The romance of a brisk fall evening quickly fades when a storm causes the power to go out, and you’re left scrambling to stay warm. Staying warm outdoors in an emergency situation is even harder, and it’s more crucial as exposure to wind, moisture and low temperatures can quickly lead to hypothermia. That’s why winter preps should include a variety of methods for keeping you and your family warm under any condition.
In the hierarchy of winter preparedness, the first step is to make sure your home is well insulated, that heat systems are working properly and that you have a backup generator in place in case of outages. A wood burning stove or fireplace can work in lieu of a backup generator. Fireplaces and stoves should receive proper maintenance to ensure they’re safe for use.
The next priority is to store an adequate amount of blankets and layers of clothing in a clean, dry place. Don’t forget your slippers, mittens and hats. Though the idea that we lose an extreme amount of body heat through our heads has been debunked, keeping all the extremities covered will help maintain the core temperature.
Emergency supplies like chemical hand warmers and space blankets are also helpful, and should definitely be included in your 72-hour bag and vehicle emergency bag.
Homemade stoves come in last on the list, but that doesn’t mean they’re not an important preparedness tool.
4 DIY Heaters
1. Flowerpot Stove
You need: 1 terra cotta flower pot, 2 bricks, 1 or more tea candles, 1 heat-safe platform such as a baking sheet and matches.
Place the tea light on a cookie sheet, and place the bricks on either side of the candle. Light the candle and place the terra cotta pot upside down over the candle, resting on the bricks so it is elevated. Be sure the hole in the bottom of the pot is not blocked by any labels or plugs.
Pros: The flowerpot stove is simple to put together, inexpensive and safe. The clay absorbs the heat from the candle flame and does a good job of radiating it. More tea lights will provide more heat. Would work well in an enclosed space like a tent or car.
Cons: Though practical for keeping in the car, the supplies needed aren’t very portable. It wouldn’t be much help in an outdoor situation.
2. Candle in a Can
You need: 1 coffee can with lid, sand or dirt, emergency candles, matches.
Place a few inches of sand in the bottom of a large coffee can to hold a candle upright. Position the candle and light it. Candles should be shorter than the can so the flame is radiating heat out toward the sides of the can, not the top.
Pros: Extremely cheap, easy and portable. You can keep all the supplies inside the coffee can. Best suited for a small space like inside a car or enclosed room.
Cons: Not suited for outdoor survival, low heat output.
3. Vegetable Oil Lamp
You need: 1 can solid shortening, candle wick, 2 or 3 inches of wire, matches
Wrap the wire around the end of the wick and push it through the shortening until it rests on the bottom of the can. Light the wick.
Pros: Cheap, easy and fairly portable. A candle like this will burn for many hours, and the flame is smokeless and odor-free. The largest size shortening tub may provide hundreds of hours of light. For more heat and light you can insert several wicks.
Cons: Doesn’t provide a great deal of heat. The shortening candle can’t be kept in a car because it may freeze in low temperatures.
4. Alcohol Heater
You need: A large metal can, toilet paper (cardboard removed), alcohol, matches.
Compress the roll of unscented toilet paper to fit into the can. Pour approximately 2 cups of alcohol over the toilet paper. Methanol alcohol is best, but isopropyl alcohol—the kind you buy from the drugstore—will also work. Give the toilet paper a few minutes time to absorb the alcohol and throw a lit match into the can.
Pros: There are many variations on this type of heater, including very small camping heaters made from soda cans and tricked-out styles that include a grate for holding a cooking pan. Alcohol heaters generate a good deal of heat, and the flame burns strongly even outdoors. They are portable, and as long as the lid fits tightly they’ll remain viable for a very long time—even years. The supplies are inexpensive and easy to obtain.
Cons: It’s flaming alcohol! Spills could mean disaster, causing serious burns on people or damage to your property. Do not use alcohol stoves indoors, inhaling the fumes could be dangerous.
Try Them Out
Experiment with different types of DIY heaters, and find out which would work best for your contingencies before you actually need one. In all cases, exercise caution when using a DIY heater. Make sure at least one person stays awake to monitor any heating device that requires an open flame.