Selco: How to Stay Warm During a Long-Term SHTF Situation

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An Interview with Selco Begovic

Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

As America is dealing with a record-breaking cold snap and a weird storm hitting the East Coast, some folks are having to handle the whole thing with the power out also. But we all know that at least this time, our situation is temporary. Most of us have power, and those who don’t will have it restored within a few days. But what if you had to stay warm during a long-term SHTF situation?

After your warm response to Selco’s story about Christmas during the SHTF in Bosnia, I hired him to start writing for us more often. Today, he shares with us what it was like to try and stay warm during an entire year in a war zone without any type of utilities. It’s a lot of information, and we can apply this to our preps.

Selco’s information is incredibly valuable because he has actually been through what we plan for during our preparedness endeavors.   Let’s get started.

The US is dealing with quite a cold snap right now, and it got me thinking about your SHTF year in Bosnia. First of all, what is the winter like there? How cold does it get and what is the climate?

In a small part of the country close to Adriatic sea it is Mediterranean climate with mild winters and temperatures then goes just below 0 or -5 Celsius (32-23 Fahrenheit) and in other parts of country it is a Continental climate with temperatures during the winter -10 or -18 (14-5 Fahrenheit), with cold waves down to -26 (-15 Fahrenheit) and a lot of snow. 

Very usual are periods of strong cold wind (Bora) that actually can lower your body temperature very fast and complicate things.

 Sounds weird but after experiencing snow and -20 during SHTF and Bora at -2, I had most problems with that wind and -2 Celsius simply because it lowers your body temperature fast and suddenly.

Did you have any public utilities at all during this time?

All public utilities went off in first few weeks one by one. Electricity, water, heating (city central heating service) and phone lines, etc.

Did most people have homes with fireplaces or off-grid heating methods before this time period? Or were the homes modernized to the point that they were not functional?

During the late 70s and early 80s in the region, there was huge effort in modernizing cities heating services (partly because pollution) so majority of city apartment buildings and part of private houses were “connected“ on a public central heating system, either on natural gas or oil fuel (hot water system in radiators, through piping system)

As a result of that, building apartments had no fireplaces, even if they had places for smoke exhaust (vertical flue that provides a path through which smoke from a fire is carried away through the wall or roof of a building- exhaust) they were not in operating condition because nobody needed it for 20 years or so. They were clogged, destroyed, blocked, or similar. 

Because that lot of home fires happened in first period of SHTF in apartment buildings simply because people wanted to install some kind of wood fire stove and send the fumes through an exhaust system that was not in use for decades.

I live in an apartment building now, in a building block of some 800 apartments. Again, the buildings have fireplace exhaust systems, but nobody used it for last 20 years, because the central heating is working perfectly.

So they are clogged, blocked, or destroyed.

Mine is in perfect operating condition and ready all the time because I keep it like that.

In private houses, the situation was bit different. Yes, people rely a lot on heating through eletric heaters but most of the houses still had fire wood stoves of some kind and operating exhaust system partly because tradition but also for heating.

Still, a lot of the homes that even had a fireplace (way and place to start a fire either for heating or cooking or both) they had it in, let’s say, not an economic way. Nobody thought that firewood was gonna be so expensive and hard to get. A lot of people simply had fireplaces as a decoration, not in a way to heat house in most economic way (in terms of used-fuel-heat-given ratio)

How did people stay warm? 

We can say that first step was that people simply “shrunk“ their living space.

For example, if a family of people had a house with six rooms they simply stopped using four rooms, and they lived in two rooms only, because of a simple reason – it was easier to heat two rooms only.

To get wood for heating was a hard process and often dangerous, so how much fuel you spent in your home was a matter of staying alive. 

Old style wood stove with a smoke-exhaust-pipe (that would be put through the hole in the wall to outside- if a chimney-exhaust system was not existing in that room.

Comfort was completely forgotten because of necessity. 

Also people insulate their homes with what they had. A majority of windows were crushed (glass) because of detonations (shelling), so people blocked window openings with what they had.

Blanket, pillows, nylons, and tarps were used for that. Also, duct tape was a very useful item. 

Homes were kinda rearranged in order to make it more energy efficient in very rudimenrtary ways. For example, if a house had smoke exhaust just in the kitchen but that kitchen was not good for having wood stove there, then simply stove was moved from that kitchen into the desired room. A hole was made in that room (for smoke exhaust) and the stove was put there.

You need to understand that homes (houses, apatments) when SHTF were very fast to deteriorate. There was no service to call, remember. Leaks from the roofs, freezing temperatures… all that makes your house quite problematic to live in. We were trying to fix what we could, but insulation was problematic very quickly. A lot of problems could have easily been solved with simple items like insulation foam (in spray containers) for example, but nobody was prepared for SHTF. (Yes, I have it now).

