A winter storm rages and suddenly everything goes dark and eerily silent. Do you know what to do? Knowledge can make all the difference when you are trying to stay warm without the help of electricity.
If you live in a cold climate, a winter power outage can be more than a simple inconvenience. Take steps now to ensure you have the knowledge, fuel, and supplies to stay warm without electricity. In this article, we focus on simple steps that just might save your life, or the lives of those you love, during a winter power outage.
6 Lifesaving Secrets to Stay Warm During a Winter Power Outage
Knowledge is power and understanding a few basic principles can make all the difference in your ability to stay warm when the lights go out and you are left in the cold and dark. It would be a great idea to practice these skills for a night by intentionally turning off your power. The best time to learn valuable lessons is when you can turn the heat back on.
#1 – Secure Your Home to Prevent Heat Loss
The goal is to keep the cold out and the precious heat inside of your home. Immediately get busy securing your home when the power goes out. You cannot afford to lose any valuable heat.
Block Cold Air Entry Points
Survey your home and locate areas where cold air may enter your home. Common cold air entry points include:
- Gaps around doors and windows
- Kitchen exhaust fan
- Dryer vent
- External wall outlets and switches
- Fireplace flue damper
- Furnace or water heater vents and cold air returns
- Any other place that allows cold air in or heat to escape
Be careful not to seal up your home so tightly that you have issues with moisture buildup or stale, unhealthy air inside of your home. There is a balance.
You can block cold airflow by rolling up towels or blankets and stuffing under the doors. Some can be easily blocked by using painter’s tape to seal leaks around doors or windows. I would avoid using duct tape because it damages the paint.
Cover Windows to Insulate
Windows are a significant source of heat loss. Insulate the windows the absolute best you are able. Start by closing curtains and blinds. You can insulate them by taping plastic sheeting over the window, cutting cardboard to place next to the window, or even draping an extra blanket over the top of the curtain rod. You can make bubble wrap stick to the inside of the window by spraying the window with water before putting it up.
One concern is darkness. Windows provide light that help chase away the depression that accompanies the darkness. I prefer to use plastic sheeting or bubble wrap to insulate the windows to let a little bit of light inside.
#2 – Create Microclimates
Our goal is to create microclimates where the air is warmer than the surrounding area. A cozy little area where you can be comfortable and go to warm up.
Set Up a Tent
The best way that we have discovered to create a microclimate is by setting up a small tent inside the house. Just this small amount of additional insulation works to keep the heat in and the cold out.
We prefer to set it up inside of the designated living area, but you set up a tent anywhere. Create a makeshift tent by placing blankets over the top of a table. Remember those forts that you used to make as a kid, they create the ideal microenvironment to keep warm.
Another expedient microclimate can be made by throwing a couple of blankets over the top bunk of a bunk bed. The occupants can sleep and play in the lower bunk. A cozy little cave is created by increasing the body heat generated and trapping it inside of the blankets.
Confine Activity to One Selected Living Area
It is a good idea to confine most of the activity to one general area of the home. This enables you to use alternative heat sources in a smaller area and conserve fuel.
Select an area that makes the most sense. Do you have a room that has a built-in alternative heat source? Wood burning stove, fireplace, or even a south facing window that can provide radiant heat during the daytime. All things being equal, a room on the south side of the home will be generally warmer than a room on the north side. Basements will be warmer than the main floor during the winter.
Shut all the doors or block off areas by hanging blankets or sheets. Confine alternative heating to this one area. Be sure to monitor carbon monoxide levels with a working carbon monoxide detector. If anyone starts to feel headachy or sick, stop using alternative heating immediately and get fresh air. It is better to be cold than dead.
#3 – Dress Appropriately to Stay Warm
Dressing to stay warm indoors can be just a little bit confusing. It is important to be comfortably warm, but not sweat. Moisture will quickly wick heat away from your body.
The best way to accomplish this is by dressing in layers that can be easily removed or added to accommodate the changing temperatures. Dressing in layers is simple if you remember these basics:
- Base layer – The purpose of the base layer is to wick moisture away from your body. Synthetic fabrics tend to work the best for the layer right next to your skin.
- Mid-layer – The middle layer is designed to keep you warm by insulating and helping you to retain your body heat. This layer could consist of a wool sweater, a flannel shirt, or perhaps a hoodie.
- Outer layer – The outside layer is usually intended to protect you from the elements. However, when you are trying to stay warm indoors you do not need to worry about rain or snow. This layer can help provide a little bit of extra warmth when temperatures drop and can easily be removed when you are comfortable.
Realistically, this means that you can stay very warm inside if you have a base layer and wear a warm jogging outfit or flannel pajamas. When you get chilly, add a jacket.
