Radiological Contamination, Water Treatment and the Water Well

Well water is subject to contamination from above and below ground contaminants the same as surface water.  Agricultural and residential fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides are regularly found in ground water.  Industrial chemicals sometimes contaminate ground water and surface water.  Radiation and toxic chemicals found in water wells can be caused by the currently popular fracturing (fracking) process used by some oil and natural gas companies.  

Just as you can’t tell by looking if the water you wish to drink is contaminated with chemicals, bacteria and viruses, you can’t tell if it is contaminated by radiation.  Certainly you will need special equipment for that.  As stated in the article about purifying water, be on the look out for dead things in, on, or near the water source before approaching, touching, or using it.

Observing surface water is easier than observing ground water.  Plants and animals lying dead all around a stream or lake is a sure sign something is wrong.  Radiation contamination doesn’t kill instantly.  The animals may drink the water and go a long distance away from the source before they die.  When observing surface water, pay attention to more than the shores and banks.

Ground water is another matter completely.  While there may be chemicals and bacteria, there won’t be animals standing around the well dead or dying.  Instead, there might be people living in the area who can tell you about families who used a certain well or wells, who got sick and/or died from it.

But, let’s suppose you are in a world changing event and need to know if water is safe.  You’d get out your handy water test kit to check for chemicals.  Wait.  If the water is contaminated with radiation, you may have already contaminated yourself, simply by touching anything the well water may have touched.

Instead, when approaching a water well, get out your handy Fluke radiation detector (charged by your solar powered charger) to find out if there is radiation present on the ground or surfaces of the interior of the well. Once you have safely approached the well, be careful about how you get the water out of the well.  If the water is contaminated, breathing it’s fumes or touching it may likely will contaminate you.  If you are going to sample the water be sure to wear protective gear and use protective equipment if at all possible!

Once you have determined that the water is contaminated with radiation, it’s up to you to decide if the risk of contaminating yourself is worth the reward of cleaning the water.  Seriously, the only way most people would think the risk is acceptable is if there were absolutely no alternative sources of water and they were going to die before any other source of water can be found.

Major water purification systems designed to purify water for entire cities can’t even remove all the radiation contamination.  Since using a source of water contaminated by radiation will be difficult to purify, will ruin any filters and utensils, may contaminate you during the process, and still may not be safe to use, one would only consider this under the most dire circumstances. 

Right now, before some world altering event happens is the time to have your well water tested by professionals.  It should be tested frequently since changes can happen without warning signs.



Solar Cooking on the Cheap and Easy

Solar cooking is easy ad economical.Everyone needs a solar cooker.  Even if they think they may never use it they need one.  You know, just in case.  They can be range in price to $350.00, or they can be as cheap as a roll of aluminum foil and a cardboard box.  It’s up to you, but it’s important.  With just a few mouse clicks there is a wealth of information about solar cookers, their design, and how to build them.  Once you get a solar cooker, make sure you practice solar cooking.  Your electric bill might like it so much you use it every day.  Here are a few ideas we thought were worthy of mentioning.

While these are intended for people who are at least as smart as a fifth grader, they will work for anyone:

If you are as smart as a college student, you can recycle your pizza box:

And for dummies:

Some wikis on the topic:

An interesting plan from India:

Here you can learn to build solar cookers and solar dehydrators:

Beginners Need to Plan for Off Grid Living

Recently I received an email asking for advice.  It got me to thinking about people who want to live off the grid but have no idea where to start.  It can be overwhelming to think of all the things a person needs to learn before they can become off grid and independent.

The person who sent the email will be buying undeveloped land and wants to start out being off grid all the way.  This is a plus for them since they are not already tied to some property  they might not be able to modify because of where they live.

Because each family has similar and unique needs, it is important to evaluate all those needs before land is purchased.  Persons with medical conditions which will require frequent medical attention or may have life threatening attack probably should not choose to live 120 miles to the nearest hospital.  The longer it takes for an ambulance to arrive, the lower the survival rate for some emergencies.

With that being said, what you need depends on both your lifestyle, number of people and the ages of those who will be living in your home.   Factoring in how usage might change as people age.  You can get a rough estimate by gathering the annual usage statement for water and electricity.  Remember, older people often like a home that is warmer than a healthy 30 year old.

Search the internet for suitable locations in your state to put up windmills.  If there isn’t going to be enough wind, you won’t be able to Wind is important to living off grid.generate electricity.  Your windmill should be taller than any trees that might be near it for maximum output.  That being said, some generators will work at  wind speeds as low as 4 mph.  The department of energy put out this wind map. Solar panels to be roof mounted need to face the proper direction.  That determines the direction your home will face too.  
Choose your contractor wisely.  One who doesn’t know about off grid housing is probably not for you.  Quiz him.  Ask him questions that beginners wouldn’t know. The contractor who is building your house, if he is reputable, should be able to finish your home with those things in mind.  Perhaps with solar panels and wind generators included.

