How To Stay Warm During a Power Outage

heating your home during a power outage

Let’s face it, heating your home during a long-term power outage is probably one of the biggest challenges that a homeowner facing the cold winter has to overcome. You have to keep your body temperature in the normal range i.e. above 95 F (35 C) or hypothermia will start to set in.

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death. From: The Mayo Clinic – Hypothermia.

In other words, you need a shelter and to be able to keep that shelter warm enough to keep your body temperature above 95 F (35 C) and you need to be prepared to do this for as long as the disaster that caused the grid to go down lasts and depending on the severity and length of the situation you’ll need to be able to do this without attracting unnecessary attention to your location.

Not an easy task to say the least – but it can be done with proper planning, preparation, and work… Let’s get started…


One of the first things to consider when planning ways to heat your home during a power outage or long-term grid down situation is where you’re located. Where is your home/survival retreat? No, I’m not asking you to tell me or to post it in the comments section, I’m just asking you to consider where you are or plan to be and the winter climate in that area.

For example, if you’re a prepper living in Sanders Montana or in Great Falls where the coldest recorded Temperature was a bone-chilling 43 degrees below zero then you would have to put more thought and effort into keeping your home heated during the long winter months than you would if your location was in the redoubt of the east (Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau area).

Keep your location in mind when reading the rest of this article and plan accordingly… the warmer the average winter temperatures are in your chosen area the less of an issue heating your home in winter will be. This is so important that I think that winter temperatures should be a major consideration when choosing a survival retreat location.

Your Home

Your second consideration for heating your home during a power outage or long-term grid-down situation should be the home itself. My advice is that if you’re building your home yourself or remodeling then over-insulate, meaning go above the recommended home insulation standards for your area.

If your home is already built and you’re not planning a full remodel then do what I did and add extra insulation inside the attic. My attic was already well insulated for my area, however, I decided to have a contractor add extra blown-in insulation to the attic to a rating of R-60.

Also, make sure all doors and windows seal tight when shut and are the best that you can afford. If your windows are old, worn out and not energy-efficient then have those replaced with better windows if your finances will allow it.

Also, consider adding a clear plastic sheeting, heavy insulating curtains and window shades to help keep the cold out and heat in. The heavy curtains will also help to hide any light inside the house from anyone passing by outside which could be a security risk.

Here is an excellent article on energy-efficient windows with tips to make yours more energy-efficient… Read it and then implement all the tips and advice that you can and you’ll see a big improvement now and when the grid goes down.

Dress For The Cold

To survive the cold during a short-term power outage or long-term grid-down situations you’ll need to dress properly for the environment. And keep in mind that you’ll probably be sleeping in your winter clothes so be sure to think of comfort as well as warmth when buying your cold weather clothing.

When dressing for cold weather the key is layering. Start with thin layers first and then top it off with a protective outer layer that insulates as well as traps air and stops the wind. This outer protective layer should also protect your other clothes from rain and moisture when you’re outdoors.

For example when indoors without heat or when having to conserve heating resources in the home you could wear heavyweight thermal underwear as a base layer, and top it off with RefrigiWear Iron-Tuff Hooded Coveralls or similar outerwear.

If you’re like me then no matter how well dressed your body is your feet still get cold. I can be warm and comfortable everywhere else and still have cold feet. To help with this use the same layering principle that you did with your other winter clothing.

To keep my feet warm in cold weather indoors and outdoors I start with ultra-lightweight liner socks to keep my feet dry and then a cold weather boot sock and then well-insulated winter boots. My top choice for a winter boot is the Sorel Men’s, Conquest Boot.

The same layering principle should also be used to keep your hands warm i.e. thin gloves or glove liner like the Terramar thermasilk glove liner covered by a thicker insulated pair of winter gloves will keep your hands warm during a power out long-term grid-down situation.

Let’s not forget about the face and head, consider a skull-cap or stocking cap for cool weather and a Russian style earflap hat for colder weather.

