The power is out, you have no alternative heating and it’s midwinter in a northern climate. The temperature is dropping quickly and you’re wondering how to stay warm without heat?
The air feels COLD as you wake up, and you realize that the furnace isn’t on. Not only that, but the clock beside your bed is blank and it’s awfully, awfully dark.
The power is out, it’s midwinter in a northern climate, the temperature inside your house is plummeting fast – and you don’t have alternate heat! Keeping warm without power and without a working furnace has suddenly became a priority.
You’re now kicking yourself for not heading down to Florida with Great-Aunt Mabel, but it is what it is. Time to pull up your socks and figure out how to stay warm without heat.
Hey, if you’re here looking for ways to save money on utilities and you CAN turn the power on or turn the heat up, head over here for a massive list of ways to lower your utility bills. You can read this one, too, of course, but it’s more like emergency measures.
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Dress in layers to stay warm without heat
Underclothes, then long underclothes, then shirt and pants/long skirt, then a sweater. A pair of heavy tights can be worn under long underwear by both men and women. This is an easy way to stay warm without heat. Conserve the heat you have.
It’s important to have a layer directly against your skin and then at least one layer that traps air over the first.
There’s nothing quite as jolting as frozen jeans against your inner thighs! Really – why does anyone wear jeans in winter without long underwear or tights?
And here’s a tip – grab your clothes quickly and then pull them under your still-warm blankets to warm up. It takes some wiggling to dress under the blankets, but if it’s cold enough out there, you’ll figure it out!
Cover your head
When you go outside, add a warm hat that covers your ears, a wool scarf (I’ve never found a non-wool scarf that was worth wearing), and your coat and boots.
A ski mask can prevent frostbite if you’re outside for a while.
But even if you’re staying indoors, if it’s getting chilly and you need to stay warm without heat, put on a warm hat. It might take some time to get used to, but it’s an old tradition and for good reason.
Wool, wonderful wool
Wear wool – wool socks, wool slacks/skirts, wool slippers.
Keep your FEET and your HANDS warm. One pair of cotton socks plus slippers in the house. One pair of cotton socks plus wool socks inside your boots. Add another pair of wool socks if you’re still getting cold toes.
Back in 1992, I got a touch of frostbite in my toes from walking through half-melted slush to get to work. Since then, my toes get cold and lose feeling easily. Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep the circulation going in my feet even when they want to give up the fight.
And that means buying boots a size bigger than usual so that you can still wiggle your toes while wearing heavy socks. Unless you’re going directly to a heated car or bus, you need to keep your feet warm.
Keep your feet DRY
If you sweat, change your socks.
If you’re feeling cold, try changing your socks because you’ve probably been sweating (because you’re wearing at least two pairs of socks, or socks and slippers, and now your feet are damp.
You probably won’t get trench foot, but you still want to keep your feet clean and dry.
My friend Chris has a great story here about how important hand knit wool socks were for the war effort in Canada – plus a printable pattern! If you find them itchy, try wearing a pair of thin cotton socks next to your skin and the wool socks on top.
Speaking of slippers – knitted wool slippers are the old faithful. If you have someone who loves you a lot, ask them to get you a pair of sheep shearling-lined suede slippers.
If you’re looking for how to stay warm without heat, you’ll want to keep your feet toasty warm. I wear slippers year round.
Real fur and real leather
Or a heavy down comforter (even if fashion folks say they’re outdated – they’re warm).
And sheepskin – a lambskin on a child’s bed will keep them wonderfully warm. (I’ve found lambskin to be amazing – they keep babies warm in the winter and cool in the summer)
A heavy leather coat with a sheepskin lining over top of a wool sweater, and you’re toasty. Sorry, PETA, but animal skins are sustainable and really, really warm.
You have likely noticed that I really like natural fibers for the winter.
Living animals are warm, too, although you can’t really wear them on your head or feet. I suppose you could try, but the claws might be a problem.
Cuddle with your cat or dog.
Or goat. Yes, baby goats really are as delightful as they seem in the videos.
