If your power goes out, you may need an emergency heat source to keep you warm in the winter. You may not always have access to a fireplace or wood stove to warm you up, but you can still stay warm with these DIY emergency heaters.
The best DIY emergency heaters that will keep you warm in the winter are candles, tealight flowerpot (clay pot) heaters, ceramic heaters, toilet paper heaters, aluminum can solar panel heaters, brick pile radiant air heaters, stack boot air heaters, soapstone heaters and thermal brick space heaters.
In this article, first I will go through and explain what all these heaters are. I will even include a video that shows you how to make each one. And then we’ll give you detailed supply lists and easy directions to make several different types of DIY emergency heaters. We’ll also discuss safety tips and a few tips to help you keep warm no matter which heater you choose to make.
Keep in mind that these heaters are for emergency use, and you wouldn’t want to use them for day-to-day heating purposes. These DIY heaters are less efficient and costly to run than your typical heaters, such as a heat pump, wood stove, or even electric baseboard heat. However, there are times when your standard heater doesn’t work, and you need to turn to emergency type heaters.
There are two things you need to be careful of when using heaters that use an open flame. These types of heaters can be a fire hazard and create a risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
For best results, crack a window to allow adequate airflow and consider using a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector. Always supervise flames. Keep open flames away from flammable items, children, and pets.
This first item is the worst on the list, but still in some situations I thought it might be worth mentioning. So I decided to put it first, rather than last, to mention it briefly and then move on.
You may have heard the statement that burning a single candle in a car will keep you from freezing to death. Whether or not that’s true depends on several factors, of course. But candles do produce heat, and therefore, you can use them to heat a small space.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not candles can heat an entire room, though. While candles do put off some heat, the amount of candles needed to warm up a cold room is relatively high.
It would take about 20 candles burning simultaneously to match the heat output of one small space heater. Typical tea candles only burn for three to four hours. On the other hand, average-sized candles would probably last for seven to nine hours. So if you were trying to heat a room with candles, you would need to replace your burned-up candles with new ones every few hours.
If it takes 20 tea lights to heat a room for four hours, then it would take around 120 candles if you needed to warm up a single room for just 24 hours. That’s 840 candles over the course of a week! Using that many candles certainly would work in a pinch, but it would be pretty expensive, impractical, and possibly even dangerous to have to keep an eye on so many candles.
If your candles are too close together, they could melt the wax too quickly, causing the candles to lose their shape and burn out. Another risk with burning candles close together is that they can create so much heat that the paraffin catches on fire, creating a too large flame for the container and unsafe.
There are some even better options for heating your home in an emergency, though.
Tealight Flowerpot Heater
If you love the idea of heating your home with candles, then you may be intrigued by the tealight flowerpot heater. The design of this DIY heater harnesses the heat from the candle using clay flower pots to make it more usable and thus more effective.
How it works:
Heat rises, and when you burn candles, you lose a lot of the heat as it dissipates and rises to the ceiling. The clay pot method works by trapping the heat under the clay pot, thus heating the pot. Less heat is lost as the warmth is trapped by the pot. The pot will become extremely hot, and you can feel some warmth if you sit near it. You can warm your hands near the pot, but be careful not to touch it.
- Two clay pots of different sizes
- Bolt, washers, and tree nuts
- Heat safe plate
- Three bricks
- 2 or 3 candles
How to make it:
Put a washer on the end of the bolt and place it through the hole in the bottom of the larger pot. On the inside, add another washer and a nut. Leave a small gap and put a nut and washer on. Put the smaller pot inside the larger pot, threading the bolt through the hole. Add another washer and nut. The bolt and nuts hold your two pots together, with a small airspace in between.
Set your plate onto a safe surface, such as a table. Make sure it is away from anything flammable. Place your candles on the plate, and then light them. Arrange the bricks around the plate, evenly spaced. Turn the clay pots upside down and rest the edge of the larger pot on the bricks.
