Not too long ago, we received a question from @RayBurton on Twitter about whether or not we’d done an article on emergency home heating in cold climates. Well, we haven’t, even though I’m from Canada and Thomas & I lived there together for 5 years – so the fact that we haven’t is a bit ridiculous.
To be fair, we have written a couple of winter emergency survival articles – one that details the supplies you should have on-hand to help you out in case the power goes out in the winter, and another that details our experiences when the power went out for 5 nights and 4 days in sub-zero weather in Toronto. Yet neither of these addresses the problem of heating head on, and so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Ray’s question is simple and to the point:
Ray’s Winter Preparedness Question
Have you done an article on emergency home heating in cold climates?
Our Response: Forget Home Heating and Think Small Instead
Skip over headers like I do? I’ll repeat that again: our advice for anyone living in a cold climate trying to heat a home when there’s a power outage is to forget home heating and think small instead.
Why on earth would we already start by advising you to forget home heating and aim your goals at thinking small instead?
Let’s get into it!
How to Heat an Entire Home When the Power’s Out
You don’t have many options here, and unless you’re: 1. Set up for these options already, or 2. Willing to drop a lot of cash to set yourself up for them – they’re just not going to work out for you. What are these options?
- Use a home heating system that completely depends on wood fireplaces.
- Use electrical power generators.
Expensive as hell to do if they’re not already options in your home. Actually, they’re expensive to take advantage of even if they are already options in your home (firewood/gas are not unlimited/free resources!).
With the first option, most will have a fireplace, but that usually will only heat up a single room: the one it’s in.
With the second option, again, most will never bother to have the kind of system installed where a generator heats your entire home.
This is fine though – better than fine actually. Because heating one room instead of an entire home is exactly what you should be doing in a winter emergency where the power goes out.
Why? Heating an entire home in an emergency instead concentrating your efforts on particular things that would be terribly expensive to lose power to – i.e. freezers, fridges, etc.. – well it’s just not wise.
Most would not bother using their generators to heat their entire home ever, and for two good reasons:
- This would be very expensive to do in the first place, and
- Depending on how long the emergency situation lasts (you never know!), you could potentially run out of fuel for the generator well before the emergency is even over.
So by just using the generator where you need it most (i.e. freezer & fridge, if there’s enough in there to warrant it) you’re saving a lot of money as well as giving yourself the best chance of your generator having enough fuel to last through the entirety of the emergency situation.
Alright, let’s take a look at your most realistic options for heating now.
How to Stay Warm Indoors When the Power’s Out (& It’s Freezing Outside)
That Thing You Pretty Much Have To Do
Yup, sorry. You knew it would come to this:
1. Camp out in one room in the house. Preferably a small one (as it will be easier to keep warm).
If everybody’s in one room with the door closed and that room has got as many blankets, jackets, coats, pets, and whatever else you have at home to keep y’all as warm as possible, you’re going to have a lot easier of a time trying to stay warm by comparison to trying to heat multiple rooms.
When it comes to sleeping, you don’t need to share a bed if you don’t want to, but if it’s not something you mind, why not? If you’re not into sharing a bed, drag extra mattresses or sofa cushions into your room of choice and have everyone sleep separately, but by being in the same room, you’re making sure none of your individual bodies’ heat production is going to waste – it’s helping to keep the room warm.
No Electricity/Fuel/Fire Options
These techniques will keep your core temperature up, but won’t waste your money, your fuel, or your energy to keep them going. Use as many of them as you’d like, as they all play nice together.
2. Stay in a tent.
We all know that being in a tent in cold weather outdoors does wonders for being able to stay warm.
Set up camp inside a literal tent in your bedroom or “warm room” of choice. Sit and sleep in there with whomever is perfectly happy being in the tent with you. Wise to get a big tent that’s large enough to fit everyone in your family, with wiggle room to spare (blankets take up a lot of space!).
Obvious to say the least, but you’ll all be much toastier inside the tent than outside it. And, let’s be real, this’ll help you all sleep better.
3. Stay in a sub-zero sleeping bag.
Sub zero temperature sleeping bags are a must-have when you’re thinking about outdoor survival for cold weather climates, and again, if the weather’s bad out and there’s no power, you should be using these tools to keep you warm inside. You don’t have to sit in a tent the whole day, but if you just want to warm up, and definitely when you’re ready for bed, it’s an excellent tool to make use of.
4. Line your tent with mylar thermal blankets.
We’ve all seen how bushcrafters will often line their shelters with mylar thermal blankets to stay warm outdoors, and when it’s all they’ve got, how just this simple tool is often enough to keep them toasty through some very cold nights.
Still not enough heat in your tent because it’s super cold in your neck of the woods? Chances are lining your tent in these will really help you stay toasty.
5. Throw your blankets and/or sleeping bag into a thermal blanket and stay in that.
You know they actually make survival blankets in the shape of sleeping bags? Super handy if you’ve not got a great sleeping bag, or of course if it’s still freezing inside your tent.
