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Why Preppers Should Be Do-It-Yourselfers

6 Sep

I suspect the vast majority of serious preppers are big into Do It Yourself (DIY). Preppers want to be self reliant. Being able to maintain your own household systems is part of not being dependent upon others. It can save a ton of money.

Not everybody can repair their own systems. It’s not permitted by law. Here’s an example. In England residents aren’t permitted to do their own electrical wiring.

In America we’re allowed to do our own residential electrical wiring (there could be exceptions). If we own rental property where others live, we’re not allowed to work on those electrical systems unless we’re electricians.

The lawmakers will say this is to protect people from shoddy repairs and to enhance safety. Maybe. Trade groups push for these laws to drive up their profits. They don’t want people to be self sufficient. They want to feel loved and needed. And get us to cut them a big check.

Make no mistake, building code is partly based on safety and it’s partly based on special interest politics. In Minnesota we had a kerfuffle about AAVs for plumbing vents. Air Admittance Valves (AAV) are one-way check valves which allow air to enter a drain pipe. This keeps a vacuum from impeding the drain flow. The check valve prevents sewer gasses from backing up into the home.

The traditional way of venting is to run vent pipes through the roof. This lets gasses from the sewer vent above the home and it allows air to flow into the drain pipe to remove waste. No check valve is needed, just open pipe. Every home should have one vent which terminates above the roof.

What if you add a sink and drain somewhere and it needs venting? AAVs allow you to vent the fixture without running pipes through the roof or connecting into the existing vent system.

In Minnesota we have our own plumbing code. Many plumbing codes exist. There is a uniform plumbing code, an international plumbing code, and others. A maker of AAVs lobbied to allow these devices in Minnesota. The building code was changed. Not so fast. The pipefitters objected to the change. AAVs were disallowed. With AAVs there is less pipe to fit.

My point isn’t to argue the pros and cons of AAVs. Just to show industry politics plays a role in determining building code. The government deciders don’t always only care about your best interests. They care about pleasing the folks who butter their bread.

I could picture a future where no homeowner was ever allowed to do anything in their home. You’d need to call in the professionals.

What DIY things should a person learn?

1) Plumbing
2) Electrical Wiring
3) Appliance Repair
4) Basic Auto Repair
5) Understand the basics of your HVAC system

Look around your home and life. What systems do you rely on? The more you understand those systems and the more capable you are to fix and maintain them, the more self-sufficient you are.

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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.

My Philosophy Of Prepping (Part 1)

4 Feb

Thank you to all the readers who’ve posted reviews of my book. I really appreciate them! I received one comment I wanted to address. The comment said I went into too much detail, discussing things like toilet wax rings.

Point Number One: Toilet wax rings are very important!

Point Number Two: My philosophy of prepping is that you should understand, as well as you can, all of the key support systems in your life. Day to day, we rely on many things, from our vehicle, to our heating system (HVAC), to our plumbing, to our electrical system. The more we understand about these systems, the more capable we are to maintain them if they fail. The more we know, the longer we can keep our systems well-maintained and functioning.

Many times, we’re nearly helpless to repair a problem. In the book, I write about an earthquake ripping apart the sewer system in Christchurch, New Zealand. People were forced to use portable loos for months while the professionals repaired the sewer system. I’m not saying that you, as a citizen, must go out and rebuild a city’s infrastructure after a disaster. Although, you should lend a helping hand, if you can. Volunteers make a tremendous difference.

Homeowners can make many repairs on their own. Water supply pipes that freeze in winter crack and leak inside a home. This is a problem many people have seen recently. The best thing is to maintain your heat, then this won’t happen! If you can’t continue to heat your home, the second best solution is to shut off the water supply and drain the system. If it does happen, it’s good to know how to repair this. It’s not really that difficult.

Why not just call in a “professional”? If the professionals are busy, because local conditions damaged many homes, service doesn’t magically appear in a few hours. All the plumbers are booked solid for days. Professional help is lacking or delayed. What happens if the person doesn’t even know how to turn off his water? Major problems.

A more fundamental reason why I feel you should learn these things is that it fundamentally changes your relationship to the things in your life. You’re no longer a blind user who doesn’t understand, but merely uses a system.

Too many people today don’t understand how anything works. We live in a throw away culture where most people are clueless about repairing the simplest thing. These people don’t have the personal sense of satisfaction that comes from a successful repair. They lack mechanical insight that comes from doing.

The worst are celebrities who earn millions of dollars and because of this can remain totally  ignorant of the mechanical world around them. With the exception of Jay Leno, how many celebrities could even point out the air filter in their car? A bubble of affluence has allowed them to become totally helpless. In a disaster the more self-sufficient you can be, the better. The more you understand about the physical operation of the world, the better.

Knowledge of mechanical things helps you operate things better. A example that comes to mind is the good old Remington 1100 shotgun. Growing up, many duck hunters said these guns were crummy, unreliable. Others said they were reliable with the proper cleaning. Same gun. For one person, it’s reliable. For another it jams. Why?

It comes down to understanding a few things: That gas operated semi autos have gas ports that can become fouled, and that these gasses must be constrained. A faulty seal causes problems. A dirty gas port, problems. The more you know, the better your shotgun is maintained and the more you understand the key parts you should keep as spares. Or, do as I did as a youngster, and go with the 870 pump!

