Apartment heating

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Apartment heating

Post by woodsghost » Sun Feb 24, 2019 9:04 am

My wife, daughter, and I lost electricity to our apartment for 6.5 hours last night. We have experienced this several times before (so far, always less than 8 hours). Temps were down around 33F to 12F. Very high winds (30-50 MPH gusts, 15-20 MPH sustained). So a buddy and I (both apartment dwellers) started discussing heating an apartment without relying on the local infrastructure.

His idea was to get a battery bank with solar charge capability and an electric heater. I"d assume a 12v heater (maybe 24v?). His goal is to keep 1 room at a livable temp for 12 hours. While I think it would work well, I suspect the cost in batteries and space would be significant? And getting solar for an apartment would be difficult, especially if one does not have a deck or roof access. I"m betting a wind generator could be stuck outside a window and camped down. In Nebraska, wind is a pretty reliable source of energy. And really, I have no idea what kind of amp hours an electric space heater would need. I guess I"d have to read a manual? He was thinking one could safely use heat, lighting, and cell charging off a battery bank for 12 hours.

My own goal is to keep 1 room heated to a livable temp, but potentially for a much longer time. My thought was to use a propane heater. From what I've read briefly last night and this morning, propane carries a threat of carbon monoxide. Also, what I read said some heaters can be used safely indoors for limited periods of time. So my thought was to run propane heat, follow manufacturer's guidelines, and eventually build a battery bank for light, cell phone charging, and heat if I need to give the propane a break. Right now I"m thinking candles and propane would give needed light and heat, and just keep some extra cell batteries for comms. (Also, I"ll need a way to charge ham radios, but for now, I think have a bunch of 3000+mA batteries for HTs is the quick/cheap/portable solution to that problem).

But I'm very interested in what you all say. Before I go recommending different things or pursuing any options, I"d like to know what those more knowledgeable and experienced than I am have to say. Any thoughts on what could be done safely? What could be done cheap? What could be done quickly? I don't need "perfect" solutions. I am interested in solutions which would work and I can pass along to my friend and also discuss with my wife. "Variety" is the spice of life?

Thanks for any advice!
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by Zed Hunter » Sun Feb 24, 2019 9:48 am

Propane heaters even the catalytic type also pose a high fire hazard. Having a sealed vent out a window from a closed stove of some type would be preferable. Candles or wind up flashlights for lighting. You can live without the other mentioned tech.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by flybynight » Sun Feb 24, 2019 9:59 am

During days long ice storm caused power loss. My son in law put up a small tent in the warmest room of their place . Sleeping bags and multiple blankets plus the smaller enclosed space kept warmer by their combined body heat allowed them to weather the cold til power was returned, When not in the tent they just dressed as if they were outside.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by grennels » Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:04 am

We have been running a non-vented propane heater 24/7 for years. Zero issues.
We run a CO detector. Never gone off. Now, we live in a 110 year old farm house,
so it "breathes". Crack a window in the room you are heating with propane if it worries you.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by grennels » Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:05 am

Risk of fire has nothing to do with vented vs unvented.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by grennels » Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:08 am

Shot 'em, now I'm gonna hang 'em, then I'm gonna burn 'em!
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by CrossCut » Sun Feb 24, 2019 12:19 pm

I'll second the portable unvented heater suggestion, for an apartment maybe one of the Mr. Heater Buddy heaters that run off the 1 lb cylinders. Or at least, can't think of a safer method to provide 9-18k BTUs of heat in a safer manner in an apartment. Electric heat with wind or solar isn't a solution for sure, requires too many amps.