As the candles heat the air inside the clay pots, the pots will become very hot. The pots will give off a small amount of heat. The flower pot heater won’t heat your entire home, but it will make you feel warmer in a small room. Never leave a burning flame unattended.
Clay Pot Heater Variations
You can upgrade this DIY heater by using Sterno cans instead of candles and larger clay pots. This will put out a lot more heat, but it will also be more expensive to run. The Sterno cans present even more of a fire hazard, so use extra caution if you choose this method to heat your space.
If you have a candle-powered fondue pot, you can use the metal frame to hold your candle. Simply turn a clap pot upside down and set it on top of the metal frame. Place a quarter over the hole to keep the heat inside.
You can also make your own long-burning candles to provide heat for your clay pot heater. Crisco, or similar store brand products, will burn for several days. You can easily make a long-lasting candle by pushing a thin, taper candle straight down into the middle of a can of Crisco.
Homemade Ceramic Heater
The Homemade Ceramic Heater works similarly to the clay pot heater. However, you’ll be using a ceramic bowl instead of clay pots. Ceramic has more thermal properties than clay and will make the same amount of heat from a candle even more productive for warming up a space.
How It Works:
Heat from the candle will be absorbed by the ceramic bowl. The bowl shape will prevent the heat from rising. The bowl will retain and then radiate the heat, making the space feel warmer.
- Metal or fire-safe tray to hold your candles.
- Four to five bricks
- A small fan (you can use a battery-powered fan if the electricity is out)
- Ceramic bowl
How to make it:
- Place your tray in the area you want to warm up. It will be more effective in a small room. However, you will always want to be mindful of the potential for carbon monoxide build-up anytime you light a flame indoors. Make sure your space is free of flammable items.
- Put the candles on the tray and set a brick on either side of it.
- Light the candles.
- Turn your ceramic bowl upside down and lay it over the candles so the bowl’s lip rests on the bricks. Make sure the bowl is deep enough that it doesn’t squash the candles. The bottom of the bowl should be high enough that the flames cannot reach it inside the bowl.
- Place the remaining bricks on the side of the bowl and set the fan on top of those bricks.
- Turn the fan on to direct the warm air where you need it most.
This setup will easily warm a small space, but always be careful with open flames. Remember, the ceramic bowl may become very hot.
Toilet Paper Heater
The toilet paper heater is made with just three items. This simple heater burns very cleanly. It will provide more heat than candle heaters, but it also produces larger flames, so plan accordingly.
How it Works:
The toilet paper acts as a type of wick for the alcohol. The alcohol slowly burns off, producing large flames and heat. This type of heater needs to be very closely supervised. Do not leave the house or go to sleep while this heater is burning. This little heater can be made very quickly with supplies you might have on hand already.
- Clean metal can, such as an empty metal coffee can or unused paint can
- Roll of toilet paper
- 70% rubbing alcohol
How to Make It:
- Take out the cardboard from the middle of the toilet paper roll and squeeze the roll into the can. It should fit tightly. If you’re using a large can, you might need a second roll.
- Pour in the alcohol and let it absorb for a while. If there is too much alcohol, pour off some of it. Add more if needed.
- Set the heater on a heat safe surface and away from anything that could catch on fire, such as curtains, papers, etc.
- Light the toilet paper. The flames may start high but will come down as the alcohol burns off a little bit.
Keep in mind, the toilet paper shouldn’t burn, just the alcohol. If the toilet paper begins to look charred, carefully put out the flame. When it is cool enough, add more alcohol, let it reabsorb, and relight.
Do not light your Toilet Paper Heater if there is too much alcohol. Too much alcohol could cause excessively large and dangerous flames. Be sure to pour off any excess before lighting.
This type of heater is suitable for short-term use and will generate a nice amount of heat. However, it needs to be watched closely and at all times.
Aluminum Can Solar Panel Heater
If you’re able to plan ahead, you might love this DIY Solar heater, which uses the sun’s natural energy to create heat. It is also a great way to reuse aluminum cans.
