HEAT DOWN! 🔥

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 21, 2018

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Around this same time last year the heat in my digs quit on me.  I have a fairly typical boiler setup that runs on natural gas.  I'm not too good with doing mechanical repairs anymore, its tough with only one arm that works right.  I was never very good at it even when both arms worked though.  So trying to diagnose and repair this problem myself was out of the question.

http://daxushequ.com/data/out/47/img59894575.jpg I didn't notice the problem right away, I am pretty accustomed to and comfortable with the cold.  I just threw on another layer of clothing and figured I was getting cold leakage through the windows and doors because it was so cold outside.  Temps had dropped into the negative digits farenheit.  So I go to sleep all bundled up with an extra blanket too!  This is Eskimo style living, they about never got undressed through the winter.  They even had special flaps in the clothing so they could excrete or have sex without undressing. lol.

I woke up sometime in the middle of the night, I don't remember exactly the time, maybe 2AM.  My fingers were numb, they were outside my blanket arrangement and I wasn't wearing mittens.  So now I finally go check the thermostat, which is BLANK.  I think the temp was in the 30sF.

So I call the emergency maintenance number for the complex, and miraculously a maintenance man does show up in around 20 minutes.  He works on the boiler for around an hour and thinks it is fixed.  Sounds to me like it is on and the thermostat shows 38F, so I thank him, bundle up some more and add mittens and back to bed, this time in my -40F rated sleeping bag.  I sleep comfortably, but when I wake up the digs are still pretty cold, but not as cold.  The boiler was working but it wasn't pumping the water through the pipes too well.  So another call to the maintenance department, another visit and this time the MM upped the pressure and it did finally work properly.  That was the only emergency heat call last year, rest of the winter season things worked just fine.

I learned a few things from that experience though, the most important of which was that I was under prepped with NO Electric Space Heaters!  I never bought one of these in my prepping because I was always working on the premise of having no electricity available in a total collapse scenario.  So at least as far as heat goes, I didn't deem an electric space heater as a necessary prep.  I did however buy electric cooking gear in case I ended up homeless to use in cheap motels to heat up soup and so forth.  In only a partial collapse situation or your own local problems though with personal infrastructure, electric space heaters are a MUST HAVE prep!

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71AtCuqCdsL._AC_SR201,266_.jpg So after this episode I stocked up on electric space heaters.  I got the small ceramic kind with a blower as well as the oil-filled radiator type.  More on the advantages and disadvantages of each type later.

Besides that, over the summer I also experimented with methods of heating using FIRE for my Stealth Van Bugout Machine, SaVANnah.  This involves heating up Rocks which you can then wrap in a towel and shove into your sleeping bag by your feet to keep your toes warm or keep in your pockets as hand warmers.  You can find out more about these techniques on the Diner YouTube Channel.

Fast forward to this winter, and through December the heat was working just fine.  We had a pretty mild December though, and our first real COLD SNAP didn't come until January.  Heat operated fine until the cold rolled in, then it collapsed in the middle of the night AGAIN.  This time when I woke up with cold fingers, I wasn't so dumb.  First thing I did was check the thermostat, and it was down to 55F.  Not as cold as last year, I caught it early.  So now it was time to dig into the HEAT PREPS!

https://i.pinimg.com/236x/7c/fc/b2/7cfcb2d9ef46f6a5e25a716a2d5b8c22--radiators-gadgets.jpg The first thing was to insure I had a Warm Spot in the digs to retreat to if the temps became so low as to be unbearable inside the digs, even layered up.  To do this, I took my Oil-filled electric radiator and dropped it in the bathroom, a small interior room with no windows and put the setting on maximum.  The oil filled radiator doesn't provide Instant Heat like a ceramic one does, but because of its thermal mass once it is up to temperature it provides more steady heat to the room.  The bathroom is also a small space, maybe 100 sq ft.  I closed the door, and within an hour the bathroom temperature was in the high 60s.  I actually had to shut the heater off because it was getting too hot in there.  If I had to, I could bring my laptop in there with a makeshift desk, a cushion for the Throne (lid closed) 🙂 and keyboard out Doom without freezing to death.  I could also bring a sleeping pad/air mattress and bag in there if necessary, although since my best sleeping bag is good to 40F Below it's hard to imagine a situation where that would be needed as long as the electricity is functioning.

