How Do You Heat Your Home Without Power?
As I write this, the United States Midwest is going through one of the coldest winters in recorded weather history.
People are dying.
So while hearing and reading about the cold and power failures that will sometime come with them, I ask myself the question of ‘How do you heat your home without power’?
Fournatatly for us, there are several ways to get that done, from fireplaces to portable fuel-type heaters.
The life-saving advice here is to be prepared before the shelves are empty of these items.
Modern Methods To Heat A Home
In addition to giving us a place to hang our hats, the most important purpose of a house is to protect us from the elements, particularly the rain and the cold.
People die in these extreme cold snaps because of hypothermia, the loss of core body heat. It is one of the fastest killers in nature. We heat our homes not only to make us comfortable but also to protect ourselves from hypothermia.
Unfortunately, all of our modern heating methods require electricity, either to create or distribute the heat, as well as to control our central heating systems. When we lose electrical power, we also lose the ability to keep our homes warm.
Gas heaters need electricity to start and blow the heated air throughout the house; most gas stoves need electricity to get them turned on; even your gas hot water heater will not work.
While being in an unheated home is better than sitting out in the cold, it’s not good enough. An emergency heating method is needed when all other heating methods are lost. That also means having some fuel stock on hand to power our heater.
Generating Heat Without Electricity
Fireplace. Of course, the fireplace is a home’s most basic heating system. It has been in use for centuries—long enough that we don’t know when they were first invented.
Most likely in some comfy cave.
While retrofitting a fireplace into a home is not easy, many homes are still built with fireplaces for decorative purposes.
The biggest problem with a fireplace is that it isn’t a very efficient source of heat; much of what’s produced goes up the chimney. This can be helped by putting a fireplace insert in, transferring more heat to the room.
However, some of these require electricity to operate internal fans. Still, there are also inserts that work purely by convection, bringing in cold air off the floor and returning the heated air back into the room.
The type of wood you burn in a fireplace is important as well. Although more expensive, hardwood firewood will burn longer and produce more BTUs of heat than softwoods will.
The difference is significant enough to justify the extra investment in the hardwood.
Wood-Burning Stove. Wood-burning stoves were developed to replace the fireplace, increasing efficiency. They are typically made out of cast iron. This allows the stove to heat up from the burning wood and radiate that heat into the room from all sides. While heat still goes up the chimney, a higher percentage radiates into the home.
When I lived up north, I installed one of those wood-burning stoves in my living room. It was one of my better investments.
Wood-burning stoves can be fairly easily retrofitted into a house, much easier than installing a fireplace. The major problem is to find a place to run the chimney. Modern chimneys are triple-walled so that the external part of the chimney remains cool. This allows them to be run up through a closet or other space without any fire risk (and is exactly where my chimney ran).
Also, you can not place one of these on your living room rug. You are going to have to be a little more creative than that.
I put down a brick base and backdrop with a mantle. It not only functioned well, I now had a mantle to hang Christmas stockings on.
Check your local building codes before you do this. Not the stocking part, the fireplace thing.
A wood-burning stove can also be used in a temporary installation for emergencies.
However, the stove must remain on an inflammable surface (metal, brick, or stone). The chimney can be routed through a window by removing one of the upper panes of glass. The excess space in the window opening can be filled with plywood.
Kerosene Heater. Kerosene heaters are an excellent choice for people with a ready kerosene source. Although they produce a slight odor, they burn clean. In a grid-down situation, it would be impossible to purchase kerosene so a good stock would need to be kept on hand.
Like wood-burning stoves, some kerosene heaters radiate from all sides, increasing efficiency. Kerosene heaters do not require a chimney, although they do require some fresh air. So the room where the heater is installed mustn’t be so tightly sealed that air can’t get in.
Propane Heater. Sometimes referred to as catalytic heaters, this is ideal if you already keep propane tanks at home. The propane (or natural gas, with the change of an orifice) passes through a jet into a perforated ceramic element, where it burns.
Like the kerosene heater, the element is hidden behind a wire grating to prevent burns.
From a survival standpoint, the best thing about a propane heater is that they don’t require a lot of fuel and will continue to run as long as you have propane in your tank. Since the average tank is 500 gallons, it’s best to keep it mostly filled instead of waiting until it is almost empty to refill.
Designate A Warm Room
Depending on the size of the house or apartment you are living in, it might become obvious that these no-electric heating options will not work for the whole household.
You and your family are going to have to compromise on living conditions.
One of these portable devices in just one of the larger rooms may have to be used for a sleeping area. Just make sure a window is cracked open for a supply of fresh air.
A non-movable fireplace or cast iron stove is most likely in one of your larger rooms such as the living or family room. Unfortunately, they tend to have several rather large ways to enter and exit them.
You can use blankets to cover some of those entry points by suspending them from the ceiling and attaching them to the walls. Just make sure they are far from any flame or heat source.
And remember, this is only temporary. It is better than hypothermia.
Some Cheap Ways To Heat A Home
Any of these methods will work well to heat at least one room of your home. It would be extremely difficult to heat your whole home without heaters in each room.
That would also require enough fuel for all those heaters, which is impractical in a crisis.
Here are some room heating tips:
Open the curtains and blinds….let the sunshine in
Close those curtains and blinds at night. Moonlight is not going to help you.
Close off any rooms you do not need during the cold snap.
Use cheap shower curtains or store-bought plastic sheathing to cover your windows from the inside.
Use towels to stop drafts from coming through the bottom of exterior doors. In the spring, fix them properly.
Rugs are great heat conductors. Putting an area rug in your designated ‘warm room’ would not be a bad idea.
Warm clothing. One of the civilizations’ great inventions.
More people in the same room. Now is a good time to get to know each other better. Nobody is going to be on their computer while the power is out. Play a board game.
Make The Most Of Existing Heating Solutions
The biggest concern when using any alternative heating method is ensuring enough fuel on hand.
Be prepared before it is too late. Shopping after the fact could be deadly.
Calculate how much fuel your system uses, and then multiply that by the longest number of days you would expect to use it. Based on that, you can determine how much fuel you need to stockpile.
While it may not be as comfortable as having your whole house heated, you can rest assured that you will get yourself and your family through this cold snap safe, sound, and reasonably warm.