When you live off-grid, you’re particularly at risk of emergencies. Finding yourself without power or water, being snowed in or being at the mercy of a natural disaster could be fatal if you’re not adequately prepared. To ensure that you’re ready for anything, I’ve chosen the five must-have items that are essential for your off-grid home emergency kit.
There are numerous threats that all homes should prepare for, but in this list, I’ve focused specifically on the challenges faced by those who live off-grid. For a broader list of what to include in a general home emergency kit, visit Ready.gov.
What emergencies should I prepare for?
Most of the emergencies you may face in your off-grid home will either be caused by the failure of your off-grid power and water supplies or by weather or natural disasters that, in turn, impact your energy and water systems. This means that you’re more likely to face an emergency scenario than those living on the grid; however, it also means that being prepared is an essential part of your lifestyle.
Related reading: How to prepare an off-grid home for winter.
When living off-grid, planning for emergencies isn’t just preparing an emergency kit and being done with it; it should be built into the design of your home and everything you do. When you set up off-grid your home’s off-grid systems, you need to plan several tiers of backups right from day one.
- Losing power – Alternative power supplies like solar, wind or hydro are all dependent on external influence like the weather. Having a large battery bank will allow you to store power for several days, but it must be kept in good condition and won’t last indefinitely. Therefore, you must have additional backups and even backups for those backups. If you live in a remote area or harsh climate, loss of power could become an emergency quickly.
- Problems with your water supply – Even if you have an excellent off-grid water supply, such as a well or several large cisterns of stored rainwater, you may still face problems. Leaks, contamination or times of drought could very quickly put your whole family at risk without adequate forethought. Related reading: How to get an off-grid water supply without a well.
- Damage to your food stocks – If you produce or store large amounts of food, you’re particularly vulnerable should something happen to affect your supplies. Anything from rot to a poor harvest could decimate a season’s supply of food. Related reading: How much land do you need to be self-sufficient?
- Problems with your waste systems – If you can’t effectively dispose of waste, there is the risk that it may contaminate your food or water, or even cause illness. Related reading: The complete guide to off-grid wastewater management.
- Seasonal risks – A small problem with a generator or spoiled food can very quickly become a life or death scenario if you’re cut off by snow. Even hot weather can be an issue, particularly if you haven’t stored enough water. Heating and cooling systems are likely to use up more energy than any others, so ensuring that you can run them when necessary or providing adequate backups is essential.
- Natural disasters – Although you can’t always be aware when these will strike, knowing the area you live in, and the risks, should play a large part in your emergency preparations.
In general, being prepared for these eventualities will depend on your planning for each possible scenario. It may also be useful to run rehearsals to ensure that you’re ready. If you don’t practice, you may never realize that a plan won’t work until it’s too late. Living off-grid can be a very safe way of life, but that is down to how well prepared you are.
Five things to include in your off-grid home emergency kit
Based on the potential emergencies listed above, I’ve chosen the items that I found to be the most essential when I made my own backup plans. There are many other things I could have selected, but each of these will make a significant difference in an emergency:
1. Backup generator
A good backup generator is essential for any off-grid home, particularly if you rely on solar or wind power. However, it will only be of use in an emergency if it’s in good repair, has plenty of fuel, and you’re well-practiced and using it. Ideally, you don’t want to be relying on calling in a mechanic to service repair it, especially is you live in a remote area.
It’s best to learn how to repair it yourself, run it regularly and keep stocks of anything you may need, such as replacement spark plugs. Be sure to give it a test run and check it’s in good working order before winter, or at any point, it may become necessary. It may also be necessary to change the oil and empty any old fuel, then top up the tank. If your generator is only there as a backup and sits idle for long periods, you may want to add a fuel stabilizer to it.
If you care for your generator like this, it’s likely to get you out of numerous difficult situations.
Reasons why a generator should be in your home emergency kit
- If you have a reliable backup power supply, you can still use essentials like heating or water pumps. These can be essential to survival, particularly in a long winter.
