Anita Sands (the link is to only one of her thousand or so pages) recently about people living without utilities. Power companies are now sending agents around to talk to people who had their utilities cut off for nonpayment and who are living in their houses without energy, to get them on some kind of payment plan and get them turned back on. The number of people living without utilities is increasing in this recession.
I replied with various ways people could use less energy and water at home, or live without utilities in their home if need be. Some of these tactics could be used in an emergency, i.e. like in rural Kentucky when ice storms down a bunch of power lines and people are without electricity for weeks. Or after a flood where the town water is no good. This has happened a few times near here in the last 5 years. Anyway, I thought it would make a good article, so here is my reply with a little editing for the blog:
A rain barrel is obvious for saving water. Get a food grade drum or maybe even just a very clean (aka new) trash can, and stick it under a downspout. If you don't trust it to drink, you can use the water to wash dishes and bathe with or water your plants. This works when it's not frozen solid outside, anyway.
One could use the advice in www.cheaprvliving.com and get a deep cell (marine) battery at Wal-Mart and recharge it somewhere. (The library? Work? A cafe that has plugs for laptops?) Then run a light or two off it at night. I am not sure how long it takes to charge one of these up. It would be inconvenient if it took more than an hour or two.
Solar yard lights. Get a mess of them, leave outside during the day, then bring them inside at night. I have rescued one whose stake was broken off, and set it upside down in the top of one of my bedroom lamps. When I turn out the light, I have an instant night light.
I once heated only the basement of a house, with a space heater, to keep the pipes from freezing, and I think the reason wasn't just frugality but that the house didn't have a furnace yet. It was under renovation. It cost $50 a month.
One ex-BF of mine was so frugal he would draw a super hot bath (he had free hot water) and try to partially heat his apt. with that. He'd just let it cool down for an hour until it was tolerable to bathe in and then bathe.
One of my bosses fills 5 or 6 gallon jugs weekly with water from the office. His well water isn't fit to drink. He can bathe in it but can't drink it so he gets his drinking water from the office. I guess someone could also do that at a truck stop or other public bathroom. If the gallon jug doesn't fit under the tap, get a big cup and then pour that into the jug.
I once had a bandmate who lived in a warehouse space. He'd built an enclosure for his bed and stuck a space heater through the wall of it. This way he could heat just his bed area instead of the whole place.
If your house has no heat, you can pitch a tent in the livingroom and put your mattress in it. That is providing you have the right kind of tent (one that stands up on its own instead of needing stakes to keep it up). I guess you could also just get a couple of tarps, drape them over chairs like you would a blanket for a kids' play space, and fake a tent, it's not like you have to keep moisture or wind out.
One of the most common pieces of advice I've seen for homeless people is to join a gym so you can take showers. Gym membership is cheaper than rent. So if you are without water at home you could do that. (But make sure you don't get hosed by the gym. Sometimes it's hard to get RID of a gym membership once you join). This may be more expensive than just a water bill. I'd only do this if it made sense under the circumstances.
Free heat: My handyman has jerry rigged his furnace. Instead of burning gas, he uses a pot belly stove next to the furnace to burn scrap wood from his construction projects and then he uses the fan in the furnace to waft the hot air from the basement up through the vents. The heat also naturally rises up through the house, so he makes one fire in the stove in the morning, and by night the attic where he sleeps is nice and warm. He pays like $25 a month for gas/electric. In the winter in the north. And he doesn't have to pay for dumpsters to haul away scrap wood from his sites. The better scrap wood, he turns into things like homemade cabinetry, shelves, etc.
He also has a window air conditioner that he installed ductwork from it through a wall into the next room. He's got lots of little things like that.