The One Type of Emergency Supply We Need More Of...
We are now officially in the “dead of winter” with nothing but cold behind us and cold ahead. If you haven’t yet, this is the perfect time to re-assess the state of your winter preparedness.
One thing that’s easy to miss in your preps (even the most experienced of us can) is stocking up on fuel for winter safety.
Take What You Think You Need...and Add Half Again
Most of us know to put some fuel away, but few of us are stockpiling enough. So many emergency supplies—food, light, anything needing power—are just plain useless without it. As you re-evaluate your fuel supply, we recommend taking what you think you need and then adding half again, or more.
And it’s not just the amount of fuel that lots of us miss on—it’s the variety, too. It’s advisable to have two to three types of fuel-burning devices on hand for warming your home and cooking through winter months, for redundancy if nothing else.
With that in mind, here are the best, relatively indoor-safe fuels, and the critical information you need to safely stock up on them.
(It should be noted that no fuel is 100-percent indoor safe—always err on the side of caution and follow manufacturer instructions for your appliances).
A family living in a home with a large yard may have room for a good supply of kindling to power a wood stove or build a fire in a fireplace. Apartment dwellers may have no such option and must find other sources of fuel to heat or cook. If you can store firewood, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Rotten wood crumbles, smokes, and gives off very little heat.
- Moisture encourages rot, so you’ll need to keep your woodpile enclosed or covered to the best of your ability.
- Protect your wood with a shed, covered patio or carport, or at the least tarp or heavy plastic.
- Always wear gloves and be alert when collecting an armload of wood! Mice, spiders and some snakes (yikes!) are very fond of nesting in woodpiles.
- Especially if you chop your own wood, make sure it’s seasoned. Some firewood needs to dry and age for about a year to be suitable for burning.
- If you have trouble building a flame, a good fire starter can get it going in just a few seconds.
- Protect your chimney. Freshly cut wood still has sap in it, so it will burn at a low temperature and give off creosote, a black oily residue, which can clog your chimney.
HOW LONG WILL IT BURN? THAT DEPENDS…
A general rule is that hardwood burns longer than softwood. Hardwood, such as apple, ash, beech, oak, hickory, and maple, is more readily available in the eastern United States, while softwood, such as alder, aspen, elm, cedar, cottonwood, pine, spruce and redwood, are more available in the West. Woods that fall between the two and burn acceptably include white birch, hackberry, larch, and swamp maple.
ADVICE FOR SHOPPERS
Wood is most often sold by the cord or fraction of a cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet (4’X 4’X 8’). How long a cord lasts is completely dependent upon several variables: Hardwood or softwood? Dry or damp? Seasoned or green? Humid or dry weather? How many hours a day do you need to have a fire? How many fireplaces? Are you cooking on a large wood stove, or a small Volcano stove? The size of the stove will determine the amount and the size of the wood stored.
If you are storing wood for frequent, long-term usage or for emergency heat and cooking, you’ll want to order it by the cord or pickup load rather than purchasing the shrink-wrapped bundles from the supermarket. The supermarket option would be prohibitively pricey, as would pressed wood logs.
However, if you have a wood burning fireplace with no outdoor storage space for firewood, pressed wood logs are an option. In that case, try to buy your logs by the case at a discount store rather than one package at a time at the corner store.
With a little elbow grease and know-how, there's firewood available that can be had for cheap or even free.*
HOW TO GET FREE FIREWOOD
If you know where to look, you may not have to pay a dime for firewood outside of the equipment to cut it and the gas to drive and pick it up.
- Let people in your community know that you’re willing to haul away the wood from trees they’re having removed if you have the time, energy, and skill to cut and split it.
- You may be able to find someone willing to do this for a portion of the haul.
- State parks will often allow some dead wood to be harvested for a fee. Check with your state parks commission.
- Road crews and utility companies sometimes clear roadsides and leave wood to be picked up. Check to see if this is a possibility in your area.
