The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Heating one room

Utility workers and a power lineOne strategy for keeping your family warm is to choose a small room and heat it using a backup option that doesn't require electricity.  This is my least favorite method because it's awfully easy to spend a lot of money on a backup heater that seldom gets used, and thus doesn't work when you need it.  However, many Americans can't wrap their minds around heating themselves instead of the room (which I'll discuss in the later posts), so I'm including the room-heating option.

If you choose a one-room backup plan, your first step is to decide which room would be easiest to keep warm without electricity.  Your whole family (and any cold-sensitive pets, like guinea pigs and parrots) should fit inside without getting on each others nerves, but the room should also be as small as possible so that it's easier to heat.  South-facing windows (or north-facing windows if you live in the southern hemisphere) will let in solar radiation that will warm the area considerably on a sunny day.  The room should have space for everyone to sleep, so a master bedroom, den with a foldout couch, or area with lots of bare floor is a good choice.

Weekend Homesteader paperback Once you choose your room, think about blocking off cold air that might want to flow in.  That means having some heavy curtains (or blankets with a way of tacking them up) to keep heat from flowing out windows at night.  The room should either close off from the rest of the house with a solid door (and a rolled up towel to fill the space underneath), or you should plan another large blanket or curtain to block off the entranceway.

Your room may already have a fireplace or wood stove, in which case you will just need to keep it stocked with plenty of dry wood, kindling, paper, and lighters for getting the fire going.  If not, you can install a standalone propane heater that doesn't need to be vented to the outdoors (around $200 for the low end model.)  A cheaper alternative is a free-standing kerosene heater (around $120), but be aware that kerosene heaters create carbon monoxide, so you'll need to increase air flow through your room for safety.  Kerosene heaters also tend to be a bit sooty and stinky, but that problem is lessened if you light the heaters and turn them off outdoors, carrying them inside only when they're already in use.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: December.  The 99 cent ebook walks you through the basics of planting your first fruit trees, staying warm without electricity, understanding the uses of essential tools, and turning trash into treasures.  If you're interested in other aspects of basic emergency preparedness, Weekend Homesteader: November gives tips on storing drinking water and the upcoming Weekend Homesteader: January will cover backup lighting options.

This post is part of our Emergency Warmth lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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The last time I had a multi-day power outage I used the kerosene heater to prevent the pipes from freezing. At the time, I didn't have a wood burning stove. If I was faced with that problem again, I think I would probably go out to the meter and turn off my water, then open all the faucets in an attempt to possibly prevent a burst pipe. Also, when I replace my old galvanized pipes with PEX, I won't have to worry about pipes freezing as much since PEX can expand with the ice without a loss to it's integrity.
Comment by phreak Tue Nov 29 16:25:18 2011
Good point about the freezing pipes. That isn't a problem for us, but it's true that the power being out in the winter could cause a lot of problems other than being cold!
Comment by anna Tue Nov 29 18:00:28 2011

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