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Dumb Survival Products & Survival Sanitation

5 Sep

This takes my award for “Dumb Survival Product of the Year.”
I love the Apartment Prepper Blog and free giveaways are great. I had to laugh though with this free give away: A cardboard toilet. Yes, folks, it’s a commercially made cardboard toilet for disaster preppers.

To enter to win: Answer the following question: “What is your biggest concern about hygiene in a disaster?”

My biggest concern is that I wouldn’t have adequate toiletry supplies and would need to poop in a cardboard box. Far too few preppers take pooping seriously. Blog after blog writes about guns, guns, guns. Me too. I’m guilty. How many have made SERIOUS preparations for sewage?

In my book, I write extensively about the sanitation arrangements made by people who must live with their systems daily without the benefits of social infrastructure. Look to people who live on small boats and people who live in RVs. How do they deal with waste? They must maintain their own infrastructure. People who maintain their own septic systems are another source of information for survival retreats. In the woods bugging out, look to the practices of backpackers. They don’t carry cardboard toilets.

In a long-term disaster, chemical toilets won’t keep going forever, but in the short-term, they’re one of the best solutions. How many RV’ers would use a cardboard box?

If you want to bag and dispose of human waste at home, you can line your regular toilet with strong garbage bags. Seal and dispose of the bags. If water is plentiful and your sewer is intact, you can manually add water to the toilet and flush away. Even if water supply lines are damaged or turned off, sewers should keep working during most short-term disasters.

As urban preppers we can tap into the experience of other people, not just preppers, who deal with waste disposal on a regular basis. No need to reinvent the…ah…cardboard toilet.

Radon Mitigation & Filtering Air

15 Feb

This post will expand upon a topic I cover in the book in the chapter about air: The dangers of basement radon and how to deal with it. Radon is a natural product in the decay of underground uranium. In short, certain rocks create this crap, which then decays into other crap, which eventually emits alpha radiation.

Alpha radiation is a lot like a big 45 slug. It doesn’t penetrate deeply, but does quite a bit of damage to whatever it hits. The problem is that when you spend a lot of time in the basement in a high radon area, these alpha particles constantly bombard your lungs. Much of the damage to your lungs is repaired naturally, but every once in a while, your DNA gets messed up and the damage becomes lung cancer.

One of the best explanations of radon I’ve found is here (pdf). It illustrates the points with nice pretty pictures.

What should you know about radon?

1) It’s a regional problem. Inspect a radon map to see if you live in a high radon area. If you do, continue reading. If you live in a low radon area, congratulations. One less thing to worry about!

2) The effects of radon are determined by level of exposure over time and by statistics. Everybody knows one old codger who says he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for forty years and didn’t get lung cancer: Ergo, smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer! What he misses, of course, is the huge number of smokers who died with their lungs draining out into a plastic bag.

It’s the same with radon. High exposure doesn’t mean you’ll get lung cancer. It only increases the probability you’ll get lung cancer. Low exposure doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer. It only means you have less likelihood of getting it.

3) If you live in a high-radon area, you can get test kits to measure the radon level in your basement. These are available from many sources. I’d suggest you google “Radon” and the name of your state, because many state governments provide low cost (or even free) radon test kits to their residents.

Radon is measured in pico curies per liter of air (pCi/L). We don’t really need to understand what pico curies are to understand the test. Just know that average outdoor levels are about 0.4 pico curies per liter. Consider that a baseline. You can’t do any better than this. Indoor air levels will vary. The experts deem that ten times this exposure or about 4.0 pCi/L or more is a level for concern.

If family members sleep in the basement and you have 16 pCi/L, you probably want to look into reducing radon levels. If you rarely go in your basement and you have a reading of 5.0 pCi/L, it’s not as big a deal.

4) If you decide that radon levels are too high for your family, you can have a radon mitigation system installed or install one yourself. Professionals usually charge between $1,000 and $2,500 to install an active sub slab depressurization system.

What seems like such a high cost to install some PVC pipes with a fan has led some to call radon mitigation a scam or a ruse.
There are many real conspiracies and scams. Radon mitigation isn’t one of them.

If you’re a do-it-yourself type, you can find some good information about installing one of these systems here. Scroll down to “Radon Reduction Techniques for Existing Detached Houses: Technical Guidance (Third Edition) for Active Soil Depressurization Systems” and then click on the text and there is a link to convert it to pdf. This text is about 300 pages and will provide more information than you really need.

