26 September 2011

Prep30: Heating your home without electricity

When the "leftover" winds from hurricane Ike knocked out the electricity for days (weeks for some people) in September 2008, we were really very fortunate. It was at the tail end of summer, and the temperature was pretty pleasant... not too high or too low.

Because of the moderate temperature and a gravity-fed supply of water, our biggest hurdles were dealing with our refrigerators/freezers and cooking. Had it been a little later in the year, however, things would've been different, since we'd have faced an unheated house.

Depending on your location, heating your house can be a major concern when the power is off: Here are some ways you can handle the situation:
  1. Leaving your home: If your situation warrants it, and you are able, it may be necessary to evacuate from your house and stay somewhere with heat. If you do leave your home for an extended time during freezing weather, it's best to drain all the water from your water pipes. Turn off the main shut off on your water supply, then open all your taps to drain the water lines. Be sure to turn off your water heater too.

  2. Backup electrical generator: These come in a variety of sizes and fuel sources, from small, portable 2,000 Watt generators that run on gasoline to large 20,000 Watt standby generators that run on propane or natural gas. With a standby generator and an automatic transfer switch, you may not even realize that the power's out for your neighbors, and your electrical heating system components will just keep running as long as your fuel source holds out. For a smaller generator, it may not be possible to operate your heating system, but you may be able to at least run a small electric space heater.

  3. Fireplace or wood stove: If you already use a fireplace or wood stove in addition to a central heating system, then you already have a backup heating solution in place. If you have a wood stove, you can also use something like the (nonelectric) Caframo Ecofan Original to push the warm air to other parts of your living space.

  4. Propane heater: With the proper regulator and hose, these heaters can run off a typical propane tank. Some, like this ProCom heater, can run off propane or natural gas. Most require no venting to the outside, and have an oxygen depletion sensor to shut the heater off if carbon monoxide levels build up too high. Many can be wall mounted for regular use, but some have a base, which makes them useful for emergency backup heat.

  5. Kerosene heater: These freestanding units burn kerosene kind of like a lamp. It has a wick the flames  provide the heat. Kerosene has a strong odor, and there's a greater chance of carbon monoxide buildup with them. As such, it's absolutely necessary to have good ventilation when using one of these heaters. With so many other good options available, kerosene heaters are last on my list of choices.

  6. Take advantage of the sun: Remember how solar ovens work? The sunlight enters through glass and usually heats up a blackened surface. The black surface retains and radiates the heat, while the glass keeps the heat in. Just opening the blinds/curtains and letting the sun in will help. Putting a large, dark-colored container of water in direct sunlight will also absorb heat (like a solar water heater), and that heat will radiate into the room after the sun's down and the curtain's closed. Remember that these tips work best for south-facing rooms.

  7. Focus on heating a smaller space: One of the most things you can do to help your heating is to close off rooms that you're not using. If you don't have doors for some areas, hang blankets or curtains in doorways or hallways to keep the heat contained in the room you are using. Remember that any water pipes in unheated areas of your house may be subject to freezing, so you might want to open the taps to a slow trickle to help keep the pipes from freezing.


  1. You didn't say to put on more clothes. ;-)

    Down here in Texas, I think I would rather have it cold than hot. You can always get under blankets and put on wool. But in summer, as my wife reminds me when I push up the thermostat, you can't take off more clothes. Unless the kids aren't around! ;-)


  2. Todd, you're absolutely right... I guess I overlooked the obvious. Thanks! :)