You want you and your family to be ready for the worst-case scenario. If you’re prepping logically, you know that there’s no one single situation you’re prepping for. You do not and cannot know what will happen with certainty or for how long you will need to be prepared for or what sort of conditions you might endure. What you can do is cover your bases and prepare for the most likely scenarios:
- Natural disasters
- Industrial accidents
- Economic collapse
- Nuclear or terrorist attack
- EMP or grid failure
Each of these disaster scenarios will require a different response. But in any of these situations there will be some commonalities. For example, clean water may be hard to access. Supply chains will break down — including the ones that deliver food, medicine and other essentials. Damaged infrastructure may render travel difficult or impossible. Communication may be limited to radio only. And you probably won’t have any electricity or gas — no lights and no heat.
These are the problems you’ll need to prep for!
You’ll need supplies, storage, and the ability to outfit your home to survive a situation it wasn’t designed for: a total breakdown of the basic services you and your family depend on to live.
Before You Start: Planning and Advice
Before you start prepping your home, you need to have the answers to these basic questions:
- How many people am I prepping for?
- How will I communicate with them in a disaster?
- Do any of us have special needs (medication, food allergies, etc.)?
- If I’m not home, how will I get home (from work, the store, etc.)?
Most needs are the same — every person needs food, water and shelter. But you can only prep well if you know who you’re prepping for, what they need and how you will get yourself (and your family, if necessary) home when things go sideways.
The Basics: What You Need to Survive
Once you’ve answered the questions above, you should start by stockpiling essentials, starting with…
Water is the most basic of basics — a person can’t live more than four days without water, at most. And that’s assuming that person was in great health and fully hydrated when they stopped getting the water they need.
You should have at least two weeks worth of clean, drinkable water for every member of the household. A good rule of thumb is to store one gallon per person per day, or 14 gallons per person to start. Children, nursing mothers and the sick will need more water than a healthy adult.
Your water should be stored in UV-safe food-safe plastic containers and away from extreme temperatures — indoors and in a temperature-controlled room is best. If you don’t have room in your pantry, or don’t have a pantry, you may have to get creative with your storage. An underground cellar or outdoors shed are both possible options.
Water can theoretically be stored, under the right conditions, forever. If you want to be on the safe side, FEMA recommends that non-commercially bottled water be replaced every six months.
Water filtration is less important at home than it is in a Bug-Out Bag or travel bag. But if you are planning on drawing water from a well or natural water source, like a river, lake or stream, after your water stores have run dry then water filtration is a must. (You should be storing water even if you have a well or nearby water source you want to draw from.)
If you have access to fuel or power, boiling is the most effective form of water filtration when it comes to bacteria, viruses and parasites. The next best form of water filtration is iodine, which is available in tablet and liquid form. Water filters are the least effective form of water filtration — they are, however, the most portable, convenient and reliable and will filter out inorganic particles like silt and dust (boiling and iodine will not). When shopping for filters, highly-reviewed products marketed to hikers are a good bet.
Check the size rating for a filter before you buy it — a good filter will have a size rating of less than one micron. High-qualities ones will have even smaller size ratings. Water filters designed for home tap water are often designed to only filter out inorganic material and can have a size rating of five or more microns.
[Editor’s note: I actually recommend more water per person–up to five gallons per day–but that’s hard to do. Regarding water filters, it’s hard to beat a Big Berkey filter when it comes to survival water filters.]
After water, food is the next most important component of your stores. As with water, you want two weeks worth of food for every member of the household to start. Calorie needs will vary from person to person. 3,000 calories per person per day will be more than enough in most cases, but it’s better to be overstocked than not.
Your stores should be non-perishable, nutritious and calorie-dense. Most prepping guides will recommend ready-to-eat MREs and highly transportable calorie bars. But because you’re prepping your home, you’ll have a lot more space to work with and won’t have to worry about weight.
When buying survival food, ask yourself if it’s worth the space it will take up. How long will it feed you and your family? Can it be easily resealed if opened?
Tins, cans and jars are also worth considering, but they will need to be replaced regularly and usually take up more space than survival food. Tins and cans also can’t be resealed once opened, and refrigerating leftovers may not be possible. The bigger a can is, the more you’ll have to eat — otherwise, the food in that can is no longer edible: a waste of space and resources.
Survival food is often sold in a drum or bucket with a resealable lid. This won’t make the food inside last forever, but it will buy you the most time before that food spoils.
Generally speaking, the less moisture is in a product, the longer it will last on your shelves. Dried beans, oats and powdered milk can last decades. Pasta, dry cheese and properly-stored grains also store for extremely long periods of time. Commercially-canned food will last anywhere between two to five years.
Home-preserved food will generally last the least amount of time. Home-canned food should be eaten within a year. Food that you jar yourself may only last a few months or weeks, even with proper storage.
Foraging can be used to supplement your diet, but shouldn’t be relied upon for food, especially if you’re not intimately familiar with local flora. (As the old mycologist’s saying goes: you can eat any mushroom, once.)
[Editor’s note: I actually explain precisely which pantry foods you’re going to want to stockpile in my book on the topic.]
Light and Heat
Candles, portable lanterns, and headlamps are all good additions to your supply cache. Battery-powered flashlights are okay in the short-term, but it’s a better idea to keep one or more mechanically powered flashlights — flashlights powered by hand cranks or shaking — on hand.
