Make Sure Your Bug-Out Bag Is Up To The Task

There have been many articles written about which items to keep in a bug-out bag. Everyone seems to agree that a water bottle, nonperishable food, a flashlight and batteries, a crank-operated radio, cordage, a fixed-blade knife and fire starters should be included; but the lists vary considerably after that.

What seems to receive less attention than the specific contents of a bug-out bag, despite being nearly as important, is the bag itself. In fact, a sturdy, reliable backpack is the first thing you should acquire before you start figuring out what you want to include in it.

Here’s what to look for when you make your backpack decision. It should be made of high-grade materials — if it feels flimsy when you hold it in the store, don’t buy it — and must include strong, wide and well-padded shoulder straps. There’s nothing worse than a full backpack with narrow straps digging into your shoulders as you’re walking. The straps also need to be adjustable because you may or may not be wearing a coat when you carry it. Make sure the bottom is reinforced and that it features an attached load-bearing waist belt.

The outside of the bag, which should be at least water-resistant if not completely waterproof, needs to include pouches, straps, zippers or buckles so that you can keep a variety of different items secure and easily accessible. Some people like a bright color for their backpack because it’s easier to spot if they’re lost. Others prefer drab or camouflage bags, which tend to be of higher quality.

One option for a bug-out bag, especially if you’re a serious hiker or camper, is a war surplus military assault pack. These packs can be found in war surplus stores or at online sites including Sportsman’s Guide and Cheaper Than Dirt. You can probably acquire a new one for about $100 and a used one for about $40.

Once you’ve selected your bug-out bag, proper maintenance is important if you want it to last for years. Among the things you can do to increase its life span is to soap the zippers if they get sticky and mend the seams when they fray. Clean it every time you’re finished using it, then restock it so it’s ready to go for next time. If your bag is not waterproof, spray on a quality water-repellent product annually.

How you pack your bug-out bag is also important. You don’t want it to be top-heavy or bottom-heavy. You want the weight concentrated on your center back, between your belt and shoulder blades. Place light and flat items, such as your poncho, trash bags, aluminum foil, rope, etc., at the bottom of the bag, and stack larger items on top of them. Then, start stuffing softer gear such as clothing and supplies in and around everything else.

Small items that you need to access frequently and possibly in a hurry should be kept in your bug-out bag pockets, in a fanny pack or on a utility belt. Items that you lash to your gear need to be secure so that they don’t swing or dangle, which can slow you down, not to mention annoy you and others.

Regarding fanny packs, buy one that is durable and husky with a strong, wide, load-worthy belt that will disperse weight better and is more comfortable on your hips. It’s a good place to keep your compass, lighters, cordage, bandana, sunglasses and insect repellent; and you can also sling on your hunting knife, canteen and other survival tools. An alternative to the fanny pack is a military utility belt with matching components and detachable storage pouches.

Reliable bags in which to keep your survival items are essential, so don’t scrimp on the quality of a bug-out bag. You may end up regretting it.

–Frank Bates

Go Solar Without Breaking The Bank

This is the second article in a three-part series on ways to save money while going solar.

In “My Solar Discount Secrets,” I provided tips for homeowners who have decided to go solar but who want to do it at discounted prices. The focus was on purchasing a manufactured solar panel system from a solar dealer. This article is about buying your components wholesale and having a contractor install them, while a future article will focus on buying your system wholesale and installing it yourself.

As discussed previously, the simplest way to execute a solar panel project is to hire a solar panel dealer to handle the entire job. Of course, that’s also the most expensive way to do it. One of the ways you can save money is by purchasing the components online or from a local dealer, then hiring a local contractor or a solar dealer to install them for you.

If you decide to go this route, following are four steps you’ll need to take to source your wholesale solar components for the best price.

Overview Of Options

One challenge that you may run into as you’re looking for the best prices on solar panels is that some solar dealers who have been around for a while have good relationships with distributors and possibly even with manufacturers. Because they buy in bulk, they can get better prices than the public can.

Compounding this issue for people who want to buy their own panels and hire someone to install them is the fact that some solar panel manufacturers will sell products to solar dealers but not to distributors. On the plus side, the prices for solar panels have dropped dramatically over the past decade, so your price might be comparable to what a solar dealer would charge you, due to his mark-up.

Still, it doesn’t make sense to buy panels yourself for roughly the same price that you would pay your solar installer for them. The keys are to make sure a solar dealer tells you exactly how their charges break down between materials and installation and, if possible, to find a distributor who will sell solar panels to you directly at a better price than you can get from a solar dealer.

