A Homemade Heater That May Save You Money

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Space heaters are great for heating and the best models are very safe to
use and highly reliable, but there has to be a way to get cheaper heating.
Many standard model electric space heaters will run up to 1,500 watts,
which can be costly if you’re heating your room for hours each day.
Sorry. No data so far.
Perhaps there’s a way to rig up a homemade heater to save some money
at home or at the o ce.
To gure this out, we’ll have to follow Matt Damon’s lead and “science the
[expletive] out of this” as his character, Mark Watney, did in the 2015
science ction lm The Martian. Adapted from a novel by Andy Weir, The
Martian nds Watney, a NASA astronaut, separated from his crew during a
powerful storm and left stranded on Mars while the rest of his crew barely
manages to escape. Watney now faces three challenges: 1) Grow enough
food to last several years before he can be rescued, 2) Make contact with
NASA, and 3) Make the long distance trip from his Ares III campsite to the
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Watney pulls o the rst two objectives just ne, but it’s a long trip he’s
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going to have to make across Mars and he’ll likely freeze to death in his
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rover. The NASA rover does have a heater, but Watney drastically
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decreases his range by using it, which means he’ll get stranded during the
middle of his trip and then freeze to death. So, much like us, Watney needs
a heat source and digs up a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG),
which is a big container of radioactive material that generates heat and
energy. Watney has now solved his heating problem by strapping the RTG
into the seat next to him so he doesn’t freeze to death during his Mars
road trip.
If you had an RTG, you could probably do the same if you don’t mind
running the potential risk of irradiating yourself, but it’s not like I haven’t
done that enough with my old mobile phone. If you don’t have a chunk of
radioactive material to provide you heat, here are two do-it-yourself ideas
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to make a homemade heater. All of the items needed can be purchased
cheaply or be found around the house. These homemade heaters are
probably just as dangerous as Watney’s RTG solution, but they have been
proven to get the job done with variable results.
Emergency Alcohol Can
This is the simplest of the three homemade heaters and is probably
something Bear Grylls would create on an episode of Man vs. Wild or his
current survivalist series Running Wild with Bear Grylls.
Items Needed
Empty 1-quart metal paint can with lid (or any clean can, preferably with
a lid)
Roll of cheap, single-ply toilet paper (unscented)
Large bottle of unscented 70%-90% isopropyl alcohol (typically rubbing
Matches or a lighter (with something to burn)
Step One: TP the Can
1. Get the toilet paper out of its packaging and remove the inner
cardboard tube without unwrapping the toilet paper.
1. If you’re having trouble, it might help to atten the roll and get the
cardboard tube bent and dislodged from the toilet paper.
2. Once you’ve gotten the cardboard out of the toilet paper, squeeze the
roll into the empty quart metal can.
1. Make sure your can is clean and free of any labels or tags in the
interior and exterior of the can. This is to further reduce the
chances of something catching re.
Step Two: Drown Your TP’s
Sorrows in Alcohol
1. With the toilet paper roll now in the can, pour in the isopropyl alcohol
slowly to allow the toilet paper to soak up all of the alcohol.
1. 90% or higher will burn hotter, but it also burns dirtier. 70% gives
o a good amount of heat with a much cleaner burn.
Step Three: Burn It Down!
1. Carefully set your lled can onto a secure, level surface that won’t be
damaged or burned by heat.
2. Light a match and drop it into the can to ignite the re.
1. If you have a lighter, it’ll be safer to light the end of a piece of paper
and drop that into the can.
3. To put out the re, place the paint can lid over the can opening. You can
also probably blow it out like a barbarian.
4. If need to add more alcohol to keep the re going, make sure you put
out the re rst instead of dumping more alcohol into an active re.
Once the re is started, you’ll notice that you’ve got a pretty good ame
going for a few hours. You’ll probably also notice that the toilet paper is
not burning because the ame is only consuming the alcohol and the
surrounding oxygen. The 90% isopropyl alcohol might singe the top of the
toilet paper, but, for the most part, the TP won’t be burned and can be
reused as a wick for this homemade heater.
A quick Google search has found that 99% isopropyl alcohol will put out
about 13,000 BTUs per pound. One quart equals 32 ounces, which equals
two pounds. So, if you’ve your toilet paper soaked up a quart of 99%
isopropyl alcohol, the can heater is producing about 26,000 BTUs.
Will This Homemade Heater
Kill Me?
