Monday, June 27, 2016

Grid Down! Now what?

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. He has taught foraging and survival skills classes since 1974. He can be reached at]

There are any number of possible reasons why the electrical grid could go out, anything from an accident, to sun spots, to terrorism.  How would that affect our life?

Even 50 years ago, temporary blackouts were not all that disruptive to everyday life. Indeed, to children, they were exciting times when you got to use lanterns and candles at night. Phones still worked, since most phones were simple rotary style.

In my household, we still had hand-cranked coffee grinders, wheat sifters, mixers (for batter), and can-openers. We had very few electric food processing devices, and we got by just fine.  We had no electric yard tools then, all manual rakes, brooms, clippers, edgers, lawn-mowers. None of the insane blowers and weed-whackers. All our tools were manual too: hammers, saws, pliers, levels, etc. 

Today, you can get an electric model of just about anything, and computer chips are everywhere.  The up-and-coming generation knows nothing else, which is perhaps one of our greatest dangers. 

Most folks, even if they grew up in the city, understands that there should be a backup for when the power goes out.  But too many young folks know no other way of life but the all-electric driven lifestyle, controlled and powered by the all-powerful, all-seeing I-God (oops, meant I-pod), with all of its minions through it’s spider-like Web.  There is even the chief high priest of this new world, ready and waiting to answer your every question: Rev. Google!

If the grid goes down, for whatever reason, the world of Eagle Rock and beyond will be a very different place, maybe temporarily, maybe long-term.  There really no way to predict what would happen, but there are various ways to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically.

Just walk through your home and look at everything that is controlled by electricity. What would your day be like if there was no power?  Some things would be hard, or impossible, to replace without electricity. But many other electrical functions could easily be handled with manual tools, or “old-fashioned” technology.

Lights are easy.  My mother always had a good supply of candles, lanterns, and flashlights, and whenever there was a blackout, the house was fully lit! 

You should never be unable to process your meals if the power goes out.  Go to any kitchen supply shop and make sure you have manual can openers, juicers, coffee grinders, egg beaters (hey, a fork works fine!), grinders, slicers, etc. Whatever it is you do in your kitchen, you should be able to do without power.

A refrigerator won’t work without electricity, so unless you have some solar panels on your roof, you’ll want to store plenty of non-refrigerated food. This means pickled, dried, and canned.   This is also one of the big pluses in having a backyard and neighborhood garden, as well as backyard chickens.  Your food is fresh, and local, and not dependent on transportation systems. 

Home heating and cooling is a big topic, and if all houses were built with thicker, more insulated walls, and white heat-reflecting roofs, and big overhangs, etc., much of the cost of heating and cooling would be unnecessary.  I spent considerable time discussing this topic in my “Extreme Simplicity” and “Self-Sufficient Home” books, both of which can be reasonably obtained on Amazon. 

I spent a year and a half back in the late ‘70s as a squatter, and practiced a lot of the ecological-living methods that are becoming very popular today. We recycled everything, cooked on a wood stove, grew a lot of our food, recycled all household water, and even used (for a part of the time) a compost toilet.   Had the grid gone done during that time, it would have been just an inconvenience.  I wrote a book about that experience, called “Squatter in Los Angeles,” which is available as a Kindle book, or download from the Store at

During my time as a squatter, I had the advantage of living in a house that had been built with thick walls, a flat south-facing roof, and large overhangs.  Due to its position in a wind path, and its good construction, we never used any heaters or coolers. Well, we didn’t have any anyway, but that’s beside the point. The roof, once painted white with a liquid rubber roofing product, made the place about 15 degrees cooler in summer.

I grew much of my own food, sent the bath water out into the garden, and even experimented with a composting toilet.   I raised some ducks, grew corn, bean, squash, and tomatoes.  I used a wood stove that a neighbor let me borrow, and I fertilized with the wood ash. 

I learned on the job how to live better for less, and discovered that I could live well by looking to the past. We did have a used refrigerator, though it barely worked, so we learned to buy most of our food in a form that didn’t require refrigeration.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for most people in a grid-down world will be that the infrastructure around them will not work, or will change rapidly into something that does work. There will be barter, and things will get very localized.  How could you ever prepare for such an eventuality? One way to prepare is to always read American Survival Guide, as well as staying alert to local and world events that could impact your way of life.

You should also learn pioneer and survival skills, and  get to know any of the various groups who practice one or more of the many survival skills. Find them on-line, or at Meetup.  And there is no shortage of Youtube videos and books to help you along this learning path. 

Let me know if you have questions.


Mark Tsunokai said...

Great article! The book was an excellent example about simplicity or doing without. Read it twice for practical application for a possible future event.

Mark Tsunokai said...

Great article! The book was an excellent example about simplicity or doing without. Read it twice for practical application for a possible future event.