Let’s face it, heating your home during a long-term power outage is probably one of the biggest challenges that a homeowner facing the cold winter has to overcome. You have to keep your body temperature in the normal range i.e. above 95 F (35 C) or hypothermia will start to set in.
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death. From: The Mayo Clinic – Hypothermia.
In other words, you need a shelter and to be able to keep that shelter warm enough to keep your body temperature above 95 F (35 C) and you need to be prepared to do this for as long as the disaster that caused the grid to go down lasts and depending on the severity and length of the situation you’ll need to be able to do this without attracting unnecessary attention to your location.
Not an easy task to say the least – but it can be done with proper planning, preparation, and work… Let’s get started…
One of the first things to consider when planning ways to heat your home during a power outage or long-term grid down situation is where you’re located. Where is your home/survival retreat? No, I’m not asking you to tell me or to post it in the comments section, I’m just asking you to consider where you are or plan to be and the winter climate in that area.
For example, if you’re a prepper living in Sanders Montana or in Great Falls where the coldest recorded Temperature was a bone-chilling 43 degrees below zero then you would have to put more thought and effort into keeping your home heated during the long winter months than you would if your location was in the redoubt of the east (Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau area).
Keep your location in mind when reading the rest of this article and plan accordingly… the warmer the average winter temperatures are in your chosen area the less of an issue heating your home in winter will be. This is so important that I think that winter temperatures should be a major consideration when choosing a survival retreat location.
Your second consideration for heating your home during a power outage or long-term grid-down situation should be the home itself. My advice is that if you’re building your home yourself or remodeling then over-insulate, meaning go above the recommended home insulation standards for your area.
If your home is already built and you’re not planning a full remodel then do what I did and add extra insulation inside the attic. My attic was already well insulated for my area, however, I decided to have a contractor add extra blown-in insulation to the attic to a rating of R-60.
Also, make sure all doors and windows seal tight when shut and are the best that you can afford. If your windows are old, worn out and not energy-efficient then have those replaced with better windows if your finances will allow it.
Also, consider adding a clear plastic sheeting, heavy insulating curtains and window shades to help keep the cold out and heat in. The heavy curtains will also help to hide any light inside the house from anyone passing by outside which could be a security risk.
Here is an excellent article on energy-efficient windows with tips to make yours more energy-efficient… Read it and then implement all the tips and advice that you can and you’ll see a big improvement now and when the grid goes down.
Dress For The Cold
To survive the cold during a short-term power outage or long-term grid-down situations you’ll need to dress properly for the environment. And keep in mind that you’ll probably be sleeping in your winter clothes so be sure to think of comfort as well as warmth when buying your cold weather clothing.
When dressing for cold weather the key is layering. Start with thin layers first and then top it off with a protective outer layer that insulates as well as traps air and stops the wind. This outer protective layer should also protect your other clothes from rain and moisture when you’re outdoors.
For example when indoors without heat or when having to conserve heating resources in the home you could wear heavyweight thermal underwear as a base layer, and top it off with RefrigiWear Iron-Tuff Hooded Coveralls or similar outerwear.
If you’re like me then no matter how well dressed your body is your feet still get cold. I can be warm and comfortable everywhere else and still have cold feet. To help with this use the same layering principle that you did with your other winter clothing.
To keep my feet warm in cold weather indoors and outdoors I start with ultra-lightweight liner socks to keep my feet dry and then a cold weather boot sock and then well-insulated winter boots. My top choice for a winter boot is the Sorel Men’s, Conquest Boot.
The same layering principle should also be used to keep your hands warm i.e. thin gloves or glove liner like the Terramar thermasilk glove liner covered by a thicker insulated pair of winter gloves will keep your hands warm during a power out long-term grid-down situation.
Last but not least invest is a good cold weather sleeping bag (or two) for each member of your family or group, or better yet have them to buy their own. I prefer the Military Modular Sleep System – you can read a full review here.
The Urban (or rural) Igloo
It’s easier to keep a smaller space warm then a larger one so if fuel to heat is limited it’s a good idea to only try to heat part of the house. For example, if the main heat source is in the living room area as is commonly the case then you can keep the interior doors that lead into the other rooms closed. You can also hang heavy blankets or similar insulating materials over those doors to keep the warm air from the heat source in the confined space and the colder air out.
