If you haven’t started already, you should be in the habit of stocking up on firewood year-round. Chop your trees into manageable pieces and create a pile either in a woodshed or covered with a tarp in a dry area. This pile will serve as your main heat source if and when there is a power outage that leaves you in the cold.
That’s Plan A.
Now let’s talk about Plan B.
When that power outage lasts a little longer than expected and your access to the outside world is blocked by an avalanche or fallen trees, you’ll need to get innovative around the homestead in order to keep warm (and alive). Lucky for you, creating heat sources out of unconventional materials is actually not too hard when you live out in the middle of nowhere.
With ample space, a couple gallons of kerosene, and that forward-thinking survivalist attitude, keeping toasty will be no problem.
Let’s look around your immediate vicinity and identify ways to transform everyday materials from nuisances to lifesavers!
1. A Brush Pile
Over the course of gardening and farming season, you accumulate branches, shrubs, and dry leaves that you might not know what to do with. New solution: start a Brush Pile.
- Designate a wide-open space to start your pile.
- Chuck all of your yard/homestead waste into a pile, building a dome-type structure.
- When it comes time to burn, create a little cave in the pile.
- Fill this cave with an easy-to-burn material such as cardboard or a bail of hay–which you can soak in kerosene or gasoline if you’re dealing with a large-scale pile.
- Light a paper towel or piece of paper and ignite your flammable material. Viola!
Result: Your brush pile will smolder for hours and hours creating a fantastic source of heat!
Do: Take extra precaution in terms of space. Fires can unexpectedly jump or be spread by wind.
Don’t: Include any pieces of wood or shrubs with nails–you don’t want them to be hidden in the forest floor for you to step on later.
For more instruction, check out this in-action brush pile burn video:
2. Tree Stumps
This heat-source method also removes your tree stumps from the ground, creates a nice little cooking area, and feels like a science project…
- Manually or electrically drill a hole in the center of the stump–big enough to fill with flammables.
- Drill 3-4 more holes at the base of the stump into the roots/earth so that they intersect and create a tunnel system with the top hole.
- Soak a long paper towel in kerosene and let it fall into the top hole with some material stick sticking out of the top-like a candle wick.
Result: This tree stump will eventually smolder like an oven–but with heat emanating out from all sides so that you and your family can gather round to warm up.
Do: Once the stump has disintegrated, keep the fire pit going with some flammable material like cardboard or shrubbery.
Don’t: Douse the stump in kerosene or gasoline.
Watch one of the pro’s burn a tree stump:
3. Old Furniture
Desperate times call for desperate measures, folks. Take the kitchen table, the kids beds, the TV stand, and get ready to set them ablaze to create a long-lasting heat source.
- Get a hammer and remove as many nails and screws as you can. This will disjoint the furniture to make it easier to burn in a pile and will remove any hazards that you might step on later.
- Sand it down, if you have time. There is often varnish on your furniture that can create some unhealthy fumes. However, if you’re in a rush, just wait until the initial fire is up and running to gather round–the bad fumes will have burned off by then.
- Pour on the kerosene! Then, light a towel, t-shirt, or anything flammable and ignite.
Result: A long-lasting bonfire!
Do’s: Create a burn space for your flammable materials.
Don’ts: Burn furniture that is mostly metals–you won’t get much heat off of that!
Precautionary Warning: Any couch or upholstered piece of furniture made before the year 2000 is likely covered in chemicals. While these chemicals are highly flammable, they’re also highly toxic to your system. If worse comes to worst, put on some face masks and protective goggles so that you can stay near the heat source without being affected by hazardous fumes.
Sweep up all that sawdust from the bottom of your workshop and store it in big hefty bags or containers where the atmosphere is dry. When you run out of kindling or firewood, you can use this saw dust as the fuel for your Rocket Stove.
- Fill the base of the stove with sand, ashes or fine gravel.
- Pour sawdust into the stove.
- Compact the sawdust by pressing down- this will make it burn more slowly.
- Directly ignite the sawdust and cover the stove.
Result: You have an indoor heat source and a place to cook.
Do: Make sure that the intake hole is not clogged–you can dig a little hole with your hand before you light the stove.
Don’t: We’ve got nothing. You can’t really screw this one up.
Watch the step-by-step here:
Things You Shouldn’t Burn
Garbage – When I used to live in Bulgaria, you would walk down the streets and see dumpsters on fire with horrid garbage fumes filling the air. The “out of sight, out of mind” principle was applied here where people think that it’s easier to burn the garbage than to haul it away. Even worse, in the winter these dumpster fires were nonstop as they created an easy heat source! More fumes, more smoke, more smell!
However, what the locals didn’t know is that an estimated 40-50% of household garbage is made up of carbon materials. When burned, they release carbon monoxide into the air. Inhaling CO is poisonous to the human body and can cause lots of long-term health problems!
Tires – Why do we always see tires burning in apocalyptic movies? Where did all those tires come from anyways? In any case, don’t do it. Tire fires prove almost impossible to put out and while that sounds ideal when looking for a heat source, you’ve got to remember that burning synthetic material like rubber releases toxic fumes that are harmful to your health. Both outcomes can cause some serious problems for you on the homestead.
You don’t have to be super organized to have the heat reserves lined up. In fact, you can be pretty lazy.
Too tired to run those pruned branches off to the dump? Make a brush pile.
Too much of a hassle to carry your sawdust out to the woods? Store it in big drum barrel in the corner of your shop.
Don’t have the energy to pull that tree trunk out of the ground? Leave it for a cold day.
The only thing you need to prepare is your brain with the skills to make the most out of what you’ve got in times of trouble.