With wind chill advisories threatening temperatures that feel like -25 degrees outside, I’ve been freaking out a bit and trying to make sure I know how we’ll stay warm if our power goes out. Considering I live on a heavily tree-lined street and our power blinks if a squirrel even looks at our wires, it’s definitely a major concern. We’ve been in a major cold snap since Christmas, and while there are a few downright balmy 32-degree days coming our way, I have a feeling that winter is just getting started. Here’s my “stay warm plan” in case that happens!
How to Stay Warm When the Power Goes Out
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1. Find alternate heat sources
In this “well, duh” category, the first thing you want to do is find an alternate heat source. If you have a wood stove, like I do, stock up on wood now. Can’t find (or afford) a whole cord of wood? Go to your grocery store, Walmart, or any other store that sells it and grab a bag of emergency wood. We have two bags, enough to keep us warm for at least a couple of days. DO NOT dip into your emergency wood for anything besides power outages. You can also buy kerosene space heaters or even camping stoves, but I’m crazy paranoid about those. If you do opt for kerosene, check out these safety guidelines. Don’t have an alternate heat source? Don’t worry, the rest of the tips are for you (keep reading even if you DO have an alternate).
2. Layer your clothes
I know this is kind of another obvious way to stay warm, but how you layer up will mean the difference between feeling like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story and actually being comfortable until the power comes back on. Start with thermal undies. Opt for those moisture-wicking lightweight thermals. My son wears them as pajamas. They keep you warm without feeling bulky. Add a pair of fleece pants or something else that’s thick enough to block out the cold yet still flexible enough for you to relax in.
For your top half, I like to do a thermal top with a t-shirt over that, then a comfy sweater or sweatshirt. I like to layer the t-shirt OVER the thermal instead of under because it doesn’t get as bunched up and actually keeps me warmer that way. Make sure you wear a hat or scarf to cover your ears (I find that if my ears are warm, the rest of my head is pretty good to go). Finish off with a pair of nylon socks (you know, the ones that usually make your feet sweat!) followed by a thicker pair of cotton, then if needed, a pair of fuzzy socks. The goal is to have enough layers to stay warm without feeling like you can’t move.
I actually just tested that layering system outside shoveling my driveway. It’s about 7 degrees out. I was fine (even hot at times) aside from my face when the wind blew. If you do have to go outdoors, make sure to add gloves and something to cover your face.
3. Camp out together in one room & seal off the rest
If your alternate heat source is a fireplace, then obviously you’ll pick that room.Otherwise, choose a relatively small room without a ton of windows and drafts. Close all of the other rooms and seal off drafts by rolling up towels to cover the space between the door and the floor. If you’re using a kerosene heater, the rules are a little different. You need ventilation, so leave one of the other rooms open. Otherwise, you have to crack a window, and that kind of sounds counterproductive to me. If you have kids, make it fun by playing board games, telling stories, etc. I’m such a 21st century digital girl, when I know the power could go out, I charge up all the Kindles, iPads, and so on plus all our little battery backup things so we have books to read and games to play.
4. Seal all the windows
We seal up our windows with plastic before it gets too cold out, but if you haven’t done this already, go ahead and do so now. In a pinch, anything from plastic wrap to bubble wrap will work. Don’t have ANY plastic wrapping at all? Even covering the windows with blankets (hang them from the curtain rod or use thumb tacks) will help keep heat where it belongs and drafts out. I have a zillion of those little $2 fleece blankets laying around, those would work in a pinch. When the sun is shining though, you’ll want to remove the blankets to let some of the natural heat in.
5. Snuggle under blankets
The key to staying warm with blankets: layer them. Just like with your clothes, how you layer them matters. I like to put a fleece blanket on the bottom layer, followed by a comforter, then another fleece blanket. Even those thin fleece deals work well as both a top and bottom layer. I think that they trap more body heat than just a single blanket (even a thick one!) alone. I rarely turn the heat on in my bedroom. It’s about 55 degrees in there during the winter (I get hot flashes from my meds and can’t sleep if I’m hot). My layering trick warms me right up in about a minute.
Jumping jacks, running in place, and anything else that gets your heart pumping will also help warm you up a bit. My advice? Don’t work up a sweat. Just do enough to warm up. You don’t want to sit around all sweaty in a frigid room when you’re done! Besides, sweat is your body’s natural AC, something you don’t want to turn on when you’re cold!
7. Eat warming foods
If you look at just about any list of tips for how to stay warm during a power outage, they all say things like “drink coffee!! Eat soup!” Well, that’s all fine and good if you can actually get out of your house, but what if you’re stuck at home because of snow or ice? If you don’t have power (or at least a fireplace), you can’t very well heat up a bowl of soup! Don’t be so quick to load up on the chili peppers and spicy foods, either. Those can actually make you colder by making you sweat. Cumin seems to be the exception. This spice can actually keep you warmer longer. Other foods to try according to Eat This, Not That? Ginger, bananas, and complex carbs.
If you DO have a wood stove, I learned that I can actually heat up soup and other liquids on it by putting them in a small stainless steel pot and just sticking it on top of the stove. It takes a little longer than a regular stove, but it works. My gran used to cook whole meals in the fireplace. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how to do that, though.
You’ll see some people recommending that you use candles to stay warm. In a dire emergency, like everyone is about to get frostbite and you have no other way to warm up, I suppose they could work. They only throw off a tiny bit of heat, even grouped together, and I think the risks outweigh the benefits. You’ll also see things like “use hot water bottles” or “use hand warmers.” Again, fabulous advice IF you have an alternate heat source so that you can warm the water for the bottles, or if you thought ahead and bought fancy hand warming packets. I really tried to pick only the tips that anyone can use, regardless of whether you have a fireplace or space heater.