Last but not least invest is a good cold weather sleeping bag (or two) for each member of your family or group, or better yet have them to buy their own. I prefer the Military Modular Sleep System – you can read a full review here.

The Urban (or rural) Igloo

It’s easier to keep a smaller space warm then a larger one so if fuel to heat is limited it’s a good idea to only try to heat part of the house. For example, if the main heat source is in the living room area as is commonly the case then you can keep the interior doors that lead into the other rooms closed. You can also hang heavy blankets or similar insulating materials over those doors to keep the warm air from the heat source in the confined space and the colder air out.

Doing this will help to concentrate the heat into a smaller area which will keep you stay warmer while at the same time conserving fuel resources.

Taking this a step further is what I call the urban igloo. This concept will work in the country as well but would probably be more likely to be put to use by folks who were caught in the city or apartment or public housing where having alternative long-term heat sources are not an option.

The urban igloo is a simple concept and just about everyone should have the materials needed for its construction.

The First step is to take the mattress off the bed and place it underneath the kitchen table or similar table or frame. Next drape heavy blankets, quilts, rugs and whatever else that’s on hand over the top and down the sides to make what is essentially an indoor tent or igloo. Hang the insulating materials all the way down to the floor being sure to leave a small gap in one corner edge near the floor to keep condensation to a minimum.

Body heat and your exhaled breath will help to heat the “igloo” somewhat and if you have dressed for the cold and have a good cold weather sleeping bag as detailed above you can stay comfortable even when it’s extremely cold outside the home.

The more people who you have in your indoor igloo the warmer it will be.

Heating Your Home

heating home in winter

Part of my firewood supply…

This is the most difficult part of staying warm during a long-term grid-down situation because there are so many things to consider. You’ll need a way to heat, you’ll need a way to resupply your fuel resources, and you’ll need to not draw unwanted attention to your location.

Not an easy task to say the least but there is hope…

One of the best situations to be in is to have your own gas well and have your heat, cook stove, water heater, generator etc hooked up to that resource – here is a great example of a perfect prepper property with two gas wells and everything else needed to live off the grid for a large family or prepper group. However, at a listing of nearly two-million dollars most (probably none) of us could afford such a place, I know I couldn’t even come close.

The best or at least the most practical heat source for most of us is propane. If you have your own property you can have a 500-gallon or even a 1,000-gallon propane tank installed (or do it yourself) and use that to power an efficient ventless propane heater. The tanks can be coated with roofing compound and buried out of sight.

The next most practical option for most preppers would be wood, however, the main downside to heating with wood during a long-term collapse is the smoke and smell which under the right conditions can be seen or smelt from a mile away or more. This can be a problem if you’re trying to not attract unwanted attention to your location.

However, there are manufacturers who claim to be producing smokeless wood-stoves, however, I’ve never seen one of these in operation and so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness or efficiency. If you’re handy then you can probably make your own smokeless wood burning stove, here is a link to an MIT article that has some ideas that might be of use.

And below is a good video with instructions on how to turn an existing wood stove into a nearly smokeless wood stove…

At any rate heating with wood might require some tools and skills that you don’t currently have like a chainsaw. Yes, I know it’s loud and would attract attention and it also requires gasoline, mixing oil, bar oil, chains and other spare parts to keep it running properly, but go on ahead and try to cut a winter’s worth of firewood with a human-powered crosscut saw

Yes, it can and has been done before, but it’s not easy and will take a lot more time and energy compared to using a chainsaw.

But if you’re prepared to heat your home with wood then this would not be an issue for the first year or three because you’ll have a one to three supply of seasoned firewood already cut down, cut up, split and stacked.

And yes, you can just buy the firewood now and use and rotate like food storage on a first in first out rotation so that you always have a fresh supply. However, firewood that is kept dry and out of the elements will store for many years.

But, you really do need to have the tools needed and to learn how to cut your own firewood if you plan to use firewood as a heating source. The more you know the more independent you’ll be and that’s a good thing.

