Living Without Electricity: 10 Essentials to Get Right

What would happen if you woke up tomorrow to a home with no electricity? No lights. No running water. No heat or A/C. No stove to cook breakfast on. No coffee maker. No toaster. No microwave. Nothing. How inconvenienced would you be?

homestead in need of reconditioning
homestead in need of reconditioning

What if this lasted for a week? Two weeks. Months. And for whatever reason staying at somebody else’s place wasn’t an option. What if everyone lost power?

Would you be able to survive? Sure, you’d learn to improvise. You’d figure out how to cook in an empty aluminum can over an open flame. But wouldn’t it be better to begin preparing for this possibility before it happens?

Oh, that’s right. It’ll never happen to you. This is America, after all, not some third-world country. We might lose power for a couple of days at most, but the utility company will have it back on again in no time… right?

If that’s your thinking then you can go ahead and keep believing we are invincible, and above calamity. I’ll choose to live in the real world, and begin preparing now. Just in case. I prefer the “better safe, than sorry” approach. Especially when it comes to the well-being of my kids.

So, what do you need in order to live comfortably without electricity? I’m so glad you asked. (And I’ll assume you aren’t rigged with solar or wind.)

1. Heat Source

If you live in a region where winters are cold, you’ll need to think about this. Since it’s gonna be 7* F tonight for us, right now especially we realize that a source of heat for our home is extremely important.

If we lost power for a long stretch of time, it wouldn’t take long for our house to get really, really cold. A non-electric source of heat is something that we are working on getting in place.

A generator would work for a while, but once you are out of fuel it won’t be any good to you. The same goes for kerosene and propane heaters.

Installing a wood burning stove is probably your best option, if at all possible. That’s what we are doing, anyways. Outdoor boilers, or water stoves as they are called, are great for heating your home without using the furnace, but they still require a small amount of electricity. If you do opt for the wood stove, try to get one that you could cook on as well.

feeding wood to an EcoZoom stove
feeding wood to an EcoZoom stove

If you do not have a fireplace to install a wood stove in (and even if you do), you’d be wise to at least have some warm clothing and blankets on hand.

Long underwear, thick socks, gloves, hats (something comfortable enough to sleep in), warm outer clothing, and good sleeping bags and/or blankets for every member of the family are a must. I’d consider co-sleeping as a family during the coldest of nights as well. Nothing like body heat to warm you up!

2. Clean Water

We all know how vital it is to have a source of clean water available to us at all times. But when the power goes out, how can we access it?

A well with a hand pump would be ideal. Unfortunately, not all people live on land with a well, and even if you do, if you are like us and have a deep well you can’t afford to install a hand pump on it!

Until we are able to get a hand pump rigged, we are relying on a few other sources for water. Since we are fortunate enough to have running water on our property, that’s gonna be our main source.

We invested money in building a homemade water filtration system (until we’ve saved up enough to invest in a proper Berkey Water Filter), so if we do have to drink from the creek, at least we will know it’ll be safe. You can also buy water purification tablets to have on hand.

We also bought a 275 gallon water tank off of craigslist, which we’ve hooked up to our gutter system to catch rain water. Amazingly, it’ll fill up in one good downpour. We use it to water the animals and the garden, but it would be good for drinking and bathing water as well. If you can get at least one rain barrel installed, it’ll be a good start.

3. Cooking

Without the use of a stove, microwave, or toaster oven, how do you plan on cooking when the power goes out? Even if your stove runs on propane, if you have no way of accessing more fuel when you run out it’ll be of no use to you.

A good thing to have in place is a way of cooking food using wood for fuel. I realize that not everybody has wood readily available to them.

If this is the case, it might be a good idea to start piling up whatever wood you can get your hands on now. Or you could store up a good supply of charcoal. If used wisely, a little can last a very long time.

South Bend wood cook stove
South Bend wood cook stove

Remember, in an emergency situation, you can burn a lot of other stuff in place of wood, too. It’s just important to have somewhere outdoors or in a well ventilated area to burn an open flame.

