We rely heavily on electricity to keep us warm in colder seasons. However, power outages can occur for a variety of reasons: hurricanes, snowstorms, tree damage, transformers blowing, and more. These power outages can be especially concerning in the winter months. When you’re stuck in the dead of winter without electricity, how can you stay warm?
To stay warm without electricity, wear thick clothing layers, stay in confined spaces, block outside drafts, stay active, and heat your space safely (battery-operated heaters, fireplaces, candles). Avoid methods that create carbon monoxide and fire hazards (stoves, ovens, DIY heaters).
Consider the space you’re in and what’s available around you; some methods may work better for you than others. If you’re not yet trapped without electricity, there are ways you can prepare now for future power outages.
Wear Thick Clothing Layers
Clothing layers are a fast, easy way to conserve body heat. The type of fabric you use for each layer can maximize the amount of heat you conserve. The base layer can be a lighter fabric like polyester or silk; these lighter materials can wick sweat away from your skin. Moisture from perspiration can make you colder, so the more you keep the sweat off of your skin – the warmer you’ll be.
Then, add on the middle insulating layer. Choose warmer, thicker materials like fleece, wool, or even a down coat. For the top layer, choose a wind-blocking material like a raincoat, trench coat, etc. Ideally, the top layer should have vents to allow sweat from your armpits to evaporate.
Along with the fabric of your clothing layers, you should also consider their fit. People often think that clothing layers need to be form-fitting to be warm. However, your clothing layers should be looser. Looser clothing leaves space in between your skin and the cold air to heat up. This space becomes a barrier of body heat between your skin and the cold air.
Don’t miss your head and your feet while layering clothes for warmth. 40-45% of body heat is lost through the neck and head, so triple up on the socks and hats to maximize heat retention.
Lastly, if you’re not pressed for time, consider buying small “heat packs” from a local pharmacy to stick in between your layers of clothing for extra heat.
Stay in Confined Spaces
The smaller the space you’re in, the warmer you’ll be. You may already have confined spaces built into your home or need to create your own.
Ideal confined spaces would be closets, bathrooms (don’t turn a hot shower on – the moisture will eventually make the bathroom colder), small bedrooms/offices, or any other small room. If you are using a battery-operated space heater, small spaces will heat up more quickly than larger rooms. If you don’t have a battery-operated heater, body heat can heat a small space quite effectively.
If you live in a studio apartment or a home without small rooms, create your own confined space. You can make a tent with chairs and blankets. Simply create 3-4 corners with chairs, then drape a large, heavy blanket over the chairs and hide underneath. Sleeping bags or blanket cocoons are also effective and don’t require any setup.
If you’re with other people or pets, create a small, warm space by sitting, standing, or lying close to one another. Penguins use this exact method in the arctic to stay warm (it’s called “huddling”). Huddling or cuddling together with a group prevents one person from using up all of their energy to stay warm. The human body naturally adapts to the ambient temperature, which is higher when people (or animals) are huddled closely together.
Lastly, close off any rooms in your home that you aren’t using. This traps heat into smaller spaces, making it more difficult for the air to cool down.
Block Outside Drafts
It’s important to prevent the cold air outside from entering your space. Cold air can slip through the smallest spaces, so stay vigilant in blocking any small crack.
First and foremost, block the gaps under your doors. Even if you live in an apartment building without a direct outdoor entrance, block the gap under your door to prevent any colder air in the hallway from entering. You can block these door gaps with towels, washcloths, and then seal them with tape.
Block drafts from your windows as well. If you don’t already have curtains on your windows, make your own with blankets or towels. You don’t need curtains during the day if the sun is shining (sunshine is a natural heater), but it’s important to use them at night to keep the cold air from drifting through the glass. Make sure the tops, bottoms, and sides of your windows are fully sealed. If they aren’t, use scarves, blankets, or towels to block the cracks.
Elevate your internal temperature with light exercise. The key is to keep it light, as you want to keep your skin and clothes dry. Light exercise increases blood flow to your hands and feet, which are more susceptible to frostbite. Increased blood flow also raises your internal temperature, keeping you warmer for longer.
Adjust your clothing layers when you start your light exercise to avoid sweating. Once you are done moving, wait to make sure you are completely dry, then layer the clothing back on.
Lighter exercises include walking around your home, walking in place, push-ups, squats, light kickboxing moves, dancing, crunches, etc.
Heat Your Space Safely
There are many safe ways to heat your space safely without dangerous open flames or DIY heaters. If you don’t have these options available in your home, consider purchasing one to prepare for future outages.
Before electricity was invented, people use fireplaces to heat the rooms in their homes. Although they aren’t able to heat large spaces effectively, they can heat small spaces, especially if you’re sitting or lying close by. Never leave fireplaces unattended, and make sure you have a screen in front of the fire to prevent sparks. Fireplaces should never be burned for longer than 5 hours at a time.
Candles are also safe heating options when used properly. Although they don’t create as much heat as fireplaces, lighting multiple candles in a confined space can generate a decent amount of heat. Similar to fireplaces, be sure they are never left unattended and do not burn them for longer than a few hours.
Battery-operated space heaters are safe, effective, and affordable. Be sure to keep them far from flammable materials, and only keep them running when someone is in the room. If you are preparing for future power outages, keep extra packs of batteries in your home.
Avoid Hazardous Options
While it may be tempting to use quick fixes like gas ovens and stoves, propane tanks, or car engines when the electricity goes out, it is dangerous to keep these gadgets running for long periods. When these appliances burn fuel for extended periods, they create hazardous levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious, deadly condition. Symptoms often resemble the flu with vomiting, dizziness, and body fatigue.
It may also be tempting to search for “DIY heaters” and build your own heater. However, these heat sources can create serious fire hazards and are typically not effective. Even worse, if these DIY methods use any kind of fossil fuel, carbon monoxide is a serious threat as well.
It’s frightening to be stuck without electricity in the dead of winter. Thankfully, there are many safe, frugal ways to stay warm if you’re pressed for time. If you’re not yet stuck without electricity, think about ways you can prepare for future outages now.