Icicles and Resilience

091210_icicle_300s.jpgIcicles are rare enough here that I just had to share Robyn’s picture. Sunday’s snow was followed by a hard freeze, decorating our house with icicles on all sides (the sun never reaches the house in winter).

The next morning, no hot water! Pipes had frozen in the house’s on-demand hot water heater cabinet. Okay, time for on-the-spot problem solving.

Robyn heated the frozen pipes until the water got moving. I covered the door vents with reflectix (silver mylar + bubble-wrap insulation) to keep cold air from circulating. That night we kept a slow drip going into the bathtub as a preventive (saving that water for toilet flushing, or even backup drinking water). (We don’t use incandescent lightbulbs for heating because we don’t want to draw down the batteries unnecessarily).

A snowstorm is fine resilience practice. Redundancy — having extra supplies, tools and methods for doing a task, as well as experience doing in-the-moment problem solving — is central to our homestead resilience practice.

Knowing we might not get out for a week, what preparation did we do ahead of time?

Food? Stored and fresh. We’re covered for longterm and midterm food storage supplies in the pantry, cooler and refrigerator. But before the storm we headed to town for fresh fruit and vegies for the week.

Electricity? Solar-electric plus backup generator. Being off-grid, we’re not dependent on the power company. Storms reduce the amount of sun available to charge the batteries, so we’re very watchful of the battery capacity, not wanting to run the propane-fueled generator more than necessary. For redundancy purposes, we have a backup portable gasoline generator and several 5-gallon cans of gasoline.

Of course our winter practice for electricity is to use less, so we run the generator less. We try doing more of our activities during daylight hours, and using the skylights in each room, then we don’t need electric lighting until sunset. At that time I light several candles so we can go between rooms without electricity. We turn off the inverter at night so there’s no electrical usage.

Water? Well water plus rainwater buckets. We filled the below-ground storage tanks (from which water is pumped to a pressure tank and then to the house). When we get the gravity-fed water system done, we’ll have two ways to bring water to the house.

If the well water system breaks down, we have about 10 gallons of distilled water in storage. Plus about 15 five-gallon buckets collecting rainwater from the roof. After the first or second rains have cleaned the roofs, that water might be drinkable (after boiling) in a serious emergency.

Heating? Woodstove and propane. I stacked up a week’s worth of firewood on the covered front porch: cozy-warm guaranteed. The propane space heaters are only used in extreme situations like coming home to a cold house after being away for days. We have two portable propane heaters, which use less fuel than the room heater, and keep on hand several full portable propane tanks.

Much of our winter cooking is done on the woodstove, which also heats water for hand-washing the dishes. The water heater is pretty much used only for showers, so if the heater or propane supply went out, we’d heat water on the woodstove and take a sitz bath (in a small metal tub in front of the woodstove to keep warm!)

Phone? Land and cell. The land lines are buried back to the phone pole two miles away, but we are at the mercy of the phone company beyond that. Cell service will depend on various conditions, but usually is back up pretty quickly.

Internet? Dial-up service plus two antennas for cell.  The snowstorm blew the digital internet antenna off-angles, so service went to zero (this is a temporary antenna arrangement). Robyn tried the backup mobile antenna at various points in the house, but alas it had broken in our last auto trip. Up on the roof to turn the antenna, and down to order another mobile unit. If the cell service goes out, but landlines are up, we use the much-slower dialup service.

Vehicles? More than one vehicle, plus extra gasoline. Multiple vehicles won’t do in a post-petroleum future, but in our rural area without public transit (and 1.5 miles to the nearest paved road), an extra vehicle is important at this time (in case of vehicle breakdowns, too).

Well, I’m running out of steam on this list. Robyn is working with the laptop computer beside the fire, dark is descending, and I want to get more firewood in from the woodshed.

What haven’t I mentioned? Only that it takes thought and work to being prepared, and huge comfort in doing so.


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