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Staying Warm Without Central Heat

user profile picture Samantha Biggers Nov 10, 2021
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How To Conserve Heat and Stay Warm With Little to No Heat

By: Samantha Biggers

Winter is approaching, and with that comes concern about staying warm. In this article, I will discuss methods for staying warm when your regular method of heat is not available and ways that you can conserve heat and reduce your overall energy bill.

Grid Issues

There is a lot of talk about how vulnerable the grid is all over the country. Even if you don’t think an EMP or terrorist attack on the power grid is likely, you shouldn’t ignore the fact that our electrical grid is aging, and that leads to problems. There are main power lines that run to Asheville, and beyond that, I can see from the top of the property. There is a lot of rust and damage but no indication that anyone is going to do anything about that anytime soon.

With so much going on in this country, it is likely that the power grid issues are going to just be ignored until there are major incidents, such as the nightmare scenario that happened in Texas at the end of last winter.

Blackouts can mean you only have the heat off and on for a period of time.

Buy extra blankets.

Wool blankets are an excellent choice for layering when the heat is off. Inexpensive fleece throws are a good option for those who do not want to invest in many wool blankets.  Wool army blankets are nice and affordable. Some of the European army wool blankets are fairly attractive if you can find them. Most wool blankets are a blend which helps them hold up better.

You can buy 24 fleece throws for around $100 on Amazon, or you can just pick one up occasionally when you do your grocery shopping. I used to get some really good fleece blankets for around $5 at my grocery store.

Stay in one or two rooms.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep one or two rooms warm than a whole house. When it is cold, family members might have to deal with spending more time with one another than they may be used to. Returning to separate bedrooms later in the day is probably what a lot of people are going to want to do. That is fine if those rooms are not too cold to return to.

Air mattresses, foam mattresses, and sleeping bags are all helpful if you find that everyone needs to sleep in a single room or two during an emergency.

Dress in layers.

Lots of layers is a great way to stay warm. This also allows you to adjust your warmth throughout the day and night.

When you are purchasing winter clothing, consider layers when deciding what size to buy. An overcoat is better if it is a little bit loose, so you can add a lot of clothing underneath without restricting movement as much.

Only open doors when absolutely necessary.

A lot of running in and outlets out a lot of heat and allows a significant amount of cold in. A lot of folks are not going to want to go out in the frigid cold anyway, but there are some people that have a hard time staying inside for very long.

Consider adding a wood stove or furnace if it is a realistic option for you.

There is nothing like wood heat for backup. Of course, not everyone lives where there are good sources and decent prices on firewood. It makes a lot of sense for Matt and I because we have 5 acres of trees that have provided us with quite a bit of firewood as we have thinned out trees. There are also a lot of people around that cut and sell firewood. I have to say that the cost of seasoned firewood has increased a lot in my area over the last few years, but one can say that about many things.

Invest in a kerosene heater and some fuel.

Kerosene heaters can provide heat, but you need to be quite careful when using them. They do have a bit of an odor to them. I remember family members using them when drying their houses out after catastrophic flooding. They have safety cages around them, but you still need to be careful if you have children running around and playing.

Electric can be a backup in some cases.

Although electric is often considered a primary heat source, it can be a good backup when additional heat is needed, or you have power and your other heat source is not available.

Consider this example: You have a small electric furnace, but you get a few super cold nights in the winter. A few 1500w electric heaters can make a huge difference.

Disposable Hand warmers

You can get big packs of disposable hand warmers that offer up to 8 hours of heat. These are nice to keep in cars, book bags, and more. As far as I know, they have an indefinite shelf life if protected from punctures and impacts.

USB Heaters

This USB hand warmer is also a 10,000 mAh battery bank so you can use it to keep any small USB device topped off when you are not using it has a hand warmer.

USB heaters are a kind of neat invention. USB is just such a versatile and low voltage charging system. You could keep a lot of USB heaters charged with a power center and a solar panel or two. While these heaters are still small and not so common, I expect to see significant improvements. At the moment, they can at least replace some of the disposable hand warmers that people use. You can also recharge them via any battery bank of sufficient size.

