How to Heat Your Home in an Emergency Situation

The weather may be warming up, but that doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about preparing for next winter. Whether you’re dealing with a blizzard, floor or the zombie apocalypse, you’ll need to be able to heat your home during an emergency. Here are some ways to heat your home if the world ends or the power goes out next winter.

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1. Controlling Heat Loss

Before you choose a way to heat your home, you need to make sure the building isn’t bleeding hot air. A lack of insulation, degraded weatherstripping around your doors and windows, and the windows themselves can all allow heat to radiate out of your home, making it harder to keep things warm.

Start by checking your attic for insulation. If you don’t have any insulation or it has been years since its installation, consider upgrading or replacing it. This won’t just help you keep the home warm in the winter time — it can also help you reduce cooling costs in the summer by maintaining the interior temperature.

Weatherstripping around your doors and windows also work to keep out cold air and prevent your heated air from escaping. If yours has deteriorated, it can’t do its job. You can line the edges of your windows and doors with draft stoppers, but this is only a stop-gap measure. The best thing you can do is to replace the weatherstripping entirely. This is easy, even for DIYers who aren’t terribly handy, and you can do it in an afternoon.

Ideally, you’ll want to replace your windows with double-paned options, but if that isn’t in the budget, you won’t be left out in the cold. You can insulate your windows with things you have around the house, like blankets, pillows and tinfoil. Instead of using your thin summer curtains that let in natural light, swap them out with heavy insulated ones. You’ll want to be able to let sunlight in during the day — if there is any — but you don’t want to let all your hard-earned heat escape at night when the temperature drops again.

2. Propane or Kerosene Heaters

Your first thought might be to pick up a couple of space heaters you can plug into the wall, but those won’t do you a lot of good if the power is out or the infrastructure has collapsed. You’re going to need something capable of generating heat that has its own refillable or replaceable fuel source. That’s where kerosene and propane heaters come in.

These free-standing heaters generate hundreds of thousands of BTUs of energy per gallon of fuel. Kerosene costs a little more and may be harder to find — you can find propane anywhere because so many people like to use it for their barbeque grills — but you get more bang for your buck.

Whichever fuel source you choose, you’re going to want to buy it in bulk. Sure you can buy propane cans and kerosene cans in the camping section of your local hardware or department store, but if the power is going to be out for a while, this isn’t a cost-effective way to heat your home. Instead, consider having a propane or kerosene tank installed and buying fuel by the gallon.

3. Candle Heaters

If you don’t have the means or the space to install a fuel tank in your home, you’re not without options. If you’re trying to heat a small space, all you need is a couple of bricks, a couple of terra cotta pots, a long steel bolt and some candles or Sterno cans.

Now, candles and fuel cans don’t generate a lot of heat on their own unless it’s concentrated, such as under a food dish at a buffet, but they do generate heat. The problem is that with any sort of flame or small heat source, it’s not going to radiate heat you can feel unless you’re standing directly over it. Hot air is less dense than cold air, so it will rise to the ceiling where it isn’t doing you any good.

By using a nested pair of terra cotta pots, as well as a steel bolt, you can create a sort of heat battery. The heat from the candles or fuel cans accumulates inside the pot, raising the temperature of both the steel and the terra cotta. Over time, this build up reaches critical mass and starts to radiate heat out into the surrounding area. By keeping the candles lit, you can heat a whole room with one of these simple contraptions. You probably already have most of the pieces scattered around your house.

4. Wood Stoves

You don’t have to remodel your house to use a wood stove to heat the interior. Small portable wood stoves are available. You’ll just need to place them near a window and use a pipe chimney to vent the smoke and ash outside so it doesn’t cause issues indoors.

If you’re planning on using a wood stove to heat your home, you will need to have a generous supply of wood either ready to split or already cut to use as fuel. Spend the cool fall months restocking your fuel supply so that you will have everything you need in case the power goes out. Of course, if you run out of wood, you can always pick up an ax and head out into the forest to find more fuel, so this becomes an incredibly viable option as long as you live near some trees.

5. Fuel Oil Heaters

You don’t have to rely on electricity to heat your home. In fact, more than six million homeowners use fuel oil to power their furnaces. Fuel oil furnaces have a reputation for being dirty or bad for the environment, but while that was true in the past, it isn’t anymore. Fuel oil today contains 93% less sulfur than it did in the 1980s and is between 90 and 95% cleaner than it was in the 1970s.

If you’re considering switching to heating oil as your primary home heating source, make sure you complete the conversion early and refill your tank before the temperature starts to drop. Getting someone to come out for a refill in the middle of a blizzard will be nearly impossible — and if they are willing to make the drive, it will cost you a lot more than it would have in off-peak season.

6. Fireplaces

If you have a gas or wood fireplace in your home, you’re already one step closer to heating your home in the event of a power outage or another emergency. There are a few things you should do before you light that first blaze, though, including:

  • Have the Chimney Cleaned — For a wood fireplace, a clogged chimney isn’t just a fire hazard. It could also leave you choking on smoke and carbon monoxide because these byproducts have no other way to get out of your home. Before you light a fire for the first time, call a chimney sweep and have the whole system cleaned.
  • Clean out the Firebox — If you haven’t cleaned out your fireplace since last winter, now the is perfect time to get rid of all those old ashes and get it ready for the new cold season. Make sure you keep the damper closed while you’re cleaning, though, or an errant gust of wind could send ash all over your living room.
  • Stock up on Fuel — Being ready for anything means you need to have enough fuel to see you through the entire winter if need be. If you have a wood fireplace, start chopping wood before the weather gets cold. If you have a gas fireplace, top off your tank before a blizzard comes through. Unfortunately, if you opted for an electric fireplace, you’re going to be out of luck if the power goes out.

We’ve been using fireplaces to heat our homes for as long as we’ve had homes. It can be a great tool if the power goes out, so make sure they’re ready for the cold winter months.

7. Purchase or Maintain a Generator

Losing power doesn’t just mean you won’t be able to heat your home. It also means you can’t charge your phone, turn on the lights or cook on an electric range. Having a backup generator can help you do all of these things and more.

Make sure your generator is outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Generators run on gasoline or diesel, which means they produce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, both of which can kill you in high concentrations. Don’t run a generator in the house, no matter how much you don’t want to go out in the cold to plug stuff in and refuel it.

[Editor’s note: Even in a partially-ventilated garage, such as with the garage door half open, toxic CO can build up which can be deadly! ONLY ever use a generator and similar outdoor gear OUTSIDE to stay safe.]

Pay close attention to the power rating of your generator as well. If you overload it, it will shut down or even fail, and you’ll be out of luck for electric heat, charging your phone or keeping your refrigerator running.

8. Choose One Room to Heat

In an emergency, you aren’t going to want to try to heat every room in your house. In the long run, it ends up being a waste of fuel. Instead of trying to heat all 2,000+ square feet, choose one room that is big enough to hold everyone in your house, and designate that as the “warm room.” Close the doors, insulate the windows, cover the vents and plan on spending most of your time in there. Keep the doors and windows closed as much as possible to keep in the warm air and conserve your fuel.

If you keep those doors closed, you can theoretically heat an entire room just with your body heat, too — but it will take a while, and you’ll be cold while you do it.

9. Layers, Layers and More Layers

The last thing you should stock up on is warm winter clothing. Even if the heater is working, keeping your thermostat set lower and layering up can help reduce your winter utility costs. If the power goes out, layering up — including hats, scarves and gloves — can keep you warm and prevent frostbite while you get your heaters set up.

Also, move your winter clothing stash to your designated warm room, so you don’t have to worry about pulling on cold pants, shirts and other items while it’s below freezing outside. After all, pretty much the only thing worse than cold underwear is a cold shower.

Don’t start by putting on your heaviest coat, though. Add multiple thin layers you can easily remove if you warm up or move into a warm area. Heavy coats aren’t always necessary as long as you have enough layers. If you get too warm or start sweating, change your bottom layers. Wet clothing draws heat away from your body and makes it harder for you to stay warm.

Stay inside as much as possible, and layer up.

Stay Warm

If the power goes out during a floor or the world ends and the entire infrastructure collapses, you’ll need to figure out how to heat your home. These ideas are all things you can prepare and have ready before the temperature starts to drop. This is one case where it’s better to have all of these things and not need them, rather than to not have them and potentially freeze to death or burn your house down trying to stay warm.

It is important to remember that many of these solutions can present or create a fire hazard if they are misused. Take the time to maintain your equipment, so you’ll always be ready once Old Man Winter shows his face. No one wants to spend all their time in one room playing board games while the power is out, but if it takes the utility companies a while to restore the system, this could keep you warm throughout even the coldest winter.

No matter what you choose to do, be ready for falling temperatures, and stay warm this winter!

Note: This was a guest post.

Author: Damian Brindle

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