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Emergency heat source?

Posted by wavy_glass (My Page) on
Mon, Dec 7, 09 at 15:51

Hi all, A newbie here in many areas: new to forum, new to home ownership, and new to old-home ownership.

Our house is 81 years old with plaster walls, no insulation in the walls (that I know of) and old wavy glass windows (hence my name; I keep needing to play up the virtue of these windows in my own mind, so I don't curse myself when the exterior storms, rope caulking, and foam pulley-hole insulation fails to keep all the cool air out).

We have a pretty efficient gas furnace in the basement. But I assume that with winter upon us, and living in WI in a neighborhood with old trees and long branches, I need to be prepared for a power outage.

My question: what do people use for emergency heat (other than wood, which is not an option for us)? I assume my furnace needs electricity to operate, and I assume I should be prepared for my furnace to fail, so I need to add something in case of emergencies. Is the default choice some sort of portable kerosene heater, or are there propane heaters that people like?

Thanks for any and all responses!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Emergency heat source?

We have three natural gas fireplaces. (And lots of warm clothes.)


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Thanks. My wife won't let me put in a natural gas fireplace on the living floors. Would one in the basement be a cost-effective emergency heat source?

I should be clear here: I'm looking for a way to keep pipes from bursting, etc. I don't necessarily need the heat to make the house comfortably livable. We can always shack up with friends.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Have you considered a backup generator? There are some good discussions of them, I can't remember which forum, perhaps electrical wiring. Search function on gw appears to be out right now or I'd give a link.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

I have considered that, and I will search for more on the forums, but I also worry about occasions when the furnace itself fails, leaving me still in need of a second heat source. So I was hoping for some recommendations of efficient (and affordable?) emergency heat sources.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Don't assume your gas furnace requires electricity - we've had one that did and one that didn't. (When it comes to anything having to do with a house, assume nothing! :-) Always check or have it checked. There should be a plaque or label with the manufacturer's name and model number, and if you contact the manufacturer with that number you should be able to get a replacement manual for the furnace. Handy to have around.) You should have the furnace cleaned and tuned-up or at least checked over at the beginning of every heating season, and whomever you have checking it can go over the workings of it with you. But if it does need electricity, and you have a safe - meaning not in the house - location to store and run it, consider getting a small generator (gas/diesel/propane). You don't necessarily need to power the whole house, just the furnace and perhaps the fridge/freezer to keep your food from spoiling. A small one that would cover that can be had for under $500.

Kerosene heaters are banned in some areas now due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. (You do have at least one carbon monoxide detector, right?) Depending on the size of your house, you might need several to keep the house at a minimum temperature (distributing the heat around the house is the tricky bit). A major drawback of kerosene space heaters is that you need a constant inflow of fresh air, which means keeping a window cracked open in every room in which there is a kero heater (thus letting in cold air), and they cannot be left unattended so you couldn't go shack up with your friends and leave the heater going. Ditto for the propane space heaters that use either camp-stove-sized or gas-grill-sized bottles.

Do you know how to drain your water system to prevent pipe rupture? I strongly believe everyone in cold climates should know how to shut off their water main and drain the pipes in case of an extended outage or absence from the house during cold weather.

Also, since you mention the trees... tree work can be done in winter and many tree companies like to do major cutbacks in winter when the trees are dormant (cutting large limbs can be pretty traumatic to a tree) and it's easier to see where they're working without the leaves. If you have trees around your house, have someone come in and evaluate them for limbs or even entire trees that may endanger your house. In my experience many companies will do so for free or for a nominal fee (under $50). We had a horrible ice storm just about a year ago and I'm quite certain that we would have had serious damage to the house had we not had a LOT of pruning done (a gigantic dumptruck full of chipped material, not counting the better trunks we had them cut up and leave behind for a friend to take for firewood) during the previous year. We also had the tree company take pictures of a couple of trees that were on city property but were a risk to our house; I took those pictures to the city department of public works and got permission to have them pruned back when we had the ones on our own lot done. The city would have done it but it was a case of "heaven only knew" when they would get around to it, we decided it was a better idea to spend the extra few bucks (it was just added onto the job) and know it was done. Cheaper by far than our insurance deductible!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

When you say, "we have a pretty efficient gas heater" that seems to indicate electricity. Certainly there are some older heaters that don't require electricity but I don't think they would be classified as efficient.

Since gas lines run underground, service is less likely to be interrupted by, say, a winter ice storm. The problem is you that you still need electricity. Certainly a generator can provide that but you'll still need the services of an electrician to provide a way to safely power your furnace and few other essential circuits.

