Follow these 10 water storage techniques

Nobody wants to try to survive on little or no food for any length of time, but the fact is you can probably go several weeks without food if you absolutely have to. What you won’t be able to survive too long without — especially if you are out in the sun — is water. It doesn’t take long for dehydration to kick in. And when it does, the end can come quickly.

At any time, we could be propelled into survival mode, caused by severe weather or other natural events, including wildfires, earthquakes, droughts, tornadoes and floods. When the power gets knocked out and supermarket and convenient store shelves empty quickly, people will be willing to do just about anything for clean drinking water.

Stockpiling at least one month’s worth of drinking water might seem like an obvious way to keep yourself and your family from dying of thirst, but it’s amazing how many people never take the time to do it.

Others have spent time storing drinking water for an emergency. But when a crisis rolls around, they discover that their supply has been sitting around too long or was left in a place where severe temperatures and/or exposure to light compromised the water’s quality.

Starting today, refuse to be one of those people who starts thinking about an emergency supply of properly stored water after a disaster strikes. By following the 10 water storage tips below, you’ll be able to provide your family and yourself with life-giving water when a disaster strikes:

  1. Store various sizes of water containers. Water is very heavy. If all you have is large containers, not everyone in your family may be able to comfortably handle them. This is especially important if you and your family are forced to go mobile in a crisis.
  2. Select food-grade barrels. Blue, polyethylene plastic storage barrels for large quantities of water are popular. They’ll also help differentiate your water from your fuel and won’t taint your water with toxins.
  3. Clean the containers. Before filling them with water, dilute 1 teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water and wash the containers thoroughly, including insides, lips and lids. Never store water in a container that’s been used to store something else.
  4. Place labels on your containers. Clearly mark the date you filled the container on each label, as well as the source (filtered water, tap water, groundwater, etc.).
  5. Keep it in a proper place. Make sure your water containers do not have access to sunlight, which can result in bacteria and algae growth. A cool, dark place away from chemicals is best. And only use containers with airtight lids.
  6. Secure the containers. Think in advance about which areas in your home would most likely be affected by a disaster and keep the containers out of there. Avoid high places and keep your water locked away if you think looting could be a possibility.
  7. Don’t let your water freeze. Frozen water could break its containers. Plus, you might not have time to wait until it thaws before you need to drink it.
  8. Filter your water. If necessary, filter your water before you store it. If not, it’s still a good idea to have a water-filtering plan in place in case your water becomes contaminated.
  9. Replace your supply regularly. Yes, it could last for a long time if stored properly, but replacing it at least once a year is a good idea.
  10. Keep additional water containers in a separate location. If your home is destroyed in a disaster, your home water supply is likely to be ruined as well.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of stockpiling water for a crisis, make sure to do it right so that it’s ready and waiting for you when you need it.

–Frank Bates

Pick a practical present for the prepper in your life

Just about everyone knows that a survival knife is an absolute necessity for a bug-out bag. Unless you’re planning to check into a luxury hotel when the SHTF, this is an item you might not be able to live without following a disaster that forces you out of your home. It could literally save your life — over and over again.

But if a survival knife is the only cutting tool in your bug-out bag, you’re going to encounter a number of problems you could have avoided by adding more. Other cutting tools can go a long way toward making your outdoor experience more manageable until you’re able to return to a normal lifestyle. This is especially true if an emergency situation lasts longer than expected.

First, let’s take a look at the types of survival knives that are best for bugging out. Then, we’ll go over the reasons for including other cutting tools with multiple uses. You don’t need every one that I’ll mention, but this variety will give you a few choices. As we go along, you can determine which ones you’re most likely to require.

Survival knife

As mentioned, a quality survival knife is essential for everybody. Some people call it the most important item in a bug-out bag that you can’t eat. Expect to pay at least $40 to $100, and don’t skimp. Your survival knife should be a single-edge, fixed blade, 6 to 8 inches long and made of quality steel. The heel of the knife should be flat.

Make sure the handle is comfortable in your hand. Comfort and ease of use are much more important than fancy designs, creative ridges and other ornamentation. This knife is for survival, not for show. The hilt — the protruding guard between the blade and the grip — needs to be solid because it’s what will prevent your hand from sliding down the blade when you’re applying pressure while cutting. Finally, you should keep your knife in a leather, web or composite sheath to that you can wear it on a belt for easy access.

The types of survival knives that you don’t need are overly large knives that look impressive but are difficult to maneuver, and ones with double-edged blades that have no heel that you might need for splitting wood. Whatever knife you have, don’t use it as a pry bar. Once the blade breaks, it will be useless.

Now for some other cutting tools that will come in very handy when you’re in a bug-out situation.

Lock blade folding knife

Make sure you have a medium-size lock blade folding knife with a blade of 2½ to 4 inches with a leather holster, web belt pouch or external belt clip. This knife will be more convenient for smaller jobs, and you might be able to get a good one for $20 or so.

Multi-tool

Another item that should be in your bug-out bag is a multi-tool. You’re better off spending $40 to $80 for this tool than $20 because the quality of steel will be better. A model with all of its blades and tools locked will prevent them from folding back on your knuckles while you’re using it.

