Staying Warm During A Winter Outage

Art by Vincent Alexander Booth
No Further by Vincent Alexander Booth

During winter, the thought of a power outage or the furnace breaking is enough to send a chill down my spine (pun intended)! The daughter of a friend had this happen recently. Their furnace quit on, as Murphy’s Law would have it, a very cold Sunday night. Eventually they got through to those who could help and it was all okay, but it got me thinking.

I’ve decided to post some ideas I’ve gathered about ways to stay warm for a day or so in your home when the temps are plunging and the furnace isn’t running.

Maintain The Furnace

Let’s begin with a very old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Get the furnace checked! My friend’s daughter had recently moved into a rental and hadn’t thought about the furnace, or asking the landlord when it had last been inspected. These things happen. But even as renters I suggest all of us to call the local gas company for a free inspection. In most cities the gas company offers an annual visit to make sure the furnace is running fine. If needed they’ll clean the area around the pilot light and adjust it if needed. Hopefully we’ll get the all clear… and most of the time we will. But if something is wrong let’s find out and get it fixed.

Warm Clothing

Your clothing IS your first shelter. Pile on the layers. Think like you’re going skating, skiing, or winter hiking. Avoiding cotton, start with light layers and add long underwear, thick pants, wool socks and heavy sweaters. Complete the winter ensemble as if you’re really outdoors! Hat, scarf, gloves and boots (which have been wiped clean on the bottom). It might go without saying this is only needed if it’s really cold out, but where I live it does get really cold so this is how I prepare.

Gas Appliances

Of course if you’re one of the lucky ones with a wood burning stove or fireplace and wood to burn you’re set. But as more homes are built without these gems, more of us are being left, literally, in the cold. Some of us have gas fireplaces and gas stoves however, and we can use these appliances without power. Crack open a window.

“If you have a gas fireplace or stove with a standing pilot, it will light during a power outage since it doesn’t require electricity to activate the pilot flame… Many models are outfitted with systems which have battery backup that can be used to light the pilot during a power outage… If you have a wireless remote control, or a wall switch with a display, find the control box in the lower controls of the fireplace or behind the stove. There will be a switch that slides between ‘ON’, ‘OFF’ and ‘REMOTE’ – slide this to ‘ON’ for the appliance to operate with the power off. If you have questions, consult your owner’s manual or local dealer.” [source]
“On most gas cooking stoves, the top burners can be lit with a match if the electric power fails and the electronic burner ignition goes out. To light a top burner with a match, hold a lighted match to the burner and turn the burner control knob to the low-flame position. Turn the burner full on once it ignites.” [source]

Gather in One Room

Regardless of having a fireplace or not, everyone in the household needs to gather together in a (preferably small) central room. Close off the outer rooms and keep those doors closed. A developed basement can work well for this, or of course wherever’s close to the fireplace if you have one! Focus whatever heat can be generated into as small a space as can be comfortable. This is where we bring all the bedding and blankets, and people and pets.

Set up a Tent

warm-tent-indoorsSet up a tent in this central area. Yes this is easy enough for us campers, but even for those of you who are not fans of tenting, I encourage everyone to buy one. They take up hardly any storage space and you can often get a decent tent during end-of-season sales. If you’re not a camper consider setting it up in the backyard or livingroom when you get it home so you’ll know how it goes together in an emergency. Keep it with extra blankets for emergencies, and set it all up in the central room. Pile in the blankets, pillows and go ahead and crawl inside. Tents are amazing at keeping heat in! Tarps can be used instead if you don’t have a tent. Call on your inner child and make the best blanket fort you can (well, tarp fort).

Be Careful with Candles

What’s my opinion on all the tealight-flowerpot heaters on YouTube? Rather skeptical actually but candles can be comforting. Use good quality beeswax or soy (no paraffin please!) and ensure you place them in a secure container for safety. I use a couple of mason jars with one tealight in each. A problem has surfaced from people putting many tealights clustered together, and then tucked under a clay pot or crockpot. The wax liquefies and the heat occasionally can break those tiny aluminum cups and now you’ve got hot flammable liquid seeping out. Do be careful. When we hear ‘never leave a candle unattended’ let’s pay attention to this advice. It’s often repeated because it is so important. Candles can tip or leak or be to close to anything flammable like wood, paper, curtains, or other fabric. Let’s not have a broken furnace situation escalate into something much worse like a burn, or a fire.

