The question was: How can people survive in the city when the power, gas and water get turned off or is unavailable? I was asked the question from many individuals who feel it is not practical to move out of the city and build an earthship. So I’ve asked the creator for an answer to the question. I’m looking for some feedback in response to the answer I received. This would easily be augmented by survival kits that you can purchase separately. I believe the time will come when individuals in the city will need to consider these options, especially in northern cities like Edmonton.
If you have a basement, then pick about 500 -700 square feet of basement (for a family of 4). Frame in the space and insulate it well – including the space between the basement and the first floor! Don’t forget the vapor barrier as it is now a cold wall and you don’t want humidity issues in your emergency space. Insulate the wood walls only. In fact, peel the rug off the floor and the wood wall / insulation from the cement walls so that you can access the heat store of the earth and cement. Area rugs are ok so that you can have some comfort. Similar in concept that we use for our earthship. Use a fireplace to start heating the space and “charging” the cement and dirt. You need to do this as you don’t have a solar heat source like we do, so you have to replace it with heat from another source – wood. You may need to insulate the outside of the cement wall if the basement sticks out of the ground. Another option is to back fill the cement, insulate, vapor barrier and then finish the backfill. This will help keep the frost out of the cement or the warm dirt. The rest of the house will freeze, so steps will need to be taken to empty the water pipes, toilet tanks, etc to prevent further water or frost damage. Wood can be stored right inside the house (on the cold side) so that it stays dry and nobody will steal it. Fresh air intake for the fireplace will have to be done, but you could use the fresh air intake from the furnace or the vents for the bathrooms to get fresh air in. Otherwise the fireplace will suck up all the hot air in the room and send it up the chimney.
Not sure what to suggest for those who are in apartments or have no basements. I’ll keep meditating on that one. The message I did get though is to have your shelter react to extreme cold like our body does. Our body restricts the blood flow to the limbs and will actually sacrifice the limbs in order to keep the core warm. Letting the majority of the house freeze will save the use of a tremendous amount of energy trying to keep it all warm. You may also need to get plywood to board up the windows to keep them from being vandalized and to protect the occupants.
Light tubes will be important to install as it will be very dark in the basement and that will have a significant emotional impact on the occupants. Pick south facing windows and ensure those are in your space as this will also help light up the space.
Food and Water
Food and water are going to be the biggest challenges. I find that with our 2 – 2000 gallon tanks, we have enough water to get us through the periods where there is no rain or snow melt. 125 gallon will not be enough. Perhaps one should consider a much larger tank or a bunch of small ones since a big tank will not fit through your back door. Gardens will also be important, but one would have to convert the front and back yard into a huge garden to grow enough to feed the family through the winter.
Picking up a 125 gallon tank and collecting water from the pipes, toilet tanks, hot water tank or even off the roof will ensure you have water to cook and clean with. Toilets may have to be removed and the holes plugged to prevent sewer gas from entering the house or toilets from freezing and breaking as there is water in the traps. Or you can pour anti-freeze down the toilet to prevent damage. Don’t forget about the water in the traps for the tub and sinks too. Also don’t forget about the water in the pumps for the washing machine and dish washer. Having hydrogen peroxide will be useful for sanitizing the water should you be collecting rain water or snow melt. Having the tank in the warm area of the house will keep it from freezing. Water can be heated on the wood stove. For survival, there are no showers or baths as water is extremely precious. However, one can have a sponge bath with a small basin of water and still be clean. The water in the tanks will also act as a heat sink and help regulate the temperature of the space, absorbing heat when it is warm and releasing it when it is cool.
Dry goods is best but if it’s -35 out, you could setup a fridge in the wood wall partition in the basement, ½ outside the wall in the cold and ½ inside in the warm part of the room. The -35 temperature should keep the fridge cool but not frozen. The fridge compressor does not have to work as the cold will do the work, so even a dead, throw away fridge would work through the winter. It will have to work to keep the food fresh through the summer. If you want to keep food frozen then have a deep freeze in the cold part of the house, not plugged in. Obviously in the summer time that will not work but in the summer a small solar panel should suffice to keep the deep freeze running. The freezer technically only needs to run for a few hours a day. We only run ours during the day time when we have lots of solar power to do so. At night it is not running at all.
Most people will not have power, but even in your case, your solar panel and UPS will provide you with some power. I suspect that the high priority will be for food storage or communication (cell phones or radio).
This is important to ensure there are no problems with dysentery or any other diseases. If you need a hole for long term (more than a year) then make sure it is at least 7 – 7.5 feet deep. This needs to get dug now because in the middle of winter the ground is frozen and that is not the time to dig holes. Oh, and call before you dig to ensure you don’t cut any gas, electrical or phone lines. Two problems; water is extremely limited and too important for “flushing” and the water will freeze in the toilet. Black water should go down this hole only. All grey water can be dumped onto the garden. Use soaps that will not harm your garden.
Ironically I find that the solutions for those in the city mirror almost exactly what we had to do here when we first moved out. Living in the garage is no different than what most folks will have to do if or when the utilities get turned off. I anticipate that it may cost a few thousand dollars to get this setup should one be interested in retrofitting their house, or at least having the materials sitting in the garage so that when it happens you have the materials. If it does not happen you have not gutted your house and reduced its value.