What To Look For

The good news is that there are always online distributors slashing their prices on their overstocked inventory. Because solar panels are becoming more and more efficient, distributors will frequently scramble to clear out their “old” panels to make room for new, highly anticipated lines of more efficient solar panels coming from the manufacturers.

Here’s a list of a few online dealers who can offer discounted solar panels:


Negotiation Tips With Solar Dealers

Before you inform your solar dealer that you are considering supplying the panels and inverters yourself, wait for him to give you a full bid. That way, he will be pretty much locked into the installation costs that he’s quoted you. If you tell him about your plans up front, he may load up the installation side of his charges and lower the materials cost so that he can make a better profit off of you.

Once you’ve told a solar dealer that you may be supplying panels and inverters yourself for him to install, he will probably tell you that he can obtain those items for less money. He may be correct; but if you’ve found a deal for panels that are less expensive than the ones he is offering, tell him that if he won’t install them for you, you’ll find someone else who will.

Another way that a dealer might try to persuade you to buy panels and inverters from him is through a guarantee scare. He’ll guarantee the wiring and installation of the panels, but he might tell you that his warranty won’t cover any problems with the panels themselves. If you’ve acquired reliable panels, that shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Find Components Online

If you are fortunate enough to have a solar retailer within driving distance, go there in person and talk to one of the floor sales reps. They should be knowledgeable about the pros and cons of the various panels they sell, and they should be able to point you in the right direction to find a solar dealer to install the system for you.

Otherwise, you will probably have to do some Internet searching if you’re choosing to buy the balance of system (BOS) components yourself. There are numerous online solar BOS retailers available, but check them out thoroughly through the Better Business Bureau and through customer reviews to find the most reputable ones. If you’re paying for new panels, make sure you’re not getting used ones.

Warranties and power tolerances are also very important. A common guarantee is 90 percent of the rated power for 10 years and 80 percent of the power for 25 years. A 200-watt solar panel with a power tolerance of plus or minus 10 percent means that the panel may produce 10 percent less than its nameplate rating of 200 watts.

An inverter is another component where you may be able to realize big savings. Larger inverters are more readily available now than previously, so most residential systems will require only one central string inverter. Most grid-tied inverters fail between years 10 and 15, so try to find the longest warranty possible. Don’t forget to keep shipping charges in mind.

If you’re confused about anything in a manufacturer’s offering, call. The manufacturer wants your business and should be willing to do whatever it takes to get it, including answering all of your questions.

A few top-selling solar PV panel manufacturers are:

  • Sharp Solar
  • Sanyo
  • Kyocera
  • SunPower
  • Canadian Solar
  • Suntech

A few top-selling solar PV inverter manufacturers are:

  • SMA America
  • Fronius International
  • PV Powered
  • Xantrex
  • Enphase Energy
  • Solectria

Assuming you’re willing to put in the time to find deals on solar panels and inverters, the “Buy Components Wholesale/Contractor Install” strategy might be the best way for you to save money on your solar project.

–Frank Bates

Would You Eat Insects If You Had To?

There could come a time in your life when you are stranded in the wilderness. It’s cold. You’re thirsty. You’re hungry. Really, really hungry.

You might be faced with a choice:

  • Eating insects to provide you with a little protein until either you find your way out or help comes.
  • Or feeling very weak and very hungry.

While insects are a staple of some folks’ protein around the world, the thought of eating bugs is disgusting to most Americans.

But you might be surprised how much less revolting eating insects would be if you felt like you were starving to death. (Then again, it might still seem pretty gross, even in that situation.)

So if you decide you’re going to fill part of that empty space in your stomach with creepy, crawling bugs, there are a few things you should know. First of all, bugs are generally high in protein and some minerals, but they are so small that you’re going to need more than just a few to satiate yourself.

Secondly, it’s important to know which bugs to avoid. For example, if you notice a foul odor from a bug after you’ve grabbed it, don’t eat it. If a bug doesn’t even bother trying to avoid you, such as a beetle, let it keep marching on its way.

If the bug you have your eye on is brightly colored, like a caterpillar, leave it be because it’s probably toxic. Some beetles, spiders and ants can be eaten, but others shouldn’t be. If you don’t know which is which, it’s best to just say no.

So what’s left? Well, if you can capture larvae, grubs, termites or worms, bon appetit. Depending on where you are stranded, earthworms could be the easiest food source to find. If you can hold them down, feel free to eat as many as you want.

Probably the least nauseating bugs to eat, if you can catch them, are grasshoppers, crickets and locusts. They’re high in protein, minerals and nutrients. But avoid them if they are brightly colored. And if you see plenty of cockroaches around, have at them.

