Posted: December 29, 2013 in Current Events, Environment, Survival Skills

Shelter & Heat

In an ice storm the temperature outside is usually close to the freezing point but can easily drop significantly over the next 24 or 48 hours.  If you are fortunate enough to have a cast iron stove or a fireplace, you will have a great advantage, assuming you have firewood.  (You won’t be able to buy firewood or even the artificial logs once the emergency hits, so this is one area where forethought would be an advantage.  Also, consider the possibility that, if it is a severe ice storm, it may be difficult for you to cut new firewood outside, or perhaps even retrieve what you’re storing.)

A cast iron stove is air tight and will radiate a lot of heat, -probably enough to heat an average sized home.  One or two battery powered fans will do wonders to help distribute the heat throughout the house.  Proper air circulation will also provide more general heat as the air won’t stratify, causing the warm air to stay in the upper part of the room.

A fireplace often won’t provide the same amount of heat and if you don’t have a reasonably air tight door/screen for the opening, you may lose a lot of your heat up the chimney.  This would be especially true if your fire went out but the updraft was still maintained by the relative heat of the room.  On the other hand, if you have an air tight cover, you’ll get less heat actually radiating from your fire.  But it will be a lot better than nothing.  If you have a fan to help circulate the heat from within the fireplace, consider an alternate, battery powered way of accomplishing the same thing.

If you want to conserve the heat you’ve got, you can use clear plastic sheets to help insulate windows, sliding doors and even block off part of the room for better retention.  Such clear plastic tarps are cheaply available from the Dollar Store, sold as drop sheets.  I usually keep half a dozen or so on hand.  Plastic sheets over windows with crumpled up newspaper stuffed in will also do a lot to prevent heat loss from that source.

But if you don’t have a fireplace, your options are much reduced though not impossible.  Always remember that any kind of unventilated combustion inside a home will cause a carbon monoxide risk.  The more inefficient the burning, the more carbon monoxide will be produced.  Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless.  It actually prevents your body from using the available oxygen in the air, so it can quickly be lethal.  It is absorbing the oxygen in your blood in order to become carbon dioxide.  Things like BBQs burn very inefficiently, and so can produce a lot of CO.  Even candles can be a risk, if you have a lot in a small room and no ventilation.

Looking on the Internet, I discovered something called Mr. Heater, commonly sold in Canadian Tire and similar hardware stores.  It is a propane burning heater which uses very efficient combustion.  In the U.S. it is rated favorably for indoor use, however in Canada there is a warning saying that it is not for indoor use.  Our safety standards are higher.  Because of that, if you are living in Canada, you need to know that if, for whatever reason, you had a mishap with your heater, your insurance company may not cover you since it’s not indoor rated.  A little investigation, however, reveals that it is exactly the same model and construction in both U.S. and Canada.  In a dire situation you may decide that if it’s good enough for the U.S., it’s good enough for Canada.  I have the 18 000 BTU (Big Buddy) model which comes with an oxygen monitor linked to an automatic shutoff and a switch on the bottom so it shuts off if tipped over.  It also has a built in fan which runs on 4 D cells.  (When this unit would ever be used outdoors and not in one of the situations that it specifically warns against is beyond me.)  It is about the size of a desktop computer tower.  At its maximum setting this heater puts out a significant amount of heat.  It would easily heat up a room the size of an average classroom.

Should you be concerned about CO?  Absolutely.  However the suggestions made for indoor use in the States are very helpful.  1) Don’t turn it on and go to sleep or leave it unattended.  2) Crack the windows open a bit so you get some fresh air circulation.  3) Alternate it on and off hourly in order to minimize CO accumulation.  4) CO detectors plugged into power outlets will continue to work during a power outage, but only for a limited time until the internal rechargeable battery runs out.  Then it is useless.  So it would be prudent to buy a battery powered CO detector for use in this situation.

The larger unit runs on two of the 1 lb. propane tanks, and these will last for about four hours of constant use at the maximum setting.  So have some spares.  If you’re using this for a week or more, you might be consuming 6 tanks a day.  Propane is one of the first things to sell out in a power outage.  The unit hooks up to a larger propane tank, but I wouldn’t use those indoors.  That battery powered fan will also be useful here to help circulate the heat.

As far as fire risk goes, the unit is totally safe as long as it is in proper working order.  If it’s been dropped or something, then you have a risk.  Be sure to screw in the propane tanks properly and fully.  If you cross thread and have a propane leak it could get ugly.  Of course the most important thing is to put it in a place where it won’t light the drapes on fire, or be knocked over by the dog.  Common sense.  Having a working fire extinguisher in your house is always a good safety rule.

I can’t speak for any other models, but if you do your homework and use common sense involving the above criteria you’ll be in a position to make an informed decision and risk assessment.

I have a small propane furnace in my RV.  It would absolutely require some work relocating it and to run a heating duct into your house as it and the propane tank would have to remain outside or at least in a garage.  Proper exhaust ventilation would be necessary, but not hard to do.  With a little thought and foresight, though, this might be a very practical option, especially if you already have one available to you.  On the other hand, if you have an RV with one of these in them, you might want to consider moving into the RV.

With one or more of these solutions you can heat up a part of your home or apartment to at least a tolerable level.  Blankets, winter sleeping bags and sweaters are always a good idea.  Oh, and nice warm slippers because it will be your floor that gets cold first.

  1. Michael says:

    We have a gas fireplace built into our home. It required some pre-planning, of course, but it was a requirement after we went through the power outage of 2003 ( Of course, that one was summer, but we have the imagination to see that it would have been much worse in the winter. The fireplace is on the first floor, we have an open plan house so heat will rise to the second floor where the bedrooms are. The ignitor is battery powered.

    Of course, this would still fail after some time, because the pressure to bring the gas to our house is supplied by electricity. But there are big gas storage tanks along the pipeline and in particular, a set about 2 KM away, so we’d be OK for a while at least.

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