In the best of all possible situations, you are at home and are going
to shelter there. As I said in Part A, my lady prefers to sleep in her
own bed. If you are in your own home, you should be able to sleep in
your own bed.
So what is needed to shelter in place?
You need to be able to:
- stay out of the elements, wind, snow, rain, sun
- stay warm when it is cold out
- stay cool when it is hot out
- stay clean and healthy
- stay hydrated
- stay fed.
If your home is undamaged, it is currently keeping the elements at
bay. Unless something happens to break your home, it will continue to
keep the elements out.
The most common forms of damage to a home are broken windows and holes
in the roof or walls. For windows, have some heavy duty plastic and
lots and lots of duct tape. When we say “heavy duty” we are talking
6 to 10 mil in thickness.
When you put this stuff up, you want it to continue to protect for an
extended period of time. UV rays cause plastic to deteriorate. The
thicker the plastic the longer it will hold up. You should be thinking
in terms of not being able to replace your broken glass for weeks or
In addition, the thicker plastics aren’t going to rip as fast.
Pick up some lathing. These are thing pieces of wood. It use to be
used behind plaster. When you go to put the plastic sheeting in place,
stretch it tight, put a piece of lath at the top edge, fold the
plastic down over the lath. You now have a sandwich of plastic, wood,
plastic. Staple through the three layers into your window frame.
Oh, remember how much you paid for your house or windows. Yeah, you
are going to put staple holes in it. Staying alive is more important
than the work to fill the staple holes later.
For roof holes, make sure you have a ladder to be able to get up there
and cover the holes in the roof. You can use a heavy weight tarp for
this or the same plastic used on the windows. Use the same method of
sandwiching with lath. Make sure that you leave a path for water to
drain off the plastic. Make sure that you have a downward slant to
all the lathing so water flows away from the plastic as it comes down
If you can’t get on the roof you are going to have rain coming into
your home. That water will destroy your home over time. Worry about
it but in the mean time, that same plastic can be used to create a
funnel to move the water coming through your ceiling off to a
If you are in a place where they have hurricanes, you might have
hurricane shutters. Use them if you can.
If your furnace is still working, wonderful. Turn the heat way down.
The fuel you are using to heat your home right now might be the only
heat you have for the next few months (or years).
My wife told me the other day that having the temperature in the house
under 60F during the winter was considered child abuse. I can’t find
any links to support that statement but it doesn’t matter.
Turn your heat off if you don’t need it. Figure out rooms that
can be closed off so that they don’t get any heat. Reduce your living
space. Then use your furnace just enough to keep the pipes from
freezing. While you might be uncomfortable at 55F, you aren’t going
to die from it.
Dig out a couple of sweaters and use lap warmers (short blankets that
wrap around your legs when you are sitting).
My wife works at the local school. In the winter she gets up, turns
up the heat, eats breakfast, gets in her heated car, drives to the
school where they have the temperature cranked to 72F until she gets
back in her heated car to drive home to complain about how cold the
I get up, turn down the heat to 55F, put on a sweater, close the door
to my small office and only heat that during the day.
She hasn’t acclimated. She never will with how she works. Add to that
her need to be fashionable, which precludes bulky warm sweaters and it
is a constant battle over what is a reasonable temperature.
If you don’t have a way to get more fuel for your furnace, 6 months of
winter at 55 degrees is much easier to cope with than 3 months of 65
degrees followed by 3 months of matching the outside temperature.
Prepare by having warm blankets, warm sweaters, warm clothing and be
prepared to wear them inside.
Don’t forget to wear a hat, even when indoors. It will help keep you
warm. Remember about keeping your core warm, and wear that bulky
sweater, or a down vest, so that you are retaining your body
heat. Fingerless gloves also work very well for indoors.
Your central furnace will stop working when it runs out of fuel. It
will also stop working if there is no electricity to drive the fans
and electronics that control it and move the air or water. Most
heating units are not passive.