In an ideal situation, your house is outfitted with a wood-stove or fireplace that can provide heat even without gas or electricity. In any case, survival blankets can be a good backup strategy.
For cooking and boiling water, a propane burner or cooking stove can be nice to have.
For long-term survival, you might consider gas generators or other power sources to keep your lights on and your house heated. We’ll cover power generation later in the article.
First Aid and Sanitation
There are a lot of guides out there on how to build your own first aid kit. But outfitting your house for survival will go beyond a good first aid kit. You need to be prepared for any and every medical emergency. Here are some medical supplies that you should always have on hand:
- Bandages, gauze, medical tape
- Antibiotic ointments
- Cold packs
- Common over-the-counter medicines, like antihistamines and ibuprofen
- Medications for you and your family members
- A cool and dry place to store these medications
- Cleaning supplies and disinfectants, soap
- Feminine hygiene products
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start that goes beyond most off-the-shelf first aid kits. You may need to tweak it to fit your own needs — some medications need more than a cool and dry place, and you’ll need to be prepared for any health conditions you or your family members have.
Remember that the plumbing in your house will probably not be functional. In addition to your survival stores, you should have extra water for hygiene and first aid.
Anything that makes your life a little easier. What tools to buy will depend on your own personal situation and preferences. Shovels, axes, fire-starters, sewing kits, pliers and wrenches can all be extraordinarily useful. Assume that any repairs you’ll need, you’ll have to make yourself. If you have something in your house that could be saved with basic maintenance, keeping the tools for the job on hand can save your life. Rifles and ammunition are also a good idea in general, but can also augment your food stores if you’re somewhere you can hunt.
[Editor’s note: You might want to ensure you have a toolbox designed to recover from disaster; it’s something most preppers don’t think about!]
Advanced Home Prepping
Supplies are the foundation of your home prepping, but you don’t have to stop there. You can make changes to your home that will increase your chances of survival.
Shelving, Storage and Organization
You may quickly run into problems with storage, especially if you live somewhere where space is at a premium. Maximizing the space you have (or, in a pinch, creating additional storage) will be essential if you want to have enough food, water and essentials to last.
Start by optimizing the space you’re currently using. If anything can be moved around or re-grouped to give yourself a little extra space, do it. Get creative with your storage and use any extra space you have around your home to store essentials. The area under the hanging clothes in your closet and space under your bed are both possible.
If you need to, you can construct additional shelving — to keep vertical storage space from going un-utilized — or extra storage space, like a shed.
To maximize the security of your shelving and storage, you should work with tamper-resistant screws. In a disaster scenario, physical security is one of the few security measures you can take against those who might try to break into your stores. While you can’t keep an eye on your storage 24/7, you can make any theft extremely difficult. High-quality locks and sturdy materials are also good ways to prevent looting or theft.
[Editor’s note: This is another topic I explain how to properly deal with in my book on prepping in small spaces.]
Most medications and medical supplies only need a cool, dry place to stay stable. Some medications, like insulin, need to be refrigerated when stored for long periods. Be prepared with emergency generators, or other refrigeration solutions
Keeping the Lights On
Power isn’t necessary for long-term survival — but it will make every other aspect of survival much, much easier.
Home generators are the first place most prepping guides go to. Readily available, these run on propane, diesel or gasoline. A diesel engine can even be converted to run on bio-diesel, which can be manufactured at home, or waste vegetable oil — but this conversion will require special modifications to your generator and will decrease the lifespan of the generator’s fuel filters.
One obvious downside of these generators is that you will need to make room for both fuel stores — which will be hard to replenish in an emergency scenario — and the generator itself.
There are other options. Solar power, once considered a highly unreliable source of energy generation, is now a fairly reliable source of home power. Solar power is also just about the only practical way to take your home off of the grid without being dependent on resources — like gasoline — which may be hard or impossible to get in a disaster scenario. (A home generator, while not great for long-term survival, is good as a backup.)
Even with a home power solution, you’ll still want to keep emergency supplies like candles, fire starters and kindling and water filters on hand. But if you can keep your home powered, you can make do with less.
Other Home Upgrades
If you have water and food to spare, storage isn’t a problem and you’re not worried about power, you can start considering other home upgrades. Dig a well. Build a shed, basement or bunker. Upgrade your insulation and switch to energy-efficient windows — both of these will help your house retain heat and make it easier to keep warm.
Prepare to Bug-Out
When prepping to survive at home, you need to prepare for a situation where your home is either not accessible or no longer suitable for survival. Once you’re mostly prepped for a bug-in situation, you should begin putting together a bug-out bag in addition to your get-home bag.
Your bug-out bag should be designed for survival without guaranteed shelter. Building a bug-out bag requires just as much planning as prepping your home, and is too big of a topic for this article. You can start by packing a bag with the basics: food, water and something to keep you warm and sheltered.
[Editor’s note: Have I mentioned I’ve got a book on that?]
Prepping Best Practices
Don’t treat this article as a to-do list. To prep well, you’ll need to cover all of your bases enough before you start moving onto advanced preparations. Focus on the most essential of the essentials first — food, water, shelter and first aid — before you start worrying about home upgrades.
It won’t be easy, but it is possible to prep your house for disaster. Take advantage of the space you have and store your emergency supplies well, and you’ll greatly increase you and your family’s chances of survival.
[Editor’s Note: This was a guest post.]