We've also been using unvented propane heaters as the primary heat for our 600 sq ft cottage for almost 20 years, and like grennels ours isn't overly airtight either. We leave a window barely cracked, like 1/8 to 1/4 inch, when we go to bed as well. Two 30k BTU ones, even with both running on high the CO detector never makes a peep. Our little 9k Buddy heater pulls double duty as the outhouse and ice shanty heater, never a problem. All the modern ventless heaters have oxygen depletion sensors, all they need for clean burning (producing only CO2, water, and heat) is propane and enough oxygen - if there's not enough oxygen for clean burning (which produces CO) the ODS shuts off the heater.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by MPMalloy » Sun Feb 24, 2019 1:28 pm

Woods, et al.: One outage I had, blankets sufficed. Buddy heaters are safe enough for indoor use. Any sort of flame is not & never will be. I heard about using a tent indoors before. I have to stake mine down, so I guess I'd worry about the security deposit later.

Review local laws/ordinances/regulations about the storage of fuels (propane) inside multi-family housing. Just know what they say. That's all.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by majorhavoc » Sun Feb 24, 2019 2:42 pm

You guys are basically discussing my winter heating preps. I don't live in an apartment, but I might as well be: it's a very small (600 sq feet) rented house in rural Maine. Basically a cabin. The structure's sole heating system is a Rinnai direct wall vent propane heater. The Rinnai relies on household current to run the igniter and fan, so it's out of commission during a power outage.

While I have a small (3500 watt) gas generator that can power the Rinnai and some lights during a power outage, my back up heat source is a Mr. Buddy heater (standard model, not the Big Buddy). Yes, I have actually used it to heat my small house during a winter power outage. It does a tolerable job: keeps the overall interior temperature in the mid to high 50's. Chillier than I'd like, but I'm not freezing to death and my pipes aren't in danger of bursting. If you camp out right next to it, you're nice and warm.

I have a carbon monoxide alarm, otherwise I wouldn't trust the Mr. Buddy indoors. Even though it supposedly has a low O2 or some such sensor that shuts if down if it's not operating optimally.

Two other accessories I definitely recommend for this kind of set up: a propane hose and regulator to run the Mr. Buddy off the 15lb tank on your gas grill, and a bulk fill adapter so you can refill your 1lb canisters off the aforementioned 15lb tank. I've never actually had to use the hose/regulator. But in case I ever do, I made an pass-through insert for my casement window out some styrofoam packing material. It allows me to run the hose through the window closest to my gas grill with very little heat loss. If you connect your Mr. Buddy to a large propane tank, you definitely want to keep that tank outside. If your set up doesn't allow that, stick with the 1lb canisters.
Last edited by majorhavoc on Mon Feb 25, 2019 11:16 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by Stercutus » Sun Feb 24, 2019 3:38 pm

We use several large oil lamps. These put out about 3500 BTUs each. This won't keep you toasty but will keep from freezing to death.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by JackBauer » Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:02 pm

We lost our hot water heating boiler for about a week after Sandy. Power for about two weeks. We stayed at house for several days before hitting Scranton for a refresher/normalcy.

During our house bugin we used the large Mr Heater Buddy which took the chill out of most of the house. Ran it with both standard one pound propane tanks and also with the 20 pound barbeque tanks using the adapter hose/regulator.

We had working CO monitors throughout the house and nary a beep.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by Halfapint » Sun Feb 24, 2019 11:07 pm

Years ago when we lost power we used plastic sheeting to enclose a room that had a fireplace (not a forced air type) and just kept a small fire going all the time the rest of the house had a couple small propane heaters to keep it above freezing. It worked well, but no idea.

In an apartment I would probably use a heater buddy because well they work and as everyone here has said, they’ve run them a lot themselves.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by raptor » Mon Feb 25, 2019 12:43 am

Using a DC 12 volt system would be very inefficient. A wind generator as long as there is wind is always preferable to solar cells. Wind power will work 24/7 solar panels only work during the day and when not covered by snow.

1 watt of power will produce 3.41 btus. So let's look at a typical 5000 btu space heater. It needs about 1,500 watts to produce this heat. So 1500/ 12 volts means you need 125 amps for an hour of heat. That is about all of the power that an 8D sized battery can discharge without damage.