I like to wear a hoodie because it is really easy to keep my hands warm without wearing gloves. A nice warm pair of socks or slippers and a stocking cap and you got this covered.
Dress warmly from the start. It is much easier to stay warm than to get warm once you are cold. Be smart and take the time to get dressed right.
Cover your head. Keep your head covered to prevent precious heat from escaping out the top. I was amazed how much warmer I felt when I gave into hat hair and just kept a hat on my head.
Protect your extremities. Your body responds to the cold by drawing the warm blood supply back into the core as a survival mechanism. This puts your hands and feet at risk for frostbite. Make sure that you keep your hands and feet covered and warm.
#4 – Drink Warm Liquids and Eat Hot Foods
A good way to warm up is from the inside. Drinking warm liquids can be comforting and help the body maintain temperature. Hydration is critically important to preventing hypothermia and frostbite.
Always keep your pantry stocked with bottled water and easy-to-prepare shelf stable foods and beverages. Your body needs calories to create heat. Make sure that you keep it fed with warm calories.
Cooking during a power outage can be a little challenging. You must be very careful not to create deadly carbon monoxide or start a fire. Here are some helpful resources to help you in your planning for cooking indoors when the power is out.
- Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions
- Candles as an Emergency Fuel Source for Warmth, Light, and Cooking
- Thermal Cookers: Powerful Solution for Efficient Emergency Cooking
- Canned Heat: Safe Fuel for Indoor Emergency Cooking
We went for 30 days without using electricity or natural gas to cook our food. You may want to check out this post and the accompanying videos.
#5 – Get Up and Move Around
Moving around will help you stay warmer. Twenty minutes of mild exercise can keep you warm for an hour. It is important to exercise moderately and not break a sweat. Sweating will wick the heat way from your body and cool you.
Encourage Social Interaction
You are warmer when you move around and have fun. Spending time interacting with others, playing cards, or group games can make all the difference in your emotional well-being. Surprisingly, it can also go a long way to keeping you warm.
Good social interaction means that there are more bodies radiating heat into the space. You will be motivated to naturally move around more, and the time will pass quickly.
#6 – Explore Potential Heat Source Options
You may be surprised how many potential sources of heat are all around you, even during a power outage.
Visit a Friend or Neighbor
You do not have to endure the cold alone. Do you have a friend or neighbor that you could visit? Two people keep a space warmer than one. Three is even better.
We have a wood burning stove and the wood to keep it going. Some of our friends do not. We would welcome company during a power outage and the opportunity to play games. Now is a good time to explore the possibilities and make advance arrangements.
I love snuggling up with my husband or children under a blanket. It is amazing how much warmer we are when we huddle up and share the warmth. Consider sleeping with a companion to stay warm.
In the old country, they used to bring the pigs inside of the house on winter nights to keep from freezing. The pigs produced enough heat to make a difference. Consider the amount of warmth that your pets might provide for your family to help keep you warm.
High density objects such as water, concrete, brick, and tile can be used as thermal mass. They can store heat and slowly release it. We take advantage of this by warming objects and then placing them strategically for warmth.
Hot Water Bottle Warmers
To create a little water heater, simply heat water and fill a container. You can use a traditional hot water bottle or any water-tight container, mason jars are ideal. Water can do a surprisingly good job of retaining heat.
Dry Rock or Brick Warmer
You can place a rock or brick near a heat source, and it will retain the heat long after the heater has been turned off. These are great for tucking in bed to keep you warm.
Make sure that the rock is completely dry, or it may explode. Use oven mitts or wrap in a cotton fabric to prevent the rock from coming into contact with surfaces that may be damaged like a nylon sleeping bag.
Hand, Foot, and Body Warmers
Disposable warmers can sit on the shelf for a few years until they are needed. You open the package and shake the package to activate the warmer. Instantly, you will start to feel the heat, and many will last for 8 to 10 hours.
The body warmer is especially nice because it has an adhesive back. You can stick it to your undershirt and put the next layer over it. It does a nice job of keeping your core warm. The hand and foot or toe warmers are nice to keep your extremities warm.
Rice Bag Warmer
We have small flannel bags that we have made and filled with rice or corn. Usually, we put these bags in the microwave to warm them and then use them as a lap or bed warmer. These might come in handy if you can use a microwave with a backup battery bank or a generator.
You can purchase socks that are heated with batteries. If you keep a stock of fresh batteries, these might be a nice cozy source of heat.
Alternative Heating Devices
This article focuses mainly on ways to stay warm without alternative heating. However, it can be quite nice to have a heat source to help keep you warm. Check out these articles to learn more.
