Staying Warm In Winter After TSHTF

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Cold weather rocks, but are you ready for it?

Another winter is almost here and I heard on the news that heating oil costs are expected to soar this year.  They’re currently about $3.50 per gallon here in Maine right now, but they’re expected to go up to about $3.75 a gallon over the winter.  Ouch.  A typical home oil tank in New England (and I presume elsewhere) is 275 gallons.  How much would it cost to fill your tank?

Today’s prices:  $3.50 x 275 = $962.50.
Extrapolated price:  $3.75 x 275 = $1031.25

That’s a difference of $68.75.

As if things weren’t already expensive enough.

I don’t know about ya’ll, but I want to cut back on oil as much as I can.  There are different strategies you can use, but one of the best things you can do is make sure your house is well insulated.  Here are some tips and tricks on saving energy.  It starts with 7 (really 9) tips, but there are more ideas after that for insulating and so forth.  I won’t go into it too much here, but insulating is one of the best things you can do to help keep the heat where it belongs.

That’s just for the high price of heating oil, which could almost count for a SHTF event in my book.

What If TSHTF?

But this brings up the point about what will people do for heat after TSHTF?  If you’re in New England or anyplace where it gets cold for the winter – and I’m talking about in the teens or below zero at night, not just dipping into the 40’s – you’ll know that running out of heating oil if you depend on it is no joke.

If you are truly dependent on heating oil there are a few things you might want to have around in case the power goes out.

The first line of defense is your clothing.  First – dress in layers.  Wool sweaters and socks, good synthetic underwear, and warm pants are all good ways to help fight off the cold.  If the power goes out at night have some extra blankets or some good sleeping bags handy.  If it gets really cold don’t be afraid to have a family huddle.  Get everybody together in one place and snuggle up under some blankets.

Calamity Jane had a good post about cold weather clothing for women yesterday.

Space heaters

While a space heater won’t keep your whole house warm – unless you have a very small living space – you can hang blankets over the doorways or close the doors to heat only a couple of the main rooms.  I have a small kerosene heater that will keep the edge off when the power goes out.  I’ve also seen small propane heaters that fit right on top of the grill-sized tanks that do a good job of heating a room.

One thing to be aware of is that some heaters can give off deadly carbon monoxide if used improperly, so make sure you read the instructions for your device.  Read here for more info about carbon monoxide safety instructions.

Heating With Wood

Heating with wood is an excellent way to stay warm during the winter months and if the power goes out it won’t affect you at all.  You can cook on most woodstoves as well, so you probably won’t even have to get your camp stove out.

wood-stove

Old school cooking. Do you have a stove like this?

My parents used wood heat during the years I lived with them and many more after I moved out.  I can still remember my dad waking my brother and I up early on fall mornings, pointing out the window at  two cords of wood and saying, “I want that pile to be a memory by this afternoon.”  That’s something I’d like to pass on to my son because those kinds of lessons are what helped me out the most when I went into the Marine Corps, but that’s a different topic.

Anyway, wood heat can be a lot of work, which I’ll discuss in a bit, but it’s extremely worthwhile if you have the means to do it.

Pellet Stoves

When Mrs Jarhead and I moved into our new house a few years ago there was a pellet stove already in place.  I’d never used one before and at first I didn’t care for it, but after the first winter changed my mind and decided that it’s a great piece of equipment.  Our stove holds about 80 lbs of pellets and when we fill it up it’ll run a couple of days before needing to be refilled.  It only needs to be cleaned about once a week and best of all, the pellets come in 40 lb bags.  We keep about six bags in the closet next to the stove with the main storage area for the bags in the basement.

Last summer we bought two tons of pellets when they were on sale for around $215 per ton (that includes delivery), which should last us most of this season.

Pros –

  • It’s easy to adjust the feed rate and blower fan to give different levels of heat depending on how cold it gets
  • Easy to feed the stove (you need to be able to lift a 40 lb bag)
  • Only have to feed the stove once or twice every two days
  • Fairly low maintenance.