In any case, be sure to get permission! You will probably need a couple of strong helpers along with the right equipment to do this type of a project.
If you happen to subscribe to a newspaper, you might want to recycle those papers by turning them into logs for your fireplace. There are many ways people recommend doing this and many who value its worth but there are also those who discount its effectiveness. You may want to search the internet for ideas.
Canned fuel won't spill, lights easily with a match, and is a dependable fuel for cooking or warming food.
This product is a gelled fuel made from petroleum or alcohol. It comes in a small can and is stable to store and use indoors—but remember to use in a well ventilated area. It won’t spill, lights easily with a match, and is a dependable fuel for cooking or warming food.
ADVICE FOR SHOPPERS
Most brands need to be kept tightly closed when not in use, as the fuel will evaporate quickly when exposed to the air. A good product will burn clean and odorless for up to nine hours as a food warmer or approximately four hours at cooking temperature.
Look for canned fuel that can be used with a flat-fold stove. It achieves maximum temperature quicker than other fuels, contains no alcohol, does not evaporate, and is totally biodegradable with no harmful emissions or pollutants.
For a cooking method that takes up very little storage space and is easily portable, heat tablets may be the way to go.
First used by the military, heat tablets are made of three different chemicals: trioxane, hexamine or methenamine (Hexamethylenetetramine). They light readily and can be used as fire-starters or to fuel small stoves to heat water or soup.
SO MANY WAYS TO USE THEM!
Two hexamine tablets will bring a cup of liquid to a boil in minutes and will continue to burn for twelve to fifteen minutes. They should be used in well-ventilated areas (especially Trioxane), and care should be used not to burn yourself by getting too close to the invisible flame as it is extremely hot. Protect your stove from the wind if possible.
If you find yourself without a stove, you can create a small one by cleaning a tuna can and punching a few holes in the side of it for an oxygen supply. Set the can on a level, fireproof surface, burn a tablet or two in it, and place your pan on top of the can.
These tablets are shelf-stable and will last for a long time. They do not evaporate, except for Trioxane, which will do so if there is even a pin-prick in its packaging.
For indoor use, make sure to use a newer kerosene appliance—they're generally safe for cooking and heating.
Today’s kerosene appliances for cooking and heating are safe and reliable. However, before you buy a kerosene lantern, stove or space-heater, check with your local building code authorities or fire department to see if their use is permitted in your community.
Purchase the type of kerosene appliance that automatically shuts off if it is tipped over or malfunctions in any way. Be sure that you use clear, certified 1-K grade kerosene. Always keep kerosene in containers specifically designed and dedicated to storing kerosene.
DO NOT mix kerosene and gasoline or try to store or use them interchangeably as they are not at all the same thing, and combining even small amounts can greatly increase the risk of fire or explosion.
When heating with kerosene (or any fuel), keep a window open an inch or so to dilute the small amount of carbon monoxide emitted by the burning kerosene to a totally safe level.
Also pressurized in canisters, butane is safe to use, burns completely with no residue, smoke or odors, and can be used indoors in a ventilated area. It provides about 84,800 BTUs per gallon so it would be close to the same time usage as propane.
Butane’s disadvantage is that it does not work well in cold temperatures, so you will want a back-up plan if you live in a potential cold climate. Some companies have created a mixture of butane, isobutane and propane to help alleviate this concern.
Our ancestors used everything from butter to shark liver as lamp oil. Much of the oil today is a clear burning, smokeless paraffin.
A clear-burning, smokeless refined liquid paraffin, lamp oil may be stored in the container it came in, or in your lamp to be ready for use. An ounce of lamp oil will last approximately five hours.
While it may not provide the ambience of a “hurricane” lamp, the 100-hour candle also burns liquid paraffin and is an excellent, affordable, safe product for providing dependable light for a long period of time.
Be careful to stock up on the right kinds of matches and lighters. Certain varieties are unreliable in emergencies.
Matches and Lighters
Fuel is a powerful, essential resource, especially in an emergency. Follow any owners manual instructions and the precautions below and they will help you be both safe and prepared.
THIS TYPE OF MATCH IS BEST FOR EMERGENCIES
Wooden matches are much more reliable than small-book matches as they are sturdier and don’t absorb moisture as readily. Even better are the fireplace matches with long "stems," which are safer to use for lighting wood fires, charcoal or appliances. Keep them in a tightly-closed container and they will last for years—or purchase a supply of Windproof/Waterproof Matches. These are designed to light in adverse conditions.
THIS TYPE OF LIGHTER IS BEST FOR EMERGENCIES
Lighters vary in their usefulness. The long-barreled butane lighters are good for igniting most things other than lanterns with very small openings and some of them can be refilled. Cigarette lighters, on the other hand, are much less useful, as there’s no way of directing the flame downward and it will burn back toward your fingers.
FUELS NEVER TO USE INDOORS (BUT THAT YOU'LL WANT TO STORE ANYWAY)
Coal is a fantastic source of intense warmth, but there are a few caveats you should know about.
THE PROS & CONS OF COAL
- Burns hotter than wood.
- Requires a brick-lined fireplace or a stove.
- Coal can be used in wood stoves and takes up less space than firewood for the amount of heat produced.
- Must be completely cold before being disposed of, as even a tiny spark, if you are not careful, can cause a fire to flare up.
- Messy to handle and to clean up after, and if you don’t know just how to load, shake, and rake it, your fire will go out.
- More difficult to start burning than wood.
HARD VS. SOFT COAL
Hard coal burns hotter and longer than soft, and any coal supply needs to be kept dry, preferably in bins, to be useful. Like wood, hard coal is available in the eastern states and softer coal in the west.
Charcoal must be kept dry to remain useful. One suggestion is to store it in covered metal cans such as trash cans, in a covered place.
Never attempt to cook with charcoal in your house because CO (carbon monoxide) can build up in your home and put you and your family at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Keep some form of a safe fire-starter on hand as well, as charcoal can sometimes be stubborn about igniting.
A 20-pound tank of propane would last most people anywhere up to or maybe beyond a hundred hours of outdoor cooking.
Propane can be purchased in small 16.4 ounce cylinders about the size of a lunchbox thermos bottle, or in the familiar five-gallon (20 pounds propane weighs about 4 pounds per gallon) tanks typically used with outdoor grills.
Like all liquid fuels, do not store propane inside your home.
Propane works well to power outdoor cook stoves or barbecue grills. Propane provides about 91,000 BTUs per gallon. A small two burner propane stove in which each unit has a 12,500 BTU burner (25,000 BTUs total) will use up a 16.4 ounce cylinder in almost a half hour at full power using both burners. It will take about 18 hours to deplete a 5 gallon (20-pound tank) with both burners using the full 25,000 BTUs.
Obviously, most people do not use their stoves at full power so a 20-pound tank would last most people anywhere up to or maybe beyond a hundred hours of cooking.
Gasoline is a must-have for home preparedness. Make sure you know how to safely store it and keep it fresh.
Normally gasoline that is kept at home for use in lawnmowers, generators, and other tools or appliances is kept in a red container to distinguish it from any other substance.
Gasoline’s shelf life is short, generally only a month or two, so you’ll want to rotate your supply and use it while fresh. For this reason, it’s not reasonable to store more than you’re likely to need in a month or two.
One way to do this is to empty your red can of gasoline into your car’s tank and refill the can every month or two. Gasoline is extremely volatile. Use it with much caution and only for your automobile or other appropriate unit that was designed to use it.
Final piece of CRUCIAL Advice
When storing fuels, know your substance and how to care for it and treat anything flammable with great respect. Anything flammable should be stored in a red container. This lets service authorities know that the contents could be dangerous if exposed to certain conditions such as high temperature, fire, etc.
*Image Credit: "truck load o' wood" by + Alan is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Two thoughts. First, a fire extinguisher is an essential component of fire safety. Second, when using any alternative fuel method, a carbon monoxide detector is another key safety component.
Depending on where you live, you may get free firewood by contacting local tree service companies. In many areas these companies have a lot of wood and may deliver it right to your yard. Be aware though, you may have to deal with some very large logs.
Fuel Sources -
I’m surprised you didn’t mention making paper logs to burn also. Might want to look into that.
I do agree with the point you have shared about Propane fuel. Storage tips for different types of fuel is very useful and informative.
Thanks for mentioning propane. Liquid fuel can be dangerous. Storing it correctly is pivotal.
I just want to note that Alder, Aspen, and Cottonwood are not great hardwoods but they are hardwoods. Elm is also a hardwood but tends to split poorly and have a smell that is unpleasant, but all have more heat per cord than softwoods.Anything with a leaf is a hardwood, If it has “needles instead of leaf” its softwood. Softwood contains more volatile substances such as pitch that make it potentially burn more dirty if not used in a “hot fire”. And in general softwood only contains 2/3 the heat of hardwoods by volume.
I disagree with your comment about the one or two month life of gasoline. If you can obtain ethanol free gasoline and use a stabilizer, like Sta-Bil, it will last at least a year. So, a six to nine month rotation is not impossible. I have sources for ethanol free gasoline and do just that. You can use the app at http://pure-gas.org/ to find stations in your area that have ethanol free gasoline. It is not cheap, but more convenient than rotating it every couple of months.
Gas has a much longer shelf life then one or two months. If you purchase non-ethanol gas and store it properly with a fuel stabilizer like Stabil or Pri-G it can last for a year or more. It is all about how the fuel is cared for.
I have been using Pri-G in non-oxygenated (non-ethanol) gasoline for many years and have used gas treated with Pri-G that has been two years old within my 2011 Suburban that produced normal running of my Suburban and other small engines. Personally, Pri-G makes other stabilizers look like water IMHO. I feel that Pri-G is about worth it’s weight in gold. The only thing I haven’t tried is reconstituting “skunked” gas with Pri-G, which it is suppose to be able to do because it actually stabilizes and reconstitutes the molecular bonds in gasoline. 55 gallon drums of Pri-G is the stuff used at refineries to keep fresh their huge holding tanks. The stuff is incredible.
You are absolutely right. See my comment above yours. I have had ethanol free gasoline stored for 18 months with Sta-Bil and it was perfectly fine. I use ethanol-free in all my small engines to avoid damage to their fuel systems. I also use it in my motorcycle when taking short trips and can get back home to refuel.
I have been using this method for over 20 years now to store gasoline. I use double the required amount of Sta-bil in 5 gallon gasoline plastic containers. It stores for 2 years with no side affects. I use it in our automobiles,mowers,generators, that have fuel injection and carburetors with no negative problems at all. It would even be better if you can find gasoline without ethanol. I here the PRI-G is better but have no personal experience. The gas is stored out of the sun light in a covered area where no rain gets on the containers. We live where hurricanes are common so fuel storage is necessary. We run a fuel stabilizer/injector cleaner through our fuel injected cars once before each oil change. Our mowers,chan saws,weed eater, and the like keep fuel stabilizer in them always. That minimizes injector/carburetor problems.
Thank you for pointing this out to us. I totally agree with your statement. You should never use fuel consuming devices indoors. I’ve made a change to this article.
I disagree with your comment in "Charcoal" about using it in the middle of a garage. NEVER use charcoal in any enclosed or semi-enclosed space. Even "adequate ventilation" will not preclude it from entering your home if the garage is attached. The comment about charcoal consuming oxygen is somewhat mis-leading because oxygen is needed for ANY combustion to take place and it doesn’t matter if it is propane, butane, paraffin, kerosene or whatever. they still consume oxygen to produce heat and any fuel consuming product or appliance can be deadly if used indoors without adequate ventilation. Best advice is to not use fuel consuming devices indoors.