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Going off Grid...Frozen Pipes?

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We are faced with the possibility of having to go off-grid. (Not by choice...apparently the electric company is happy to take those "fees" to "help the less fortunate" pay their bills...but we aren't considered the less fortunate even though my husband lost his job, so it looks like they may cut us off. Apparently Minnesota allows this, even in the dead of winter. frozen )


We are trying to prepare for this possibility. If it happens while it's still cold, we think we'll either be using kerosene heaters or a woodstove, if we can somehow find a way to get one. The problem is, our house is BIG. It is two levels, the main level, and the basement (cinder block walls). The upper level has the kitchen and living room on one end, with a long hallway lined with bedrooms. The basement is pretty much mostly below ground level, except one end of the house where the land is a bit lower, and we have two egress windows there.


Our plan is to move the three children whose bedrooms are downstairs to the upper level. But I'm worried about our pipes--could they end up freezing? I'm hoping the basement will stay warm enough to prevent this, but I have no experience with this. The only times I lived off grid, it was in a schoolbus, and in a small trailer that wasn't hooked up to water lines. I'd have our house winterized, but we don't have the money, and I was hoping to be able to use the tubs for baths bath , so we don't have to haul water OUT as well as in.


Any thoughts?


I'm also a little concerned about keeping the kids warm. The layout of the house is not conducive to airflow. The only place for a woodstove is the living room, and I don't know if the heat would make it down the twenty or more foot long hallway to the two bedrooms at the end. I thought of doing two kerosene heaters, one in the living room, and one in what is now the sewing room, next to the master bedroom. But that's the bedroom the older kids would have to be in, and I'm worried about safety. There's no way we could keep it in our room. I'd never be able to sleep from the heat (I keep our room below 60 right now.)


The other thing I'm not sure what to do about, is that my children are all little (the oldest is six). I'd need to keep their doors open to keep their rooms warm. The one year old usually stays in his crib, but he has gotten out in the past, and having the door open would be a temptation. The two year old WILL leave her room--and no gate can keep her in. Even the older three would be likely to be tempted to go running around the house, which would create problems with the younger two. So any input on this also would be appreciated.


Thanks! (Gee, could this post be any longer? LOL)


P.S. I plan to tell the utility company manager, if they shut us off, that they messed with the wrong people--we've done off-grid before, we can do it again, and they'll have to do without our $400 a month permanently, because once they shut us off, we're done with them. clotheslinedishes So HA!!

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Your house layout sounds like ours. But in our case, we have a blower on the fireplace insert we use for heat and at times, that thing can blast us out. It got to 80 in here today because i forgot to turn the thing down!


Having said this, we also went through a recent week-long power outage and had no pipes freeze. Why? Because this house is insulated within an inch of its life and all the pipes are wrapped with insulation. We didn't do this. The previous owners did it. They used to have all electric heat and this place has good insulation. The basement does get cold, however. Yet, even in the unheated garage part, the pipes do not freeze because they are well wrapped. If you can afford pipe insulation, that is the first thing you should buy.


Yes, you have to keep the bedroom doors open for those rooms to be warm. Get some kind of baby gate for the little one. Or, you could replace the door on the bedroom with a louvered door--that lets the air in but still can be closed. But that's a pricier option. If the doors are paneled, you might be able to remove the top panels by cutting "windows" in them and later on, if you needed to, block those up again and use decorative molding to hide your work. The top part of the door could let the air in and the bottom part could block the kiddos.



I would put one of your kerosene heaters in the basement to keep the pipes from freezing. Is your house a split level? I ask this because those houses would allow the heat from the basement heater to go up to the main house easier than a typical home where you just leave the basement door open. The front foyer in a split acts like a chimney.


Without electricity, do you have water? Are you on town water or do you have a well?


Without electricity can you cook?


To put in a wood stove, how much would that cost you? Do you need to build a chimney or do you have a fireplace?


Are there any local aid that you can get? Where I live, the SHARE program helps people who are out of work pay their rent, utilities and negotiate deals with the companies. They find you help. Are they any programs near you that would help? Have you exhausted every avenue?


Don't burn bridges with the utility manager. Instead, ask him if in good conscience he can cut off the heat for a family with small children and ask him to work with you for some kind of solution. If they get nasty with you, then call the local newspaper consumer reporter and tell them your story and ask what you should do, tell them you are desperate. (but always, always be polite to everyone even if you are ticked off--you don't know when delivering ultimatums will come back to bite you. This isn't the time!)



Finally, we will keep your family in our prayers. I am praying that whatever happens, you find ways to cope and that if you seek some kind of help for this situation, you are blessed for for your efforts.



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I'm sure you've looked into this, but are you sure they CAN cut you off if you have children in the home? I know Idaho and Oregon both have a clause saying that if there are children in the home they can NOT cut off the electric.


Other than that, I'm sorry I have no ideas... but I'll pray for the situation to work out for the best! It sounds like you're very resourceful and will figure out how to keep your family warm no matter what... smile

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I'd ask on craig's list and freecycle if anybody has a wood stove to give away or sell cheap. Obviously you aren't caring about looks. I've had pretty decent stoves given to me when I was off grid.


Blanket sleepers for all the kids. You can also make a sleeping bag that is like a jumper but closed at the bottom. It leaves their arms free and their heads, of course, but covers everything else. If the kids don't now wear hats to bed it would be good to start getting them accustomed to having their heads and ears covered.


Good luck. We lived in the Colorado back country for quite a few yrs off grid.

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Minnesota PUC Cold Weather Rule


I think you should read this and follow the instructions. Yes, they can shut you off, but there are ways around it.


We have had winters with little heat. I would suggest a wood stove & moving the family into the heated rooms. You may have to prove you are heating the house to DSS if you are cut off. The easiest way to prevent this is to keep it on.



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Here are some of my OPINIONS..... take them for what you think they are worth.



1) Free-standing/non-vented kerosene heaters and small children are a bad mix. AND DON'T FORGET YOU MUST VENT ADEQUATELY...esp. with their tiny bodies - the carbon monoxide gets to them sooner [i think].


Even if you put one in the basement [& made that off limits to them] GET a BATTERY-OPERATED carbon monoxide detector and install it in the right location!



2) I agree with Judy about 'burning bridges' .....no matter how good it might feel to rant



3) In this wacko world, I would be very careful of WHO knows that you might have small children living without electricity. You do NOT want Child Protection on your doorstep. rollingeyes



4) If you haven't had a wood stove before [but might be fortunate enough to get one installed ] make sure those precious little ones are barricaded from touching/falling into the hot thing. They won't be used to the precautions for a while.



5) You can do many things to cover windows more fully at nite to reduce the cold transfer and look for leaks under doors. Things like that will make it easier to heat a large house. But you might just have to cut off some rooms until the weather is warmer......which isn't going to be anytime soon in Minnesota. [formerly from Twin Cities and Duluth myself wave ] The basement will remain more constant temperature but...it will be chilly.


[NOTE... will you still have running water due to being on city water pressure? On a well, you would only have to worry about keeping the drain pipes [for emptying tub] from freezing...not all the actual water pipes if you blew them completely empty.]


6) Do you have toilet options? You can pour in water to flush but must make sure the sewer route is not too cold. Still easier than water pipes tho.


7) Your siggy says '...and One Egg' That means you're pregnant? ..please take care of yourself ---don't be the one to be hauling water or other heavy things!!!



8) grouphug & praying

I've got a SIL and 8 yr old nephew that might be kicked out of housing by Wednesday. They're in Minn. too. [she's had set backs due to a data entry problem on child's name with SSI Survivors benefits from deceased dad or she wouldn't have this problem. mad ]



MtRider [sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh, I hate to hear these stories happening more and more! frown ]




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They will not adjust to a different ( less per month) plan you can pay? DSS may be able to help you pay up the bill you already have if you bring the bill in and tell them you have young children. I know in NY State they will pay two monthly bills per year. But they will not allow a child to be in the cold.

Propane tanks and the heaters that stand on a tripod might be better than kerosene but you would have to gate it off, and just like teaching a child to not touch a stove you can teach them its hot! You would still need to crack a window and put in the carbon monoxide detectors for better safety.

I am so sorry your bill is so high. What about getting propane service and have them run a line to your furnace, switch it over, or is it all electric?



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Philomina, I agree with the others, don't burn bridges that you may need later. Kill your enemies with sweetness, it'll ruin their sleep patterns for years to come.


My Hurricane Plan has us sealing off the Family Room (Den) and the kitchen from the rest of the house with doors and blankets (over archways). This would be due to the loss of electricty. Our problem deals with the excessive heat of a South Louisiana summer. I have 2 small window units that I locate to the Kitchen and Den, and power the AC's from a generator. This allows us to stay cool enough to do what we must get done until electrical service is restored.


Sealing off a couple of rooms from the rest of the house would mean less space to warm. Body heat alone would bring the temperature up a bit. Being in one room, sleeping with the kids would allow you to keep an eye on them easier, and they'll be less inclined to wander.


Controlled ventilation is a must for any type of open source of heating. Ventilation must provide air AND allow removal of CO2. CO2 is heavier than air and some way for it to escape from the home is necessary.


Y'all are in my prayers!!

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Energy Assistance Hotline



First Call for Help




On that link posted above, there is this phone number for those who need assistance paying heating bills. Give them a try if all else fails...



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Good luck with your situation.


That said, my OPINION is that if you can arrange to get a wood stove and a kerosene heater, get them. Put the wood stove in that living room and the kerosene heater in the basement. The kerosene will only have to be on low, your goal is to keep those pipes just above freezing, not heat the house with the kerosene heater.


For the wood stove, use it to heat the main level. Blanket sleepers for the kids, flannel for you. Extra quilts for all the beds. On the coldest nights, move everyone into the living room.


I know it isn't easy to hear, but if you do the wood stove, have it installed professionally. A neighbor of my MIL had a wood stove installed by a non-professional and it caught her house on fire. Could have happened to a pro, but the difference is with a pro, insurance would have paid. Since it was a non-pro, the insurance isn't paying to repair the house.


And definately get the carbon monoxide detectors.

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Thanks for all the responses, everyone. I'm going to try to reply to some of the questions and/or give more information:


No, we don't live in a split level. There's a door in the middle of the upstairs hallway that leads to the basement. I don't think the house is terribly well insulated, especially the two end bedrooms. I could still leave the door open if I did put a kerosene heater downstairs.


We've used kerosene and wood heat before. I supervise my kids pretty well, even though there's a lot of them (I admit it, I'm a bit paranoid and overprotective, lol). I'm leaning towards the kerosene, because a good sized woodstove, even used, would cost at least $200, not to mention the stove pipe, installation, fireproof wall/floor shielding, and wood, which is running $250 a full cord right now. We could barely scrape up the money for a used kerosene heater and supplies, so I think we'll have to go that route. But I am familiar with their use, and will vent and use battery operated detectors.


And nooooo, I definitely won't let it be public knowledge that we don't have electricity, if that happens. Apparently it's okay for the Amish, but not for the rest of us.


There are programs here to help people, but they're kind of lame. Since my husband made a good salary up until he lost his job, we won't qualify for at least another month (they go by the last several months of income, or something like that, so we won't qualify until we've had NO income for around three months...too little too late, by then). There are some other programs that can help, but not enough to pay the bill.


My plan wasn't to tick off the manager just to be spiteful. My plan was, if all else failed and they remained heartless and cruel towards my situation, to let them know that they were losing a good customer. We won't be paying their exorbitant fees to turn us back on when we get the money. If we have to spend money to go off-grid, we'll stay that way. Actually, the manager was very nice when I talked to her (unlike the first person my husband talked to, who was rude and thoughtless--always have the pregnant wife with a serious medical condition call in and cry...you get a much better response, lol). The manager cancelled our turn-off notice and gave us lists of resources (the first person told us we'd be fine if we paid $300--and then after we gave her our credit card number, she told us we were still going to get shut off...EVIL!). Unfortunately those resources haven't been helpful, since we made too much earlier in the year. (Who cares, if your income is ZERO now?) I'm going to try to get ahold of her soon, and see what she can do.


Our furnace is natural gas, but used electricity for the forced air. Even if we could afford to have it switched over and rent and fill a tank (which we can't), I don't know what good it would do without forced air.


I didn't think about the drain pipes. Guess I couldn't use them for baths, if I can't keep them warm enough. Don't know if a kerosene heater would keep them warm enough, but I think it might.


Don't worry, I'm not lifting ANYTHING with this pregnancy, if I can avoid it. Too many health issues this time around. Looking forward to getting them taken care of after baby is born!


Cheryl and JCK88, thanks for that info, I'll check it out. Hopefully we can avoid this, but who knows.


Our water is well water, and the well pump is electric, so until we could afford to find a way to switch it to battery power, I'll have to haul water. I have a source for that. I've cooked on top of a kerosene heater before, but obviously you're talking one-pot meals. That's why I'd prefer a woodstove, if we could afford it. We do have a woodstove in the garage, but it is a humongous double-barrel thing, it would never fit anywhere in the house. I wouldn't consider it safe.


We plan on using a sawdust toilet for the bathroom, large plastic water containers with taps on them for "running" water, washing dishes and hands in dishpans, and bathing children in giant rubbermaid tubs that we used for storing clothing. We have some oil lamps already, but need some more. The kids can use flashlight for night time potty visits. I really need to find a deep cycle battery and battery charger and some kind of inverter or something to run my CPAP machine, since I have sleep apnea.


If need be, we can seal off half the upper level and use just one kerosene heater. I'd rather not do that if I can, the living areas of the house aren't that big (that's what you get when you get a ton of bedrooms...less living area) but we can if we need to.


I'm not too worried about keeping the kids warm, as long as I can figure out the right arrangement. I found with my kerosene heater that the problem was staying COOL if it wasn't used in a large area! I remember going to bed with four layers of blankets and four layers of clothing on and a just-warming heater, to waking up sweating under four blankets, and peeling off three of those four layers of clothing because it went from 5 degrees to 80 degrees, lol!


I'm thinking I could seal off the living area and the closest, smaller bedroom. Two kids could go in that bedroom, the oldest kids could sleep in the warm living room, and my husband and I could sleep in the mudroom, since it's much cooler. That might work. And if two of the kids in the living room slept on couches, we'd only need to drag a toddler mattress in there at night. But if this happens, I see a lot of missed sleep in my future. ;-)


Thanks for all the advice. It has helped me get a few ideas on what to do. Hopefully I won't need to employ these methods, but it's good to plan ahead, just in case.

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Oh..I am praying that this can drag on a bit and they don't cut off your power just yet. Then perhaps in February they will be able to find you help.


Another suggestion. Shut OFF everything electric except your heat and water and fridge for now. Use lamps and candles, go to bed early. Cut your consumption really low now even if you do have power. Take the light bulbs out of your lamps and ceiling fixtures so you don't forget and leave a light on or use it by mistake.


UH.....The sleep apnea machine may qualify you for NOT getting your power shut off. Did you tell them about it???? People with medical problems like that are often exempt from having power cut off!!!

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CPAP machine should qualify you not to have electricity turned off. Your MD might have to sign a form. Here in central SC, in the winter a MD can certify it is life threatening to have power disconnected.


Have you contacted the Salvation Army or any local churches?


Low income energy help program (LIHEP) might be able to help it it federal and state run program. good luck.

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Don't worry, I'm not lifting ANYTHING with this pregnancy, if I can avoid it.

Our water is well water, and the well pump is electric, so until we could afford to find a way to switch it to battery power, I'll have to haul water.

Water is one of the heaviest things to lift. I'm carrying 3 gallon jugs of water for ducks twice daily and it's wearing me out. Too bad you don't have some older kids but yours are still too small to help you lift yet. Please do be careful, hon!

It sounds like you've had some valuable experience already in some of these areas. Good! That will certainly help. But it would be better if you did not get cut off. For one thing, re-hook up fees stink. I hope your dh can find work again soon. Cutting WAY back on power use now sounds like an idea to let them see that you're serious about conserving....if anyone is listening. I hate to hear of unnecessarily cruel treatment when someone is trying to work with their bills. frown


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  • 1 month later...

MTRider: When I said "I" will have to haul water, I really meant "we"...which is really code for "my wonderful strapping husband will haul water"...while I watch (from the window inside the warm house) and smile appreciatively. ;-)


Actually, so far the crisis has been averted. Upon more investigation, I had more options than the electric company was willing to let on. The gas company was much more helpful and kind. We think we'll be alright until spring, at least.


On a happier note, the baby was born already, a few weeks ago. The docs were worried about my heart condition, and delivered her early. She's doing great! I'm amazed a baby born five weeks early could be doing so well.


Between our financial crisis and the country's economic crisis, it's really lighting a fire under me. We're looking for ways to become more self-sufficient, within our limited means. I started by buying two oil lamps at the thrift store, and getting about twenty pounds each of oats and wheat berries. It's not much, but it does make me feel a little better. I'm also trying to find more blankets. I learned the hard way when relatives stayed with us recently: we barely have enough blankets for ourselves now, never mind extras for visitors or when the electricity goes out.

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Philomena, congrats on the new baby, glad everything went fine.



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I have been wondering about you, philomena! You've been off busy having baby. :woohoo: Congratulations! I'm thrilled to hear you and baby are fine. And that the electric crisis has been at least postponed. You just keep taking the steps that you can towards being self-sufficient. Thrift stores are great places to get things like that.





MtRider [another MrsS baby!!!! ]

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Thanks everyone! Yep, been pretty busy.


GirlNextDoor: well, he won't get more strapping any time soon, since our electricity is, thankfully, still on. But this all does give me pause...what will we do for water if the electricity goes out? We need to figure something out.



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Here is a thought: Since you have the new baby are you preparing to feed him if (God forbid) you have no electricity? Does he take formula? How about baby food in the future? What will you do about diapers and baby laundry? Not trying to add any more stress just stuff to think about and possible prepare for.

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