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Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to Stay Warm When the Power Goes Out

Original Article

It's been a long, cold two weeks for some folks on Long Island.  Besides living in a disaster zone, they haven't had power for two weeks and while it isn't such a big problem when you decide to go without heat for an extended period of time for say, a hunting trip or an extended backpacking trip, when you are forced by circumstance to endure such a hardship, there aren't enough negative adjectives to describe the misery people can feel when it is as cold inside their house as it is outside.  Here's some ways to keep warm when the power goes out:

  • Obviously having a wood stove (best) or fireplace (distant second) in your home is your best option.  A wood stove can keep at least one room of your home toasty warm and you can usually cook and heat water on top of it as well.  Having a good supply of firewood is also advisable.
  • I keep a kerosene heater with extra kerosene on hand as one of my alternative heat sources.  You will want to make sure the room you use this heater in is ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.  
  • If you can heat water (on top of your wood stove, outside on your camp stove, or if you have a gas hot water tank) a hot bath or shower will warm you up in a jiffy.
  • Layers of clothing can help to keep you warm.  Yes, you may feel like the Michelin Man but having multiple layers of clothing (instead of one thick layer) will help you retain body heat.
  • Add all of the other goodies you would as if you were going skiing: hat, neck warmer, ear muffs, gloves, heavy socks, insulated boots, etc.  Note that sleeping with thick socks and a hat on can keep you warm and toasty at night.
  • A generator can be a good option if you have the fuel for it.  I am guessing that fuel became an issue a few days into the event since 1) most people don't think a power outage will last very long, and 2) most people also don't usually store enough fuel to keep their generator running for weeks on end.
  • Sometimes one side of the street will have power and the other won't.  In this case a good relationship with your neighbor who has power plus a long extension cord plus a space heater can do wonders.
  • Bring on the blankets.  Probably the oldest idea in heating without external assistance is to wrap up in a blanket...or two...or three.  This is an excellent reason to invest in a 0 degree down sleeping bag.
  • Sleep together.  Body heat generated by three or four bodies is better than body heat generated by one body.  There's a reason you see five or six people cuddled up together to sleep on the TV show 'Survivor'--it's warmer that way.
  • Consider a hot water bottle or hot bricks.  This was common before modern heating was invented.  Heat water and put it in a hot water bottle or heat bricks/stones and wrap them in burlap then hold these items next to you under your blankets (I put them on my feet) and you will become instantly warm.  Note in a survival situation, peeing in a bottle then holding the bottle next to you is a tried and true survival trick--98.6 degrees can be cuddly warm when you are freezing.
  • Chemical hand warmers are also nice.  Expensive, but nice.  These little packets generate instant heat but like hot water bottles and hot bricks, you will want to wrap the warmer in cloth and not stick it right next to your skin.
  • Go somewhere that there is heat.  One reason the mall and the library and community cold weather shelters fill up on freezing days is that the homeless tend to go where it is warm.  If you live close enough to go to a place that has power and central heating (mall, library, coffee shop, etc) then do so. Even being warm all day can make freezing nights bearable.
  • If you have the option (read: money) and the will to leave the area and stay at a hotel until the power comes back on (or even just sending the family while you stay to guard the house) that may be a best option (especially if you have small children or the elderly living in your home).   
  • Make one small room of your home the "warm room".  Seal off the doors and windows of this room and live in only this room until the power comes back on.  With everyone in one room covered in warm clothes and blankets the temperature in the room will rise.
  • Use candles to light up your warm room as these will also give off heat (be careful--candles are a big fire hazard).
  • Work with the sun to heat your home.  Open window blinds in the morning to let the sun in and close the blinds (preferably heavy drapes) when the sun goes down to keep the cold air out.
  • Break out the camp stove and keep the family in warm beverages--this can help warm your body from the inside out.
  • Eat and drink more than usual since your body will burn more calories when it is cold than when it is at ambient temperatures.  Also, fatty foods are a good thing in this situation.
  • Exercise.  Do some jumping jacks or other exercises to generate more body heat. 
And a couple of warnings:  know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.  If someone is suffering from these symptoms, get them medical attention ASAP.  Also, beware the danger of death by carbon monoxide poisoning.  Using combustive appliances indoors (basically anything that generates fire like a camp stove, barbecue grill, etc) can cause carbon monoxide to build up and you will probably pass out and die before you know what hit you as CO is odorless and colorless so use these appliances in a well ventilated area.

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