Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fuel, light, and heat

With another winter storm looming, this blog post is coming late.

Unfortunately, things being what they are, it just wasn't going to be ready until now.

Now, folks, let me tell you. I love winter. I like it cooler, shoot, I like it cold. I love a good roaring fire. I love snowfall, and the quiet hush that accompanies it.

But I like it on one side of the glass, with me on the other.

When the power goes out, however, "the two become one", rather quickly, in some places. So it becomes vital, to have an alternate source of heat, because when the ice takes down those power lines? You're going to be sitting in the dark. For who knows how long. You cannot wait until the power goes out, to figure something out. Far better to plan a bit ahead, and get some kerosene, some oil, and put it in the garage, storage room, or even a 'removed from the main areas of the house' pantry.

If you have a fireplace, a woodburner, you need to make sure it is kept clean. It isn't difficult to do yourself, but most folks will opt for a professional job. I definitely recommend that being done in the "off season", when chimney sweeps are not as in demand as they will be come fall/winter. Lay in some good firewood--not softwoods. Do a bit of research, and you'll find out which of the best woods for burning, are common to your area. Oak, hickory, those are some of the good woods for burning, that we have here. You probably have them where you are. Don't use softwoods like pine or other evergreens, unless you have NO choice, because they will tend to build up the creosote inside your chimney. And whatever you burn, needs to be as dry as possible. The best thing to do, really, is to get your firewood in spring. Let it season for all year long, in a covered, weather-protected area. Then it will be ready to burn come fall/winter.
If you have a fireplace, and it isn't terribly efficient, you may want to look at spending the money to install a woodstove in there, in it's place. You can use the chimney to run the smoke out, but the woodstove will keep the heat inside, rather than sending it up the flue, quite as quickly. Some of my favorite brands for woodstoves (not cookstoves, but just heat), are the Vermont Castings and the Hearthstone, both of which have been around for a very long time, and have a good reputation as well as a nice look to them.

Here are some links for both of them:

Vermont Castings:


Now, they are not dirt cheap. But they are worth the purchase price, especially when the power goes out and it's "huddle together under blankets dressed in our heaviest clothes" or freeze to death.

For those who have no way of purchasing or installing one of the woodstoves, there are kerosene space heaters. Yes. You will need to make sure you have some sort of ventilation, even just a little bit can make a BIG difference. But unless you are in a newer house, or one retrofitted really really well, so that it is nearly air tight, you probably have a good amount of draft already (those of you in older homes know what I mean!). Just a cracked window in another room (one adjacent to, or open the doors between) will make all the difference in the will need the heater, wicks, and kerosene. None of those things are, for the moment, all that difficult to find/purchase. The 7Ps apply here, as well, since the "PRIOR" part is so important. Get the heater at the end of winter. Actually use it once, or twice, to familiarize yourself with it. Buy some cans of Kerosene (you can get some at Home Depot for about $40, about 5 gallons, I believe). Or, if you have a local place that pumps it, you can get a special 'gas' can type of container, and do it yourself, and it will be MUCH cheaper. Just don't use the typical red gas can, because unless you label it in BIG BOLD BLACK, someone might be tempted to put it into a lawn mower come mid-August. NOT a good idea! LOL :-) Personally? We have the fireplace with the insert (it also has blowers, which will heat most of the house if it is roaring), kerosene heaters, and my personal favorites, Aladdin lamps.

No. Not the "genie in a bottle" Aladdin lamps, silly! The same company that makes the Aladdin thermoses, also makes oil burning lamps, and has for going on 100 yrs. Let me tell you about these things. They are, well, not just pretty (especially if you have a more 'old fashioned", or country, decorating style), but they can put out as much light as 5-10 of your standard dollar store oil lamps, *and* they will heat a good sized room. Light AND heat? Yeah, and they don't use a HUGE amount of oil (you can use kerosene, or regular oil lamp in them, btw), either. Seriously, folks, these things, well, they ROCK...

