Friday, August 2, 2013

The Countdown: 10 Things You Need to Know How to Do Before You Lose Electricity!

# 7: Cool or Heat Your House

Since we are about to hit the active period during our hurricane season here in the US, I thought it would be beneficial to create a 'Top 10 List' of things you should know how to do without electricity. Most of these things will be extremely important if you had to go without electricity for a few weeks (or longer). However, many of them also apply to power outages of just a few days. So, every Friday, until we countdown to #1, I will highlight a necessary skill to keep your house running as 'normal' as possible. Once you learn about these 10 things, you should be able to keep your house running normally during any power outage from a few days to a few months or longer, if that becomes necessary.

I do want to mention, none of these things will include the use of a generator. While generators do work short term, IMHO, there is no way you can store enough gasoline to keep the generator running for a long term outage. My strategy is to use 18th and 19th century skills to keep my house running. I don't even own a generator. 

I created this 'Top 10 List' and the subject matter and countdown order are mine alone. You may not agree with my list. That is no problem! You are welcome to share your ideas in the comments section. We all learn when differing viewpoints are shared respectfully!


Keeping Your House Cool in the Summer

Controlling the temperature in your house is important. We have all heard the news stories of people without air conditioning dying from heat related injuries. I have used all of the tips listed below with success. Even with temperatures in the high 90's, I can keep the downstairs floor of my house at about 80 - 82 degrees. I don't find this hot. I set my air conditioner at 80 anyway so I don't really notice the difference. (Full disclosure, when my husband comes home from a business trip, he turns the air conditioner down. I understand that he is hot and tired from a long trip - he travels a lot.  When he leaves on his next trip the air conditioner goes back up to 80 degrees. I mention this so you will know your satisfaction with these ideas may vary if you think a beautiful day is a crisp 40 degrees.)

Personally, I think keeping your house cool in the summer is the harder than heating it in the winter. (I may be biased on that because I live in the south). A very hot day after a bad storm will also be a very humid day. This is when the number of people with heat related injuries soars quite high. Most of our modern homes were not built to keep the summer heat out. So, try these ideas to help keep your house cool when you can't run the air conditioner.
  • The first simple tip is to open the windows. If you have a two story house, opening the windows upstairs allows the heat to rise and escape out of the upstairs windows. If you have a breeze, it is even better. Open the downstairs windows and put a wet sheet, cheesecloth, or other thin fabric over the windows. When the breeze blows, the wet sheets will cool the air coming into the house. Warning: this idea is maintenance heavy, you will have to re-wet the sheets often. It doesn't have to be potable water. Water out of a creek, pond, pool or hot tub will work just fine. I have used this idea and it works really well if the wind is blowing. Not so much if there isn't any breeze. 
  • If it is at all possible, keep the sun off the windows. The best idea is to put awnings on your house. (This is something you can do now to save on your cooling bills. Make them retractable so you can get the sun in the winter if you need it.)  I do understand if most of you are saying 'yuck!' I am not fond of the look of awnings either. However, I must tell you they really do work. I have found the next best thing to awnings is a bath towel or space blanket. Drape the bath towel over the upper windows (on the outside of the window) to keep the sun (and heat) out of the house. You will not believe how well this works until you try it! Don't use too thick of a towel because you won't be able to get the screen back on. In the picture below, I opened the upper windows, draped towels over them (on the outside), then closed them and replaced the screens. Then, I opened the bottom half of the window and hung wet cheesecloth. I used my blinds to secure the cheesecloth. The cheesecloth was tucked in between the slats and the blinds pulled up halfway. If you don't have enough space blankets to cover all your windows (I don't), use towels on the east/west side of the house and space blankets on the south side.
  • If you need to, retreat to the coolest room in the house. If you have a basement, this is the place to be! If you don't, rooms on the north side of the house should be cooler because the sun won't shine directly in the windows. (South of the equator, the south side of the house is where the cooler rooms are.) Block these rooms off from the rest of the house to keep the heat out.
  • If your house isn't cool enough using any of the treatments above, take a wet piece of cheesecloth and put it in front of a fan. Now, if you don't have any electricity, you won't be able to plug the fan into the outlet, you will have to use a fan that runs on batteries. (You do have one, don't you? You store batteries too, right?) This way you can point the fan anywhere you want. Now, use common sense here, don't wrap the cheesecloth around the fan, you will need to hold it up with something else and position the fan behind it. At our house, we have done it successfully by placing the fan on the seat of a chair (with slats in the back) and then draping the cheesecloth over the back of the chair. This is the same idea people used when electricity was first available in homes but before air conditioning was invented. If ice was available, people would put a bowl of ice in front of the fan. Not everyone had access to ice though, and it was very expensive when it was available. Most people used a wet piece of lace or other thin fabric, draped it over a dowel and put the fan behind it. To conserve batteries, use the fan for short durations, such as when you sit down to dinner, or when you come back in the house after time in the hot sun.
  • Remember, the purpose of these ideas isn't necessarily to cool the house, it is to keep your core body temperature in the normal range. If you can do that without cooling the house, it is much less work on your part. Try taking a nap in the heat of the day. In many countries, shop owners take siesta breaks in the afternoon and then go back to work in the cooler hours of the evening. Is it too hot to sleep in the afternoon? Take off your clothes and drape a wet sheet over you. I have done this on camping trips where the afternoon temperatures went into the high 90's with high humidity. Be sure to sleep on the floor where the coolest air is.
  • If you are not satisfied with any of the ideas above, go swimming! This is a great idea if you have a creek near your house. (Watch for snakes!) If you can't go swimming, pour a 5 gallon bucket of water over you. Head, clothes, feet, get everything wet. The Army did this to me many times when I was in training during the hot summer months in North Carolina. You will be quite surprised how cool you will feel. 