You should have some sort of auxiliary heating method. Unfortunately,
many of the auxiliary heating units will kill you.
There are heating units that are rated for indoor use. They either
create no carbon monoxide (CO) or so little that it is considered “safe”
for indoor use. Many other produce enough CO that it will kill you.
CO is a colorless, odorless gas that will bind with your hemoglobin and
keep your hemoglobin from transporting oxygen. This means your body
doesn’t get enough oxygen and you suffocate.
Don’t kill yourself with carbon monoxide. Just don’t. Pick up a
battery run CO alarm from your local hardware store, and keep it on
when you’re running any indoor heat that isn’t built in (i.e. your
When a flame is fully oxidized it produces carbon dioxide. This is
nasty, but not as nasty as CO. Some heaters that work by burning fuel
are designed to make sure that everything burns cleanly. These are
marked safe for indoor use.
We have multiple forms of heating for indoor use. We have a propane
driven heater that attaches to a propane tank and is safe for indoor
use. We have a kerosene heater that is safe for indoor use. We have
multiple electric heaters, electric blankets and heaters for night
Indoor safe auxiliary heating units do not produce as much heat as
units that must be vented. Pellet stoves, wood stoves, and many liquid
fuel stoves all require venting to the outdoors.
If you are very lucky, your chimney has a thimble. Go get the
adapters today so that you can use that thimble in an emergency with
your heat source of choice. And spend the time to make sure it is
really a working thimble.
When we first moved into our home it was fall/winter. We hooked up
the wood stove to the thimble as it was clear into the chimney. We
started the stove and a short time later smoke was starting to fill
The former owners had installed a pellet stove in the fireplace. That
stove had been removed, somebody had tucked the exhaust pipe for the
pellet stove up into the chimney above the flue. But the chimney cap
was still in place.
Because we tested before the emergency I was able to get a ladder up
to the top of the chimney and remove the cap and let the smoke out
before we were in need.
Besides the normal sources for auxiliary heating units, look into the
US army H-45 multi-fuel heater. You can vent its 4 inch stove pipe into a
thimble or you might even be able to run it right up a chimney.
If you can’t, remove a pane from a window and replace it with a piece
of wood with a hole for the pipe to go out. Remember to insulate that
hole so you don’t ignite the wood where the stove pipe passes through.
The advantage of the wood stoves is that we have a source of wood that
we can burn.
Using wood for heat, the lesson from what happened
to the forests of Sarajevo?
During the siege of Sarajevo the people of the city were cut off from
most supplies. This included most fuel for heating.
The people didn’t panic, they were prepared for this. Most people
had some sort of wood burning furnace or heater. Most people had a
way to harvest trees.
Within weeks there wasn’t a single tree still standing. They had
all been cut down to provide wood for heating.
It takes around 10 acres of hardwoods to provide sustainable wood
harvesting for heating a home.
Just because you have looked out your back window and seen 100 acres
of firewood doesn’t mean you’ll have access to all of that wood.
Other people are going to want that same wood and it won’t take long
before your 100 acre woods is stripped clean.
I was told the story by somebody that lived through this civil war
and was in Sarajevo during this time period. I can’t verify his
story is true, but the leason is worth at least thinking about.
Where are all the old growth forests in the United
By definition, when Europeans arrived in the new world they arrived to
see old growth forests. These forests were so abundant and so dense
that pine, a softwood, was actually a harder than hardwood.
The colonists harvested this wood for many years. It was used for
building, it was used for cooking, it was used for heating. In
addition, much of it was just burned. The land had to be cleared for
Today there are very few old growth forests left in the United States,
most of them are on the west coast. I’ve seen a couple of them, they
are beautiful in a way that is difficult to describe. Seeing trees
that are hundreds of years old towering over you.
Out my back window are trees that are 30 to 50 years old. Trees on
the old land had trees almost a 100 years old. But running through
all these forests of the north east are stone walls.
A stone wall means there was a field next to that wall at some point.