- They can be portable, so they can be moved to be precisely where they’re needed.
- They can be used at any time to top up batteries or run electronics.
Potential issues to look out for
- To keep them ready for an emergency, you must keep on top of the repairs and use them regularly.
- They must never be run in an enclosed environment or within 20ft of your house.
- Some generators can struggle to start in the cold. To prevent this, keep them clear of any debris, service them regularly and invest in a cold-weather kit. Cold weather kits can include battery warmers and engine block heaters.
Additional note: Generators are great but can fail, so always have other backups for your power. This could be another generator, extra batteries or another alternative power source.
2. Propane heaters
Although there are many emergencies you should prepare for; if you live off-grid, you’re particularly vulnerable to the cold. Heating a home takes lots of power, so if your solar panels aren’t working or the generator goes down, you’re at risk of freezing. If you live in a remote environment and could potentially be cut off from local shops and amenities, it could be particularly dangerous.
You’ve got lots of options to heat your home, but propane heaters are easy to get going in an emergency. Even if you have a wood burner, it’s still worth having a few propane heaters as a backup. Wood takes time and energy to get it ready to burn, and it must be stored well to be ready for use when you need it during the winter.
Propane heaters do have their downsides, but as long as you have an adequate supply of propane, you can start warming your room in a matter of seconds. Although a heater won’t need servicing in the same way that a generator does, it’s still good practice to check they’re working in the run-up to winter and clean out any deposits of dust that may clog up the ignition or the burners.
Reasons why a propane heater should be in your home emergency kit
- Most of them take up a small amount of space and can quickly provide heat.
- They’re quick to get going and don’t require wood chopping or storing.
- They don’t need electricity to run.
- They’re easy to clean and maintain.
Potential problems to look out for
- They should never be used in small or enclosed spaces because they can cause a carbon monoxide build-up. Look for modern heaters that will shut off if carbon monoxide is detected. When you use any propane heater, a separate, battery-powered carbon monoxide detector is essential.
- Stocking up on propane is more straightforward than chopping wood, but it is an extra job to do, and some heaters aren’t very efficient. You must have a large enough stock of propane to get you through any emergency.
3. Basic tool kit
Keeping a small number of essential tools in your kit could save you crucial minutes during an emergency. What you include should be based on your own situation, but it’s worth having:
- Four or five flathead and phillips head screwdrivers of different sizes. These are great for any small job that you didn’t realize was urgent until it became an emergency.
- A battery screwdriver, spare battery and several bits. Keep the batteries charged if possible. If it runs out of power, you have the other screwdrivers as a backup, but these battery tools are a great way to save time or get more torque on a stubborn screw.
- A small socket set, wrenches and pliers. This is for generator maintenance, so make it suitable for your own model.
- A set of hard-wearing work gloves – There is the potential that you may need to work in the cold or on a hot pipe or generator. These will allow you to work quickly and comfortably.
- Simple plumbing kit including a pipe repairer, wrench and a hacksaw.
- A set of Allen keys.
- A head torch with spare sets of batteries.
- All-purpose demolition or survival tool. I have one of these in my kit because it can act as a heavy-duty hammer, wrench and other handy features.
Make sure that this tool kit is kept with your other emergency items, and you don’t use it. If you do, you’re likely to forget to return something, and it may not be there when you need it.
Reasons why a basic tool kit should be in your home emergency kit
- Emergencies require quick responses, and a kit like this will allow you quick access to tools that will help you address any problems as they arise.
- It’s impossible to pre-empt every emergency scenario, but this range of tools gives you a broad range of options to cover most situations. Ultimately, you know what’s likely to go wrong in your home in the event of an emergency, so build your tool kit based on what you’ll need.
Potential problems to look out for
- The main issue with this kit is keeping it small and accessible while also including all the equipment you need.
- You also may want to include some battery-powered items to give you some extra speed and power, but you may not be able to recharge them, and many battery-powered tools don’t hold their charge well. If you decide to include some in your kit, always make sure you have a hand tool option too.
