Photo by Salt Water New England

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Reader Question: What is the best source of emergency back-up heat for the winter?


A Reader Question for the Community:
Even though it’s summer we’re trying to figure out the best source of emergency back-up heat for a New England winter. 
We have an oil burning furnace and a back-up generator in case the electricity goes out (which it does during ice storms). A couple of years ago when there was a cold snap; oil dealers were weeks behind with deliveries. Fortunately we were able to get a delivery in time but we bought a few space heaters as a safety backup to keep the pipes from freezing if it came to that. 
However, we just had our electrician come by and we learned that to run multiple electrical space heaters to keep the pipes and house warm enough (we don’t mind bundling up)  it would create a dangerous load on our current system without significant upgrades. We have a fireplace upstairs but it needs a new liner and insert which would run at least $5,000, and that wouldn’t address heating the basement pipes. We’re now considering buying a wood stove for our basement OR using Kerosene space heaters, but the latter would require we keep a window open on each floor during a time when it could be sub-zero outside with fierce winds.  
I’d like to know what readers recommend.

36 comments:

  1. “Red Stone, vent free gas wall heater, blue flame”

    Model # MD100TBA the BTA is 10,000- measurements 19 &1/8” x 14 &1/8” x 6 &3/8” @ 14.6 pounds.

    or MD200TBA the BTA is 20,000-

    or MD300TBA the BTA is 30,000- measurements 23 &½” x 26 & 5/8” x 8” @ 28.1 pounds.

    Many safety & carbon monoxide features built in, one knob thermostat control, 2 gas option, safety pilot light, easy electric piezo ignition, one stop universal gas appliance hook up kit from Mr. Heater, comes with feet attach to base, grate on front, automatic temp. blow fan inside. Many more features. Tractor Supply, Northern Tool, etc sells this.

    Our house isn’t air tight, we have the smallest size, it sits on hearth of gas fireplace- our house is 1,860 square feet- sprawling one level, with many windows that are not double pane. We did not pay over $250, we used a coupon at Tractor Supply. We have been offered $600 cash and will not sell, it is a jewel.

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    1. Thank you. Where do you keep your fuel source for it?

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    2. A gas line from alley to house, to gas fireplace piping.
      Darn good little heater- with floor fans, ceiling fans we can transfer the heat where needed, or not. More research on this has much info, you can even hang this on the wall in garage, etc.

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  2. First thing I would consider is having your back-up generator power the furnace. We installed a generator and made sure the heat would be on when the power goes out.

    Before getting the generator, we lost power during a winter storm (this is in Connecticut, by the way). A wood stove on the lower level kept the pipes from freezing and also kept us relatively warm for several days until power was restored.

    We use the wood stove daily during the winter and the generator when needed, for winter and summer storms. I think they both are assets in this area.

    Aiken

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    1. Our generator can and does power our furnace during an outage. We can also keep on the lights and use our electric stove. I'm thinking about times if/when both electric and oil aren't available. Your testimony about your lower-level wood stove is very good to know. May I inquire how many square feet is your home?

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    2. Our house is on the modest size - about 2400 sf - with an upper and a lower level.

      We had trouble one winter with oil delivery. Our driveway is long and on a slope, so trucks can have a difficult time if its icy. I decided to install a second oil tank (in the garage) and yoke them together. I've had this for several years and recently added a third tank (the garage is almost bigger than the house - a guy's dream). I never run out of oil and I buy it all at once when prices are lowest in the late summer/early fall.

      It's good peace of mind. In the fall, I get the winter's oil delivered and stock up on bio-bricks for the wood stove and we are ready for the long winter's night.

      Aiken

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    3. Thank you, Aiken. I had never heard of Bio Bricks until now. I'm liking the wood stove idea more. Having at least two oil tanks is also a very smart idea since over time it really can save money and give peace of mind. When you mention yoking them together, does that mean you don't need an additional hook-up to your furnace?

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    4. Exactly. We used copper pipe to connect the tanks and fed this into one line going into the furnace.

      I like the Bio-bricks. A lumber yard got the bright idea to compress saw dust and cuttings into burnable, wooden bricks. Cost seems to be about the same as chord firewood, which is much cheaper than oil. Moisture content is low, so they burn well and hot. No insects, no mess and convenient to use. I love'm.