Stone walls came into existence as farmers carried rocks from their
fields and dropped them in piles. There were so many that the piles
joined together to form walls. Later the walls were more carefully
constructed, but the first stone walls were just piles of rocks
removed from fields.
There is not a single tree that I know of in my state that is over 200
When people need fuel for heat, when they need fuel for cooking, all
that wood will be harvested faster than you can imagine.
Venting Your Heater
Some heaters can be used indoors if all of the smoke and gasses of
combustion are vented to the outside (i.e. through a chimney). But
what if you don’t have a chimney already? Then you need to make sure
you have stove pipe that will carry the smoke outdoors.
Stove pipe comes in many forms. Some stove pipe is designed for the high
temperatures of a wood or coal stove, while others are designed for lower
temperatures such as what comes out of a furnace. The third type,
and the most important, is the insulated stove pipe.
You’re not dumb; you know that stove pipes get hot. Just how hot?
Hot enough to cause a fire. If you take the 4 inch stove pipe from
an H-45 and vent it through a 4 inch hole in the wall, the
parts of the wall in contact with the stove pipe can burn.
You can replace a pane of glass in a window instead of cutting holes
in the wall of your home.
If you are using this type of heater in a tent, it needs a stove
jack. It will melt plastic tents/tarps but a stove jack will protect
the tent/tarp from the heat of the stove pipe.
In the same way, the insulated stove pipe is designed to be in direct
contact with flammable materials like wood. It is actually a pipe
within a pipe giving an air gap between the very hot inner tube and
the cooler outer tube.
If you don’t have the right type of stove pipe, don’t stick regular
stove pipe through your wall. You don’t want to survive the SHTF
incident and then kill yourself and your family in a preventable fire.
Just take a look at the number of people that die of carbon monoxide
poisoning and the number of house fires during power outages to get a
clue as to just how common this is.
You are a heat engine. Your family are heat engines. They take
perfectly good food and turn it into fertilizer and heat. Fortunately
they are pretty inefficient heat engines.
If you can capture that heat during cold times, your life will be
First, close off unused rooms and close all heating to those rooms.
Second, collect people in central rooms so they can share heat. A
good set of blankets will keep you quite warm if you have a partner to
Second, if you have secondary rooms, rooms that need heat but not as
much, consider putting up curtains between those rooms. Again, heat
the smallest volume possible.
If it is really cold in your home, consider pitching a tent in your
living room or other semi heated largish space. A 3 season tent in
the middle of your living room in the middle of winter will do a great
deal to keep heat in. The smaller the space, the easier it is to heat,
and a tent indoors with two or more people in it will keep you from
freezing, even without a heating system.
Use sleeping bags and sleeping systems. Insulate yourself from the
ground or floor with a mattress or a pad of some kind. When trying to
stay warm, avoid cots, as they leave an air gap underneath them, which
means you get colder, faster. If you’re consolidating everyone into a
single room, consider bringing mattresses into the main room, and
making a big bed that everyone can lay in together. Multiple bodies
will make for warmer sleeping space.
Get sleeping pads from your local sporting goods supply. Or buy them
surplus online or at your local Army-Navy store. Even a yogo mat
will help. Remember that heat loves to flow via conduction. Sleeping
on a solid cold surface will suck the heat out of you. That sleeping
mat is not just padding, it is insulation.
Keeping Cool when it is hot out
This is a big issue, but not as big as cold. You can still die from
over heating and you can get nasty sunburns. Most of the issues with
heat during the summer can be resolved by proper hydration.
To this end, make sure your home does not become an oven. Modern
homes are designed to keep heat from moving from the inside to the
outside. So once the interior of your house heats up it will continue
to get hotter unless you can get rid of some of that heat.
Open the windows and make sure you can get a cross breeze. Use fans
if you can. Get some personal fans that actually work and are not
just toys. By personal fan, I mean the old fashion folding type that
are human powered.
