Keeping Warm When the Power Goes Out

For those who live in a cold climate, the failure of the local or regional electrical grid is more than just an inconvenience. In the dead of winter, with temperatures approaching -40 degrees Celsius, there is a lot more at stake than a few lights getting knocked out. A sudden snow or ice storm can damage power lines and substations, and it can be difficult for repair crews to react quickly and effectively given treacherous roads that can make some areas completely inaccessible. Nature is quick to punish those who are unprepared in a harsh environment, but fortunately, there are many ways to stay warm and safe if the power goes off on a cold winter’s night.

The first, and easiest thing you can do is make sure you have a good supply of warm blankets – enough for everyone in your home to stay bundled up for as long as it takes to get power back or turn on your alternate source of heating. Blankets should be the outermost layer in your winter warmth strategy. Underneath the blankets try to wear as many different layers of clothing as you are comfortable with. Layers help trap your body heat and keep it close to your skin. A knitted hat that comes down over your ears as well as a pair of gloves and several pairs of socks will also help keep you from losing heat from your extremities. This type of clothing should be stored in an easily accessible area during the winter months. You should also keep one emergency blanket per person in your house or as part of your home emergency kit.

Electric heating is very common, as are oil or gas furnaces that require electric current to function. When the power goes out, unless you have a generator that is capable of supplying your heating system with the current it requires to keep the house nominally warm, you will most likely have to rely on a secondary source of heat. There are a couple of different options available to you. You could install a wood stove, which of course will require a chimney. The downside of a wood stove is that the space required to store cords of wood can be quite large. They are also not the most efficient heaters – you can find yourself quickly burning through your wood supply. A gravity-fed oil stove is a better option, one which does not require electricity to keep the fuel supply coming, and one which provides a better heat to fuel ratio.If you aren’t able to fit either of these devices in your home, you might want to consider keeping a couple of kerosene space heaters around that can be moved from room to room for the duration of the emergency. If you go this route, make absolutely certain that you have proper ventilation for each heater, as the fumes can be quite dangerous in an enclosed space. Battery operated carbon monoxide detectors and a good ABC fire extinguisher should accompany each stove.

In order to stay warm, your body needs fuel too. Along with your winter gear, keep a supply of dry food that doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they will sap heat from your body. The cold can quickly cause the pipes in your home to freeze up, but you can delay this by letting your taps stay open just enough to drip slowly. If your pipes do freeze, keep your bottled water supply in the same room as your heat source, in order to avoid wasting energy melting it down later on.

Losing electricity in the middle of winter can certainly be uncomfortable, but with a little preparation you can meet the challenge. With enough supplies, you should be able to stay safely in your home until the weather improves enough to move your family to a location that is unaffected by the storm, or until the power is restored.

Check out our Survival Gear pages for more information on being prepared for anything.