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One of the many things we take for granted in the modern world is the presence of abundant energy. I don’t mean the energy we have for doing a multiple of activities, or the necessary requirements for us to complete mental tasks.
I mean the energy we have to power the different tools and equipment that makes our lives comfortable: electricity, heating, laptops, ovens, fridges, TVs, all of these things require a certain amount of energy that we have on demand.
Before national power grids and refueling stations, items like these were considered luxuries and only the very wealthy owned or operated them. This was partially because you had to have a sustained source of energy to use them, which required power stations.
With the world moving so far forward, most people in the western world are connected to these power stations, although it wasn’t without its hiccups. I remember even in my relatively recent childhood, rolling blackouts were quite normal, annoying but normal.
Today, in most cities, blackouts aren’t such a regular occurrence, even to the point where I will hear day long conversations about them if one happens.
But that doesn’t mean that they are eliminated. A malfunction, faulty lines, breakages, little things can spark them, so what do you do in a blackout? Worse yet, what do you do for heating when it’s cold and there is a power outage?
In this article, we will explore the best alternative heat sources you can use during a power outage.
These are the heaters that you can get from most stores, like Home Depot or Walmart, and they work perfectly without connection to your home’s electricity or gas line.
However, to power these heaters you are going to need an alternative fuel source that is not necessarily clean burning, so if you are looking to keep your carbon footprint down, worried about keeping potentially explosive material around, or just really hate the smell of burning gas or wood, then these are not for you.
On a positive note, they are some of the heating systems around though and really useful in a pinch.
Kerosene heaters can be some of the most effective alternative heaters that you can buy and are used around the world today. However, they are also one of the heaters that you should be most wary of as they can be quite dangerous to use.
If you do plan on getting this type of heater for emergencies, make sure you follow safety guidelines to avoid injury and fires, as well as never leaving it unattended.
That being said, newer kerosene heaters have a lot more safety features, thanks to awareness of the defects, and they are even used in Japanese schools for warmth, so as long as you are careful, they are a great source of heat.
Not only that, but they are perfect in emergencies, being able to heat a room in seconds and can continue to keep it toasty for hours, even in the bleakest of winters.
There are only a few other things to mention about the kerosene heater, but they are critical for owning one. You should only use it in well ventilated areas, as they can be a risk for carbon monoxide, so always keep a window or door ajar to keep air flowing.
Keep the kerosene heater ‘off’ when refilling and that the unit had cooled down, I know it’s obvious, but all it takes is one oversight to have an accident.
Finally, always refill your heater outside, this is more for the benefit of your nice floors or carpets than safety, but it can also lead to unsafe incidents.
Probably the most common form of heater in the United States today, propane heaters are a great way to avoid freezing during a blackout and this is in no short part to the gas itself.
For starters, it is a highly efficient fuel, being an approved green fuel according to the 1990 Clean Air Act and produces far fewer harmful greenhouse gases than other fuels. It also has almost double the efficiency of natural gas, making it burn brighter and last longer.
While you would need to keep your propane canisters or tanks outside, as it is still a flammable gas, it’s shelf life keeps it available for use for a long time, with most people thinking 30-year-old propane tanks are still usable and others putting the gases shelf life as indefinite.
This means you can be prepared for power outages long in advance of them ever coming.
Of course, there are some downsides to propane heaters, as there is with almost everything, but they are relatively minor compared to a lot of heaters. The first thing you must do before buying a propane heater is check that it is for indoor use.
If you buy a heater that is for outdoor use, you may subject yourself to unnecessary danger. The danger in this case is reason number 2, propane heaters are mostly designed for temporary use, and should you plan to use it for a long time, make sure you have good ventilation in the room you use it in and your house.
Short term use is fine but, over a long-time of use, propane heaters can release carbon monoxide, which can result in asphyxiation and death when exposed to high levels.
This problem is easily solved with air flow, so keep a window or door slightly open and the air will take care of the rest. Excluding these two things, propane heaters are well worth having in case of emergencies.
Wood Burning Stoves Or Fireplaces
This seems like the obvious choice we all forgot about, but I still remember curled up round the fire my uncle had put together, as wind swept in from the sea and rattled our windows with warm drinks in our hands.
The idea of any kind of wood burning is nostalgic if you grew up in the countryside or in the shadow of the wilderness, but it can also be a key tool to surviving without the comforts of modern technology or reliable energy.
For starters, wood is extremely readily available, not just as something to buy for your heating supply. Any form of wood can do: old fences, sticks, branches, and tinder can be found in any paper object.
However, you mustn’t burn treated wood, as this can have stains that contain noxious materials, any other wood would work fine.
Wood stoves and, even in a pinch, wood fireplaces not only provide warmth but also can be used for cooking – in the case of a wood fireplace, simple cooking but cooking, nonetheless.
