Home Security and Defense

How to Heat Your Home

fireplace

When you’ve finally found your forever home or at least your home for the next couple decades, it’s important to plan for emergencies. One of the most common emergencies that most people will encounter at some point is a blackout in cold weather.

Most often, blackouts in winter occur due to high winds or ice and snow build up that takes down wires in your area. This means no power and if you haven’t planned properly, it could mean no heat in your home. In truth, many people suffer frostbite, hypothermia, and even die during blackouts because they haven’t adequately prepared to stay warm without electricity.

Hypothermia can be deadly because it can happen gradually. In fact, some people go to sleep and just simply freeze to death before they wake up. But with a little advanced planning, you and your family can stay warm and cozy. Below are some ways to heat your home in the winter if there’s a blackout.

Backup Power Source

One of the most obvious ways to heat your home when the power goes out would be to have a backup power source in place to provide power for your furnace or main heating system.

Consider installing a generator for the main systems in your home or even just a battery backup to power your heating system temporarily. Solar and wind power are also good for backup power options if it works for your family.

Insulate Your Home

Having a home that is well insulated goes a long way toward helping you heat your home during winter if there’s a blackout. Use weather-stripping on exterior doors and install window film and removable caulk on windows to help keep cold air out and warm air in.

If you aren’t sure whether your walls and attic are insulated properly, find out now. Take steps to fully insulate before the next power outage.

Professionally installed carpet with a thick padding will help insulate floors. You can also use area rugs and throw rugs to help insulate bare floors. If your floors are still cold after putting down an area rug, try layering cardboard between the floor and the rug to insulate it further.

This not only will help lower your heating bills all winter long, but it will help to trap warm air inside if the power goes out unexpectedly in cold weather. A well-insulated home means you and your family won’t get dangerously cold quite as quickly. In fact, if your home is well insulated and you know how to dress warmly, you could even survive an overnight power outage, if it’s not bitterly cold outside.

Stop Heat Loss Quickly

Let’s say the power does go out and you have a heating system that requires electricity to operate. You meant to get a backup power source in place one day, but you just haven’t been able to get it done yet.

Now, in the middle of a snowstorm, your house goes dark. It’s important to know how to stop heat loss quickly. You want to trap any warm air that is in your home and keep any cold air from getting in.

If you have a standard furnace system, close the cold air return vents to keep warm air trapped in your home. Seal up any cracks and gaps where warm air can escape, or cold air can rush inside.

Use a door draft stopper at the bottom of exterior doors or roll up a towel and lay it along the bottom of the door or in the ledge of windows if you didn’t insulate them with window film. If it’s late afternoon or evening close your draft blocking curtains or at least hang a heavy blanket or quilt over the windows to help trap warm air in and keep cold air out.

If need be, you can hang heavy quilts or blankets on the walls in the rooms where you will be gathered to help trap air inside. When the sun is out in the morning and midday, leave curtains open to let the sunlight warm the room. Even a heavy shower curtain liner or piece of plastic sheeting can be used to help insulate windows temporarily to stop drafts.

Fill Your Bathtub with Hot Water

I haven’t tested this one myself so let me know if you’ve tried it. If a storm is coming and the power goes out, fill your bathtub with very hot water. My understanding is that the heat will disperse throughout the bathroom and possibly into adjacent rooms. It may not actually raise the temperature of the room, but it could contribute to keeping the temperature from dropping so quickly.

Portable Propane Heaters

There are some really great portable propane space heaters available on the market today. The one I have as part of my blackout plan is a Mr. Buddy Heater model.

It’s easy to operate and is fueled by those green propane cylinder tanks that you can buy just about anywhere. It makes a great heater for an emergency, if the power was out for several hours or even overnight, we could keep using that at least one or two rooms warm with that heater.

For an extended power outage, the heater has an optional connector to attach it to a bigger tank like the one I use for my gas grill. I have 4 small cylinders on hand and 3 of those larger tanks and I try to keep them full.

You do have to remember to keep everything properly vented and make sure you have alarms in place to alert you if oxygen levels get low. What’s great about the Mr. Buddy Heater is that it has an automatic shut off if oxygen in the room drops too low.

Portable Kerosene Heaters

Another way to heat your home in winter during a blackout would be with a kerosene heater. Just make sure the one you get will ignite without using electricity. Kerosene is available at local gas stations, but it is extremely flammable. Be sure to properly store any unused kerosene for safety.

Again, with kerosene heaters, make sure the room is properly vented and that you install the proper alarms to alert you if the oxygen level in the room becomes dangerously low.

Block Off Unused Rooms

In older houses, many people will completely block off the upstairs during the winter to lower their heating bills. During a blackout, if you are trying to keep your house warm, you can block off any rooms that aren’t being used. Perhaps the living and a bedroom is all you need for the night.

If you’re worried about pipes freezing, you may want to move mattresses into the kitchen area so you can stay warm and keep pipes from getting too cold. Hang heavy blankets over doors to other parts of the house. Use your portable heater to heat only the space where everyone will gather until the blackout is over.