The best way to prepare these grasshoppers and roaches is to first rip their heads off and clip off their ankles and feet. Then, skewer what’s left on a wire or thin stick and toast them over your campfire coals. If you use enough seasoning, you might be able to convince yourself that you’re eating something else.

If you’re feeling adventurous, scorpions are definitely edible and high in protein. But you have to make sure you cut off the first two end sections containing the poison and tail-tip stinger. Scorpions can be eaten raw and alive, or you can roast them over a campfire like a kabob.

Eating bugs in the wilderness or desert will not be like eating them in fancy Asian and French restaurants, where you’ll pay an arm and a leg for the bugs’ arms and legs. But if you’re hungry enough, you might find some of them to be a crunchy treat that will hold you over until you find your way home. At that point, even if you’ve been on a healthy diet lately, the golden arches will look pretty inviting.

–Frank Bates

My Solar Discount Secrets

This is the first in a three-part series on ways to save money while going solar.

Most of us would agree that solar is the way to go when it comes to powering our homes, even if we haven’t yet taken the steps to do that. The savings are significant, with a recent article in the Boston Globe revealing that a Massachusetts family saw its winter power bill drop from about $500 to $110 per month due to the addition of solar panels.

But some of us shy away from going solar because of the start-up costs. Even if you know how to do the installation, pre-made solar panels, wind turbines, solar air heaters and solar water heaters can be expensive.

Following are some tips for those who have decided to go solar but who want to do it at discounted prices. Today, I’ll focus on purchasing a manufactured solar panel system from a solar dealer. In future articles, we’ll get into buying your components wholesale and having a contractor install them, as well as buying your system wholesale and installing it yourself.

Buying A Manufactured System

When you hire a reputable solar dealer, the main advantage is that the dealer will do all the work. Of course, this will cost you more than the do-it-yourself route; but it may end up providing you with the most professionally installed system with some good guarantees.

First of all, it’s very important to interview several solar dealers in your area. The first one you speak with may seem great; but by interviewing four or five, you might find one you like better. The more dealers you speak with, the more you’ll learn about the solar industry, which will help in your eventual decision making.

Resources for finding a solar dealer include:


Make sure that your solar dealer has earned an Installer Certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. This challenging exam requires both considerable knowledge and field experience to pass.

On-site consultations usually last an hour or less, and some dealers with larger firms may say they’d prefer to handle it over the phone. Don’t get turned off by a dealer who wants to do a phone-only interview the first time, as the dealer will probably be looking at Google images of your house while talking with you and may be able to provide a lower price due to the volume of business.

You may learn something valuable during these interviews, most importantly whether your house is even suitable for solar installation. Most houses are; but if your house is shaded much of the year, it might not be right for solar panels.

Among the things you should look for when communicating with a solar dealer and his staff are their professionalism and what kind of experience they have in your city or county.

The best dealers usually have the most knowledgeable sales staffs. If they seem like they either can’t or don’t want to answer your questions, move on to the next one. Experienced dealers will know, for example, that certain inverters match up better with certain PV panels, which may match better with your roof layout. They’ll know which solar panes perform better with low light than others do, or in hotter temperatures.

Because each city and county has its own unique set of codes and permit requirements, a solar dealer who has already done work in your area will be able to get through the process faster than one who hasn’t. You don’t want to be part of their learning curve.

You can also check out a solar dealer with your local Better Business Bureau, and ask him for references from previous clients.

It’s OK if a dealer has a couple of “resolved complaints,” as nobody is perfect. But if there are numerous negative reports or “unresolved complaints” about a dealer, you should probably look elsewhere.

The recommendation here is to call at least two of the references you’re given by each dealer. Ask them detailed questions, including:

  • Was the installation on time?
  • Were there any unexpected delays in the process?
  • Did you have any complaints and were they dealt with properly?

Because you will probably only be given the names of satisfied customers, spend a few hours driving around town looking for the company’s signs in yards and then ring a few doorbells to learn what their experience was with that company.

Follow up your dealer interviews by asking two or three of them to prepare a bid for you. Don’t just automatically take the lowest bid. You might not always be comparing apples to apples, and a careful examination of the bids might reveal some inconsistencies in pricing, installation and warranties. Request a “not to exceed” proposal that will protect you from extra costs should there be installation problems.