Don’t forget to have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed and working anytime you’re heating with wood or any other combustible fuels. Be sure to have extra batteries for these as well. And last but not least ensure proper ventilation for the home and closed in areas.

Recommended Reading

Any thoughts, or suggestions… then please add those in the comments below…

M.D. Creekmore

I've been interested in self-reliance topics for over 25 years. I’m the author of four books that you can find here. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about prepping, homesteading, and self-reliance topics through first-hand experience and now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

18 Responses

  1. Oren says:

    We have a fully functional very old Majestk wood burning cook stove plus a Soapstone wood burning heater. We keep approximately 2-3 cords of wood at all times in the wood shed. One section is cut specifically for the Majestk. We could use it for heating the home, but don’t. The Soapstone is by far the better option. At 72 years of age it isn’t easy. But the alternative is not reaching 73.

    • Almost There says:

      Oren, I’ve looked at the soap stone stoves. They are very nice. I need to win the lottery….

      • look on the internet for someone selling one just to get rid of it.
        have someone knowledgeable inspect any stove before you buy it.
        here we have ‘freecycle’ where everything is free.

  2. Almost There says:

    Excellent information. Besides being able to communicate with others in a grid down situation, I know that heating my home in a grid down situation is something I need to figure out. I have a heat pump. I bought a vent free propane gas heater off of FB Market place for 1/2 the cost of a new one, and it was only used one season. But, I need to get the rest of the set up, propane tank, run the line, and would like to also have a 2 way valve on the connection inside the house so I could hook up my camp stove, ensuring I leave a window cracked so CO2 doesn’t build up. But, propane is not renewable… and the cost to get that set up is expensive. It will have to be done a piece at a time. Propane will eventually run out. I have 2 catalytic heaters that can be used in a tent. I’ve never used one, and would have a learning curve. And the fuel it uses is not renewable. I don’t have plenty of trees in my yard, but could find wood within walking distance. I appreciate the tip on putting a mattress under a table and make an igloo. I have plenty of blankets to make curtains around the table.

    I have found that layering my blankets with different thickness of down really keeps me warm. I have thinner down blankets and then really thick ones, and even a thick down mattress pad. All bought at thrift stores. These are becoming harder and harder to find, so if you run across them for a reasonable price, I would recommend purchasing. I also buy hospital blankets. They are warm, made of cotton, and I use them on my bed all year long. If it gets cold, I just add another one. Not too heavy, as to weight down the top, where you can’t change positions.

    I also buy merino wool sweaters at the thrift store. They are soft, and don’t itch like lambs wool does. I also find cashmere on the cheap. I am female, and buy my sweaters in the men’s department. There is much more to choose from in their section than the women’s. These would be nice to sleep in if I had to. Sleeping in a hat also keeps you warm.

    I just keep plugging away at the list of things I need to do. As long as I do one or two things a week, I don’t get too stressed…. Now, if I could just win that mega millions on Friday….

    • Almost There,
      That 30000 BTU gas heater you have is a catalytic heater also. Mine has been working all winter and it’s just the thing for unattended operation with the thermostat.
      If you set it to full on where it never shuts off, it will burn about 1 gallon of propane every 3 hours; but, drive you out of the house, so a 100 gallon tank will keep you rather toasty for quite a while, especially if you can shut down most of the house.

    • Prepared Grammy says:

      Keep plugging away at that list, and let me know if you win the lottery. That’s what I want too, but I doubt that it’s ever going to happen. I don’t buy tickets.

