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Developing household survival systems is all about asking “what-if” questions before what-if scenarios unfold, then preparing yourself for situations where our usual comforts and services aren’t available any more. So how well will your home heating system work when society fall apart? How warm will you stay if the electrical grid went down for two weeks in winter, if natural gas stopped flowing, or the oil truck had no fuel to bring to your house? Don’t let the current stability of our part of the world fool you into thinking that stability will always exist. It won’t. Here’s how to accurately assess your home heating situation and make changes that’ll keep you warm even when the world turns upside down.
What’s Your Emergency Heat Risk Factor?
The extent to which you rely on electricity, natural gas or deliveries of heating oil is the extent to which your current heating system makes you vulnerable. And of these three inputs, electricity is the most unstable and least resilient. Grid collapse, power line damage, generation problems and the centralized nature of the electrical system makes electricity a questionable choice as a home heating mainstay. And it’s not like you can just buy a home generator and expect it to supply you with sufficient heat. Portable generators are way too small. Yes, it’s possible to install a stationary generator to provide the 10, 15 or 20kWh of electricity you need to keep your house warm, but any system this large will burn a ton of fuel doing that – fuel that will probably be in short supply if catastrophe strikes.
A Little Backup Power Goes A Long Way
All this said, most home heating systems do require electricity in some form, if not to actually create heat, then to control the energy systems that do. A forced air gas or oil furnace, for instance, needs a small amount of electricity to run the fan and thermostat, and it’s a similar situation with any fuel-fired boiler. All this is why some kind of electrical back-up generator that connects into your home’s electrical system is a big part of home heating security. With a tank full of oil, or a natural gas delivery system that’s still working, you’ll be as warm as ever even with a small 1000 watt generator keeping things powered. In this case the electricity merely controls the production and distribution of heat, it doesn’t make things warm directly.
Choosing a Survivalist Emergency Heat System
Gravity-fed oil stoves also offer excellent reliability and disaster resistance because they can burn for months on a single tank of fuel and they never need electricity. Stoves like these must be installed lower than their oil storage tank for the gravity feed to work, and they also require a chimney. Other than the fact that they need purchased oil to operate, I know first-hand that these things work really well.
The most disaster-proof home heating system uses fuel that’s stored on your property and requires no electricity to operate. Better still if the fuel for that system is available from outside the usual world of commerce and international markets. By this yardstick, it’s obvious that a freestanding wood stove is one of the ultimate options for disaster-proof, self-reliant home heating. There are other self-contained options too, but it’s hard to beat firewood. That’s one reason we use it exclusively to heat our house through winters that regularly hit -30ºF.
We stack firewood in round piles at my place, and there are several advantages.
Check out my video to see how it all works at: how to video on stacking firewood
Air-tight wood stoves can burn all night on a single feeding, and stoves the size of a couple of small square bales of straw can easily heat 1000 sq.ft. of floor area or more. Here at my rural place we burn firewood in one of two ways. Our main system is a gasification outdoor wood boiler. It heats our 3000 square foot house, a 1000 sq.ft. workshop and all the domestic hot water used by my family of 7. This system does require a tiny bit of electricity to operate –less than 1000 watts of backup power in the event of a power failure – but we also have a completely electricity-free option to heat with wood burning it in our masonry heater. Watch the video of my wood boiler in action outdoor-boiler-wood-heat-tour.
When trouble strikes, it’s the basic things that matter more than ever. Staying warm in winter might not be top of mind for you right now, but things certainly change fast when you and your loved ones get cold. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure you’re prepared when you’ve still got the time and access to the hardware and equipment to make it happen?
Send Steve your questions about self-reliance and survival skills at www.stevemaxwell.ca.
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