Leaving some room out of use was not only because heating, often some rooms were not used because they were exposed to firing. (Choosing the part of the house that will be not used – or at least not used often – was also based on from what direction you could expect gunfire or shelling.)

 Sometimes rooms weren’t used simply because there were not enough people to watch that space for outside threat.

Parts of the house that were too exposed to threat (let’s say close to the street, or rooms with too many windows) were simply blocked or not use. Or in other case if enemy position were from south we simply did not use rooms on that side for sleeping because chance was bigger that side was gonna be hit with grenade or smaller size bullets. And on top of that, we needed to take care about heating not necessary space.

So in short “rearranging” living space was mainly depending on:

  1. Immediate threat (physical threat- let’s say someone could enter your home through the room close to the street because you can not watch that room all the time.)
  2. Shelling threat – taking into consideration from what direction most of the bigger caliber things are coming
  3. Cutting off unnecessary parts of the house to save heating

I can say that living inside a home during winter was subdued completely due to the fact that fuel needed to be saved.

Did people make any types of heaters? Can you please describe them in detail so that we can try to duplicate what you did?

First people remodeled our existing stoves. For example-stove from the picture above was remodeled in a way that the black plate on the top was removed and much thinner material would be put there (any kind of thin metal) so that stove would take much less wood in order plate be red-hot. If you wanted to boil water on it, it was a huge difference whether it takes two pieces of wood or six. 

Also, an internal exhaust pipe (pipe that goes from stove to wall) was something that was quite cool to find somewhere, because if you have it enough you could firstly put stove away from chimney in the wall (in desired room) without need to drill new hole, and secondly, more of that pipe meant more heating surface, because the pipe was radiating heat: more pipe, more heat.

 A lot of the old-style stoves were built for cooking first, heating was a secondary role, so we also changed that in a way that we removed internal plates for example so basically less heat was going through the chimney and more into the stove.

Very soon people started to make their own stoves (in some periods even small stoves were smuggled in and exchanged on the black market).

Very popular was a “drum stove.“ People made it from very thin metal. The point was, it was small, you coud install it close to any opening and it required a very small amount of wood to get it red hot.

 I needed 3-4 small tiles from a wooden floor or one big book to make it very hot (and boil water and cook  something fast.

 A favorite was a “pressure cooker stove“.

A pressure cooker was a “must have“ item in every home prior the war.

For example, if you find yourself in apartment building in the middle of SHTF without heating in winter, you would take pressure cooker (upside down) drill hole for exhaust, use some metal to form an exhaust pipe, then make a hole in wall.

More thin metal bending and you made door and ash-tray.

Most of these homemade stoves made lot of smoke inside the home, they smelled a lot. Luckily, not too many poisonings occurred because insulation of the homes was really bad.

 

War hand made stoves (the second one on photo is pressure cooker stove) If we had only small made stove we surrounded it with bricks in order to retain heat for more time (in the bricks), and later bricks could be taken in bed.

 

Today I would not suggest that you make stove from pressure cooker or similar, point is to have stored way somewhere to heat your self with firewood in the most economic way, no matter if you do not need that today because you solve your heating with electricity.

Where did you get fuel for fires?

It was taken care of in layers and depending on the security situation.

For example, if the situation was good, you would go out and chop trees from park or nearest hill with trees. If the situation was bad, then we burned furniture, books, shelves.

By the end of the worst period,  people took down all available trees in town, wooden door and window frames from destroyed and abandoned houses, pieces of furniture, wooden floor tiles, and similar.

Over the time we learned value or caloric value of fuel, so, for example, wooden floor tiles were great (especially if the polish coating was good) because it caught fire easily and burned good with lot of energy. Or I used to know that I could make a quick meal out of  firing old shoes if they were of particular material if i manage to start fire. (Yes, it smelled awful.) 

Finding fuel for fire was an ongoing, time -consuming process, and never-ending.

 It was a mess having a whole bunch of people trying, for example, to take down a big tree, then chop it in small pieces, and then to transport it in some way back to home.

Some of use never used an ax before that.

What about winter clothing? Were you just stuck with what you already had? Did people make their own during this time?

Yes, more or less we were stuck with what we had, and people do not actually realize how much their clothing is based on fact that they are living in a system that takes care of them.

 Again, comfort and how does it look became not important (if did not attract unnecessary attention).

