Licensed architects in over 17 states, engineers & builders of resilient, hardened homes, off grid homes, and other hardened structures, including shelters against severe storms, safe rooms, and nuclear fallout bunkers
Some thoughts on the February 2021 Texas Grid Outage- and How We Can Help Protect Ourselves.
In 2016, I was invited by Senator Bob Hall to speak at the 2016 Texas Grid Security Summit. I spoke on how to secure the grid during disasters, especially on residential level.
It came with great disappointment to open the news today to see the total number of deaths in Texas due to hypothermia has eclipsed 70 persons, in the Great State of Texas.
I fully believe many of these deaths were preventable.
In order to understand how we can prevent this happening in the future, we need to understand the cause. The best information I could find to outline what happened is the following interview by Juan at the Epoch Times with former Texas State Representative, Jason Isaac, Director of Life Powered, and member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation
long-term policy decisions and subsidies in favor of non-reliable sources of energy have resulted in LESS overall statewide utility grid energy supply and at a lower reliability level over the span of many years, in a state with a growing population/electrical utility demand.
Texas was under prepared for the growing demand and a rapidly developing emergency weather situation. This was combined on the night of February 14-15 with human error in the role of managing the utility grid causing power outages.
This crisis had been predicted by policy experts such as Mr. Isaac and the warnings were not heeded by utility managers and policy makers.
As individual citizens, there is little we can do to impact change to these polices. Even so, there are things that can be done and should be done at our own personal levels of control.
I would like to promote with this letter what you CAN do to vastly improve your success at surviving and even thriving through grid-down disasters.
Spirit of self-reliance. Engage your own need to be fully responsible for your own survival, there is no one to protect or provide for your own safety or security except for yourself. This can apply to many areas of life beyond the scope of this letter, but for this topic, accept that power outages WILL occur and plan your own family and home energy survival around this reality.
As soon as you accept the mental awareness that only you are responsible for your own survival and success during a grid down event, the easier it will be to see and take the path forward.
Have a source of off grid heating. A non-electric start indoor rated kerosene heater, a permanent wood stove, or fuel oil furnace are all options. Having at least the capability to heat some spaces in your home when the grid goes down will make a difference.
Have a source of off grid electrical power. Whether an outdoor only generator or battery backup system, which is safe for indoor use, with solar as a lower tier bonus power source, but never as a primary back up power source.
Protection of plumbing. You need this against freezing pipes to ensuring an off-grid source of water and Sewage disposal.
Personal medical awareness of cold related issues. Things such as frostbite and especially hypothermia, and what you can do to prevent and treat these conditions before they become life threatening.
Improving the energy efficiency of your existing home. Doing so via air sealing and improving insulation, especially at cold floor and windows.
Plan ahead and Network with others. This is so you have a place to go, and may even be prepared to help others, including a plan to evacuate and reliable means/vehicle to do so.
The development of an actual working plan for each of us varies with our own personal place in this world, but let’s start with an example plan of action even folks in rental homes can implement when permanent changes to the home are not allowed.
Specific Plan of action with actual products to select for a renter in an apartment or other rental home that does not allow permanent modifications to the structure where you live or an entry level price kit for a homeowner, in a small older house, or manufactured home, with a limited budget.
Kerosene indoor space heater which requires no electrical power and is indoor safe
Total cost to stay warm and Survive = about $230.00.
These are other basic items for surviving a power outage which may not be typical in your home, and are achievable, even in a rental homes where permanent changes are not allowed.
Propane/gasoline twin fuel generator. – IF you have access to outdoor space, at least an apartment balcony. These can run on propane tanks available at most home supply stores. Propane has a very long shelf life but should NEVER be used indoors.
Battery back-up device if no outdoor space. These cost more than a fossil fuel generator for the power achieved but can be run safely indoors and many can be combined with a small solar panel kit. Goal Zero was a premier vendor in this category, but many other vendors have stepped up to compete with them at lower prices per KWh per dollar:
Water supply mix of 2.5 gallon jugs and 50 ml bottles. Get this from your local grocery store.Water is a life supporting essential supply, then the power goes off, many municipal water supplies stop flowing because the water is driven by electric pumps.
Indoor alcohol or butane cooking fuel Sterno or similar.
Emergency radio with a crank back up power source. There are multiple radios that are well reviewed by multiple sources. I am going to recommend just two of these. The first one is by Midland, because they are a company which makes many reputable products we have experience with and the American Red Cross radio with a large crank, because we have seen flimsy cranks break on others.
For the homeowner who can afford to make permanent upgrades to the home.
Permanent off grid heating source. Your choice for permanent off grid heating varies greatly with your region and climate. We have lived with off grid wood heating for 6 years (and then kerosene for 2 years). Wide open plain states may or may not have readily available sources of wood for burning, so other sources such a kerosene, home heating oil, propane, or coal may be more appropriate. Our caution would be to never store propane fuel sources in your home, and while we are aware of propane powered stoves, heaters, water heaters, and even refrigerators, we would advise looking to other technology for more in-home safety.
Permanent off gird source of electrical power. We recommend a fossil fuel generator almost always, but there is some virtue to a large battery bank kept constantly charged by the grid such as either a bank of deep cycle batteries for a solar PV array, or the Tesla Power wall product. The battery option will be significantly more expensive than a fuel powered generator by 2x-4x, but it is silent and can be secured indoors.
Dedicated well with manual pump or a cistern. If you live where you are allowed a well, it’s a great source of independence from the grid you just need to keep it pumping, which your generator needs to be sized to handle. Plus, we have multiple years of success with the manual pump brand “Simple Pump” and other like the “Bison Pump” either can be plumbed into the pressure tank in your well house so the fixtures in the home function normally, avoiding any sort of bucket brigade to cart water to the home. A whole house water filter may be recommended, get a water purity test.
If you cannot have a well, you may be allowed a cistern, the most common size we found it a 2,000-gallon precast concrete tank that is delivered via truck and buried in the ground. But many rural homes have an above ground Poly tank to serve as a water source, either back up, primary, or for wildfire protection.
Frost protection of your plumbing is essential. In some climates, its normal for un-insulated supply line to be on the exterior of home, these all need pipe wrap insulation as a minimum and electric heat tracing if possible.
Off grid food preparation. above the tier of small Sterno or butane stove or even more functional than an outdoor barbeque grill is an indoor wood fired cook stove, these are now available in many tiers and some are seen as an elegant amenity to an upscale kitchen. Options from $500 to $5,000 listed below.
Home insulation upgrades. Insulating the home better will help vastly in its ability to retain heat. Air leakage mitigation is often worth as much as adding more insulation especially in older home. Windows (and especially glass doors) are the single largest source of leaks and direct energy loss in homes.
Attic space is often the most cost-effective place to add insulation. However, if your home is on a crawlspace, the most tangible human comfort is achieved by insulating the floor and air sealing leaks near the floor level, such as thresholds of doors. For any home over 10 years old, it’s probably time to look at doing BOTH.
Ditto for windows, any home with over 10-year-old windows can easily be double or triple the energy efficient with replacement units, and more tangible gains are made by eliminating all sliding type windows with crank out units, such as casement or awning type, especially the dual action tilt and turns. Windows are generally ¼ the insulation value of walls, so the more windows you have, the more window replacement to improve indoor comfort and energy savings.
Checklist of overall home winter storm preparedness items which we should do at least once.