Now, the one thing with wood burning is ventilation is important, luckily unlike a lot of gas burning heaters it is not a colourless, odourless noxious substance released, it is great plumes of black smoke, which, while still bad, is less insidious.
Houses that come with a fireplace or stove will normally have a chimney or stove attached to the house, meaning you don’t have to worry about ventilation. However, if this is not the case, you should rectify this by attaching one before you use them.
One other thing to note as well is if you plan to use wood for blackout circumstances, do not use wood pellets. This type of fuel is fantastic, but in a blackout it is not easily replaced, as you have to buy them, and you can’t use them with regular wood.
As such, having a huge stockpile would be the only viable use of wood pellets during a power outage and it is just more trouble than it is worth.
Gas Burning Stoves Or Fireplaces
The final entrant for the standard group and the chameleon of our heater options, gas stoves and fireplaces are often designed to look like wood burners, giving back a little traditional charm, but they are easier to light, with gas being highly flammable and often having an ignition switch.
Very much like wood, the abundance of gas and the ease of obtaining it mean that a gas burner is great to have during power outages and in general.
However, as opposed to wood, gas will burn cleaner, not producing the same black smoke that could potentially happen with wood and, because it has the same rough design as a wood burner, they will come with a chimney to vacate the gas from the room.
Due to this, gas burners are less likely to leak fumes into your home and potentially expose you to a toxic by-product of heating your home.
The downsides to the gas burner mirror the wood burner, with the exception of smoke plumes. You will need to purchase or build a chimney to get rid of the by-product of the gas burner, but normally they have one attached.
Apart from that the only problem you may run into is how easy it can be to turn it on. To let gas flow, you only need to turn the knob on the burner, however this won’t ignite without the ignition switch, letting gas flow uncontrolled into your home, meaning just a bump could set it off.
The best way to solve this is to make something to encase the knob, like a little door you have to physically open to start the process. However, apart from that this is a fantastic way to heat the house.
Although standard heaters may burn incredibly well and heat your home sufficiently, you may not want to keep explosive gas near your home or you may not want to release noxious fumes in your house or into the atmosphere.
Not to worry though, as there are plenty of options for heaters that don’t use gas, wood, or coal for their fuel, or they use so little it is considered a very clean way to heat yourself in hard times.
Gas Catalytic Heaters
A gas catalytic heater is a flameless heater, which relies on catalysed chemical reactions to produce heat. While they ignite due to the combination of chemicals the temperature is low enough where a flame is not produced.
Once ignited, the reaction keeps happening until the fuel source or oxygen in the reaction runs out or is taken out of the equation. Although these heaters may use natural gas or liquid propane, however due to the nature of the reaction taking place, they are different from heaters mentioned previously.
The main benefit of these heaters is that there is little explosive or flammable product produced, which is a huge bonus in a house and can calm anxious nerves.
As before though, carbon monoxide can be an issue, so it is important to keep these heaters in a well-ventilated area. There is one additional problem with these heaters in that they may not be entirely power outage proof, as some will go out with the power.
It is important to check before buying that this is not the case, or, in a pinch, you can operate them with a 12v battery. However, most of these heaters do have a gas powering system with an electrical generator, so you can always find one that will suit you in a blackout.
Solar Heating System
Solar energy has become a lot more accessible to the wider public in recent years.
With the materials becoming cheaper to source, the equipment easier to make, and the panels being less obtrusive when in place, more and more people are using solar energy as not only an emergency power source, but as their regular power source as well.
For heating, solar energy is transmitted from the sun to the solar panels on a roof or, if you have a smaller heater with solar panels, to the heater itself.
The transfer of energy heats the water in your house or heater, which is then stored in a well-insulated container that, when used, is moved through your house or room, heating it.
The best part of a solar heating system is that it works very much the same as your normal central heating system, with the only exception being it is powered by your own energy grid.
You don’t need to refuel it or keep an eye on it for safety reasons, it just keeps working without the chore of helping it.
Another benefit is that this method does not produce any dangerous by-products, like the various gas burners, the only product produced is the heat which is then transferred through various systems to heat your home.
The only downside is that, even though solar energy has become more accessible, it is still far from gas or wood in terms of obtainability. You can’t just pop into the woods for solar panels.
Therefore, it may take a little more legwork to get the solar heating system going, but once it is set up, it becomes smooth sailing very quickly.
Wind Turbine Heating System
A lot like solar energy, wind energy has become a lot more accessible to everyday consumers in the last few years. When a lot of us think of wind turbines, we think of giant behemoths that tower over oceans and cliffs, taking in the energy from the ocean.
However, in the modern world, you can now get wind turbines that power your home and the heating inside. One problem with wind energy over solar energy is the situational circumstances of both. Solar energy needs sunlight and wind energy needs wind.
