How To: Stay Warm During a Winter Storm Without Any Electricity

Stay Warm During a Winter Storm Without Any Electricity

It's that time a year when winter storms begin causing havoc across the United States, and when "rotating outages" are common to help sustain the electrical grid during intense cold periods. That means pretty much anybody with snow and ice in their backyard can succumb to power outages. And no electricity means no electric heat.

If the weather is so cold that it's causing power outages, then it's cold enough to chill your house down to unlivable conditions in mere hours.

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And those of you who think that natural gas can save the day, it won't. At least, in most cases. Most gas heaters—even gas stoves—require electricity. If you gas heater doesn't require electricity, it may still require power to circulate the warm air. If you're gas water heater has electrical controls on it, you won't be able to operate it. If your gas stove has a electric ignition, well, you could still get it to work with a match or piezo lighter.

If you're here to learn about keeping warm during a power outage, just keep on reading...

Staying Warm During Winter Power Outages

Hopefully, some of you will find these tips useful. If you do have a power outage, chances are it's too late and you're not reading this, because... you know... computers require electricity. Even if you have a laptop, your internet router still needs the juice (though some do have battery backups now). But most of the population has surrendered to smartphones these days, which means you may be reading this on your phone, and hopefully staying warm with these tips.

Step 1: Fire Up

Yes. It's the obvious answer. Fire has been used for heat since the days of the Paleolithic. Only, these days it's a little easier for us to create and control it. But in a power outage, it's time to get the brain a brewing.

  • Fireplaces

If your home is equipped with a fireplace (lucky) or wood-burning stove, then you're all set. Simply gather up a good supply of wood and set the whole family around the warming flames. Just make sure there is adequate ventilation for the smoke. If you have a gas fireplace, it may not light due to electric controls, but hopefully a match will do the trick.

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  • Candles

You can never have enough candles, and they serve two purposes—heat and light. Just fill up the room you plan on staying in with candles and light them all up. Scented candles should be avoided. Non-scented won't overpower you're sense of smell, nor give you massive headaches. But again, make sure there is some ventilation.

Image by Esteban Chiner/Flickr
  • Kerosene / Propane Lamps

These are always good to have on hand. Having a few of these lamps and a 5-gallon jug of kerosene or a tank of propane on hand will help out tremendously during the cold electric-less night.

This is obviously the best choice, if you can get your hands on a few. If you have them, great. If you don't, maybe a trip to the local hardware store is due (if of course, they aren't experiencing a power outage, also). But remember, these do use up oxygen, so make sure you're not completely sealed off.

  • Gas Stoves / Ovens

This should be used sparingly. Though gas stoves and ovens can produce a good amount of heat to keep your family warm in the kitchen, prolonged use of an open oven in a closed house can cause carbon monoxide gas buildup. Perhaps turn it on for five minutes every hour to keep your fingers and toes free of frostbite.

Image by Steven Depolo/Flickr

Step 2: Insulate the Home

If you can make some heat with gas or wood, then great. But if you can't, or need more warmth, properly insulating your home is the way to go.

  • Windows

Make sure all of your windows a properly closed and sealed. If you have storm windows, make sure you've installed them outside. But if the sun is out and the weather outside just happens to be warmer than inside, it's probably a good idea to open them back up.

Having some removable caulk around the house could help you seal aggressive, windy cracks. If you don't have caulk, tape some thick plastic over the cracks, or stuff them closed with towels or clothes.

Image by Joseph Robertson/Flickr

Also, having some cheap, thick, clear shower curtains around will help during the day. Place them over the windows and it will keep the cold air out, while letting the sun come through and warm the place up. Any kind of plastic will do, though.

Put up thick curtains. If there are any drafts getting in, the curtains could shield their fierceness.

  • Doors

Besides the windows, you also should seal your doors. Weatherstripping could do the trick. Maybe a door sweep. But if you don't currently have those, a towel or some some clothing will do the trick. Blankets, too, but you'll probably want those for yourself.

