Last updated on February 23rd, 2018
How many of you have electric heat in your home, as opposed to oil or gas heat?
Given the winter season, for those of you who rely on electric heating systems, what would you do if the power went out for more than a few hours and how would you stay warm?
Here’s the problem, and why you might want to give it some thought…
For homes with electric heat (typically baseboards in every room which contain electrical heating elements), the heating coils require LOTS of electricity. In fact, so much so – that a typical home generator is not anywhere near powerful enough to supply the capacity that would be needed to feed them.
Many of these individual baseboard heater panels may typically draw 1,000 watts or 1,500 watts, or thereabouts, and a typical room may contain several of these. A home’s overall power demands for electric baseboard heat adds up very quickly and is well beyond the capabilities of a typical home generator – not to mention the other demands which would be placed on the generator as well…
So, what is one to do during the winter if you are stuck with electric heat and wish to do something to be better prepared for a power outage from a major winter storm or otherwise?
There are several alternatives, some more expensive than others, which you might consider.
You might consider augmenting your electric heat with gas heat. You could approach this as a major renovation, or you could consider installation of a single gas heater-furnace or several (depending on the size of your home).
There are many varieties of such gas heater wall units that are designed to attach to a wall (either exterior wall or interior). The least expensive option would be to select a heater that is designed to attach to (and through) an exterior wall in which the gas feeder line and the heater’s exhaust would be routed. These are called direct-vent natural gas heaters. If your street has a gas line running through it, you might consider the expense of tapping into it. However a probable much less expensive approach would be to sign up with a bottled gas company whereby an appropriate size gas bottle would be set outside and would directly feed your heater(s).
This project would cost some money for sure, but not terribly much (e.g. 30,000 Btu direct-vent furnace for ~$600 ea., plus labor, gas bottle installation, etc.), but would potentially provide you with the BTU’s necessary to maintain a reasonably safe temperature in your home during a longer term winter power outage. Not only that, but by augmenting your electric heat, you will reduce your electric bill, while incurring a corresponding gas bill – which may cost less $$.
Portable Propane Heater
If you don’t want to spend the approximate $1K – $2K to set yourself up with a permanent gas wall heater, then you might think about smaller portable gas heaters, but be sure that what you choose is safe for indoor operation (many are not).
For example, for a little more that $100 you might choose to purchase one or more of a portable propane heater like this model,
…which produces up to 18,000 Btu. Although my home is currently heated with gas heat, I also have this model (Mr. Heater) as a portable emergency solution (for whatever). If you go down this road, you will want to get yourself an extension hose which allows you to connect to a bottled gas tank such as the one for your BBQ grill. Otherwise you will be changing LOTS of those little 1-pound cylinders (which costs lots more too).
There are other portable heater solutions too. Just do your research and settle on what works for you.
Wood or Pellet Stove
Another obvious solution to your problem of reliance on electric heat during a power outage, is to utilize a wood stove or pellet stove. If you currently have a fireplace, be aware that if you use it (as is) for heat, you will heat up the room nicely, but it will actually draw the heat out of other rooms. A fireplace insert is the best way to ensure a more efficient way to heat your home.
Ideally you would purchase an appropriate size wood stove insert for your fireplace. This would seal off the fireplace itself while accommodating the exhaust of the wood stove. A wood stove can be AMAZINGLY effective, and you might be very surprised how even a small size stove can heat up the place…
If you don’t already have a fireplace in your home, then you could choose to install a stand-alone wood stove or pellet stove. This would cost more due to the appropriate efforts to properly and safely exhaust the stove to the exterior of your home.
A wood stove insert might cost between $1K and $2K depending…
When all else fails
Okay, lets say you don’t want to spend any money to augment your electric heat in case of power failure. At a minimum, at least consider this…
Since you could potentially be stuck in your home (assuming the weather is bad and the region is out of power for awhile), and your home will quickly get c-c-cold, be sure that you have appropriate winter weather warm clothes, very warm blankets, AND a very good winter weather sleeping bag. While your house will become very cold, at least if you are wearing quality insulated clothing, thermals for under your clothes, a well-insulated coat, hat, gloves, insulated socks and boots, etc., then you will probably not perish from hypothermia.
If you have candles, the flame from a single candle can make a surprising difference in psychology during the emergency, and you will be able to warm your hands. Just be careful that you don’t burn your house down…
It’s all about HEAT in the winter (especially for those living in northern latitudes). If your home is heated solely by electric heat, then consider what you would do in an emergency where an ice-storm strikes the region and topples countless trees onto power lines, bringing your section of the grid down, while travel is impossible and your are stuck in your home for days or longer until the power is finally restored…
By the way, if you have an oil or gas heat furnace, they still require electricity to run pumps and blowers. The solution though is simply procuring a typical home generator which can easily feed the relatively small power demands for this. Electric heat though — you’re outta luck.