What kind of fuels can be stored and how?
July 1980

“What kind of fuels can be stored and how?” Ensign, July 1980, 30–31

The Church has instructed us to “store and save a one-year supply of food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel.” What kind of fuels can be stored and how?

Gary Hansen, chairman, BYU Department of Family Resource Management and William C. Stacey, supervising engineer, BYU Physical Plant In October 1973 general conference Elder Ezra Taft Benson gave us an outline for our answer: “Wood, coal, gas, oil, kerosene, and even candles are among those items which could be reserved as fuel for warmth, cooking, and light or power. Some may be used for all of these purposes and certain ones would have to be stored and handled cautiously” (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 81).

In these times of uncertainty, problems ranging from a natural disaster to an oil embargo could cut off our source of fuel, and we may be left with no way to heat our homes or cook our food. Because of this, it is wise to store alternate sources of fuel, if circumstances permit. Those who live in apartment buildings with central heating systems and no alternatives may not be able to benefit from these suggestions.

Where fuel storage is possible, the main common fuels that could be stored are: (1) cut wood for stoves, space heaters, furnaces, or fireplaces; (2) lump coal for stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces; and slack coal for furnaces; and (3) oil for space heaters or oil-burning furnaces. Let’s take a look at each of these alternatives.

Wood. In some areas wood is plentiful and could easily be obtained for fuel. It is not nearly as efficient as oil in producing heat—it requires sixteen pounds of wood to produce the same heat that one gallon of oil will yield, though that will vary slightly from wood to wood. But wood is often more readily available than oil and can be burned in a much wider variety of heating units.

Approximately four cords of wood will last an average home (1,500 square feet) all winter if the minimum temperature is 0° F. (-18° C.). If the minimum temperature is -30° F. (-22° C.), add 40 percent. If you have the wood delivered rather than cutting it yourself, check it to make sure that it is clean, dry, and free from termites and other insects.

Wood may easily be stored outside, preferably but not necessarily under a tarp, heavy plastic, or a canopy. If the wood is to be stored inside, the bark should be stripped off first. It should be restacked every five years to prevent the buildup of debris, which could lead to spontaneous combustion. Chimneys should be cleaned regularly to prevent combustion in the chimney. Wood stoves should be ventilated properly and the flu system sealed to prevent leakage.

Coal. Coal is often a good alternative to wood, especially if you have a fireplace or a coal-burning stove or furnace. Coal is also good if your storage space is limited, since pound for pound it produces considerably more heat energy than wood (yet considerably less than oil). It is best to store coal in an outside area where there is no danger of fire damage. Some people have stored their coal underground with success. This is done by digging a hole, putting the coal in, and covering it with plastic and then six to eight inches of soil. Grass or a garden can then be grown over the storage area. One ton of coal requires approximately forty cubic feet of storage space. Six tons of coal are needed to provide heat for an average home through a normal winter (with a minimum outside temperature of 0° F.). Spontaneous combustion is always a hazard with coal, especially in piles of 1/2 ton or more. Coal should not be stored indoors.

Oil. Furnace oil is one of the most heat-efficient fuels available, and can easily and safely be stored in a heavy-gauge steel tank. Five hundred gallons per year are recommended for the average home. Those with an oil furnace or an oil- or propane-burning space heater are advised to have an extra amount of this fuel on hand for times of shortage or disaster. It will serve them much better than wood or coal.

Other kinds of fuel are also available, though none are likely to be as good as wood, coal, or oil. Gasoline and alcohol are very energy-efficient, but they are also very dangerous to store.

Butane and propane must be stored under pressure to prevent rapid vaporization. They burn very well in a gas-type furnace or stove, but the purchase of enough pressurized tanks to last through a cold winter would be quite expensive. Any oil-type fuels (butane, propane, kerosene, gasoline, and oil) form heavy vapors that can settle to the bottom of a basement. These can “puddle” and cause explosion or suffocation. These fuels should never be stored in a basement. Consult an expert on your particular storage problems.

Grains, peat, bagasse, and manure may also be used as fuels in an emergency. Most of these burn very rapidly and generally do not provide as much heat per pound as wood. They can be made more efficient, however, by tightly binding them together in small bundles or briquettes while wet or while under very heavy pressure.

Rubber tires may also be used in an emergency. Power tools are very helpful in cutting them into small enough pieces for a stove or fireplace. Tires are more energy-efficient than coal, but since they are so bulky a great amount of storage space is required for a year’s supply. An added disadvantage is that smoke from burning rubber is very difficult to control. Because of the smoke, tires are recommended as a short-term measure only.

In many areas in the world, types of fuels may be found that are not listed here. A combustion expert should be consulted before attempting to store or use such fuel.

For years members have been putting aside a year’s supply of food and other necessary household items, following the direction of the leaders of the Church. We should also seek to have a supply of fuel on hand. Like the ten virgins in the Savior’s parable (see Matt. 25:1–13), whether or not we have oil for our lamps may make all the difference.