Winter Warmth When the Grid is Down

 by Sarah Duncan

I live in a Northern climate in a home without a fireplace.  The heat in my home is totally dependent on the grid.  Since the weather is cold here at least 8 months out of the year, much of my prepping attention is focused on keeping the family warm.

In years gone by, most Northern homes had either a fireplace or a woodstove for heat.  Our society has become so certain that the grid is permanent that many homes built over the past 50-60 years have been designed without those vital elements.

The first and best choice for alternative heating is wood.  If you don’t have that option, don’t despair – there are many other ways to stay warm if the grid goes down.

1.)    Propane Heaters:  There are several propane heaters on the market that do not require electricity.  I own a Little Buddy heater.  These small portable heaters are considered safe for indoor use in 49 states.  They attach to a small propane canister and use 2 oz. of fuel per hour to make 250 square feet extremely warm and toasty.  A battery operated carbon monoxide detector provides an extra measure of safety when using these heaters indoors.

2.)    Kerosene/Oil Heaters:  Kerosene heaters burn a wick for heat, fuelled by the addition of heating oil.  An antique “Perfection” oil heater can be a charming addition to your decor that can be called into service during a grid-down situation.  Click here to read more information about the different types of kerosene heaters that are available.

Of course, the above options require fuel that may not be available after an extended disaster.  Use a combination of these keep-warm strategies to extend your fuel provisions.

  • Seal off a smaller area to heat.  When our furnace went out one winter, we huddled into a small room with just one window.  We closed the door to the bedroom and used a folded quilt at the bottom to better insulate the room.  You can also hang heavy quilts in the doorways of rooms with a heat source to block them off from the rest of the house.
  • Insulate your windows.  You can use a plastic shower curtain and duct tape, topped by a heavy quilt to keep the wind from whistling through your windows.  This has the added benefit of keeping the windows dark if you are concerned about OPSEC.
  • Light some candles.  Burning candles can add some much needed warmth to a small area.
  • Use heavy sleeping bags.  Zipping into a sleeping bag will conserve your body’s warmth more than simply getting under the covers.
  • Pitch a tent.  This works especially well when you have children because it adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation.  Inside a tent, you can combine your body heat to stay much warmer.
  • Heat some rocks.  If you have a place outdoors for a cooking fire, you can add large rocks to the fire.  Rocks retain heat for a very long time.  When you are ready to go to bed, move the rocks into a cast iron Dutch oven.  VERY CAREFULLY take this into the room that you are heating.  The stones will emit heat for several hours.  This is an excellent way to passively heat your room when you’re sleeping.  With this method, you don’t have to be concerned about the potential of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning during the night.
  • Dress warmly from head to toe.  Most body heat is lost through the top of the head, so always start with a warm knit hat.  Layer your clothing, making sure your chest and neck are covered with a scarf.  Lightweight gloves will also help you maintain your warmth.  Wear heavy socks and shoes to protect your feet from cold floors.
  • Cook!  If your cooking method does not require electricity, use it to generate heat as well as a hot nourishing meal.  The addition of steam also makes the house warmer – add a kettle of water to the top of your stove.
  • Drink warm beverages – hot cocoa, coffee or tea can increase your body temperature.
  • Snuggle!  Combine your body heat to stay warmer
  • Use a hot water bottle.  This can provide additional moist radiant heat in your tent or closed-off room.

In your search for warmth make certain that you also maintain safety.  Keep fire extinguishers handy and invest in a battery operated carbon monoxide detector.  Keep children and pets away from items that could burn them or that could tip over, causing a fire.  Be sure to store all flammable materials (such as propane and kerosene) according to manufacturer’s instructions.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published November 1st, 2012
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7 Responses to Winter Warmth When the Grid is Down

  1. Big Blue says:

    You listed some great ideas, and here’s another one you overlooked.  Google “passive solar heater soda cans”.  There are several excellent videos that show how to take empty aluminum cans and convert them to a room heater that uses little or no electricity.  Just place this contraption in a south-facing window and let it works its magic on a sunny but frigid winter day.

  2. Dr. T. Lamb says:

    A great heater is the Mother Earth waste oil heater which you can build for $36 to $60 and best of all it is free from the grid burns only waste oil you can pick up at auto repair shops, gas stations etc. it sips fuel burns super hot and does not pollute, burns soot free and does not smell either.  Also they have plans on how to build a 12 volt swamp cooler super cheap.  AT:

  3. Beth says:

    THANKS for the tips! This has been a concern of mine for sure! In the ice storm of ’07 electricity was down and we kept warm by some of the methods you mentioned—sealing off the room–we mainly stayed in the living room with a bathroom right off it. Kept the bathtub full of hot water (natural gas heat source) which really, really helped as well as candles in tin coffee cans—GREAT emergency heaters! 

  4. Hugh Mannity says:

    Dress warmly doesn’t mean acrylic knits. Wool and silk will keep you much warmer than acrylic or polar fleece. There are several companies that make long underwear out of silk. It’s great stuff: light and warm.
    Layers are your friend…

  5. Jeff Anderson says:

    For a ton of additional information on kerosene heaters see: 

  6. Sarah Goodwich says:

    Every home should have a built-in backup-generator; it’s a home-equity improvement, and so it qualifies for a cut-rate mortgage loan. 
    It’s suicide to depend on the electric company.
    I have a well for water, and the gas-line is never down, so I’m completely self-sufficient now; before I had to depend on the kindness of others, or move to a hotel while my pipes froze or food spoiled.
    NO MORE! 

  7. Larry says:

    No, most body heat is not lost through the head. That myth is very old and derives from misinterpreting an even older exposure test. Exposed parts of the body will lose heat. If the only thing exposed is your head, you will lose body heat through your head. When covering up, cover everything. See as one example.

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