If you have not purchased the land, you will need to be sure to put a condition on the land purchase that the water and soil tests within acceptable levels of contaminants.  Likely the seller will want you to pay for those tests, but check with the local land office to see if there are tests on record.  

Given the water and soil test return a safe result, a water purification system will still be necessary for household use of Hand water pumps are important to off grid planning.well water.  The cost of having a well drilled on your property will not be cheap.  The deeper the well, the more it costs.  The more water you want to pull from the well per day, the more the cost.  There might even be a need for two wells if you are watering livestock.  Don’t fool yourself, cows drink a great deal of water.  Be sure to have a hand pump ready in case your pump stops working.  If you are moving to a community, you need to check the local laws because some cities don’t allow private wells.

If you are not going to be hooked up to city sewer services, you will need to consider what kind of septic system you want. Get a good one, and larger than suggested.  Having guests for a long period of time will increase the demands on your septic system significantly.  If you plan for two people, and some event causes another couple to move in, the demands on the septic system, and water resources, have just doubled.  Be sure to place the location of your septic system according to which direction the water will flow once it leaves the septic system.  
Do not put trees near a septic system because the roots will clog up the system and you may have to dig up your yard and have it routed out.  Look at mature trees of the type you want because what you see above ground is what you will see below.  Where the yard grows the best is where to put your garden.  
If you purchase land with maple trees, you will be able to tap the trees and sell the syrup for a good price.  We have friends who do it every year.  Some years they sell it and some years they have just enough for their use depending on annual rainfall.  The same holds true for fruit trees, if there are any on the land, you can sell the produce for money as well put up the harvest for the year by canning and making jams and jellies.
Try to get flat land, with no rocks.  If you get rocky ground, gardening will be difficult at best.  Removing rocks from the soil is tedious and time consuming.  Fortunately, you only have to do it once.  Try to look up online the regions you are interested in in terms of geology of the area.  This will tell you where good soil is and where the land is rocky and difficult for gardening.
Before you decide what kind of house to build, check out land prices.  The better the quality of land, the more expensive the acres are.  Five acres can make a great homestead to raise food for your family and to sell in farmer’s markets.
If you are going to go full off grid, consider livestock.  You might be able to include barns and what kinds of housing and fencing for your animals.  Remember to consider the winter months in your state.  Some animals might have to have at least some heat in winter.
The worst thing people do is not plan before they buy land and build.  Once you find out how much it all costs to get started, you might decide you want to build a much smaller home than anticipated, or maybe even buy a modular or pre-built home.  Some people even choose a mobile home because of the amount of space for the money.  It is best to dream big and then bring it back into the budget.
Lastly, don’t let all the planning issues overwhelm you.  Take it one step at a time.  Choose and buy land one year.  If you aren’t ready to build or move, you can at least decide where the house is going to be located. Which makes it the optimum time to plant your fruit trees.  Do just a little as time goes and you will see in a few short years you will be living off grid and be independent.
By no means is this intended to be a road map for every person who wants to become independent and off grid.  This is strictly a narrative on how to get started.  Everyone who wants to get off grid has to get started some how.  Hopefully this will at least give you some food for thought and some good ideas.  Good luck!

How Preppers Prepare for Hurricane Season

Jasmine blossoms signal the start of hurricane season is near.There is a beautiful jasmine bush on the east side of the garage.  It’s the only place it will grow.  The jasmine scent is amazing!  The blooms bring with it the knowledge that hurricane season is just a short six weeks away.  Each year we look around and see what we can do to prepare just a little bit better should the unthinkable happen to our home.

The key to effective evacuation is prior planning.  Unfortunately, to the majority of residents that means boarding up the house and taking off to some hotel for three or more days.  When they come home, if it was a serious hurricane, there is damage and loss of property.  Along with property losses are the pain and tears that come with not finding special items from the home.

Here are some ways to make preparing for hurricane season easy and less stressful:

  • Make a written inventory of non-replaceable items you can’t imagine living without, check them off when packed.
  • Purchase plastic tubs with lids to store items during evacuation.  Practice putting the items in the tubs to be sure you have enough tubs.
  • Make sure your wind storm and flood insurance is paid more than 30 days before storm season
  • Make an evacuation plan.  No, not just jumping in the car and leaving.  A serious plan.  Consider it a bug-out plan.
  • Consider home security while you are away.  There are always looters.
  • If you have livestock or pets, plan and practice how to evacuate them.
  • Plan to make more than one trip to the bug-out location if you have livestock to evacuate.
  • Plan how to evacuate or protect your preps.
  • Time yourself with each evacuation activity practice so you know how much time it will take you to evacuate.
  • Remember to prepare your windmills and solar power equipment for the high winds.
  • If your greenhouses are of the kind that can be disassembled quickly, staking the parts flat on the ground should help them remain still during high winds.
  • Remember, your plants will not whine, cry, complain or ask “are we there yet” when you move them.  But they may cringe when you eat them.
  • Evacuate early.  Don’t wait until the mandatory evacuation date.
  • Don’t be complacent.  Just because your coastal region has not experienced a hurricane in recent history doesn’t mean it’s immune to one.