The first step to minimizing the level of radon is to paint bare concrete surfaces in the basement and seal any obvious cracks. If you have a sump pit, you might use that as a starting point for designing your own mitigation system.

After sealing the basement as best you can, you could test again to see if you have reduced the level of radon. But I probably wouldn’t. Caulk alone usually doesn’t do the job, because air from the ground has a way of finding its way into your basement!

To understand an active mitigation system, think about the air below your house’s foundation. That air wants to go somewhere and will seep into your house. This is for several reasons. There is often a natural draw of air from lower levels into a house heated during the winter. This is called the Stack Effect.

Heated air rises and leaves the building from the top of the building. Air from lower levels must come in from somewhere. If it seeps in from tiny cracks in the basement, it will carry radon with it.

Sub slab depressurization means that we suck air out from underneath the foundation’s slab and exhaust it, usually above the roof. This carries the radon-laden air away. Just as importantly, it depressurizes the area below the foundation’s slab. So air is less likely to want to flow into the house from below. Think of this as offsetting the stack effect. The air beneath the foundation isn’t being pulled aggressively into the home anymore.

When building one of these systems, one thing to note is how easily air flows under your foundation. If you get lucky, you might not have to install any piping at all. If you have a drain pipe feeding into a sump pit, that might provide all the piping you need. Then, it’s just a matter of sealing the pit and running some PVC piping and a fan to exhaust the air. Call this your X1 system. Test the radon level to see if you need to do something more involved.

Keep in mind that you’ll win in the end. You can test, and if you’re not happy with the level of reduction, you can try something else. A successful system should reduce levels well below 4.0 pico curies per liter. Many achieve readings of under one pico curie per liter.

Filtering Air

As long as we broached the subject of the Stack Effect and sub slab depressurization, it’s only natural that we should say a few words about the daily effects of air pressure in the home and how this relates to some prepping situations.

The air pressure inside a home can be greater than or less than the outside air pressure. With exhaust fans, you can create a relative depressurization inside your home. This can be used to find air leaks increasing your energy bills.

One test is to use a powerful fan attached to the front door to depressurize your house (air blows outside). Then you can measure the level of depressurization you achieve or use smoke candles to seek out pesky air infiltration leaks that cost you money.

If you were to turn the fan around and blow air into your home, your house would be under relative positive pressure to the outside air. In this case, the smoke from the test candle would exit the house through cracks and other openings.

This technique is used for so-called “clean rooms.” If you want to assemble microchips and other sensitive components, to create a clean room, the room can be just slightly over pressurized relative to the outside. This way contaminated air isn’t drawn into the room from small imperfections in the building envelope. The air entering the room can be filtered and you can control it. A HEPA filter will help remove small particles.

A prepper can envision several scenarios. If you’re hit with a dust storm or smoke from a forest fire, a simple HEPA system like this will remove some of the offending material before it enters your home.

This advice of creating a slightly positive pressure inside your shelter is given for dealing with nuclear radiation too. (The link is to a page from a book on Google books titled Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Terrorism: Emergency Response by Mark E. Byrnes, et. all., Page 108.) The Radiation is carried by small contaminated particles.

I’m not so sure how such a system would work against a chemical or biological terrorist attack, because of our limited ability to filter these agents. But if you had an adequate filter, with a powerful fan and power source and some PVC pipe you could create a basic system.

Charlie Palmer -author, The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning

Here’s a pdf about building a new home with radon in mind.

EPA’s Consumer Guide To Radon (pdf)

Here an news article about radon in Minnesota.

Here’s a great blog post on about the difference between negligent and accidental discharge of a firearm.

Food Poisoning, Sick Homes And Hantavirus

19 Sep

Falls are the leading cause of home deaths. Poisoning is the second leading cause of home deaths, right ahead of fires and drowning. Many people take the safety of their food for granted. We go to the grocery store and buy our nummies. We cook them and eat. All is good.

In a disaster, without adequate hygiene and food preparation and storage, many could suffer from food poisoning. Many preppers preserve, can, or process their own foods. Given this, it behooves us to understand a bit about food poisoning. We should have some idea of how to recognize if a person might have food poisoning. We should know how to treat it. Most importantly, we should learn about how to prevent it.

The National Institute of Health has some good basic information about food poisoning.

Preventing Food Poisoning has a nice write up about the symptoms of food poisoning.

The FDA has a 265 page pdf called “The Bad Bug Book” or ” Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook”  I guess one title is aimed at lay people like us.