Some of the features to look for with this item are a folding set of needle-nose pliers with wire cutters, screwdriver blades, a can opener, course-tooth file, a small saw or fish-scaling blade, ruler markings, a boring awl and a fold-out lithium LED flashlight. All models should have at least one pocket knife-sized blade, some of which are straight and others serrated or partially serrated. Multi-tools are great devices, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they can replace your main survival knife.

Small knife

If you have both a quality survival knife and a multi-tool, a pocket knife or pen knife is not essential, but it doesn’t hurt to include one. For about $10 to $15 you can get a small or medium Swiss Army knife to handle finer tasks, including removing splinters.

Scalpel

A couple of sterile-packed disposal scalpels should be part of your first-aid kit in case you need to perform very minor surgery on yourself or someone else.

Ax or hatchet

Not everyone is going to choose to include an ax or hatchet in a bug-out bag, but if you think there is any chance you might have to construct a wilderness shelter and/or cut firewood for more than a couple of days, it could come in handy and will be worth the extra weight. This one-piece item with a steel blade should be at least 12 inches long, and you can probably acquire a good one for $25 to $30.

There are a couple of other options for axes, but they have their drawbacks. A lightweight, compact camp ax with a synthetic material handle and titanium blade that won’t break or corrode is easy to handle, but requires considerably more effort to get the job done properly. A modern tactical ax looks like a tomahawk with a pickax on the rear of the cutting head. This item tends to be expensive and can’t be used as a hammer.

Regardless of your ax choice, make sure it comes with a complete head scabbard or reliable blade guard. Otherwise, it will shift around in your bag and could cut other gear or the bag itself. An option if you prefer not to carry an ax is a folding camp saw. Some of them look like giant lock blade knifes (12-18 inches when closed). They run about $20.

Sharpener

Finally, keeping your cutting tools sharp is imperative both for their usefulness and your safety, as dull blades will require you to work harder and increase your injury risk. A pocket sharpening stone or sharpening steel device can be found at sporting goods or cutlery stores.

Nobody knows how long a bug-out experience might last, so it’s best to error on the side of caution and include a nice variety of cutting devices in your bag. You’ll be glad you did.

–Frank Bates

10 ways to protect the essential items you’ve stockpiled

We talk a lot in the survival space about stockpiling items such as food, water and other essentials for an emergency and about having a fully stocked bug-out bag ready to grab at a moment’s notice. We also encourage people to have a generator handy for when the grid goes down, as well as weapons to protect yourself and your belongings.

But you can’t be home all the time. Maybe we don’t talk enough about ways to protect what we’ve spent a significant amount of time and money to gather for an emergency. Below are a few reminders about how to do that.

  1. Install secure doors. A door is the most likely entry point that an intruder will use, so keep your doors locked whether you’re home or away. Solid wood doors or metal-clad doors are effective.
  2. Upgrade your locks. Grade 1 or Grade 2 deadbolts, accompanied by heavy-duty brass strike plates, should keep doors from being kicked in.
  3. Install secure windows. You don’t want windows that can be manipulated from the outside. Keep your windows from opening more than 6 inches. Consider installing mounting brackets now so that you could quickly install window bars later if necessary.
  4. Secure the perimeter of your home. Install motion sensor lights all around your home. Fences can be climbed, but having one might be enough to make an intruder choose a different home. Keep shrubbery trimmed to reduce the number of hiding places on your lawn.
  5. Install an alarm. The louder the better with an alarm. Even if you don’t have a full-fledged security system in place, the noise itself could scare away an intruder. Post a sign regarding your alarm near the entrances. Make sure your children know how important it is to keep alarm codes confidential.
  6. Secure breach points. Take a walk around your home — inside and out — and look for areas where someone could enter without much trouble. If there is a seldom-used door to the outside, install a 2-by-4 barricade on the inside.
  7. Join a neighborhood watch group. If one is not already in place, you may have to take the lead here. Neighbors watching out for neighbors can be an effective deterrent against burglaries.
  8. Have a dog. Being a dog lover, I think this is a good idea anyway. But if your dog can also make your home safer, that’s all the better. Dogs can be trained in defense — or at least to bark when they hear a noise outside. If you can’t have a dog, you can still post a “Beware of Dog” sign in your yard.
  9. Don’t make it obvious you’re away. When you’re out of town, lights on automatic timers are very effective. Make sure newspapers aren’t delivered while you’re gone, and try to keep a car in your driveway. A trusted neighbor is important to have while you’re away.
  10. Have a family emergency plan. If people are home when an intruder enters, every family member should know exactly what to do, in advance. Getting out of the house quickly is best. But if that’s not possible, a previously designated “safe room” is where any family member should head if they’re not trained to use a gun. Always keep a pair of tennis shoes, a flashlight and a cellphone by your bed.

Protecting your emergency stockpiles now is very important. Protecting them after the SHTF will be even more crucial. As someone who has prepared, you will be in the minority and you could become a target. So start now to make sure your home defenses will keep the looters outside your house during a crisis situation.

–Frank Bates

How to build a child’s bug-out bag

Assuming that you have your adult-sized bug-out bag packed and ready to go, it’s time to start putting together a bag for each child or grandchild in your life.

