Prepping life and house for climate change
September 26, 2019 3:53 PM   Subscribe

I am interest in steps I can take and things I can do in my life and around my house/yard to prepare for the impacts of climate change I will experience.

Please assume for purposes of this question that I'm deeply cynical that I will see the large-scale changes necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change. I am interested in what steps I can take in my life to prepare for those changes. I am not really asking about what steps I can take to mitigate my impact on the planet (don't fly, become a vegetarian, etc.) - I feel like much of that is pretty well covered. I am close to 40. I am assuming that in the remaining 30-50 years of my life, sea levels will continue to rise, storms will continue to get worse, average temperatures will continue to get hotter.

I live in a semi-rural area of Kitsap County, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. My new house is a split-level on 0.9 acres, with gas heating and no A/C. I've only lived here a few months but I suspect based on how quickly it seems to change temperature relative to the outside that the house is not very well insulated. The lot is sloped, and much of it is either treed or is part of the septic drainfield, but there are some areas that could potentially be terraced and turned into garden beds. I'm not close enough to the water that sea level rise will be a direct concern.

So I guess I'm looking for everything from "install a rain barrel" to suggestions for dealing with increasingly hot summers to "learn to like seaweed as a food source and here's how to harvest it". I'm hoping to live here for a long time, so these can be short, medium, and long-term ideas. Thanks!
posted by skycrashesdown to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Become a CERT volunteer, so you can help your community deal with flooding and new, weird weather.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:06 PM on September 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

I put in a pretty big solar array because I expect to have to run the AC increasingly and I expect the price of grid electricity to rise (which it has and the solar has been a good investment.) Other folks I know have their solar powering electric heating pump systems, car battery chargers etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:30 PM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Install shade trees and shade structures. Increase the insulation and weatherproofing of your house.

Eliminate any turf lawn as soon as possible, except for whatever small patch you can actually use for badminton or croquet or whatever.

Start a seedbank even before you start seriously gardening.

Look into your region for skillshare and toolshare opportunities. If you can’t find any, consider starting one.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:32 PM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

FWIW, one of the main things I'm doing is to make sure that I have a vehicle that I can evacuate in. This means buying a plugin hybrid before buying a full electric car. I mean, I garden and I teach kids to garden, but I expect to have to evacuate in a weather emergency before I expect to have to live entirely out of my community garden. (Also, since I spend so much time gardening, I have a pretty healthy respect for how many calories of work it takes to generate a season's worth of food. I'm not sure I'm anywhere near breaking even yet. We've donated over 400 pounds of produce this year, and I think I calculated that it was under 20,000 calories for the year. Grow food to have things that taste good, not necessarily to keep from starving.)

Other things I'd think about before worrying about saving seeds: can I cook inexpensive meals? How many recipes for beans do I have? What's my financial planning look like? What's my insurance situation? Am I living somewhere that I can't get flood insurance? If so, I probably want to move. I'm not as familiar with your geographic area, but I'd look at tsunami escape routes, how to storm-proof your house (can you board up your windows easily?), are there any trees that might fall on your roof or car, are you likely to be at increased risk for fire in your neighborhood if the climate is dryer?

Oh-- and invest a lot of energy in shoring up your community network. You want friends and family that love you and will get in their canoe to rescue you when you flood out. When my mom moved to a new city a dozen years ago, she spent her first few years aggressively building a support system-- people to clean her house, shovel her snow, dogsit, go to church with, volunteer with. And then a couple of years ago she moved into a senior living facility, and she's still got this really strong community network to help support her. Did you read the article I study collapsed civilizations. Here’s my advice for a climate change apocalypse?
While the wilderness survival skills certainly can’t hurt, it will be empathy, generosity, and courage that we need to survive. Kindness and fairness will be more valuable than any survival skill. Then as now, social and leadership skills will be valued. We will have to work together.
Note: My survival instincts may or may not be influenced by growing up in hurricane country and being a young adult in DC during 9/11.
posted by instamatic at 4:52 PM on September 26, 2019 [28 favorites]

I guess I should have said more clearly that I think most folks should worry less about planning for a climate emergency (with respect to survival skills and housing choices) and more for planning to be considerably poorer/to have a lower standard of living. Expect fuel to be more expensive, many kinds of food to be more expensive, public infrastructure to be less effective, and a worse safety net.
posted by instamatic at 4:57 PM on September 26, 2019 [17 favorites]

