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Sep 7, 2011 10:21 AM

Surviving without electricity

Tropical Storm Lee just went through and we were without power for 30 hours. Not a lot compared to what others have been through, but it's the most I've had to endure since childhood when I thought 3 days without electricity was exciting. I remember my mother melting snow/ice on the gas stove and also cooking for our large family--plus some reform school girls whose bus got stuck in the snow. (But once the volunteer firefighters who came out to rescue the girls got stuck too, my mom was not happy with the "shenanigans" going on.)

But nowadays, a gas stove is no use when the electricity's out because you can't start it. Sitting in the dark unable to do anything at all without electricity and thinking of the food going bad in the refrigerator/freezer had me wondering what in the world the average suburban/city homeowner could do without electricty. We do have a gas grill that I assume would have worked, but we never tried it, seeing that it never stopped raining the entire time.

All we ate at home was cereal with milk then later on raisin bread with peanut butter and bananas. Wished there was a way to boil water as that would have opened up a few more options.

Just wondering if you have any ideas/thoughts/suggestions. We do not live on a farm or in the woods, so telling me to dig a cellar or build a fire will not be helpful. Raising cattle, pigs, chickens, and planting an orchard are also not options.

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  1. When I was without power for 3 days because of the '03 blackout I was still able to use my gas range. I just lit it with a match. Couldn't you have done the same? It really wasn't that much of a hardship. I just shopped daily for anything that could spoil.

    5 Replies
    1. re: melo7 you've all got me wondering. We just assumed it wouldn't work because it's got an electric starter and all the controls are electronic. I don't know how I'd test it now. Unplug it?

      1. re: Thanks4Food

        If your stove is like mine you'll need to turn it all the way to one direction or the other to initiate the electric starter. Just turn your gas on low and place a lit long match or something else that keeps your hands away from the gas and it should light right up. DO NOT HAVE THE GAS ON HIGH if you are using a short match.

        1. re: melo7

          When I don't want to bother finding a long match, I light a piece of spaghetti. Works everytime :=)

        2. re: Thanks4Food

          Ignition may be electric, but controls are manual. After all, you don't want gas to flood the house if power fails.

          Get one of lighters with a long neck. Even if it doesn't have fuel, they have usually have an ignition device that you can use to start the fire.

      2. First question...why can't you light your gas stove the old fashion way with a match?
        Do you have a garage that you can move the gas grill into?
        camping stove? torch? fireplace I guess is about candles? if you have enough candles you could put them together and rig a small pot to make the water boil. or maybe a galvanized bucket to make a fire in?
        Cheese, crackers, cans of soup?

        4 Replies
        1. re: ROCKLES

          The gas grill is fixed to the patio. If I had a camping stove and all that kind of equipment, I wouldn't have posted. And I'm not about to risk burning my house down by putting candles together and rigging a pot over them. Yikes.

            1. re: ROCKLES

              The first link is for using a diffuser for scented oil. The second is more along the right lines, but the candles are discontinued.

              1. re: Thanks4Food

                I think I hit the wrong link then, it was showing a tea light? candle/s heating water
                thought it was kinda cool idea, was trying to find you a safe way to use the candles. me I would just bunch them in a can and put a grill on top. Just tryin : )

        2. Dumb question: Why can't you light a gas stove without electricity?

          11 Replies
          1. re: inaplasticcup

            My MIL was without electricity for three days. She has a gas stove that normally lights with an electric spark. No electric spark.

            I just used a match to light it instead.

            1. re: DPGood

              That's what I usually do. I was wondering if there were other kinds of gas stoves that wouldn't even release the gas without electricity.

              1. re: DPGood

                I am definitely going to try this out, thank. Just never thought we could. There's some sort of "lock" feature to the stove top that's supposed to be for child safety--but I think it happens too when there's a power outage. That's why we didn't even try.

                1. re: DPGood

                  Just spoke to my husband who reiterated the point about the stovetop locking feature--that's why he didn't think to try. But we can see how there might be a possibility getting the top to light. What we don't know is how would we get the oven to light since there is no knob, just electronic buttons for temperature. Any ideas? I suppose I could contact the manufacturer and see if I can get a response from them.

                  1. re: Thanks4Food

                    I don't think you can use the gas oven because the temperature controls are electronic. The cooktop burners, however, are just controlled by the amount of gas feeding through them, so if you can light the burner you can use it.

                    1. re: Niki in Dayton

                      And a strand of spaghetti can be lit with lighter for length from gas.

                      We've lost power in snow and from Irene. Since we heat with a pellet stove, we've found out we probably should get a generator for that and our refrigeration, and water pump. I spent much time in the 'blizzard' last winter bringing in snow to melt and flush with for the 3 days we were powerless. The house never got below 59, and I was comfortable in sweats, and DH in sweats & jeans with long underwear.
                      We threw an extra quilt on the waterbed to preserve the heat in it, and that worked very well.
                      We were campers, so we really had no problems that didn't get solved. The heat would have been ok too, if 'SOMEONE' hadn't poopooed the amount of snow we were forecast to get and brought in the kerosene heater from the shed. It took him 3 days to dig thru the 30" of snow 250 feet back to the shed. And he had so dig paths for the dogs. And he is 70 yrs old.