 People again “rearranged“ their stuff in order to make it useful so you could see all kind of weird things like ponchos or vests made from blankets ( simple hole in blanket, and pieces of rope) or nylon in boots, or paper inside jackets and pants, raincoats made from pieces of nylons or pieces of military tents (taken from abandoned barracks), but most important thing was dressing in layers of all kind of different clothes. 

If you had, for example, an old granny in your family who knew to knit (it was kinda tradition here) and if she had enough material it was very precious because you had source for gloves, socks and similar, and also good source for trade.

 We were missing heavy duty items in our clothes, we were ordinary city folks who suddenly were thrown in life with a lot of heavy jobs, so clothes (just like everything else) deteriorated much faster than in normal times.

Did people die or suffer cold-related injuries like frostbite?

Yes,  we were forced to look for resources no matter what kind of weather was outside,

Frostbites happened, but also I strongly believe that something a bit different was much bigger problem.

Usually people in prepping comunnity (and elsewhere too) when it comes to cold weather danger forget it. It is called sometimes urban hypothermia.

In normal times you may see that condition in elderly people who are living alone in poor condition (They do not move too much and their circulation is poor.) 

It is a condition when people are exposed to prolonged cold environments inadequately heated houses, homes in poor condition (wet, damp for example), and when you connect that with possible bad quality food, a lot of stress, you may find yourself in a bad state pretty fast.

 Older people were especially vulnerable to that (particularly if they already had some medical issues). Their immunity systems went down fast and then they got sick.

 It was like we all found ourselves living in 3rd world country conditions. 

Frostbites happened fast, and you could reverse the process if you got help fast. Living in a poor (cold more or less) overall condition was something that we could not help a lot.

Do you have any personal stories from that winter that you could share with us?

Fire is very important to keep yourself warm when SHTF. No matter how well you are prepared with some other way of heating and fuel (gas, diesel…) sooner or later, in prolonged SHTF during the winter you will end up with heating yourself with wood fire. 

It makes a lot of sense to have that means ready today somewhere, no matter how modern your home is.

One thing is for sure, when SHTF all things look twice as hard when you are cold, and usually they are.

In some of the hardest situations when temperatures were around -20 and I had to get done some hard tasks, I used to drink alcohol together with small amounts of sugar because an urban myth was that helps in low temperatures. That was wrong, of course, and  luckily I survived, but the point is to understand what kind of food helps you in cold temperatures and what of that you may have stored.,

For example I would give a lot in that times to have a simple hot chicken soup that maybe costs today around 1 euro and it takes 3 minutes to make it ready. 

I learned in that times that having a small fire in the middle of the night in cold weather not only can keep you warm but also can give you psychological strength to move on, to give you reason to live, or let’s say to make you see the light in what look like desperate situation.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about what must have been a terrible winter? (Did I miss anything important?)

Connected to winter, cold, and fire, people tend to forget that they need to have means to start fire, A LOT of that. 

Simply over the time some everyday things like lighters become rare and pretty expensive to trade, and fire was not something that you kept going all the time (resources again), and quality of wood was often horrible so often we had lot of problems to start a fire. 

Anything that helps with starting a fire makes sense to have in great quantities, things like a lot of lighters, kindling, candles, fuel cubes.

Do you have a plan to stay warm during a long-term scenario?


Reading this, I realized my plan is pretty good for the short term, but definitely wouldn’t be sufficient here in my rental home for a long-term situation. I’ll be adding a few supplies to my list thanks to Selco’s advice.

I noted many of the recommendations he had in this interview:

  • Duct tape
  • Winter gear that is sturdier than what you need right now
  • The ability to knit/crochet sturdy items
  • A way to heat with wood, regardless of your current situation (This little stove has fantastic reviews but you will have to have a way to vent and a way to protect your walls and floors so they don’t catch on fire. Stock up on those things as well)
  • A way to vent a wood heater (get the right type of stove pipe for your heater, think ahead where you will vent it, and get the proper supplies to seal around the opening and pipe so the heat doesn’t escape.)
  • A way to block off part of the house and just keep one area warm
  • The ability to use an ax
  • Lighters
  • Matches
  • Firestarters
  • Fuel Cubes
  • Kindling
  • Candles
  • Cans of spray foam insulation

Did this give you some food for thought? Will you be adding some supplies or making any changes to your winter plan based on Selco’s interview?