Here's a link to the company website:

Here's another link to an authorized retailer, with a sale going on til just after Valentine's day, with some of these on sale rather markedly! Definitely something to check out, if you've got a wee bit of money right now, and want to do something sensible, and yet have something to show for it afterwards...and not just another doo-dad or electronic gizmo....

Now, for those of you with small children, you may look at the glass, and think "UGH! Breakable!" They have metal ones. All metal, except for the chimney. You do not have to have one of the big shades, those are just for "pretty" :-), but the metal lamps can be very contemporary, too. So if you aim for the more modern, maybe consider one of those (they also have the advantage of being not as expensive as some of the large glass ones, too).

I was fortunate, and lucked into an estate sale nearby this fall. I got two Aladdin lamps, for under $45. Yeppers. One is no longer in production, the other was a simple metal one. I already have one lamp, with the nice big shade, it is a standing glass one. I got the two 'sale' lamps refurbished by a friend (thank you, T!), and so now they are "set to go" aside from needing chimneys (got to remember to pull some of those out of the shop storage, and buy some more to replace them there). Sometimes, you can find some great deals on them, but I'm not willing to count on it, either. Staying warm is far more important.

It is important to remember, that being warm, especially at this time of year, is *not* a luxury. It can--and is--a case of life or death, for a great many people. After the Christmas Eve blizzard we had out this way, there were several people who froze to homes, in their cars, or who got out of their cars and walked for help. We forget about prepping our cars, many many times. After all, we're just "driving around town". But when that is 20-30 miles...are you going to be able to walk 20-30 miles? In driving snow? Blistering heat? What about if you have children? Are you prepared for them, too? Folks, it doesn't take much to pay attention to the weather. If you are even going for a "short drive", go prepared. Wear a REAL coat (at least take the thing with you!). Take, or wear, GOOD shoes. Not flip flops. If you are going to the pool across town, carry the flip flops, and wear your decent tennis shoes. I actually carry a pair of good walking shoes and socks in the car at all times, since I don't generally wear them around the house. We keep 2Ls of water in the car, too, as well as some surplus Army blankets, extra diapers/wipes, etc. We need to replace the food and toilet paper we had in there. Some of those 'aluminum foil' space blankets, and some sort of orange hunter type gear, also good, as for catching the eye of potential rescuers. Matches, or a good decent lighter. Shoot, you can use your car to survive, if you just know how. If you survive and the car doesn't, well, you can replace the car, you *cannot* replace YOU. You may have to take a loss on the car, but I'd rather rip up my seats for using the seating material as insulation/fire starter, burn the tires, etc, than to freeze to death in an immaculate car.

Do any of you parents remember that couple who got stuck on the mountains back before Christmas? Totally unprepared, they spent three days (I believe up there). It was not the first time they'd gotten stuck, either. And they were *still* unprepared. I am sorry, but that is just plain STUPID. There are times, I think Darwin actually had a point. Really. You prepare your car, you prepare your home, you prepare your family. Make sure you have the things in your car you need, if you get stranded. Yes. It will require some planning on your part. Consider just putting a rubbermaid tote in the trunk/back end of the car, and keep it there. Rotate it seasonally. Clean it out, and make sure that you have the things that you need in it. I don't want to find out that one of you didn't prepare, and ended up getting caught in a snowbank, and froze to death in your car because you weren't prepared. No one "PLANS" to get stuck in a snowbank. No one *plans* to end up stranded on a back country road during the dead winter, where there is no cell service (and yes, there *are* places like that). But it *can* happen. It can happen to you. To your mother. To your husband. To your teenaged son or daughter. People kind of make fun of the Boy Scouts, with their "Be Prepared" motto, but it is TRUE. Be prepared. *THINK*--if I got stranded, what would I *have* to have? Food, water, shelter, warmth (at this time of year). Make sure you have that. Or can get to it (and going out in a light jacket or just a sweater, clogs with no socks or light cotton ones, etc, is *not* going to make for a good hike to find help, if you need to walk a ways...)...

Take care, and be prepared....

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