      The wood stove works as a supplement to our heating system. I work from home and my office is on the lower level. I run the wood stove all day with the Bio-bricks to heat the lower level, then open the doors and vents to allow the heat to migrate to the upper level for the evening. Never cold or uncomfortable. While it's never cheap to heat your house in New England, we've cut the costs down so we never worry about where exactly the thermostat is set.

      Aiken

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    5. Aiken, thanks!

      What brand is your wood stove? The salesman today was pushing Jotul but it can take solid wood only, not BioBricks.

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    6. We have a Regency. When we bought it, it was in the upper range of quality, but not the best. We've run it every winter for over a decade with no problems. It's been a solid wood stove for us.

      Aiken

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  3. We don't mind dealing with firewood so we purchased a Napoleon Fireplace insert several years ago and it keeps our home a very warm 70 degrees plus. Sometimes we open the windows! We connect the built-in fireplace fans to our generator if necessary and we have a ceiling fan that helps circulate the heat as well. We can heat water and cook on the top of the stove even though it's not a full size top like on a free-standing stove.

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  4. Install a hybrid oil & wood furnace.

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  5. I agree with the first commenter except I prefer the Dyna-Glow Orange Flame Propane Wall Heater. Here is a description from their web page

    "Dyna-Glo wall heaters are the ideal choice for safe, indoor supplemental heating. This state-of-the-art vent free technology does not require a flue or chimney. These heaters are great for use in your home, cabin, or garage. Since these heaters do not require electricity to operate, they make an excellent choice for everyday heating, and emergency situations when the power goes out. Using infrared heating technology, objects are warmed first similar to how the sun heats & feels. This Infrared Wall Heaters burn with 99.9% efficiency, and operates on Propane only."

    We first installed one at our year-around beach front cottage on the Connecticut shore where power frequently goes out. There is a delicious warmth that radiates immediately from them. We keep them on "one-brick" when we are not there in winter in case of a power failure and have never had a problem with leaving them on when not at home. They have reduced our worry about freeze ups. Definitely worth looking into. Could be installed all over the house even in the basement near your pipes. They are cheap too--at around $200 for the largest unit, $127 for the smallest. Home Depot sells them and they are available elsewhere as well. They aren't pretty but one could build an attractive enclosure for them when not in use. They are also available for natural gas.

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  6. Our main heat is natural gas and we also have a gas range. We have a small gas generator, whose main task is to keep the gas heating working after storms drop trees on the electric power lines. Its secondary tasks are the refrigerator running, the basement sump pump working, and interior lighting. We do without the oven or other major appliances. It is important that a licensed electrician install a transfer switch for any generator one might use.

    That said, if our home’s electrical system were marginal, then as our first step we would definitely upgrade the electric supply and put in a new (Square-D) electric panel.

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    1. Our electrical isn't marginal by any means and we have a new panel box. When we bought our house it was still on fuses. I had our electrician clarify, and he explained that we can run electric space heaters but most of our outlets are 15 amps which means we couldn't have anything else running on them which is fine during an emergency situation. However, relying on electric for emergency heat in New England isn't a good idea.

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  7. A thick wool blanket and a bottle of Islay's finest.

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    1. I've seen some creative insulation techniques and know that keeping the faucets running can help keep pipes from freezing. I hadn't considered pouring something more expensive down the drain. ;)

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    2. Hook a "drop light" (bulb in cage with hook at top of cage) under the kitchen sink to prevent pipes from freezing.

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  8. I'll second the woodstove suggestion. My grandparents purchased one in about 1979 for their restored Pennsylvania fieldstone farmhouse. Installed it in the large fireplace in the dining room. It kept the house so warm that your eyes and nose felt like they were drying out. The floor in the room above (my bedroom) was always toasty warm, but sadly the aesthetic of open fires in that same fireplace was ruined was the stove was in place. In your basement, it might be just the things, and there is nothing like the aroma of wood fires.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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    1. I agree about the aesthetic because I love fireplaces but that is why we opted for the Napoleon Oakdale 1402. I love it because it doesn't look like a woodstove and we can still enjoy the beauty and sound of the fire. Plus, we were able to get the tax credit :D since it's EPA approved. It's rare that I purchase anything today that makes me feel completely satisfied but I am so thankful to have this insert!