Children come in many different shapes and sizes, but a general rule of thumb for a kid’s bug-out bag is that its weight should not exceed one-quarter of the child’s weight. Depending on whether you decide to use an existing kid’s backpack or purchase a new one, the two main keys are wide and cushioned shoulder straps and a reinforced bottom. Right behind in importance are a strong waist belt, outside gear straps and buckles.

Just because this bug-out bag will be customized for a kid 6 years old or older, that doesn’t mean it should be filled with “kid” stuff, such as video games, toys and candy bars. This isn’t a picnic or vacation you’re preparing for here. It’s all about survival. Once you have all of the essential survival items packed in your child’s bug-out bag and the weight isn’t too much, you can squeeze in a few comfort items.

And now for what should go inside a child’s bug-out bag. I’ve purposely included more items than you will have room for in order to give you some choices.

  • Emergency whistle. This is a crucial item for anyone, but especially for a kid because it’s a safety net for him. If the child is mature enough to not blow the whistle for fun, he can wear it on a lanyard around his neck. If children or grandchildren get separated from you while gathering wood or another activity, they can use the whistle to alert you to their position.
  • LED pocket flashlight. Kids will feel much more secure having their own flashlight, although again it’s important to make sure they understand that it’s not a toy. A hand-generator light is your first choice here, but a younger child may be better off with a smaller, palm-sized LED. Make sure to pack extra batteries as well.
  • Water bottle or canteen. Like adults, children need to stay hydrated if they’re going to be able to maintain their strength in a survival situation. Younger kids can get by with a water bottle, while older children will appreciate a canteen.
  • Water purification tablets. Hopefully, you won’t run out of the water you take with you when you bug out. But if so, water purification tablets will come in very handy. A lightweight LifeStraw, which removes 99.999 percent of waterborne bacteria and parasites, would also be a great addition to a kid’s backpack.
  • Mess kit. Each child should have a complete mess kit in his bag, including a plate, cup, bowl and utensils.
  • Emergency space blanket. Because they take up so little room when folded compactly, put two emergency space blankets in your child’s bug-out bag. It could get very cold if you have to sleep outdoors or in a car overnight.
  • Poncho or raincoat. Keeping the kids’ regular clothing as dry as possible is very important. A poncho or raincoat should accomplish that task. This is another lightweight item that will take up very little space in a backpack.
  • Bandanas. Several brightly colored bandanas will fold up nicely in a bag and will serve a wide variety of purposes, including as a signal, pot holder, sling, sunblock, sweatband and washcloth, as well as for cleaning glasses and other lenses.
  • Extra socks and gloves. Pack at least two pairs of warm socks for each change of clothing you’re including in the bag, as well as at least two pairs of gloves or mittens. Your child’s extremities will get cold, especially if they become wet.
  • Hat and wool knit cap. Kids can wear a baseball hat during the day to keep the sun off their heads and a wool knit cap at night to stay warm.
  • Winter coat and windbreaker. Even in warmer climates, it can get pretty chilly at night. Make sure the jacket has a warm hood. A warm sweatshirt could also do the trick.
  • Footwear. In addition to the sneakers they’ll probably have on when you leave the house quickly, pack a pair of hiking boots or waterproof boots in a tote within the bag.
  • Mosquito net. There may be areas where you have to walk where mosquitos or other bugs will be plentiful, and this item will keep the annoying flying creatures off of the kids’ faces.
  • Towel and washcloth. Your child can use these items to wash their faces and/or wipe sweat off their brows.
  • Toilet paper. Rolls of toilet paper are nice and light; but unfortunately, they’re bulky. Still, you don’t want your child to be without this essential item, so include at least one roll per child. Wrap rolls in a plastic bag to keep moisture out.
  • Pocketknife. This is an item that you’ll only want to include if your child is old enough and mature enough to handle a knife.
  • Food. As a general rule, kids should eat the same survival food that you and your party are eating after bugging out. Below are some other items they might enjoy:
    • Hot chocolate mix. A soothing, warm beverage may be just what they need after a time of walking. It will also provide them with the energy they need to go on.
    • Energy food. This could include granola bars, trail mix and hard candies. This is not the time to worry about your kids’ sugar intake. They’ll need the calories. You can return to healthy eating patterns later.
    • Dry breakfast cereal. Single-serve cereal boxes are a handy way to get a meal into your kids. The boxes serve as “bowls” and then can be used as tinder if necessary.
    • Powdered milk. This is something they can use with their dry cereal or just as a drink during meals. They’re a little on the bulky side, but necessary for your kid’s contentment.
    • Single-serve packets of power drink mixes. Kids love them and they last for years.

If your children or grandchildren are old enough to carry a backpack, they will be happy to do it. It will make them feel like a vital part of the team during a survival situation.

–Frank Bates

Cordage types and their uses in the wild

Almost every time I see a list of items that should be part of a survival kit, cordage is included. Most people assume that means rope. While that is accurate, and while I agree 100 percent that cordage should be included in your bug-out bag, I want to make sure everyone understands exactly what it means and the various uses you can get out of it.

