Strategies to survive a winter power outage
If the grid is taken down during winter, many families are going to be in for a shocking surprise. Because without power, without the ability to keep your home warm, it’s going to get real cold, really fast. Creating a potentially dangerous environment if the temperature drops too far, as you risk frostbite, hypothermia and even death.
But staying warm isn’t impossible, even in the middle of winter, so long as you’re following this advice. We’ve been through several winters now on our homestead, and have managed through one where we lost connection to the outside world for just on five weeks. It was an exciting experience to put out plans into action, and also opened my eyes as to what’s really important in the cold.
You need to insulate
If you’ve not installed quality insulation in your roof and walls your home will be leaking warmth to the outside. What’s most important is your ceiling (or attic), as this is where the vast majority of heat escapes your home. Thick insulation is needed to trap the heat within, and if you need to get professionals in to fill the space, my advice is to do it. It’ll save you money on heating in the long run, and give you an added sense of security right now. We’ve even got rugs that hang over the windows during winter to keep more heat inside, and I’ve used rolls of bubble wrap in our garden shed covered with Mylar blankets as a do-it-yourself style of insulation that I’ll admit, it works remarkably well considering.
You can’t warm everything
If you’ve ever seen your electricity bill at the end of summer you know exactly what I’m talking about. It costs a small fortune to cool every part of your house, so it makes sense you shouldn’t try to warm every part of your house as well. Pick specific rooms where you’ll be spending the majority of your time, like the living room and kitchen, and leave the rest closed off. It’s far easier to keep one or two rooms in your house warm, and you’ll go through much less firewood too. In winter we have “camp outs” in our living room as its the warmest room in the house, and the kids love the adventure of it.
You need sources of heat
With the grid down you need your own sources of heat, it’s as simple as that. In addition to the fireplace in our living room, we’ve got a wood stove in the kitchen that works wonders to warm up this part of our house. So whenever we’re cooking, it’s also warming us up. You could also consider purchasing portable heaters like kerosene or propane devices, just remember there needs to be adequate ventilation if you’re using any of these indoors. We’ve also got an outdoor fire pit, that works to heat a large tank of water we’ve setup as an outdoor bath house when there's not enough sun for our DIY solar heated water. So we can have steaming hot showers no matter what.
You need to find the leaks
Think about all of the spaces cold air can enter your home, from the space underneath your front and back doors, to the cracks in your windows. Then you need to seal them. If it’s from a poor fitting, some caulk or silicone can plug the spot. But if you’re wanting a less permanent measure, draft stoppers can fill the cracks under a door. Or even a rolled-up towel will help in a pinch. You can find leaks by carrying a stick of burning incense around on a windy day and seeing how the smoke is affected at every external point. You might be surprised just how much breeze is coming into your home.
You need to dress appropriately
One of the easiest ways to overcome a cooler home is to add more layers to what you’re wearing. You might be far more comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, but without the ability to properly heat your home, you need to rug up. Think thick socks, warm pants, a singlet and a shirt, and even a hoodie or a jacket. It might be more layers than you’re used, but you need to stay warm. I’d even take out any blankets or doonas so you can get nice and cozy while you’re inside, relaxing on the couch or whatever.
You need to move around
Getting your blood moving will warm you up, and there are also health benefits to a little exercise. It’ll boost your mood, and help you to stay fit even while you cannot get outside during the winter storm. Your workouts don’t need to be complicated, everything from jumping jacks to burpees will get your heart rate up as well as your temperature. You could run up and down the stairs, jog on the spot, or if you’ve got a garage or space to skip rope, this is a perfect exercise to keep your fitness levels (and temperature) up.
You need to eat hot food
Finally, try to get in as many hot meals as you can. Eating hot food will raise your body temperature, so you should factor this into your planning. Cooking porridge and oats, soups, and stews are all simple meals that you can throw together and let simmer all day, and take as you need for each meal. One thing we started last winter was thermos’ full of hot cocoa. You just need to boil the water in the morning, and in an insulated flask it stays nice and warm for hours on end. Perfect if you’re going to be doing any jobs around outside, as a quick drink will help you stay warmer, even if you’re out in the cold.
Surviving a winter power outage is all about being smart. Finding the ways to keep you and your home as warm as possible, without burning through your stack of firewood in just a few days. By thinking about heat loss, efficiencies, and making a few small adjustments to your home, you’ll be able to survive whatever winter throws at you.