Cons

  • Runs on electricity, but will run off a generator (I’ve had power outages and tested it)

One last note about a pellet stove – you can’t convert it to a wood stove.  Oh, I suppose you could with enough time and money, but when I saw it I thought, “Oh wow.  If the power goes out I’ll convert it to burn wood.”  Nope.  They are two different animals.

Best Bet for Long Term SHTF Scenario

In a long enough SHTF scenario fuel for everything will eventually run out if there is no resupply.  Your best bet is a woodstove in a well insulated house with plenty of warm clothing on hand for when the fire goes out.

Getting Your Own Wood

Cutting firewood is hard.  Cutting firewood with a crosscut saw or a big bucksaw is harder, which would be a necessity if there’s no fuel to run your chainsaw.  I know it’s harder because I’ve done it.  You will need to be in good shape if you intend to do this and I highly recommend you give it a try so you’ll know just how hard it is.

This is what getting your own wood consists of:

  • Go to the forest and find suitable trees for cutting:  standing dead hardwood trees are your best bet.  Trees that have been lying on the ground for any length of time rot quickly
  • Cut the tree down.  Cut into 4’ or 8’ for lengths for transporting unless you have a horse or something to twitch it out with
  • Somehow transport them back to your yard
  • Cut tree into stove lengths (12 to 16 inches usually)
  • Get out your trusty axe or splitting mall and split wood into a manageable size for your stove
  • Stack and cover the wood so that it will remain dry until you need it
  • Carry wood into the house when ready to burn and put it in your wood box

If you think that sounds hard that’s because it is.  Now try it in the winter when there’s 18” of snow on the ground.  I’ve done that too and let me assure you that if you’re not in good shape it will likely give you a heart attack.  It’s best to have your wood supply laid in early if possible.

I’ll end here before this becomes the never-ending post.  This is one of those topics I could go on forever about, but instead of doing that I’ll let you chime in with your ideas for staying warm in winter after TSHTF.  C’mon, I know you have some ideas.

Let’s hear them in the comments.

-Jarhead Survivor

36 comments… add one
  • Anonymous October 28, 2011, 8:29 am

    We have used pellet stoves for a number of years. Corn stove to begin with and now a multi-fuel pellet stove. We use wood pellets now. We have not used our propane furnace for the past two years. It doesn’t need electricity, so we have it for a back-up. Will have wood burning stoves also soon. We live in NW Kansas where the wind can be nasty. Nothing to stop it except barb wire fence amd jack rabbits. Enjoy your site.

    Reply
  • SLHaynes October 28, 2011, 9:14 am

    We had some trees die off in the back utility easement because of the drought this summer and I’m going to attempt using a buck saw as I don’t have a chain saw. I’ll let you know just how hard it is. I can use the work out to continue my conditioning for WTSHTF.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:21 pm

      I’m curious to see what you think about using a buck saw. My dad still has some big bucksaws around, but I haven’t used one of those in years.

      I have a small survival Sven saw that I love and I use it all the time when I’m camping. I also use my knife to split the smaller wood for kindling and what not.

      Let me know how you make out!

      Reply
      • Michael October 29, 2011, 1:42 am

        I have one of the Trail Blazer Take Down Bucksaws. It works slick, but I wouldn’t want to have to do more than cut a couple of days worth of wood or do some storm clean up with it.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWgCw4QCDug

        Reply
    • JSW October 30, 2011, 11:58 pm

      I’m not certain what you mean by ‘buck saw’- be it Swede saw, bowsaw or very olde tyme crosscut- but you’re going to find it a toughening job. If you’re in good shape, hands will give out before arms- use liberal applications of bag balm and repeat the exercise next day bucking more wood.
      I really wouldn’t like to go back to the days we used bowsaws in the woods cutting pulpwood and firewood- totally unending process- but can see them coming back. Too, I’m afraid that olde farts as I will be in extremely short supply within six months.

      Reply
  • irishdutchuncle October 28, 2011, 9:54 am

    don’t forget “bed curtains” as way to keep warm. that was one traditional method. your “family huddle” will be more effective inside a tent of some sort. (same idea)

    you will need to keep some drinking water in the living space, and prevent it from freezing. (difficult in extreme cold) some method of heating up some soup, would be great. soup is very effective at warming up cold people. (but, you have to be careful they don’t begin to perspire)

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:19 pm

      Good thought about the water Irish. Thanks for bringing it up.

