How To Stay Warm When The Power Goes Out

chicago coldIt’s getting cold outside and I AM FREEZING! I can’t even imagine handling life when I feel like an icicle, which is exactly what would happen if the power went. If utilities go out in the winter because of a natural disaster like a snow storm, wind storm or an earthquake, we will all face the prospect of turning into human popsicles unless we know what else we can do to keep warm. The threat is real, but as the Lord said, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” That’s why it’s important to educate ourselves and work toward becoming better prepared.

I imagine that some people think they’d be out of the woods in this type of emergency because they have gas appliances. But in many cases, a natural disaster will disrupt gas service, as well as electricity and plumbing. If you’re lucky and it doesn’t, don’t be surprised if your gas appliances still don’t work when the power goes out. In most cases, gas powered furnaces and stove-top ranges/ovens require electricity to use the controls that turn them on. If your gas appliance doesn’t require electricity to be able to start, it may still require electricity to actually circulate heat. That goes for gas water heaters, as well. If your gas water heater has electrical controls on it, you won’t be able to operate it when the power is out. You can still access the water inside the water tank, but it will be far from warm. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to use your gas stove-top range/oven during a power outage, it’s still not a good idea to try to heat your home for long periods of time with it because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Having a generator is a great idea! However, if you don’t have a generator with solar capabilities, can’t afford one, or can’t store the amount of fuel it takes to run a generator for an extended period of time, there are other ways to stay warm when it’s cold outside.

BUILT-IN FIREPLACEfireplaceIt might be obvious, but a permanent wood-burning fireplace is a great heat source when the power is out. All it takes is a good supply of wood to keep it burning. Chimneys of modern fireplaces are triple-walled. The smoke travels up the center part of the chimney. The walls create two air passages around the central chimney, which are connected at the bottom. Cool air from outside enters the outer passageway, traveling downward. When the cool air reaches the bottom, it’s warmed by the fire and travels back up through the second passageway. This ensures that the outer passageway is always cool, preventing the possibility of starting a fire.

The problem with a permanent wood-burning fireplace is that it needs a blower to be able to spread warm air from the fireplace into the home. Inserts can be installed inside a fireplace to draw cool air in from the floor and return it to the room as hot air. These inserts consist of a series of metal tubes that surround the fire. These either work by an electric blower motor or by convection. In the case of an emergency, a convection insert that doesn’t require a motor would be the better choice, as it wouldn’t require electricity to work. However, the convection models don’t move as much air into the home, as do the inserts with blowers.

PERMANENT WOOD OR COAL BURNING STOVEwoodburningA wood or coal burning stove is a like a metal fireplace, which allows the fire to be placed closer to the center of the room. The metal stove radiates heat from all sides, as well as from all sides of the metal tube chimney, making it much more efficient than a fireplace. Often, both wood and coal can be used in metal stoves. The important thing to remember is to store enough fuel for your needs. If the power is out for more than a few days, which is likely in the case of a natural disaster, it’s likely that you’ll need fuel to last for at least a week, and up to a month or more.

Permanent fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are great, but many states have ordinances restricting their use on yellow and red burn days to reduce the amount of pollution in the air. It’s important to know if you are allowed to use this method of heating in your area on a regular basis. I would imagine that in the case of a natural disaster where power is out for a longer period of time, their use wouldn’t be restricted by government, but it’s a good idea to have a backup plan just in case.



For emergency heat, a portable wood-burning stove can be installed on a temporary basis. All you need is a stove, several feet of chimney pipe with an elbow, a piece of plywood and a window. The stove can be placed close to the window and the chimney pipe can be directed out through an opening made in the window by removing one of the glass panes. The extra space in the window made by removing the glass can be closed up with plywood. Just be sure to place a silicon or fiberglass fire-proof mat, or large ceramic tiles underneath the stove to avoid causing a fire and to protect the floor from excess heat or stray embers.

If you are using a wood-burning stove for emergencies, you may want to consider buying one that uses wood or multiple types of fuel, and not just pellets only unless you plan to store plenty of pellets. The wood pellet-only stoves are more efficient, producing more heat per pound of wood than the others, but they can’t be used with normal firewood. That means that when you run out of pellets, your heat is gone. It is very important to have enough fuel on hand to last the duration of the time you’ll need to use your stove and it’s always a good idea to store more fuel than you’ll actually need, if it’s allowed by law in your area.



These heaters are relatively clean burning and produce a lot of heat. Like a wood-burning stove, kerosene heaters radiate heat from all sides, allowing for maximum heat output. There is no chimney, so heat isn’t lost from a chimney.


buddy heaterPropane heaters like the “Buddy Heater” are generally safe to use indoors, but it’s always a good idea when using any sort of heating method to have a battery-powered carbon monoxide monitor on hand to warn you of possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

KEEP THE COLD OUT BY SEALING DOORS & WINDOWSDoorSealingForWinter-717x300Make sure all of the windows, doors and vents in your home are sealed. If you are running a heater or using a fireplace, be sure to have ventilation for those, but if you’re simply trying to keep out the cold, seal everything. If there are cracks in the windows or doors, having some caulk on hand to seal those up would help improve heat retention. If caulking is not an option, cover any broken seals or drafty doors with duct tape or weather-stripping, and shove blankets, pillows or towels in the cracks. Do whatever you can to stop the outside air from coming in and you will find that the temperature inside will rise.

517664145_5_620_439It’s also a good idea to cover windows with foil, cardboard, plastic sheeting such as cheap transparent shower curtains, blinds, curtains or blankets. This will create another barrier to help trap the heat inside. If it’s sunny outside, though, having the light shine through the windows will help to warm up your home. Covering your air vents will also prevent warm air from escaping and cool air from entering your home.

