Staying Warm During Extreme Cold, Power Outages, and Natural Disasters

Humans are fairly fragile when exposed to cold. Some people are not aware that it doesn’t even have to bitterly cold for humans to suffer from hypothermia. The good news is that there are many ways to stay warm and survive if you lose the ability to heat your home. This article explores what you can do to stay warm and dry, even if you are facing additional challenges beyond losing the ability to heat your home.

Emergency Blankets

It is a good idea to stock up on these. You can stash them in your car, boat, RV, bug out bag, and house. Remember that in extreme situations, you can double up the blankets for even greater warmth. Mylar blankets can tear easily. If you have a sleeping bag, you might consider lining the inside with a mylar emergency blanket before tucking in at night. Add another one on top if temperatures drop even further. Here is a great deal I found on a pack of 50.

Fleece or Wool Blankets

Wool army blankets or similar are great to have on hand for cold situations. If you cannot use wool or need a less expensive alternative, then fleece blankets are the answer. When I was doing my grocery shopping in person, I used to find some great fleece blankets for $5 at the end of aisles.

Sleep in fewer rooms.

During times of extreme cold or when your heat is out, you can stay warmer by closing off some rooms and everyone staying in one or two rooms. If you have a wood stove, but your other heat is out, then sleeping around the fire is a good idea. If you have a fireplace that you never use, it is good to keep it maintained and some firewood on hand. A screen to prevent sparks and potential fires is advised. A fireplace does not provide a wood stove’s heat efficiency, but it is far better than nothing. Some people find that adding a fireplace insert to an existing older fireplace is a good way to add an affordable backup heat option.

Spray foam insulation or silicone caulk

A few cans of spray foam insulation can be a big help when temperatures drop, and you discover that your home has some small drafts that need to be sealed quickly. The downside to spray foam is that once you open a can, it is best to use the whole thing. Don’t expect it to work well if you use half and let the can set a month before using it again. At the same time, it is under $7 per can, so it is now a huge loss of investment if you waste a little.

Silicone caulk and a caulk gun are also good choices. If you stick a nail in the end of the tube, you can use it a little at a time without it drying up. The disadvantage of silicone caulk is that you can only seal fairly small cracks unless you let it dry and do another layer or use materials to keep the caulk flowing out before it dries.

Heavy curtains are your friend.

If you live in a place where winters are fairly cold, it is a good idea to invest in some insulated curtains or blinds. Even if you buy a few at a time, eventually, you have your house covered. Curtains and blinds can help reduce heating and cooling costs throughout the year, so they should eventually pay for themselves. During times of bitter cold, keep your insulated curtains or blinds totally closed at night.

If it is an emergency, you can use old sheets, blankets. Or even mylar emergency blankets and tape to block windows and increase the warmth of your living space.

Handwarmers

Zippo makes a really neat handwarmer that uses regular zippo fluid. These are a good choice for those that don’t relish the idea of buying and storing a lot of disposables. I recently found a USB rechargeable Zippo handwarmer that doubles as a battery bank. Some models give you 9 hours of heat! The USB rechargeable version could be maintained with a small solar panel if your electricity is out.

If you prefer to have a lot of disposable hand warmers, you can purchase them in bulk. At the moment, you can get 40 pairs for around $26. Each warmer provides up to 10 hours of heat.

I can see how it would be nice to have some refillable or rechargeable hand warmers as well as a big box of disposables for when you need a lot of heat for multiple people.

Hot water bottles

If you have a way to heat water, then you can utilize that for staying warm!

Any plastic bottle that can handle some heat is a decent choice for a hot water bottle heater. Add really hot water and wrap a towel or old t-shirt around it. Keep it in your bed or sleeping bag. This is also a great way to get some pain relief if you don’t have a heat pad.

If you like the old-fashioned red rubber hot water bottles, you can still buy those online.

Purchase an emergency stove and fuel

Hot food and beverages are important when it comes to staying warm and clean too. A small propane or white gas stove and some fuel can be a big help. We have a Camp Chef Outdoor Oven for backup. You can run it on 1 lb propane cylinders or buy an adaptor so you can use a 20 lb tank.  My in-laws used this oven for an entire summer and part of Fall while their house was being remodeled, and it worked great! A grill is another option that many people may already have. Just make sure to keep extra fuel.

Eat high-fat foods and more calories.

If you are having trouble staying warm, it is terrible to try to stick to a diet. Eating high-fat foods and a lot more calories will help you stay warmer. Years ago, I heard a story about someone that was stationed at the South Pole. They would sometimes eat a whole stick of butter to help them feel a bit warmer.

Rich and filling stews and soups are good ideas. Soup and stew have a lot of hot liquid that will help you stay warmer for an extended period of time compared to many other foods.

Hot beverages

Any hot beverage will help you stay warmer. Keep a supply of tea, coffee, cocoa, and other ingredients that you can use to create tasty hot beverages.

While alcohol may make you feel warmer, it actually doesn’t help you maintain your body temperature. I am not saying it is not comforting and nice to have a hot toddy with some whiskey, don’t overdo it, and always drink plenty of other fluids to prevent dehydration when you consume alcohol.

