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A Candle Flame: Survival Heat x 3

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You will probably not freeze to death if a blizzard takes out the power in your area this winter but with all the buzz about possible EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attacks and massive solar flares the issue of weeks or months without power during winter needs to be addressed.  What can you do with a single candle flame, or better yet 3 or 4?  You may have noticed that the room did not become noticeably warmer at Uncle Joe’s 80th birthday party when all the candles were lit.  This is because almost all of the heat went straight up to the ceiling and almost none of it radiated out sideways.  Also, heating up a room or smaller area takes some time.

Two realistic situations come to mind where building a fire in a fireplace is not an option.  These would be: Stuck at work in a blizzard or in an apartment.  Let’s take a look at a grocery list of things you can do in an apartment during a long term loss of utilities in sub-freezing weather.  This will include among other things, using candles to heat food, keep warm, and melt snow for water

If you have determined that this emergency situation is going to persist for an extended period of time, you may want to considering doing the following right away.  If the water is running, fill as many sealable /closeable containers as practically possible.  You need to insure that you have plenty of drinking water.  Pick a room or rooms in your apartment where you will be spending most of your time.  Get whatever you need out of the rooms you will not be using as often and keep the doors to those rooms shut.  You and everyone else will probably spend almost of your time in the living room.  If possible fasten a blanket to the top of the “doorway” between the living room and the dining room / kitchen area.  This will help trap body and candle heat in the living room.  Next it is helpful to create a room with in the room if possible.  Ideally a large family size tent, but if you don’t have one,  use tarps or spare blankets if you have any to spare.  Some nylon rope will be helpful. The idea is to make a fort in the living room like you may have done when you were a kid.  It should ideally encompass at least one mattress as well as a table and chairs.  The tent will further trap and condense the available heat and it will be great fun for any small children because you can play “camping” (you know, sing songs, tell stories, play crazy eights, etc.).  Next move all the stored water (except the water you filled the bath tub with) into the living room.  Liquid water has quite a lot of stored energy that it will gladly give up when making the transition from liquid to ice. Large containers of water are like batteries to store heat energy.  They will store it when the temperature goes up and give it back when the temperature goes down.

Finally, at long last. Candles.  You may not believe that you can cook food with one candle flames but it is true.  I have done extensive testing.  You may need to read this:

This “article” also shows how to replace a candle wick.  By the way, there a lot of unsafe ways to cook indoors.  Cooking with candles is relatively safe.  Open flames always have the potential for danger.  I have several fire extinguishers.  You may want to consider buying at least one today if you don’t have one.  Next you will want to locate your one or more candle flames under the table.  To make sure the candle does not get kicked over surround the candle with 8 one gallon jugs of water in a square pattern.  Next place a wire rack from the oven on top of the jugs. The candle will need to be elevated so that the top of the flame or flames are about a half inch below the rack. A few small books should work. Next place a pot or pan of water over the fire.  Even if you are not cooking food you will always want to have a pot of water heating.  Besides the obvious (warm water to make coffee with) the pot of water efficiently collects the heat energy from the candle flame and spreads it out over a much larger surface area.  You will also want a large pot of water heating to add a cup of snow to dozens of times a day to melt snow for drinking water if the need arises.  Ideally snow should be brought in once a day at the peak of outdoor temperature and all but one of them initially stored in one of the unused rooms.  Food grade 5 gallon buckets are ideal.  5 gallons of snow = about 1/2 gallon of water. 