When you’re closing in on your final decision, use these negotiating tips to maximize your discounts:

  • If your roof is easily accessible from a second story window, you may be able to save on installation time and costs.
  • If you can get a neighbor to work with the same dealer, there may be some savings due to reduced travel time for the dealer.
  • If you are flexible with your installation time, a dealer may reduce the price to do it a few weeks down the line if he’s busy, rather than right away.
  • If you like a particular dealer but want him to come down a little on price, show him a lower bid from a competitor.
  • Ask the dealer if he offers referral fees. If so, let friends, family and neighbors know about your system and the savings you’re anticipating.

Regarding warranties, try for 10 years and settle for five if necessary. And make sure you run your contract by a lawyer.

Going solar is the way to go, but be a smart shopper along the way.

–Frank Bates

How To Survive When Lost In The Wilderness

As a middle school kid, I spent one of the scariest hours of my life lost in the woods. I wandered away from our family’s campsite and didn’t see another human being for the next 60 minutes. The only people more terrified than me were my parents, who split up and went in different directions calling my name until I heard them.

As my friend, Orrin M. Knutson, points out in his book, Survival 101: How to Bug Out and Survive the First 72 Hours, 150,000 people on average get lost in the woods and wilds overnight or longer annually in America. Even more are stranded or caught in natural disasters. Few are prepared and some of them don’t make it out alive.

Outdoor specialists have developed an acronym to help us remember how to react when lost. It’s “STOP,” and it stands for “sit, think, observe and plan.” The idea is that as soon as you feel that you may be lost, you probably are. You just don’t know yet how lost you might be. When that happens, stop in your tracks and do the following:

  • Sit: Take a break, cool down or warm up. Relax your body and your mind. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, gather your wits and control your emotions before fear and panic set in.
  • Think: Those who live in urban areas think with their watches. They have schedules to keep. But once you’re lost in the wilds, none of that stuff matters. Never chase the clock or try to beat sundown, because you’ll lose every time. After calming down, think about where you are now compared to where you started. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get your bearings and determine the general direction back to safety. However, if the sun is going down, think about how you are going to get through a long, cold, dark night and “defend in place” (DIP). With no survival tools, you must immediately begin to improvise an adequate shelter, find safe drinking water and possibly start a fire.
  • Observe: Carefully observe by taking a serious look around. Even with no map or compass, you should have some recollection of landmarks in the distance in relationship to where you began your journey. Observe details as far out as you can. If that doesn’t help, refocus and observe your nearby surroundings. You are looking for a good place to hunker down and wait for help to come to you. Look for a ready-made shelter or shelter and fire building materials not far from a water source.
  • Plan: After sitting, thinking and observing, try to find your own tracks so you can plan to retrace your steps tomorrow. Once you’re certain of your return direction, make some kind of marker (a stone or log arrow) pointing back the way you came. Plan to DIP for the night and backtrack on yourself come morning, hoping that the weather doesn’t obliterate your tracks. Immediately plan for a fire and a shelter, and plan to find water. Plan to let experienced searchers find you. If you plan to bug out, be sure to leave obvious signs and markers for rescue trackers to follow.

Defend In Place

If you have to DIP, stay where you are, hunker down and wait for help to come to you. Whenever you’re lost, stranded or forced into survival mode, it is wisest to DIP whenever possible. Although this isn’t always practical due to mandatory evacuation orders, changing environments or other conditions beyond your control, it is generally your best and easiest defense for most common survival events.

The need to DIP becomes almost mandatory if someone is incapacitated with broken bones or internal injuries. The best advice here is to stay within a safe line of sight of the crash. Render first aid the best you can to yourself or others. Even if you are alone and injured, “bite the bullet” and do whatever it takes to make shelter and fire and to find water. Then, wait for help to come to you. Here is where your “will to live” and savvy are imperative.

The DIP rule also applies to weather catastrophes when you are at home, as long as your living quarters remain structurally safe. If a companion, neighbor or family member is injured, avoid the temptation to take off and go get help, leaving the injured party behind all alone, unless you determine it is absolutely necessary.

Finally, if you know in advance that you’re going to be in a situation in which getting lost in the wilderness is a possibility, take steps to protect yourself from hardship by being proactive, learning a few primitive skills and carrying basic survival gear at all times on every outdoor adventure.

–Frank Bates

Here’s How To Prepare For The On-Your-Own Experience Most Of Us Will Have

Ever since I started working my first full-time job, there’s something I’ve been looking forward to: retirement.

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed some of my jobs through the years, because I have. And it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed many of the people I’ve worked with, because I have. It’s just that my ultimate goal in working has always been to earn enough money so that I could retire comfortably and spend my retirement years doing things that I never had time to do before.