You can use thumbtacks to hangs thick blankets over the doors to add even more insulation. You should also do this for doorways without doors.

  • Unused Rooms

When trying to stay warm, it's a good idea to consolidate your bodies in one room. The heat from your bodies alone will raise the temperature in the room a notch or two. But you need to properly close off and seal those unused rooms.

Make sure any heating vents are sealed shut in those rooms. If you have magnetic register covers, great. If not, use something nonflammable and tape it over the vent.

Also make sure the windows in that room are properly sealed as described above. Just because you're not in that room, doesn't mean it won't help. Everything counts. And seal the door as described above, also. Remember... another barrier between you and the frigid cold outside is a good thing.

  • Attics / Crawlspaces

If you actually have the time and supplies on hand, add some insulation to these areas. Again, every bit counts. Also, make sure they are properly sealed.

  • Floors

If you have hardwood floors, add a carpet or rug, even a blanket. The hard flooring only makes things colder. Adding whatever you can underneath your feet will help significantly. If you have carpet, but it's thin and you can feel coldness just by touching it, add a blanket on top.

Image via Unknown

Step 3: Layers, Layers, Layers

Perhaps the best tip for staying warm during a winter power outage is layers. Lots of them.

Obviously, the first thing to think of is what you're wearing. The largest amount of heat loss comes from the head, so start off with a hat or beanie. Something warm that can trap the heat.

Scarves are great for keeping the neck warm.

When layering, it's always best to start off small and increase layers gradually over time, especially with wool and cotton. Start with just a tee. Then add a long-sleeve tee. Then add a sweater—sweaters are great. Turtleneck sweaters are even better. But make sure you have something underneath. Just always make sure you don't go overboard. If you need to go outside, you're going to need to add another layer, so save the jacket for emergencies.

Image by Boyan/Flickr

Make sure you have one a good, thick pair of socks. Ones that cover your whole calf are recommended.

Opaque tights can be used on the outside of your clothing to help trap warm air against your body. Men and women can both benefit from this.

Bathrobes are also great to have nearby, because they're kind of like a mini, wearable blanket!

And if you need gloves... if it's that cold inside your home... don them—quickly! The last thing you want to succumb to frostbite are your fingers and toes.

  • Blankets

When you've reached your clothing allowance, move on to the blankets. Any will do, but the thicker the better. Surround and submerge yourself in them.

Also, sleeved blankets (snuggie; snuggy) are a great alternative for those wishing to move around. And again, bathrobes are great, too.

Sleeping bags are also imperative when it comes to sleeping in the extreme cold weather. It's always good to have some on hand.

Step 4: Move!

Not, not move as in leave the state—move as in move around!

  • Exercise

If you're not one to exercise, or just never seem to have time for it, this power outage has given you the perfect opportunity to get some fitness in. Ten to twenty minutes of vigorous exercise can warm you up immensely, not to mention keep you warm for some time after.

Image by Caylynn/Flickr

Plus, a healthy body is more resistant to cold conditions, in general.

  • Games

Play active games. It's just like exercising, but you can get the whole family involved. Charades is a perfect example. Also, play a thinking game like Scrabble to get the mind warmed up (your brain is important, too!).

Image by Jonathon Colman/Flickr
  • Just Be Active
  • Whether it's exercise, games or another activity, like pacing back and forth, waiting for the power to come back on, just moving around and staying active will help you stay warm. Moving around produces body heat! And the more you move around, the better your blood circulation is, which means a better chance for warm blood to reach those fingers and toes.

Step 5: More Tips...

These are other important aspects to think about when trying to stave the coldness inside your home.

  • Hand Warmers

Have a good supply of hand warmers. These could be store-bought or hand-knitted hand warmers. Or you can go with the chemical reaction ones. These things are cheap and are extremely pleasant when your hands and feet start feeling numb from the icy winds creeping in your home. You can stuff them inside your gloves and shoes and you've got instant warmth! Just make sure to adhere to all instructions and warnings on the packages.

