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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back-up Heat? part 3

   So, part 3 and the conclusion on my thoughts about our collective need for back-up heating options. This could be applicable to our primary homes or a potential bug -out-location. Let’s face it, we will settle for what we have but we would like to be comfortable. I know we have readers that are the traditional tough guys that have slept everywhere from the arctic to the jungles, all in nothing more than boxer shorts. Not to take anything away from all of them but is this the approach that your family will be the most happy with?
   We all probably already have the sleeping bags or “Level One” gear or can pick it up at the thrift store for pennies on the dollar. It’s also not a large financial expense to add at least one heater from the “Level Two” gear we talked about yesterday… Figure a $150 investment in hardware and then another $150 in fuel, should get you a supply of roughly 25-30 gallons of kerosene, at least in my area. Propane might even be the cheaper route in your area, check around if your going to be making a purchase! Let me also encourage you to look on Craigslist before going and paying retail for a new heater. I’ve always been able to find these heaters available second hand, except after the power outage has already begun!
   “Level Three” back-up heating… This level will cover all the bigger and more expensive options that we all have available for a more long term solution. I’m thinking wood stoves, fireplace inserts, permanently installed propane wall heaters, etc. All of these option will require a semi-large cash outlay but will be the most economical in the long run.
Installed Vented Propane HeaterInstalled Vented Propane Heater

   Let’s look at the propane fueled options that are available first. The most obvious one would be the current central heating forced air furnace that is installed in most of today’s homes. Many are electric but a good deal of them run on natural gas or propane as well. I’ll assume that you will already know what kind of fuel your furnace is running on but if you don’t I think it could pay dividends to check on this option first.
   If you have a furnace that is already running on propane, then you just need to evaluate the size of your storage tank and maybe add some additional capacity. If you’re burning natural gas currently, I suggest you talk to your furnace service company and see what it would take to make the adjustments to your furnace to enable burning propane in a prolonged emergency. I can’t say from first hand experience that this is even possible but I do know for a fact that there are standard home furnaces that burn propane right out of the box, just like the natural gas variety and from the same manufactures! I have been told that it is just a matter of either changing out or adjusting the gas jets on the furnace. One or the other fuel requires a smaller orifice…
   Additionally, your gas or propane whole house furnace will need to have a work around done for the circulation fan. This will be another question for your furnace company. Quite possibly this could be accomplished by adding an external electrical connection that you would be able to run with a small generator or even a battery and inverter arrangement. Yes, this will require a little more forethought to get going but you should wind up with a sustainable clean heat source… I definitely think it would be worth the effort. You may also find that you are satisfied with the ability of your natural gas utility to be able to continue to serve your home in a prolonged power down situation and only need to get creative with running the fan… Check into these options!
Non Vented Propane HeaterNon Vented Propane Heater
   It seems that there is a wide variety of propane heaters being manufactured that are designed to be installed on the interior of the home. Some still require an external venting to allow the air exchange and water vapor to be minimised. There are also offering that can be installed on an interior wall and don’t require the external venting. I think that with the amount of vapor that these generally produce that the vented models would give a more satisfactory performance. Either way you might choose to go, these heaters are running in the several hundred dollar range and I’m sure can go much higher from there… This is a viable solution for long term but these are similar to our “Level Two” gear, in that they aren’t designed to heat your whole house. However, these can be plumbed directly from your large storage tank outside, giving you a virtual endless supply of heat as long as you do your part and keep the tank full!
   Along a similar line would be to utilize a standalone RV propane furnace. I happen to have an old one laying around that had previously been installed in my first BOL. The unit came from a RV that was being parted out after a wreck. We spent maybe a couple hundred bucks in getting it all setup. This operated on propane and had a 12 volt fan so we could actually take advantage of some of the ducting potential these units use in a traditional RV installation. As long as we kept the 12 volt batteries charged the thermostat would kick the heat on and off throughout the night. It all worked pretty well but in a small cabin it was overly loud each time it came on, waking everyone up multiple times each night. Not a restful sleep that a night in the woods should bring. I mention this option here just to show that there are even ways that might seem initially outside the box but could work really well in your specific situation. I plan to utilize this little furnace again somewhere at the BOL on a future project.