But for many American adults, the concept of retirement is scary. Some of us don’t know when or if we’ll ever be able to retire, thanks to a struggling economy, an iffy Social Security situation and a new healthcare system that is being called an accident waiting to happen by many people. Those of us who are nearing retirement age or who have already retired are facing some serious challenges.

We’re certainly not alone. According to a study conducted in 2013 by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 57 percent of Americans say they have total household savings and investments of less than $25,000 (excluding their homes and benefit plans), 28 percent say they do not believe they will have enough money to retire comfortably when the time comes, 54 percent say they have not yet tried to calculate how much money they will need for retirement, and 39 percent of retirees (and more than 50 percent of workers) say they have a problem with their level of debt.

Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take — right now — to help weather the storm and live as comfortably as possible during your retirement years. It’s a very basic, three-step plan:

  1. Earn as much money now as you can.
  2. Secure what you’ve saved.
  3. Cut your expenses.

If you can successfully accomplish those three tasks, you’ll be in better retirement shape than most Americans.

Earning Money

The more money you have heading into retirement, the more likely that you will have enough to live on through your retirement years. Some suggestions for generating cash now are below.

  • Sell stuff: Hold a garage sale or put items up for sale on eBay or Craigslist that you no longer need, including books, clothes, furniture, records, glassware, china, etc.
  • Market your skills: Depending on what talents you have, you may be able to earn cash by making clothes or quilts, restoring furniture, fixing broken appliances, pet sitting, etc.
  • Turn hobbies into cash: Your favorite hobby may be creating things that other people are willing to purchase.
  • Rent your space: If you have room in a basement or garage, you might be able to rent that space to someone looking to store some of their items. Or perhaps you could rent out a room in your home to someone looking for a place to live.
  • Maximize Social Security: By waiting as long as possible to receive Social Security checks, you can increase the amount you will receive.
  • Tutor: Many parents have children who are struggling in one or more subjects in school. If you have expertise in a subject such as math, you could be a tutor to some of those children.
  • Baby-sit: Many parents would rather have a middle-aged or older person they trust babysit their kids than a teenager.
  • Pet-sit: People who love their pets are willing to pay to have them cared for in their homes while they are at work or on vacation.

Securing Money

It can be argued that the U.S. economy is improving, although very slowly. But some economists say that this “improvement” is an illusion and that the real evidence points to a coming recession far worse than what we experienced starting in 2008. Regardless of who is right, it’s important to secure your money for retirement.

One Forbes magazine economist strongly recommends short-term Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) if you’re concerned about a financial meltdown in the U.S. It’s a safety net you should be ready to use if necessary.

Otherwise, one formula for diversifying your portfolio now is 50 percent stocks and 50 percent bonds. A safe portfolio is 20 percent stocks and 80 percent bonds, while a risky portfolio is 80 percent stocks and 20 percent bonds. A more detailed recommendation is 30 percent U.S. stocks, 30 percent foreign stocks, 10 percent high-grade bonds, 10 percent high-yield bonds, 10 percent Inflation Adjusted Treasuries, 5 percent Precious Metals and 5 percent Real Estate Investment Trusts.

It’s important to have a plan that factors in how much you’ve saved so far, how much more you’ll need, your spending habits, inflation, expenses that will go away with retirement and others that will arise, the cost of your health insurance, and all of your income sources, including Social Security.

Cutting Expenses

Limiting what you spend is just as important as earning money. Following are a few things you can do now to cut back on spending:

  • Downsize your home: If it’s just you and your spouse living in the house, a smaller house or condo might save you money each month.
  • Sell a car: If you have two cars and don’t drive as much anymore, selling one of them would give you cash now and save on maintenance, repairs, insurance and registration fees.
  • Travel smarter: Check into savings you can gain by traveling on certain days of the week. Look for deals.
  • Get senior discounts: Many restaurants, hotels and other businesses offer discounts for seniors, so take advantage of them.
  • Avoid impulse buys: These break budgets more effectively than just about anything else.

–Frank Bates

Bartering In A Post-Collapse Society

One of the reasons that some people don’t bother thinking about or preparing for a disaster is because they believe they have enough money to get through it, no matter how bad it becomes. They’re used to drawing upon their wealth to take care of problems, so they assume that their finances will come to the rescue again if necessary.

But if we ever experience a total financial collapse — and some people believe the signs are pointing in that direction — no amount of money in the world will help. Any number of events could thrust North America into that horrific situation, including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could keep funds locked inside banks for weeks, months or, possibly, years.

Regardless of your financial status, it’s important to remember that we may find ourselves in a scenario wherein money is meaningless. In a post-collapse society, it’s entirely possible that the only things of value will be the goods we have stockpiled and the skills we possess, both of which we’ll probably use for bartering.