Switch to a Non-Electric Heat Source

Of course, one of the most reliable ways to heat your home in winter if there’s a blackout is to simply switch now to a non-electric heat source.

Fireplaces and woodstoves are great options because with a little practice they can also be used for cooking and for heating water for personal hygiene needs. Just make sure that you stay stocked up on firewood if you decide to heat your house with wood.

You’d be surprised how much wood it takes to heat a home for an entire winter. Even a wood stove without wood can be useful. I know of a couple who ran out of firewood and burned books and other non-essential items in their house in order to keep the house warm enough to survive the night.

Pellet wood stoves are nice too, but keep in mind that many of these have electronic ignition so make sure you have a battery backup for it or get one that can be lit manually if the power goes out.

Dress Warm and Cuddle Up

After you’ve done what you can to heat your home in the winter during a blackout, don’t forget to dress yourself in layers and cuddle up to stay warm.

Wear a warm hat on your head, gloves if you have them, and wool socks or warm slippers to keep your toes and feet toasty warm. Whether you cuddle up to family members or pets, sharing body heat is a great way to keep warm during a blackout.

Have you ever experienced a power outage in cold weather? What did you do to heat your home when it happened? How are you prepared to heat your home when the next blackout comes?

Share with us in the comments below, and don’t forget to pin this to Pinterest for later!

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Megan Stewart

About Megan Stewart

A mother of four and grandmother of nine boys and one girl, Megan is living the lifestyle any prepper would want. Gardening, homesteading and constantly planning for emergencies big and small, she's a beacon of knowledge in the prepping community.
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5 thoughts on “How to Heat Your Home

  1. Megan,
    While we’ve done most of these things years, ago, this is a good concise list for those not quite prepared. I’ll comment further on our resources and methods; but, would warn readers that much of this will take time and money, so pick the less complicated things first to get it done soon. A buddy heater, blankets &/or sleeping bags and a flashlight, barricaded in a small room is a good first start if you currently have little or nothing. Baby steps!!!

  2. I am curious about why you did not mention sources like natural gas….we have an electric powered furnace but also have a natural gas heater and natural gas for our fireplace….this winter we kept our house warm and cozy with the natural gas at a much lower price than electric as well…also, our kitchen range is operated with natural gas.

    1. Caryn Verell,

      I am curious about why you did not mention sources like natural gas

      While I am not answering for Megan, it could be that she is not used to using gas. I grew up with natural gas, had it in college, and in my first house; but, here, Natural Gas is unavailable, so we use propane.
      It takes about 11 gallons of propane to produce the same 1,000,000 BTU’s produced by 1000 cubic feet of natural gas; but, otherwise they can be used interchangeably. My whole house propane fueled generator can be operated on natural gas with a simple adjustment.
      For things we do with propane that you may be able to do with gas, read my other longer post.

      1. When I mentioned the relative heat energy available and amount of fuel required to produce 1,000,000 BTU’s per gallon of propane or per cubic feet of natural gas I remembered that I left off an important source of heat for many homesteaders’ and rural folks and the one we use as our primary backup.

        Wood

        Seasoned wood with a moisture content of < 20% can provide a lot of heat, based in part on the type of wood, with broadleaf hardwoods containing more heat energy. This description and list of those woods from Utah State University is a good refresher for those of us already using wood and a good primer for those who are interested: https://forestry.usu.edu/forest-products/wood-heating

        Here is another good wood heating primer from Virginia Tech: https://sbio.vt.edu/content/dam/sbio_vt_edu/paul-bunyan-presentation/Firewood.pdf

        Another benefit of heating with wood is the old maxim: “Wood always heats twice. Once in the cutting, and once in the burning”

  3. We have an advantage in that we have lived in the same location now for 35 years, and have owned it free & clear for more than 20; but, here is our story, for what anyone may find of it.

    Backup Power Source
    This was incremental as we could afford it.
    As a ham operator, I have a lot of 13.8 VDC operated equipment, so battery banks and chargers along with 12 VDC incandescent (old style RV) light bulbs provided lighting along with a few inverters to run some equipment. We also employed quite a few inexpensive UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supplies) to run small appliances, and electronics equipment like satellite receivers and televisions. Our most common power issues were the glitches where the power would go out to the whole house for just a few flickers, or a few seconds and then return. In these cases the UPS units kept things from resetting and for longer outages would keep things running for a while or let us power down devices properly. Sometimes on an extended outage, we could shut off the TV and the satellite receiver and DVR would continue to record the show in progress for watching later.
    The key to this is to incrementally attack the problem based on what you can afford to do.
    I started with an old 3500 watt, military surplus WW II Onan W2M generator that I used for years; but, that generator is no longer in service and is actually for sale.
    Today we have a propane fueled whole house auto start generator; but, on a power failure, the power to the house still goes out for 20-30 seconds, so those UPS units still play a role in the smooth transition from mains power to generator power.
    We also have a 150 watt solar panel kit, still in the box, that we hope to experiment with this upcoming year.