The drawback to any combustion type heater (natural gas, propane, kerosene) is that you have to have a supply of the fuel available (kerosene has a "shelf life") and you need to worry about carbon monoxide. The best and most expensive choice would be a generator. Options range from a relative modestly sized gasoline powered model (remember you need fuel on hand) to full blown, natural gas powered model with an automatic transfer switch so that you'll barely notice the power went off.

Oh, and congratulations on your new home!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

You could use a generator to power the furnace blowers if electricity fails. Keep it simple and safe.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

My wife won't let me put in a natural gas fireplace on the living floors. Would one in the basement be a cost-effective emergency heat source?

If it's oversized for the basement and there are enough air passages upwards, perhaps. To provide dry heat during winter construction, I've used gas fireplaces to keep the home well above freezing even in sub zero (C.) weather.

What's the aversion to a gas fireplace abovegrade? Authenticity? In that case, I expect you don't have airconditioning and anything other than a wood stove and a monitortop fridge in the kitchen. Smiley Smiling Pictures, Images and Photos


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Thanks all! Looks like I'll pursue a combo of a generator and the knowledge of how to drain my water system.

worthy, the aversion stems from the wife's tastes. Yes, we have central air, stainless fridge, and the woodstoves are long gone (with the chimney walled off). But the wife doesn't mind *those* things, so they stay.

She's simply not jazzed about the idea of adding a gas stove anywhere in the house. But perhaps that'll change once we get the heating bill for the first full month of winter...

Speaking of which--and here I might post another question later--I was watching an ep of Ask This Old House and they were saying that leaky and uninsulated duct work in the basement can increase your heating bill by 15-20%. Ours are certainly leaky, and not insulated. So I plan to do this, but probably won't get to it until next spring. Anyone find that this helped cut down on heating costs?

Again, Many Thanks!


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thanks

johnmari, is this how you advise I drain the water system, or are there things this gets wrong?

http://homerepair.about.com/od/plumbingrepair/ss/drain_plumb_sys.htm


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RE: Emergency heat source?

leaky and uninsulated duct work in the basement can increase your heating bill by15%-20%.

The EPA agrees.

The theory used to be that the leaks were still in the house, so it didn't matter. However, heat delivered where it's supposed to go reduces the heat needed. Seal all joints with mastic or metal tape--not duct tape--and insulate ductwork in unconditioned areas.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Thanks Worthy! That's precisely what the guy on ATOH said. I'll go looking, but if you have a link handy on how best to insulate duct work in basement, I'd be mighty grateful.

Thanks again!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

The most common methods are fg or bubble wrap with appropriate fastening tapes. See link.

Keep in mind that if the basement space is truly unconditioned, you may have to make sure water supply pipes don't freeze. Use electrical heating tapes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Insulating Basement Ducts


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RE: Emergency heat source? followup

Just noticed breaking news: You can go whole hog on insulating/sealing everything in sight with the just announced Obamanomics Cash for Caulking programme.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

what about a gas insert fireplace? Or two or three? They're lovely. We're planning to have two, plus keep the main living room fireplace burning wood for authenticity. The dining room fireplace will be gas insert. Flip a switch while I'm setting the table and watch the kids fight over the seat nearest the fire.

There is a lot of info. over on the fireplaces forum. The thing to keep in mind is, the way these things vent, you don't need nearly as much infrastructure as you do for a wood burning fireplace. So, they might be easier to add than you'd think. Our dining room fp will have a power vent out the side of the house instead of a pipe running up through three stories; not a bad install.

I agree with the poster who said, know how to drain your pipes. Funny thing, dh and I were debating virtues of getting a generator vs. draining pipes and heading to his sister's house (she lives 10 hours away, so presumably wouldn't be hit by whatever hit us). We dug out an old Time/Life book and read up on draining the whole house. It was a long read. I said, gee, that's not so bad, guess we don't have to get a generator. He said, sheesh, after reading that, I feel quite willing to fork out for a generator. :-)

Also worst case scenario, we could subsist in our basement for a while. Ground temps around here are in the high 40's, so the basement would probably never drop much below 30. It'd be like winter camping. hey, whatever it takes, right?

Here is a link that might be useful: gas inserts


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RE: Emergency heat source?

We have a generator and it is a blessing with power outage. I have a LP range for cooking and the generator runs everything else though I am conservative and don't do something like laundry.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

eandhl, might you be able to provide details about what went into getting this installed and up and running? You don't have to mention $$, but if you have a particular generator to recommend and/or things to know before someone comes to install, that'd be great.