      Reply
  • Spook45 October 28, 2011, 9:58 am

    WOOD WOOD WOOD! WOOD is where its at! There is no better quality of warmth than from fire itself and it just cant be beat. IT grws everywhere, you have it all throught the house in furniture. ITs just the best all around. Looks like we are in for a reake of the 94 ice storms this year and were it not for the wood heat, we would not have survived the last one. Heated with it, cooked on it warmed bath water everything! Have chainsaw, will travel!

    Reply
  • Presager Buddy October 28, 2011, 11:12 am

    As I mentioned in a comment last year about supplemental heating, Biobricks are worth looking into. Biobricks fall somewhere between burning wood and burning pellets. Biobricks are now available throughout New England and in some other northern states.
    Biobricks, esentially, are pellet material compressed into brick form. They are usually burned in woodstoves, but can easily be burned in an ordinary fireplace as well. They have the most value when burned in the woodstove, however.
    Back when I was trying to decide what type of supplemental heating I would use, I considered both the pellet stove and the woodstove. The reason I chose the woodstove over the pellet stove is because I would be able to burn just about anything in it. Also, as you mentioned in you post, you would need to run a generator to power the “feed” mechanism on the pellet stove when the grid was down. That becomes complex AND, in an extended SHTF situation, gasoline may be in short supply or unavailable.
    The Biobricks are usually sold by the ton on pallets measuring 4 x 4 x 3. They produce the same amount of heating power as a cord of wood, which measures 4 x 4 x 8. Because these are “bricks”, they stack tightly together in a compact space. I am able to store over TWO YEARS worth of supplemental heating at a time. I use 3 tons of Biobricks and one 275 gallon tank of oil each year. For Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, Biobricks cost a little more than firewood,but in other states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, they cost about the same as a delivered cord of wood (around $250).
    The other benefits of Biobricks are: they burn slower and hotter, they have nearly zero moisture content, they produce very little creosote and they have a low carbon output. Biobricks are clean – no bugs! They come wrapped in plastic in bundles of 20 and they can be stored indoors. I keep six tons of Biobricks in my garage. I also stack about a half ton in the wood storage nooks on the sides of my fireplace.
    The only drawbacks I can think of in using Biobricks (other than cost in some areas) are the limited supply at the height of the heating season and, since they burn so hot, they can warp some woodstoves if overloaded. I have overcome the “supply” problem by getting my Biobricks in the spring and storing two year’s worth at a time and, through practice, I have learned to maximize the fire without overheating.
    Check out http://www.mainebiomass.com

    Reply
    • Presager Buddy October 28, 2011, 11:47 am

      PS New England may have to test heating their homes without the grid this weekend given that heavy, wet snow is forecast to take down the grid in many areas. Keep warm.

      Reply
      • HAD ENOUGH October 30, 2011, 1:23 pm

        We have no electric since yesterday . We’re running on a generator, that’s why I’m connected to the internet, *laugh* and warmth is coming from our coal stove and wood stove. We cook on each of them. It’s going down into the 20’s tonight, but we’re toasty warm here in northern Ct.

        Reply
  • GoneWithTheWind October 28, 2011, 11:17 am

    I grew up in Northern New England in a house without insulation. We would hang a blanket over the door between the kitchen and the rest of the house and heated the kitchen with a kerosene stove. This was a regular stove with two kerosene burners, four gas burners and a gas oven. I am sitting in my own living room today (not in New England), the temperature last night was 10 degrees and I am warm and comfortable with a small wood stove. The door to the rest of the house is closed. In the living room it is 70 degrees the rest of the house is about 42 degrees. I have a two year supply of wood stacked outside and more wood within 100 yds of my home then I could burn in a lifetime. The house has electric heat which I have turned off. My electric bill this month was $18 for lighting and hot water. It will get colder here soon and it is not unusual for me to wake up in a bedroom with a temperature of 37 degrees. The secret to cold weather sleeping is a combination of wool blankets and down comforters.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:18 pm

      Sounds like you’ve got the perfect setup there. I like sleeping when it’s cold too… not just because it saves energy, but because it’s a lot more comfortable to me.