Next I took one of my small ceramic heaters and dropped it under my desk near where my feet rest while keyboarding out the Doom.  This would keep my toes warm, and the confined space under the desk allows only one outlet for the heat as it moves upward, directly past where I am sitting.  This would allow me to remain at my normal position rather than having to move the Diner Command & Control Center into the bathroom.  lol.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41SIzIJwvjL.jpg Finally, I dropped an Electric Blanket under my sleeping bag to radiate heat upward and keep me toasty warm through the night if the bag insulation wasn't doing a good enough job.  Also unlikely to need to switch this on, but in place just in case.  It uses much less electricity than the space heaters, and while you are asleep you can switch them off saving energy, money, and reducing your Carbon Footprint.

As it turned out however, I really didn't need to use any of the electric backup heating systems, because I have another appliance in the digs which operates on Natural Gas fed in by pipes, the STOVE!

After getting all the electrics set up, I turned on the two front burners of my stove to the high setting and just let them run.  Inside 2 hours or so, temps in the digs were back up to the 60s.  Before going to sleep, I shut the burners off to reduce the chance of fire burning the place down.

The gas stove is a relatively simply device which although it has some electronics added to it these days is mainly just a valve which lets the gas out at some rate, slow if you have the valve mostly closed, fast if you open it all the way.  Although most of them these days have an automatic sparking electric starter, even if your electricity is out you can start them with a Bic Lighter, or even Flint & Steel.  So during the duration of my heating woes with the boiler which lasted several days this time, the stove picked up the slack and kept the place warm and cozy.

In terms of getting the fix done this time, the MM was a bit slower to arrive on the first call, took almost an hour.  After perusing the varios valves and tapping in various places, he determined the problem was with a fan that does exactly what I have no idea.  However, he did not have such a fan and would have to come back the next day with it.  Would I be OK?  I said sure, no problem, the stove is picking up the slack here.

Next day he comes back with the fan and installs it, and the boiler does indeed seem to spring back to life!  At least it is making noises like it is alive anyhow.  MM leaves, and now I wait for the heat to come back up in the digs WITHOUT the stove burners on.  I go to sleep comfortably again in my sleeping bag, but wake up as usual after a couple of hours to take a piss.  This is an every 2 hour thing for me these days.  Exiting the sleeping bag, the digs once again feel a bit cool, and in fact the temp has dropped from when I shut off the stove burners.  So I call the Emergency Number to see if I can get him back, but the manager asks me if I can hold on until morning so I say OK.  I flip the stove burners back on here for an hour before going back to bed and surf some Doom on the internet.

Out with the old…

By the next day when the MM returns, the heating system has begun to actually work, the issue there is that once all the pipes are low in temp it takes quite some time for the boiler to get the whole system up to your set temperature.  Especially true if the pumping system is not working so good, which was the case for my system.  It wasn't just the bad fan, the whole system had more or less reached the end of its designed lifespan, around a decade.  Planned Obsolescence in action.  On returning to check out the problems, the MM announced to me he had received approval to REPLACETHE BOILER!  I got a whole new system!  For FREE! 🙂

Now, had I been a "homeowner", this whole episode would have cost me $1000s.  3 visits from the MM, one where he spent about 4 hours replacing the fan.  Cost of the new boiler, around $700 for this one I think.  5 hours of installation time with 2 contractors working on it.

While he was at it also, I had the MM fix my outdoor electrical outlet so my ceramic heater would work outside and I can sit in comfort on the porch even in winter.  He also fixed the SQUEAK my fridge had developed over the last few month, replacing the compressor motor there. By catching this one in advance of a complete failure, I saved myself the possible loss of all my frozen meats and refrigerated goods.  Again, I got all this repair work done for FREE!  You have to figure in these bennies of renting when you measure against the so-called financial benefits of "ownership".

Getting back to the main topic here of heating, had my gas AND electric not been operating, I have a Plan C of my indoor safe kerosene heater, and a Plan D of making an outdoor fire on the porch to heat up rocks to bring inside as hand and foot warmers and sleeping bag warmers.  I hope never have to go all the way to Plan D.

…and in with the new!