First of all, in terms of survival items, cordage is an umbrella term that includes everything from nylon string to metal wire to various thicknesses of rope to super strong parachute cord. I’m even going to throw duct tape into this conversation because even though it is not technically cordage, it can sometimes serve the same purpose in a pinch. In fact, duct tape can save your life in a variety of ways, but that’s a subject for another day.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these items and why they should be in your bug-out bag. Even if you are not an expert in the use of these items, somebody else who you encounter in the wild just might be, and the fact that you have these items could help you form a much-needed partnership.

Nylon string or thread

You should have at least one and maybe two spools of nylon string in your bug-out bag. It’s inexpensive and there’s a lot you can do with it, such as binding shelter rafters together, making snares and fishing lines, and even bundling firewood or brush to make carrying it easier.

If you ever had to, you could actually make a length of “rope” by braiding several lengths of nylon together. And in an emergency, you could use string, duct tape and a portion of a brightly colored poncho to make a kite that could be seen for miles by rescuers. Of course, you could also use thread for its more common purpose of sewing tears in pants, shirts, jackets, etc., but don’t forget to pack a couple of sewing needles.
Metal wire

There may be times when you need thin cordage that is stronger than nylon string, so carry a 20-foot coil of metal wire. Choose fine raw steel wire rather than copper or electrical plastic insulated wiring. It will wrap your food better and keep it from falling off the spit and into the campfire ashes when you’re cooking it. In fact, anything that you expose to fire will be better wrapped in metal wire than in thread.

Rope

The single most important usage for rope in the wilderness is dragging heavy items back to your campsite, including any game that you may have killed. You could easily fit a 50-foot piece of nylon rope at the bottom of your bag and/or lash an even longer piece to the outside of your pack.

Rope will really come in handy if you have to cross a body of water that is over your head. Place all your gear in doubled or tripled trash bags, tie the rope to it, swim across while holding the rope and then pull your gear across.

Parachute cord

Also called paracord or P-cord, this lightweight but very strong cord will pull heavier objects than rope will. A 50-foot spool with a 550-pound test strength is only about 10 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, and will run you only a few dollars.

It can also be used for binding logs, reeds or bamboo, as well as for constructing load-bearing items, including snowshoes. When braided together, paracord has been known to be used to pull a car out of a snow bank.

Cordage could be key to your survival someday, so make sure to pack a variety of it in your bug-out bag.

–Frank Bates

Cheap solar system? DIY

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

In “My solar discount secrets” and in “Go solar without breaking the bank,” I provided tips for homeowners who have decided to go solar but who want to do it at discounted prices. The focus in the first article was on purchasing a manufactured solar panel system from a solar dealer. The second article was about buying your components wholesale and having a contractor install them. This article focuses on buying your system wholesale and installing it yourself.

This third option is similar to the second in that you need to shop for the best prices in solar components. But there is more work involved in learning how to install the solar system yourself.

The easiest way to accomplish this option is to purchase a turnkey solar system, acquiring all of the components necessary to successfully install a fully functional solar system from one vendor. There are several places you can find turnkey systems that already have inverters and other components that match the power produced from the solar panels, but it is your responsibility to ensure that your system meets local building codes.

Dangers

For adventurous and handy homeowners, the complete do-it-yourself option is very appealing. Keep in mind that wiring solar panels on a roof requires heavy lifting of panels up a tall ladder, working in an environment that can be hot and working for sustained periods in elevated spaces.

There is always risk when doing work on a roof, but with a solar PV system you add the extra element of dealing with high voltages. You must be aware of the potential risks when choosing to install your solar system.

That said, there are some substantial savings that you can realize by installing a system yourself, assuming you do it correctly. While you may not be able to save much on the rail and the various hardware pieces needed to fasten panels to the roof’s substrate, you will save on labor costs.

Due to the inherent dangers of installing a solar system, the insurance is quite high for a solar dealer. Couple this with the fact that solar system installation is demanding work. For a full day’s work with three installers, you can expect to be billed at least $500 a day for labor alone. Assuming that the solar installation will take a crew of three installers three days, you are looking at $1,500 in labor costs that you may be able to avoid by installing the system yourself.

When attempting to do the installation yourself, you should adhere to these four steps: Get educated, check your local rebates, check your local codes and examine your roof.

Get educated

There are several sources you can tap into to receive proper training to install your solar system. Sources such as Power4Patriots that offer detailed, step-by-step instructions are key. In addition, more and more community colleges and universities are offering courses designed around renewable energy systems. By enrolling, you can gain valuable insight into your solar system and save time during the self-installation.

Check your local rebates

Some of the various rebate programs nationwide require you to select a solar dealer from their list of approved dealers. The savings seen by installing a system yourself in some cases are wiped away by the loss of rebates.

Also, a federal tax credit of 30 percent is currently available for U.S. filers who have recently installed a solar system. This is referred to as the federal investment tax credit, or ITC. The 30 percent credit is applied to the total cost of the system, installation included. That means that whatever you are quoted by your solar dealer for the installation, you will get 30 percent of that back when you do your taxes (in addition to 30 percent of everything else). For example, if you are charged $10,000 for the installation, your net cost is only $7,000 after the federal ITC.