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Everything is twice as hard when you’re cold. Boy, ain’t that the truth, but so easily forgotten. That really struck a nerve for me… Great Article! (saved to homescreen)

  • I was hoping to read what a great help it would have been to have the j tube … rocket stove design that uses less fuel with the most efficient burn . The fact that any discussion of heat ,cooking and comfort without utilities would not include this information is not a thorough picture of what could be. I would love to see everyone help make the information about the rocket stove , rocket stove mass heater every day knowledge. If you read your comments could you inform Selco about it and the info you need is on youtube. So sorry anyone had to live in a combat zone

  • Thank you for having him again. I learn something every time I read his stuff.
    We need to get more aim n flame type lighters. I have a lot of matches but hubs prefers those type of multipurpose lighters.
    We also has a conversation about cooking in these cold conditions should our propane be exhausted by that point.
    Great food for thought.

    ForwardPreppers

  • Absolutely fantastic article. Thank you so much Selco, and you as well Daisy!

    Some notes:
    Heavy blankets or thick curtains work really well to block off sections of the room so you can heat smaller areas. We always had thick curtains, hung from the ceiling, blocking off the hallways so only the central area would be heated when I was young.

    Look into how to make rugs/blankets. Primitive rug hooking and rug braiding are both fantastic uses for scrap fabric. They are easy to learn and critical if you have bare floors or worn carpet (or to use as extra blankets).

    Selco mentions it but to re-iterate, crumpled paper wadded up makes decent insulation shoved in a zipped coat, pants, etc. The crumpling is important as it traps the air which increases the insulation effect. Also useful as you are then walking around with a bunch of tinder.

    If you have a garage door insulate it with cut foil panels. They bump up your garage 10-15ºF.

    Windows are the worst heat leeches. Be sure your windows are properly caulked. Curtains make a huge difference, so do shutters.

    Cooking with tealights, Dakota firepits, rocket stoves… all need practice. Practice making them, practice using them. Heck, I have “how to render lard” as my skill to learn for January. Soap, candles, cooking, it’s a useful skill to have.

    Thank you again Daisy and Selco, this was a weighty article that is incredibly relevant.

  • Daisy and Selco. As I write this, it is -10 F in the area of Michigan I live in. I know there are areas in the US and Canada that are even colder. Thank you for providing us with info that is realistic and proven. We may not all be prepper geniuses (but I’ll bet you learn fast) but the one thing that he said about the ability for a firelight to keep your morale and spirits up is not overlooked…as a matter of fact- it is probably the most important thing…as there are things worse than dying. Bless you Selco for surviving and sharing. And thank you friend Daisy for all you do.

  • Great article Daisy!

    Three things I would mention here:

    1. For the stove mentioned, you would need double wall vent anywhere it goes through a wall, floor etc or risk burning the place down. Single wall pipe inside the room is fine as long as its far enough away from the wall or floor etc., at least as far as stove is required to be from a wall. I would have a pad for a free standing fireplace as well, all the wood heat in the world will be useless if one burns the place down.

    2. I would not buy the foam you recommended, only because of price, they are gouging you 6 ways to Sunday. Instead, buy window and door spray foam (much cheaper) from Menards, Home Depot etc. – any place that carries that kind of stuff.

    3. One more thought, duct tape really is awesome! Give thought to purchasing a couple rolls of Gorilla duct tape along with the cheaper duct tape. I’m not an advocate of advertising for a particular product very often, but Gorilla duct tape really is better and worth the money.

    BTW – I was a HVAC professional for many years. 🙂

  • NOTES, POST THEM HERE.
    I wouldn’t stock up on those foams-in-a-can, they all too often dry up and become worthless. I don’t know about you, but half the time when I buy one off the shelf in the store, they are already dried up an worthless.
    They are ‘Great Stuff’ in the moment, IF you save your recite.

    This pretty good SELCO article (heh, I think of the guy every time I see the backside of a goobermint road sign, his name is printed on every one) mentioned burning wood, yet made no mention on types of wood. F.Y.I. if you burn pine, or anything and everything you can get your hands on, creosote will build up in the flu and possibly cause a fire. From what I’ve heard, that’s not exactly a burn down the house situation, fires in chimneys can burn out, all by themselves – that was a good bit of info I learned which set my mind at ease some.

    From what I’ve heard, from those with experience in the matter, it’s best to burn hardwoods such as oak to avoid chimney fires. I thought about hiring a chimney sweep, until I talked to a seasoned fireplace owner who said they Never used one, because they only burned oak. I wonder if buying a chimney sweep kit would be a good idea if I was forced to use less than ideal firewood?

    One other thing I learned, fireplaces draw oxygen, they bring it in from cracks in windows and under doors an such, they often make the rest of the house uncomfortable and draftily cold. ‘Brrr! Cold!” I’ve heard that better built fireplaces have vents to deliver oxygen from the chimney to the fire so it does not draw oxygen from the rest of the house. – Pretty important f.y.i. eh?

    It’s been freezing freaking cold here in Iowa. It broke, this week, thank God. My work jacket I sweat in, the nylon/plastic zipper is failing. I’m thinking of replacing it with a heavy duty brass zipper. Are some brass zippers better than others?

    Also, I LOVE my wool stocking hat. It’s amazing how much better it is than the cheap’O’s they sell in the stores everywhere.

    One other thing, does anyone have a BTU/price comparison sheet type of thing for which is better, firewood vs. those fancy burn logs they sell in the stores, some have 4 – hour burn times. I’m new to this stuff, I just noticed the most popular type only has a one and a half hour burn time… and some types (high flame) can’t be used in sealed wood stoves. Who would’ve thought? Gotta read the fine print on everything, eh?

    Another,’also’, I had the windshield washer fluid freeze up in the jets on the hood of my car – I had -20 degree stuff, but that wasn’t good enough – is there a trick to keeping it from freezing? I thought about putting in some vodka, but wondered if it would be a problem in some unforseen way.

    Lastly, I’ve been learning about sump pumps. Fun stuff. (sarc/OFF) I didn’t know there were low voltage pumps and high voltage pumps. One I got, can pump any kind of garbage, got an inverter so I can hook it up to a battery. That requires hooking the battery to a battery tender. I hope I never need it and will get the energy and time to install it. High ground has value,… long as you’re not in tornado country. [Insert image of below ground house on high ground, here X].

    One of my current biggest dreads is a flooded basement and the power is out. Yah, I bought a pair of rubber knee-high boots and located where the main water shut-off valve is. Do you think I should have bought hip waders instead? …and I can’t get my other-half to want to learn any of this. The challenges of life.

    p.s. even with this borrowed p.c. it wasn’t easy to post my comment. Dunno why. I’m just glad you don’t use that Disquiakie format.

  • Cut plenty of firewood now! You don’t want to be doing it by hand wtshtf and you sure don’t want to use a chain saw to do it, creating a bunch of noise that can start a party you don’t want to be invited to. Also, having it done now gives the wood a good chance to season; crucial to getting the most btu’s out of it, and keeping your stove pipe clean.

    Great article Daisy.

  • Please prominently date your material at the top of the articles. It’s just basic good form and enables readers to understand your writing in the important context of time.

  • I know some campers heat up rocks in a camp fire and then bring them into their tent and place them in a small central covered pit, this thermal mass radiates heat all night. Good for small spaces and avoiding smoke inside.
    For starting fires I have a blowtorch head that fits to butane canisters, the type used in camp stoves. Very inexpensive and gives hundreds of starts per canister.

  • From my time in the army… a good insulated canteen and hot beverages ideally coffee, tea hot chocolate, soup; but hot water is good too to help keep internal temperature up. Small regular meals a digestion keeps you warmer… stay dry if at all possible. Winter is hard it is my fear as cold injuries happen easily and it is miserable…

  • Warm medium rocks in a fire or on a stove. Wrap in a heavy towel and tuck in bed to keep your feet warm.
    I’m rehabbing an old treadle sewing machine. I have several electric machines but I’m putting together non electric things that can make life easier. Its anazing what is availab K e if you stay on the lookout for those things.
    We’ve been without electricity in the home for 14 months now. I do have power at one of our 2 wells but it that goes out I’ve added a manual winch at the other well that happens to be in my backyard.
    Keep planning and learning. I enjoy the articles and discussions.

  • Advice from here in the cold part of the world:
    Selco hints at it, but to clarify – drinking alcohol makes you ‘feel’ warm, but actually slows your circulation and will make you at More risk for hypothermia. It is a mistake people make here sometimes and die from. (too often really) Instead eat very high fat food. The dog sled racers eat straight whale blubber. Just a thick slab of fat. That warms your body from the inside out. Avoid alcohol -eat fat during severe cold.

    Also when the cold/wind combination is out there sometimes any skin that air touches will get frostbite in a few minutes. (they say it in the weather forecast – “3 minutes to frostbite” etc) For this you can cover skin with tape. People on snowmachines/snowmobiles tape their face with medical tape, or often duct tape. Across the cheeck bones and nose. Wear facemask and goggles etc, but some skin peeks out – cover this skin with tape. Yes of course it hurts to pull tape duct tape off your face; but it doesn’t hurt as bad as frostbite! People can go snowmobiling 100kmh/60mph into the wind with -degrees wind chill and avoid frostbite on skin covered with tape.

    Also plan to wear a hat inside your house. and even sleep in your tent inside your house. A tent will keep your warm air close to you while you sleep. If you have a camping tent, use it in your warmest room. Sleep on the floor of your dining room in a tent. It will make a big difference.

    Stay warm, stay well, stay free.

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