Winter is officially here. This past weekend we had temps as low as -35! Many things start going wrong when the temperature is that low and it made me really think, “What would happen if the power went out?” That is a scary thought, no electricity, no heat, many people would be very uncomfortable or even die. The way most homes are designed do not take into account things like passive solar heating, thermal mass or air flow. In most cities apartments are built with no thought as to sun exposure or insulation, they are built with aesthetic design and cost in mind. If you live in one of these cities or a home that didn’t consider any of these aspects during construction, fear not, there are ways to keep your self warm and safe in a winter power outage.
Insulating your home
Some of the most important things you can do need to be done before you ever have a power outage. Most utilities will come do an energy audit at your residence free of charge. These energy audits determine where you are losing the most energy, i.e. heat in winter time. Most of us know that most windows and doors are drafty in the winter time, this is because they aren’t sealed well and cold air is leaking in, a killer in a power outage. An energy audit will help you to prioritize where to put your efforts to seal your home.
Weather-stripping is the cheapest and easiest way to seal your doors and windows. You can go to any hardware store and have a multitude of options. There are so many different types for different applications that it would turn into an entire article if I tried to explain it all so just check out this article from This Old House. The article briefly touches on door sweeps, but if you live in a frigid climate, like I do, then you sometimes need something that is much more robust. We have a Twin Draft Guard Extreme on each of our exterior doors, this cuts down on the incoming cold air dramatically. If your windows are old and weather-stripping just won’t work, you can always use Duck Brand Window Insulator Kit. We had to do this one winter when we lived in a very old house and it actually worked.
Items to have on hand
There are certain items that will definitely want to have on hand during a winter power outage.
- Ambient Weather Radio, Flashlight will help you stay informed of the current weather situation.
- Blankets! You will want many of these for yourself and for numerous other reasons that I will discuss later.
- Big Buddy Heater These can be used indoors and will work well enough at keeping you alive, but won’t keep the house hot.
- Fire wood. Need plenty of this if you have a wood burning fireplace or stove.
- Generator. If you have one make sure you maintain it and have plenty of fuel.
- HotHands Hand Warmers These are great for localized heating like hands or toes.
- Flashlight, Headlamp, and Candles You need to be able to see what you are doing and candles will add a small amount of heat.
- Sleeping Bags will help keep you warm when sleeping.
Things to do when the power goes out
When the power goes out the quicker you act the better. If it is night-time, you need to cover all windows with thick blankets or install the Duck Brand Window Insulator Kit. Even a fully sealed window will still transfer cold air in, unless you have very energy-efficient windows. You should also put thick blankets over the doors as well. The next step is to try to live in a smaller portion of your house and close off the rest. For example, if you have bedrooms or an office that you don’t use, you should close those doors and seal them with blankets as well. The smaller the area the better and south-facing or interior is better. This limits the area that needs to be temperature controlled. Now that you have condensed to a certain area of the house you are in a good position to stay warm for the duration of the outage. Most outages don’t last that long, a few hours, and you will stay plenty warm during that time.
In the rare cases that an outage lasts longer, you will need to take a few extra steps. You will want to start by layering your clothes for better thermoregulation. You will want to use your Big Buddy Heater to keep your condensed space warmer. You will also want to open blinds and curtains on any south-facing windows during direct sunlight. This past weekend our heat didn’t turn on at all during the day because we had the blinds and curtains on the south side of the house open. It was -20 outside and 70 inside, a difference of 100 degrees just because of passive solar heating. You will also want to sleep in a sleeping bag during this time and you can boil water and put it into a Nalgene bottle and keep it in your sleeping bag. Try as hard as possible not to open exterior doors, as soon as you open an exterior door you lose a large amount of trapped heat.
You are going to need to eat and drink more to keep your core temperature up. A winter power outage is no time to try to stick to your diet. Go ahead and break into any stored food you may have if you need it. Warm and spicy foods are better for keeping your core temp up. The only time in my life that I enjoyed Thai food was during a winter expedition where we had some Thai food air dropped to us. That was the only time that I enjoyed the spicy nature of the food, and I have been to Thailand!
During this extended outage you will want to be listening to the radio to determine how long the power outage will be. If it is going to go on for an extended period of time you will want to stock up more on propane for your Big Buddy Heater or fuel for your generator.
What preps do you have that will help in a winter power outage?
As always Happy Prepping!