  3. My location is obviously in Ohio and has been since 1969 and winters here can get downright cold, although perhaps snot a severe as those bordering our northern border with Canada. In our case we have numerous ways to heat the house in a grid down situation., from onsite propane to portable propane heaters (Mr. Buddy), the butane stove, the Coleman dual fuel stove and lanterns and of course the wood burning fireplace insert. For all but the onsite propane with a large tank farm, we keep fuel on hand. That includes 8 ounce butane and 16 ounce propane cylinders, a few gallons of Coleman fuel and a good supply of seasoned firewood.
    We also have a dozen or so terra cotta pots that can be inverted on any stove burner to provide radiant heat in the kitchen; but, can be used elsewhere by placing Sterno or candles under them. So far the propane and wood has kept us toasty in even the worst weather.
    We’ve lived in this location since 1984 and have added windows and various types and levels of insulation over the years, with the last one being whole house foam insulation in the walls. This final step has made our home very warm in winter and cool in summer with very little effort, since it’s really almost like living in a Styrofoam cooler.
    Years ago we added storm doors to the old exterior door; but, recently replaced all of our exterior doors and storms with new ones from Home Depot. This was pretty much our final upgrade and was 30+ years in waiting, to have the cash on hand.
    As someone who has been hunting various game animals for 50+ years in PA & Ohio, I learned to layer my clothing to stay warm in any condition and here in the house we have lots of wool blankets and sleeping bags. My personal choice for the outermost layer in nearly any weather are a set of Frog Toggs that work as a windbreak and are IMHO the best raingear money can buy.
    My feet are generally the warmest part of my body, at least in the house, and both the DW & I spend most of the time in flip flops, no matter the season. For outside here on the homestead we use layers of wool or polypro socks and the tall gum boots that can easily be slipped on and off at the door.
    Several payers of gloves and deep pockets can keep your hands & fingers warm, as well as planning your activities to allow you to come back into the house and warm up or perhaps make burning your paper and cardboard in the burn barrel part of your winter activities to give you another place outside to warm up.
    For sleeping bags we have numerous weight bags and 2 of the MMSS mentioned in your post.
    Our house is large; but, like a lot of old houses, has many doorways and closing doors or hanging plastic, blankets, or curtains is a common practice to shut off unneeded rooms and conserve the heat where you need it.
    Your urban igloo is covered in detail in the following book:
    Tom Brown’s Field Guide to City and Suburban Survival Paperback – March 15, 1986
    With more information about the book in this video
    Tom Browns Field Guide: City and Suburban Survival – Tom Brown Jr.
    I have all of Tom’s books and they are a great source of information.
    Additionally a #10 can candle heater can keep a small space like an urban igloo amazingly warm.
    While we have a lot of propane onsite, this has been an almost 20 year investment. We have friends who have a rural property that had two gas wells; but, these have fallen into disrepair with the fracking and the lower price of gas, so they now also have propane.

    When you state:

    Don’t forget to have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed and working anytime you’re heating with wood or any other combustible fuels. Be sure to have extra batteries for these as well.

    Smoke detectors should be used in any case, since many structure fires are caused by electrical issues and don’t require a combustible heating source to start.

  4. my mother was european and ever inside door had a heavy curtain over it in winter to conserve heat in the rooms. there is a name for these blankets curtains but i cannot remember it.
    they had indoor plumbing but too cold to bathe in winter so her mother put a tub in front of their fireplace–coal heat- and washed mum there at least once a week. in summer they may have used the bathtub.
    no refrigerator so some water in bathtub and milk and other items stored there for the cold. just like an urban spring house.

  5. mom of three says:

    We do have a fireplace, and bought some wood, from our neighbors wife, when he passed away this spring, it”s dry and ready to use . But we have to use Gas heat first and when it gets bitter cold, then we can burn but living in the city, we have to be careful when we burn. We plan on selling and building on our property hubby, is very tired of all the game’s the city plays, and our neighbors are just as bad and snotty. We plan on having a fireplace, in our new place so we do have a back up heat source.

    • bluesman says:

      mom of three,
      Yes, getting out of the city is of paramount importance. A fireplace is very enjoyable but usually not very efficient for heating and especially for cooking in times of a power loss . Perhaps a fireplace insert or a free standing wood stove would work better for you in a new home as well as using less firewood . Just something to think about .

  6. bluesman says:

    Climate was a big factor when we moved to our property. Winter temps will get to 0 degrees for a day or two but range in the 15-40 degrees most of the time. We do have a ductless Heat/ AC system but most all of our winter heating comes from a Lopi wood stove that we can also cook on . We need 3 cords of wood to comfortably make it through winter.
    We also have 1/2 cord of wood next to our back door so we don’t have to go to the woodshed in a bigger snowfall.
    We own a large propane tank that runs our kitchen range. A future purchase may be a propane fridge/freezer .
    We do have propane camp stoves and kerosene heaters if all else fails and lots of cold weather clothing .
    Winter is fast approaching.

  7. Labgirl says:

    Good article for preparing for the cold.
    In my area, I usually only need heat late Nov – Feb. Even so, a warm spell will have me turning on the AC in any of those months. I have a Mr Buddy heater as a back-up for my heat pump system in case of a winter storm power outage. I buy fleece blankets on sale. I am definitely a fan of insulated curtains as they help to keep out heat also so the AC doesn’t have to work as hard.

  8. Greg M. says:

    The one weakness with the military modular sleep system (and any sleeping bag) is the zipper. Ensure your zipper is well lubricated, also that the sleeping bag has an “overlap” inside so that the zipper is not a conduit for cold air to enter. In the military sleep system, sometimes the zippers break, which does not make for a good nights sleep. If you buy used, then try to get the zipper replaced as a precaution.

  9. swabbie Robbie says:

    I have lived in the same rural home in SW Wisconsin for 44 years. WE have experienced the whole range of power out situations and have modified our place along this journey. We have propane wall furnaces and a wood stove which we consider our primary heat source. I felt it is better use what others may consider emergency back ups so one learns how to do it safely and efficiently. Wood can be had cheap or free here, but propane is based on world pricing and contracts with your provider.
    The other thing we have, and I think is important for anyone that can do it, is a back up generator. Ours is 7000 watts and runs the whole place. We had a transfer switch box installed on the power pole so a flip of the switch turns off the line feed and turns on the line from the generator. When the power is off for several day we turn the generator on for about 4 hours at a time several times a day. That keeps the well and sump pump running, keeps the freezer and fridge cool and allow us to run the wall furnaces during those hours.

    *Happening right now: Our rivers are flooding from huge amounts of rain we keep getting. My on room basement would flood from ground water without the sump pump working. (The water heater is in that cellar.) Thankfully, our power has only gone off for short periods, but I run the generator when it does.

  10. ShirlGirl says:

    We have heated our 2100 sq. Ft. Home with a wood stove for 24 years from wood we cut right on our ranch. We have now exhausted that supply so have begun taking weekend trips to the woods with the chainsaw, a cutting permit, and a good size trailer.
    One of the guys in our group feels it is dangerously revealing to have smoke coming from the chimney. But I cant function if I’m cold plus there will be a group defending this compound in a threatening situation. Anyone would expect those living in ranch country to have a heat source like this. We don’t live in an urban area with close neighbors. I’d like some feedback on this. This was a timely article. Thanks so much, MD.

  11. Mechanic says:

    Mr Buddy indoor propane heater with the optional hose attachment for BBQ size tanks works very well. Obviously only as long as the propane will last.

    Don’t forget you can pitch a tent indoors. Much easier to warm a small tent in a already sheltered environment I.E. your living room than the whole house. Family of 4 in a 4 man tent plus blankets and sleeping bags will be much warmer than outside of said tent.

  12. Gloria says:

    One easy trick I recently learned is to always wear knitted wristwarmers, aka fingergless gloves, inside. The wrist pulse point is very sensitive to temperatures and if you can keep it covered and warm then the rest of the body stays warmer. The wristwarmers don’t need to be fancy or pricey, they don’t even need the full fingers or thumbs, a thumb slot will do. Acrylic yarns will work but wool yarn will do a much better job, and having a few pair on hand allows you to change them when they need to be washed (by hand).