- Best Alternative Heat Sources to Use During a Power Outage
- Surviving a Winter Power Outage – How to Stay Warm
Safety is the Top Priority
Injuries or even death often accompany power outages when people try to stay warm using heat sources incorrectly. It is better to be cold than to burn down your home or die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use only appliances rated for use heating indoors. You can find our alternative heating recommendations here. Be sure to have a working carbon monoxide detector with a digital readout nearby and monitor the readings. Smoke and fire detectors and a good fire extinguisher are also essential tools to have nearby anytime there is an open flame indoors.
Conserve Fuel and Heat Only Intermittently
It is challenging to safely store large amounts of fuel for emergency heating. Intermittent use of your alternative heating device can stretch your fuel supply. Turn your heater on for a short period of time to warm things up and then turn it off. Only use your alternative heat sources when you really need to.
You can learn more about how to safely store fuel for emergencies in these articles.
- Expected Storage Life for Emergency Fuels
- Where Can I Safely Store Popular Fuels for Emergencies
- How to Safely Store Fuel for Emergencies
Top Items to Stock for a Winter Power Outage
There are a few items that can make all the difference in your level of comfort when it comes to surviving a winter power outage. These are some items that we recommend you keep around your house for every member of your family.
Warm clothing is a critical asset in any cold climate. Keep a heavy winter coat, medium-weight jacket, warmups, winter hat, stocking cap, snow gloves, thermal gloves, neck warmer, thermal underclothing, warm slippers, thermal socks, and warm shoes.
Extra Blankets, Bedding, and Sleeping Bags
Once your furnace is no longer controlling the climate in your home, it can get cold very quickly. You can never have enough warm blankets and extra bedding during a winter power outage. A good quality zero-degree sleeping bag would be incredibly helpful to keep you warm all night.
Even a little children’s play tent can create the microenvironment needed to keep you from freezing. You could set up the family tent inside of the living room or confine the activities to a small 2 to 3-man tent. A small sturdy tent is worth the investment.
Shelf-Stable, Ready-to-Eat Foods and Beverages
Keep your pantry stocked with canned soups, chili, stews, and instant noodles. Store foods that require no refrigeration and can easily be heated up with an alternative heat source. Think about the beverages that would be nice to keep you warm, such as coffee, tea, hot cocoa, hot apple cider, and even hot lemonade or Tang. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they can have an adverse effect.
Body, Hand, and Foot Warmers
The nice thing about warmers is that they can sit on the shelf for a few years waiting to be needed. You can use hand or foot warmers to keep your extremities warm or you can use a body warmer and just tuck it inside of your shirt.
Backup Heat Source and Fuel
A backup heat source can be a huge blessing during a winter power outage. Ideally, it would be nice to have a vented back up heat source like a fireplace, wood burning stove, or a built-in heater that is vented to the outside.
There is a significant risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with some backup heat sources. Make sure that you select one that is rated for indoor use. I am personally a fan of the Mr. Buddy Propane Heater.
Learn more about alternative heat sources at:
- Best Alternative Heat Sources to Use During a Power Outage
- Our Personal Emergency Heating Recommendations
- Candles as an Emergency Fuel Source for Warmth, Light, and Cooking
- Terracotta Pot Heater/Cooker – How to Heat and Cook without Electricity
Plastic Sheeting and Tape
Plastic sheeting and tape can be indispensable when it comes to insulating and blocking cold entry points coming from the gaps around windows and doors. Duct tape is handy but will ruin the paint on the walls. Wide painter’s tape is a better option for securing plastic sheeting around windows.
Windows can also be insulated with large pieces of cardboard, bubble packing wrap, or extra blankets.
Emergency Backup Lighting
Fumbling around in the dark is not only depressing, but can be dangerous. Make sure that you have a few alternative methods to light your world when the power goes out. You can find some of my favorite lighting methods here.
Empowered with 6 Secrets to Keeping You Warm
You have been empowered with knowledge. These 6 simple tips can make a huge difference in the way that you are able to make it through a winter power outage. The best thing about these basic principles is that they can be applied in any situation.
Remember, when the lights go out in the dead of winter simply follow these simple secrets and you will be able to stay warm during a winter power outage.
- Secure your home to keep the heat in and the cold out.
- Create microenvironments inside of your home.
- Dress appropriately in layers to stay warm.
- Drink warm liquids and eat hot foods.
- Get up and move around.
- Explore potential heat sources.
Everyone, sooner or later, will experience a winter power outage. When you are prepared, it can be a grand adventure. Lack of preparation can be dangerous. Make it a priority to teach these simple steps to your family so that you can all be warm when the power goes out in the cold.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones