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.

Secure Matches, Safe Candles

by Karen Whitworth
by Karen Whitworth

Here’s a great idea for storing matches. Starting with a small, 1-cup Mason jar, use the lid to trace a circle on the back of a sheet of sandpaper. Cut it out, place it on top of the rim lid and then screw the lid ring on and voila! It’s a secure and waterproof match station. To have a match opening, do what Lauren at The Burlap Bag did, and cut a small opening for shaking a match out. In this case she lines the sandpaper with thick cardstock to help the lid stay firm for match striking. Brilliant!

Store candles nearby and you’re prepared for a romantic evening, a soothing bath, or to light up your home during a power outage. Knowing where to find the candles, and some matches to light them with, is another one those little tips that keeps things calm and stress levels low, especially in the event of an outage when everything suddenly goes dark. And the best healthy option for our candles used indoors (or in a car for winter safety) is beeswax candles with lead-free wicks.

source TheBurlapBag.com
source TheBurlapBag.com

If you wonder why it’s essential to keep candles in your car in areas with temperatures below freezing, it has been proven that the heat generated by one burning candle and the body heat from even one person keeps the air in the cab of the vehicle above the freezing point. This is a potentially life saving tip. I never travel without being prepared for an unforeseen event that might cause me to be stuck without a running vehicle (and the heater) and too far from buildings to walk. Staying safely in the car and waiting for help is the best plan in these situations. But while you wait, stay warm with a lit candle or two.

For safety’s sake, be aware that having loosely stored matches shaking and jiggling in a container (such as when traveling in a car) is a dangerous idea. Friction can cause unintentional ignition, so if you’ll be keeping them in your car with your emergency candles, secure the match sticks together into a bundle with a rubber band or string before placing them in this striking jar.

Lauren is witty at her and hubby Josiah’s great site The Burlap Bag. About this project she writes: It’s a super easy project. And the mason jar is perfect for taking camping or for just lookin’ pretty. Basically: put STRIKE ANYWHERE matches in a jar. Strike-on-the-box matches won’t work. Cut the sandpaper to the shape of the mason jar. (We put a firm piece of paper under it so the sandpaper doesn’t push down when a match is struck.) Of course, we had to take it one step further by creating a hole in the lid so you can easily get the matches out! Who wants to unscrew a lid every time you want to light a candle? I sure don’t. Yeah, I get that tired by the end of the day. Sue me.  Fun humour and a great idea. Thanks Lauren!