Power Grid Could Buckle During Extreme Heat Wave: Here’s How to Keep Cool

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The power grid in the US is old and tenuous, and with the current “heat dome” that has settled over the southwestern part of the country, the risk of demand outstripping supply is very real. High-temperature records were set in several states yesterday:

  • Death Valley, CA: 127
  • Las Vegas, NV: 112
  • Palm Springs, CA: 121
  • Phoenix, AZ: 116

California utility companies have asked citizens to reduce power usage as much as possible or face rotating power outages to manage the strain on the grid.

The California Independent System Operator (ISO), the grid operator, said it issued the so-called “Flex Alert” due to high temperatures across the western United States, reduced electricity imports into the state, tight natural gas supplies in Southern California and high wildfire risk.

The ISO’s alert followed an earlier notice by Southern California Gas Co (SoCalGas), the gas utility for the southern part of the state.

SoCalGas issued a gas curtailment watch on Monday, notifying customers to be prepared to reduce gas use if needed, with power generators expected to burn more fuel this week than usual to keep air conditioners humming.

SoCalGas, a unit of California energy company Sempra Energy, said the watch would remain in effect until further notice…

The ISO said consumers “can help avoid power interruptions” by turning off all unnecessary lights, using major appliances before 5 p.m. and after 9 p.m., and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher.

Gas supplies are expected to remain tight in Southern California this summer and winter due to reduced availability from SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles, following a massive leak between October 2015 and February 2016, and ongoing shutdowns of several pipelines. (source)

If you recall, California utility company PG&E recently told customers that they were planning to cut the power to specific areas during times of increased wildfire risk, after being found at fault for causing several of the biggest, deadliest wildfires last year. The threat of power being cut in California for a variety of reasons is certainly starting to look like a trend, isn’t it?

How can you reduce power usage during the hottest times of the year?

There are a few tricks that can help you to reduce the temperature in your house when the mercury rises.

Avoid heating up your house. Limit the use of appliances like clothes dryers, washing machines (especially using hot water wash), dishwashers, ovens, and halogen light bulbs. All of these increase the ambient heat in your home.

Cool things down naturally. Here is how I handled the California heat when I lived in a place with no AC.

  • As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, open all of the windows and blinds.  There’s a ceiling fan in every room and those run all the time.
  • We also have some window fans which we turn on in the evening.  These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
  • In the morning, the house is so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
  • I then go around and close all of the windows and blinds.  This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.)  The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
  • Rarely does the temperature in my house ever rise about 85 degrees.  That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.

If you combine this WITH your air conditioner, you’ll stay even cooler.

Don’t be afraid to sweat. That is evaporative cooling for humans. If you allow yourself to sweat more often, your body will become more efficient at cooling down.

Take a siesta. There’s a reason people in hotter parts of the world take a break during the heat of the afternoon. If you are at home, spend the hottest hours doing something sedentary and save the harder work for cooler hours.

Here are some ways to keep cool if the power goes out during a heatwave.

This is easier said than done when it’s 105 and you can’t even plug in a fan. Nonetheless, these ideas will help you stay a little bit cooler when the grid is down:

  • Get battery-operated fans. (And lots of batteries.) A battery-operated fan can help cool you down, particularly if you get yourself wet first. They’re reasonably inexpensive and work well, although I recommend spending a bit more than for the cheap ones at the dollar store. This one is big enough to reach more than one part of your body at a time and can help you get to sleep. 6 D batteries will run it for about 40 hours. These handheld fans are rechargeable (so you will either need an off-grid way to recharge them or you’ll need backups), these handheld fans have a misting option (also rechargeable) and these handheld fans are powered for up to 8 hours by 2 AA batteries.
  • Stock up on cooling towels. I picked up some these cooling towels for use when I was working outside in the garden. I was stunned at how well they work. All you do is get them wet, wring them out, and give them a snap, then they cool you down, no power or refrigeration required. You can use them over and over again. They also come in these bands that can be worn around your head or neck.
  • Channel your inner Southern belle.  Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
  • Keep hydrated.  Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
  • Take a cool shower and a nap.  Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the very least, do a quiet activity.
  • Play in the water.  Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
  • Soak your feet.  A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
  • Avoid heavy meals.  Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature.  Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads and fruit.
  • Make sure your window screens are in good condition.  You’re going to need to have your windows open, but fighting off insects when you’re trying to sleep is a miserable and frustrating endeavor.

Scott Kelley from Graywolf Survival has super-easy instructions for making your own air conditioner that will help cool down one room as long as the power is still on. His design doesn’t require ice, it’s VERY budget-friendly, and he offers suggestions for alternative power, as well. It’s a must-read!

Do you have suggestions?

Do you live in the Southwest? Are you restricting your power use? For those in warmer climates, what is your plan to stay cool during these blazing hot days? Please share your thoughts in comments below.

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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Hi Daisy,
    Lot of good advice there.
    I do not live in the SW, but courtesy of the Great Green Machine, The USMC, I have been to a number of very hot places, not only here in the US, but the world too.
    Light colored, or white clothing. Also detracts bugs of the biting kind too, like deer flies.
    White shades or blinds for the windows.
    Large, wide brim hats. Protect your ears and neck from sun burn if you have to be outdoors.
    Take lots of breaks, and hydrate in the shade.
    In and around the home, plant trees and other shade producing plants to keep direct sunlight off buildings. I have a vine like plant that has over taken a section of chainlink fence. Underneath, the dogs like to stay under as the vine shades out any other plants so they have cool dirt to lay on, and the shade it provides keeps them cool. On the other side of the fence, the chickens do the same.

  • Sleep naked. Sleep naked outside. I do this all the time and some mornings wake up looking for a blanket because I’m too cold!

    • Never tried sleeping naked. I wear synthetic “running shirts” that vent perspiration @ sporting goods stores, dept. stores, Walmart all sell them. I would at least wear briefs. Hot weather in the gulf states, A/C runs 24/7. Lots of lemon w/ ice tea 3-4 liters a day w/ stevia. Hotter this season.

  • I do live in the SW. I find that washing my floors and letting the breeze blow through the house at the same time helps cool it down. Every day and night I keep all the doors and windows open. Here in this part of Texas we have a constant breeze for the most part.

    I don’t worry about the grid going down. I only hear about it when I go into to town that there has been a black or brown out. At home we are off-grid. The less you are tied to the system, then the less control it has over you. Same thing applies to growing your own food.

    I don’t have air conditioning on my house, but it is cooler inside than outside. I have learned to adapt. Not having rugs in the summer helps. The tile is cool and my 12 big dogs love to walk inside and lay to keep cool. Eating cold watermelon helps to re-hydrate.

  • Hello Daisy,

    Your suggestions are great and we do all of them. Another thing I do to keep cool is I’ll keep a spray bottle filled with water (a cleaned out hairspray pump bottle works great!). I’ll spritz myself, face, neck, arms, etc with a mist of water, then fan myself with hand held fan (sold for 1.25 every spring at The Dollar Tree). Also, if it’s hot at night, I wear a thin cotton night gown and I’ll spritz the entire nightie once I have it on. I’ve actually gotten quite chilled this way, especially if there’s a fan blowing in the bedroom.

  • Good article. Some upgrades for passive cooling:
    – Blinds/drapes mean that the sun’s energy still heats the airspace between the window pane and the blinds, and a 2nd time when the light bounces back. This heated air rises and heats the space. Far more effective is to have a sunblock on the outside of the dwelling, such as a permanent awning or dark shower curtain rigged tightly into place against wind gusts. 2nd pick is to tape aluminum or Mylar (emergency blankets) to a trimmed piece of cardboard and set the cardboard against the inside of the pane of glass with painter’s tape. This looks a bit ugly but works very well.

    – Control the air flow depending on time of day. Open all windows while cooler outside (turn down thermostat in advance), and when hot anyway have open windows in shade.

    – Build a hot air evictor! In a multi-level dwelling this is done by mounting a large fan firing out of the highest window; it removes the hottest air and creates a suction at all other windows. Choose the coolest window to have open. After bedtime leave only bedroom windows open for best effect.

    For a single-level dwelling, especially where the windows are mounted low and hot air is trapped, create the same effect with double-thickness cardboard, gorilla & painter’s tape, and a 20” box fan. Build a 4-sided cardboard frame with open ends with the edges just inside those of the box fan’s frame. Height including fan’s thickness should be 12-14” down from ceiling to get the warmest air with easy flow. Fan is mounted to fire downwards. One side of the frame is cut open to match the desired window. Within the frame add a piece of cardboard at an angle with the bottom matching the bottom level of the window; this piece channels air from the top part to the window and blocks it going down. Use more cardboard to mate the frame to the window as needed, attaching to the window with painter’s tape to not damage the window frame finish. Air should only be able to go through the fan & out the window; block off anything else!

    Most effective use of an evictor is to run on high when cool and low when hot, as while running outside hot air will be pulled in to replace what is removed though this is usually still an improvement. In the evening when it becomes cooler outside, turn fan to high. Even when all temperatures are equal this setup makes a big difference removing stuffy air!

    – Misting yourself such as using a simple spray bottle on exposed legs in a fan’s breeze works well. As the water evaporates it takes heat from you to turn into a gas; the fan accelerates this.

    – Choose cool fluids, not a hot tea or coffee. Eat frozen fruit.

    – Control your mood. Getting angry will raise your temperature.

    – Run a fan in the bedroom, even if not across your bed. It is a hunt to find a model with a low & regular sound to easily sleep with. Do not use oscillating feature as this can be distracting and keep you awake.

    – Don’t wear cotton as it doesn’t dry easily. Choose fabrics that dry quickly and sit in chairs with mesh backs to encourage air flow. If your sweat cannot evaporate then the evaporation principle that it uses to cool you cannot work!

    – Freeze sealed bags of almost anything, then wrap them in a towel and place on lap for conduction principle to cool you.

    – Suspend frozen (anything sealed) above you so the cooled air falls on you. Cover in a fabric so condensation isn’t an annoying factor.

  • Living in Cape Town, South Africa, having had our run-in with water issues as a City earlier this year, we have had some good rains, yet are still on 50 liters per person per day, and as a country, having had 2 bouts of national rolling blackouts a while ago, both matters not having been resolved for the next generation, it seems to me that this is not a African thing, but a growing international disaster.

    We have adapted, are still adapting.

    And the higher temperatures overall in the USA and Europe, it is also getting hotter here, but we are used to the heat, generally speaking.

    Welcome to the new norm.
    And with power grid going down: Welcome to the dark side. 🙂

  • If you read old newspapers, magazines, yearbooks and history (all at your library, btw) you’ll read this kind of thing over and over. The worst this, the worst that….

    Try it. I double dare ya. I have. At one time I looked at old newspapers going back to the 50’s and I was absolutely shocked that they read EXACTLY like today’s headlines. I kept shaking my head.

    I read an old one in the 50’s my mother kept as a news article and the story was about how one State had the worst snow storm ever. Showing old 50’s cars covered in snow.

    • That is so true Blather.

      But what I am noticing, all over the world there are more and more extremes reported.

      Lately even Japan, Europe, England, fires in Sweden … everywhere there are more and more new records, more fires, less rain, more people, more rain. Even the storms, hurricanes in your part of the world, are getting bigger.

      I do think it is, overall, internationally, getting worse, new records year on year.

  • Daisy, the temperature here at 10 p.m. has been at least 90 degrees, sometimes 94. By 6:30 in the morning, it’s still 80 – 83 degrees, so opening windows at night does not give relief. Our choice is window units, despite having central a/c. I run the central air first thing in the morning for a short while, then close all doors and shut off the central air. We run 1 window unit then until around 6 pm. The living area hovers around 77 – 78 degrees all day. I turn on the central a/c around 5 pm until 10 pm. At night, all we run is a window unit in our bedroom. We take lukewarm showers before bed. It also helps to have linen sheets! We run the living room ceiling fan all the time, and the one in our bedroom at night. We do have rechargeable table fans, and I keep them and rechargeable lanterns charged up in case of a power outage. The heat here in central Texas is savage, but at least out in the country it is not as bad as in cities and towns. It’s so hot and dry that even the prickly pear cactus and Texas bull style are dying!

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