When You Lose Power this Winter, Here’s What You’ll Need

Hey there, ReadyNutrition Readers!  Hope your winter season is kicking off smoothly and productively!  Here in Montana, I’ve been “battening down the hatches,” and dealing with all kinds of kooky weather and problems that are normal for this time of year, but can be very daunting, nonetheless.  I wanted to share with you how we’ve been dealing with these problems in the Johnson cabin, and some things we’ve learned may benefit you guys and gals as well.

Firstly, we’ve been having a tremendous amount of windstorms, and less than two weeks ago, a fifty-foot pine came down and missed the house, while grazing the rain gutter and taking out one of my downspouts.  Not much that can be done there.  When that tree falls, there’s nothing that’s going to stop it.  That being said, the time to remove trees is (of course) long past.  The past two weeks we have been losing power for one to two days at a time.


The wood stove (wood burner, if you prefer) is the answer to keeping the abode heated when the temperature falls.  This is crucial to keep your pipes from freezing.  The problem being when you heat the place up too much (you should see mine…it’s only about 3’x2’x2’ but can heat the place up to 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit in nothing flat).  Too much heat, and your food in your refrigerator is going to go bad faster.

I have learned in this case to just put one or two logs in to start, and then feed it with one log at a time.  This will enable you to keep the temperature about 70 degrees and not throw so much heat on the refrigerator.  For lighting, the best thing you can shake a stick at is the tea light.  You can pick up inexpensive tea-light lanterns, and position them throughout the house.  Get the ones that have a little hinged door, and a base that’s about 1” thick.  Such will keep anything it rests on from heating up.  One of these in each room, and you’ll be good to go.  The good news is the tea light candle will burn for about 3-4 hours.

You can pick up 50 of them in Wal-Mart (unscented) for about $2.75 a bag.  Put a fresh candle in each one of your lanterns, and preposition them in your rooms judiciously.  When the lights go out, it’ll make it a lot easier for you.  I also found a really nice deal on a flashlight.  It’s made by Coast, and has about 126 lumens (not a big light), but it has a nice wide beam and can be adjusted for a spotlight. This flashlight is very similar and comes with a two-way clip that works well on a baseball cap visor.  The best part is that it runs on just one (1) AA battery.  Runs you about $20 and will fit right in your pocket, as it’s about 4” in length.


Now with food: after a couple of days, you’re either going to need to hook up your fridge to a generator.  The other option is to seal up your most durable food that can take a freeze in plastic bags and place them outside in plastic bins.  You’ll have to gauge according to your geographic location.  You can use your frozen foods in the freezer to help keep your unfrozen foods cold for about another additional 24 hours.  Here in Montana, it gets cold enough that everything will freeze in general.  This works well with foods that are already cooked, and leftovers. As well, have these shelf stable foods on standby to have in your survival pantry for these types of emergencies.

Remember, with a wood stove, you can heat up your stuff in foil on a baking sheet on the top of the stove.  These actions can be taken after 48 hours, if you keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible.  Now, keep in mind: you must wrap the food in plastic and put it in bins, especially if you have either wolves or bears in your locale.  These winter scavengers (black bear…as the grizzlies are “snoozing”) are opportunistic by nature, and will come for a ready meal that is not “camouflaged” from giving off aromas.


Water is an issue that needs to be dealt with before the power cuts off.  I highly recommend purchasing at least two 5-gallon water jugs for each member of the family. Yes, that’s a lot of water, but each person needs about a gallon per day.  My family uses the Water Bricks for emergencies just like these.  Stock it up before the power cuts off.  A lot of people say that you can’t use snow, but that’s malarkey: put the snow in a large pot (5 gallon) and place it on top of the wood stove.  You’ll need that anyway to keep the wood stove’s heat from drying out all of the heat in the house, as the vapors from the steam act as a humidifier.  Plus, you’ll always have hot water available, another bonus.

I also highly recommend a “porta-potty” type sitting toilet, a chair-type with a bucket.  You can line that bucket with 5-gallon plastic bags, and with the use of baking soda on each visit, you can use a bag for 5 to 7 days per person.  It’ll save you water, big time, and in a long-term outage (such as forever, with an EMP), you can burn the waste or dispose of it in a pit outside.  This of course if you don’t live in Happyville, USA with ten thousand neighbors per square mile.  If you do, and it’s grid down, then the rules “change,” so to speak.

So, stay warm, and follow some of these tips to help you with your power outages.  You can turn it into a training exercise and have a few laughs along the way as you refine your skills.  It is good training for a disaster and for the days to come in the future, should the SHTF.  Have a great day, and keep your powder dry!  JJ out.

Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.

Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.

Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published December 15th, 2015
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One Response to When You Lose Power this Winter, Here’s What You’ll Need

  1. Lbagman says:

    Just a beginning ReadyNutrition reader but already I really enjoy your stuff. Here in PA I have a somewhat different approach to dealing with the need for winter heating during electrical power outages. We’ve had several over the last couple years lasting from a few hours to the better part of a week, others not far away had them lasting several weeks, ugh.

    Our house has a hot water/cast iron radiator system heated by a basement oil furnace which requires electrical power to run the fuel pump, combustion air fan, etc. Convenient but without electricity it won’t operate. Living in anthracite coal country, we decided to buy a coal furnace about 35 years ago. It is about 2/3rds the size of a washing machine, probably close to the size of your wood burner. In the fall we lay in a year’s supply of hard coal (5 tons), delivered via coal chute to a basement coal bin as was common a century ago.

    The manually fed coal furnace has a water jacket which absorbs the heat and distributes it throughout the house via the cast iron radiator system. Being in the basement, when the water is heated it expands and becomes lighter. This density difference allows the heated water to rise from the basement into all the radiators throughout the house. As the water gives up its heat in the radiators it becomes more dense and sinks back to the coal furnace via the return piping, establishing a natural circulation with no need for electricity.

    The coal furnace has a water jacket thermostat which adjusts the combustion air damper to keep the jacket water at the set point. The high mass of the cast iron radiators and circulating water helps smooth out temperatures in the house; with a little practice indoor temperatures can be kept within about 2 degrees of 70F. Usually the coal furnace needs to be manually fed twice a day during the coldest weather and ashes removed once per day.

    When I rebuilt the coal furnace a few years ago, I included a copper coil that heats 120 gallon domestic hot water storage tanks for bathing, etc. This water also functions as an emergency drinking water supply for 60 days for 2 people. The water has to be shaken to aerate it and minimize the flat taste.

    The coal furnace has a cast iron top which also functions as a cooking surface during emergencies.

    Regarding consuming snow for drinking water, critics of this use are correct in a very limited sense. In an exposed survival situation, if a person consumes snow to quench thirst the body heat required to melt the snow can cause life threatening hypothermia. As you describe, heating snow to melt it before consumption bypasses this issue. Of course the critics are correct when dealing with yellow snow.

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