Check your local codes

One of the more popular options for the complete do-it-yourselfer is to buy a full turnkey solar system, which can be bought with all of the various components needed, right down to the nuts and bolts. All you need to do is determine what size system you desire based upon your electrical usage. They will bundle everything together for you, including the panels, inverters, rail, wire, etc. This is typically a little more expensive than buying all of the components separately, but it can save you time by simplifying the process.

One thing these turnkey kits can’t account for, however, is the local codes that must be addressed. Some jurisdictions are stricter than others and may require more disconnect switches, thicker gauged wire, etc. Checking with your local inspectors is a great way to ensure that you will have everything up to code when they are called. If you are planning to tie into the local power grid, even if you are very knowledgeable regarding electricity, most jurisdictions require you to retain the service of a master electrician when dealing with the AC distribution panel.

Examine roof

If you plan on doing the installation yourself, you shouldn’t have any problems climbing onto your roof to check the shape of the shingles and roof. A visual inspection from the inside of the attic is a good idea, if possible. Check for the structural integrity of the rafters or trusses, as these will be your support for dead weight and uplift from the panels.

Conclusion

When deciding which of the three options to pursue when going solar, the first thing you should do is check local rebates. If they require that you work with an approved dealer, you may want to avoid climbing on your roof. If no strings are attached to rebates, invite solar dealers to your home to begin the bidding process. Even if you choose to do everything yourself, their expertise could help save you time and money.

The great news is, regardless how you go about doing it, going solar will save you money. How much money you save will be determined by how much you personally want to get involved in the project.

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:

  • Solar-sphere.com
  • Wholesalesolar.com
  • Solarelectricsupply.com
  • Affordable-solar.com
  • Mrsolar.com

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:

  • findsolar.com
  • seia.org/cs/membership/member_directory
  • solar-estimate.org
  • nabcep.org/installer-locator

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, acehardware.com or spheralsolar.com:

  • 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
Credit: THINKSTOCK

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

Cash Could Be King After A Crisis

Have you ever seen the television commercials in which lines at a store’s checkout counters move briskly when customers are using the sponsor’s credit and debit cards, but slow down considerably when someone has the audacity to use cash? The implication is that if you don’t use the sponsor’s cards for your purchases, you’re an out-of-touch dweeb who inconveniences all those around you.

Those advertisements always rub me the wrong way because there are a number of reasons why cash can be preferable — including for budgeting purposes. But I’m guessing those commercials are even more offensive to victims of disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., last year.

Storms such as those have caused long-lasting power outages and left millions of people in the dark and the cold (or the heat), and they’ve also rendered many ATMs temporarily useless. Even some of the machines that were still working following the disasters saw lengthy lines before they ran out of cash.

People with cash in their wallets were not holding up any store lines during the days and weeks after those types of disasters. In fact, in some cases they were the only ones able to purchase items that they needed. With many electronic store terminals down, usage of credit and debit cards was very limited.

The fact is it makes sense to always have cash on hand. If you don’t, you might find yourself in the position of not being able to purchase the items you need when you need them the most. Cash could end up being the only acceptable form of payment when the electrical grid goes down.

So if you’ve decided it’s a good idea to keep some cash available for yourself at all times, the next step is figuring out the best way to keep it safe in your home. The key is to select places where a thief would not think to look. Hide it so well that an intruder might be looking directly at the container in which it’s hidden and not even consider trying to find it there.

Following are some suggestions:

  • In a can of soup. Open the can from the bottom, enjoy the soup, rinse out the can thoroughly, put your items in the can, replace the can bottom and place the can at the bottom of a stack of other canned goods.
  • In a zip-top baggie. Put two pieces of Styrofoam around it and then wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil and place it in your freezer.
  • In the soil of a fake plant, within a zip-top baggie.
  • Between two pieces of cardboard backing within a difficult-to-reach picture frame.
  • In an envelope under a heavy object such as an entertainment center.
  • Inside a never-used toy relegated to the back of a closet or in a toy box.
  • Inside a hollowed-out candle.
  • Inside a laundry detergent box.
  • Inside ironing board padding or within the hollow legs of an ironing board.
  • Inside a clearly marked Christmas decorations box.
  • Inside an otherwise empty shampoo or hairspray bottle.
  • Inside a water-tight plastic bottle in a toilet tank.
  • Inside an envelope taped to the bottom of a cat litter box.

The last place you want to hide your cash is the first place that burglars look, so avoid:

  • Sock drawers. Very possibly the dumbest place to hide something. You might as well mail money in advance to the burglar.
  • The back of a wardrobe closet. Unless you live in Narnia, not a good idea.
  • Inside a shoebox. Seriously?
  • Inside a soup can that’s sitting on a bedroom dresser. Right item, wrong location.
  • Inside a laptop. Any pride you feel at successfully opening up a laptop and hiding cash in it will dissipate quickly when you realize the laptop was stolen.
  • Medicine cabinet, clothes pockets, briefcase and underneath a mattress. All bad ideas.

Finally, make sure you remember where you hid your cash, and that family members don’t throw away any items in which you’ve hidden cash.

Note from the Editor: Round two of the financial meltdown is predicted to reach global proportions, already adversely affecting Greece, Spain and most of Europe. It appears less severe in the states because our banks are printing useless fiat currency. I’ve arranged for readers to get two free books—Surviving a Global financial Crisis and Currency Collapse, plus How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization—to help you prepare for the worst. Click here for your free copies.

–Frank Bates

Anything Can Be A Weapon If You Need It To Be

I love those lists of people’s greatest fears. Dying is usually up there near the top, as are public speaking, being trapped in a small place and being exposed to germs. Then there are the fears of flying and falling, heights and depths, being alone and being in a crowd. And there’s my personal favorite: a fear of clowns.

Those of us who have been victims of a home invasion probably agree that it’s a lot more frightening than speaking to a group of people, suffering from claustrophobia or looking at a guy with a big red nose and paint on his face. There’s almost nothing more terrifying than suddenly realizing there’s an intruder in your home.

If someone breaks into your home while you’re there, your window of opportunity for reacting effectively to protect yourself and your family will probably be very small. You have to make every second count in this situation, and you will be able to accomplish this only if you are fully prepared.

If you have a gun and can access it quickly, that’s obviously the best response to discovering a home intruder. If you don’t own a gun or are unable to get to it swiftly enough, you will need an improvised weapon. You may be thinking of several items that could double as a weapon if necessary. By the time you finish reading this article, your list will have grown considerably.

Get Out Of Dodge

Even if you had 50 improvised weapons at your disposal when you realized someone who didn’t belong in your home was there, it’s possible that your four best self-defense weapons would be your legs and hands.

If there is an escape route, take it. Don’t stop to think about it or hesitate for any reason. Just get out. Use your legs to run toward the nearest exit, and use your hands to knock things over behind you to slow down the intruder.

Of course, if you have people in your home you need to protect, you’re not going to run away. But if you’re alone, escaping might be the most prudent thing to do. That’s not being a coward; it’s being smart.

Stay Alive In Your Living Room

If you’re sitting in a living room or dining area when an intruder enters, there should be a number of items you can grab and use as a club or spear, including tall vases, candleholders, statuettes, large bowls or ashtrays or fireplace pokers.

With a dining room chair in your hands, you can go on the offensive by charging your attacker. Make sure to hold the chair so that the legs are facing him in a diamond shape rather than a square. A wine bottle could be used to strike him, or you might want to throw it toward his face.

If you’re alone in the house when an intruder enters, immediately yell something toward the upstairs such as, “Honey, call 911! Now!” It’s unlikely that the intruder will know for sure whether you are alone; and if you’re lucky, he may respond by quickly leaving the house.

If He Can’t Take the Heat, Stay In The Kitchen

Nobody wants to face a home invader, but if it had to happen, the kitchen would probably be the best room in which to defend yourself. Talk about an arsenal! Your first choice would be to grab two sharp knives and start swinging them in the direction of your assailant.

Aim for the spots that will debilitate him quickly, including the face and groin. If you can jab an object such as a knife into the underside of his chin in an upward motion, you might be able to floor him. Remember to hang on tightly to knives as you’re swinging them.

Other options while in the kitchen are frying pans or rolling pins for bashing, a butcher’s block for smashing, scissors or broken glassware for gouging, a meat cleaver for chopping, and an ice pick for stabbing.

Doing your best Nolan Ryan imitation, throw items at an intruder such as canned goods, plates, coffee cups, a cordless phone or a nice, thick tumbler. A mop or broom handle could also do the job, especially a broken one with a jagged edge.

Bathroom Brawling

The bathroom would seem like a bad place to be confronted by an intruder, especially if you’re “occupied” or he’s bigger than you are. But at least you’ll have a locked door to slow him down while you’re getting ready to defend yourself.

Among your options for self-defense here are a shower curtain rod, a towel rack or a toilet plunger, which you can use as spears. Or grab some hairspray and spray it in his eyes. If he’s screaming and holding his eyes, this would be a good time to grab your ceramic toilet tank lid and bash him over the head with it. Even something small like a nail file could be a good puncture weapon.

Other Weapons

There are probably plenty of other items in various rooms of your house that could be used as weapons, including:

  • Fire extinguisher: Spray him with the white stuff and clunk him with the red thing.
  • Flashlight: This makes for a nice bully club-type of weapon. If you incapacitate him with it, you can shine the light on his head to see what kind of damage you inflicted.
  • Golf club: Pretend like you’re trying to drive the green on a par 4.
  • Baseball bat: We’re looking for the long ball here, not a bunt. Your first shot should be to a kneecap. If you land a solid blow there, he may be unable to run toward you.
  • Tools: The sharp edge of a hammer, the point of a screwdriver or a heavy wrench might be enough to make this tool think twice about breaking into your house again.
  • Belt: If you have nothing else to grab, quickly remove your belt and try to catch him in the face with the buckle as you whip it toward him. And whip it good.

Shields

In a confrontation with a home invader, you may have to go on the defensive first. Among the items you could use to fend off attacks until you’re able to take an offensive position are a metal cookie sheet, chopping board, backpack, trashcan lid or briefcase.

If you’re able to at least temporarily stop an attack with a shield but don’t yet have an opportunity to grab an offensive weapon, you may be able to charge the assailant with your shield and push him back.

No. 1 Weapon

If I had only one household item that I could use as a weapon, it would be a high-powered can of wasp spray with a range of 20 to 30 feet. And I’d keep one in every room of the house, after having made absolutely certain that everyone in my family knows how dangerous they are.

