Solutions for Self-Reliance

How to Bounce Back From a Blackout that Lasts


Sandy the third major blackout in the northeastern US in less than two years.  Unfortunately, it’s a sign of things to come.

We can expect many more in the future as environmental and economic conditions worsen.

Toronto ON 2003 Blackout

Fortunately, we have a great community building here, willing to ask the right questions and share insights and experience.

Here’s two reader letters that address how to bounce back from a blackout that lasts a week or more.

Reader Question

Hi John,

I am one of those New Yorkers that’s been without power for 11 days now. It’s still going to take a while to get back online b/c a utility pole on our property went down and the power company would not deal with just one customer until the whole grid is back. So even though our neighborhood may be back soon we will still be in the dark (and cold).

I am looking to get the Generac whole house generator you recommended b/c we have natural gas. I do not want to go through this experience again of having no power for so long. We have a 2-year-old girl and it’s been tough to keep her cozy and warm.

Someone told me that the cost of installing an NG generator is astronomical. Since I am looking at purchasing the same 20,000 watt one you have could you tell me what a fair installation price would be?

Oh, we already have NG in the house for our oven, hot water heat and clothes dryer so no cost to run the pipe to the house.

Thanks for teaching me so many interesting and useful things!


Dear P,

Installation and equipment on a generator of that size will likely run you 50% of the purchase cost.  That’s likely to be about $3,000 in the New York area.

It’s pricey, but it allows you lots of flexibility.  In the short-term, it allows you to generate electricity a) continuously, b) in large quantities, and c) at a rate that isn’t that much more than what you pay right now.

Longer term, the ability to produce electricity from natural gas, propane, and treated methane may be critical to maintaining a normal life and the ability to make an income from your home.

On another note, even in today’s world, I suspect that homes with generators will sell at a premium to those that don’t.   How much of a premium?  I suspect the premium will be a function of how recently there was a big blackout.  My gut suggests the return will be 200% of the install cost.  That’s not a bad return on investment, out of the box.

However, even if you have the capacity to make the investment today, there’s a problem with the availability of home sized generators.  They are in short supply, due to Sandy.  As a result, it’s going to take nearly a year to get a generator that you order today.

In terms of staying warm.  Another option, you might want to investigate is a stand alone stove or a stove insert for a chimney.

Options include standard wood, biomass pellet, and natural gas.  I’ve got a chart in the most recent (November) issue of Resilient Strategies that will help you evaluate alternatives.  These stoves can keep a standard home warm, save you money, improve your resilience, and substantially improve your home’s warmth during the winter months (you actually feel warmer).   However, some of these advanced systems require outlet power to operate, so back them up!

Stay Resilient,

John Robb


Sandy’s Introduction to A Life w/o Electricity

Hi John.

I just had the lights come back on and relatives move out in time for another storm.  I live on the water in New Jersey and my neighborhood was hit very hard by Sandy.  I wanted to share some of my observations but first, crisis is tough and many of my friends lost their homes or businesses or were displaced for a week or more.  Some still do not have power.  That said, there were things I really liked about having no electricity and very few things I disliked.

In no particular order:

Life with the sun.  Life was physically draining and we generally went to bed with the sun and got up with the sun.  The clock did not matter.  We did know what meal was next and when it was time to get the kids ready for bed before the sun went down.  If there were things that needed to be done we did them in the dark and made sure to do them earlier the next day.

Ritual Necessity.  There were daily things that needed to be done for our little group (four adults and four children) to make it through.  The house had to be warmed up in the morning. Breakfast, lunch and dinner had to be planned out in advance, based on food supplies.  Generator use was planned and all cell phones needed to be plugged in or you had to wait until the next running.  All flashlights had to be gathered and put in their place for use that evening.  The adults went out into the wider community to gather news and contribute food, labor, clothes or comfort.  We all got into a survival groove that was simple and, frankly, nice.

Togetherness.  Instead of being spread all throughout the house, each in his or her own room, we were all together for meal preparation, eating, clean up and playing games afterward.  Having the heat centralized around the kitchen helped, but so did the limits of electricity.  We all stayed and talked or played until we were tired and went to bed. This crisis brought my family closer but also added another family to the mix, giving us a double dose of closeness.  It was fine, but boundaries between “public” and “private” space does need to be reviewed.

Skills.  When the children were with the adults they generally wanted to help.  We made soup, learned how to crochet, hung sheets in the doorways, tried out a bicycle generator and experimented with improving daily life. It was trial and error but the learning was real, and necessary.

Food.  The focus on food was really wonderful.  We were lucky enough to have a reasonable store of dry goods and a fully stocked chest freezer (thanks Costco).  We usually freeze juice bottles filled with water for the summer and had several in the freezer.  My wife had the good sense to add two cases of bottled water into the cracks as well so our freezer was fine a week after the power went out with selective harvesting.  I really did appreciate the ritual of cooking and eating though.  It took so much time to cook, eat and clean that it was probably close to 50% of our day.

I’ll share more as I can.  It has really been an eye opener for me even though I’ve been thinking about these things for quite some time.  

Keep working at it John!



Thanks so much for the letter Dan!

Resiliently Yours,

John Robb


PS:  Thanks to everyone that joined Resilient Strategies last week.  It’s already an amazing community with a great deal of expertise.   Some quick notes: If you haven’t gotten your first letter from Resilient Strategies yet, please contact us immediately.  Second, there were some problems with the list of electricity outage maps in the US.  We’ve fixed it.  All the links should work now.  Finally, we’re working on the best way to collaborate and discuss resilient solutions and projects.  We’ve got quite a few amazing DiY prototypes in backlog, so the pressure is on us to make a decision on the best way to share them with the RS community.

For everyone not in the RS community, don’t despair.  I’ll continue the free Resilient Communities newsletter. 


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