We all know “That Guy” the prepper that has enough guns and ammo to wage a second Battle of the Alamo, and win. The type of people who equate firepower with survivability. I’m not in any way downplaying the role, or need for an appropriate amount of firepower in a disaster event. However, it does seems prudent to be prepared to sustain heat in the event that public utilities have failed.
When chaos and disaster comes, and it will eventually, surviving will be more about beans than it will be about bullets. Hurricane season upon us here in North America. Many of us live in areas of the country that can be subject to prolonged periods of sub freezing temperatures, ice storms, tropical storms, hurricanes and other events that often interrupt basic utilities.
Are you prepared for when that event happens? Our own Robert McCartney did a great article on emergency generators. If you missed it you should take a moment to click the link and read it, much of what I have to add will work in tandem with his article. Emergency generators are an important piece of any emergency preparedness scenario, but not the only piece.
Generators are obviously for electric power, but what will you do about heating your home during an emergency event? Many people rely on natural gas to heat their homes, but how does that gas get to your house? Electricity. Most natural gas distribution companies also have emergency generators as back up for such instances, but like anything mechanical, problems can arise that can affect distribution networks.
Sometimes in the event of a disaster like flooding or earthquakes, a natural gas company will shut down portions of a distribution grid as a precautionary measure. If this happens in a harsh winter environment, the clock starts ticking on how long can we handle the cold before people’s emotional state starts to decay (being cold and without lights sucks).
In most situations (such as winter storms) power interruption will only last a week or so at the most. Any major natural gas distribution company should have generators up and running during that time to keep distribution systems pressurized. The problem with this is that modern furnaces and boilers need electricity to operate, so we are back to square. Not so fast.
Wood Stoves and Fireplaces
Remember when I said emergency generators are an important part of an emergency preparedness scenario? A proper emergency plan will have components that work together to achieve survivability and sustainability . In many plans a wood burning stove or fireplace is a partner piece in a post emergency home heating plan.
In my personal home plan I use a Alderlea wood burning stove in tandem with a generator to heat my house (in the event of a distribution). In order to do this I place the furnace fan in the manual setting, meaning it will spin as long as it has electrical power. This will take air from the house and circulate it to other areas of the house. Doing this will have two effects: one, it will circulate warm air, and two, it will provide the wood stove with a constant source of air for combustion. I also use two convection fans that have no batteries to move heat away from my wood stove and into the main living area of the house
This works amazingly well in my house, it is not uncommon to have the room where the stove is located at over 80*F, and the rest of the house in the high 60*F range. This is all with the outside temperatures near, or below zero. I am fortunate that my house is a newer ranch-style home and leaks very little air through windows and vents.
Planning and Thinking Outside the Box
When dealing with both electricity and home heating planning, it is important to remember to think outside the box and don’t get married to one idea. When selecting your generator it is important to calculate the amperage that will be needed to run your furnace (or boiler), as well as lighting and circulation. Many people have unrealistic expectations for their generators and comfort level during these times.
Many generators companies make an easy to use worksheet to calculate the proper size of generator you will need. I can’t stress enough, this type of planning should be realistic, you aren’t going to be running a microwave, all the lights in the house, and a TV during an outage. You need to find a realistic comfort level between necessities and niceties.
Be sure to be armed with all the important information on your appliances and amperage needs when you begin to shop for generators. Major retailers like Costco, Lowe’s , Home Depot and even Cabella’s sell many different brands of emergency generators. A qualified, licensed, and bonded professional should do all of the installation of the needed switching gear to protect both you, and the power company.
I realize not everyone will have the ability, resources, or desire to have wood piles behind their house (or generators in their garages). This leads us to alternative ideas for heating. I have known people to use propane tanks and small personal heaters such as the Mr Heater while on hunting trips and they work quite well in smaller spaces. There are also larger style heaters that mount directly to gas BBQ cylinders that produce to up 30,000 BTU’s of heat.
Any safe source of heat in an emergency should be considered, keeping body temperatures up is more important than being well fed. The human body can survive weeks with little or no food, but once the core body temperature drops bad things happen, and they happen fast. Heat in the winter is a life or death situation.
It’s important to remember not all of these heaters are designed to be used in closed spaces, and carbon monoxide levels should be monitored while using them. Storing all combustibles away from the front of these heaters is also highly advisable. I have seen buildings catch fire while using these larger style heaters, it was a wondrous sight to watch the building burn, but not advisable. Consult the user’s manual, and do your research before buying heaters (there are many variables to consider).
Safety and Sustainability
The final segment we need to address is safety and sustainability. While it sounds about as much fun as watching paint dry, it needs to be addressed. Any well laid out plan should have these two factors included, so we’ll focus on safety first. When fueling and maintaining generators it’s important to shut off the unit before any service is to be performed. Mufflers on generators get hot and easily will ignite any drops of fuel that may fall on them.
When checking electrical connections and any exposed wiring, it would be wise to have an electrical multi-meter on had (and some basic insulated hand tools). Remember, a generator is basically a small power plant and the voltage it produces can, and will be fatal under the right circumstances. Check all connections for scorches, burns, or discoloration that might indicate problems.
If you chose choose a wood stove/fireplace as an alternative heat source be sure to keep a watchful eye for sparks/burning embers which could ignite combustibles such as carpet. If you have a fireplace or wood stove you should already know this.
Sustainability a form of the word Sustain, defined by Websters Dictionary as :
In order to sustain ourselves in a post emergency environment, we have to have supplies. This means again we have to have planned for said event. If you are incorporating a wood stove or fireplace into your recovery plan, then you should have dry wood and combustible materials stored and readily accessible.
If you are using a gasoline powered emergency generator, are you sure you have enough gasoline on hand? Have you used fuel stabilizer in any gasoline that you have previously stored in order to sustain it? If you are using propane heaters, have you taken an inventory of how many and what size canisters you have available? These are important questions to consider,
There is no one size fits all plan to any emergency situation or recovery operation. The intent of this article was to hopefully open your eyes and help you to start to look at situations that may present themselves. If you are starting emergency preparedness planning and have questions, that is what we are here for. Our writing staff have an amazing pool of talents, skills, and operational experiences, simply drop us a line using the Comms Check Link and ask your question. Someone will most likely be able to help. Until then stay safe and Happy Holidays
Feature image courtesy of Pixabay