      Reply
  • PrimalCane October 28, 2011, 12:19 pm

    In a long term SHTF situation our entire lifestyles will more than likely change. The idea of heating an entire house is bass ackwards, you would heat select living spaces as needed. I for one would look into some of the earthship, and hobbit/greenhouse styles of living. Maybe kick it in one of those teepee’s. sure as hell wouldn’t spend my time cutting down a forest to heat the den. I’m thinking sleeping area’s, bathing areas, and maybe a workshop. All as needed, and to about 60-65°. Except the bathroom, we have an outdoor sauna that gets over 200°…

    ~Primal

    Reply
    • Presager Buddy October 28, 2011, 1:01 pm

      Good point! I have thought about this – especially if I had to stretch my two years worth of fireplace fuel longer. One of the issues involved in drawing down to a smaller space in an existing home with a fireplace or woodstove is to empty the heating system of water in order to prevent freeze damage. There is a drain outlet at the bottom of most hot water furnaces. Connecting a hose to that and letting it run down a drain will empty the radiators. It is necessary to open the bleed valves at the radiators to allow for proper draining. Don’t forget to pour antifreeze into the traps of all the sinks and toilets (also empty the tank) that are out of the heated area to prevent them from bursting from below-freezing temperatures.

      Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:17 pm

      I got my sauna up to 210 accidentally and it drove me out after ten minutes! But you’re right, if it all goes to hell it would be a great redoubt for the family to stay warm.

      Reply
  • JeanneS October 28, 2011, 1:07 pm

    My firstborn’s first winter was a hard one, and it coincided with me being really poor and living in a badly-insulated house with only an ancient wood heating stove. She wasn’t old enough at that point to sit up on her own or crawl. I moved my queen-size bed from the upstairs bedroom into my living room, closed off the upstairs, kept my daughter in a baby sling most of the time (“wearing” her next to my body to share body heat), and slept with her in my bed. Whenever I had to be outside for any length of time (collecting or splitting wood), she was left blanket-swaddled in a deep wicker basket a few feet from the woodstove so she didn’t get cold. My dream home will have doors that shut at every room entrance (instead of being open to hallways), ceilings that are a foot lower, and rooms that are considerably smaller, than in modern construction standards, so less cubic area is unnecessarily heated. Despite that utterly miserable winter, I still love wood heat.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:15 pm

      Sounds like quite an experience, JeanneS. It also sounds like you’re resourceful and can take care of yourself when you have to.

      Reply
  • Calamity Jane October 28, 2011, 1:27 pm

    Staying warm in the winter… :-D
    Me and my sweetie, and the long dark nights… we stay plenty warm.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 1:46 pm

      Obviously.
      ;-)

      Reply
    • Odd Questioner October 29, 2011, 7:25 pm

      Brigs up a good point, actually. If you’re not alone, it pays to sleep with someone else at the same time, with as few clothes between you as possible. keep your clothing under the covers at the foot of the bed, so they are somewhat warm when you go to put them on (doing so under the covers) in the morning.

      Works really well. :)

      Reply
  • SmartSynchronize Enterprise 3.1 Sale October 28, 2011, 2:48 pm

    I have really had a good experience in terms of information of you blog. I am sure visitors will also like your creativity.

    Reply
  • carl October 28, 2011, 6:51 pm

    I would like to add AGING your wood. Trying to burn wood that is green is a waste of the wood itself. Hardwood needs to be aged about 12 to 18 months before it is sufficiently dry to burn efficiently and give you all the BTU’s it can. I have 5 years usage of 12 to 14 face cords cut and stacked on pallets. It is also covered with all kinds of meal sheeting I got from my local dump. Keeping it off the ground on skids and covered is absolutely essential.

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor October 28, 2011, 7:14 pm

      Excellent points Carl. I allude to when I say to harvest standing dead, but some hardwood like oak needs a long time to season. I also put my wood up on pallets and cover it with a tarp when it snows or rains.