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  9. Northern Vermont here, rural area. We understand winter and summer storms. We use propane for all of our heating. We have a Jotul stove (propane) in our basement and have an enclosed fireplace upstairs, using propane. We also have a stand-by generator (a godsend by the way) with a transfer switch installed by an electrician. Our house is pretty well insulated and is 1825 sq. ft.

    During an outage, the house is powered by the generator, and it will power the entire house sans the clothes dryer and other high-usage appliances, which we wouldn't use in an outage anyway. What I like is that the Jotul stove will heat even without any power or the generator...it just can't use the blower on the unit without power. So, essentially, that little stove in our basement (40,000 btu's) keeps our house and pipes very warm even without the generator, as it just radiates heat, and heat rises. But we use our generator for other items, such as the refrigerator, TV's, etc. We invested in a good stand-by generator and it's one of our best decisions. Sorry, I don't recall the brand. My husband doesn't have to go outside during or after a storm to set up a portable one and keep monitoring it. When the outage happens, it takes literally a few seconds for the transfer switch to switch to the generator, and we continue watching TV or whatever.

    As one other comment stated, it's rare these days when I'm completely satisfied with a purchase, but our generator and that Jotul stove was one of our best decisions. They work great, and in my opinion, are necessary assets when you live in storm-prone areas.

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  10. 1. i wouldn't run any gas or kerosene-fired heater inside, even with an open window. The carbon monoxide risk is too great.
    2. if you're concerned about oil delivery and don't have an electrical system that can handle space heaters consistently, I'm with a strategically-placed wood stove - a no-tech solution that just requires you to get a cord of wood delivered when the weather is still nice.
    3. for what it's worth, if the house has access to a natural gas line, we have a natural gas-fired backup generator that runs one of the two furnace/AC units in our house. upstairs gets cold (or hot), but the main floor and basement are taken care of. PS, plug-in electric space heaters put a pretty heavy load on backup generators, too.

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    1. We don't have access to a natural gas line.

      We have carbon monoxide alarms on both floors, but I still don't love the idea.

      I agree after reading comments here and exploring things online that a wood stove is probably the most elegant and workable solution. I have someone coming over tomorrow to give an estimate and see what's involved.

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    2. Heaters have evolved and the many safety turn off features required. Research is education of better choices. Wood heat also "makes" carbon monoxide or it wouldn't burn/heat.

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    3. Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, such as gas (domestic or bottled), coal, oil, coke and wood. Gas stoves, fires, heating boilers, gas-powered water heaters, paraffin heaters, and solid fuel-powered water heaters are all potential sources of carbon monoxide.

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  11. Replies
    1. LIKE!!! Muffy needs to add a LIKE button to her site!!!

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  12. What about Induction heating?

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  13. If you run out of fuel oil for the furnace, you can substitute diesel fuel — see:

    • http://www.btquarterly.com/can-you-use-diesel-fuel-in-your-home-heating-system
    • https://sciencing.com/about-6726131-diesel-vs--home-heating-oil.html
    • https://www.concordmonitor.com/oil-diesel-heating-replacement-14655666

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    1. Thanks. We were just discussing this as an viable option last night. When there were problems with the oil companies keeping up with deliveries two winters ago they were recommending people use Kerosene/Diesel but then that, too, was hard to find and very expensive. If we don't go with a wood stove we will store some diesel in the outside shed.

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    2. If you read the links, they say that diesel isn't intended as a longterm substitute for regular fuel oil, but simply a stopgap until you can get a delivery. And the idea of parking a few gallons of diesel, just in case, is a good one.

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    3. Yes, this is just for an unforeseen winter heating emergency which, in New England, is a guarantee.

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  14. Wood pellet self-feeding stoves can be cleaner than regular split-wood fired ones.

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  15. Hotel reservations. Seriously. One winter we lived without any heat in the house except for a Kerosun. It was 24 degrees in the bedroom Christmas morning. Never want to go through that again.

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  16. For freeze protection of your water pipes, I'd recommend electrical "heating Tape" (wrapped directly onto the pipes or tubing). This will be less of an electrical load than electrical heaters (hot air type). --- Mark

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