6. Cover yourself in emergency mylar thermal blankets.
Yes, I haven’t finished with these yet. They seriously keep you so toasty and this step is probably overkill at this point, but if you haven’t got one of the thermal survival blankets I mentioned in the previous suggestion, but want the same effect, or if you prefer to just be plain cooked when you’re sleeping, throw a mylar blanket or two right on top of what you’ve got (a sleeping bag, blankets, thermal blankets, etc.).
Basically, if you’re trying to stay warm in a freezing winter with no power to your home, and you’re doing it on a budget, or with no electricity/fuel/power options whatsoever: treat your indoors like it’s winter survival outdoors. Add layer after layer of thermoregulation-oriented survival gear until you and your family are toasty.
Sometimes, you won’t feel like turning a room of your home into a hot mess of blankets, sleeping bags, mylar blankets, and tents. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to be able to take advantage of more modern and less budget options. What to do in these cases?
7. Keep a fireplace fire going in your one room and have everybody in the family stay there.
Easy as pie. Doubt you will need a tent if you’ve got this, though I’d still keep the sub-zero sleeping bags and blankets galore in the room in case someone’s not happy enough with just the fire.
If you’ve got a fireplace in a non-open concept room as well as enough firewood to last you ages, no reason you shouldn’t use this method.
Stay safe, and make sure you’ve got your fireplace properly ventilated, that there’s nothing flammable near it, and if you’re going to bed, put it out or make sure to have shifts where at least one or two people are up to watch it. But hell, a good ‘ol fireplace can really keep you cozy with minimal effort.
8. No fireplace? Turn on an indoor-use gas heater for a few hours here and there when you’re watching.
Thomas and I were flat out of luck with no fireplace in our home when the electricity went out that one winter in Toronto. I’m terrible with the cold, so I couldn’t stand our bedroom with just the two of us and our cat in it at night. And yes, we were silly enough not to have prepped enough to have the kind of gear stockpiled that it would take to go the no electricity/fuel/fire options way.
What we did have was a propane/butane heater (like this one), and if I’m honest, not a lot of fuel for it. So we rationed out a few hours of warmth before bedtime, being very careful to ventilate our home by opening a window when it was on and watching it like a hawk simultaneously. About a half hour before bed, we’d shut it off, confirm it was off repeatedly, then sleep.
Not the best option, and definitely not what I’d do now, but if it’s all you’ve got, you make do with what you have. Banging my head on a wall these days for being a prepper who was not prepared for that kind of a situation, but you know – live and learn. And we’ve definitely learned.
The Most Ideal Preventative Option
In an ideal situation, given we had the money, what would we have done? The absolute best method I’ve found:
9. Build a brick room-sized shed/garage separate from the house and put a fireplace there along with a gas cooker.
You know how comfortable you’ll be there? Our neighbours back in Toronto have this kind of a setup and so when the power went out, Thomas and I quite literally spent every morning and afternoon with them, enjoying our time sitting around the fire chatting away, before sadly hopping off to our cold home for nighttime.
Make sure you build this place large enough that you’ll be able to throw everyone in the family comfortably in at night, and you’ll literally be happy as clams throughout the outage. Obviously, again, make sure to practice fire safety (nothing flammable near the fire, good ventilation at all times, and make sure someone’s up whenever the fire’s going), but pretty much, with as much wood as you can get stockpiled, you’ll be cozy no matter how long the power outage lasts. You’re set as long as you’ve got firewood for the fireplace and enough gas for your cooker.
Living the high life during a winter emergency this is.
Enough suggestions? I think you get the picture. You can definitely stay warm and cozy indoors in sub-zero winter climates when the power goes out. Yes, you and your family members may be driven mad having to spend so much time in a single room together, you may be absolutely covered from head to toe in coats and blankets and mylar tarps, but you said you wanted to stay warm, didn’t you?
More Winter Preparedness Resources
If you live in a cold climate and are working on buffing up your winter preparedness, take a look at our winter emergency supply list to make sure there’s nothing on it you’re currently missing that you may want.
Besides the items on that list, which primarily concentrate on warmth and indoor cooking ability, there isn’t much difference between winter preparedness and any other type of preparedness. So if you’re interested, also take a look at the comprehensive list of survival gear we put together to compare your kits and at-home resources to.
Your Suggestions for Staying Warm in Cold Winters?
As usual, if you’ve got any tips and tricks I’ve missed mentioning here, let me know in the comments! Would also love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with cold weather during power outages if you have any stories for me!
If you have a survival, preparedness, or gear related question you’d like us to answer, don’t hesitate to let us know! Find out how to reach us via the contact page. Although we don’t publish every question we’re asked on the blog, we try our best to respond to each and every one we receive.
In case you’re interested, you can also view our past responses to reader questions here.