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Is using natural gas a realistic option in most grid-down scenarios?

Given the number of electrical grid-down scenarios over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about how to heat my home should that happen in the dead of winter.

My question is this:  Does natural gas ever get disrupted, specifically in locations like the Rocky Mountain West?  Power outages exceeding more than a few hours in my area are rare, perhaps once a year at most.  I don’t recall ever–in my lifetime–having a natural gas outage, period.  Though, obviously, anything is possible given the right bad circumstances.

It occurred to me that in a simple extended power outage (ranging from a few hours to a few days) due to, say, downed power lines in a snowstorm, I could simply plug the fan for my gas fireplace (or, possibly, the fan for the main house heater, which uses forced air) into a Jackery or DIY power station and keep heat circulating through the house.  While I haven’t yet taken a look at the setup in the basement furnace room, my initial thought is that that electric fan on my fireplace would require significantly less electricity and would be sufficient to keep our small two-bedroom ranch style home “warm enough” in an emergency situation.

Obviously, as well all things prepping, I wouldn’t want to put all my eggs in the same prepping basket.  So being prepared to function without natural gas ultimately needs to be part of my plan.  But, it seems, that many if not most grid-down situations would be no electric BUT natural gas still available, allowing me to battery power the fans to circulate the heat.  And, obviously, for an extended outage, natural gas–if available–is in much greater supply than the amount of propane I can realistically (and safely) store onsite.

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  • Comments (7)

    • 3

      Im in the same boat…..just last week, there was a natural gas shutdown that affected a huge area for a couple days…dont remember where. I have a non-electrical natural gas wall heater in the basement for emergencies. At least should be able to keep the pipes above freezing. Just installed a tri-fuel generator….gasoline, nat gas and propane. In my area, there are numerous gas wells. Those wells feed into compressor stations that compress the gas and send it on in pipelines. I imagine in a true large region power loss, those compressor stations won’t work for long., but I dont know that for sure. I have a friend who works in the gas industry, l’ll ask him his thoughts on this subject and get back to you.

    • 3

      If you have a gas fireplace it should be serviced every year, and when that happens you should ask the contractor about the viability of this scenario.  In my case one gas appliance in my house would keep running in a power outage (assuming the gas kept flowing), but the other had a safety shutoff so that it would not, since the vent for that appliance required electric power to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

      I had the appliance moved so that the vent could be “passive” and keep working in a power outage.

      The next time I have my HVAC service done I’m going to ask my contractor about precisely the scenario you described: Hooking up the fans to a Jackery. Thank you for that idea!

      For years I did not know my fireplace needed annual service and wow did it make a difference in terms of the heat produced, air quality in the house, and even the appearance of the fireplace. It was worth every penny and I regret not having it done before. The guy even did a full safety inspection and refused to leave until we moved one of our carbon monoxide detectors (we have many) closer to the fireplace. He said his company had had clients who died during storms because they slept next to the gas fireplace for heat, but didn’t have a carbon monoxide detector and had not had their fireplaces serviced regularly.  (A blockage from, say, a birds’ nest is all that it takes).  So they went to sleep all cozy and warm but never woke up again. 

      • 1

        Anything that needs specifically trained personnel to service it once a year might be compromised if the service person is not available, whether in a worst-case scenario or in an area with limited service providers.

    • 2

      Ok talked to two different people who work in the natural gas industry. Both tell me that in our region, the compressor stations all have generator backup to keep gas moving when the power goes out….but what about long term? Say an EMP or some such that takes out the grid for weeks or months…or worse? They didn’t have any info on that scenario. 

    • 2

      https://www.progasllc.com/do-gas-appliances-work-in-power-outage/

      https://www.nwnatural.com/natural-gas-in-a-power-outage

      This article is talking about supplying NG to electric power generation plants:

      https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/natural-gas-power-storm/

      https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2021/oct/winter-storm-impact.php

      This is the most interesting graphic from the article above:

      Texas Storm Uri impact 2021

      Natural gas does not freeze in the distribution pipes to homes and businesses because they are buried and protected from freezing weather, usually. However, gas well heads can freeze and stop producing because water is a byproduct of pumping NG. As NG travels through the pipelines to your home, the pressure drops. Pumping stations along the way re-pressurize the gas to maintain NG pressure to your home. However, those pumps are powered themselves by NG (good) or by electricity (not always good).

      • 1

        It is shocking 50% had water damage. None of them in their neighborhood knew how to drain their system? Not one of them?

        I might be answering my own question when 75% didn’t have 4-5 days food in their homes.

    • 2

      I’ve seen natural gas turned off for about one city block on several occasions, always due to a gas leak. Never seen this last more than a day.

      At least a mix of electricity and natural gas means you’re less likely to lose both at once.