    Insulate Your Home

    When we purchased this old house in 1986, it had horrible doors & windows and no insulation, so our first big expense was new windows in all but 4 or 5 places, followed the next few years by taking a few walls at a time, gutting them to the studs, insulating and redoing the rooms with drywall, which is a formidable task. In 2017, we had enough savings to replace the last 4 windows and get the entire house done with expanded foam insulation, and that has made the house both warmer in winter, and easier to cool in summer. In 2017 we also had new external doors and storm doors installed, adding one more layer to the mix. The house is now very comfortable and the last thing on the list is new flooring.
    Owning a house, like prepping, is pretty much a never ending, life long journey.

    Fill Your Bathtub with Hot Water

    I don’t know how well this one works; but, it does remind me of a senior citizen who was stuck in her country house without power during the blizzard of 1978. I had a 4 WD vehicle and like many with those and snowmobiles helped shuttle people and supplies around the county. When “rescuers” finaly got to this old woman’s home, they were expecting the worst; but, found her greeting them at the door with a smile. When things got bad, she moved her supplies to her small bathroom, filled some containers for drinking, and ran an inch of water in the tub. Into that tub, she set lots of candles, and kept them lit during the entire ordeal. The water kept them from being a fire hazard, and they generated enough heat to keep the room comfortable, along with her pile of pillows, blankets, and sheets. That was the kind of quick thinking that we should all strive to emulate.

    Portable Propane Heaters

    There are some really great portable propane space heaters available on the market today. The one I have as part of my blackout plan is a Mr. Buddy Heater model.

    We have three of the portable Mr. Buddy heaters and keep quite a few of the 14 or 16 oz propane canisters on hand, as well as a 20 foot conversion hose to utilize a 20 lb BBQ tank.

    We also have a Mr. Buddy Blue Flame ventless wall heater, tied to the central propane supply for the house. That supply consists of a 500 gallon and 3 1000 gallon tanks, all feeding the house. In the house we have a gas forced air furnace, the Mr. Buddy wall mount heater, and a second ventless plaque heater. Propane also heats our domestic hot water, cooks our food, and runs our whole house generator.
    We keep a few Terra Cotta flower pots on hand, to provide additional heat in the kitchen. When placed inverted over a gas burner, the drain hole acts as a chimney, and the pots get really hot, radiating heat into the room. At a buck or so each, they are a cheap addition to keep you warm.

    We also still have a working fireplace with an airtight insert that has been inspected, and along with several cords of wood provide an additional heat source. When we first moved here it was primary; but, now gives us a backup if needed. If you don’t have a lot of wood, tightly wound rolls of corrugated cardboard can burn quite well and get rid of those Amazon boxes. Wetting them can allow more to be rolled and rolled more tightly; but, that’s a summer job, since it then takes a few months to dry.

    Portable Kerosene Heaters

    Another way to heat your home in winter during a blackout would be with a kerosene heater. Just make sure the one you get will ignite without using electricity. Kerosene is available at local gas stations, but it is extremely flammable. Be sure to properly store any unused kerosene for safety.

    Early on we used a KeroSun heater; but, no longer need it. Try to find K1 Kerosene if you can, since it burns cleaner.

    One big advantage of the propane heaters over the kerosene is that most of the propane heaters have a low oxygen sensor that will shut down the flames if you do not have adequate ventilation.

    Switch to a Non-Electric Heat Source
    This house has always had this, starting with fuel oil; & wood, and then on to propane. We still have wood as a backup.

    You’d be surprised how much wood it takes to heat a home for an entire winter. Even a wood stove without wood can be useful. I know of a couple who ran out of firewood and burned books and other non-essential items in their house in order to keep the house warm enough to survive the night.

    Since we heated almost exclusively with wood 30+ years ago, I know full well the work it takes and have heard of people in a real pinch, who broke up their furniture to heat their place. You do what you must.

    Dress Warm and Cuddle Up
    While you might not want to sleep in heavy clothing, we have all done this while camping, and in this situation, you should consider it just indoor camping.
    A great book with tips on indoor camping is ”Tom Brown’s Field Guide to City and Suburban Survival” by Brandt Morgan and Tom Brown

    This also brings up a musical group theme. In Australia, shepherds stay out in the fields to protect their flock along with their dogs. They will dig a small hole, line it with straw or grass, crawl in and cover up with a blanket, and then invite in a dog to cuddle for warmth. The colder nights mean cuddling with more dogs, and a really cold evening might be called a ”Three Dog Night”
    True story as far as I know; but, in our house, the cats cuddling at night keep us all warmer.

    Have you ever experienced a power outage in cold weather? What did you do to heat your home when it happened? How are you prepared to heat your home when the next blackout comes?
    I explained above; but, in a short form list as follows:
    Air tight fireplace insert with wood on hand
    Propane furnace
    Propane ventless heaters, times 2
    Propane gas range and oven (with pilot lights)
    Propane fueled auto start whole house generator.
    Various additional gadgets, like buddy heaters, Coleman stove with fuel, butane stove with fuel.
    For lighting we have various LED flashlights and lanterns; but, the Coleman and Aladdin mantle lamps / lanterns can provide not only light; but, significant amounts of heat.

    Share with us in the comments below, and don’t forget to pin this to Pinterest for later!
    I haven’t don’t use Pinterest.

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