Most people spend their time during evacuation in a hotel or at family and friends homes. Finding a hotel room during an evacuation can mean driving at least eight hours to find a room. The purchase of an acre of land outside the hurricane zone provides a guaranteed location for evacuation that can also be used to store preps year around.  For the average prepper family with a small operation, these plans are necessary.

Solar Collectors are Getting Closer

While we can all build a solar collector, their use for large quantities of electricity generation has been problematic at best.  But, like all good scientists and engineers, these guys keep plugging at it.  The next generation will be converting solar energy to heat and then to electricity.

They are addressing issues of dirt, dust, and etching.  The issues of heat-stress on metals is being worked out too.  Doesn’t it make you wish it were your shop?  The only thing they are doing wrong is outsourcing to other countries.  Enjoy this 11 minute video!


Is Solar Activity Linked to Earthquakes?

The USGS tracks earthquakes and other earth events globally.  Scientists have been looking for a way to predict earthquakes.  Certainly being able to evacuate an area before such an event would save lives.

Some scientists have been working on the premise that some or most earthquakes can be predicted in a region based on solar activity.  The USGS says this is not possible.

However, The author of this video believes solar activity can be used to predict earthquakes.  Interestingly, in the comment section after this video, the author comments about the field returning to Japan within eight hours.  Following, the USGS noted a 5.3 earthquake at approximately two hours, during the prediction time window.

Co-incidence?  Reliable?  Who knows?  But, the USGS thought this theory bore enough weight to investigate, and to continue to investigate these possibilities.  Preppers and preparedness workers would plan differently if they knew earthquakes could be predicted hours or days in advance.

Enjoy the video.



USGS:  Does Solar Activity Cause Earthquakes?

USGS:  Japan Earthquake; April 18, 2013

USGS:  Japan Earthquake; April 21, 2010



Asteroid Early Warning System: Another Star Trek Gift?

Russian Asteroid TrailThere’s been a lot of talk in the media the last several days about the asteroid they were watching, and the one they weren’t.  Now all the world is talking about an early warning system for objects that might come this way.  The whole discussion sounds like something out of Star Trek and how they had all those long range sensors to locate objects in space.  Is our technology really that advanced?  You bet it is.

What would something like that take?  Not so much “new” technology as much as creative use of existing technology.  Placing satellites further and further away from earth’s orbit with an array of sensors and transmitters.  Solar powered and computer operated these little gems could be placed and monitored.  Data transmission could be as easy as any other space program vehicle like the Mars missions.  Surely if they can put men on Mars, which they are currently working on, they can put information gathering satellites in orbits of any other planets in the solar system they choose.

The method might not be just like that, but to have some sort of space monitoring system that gathers more information in an hour than a few astronomers can gather in a month, well, that sounds like the ultimate prepper activity.

Getting Prepared: A Primer for Beginners Series, part 10


Assessing your utility usage is easier than you might think.

Being prepared means having alternate sources of energy.When you start to get prepared you grab your last twelve electric bills, and if you use fuel oil, natural gas or propane, grab those bills too.  What’s important is to figure out how much energy you use for heating, cooling and everyday use. For some climates, it might be difficult to figure out since you go right from heating to cooling and no real break in between.  Or like here, back and forth between heating and cooling several times even in the same month.  It is important to to understand your power usage, no matter which climate.

The information you need is:

  • Highest usage in winter
  • Lowest usage in winter
  • Average usage in winter
  • Highest usage in summer
  • Lowest usage in summer
  • Average usage in summer
  • Annual average usage

The four forms of home energy have advantages and disadvantages.  Fuel oil and propane require someone to deliver the product to your storage tanks.  Electricity comes down the lines and natural gas is pumped down the pipes to your home and hooks up directly to your home.  That’s why we love them so much.  No work involved!

After TSHTF, if you want to continue to use the other forms of energy, you will need to store it in tanks.  Tanks are expensive.  Tanks will eventually rust away.  Filling the tanks are expensive.  And, if the situation remains for a long duration, the tanks will eventually be empty.

Only one energy source is renewable for free.