Here are a few ideas to think about:

  • Build a fire pit. Even if you only have a patio or balcony, you could have a small steel fire pit to burn in.
  • Burn wood in a charcoal grill.
  • Cook in an open fireplace.
  • Cook on your wood stove.
  • Purchase a wood cookstove. You can check out the one we got for $175. We’ve installed ours in the workshop behind our house.
  • Make a solar cooker with only cardboard, duct tape, aluminum foil, and glue!
  • Build an outdoor oven.
  • We also have a water stove (outdoor boiler) that we could use to cook in.

There are some other great ideas here that you might like to check out as well.

Don’t forget that you’ll need cast iron cookware for cooking over an open flame. Frying pans, a bread pan, and a camp dutch oven are a must.

Also remember to have a good stash of matches and lighters kept in a waterproof container!

4. Bathing

Without running water, bathing will take a little more effort. Hopefully you’ve set up a rain barrel or something to collect water in. If you have a way to heat your water, you’ll be able to boil enough to take a shallow hot bath in a tub.

A nice large enamel pot would be good to have on hand for boiling large amounts of water in. Make sure you have a good bathtub plug too!

If you don’t have a bathtub, you might wanna keep your eyes out for a large galvanized washtub that you could fit in comfortably.

You could also build an outdoor solar shower. Here’s a really nice example of how one can be built out of an old hot water heater and some scrap privacy fencing.

Disclosure: if you visit an external link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Read my full earnings disclosure here.

You can buy a solar shower, or make one similar. I’ve also been thinking that a long, coiled up (preferably black) water hose left in the sunlight would create some very nice hot water to bathe with as well.

Whatever method you choose, plan on bathing a lot less frequently, and instead simply wiping down with a washcloth most days. Make sure you have a good supply of soap on hand!

5. Lighting

Obviously, lots of candles would be extremely useful. You can often find used ones for free at yard sales. Save the wax from old candles and broken crayons to make new candles from.

Oil lamps are great to have too. I’ve been picking these up at yard sales for really cheap as well. The larger, outdoor style oil lanterns would be handy as well as the more decorative indoor lamps.

That lamp oil is expensive; kerosene is cheaper and works just as well, although it may produce a little smoke. I’ve also read that you can burn olive oil in lamps… something I want to experiment with.

yellow kerosene lamp
yellow kerosene lamp

We plan on picking up some solar flashlights on top of these other things.

Use your daylight wisely. Go to bed soon after the sun goes down, and rise with the dawn. This way you won’t use up your resources “burning the midnight oil”.

Keep a supply of lamp and candle wicks, oil, and matches on hand.

6. Washing and Drying Clothes

Of course, if you have a creek nearby you can always wash your clothes in it, right? But what if you live in town?

My first back up plan was to make a “washing machine” out of a plunger and a 5-gallon bucket. We were thrilled to find an antique, wooden hand-crank washing machine at a yard sale over the summer, but unfortunately it ended up needing too much work to function properly. Eventually I ended up getting a plunger washer that I absolutely LOVE.

wooden hand crank washing machine
wooden hand crank washing machine

Though all you really need is a wash basin, scrub brush or scrub board, and a bar of soap!

Hang drying your clothes will be your main option without electricity. If you don’t already have a clothesline set up outside, I’d suggest you do so, or at least get the materials to do so, if possible.

You might also think about what you’d need to hang some stuff up indoors if the weather was bad. I got an expandable drying rack (this one) to put in my bathtub for hanging clothes on. Mine rusted after only a few uses, so be sure to get something rust-proof. I also got a retractable clothesline to hang over the kid’s bathtub.

Don’t forget to stock up on clothes pins. They break pretty easily.

7. Refrigeration

If you leave the fridge and freezer doors closed, the food inside will stay good for about 3-4 days. But once frozen stuff starts to thaw out, you’ll need to either can it, dry it in a solar dehydrator, or eat it quickly.

Though most of us can live without it, a good refrigeration method would be nice to have to keep food and drinks cool through the hot months.

A while back I shared how you can make a Zeer Pot to keep your foods cooler and fresher for up to three weeks.

Again, if you have a nearby source for running water, you can use the cool stream to keep your foods from spoiling as quickly by submerging them until ready to use.

