What emergency heater might explode and disfigure or kill your character? What could cause your character to be dying and believe ghosts were doing it? Why did the 911 operator believe I prank-called them? Find out on this episode.

Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode 56, Non-Electric Home Heating. Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could possibly go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.

There are many ways to heat the home, and before we get into what your character can do, let’s go over what your character should not do. Most likely because it will kill them and, as writers, we want to know how to off these little disrespectful snot heads … I mean characters … that have to go!

First, never use a propane or kerosene heater in the home that is not rated for indoor use. To be rated for indoor use means they are not giving off dangerous levels of carbon monoxide as long as they are functioning properly. However, outdoor heaters are in well-ventilated areas, and they do give off carbon monoxide that can easily reach deadly levels if they are brought indoors where there is little to no ventilation.

While on the subject of carbon monoxide poisoning, let’s go over some of the signs and symptoms. The basic signs and symptoms are headache, nausea, weakness, drowsiness, confusion, blurred vision, dizziness, convulsions, loss of vision, or shortness of breath. The smaller the person or creature, the faster they show signs. This means animals and children are often the first to show signs and symptoms.

But, as writers, we want the weird and crazy symptoms! Other known signs and symptoms can include feeling zaps of energy, sensing a strange presence in the home, hearing or seeing things, seeing ghosts or other hallucinations or sensations often associated with a haunted house. Other things can be sudden personality changes, memory changes, bright lights, tunnel of lights, and things associated with alien abductions. This could be a fun one to write!

Next on the list are the dangers of terracotta pots with tea candles. Normally used for heating a single room. I know you have seen this one all over Pinterest and Instagram. While this technically will heat your home, it comes with a serious and potentially disfiguring or even deadly risk. I can’t tell you how many fire departments I have seen begging people not to do this. Basically, when water gets into it, there is a risk it will explode. Keep in mind that terracotta has been used as a way to slowly self-water gardens for centuries because it is great at pulling water through the pot. Something I might use in an emergency if I had no other choice, but it is definitely a risky one.

Other risks that would be likely in an apocalypse or during an apocalypse, is burning in a metal 55-gallon barrel inside the home. While this can be made into a wood stove, I’m talking about having it on the floor in an upright position with no lid. If the floor is not concrete, it will likely light the floor on fire. If the floor is concrete, as more things are thrown into the barrel, the ashes are known to fly out of the barrel and into the air. This could catch the ceiling or anything flammable in the room on fire.

Fun story: When I was around nine or ten, my dad was burning trash one time while the wind was blowing. It carried a piece of ash over the house and lit the whole field on the other side of the house on fire. My dad sent me in to call 911. I did. They asked, “Where is the fire?” I said, “In the field.” They asked, “Where is the field?” I said, “At my dad’s house.” They asked, “Where is your dad’s house?” I told them the name of the town. They asked, “Where in the town?” I told them, “At the curve on the long dirt road.” Would you believe my stepmother had to talk to them and let them know it wasn’t a prank call? Yeah, my dad taped the address to his house on the phone after that.

Two other things with burning inside. First, without ventilation, there will be smoke everywhere! Trash smoke is not the most amazing smell. Second, we are back to concerns about carbon monoxide building up to lethal levels.

Now let’s go over a few things that can be safely used in the home. First up is an indoor-rated propane or natural gas stove. These both work pretty much the same way as they burn the propane or natural gas. As a very young child, we used natural gas, and, as an adult, I have had propane. I don’t notice a real difference in the heat of them, but that is just my experience. A quick Google search tells me propane burns hotter than natural gas.

Either way, while they are rated for indoors, if possible, your character will want a carbon monoxide alarm in the home, just in case. We had one, and it went off about twice a winter. When it went off, we cleaned the heater and the line to the pilot light, and we were good to go. That doesn’t mean that will be the same for all of them because it could mean it stopped working properly and is letting off carbon monoxide. If possible, your character should call the fire department to check, but in an apocalypse, this might not be possible.

Next are regenerating sources. These include solar and wind. There are many types. In most cases, there will be batteries they recharge; however, others warm air in pipes on top of the home, and it is sent through the home to warm it. I personally still don’t grasp how that one works, as heat rises, not falls. I also know it is not enough in colder climates. There is another one that water is heated on top of the home and pumps through pipes in the floor to heat the floor. Heat travels up, so the idea is that the floor will heat the home. That also does not work in extremely cold climates but sounds interesting and would be great for not worrying about cold babies on the floor.