                      1. re: Nanzi

                        It sounds like you have a well with an electric pump? My brother has a house in the country with a well. That is why he also has a gas powered generator. The house is wired so the generator plugs into the electric control box and he shuts everything down except the well pump, freezer, refrigerator, electric stove, and furnace. I don'tt know if he has tried to run all of that on the 5 kilowatt generator or not.

                        1. re: John E.

                          When you try to run more than the generator can handle, it's circuit breaker blows. Our small generator really doesn't like trying to run the microwave but does fine running the frig, freezer, some lights and the well pump all at the same time.

                          1. re: dfrostnh

                            Mine in Florida is 5500 watts, and runs a lot of stuff - window unit AC, fridge, microwave, lights in 3 rooms, TV, stereo, computer. You can add up your needs and determine a size. Allow a 20% margin for the momentary add'l demand when compressors and pumps kick on. And remember to exercise it a few times a year, and cycle gas at least every year.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              We, frugal New Englanders, are making do with a small, second-hand generator but thanks for the advice. Our usual power outages are in winter when we don't have a problem cooking or heating thanks to a wood stove and wood furnace. DH is a master electrician and has installed big, fancy automatic systems for OTHER people.

              2. ... not having at least enough food to live that long, comfortably and eating fun stuff, seems unimaginable to me. we'd be eating matzah, pickles, olives, plenty of salads...
                Keep some water in jugs, and get some good redibles.
                Or just build yourself a beer can stove.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Chowrin

                  And you don't need an electric can opener to open pickles, olives.
                  Here's some things to keep on hand for no electricity:
                  bread and crackers
                  honey and jam
                  jarred roasted red bell peppers and hearts-of-palm
                  3-bean salad, jarred beets
                  cheese is always better at room temperature
                  dried fruits
                  and so on

                  1. re: Rella

                    Look, I know perfectly well what I could buy that doesn't need cooking. That's not what I'm talking about: what I meant by my post is what if we had to go long-term without electricity. What if there was a major failure to the power grid?

                    1. re: Thanks4Food

                      For "long-term without electricty,"

                      for heat, I installed a ventless gas heater.

                      and also

                      I purchased a generator to generate electricity.

                      Hope this helps.

                      1. re: Rella

                        We also used old fashioned Sterno to at least heat (not really cook) foods when we were out of electric for a coupla days. Worked fine.

                      2. re: Thanks4Food

                        beer can stove. It's cheap, easy and effective. Use with couscous, pasta, anything that just needs a good boil.

                          1. re: Thanks4Food

                            Funny you should say "major power failure to the power grid". This just happened last night in the SW - parts of So. Cal, Arizona, Mexico. Thousands w/o electricty maybe 30 hours. It's the heat that'll kill ya out here. It was 107 in my town - Santa Clarita. Palm Desert/Indio and Arizona folk- 112! Forget about cooking food. How about not having any air con for this length of time in 107 degrees!

                            Keep camping equipment in your in house storage. Becomes very useful in situations like this. No electricity in the forest!

                            1. re: Thanks4Food

                              Years ago, I bought a portable butane stove for camping & eating out at picnic areas, with my kids. It was very easy to use (the butane comes in canisters).

                              Sort of like this one:
                              except mine had two burners.

                              I have an electric stove - now that you posted this, I think it would be good to get one just in case...

                              I also understand that we can't always predict when a major power failure might happen - running to the store (even w/predicted hurricanes, as with this last one) isn't the best thing to do (along with the zillions of others doing that).

                              During this last hurricane I was lucky that I'm in the Boston area, in a place that wasn't hit (many of our communities had flooding, etc), for many reasons - for one thing, it hit when I was out of food, and out of my food money (read: all money, lol). I just was going on a wing & a prayer, as I couldn't stock up like others were doing.

                              Made me think of those worse off than I was/am, and being in a crisis situation. Can't even imagine...

                        1. We have used a tiny propane camp stove, something back packers would use.
                          For light, in addition to my battery book light and my husband's nifty hat with the built in little lights, it's possible to rig up a lamp with a bulb from an RV store and a car battery. My husband is kept busy thinking up stuff like this and being able to read keeps me quiet.
                          You can also buy MREs at some army stores. They come with "heaters" a chemical wand that you activate (one time use). I would check out stores that carry camping supplies. Back in the 50-60s, we got little sterno cans in emergency kits.
                          And make sure you have a place where things with gas and flames can be safely used. You can google some advice about this. When I googled MREs, there's some info on Heater Meals which are shelf stable, ready to eat, that have their own heaters/chemical pouch.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: dfrostnh

                            Whatever happened to sterno anyway? It's a lot safer then horsing around with gas!

                            1. re: Berheenia

                              it's poisonous. use a beer can stove, at least that stuff isn't quite as bad (runs on deicer from the auto store)

                              1. re: Chowrin

                                Sterno is poisonous if you drink it. And then in large quantities. There was a bluesman whose pretty much died of his addiction to drinking a certain cooking fuel....


                              2. re: Berheenia

                                Sterno never went anywhere. It is still widely avaiable. It is basically a gel and alcohol mixed together, napalm in a can.

                                1. re: John E.

                                  I do have it in my emergency bin. Bought a few packages in the camping section at WalMart.

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    Aw, I love the smell of sterno in the morning...

                                    1. re: threedogs

                                      Yup, nasty stuff, but if it's the smell vs. coffee, coffee wins any time.