Fire..... the #1 thing that took us out of the stone age and a prime necessity for survival today.
I have always been a fan of redundant options. Always on a bare bones budget, I have often felt that adding options is better than putting all your eggs in one basket. At first this may not make sense, but bare with me, at a minimum you may walk away with something to think about. In this post I'm focusing on fuel for cooking, heating, and lighting in down times.
With that in mind and depending on where you are, you have Natural Gas, Propane, Fuel Oil, Kerosene, Gasoline, Diesel, Alcohol, and Wood. All of those fuels can cook food, light a room, heat a room, etc. Some do it much better than others, but in a grid down situation you need to consider them all and probably have a few redundant options. I obviously will use natural gas to cook with and heat my home as long as it is available. It's clean, extremely easy, and reasonably priced compared to other fuels. But with a disruption in service, now what?
Prior to my move, I was in the process of putting together a collection of Kerosene powered items, and stock piling some Kerosene. During my move I got a bit side tracked and I stopped prepping almost altogether because I had more important things to tend to. Well, I'm starting to get caught up and things where I want them, so I'm slowly getting back into the prepper mode. Kerosene was always my A#1 choice for a back up fuel.
Why Kerosene? Well first and foremost, if stored properly, it lasts forever. A very Close second would be the ability of most kerosene appliances to burn things other than K1. Third, it has some decent btu's.
As most of you know, K1 Kerosene is essentially a more refined diesel fuel. It is also a less refined version of Jet A Fuel. Between K1 and Diesel, you have Home Heating Oil, or as we call it around here, Fuel Oil. In a pinch, a Kerosene appliance will run on any of those fuels. If you have to resort to diesel fuel, add some alcohol to the mix in order to get a cleaner burn, especially if you are using it in something that uses a wick. Low odor mineral spirits also works well as a substitute and may even be cheaper when bought in bulk. You could also use Bio Fuel to run them if you wanted to go through the effort.
Back in the spring of 2008 or 9, I stumbled on to a Kerosene Heater on sale at my local Menards. They were getting ready for the spring season and had it marked down to $80. The box said 24,000btu's and that it would heat a 900sq ft area, perfect, that was the size of my house. So I bought it and two blue 5 gallon fuel cans. Went to the only station that I know of that has K1 in the area... and had a heart attack and filled only one can. Had to wait until my next pay check to fill the other LOL!
Right then, I knew this wouldn't be a cheap alternative to wood heat or even Natural Gas, BUT I was interested in seeing how it would perform in an emergency. So several months later, in the dead of winter I dragged out the heater and tested it out. Much to may amazement, it functioned 100% as advertised. It kept the house a comfy 65 degrees (3degrees warmer than I normally keep it) and the fuel (just under 2 gallons) lasted for 12 hours. I did this several times just to make sure the performance was repeatable. A side bonus to the use of the heater was a fair amount of light that it creates.
Another Kerosene appliance that is good to have would be a Kerosene Stove. Kerosene stoves have been around forever and if you dine in the finest of third world country restaurants you have a good chance of eating food cooked on them. These are simple wick based stoves, the more wicks the more btu's. They are built to handle the weight of a water bath canner without issues, and well insulated ovens are available the fit right on top for baking. They burn approx 1 pint of fuel per hour.
Kerosene lighting is also easily accomplished. From simple and inexpensive wick lanterns and lamps, to more expensive pressurized lanterns that put out tons of candlepower.
I used to despise propane. I never cared for propane camping accessories and I still feel it has a lot of draw backs, primarily availability in a SHTF situation. BUT, it has some good things to consider. Clean and easy are the first things that come to mind, and during good times it's readily available. I currently have (6) 20lb tanks, all except one were acquired by garbage picking and then exchanging them for a nice clean and full tank. I also have (4)100lb tanks that are full waiting for a rainy day. Thankfully, propane also has a shelf life of approximately forever + 1 day.
Do to my days of camping at Appleseeds, I picked up a couple of propane stoves. The first simply screwed on the top of a bottle. Not my favorite at all, but it cooked a lot of breakfast and made a lot of coffee in it's day. I then upgraded to a 2 burner Coleman camp stove which is a lot nicer to use. I also have a high output propane burner that came with my turkey fryer. The stand for that is obviously stout enough for a large pot full of oil and a turkey, so handling a waterbath or pressure canner is no issue.
When it comes to heat, propane is very easy to deal with. There are many types of heaters available with btu ranges from heating a small tent to a small house with everything in between. These heaters can be quite small and portable as well.
For lighting, you can go the camping lantern route, though you will go through a fair amount of propane and they are a bit noisy.
Alcohol stoves can be a real pain in the.... But they are out there and if you look in the marine world, you can find some quality stoves that will handle all your needs, but they can be pricey. What I do like about Alcohol stoves and heaters is the renewable resource of alcohol.
While distilled alcohol would best be suited for your internal combustion needs or liver therapy first, it is a viable back up source of cooking and heat if you are going through the trouble of running a still in the first place.
Wood is great and if your lucky free. It does add to the chore list and is a bit dirtier than the above examples, but when it comes to heating a house, it's hard to beat wood. If you choose (or build) your wood stove wisely, it will have a nice flat top so that you can cook as well. But wood does have draw backs.
The most obvious is that it is labor intensive. This is fine if your fit enough to get it done, but cutting, hauling, and splitting wood is a work out. I know this because the last 4 years we lived in the old house, we heated almost exclusively with wood, with a non-electric back up gas heater only used for back up. Depending on the quality of the wood, your labor can drastically increase. Soft woods burn up quick and creates a lot of ash. Pine or spruce will have you cleaning the chimney 10X as often.
Another draw back with wood is cooking with it in the summer because you will really heat the house up. Then you have the smoke, personally I like the smell of wood smoke, but in a post SHTF situation it may be a “dinner bell” for those who didn't bother to prepare for themselves.
I hope that left you with some food for thought. I have redundant options for emergency cooking and heating so that all the bases are covered. I'm using Kerosene, Propane, and Wood as my back up sources and will use them as the situation dictates. If I was locked onto 1 fuel source, that would limit my options on resupply sources, so I would have to stock pile that much more. The following is a list of links for further information on the subject.....