How It Works:
This heating method is a little bit time-consuming but worth the work if you’re ever without heat. A frame of plexiglass holds aluminum cans that are painted black. The sun heats up the air inside the case, creating a spiral effect. You can use a fan to circulate the air from inside the frame into your home.
- Aluminum cans
- High Heat black spray paint (like you might purchase to paint your grill)
- High Heat Caulk
- Wood: ¼” plywood and 1x4s
- Foam board insulation
- Wood screws
- Dryer hose or another type of insulated tubing
- Battery-powered fan
How to make it:
- Remove the tabs from your aluminum cans. Wash out the cans and allow them to air dry. Depending on the size of your panel, you may need up to 200 cans.
- Drill 3 large holes in the bottom of each can to allow air to pass through the can.
- Create long stacks of cans, using caulk to hold them together. Make your stacks long enough to fill up the box you are building.
- Create a frame using your plywood and 1x4s.
- Insulate the frame and caulk it so that it will be airtight.
- Attach one more 1×4 on the inside of the box, horizontally, a few inches from the bottom. Put a hole in the wood for each stack of cans so that air can flow up from the bottom and through the cans.
- Add your cans and caulk them in place.
- Spray paint the entire inside with your black, heat safe paint.
- Drill a couple of holes in the bottom side of the ‘solar panel’ and a hole in the top, which will draw cool air in and allow warm air to flow out.
- Run tubing, such as an insulated dryer hose, from the top of the solar panel and into your house through a window. You may need to attach a battery-powered fan to the dryer hose inside the house to help draw the heat inside the house.
- Lean your solar panel so that air can be drawn through the bottom, and make sure it faces the sunlight.
- Turn on your fan.
- As the air inside the panel heats up, it will rise through the cans, through the hose, and into your home.
- Adjust the placement of your panel so that it always faces the sun.
Although this heater takes some time and effort to create, it is a much safer alternative to DIY heaters requiring candles or flames. If you don’t have access to plexiglass, you could use tempered glass, although this will make your panel much heavier. If you don’t have enough aluminum cans, you can use a piece of rain pipe in place of each stack of cans.
Brick Pile Radiant Air Heater
A brick pile radiant air heater is a simple heater you can put together in a matter of minutes with items you probably have lying around the garage.
How It Works:
Rubbing alcohol is used as a fuel source to heat a pile of bricks. The bricks continue to radiate heat after the flame has been extinguished. Open flames must be watched very closely.
- 70 % Isopropyl Alcohol
- Two clean soup cans (or other small, clean metal cans)
- Metal, fire-safe stand
How to Make It:
- Set your metal stand in a safe, well-ventilated location. The stand should be sturdy and flame retardant, such as a metal work-stand capable of holding a few hundred pounds.
- Stack bricks in a circular shape, about two layers high.
- Stack two bricks on either side of the hole, a little closer together, creating an opening for air exchange.
- Place two clean cans filled with Isopropyl Alcohol inside the bricks on the stand.
- Carefully light the alcohol.
- Place two bricks in the opposite direction to cover the flames.
- Allow the heater to burn for 25 to 30 minutes. When the flames go out, the heat will radiate from the bricks, continuing to heat your space.
If you don’t have alcohol on hand, you can use standard candles in its place. Candles will take longer to heat the bricks, and the temperature may not get as high. However, keep in mind that the bricks will be extremely hot no matter what heat source you use. Never touch the bricks when they are hot.
As a bonus, you may be able to cook on top of the bricks with a small pot. Never leave the burning flame unattended, but once the flame goes out, you can enjoy the radiating heat without the flames.
Stack Boot Air Heater
- Two soup cans filled with gravel
- 90 Degree Elbow Joint
- Clean can
- 70% Isopropyl Alcohol
- Firesafe plate or tray
- Stack of Bricks
- Battery Powered Fan
How to Make It:
- Fill your soup cans with gravel or dirt.
- Put cans several inches apart in a heat-safe location away from flammable items, pets, and children.
- Set the Stackboot on top of the cans so that each side of the larger end is on top of a can.
- Put the 90 Degrees Elbow Joint into the stack boot.