Image by Eugene Peretz/Flickr
  • Cook

This is the perfect time to use those gas stoves and ovens. Only keep them on while cooking and you should be fine. Plus, you'll stay active while moving around the kitchen. And you'll produce a hot meal the whole family can enjoy.

  • Warm Drinks

If you can, heat up some warm drinks, like hot tea or coffee. Hot chocolate will go over well with the kids. And some whiskey will help keep the adults warm inside.

  • Snuggle

Body warmth is actually your best bet. Blankets and clothing can only trap your body heat in, but snuggling up to another warm body provides an instant heat source! Any warm-blooded being will do. If you have to—even snuggle with your cat—until it claws you, of course.

Image by Carol Pyles/Flickr
  • Leave

Hey, if your house is cold... your car or truck has a heater in it. Just hop inside and start her up. Turn the heater on and your golden. Also, go out. Don't just linger in your automobile. Visit friends or family. Go have fun. Take your mind off the cold and keep active! And...

  • Find HEAT!

Some may not be without electricity. Which means you can crash their party and steal some of their warm air. If you don't have any friends or family to steal warmness from, visit the local library, church or other public building.

Warnings & Other Things to Consider

  • Stay in smaller rooms. The smaller the room, the less the heat will dissipate.
  • Try to stay in one room. The more you leave the room, the more warm air escapes. Choose a room next to the bathroom and make a insulated tunnel to and from for easy bathroom trips.
  • When dealing with any kind of heating (gas, propane, kerosene, wood), make sure to have proper ventilation. These do use of oxygen, so not only do you have things like carbon monoxide to worry about, you have lack of oxygen to be concerned with (aka hypoxia).
  • Let as much sun into your home as possible!

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Good article. One thing I'd add is that small is better when you're sleeping. Tom Brown suggests building a "den" with furniture so that your body heat is kept in the shelter. But, if you have EXTRA comforters or blankets (or even large rugs) you could make a "tent" over your beds and retain more body heat than just blankets. Just be sure to make a crack at the top and bottom to let fresh air in and carbon dioxide out.

I was stuck in a non-insulated house in Tallahassee FL during an epic cold spell, 6 degrees F for days. There was no stove. I did however have electricity, and a heated waterbed. Every cat in the neighborhood came over and slept on my bed with me, we drank beer (because everything else froze) and ate tuna packed in oil (again, everything else froze). Used a trash can for a latrine, and stayed in that bed as much as humanly possible till it was all over. Some of these tips would have helped a lot...but I was amused by your comment on the cats. Not one of those cats was the least bit reluctant to snuggle up under those conditions!

Pro Tip: Bring food and water into whatever space you are keeping warm. A) You don't want to have to make trips out to get it from the kitchen and B) It really sucks when your canned goods and beverages all freeze.

I got lucky. My house was built close to 100 years ago. Someone along those years installed an insert in what used to be the fireplace. It uses no electricity. I talked to the person from our natural gas company that has been coming here for years to service my furnace. As expected he mentioned the furnace would not work without electricity. The insert will. I spend a lot of time in the basement, in what I refer to the guy room, because the insert keeps the entire room (the same length as the first floor and half the width) warm, but the best thing is that my bedroom is just above, so it keeps the bedroom warmer than the rest of the upstairs, also. I doubt they are still being build, but people could try checking for a used one. You can see actual flames and he confirmed that our gas company has made modifications that will allow them to continue providing natural gas, even if the entire electrical grid goes down, of course, that would still be usless for people that require electricity for the furnace.

I figure I may as well mention what I did with my basement bathroom, I live in Minnesota. It is separate from the room mentioned above. I found what is called reflective bubble material that comes in very large rolls and can be used as insulation. The walls are brick so when the soil freezes outside, it can be cold. I just installed it over the brick using a very strong double sided professional tape. The material is not at all heavy and works to insulate the walls. I'm 73, so anyone can install it. Plus, it looks like aluminum bubble wrap, not at all bad.

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