This weekend the Pacific Northwest was hit by a powerful windstorm. Wind gusts reached 70mph. Power was knocked-out all over, trees fell down, and many schools were canceled on Monday. At the Tako house, we lost electricity, but no one was hurt. With modern lives so dependent on electricity, a power outage can be a major inconvenience for many. Not the Tako family! Windstorms happen fairly regularly around here and we’ve planned ahead to deal with the “inconvenience”, to the point where we no longer find it inconvenient at all. We even manage to do it in a fun-frugal way!
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have 2 or 3 windstorms a year that will knock out power for 48 hours (or less). It happens so regularly, we’ve learned to plan ahead for the occasional windy conditions (and even have a little fun at the same time). If my great grandparents could live without electricity year-round, the Tako family can handle it for a day or two.
Planning ahead can sometimes mean removing problems before they happen, but often times it means having alternatives when “civilized life” is put on hold.
Removing And Trimming Trees
Primarily what causes the most damage during a windstorm here is falling trees. There is flying debris occasionally, but winds tend to be very gusty in the Pacific Northwest, so flying debris is generally not as large a concern as falling trees.
At the Tako house, we’ve removed the larger trees nearby our home that might be considered a falling hazard. Being the frugal folks that we are, we didn’t hire a tree removal service; We removed them ourselves.
For the decorative trees around the house (primarily Japanese maples), we keep those neatly trimmed every year. This controls the size of the tree, and they won’t grow to become a hazard. There is very little chance a tree is going to hit our home.
I consider this kind of thing basic home maintenance, but unfortunately every year I see pictures of large trees crushing homes in our area. Some people might say they were ‘unlucky’. Another perspective is, they were unprepared.
Obviously with the power out, there is no electric lighting. We have a ‘lights out’ kit that fits in a old shoebox. When the lights go out, we head to the closet and pull out the box. Inside we have lighters, flashlights, matches and a bag of 100 tea light candles ($3.49 from Ikea!). The family then starts firing up the candles. Usually 10-20 is sufficient.
The kids find this all highly entertaining. Games like ‘hide and seek’ and spooky stories become even more fun when the candles are lit and the lights are out. Giggles abound. Even the youngest family member (Tako Jr. #2) has fun waving around a flashlight!
With little ones around we have to be extremely careful to put open flames well out of reach. The children are clearly attracted to the pretty lights, and don’t yet understand the danger of open flames. In addition, we always keep a working fire extinguisher on hand. If you don’t yet have a fire extinguisher, I highly suggest you pick one up. Thankfully we’ve never had to use ours, and I still consider it money well spent.
Normally we don’t have problems getting water when there is a power outage. We don’t have a well, so electric pumps are unnecessary. The water comes from the mountains, which provides sufficient water pressure. If this wasn’t the case, we would definitely keep some water on-hand.
In general, water is not a problem in the Pacific Northwest. Nine months out of the year you can just stick a bucket outside and a few minutes later you’ll have gallons of water. OK, I’m only slightly exaggerating…
Cooking Without Power
This most recent storm left us without power for about 13 hours, so only one meal needed to be prepared without electricity. Isn’t cooking without power an inconvenience? Not at all! It’s kind of fun and adds a little extra challenge!
Prepping meals without power is a lot like camping. Everything must be done with an open flame. Need hot water? Boil a pot of water! Need to reheat some food? Use a double boiler, and so on!
Thankfully, we have a gas stove, so creating a flame isn’t a problem. The electric stove lighters don’t work, but we just use a grill lighter instead. These kinds of lighters are ideal (better than matches!) because they keep your hand well away from the gas output. Safety first!
If for some reason we didn’t have a gas stove, we have two backup cooking options – Our butane camping stove and our small propane barbecue grill. Both are completely viable options, but the butane camping stove is definitely cheaper and more portable.
Even though spring is nearly upon us, night-time temperatures in the 30’s (Fahrenheit) are still fairly frequent. This means without heat, the house temperature can drop down to “really cold” at night without heating. How does the Tako family handle this one? Do we manually light the furnace and power the central heating blower with a modified bicycle? Naaah… but that does sound awesome!
Instead, we just put more clothes on – we bundle up extra warm for those heatless nights. Two layers for everyone, even the baby! The adults even wear socks to bed! It sounds silly, but it keeps us warm.
Computers, TV, Cell-Phones, and Internet
Mainly we just do without our electronic devices and internet connections. That’s right, in most cases we don’t bother keep them running or try to maintain contact with the outside world. They aren’t required to keep life going, and are completely optional. It’s like a mini-vacation from technology! In the case of our cell-phones, they do double duty as alarm clocks, so we charge them before the storm hits.
The Neighbors Do It Different
Our neighbors do things completely different. Rather than light a candle and adapt to changing conditions, our neighbor uses large amounts of money to avoid the temporary inconvenience. His electron-addiction is so strong he purchased a generator for his home so he’d never be without power. Like clockwork, when the power goes out he starts up the generator and runs it all night long (or until the gas runs out).
This exemplifies the behavior non-financially independent people engage in. For a special case that only happens a few times a year, our neighbor spends thousands of dollars on a generator, and don’t forget the gasoline to power it all night. I even know some people that get a hotel room when the power goes out. It all seems so excessive! All that to avoid a tiny bit of discomfort.
In our case we spend $3.49 for a pack of candles. Simple and cheap wins!
The FI Mindset
As you can see, some basic planning and small adaptations make life without power essentially a non-event for our family. We hardly notice. Sure, we like our electronic devices as much as the next person, but living without them for a few days isn’t that hard.
We think of the loss of power as inconvenient today because of hedonistic adaptation. Life without electricity was just regular life for our great grandparents. They never complained! Power is a luxurious convenience, one everyone now takes for granted.
Rather than seeking to avoid any discomfort like our neighbor, the mindset of the financially independent is to embrace the situation. Learning to live without electricity is good for us! We don’t spend excessive amounts of money to avoid discomfort. Instead, look for ways to enjoy it!
What do you do when a big storm hits? How long can you go without power?
[Image Credit: Flickr]