I have been a home inspector in Massachusetts for almost 30 years. During really cold periods, I have received many calls from former clients seeking advice in emergency situations. These included calls from clients after their heating systems failed or their pipes froze and the plumbers and heating contractors were overbooked. At such times, the local hardware stores have usually been out of portable heaters.
If your furnace stops working for some reason other than a power outage, you may have an emergency warm-air furnace already: the electric clothes dryer. I instruct my clients to remove the dryer duct from the wall, clean out the lint, and aim it toward the living space. Once the dryer is turned on, there will be a blizzard of lint for a minute or so, then a steady stream of safe, warm air. If necessary, the duct can easily be extended to reach into a cold crawlspace, under the kitchen sink, or wherever else heat is needed to keep pipes from freezing. This trick cannot be used if the dryer is gas-fired because the dryer duct is venting unhealthful exhaust gases as well as moist air.
I encourage my plumbing and heating-service friends to carry a couple of lengths of flexible dryer duct in their trucks to take advantage of this technique. Once the crisis is over, I suggest that my clients replace any plastic dryer ducts with safer and more efficient rigid or flexible metal ducts and vacuum out the dryer’s outlet and the exterior damper.
Dale A. Pope, Gloucester, MA