4. Emergency lights
These will help in so many situations, and there are lots of options. It’s a good idea to have several and include some different types. You could include:
- Battery-powered torches and lamps with several sets of spare batteries.
- Solar lamps
With a combination of different types, you’re likely to be able to provide light for a long time in most situations. Solar lamps are a great option, but they’re no good if you’ve had them in a box for most of the year, and you suddenly need it in an emergency at night. However, if you can keep light on them during the day, several versions come with extra features. You can often attach them to walls or metal surfaces, and some even feature phone charging ports.
As well as having portable emergency lights in your kit you may also want to install battery-powered emergency systems in your home. You can get automatic systems that will turn on if the power fails or in the event of an emergency.
Reasons why emergency lights should be in your home emergency kit
- If an emergency situation occurs and you lose power, the first thing you’re going to want to lay your hand on is a light.
- They allow you to get your bearings and see what the situation is.
- They’re essential if you need to safely see your way out of a building or dangerous situation.
- They’re useful when carrying out repairs to help you see what you’re doing.
- Lights are also great for attracting attention if you find yourself in a survival situation.
Potential problems to look out for
- Solar lamps need the sun to charge, so it’s worth keeping several different types of lights.
5. Separate solar charging battery kit
Having a small portable solar panel and a powerpack is a useful way to charge other essential equipment like phones. Even if your main solar panels aren’t getting enough light, you may be able to position a portable panel in a better position to harvest as much light as possible. Many essential items require electricity; it’s worth having something like this should you find yourself waiting for the generator to charge the main battery pack or even if your generator fails.
Reasons why a separate solar charger should be in your home emergency kit
- Depending on how long you’re in an emergency situation, you may be able to charge a phone to call for help or even use it to charge small lights and electric heaters.
- They take up a small amount of space but could make a crucial difference if you’re without power.
They’re far more versatile than larger panels, and, depending on your needs, you can use them in numerous situations. For further ideas check out: 17-things-to-do-with-a-small-solar-panel.
Potential problems to look out for
- They may need several hours to build up the amount of power you need.
- You can move them into small areas of sunlight, but they’re useless on completely overcast days.
Additional essential equipment
As well as the recommended equipment that’s useful for all emergency kits, both off and on grid, there are a few other essentials worth including in your planning.
Water – When you prepare your main water supply or storage in your off-grid home, be sure to include completely separate backup storage in a separate area of your home. It’s best if you use several small portable water containers rather than another large cistern. This way, it’s more likely that some will survive a disaster, and it’s easy to pick them up to take with you if necessary. Remember, the general rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person per day for emergency water.
First aid kit and medical supplies – This is essential if you get cut off in an emergency. It’s also important to make sure that your family always has enough of any prescription medication to last them for at least a week.
Food – Any emergency kit should include basic food rations, but it’s even more important if you’re self-sufficient. A severe storm could wipe out a year’s worth of crops, so its worth planning stores and backups to prepare for these possibilities.
Separate phone charging kit – I’ve already mentioned a portable solar panel, but it may also be worth considering a mini kit dedicated to your phone. You could also look into storing spare phone batteries or even spare phones so you can get help when necessary.
Storing your emergency kit
With all these important items, it may seem hard to decide where to put them. Remember that the point of this kit is that it, or at least parts of it, should be easy to grab to be used or taken with you. Obviously, you can’t do that with the big items like the generators, but smaller items should be kept in safe, waterproof containers somewhere you can access them quickly. Glow in the dark tape can be wrapped around the box so that you can find it quickly in the dark.
What goes in your home emergency kit is entirely up to you, but everything on this list is worth considering. Remember that I’ve focused on items specifically for off-grid homes, so there are many other items you may need to add for more general emergencies.
Whatever you choose for your kit, make sure you plan for all eventualities, keep it in good condition, and practice regularly with each item. A good plan is almost as useful as the items themselves and could end up saving your life.