Thanks!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Many threads on generators at GW. For instance, this one.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Many thanks!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

All I know about our generator is it is a Honda motor, runs on propane and hooked up so it goes on automatically. It will turn on every 2 weeks for 20 minutes to check itself. Sorry that is all I know.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Thanks, eandhl.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Yes, those instructions on draining the system are fine, although I always did the sinks and tub/shower faucets (steps 2 and 4) at the same time. It actually takes less time than you think - our previous house (4br 2.5ba) took about half an hour to completely drain out, and I did other things while it was going. DON'T forget any outside spigots! (Which we drain every fall anyway - we had a shutoff inserted on that line back as close to where it joins the rest of the house plumbing as possible.)


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Since you are not looking to heat the whole house to a comfort level during an outage, and are just looking to keep the pipes from bursting, would solar power be of interest to you?

You can use it year round saving money and don't have to worry about power outages freezing pipes. Have regular electric from the utility company for things that are not essentials.

*Remember: Your cordless phone will not work during an outage. Always have a corded phone available for emergencies.

*Have an alarm clock that has battery back-up in case of an outage during the night while you sleep. You don't want to get fired from your job for missing work without calling in. Even a short term outage can cause some alarm clocks to reset to a flashing 12:00AM rather than just starting up again where they left off like vintage clocks do (of course even with vintage clocks a long outage will still make you late for work).

*Don't forget flashlights on hand in every room. You don't want to have to rummage around in pitch dark looking for one in the basement tool room. Candles are dangerous in the dark. Don't do it.

There are many styles of solar power arrangements. Some will store up quite a bit of power in batteries. Some will only provide auxiliary power for a home - unless you have 40 acres or more of land.

Here is a link that might be useful: Passive Solar Water Heater


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RE: Emergency heat source?

I live in MN (slightly colder than WI), and always choose old houses (1910 at the moment), have had numerous power and furnace outages, and never have needed generators, propane heaters, etc. When the electricity goes out, my (high efficiency) gas furnace still works. If the furnace goes out, I turn on the electric oven and open the door, and put on more clothes. Best of all, I subscribe to the utility company's "protection" plan (e.g., covering appliances like the furnace, stove, refrigerator, and others) so that individual problems (vs. widespread ones) will be dealt with quickly (e.g., the last time my furnace went out, I called at about 10 p.m. and they came out at midnight, since the weather was cold). Most electrical outages are not so prolonged that you need to worry about the pipes, since the house retains some heat for quite a while, although they can be if there is an ice storm or a lot of wind & snow damage (but check to see if your furnace will still function before stocking up on things you may not need and that pose some risks of their own. Lots of caulk helps stem the leaks around doors and windows, as does replacing them with modern ones - I've done most of them by now (and can't throw away the wavy glass storms, which I've put back on three "replacement sash" windows (most were full replacement windows, which tends to fit tighter). Getting an energy audit is also a good idea to see where the problems are greatest and to prioritize any changes toward more energy efficiency. I would agree that gas inserts are nice, and do help with the heat.


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RE: Emergency heat source?

Thanks for the response, bebop99. Ours is also a high efficiency furnace. I suppose I should call the manufacturer and ask if it requires energy to work. What brand is yours, if you don't mind my asking?

I appreciate your other suggestions, and while I've not been around here for long, I know your view about replacement windows is a minority view. And I do think that I'll be keeping my wonderful (if inefficient) wavy glass windows. It gives the house roughly 2/5 of its charm :)

I will certainly do other things that make the house more efficient, and I look forward to our energy audit which is scheduled for the new year.

Thanks again!


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RE: Emergency heat source?

wavy glass - You are a BRAVE soul to keep your wavy glass windows. Before we replaced our windows, on windy wintry nights, the curtains would swish back and forth from the air coming through the cracks of those old windows. In fact, occasionally, when it was snowing AND windy, we could actually see puffs of snow burst from the windows after each noisy gust of wind. I think we still have many of those old wavy glass windows stored in our summer house so if someone buys our old home in the future and wants to "restore" it back to its original form, they have that option. Wavy glass is beautiful and full of charm, no doubt about that, and I salute and applaud you for your willingness to preserve the authenticity of your house. But...watching the snow come through the windows was as disheartening as feeling the warmth escape and after several winters of never being warm in our chilly, drafty house, we broke down and installed new windows.

Our emergency energy source is not a cost-effective option for single family home owners. Since we live on a dairy farm, my husband bought a generator that is large enough to power anything we need in the house, along with all the high energy demands in the barn, and, as our friend that is an electrician says, several homes that border our property. However, it's powered by our John Deere tractor which runs on diesel and depending on the cost of diesel, it can be an expensive way to supply our own energy. But, we do whatever is necessary in order to keep the milk at the perfect temperature!!!


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