Fireplace wood burning insertFireplace wood burning insert
   It would seem that alot of home builders have gotten away from the traditional fireplace in their new homes. I still see some of the gas or electric units going in mostly as an asthetic design… These may have some merit if they indeed kick out a degree of heat… I suppose they could be a real asset if they were in a bedroom or some other small room that could be closed off to attempt heat containment. Similar investigation would be needed to determine what would be required to keep these units running aftrer the power went down… Check and see but don’t count heavily on this being a real solution…

   If you’re fortunate enough to have a real fireplace in your home, be thankful! You will have a couple options and may save yourself a lot of money in getting a real sustainable heat solution set-up! Typically, fireplaces are used very little and are more for ambience than heat production. In their stock configuration most of the heat created is sent straight up the chimney along with sucking air, and heat, right out of the house as well! I wouldn’t let this stop you from adding a substantial pile of firewood to your supplies and taking advantage of this as an addition to our “Level One” gear and keeping the sleeping bags as close to the hearth as practical. This might be a help until you can devote the capital to improving the arrangement.
   The real advantage to having an existing fireplace is that you can easily add a wood burning insert. If you’re not familiar with these inserts, they are a modified wood stove that is designed to fit inside your fireplace. They utilize the prexisting chimney and don’t usually require much retrofitting to your hearth. The benefit to these units is that the heat is captured just like in a traditional wood stove and radiated out into the room rather than being sucked out as fast as it is created. As far as I know the stovepipe that is required with this set-up is the same as the stove pipe used for a standard wood stove. Your local codes may require that the pipe be insulated from the stove all the way up the chimney. This would add additional expense but safety is not a place to get cost conscious. I would even go as far as to pay the labor costs of a professional installation team doing the work.
  Once you have this insert in place you have a real asset. This equipment will last a LONG time and I haven’t heard of them wearing out or being replaced because of age… Many homes had them installed back in the 70’s and then it seems their popularity wained and there is often quite a few on the used market. I think if you looked around you might find a company that’s manufacturing them but why pay retail when you can get it one second hand?
Modern Airtight Wood StoveModern Airtight Wood Stove

   Finally, we have the lowly wood stove… Actually this one is my personal favorite. We had a wood stove and used it regularly when I was growing up. Yes, the added work of cutting ad splitting wood wasn’t something my brothers and I were to happy about. As with most things, Dad did most of the work and had to listen to us gripe on top of carrying the load.. Sorry Dad!
   Anyway, this is the option that we, the “Preppers” will be taking for our current BOL project and other than the fireplace insert, it’s the only truly self-sufficient option that I see for long term! I think that the wood stove is self explanitory for the most part. As long as the stove is sized correctly for the application and you keep the wood supply stocked, you will have heat – endlessly… I know what you’re thinking, “Endlessly”? Nothing is without limit but even in lightly treed areas of our country, there are people using wood to heat there homes. The quality of the wood is going to vary depending on what is locally available and it may take longer to find and stock-up on but it is doable!
  The same precautions needed for the fireplace insert installation would apply to the wood stove as well. A stove pipe and chimney arrangement is required and I am going to pay a professional to make my ceiling/roof penetrations. I have done this installation on another project and I could do it this time but I want to KNOW it’s all done correctly! With the uncertainess of our current political and economic situation, I don’t want to take any chances with a leaking roof or burning down the BOL…
   There are additional advantages to the wood stove, even over the fireplace insert. Generally the wood stove has a flat top and is designed so as to provide a cooking area. At least a flat top that is sufficient to keep a kettle or frying pan on! This is a topic for another post, back-up cooking! I have also seen where some crafty wood burners have plumbed water lines through the stove walls to provide for an integrated water heating system.
   There are still old cast iron stoves available both on the new and used market that don’t comply with most codes but can still provide a good deal of heat. These stoves aren’t air tight and won’t have the heat control that a modern stove would, but don’t discard these right off as they can be quite a bargain and in some situations can work out well. In my first BOL we used a reproduction of an antique cast iron stove. It was probably cast in China and wasn’t of a good quality but it worked for what we needed. We rebuilt it and did our best to seal the pieces together. This stove is still in operation in that old cabin to this day. The price was right and for an occasional use item, it works just fine!
  The wood burners in any configuration would be a setup from most others in that they will not require any electrical inputs to keep running and will usually burn almost anything, if it came down to that. With these ideas in mind I think we all need to take a long look at what might be possible for our “Level Three” needs. It won’t all come together overnight but if we are aware of the need, we will be sure to notice when a solution presents itself.
  As usual the things we need to do most are often the least glamorous! This back-up heat system is indeed another one of the systems that we will be discussing further in the financial foundations pyramid at some point in the future. If we can all get to some point in “Level Three”, we will have really accomplished alot… Level 1 and 2 are pretty easy but 3 will take some extra thought and money but once complete, this asset will go far in providing for you!

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