In regard to heating, a candle flame produces about 80 watts of heat. Three flames (240 watts) and a pot of hot water should keep you nice and warm sitting at the table.  A table cloth will be helpful to slow the heat’s trip to the ceiling giving you more time to soak it up.  The ratio of water to flames determines the type and quality of heat produced.  If you want bubbles and steam then use less water. Keep in mind that steam may produce condensation in cold weather. To avoid damp clothing over an extended period of time, enough water should be used to avoid producing steam. a lid on the pan will also help.  You may want to put the cooking / heating setup on the table but this will greatly reduce its ability to heat you and the air in your “tent”.  You will not be able to utilize much of the light from the candles if they are under the table but that’s ok.  Candles are great at producing heat but very inefficient at producing light.  May I suggest this flashlight modification?  The flashlight costs $5 and the simple modification will allow it to run over 700 hours with an alkaline lantern battery or over 300 hours with the junky battery included:

A few more ideas:

You will need some candles to make this work.  Preferably candles with 3 wicks or more.  Do you have candles?

Since this is an emergency we are talking about, it may be preferable to have one adult awake at all times to at least be listening to the surroundings and the radio.  So whoever is sleeping may want to put one or two 2 liter bottles of warm water in their sleeping bag or in their coat.

A large insulated water cooler with a spigot would be ideal to store warm water if you produce warm water faster than you are consuming it. 

Have you ever seen one of those 12 volt water heater units that plugs into a cigarette lighter jack in a car?  They are used to heat water or coffee in a cup.  They typically produce about 100 watts.  Any 12 volt solar panel up to 100 watts can be used to produce some heat.

I bought mine on ebay. Higher wattage water heaters up to 600 watts that are used with wind and solar setups are available here:

Here is an article that touched on the major topics related to camping at home:


If you would like to be able to hear what’s going on outside from the comfort of your indoor “tent”, here’s how:



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    Total 13 comments
    • Eggzactly

      Get a Alcohol burner on ebay for $8.50 and use 91% alcohol and get a sterno stove at Wallyworld for $5.
      And a dinner bell because ‘Now You’re Cooking!’

    • David Gordon

      If you can afford adequate provisions then consider this:

      • wirkbot

        Nice simple design but for outdoor use only.

        • David Gordon

          Thanks for taking a look! Did you not see the fireplace insert option? Still setting up website. Also I have a cabin/tent/yurt design with flue and venting in progress.

          • wirkbot

            I’m at work on break but I will take another look when I get home.

            I think high efficiency compact designs like yours will catch on especially with peak oil and the economy in the toilet. I can see this being ideal where Kudzu plants and melaleuca trees have taken over some of the southern states. These are millions of tons of free biomass waiting to be dried and burned.

    • DIY

      I made a heater from You Tube 3 clay pots 1long bltand nuts ssemble one inside the other 1 to 3 tea lights to heat the pots very hot to the touch throws much heat ….. my pc is so slow for typing look iup at You Tube for video how to make

      • wirkbot

        I have seen several instructables for those. Here is a link for one of them (not one of mine):

        I think the pan of water is the way to go in a sub freezing grid down situation since you heat the surrounding air due to the larger surface area of the pan and water in comparison to the candle flame plus you get to drink hot cocoa and soup. The terracotta heater got me thinking that it might make the pan of water a better space heater if a larger version of one of those flat terracotta bases for the pot was put on top of the pan. That would probably be the best of both heaters.

        • Pirvonen

          When it is cold you will not want to spread too much water vapour in your living space. The water will spread around fine, but as it condences on every possible surface, you end up with damp clothes, damp walls, damp hair, damp temper…

          Qualifications: I was a military instructor between 60 and 70 degrees north latitude for a number of years. Still live at 63 degrees north.

          • wirkbot

            So when you are not cooking food, enough water should be in the pan to avoid producing steam and also put a lid on the pan. You will produce heat but with minimal evaporation. There should be no problem when melting snow.

      • Eggzactly

        I made the same thing and used 3 tealights to heat it. Be careful though, I caught a playroom coffee table on fire because it got so hot the tealights melted and wax got on the table. I got those pots to heat up to 300* so it works. I am using a ceramic floor tile to put the candles on as a base and red bricks to support the flower pots. ‘Prepare for the Worst and Hope for the Best!’

        • wirkbot

          Good tips. Open flames should never be left unattended.

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