Survival: How to Keep Warm During a Power Outage – With What You Have on Hand

Taking Shelter in Our Homes

Cars stuck in blizzardMost of us are blessed to be living in a house or apartment—a safe place to keep warm and dry during inclement weather. But even with today’s technologies, Mother Nature routinely reminds us that we are at her mercy, such as when power outages strike due to floods, ice storms, wind storms, thunderstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, or a hurricane. It might even be a man-made disaster that temporarily takes out the power.

Rule of Three’s

If you’ve read any of my other blogs on survival, you already know about the Rule of Three’s. The Rule of Three’s was developed to help you remember what should be priority during an emergency, when your brain may be on overload and veering into panic mode. It helps you stay calm and plan – which will do more to help you survive than anything else you can do. Remember that British saying: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Three Hours is all it takes to kill you if you are unable to keep warm and fall into hypothermia. Having shelter to regulate your body temperature is the number one most important thing you need to concentrate on during a power outage, if keeping warm will be the challenge. You can survive three days without water, and three weeks without food. So, remember to find shelter first.

Using What You Have on Hand

There are lots of ways to prepare ahead of time for such disasters, but I want to talk about what steps you can take to survive—today—using just what you may have in your home right now. We’ll talk about what to wear and how to shelter in place using supplies currently in most people’s homes or apartments.

Dress in layers

If you live in a part of the country that suffers from the cold every winter, you already have warm clothing on hand, such as thermal underwear, heavy jackets, hats and gloves. You know how to dress to keep warm in the elements, and can easily adapt that to staying warm inside without power for heating. For those of you who don’t usually have to worry about this, there is a way to use what you have on hand.

Dressed for WinterIt’s important to dress in layers to keep your body warm in cold weather. Layering keeps you warmer than one thick layer because the air trapped between the layers of fabric serve as insulation—just as multiple thin blankets may feel warmer than one thick blanket. Try to use a light wool or silk material as a base layer next to your skin if you don’t own thermal wear. This allows the material to wick away moisture from your skin so you don’t get chilled.

The next layer should be made of natural fibers – fleece tops are excellent for this as they are lightweight, yet create a nice insulating layer.

Make sure you add a hat, gloves, warm socks and boots, even indoors, as keeping your extremities warm goes a long way in helping your body retain its overall temperature.

You can add sweaters, down vests or jackets as needed, depending on how cold the inside of your home becomes during the outage. Remember that it’s extremely important NOT to become too warm and perspire. Getting wet will then allow your body to chill and plummet your body temperature. Move slowly while dressed warmly.

If you find yourself needing to venture out into the weather, make sure to add a wind and waterproof layer to keep you dry until you can return to indoors. Keeping your feet dry is paramount.

Create a Warm Room in Your House or Apartment

One of the first things you should do in the event of a power outage in your home is to close off as much of the house as much as possible, so you are only trying to keep one room warm. Close doors to bedrooms and bathrooms. You can hang blankets in doorways to keep out drafts and hold the warmth in one area. This works well if you have a wood burning stove or fireplace. If you keep doors to the outside closed, the temperature in your house will drop very slowly, and you can add layers of clothing as needed. I’ve been in more than one blizzard that knocked out power and blocked roads for two weeks (yes, I lived out in the countryside) and we were able to keep warm and heat food this way.

But of course, you will need to tailor your response in accordance to the scenario you find yourself in at the time. What if you don’t have a fireplace or wood stove? In a situation like this you may want to take further steps and create one small warm room for everyone to be in and share body heat.

Choose the smallest room in the house with the least amount of draft from windows and outside doors. If you have a tent, set it up in the room and use it as an even more efficient way to hold in your body temperature in a small area. Sleeping bags would be a great bonus!

But if you have children or older members of your immediate family, you may want to choose a bedroom that joins a small bathroom. The bed will be used as a further way to keep warm, as I explain later.

Whichever your scenario, you can add bubble wrap or plastic sheeting (a shower curtain) to the window(s) to let warm sunlight in and keep out drafts. Or if bone-chilling temperatures are predicted, you may want to stuff newspapers or clothing, or sheets between the screen and glass to help insulate the window, then staple a curtain or plastic sheet over it to keep out drafts.