Emergency Water Shutoff, Sharkbite Fittings, And Mice

9 Aug

In my book, I emphasize it’s important for preppers to learn a bit about home repair so that we can deal with basic emergencies. The usual advice if you spring a major plumbing leak inside your home is to turn off the water. Then, call a plumber or fix the problem yourself, with the water turned off.

Every homeowner should know where the basic turnoff valve is for their water supply. It’s usually located near the water meter. The newer shutoffs have a little lever that might rust. It can be replaced if it rusts out completely. If necessary, a vice grip can be used to turn the stem of a shutoff valve. Many modern water meters have shutoff valves on each side. This is great. If one fails to stop the flow, you have one more to go to.

What if you can’t turn off the water? What if it keeps gushing out? The valve has failed. Even a slight trickle of water is enough to make sweat soldering repairs difficult. Here are some tricks to help you out.

Because of water pressure, it’s really tough to put a cap over a gushing torrent. But, you can put an open valve over it. Let the water run through the valve rather than fight it. (Think of this as plumbing judo: You go with the flow rather than oppose it with brute force.) Secure the valve to the pipe. Then, shut the valve. This youtube video (from OldKid888) shows you how you can block the flow of water out of a pipe with a Sharkbite fitting:

Here’s another video about Sharkbite fittings:

I briefly mention Sharkbite fittings in the book. They’re an alternative to sweat soldering copper in an emergency. To use one of these, you’d first want to cut the copper pipe clean with a pipe cutter (a very useful thing to have). The cutter is better than a hacksaw because it makes a clean cut, and the blade won’t get bombarded by water as you cut, in cuts from the outside in. (if this is to be a permanent repair, you might want to use a small deburring tool to clean the inside of the new cut. The good news: You won’t need to shower after deburring!) Then, push the fitting onto the copper to secure it.

If you can work your way back to a clean fitting or threaded pipe, you can use the same trick on galvanized pipe, using a threaded valve and a pipe nipple and some teflon tape or pipe dope.

When water companies want to replace a main valve but don’t want to turn off the water to the house at the B-box under the street, they sometimes use pipe freeze kits. These kits use liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide to freeze the water in the pipe before the valve to be replaced.

In The Prepper Next Door, we talk about the yin of freezing pipes: it’s usually a bad thing you want to prevent. I guess this is the yang part, freezing water creates a plug to help you. It’s a good thing. The freeze only gives you a short time to make the repair or you need to keep adding cooling material. To use a freeze kit, the valve must slow the water flow sufficiently for the ice plug to form. This won’t work on an all-out gusher.

I found three nice videos about using pipe freeze kits. (Not that I’m recommending you go out and purchase one of these. They’re expensive, and you probably won’t need it. But, it shows you one more way to stop water flow. One guy is a professional maintenance man who is using a pipe freeze kit for his first time to stop the flow in a major supply line in an apartment building filled with people. Love his comment: “Hope this works or I’ll be looking for a new job.”)

(maintenance guy at apartment)

The farthest point away from your house you can turn off the water without affecting other homes is the B-box or Buffalo box. For city folks, if you look at your sidewalk, you might see a small metal cover with a pentagon-shaped bolt. The pentagon shape is designed to deter homeowners and others from shutting off the water at the B-box. Underneath it, several feet down below the frost line, is a valve to shut off the water. To reach the valve, you’d need a special, expensive wrench.

While you can purchase curb keys and wrenches, most local governments seriously frown on homeowners messing with this valve. Many communities don’t even let plumbers mess with this valve. Some cities impose heavy fines. Others have a “you break it, you bought it” policy. If you mess with it and something goes wrong, the city will bill you for the repair. They’ll show up with four trucks, two bulldozers, and eight guys all on union time. As a homeowner, I’d never mess with the valve at the B-box!

Even a small trickle of water can make sweat soldering copper pipes difficult. Water in the hot pipes vaporizes and pushes itself out between the pipe and fitting. This means your soldering won’t hold.

The old school trick to block off water was to bunch up some bread and force it into the pipe. It will stop the water for a bit but eventually harmlessly work its way out. For more serious drips, there are gizmos to stop the water flow long enough to solder a joint. These won’t stop a gusher.

This is a video presentation by one of the companies making a water-stop soldering gizmo:

Here’s a link to the pipe repair clamps I mentioned in the book. They come in different sizes. For the typical homeowner, if you have on for 1/2″ pipe and one for 3/4″ pipe, you’re probably all set.

In the chapter about sanitation, I discuss mice. Here’s the Youtube video I referred to about the 1993 Australian mouse plague. You can find the video on other channels too:

Here’s a nice video about making a 5 gallon bucket mouse trap:

I didn’t mean for this post to get so long, but wanted to share a few video links readers might like. I wanted to mention one thing I forgot to include in the book. We just talked about emergency plumbing and we talked about mice. Now I want to talk about emergency plumbing and mice.

No. I’m not going to say something silly, like you can plug up a pipe and stop a leak by stuffing in a dead mouse. One piping material for making emergency plumbing repairs is PEX. In general, I like PEX. One downside: mice are able to easily nibble through PEX. Unlike copper, PEX doesn’t corrode. If you’re PEX starts leaking in all sorts of odd places, mice might be to blame. Well, you can’t really blame them, they’re just rodents.

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