Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Heating and Eating When the Lights Go Out

A fascinating question was posed in the BCP Facebook group. At the least, it was fascinating to me, and based on the conversation there, it got the attention of a whole lot of other people as well. Paraphrasing, the question was "I have an all-electric house. How do I cook food and heat my home in the event of a power outage?" There are a lot of ways to handle these tasks, so lets break them down.

The first way to address a lack of electrical power is with electricity. I know that sounds trite, but it's true. I've talked about backup generators in the past, and they're the quick and easy way to power your house in an emergency. Another option is a solar array with a battery bank. Properly sized, either of these will keep you running when the grid goes down.

If you're not capable of generating your own power, you'll have to look at other means of heating. Lets start with cooking, because why not? If your home has a wood burning stove or a fireplace, congratulations, you can cook like your grandparents or great grandparents, and heat your home at the same time. This is winning all around. Simply heat food on the hearth of your fireplace or the top of your stove. It won't be gourmet, but it will be hot. Make sure that you keep your chimney or flue properly cleaned and that you have adequate fresh air, otherwise you can succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning with no real warning.

If you don't have wood burning heat available to you, then things get a bit more involved. A propane barbecue grill can be pressed into service to cook most things. Charcoal will also work for many things, but it's not as convenient or easy. If you live in a place where a full-size grill is not feasible, tabletop models that run on small 1 pound propane cylinders are available and affordable. They're designed for camping, and they excel at it, but riding out emergencies looks a lot like camping at home. I've personally used the model linked for decades, cooking everything from burgers and hot dogs to soup and breakfasts.

That covers cooking. Now lets look at heating your living space. If you're stocking propane bottles to run a tabletop grill, why not use the same bottles to run your heater? Mr Heater makes a unit that will heat a medium-sized room off the same 1 pound cylinders. It won't heat your whole home, so you'll have to gather in a single room to stay warm, but it will keep that room comfortable.

Burning any kind of combustible material inside requires that you have plenty of fresh air moving through, otherwise you have the same carbon monoxide issue that I mentioned above. Make sure any heater you buy specifies that it is safe for indoor use. In addition, you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your home as a matter of general safety, and make sure that it is in good working order and has fresh batteries, just like a smoke detector.

It's cold outside. It doesn't have to be cold inside.



  1. When we had to move our M/H in the fall of 1998, the inspections ran until after Christmas. We were unable to remain in our temporary housing, so we just moved back into the fully set up house. No electricity, so no washer or dryer. We were on propane and did did have hot water and a working range, but no oven. The stove had electric ignition and while you could light the range, you couldn't light the oven. We had running water with our irrigation pump supplying the house also. No central heat, but we did have a fireplace.
    So, we were using flashlights and candles, we would bank the fire each night and stir it up each morning. Suppers were cooked on the range and any broiling or toasting was done on the hearth. The worst thing was right after the electrical inspector signed off on the house was we had the worst freeze in almost a decade and all the electric wind machines and pumps kicking on at the same time fried most of the electrical grid in a three county area. While we didn't lose power, there were no techs available to hook up the house for another two weeks. It was eerie watching a SCE crew and their bucket truck creeping down the road with a guy in the bucket checking the power lines inch by inch.
    Another thing is, even if you don't have power you can set up a propane camp stove on top of your range. The range hood will channel the exhaust out the flue. Just have a window in the kitchen cracked.

    1. Why do you need a window cracked if the range hood vents the propane exhaust?

    2. Not all range hoods actually vent outside. Mine doesn't. It just pulls the air through a grease trap and filter, then exhausts it back into the kitchen. It will trap a fair bit of smoke, but I still have to open a window.

  2. I have a Mr. Heater. It has helped every time the power has gone out in winter. But I also got an inexpensive *butane* heater that's clearly based on the Mr. Heater design. It's about 1/3 the size of the Mr. Heater, smaller than the Mr. Heater, Jr., and uses those tall butane cans you can get at Asian markets (or on Amazon -- search for GASONE butane).

    You can get one on Amazon:


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