8. Sanitation

Unless you have a composting toilet, power outages mean no flushing potties. If you are fortunate enough to live in a wooded area, then going to the bathroom won’t really be any trouble for you. But, if you live in the city or in town and can’t just dig a hole in your back yard, the build-up of sewage can become a very serious problem.

If going outdoors is not an option for you, I’d highly recommend that you stock up on trash bags. You can use smaller ones to line your toilet with, or you can use a 5-gallon bucket lined with a larger trash bag for very effective waste disposal.

This will at least keep things from spilling over and stinking up the place, and creating major health hazards.

9. Communications

If some major catastrophe has occurred, and lights are out all over town, it would be of some comfort, I think, to have some means of communication with the outside world. A good solar/hand-crank emergency radio is important to have on hand.

You might also consider some good quality walkie-talkies. If you and your family members have to separate over a fairly short distance for any particular reason having a way of communicating with each other could be life-saving.

old foxfire books 6 of 12 in total
old foxfire books 6 of 12 in total

10. Books

When the internet is down, and your phone-a-friend lifeline is no longer available, you’ll really be glad to have life saving “how to” guides on hand.

Look, I don’t know if we’ll ever need to use these suggestions or not. I pray, I PRAY we don’t. But like I said before, doesn’t it seem so much wiser to be prepared, just in case? What harm could come of having a back up plan? I am reminded of two quotes,

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

John F. Kennedy

Although I’m not sure in which context these phrases were being used, I do believe it easily applies to survival preparedness. The more of us who are ready to take care of ourselves in a crisis, the less strain there will be on those who come to help.

We all remember what happened when Katrina hit. It was a long time before any help did arrive, and those who depended upon it suffered horribly. I don’t want to see my children suffering, I don’t want to suffer… and I don’t want you and your family to suffer either.

Get prepared.

15 thoughts on “Living Without Electricity: 10 Essentials to Get Right”

  1. Canvas – Rus is a well established online company
    who have been creating beautiful canvas prints for many years.
    Defensive driving is a course that has been designed to teach techniques to defend oneself in
    the event of reckless driving of others. or before you even think about
    applying for another credit card.

  2. Great post. This is something I have been learning about too.
    I might mention under Sanitation.
    We might not have garbage pickup for whatever reason… The city/town etc. is bankrupt or something.So really consider how you would get rid of your “waste”.
    It is a huge cause for disease transmission. I would rank this right up with food and water.

  3. I LOVE this post! Excellent!!!! We have several of these books, but do not have all, and you have given us an EXCELLENT reminder!!! You are just too smart for your own good my friend!!! ;D I am SO happy you are back on FB…it is just SO much easier for me to find things when in a big hurry! ;D ((hugs)) Hope you’re feeling GREAT! –Sara(ma)….changed the name and feel MUCH better!!

  4. Hi, I just watched a show about this subject. According to their calculations based on Katrina, it takes only 4 days for people to mob and loot anyone and anything they can. We just bought a small cabin on a mountain and are working on it hoping to move up there this spring. Thanks for all the info you have on here, it will surely help. As of yesterday I was going to get rid of my big roller mop bucket but I have now changed my mind after reading the plunger article you shared and reading about wringing clothes with a bucket just like the one I almost got rid of!

  5. Great post! I don’t have the time today to look at every word, but I read through some of it and glanced through other parts. It’s fun to see how ready we are. Still it would be a lot of work to implement several things if the time comes soon, but there’s not much that can be done here. We rent and can’t implement several of the big things just yet, but we have a wood stove all oiled and covered on our back deck waiting either for a new home or the day when it doesn’t matter anymore and we just move it in.

    Then there is the Berkey system with special filters for the creek water. Extra clothes and blankets. Ram pump system that would allow creek water to run right to the house should the time come. Etc, etc. Oh, and the oil lamps too.

    One little point to add about safety (straight from my husband’s wisdom)… if you have light (either in the form of electricity or fire power) and no one else does, black out curtains of some kind may be a good idea. Others are sure to notice that you have something they may want.

  6. One additional thought on accessing water if you have a well.

    I have a well and I investigated ways to access the well water in case of a power outage. Installing a hand pump was estimated to cost between $3,000 and $5,000 by my local well company, so I kept looking for alternatives. I came across a “bailer bucket” as a cheap and reliable way to get to your water. A bailer bucket allows you to manually extract water, 1-3 gallons at a time. Basically, it is a long, skinny tube that drops down into your well and fills up through a one-way valve.