      Reply
      • carl October 28, 2011, 7:46 pm

        if you have a copy of “Back to Basics” by readers digest there is a really good section on Heating and cooking with wood. There is also a table that shows the amount of BTU’s per ton of various woods. Red Oak and white OAk are prevelent here. Mostly white. Also Unless Absolutely, absolutely necessary I never ever burn soft wood like pine. The creosote will litterally set your chimney on fire and then your house.

        Wood heating/cooking requires care and safety. Don’t get lazadaisy.

        Carl

        Reply
        • GoneWithTheWind October 30, 2011, 12:37 pm

          I live in a pine forest. Most of what I burn is pine. Three ideas to prevent the creosote problem:
          1. Burn only seasoned dry wood.
          2. Burn hot, don’t damp down the fire so it burns for 8 hours on one loading.
          3. Buy and use a chimney brush as needed

          And three ideas to prevent problems just in case creosote builds up:
          1. keep a fire extinguisher handy and a bucket that you could quickly fill with water to use in an emergency.
          2. Don’t stoke your fire before you go to bed. I let the fire die down to coals before I go to bed. Sure, it gets cold at night but it is safer.
          3. Don’t leave the home with a roaring fire going. let it die down to coals before you leave.

          Reply
    • JSW October 31, 2011, 12:08 am

      Good advice, Carl- seasoned wood usually burns better, depends on the type of stove/unit you’re using. Some actually prefer wet/green wood for combustion (dunno why they would, but they do).
      One of my neighbors and I tend to gather wood together and he got kind of exorcised when the permit I got was for seasoned down/standing dead. His stove will work on dry wood, but not well- again, I’m at DUH for the reason.
      What really surprised me is when he got a permit for a bunch of standing wet tamarac/larch. He was happy as a kid getting gifts. I had to season that stuff for a year to burn it: that stuff will burn a hole thru most stoves.
      Point being: check with instructions/mfrer for details on what your stove will burn best.

      Reply
  • Joe October 28, 2011, 7:16 pm

    Another really good post, Jarhead.

    Several years ago, Laura and I put in a nice old fashioned pot-bellied stove and we currently head 1/2 of our house with it. Works great. But post-TEOTWAWKI, if I cannot use a chainsaw due to lack of fuel, etc, it’s going to be a lot of work to get enough wood to keep us warm for the winter. I need to make sure we have enough hand tools to make that possible, too.

    Joe

    Reply
  • izzy October 28, 2011, 8:52 pm

    I live in an apt & so no stove yet :( ! But necessity is the mother of invention…
    Yes, closing off rooms, stacking up things against outer walls (inside & out), window film+curtains, hot water bottles, rugs, platform beds, canopy beds, cupboard beds for kids, southern windows, gaskets & insulation, slippers, thermos, flannel+down+wool on the bed, prewarmed stoneware plates, fuzzy sofa covers.
    In my dream home, would have a Swedish-channel stove w/ radiator pipes, seamless insulation, triple-pane windows, black exterior siding, farmhouse half-doors (good for regulating airflow & child/pet traffic), low ceilings, raised platform floors, interior French door walls, and a thick roof.
    I have heard of ‘hundred-year-frosts’ when chickens, horses etc. had to be brought inside the house to keep from freezing & to pool heat (some houses had interior courtyards for this). Does anyone have livestock plans? Right now after the Turkey quake it is an additional problem, having no shelter remaining for livestock either:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45011278/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/#.TqY4EXLaQwE
    so add extra longjohns & down to yer BOB, go sled out there in Maine this week!

    Reply
  • Steelheart October 28, 2011, 9:30 pm

    You all are making me wish my house had a place to put a wood stove. I’ll have to get by with either kerosene or mu Big Buddy LP heater. Fortunately I can get fuel for either in town. I keep a couple days worth of fuel on hand however.

    Steelheart

    Reply
  • Steve October 28, 2011, 9:35 pm

    Who still uses heating oil to heat a home ?
    The price trippled back in the 1970’s and now is nearing $4.00 a gallon.
    The only reason the price is climbing is because of out of control New York city speculators driving up the price of heating oil (and gasoline) so they can make millions in profits so they can live in $25 million dollar townhouses in NYC. They don’t care about you or me suffering, all they want is more and more money for themselves. They are evil, mentally unstable people!

