Now bringing the heat! I really like solar because it will collect energy with no input from me besides my initial set up and cost. I think you should work with the sun collecting heat passively in the winter and mitigate it in the summer. But solar energy sucks when it comes to powering any heating or cooling appliance unless you can afford a very big solar panel array and a huge battery bank. So you have to go old school and look at wood and oil based products for staying warm.
My home is all electric from light to heat, hot water to my air conditioner and since I live in SW Idaho and most of our power is generated by Hydro dams, power here is very cheap compared to the rest of the country. But I have no control over my power! With the addition of smart meters I’m at the mercy of the utility and they can literally cut me off at anytime if they feel the need.
How many of us have seen a public utility beg the average customer to save and conserve and as soon as the customer saves and conserves the utility hikes the rates because “they” aren’t making enough profits? That doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about any utility companies. So you need to have a back up plan for basic power and heat not just in a disaster, but for everyday life so you can control your environment.
For backup non-electric lighting I recommend Kerosene or paraffin oil lamps. Not perfect, but with the use of mirrors to reflect the light it will do the job. Figure on storing about a gallon per month for a year and a little extra just in case. I store 15 gallons in mostly 5 gallon cans. In the summer you probably won’t use the lamps at all, but in winter you will use the lamps quite a bit and that should give you at least a couple of hours of good light to get stuff done. If you read the post about using solar yard lights for night lights and charging batteries for flashlights you can be alright for lighting. If you make a small solar generator like I am doing you could add one low wattage light to the mix. Remember you don’t get as much sun in the winter so I would never depend on solar power in the winter.
Next comes staying warm as well as cooking and heating water. I started out kind of on the cheap side but propane is great for heating and cooking. It is one of the safest fuels to store and most people have used it via gas grills or with camp stoves. Now those items are fine for cooking you don’t want to use them indoors heating your house. For heating I would recommend the Mr. Buddy type heaters. The Mr. Buddy heaters are chock full of safety equipment and sensors that make them safe for indoor use. I have tested mine at 20 degrees F. and 0 degrees F. and they will keep a well insulated home at 50-65 degrees F. and a 15 pound tank will last about 5 days at 0 degrees outside and you turn it off at night. The Big Buddy Heater comes with a fan to circulate the heat and you will feel warmer if the heat is pushed out from the heater. These are all numbers based on my real world tests at the temps I had in winter in Idaho.
The Mr. Buddy heater costs about $80-$100 brand new and the average 15 gallon propane tank is about $45-50 filled with propane. It may not seem all that cheap to start out from having no back up heat source you control, but once you have the tanks they are much cheaper to refill. I have not found a cheaper, more effective or safer backup heater than the Mr. Buddy type in all my five years prepping for low start up costs. Don’t be cheap on being safe for heating and lighting. Getting dead because you didn’t pay attention basic safety precautions is as dumb as playing tourist during the Rodney King riots.