Keeping Your House Warm in the Winter

It is equally important in the winter to keep the house warm enough to keep everyone healthy.

This is a no brainer if you have a fireplace or wood stove, you have a ready source of heat. (I highly recommend carbon monoxide detectors for your home if you have a fireplace, wood burning stove or kerosene heater. They don't cost a lot and you can find them at the big box stores and home improvement centers.) If you are not fortunate enough to have a fireplace, try some of these tips below:
  • Limit the area in your home that you are trying to heat. Section off your house with blankets, old quilts or bedspreads. Try to pick a room on the south side of the house. If that isn't possible, try the west side. (If you live below the equator, select a room on the north side of the house.) Even with a fireplace, sectioning off your house will help keep the heat where you need it. Depending on how cold it is outside, lots of people in a room that is sectioned off from the rest of the house will help warm it up just by being there. Have everyone put on layers of clean, dry clothes. Hats and mittens too.
  • Open up the drapes during the day in your designated room to let the sun in. Then close them at night. As we all know, the windows will allow the heat and light in during the day to warm up the room. However, there is something about this idea that many people may not realize. A dirty window will reduce the radiation effects of the sun. Make sure your windows are clean to take advantage of all the warmth the sun has to offer. As soon as the sun goes down, close the drapes or blinds. You may want to even put a blanket over the windows to keep the cold out.
  • Create a warm microclimate. Do you have a tent? Set it up in whatever room you decided will be the designated room and get in the tent. This is a great idea for sleeping. Again, this idea works on the principle that people give off heat and they will warm the air around them. Invite the family pet in as well. The more in the tent, the warmer it will be. Snuggling up to each other helps too. If you don't have a tent, you can make an improvised one from a tarp, plastic sheet, or whatever you have. Be resourceful!
  • Creating a warm microclimate might be easier in your car, trailer or RV. If possible, move the vehicle so the biggest windows face to the south. Please don't run the car to heat it up, you can die from carbon monoxide poisoning!

Final Safety Warning: Know the symptoms of both hypothermia and hyperthermia. Have the tools and knowledge available to help anyone in your family who may be experiencing either of these exposure injuries. This is deadly serious stuff that can kill.  It is critical that you keep your core body temperature within the normal range.The tips above can help you create microclimates to do just that. However, you alone are responsible for your family's safety.

With just a bit of knowledge and a few simple, inexpensive tools, you can create an area in your home that can keep you relatively cool in the summer or warm in the winter. Remember, the goal is to keep everyone healthy until the power comes back on!

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