Maybe a system for geothermal heating/cooling. Better insulation sounds like a great idea. Solar and battery storage- wildfires will become more common and take out the electric grid more often (it's already shutting down in parts of CA when there's a risk of fire to prevent sparks). An air purifier for wildfire smoke. A go-bag in case you need to evacuate in a wildfire (or earthquake, not that that's related to climate). Planting trees that are accustomed to a warmer climate than you currently live in.
posted by pinochiette at 5:11 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Think about fire and defensible space, and whether your home has things like a wood deck or siding that will doom your house in a wildfire. All kinds of places are going to be fire zones that didn’t used to be.

Also consider whether or not you are going to be willing to self-insure in coming decades, because home insurance companies aren’t going to be willing to insure a lot of rural and exurban areas, due to both fire and flood risk. The state programs that are currently backstops for this are going to run out of money.

Earthquakes don’t care about climate change, but The Big One is coming to the Puget Sound at some point in the next few decades. Make sure you have at least done the basics like bolting your house to the foundation and having an automatic shutoff on your gas line.
posted by rockindata at 5:36 PM on September 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

Air source heat pumps can provide all of your heating and cooling needs in the Puget Sound area (and most of the rest of the country) and heat pump based hot water heaters are also the way to go for full electrification.
posted by rockindata at 5:39 PM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Shade trees but not just any trees. Fruit trees, choose old varieties as more robust, but don't block your sightlines! So prune them up as they grow.
posted by unearthed at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

Gold mylar "emergency blankets" - I've put them right up against all of my windows in my S facing tkl floor apartment in central Surrey BC and instead of a 8-12+' (celcius) indoors, its only a 2-4' when there's a breeze going a useful direction.

Looks ghetto, but does the job.

If I had a property like yours, I'd see if there is anywhere a really deep cellar could be dug - if only for the (cool) thermal properties. I'd also definitely look into geothermal/ heat pumps.

If the property doesn't have shade trees lined up, thinking about the local flora/ future conditions and starting up some shade trees like 'wind break' copses of fast growing trees commonly done in the midwest.
posted by porpoise at 7:08 PM on September 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am digging up my sod and replacing it with native grass/flower meadows, specifically choosing moisture-tolerant blends and shrubs for places where my downspouts flow and other low-lying areas. All of our ash trees have died, so I replaced them with trees that do ok in warmer temperatures, but they’re so tiny now that it hardly feels like a replacement. I already grow most of our summer produce in our yard, but I’m starting to get serious about preserving it via canning/dehydrating/etc.

The best thing I’ve done, however, is marry a Canadian and fill out the paperwork to certify our kid as Canadian.
posted by Maarika at 7:37 PM on September 26, 2019

You don't say how much you drive. If it is a lot, the best advice would be to leave .9 acres in BFE behind and move into a small rural town (in town, near shopping, not on the outskirts) or a major city in the same county. You don't mention how hot it gets, but checking the averages the answer is not that much and not that often, so spend more effort keeping out the cold.

Insulation is great for that and is dirt cheap compared to what you get.

It also rains 56" a year where you are - fire and really drought aren't major concerns. Even if you fall back to the US average of 40" a year that's still quite a bit. You are fine there. I'd agree, find plants that can deal with your weather and get a good garden growing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:52 PM on September 26, 2019

My chief concern is the interruptions to infrastructure - what do we do when the storm that went through missed us, but there goes the entire harvest and the power lines? or maybe it was a drought summer and a wildfire taking out the power lines, but anyway, anything you eat or use to generate heat for cooking, cleaning and warmth will have to be brought to your home with the power of your own muscles. I'd suggest looking into alternative sources of food and fuel that do not require long distance transportation, such as a woodlot, windmill and solar, and joining a co-op that keeps pigs.