- Slide the fire-safe tray under the stack boot.
- Place a clean can with some Isopropyl Alcohol on top of the tray.
- Light the Alcohol.
- Set up the bricks a few inches in front of the Stackboot setup, and place the fan on top. Arrange the bricks so that they are stable.
- The fan should be in front of the Elbow opening so that it can blow the warm air in the direction you need it to go.
Make sure to keep a close watch on the flame and take precautions to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. A stack boot is a piece of ductwork that is wider at the bottom than the top. Make sure your 90-degree elbow is the right size to match the smaller end of your stock boot.
Soapstone is a natural type of rock known for its thermal properties. Soapstone isn’t technically a heater, but more accurately, a heat sink.
How It Works:
Simply place your soapstone near a heat source, and it will absorb heat. Place the soapstone where you need some extra warmth, such as near your feet, and it will radiate heat.
How to Make It:
- You can use any appropriate size piece of soapstone.
- Place it in the oven for a few minutes or set it on a sunny windowsill for the day. You could even place it next to the fireplace or other heat source.
- Put the soapstone where you need extra heat.
If you like, you can add a handle to your soapstone to make it easier to carry.
Always be careful because the stone could be very hot. Use appropriate equipment to handle it, so you do not burn yourself. One of the best parts about soapstone is that there are no dangerous flames to worry about.
Thermal Brick Space Heater
This small thermal mass heater requires a little forethought but is easy to set up. It takes up very little space and runs on a small amount of power.
How It Works:
This little heater uses the principle of thermal mass to heat a small space. Three small ceramic heaters are placed between two bricks. The heaters heat up the bricks. The bricks absorb and then radiate heat.
- 2 Bricks
- Three 28 Watt 220C flat ceramic ptc heating elements (available inexpensively from amazon.com)
- A power supply such as a solar panel or 12v battery.
- Optional battery-powered fan.
How to Make It:
- Set down one brick.
- Place the three heating elements next to each other on the brick.
- Twist together the positive wires.
- Twist together the negative wires.
- Set the second brick on top.
- Run your heater with a 100-watt solar battery or 12v battery.
You can use a small battery-powered fan to blow across the bricks and move the heat through the room if you choose. You may be able to heat a little bit of food or water on top of the bricks. Be careful not to touch the bricks, as they may be very hot.
Tips for Staying Safe While Using DIY Heaters
- Always supervise open flames such as candles, burners, or other types of flame.
- Don’t put candles or open flames on the floor or near walkways where they can be easily knocked over.
- Keep flames away from anything flammable, especially drapes, papers, or soft surfaces.
- Be careful of carbon monoxide build-up. It can happen quickly and can be lethal. Always practice good ventilation and use a carbon monoxide detector if possible.
- Allow heaters to cool down before touching them.
- Don’t place candles too close together.
Additional Tips for Staying Warm When the Heat Doesn’t Work
If your heat stops working, you’ll want to maximize your methods of staying warm.
- First, choose a room to stay in. You’ll want to gather your family together in a smaller room with a door, where body heat can help keep the room warmer. A small room will require less work from your DIY emergency heater to stay warm, as well.
- Add layers of insulation. You might want to cover windows with bubble wrap, add plastic, or even hang extra blankets over windows to minimize cold air transfer.
- Wear more layers. Wear extra socks, sweaters, and even a coat to keep you warm.
- Snuggle up. Stay close together to keep each other warm.
- Don’t open and close doors. Keep the doors and windows closed as much as possible, except when needed for ventilation.
Can you heat your home with your gas oven?
It is never safe to use your gas oven to heat your home. The flame could go out or burn the gas inefficiently. This type of use would lead to excess gas build-up in your home and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Can you use your grill or camping stove inside to create heat?
It is not safe to use a propane grill or camp stove inside for cooking or creating heat. If you must use something, Sterno canisters are the safest choice.
How do you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide can be produced from any type of flame, including candles. Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector. Only use an open flame in a well-ventilated room. If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, immediately go outside and call authorities for help.