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ETpro's avatar

How can I heat the house if the electricity goes out?

Asked by ETpro (34202 points ) February 7th, 2013

We’re under a blizzard watch with forecasts calling for over 30 inches of snow and hurricane force winds here in Boston Friday night and into Saturday. Obviously, with weather like that, power outages will be widespread.

We have a gas-fired boiler in the basement and the heat is distributed by a convection flow radiator system. The ignition is electric, and the thermostat needs power. A tiny motor/generator kit running in the basement with proper exhaust venting to the outside should be all it takes to keep that running. Any better ideas?

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39 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

We have the same concerns here in Upstate NY. My mother found a catalytic heater run by propane for a christmas present. Haven’t had to try it yet but it’s coming out for this storm.

JLeslie's avatar

There are indoor kerosene heaters, maybe buy one if you can. Make sure it is safe for indoor use. Close up the smallest room and mostly live there while your electricity is out. You can also buy those hot hands thing that stay hot for hours. They really work. They can help warm up your bed. You can but them at sporting goods stores like Dick’s.

Remember it is easier to stay warm then to get warm.

If you do get very cold sitting in your car and blasting the heat to warm up can be a few minutes of relief. Remember to only run the car with the garage wide open. Make sure all your gas tanks are full and if you have 5 gallon gas jugs fill them too. Electricity out means gas station pumps are not working. Also, have cash on hand. ATM’s won’t work and neither will processing credit cards.

ETpro's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Neat idea. I’m sure she’s glad she has it with this monster storm bearing down on us.

@JLeslie Great minds work in similar directions. My wife is out now shopping for a set of those hand and foot warmers.

Thanks for the reminder on cash. I hadn’t thought of that.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

With all indoor heaters, make sure they are rated for indoors, and that they’re properly vented. The chemical hand and foot warmers are really good; I use them all the time when I’m outdoors in the winter. Don’t forget water. I’m not sure if your water provider utility has a good back up pumping system, so you want to be prepared for that.

JLeslie's avatar

If you dont have a car cell phone charger buy one. Also, if you have a landline that works on the old phone lines a regular plug in the wall phone will work when electricity is out. If you have vonage or through a cable company it won’t work and portable phones don’t work either no matter what phone service.

janbb's avatar

Used a small propane heater called “My Buddy” during Hurricane Sandy and it made one room bearabble to sit in. The only problem was that the cans started to strip the threads so it became harder to attach them.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I also have an emergency weather service radio with a hand crank to recharge it. It also recharges cell phones.

Aster's avatar

We had a kerosene heater many years ago. Worked great but be sure to fill it up outdoors since the odor is lingering when the inevitable spill occurs.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, I have a regular radio with flashlight that is hand cranked. It’s awesome. I am nervous about candles, if you are too I recommend the battery operated candles. Some have automatic shut off and others have remote control.

glacial's avatar

I strongly recommend hot water bottles for bed. I wrote them off for years as being too “grannyish”, but damn, they really work. They’re still hot the next morning. Nothing worse than trying to sleep when you’re cold.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@glacial Or a hot blooded lover would work even better.

glacial's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Your hot blooded lover will be pissed that your feet are stone cold. Why not have both?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@glacial When making hot blooded love, my feet are the last thing on my mind. Plus I’m long enough they’re not on her mind either. :)

glacial's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe That’s what they all say,

Coloma's avatar

Yes, maybe a kerosine heater if you do not have a big generator.
Do you have cats and dogs? Last big storm here and I just put every blanket in the house on my bed and stuffed the 2 cats under the covers with me. Maybe a 3 dog night moment?

You have a wife too, right? Stuff every living thing you can find under the covers with you.
I have yet to bring in the geese for extra goose down warmth. lol
I have propane heat but…with an electric starter…sooo, I am also SOL over here in the snow.

I am able to light my gas range with a match, it also has an electric starter but, at least I can melt snow for coffee and warm up my hands over the flames.

gailcalled's avatar

The LED miner’s headlamps you can wear, thus keeping your hands free. (Hardware stores should have them if they’re not sold out. Looks like this

I have a wood-burning stove for such emergencies, but consider Milo a decent heating pad.

