Guest post by Sam Schwegler
My name is Sam, and it’s become my passion to build my life and home around the idea of self-reliance. We’ve all heard the old adage: Those that fail to plan, plan to fail. I'm a strong believer in the backup-to-the-backup system. If you have a Plan A already, great! What if it fails in the middle of an emergency? Always have a Plan B, and then a Plan C. I really don't believe there is such a thing as too much planning. Always try to improve your plan, or add to it when necessary or convenient. Once a backup plan reaches full functionality, it's no longer a backup plan but self-reliance. You can then move on to another area that is lacking, and—you guessed it! Make more plans.
I hope to use this outlet as a place to pass on what I’ve learned through research as well as my own implementation. I'll take some time to talk about food storage, water storage, water purification, emergency shelter, defense training, and so forth. My goal is to guide readers toward the security of having at least two weeks of survivability in their homes if all goes to pot. Today I'm talking heat.
Chances are good you have heard about and/or seen the super storm devastation on the east coast caused by the simultaneous convergence of Hurricane Sandy and three other storm fronts. Power was out for millions of people for multiple days and for some a week or more!
I couldn’t help but think that it's starting to get cold in that area of the country. Regardless of the heat sources those victims had—except for woodstoves—all need electricity to function. Even the non-electric heating systems are dependent on electricity to move heat to liveable areas. There is also the problem of possible interruption in gas service, propane shortage, etc.
How would you heat your house and your family in an emergency situation with no power? How much preparation is enough? I think we have all seen that you can count on the government to NOT be there for at least 72 hours. You can put all your other eggs (I advise strongly against it) into their basket, but what do you do in the meantime?
There are several great ways to deliver safe heat to keep your family and at least part, if not all, of your house warm in an emergency or disaster. For this article, I am going to briefly discuss four alternative heat sources you can use when your primary heating goes out.
Before I continue, let me state two very important things:
ONE: When heating your home with alternative methods, ALWAYS remember proper ventilation!
TWO: Be very well acquainted with the user manual and all the warnings that go along with your alternative heat source. The time to learn how to use it, or to learn about possible hazards IS NOT during an emergency!
If the power is down, the easiest short-term solution is a generator. Before you make a generator purchase, take the time to research options and assess your own specific needs. (I will be writing an article on that soon, because I truly believe a generator can be a life saver in so many ways.) A generator can power furnace fans as well as electric space heaters. As an added benefit, generators can provide the energy for light and electronics for entertainment and a bit of normalcy in a sometimes scary situation. Keeping enough fuel to run a generator for up to three days is not difficult and within the strictures of most fire codes. In cases where the return of power is uncertain, rationing of your three-day supply could make it last up to a week with small adjustments and sacrifices.
Propane heaters are another safe option. I would highly recommend the Mr. Heater Buddy heaters. These can be a life saver in a cold winter with no electricity. These propane heaters run on one-pound propane cylinders; some can be modified to run off a twenty-five-pound tank. There are three styles to choose from, each with advantages and disadvantages. However, all of them come standard with an accidental tip-over shut-off feature and oxygen-depletion sensors for safety. Just be sure to read and follow the instructions that will help you avoid fires and explosions. Also, provide appropriate ventilation.
An older method of space heating is a kerosene heater. Very carefully read the manual and strictly observe safety warnings. Without proper filling and lighting, the unit could turn into a firebomb. This is easily avoided by reading, understanding, and following the manufacturer’s directions and warnings. There are many of these heaters on the market new, and many older models can be found for a very good price at the right garage sales. They seem to last fairly well and for a small price you could walk away with a decent emergency backup heater. You would have to keep kerosene on hand and I strongly recommend CO monitoring equipment when running the heater. A small vent somewhere in the room would help keep the air clean.
In my opinion, by far the best option is a rocket mass heater. You might have seen these being used in developing countries or as homemade camp stoves that can boil water with wood chips in minutes. They really are amazing innovations. By harnessing the BTUs and storing them in a heat sink, rocket stoves provide a slow release of heat and keep the family and room warm for many hours, even after the fire has died out. These stoves burn at nearly 95% efficiency due to a double-burn effect. The wood—the first burn, and first round of heat—burns and creates a wood gas—the second burn—which burns at very high temperatures and can be directed into a heat sink. The heat sink stores and provides the slow release of heat. Since the stove is so efficient, the fuel is kindling, meaning you can collect your fuel supply from fallen branches alone. Because the fire is so efficient, reportedly there is very little smoke. These stoves are fairly labor-intensive (though not expensive) to build and will likely become a permanent fixture in your home. If installed correctly, a rocket mass heater could save you hundreds of dollars a year in heating bills, if not eliminating your need for conventional heat altogether. Talk about self-reliance!
Hopefully this article provided you some ideas to get you headed toward an emergency heating plan. As I mentioned, this is a passion of mine, and I have a lot of information on several of topics I would like to share in the future. In the meantime, good luck and keep getting prepared!!
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