Doing this will help to concentrate the heat into a smaller area which will keep you stay warmer while at the same time conserving fuel resources.
Taking this a step further is what I call the urban igloo. This concept will work in the country as well but would probably be more likely to be put to use by folks who were caught in the city or apartment or public housing where having alternative long-term heat sources are not an option.
The urban igloo is a simple concept and just about everyone should have the materials needed for its construction.
The First step is to take the mattress off the bed and place it underneath the kitchen table or similar table or frame. Next drape heavy blankets, quilts, rugs and whatever else that’s on hand over the top and down the sides to make what is essentially an indoor tent or igloo. Hang the insulating materials all the way down to the floor being sure to leave a small gap in one corner edge near the floor to keep condensation to a minimum.
Body heat and your exhaled breath will help to heat the “igloo” somewhat and if you have dressed for the cold and have a good cold weather sleeping bag as detailed above you can stay comfortable even when it’s extremely cold outside the home.
The more people who you have in your indoor igloo the warmer it will be.
Heating Your Home
This is the most difficult part of staying warm during a long-term grid-down situation because there are so many things to consider. You’ll need a way to heat, you’ll need a way to resupply your fuel resources, and you’ll need to not draw unwanted attention to your location.
Not an easy task to say the least but there is hope…
One of the best situations to be in is to have your own gas well and have your heat, cook stove, water heater, generator etc hooked up to that resource – here is a great example of a perfect prepper property with two gas wells and everything else needed to live off the grid for a large family or prepper group. However, at a listing of nearly two-million dollars most (probably none) of us could afford such a place, I know I couldn’t even come close.
The best or at least the most practical heat source for most of us is propane. If you have your own property you can have a 500-gallon or even a 1,000-gallon propane tank installed (or do it yourself) and use that to power an efficient ventless propane heater. The tanks can be coated with roofing compound and buried out of sight.
The next most practical option for most preppers would be wood, however, the main downside to heating with wood during a long-term collapse is the smoke and smell which under the right conditions can be seen or smelt from a mile away or more. This can be a problem if you’re trying to not attract unwanted attention to your location.
However, there are manufacturers who claim to be producing smokeless wood-stoves, however, I’ve never seen one of these in operation and so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness or efficiency. If you’re handy then you can probably make your own smokeless wood burning stove, here is a link to an MIT article that has some ideas that might be of use.
And below is a good video with instructions on how to turn an existing wood stove into a nearly smokeless wood stove…
At any rate heating with wood might require some tools and skills that you don’t currently have like a chainsaw. Yes, I know it’s loud and would attract attention and it also requires gasoline, mixing oil, bar oil, chains and other spare parts to keep it running properly, but go on ahead and try to cut a winter’s worth of firewood with a human-powered crosscut saw…
Yes, it can and has been done before, but it’s not easy and will take a lot more time and energy compared to using a chainsaw.
But if you’re prepared to heat your home with wood then this would not be an issue for the first year or three because you’ll have a one to three supply of seasoned firewood already cut down, cut up, split and stacked.
And yes, you can just buy the firewood now and use and rotate like food storage on a first in first out rotation so that you always have a fresh supply. However, firewood that is kept dry and out of the elements will store for many years.
But, you really do need to have the tools needed and to learn how to cut your own firewood if you plan to use firewood as a heating source. The more you know the more independent you’ll be and that’s a good thing.
Don’t forget to have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed and working anytime you’re heating with wood or any other combustible fuels. Be sure to have extra batteries for these as well. And last but not least ensure proper ventilation for the home and closed in areas.
- Wood Heat: A Practical Guide to Heating Your Home with Wood
- Keeping Warm in Hard Times: The Art of Saving Money on Home Heating Costs
- Homeowner’s Complete Guide to the Chainsaw: A Chainsaw Pro Shows You How to Safely and Confidently Handle Everything from Trimming Branches and Felling Trees to Splitting and Stacking Wood
- Firewood Heat Value Comparison Chart
Any thoughts, or suggestions… then please add those in the comments below…