Winter is the real test of our emergency preparations. In our area winter can be very unforgiving. A power outage that lasts just 1-2 days can be more than an inconvenience. If you do not have alternative power or heat sources, it could be dangerous. At best, you might lose a water pipe (or two or three) to freezing. But poor heating could lead to serious injury or illness.
When choosing an alternative for heat, keep in mind the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. You must have proper ventilation if you are going to use a fuel-based heat source. Anything that burns fuel—a
propane or kerosene heater or a wood stove—introduces carbon monoxide into your home. If you plan to burn fuel during an outage, be sure to have a battery operated carbon monoxide detector.
Here are your choices:
For people living in town, in a small house or apartment, a kerosene heater, like Mr. Heater, is a good choice. If you have a larger house or several rooms you want to heat, these small heaters can be moved around and they are inexpensive enough that you can have two or three to use at the same time.
If you live in a rural area or have a large home, you may want a wood burning stove. Not only will a wood-burning stove generate good heat, but it can also be used to cook meals.
A big disadvantage to a wood-burning stove is that you need to have a place to store wood. You’ll want at least one cord of wood for emergency use, and another cord just to have a nice fire going on a cold winter day. A cord of wood is a stack that is 4X4X8 feet or 128 cubic feet. But, unlike storing gas for a generator, firewood that is stored properly will last for several years. See my post on chopping wood. It will help make the task easier.
A generator is a big investment for something you may only use a few times, so think twice before you decide that that’s what you want. But when there is a wide-spread or long-term power outage, a generator can give you peace of
mind. It can save food in the freezer and give you a hot shower or two. An un-opened freezer will stay cold for about two days, but a refrigerator that gets opened and closed several times will quickly warm up. That’s one reason a generator might be a good option. That and to run the hot water heater. There’s nothing as nice as a hot shower when the power is out in the dead of winter.
A rocket stove is another alternative. It is compact, uses very little fuel and heats up quickly. There are several models you can buy (like this one or this one) or you can make your own. More DYI plans here.
You may find that an ethanol heater is another good alternative.
What if none of these are an option?
Maybe you can’t afford any of these alternatives or they don’t fit into your living space. If you have mild winters (or at least milder than those of us in the frigid northern plains) you can just take extra precautions to stay warm:
- Seal up all the places that leak cold air: around windows, doors, the chimney, dryer vents, electric outlets on outside walls, etc.
- Cover windows with plastic or a heavy blanket
- Keep one room warm. Close off all non-essential rooms and just warm one room with a small heater.
- Create a warm microclimate: put a small tent up in the living room. It will trap your body heat while you read or play games with the kids.
- Wear layers of clothing.
- Keep your head and feet warm. It’s hard to ever feel warm if your feet are cold.
No matter what you choose, I hope you will be prepared for the worst that winter can dish out. Stay safe. Stay warm.