Due our earth having a day/night cycle, this isn’t an issue with solar energy, as the panels will simply power themselves during the day, however the presence of wind is dictated by location, currents, and season, which can affect how much kinetic energy you can gather from your turbine and can be a lot more varied.
Since kinetic energy is necessary to creating the electricity that heats your home, this can be problematic if you don’t meet these circumstances.
As such, to use this kind of energy you need to be in the right area, if you are, however, wind energy has the exact same benefits as solar energy: no by-products, no explosive or flammable substances, and consistent energy connected to your house directly.
On the other hand, this does come with similar down sides, with the turbine being still less accessible than gas or wood and having to go through the trouble of connecting it to your house. However, if you can overcome all these challenges, this is a brilliant machine to have in a blackout.
Hydro Powered Heating System
Of the clean energy systems used for heating a home, hydro power is probably the most problematic. Although, the idea behind it is the simplest – build a machine to harness a river or streams natural kinetic energy to power your home – it is also the most situational and can have the most problems.
For starters, you would have to have your home near a river or stream. Then, the water source needs to have a powerful enough current to create kinetic energy in your hydro pump.
After all this, you need to hope the water source you are using to heat your home does not freeze over, rendering the pump useless. This is problematic if you have sunk time and money into this machine, only to still be freezing inside your home due to the circumstances.
Unfortunately, this system doesn’t have the benefits of other clean energy systems either. You will need to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t break or is swept away. Water is a sticky and highly damaging substance and, if you aren’t careful, will ruin your equipment.
Since this is the case, it wouldn’t be the best idea to connect it directly to your home, unless you were certain it wouldn’t break or cut out – which is possible to do!
Even with all this, I still think hydro power is a great power system, just that it is very situational and should be used in countries where the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing very often.
Unconventional Ways Of Heating A Home
So far, we have looked at standard heaters and clean energy heating systems, but the standard heaters have safety concerns and the clean energy systems mostly look like big projects.
Some of you may be very cold now and not interested in the heaters mentioned before, which is somewhat understandable after all you need solutions now! And here they are, unconventional but easy ways to heat up a room.
Surprisingly, rocks can be superheated without breaking or cracking, while giving off heat in abundance. Cultures have been doing this for centuries and survivalists today still heat rocks for warmth. For this method, you need a small fire and solid rocks.
The rocks cannot be cracked or porous, these types of rocks may blow up when introduced to water, metamorphic rock is often the best with soapstone being considered the best to use for heating. Outside your home, build a small fire and surround it with rocks.
Once you think they are heated, stand a few feet away for protection and flick a few drops of water on the rock. If the water turns to steam instantly, they are ready.
Bring them inside on a blanket, being extremely careful to not touch the rocks directly and place them on something that can withstand high temperatures. These rocks can stay hot for hours and provide the warmth you need in an emergency.
Human Body Heat
We are the best source of heat that we have, as warm-blooded creatures we are our own furnaces, converting food into energy and that energy into heat.
If you live completely alone, this may not work that well for you, but if you live with people or with pets, this is a viable strategy for waiting out the cold. Find the smallest room in your house and gather everyone, pets and all inside.
Then close all the windows and doors, bringing warm clothes and blankets in with you and sealing any gaps for heat to escape. The heat from all your bodies should start to heat up the room making it warmer than the rest of the house.
However, if this isn’t working, then it might be time to set up a cuddle puddle. I know it might be awkward, but animals do this all the time in the wild to stay warm – a great example would be emperor penguins, who huddle together to survive Antarctica’s freezing winters.
Once you start cuddling, you will begin to get warmer and after a while be warm enough to not need the hug anymore.
Having one hand warmer is great on a winter’s day. Having a lot of hand warmers is great in an emergency. Since the way they warm up is a chemical reaction and not based on external heat, they are perfect for getting you out of a cold snap.
Once activated you can place them in your clothes or in your bed or even in a hat. In fact, if you isolate yourself in a small room in the house, you could probably heat that room up somewhat and make yourself a cozy nest in which to weather the freezing temperatures elsewhere.
This method also works with other materials, however they would rely on your own body temperature, for example wearing an excessive amount of clothes, or making blankets out of everyday things like newspaper, whereas with the hand warmers they generate heat, so you don’t have to.
When it’s freezing outside and storms are battering your home, nothing is more terrifying than losing power. Without it we lose access to heat, light, entertainment, and communication, leaving us stranded in what is supposed to be our safest place.
However, if you find yourself in this situation, you don’t need to panic. Instead, think about what you have at your disposal. If you have prepared equipment, use the equipment. If you have external power sources, activate them.
If you have nothing, don’t panic, you have more means than you think to combat the cold and, with these means, you’ll be fine.