A flash of the &(#^$ type

Posted on November 21, 2012


whuhOur house is presently heated by an electric furnace and we have a natural gas heater in the living room plus the hot water heater is natural gas. I know if the grid goes down, I will likely have a few days of this to heat with but what happens when the gas is no longer piped to us? People talk about getting small propane heaters as backup and that’s good for a couple of weeks at the most, but 2 to 3 months later?

The first thing I thought of was bringing in a wood stove and piping the smoke out through a vent set to go through the nearest window. Possible but expensive and a good bit dangerous. An idea I heard about and went “Well duh, I know that!” , heating up large rocks outside, bringing them inside and placing them where heat is needed, on heat resistant materials of course.  Lotta work BUT… doable. In fact, when camping at a place for a long time with no firering, a ring of rocks or a wall of rock will reflect quite a bit of heat back to the front of the fire.

Another thing that occurred to me is connecting the fire outside to the water heater inside and piping the water around the house. My first thought is insulated metal rods that transfer some heat to the water inside. BUT on second thought… what if I just add the water heater as a boiler and heat water at the fire in the water heater and pass that water around the house? Getting really offtrack, grab car radiators, pipe the hot water from the fire and/or water heater to the radiators around the house. I could run the piping to the radiators underneath the house and only come up where I need to tap a radiator. Sounds awful familiar! You know, I never paid attention to how the radiators worked in the houses I grew up in, I just knew they gave heat, couldn’t be touched (burns) and once in a while they leaked and leaking was BAD! I never attached them (mentally) to the engine cooling system in my car. We’ve got a large crawlspace under the house so it would be easy to pipe, just keeping the external fire going would be the trick.

Another thought occurred, ow, I know. If the grid is down, electric, water, sewer, gas, then the water heater is useless directly. How about using it’s chimney to add a wood stove in the kitchen? I just have to match the pipe from the stove to the water heater vent pipe (and add some protection on the roof – sparks and burning chips do flow up chimneys.) I would have to figure a way to flow the heated water around the house. Use some of the heat to create steam to run a pump? Although it would take more piping, I’d love to have more than just on/off control of a simple system: maybe a valve that allows you to choose how much water (and therefore how much heat) flows through a certain room.

Another idea (I have talked about) would be solar/hydrogen. Use solar to generate electricity and if there is spare, use it to split water in the day, pressurize the hydrogen  gas and store it for later. If you are running low electrical draw and can spare the energy, it’s a way to store what we get during the sunny days into something usable at night and rainy days without relying on battery systems that will die. If it is TEOTWAWKI, commercial batteries may be 5, 10, even 20 years from being replaced. Or maybe point a few Fresnel lenses at a tank then use the steam to turn a turbine electrolyzing the water. Sure you would rather have the direct electricity in the batteries but if full… don’t let it go to waste. Big thing is figuring how to SAFELY store hydrogen under pressure.

I guess the real mark of an engineer in TEOTW will be one who understands basic principles (thermodynamics, motion/work, basic material properties) and applies them to increase the health and safety of others. Even if you don’t have the modern tools and materials, you can build your way up… a stone knife to a wood/stone knife, wood/stone knife to simple wood and stone tools (drill, lathe, saw.) Knowing how things work (in general) will again allow you to go from wood/stone to crude metal, crude metal to more refined metal, to near modern level home tools. Having a wood driven metal lathe means much more accurate and complex work. Once you are to this level you are getting on par with the work of the late 1700’s, not the 1200’s. Since we already know what we CAN do with technology we can work our way to a mixed tools state: steam punk.

By steam punk I mean crisscrossing modern function from simpler locally drawn power. I.e. Refrigeration from wood. A/C from solar. Medical support from hydroelectric.  Right now we rely on power made elsewhere; TEOTW will change that to local power. Whether it be solar, wind, water, wood/coal/natural gas/oil (natural and hydrocarbon) if a community has someone who can build or maximize their local power, they will be light years ahead of the average person.

I imagine the valuable skills will be those forgotten in the 1700 and 1800’s: primitive healthcare, primitive engineers, primitive defenders, primitive farmers. Here primitive isn’t bad, or old or useless; in fact it’s extremely useful when there are no powered tools. Primitive here is being able to create a better environment for others using simple power and simple machines that are highly reliable. On weapons, you didn’t think the supply of modern arms and ammunition would last forever did you? Simple weapons or extension’s of simple weapons will be the kings. An automatic bow (rotate the handle and in sequence 50 arrows are launched.) Catapults and trebutchet, flammable oils, physical armor. All these will hold sway when the modern ammunition supply is gone. Sure some will be able to reload but once the supply of modern gun powder is gone, only a select few will be both near materials to make gunpowder AND have the knowledge/skill to make it.

Whoops, off-track there. Heart of what I am trying to say is, it if is TEOTWAWKI, I am convinced that being prepared/able to use primitive tools to accomplish modern objectives, you will win the day.