Layer up as though you were about to run the Iditerod. (Hats and earmuffs and mittens with the fingers cut off.)

I too veto the idea of candles. I keep a few 9 volt battery flashlights around.

Fill a bathtub and lots of stock pots with water for flushing, brushing and drinking. You can bathe fairly decently with a cup of water and a washcloth.

Lots of cash, full tank of gas, food you can eat cold by just pulling the top off.

I have survived for several days here in winter with no power. After day three, the local fire department handed out dry ice and drinking water.

A crank radio is vital to keep in touch with the world and afford you some recreation.

A land-line phone is also vital as is a gas stove (or at least gas burners) but it is too late for that now. I also can light mine with a match.

I keep several books on CDs and a battery-operated player (which I use for insomnia, but it helps to pass the time during power outages).

If you have a partner, old-fashioned board games and decks of cards.

gailcalled's avatar

Oversight; It is vital to have a shower, shampoo (and shave if appropriate), do all the laundry and wash dishes. You don’t know when you will have the chance again.

Make a pot of veggie chili or thick soup that you can keep chilled in a garage and eat by the cupful cold if necessary. Tomorrow my garage will be 29˚ F. That’s decent refrlgeration if I don’t use meat.

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled That is decent refrigeration even with meat. Refrigerators are above freezing. I think they are usually around 40 degrees.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You have a gas heat right? If your furnace is from this century they only need about 3–4 amps to run. That is 350 Watt – 500 Watts. That is well within the specs of a 12 Volt inverter attached to a car battery. A 60 Amp hour car battery will run they system for a total of 2 hours. Usually you only need about 15 minutes minutes to get the house up to temp, so just turn it on and off when you need it. If you know what you are doing you can even backfeed the 110 volts into the house from your car if it is running. (That is illegal in most places)
You already know I think every house should have a minimum 1000 Watt generator for this type of situation. Get one. Or get a 35000 BTU/hr kerosene heater.
Stay warm.

Jeruba's avatar

I have a rechargeable Coleman camping lantern that you plug in to power up in advance of need. I charged it up and left it on the shelf. Two years later we had a power outage and I went for the lantern. It still had the power to illuminate a large room brighter than it usually is with the electric lights on.

It wouldn’t do anything for the temperature, though.

One thing would be to retain the heat you do have. My son hung blankets over his windows during a cold East Coast winter, and it made a big difference. He also made sure the insulation was sound—no gaps and cracks around the windows.

Aster's avatar

Lucky Guy==you sound like you’d be quite handy to have around to rescue damsels in distress.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Aster Thank you. I won’t deny it. I’m pretty good at handling unusual situations.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, make your house very very warm as the storm approaches. I know I keep my house colder than I want generally to save money, but get the temp up there to be comfortable wearing tshirts. If your power goes out you will have warmer temps in the house a little longer and you can start layering on the clothes.

ETpro's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Water’s gravity feed here. And besides, 2 feet of snow covering everything is lots of water once it’s melted.

@JLeslie We’re covered on the cell phone front. And I still have a 1970 Bell Telephone that needs no batteries or charger. It’s my test phone. When one of the new, full-featured phones develops a problem, I swap it out for that old dinosaur. It it works fine, then the problem is generally in the phone and not the line.

@janbb They’ve always had that thread stripping problem. I guess there are fixes out there, but they would rather sell you us new hardware.

@Adirondackwannabe Yep, got a wind-up radio too.

@Aster I grew up in a very plain Jane house with a kerosene space heater and a fireplace providing the only heat. My job was to fill a five gallon fill can, lug it upstairs form the kerosene tank, and fill the fuel tank on the back of the heater. So I remember the smell of spills.

@Adirondackwannabe & @glacial That was an interesting diversion. Maybe I should just take a lover that’s a foot fetishist. But with the likelihood of that meeting with my wife’s approval (or even happening in any case) a bit lower than me winning two lottery jackpots in a row, I’m going with the chemical hand and foot warmers my wife picked up today. She may not be a smoking hot foot fetishist, but she does have ways to warm my feet, nonetheless.