Electricity.  You can store it indefinitely with little risk of explosion.  You can use wind or solar energy to gather electricity and store in battery banks.  Granted, getting set up is not free.  But, once you get your system set up, you never have to pay for electricity again, and you can sell it to the power companies and they must buy it.  Use all the energy you want, sell the rest.  If you run short one month, you can still use theirs.

Some people elect to use their “normal” supply of energy now while stocking up on wood or other sources of energy to have on hand when TSHTF.  This is certainly commendable and encouraged.

Now that you know what options are available to you, how much energy you need at peak times, and under which conditions you will want to use gas, fuel oil, or electricity, you can begin to plan accordingly.  We will talk about how to set up energy systems and use less energy in another series.


Space Weather Announcements

The sun as space weather predictions are made.The government, in conjunction with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce sector of society, provides space weather alerts, reports and forecasts, just like they do for weather in our atmosphere.  The data is fairly difficult to find, sort and interpret into usable information.

The problem with space weather is that for some events there is only a 20 minute warning, but many other events are predicted for the next three days.  When you think of it, a three day warning is enough for the prepared person who knows enough to pay attention to the warnings.  Unfortunately, if an event is going to be severe or catastrophic, three days in advance is too little time to prepare.  It’s not a matter of “if” there is an event.  It is a matter of when.

For example, over the next three days (January 18 20, 2013) it is predicted that people in northern Michigan and Maine will be able to see an aurora.  Those of you who own spacecraft or satellites located above those areas might want to move them or they may sustain some minor issues.  Minor issues to me can be just as much of a PIA as major issues.  The power grid in that local region?  Some weak fluctuations can occur.  So, make sure you have a surge protector on all your electric outlets.

Let’s Talk About Glorious, Sometimes Dangerous, Sunshine

Whether you want to call it solar wind, solar radiation, or a solar flare, there is a great deal to be considered if you are prepping for a geomagnetic event. When one realizes the seemingly limitless power of the sun you have to take a step back and wonder if a geomagnetic storm is the one event that everyone should prepare for as if they expect it to happen tomorrow.

Geomagnetic storms are increasing in frequency and severity even as I write this. The government has created special tools that any user can use to monitor the activities of the sun. Geomagnetic-Storms-effects-space-weather-technologyWhile the instrumentation used to collect and interpret the data is quite complicated, the reporting features used by NOAA are as simple as clicking a few check boxes.  Now, solar activity is monitored like the weather.

When insurance companies like Aon Benfield begin producing products to insure the losses of their customers because a geomagnetic storm caused severe damage,we should pay attention. While Aon Benfield believes that the risk is small they believe it is a viable market because the damage would be severe and have far-reaching consequences for both industry and the economy.   Aon Benfield has determined that the graphical representation of the risk is pear-shaped. This means they believe the likelihood of a geomagnetic event has a relatively low probability, but a high consequence.  Most likely, a solar event will cause damage in a localized area, much like a blizzard or hurricane.  Such a situation happened some years ago in Canada causing people in the local area to be with out power for a few days.

In the past insurance companies have covered damages to property as it normally occurs.  Except, in some incidents where they have been allowed to call an incident an act of God. An act of God is considered non-insurable. An example of such an event may include a cow standing in the middle of the road, in the dark of night, and someone would hit it with their car.  Most locations have since legislated that insurance companies must cover such things. The act of God clause still exists along with some added things such as government, military and terrorist act exclusions.

Another example of how an insurance company may or may not cover damages to property is mold. When toxic mold first became known as a danger to health and structure, people had to sue their homeowners insurance company to get them to pay for damage caused by mold. Shortly after these lawsuits were made public, insurance companies began specifically excluding mold from homeowners policies because it was a high frequency and high consequence risk. For a while the same companies sold a rider policy to cover mold damage. Today most companies do not ask if you would like mold coverage.

In the same way, many insurance companies may or may not cover damages caused by solar events.This is important to know because many things in your home and car could be damaged and you might want your insurance to pay the cost of repair or replacement.  Because Aon Benfield is launching an insurance program to cover this specific cause of damage, it would be my guess that this event will not be covered and could very easily be considered an act of God and not covered under a standard auto or home insurance policy.

Aon Benfield believes it can only cover minor to moderate solar events and that severe events would be catastrophic beyond the scope of their new insurance policy.  Their plan is to use the fears of people to make money selling policies while they hope there are no solar events.  Since terrorist attacks and military actions are excluded from almost all policies, they would not have to pay out for an EMP event as a part of war.  In the case of a naturally occurring, wide scale event, insurance companies are willing to take the risk that they may not be able to afford to pay out claims and could bankrupt themselves.  As a prepared society, we should measure the risks for ourselves and determine if we need to plan for such an event, maybe even buy a little insurance.