    You can buy a pre-made rig, or you can construct it yourself. All you need is some PVC, rope, and a one-way valve. It’s not the fastest way to get water, but it is a very cheap and reliable way to do it. You should be able to buy all of the parts for under $50 at any home improvement store.

    If you want to make it a little easier to use for smaller or younger people, you can construct a tripod pulley system to help pull up the bucket. That is just taking 3 pieces of metal or wood rods, forming it into a tripod, and attaching a pulley to the center of it.

    Here is a video that shows you how to construct a bailer bucket.

    I’m sure you can pay someone (handyman or well company) to do this for you for a couple hundred dollars, if you wish.

  7. My husband built our home with this in mind. We have a new, modern home built like an old 2 story farm house. Windows are energy efficient windows, but build floor to ceiling with a window directly across from it in every room. This allows for “air conditioning” during the summer months, but catching the cross breeze. We have a huge wrap around porch, that is covered, allowing for shade in the summer, and it blocks down-sweeping winds during the winter months.

    We have a wood burning fireplace in the living room, and our downstairs rooms open one to another to allow for good heat exchange. In the basement we have a hookup for a wood burning cook stove (which we have, but we still need to move it in and hook it up–it sits in the garage where he unloaded it after buying it at an auction. It is intact and does work). Both we can cook over, in addition to our outdoor fire ring and several grills. We also have a working antique propane cook stove in our kitchen, that we can switch to on a bottle should the power go out, in addition to our electric stove. We have tons of cast iron, and several years ago an ice storm brought it to use. On our list is to build an outdoor fireplace.

    We collect 1800-1930’s antiques, and when the power goes out, we put those to use.

    We have learned (through a friends misfortune) do not put all your firewood in one pile. They lost a 3 year supply when lightening hit it and it all burned. We keep ours in a barn stall to keep it dry, and other piles in various locations on the farm that we rotate into the barn if it gets wet and the barn pile is low.

    We have a well that requires no electric, 2 ponds and a creek. We grow our own beef, pork, fish, ducks and chickens, although they are mainly for the eggs. We also have horses that we could use for transportation if needed. We have guns so we could hunt for additional meat if needed.

    We have a heavily used clothesline, and washboards.

    We have the entire Foxfire book series.

    I’d like to find some sort of solar powered generator that would run a deep freezer….

    We also have a 5th wheel, which is easy to heat as it is smaller, and can run for several days on the propane we keep here on the farm.

    We keep candles stockpiled, and wax and wicks to make more if need be, and plenty of oil and lamps on hand as well.

    Our water, toilets and flushing do not require electric, neither does our septic tank, so that is a huge plus!!

    I love readying your post, you have given us some more ideas and things to think about.

  8. thank you thank you thank you…this is an amazing, informative post. I love your cook stove!! Wow…what a find. I’d love to have something like that…looks like it’s time to scour craigslist!

    I appreciate you taking the time to share all of this valuable information…I’ll be doing lots of clicking, reading and printing this morning. 🙂

  9. My boss just gave me a Christmas bonus – yay!!! I think I’m going to use it to get my hand-powered grain grinder and some grain to store in our cellar!!! Still envious of your wood stove 🙂

  10. Our Menards store sells crank flashlights with LED bulbs for about $6.99 each. They hold the charge a long time just laying in the drawer, and a minute of cranking is supposed to produce 20 minutes of light. We just bought a couple more on sale for $4.99.

  11. I think your post is excellent, Kendra. I really believe it is important not to bury our head in the sand and think that nothing will EVER happen. Each geographical area has it’s weakness, whether it’s a hurricane or an earthquake, a tornado or a blizzard; and these natural disasters are just one possibility! Our society is so fragile when you think about it; all it would take is for one utility to be “off line” for a few days and chaos would reign. So being prepared is really just the wise thing to do. I hope others heed your advice! (I was glad to compare my list of “preparations” to yours and see that I’m not too far off track getting ready for “whatever”. It takes time to prepare, so friends… get on it now!).


Leave a Comment