Monday, December 23, 2013

Emergency Fuel Storage

In an emergency situation where there is no power, you will have the need for heat (unless it’s the middle of the summer), the need to cook, and the need for light. Each of these requires energy that most likely now you get in the form of electricity. If the electricity is down, you will need to use other forms of energy to stay warm, cook, and get light. In this post we will focus on fuels for heating and cooking and address lighting in a separate post.

Here are some fuel options and what they would be good for.
  • Coal – heating and cooking 
  • Wood – heating and cooking 
  • Propane – heating and cooking 
  • White Gas (Coleman Fuel) - cooking 
  • Kerosene – heating and cooking 
  • Charcoal - cooking 
  • Sterno - cooking
Other sources of energy would be gas powered generators and renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. These will not be discussed in this post. Here we will focus on the fuels listed above.

Coal stores well if kept in a dark place and away from moving air. Air speeds deterioration and breakdown, causing it to burn more rapidly. Coal may be stored in a plastic-lined pit or in sheds, bags, boxes, or barrels and should be kept away from circulating air, light, and moisture. Cover it to lend protection from weather and sun.

Hardwoods such as apple, cherry, and other fruit woods are slow burning and sustain coals. Hardwoods are more difficult to burn than softer woods, thus requiring a supply of kindling. Soft woods such as pine and cedar are light in weight and burn very rapidly, leaving ash and few coals for cooking.

If you have a fireplace or a wood/coal burning stove, you will want to store several cords of firewood.  Firewood is usually sold by the cord which is a neat pile that totals 128 cubic feet. This pile is four feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long. Some dealers sell wood by the ton. As a general rule of thumb, a standard cord of air dried dense hardwood weighs about two tons and provides as much heat as one ton of coal. Be suspicious of any alleged cord delivered in a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck.

For best results, wood should be seasoned (dried) properly, usually at least a year. A plastic tarp, wood planks, or other plastic or metal sheeting over the woodpile is useful in keeping the wood dry. Other types of fuels are more practical to store and use than wood or coal.
Many wood and coal burning stoves for heating are made with cooking surfaces as well. These are excellent to use indoors during the winter because you may already be using it to heat the home. In the summer, however, they are unbearably hot and are simply not practical cooking appliances for indoor use.

Propane is another excellent fuel for indoor use. It produces carbon dioxide as it burns and is therefore not toxic. It does consume oxygen so be sure to crack a window when burning propane. Propane stores indefinitely, having no known shelf life. Propane stoves and small portable heaters are very economical, simple to use, and come the closest to approximating the type of convenience most of us are accustomed to using on a daily basis.

The storage of propane is governed by strict local laws. If you are not sure how much you can store, check with your local fire department or City Offices. The primary hazard in using propane is that it is heavier than air and if a leak occurs it may “pool” which can create an explosive atmosphere. Furthermore, basement natural gas heating units CANNOT be legally converted for propane use. Again, the vapors are heavier than air and form “pockets.” Ignition sources such as water heaters and electrical sources can cause an explosion.

Many families have camp stoves which burn Coleman Fuel or white gasoline. These stoves are fairly easy to use and produce a great amount of heat. However these produce vast amounts of carbon monoxide which can be toxic. NEVER use a Coleman Fuel stove indoors. It could be a fatal mistake to your entire family. Never store fuels in the house or near a heater. Use a metal store cabinet which is vented on top and bottom and can be locked.

Coleman fuel has a tendency to evaporate even when the container is tightly sealed so it is not a good fuel for long-term storage. It is also highly volatile; it will explode under the right conditions and should therefore never be stored in the home. Because of its highly flammable nature great care should always be exercised when lighting stoves and lanterns that use Coleman fuel. Many serious burns have been caused by carelessness with this product. Always store Coleman fuel in the garage or shed, out of doors. Check with your local fire department on how much you can legally store.

Kerosene (also known as Range Oil No. 1) is the cheapest of all the storage fuels and is also very forgiving if you make a mistake. Kerosene is not as explosive as gasoline and Coleman fuel. Kerosene stores well for long periods of time and by introducing some fuel additives it can be made to store even longer. However, do not store it in metal containers for extended time periods unless they are porcelain lined because the moisture in the kerosene will rust through the container causing the kerosene to leak out. Most hardware stores and home improvement centers sell kerosene in five gallon plastic containers which store for many years. A 55 gallon drum stores in the back yard, or ten 5 gallon plastic containers will provide fuel enough to last an entire winter if used sparingly.

To burn kerosene you will need a kerosene heater. There are many models and sizes to choose from but remember that you are not trying to heat your entire home. The larger the heater the more fuel you will have to store. Most families should be able to get by on a heater that produces about 9,600 BTUs of heat, though kerosene heaters are made that will produce up to 25,000 to 30,000 BTUs. If you have the storage space to store the fuel required by these larger heaters they are excellent investments, but for most families the smaller heaters are more than adequate.

When selecting a kerosene heater try to get one that can double as a cooking surface and source of light. Then when you are forced to use it be sure to plan your meals so that they can be cooked when you are using the heater for heat rather than wasting fuel used for cooking only. When kerosene burns it requires very little oxygen, compared to charcoal. You must crack a window about 1/4 inch to allow enough oxygen to enter the room to prevent asphyxiation. During combustion, kerosene is not poisonous and is safe to use indoors. To prevent possible fires you should always fill it outside.

The momentary incomplete combustion during lighting and extinguishing of kerosene heaters can cause some unpleasant odors. To prevent these odors from lingering in your home always light and extinguish the heater out of doors. During normal operation a kerosene heater is practically odorless.

Never use a charcoal burning device indoors. When charcoal burns it is a voracious consumer of oxygen and will quickly deplete the oxygen supply. Furthermore, as it burns it produces vast amounts of carbon monoxide which is toxic. If you make the mistake of trying to heat your home by burning charcoal it could prove fatal to your entire family. Never burn charcoal indoors.

Charcoal is the least expensive fuel per BTU that the average family can store. Remember that it must always be used out of doors because of the vast amounts of poisonous carbon monoxide it produces. Charcoal will store for extended period of time if it is stored in air tight containers. It readily absorbs moisture from the surrounding air so do not store it in the paper bags it comes in for more than a few months or it may be difficult to light. Transfer it to airtight metal or plastic containers and it will keep almost forever.

Fifty or sixty dollars worth of charcoal will provide all the cooking fuel a family will need for an entire year if used sparingly. The best time to buy briquettes inexpensively is at the end of the summer. Broken or torn bags of briquettes are usually sold at a big discount. You will also want to store a small amount of charcoal lighter fluid (or kerosene).

Sterno fuel, a jellied petroleum product, is an excellent source of fuel for inclusion in your back pack as part of your 72 hour kit. Sterno is very light weight and easily ignited with a match or a spark from flint and steel but is not explosive. It is also safe for use indoors.

A Sterno stove can be purchased at any sporting goods store and will retail between $3 and $8, depending upon the model you choose. They fold up into a very small, compact unit ideal for carrying in a pack. The fuel is readily available at all sporting goods stores and many drug stores. One can of Sterno fuel, about the diameter of a can of tuna fish and twice as high, will allow you to cook six meals if used frugally. Chafing dishes and fondue pots can also be used with Sterno.

Sterno is not without some problems. It will evaporate very easily, even when the lid is securely fastened. If you use Sterno in your 72 hour kit you should check it every six to eight months to insure that it has not evaporated beyond the point of usage. Because of this problem it is not a good fuel for long-term storage. It is a very expensive fuel to use compared to others fuel available, but is extremely convenient and portable.

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