Dear Jill: You have touched on some at-home survival tips for unexpected outages. Especially with the pandemic, we have learned to always have extra canned foods and toilet paper at home.
Recently, the gas lines where we live (Colorado) were attacked by vandals, so our whole area had no heat or hot water for days. Thankfully, we did have electricity and had a space heater to plug in, but we now are thinking about what other steps we could take to be more prepared for a winter outage like this. — Sammy O.
If the events of 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. No one wants to lose heat in a four-season climate during the winter, so here are a few alternate heating sources to consider.
If your home already has a fireplace or wood stove, keeping a supply of dry firewood on hand is important. A wood or pellet stove is an even better option, as most of the heat generated will stay in the home versus going up the chimney.
You might not be aware the rise in popularity of tiny houses has spawned another cottage industry: Tiny wood stoves. These can be mounted on an exterior wall and vented to the outdoors, and the smallest models measure about 1 square foot. They might be something to consider as a permanent, backup heat source. (Popular brands include Cubic and Tiny Wood Stoves.)
Electric space heaters can generate a lot of heat quickly. Use with care and keep flammable items away from the heating elements. Always set them on the floor a healthy distance from the walls, and never leave them unattended.
You also can purchase space heaters that run on kerosene or propane — the latter being most common for camping-style heaters. Both have a carbon monoxide risk, so do not operate them while sleeping. Have a functional carbon monoxide detector on hand, and if you’re using a propane heater, crack a window open just a bit to allow fresh air to flow in too as burning propane generates more carbon monoxide.
Consider closing off unused rooms and moving the family to the room where the heat source is located. If any of the unused rooms contain plumbing, turn the water in the closest sink to a slow trickle to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.
Don’t overlook the value of bundling up, too. Dress in layers and wear extra blankets if needed. Another item you might want to have on hand are disposable, charcoal hand heaters. These often are marketed to winter sports enthusiasts, but they provide safe, pocket-sized heat for hands, fingers and toes.
With a natural gas loss, not only will a home’s heat source potentially be lost, but hot water, range tops and ovens likely are to be unusable. If you have a propane heater, you also might consider a portable camp stove that operates on propane, too, so you can have one fuel source for both heating and cooking.
Consider keeping canned foods on hand that can be cooked in the microwave or over a camp or wood-burning stove until the natural gas service is restored. This is where your couponing skills come in, as we typically see good deals on canned soups, pastas and vegetables in winter. Use any available coupons, too, of course, but it always is better to have a good supply on hand for emergencies, whatever the cost.
I like to have several months’ worth of food on hand during the winter between our pantry and chest freezer, but at the bare minimum, you’ll want to have at least a week’s worth of meals in your canned food stash, plus water, for each person in the house.
In addition to heat considerations, electricity outages are another thing to consider. I have written about this in the past, but batteries, flashlights and battery-operated lanterns also are extremely useful items to have on hand. Our family’s power-outage preparations also include a hand-crank radio and battery-operated television to monitor news reports, as well as cellphone brick chargers for our phones.