Backtracking for a moment, the most essential items that you can store now are food and water for yourself and your family. Start with a 72-hour supply and then, as you’re able, graduate to supplies representing one month, three months, six months, a year and longer. In addition, stockpile as many non-food items as you can, including flashlights, batteries, blankets, clothing, etc. (See my 22 Non-Food Items To Hoard For A Crisis article for a starter list.)

Once you have those emergency items stockpiled in at least two locations, it’s time to start thinking about which items you can hoard and which skills you can acquire that will be useful in a society that has reverted to the bartering system for everyday personal commerce.

There are a countless number of items you could decide to hoard for bartering, but you’ll never be able to stockpile everything. The key is to choose items that will give you the biggest return on your investment. In other words, the items for which there is the largest difference between what they cost you now and what they will bring in trade later. Another important consideration is shelf life.

Food and water will probably be the two most sought after items in a post-collapse society. But trading your “extra” vital sustenance could be a little risky, as we probably won’t know how long it will be before things return to normal and we’ll be able to obtain those items in stores again.

For your bartering supply, you may be better off choosing items that many others don’t think to stockpile, but which will be in high demand, including alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and candy. Other items include (in no particular order):

  • Water filters and water purification tablets.
  • Fire-starting devices.
  • Flashlights.
  • Batteries.
  • Paracord.
  • Non-genetically modified (non-GMO) seeds.
  • Gasoline and oil.
  • Precious metals.
  • Clothing.
  • Medicines.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Soap.
  • Candles.
  • Toilet paper and other paper products.
  • Tools, nails, screws, work gloves, etc.
  • Manual can opener.
  • Reading glasses.
  • Baby products.
  • Hygiene products.

Now, think about the types of skills you may wish to learn or hone that will have at least as much value and maybe more in a post-collapse society than they do today. Among them could be:

  • Small-engine repair.
  • Gun repair/cleaning.
  • Appliance repair.
  • Medical services.
  • Construction/building.
  • Welding.
  • Farming.
  • Hunting.
  • Blacksmithing.
  • Sewing/mending.
  • Protection/defense.
  • Psychology/counseling.

Two final things to consider. Don’t let those with whom you barter know the extent of your supplies. If they learn that you possess many more supplies in which they’re interested, they may just use that ammo they acquired from you to come back and try to relieve you of them. And because there will probably be a significant amount of lawlessness in a post-collapse society, don’t forget to store the weapons you’ll need to protect what you’ve stockpiled.

–Frank Bates

35 Effective Ways To Slash Your Power Bill

Many people are looking for ways to slash their power bills, especially after this past winter, which in certain areas of the country was the coldest on record. The amount of money that many of us shelled out to our local utilities last winter in order to keep the heat going was enough to sabotage any budget.

One of the best ways to cut utility bills is by getting off the vulnerable electrical grid as much as possible. Four ways to do that are by installing solar panels, a wind turbine, a solar water heater and a solar cooker at your home. Regardless of whether you are able to do that, there are many additional steps you can take in order to reduce your power costs. Following are 35 of them:

  1. Use natural lighting as often as possible by keeping shades, curtains and window treatments above the windows open during the day.
  2. Regardless of whether you’re using standard light bulbs or energy-efficient bulbs, keep in mind that using one high-wattage bulb is less expensive than several low-wattage bulbs.
  3. Turn off lights when they’re not being used, even if it’s just for a short time.
  4. Adjust light levels to what is needed. Lights frequently don’t need to be as bright as they are in a room.
  5. Incandescent light bulbs have lower price tags compared to other bulbs, but they are actually more expensive to use. LEDs use 10 times less energy and last 50 times longer than incandescent lights.
  6. Laptop computers use less energy than desktop models. Turn them off overnight, as well as your printers and monitors.
  7. Unplug your battery chargers when your devices are fully charged. Chargers continue to draw power when they’re plugged in, even if they’re not connected to a device.
  8. Installing aerating, low-flow faucets and showerheads is a great way to reduce water consumption. The shower is the biggest user of hot water in a household.
  9. Shortening your shower times will cut hot water usage and use up less energy from your hot water heater.
  10. Cover bare floors with carpeting or throw rugs, which will aid with heat retention. Wear layers at home in winter so you can keep the thermostat lower.
  11. Conduct a room-by-room vent inventory and make sure that each one is clean and not covered by furniture, drapes, articles of clothing or other objects.
  12. Replace air filters regularly, including ones for furnaces, exhaust hoods, humidifiers and vacuums. Sometimes, less expensive filters are better for airflow than more expensive brands.
  13. Whenever possible, run full loads of laundry rather than partial loads. An average family can save 3,400 gallons of water per year by running full loads.
  14. Wash your clothes in cold water, which will allow the hot water heater to take a break and will save on energy and money. Nearly 90 percent of the energy consumed by a washing machine goes to heating water.
  15. Next time a new dryer is needed, purchase one that includes an electronic sensor that shuts off the dryer when clothes are dry.
  16. Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load. A clean filter allows the dryer to work more efficiently.
  17. Use your dishwasher’s air-dry setting. If it doesn’t have one, you can turn the dishwasher off after the rinse cycle, open the unit’s door and allow the dishes to air dry.
  18. Set the refrigerator temperature to between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep meats and fish lower in the refrigerator, and fruits and vegetables higher. The freezer should be set between -10 and 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  19. Clean the refrigerator and freezer units once or twice a year, including removing dust from condenser coils, fins, evaporator pans and motors.
  20. When it comes time to replace a refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, clothes washer or dryer, and other electrical appliances, choose energy-efficient models.
  21. As much as possible, use small appliances, including toaster ovens, slow cookers and electric skillets, which use less energy than larger appliances.
  22. Use cold water when operating the garbage disposal. Grease can be solidified much easier in cold water than in hot water, moving it efficiently through the disposal and pipes.
  23. Use portable electrical space heaters when the entire house does not need to be heated.
  24. Limit the use of fireplaces, which can let more heat out of a house than they produce within the house.
  25. Set the home thermostat to 68 to 70 degrees during cold days and 65 to 68 at night. In the summer, set it to 78 degrees.
  26. In the winter, leave drapes, blinds and window shades open during the day to enable the sun to heat the home. During the summer, close them to keep the heat out.
  27. Get a tune-up for your heating, ventilating and air conditioning system once a year. Never stack anything against it or drape anything over it.
  28. Ceiling fans, which use no more electricity than a standard light bulb, can be used in various rooms instead of an air conditioner. They should turn in a counter-clockwise direction in the summer and clockwise in the winter.
  29. Make sure that all ductwork is properly sealed. Even a small leak can be a big energy waster.
  30. Plant trees on the sunny side of your house to keep it shaded during the hotter months. They can also help block winds during the winter.
  31. Put outdoor dusk-to-dawn lights on an automatic timer. Or consider using motion sensor lighting only.
  32. Grill meat and other food outside whenever possible in order to avoid using the oven.
  33. Insulate your attic, which will allow for less energy usage to keep the house warm.
  34. Insulate around windows and doors by weather stripping and caulking areas where there are air leaks.
  35. Conduct an energy audit on your home to determine where the house is losing energy.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to incorporate a significant number of these tips in order to save on your power bill. But even if you only start with a few of them, it will be worth it.

–Frank Bates

How To Build A Solar Electric Garden Fence

Gaining food independence is a big step in our overall effort to become self-reliant. Maintaining a good food supply is crucial to being able to both survive and thrive in a post-disaster society.

Growing your own food is one of the best ways to reach your goal in this area, but sometimes little critters can pose a big problem. A standard fence may keep rabbits, deer and other animals out of your garden; but an electric fence will probably be much more effective.

Of course, an electric fence is going to be more expensive than a standard fence, but there’s a way to solve that issue. An easy fix that uses that great big power plant in the sky — the sun — is a low-maintenance solar electric fence. And it’s even less expensive if you build it yourself.

Your cost for a solar electric fence should be about $200, assuming your home garden is roughly 50 feet by 50 feet. And this system should last for at least 10 years, so the cost of protecting your food source is very low.

Here’s what you’ll need to build your solar electric fence, and nearly everything is available at ranch supply stores, or

  • 200 feet of polytape or electric wire
  • 24 fiberglass support rods and plastic insulators
  • 4000+ volt fence charger with 12VDC input
  • Copper rod for grounding the system
  • Deep cycle battery from a boat or marine store
  • 5w-10w 12VDC solar panel for charging the battery
  • Deer repellent and cloth strips.

Installation is relatively easy. Start off by driving the corner posts around the outside perimeter of the garden. Then, space the remaining poles 8 to 12 feet between the corner posts to keep the charged wire tight. Next, string the wire between the posts about 3 feet off the ground, or higher depending on your critter problem. You can also run several lines around the posts at varying levels if you are concerned about rodents and rabbits.