If you spray this stuff into the face of an assailant, I guarantee you that he will need to be hospitalized. In fact, the worst thing he’ll be able to do to you at this point is to damage your eardrums with his screams.

I wouldn’t get any pleasure out of blinding someone, but when it comes to someone entering my home with evil intentions, I am not going to hold back on my efforts to bring that person down before he ruins the lives of my family members. And I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m going to do whatever it takes to stop him.

–Frank Bates

Hydroponics Can Provide You With A Secret Survival Garden

With gardening season rapidly approaching, we’re soon going to hear a lot about the importance of soil and how much of a difference the quality of soil can make in a plant’s growth. And it’s true; soil is important. But it’s not crucial for a plant’s growth like water is.

During the 1900s, scientists learned that the important mineral nutrients that are absorbed by plants come from water. Soil does act like a mineral nutrient reservoir in nature, but it is not required for plant growth. If we bring those essential mineral nutrients into a plant’s water supply through an artificial method, soil is not really needed for the plant’s growth at all! That’s what hydroponic gardening is all about.

Hydroponics can be quite challenging, especially when you first give it a shot; but it’s also very rewarding after you learn the basics. Once you choose your indoor grow lights, understand the different types of hydroponic systems and learn the skills of indoor gardening, this method can be just as or even more enjoyable than outdoor gardening for many people. And it’s especially beneficial for folks who don’t have the room for a typical soil-based garden.

One of the biggest advantages of hydroponics, especially for people who aren’t particularly patient, is the unusually fast growth rates. This happens because the plants don’t have to grow roots down into soil to mine for food. Just about any type of plant, vegetable or fruit can be effectively grown through hydroponics, assuming that the appropriate blend of nutrients is used.

Among the different hydroponic growing systems are hand watering, the reservoir method, the flood and drain method, the drip system, the nutrient film technique, the wick system, and aeroponics. Instead of soil, plants can be grown in an inert medium such as rockwool, expanded clay pellets, perlite, perlite/vermiculite mix, perlite/coconut coir mix or volcanic rock chips. When you’re thinking about trying this comprehensive system of gardening, you’ll need to consider the nutritional and lighting requirements of the specific plants being grown. You’ll also want to develop a feeding plan prior to planting.

While there are some upfront costs to setting up a hydroponics system, over the long haul your expenses are significantly reduced. Other advantages include having more control over pests and disease, which makes for healthier plants, the simplicity of maintaining proper nutrition levels, your ability to reuse the water and the fact that your plants do not release any gases.

Yet another advantage to hydroponics is that you can do it indoors and keep it a secret. Why would you want to keep it a secret? Well, for one thing, that’s a good way to protect it. If you spread the word about the fact that you’re growing some of your own food in an indoor garden, you’re inviting problems should an emergency arise. People who are desperate enough during a crisis may become your unwanted visitors if the neighborhood knows you grow food.

So go ahead and keep your indoor garden a secret. You will have established it for the purpose of keeping yourself and your family fed during a crisis. When the time comes, you may opt to share some of your bounty with family members, neighbors and friends. But that will be your choice, and they’ll be happy that you were prepared. In the meantime, you will have control over your survival food if you limit the number of people who know about it.

–Frank Bates

Heirloom Seeds Can Give You Food Independence… Forever

We all know by now that having stockpiles of food and water for an emergency is a great idea. The combination of food shortages and rising food prices is a deadly one-two punch that nobody wants to take on the chin; and at any time, a weather disaster could provide the knockout blow.

But people who are serious about preparedness and self-reliance are interested in more than a three-month or even a one-year supply of food and water. They want food independence in the form of heirloom seeds that they can both plant and store.

The food that they grow in their gardens from those seeds will be less expensive, more nutritious and better tasting than the food they’re getting from grocery stores — not to mention the convenience of having it a few steps away in their own backyard.

If you think about it, seeds are amazing things. In addition to containing the DNA that a plant requires to grow, they possess a store of food that helps the plant when it’s ready to grow. The fact that a 3-foot tall tomato plant weighed down by large, juicy tomatoes developed from small seedlings helps us appreciate the power and potential of seeds.

The key to saving seeds is open-pollination. When a plant reproduces through its own natural means, without artificial interference from humans, it will adapt to local conditions and evolve to survive and thrive in that location. Open-pollinated plants are free from pesticides, chemicals and other forms of genetic modification by humans.

When you’re gathering seeds from the plants in your garden, make sure you do it properly. Time your harvest based on the individual plant’s method of seed dispersal, cleaning the seeds and spreading them out to dry, storing them in packets or in glass jars or other containers, labeling the packets and containers by variety and date, and storing them in a cool or cold, dark and dry place.

