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Affordable and Portable Heating at Last!

Updated on December 29, 2019
The "lotus" is a red bisque room heater that uses tea lights. It, along with other designs. can be used to heat a small room, an RV, boat and even a tent.
The "lotus" is a red bisque room heater that uses tea lights. It, along with other designs. can be used to heat a small room, an RV, boat and even a tent.

How it all Got Started

Decades ago, someone in Britain had a brainstorm idea. Living in a cold damp flat, they could not afford the heating costs, so they invented a method to heat a room on the cheap. Using nothing more than some bricks or a baking pan, some tea lights and an inverted terracotta flower pot, they were able to provide heat in a small room, typically 8 X 10 feet in a period of about half an hour. This took the chill off the room. The main disadvantage was the short time (4 hours) for a set of tea lights. However, there are some work arounds to lengthen te operating time.

This idea inspired me over the years, and I thence developed my own self contained, candle powered, ceramic heaters, using a scupture grade clay mix used by potters and sculptors.

This is the base of a ceramic heater consisting of a baking pan and four tea lights.
This is the base of a ceramic heater consisting of a baking pan and four tea lights.
This is the terracotta flower pot cover that absorbs and distributes hear.
This is the terracotta flower pot cover that absorbs and distributes hear.

Portable and Affordable Small Space Heating that Anyone Can Craft

During these times of austerity, increasing costs and shrinking income, it is great to discover a way to have heating and lighting on the cheap. Yes, with the right resources and understanding, anyone can make one or more version of the ceramic heaters. But, before we go charging off in all directions at once, we need to grasp some fundamentals such as safety and materials understanding.

Portable Central Heating for the Poor and Homeless

People can become homeless for a host of reasons, but once there, they become completely vulnerable and cut off from nearly every benefit of civilization. Moreover, owing to profiling, they are often victimized, suffering all sorts of trauma up to and including murder either by the prejudice of others and/or the state. I stand as a witness to some of these assaults, by accounts from the homeless and from direct observation. It is not easy being homeless. All the things we take for granted are denied anyone who lands in this position. There is no guaranteed access to food and water, no lighting, no shower facilities, no means to cook, no heating and no benefits like electronics. The solution to two of these problems is presented here. Moreover, the same solution for the homeless has application for campers, boaters and anyone living in a small space.

The initial solution was developed in Britain under Thatcher's regime. It consisted of a baking pan, a large clay flower pot that could fit upside down over the edge of the baking pan and tea light candles. The idea worked, but is fraught with safety issues. What is proposed here is a complete self contained unit that is all clay based and made to fit together, making it safer in the hands of reasonable use. All one needs are the candles to power it. It puts out sufficient heat to warm a small room space, up to 8 by 10 feet, or quickly heat up a tent, small RV or boat. This is just from using four candles that last four hours. As a side benefit, there is lighting. It may even be possible to do light cooking.

The proposal here is develop a two part program, one where those with means can purchase a unit or multiple units and the other where they are distributed free to those most in need, but cannot afford to buy one. Thus, the units that are sold to those with means will help to finance those units that are given away to the poor and/or homeless.

Initial prototypes exist and have been field tested with remarkable results, particularly as described in a video of a homeless friend who is currently using a prototype and has been using it in a tent for a few weeks, under diverse, but mainly cold weather circumstances. An additional bonus has surfaced during warmer weather, is the fact that these units attract and kill mosquitos.

The Ceramic Micro Furnace; Micro Size, Maximum Warmth

This unit is designed to provide heating for small spaces where heating is an issue. These places are tents, small RVs, boats and single occupancy rooms and/or outbuildings. It has been determined that a four candle unit can heat an enclosed 8X10 room. It takes a while to warm up a cold room, but maintained, the heating can be continuous, even when the outside temperature is below freezing. Smaller spaces can be warmed more rapidly. As with any other device, some safety considerations are recommended.

  1. Make sure the unit is on a level and secure surface before firing it up.

  2. Keep flammable materials away from the unit when in use.

  3. Do not use the unit if it is cracked or broken. A simple soundness test is to tap it with a fingernail. A clear ring indicates soundness. A rattling ring says it's cracked.

  4. Do not attempt to dry clothing on a unit that is being used for heating.

  5. Always be in attendance while the unit is firing. If you must leave, extinguish the candles/oil lamp

  6. Be careful while handing a burning unit as you might burn yourself and trigger an accident.

  7. Do not let children play with it as if it were a toy.

  8. Light cooking, like a cup of tea in an enamelled cup is possible on some designs.

  9. If the porous base becomes saturated with paraffin, discontinue use until the residue wax is burned off outside. More contemporary units have a glazed inner base to prevent wax penetrating the porous material,

  10. Do not use more candles than recommended as the unit could overheat. Various units are made to handle 2 to 4 tea light candles and/or a small oil lamp. An overheated unit can shatter, especially if subjected to sudden temperature change, such as can happen if torrential rainwater spills onto a working unit..

  11. Unless you are using the unit in a very safe location, do not go to sleep with the unit being fired.

  12. Use only tea light candles or the supplied oil lamp.

  13. The use of a light vegetable oil is recommended for units with an oil lamp. Even rendered animal fat can be used. Avoid using kerosene and/or gasoline.

  14. If you are using the unit in a boat or RV, make sure it is extinguished before driving the boat or RV.

  15. Make sure there is sufficient ventilation. Though the unit is unlikely to cause danger from excess carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, it is best to have a small input of ventilation from the outside.

A functioning handmade ceramic candle light heater
A functioning handmade ceramic candle light heater
This is a small ceramic lamp that uses veritable oil as a source of light and/or local small space heating.
This is a small ceramic lamp that uses veritable oil as a source of light and/or local small space heating.
A multiple port ceramic heater made by the author for larger spaces.
A multiple port ceramic heater made by the author for larger spaces.

In the Next Installment; How to craft Your Own Heater

Now that you are aware of alternatives, it is time to consider what to do next. You could always use the readily available supplies which also carry certain risks. The better option is to tailor make your own that provides a much safer design. Keep an eye open for the next installment coming soon.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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