How to survive power outages during extreme cold

“These tips are based on my growing up in New England and also having lived in Maine and Utah, and having experienced multiple days of power outages in extreme cold.”
– Jean S.

How to survive power outages during extreme cold

Jean S.

These are my tips for people in TX and other places where they don’t normally have power outages in extremely cold weather and no experience with that and may not know what to do.

These tips are based on my growing up in New England and also having lived in Maine and Utah, and having experienced multiple days of power outages in extreme cold. A number of houses I lived in either were poorly insulated and, in some cases, not all parts of the house had heat.

1. Check to see if any of your doors have a space at the bottom where cold air is coming in. If so, take a towel and roll it up lengthwise and put it on the floor pushing it against the door.

2. Check to see if you get drafts from any of your windows. If so, take some old papers (newspaper, junk mail, etc.) fold them up and stuff the cracks with paper. If you have no paper but have rags that will work also.

3. If you have a generator be sure to read and follow all requirements for ventilation – you can get killed otherwise. Do NOT use anything like a grill indoors. Go outside if you must and use it out there in a sheltered area for cooking.

4. Let all your faucets drip a bit to try to avoid having your pipes burst. If you have any hay bails you can also put these around the bottom of your house.

5. Consider closing up part of your house and only use a few rooms (preferably interior rooms or those with the fewest windows, since you lose a lot of heat from the windows).

6. Sometimes if you have natural gas you can still get hot water and your stove and oven may work even when the power is out. If that is the case do the following:

a. Take a hot bath daily, before bundling up for bed. This will keep your core warmer. (Notice that she says IF you have natural gas. I don’t.)
b. Make hot meals like soup and drink hot drinks. (Hard to do without natural gas.)
c. Avoid alcohol if at all possible as that may make you feel like you are warmer but actually makes your core colder.
d. Washing your dishes by hand is good to warm up your hands.
e. Consider making something like Boston baked beans from scratch at night. They need to cook in the oven at low heat (250-300 degrees) for 8 hours and not only taste good… they warm up the house a bit and smell heavenly! ((Again, hard to do without natural gas.)

7. Get out all your winter clothing items and layer up. Wear a hat and shoes or boots even if you normally go barefoot as you lose a lot of heat from your head and extremities. Wear multiple pairs of socks to bed and multiple pairs of sleepwear. You can wear a winter coat indoors during the day or spread it out on your bed for extra warmth at night.

8. If you have any sleeping bags crawl into one at night in your bed, covered by your other bedding.

9. Cover your head at night (best if you leave a bit of a breathing hole but you’ll still keep warmer than keeping your whole head out).

10. If anyone in your household sews, check their fabric stash for large pieces of polartec/fleece (the absolute best at keeping your warm), wool, or unused quilt inserts to use as extra blankets.

11. If you have multiple people in your family…. skip the social distance idea (unless someone actually is sick), and consider bundling up together at night. Warning: don’t do that with a baby though as some people have accidentally rolled over on their baby and suffocated them. Babies do well however in a sleeping bag by themselves or something similar (I had my son sleeping in an old fur coat I got at a thrift store when we were living in a tent.)

12. Got a dog? Let him/her come sleep with you in your bed… even if you don’t normally.

13. If you have young kids, try to make a game out of it… pretend you are camping indoors, or are pioneers, cowboys, or Indians. If you know your local history it may give you other ideas how to keep warm. Remember people lived without central heat for generations and most did not freeze to death in their house. For example, I once visited Plymouth Plantations (in MA) on a very cold raw day – noticed that the Pilgrims houses were all cold and uncomfortable despite having large fireplaces. Outside the walled town there was a reproduction Massasoit Indian village complete with long house… and they were having story telling there. It was toasty, comfortable and warm. They only had a small hole in the roof for opening for smoke from the fire and one door with a deerskin flap they closed. Multiple families lived together that way and slept on wood platforms with furs, so they were off the floor. It was a LOT more comfortable that the housing the Pilgrims lived in!

27 thoughts on “How to survive power outages during extreme cold”

  1. When we moved to Spokane where wind storms can knock out power when trees fall into the lines we decided that we needed reliable back-up heat. We converted our gas fireplace with a wood burning insert and put in a large wood stove downstairs. This makes sense in Washington state where there are trees aplenty but not so much in Texas or a state that is less treed. In Texas you could install a gravity fed pellet stove and stock pellets in the garage just in case. A wood stove can heat my house as well as a gas heater. And I can use it to reheat something already cooked or even cook something with an iron skillet or iron Dutch oven. The old electric grid is aging fast. It’s good to be prepared for inevitable power outages.

  2. …. and if you have an all electric house. Get used to being cold in the winter from now on.
    sorry bout your luck.
    I do feel bad about those who bought into the all electric scam.

    IF you buy a generator someday.
    The most efficient type is called a inverter generator.
    It’s quieter and uses less fuel per watt output.
    Yes it costs about 3 to 4 times as much as a old style but you can save that much on gas alone the first time you need to use it for more than a week or two.
    just saying…
    But a properly installed wood or coal burning stove is a life saver. Having a small portable generator to power some appliances makes it nice.
    be well and good luck and oh and wool does work well to keep you warm.

    My heart goes out to everyone that is going through this.

    Me, if the power goes off, I hear the UPS alarm..
    I just roll over and go back to sleep.
    I don’t rely on electricity to heat my house out here in the boonies.


    • Yes to that, tho some may be harder to come by these days. Note I had my baby sleep inside an old fur coat back in our tent days.

      Nowadays I have a number of sheepskins (easier to come by and cheaper) I bought online also toasty warm. I got mine from a fabric store online (MOOD, out of NYC) … some were “seconds” with a hole or two so the price was very reasonable.

      Any kind of furs can serve as decorations too when you don’t need them to keep warm… I have a seriously UGLY large round ottoman which is very comfortable as an alternative place to sit… but so ugly (got it used… upholstered in what looks like grey elephant skin)… so I throw the sheepskins on that instead.

  3. Hot pepper powder in your socks works extremely well. I found this working industrial flat roofing as a young man in southern Ontario. You have to make sure not to overdue it or you will have too much of a good thing.

  4. Yes if you want snow by the feet, try Park City ski resort as of late they’re getting 30 inches last 24 hours and more on the way.

  5. 1 – Get a gas stove that will allow you to light the stovetop burners with kitchen matches. I have one made in 1998, and value it highly during odd power outages. Last winter, 2 days in the dark (I can live with that) but cooked on the stovetop by lighting the burner (I used only one) with kitchen matches.
    2 – Have oil lamps available – the real ones, like your grandmas had to use – and lamp oil. There are sites that cater to Amish families and will be happy to help you out.
    3 – Get something called heat packs, which are small sealed packs which will create heat when they are squished. Might be found in camping goods sites.
    4 – Make sure you text the power company ASAP – right now!!! – the second the power goes out, if you are up and awake.
    5 – Silly as this sounds, get cold weather thermal underwear. Period. Wear it and keep it on hand. It will make a real difference. It is washable and can be dried in the dryer. Do the same with socks: woollen hiking socks are worth every penny you spend.

    One of my nephews lives in Dallas, TX and has informed me that he and his family (wife & 3 children) have been going through intermittent power outages because of the current freakshow weather in Texas. When we were kids, we lived in Odessa, so I told him to as his mom (my sister) what it was like in the winter when we lived in Odessa.

    I have a pile of snow (shoveled) that is nearly 12 feet high. I have to get a photo for Robert, but the cold up here seems to have broken. It was nearly 25F this afternoon – HEAT WAVE!!!!

  6. Some good tips.
    I was lucky enough to start from scratch. So my house is well insulated with no draughts, also double glazed (don’t use aluminium frames as the heat transfers through the metal).
    Windows are placed to catch winter sun.
    I put in a solar system with battery (still connected to grid). If the power goes down and the sun doesn’t shine, I go into emergency mode. Battery will supply my needs for 3 days. I’ve never had 3 consecutive days without sunshine. Longest power outage 1.5 days.
    Emergency mode means shutting down all unnecessary appliances, including HWS , heating set at 10C. use a gas camp stove on the balcony.
    The system has saved me a third of the investment in the first year just in my monthly power bill.
    Peace of mind is a bonus.

  7. I have natural gas for heating and water heater and live in Utah. I am planning to get one of those Generac emergency automatic generators. They were almost giving those away until a couple months ago but now Generac has even basic models for around $5,000.00 (ouch). They apparently raised the prices recently to take advantage of things. Nothing like a little gouging. But if I were in Texas, I’d get a propane tank installed and get a Generac if you can afford it. They run on natural gas or Propane. Would not be too hard to get a propane tank big enough to run your Generac for two or three weeks. I’m going to get a Generac now before they raise the prices even more.

  8. Thermal longjohns and a thermal shirt (I used to buy from the Norwegian firm Helly Hansen, but I’m sure the US has similar outlets), along with fingerless gloves, a balaclava and woollen socks are probably the most cost-effective means of keeping warm.

    We had a few really cold winters when I was a poor student back in the 1980s and on the worst nights, I used to wear all those in bed, put my 5 season sleeping bag under the blankets on the bed and survive what were pretty horrendous nights in old, poorly insulated buildings.

    We always used the motto ‘lots of layers of thin clothing’ when doing winter mountaineering. So a thermal shirt, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved sweat shirt and a zip up fleece jacket were put on under a gore-tex waterproof. Silk gloves underneath woollen mittens (Dachstein mitts were designed for Everest but were the best value going for cold dry conditions (useless for the rain)) to keep hands warm.

    For real cold, we used thermal longjohns, then skin-tight running tracksters and then either climbing salopettes or winter ski trousers to keep legs warm.

    Winter climbing boots had the inestimable advantage of having thermal inner boots inside a solid plastic frame. You might look a prat walking around in those back in civilisation, but your feet certainly stay warm.

    What’s more important: looking cool or avoiding frostbite?

  9. Scarrifying scenarios out’ve Texas, with no relief in prospect. Having malignantly, willfully defunded and indeed dismantled domestic energy-utilities economies over decades, otiose Green Gangsters have yet to face any consequences for manufacturing this deadly humanitarian crisis. Let’s see how Texas’ esteemed Gov. Greg Abbott handles this.

    Just possibly, as catastrophic reality bites down, an 88-year Super-Grand Solar Minimum progresses through c. 2108, AGW hysterics will find their vicious Save-the-Planet scam, Great Reset and all, abruptly out-of-fashion. As for the reigning Uniparty’s corrupt, hate-mongering guttersnipes in Congress, Courts, the DC swamp and Statehouses– the sooner these bad faith, ill-willed, false-pretense goons meet karmic comeuppance, the best for all concerned.

  10. if you have bubblewrap? wipe or spray windows with water and stick the bubblewrap onto them or tape it on if thats not feasible
    it really DOES stop cold in/heat out quite noticeably.
    I hate the new designer blinds and slat verticals for windows
    useless for thermal protection heat or cold and they dont block sound etc either
    decent heavy double thickness curtains are a must.
    def move everyone into one room if possible mass bodyheat will make the room warmer
    allow some ventilation up high or leave the door ajar a fraction for safety
    I always have 3 or 4 kero lanterns handy for emergencies you get light and heat and they can burn parafin oils etc as well though that might get awfully fragrant;-? prob still beats kero smell?
    hats gloves mittens and wool not acrylic!
    always woollen socks

    • LOVE the bubble wrap suggestion… tho I suspect I’d be tempted (as always) to pop the dang bubble.

      Wool socks are great but so are fleece ones. Sometimes I’ll double up, one of each with the fleece worn closest to my skin.

      And those UGGS that everybody complains about being so ugly (at least here in the US people complain about them)? Expensive … but comfortable, long lasting and very warm. I once accidentally stepped in about a foot of slush and unlike other boots… with the UGGS on my feet did not get wet and I did not get cold the whole hour or so it took to get into work.

  11. I also lived in New England most of my life including a stint in Central Maine. Before I read the article I tell you how we survived this mess in Austin. The old 2wd Dodge Dakota was loaded with 500 pounds of sand over the rear wheels. That alone transforms in from a skate into a tank. It went everywhere on unplowed (about 7 inches of ice and snow) roads with relative ease. The sand also gives one the option of throwing some under the tires if more traction is needed to get unstuck.

    The gas range was a blessing as one could manually light the burners and keep pots of water on them for volume and safety. This kept the house above freezing, actually the kitchen and living room were near comfortable. And ya I could cook.

    When the water flow started slowing down on Monday I was not sure what was going on so I filled the bath tub with water before the flow stopped all together. Why all that water? Well keep those pots on the stove full and a couple of gallons in a bucket will flush the toilet when needed. Don’t pour it in the top tank just quickly dump it in the bowl and that will flush everything past the s-trap built in to the bottom bowl.

    After 2 days of non power the fridge was getting warmer so I packed the the plastic veggie and fruit bins with snow turning the fridge into a ice box. The snow was a blessing as I used buckets of it to keep the bathtub full of water but it also protected, via natural insulation, my not so deep water pipes from the bitter, near zero morning temps. BTW those faucet covers we use down south are fine for the occasional below freezing night but they are not intended for this kind of cold. I wrapped all my outdoor spigots with rags then Cling wrap then the faucet cover sealed well over that. The water is back on so when the sun comes up I see if that worked. Best I should do on that one as we have no inside shut offs.
    Always keep plenty of food and drinking water in the house and never let your vehicles fuel tanks go past 3/4. A couple of full 5 gallon containers of fuel gives comfort and power a generator if you have one. Be safe all.

  12. Good to have some emergency blankets or sleeping bags on hand. I don’t mean regular blankets or sleeping bags, I mean the ones made of thin layers of material that actually hold a high percentage of your body heat in. The sleeping bags are about the size of a coke can in their container and are very light to carry. I recently bought these for my family (just in case). they cost about $10 they can be purchased from: I do not have any commercial ties to this company, only ordered from them. I think these would be handy things to have around, especially with Biden’s push to eliminate fossil fuels and with it, any energy security.

  13. There is an age at which, it’s not really your fault if your parents didn’t teach you how to take care of yourself, eventually you should have figured shit out for yourself, but I think young adults ought to get a pass on not know anything about anything these days. There’s a whole generation out there who’ve never boiled their own egg, and they don’t have the confidence to try it. Eventually that’s on them, but if you get to be an adult with having boiled an egg, I’m not sure telling you you deserve to die is really the best start at remedying that.

    • When my son (now 51) was 18 he lived in a house with a bunch of somewhat older young adults (maybe 20-25) who did not know how to do ANYTHING… cooking, cleaning, shopping or laundry… and they begged him to teach them all that practical stuff… He got a kick out of having to teach the older guys and called and thanked me for teaching him how to do things.

      I had to teach him… because as a single parent and going to college when he was 12… I had to teach him to chip in on household chores but gave him some choice in which ones would be his major responsibility. One of the chores he picked to do was the family laundry.

      We lived in family student housing with a lot of single moms and many kids that were much younger than my son… and the little boys all decided because my son did the laundry… it was the “man’s job” to do laundry and they begged their mothers to let them do it! I was very proud to see my son hauling off to the laundryman being trailed by a bunch of younger boys (in the 5-8 year range) also hauling their family laundry in wagons, where he’d teach them how to do it right and supervise to make sure no one had problems.

  14. Denis Poirier’s Theorem:

    Knowledge is Power.

    Time is Money.

    Power equals Work divided by Time.

    Therefore Money equals Work divided by Knowledge.

    Thus Money approaches infinity as Knowledge approaches zero.

    Violá! Stupidity rules.

  15. #9 “And Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.” People used to sleep with bed hats for this very reason. A good stocking cap will do the job.

  16. I have natural gas hot water base board heating. This system requires electricity for the pump to push the water through the system. This motor is only requires 6 amps of power at 120 Volts.

    I have an inverter that runs off my car battery (camping stores) to provide power to the motor and viola heat. Run for an hour then wait until things get cold again.

    a small generator does the same thing.

  17. Move to the sub tropics !

    If we are truly heading into a GSM or glaciation you don’t want to be far from the tropics.

  18. Growing up in Canada and living in northern Minnesota winter has been a fact of life for my entire life. Having a back up heat source is a must. So is having a generator for when there is no electricity.

    I’ve used every type of insulated clothing and sleeping bags. My down and military parkas hang unused these days, as do my down and big name synthetic sleeping bags.

    When I have to count on clothing or sleeping bags I buy it made in the US from Wiggy’s in Colorado. When my sleeping bag or parka works just as well when soaking wet as it does dry I am glad I bought it. I don’t have any relationship with Wiggy’s other than being a very happy repeat customer. When it comes with a lifetime warranty you know they stand behind their products. I’ve used one of their 50 degree bags at 36 degrees and was able to sleep all night. Since going to Wiggy’s insulated clothing and sleeping bags I stay warm no matter what the temperature is.

  19. What?
    You expect people to be self reliant and take responsibility for their own safety and comfort?

    What a radical un-American idea.

  20. 1) Get a few crank-generator radio/flashlights… they’re cheap and with most of them, you can charge your cell phone as you crank, although you’ll need strong arms, as it takes a long time to charge a cell phone. Yes, I’ve done it. Your arms will be sore.

    2) Get those warming pan methanol-based candles used to keep food warm. You can cook with them in a pinch. Don’t use them until your natural gas supply gives out.

    3) Keep a few bottles of cooking gas around (the kind you use with a cooking grill).

    4) If you’ve got mechanical / welding / electrical skills, rig up a stationary bike to run a small generator to provide power to charge your battery-powered devices… it’s much easier than using a crank-powered radio/flashlight.

    5) Always keep at least 25 gallons of drinking water in sealed containers. Also get one of those filtration straws, that’ll let you drink whatever water you can find in a pinch, without having to boil it. You can even drink water from a puddle with those things.

    6) Keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least 1/2 full at all times. That’ll let you get at least a couple hundred miles away from the problem, during which you’ll most likely find gas stations with power so you can fuel up again.

    7) Keep one bicycle for each family member… if worse comes to worst and you have no other recourse, you can bicycle your way away from the problem. Not ideal, but in an emergency, you work with what you’ve got.

    8) The emergency food supplies you can purchase from, for instance, My Patriot Supply, taste good and will keep you fed in a pinch. They can be stored for decades without degradation. I’ve got their 1-year supply (3504 servings), which for a family of 4 will last about 9 months. I eat one meal a day from this supply, and restock as necessary to ensure that the emergency supply doesn’t get too old.

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