I attended a class held at my church a couple days ago where we learned about and made emergency heaters. They don't cost much to assemble and they could make all the difference in case of an emergency. Since I think emergency preparedness goes hand-in-hand with self-reliance and frugality, I thought I would share what I learned. You never know when something like this could be useful, after all.
To make your emergency heater, you'll need:
- A new, quart-sized paint can with a lid. These can be purchased at paint stores and home improvement stores like Home Depot for around $2-3.
- A roll of unscented toilet paper (I say, the cheaper the better. I bought a package of the rough, store brand stuff for around a dollar. It wasn't hard to fit into the can -- others at the class had a difficult time because they were using their nice, multiple-ply stuff.)
- A bottle of unscented, 70% isopropyl alcohol
- A box of matches (I just learned that you can waterproof matches by dipping the heads in wax. Pretty cool.)
- A quarter and some tape (I suggest packaging tape)
When you want to use the heater, pop open the lid, using the quarter as leverage. Place the lit match or lighter carefully against the alcohol-soaked toilet paper. A small flame will develop. The flame only uses the alcohol as fuel -- the toilet paper shouldn't burn. If it does start to burn, that means you need more alcohol. To do this, replace the lid to extinguish the flame. Once out, add some more alcohol and light again. Once you've used this heater, the only thing that ever needs replacing is the alcohol since the TP doesn't burn. Assembling the heater is a one-time thing, really.
Important: if you're going to use this heater in a car, crack open the windows for ventilation. Even though the alcohol doesn't produce carbon monoxide, you still want fresh air in such an enclosed space.
The teacher of the class said that she burned her heater (to test it out) in her kitchen and it lasted for five hours. According to one site I checked, you can keep a car heated at 60-70 degrees for 24 hours with 4 pints of alcohol. These heaters can get hot, so be careful how you handle them and be sure to keep them away from anything that could catch (obviously). Another site I read suggested sliding the passenger seat in the car as far back as it can go and placing the heater on the floor.
You can also use this heater in your home in the event of an emergency. Since the area isn't as small as that of a car, the instructor of the class said that you should be fine without cracking the windows (if you're in a small room, it couldn't hurt to crack it a little). This small heater, of course, won't keep an entire room at 60-70 degrees, but it will keep the chill off enough. These heaters are great for 72-hour kits.
For under five bucks, you can create a heat source for you and your family in the event of an emergency -- and five dollars is a small price to pay for a little extra peace of mind.