Hat and gloves
Wear a wool hat and fingerless gloves indoors. When the heat is down at our house, I find that the main part of my hands get cold before my fingers do. Fingerless gloves might look odd but they let you do your normal work while still keeping heat in your hands.
Warm Your Insides
Eat warm food and drink coffee and tea. If you can get a pot of hot water going, this can keep you warm.
Or spiced hot cider, although again, heating it will be an issue. If you do have a way to heat it up, I have a great recipe for mulled apple cider that will warm you up.
Years ago, I found a fondue stand and pot that uses those little emergency heaters. I’ve also used three lights spaced around the bottom. It’s not big, but it will heat up enough water to make a couple of mugs of coffee or a few filling bowls of hot oatmeal. Not all ’emergency equipment’ needs to be originally for that purpose.
Make sure you’re using an insulated coffee mug (get a stainless steel one NOT plastic!) so that you’re not losing all that heat. It’ll warm you twice – your hands around the mug and then when you drink it.
I have tried so many different insulated coffee mugs and I don’t think anyone makes them better than Thermos. I cringe at the price … until my coffee stays piping hot in my freezing car throughout church or while I’m getting groceries, or whatever I’m doing so that I can’t take the mug with me. Thermos mugs keep your coffee hot for literally hours, which makes it worth the price.
Eat fatty food and stop worrying about a few extra pounds. They won’t kill you. They will, however, keep you warmer through the winter and might keep you alive if you need to stay warm without heat. People who thrive in cold climates expect to put on a bit of fat during the winter.
Don’t worry too much – you’ll be burning off a lot of those calories.
If you have a safe place to use a barbecue, this can be a way to heat water and cook food if the power is out. Definitely this is something to plan for. Buddy burners are a good idea, too.
Do NOT use a barbecue inside the house.
No matter how you’re doing it, cook more. It doesn’t matter if you’re barbecuing, firing up the wood stove, or using your non-electric camp stove. The movement will keep you warm, as will the hot food, and any heat that you’re bringing into the house will warm up the room.
You’ll actually lose heat even if you do feel warmer. Plenty of people drink alcohol because it makes them feel warmer, but if you have no actual heat, that’s a way to comfortably die.
Just to be clear, ‘a way to comfortably die’ doesn’t means I’m recommending it. I’m not. The goal here is to not die.
During the day, if it warms up at all, open curtains. This lets sunlight inside to warm up your room.
At night, shut them to keep the heat inside.
And by the way, that means heavy, heat-holding curtains, not silly frilly things. If your curtains are thin, you can add insulating curtain liners. Think tapestries, or even heavy blankets, on your windows.
Make sure there are plenty of blankets on beds. The only place to store your “extra” blankets in the winter is on the beds. You can NOT stay warm without heat unless you have warm blankets to hold in your body heat.
A raggedy blanket can be quilted between two other blankets, making one blanket that traps heat well. If you’re lucky enough to get a wool blanket but find it itchy, sandwich it between other blankets.
If you can’t heat up your home, you really need to have blankets on your sofa and chairs, too. Any time you’re sitting still, you should be wrapped in a blanket.
Do not sleep alone.
Most definitely, children should not be separated into their own rooms, not if the temperature is very low and there is no way to raise it.
Small children kick off blankets in the night – keep them close enough that you’ll notice. At any rate, if several beds are in one room, the room will be warmer. Baby sleep sacks, by the way, are great.
Think This One Through
Sex will also warm you up, except you don’t want to be doing that with kids in the room AND it’ll make you sweaty … so you might want to consider this one carefully.
Use flannel sheets.
Heavy flannel sheets and pillowcases are the best thing in the winter. As soon as the weather starts cooling off, I put away the thin cotton sheets.
Even if you’re not trying to stay warm without heat, flannel sheets will keep you comfy at night.
Stuffed animals or a wall of pillows will insulate your bed. Especially if your bed is against an outside wall, this can be important if you’re trying to stay warm without heat.
During the day, make sure your pillow is UNDER the blankets. Put your nightclothes under there, too. They’ll stay warmer that way.
Change Your Clothes
Do not EVER wear your day clothes in bed.
Change everything, right down to socks and underwear. You sweat all day, even if you don’t notice it, and you want that sweat OFF you at night.
Have separate socks just for bed.
Wear pajamas or a long flannel nightgown (or even a bedshirt for men!) to bed, with warm socks.
If it’s cold enough, consider a night cap – yes, a hat, not booze. Ignore the description that this is a man’s hat. A night or sleep cap is pretty genderless!
Footsie pajamas are cool. Especially if they have bum flaps. I don’t care if anyone says otherwise.
I want this pair for Christmas.
Seriously, I just had a conversation with my oldest friend in which we discussed our mutual love for footsie pajamas. Footsie pajamas are cool.
Curtain The Bed
The very best bed, by the way, is a four poster with heavy curtains! Hack together a way to create the same effect – surrounding the family’s small sleeping area with curtains to keep in the body heat.
A hot water bottle or two, can be slipped under the covers to warm up your bed. Put one at your feet and one near your middle. (Wrap them in a cloth so you don’t get burned.)
When you stop moving, you cool off. Keep busy. Especially, keep your fingers moving. Knitting or crocheting is warmer than reading.
If you’re not busy, wrap up in a blanket. All chairs and sofas should have a blanket. At our house, we not only have a lot of small blankets handy, but we also have crocheted blankets that the children can slip their feet into.
NO bare floors – put a carpet down under the kitchen table and in front of the sink and stove. Use rags to crochet small rugs to put everywhere people will be standing.
Stop The Drafts
If there are any drafts, use draftstoppers.
Make sure all windows and doors are as draft-proof as possible. Check them – putty up any cracks, even ones as little as 1/8″.
Don’t let ANY heat escape! If you are in an apartment building, hang heavy blankets to block off the entry hall, so that cold air from the building’s unheated hall won’t suck out precious heat. Even when the power’s back on, this can help you have a lower utility bill.
Humid air feels warmer, something many of us know from hot, humid summers, so if you can, get moisture into the air. That’s why soup is such a great thing to make when it’s cold – not only is it hot but it makes steam when you’re heating it.
Don’t smoke. Seriously.
While it might make your chest feel warmer, it will cause the blood flow to your hands to almost shut off! One puff lowers the temperature of your fingertips by 1-3F in 3 minutes. That’s definitely not the best way to keep warm!
Although candles are small, they add both pleasant light and a bit of heat to small rooms. I strongly recommend getting either unscented paraffin candles or preferably beeswax candles scented with pure essential oils.
The Scots have cèilidhs, French-Canadians have Fais do-do (which means “Go to sleep” – what the parents tell their children before the party begins!), and I’m sure every cold climate culture has some form of kitchen party – it kept people busy and warm and entertained during long winter months. And yes, when you’re trying to keep warm without heat, getting active and having fun will help a lot!
Get a dozen or so of your neighbours over on a cold winter evening and spend the night dancing, singing and swapping stories. Just remember to have room for people to sleep in case everyone gets snowed in.
Block Off Rooms
Small rooms and homes are easier to heat.
If possible, block off bedrooms and keep your activity, candles, etc. in one room so that you’re only trying to heat a couple hundred square feet (yes, your whole family can live in that). The blocked-off rooms will act as an extra buffer against the cold outdoors. When you do go in those rooms, be prepared for a shock of cold.
ANY form of heating requires ventilation.
Master The Sponge Bath
Getting washed is going to be miserable when you’re trying to stay warm without heat. There are going to be a lot of stinky, stinky people. Not because water will be hard to find (it’s piled just outside your door all winter!) but because we won’t want to get naked and wet if there is no heat in the bathroom.
Mastering the art of the sponge bath would be a good idea. If you can block off all except one room and get that room warm, wash there. Our ancestors would use privacy screens, or a blanket over a rope, so that Mom had privacy.
There you go – a long list of ways to stay warm without heat during a temporary (or long-term) outage during the winter.
- how to warm water even when you don't have electricity
- what is best to keep warm a church hall