PICK A ROOMenhanced-buzz-2585-1364494876-15If you’re trying to stay warm, pick a smaller room and congregate there. The heat from multiple bodies will raise the temperature a bit, but you’ll definitely need to close off and seal the room. Pitching a tent or making a blanket fort inside the room will add insulation and can increase your ability to stay warm. If you have hardwood or tile floors, adding carpet, a rug or even a blanket can help with insulation.

SLEEPING BAGSsleeping bagsA great sleeping bag with a negative degree temperature rating will greatly increase your level of comfort at night, but it can also be used to keep you warm during the day. A sleeping bag temperature rating is the manufacturer’s best guess at how warm the bag is for the average person. Manufacturers decide ratings based on those who test the bags in various environmental conditions. Each sleeping bag is tested differently, so as a general rule, it’s a good idea to go with a bag that’s rated as colder than you think you’ll need, or plan on purchasing an additional wool or fleece sleeping bag liners/inserts to increase warmth in colder temperatures.

Many people who spend time in extreme temperatures would likely agree that a sleeping bag is rated about 20-30 degrees warmer than it actually feels. If the temperature is 10 degrees outside, then you will definitely want a -25 degree sleeping bag or a zero degree bag with a really good liner/insert. What you’re sleeping on can also make a difference. It’s a good idea to think about using your sleeping bag on top of an insulated mat or sleeping pad to increase your ability to retain heat. And consider sleeping with another person, as another person’s body heat will help you keep warm. Cuddling with someone while you’re not sleeping is also a great idea.

Here’s an informative post about sleeping bags to help you decide which one is right for your needs:

The following sleeping bags are some of my favorites. They are high quality, durable bags at a reasonable price. They have some great features, including that they can be purchased in a double bag size or individual bags can be zipped together to create a bag big enough for two or three people, depending on the size of the people.

Grizzly Sleeping Bags from Black Pine Sports come with ratings as low as -50 degrees.

Teton Sports Bags come with ratings as low as -35 degrees.

layering infographic

What you’re wearing can make all the difference when it comes to staying warm. The greatest amount of heat can be lost from the head, so cover up with a hat, wrap a scarf around your neck or head, and wear lots of layers.

When layering, it’s best to start with just a few layers and add more when you need them. It’s a good idea to have a base layer to wick moisture away, a mid layer to trap heat in and a waterproof outer layer for protection against the elements. In addition to tips like choosing wool over synthetic fabrics, it would be a good idea to wear an outer layer with zippers and vents to let in air, in case you get too hot and perspiration gets trapped inside your jacket. Gloves and a thick pair of calf or knee-length socks, especially wool socks, are a must. Bathrobes, blankets and snuggies are a great additional layer to help keep you warm when the power is out.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATURAL & SYNTHETIC wool blanketWool is great because it insulates when wet, unlike cotton, which only insulates when dry. Cotton is hydrophilic, meaning it’s not good at wicking wetness away from the skin and can become damp by being exposed to humidity. Never use cotton as a base layer in cold weather situations. Once cotton is wet, it can lose up to 90 percent of its insulating properties and will wick away heat from your body 25 times faster than when it’s dry. When cotton gets wet, water fills up the tiny air pockets that otherwise would provide insulation. Water doesn’t cling as well to wool as it does to cotton, wool can get wet without its tiny air pockets being filled up with water, so it still reduces heat loss by convection.

Synthetic fiber insulation like Thinsulate and PrimaLoft works like natural fiber insulation. According to Joel H. Benington, Ph.D., “the best insulation will pack as many tiny air pockets as possible into the smallest possible space with the least weight of material. There should be enough fiber between the air pockets to minimize convection, and yet enough space between those fibers to let moisture pass through the fabric to wick away from the body. Ideally, the fibers will also be made out of molecules that water does not readily cling to, so the air pockets don’t fill up with water when the fabric gets wet.”

HAND & BODY WARMERSheatAside from gloves, hand warmers are a good idea to keep “handy.” You can stuff them inside of gloves or shoes for instant warmth. Hand warmers can be homemade or store bought. Rubber water bottles filled with hot water can also be used to create warmth, as well as wrapping a hot rock in a towel and placing it next to the body or in the bottom of a bed or sleeping bag. But don’t forget that if you are using water to keep yourself warm, in an emergency situation water will likely be a rare commodity that must be used sparingly. If you haven’t store enough water for drinking, cooking & cleaning, you might not have any to spare. If you’re using water as a heat source, be sure to be careful and reuse it as often as possible.

MOVE YOUR BODYpractice-for-perfect-push-ups-imageWhen your body temperature is dropping, a little vigorous movement can warm you up quickly and keep you warm for a while. Jumping in place or doing push-ups is something you can do anywhere space is limited. If you’re hunkered down with the family, try playing games like charades that get you moving. Not only will you start feeling warmer, you’ll be able to get your mind off the miserable cold.

PREVENT FOOD & WATER FROM FREEZING1335930049000Often, when the power is out for long periods of time during cold weather, it’s a good idea to bring your food and water into the area where you’ll be staying to prevent it from freezing. Chances are that if you’re without power, you’ll also have to figure out how to heat your food. If you don’t have a way to cook your food, you definitely won’t want to have to try to figure out how to thaw your food and water that has frozen. Keeping food and water in the same room with you will help you avoid multiple trips to the kitchen, preventing you from letting cold air into the room you’re trying to keep warm.

If you do a little work to plan carefully and have a few heat sources on hand, you can feel confident that you’ll be able to survive a few weeks in the cold!