What this also should tell you is how generally unlivable most McMansions will be after SHTF Day arrives.  Even if you are still getting NG or are running your heat off your own propane tank, the various fans, pumps and solenoids that control these boiler systems WILL give out on you, in all likelihood inside around 15 years.  In my case, not only were the fan and pump bad, the tank itsef was corroded through which is why the whole thing had to be replaced.  Acidic water in this neighborhood.

http://www.logcabininteriors.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/impressive-rustic-log-cabin-ideas-using-black-river-stacked-stone-fireplace-with-wooden-mantel-shelves-across-unfinished-wood-for-kitchen-storage-cabinets-decoration-600x450.jpg If you want a resilient heating system, it should be as simple as possible, aka a Fireplace/Wood Stove arrangement.  However, most McMansions aren't built in a way where such an arrangement would be very efficient at keeping the whole place warm.  Too many rooms and the heat wouldn't circulate without some type of forced air blower system, once again adding complexity and hardware provided by industrial manufacturers.

What you really want in terms of a dwelling is an open space where the fireplace can do its work heating the whole main room, and an open upstairs Loft space where the heat flows upward to naturally without obstacles.  You can add to this one big ceiling fan to circulate the warm air back down again to keep a more even temperature for the whole dwelling.  The only thing one of those needs to operate is an electric motor, and there are plenty of those around to scavenge for years to come from automobiles, power tools etc..  However, even without the ceiling fan, an open space arrangement works the best for wood heating.

The best form of dwelling for this purpose is a Dome which needs no interior walls to hold upt the ceilings and roof.  However, few homes are built in suburbia as domes, so this choice isn't too generally available unless you build one yourself.  Options include Geodesic Domes and Monolithic Concrete Domes, and they can go from lightweight and portable to heavy duty and able to stand up to an F5 Tornado or a CA Wildfire.

https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/809203a1-d0d8-493c-9dc5-776864900dd6/66026_medium.jpg  Other important factors to consider in heating your home are the Insulation, Thermal Mass & Total Volume of the home. Smaller the better, and these days McMansions are built to grandiose proportions that NOBODY needs to live in.  I have many folks I know with McMansions that have living rooms ALONE large enough to house a half dozen people, and then there are the other 10 rooms in the 5000 sq ft behemoth.  It's beyond ridiculous how large some of these dwellings have become.  You can easily house and raise a family of 4 in a 1000 sq ft dwelling.  Typical Pioneer Cabins were around 600 sq ft, and often these folks had 6 kids growing up in them.

Insulation is one area where the Age of Oil provides advantages.  Modern foam core insulation is fabulous for keeping temps outside that are either too hot or too cold from infiltrating the dwelling.  You also don't want too many windows, even double pane glass, because there is always leakage around the seams.  Shutters on the outside are good to have, as well as drapes inside for further insulation around the windows.

If you have a large thermal mass inside the dwelling, this can help offset temperature changes throughout the day, hot or cold.  A large brick fireplace/stove arrangement is probably the simplest thermal mass arrangement you can set up.  You heat the bricks up with fire when it's cold, then they will radiate heat into your dwelling even after the fire is extinguished.  You seal up your dwelling with shutters and drapes to retain the heat when the fire is not burning.  Similarly, you can drag cool night air through the chimney to cool it down with a fan, and this will help keep your digs cool during the day if you seal up.

Even better on the thermal mass level are the Monolithic Domes, where the whole structure provides the mass and is insulated from outside temperature changes with polyurethane blow foam.  Such structures also have little leakage between the outdoor and indoor environments.

Whatever system you choose for heating your dwelling, the main thing is to keep it as simple as you can without reliance on Industrial Age technology.  To keep your total energy costs down, the smaller the better on the total size of the dwelling.  With creative design, you can partition off areas that really NEED heat, and those that don't.  Your kitchen and bathrooms and anywhere with water pipes will need heat, most of the rest of the rooms dont need it except for comfort.  Keep all your rooms with water pipes flowing into the core of the building.

Regardless of your setup, you will always need a source of fuel if you live in a cold climate, which most people in North Amerika do these days.  In fact over this winter so far, it has been colder in places like Norfolk, VA than in Palmer, AK where I live.  You have a primary source, usually natural gas or oil.  A secondary source, the electric grid.  Generally your last resort in the typical dwelling is wood, but it has to be available in the neighborhood, and most suburban locations don't have too much of it left.  So you might have to start burning your furniture on those cold winter nights when the Polar Vortex comes to your neighborhood. lol.

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