    Reply
    • JSW October 31, 2011, 12:14 am

      Lots of people, Steve- the price isn’t near $4 a gallon here yet. It’s coming, for sure, but not now. Too, I like an old Jungers for heating the hunting shack: ten gallons fuel a week to heat a 20×20 area is great.
      Seriously, though- I’m more convinced it’s the tree hugging enviroweenies who’re causing the prices to rise. If oil companies didn’t have to jump through all the fraudulent hoops they do, gas and oil would be much less spendy. Kind of like why can China and Russia drill in places where the enviroweenies won’t let American companies?

      Reply
  • Odd Questioner October 29, 2011, 12:03 pm

    IMHO, my first priority will be to insulate the unholy $#@! out of the house. Let me ‘splain…

    The last house I lived in was built in 1970-something. It has a pitiful 2″ of fluff in the attic, R12 in the walls, *huge* aluminum(!?) framed windows (one of which needed a stick to keep closed), *zero* insulation underneath (unless, well, you counted the carpet on the floor), and a steel front door, which made for a very efficient heat-sink.

    Before I could scrape up enough cash and time to insulate it properly, the electric baseboard heaters (in spite of a fireplace which ran nearly 24/7) racked up almost $400/month in power bills for a 900 sq fit. house. I also went through about $150 in firewood. Mind you, this is Oregon, where average daytime winter temps are in the 40’s, and night temps dropped to the 20s… fairly mild by most standards at this latitude. Insane, right?

    Well, by the time I managed to lay down 22″ of fluffy attic insulation, lay some R-22 underneath the crawlspace, and bought some of the heaviest curtains I could find (one of which hung between the front foyer and the rest of the house – the rest were snugged up tight to the windows), the bill dropped to a more manageable $200/mo, and the fireplace didn’t have to run full-time.

    Contrast that with the apartment I’m currently in (actually has more square footage than the house did). Insulated all to hell, I don’t have to even think of turning a heater on (or do jack with the fireplace) until outside temps drop to the 20’s. Inside it stays a totally cozy (to me and the missus) 60-65 degrees in spite of freezing temps outside. In the guest room, my little 250-watt home-computer-made-server keeps that room and the hallway sufficiently heated, and it idles most of the time. My power bills rarely drift above $120 now… even in the dead of winter.

    Thing is, the very first thing you can and should do is to look at the insulation factor… the better insulated the home, the less wood you have to chop/split/move.

    Reply
  • Mike Gregyor October 29, 2011, 7:53 pm

    The old addage of wood heating you up twice is true. Once when you are getting it and another when you burn it! I bought 20 cord of logs stacked by grapple load for $1800 here in MI. I have cut, split, stacked on dunnage and covered 5 cord for this winter. It’s 3 cord of red and white oak and 2 cords of mixed maple and ash for quicker lighting. It is just now getting seasoned after a hot dry summer.
    We heat with natural gas and have a solar electric system setup for power to the furnace blower, well and fridge. I have a drum of stabilized gas that would last me two more seasons of cutting and splitting. Then it’s all by hand and I don’t relish that thought.

    Reply
  • Michael October 30, 2011, 6:51 pm

    Looks like the folks in Connecticut don’t have to wait, power’s out at my friends place and they’re saying it will be out for a week.

    Reply
  • JSW October 31, 2011, 12:23 am

    If the SHTF and there was a total outtage of power, my wood stove would have some close company on the really cold nights- other than a dog on either side, I mean. I’d curl up in the down bag and spend my nights there as well. Or close.
    Five to six cords of wood a year is my norm, chainsaw and splitter two of my most used tools. I try to stay one year ahead for seasoning, can often get into logging areas for year-cut that seasons well.
    But, as noted earlier- a Swede saw, bowsaw or crosscut and splitting maul would be a lot of work for anyone- which is time for having lots of kids on hand- we kids were expected to keep the wood up to snuff decades ago. Still, having those tools on hand would be wise- even if for making a few extra bucks one day.

    Reply

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