Obviously having a battery bank of 8D batteries takes up a lot of space. You could offset this with a wind generator. However a wind generator that produces 125 amps is not going to small, easy to mount and remove at will. Again it could be done but as you can see this is what it takes to get 5,000 btu.

Now if you had a small generator this power output is easy to sustain assuming you have gasoline.

That brings us back to propane and kerosene heaters.
A Mr. Heater will easily produce more than 5000 btus. Attach it to you your BBQ bulk tank and it will run for hours. Obtain a free standing propane heater and can easily have 30,000 btus of heat. Obviously the more btus you make the heater produce, the shorter the life span of the fuel in that bulk tank.

In short look at a propane heater, a BBQ 5 gallon bulk tank and select a room you can isolate and keep warm. It must have CO detector, that is non-negotiable.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by RonnyRonin » Tue Feb 26, 2019 10:22 pm

I looked into propane as a backup heatsource but decided on kerosene instead. I probably should have done more math on it, but it seemed simpler and a typical kerosene heater claims 8-12 hours between fillups while a buddy heater on 1lb cylinders was much less if I recall. Certainly going to larger propane tanks would change the economics quite a bit, and if you have propane for backup cooking as well it would make sense to standardize. In my area used kerosene heaters are pretty cheap as well, I just picked up a nearly new one for $40 on craigslist.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by grennels » Fri Mar 01, 2019 7:38 pm

Kerosene does not burn clean like propane. Stink, soot and possibly CO. Really have to take them outside to light up and shut down.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by yossarian » Fri Mar 01, 2019 9:39 pm

grennels wrote:
Fri Mar 01, 2019 7:38 pm
Kerosene does not burn clean like propane. Stink, soot and possibly CO. Really have to take them outside to light up and shut down.

I have and use both options. Kerosene isn't as cheap as it used to be. But for steady even heat over a long period of time in a larger area, it's my choice. Definitely have to take it outside to shut down though and it's more maintenance intensive. I also have one of the Buddy heaters I use for other applications. It's smaller, cleaner, and more portable. It won't heat the same sized area and has a shorter burn time. The larger Big Buddy heater can connect to a #20 LP tank ( that should be kept outside of the dwelling) and is a good compromise but doesn't put out the same BTU's as my kero heater. Good CO detectors are a must with any form of combustion heating. The Buddy heaters have low oxygen sensors and tip-over safety switches but they should be a back up, not a primary. If I were in an apartment and didn't have storage for all of my toys I'd definitely choose propane.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by raptor » Fri Mar 01, 2019 10:30 pm

One thing not mentioned here is the fuel stability issue. A backup prep may not be needed for years. In the case of propane the fuel remains stable and usable indefinately.

Kerosene especially used for heater fuel does have long life but propane wins the longevity contest.

That and if you have BBQ powered by propane you also have a backup stove that has another use when its is not an emergency.

Still there is a lot a lot of room for personal preferences here.

BTW I am on my Wyoming office as I type this and the over night temperature is going to be -16. So backup heat is a timely subject.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by woodsghost » Fri Mar 01, 2019 10:57 pm

Excellent advice and I thank you ALL for your replies. Please continue with any more contributions. I"m learning a ton here. I"m also learning just how little I knew of heating devices other than "fire."
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by yossarian » Sat Mar 02, 2019 1:00 am

raptor wrote:
Fri Mar 01, 2019 10:30 pm
One thing not mentioned here is the fuel stability issue. A backup prep may not be needed for years. In the case of propane the fuel remains stable and usable indefinately.