Consider making shade for your home if you can. We picked a home that
is in shade during the summer and in sunlight during the winter.
Passive solar is what they might call it today.
Water In Your Home
You are going to need water, lots of it.
If you have any intention of sheltering in your home, you need to have
both water you can use right now, and a way to resupply when your
current water supply is gone.
Once the taps stop working, most homes have between 30 and 40 gallons
of fresh, potable water at hand. It is stored in your hot water
heater and your toilet tanks.
So where do you get your water?
Story of the Frankenstein water supply
We once owned a house with the Frankenstein of all water systems. The
house had been built in 1812 and had running water almost as long.
There were two springs up the hill (on the neighbor’s property) and
another at the other end of our property (which fed the neighbors on
the other side of us).
When they went to sell the house, they were required to put in a well
or connect to city water. At some point in the history or the house,
the house had been on city water.
When we used spring water alone you could route it so that it would
work in all bathroom and the kitchen, but at low pressure. It
required no electrical power. We could also route the spring to a
cistern in the basement that held around 500 gals of water. A simple
float valve controlled water flow into the cistern.
A pump then could pull water from the cistern and push it into the
pressure tank. This is a tank used for well systems. You fill the
tank until the pressure is high enough. There is a rubber bladder in
the tank filled with air that provides that pressure.
When the pressure is low, the pump turns on and refills the tank.
This keeps the water pressure constant within the house and means that
the well pump, or in our case the cistern pump, from turning on
every time somebody opened a tap.
The output of the cistern could be routed back into the spring supply
to back flush the springs.
You could also configure the piping so that the pressure tank was fed
from the well pump instead of the cistern pump. And you could
reconnect the city water to the system and bypass all of the stuff
The end result of all of this was that as long as we had electricity,
we had pressurized water from one of two sources. If we had no
electricity, we had low pressure (gravity feed) from the springs.
You get your water from the taps. But if that stops working, where
If you have a well you can get water from there. Most wells today
only have an electric pump. You might want to consider replacing your
220v well pump with a 24v well pump. You can drive such a well pump
off a pair of batteries and if you can recharge those batteries, so
much the better.
Consider having somebody install a hand pump in the same well casing.
There are two types of hand pumps. The type most people are use to is
only good for a few dozen feet. It lifts water via suction at the
top. It can take a bit to get water moving, but once it does you will
have enough water.
The other type is a deep lift. In a deep lift pump, a rod extends down
the well casing to the valve system. There are two check valves (one
way valves). When the rod is pulled upwards it lifts a piston which
pushes water up the out pipe and up and out of the well. When the rod
moves down it sucks water into the pump body from the water that
surrounds the pump body.
With this second type of pump you are not trying to suck the water out
of the well, instead you are pushing it out of the well. This second
type of lift pump has been used to lift water from great depths.
There are videos on the Internet showing how to make these yourself
out of PVC pipe.
Water that bubbles up out of a spring is normally very clean, if you
can keep the area around it clean. There is nothing worse than going
to check on your spring head and finding dead animals floating in your
That said, you need to make sure there is a catch basin and that the
place where you are pulling your water from is under the surface of
that catch basin. In our old house, the up hill spring was piped down
to fill the lower spring catch basin to improve the year round water
If you can’t pipe the water down to your home, then you need to figure
out how to carry water.
I promise you that trying to carry water in makeshift containers is
going to be “not fun” very, very quickly. Consider getting real Jerry
Cans. They hold 5 gals. You can get them marked for water. They
have handles located to allow two people to carry one can. They can
be stacked nicely. If you have access to big and burly teenagers, two
or more jerry cans can be threaded onto a pole to allow them to be
carried on shoulders.
Rivers and Streams, Lakes and Ponds
Do bears shit in the woods?
Yes they do, and all that shit flows into the water system.
Crystal clear water does not mean it is safe to drink. We’ll cover
handling water in a later article. In the mean time, know that you
will need a way of carrying that water back to your home and to make
it safe to drink.