Another type is an outside generator. This will power the heaters in the home. This can include gasoline, diesel, propane, and natural gas. Solar and wind could technically be used, but personally, if you are charging batteries, why not just use them in the home and not as a generator? Generators would be harder to fuel in an apocalypse as gasoline, diesel, propane, and natural gas will become harder to find, if not disappear all together.

Next up, we need to talk about the pellet stove. I had assumed that this was something that didn’t need electricity, but I was wrong. There are very few that do not require electricity, so if your character has one, they will have to pair it with solar, wind, or a generator. I will leave links to learn more on my website, along with links for some of the others we talk about.

Next up are two that really fall into the same category: the fireplace and wood stove. Both burn wood and are great ways to warm the home. The plus side of these is that as long as there is room on top of the wood stove, you can cook with them both. The biggest downside to them is that once or twice a year the wind will blow just right and send the smoke back down the chimney, filling the house. We always called it being smoked out. Never fun, but you get through it.

One thing to watch out for with a wood stove is the temperature. What I mean by this is that if your character burns something like a hedge log, it burns extremely hot. So hot that it can make your wood stove glow red and is a fire risk. Never throw water on this hot wood stove! It can cause it to explode!

There is also the outside wood-burning furnace. This is basically the same as central heating,except it is heated with wood. It can use a fan that runs off the temperature inside the furnace rather than electricity. One thing most people like about this is that they can burn more than wood in it if the apocalypse happens. I’m not sure I recommend it, but if I have to fight zombies to load it, I won’t care as much.

Lastly is one used from ancient times and will likely be used in an apocalypse – a fire pit in the middle of the home. This has been used by Native Americans in teepees and long houses, among many other tribes and cultures. I remember reading a book about making air tunnels in the dirt to bring fresh air into the fire, so the smoke could travel up the hole in the hut better. I still don’t remember what book I read it in.

Fun fact: The first gas heater was invented in 1881.

What could possibly go wrong?

Before we get to the best part, if you enjoy this podcast, I hope you’ll take a minute to follow, rate, and review on your podcasting platform. And if you are listening on YouTube, subscribe and hit that Like button. Don’t forget to share with a friend. Now for everyone’s favorite part!

Likely to go wrong: Your character brings a propane heater that is not rated for indoor use into the home. Soon the home fills with carbon monoxide. This could be deadly.

Likely to go wrong: Your character is using a propane heater, and they burn more propane than they expect, and their tank runs dry. It could be days before the propane can be delivered.

Possible to go wrong: Your character is using an outdoor wood furnace to heat the home, and they don’t add enough wood for the night. During the night, the fire goes out, and the house gets very cold.

Possible to go wrong: Your character didn’t know that a pellet stove requires electricity. When the power goes out, they lose their source of heat.

Possible to go wrong: Your character uses a fire in the middle of their hut during the apocalypse, but they don’t know how to keep the rain out of the hole in the roof that lets the smoke out. When the rain or snow comes, it puts out their fire.

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character uses an outdoor wood burning furnace during the apocalypse. When they run out of wood, they start throwing in anything they don’t need, including plastic. This makes their home smell of burned plastic, and any zombies with smell will know where they are.

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is using a fireplace to heat their home. During a windy day, the wind blows just right, forcing the smoke down the chimney, and their home is soon filled with smoke.

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is using solar to heat their home. However, there is bad weather that lasts for days or weeks and that means they can’t recharge their power. They soon run out and have no heating source.

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and believes they are being haunted by a ghost. If they are lucky, they will become scared and leave, saving their life. If not, this could be deadly.

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character adds part of a hedge post into their wood stove, and the fire gets so hot the wood stove starts to glow red hot. In an attempt to cool it down, your character pours water over the stove. This causes the stove to explode. This not only destroys the heat source, but could be deadly. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is using terracotta pots and tea candles to warm their home during the apocalypse. However, condensation gathered on the inside of the pot, and it exploded, sending shards of terracotta and boiling wax into their face. This could disfigure or even kill them.

Thanks for listening! You can find the show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. That’s A-L-L-E-Y-H-A-R-T.com. Subscribe or follow for more episodes. Connect by dropping me a comment on my YouTube videos. A new episode comes out every Monday. Until then. Happy wordsmithing.

Helpful Links to Learn More:

Terracotta and tea candles:


Pellet Stove:


Generators and zombies: