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How to Stay Warm Without Electricity

Frequent hikers, mountaineers, and skiers should already know that regulating body temperature is a key element to survival in the outdoors. In truth one of the biggest challenges during a SHTF situation, especially for those that live in the colder climates, is how to heat your home and stay warm when the power goes out. Fortunately, there are lots of options out there, especially for preppers who take the time to plan and gather resources in advance.

Take time now to research and learn ways to not only produce heat without electricity but to insulate against heat loss and to regulate your body temperature when you are wet or cold. Half the battle when it comes to knowing how to do this is knowledge and preparation.

Wood Cook Stove or Pot Belly Stove

One of the best investments you can make if you are considering an off-grid heat source is a wood powered cook stove. You can search out an old-fashioned used one with a wood box for around $800 to $1,000 or save up to purchase a newly manufactured one for between $2,500-$7,000.

A wood powered cook stove serves the dual function of heating your home and providing a source of heat for cooking. You can also incorporate copper coils to heat hot water. The only downside is you must have a good supply of wood as fuel. As a cheap alternative backup fuel, you can learn to make your paper fire logs like in the video below and stockpile them:

Outdoor Wood Furnace

One of the latest trends is outdoor wood furnaces which are designed for outdoor use and installed complete with ductwork that carries heat into the house. The size of the outdoor wood furnace requires it to be filled only once daily, and because it is located outside the residence, the risk of fires and accidental burns is lower than with a wood cook stove or pot belly stove. Again, the downside is the requirement for an unlimited supply of wood to burn.

worm farming

Gas-powered or Diesel-powered Generator

A gas-powered generator is a great option to stay warm without electricity for a temporary period. When the power goes out for several days or a week, a generator will work just fine to run the furnace and heat your home. Make sure you have a good supply of gasoline on hand and that it is properly stored and rotated to prevent any adverse effects.

Diesel-powered generators also work well, and diesel is typically less expensive and more shelf-stable than gasoline. Some generators and other engines run on biofuels, so if this is a resource that interests you, be sure to read up on it and stock the necessary supplies and equipment to make the biofuels.

Build a Fire

If you find yourself stuck without knowing how to stay warm without electricity, the most common idea is to build a small fire. For safety reasons, building an open fire should be done outdoors rather than inside. To be successful, you need to have several different ways to ignite a fire as well as dry tinder and wood to burn. This works if the weather is mild to moderate but when temperatures drop below freezing, you will need to find a way to safely build a fire indoors to stay warm.

Propane Heater

Another popular way is to use a propane heater like the Mr. Heater Buddy. This type of propane heater can be purchased for around $100 USD and works without electricity. Your best model is one that is portable and comes with all the safety features such as automatic shutoff if it tips over, the pilot light goes out, or it detects low oxygen levels.

Portable propane heaters are generally approved for indoor use in small areas such as garages, sheds, and campers because of the safety features that are built-in. The only downside is that the heater does need to connect to a propane tank. If you stockpile these, the heater will serve you well even in an extended power outage. You will need to plan for a renewable source of heat if the power outage lasts longer than your propane supply.

Kerosene Heater

Many people regularly use kerosene heaters in their homes as a supplemental heat source already. Some use them as a primary heat source. Make sure that you install a carbon monoxide detector for safety when using a kerosene heater indoors. Again, the downside here is that you must store ample amounts of kerosene and your supply will eventually run out. On the up side, kerosene is more shelf-stable than gasoline.

Oil or Kerosene Lamps (4 lamps with ¾” wicks burn 3 oz. of kerosene per hour which equals about the same amount of heat as a 900-watt heater.  Adjust wick to burn a blue flame to produce the least amount of carbon monoxide. The risk of fire is significant with oil or kerosene lamps that tip over so ensure that they are in a stable position before lighting and only carry if necessary.

Make a Flower Pot Heater

One of the trends in recent years is a DIY version of a heater using clay flower pots and tealights or candles. There are a multitude of DIY setups but the one I like the best hangs from a stand and looks decorative until you need to use it. Several people report these flowerpot heaters do tend to catch fire when multiple tealights are placed next to each other or if the heater is placed on furniture or the floor.  Please take every safety precaution, use only one tealight at a time and do not leave unattended, especially at night. The video below breaks down how to make a hanging flowerpot heater.

Solar Heat (Passive and active)

Heating with passive solar or solar panels takes a bit more planning and is more complex but will be well worth the investment. A sunroom with south facing windows and a brick or stone wall opposite the windows will absorb the heat in the daytime and radiate it into the room into the evening.  If you can’t do a brick or stone wall, you can paint milk jugs black and fill them with water to absorb the sun in the daylight hours. There are also a variety of heaters and furnaces that use solar panels to collect heat and push it through duct work into your home.

Regulate Body Temperature

If you can cook using a woodstove or a small fire, heat up some cocoa or make a cup of soup. Drinking warm beverages will help to warm your body from the inside out. Physical movement and exercise will help to raise your body temperature and warm you up rather quickly.

Another way to raise your body temperature is to cuddle up with your loved ones or even your pet. Mammals are natural heaters, and cuddling puts that to good use by keeping everyone warmer. The person most vulnerable to cold should be between two others for extra warmth.

Hand Warmers

In addition to being prepared to dress in layers during cold weather, stockpile oxygen activated hand warmers such as Hot Hands to help regulate body temperature. Hand warmers can be used in boots to keep feet warm and dry, in mittens or gloves to keep hands warm and toasty, and in your sleeping bag at night. For someone experiencing hypothermia you can place hand warmers in the groin area and the arm pit to help raise body temperature.

The great thing about hand warmers is they are relatively inexpensive and have multiple uses. They can be used to soothe sore muscles, to warm baby bottles or keep hot beverages warm longer. Handwarmers can also be used to melt snow for drinking, to warm batteries so the cold doesn’t drain them as quickly, and to remove moisture from electronics.

Hand warmers typically last for 5-7 hours and are manufactured as a one-use product. If you don’t need the warmth for the entire 5-7 hours, you can re-use the hand warmer later by sealing it tightly into a zip lock bag. Make sure to remove as much air from the zip lock bag as possible so the warmer is de-activated. Next time you need to use the warmer, simply open the zip lock bag which will re-activate the warmer when the oxygen hits it. Do not use oxygen activated hand warmers directly on the skin as it can get hot enough to cause a burn.

Dress in Layers

It’s always a good idea to stockpile clothing to dress in layers to help you keep your body warm in cold weather. Dressing in layers keeps you warmer than one thick layer because the air trapped between the layers serves to further insulate you. Using several thin blankets sometimes feels warmer than one thick blanket because air is trapped between layers.

Base Layer–The key to dressing in layers effectively, especially when outdoors in cold weather, is to wear a base layer against the skin that will keep your body dry. Look for moisture wicking fabric that dries quickly, such as merino wool or silk to use as your base layer. Many people wear thermal underwear. Avoid polyester and cotton fabrics next to your skin as these will cause you to sweat and feeling chilled. A warm hat, gloves, wool socks and sturdy boots that are waterproof will keep extremities dry and warm.

Insulating Layer–The second layer is for insulation and works to retain heat by trapping a layer of air next to your body. Natural fibers are best for your insulation layer. Look for fabrics such as merino wool or goose down. Wool retains its insulating property when it gets wet whereas goose down doesn’t insulate when wet. Fleece tops or Thinsulate fabrics make a good second layer because they dry fast and are breathable and lightweight.

Waterproof Shell-Ideally the outside layer must be windproof and waterproof but still breathable. Look for fabric that includes a (DWR) durable water repellent finish. This will ensure that water beads and rolls off fabric rather than soaking through. Water resistant fabric is typically made of tightly woven fabric such as nylon to block the wind and light rain, but it will become soaked in very wet conditions.

Look for waterproof shells that are non-breathable if you will be immersed in water. These will be made of nylon that is polyurethane-coated. These are great for cold wet weather but can be bulky and harder to move in. They work well for low-level sporting activities like fishing but aren’t great if you must do a lot of activity while wearing them.

Insulate Against Heat Loss

Designate a “warm” room in your home

Choose the smallest room in your home to function as your “warm” room during a power outage. Keep Mylar emergency blankets on hand and staple or tape these to the walls of your warm room, caulk and insulate any windows, and be ready to hang a heavy blanket over the door as added insulation. If you can’t isolate one entire room in a survival situation, pitch a tent in the most insulated room or outdoors with a small fire just outside the opening of the tent. The idea is to hold the heat in as close to your body as possible.

Stop Drafts

Use thermal curtains and a draft stopper on external doors to keep cold air out and trap warm air inside the house. A felt lined rug on the floors will stop drafts in the flooring and provide extra insulation. All exterior doors should have weather stripping. If needed, staple or otherwise attach blankets over external doors for additional insulation.

Insulate Windows

Believe it or not, you can use bubble wrap as insulation on your windows to keep cold air out. Simply dampen one side of the wrap, adhere it to the window and let dry. Then use window plastic or window film to seal off each window. If it is predicted to get bone-chilling cold, you can use newspaper, spare clothing, towels, or blankets in between the windows and the plastic, a blanket, or curtain stapled over the window. Another option is to use a clear shower curtain over the windows which lets sunlight in during the day to warm the room but blocks drafts.

As you can see, there are a multitude of ways to stay warm without electricity if you are armed with the know-how and resources in advance of a power outage. The type of heat source you use will depend on the climate you are in, your budget, and the amount of time and labor you want to invest. Hypothermia is a leading cause of death in emergency situations, so it’s always a good idea to know several ways to raise body temperature and insulate against heat loss just in case.

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About Megan Stewart

Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart. For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of six grandsons, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.

5 comments

  1. Megan,
    You fail to mention that outside wood burning furnaces also require electricity. I have one so I am speaking from experience. Electricity is required to pump the hot water into the house. It is also required to operate a blower fan that stokes up the heat within the furnace when additional heat is required to maintain the water temperature at a specified level. Usually this is about 170 degrees. To move the warm air through the internal duct system in the house there is also required electricity to activate the blower fan that is a part of the central heat and air system. For an outside wood furnace to effectively heat the inside of our home there is three points where electricity is required. Otherwise, the furnace just sits and burns wood heating only the air above the smokestack without providing any heat inside the house. In short, it is worthless without additional electrical power sources. Those choosing such a heating furnace must rely upon an endless supply of electricity as well as an endless supply of firewood.
    It would be great to see the wood furnace industries evolve to the point where all electrical requirements could be met by solar, steam, or some other internal power source. In speaking with them, I have yet to find any who incorporate such technologies as to make them possible to effectively operate in an off-grid/or lack of electrical power situation. It would be great to learn of such options, should they exist, and I’m sure others would enjoy learning about them as well. Thanks for posting such information as this narrative contains.

    • Thanks Danny, I wasn’t aware that outdoor woodstoves required electricity that couldn’t be provided via solar power. I appreciate your first hand experience.

  2. and you didn’t mention cuddling. seriously, the body heat of another human or animal can keep you alive.

    • Star, check under Regulate Body Temperature….cuddle with a loved one or pet. It’s the best kind of warmth, right? Thanks for reading!

  3. I saw on an end of days type movie about stuffing wadded up paper between layers of clothing providing insulation too. (Cheap & easy in a pinch.) Popular movie, think it’s name is Day AfterTomorrow(?). Either way, it made perfect sense to this Alaskan…we definitely know about layering.
    I sometimes gamble at this small casino that is frequented by the homeless. I listen to them & ask questions. Who better to give tips on surviving the elements than from some people who really need & use these tactics, than the homeless…quite a few are vets. Learn all sorts of things from them. This paper insulator is a popular survival strategy out here in the winter months in the desert which DO get quite cold! Not stylish by any means, but it is what it is. Survival.
    Thanks Meg for your article! Well researched and informative! :0) Enjoyed it a lot.

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