This pdf is a pretty intense resource: “Each chapter in this book is about a pathogen – a bacterium, virus, or parasite – or a natural toxin that can contaminate food and cause illness” I’d read the little blue boxes.

Here’s a post from another prepper about food poisoning.

For preppers processing their own foods, the Internet has a wealth of resources.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has many publications.

If you prefer a paper book, you could get “So Easy To Preserve

Another good resource:
Safe Home Canning of Fruits, Vegetables and Meats (University of Minnesota)

To protect small children from ingesting something they shouldn’t, we should have chemicals locked up or out of reach. Choking is another significant cause of household deaths. New parents should learn about choking and how small objects must be kept away from babies.

Ingesting poison is only one path to poisoning. Inhalation of poison is another. Preppers should know about carbon monoxide poisoning. In today’s modern homes, which don’t have as much air exchange as older homes, things inside your home could make you sick. This is a huge field of environmental health called Sick House Syndrome or Sick Building Syndrome.

Here are two pdfs about sick buildings:

Whenever you bring building materials into your home, ask yourself: Are these good materials to have inside the home? Will they out gas chemicals? Who can forget the smelly Chinese drywall scandal?

If you learn just a little bit about food poisoning, keep hazardous chemicals out of the reach of small children, and know just a bit about home air issues, you and your family should be safe from most poisonings—A midget Ninja with a poison dart might still get you.

Here’s a nice article about Hantavirus from Scientific American

More about the mysteries of Hantavirus

The Apartment Prepper has a wonderful write up about Hantavirus.

Hantavirus is extremely rare, but it’s one of the few specific threats I mention in the book because many nations have biological weapons departments trying to make this pass from human to human. If a modified version of it ever gets out, it could be problematic, kind of like the movie Contagion starring Matt Damon, which I just saw a few days ago.

Some preppers prep for swine flu or bird flu, but I bet if there is a future plague, it will be Hantavirus based. It’s reasonable that during dry conditions and drought this virus could be particularly bad, because more deadly mouse poop becomes dried up and airborne.

People filming the hit TV show Hoarders found Hantavirus in Texas. The dust inside is particularly deadly, because outside UV light from the sun effectively kills the virus. has a good article about prepper fitness and bodyweight exercises.

If you enjoy bodyweight exercises and are looking for a challenge, visit which has some great articles about progressively building up to do some pretty intense exercises, like the one-handed pushup.

Dust Mites And A Harbor Freight Floor Jack

7 Aug

8-6-12. In the chapter about bug out vehicles, I mention several floor jacks that work well for those getting into repairing their own vehicles. One inexpensive choice is the Harbor Freight 3 ton floor jack (model 68048). I have one of these and it has worked well for me. Yes, it’s made in China. In the newspaper, Harbor Freight has a flier which has a coupon for this jack for $69.99. For a well-made 3 ton floor jack, that’s a heck of a deal. The coupon is good until 12/5/12. If you can find a coupon in your local paper and have a Harbor Freight nearby, you might want to check it out.

With the warmer and more humid weather, one thing some of us notice is more congestion. Usually chalked up to pollen allergies, there is another potential suspect: dust mites. Dust mites thrive in the summer. As with many small creatures, the animals themselves aren’t so bad, but they poo, and many little creatures pooing really adds up. The poo dust enters the air and becomes an allergen or worse.

Dust mites are like the little Chuck Norris’s of the microbe world, they’re tough critters. Even the prepper go-to–bleach–won’t bother them. Their food source is shedded human skin, which is everywhere in the home. They get their hydration from humidity in the air.

Regular vacuuming and washing of bedding reduces their number. One study says reducing temperature and humidity in the home in the summer with an air conditioner reduces the number of dust mites by a factor of ten. If you can reduce home humidity to 50-60%, you’ll keep the little bugs in check.

Other tools to fight dust mites include protecting your mattress with mattress protectors to keep the mites from taking up residence in your mattress. Vapor Steam cleaners (expensive!) use dry steam to clean, and the hot temperature will kill dust mites. For those who can afford them and have dust mite allergies, a vapor steam cleaner can be used to clean rugs, mattresses, favored stuffed animals, and other items that can’t be easily laundered. Vapor steam cleaners also kill bacteria and mold.

Here’s some good advice ( about reducing dust mites in your home.

Mayo Clinic on Dust Mites

USA Today Story about the wildfires in Oklahoma. In another story, I learned that Russia is in a drought too and that many parts of the Siberian forest are ablaze.