Kerosene especially used for heater fuel does have long life but propane wins the longevity contest.
It's also worth noting that kerosene is hygroscopic. Any devices left filled for extended periods or storage containers not tightly sealed will absorb moisture and cause a dirtier, sootier burn.
majorhavoc wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 2:42 pm
You guys are basically discussing my winter heating preps. I don't live in an apartment, but I might as well be: it's a very small (600 sq feet) rented house in rural Maine. Basically a cabin. The structure's sole heating system is a Rinnai direct wall vent propane heater. The Rinnai relies on household current to run the igniter and fan, so it's out of commission during a power outage.
Is there any reason it can't be lit manually and a battery powered fan used for circulation?
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by doitnstyle1 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 2:01 am

I've thought about this topic as well. I don't live in an apartment building but I do live in a rental duplex. The unit that I have does have natural gas for heating purposes, but in the event of a long-term SHTF, I was actually thinking of a pot belly stove system out one of the side windows that properly angled will reach out beyond the eaves I just make sure I have triple wall pipe coming out of the window. I had done something very similar in an RV I was staying in over the winter.
Believe me extremely unsafe but I had to survive somehow. Proper fire training techniques apply. No going to sleep with a fire.fire extinguishers galore Nat easy reach. And escape routes planned who practiced. Had an emergency window by my bad that I can pop if the alarm went off.
I also made sure that I had concrete backer board at least 1/2 inch from the sidewall with enough space underneath to allow venting upward between the wall in the back of board. This prevented the actual wall of the RV from overheating and catching fire. I'm using a very similar design in my tiny house only it'll be much safer with a towel covering which reflects some of the heat.
I got the idea from watching a Marine stove with a stainless steel reflective surface an inch from the wall. He kept everything quite cool.
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Re: Apartment heating

Post by majorhavoc » Sat Mar 02, 2019 7:37 am

yossarian wrote:
Sat Mar 02, 2019 1:00 am
majorhavoc wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 2:42 pm
You guys are basically discussing my winter heating preps. I don't live in an apartment, but I might as well be: it's a very small (600 sq feet) rented house in rural Maine. Basically a cabin. The structure's sole heating system is a Rinnai direct wall vent propane heater. The Rinnai relies on household current to run the igniter and fan, so it's out of commission during a power outage.
Is there any reason it can't be lit manually and a battery powered fan used for circulation?
You'd have to ask Rinnai why they designed it that way. It's electronic ignition and I'm assuming the lack of a pilot light has something to do with safety. As to hacking in a battery powered fan, I don't think the landlord would be too happy about my doing that.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by raptor » Sat Mar 02, 2019 4:59 pm

majorhavoc wrote:
Sat Mar 02, 2019 7:37 am
You'd have to ask Rinnai why they designed it that way. It's electronic ignition and I'm assuming the lack of a pilot light has something to do with safety. As to hacking in a battery powered fan, I don't think the landlord would be too happy about my doing that.
[/quote]

Is it direct wired? If not a battery and an inverter should keep it running.

The electric ignition is odd but I guess since it has a fan it is simpler than piezoelectric ignition.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by majorhavoc » Sat Mar 02, 2019 5:44 pm

raptor wrote:
Sat Mar 02, 2019 4:59 pm
majorhavoc wrote:
Sat Mar 02, 2019 7:37 am


You'd have to ask Rinnai why they designed it that way. It's electronic ignition and I'm assuming the lack of a pilot light has something to do with safety. As to hacking in a battery powered fan, I don't think the landlord would be too happy about my doing that.
Is it direct wired? If not a battery and an inverter should keep it running.

The electric ignition is odd but I guess since it has a fan it is simpler than piezoelectric ignition.
No it's not direct wired; it plugs into a wall outlet. But if I go that route, I'll fire up the gasoline generator I've already invested in before I consider purchasing a deep cycle battery and an inverter. I agree however with what I think is the premise behind Yossarian's line of questioning: it's a shame these Rinnai propane heaters can't function without AC power. Gas fireplaces run without power, so why can't these direct vent propane heaters?

I strongly suspect it has something to do with the fact that the Rinnai is designed to safely heat your home while you're sleeping or are away at work/on vacation, but I don't know that for sure. It does make one wonder.

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Re: Apartment heating

Post by drop bear » Sat Mar 02, 2019 6:13 pm

As an addition tape a heap of those cheap car shade things on your windows.

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