Stay Cozy

Ending on a cozy note, let’s wrap up in those blankets and cuddle in the tent or tarp-fort. A great time for games, reading, or just good old conversation. Some of my fondest memories when my kids were young are from power outages when we’d play silly board or drawing games. Even charades. Such laughter. Almost makes one want to go flick the breaker just to have some quality time with each other! But not if it’s a howling blizzard outside. We’ll wait for warmer weather to sneakily trip the switch to play board games by flashlight.

14 thoughts on “Staying Warm During A Winter Outage

  1. These are good tips. We’ve had many multi-day outages in the past, both winter and summer and you must be resourceful. Luckily we had a stream nearby so we could haul buckets of water to flush the toilet. We were able to fill 5 gallon water jugs at the elementary school and cooked on the wood stove and gas camp stove. Kids think it’s a big adventure! Adults not so much. It really becomes clear how much we depend on electricity!
    We ended up getting a generator for emergencies many years ago, which can run the water pump, furnace, fridge, freezer, as well as some of the lights. It makes it a lot easier… as we’re not as young as we used to be. 😉

    1. Hello my friend! Thanks for coming by to visit and comment. Love the idea of getting a backup generator. Plus am getting wood stoves plus install priced out. Great point about using water to flush the toilet. I’ll be posting more in the future about other aspects of how to handle power outages. So wonderful to hear from you. 🙂

  2. Great – now I want a tent! We lose our power a lot out here in the country. Winter is always difficult and we used to have a wood stove to rely on for warmth and to cook meals. Looking forward to getting our house renovation complete and having a woodstove again. xo kim

    1. Yay! I love wood stoves and intend to get one…. of course the arrangement of furniture and bookcases in my small livingroom has me scratching my head with where the heck to install it. They are such a great feature, and a safe backup too. Thankfully this house came with a freestanding gas stove (it LOOKS like a wood-burner) in the bsmt so that’s our emergency spot for huddling together if needed! Thanks for your visit and comments my friend. xo

  3. I keep a couple of oil lamps filled and stored away for whenever the electricity goes out. They throw off a lot of heat and one can be assured, at least, that one will have light. Be sure and buy the type of oil that has no smell though. I think the tent is a good idea.

      1. Lamp Oil FAQ

        QUESTION: What type of fuel can I use in a flat wick lantern? ANSWER: The approved fuels for flat wick Lanterns are any of the following. Please note our Ultra Pure Lamp oil is designed for 5/8″ flat wicks and smaller. Larger wicks use our Aladdin Lamp Oil for optimum brightness.

        The approved fuels for indoor or outdoor use in Tubular Lanterns and Flat Wick Oil Lamps are:
        1. Lamplight Farms® Clear Medallion Brand Lamp Oil, (#60020, #60003 aka #6300, #60005 aka #6400, and #6700 Only ) Flash Point: 145 Degrees Fahrenheit
        2. W.M. Barr & Co. Klean-Heat® Kerosene Substitute (#GKKH99991, 128oz, sold by Home Depot SKU #391-171) Flash Point: 145 Degrees Fahrenheit
        3. Crown® Brand Clear Lamp Oil (#755946) Flash Point: 141 Degrees Fahrenheit
        4. Genuine Aladdin® Brand Lamp Oil (#17552, 32 oz., and #17554, 128 oz.) Flash Point: 141 Degrees Fahrenheit
        5. MVP Group International Florasense® Brand Lamp Oil (#MVP73200, 64oz. and #MVP73201, 32 oz., Sold by Wal-Mart ) Flash Point: 142 Degrees Fahrenheit
        6. Recochem Clear Lamp Oil (#14-573, 710mL, Sold in Canada) Flash Point: 124 Degrees Fahrenheit

        1. Ginene! This is FANTASTIC! Bless your heart. Thank you so much, for my readers here and me as well. I may have to post an update on this article soon, to include this info and a link to your site of course. Again, my sincerest appreciation. Today, these snowy north woods are -30C/-22F…. getting close to where both sides of the border temps match up… -40! I need to add an oil burning lamp to our emergency kit. Plus we are looking into a back-up house generator, around $8K, so worth it. When we do I’ll certainly post about the process. Thanks again! ~Inga

  4. We haven’t had a power cut for a while now, it seems. Fortunately, my boiler pilot light is always on so perhaps it doesn’t need electricity to come on fully?

    I did actually buy a tent at Christmas – must put it up to see how it works. It is unlikely to get cold enough in my house to need it to keep warm, but I would like to see what it looks like 😊.

    1. Glad you live where it doesn’t get too cold. This morning it’s -4F/-20C for me so I give thanks for a working furnace. Isn’t that great that you recently got a tent? Yes setting it up as a practice run is always a good idea. Thanks so much for your visit and comment Helen!


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