A DIY Heater Could Keep Homeless People Warm in Winter. For 7 Dollars?

The alcohol-based heaters are tent-safe.
Irmak Bayrakdar
A heater.Heater Bloc

Winter has come, and the Northern Hemisphere is now covered in a blanket of snow. However, things are not looking great for over half a million people living in a state of homelessness in the United States in the freezing cold. 

To provide a heating solution to those that are left without a home, Heater Bloc, a Portland-based community, just shared open-sourced blueprints to building heater models. The decentralized network operates in accordance with anarchist principles, non-hierarchically, and cooperatively. They build and distribute tent-safe, alcohol-based heaters to those without shelter during the winter.

Headlined "Heater Bloc’s Guide to Building a Tent-Safe Copper Coil Alcohol Heater", the guide gives detailed instructions and the equipment needed for the build. What's great about the unit is that it costs only about seven dollars each when all components are purchased beforehand and it can be used in small indoor spaces for hours. 

Building low-cost copper coil alcohol heaters

How do they work? The heater's burner uses nothing but fumes from the alcohol fuel. The alcohol fumes or vapors that stem from the liquid fuel in the jar, collect in the copper pipe. When the pipe is heated, the fumes expand and are forced out a tiny
hole at the bottom of the copper loop (the fume or jet hole). These fumes then combust as soon as they exit and hit the open flame which then heats the top of the copper loop. The alcohol fumes will keep burning until the flow is interrupted by tipping it sideways or blowing the flame out like a candle. 

The ingenious heaters can be used for both cooking and heating and if it tips over, its flame automatically burns out. As long as there's proper ventilation, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is minimal as well due to isopropyl alcohol's clean combustion.

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Speaking to Vice, members of HeaterBloc said that "The project wasn’t something new, it was developed over the years, in many different forms." and that "It starts off with an idea, then that idea is built upon. It evolves, it spreads, it takes on a life of its own. This year, we were just fortunate enough to settle on a safe and cost-efficient design."

“It's hard to convey to the average person what it feels like to be unhoused in the winter,” wrote the HeaterBloc members in their statement. “An inescapable coldness that fills your lungs with ice and numbs your limbs. A damp cold that exhausts your body, one that you’d do anything to escape.”

A mutual aid group activist under the name Meadows told Vice that “There's a really high percentage of unhoused people that don't use drugs, and the reason why they became unhoused has nothing to do with drug use,” and added, “however, drugs make you feel warmer, they also kind of help you pass the time, and they make the fight or flight situation more bearable. When mutual aid groups are actually able to get more heaters to people, we've actually already seen a reduction in drug use and an uptick in smiles.” 

While they're not able to provide roofs over everyone's heads, the aid groups are currently building and distributing heaters to homeless people around the country. 


“When you're poor you don't have a voice. When you're unhoused you are not treated as a human. Our desire would be that HeaterBloc would no longer be a need,” wrote HeaterBloc. “Society would accept and care for all of its members, acknowledging that housing is a human right rather than just a luxury.” 

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