So the water is still flowing, but is it safe to drink? Just like a
rural home, the water in your taps came from someplace. It could be
springs (unlikely), wells, or rivers.
It is only as clean as the processing plant makes it. And it only
flows while the pumps at the processing plant move it.
Make sure your tap water is safe to drink. Follow the same rules as
you do for collecting water yourself.
Really, do bears shit in the woods?
We are freaking spoiled. We live in one of the most prosperous
countries in the world. The poorest of the poor in our country eat
better and have more than the wealthiest in many countries. We are
the only country in the history of the world where our poor are
One of the signs of wealth is that we have indoor plumbing. That
includes not only the water that flows into our homes but the water
that takes our shit out of our homes. That magical throne has done
more to keep us healthy than almost any other invention in the history
The good thing is that for most people, if you have water you can
still use your toilet, right up until you can’t. Don’t use your clean
water to flush though. Capture waste water from washing and even
urine. If it is water-like, it will flush your toilet.
Once you supply water to your toilet bowl, gravity takes over. Using
a siphon, the contents of the toilet are sucked out of the bowl and
start flowing downhill. Once the bowl is empty, more water flows in
to create an air trap so that the smells of the pipes don’t fill your
Waste flows downhill in your home until it hits the pipe leading out,
and continues downhill to the sewer under your street. It then flows
downhill under your street until it gets to the bottom of the hill.
At the bottom of the hill it stops and starts to back up. If there is
no power, that sewage will start to back up. It will back flow into the
houses at the bottom of the hill first, as the houses up-hill add more
and more pressure.
The only reason this doesn’t happen today is that there is a pump at
the bottom of the hill that uses electricity to pump the raw sewage up
hill for its next slide down, until it reaches a processing plant.
Be prepared to seal off your toilet bowl if there are extended
outages. I promise you that at least one of those people up-hill from
you is going to continue flushing sewage into the system.
For people using septic systems, the same applies to you, except in
most places you are the only one filling up the pipes coming out of
you house. You still need to plan on what you are going to do once
your septic tank fills up.
Have you ever tried to muck out a latrine or a septic tank by hand?
Not fun doesn’t even begin to cover how nasty it is.
What to do?
You might need get to a situation where you use composting or other
waste management methods. I.e. you shit in a bucket, you add some
lime to the bucket to keep the smell down. When the bucket is full,
you carry it away from you to a place where it is safe to dump.
Remember, it is easy to buy lime today, it will be harder to get tomorrow.
Remember, all that shit in your bucket will become fertilizer later
on. Don’t waste your waste. For more information, you can read up on
“humanure” and composting toilets here:
During disasters, more people have died from dysentery than almost any
other cause. Dysentery, in its simplest form, comes from drinking
water contaminated with fecal mater (shit). Dysentery is very
contagious. You can read more about dysentery here:
https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-is-dysentery. The best
ways to keep from getting dysentery are:
- Don’t shit in your drinking water
- Don’t drink water with shit in it
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if you think someone in your
home already has dysentery.
There is a rather infamous story of rescue workers coming on a camp of
people that were in bad condition. They realized it was dysentery and
went to look at where they camp was getting its water. It was coming
from a crystal clear running river/stream.
They then went to the other side of the camp where the latrines were.
And what they found was that the latrines were right next to the
river/stream and up stream from where they were getting their water.
Run off from the latrines was getting into the water supply. People
were washing themselves in the water and yeah, klingons were escaping
to contaminate the water.
The camp was drinking their own sewage.
Take a look at composting toilets. You can make one out of a five
gallon bucket and a little bit of lumber.
And remember, most of us either can’t squat to take a dump or can’t
hover. Your life is going to be hard enough as it is. Make this part
of your life a little easier by giving people a comfortable place to
Note that a comfortable place to shit is a good idea, because the
other side of the dysentery equation is constipation, which is going to
be a problem. The more people are eating food they aren’t used to, and
working hard while drinking less than they’re used to, the more
problems they’re going to have with pooping. Being comfortable just
makes sense on ALL levels. Add to that, some standard food sources
(MREs?) are designed to cause constipation.
At our camp, this was just a 4 inch branch lashed to two trees at the
right height over the latrine so that people could use it to help in
that squat, sit.
We’ll cover this in more detail later.
Your house is a wonderful place to be when you need to prepare food.
We yanked out the electrical stove years ago and replaced it with
propane. We can cook for about 18 months on the propane we have on
hand. That’s a wonderful advantage.
If you can’t upgrade to a gas stove, consider getting yourself a gas
grill. Get one with at least one burner. We will often cook out on
the porch during the summer. The grill provides the burner for things
that need a burner and the grill itself can be used as an oven or a
If you don’t want to buy a gas grill, consider getting a gas burner.
The type people use to deep fry turkeys at Thanksgiving will work very
well. That burner can be used to heat most large pots.
Get yourself a small hibachi grill. They work with multiple types of
fuel. In a well ventilated area they can be used as a grill, a
griddle or to heat a sauce pan.
Most hibachi grills have the ability to move the grill to different
heights about the coals. This adjusts the temperature for cooking.
First: The Rule of Threes – How to prioritize your preparations
Previous: Shelter In Place – Part A
Next: Into The Woods
4 thoughts on “Shelter In Place – Part B”
I keep that 2″ thick pink insulfoam stuff for busted windows. I have 44 windows in the house, so I wanted something I could cut to fit, and it was designed as insulation in the first place. Won’t let a lot of light in tho, but in some situations, that’s a good thing.
Excellent idea. We have the blue stuff around here. We use it to build proofing boxes as well as insulating things. The only thing to be aware of is that it will melt and it can burn, so treat it with caution before attempting to use it around a stove pipe.
Re CO detectors: get them even if all you have is a furnace. Furnaces can fail, and some failure modes will fill the house with CO. We have several combination CO/smoke detectors for this exact reason.
Chimney pipes: our first home had a wood stove installed, with galvanized pipes. We were told “don’t do that” — the reason is that the zinc evaporates from the heat of the stove combustion gases, and while zinc vapor isn’t as bad as heavy metal vapor, it’s still not good for you. If plain pipes, as opposed to insulated ones, are adequate for the application, get black ones or bare steel ones.
Insulated pipes come in double and triple; these differ in the clearance requirement. Plain pipes need to be some distance from combustible material like the lumber in your walls, two-layer insulated pipes have a smaller clearance requirement, three layer pipes smaller still. I think some may offer zero clearance, i.e., you can install them touching wood.
Our first house had a plain pipe through the wall into the chimney (which was built up against the outside of the house). Yes, right through the stud wall. Ouch. A mason built us a new chimney, with a masonry section through the wall for the pipe.
Wood stoves also need clearance, or insulation. They need to sit on non-combustible foundations, like a brick hearth or a “stove mat”. If close to the wall, you need one or two layers of sheet metal in between to keep from setting the wall on fire.
Fuel isn’t quite as easy as you might think. A wood stove wants to be fed with dry hardwood. Don’t feed it pine wood, you’ll get lots of creosote in the chimney and create a major risk of chimney fires, which can burn down the house. Ditto with green wood, which is also hard to light. Ideally you’ll have a season’s worth of cut & split wood stored (outside is fine if protected from rain and snow), replenished year by year as it is consumed. In a pinch, standing dead trees will serve (if not conifers).
Learn how to light a stove with one match. Paper is a great first stage, but if unavailable, birch bark is if anything better still, and it still works perfectly when wet. Just shake off the rain drops. If your logs are wet, split them; the inside will be dry and can be split into kindling. You have a hatchet, right? And an axe? And a hand saw? And a splitting maul and wedges?
As before, this is all pragmatic and practical advice.
To add to the “tent inside a room” concept, since your tent will not be subject to the weather, you can put blankets on top of it.
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