If you lose heat when you lose power, as much of Texas did recently, a winter power outage can be especially dangerous. Here are some tips for you on staying warm in a house with no heat.
First, a word on how not to heat your house. You can die if you create toxic fumes in an enclosed space, so:
- Never run a car in an enclosed space (including a garage). If you want to use your car to stay warm, take the car outside and sit in it with the heat on. Don’t try to use it to heat your home.
- Never run a propane, gasoline, or other fuel-powered generator in an enclosed space. (There are “indoor generators” that are just battery power banks; those are safe to use indoors. Make sure you know what you have, and follow the safety warnings that came with it.)
If you have a camping stove, or if you feel inclined to build a fire to cook or boil water, go ahead and do so, but only outdoors.
If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak, that could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Get fresh air and seek medical attention. (This is as good a time as any to remind you that you should have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor in your house, by the way.)
For more on generator safety, read this fact sheet from energy.gov.
Close off rooms
It’s easier to keep a small room warm than to keep a whole house warm, especially if you’ve lost power and only have your body as a heat source. Choose a room or two in your house to keep warm. This should ideally be a room in the center of the house. Exterior walls (those where the other side is the great outdoors) will allow more heat to escape than interior walls (those where the other side is another room of your house). For that reason, avoid corner rooms, if you can. Close the doors leading to other rooms of the house. (If you don’t have doors that close, hang blankets in the doorway.)
Gather everybody in the main room that you’ve chosen. This includes kids and pets. Bring food bowls, snacks, and any other needs into the main room. Don’t open the doors to outside or to other rooms any more often than you absolutely need. Bring anything into this room that shouldn’t freeze—water jugs, for example, or houseplants.
If you have a space heater, use it, but make sure to take all safety precautions. Read the instructions that came with it (or google them) and be sure you’re allowing enough space around all sides of the heater, not plugging it into a power strip, and otherwise following recommendations for the type of heater you have.
Insulate your main room
Next, minimize the amount of heat that can escape your house, focusing on that central room that you’re spending most of your time in.
- Stuff towels under the doors and in any other cracks or drafts you find in walls, windows, or doorways.
- Close windows and curtains.
- Seal off windows by taping garbage bags or bubble wrap over them.
- If you have a window fan or A/C unit that you can’t remove, cover it with blankets or towels.
- Hang blankets over the windows.
- Hang blankets on the walls to stop cold from coming through. (Focus on exterior walls here, but to be clear, you are hanging the blankets on the indoor side of the wall.)
- Cover the floor with carpets, towels, or anything else that is available (even dirty laundry).
The ideal place for your bed is the center of this room. If the whole family has to spend the night in one room, rearrange furniture as needed so as many people as possible can be in the center of the room.
Now is the time to wear all your warm clothes. If you don’t have enough, get creative. Wear leggings or tights under multiple layers of pants. Don’t be too proud to wear another family member’s leggings under your jeans, or someone else’s oversized sweatpants over top.
Layer as many shirts as you can. Layer gloves and mittens. Wear hats and hoodies and winter coats even though you’re indoors. Multiple loose, light layers are often better than a single heavy coat.
Put clothes on your pets, too. They can wear your socks and t-shirts. You can also convert an old sweater or sweatshirt into something to keep your pet warm; google “DIY dog sweater” for ideas.
Hang onto whatever heat you can
Your floor and walls will be cold. Don’t lean against the walls or keep your feet on the floor any longer than you have to. If you can sit in a curled-up position, with your feet under you and your hands tucked into crossed arms or otherwise near your body, your hands and feet will stay warmer.
Make use of any hot things you might possess. If you have a battery or enough electricity to run a (safe!) appliance, use it in your warm room and gather around it. If you’re going to watch a movie on a laptop, for example, take turns holding it on your lap.
If you have a way to make hot beverages, do so. Holding onto a mug of hot tea is as much a treat for your hands as for the rest of you. Wrap any hot food or drinks in towels or other insulating layers, and eat or drink it immediately since it will cool off quick.
And don’t forget to eat. Supply your body with calories, since staying warm is hard work. Also, alcohol is not recommended if you’re cold—it will dilate your blood vessels, making you temporarily feel warmer, but can actually lower your body temperature since you’ll be losing heat when that happens. Alcohol may also inhibit your body’s ability to shiver.