@Coloma One cat, that loves to snuggle near our feet but would tolerate a 3 dog night about as well as I would tolerate sleeping with a cobra. I’m going to get a decent size generator but won’t manage it before this storm hits. I do have a gas stove top and oven that I can light by match.

@gailcalled I’m all set on long-term sortable food and sufficient water. And our city water service here is gravity feed. Got plenty of LED lanterns and flashlights. And the good news is that by the middle of next week, the temperatures are expected to be back up in the 40s. So I probably and going to be just fine. Still, prepare for the worst and anything short of that seems mild.

@LuckyGuy Yes, Gas heat. All I need to operate electronically is the spark plug and the thermostat. Between what I had and my son’s car supplies, if we gather here to hunker down, we’re good to go.

@Jeruba I have plenty of lighting. We’ve winterized well. Becoming more confident that we’re ready for this storm of the century.

@JLeslie Great idea. That I will definitely do.

woodcutter's avatar

We use a propane space heater. It works with the 30# grill bottles but the large outside propane tanks would be best. It needs to be placed on a non flamable surface as the base gets warm. I sit ours on a piece of “Hardie Backer” board I scrounged from a construction site. They are meant to be on for a few minutes then shut off. They will steam up the windows super fast and it will knock the chill out quickly. One small drawback is they sound like a Pratt and Whitney turbojet during operation, and you need to keep turning it on from time to time. Don’t open any outside doors and corral all the pets and people and hold up in a appropriate “warm room.” In an emergency it won’t be necessary to heat the entire place. A Coleman propane cook stove will work in a pinch but keep an eye on it and make something to eat while you’re at it.

We also use the fireplace which is our prime heat source when it gets drastic, and the propane heater in the other part of the house by the bathroom. I hate frosty toilet seats.

ETpro's avatar

@woodcutter Wow, that setup takes me back to my youth, But our kerosene space heater and fireplace were both in the Living Room at the front of the house. Then came a bath to the left and eat-in kitchen to the right. Finally, the two frigid bedrooms at the very back of the long, thin layout.

woodcutter's avatar

We did a lot of sleeping in the recliner and couch in the living room where the fireplace is. Bedrooms were no mans land. We have done it enough times to the point it doesn’t bother us much except the wife hates being without internet and I hate when she is put out like that. Keeping a place livable is a constant job when we’re in the big suck so entertainment seems almost a sacrilege.

JLeslie's avatar

I think you won’t lose your electricity. Let us know how it’s going.

ETpro's avatar

@woodcutter I can appreciate that.

@JLeslie Thanks. I hope you are right. If I’m offline for an extended period, it probably means I did lose power.

mattbrowne's avatar

A more extreme form would be to keep special tents that work like igloos. Body heat suffices to keep a temperature of 70 F inside the tent.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Elegant solution, as it will last for unlimited time.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The storm has passed and the pressure is off. Roads are open and food shelves are restocked. All is right with the world. That leads me to ask these questions.
Did you buy a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) or 1000 W inverter and car battery, or small generator so you are ready the next time it happens? Will you?

ETpro's avatar

@LuckyGuy I have not yet, but I have been looking for the things needed. I will be ready before next winter.

woodcutter's avatar

Stock up on snuggies

as seen on TV

ETpro's avatar

@woodcutter When it’s sub-zero outside, snuggies don’t do much to keep the pipes from freeazing and bursting when the thaw comes.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here’s a rule of thumb for you.
If you have a moderately well insulated, 2000 square foot ranch with a full basement, it will take about 1 gallon of kerosene for every 8 degrees F you maintain the temperature, per day.

For example, if it is 32F out and you want to keep your house at 40F for 5 days, you will need 5 gallons.
Or, if it is 30F and you want the house warmed to 70F you will use the 5 gallons in one day.

I have at least 10 gallons of kerosene stored in my barn at all times. It is my third line of defense after the wood burning stove and the oil heat.
(I have at least 1–2 years worth of wood and a one year supply of heating oil, too.)

ETpro's avatar

@LuckyGuy No. The boiler is in the basement. I’m on the first floor. I want to keep the electric pilot light (spark plug) and thermostat circuit energized so the gas/hot water radiator system will keep the first floor living space habitable.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Neat. Too bad they don’t quote pricing.

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