Friday, September 6, 2013

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

#3: Handle Sanitation

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!


This is one of the hardest post for me to write because it is the one I am least prepared for. I have planned for a lot of options, but I am not 100% satisfied with any of them. This is because this issue is deadly serious. Get it wrong, and you and your family will get very sick and can possibly die. In addition, it is also a topic that no one wants to talk about, me included! However, it must be dealt with during an emergency, and dealing with it safely is one of the most important things you can do to keep your family healthy. Hence, it warrants number three in the countdown.

How you handle this issue depends on how your house was built. Do you have a septic tank? Are you hooked up to a city sewer? If you have a septic tank, it will be much easier, less messy and less unpleasant to handle. You should be able to use your toilets throughout the emergency. However, if you don't have power, the toilet tank won't refill. You will need to provide an assist by filling the tank/toilet when you need to flush it. That means you need to have access to water. It doesn't have to be potable water, but it shouldn't be stagnant smelly water either (unless you have no choice). This is because your septic system requires bacteria to be effective. You want to be careful what you put down the toilets so you don't harm/kill the bacteria in your septic system. So, to all the homeowners/renters who have septic systems, you need to have access to water so you can assist your toilets in flushing.

If you aren't on a septic system, then you are probably hooked to the city/county sewer system. (Or, like me, you could be hooked to a private sewer system.) If you are hooked to a sewer system, you will encounter two problems if the power is out for any serious length of time. The first is the inability to use your toilets and the second is a potential back up of sewage into your home. I say potential, because it is determined by gravity. If your house is at the lowest level on the sewer line, the likelihood of a potential sewage backup into your home is greater than if you lived on a hill looking down on everyone else.

Now, if the power is only out a few days, neither of these will be an issue. That is because most cities/counties have planned for backup power via generators. Your toilets will probably work fine. If they don't, I am sure you will receive instructions on what to do. The problem is, if you don't have any backup materials available, you may not be able to follow the instructions your local government gives you. 

So, this post will give you some options you can think about implementing if/when you ever find yourself without the use of your sewer system.
  • For short term use, a water/sanitation system such as this one from Emergency Essentials may do the trick. I have a few of these, here is a picture of one of mine. It requires the use of a garbage bag, so be sure to stock up on plenty of those. You can add dirt, sawdust or cat litter to help control odors. 
  • For a more durable short term solution, you may want to exchange the cardboard box for a five gallon bucket. Emergency Essentials sells a toilet seat that will fit a five gallon bucket. This solution will also require garbage bags. You can also control odors with a product by Reliance called eco-fresh. It is a waste digester & deodorizer. You can get it in the camping section of your favorite store. I have quite a few boxes of this product in storage.
  • The two solutions above may work a longer period of time if you think outside the box and separate out solid matter from liquid matter. Set up more than one 'station' where you can better control what is deposited. Clean up will be easier and less messy that way. Here is a blog post I read awhile back that gives MUCH more information on this idea. 
  • If the power is out for any length of time, it may be time for you to consider constructing an outhouse. No need to get out the saw and hammer, Cody Lundin gives an excellent example of how to construct one, with simple things you have at home, in his book: When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes There is an excellent graphic that shows what to do on page 250, but the entire chapter entitled Savvy yet Simple Significant Substitute Sanitation is extremely informative. If you are really into emergency preparedness, go ahead and buy the book. I have it and found it an interesting read. However, if you are not into emergency preparedness (or you aren't sure if you are yet) I would suggest going to the library to find the book, no need to purchase it without trying it out first.
  • If you find that you are on the bottom of the sewer line, you may want to put some backflow valves in the sewer pipes that come out of your house. That way, you can prevent sewage backup from entering in the first place. Actually, this is a really good idea no matter where you are on your sewer line. No one wants sewage backup into their house. Unfortunately, if it does happen, you will be forced to evacuate until you can get it cleaned up. Here is a blog post that explains it better than I ever could.
  • If the power is out for an extended length of time, say months, you may want to consider composting your waste. While humanure should not be used on vegetable gardens, it is fine for flowers and trees. Here are some posts on how to compost human waste correctly:
  • Lots and lots of info has been written on this subject by other bloggers. You can find some helpful information about how to deal with sanitation in these posts:

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