Before connecting the wires to the fence charger, attach repellent-soaked rags about every 4 feet along the wire. This will ensure that deer won’t try to jump your wire setup and will stay clear. You may also want to set up a “gate” where you can enter the garden without turning off the fence. Then, attach the fence wire and grounding rods per the instructions on your fence charger.

Finally, connect the fence charger input to the 12 VDC battery and attach the appropriate leads from the solar panel to the same terminals on the battery. With a simple setup like this and a fence that is presumably on most of the time, you shouldn’t need a charge controller. If you take the fence down for the winter, then also disconnect your battery and solar panel, and store them in a safe place.

It’s a good idea to test your fence occasionally to make sure it’s still running. I shouldn’t have to tell you, but don’t do this with your hand! Use a simple $5 voltage meter. If you notice that your wires are often dead, you may need an additional solar panel and battery. This is common for longer fences and fences that are often touched by animals.

Now you can enjoy your garden and its bounty without worrying about your furry friends ruining dinner.

–Frank Bates

Everybody Should Be Prepared For Flooding

Before the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that resulted in the deaths of more than 230,000 people in 14 bordering countries, many people didn’t know much about this phenomenon, especially in the Western Hemisphere. But tsunamis have been around for a long time and can cause a huge amount of damage.

High Water Sign in Flooded Neighborhood

A tsunami is a series of waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of water. The impact is usually limited to coastal areas, but the resulting flooding can have enormous destructive power. Although they have nothing to do with tides, tsunamis are more likely to look like a rising tide than a typical wave as they roll toward shore. Scientists still have much to learn about tsunamis, including why some smaller ocean earthquakes can cause larger tsunamis than some larger ocean earthquakes.

We in North America rarely encounter tsunamis, but most of us are familiar with flooding problems. Included in U.S. flooding history have been the Johnstown Flood of 1889 that killed 2,200 in Pennsylvania, the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 that resulted in 246 deaths across 10 States and the Ohio River Flood in 1937 that killed 385 in six States.

Fortunately, more recent flooding in the U.S. has resulted in far fewer deaths, but it has still caused significant damage to homes, businesses, sewage systems, roadways, bridges and crops, and has produced widespread power outages. All 50 States have experienced some flooding or flash floods in the past five years, so no one is immune.

How serious is the threat? Flash floods can bring walls of water from 10 to 20 feet high, a car can be carried away by just two feet of flood water and just a few inches of water from a flood can cause thousands of dollars in damages.

And while flooding doesn’t cause as many deaths in the U.S. as it used to, from 1983 to 2012 flooding resulted in more fatalities than tornados, hurricanes or lightning, according to the U.S. Natural Hazard Statistics.

A big problem – which many people don’t discover until it’s too late – is that most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. From 2003 to 2012, total flood insurance claims averaged nearly $4 billion per year. Also, Federal disaster assistance is not a gift… it’s a loan with interest.

Having an emergency response plan in place in the event of flooding is important. Your 72-hour survival kit and bug-out bags should be prepared in advance, and your important documents should be organized.

Preparation is the key. Following are four action steps you can take before flooding occurs in order to be better prepared:

  • Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood map site to discover whether you are in a flood plain and where the nearest high ground is located.
  • If you are a property owner, especially in an area prone to flooding, make sure you have sufficient flood insurance.
  • Be sure to have an emergency radio that tunes into reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
  • Practice your escape plan with your family. Going through the motions now will help when the time comes for the real thing.

If flooding has already started or seems to be on the way, here are four steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:

  • Because you may need to move to higher ground on short notice, tune into emergency radio and be ready to move quickly.
  • If you’re driving and you see standing water ahead, stop. Six inches of water is enough to stall out most cars, and it may be deeper than it appears. Same thing if you’re on foot. Fast moving water can carry people off. Stay away from streams, sewer drains and drainage canals.
  • Know the difference between a flood warning and a flood watch. If the situation appears to be worsening, stop what you’re doing and get to higher ground right away.
  • If there is time to evacuate your home, turn off all of your valves, unplug appliances and move your most expensive items to the highest possible point of your home.

Following the flood threat, take the following four action steps, keeping in mind that the threat may only seem to be over:

  • Don’t walk into any standing water. There could be objects in the water that you can’t see, including electrical wires.
  • Continue to listen to emergency radio. You may be informed of a secondary threat of which you were not aware.
  • Keep your eyes focused on potential hazards, including broken glass, downed power lines, ruptured gas lines and damaged structures. And keep in mind that standing floodwater could be contaminated by gas, oil, sewage or chemicals.
  • Remain away from the area until city authorities declare that it is safe to return.

-Frank Bates