Growing a nice garden for produce is good, but if there are temporary famine conditions you will resent any acreage devoted to cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers and other negligible calorie crops. Potatoes and pigs are likely to be the belly fillers, because pigs are the source of lard and lard is the calories that keep people alive when there's nothing to eat but some insufficient potatoes. You could also look into joining a share of a cow or herd of cows because cows equal butter, but pigs are far better survivors than cows, and pigs produce multiple young so can be scaled up to provide more grease on more marginal land than cows can. Most cows produce one calf and if you want to turn the milk into cheese you have to kill it for the rumen, which means increasing your herd is much slower than with pigs, who can casually drop a litter of thirteen so if you eat ten of them you are still looking at possible exponential increase.

I'm interested in all the people saying get rid of the lawn - a properly maintained pasture is extremely valuable. The grass can nourish bunnies, sheep, goats, cows and pigs, and a grazed pasture is the fastest most efficient way of creating topsoil.

I'd invest in bicycles and learning to repair and jury rig repairs on them, so that if there is no gasoline to be had for sex or gold, you can still hitch the little cart to the back of the bicycle and peddle eight miles down to the market and bring back the potatoes.

Look into your water supply. You have no idea how bad drought conditions will be. You might end up with that creek halfway down the end of the subdivision turning into a navigable river and the subdivision turning into a murky and polluted pond or your might see your well go dry by June every year and end up having to travel to get water. Or, more likely if the predictions are halfway right, you will go from the river scenario to the dry well scenario twice in a decade. Cisterns are worth researching.

Join your neighbourhood association, or your back-to-the-land communities. I'd avoid the survivalist community as they seem to have a higher anxiety level and that translates to a higher hostility and dysfunction level. Build yourself a network so you know who to talk to about getting a team of people equipped with bicycles, or who has the skills to repair the windmill again, and which type of carrots are the wrong ones to plant, and what day the farmer will bring stuff to the central market, if and when he gets gasoline, and who has medical training in the neighbourhood so you can go for first aid to her or him and be welcomed and get stitches when your medical insurance provider has suddenly cut you dead.

Become fit. Ditch pop and cigarettes and vapes and the addiction to sit down media. Floss. Do everything you can to ensure that you are going into this as healthy as possible, and can postpone the need for high blood pressure pills and dental work as long as possible.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:44 AM on September 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Pick up skills so that you can be a useful member of your community. You will need community so make sure that they also need you and you are valuable if you walk up to them with only the clothes on your back.

Hunting is not a useful skill unless you mean the ability to reliably bring in a couple of woodchucks and squirrels every week. The land is not being managed to maximize game and they will be under similar pressures as the human population so their numbers will drop sharply even before you account for the fact that everybody is planning on surviving by grabbing their gun and going out and shooting deer. You can assume the deer will be extinct by the second year before the intermittent gasoline supplies have any serious longer shortages.

For best results be someone who can and will put in a long and hard days work hauling, sandbagging, repairing or weeding, and gets along well with everyone - be really, really easygoing - and then add some additional skills that are likely to be in short supply, like knowing how to preserve food without canning jars, and how to split wood efficiently enough to keep up with winter heat needs. Be the person who keeps an eye on the neighbours and when you have a surplus knows who to share it with and shares it with them. If you have a car you want them on terms where they are comfortable asking you for a lift, and providing you with lifts. If they need someone to join a work party and take the corner of a structure to move it, they think of asking you to be one of the helpers. If you are not strong enough to be the lifter, learn to be the invaluable person on site who ensures that all the nails are salvaged and straightened, everyone has drinking water when they need it, and all the small planks are exactly at hand when the heavy workers want them. You don't have to be working man strong to be invaluable. Even a go-to babysitting grandmother can be the difference between a decent life or one where the kid died.

If you live in an area that gets snow, learn to ski.

Learn to navigate your neighbourhood by landmarks, so that you can orient yourself and walk back overland. Orienteering is a fun hobby. Being able to walk home by nightfall by going cross country instead of having to spend the night out or locate someone to crash with because you only had to walk eight miles instead of fourteen may not every be useful, but knowing that you can if you have to if the car breaks down will save you much anxiety and build your self confidence.

Take care of your feet. Only wear shoes that contribute to your foot health.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:02 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Check out this book, and everything else Astyk has written.
posted by metasarah at 8:15 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Things not already mentioned:

Host a weekly community potluck

At the very least, set up a humanure system so it's ready to go. Even if you don't use it in the meanwhile.

