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How to Keep Warm During a Power Outage

In the Pittsburgh area, we usually associate power outages with summer thunderstorms, but winter snow and ice can also cause disruptions to our utilities. What’s more, these winter outages are most likely to happen during the coldest and snowiest weather, which may also keep us bound to the house. So, it’s a good idea to have a plan for staying warm should the power go out in your area.

Prepare Well Ahead of Time

Here is a list of a few things you may want to consider for preparing your home for a time when you have no heat.

  • If you have a backup generator or a fireplace (or wood stove), make sure you have fuel or wood for it.
  • Assess your windows for potential improvements. Make sure windows are sealed and consider upgrading to storm windows. Add insulating shades or curtains to keep heat in and cold out.
  • If you live with someone vulnerable (e.g., an infant, someone elderly), consider buying and indoor propane heater, which will ensure you have a source of heat and are designed to be safe for indoor use.
  • Invest in family ‘snuggle gear.’ Get every member of the family some heavy, wool socks or slippers and some options for layering clothing, such as good base layer clothing or long underwear.
  • Have a few extra heavy comforters or blankets to cuddle up with.
  • Stock some chemical hand and foot warmers.
  • They won’t keep you warm, but be sure to have flashlights and/or candles so you can navigate when it’s dark.

Steps to Take Just Prior to a Big Storm

If there’s a big storm headed your way – one with the potential to knock out your power – these last-minute steps will help you stay the warmest for the longest.

  • Dial up the heat before the power goes out. If you’re expecting a power disruption, crank the thermostat for a bit. When your house is warmer to when the power cuts out, it will stay that way longer. In addition, warm up any areas of your house that are normally unheated because they’re low use areas. The more heat you start with, the better.
  • Test your generator or propane heater and/or bring in more wood for the fireplace.

Staying Warm While the Power Is Out

In order to stay as warm as possible, for as long as possible, while you’re waiting for the power to be restored, the first thing you will want to do is make sure you’re preventing the loss of the indoor heat.

Eliminate Heat Loss

  • Stay inside. Opening and closing exterior doors will let some of your heat escape to the outdoors – and bring in a blast of cold. With the power out, there’s no way to replace the lost heat. If must go out, depart through the garage or a closed patio, as they will work as an airlock to keep the cold air from getting into the interior of your house.
  • Shut all the interior doors to keep the heat in your living area instead of exterior or unused rooms.
    • If the outage is expected to last for more than a short time,
  • Eliminate drafts by wedging rolled towels at the base of doors. If you don’t have insulating window treatments, blankets hung over windows will do the trick in a pinch.
  • If it’s dark, close the curtains or blinds to keep the cold out. If it’s sunny, open them to let the sunshine help warm you up.

Add Heat

Once you ensure you’re not leaking heat, there are some safe ways to add heat to your home during a power outage.

  • If you have a wood stove or fireplace, get and keep a fire going. Or turn on you propane heater, if you have one.
  • Use solar power. If the sun is shining, open the curtains or blinds – but only for the windows the sun is hitting. To maximize the warmth you can grab from the sun, lay dark bedding in the direct light. It will soak up the heat from the sun. Once the sun sets, close and insulate the windows to keep that heat inside.
  • Fill the bathtub of hot water to add heat.

Additional Tips for Enduring a Power Outage

Once you have set up the house to prevent heat from getting out and added the heat you can, there are other options for keeping your family as comfortable as possible.

  • Camp Out in a Single Room. Keep everyone together and bring all your supplies to a single area. Ideally, pick the area that’s normally the warmest in the house, which is usually one of the interior rooms away from the outside walls and the wind. Bringing all your pillows and blankets with you helps to insulate from heat loss through the floors and other areas.
    • Build a tent to trap more heat. This is a great solution if you have kids, especially if you expect the outage to last overnight. Every kid loves a tent, which will turn this disruption into an adventure. And having your whole family sleep in one, enclosed area will trap body heat and maximize your overnight comfort.
  • Dress for the occasion. Have everyone dress in loose layers and include Thinsulate if you have it. Loose layers trap heat between the layers, keeping you warmer than you’d be in tight layers. Since your hands and feet are the most vulnerable to the cold, make sure everyone has gloves or mittens (or both – mittens over gloves is warmest). If your gloves aren’t keeping your hands warm enough, a spare set of socks as an extra layer can help.
  • Pull out those chemical hand warmers. Stuff them in mittens, shoes, and pockets. Don’t put them directly on your skin, as they’ll likely feel too warm and could even burn.
  • Get enough to eat! Your body needs additional calories to regulate your temperature in the cold and eating and digesting your food generates internal heat.
  • Get enough to drink! Be sure to stay hydrated. If you are able to heat up drinks, coffee or hot coco will help keep your hands and your belly warm.
  • Use the car to warm up. If the temperature is bitter, or the power has just been out for an extended period and you need to warm up, jump in the car for a short time to warm up. Bring your blankets and pillows with you to allow them to soak up some heat you can take back into the house with you. (We hope it goes without saying, but do not do this in the garage or other unventilated area due to the deadly nature of the carbon monoxide in your car’s exhaust.)

When the power goes out, it’s no fun, but the tips above should help you and your family take much of the discomfort out of the situation. Since these tips should help you stay warm enough, your bigger problem might be boredom and cabin fever!  So make sure you also have some activities that your family enjoys, that don’t require power, and will help you pass the time. Board games, card games, and Mad Libs are always fun!

If you want to make sure your house is in its best shape for enduring the cold – and free from drafts, leaky ductwork, and so on – give us a call and schedule an energy audit. We’ll help you keep your home as cozy as possible.

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