If the floor of the room isn’t carpeted, lay down newspaper and cover with heavy rugs or blankets to insulate from the drafty cold. Have a heavy blanket ready to hang over the door leading out of the room, once everyone is inside.

You can use a bed spread to create a tent over the entire bed to hold in body heat at night and keep out cold drafts.

Eventually, everyone may want to crawl into bed (still fully dressed) and snuggle together under layers of blankets until the power comes back on. Don’t forget your pets. They are a great source of warmth as well! We’ve done this during ice storms that knocked out power for over 24 hours.

Even if the family is staying in the one room, you may want to cover exterior doors in the rest of the house or apartment with blankets, stuff material under the bottom of doors and cover windows, to keep out as much drafty cold as possible. This is especially true during a blizzard, when winds find every crack and crevice to force their way into your home.

Other small, inexpensive, easy to obtain items to have on hand would be:

Chemical hand warmers. The great thing about these are they can do things other than warm your hands (or warm your boots). Example: They can warm baby bottles and melt snow for water. They last for 5-7 hours. If you don’t need one for that long, seal it in a zip-lock bag (pressing out the air) and then open it later to re-activate it.

Mylar Space Blankets. Besides using this as a blanket, to trap in a person’s body heat and keep them warm, they can also be used to staple up on walls as insulation in a dire emergency. Or use one to create a tent or shelter.

I haven’t addressed using alternate heating sources here because most people don’t have anything like that on hand and would have to make use of what is currently available. Besides, I have deep reservations about advising people to use propane and kerosene heaters in the home when they are not familiar with how to safely use them. Educate yourself before purchasing these items!

Most people do have candles on hand, and quite a bit of heat can be generated in a small area – but again—safety is most important! Also, when safely used, the little folding Camp Stove I’ve talked about is something that could be used indoors to heat food or make hot drinks. Having a hot meal can make everyone feel warmer.

Trapped Away from Home During an Emergency Power Outage

If you should find yourself riding out a storm by finding temporary shelter, other than your home, remember that moving and exercise can temporarily raise your core temperature and warm you (just don’t become sweaty). Check out your surroundings and find ways to add layers to your clothing as much as you can with the materials on hand. Newspapers make excellent insulation when stuffed inside your shirt. Blankets can be used like ponchos. Scarves or T-shirts can be wrapped around your head for a hat. Socks can become mittens. You can even crawl between two bed mattresses to stay warm. Heck, throw some sofa cushions in the bottom of a bathtub and use the shower curtain rod and blankets to create a tent. Stay calm and use your imagination to make the best of your situation. You can do this!


Have You Experienced a Long-Term Power Outage? What Tips Can You Add?


  1. Lois Joy Hofmann

    Our lake home in rural Wisconsin is prone to power outages when one of the hundreds of trees there falls onto a power line. Usually, it takes some time before it is repaired. Locals walk and drive the many country roads to find the culprit and then call the power company. Two years ago, we installed a back-up generator. We didn’t regret it. We had another storm and power outage within the week!

    • indy

      A back-up generator would be a wonderful thing to own and I would think it a necessity in that ‘neck of the woods’! So glad you have one. When I lived out in the country in the Midwest I often wished we could afford one! Lately I’ve been interested in the solar powered generators that run off of battery storage…hmmmm. You’ve got me thinking…

  2. Claudine Eveland

    Dogs and cats need more water when they are stressed, including when it is suddenly cold, getting colder. Tuck the little ones into clothing, or under a blanket with you. They produce heat and you will keep each other warmer.
    You can cook with mittens and gloves on. Things will stay good in a refrigerator in cold weather, but much better with the door kept shut. Battery operated lamps give more light than flashlights or candles. I like that little sterno stove you showed us. It is useful for cooking and is lightweight.

    • indy

      Those are all really great points, Claudine. Thanks for sharing them with us. Keeping the refrigerator door closed is an important reminder. It made me remember that I’ve even food put it in a cooler out of doors when the weather was cold enough. And I’m glad you like the little sterno stove. It’s been one of my best bargains to date!


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