Start a forest garden now (perennial fruit and nut - trees, shrubs, vines, plants, etc.) and pick things you won't have to harvest all at the same time. Build a solar dehydrator.
posted by aniola at 8:58 PM on September 27, 2019

When I took over the family farm, I weatherized the main house, and installed solar panels and geothermal heating. It will take some hacking to get it all off the grid, but my neighbor knows how to do that.

I'm working on a forest garden, but I have to say, it isn't easy. Those deer, they aren't the least bit scared of my dog. I have a fenced yard, but it isn't big enough to grow anything like the amounts one needs for subsistence.
When I move there permanently, I'm going to get chickens and geese and fence in some areas to keep the deer out.
Also, even the things that do grow are unpredictable: last year I had tons of apples and no cherries. This year its the other way round. I know, I should have learnt this from my grandparents, but they got used to supermarkets just like everyone else did and stopped gardening ages ago.

I won't be directly affected by raising sea levels, but the commercial centres close to me will be seriously impacted, so it'll be hard to manage without a car if/when it happens. I do have a cargo bike though.
I think learning to cook from a well-stocked pantry is a useful skill. Learn to bake bread -- you can keep a bin of flour in a cool dry room, but bread will get moldy or dry out or both. We are regularly snowed in, or "stormed in" when fallen trees block the road or it is otherwise too dangerous to drive, so I'm used to those things, but I need to be better at cooking from more local stuff. If there was a big crisis, I'd miss olive oil and wheat flour. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I looked online for a hardy tea plant the other day, because I really don't want to be a prepper.

One thing I just thought of now: get real books about stuff you need to know. Right now I'm using online ressources for my gardening and it is fine because it isn't strictly necessary. But if something sudden happens before I'm up to skills, I'll be lost. My neighbors are good at lots of things, but I'm the only one working on gardening right now.

Learn to forage. Last weekend when I was walking my dog, dozens of Polish people were out gathering mushrooms because it's a tradition. Mushrooms are nourishing, they dry and keep well, they taste good. But there are also fruits, berries, nuts, herbs and greens, and maybe snails and oysters. At least you could probably fish, and learn how to smoke your fish and other ways of preserving it. Dried, salted fish is a delicacy.

And yes, the most important thing is to build a community.
posted by mumimor at 8:09 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes! I was just coming back to mention foraging. I don’t think I’d ever be good enough at it to make a subsistence difference, but I’ve been interested in it since I was a kid. I recently joined a swarm of foraging FB groups, and I am learning bit by bit. I also stalk a local mycological group, though I’m not brave/educated enough to forage mushrooms.

I feel like the “subsistence” comes from getting really good at cooking beans and rice, and the “keep scurvy and boredom away” comes from foraging and gardening.

But I still think that most people will experience global climate change the way they did the Great Recession— lots of living in your parents’ basements or in your grown kids’ attics, going to the library instead of the movie theater or bookstore, moving to a new location because there isn’t work/housing where you currently live, a lot of competition for jobs. Maybe it’s retraining to be a solar panel engineer or AI programmer, or maybe it’s retraining to repair roofs after hurricanes.
posted by instamatic at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

instamatic, I agree completely, but there is also the category I'm going to be in soon: the olds. I can't retrain to be anything, or live in my parents' basement, or move. Maybe I can share my house with some of the people who are going to be displaced by the rising sea? I often think I could start a supper club when the garden is up, because I did catering way back and sort of liked it. But if most people are poor, who is going to eat there?
My biggest loss to the deer this year was all the beans. Who knew deer love beans? And the birds ate the gooseberries while I became a grandmother. I love gooseberries, but they'll be back next year. The beans need a fence. I had a big mushroom thing a couple of years ago, and feel confident with them now, but it's a lot of work if you want to find enough for all winter.
posted by mumimor at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2019

Also, I want one of these, for when lightning strikes or something.
posted by mumimor at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2019

Start a farm co-op? Solves your community problem, and maybe also a farm maintenance problem as well?

Seriously, though, I think it’s hard to plan ahead for climate issues. (Like, thirty years ago, how many people thought to plan ahead for a gig economy? Seventy years ago, how many people thought you wouldn’t be working the same job most of your life? Or, two income households would be the norm?) Planning ahead for aging in place (or finding a different place to age) is probably a better bet for most people. You’re probably in a better position than most.
posted by instamatic at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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