The future is unpredictable, and we cannot forecast natural disasters such as storms, earthquakes, droughts, or terrorist attacks. Climate change is causing increasingly noticeable effects, and interest in resilience is increasing rapidly, especially in coastal areas that are most vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges. Homesteaders who value self-sufficiency and independence are making their homes and land more resilient.
So, what exactly is resilience? According to the Resilient Design Institute, it is defined as “the ability to adapt to changing conditions and maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disruption.” In other words, resilience involves preparation for climate change, but its benefits go beyond just that. It’s about ensuring the safety and security of your family, no matter what the future may hold.
When striving for a disaster-resistant homestead, the placement of buildings and gardens with respect to flood risk is a crucial factor to consider. My wife and I purchased our farm in Southern Vermont after the devastating impact of Hurricane Irene on the state’s buildings, infrastructure, and farmland. Our farm has approximately 10 acres of agricultural fields situated over 150 feet above the West River, which provides us with some protection from extreme rainfall events.
To further protect against flooding, we created a trench on the uphill side of an old outbuilding that we had restored. This trench captures moisture during intense storms or spring runoff and helps keep the building dry with the help of free-draining stones and drainage tiles. Similar measures were taken on our 1812 barn to prevent moisture damage.
To assess your own flood risk, obtain FEMA flood maps for your area. It is advisable to go beyond just avoiding 100-year flood zones and to also stay clear of 500-year flood zones. Keep in mind that in some areas, the FEMA flood maps may be outdated or may not take into account smaller streams and rivers that could flood during extreme events.
To protect against flood damage, it is a good idea to keep mechanical and electrical equipment above the first floor, or even out of basements in flood-prone regions. By building an energy-efficient home, you can minimize the need for large heating and cooling systems and thus reduce the risk of damage from floods.
Our home’s heating system utilizes an air-source heat pump, also known as a “mini-split.” The indoor component is installed on a first-floor wall at a height, while the outdoor unit is located on the south side of the house, elevated above the ground on blocks for added protection.
As scientists predict more severe storms due to climate change, it is essential to incorporate state-of-the-art measures for storm resistance in new building construction. This includes a sturdy structural frame, the use of hurricane and tie-down strapping, wind-rated shingles or metal roofing, and impact-resistant windows or exterior storm shutters. To enhance wind resilience, it is also important to consider nearby trees that may pose a threat during heavy winds, and remove any high-risk trees or branches.
In areas susceptible to tornadoes, such as FEMA Wind Zone IV (also known as Tornado Alley in the Midwest), incorporating a reinforced safe room for emergency shelter is recommended, as it is not feasible to design homes to withstand winds that can surpass 250 miles per hour.
For homeowners in rural Vermont, access to water during a power outage is the biggest challenge. Not being connected to a municipal water supply, we rely on our own drilled wells and submersible pumps, but we also have a spring on our property that constantly runs, except during extreme droughts.
To ensure water access even during outages, we plan to install a hand pump on our well. The latest high-performance solar pumps, like those from JENENSERIES and ECO-WORTHY, can draw water from depths of up to 300 feet and are integrated into the same well as the electric submersible pump.
Another option for water supply is a rainwater harvesting system, which may require a high-efficiency filter and ultraviolet or ozone treatment to purify the water. As for the issue of managing human waste during an outage, the best solution is a water-free composting toilet, such as those made by Nature’s Head and Thinktank, which are known for their low maintenance and good performance.
Most of the food consumed in America is transported from faraway places, making the food supply system vulnerable. A shortage in diesel fuel or a trucking strike could disrupt food delivery, and a severe drought could cause food shortages and increase prices. Panic buying during natural disasters also results in empty grocery stores. Having a local food system that includes growing your own food and supporting local farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs enhances resilience.
Home food storage is crucial for food security, and I suggest keeping a six-week supply of non-perishable or long-shelf-life foods like dried beans, flour, whole grains, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and canned fruits and vegetables.
At our home, we preserve fresh produce by canning tomatoes, making jam, pickled peppers, and beets, and storing fresh fruits and vegetables for several months. Although we don’t have a root cellar, we’re planning to build a new type of walk-in cooler that uses a special controller and an off-the-shelf air conditioner to maintain a temperature close to 32 degrees.
During a power outage, cooking food is also important and can be done with a wood stove or an outdoor grill. We also have a BioLite outdoor cookstove, which uses a fan powered by a piezoelectric device and even has a USB port to charge cell phones.
The concept of resilience requires a home to maintain livable conditions during a power outage or heating fuel interruption. This can be achieved through energy-efficient designs such as:
- Super insulation, including high levels of insulation, triple-paned windows with low-E coating, and airtight construction.
- Passive solar design, with a south-facing orientation, appropriate glass selection for maximum solar gain, and thermal mass for heat storage.
- Passive cooling strategies include shade trees, overhangs, selective glazing, and natural ventilation design.
Our farm underwent a major renovation of the 200-year-old farmhouse, resulting in 1-foot-thick walls and a new roof with 16-inch-deep rafters. The walls were framed with 2-by-3s and filled with spray-fiberglass insulation, while the exterior received an additional layer of 6-inch cork insulation. The double-hung windows were double-paned with high-solar-heat-gain, low-E coating, and argon gas fill, and also had low-E storm windows added to the outside for triple glazing with two low-E coatings.
Our 1,500-square-foot home is so well-insulated that it can be heated with a single 18,000 Btu per hour air-source heat pump, even in freezing temperatures. The heat pump also provides air-conditioning capability, although it is rarely needed.
In regions with cold weather, having a secondary heating source is essential during extended power outages. For those living in rural areas, a wood stove that burns cleanly is a good option. In our home, we have a small US Stove, which is used infrequently.
Most heating systems are dependent on electricity and cannot be considered resilient without a backup power source. In our previous home, we had a pellet stove in an apartment above the garage, and I installed a kit to operate its fans with a 12-volt battery during power outages.
There are also some gas wall heaters, such as those manufactured by Empire, that can work without electricity, but these tend to be less efficient. It is advisable to avoid unvented gas heating equipment for health and safety reasons.
During a power outage, having access to electrical equipment can be a huge advantage and, in some cases, a matter of life and death. Most homes in rural areas rely on electricity for water pumping, lighting, and heating systems. Although gas stovetops can work without electricity, most gas ovens cannot.
Conventional backup power sources such as gasoline, propane, or diesel generators are effective, but they are dependent on fuel availability and may run out during a prolonged outage.
The most resilient backup power solution is a solar-electric system with battery backup. For off-grid homes, battery backup is a necessity, but for grid-connected homes, it is not as common due to the high cost and maintenance requirements of a battery system.
The author wanted to include a battery system in their grid-connected solar setup, but the cost was too high. Instead, they opted for a new type of inverter by SMA that allows for disconnection from the electric grid during an outage and direct use of the inverter during the day. However, this setup is not effective at night.
The author is hoping to use their Chevrolet Volt as a backup power source, but they haven’t confirmed if it is possible. They believe that using a plug-in electric vehicle (EV) with an integrated inverter is the best option as these batteries are not idle most of the time.
Building a resilient community starts with fostering connections among neighbors. By organizing events like potluck dinners and working together on projects, individuals can get to know each other and be better equipped to respond to disruptions.
When choosing a location for their homestead, one important factor for the author and their spouse was the accessibility of the nearest town on a bicycle. They regularly bike into town to reduce their use of cars, and it’s reassuring to know they can bike there in an emergency. To support more sustainable and resilient transportation, they suggest getting involved with local planning commissions and organizations that promote pedestrian-friendly communities.
Stephen Harris has written this article for Prepper’s Will.
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