It’s 2015 going on 2016. Anything is possible. Since you are dealing with an
open ame, using the Alcohol Can Heater indoor isn’t very practical or safe
unless it’s an emergency situation.
If you’re using the can heater to warm up a small room, you won’t run a big
risk of carbon monoxide by burning rubbing alcohol, but it wouldn’t hurt to
crack a window or invest in a carbon monoxide detector. Other than that,
just keep it away from curtains, clothes, walls, and shelves.
Terra Cotta Pot Candle
There are a few ways to create this heater, which requires a few more
materials, but it’s a little safer to use. Here, we’ll look at the most basic
design for a terra cotta pot candle heater.
Items Needed
Large Terra Cotta ower pot (unglazed)
Small Terra Cotta ower pot (unglazed)
Tea light candles
Loaf pan (or a at, heat-resistant container)
Two bricks (optional)
Small piece of foil (or metal)
Matches (or a lighter)
Step One: Tea Lights
1. Place the tea lights into the loaf pan and light them with your matches.
Two to four is a good start, but more tea candles will put o more heat.
1. If you are using a heat-resistant container, place bricks on two
opposite sides of the candles to create an elevated surface.
Step Two: Pots Within Pots
1. Place the small terra cotta facing down directly over the candles and
leave it sitting on top of the loaf pan.
1. If you’re using bricks, leave the pot sitting on top of the bricks.
2. Cover the small opening on the bottom of the small terra cotta pot with
the piece of foil or a small, at piece of metal. Make sure the small
bottom opening is well plugged.
3. Place the larger terra cotta pot over the smaller pot and leave it on top
of the pan or the bricks.
The idea behind this ower pot tea candle heater is to heat the smaller
pot, which tries to store as much heat energy as it can to warm the air
between the two pots. The warm air becomes less dense and rises up out
of the of pot heater to displace the cold air in the room. The cold air is
pushed down and is warmed up by the pot heater to create a convection
Your standard tea light candle contains about 13 grams of para n wax
with about 547 kJ. Multiplying 547 kJ by .277 watt-hours per kJ gives us
about 152 watt hours. From here, we divide by the 4 hour average lifespan
of a tea light to get 38 watts per candle. To match a 1,500 watt space
heater, you’d need about 40 tea light candles.
As for BTUs, one watt is equal to 3.412 BTUs. So, the 38 watts of a candle
multiplied by 3.412 comes out to about 130 BTUs.
Will This Homemade Heater
Kill Me?
While it’s de nitely safer to use than the can heater, it’s not without its
aws. The inner terra cotta pot will get very hot while the outer pot will get
between very warm to hot. Either way, it’s not something you want to have
children or pets around.
The use of a loaf pan or bricks also doesn’t look very appealing nor is it
completely stable. If your candle and pot set up isn’t out of the way, you’ll
likely bump into it and knock the pots over of tip the candles out of the
Just like the can heater, you likely won’t have an issue with fumes, but you
should open a window a tiny bit just to be on the safe side.
Too Long, Didn’t Read
Building a homemade heater is a good way to supplement your heat, but
it’s not the best way to solve your heating problem. For the alcohol can
heater and the terra cotta pot heater, they will warm up a room to a
certain extent, but they won’t provide reliable high heat output. You’d have
to use a bigger can and more alcohol or more pots and candles to increase
the heat, which may require a little more venting. Electric space heaters do
o er reliable and higher heat output, as well added safety measures
(depending on the type of heater you’re buying).
Alcohol TP Can
Terra Cotta Candles
NewAir AH-400
38 per candle
13,000 per LB (99%)
130 per candle
Heat Type
Convection, Radiant
Open Flame
Hot to Touch
There are a lot of di erent model heaters that range in wattage usage and
BTU output that should be considered while you regrow your eyebrows
after making an alcohol can heater. The NewAir AH-400 Low Watt Oil Filled
Underdesk Heater, for instance, uses 400 watts and produces 1,365 BTUs
to about 40 square feet. That’s comparable to the alcohol can and terra
cotta pot heaters in coverage and it won’t run up your energy bill as high
as a 1,500 watt space heater.
The AH-400 will also warm up much quicker than those homemade
heaters, which take 30 to 60 minutes to warm up the room a few degrees.
Homemade heaters won’t allow you to walk around in your underwear
during the winter, but it will take the edge o a bit during cold nights.
“Come with me to a warmer paradise.”
Every Dorm Needs an Electric Fireplace →
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