Some vegetables are easier than others when it comes to collecting their seeds. The larger seeds, such as those from beans, corn, peas and squash, are easier to handle than the tiny ones that come from some other vegetables. Here’s some advice to note about the seeds of 13 annual vegetable plants:

  • The seeds of different types of beans should be planted well away from each other to avoid any chance of cross-pollination.
  • If you live in a colder climate, broccoli growth should be started indoors in the spring because the outdoor growing season might not last long enough.
  • When selecting the seeds of corn, closely examine both the plant and the ears of corn. Choose the best ears from the earliest-bearing plants.
  • When you’re preparing cucumber seeds for storage, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scrape out the seedy pulp. Put the pulp and the seeds in a bowl of water to ferment. The heavy seeds will sink to the bottom, making it easy to drain and rinse them.
  • With eggplant, when the fruit turns from firm and glossy to dull and somewhat puckered, the seed is ready to harvest.
  • A cool-weather crop, lettuce can be eaten early but has a long season for seed saving. Lettuce seeds don’t all ripen at once.
  • Melon seeds are ripe enough to collect and store when melons are ripe enough to eat.
  • Don’t harvest the strongest pea plants for food. Instead, allow pods to hang on the plants until the seeds are ripe and then harvest them.
  • Let peppers ripen beyond the eating stage before collecting their seeds, which will be ready when the fruit is no longer green.
  • The pods of radishes won’t split open when they mature. When the pods turn brown, remove the seeds, which can be sown as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.
  • When spinach leaves begin to turn yellow, the seeds are nearly mature. The leafiest plants should be chosen for seed saving.
  • Squash seed is usually collected around the same time of the first fall frost. Allow the good seeds to dry for two weeks.
  • Harvest tomato seeds when the fruits are fully ripe. Save the seeds from the fruits of several plants.

Following are notes about the seeds of nine biennial and perennial vegetable plants:

  • When berries turn red and ferny top leaves flop over in the fall, asparagus seeds are ready to harvest.
  • You’ll get plenty of seeds from beets. In fact, what may look like a single seed is probably several seeds in a ball. When they turn brown, you’ll know they are mature.
  • Cabbage produces a tall stalk with yellow flowers in the second year. Seeds will be ready to harvest when the seedpods turn from brown to yellow.
  • The seeds of carrots should be harvested when they turn brown in the early fall. Seeds in the top branches will ripen before those of the lower branches.
  • Cauliflower seeds should be planted in the late spring or early summer. In the second year, seeds in pods will be produced on tall stalks, and they should be harvested when the pods turn brown.
  • When tiny black seeds appear, chives are ripe to harvest. Those seeds will ripen only gradually.
  • You’ll know that the seeds from leeks are ready to harvest when you can see them. Those seeds form inside the capsules of a ball of flowers.
  • The black seeds from onion plants are harvested by cutting off seed heads and then drying for several weeks.
  • Parsley plants produce an abundance of seeds. You can harvest them as you observe them maturing in the fall.

For seeds that you don’t plan to touch for a while, freezing might be a good option because their DNA will stay intact for a long time. It’s important that seeds are dried first, however, so that they don’t expand and crack. Just think, by harvesting and storing seeds from your garden, you’re insuring access to hundreds of pounds of fresh food every year.

–Frank Bates

Armor For The Body And Windows Could Save Lives

It’s a common ploy directors have been using for years to surprise audiences. A character gets shot. You think he’s dead. But then, he gets up off the ground, revealing that he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Hopefully, you are not in a situation in which getting shot is a distinct possibility. But if you have to travel through dangerous neighborhoods or if someone in your life is out to get you, it’s possible that body armor could save your life.

Once you decide to go that route, there are a variety of choices you can make, depending on your circumstances. These involve the thickness of the vest and the materials used to construct it, how much movement it allows you, how concealable it is and what the price is.

Nothing is 100 percent guaranteed, but you can increase your odds of survival based on your choice of which vest to wear and when to wear it. Here are six factors to consider when buying body armor:

  • Heat: No vest is going to be comfortable in the heat, but some are less uncomfortable than others.
  • Comfort: This becomes more of a factor the more you feel you need to wear your vest.
  • Freedom of movement: A vest could become as much of a liability as a help if it limits your ability to move. The thicker and bulkier it is, the more it will hinder your movements.
  • Weight: Depending on how long you’ll need to wear your vest at a time and how much movement you’ll require, this will affect your fatigue level.
  • Concealability: The advantage of wearing a vest could disappear if your assailant sees that you’re wearing it.
  • Cost: You have to determine how grave the threat is. It could be worth it to you to pay a little more for a vest if the end result is bruises rather than broken ribs. A stronger and more expensive vest may also enable you to return fire if you need to.

Now, if someone really wants to shoot you, they may not wait for you to go outside where you might be wearing your body armor. They may just take a shot at you through a window in your home. Fortunately, there is armor for windows as well.

People break into homes through doors far more often than through windows, which home invaders may view as too small or inconvenient to bother with. But if you’ve upgraded your doors and locks, your windows might become the next option for a would-be thief or assailant. Your windows may also be susceptible to wind, hail, golf balls, baseballs and a wide variety of other natural elements or man-made objects.

It might be time to start thinking about a cost-effective way to bolster your window security. Glass windows are brittle and can be dangerous when broken. But window film provides armor for these vulnerable spots in your house, with the ability to do everything from serving as shields against UV rays to protecting against projectiles and even bullets and explosives.

There are a number of different window film options with varying abilities to defend against winds, bullets and explosives, but Standard Safety window film is probably the best option for most people. It’s a sound investment in your home and could offer increased safety for you and your family.

–Frank Bates