement food at some future time when food becomes plentiful again.

But how much value is a check, when the banking system has failed?  For that matter, how much value would cash be, when there’s no food for sale at any price?  How much value is a voucher, when you can’t redeem it for anything and will have starved long before normalcy returns?

The stark reality is that you’re likely to find yourself confronted with a properly enacted law that ostensibly empowers other people to take just about everything you have from you.

Now, as for the judicial review of this law and the takings carried out under its authority, how well do you think that is going to go for you?  Whether you are liberal or conservative, you’ll probably concede that judges no longer impartially enforce the law (always assuming that they ever did!), but rather, they selectively and actively interpret the law based on their own personal beliefs and values.

Keep in mind that the judge is being asked to decide if he, too, should be able to share in your food, or if he too will starve while you survive.  How impartial a judgment do you expect to get if/when you can get your case heard in a court?

And there’s the other problem – will the court system still be operating?  Even if it is, if you get a hearing in a month, and a judgment in two months, what will you do for the two months (or more, especially if you lose and then have to appeal) while you’re waiting, having already given up your food?  One thing’s for sure – the way this will work is ‘take first, argue about it in court later’.

Our prediction is that if society’s collapse occurs slowly enough for legislative bodies to continue to meet, there will definitely be high-minded seeming emergency laws passed to make ‘hoarding’ illegal.  But you’ll quickly discover that the definition of hoarding makes you a hoarder.

If you think that is unlikely, people were arrested and prosecuted for ‘hoarding’ when they attempted to get ‘too much’ petrol during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York area in 2012 – even in cases where one person was the ‘designated driver’ going to get petrol for multiple families.

All fairness, all reason, all logic – all these things will be abandoned in the panic that will follow TEOTWAWKI.

Continued in Part Two and Three

Our point in this first part of the three-part article series is that a large part of society – perhaps even the majority – condones taking from other people and transferring their wealth and even their property so that other people can benefit.  You probably consider this immoral and wrong, but the 50% of the country who pay no taxes seem to have no difficulty with their consciences while all the time demanding that the rich pay more and more, which the takers ludicrously describe as ‘paying their fair share’.

Even people who might find this an uncomfortable situation at present will get a very different perspective when they see your house as the only one with power, heat, and light, and smell the rich smell of food cooking, in a scenario where they have none of any such things.  Some people may respond by simply trying to steal food from you at gunpoint, others will throw themselves on your mercy and beg for food.  But the biggest threat will be the people who pass a new law to force you to share everything you have.

But wait.  There’s more.  Please now turn to part two (and then subsequently on to part three), where we stop considering future possible scenarios, and instead focus in on the actual laws that are already on the books, and how they give close to unlimited unrestricted power to the President to take anything he wants from anyone at all, for close on any reason.

We know that sounds impossible to believe, so we back up everything we say with links to formal proof of each statement we make.