Movement and exercise

Just moving around some will help you stay warm. More vigorous exercise will keep you warmer, but you need to be smart about using what energy you have. If you are just at home with the power out, the situation is not as dire as being stuck out in the wilderness. Doing what you need to do to survive may be the only movement that is a good idea, especially if essential supplies such as food and water are rather limited.

Adjust sleeping schedule

Nighttime temperatures are colder. Some people have had some success sleeping during the warmer parts of the day and then doing essential activities and exercise at night. The activity can help you stay warmer and lessen the chances that everyone falls asleep and doesn’t wake up to tend the fire. Hypothermia and death can happen fast on a bitterly cold night.

Co-Sleeping

During times of bitter cold, it is not in your favor to be too shy to co-sleep. Kids get cold easier than adults and have a much harder time maintaining their body temperature. Putting 2 or more kids in the same bed can help them survive frigid temperatures.

It is pretty common for couples to have separate bedrooms for various reasons. If snoring or tossing and turning is a big issue, you may have to deal with it so you can stay warmer. Earplugs can be handy.

Snuggle with pets

Even if you don’t typically allow your dog to sleep with you when it is cold, you might consider dropping that rule. Dogs run at a warmer temperature than people and will likely be more than happy to help keep you or the kids warm on cold nights!

Purchase a kerosene or propane heater

Kerosene and propane heaters are useful for providing some backup heat when the power is out. Of course, this means storing fuel. These heaters are great for short term emergencies if you follow the proper safety guidelines for the type of heater you get.

Some heaters are very powerful. Young children that are used to wood stoves deal with heaters fairly well. Babies and toddlers need to be watched closely. If you have one of those baby pen/gate systems with many panels that can be arranged, you can always set it up at a safe distance from the heater or use it to contain small children when you cannot watch them as closely as needed.

Dress in layers

Layers are best when you are trying to stay warm. The list below will help you evaluate what cold-weather clothing you have and what you really need. You may want to consider getting some gear designed for an even colder climate than the one you live in. Sometimes extreme cold-weather gear can be purchased for a major discount in the spring or summer.

Cold Weather Clothing List

Hats

A lot of body heat is lost through your head. Keep some warm hats on hand that are comfortable to sleep in.

Gloves

Sleeping with gloves on is a good idea during extremely cold conditions. If you are in a dry place, then just fleece gloves or even the stretchy inexpensive “magic kind” can make a big difference.

Sweaters and Sweatshirts

Sweaters can be itchy. Layering a sweatshirt and t-shirt underneath can be a lot more comfortable.

Thermal Underwear

For dry conditions at home, cotton thermals are very comfortable and inexpensive. Synthetic fabrics and wool are preferable for outdoors and conditions where you may get wet and not dry off fast.

Wool Socks

You can get some great deals on wool socks if you pay attention to the clearance section of online stores such as LL Bean.

Good Winter Footwear

There are several ways to approach winter footwear. You can buy a pair of insulated boots, or you can get regular boots that are a ½ size or full size larger and wear a pair or two of thick socks.

Natural Disaster Considerations

Staying warm if the power is out temporarily is one thing, but what do you do if there is other damage to your home that makes it even harder?

Broken Windows

There are several ways to patch broken windows. Of course, the method you choose will be based on what you have on hand and just how extensive the damage is.

Cardboard, Plastic, and Tape

A few panes of glass that are broken can let in a lot of cold air. A piece of cardboard and some duct tape can temporarily solve the problem. If you want it to be waterproof, use a plastic grocery bag or Saran Wrap to coat the cardboard and then tape it into place.

Scrap wood or Plywood

Some boards and nails can seal up small to large holes. Plywood is the choice for really large windows or openings.

Damaged Roofs and Leaks

A damaged roof is not something to ignore. It needs to be permanently fixed as soon as possible. There are situations where this might not happen as fast as anyone would like. A temporary fix can reduce the chances of further damage and help you stay warmer.

Tarps

It is best for roof repairs and temporary patching to have a higher quality tarp or two on hand. You get what you pay for. At the same time, any tarp is better than nothing. Attaching a tarp needs to be done with care. For best results, you need to use some boards and screws to attach your tarp. Lay your tarp over the hole or damaged area. Place a board on each edge of the tarp and screw the board down. Yes, this adds some small holes to your roof, but you will need some major repairs anyway. This is a far better solution than allowing water, cold, and debris into your home. Avoid using nails to secure tarps or the boards. Nails pull out much easier.

Roofing Tar and Caulk Gun

Smaller leaks can be treated with roofing tar. This is a black sticky substance that comes in a tube like caulk.

Use containers to catch leaks.

While leaks may not affect how warm you actually are, it is still important to deal with them.

You may have leaks that cannot be patched quickly with what you have on hand. Weather conditions and your physical ability may also prevent repairs from happening. In this case, you should find buckets, pots, or any other container that can hold water. Place this under the leak and empty as needed. This prevents your home from damage and decreases dampness that can make everyone feel colder.

Other Tips For Cold Conditions

  • Leave taps dripping to avoid frozen pipes.
  • Avoid opening doors to basements and areas where there is a lot of plumbing.
  • Occasionally let some warm air into blocked off rooms if temps drop low and they have water pipes or bathroom fixtures in them.
  • Put something under doors to block drafts of cold air.
  • Avoid too many trips outside. Every trip lets in more cold air and makes it harder to maintain temperatures.