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Development of Low Cost Tent Heaters for Unhoused Populations

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About This Project

For years, makeshift heating solutions for homeless individuals have involved burning unsafe materials like grease, garbage, or wood, posing both fire hazards and health risks from toxic fumes. Our project aims to enhance a low-cost, tent-safe heater first developed by an initiative called Heater Bloc. We'll address design flaws and create a website for users to share insights and solutions. We also plan to put our research into action by producing 300 heaters for distribution.

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What is the context of this research?

Our project was inspired by an initiative called Heater Bloc. This decentralized movement encourages people across the country to take community care into their own hands through an open-source guide to building tent-safe heaters they can distribute to their houseless neighbors. In the context of the worsening homelessness crisis and the fact that 20% of hypothermic deaths occur in the homeless population, we found this to be a salient issue. Using their guide, we built heaters in 2023 and distributed them. We noticed a few challenges with the building process as well as numerous issues with the efficacy of the heaters themselves. Through the course, Frugal Science, we worked on improving the design of these heaters.

What is the significance of this project?

Those looking to build and share these heaters often encounter challenges, much like we did. Currently, they have to troubleshoot on their own, trying to figure out why they're having problems. This process is inefficient because others in different places might have already solved similar issues, like inconsistent flames or slow ignition. Without a central forum to discuss these problems, people might get discouraged, feeling like they're wasting materials and time. It's crucial to improve these low-cost solutions because they can mean the difference between health and sickness, or even life and death, for homeless individuals. Creating an open source forum to share troubleshooting tips has the potential to bring far more individuals into the effort and increase the scale of impact.

What are the goals of the project?

The funds will be used to purchase materials for prototyping and manufacturing to distribute.

We will quantify our target issues and iteratively design and test solutions. This includes testing the capillary action of wicking materials, the efficiency of copper coil shapes, the stability of bases, and overall heat generation of the system.

We will document our findings such as the causes and effects of changes to the design. Inputting this information into the database will allow users to understand how changes to the design results in performance differences including how materials sourced in different settings change outcomes. We hope to improve the build quality and process by making it systematic and controlled.


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All of the listed items will be used for the purposes of prototyping and manufacturing the heaters.

Copper tubing, epoxy, wicking material, tube cutter, and table salt are all used for the outlet for the flame of the heater.

Isopropyl alcohol is the fuel for the flame.

Mason jar is for holding the fuel.

Terra cotta pot is for radiating the heat from the flame.

Mesh enclosure, wire cutters, and base materials forms the frame for the system.

We are currently applying for more funding to cover the cost of transportation and living expenses.

Endorsed by

This project sounds like a great opportunity to meet a need that exists around the world in a sustainable and low-cost way! So excited to see where this goes.

Project Timeline

Our timeline spans from now to October 1st. This is crucial, as we aim to distribute the heaters during late fall and winter when there is the most need. This underscores the urgency of our project's execution and the importance of timely completion of each phase. We aim to finish testing and redesign earlier to have more time for building. We will work with local organizations to plan build parties in order to reduce labor hours.

Apr 02, 2024

Project Launched

Aug 01, 2024

Map design features to their effects on performance

Aug 01, 2024

Complete final prototype to be replicated for distribution

Sep 01, 2024

Complete online troubleshooting database

Oct 01, 2024

Complete 300 heaters for distribution

Meet the Team

Henry Ojeaburu
Henry Ojeaburu
Graduate Student


Stanford Mechanical Engineering
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Team Bio

Our team is deeply committed to community care through the distribution of harm reduction supplies which we participate in weekly through a San Jose based organization called Hero Tent. We are an interdisciplinary team which marries engineering skills and the social sciences to improve the material conditions of our community.

Henry Ojeaburu

As a motivated Master's student with a passion for human-centered and socially impactful work, I am keenly interested in diverse career fields, ranging from accessible technology to frugal engineering and novel mechanical systems development. Known for my meticulous and detail-oriented approach, I have a proven track record of executing responsibilities with precision. I am enthusiastic about expanding my knowledge through engaging coursework and contributing to projects that bring about positive change. Proficient in learning on the job, I am excited to leverage my skills for innovative and socially impactful research and initiatives.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Our intention is to build 300 of these heaters for distribution in the San Jose area. This project is not only a theoretical challenge for us to work on but rather a chance to make a real difference in many peoples' lives.

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