Outside Fires

There could be a situation where you may be better off starting an outside fire that you can warm up by and even use to cook.

Sleep in one room but in a tent.

It doesn’t take an expensive tent to make a difference in how warm you are. A really good four-season tent is, of course, the best option. It is even better if you have someone or a pet to cuddle up within there. Doing this can actually be pretty fun for kids, especially if you are trying to keep them entertained and having fun during a power outage.


Even if you sleep in a different room from your spouse, it may be time to give that up for a night or two when you are trying to stay warm. Two people in a room, especially in the same bed, are going to have a lot easier time staying warm than sleeping in separate rooms and apart.

If you have young kids, pile them in there, too, if you have a big bed.

Sleep with Pets.

This is an easy one because it is something that a of people do anyway. Cuddling with a big dog can provide a lot of heat, but even a little one will help. If you don’t usually sleep with your pets or cuddle them a lot, it may take some creativity to assure them it is ok and that you actually want them to behave in that way.

Make sure you have extra warm clothing for kids.

Now that I am a mother, I am finding out just how fast a child can grow. I advise taking an inventory of what you have for your kids and then making sure you have warm layers that will be large enough for them to wear during the colder months. Remember, a little big has its advantages because you can layer a lot.

Drink warm beverages.

Remember that alcohol takes the edge off and gives you a “warm feeling,” but it doesn’t actually raise body temperature itself.

While that hot toddy may taste great and feel extra warming, the alcohol is not giving you any boost in body temp; only the temp of the liquid itself is doing that.

If you are tired of your typical hot drinks, take some time and get a few recipes for something new and fun this winter.

Get some exercise.

Moving can really help you stay warm. Do jumping jacks, run in place, or do a whole workout routine if you want. Doing chores outside if the weather allows it can help too if the temperatures are not too frigid. Exercise can help stir-crazy kids a lot, too, and help you keep your sanity a bit.

Use your oven if you can.

If your cooking stove is still working, now is a great time to bake something delicious or stick a roast in the oven. After you are done, make sure to leave the oven open so that you get the maximum amount of heat released into your home.

Reverse your ceiling fans.

If you still have electricity, you can reverse your ceiling fan. This will help push the warm air that rises down towards the floor, where it can make a difference.

Eat large meals with snacks in between. Hot food is best.

Your body will burn more calories when it is trying to stay warm. When your heat is off is not the time to try sticking to a reduced-calorie diet. Hearty stews are popular in the winter for a reason. They are calorie-dense, filling, and served hot. Foods that are high in fat are particularly good when it is cold.

Sometimes wood stoves are not big enough to heat an entire home, so it can be good to cook a hot pot of food on the stove at the same time, so there is always something good to eat.

Hang blankets or sheets overexposed windows if you don’t have curtains or shades. Towels can work too.

Window shades may not always be wanted, but it can be a good idea if you live somewhere that gets gold, to have some window shades or curtains to provide insulation in the winter.

You can also use plastic window kits to provide insulation to windows during the colder months. These can decrease how well you can see out a window somewhat.

Block drafts around doors.

Sticking something under drafty doors is easy and can make a big difference in how warm your home stays. There are door sweep kits that you can buy and install on your door. Older doors may have sweeps already, but they may need to be replaced if they are old.

Weatherstripping can help block drafts around a door frame. This usually comes in the form of semi-dense foam with a sticking backing that you can put up in just a few minutes. It is very inexpensive and literally takes minutes to install.

Plastic sheeting and duct tape will insulate windows.

In a real emergency, plastic sheeting and duct tape can be used to insulate windows. When using plastic sheeting, you just have to keep in mind that you don’t want to seal up the space you are in too much. It is easier to do than you might think. You need some airflow in your home.

Candles can add some light and heat but must be used with a lot of caution.

We don’t use candles in our house usually due to the fire risk, but when I do, I use one that fits in a jar, and then I put it inside another piece of glass and keep it in the hearth area that is made of granite.

Jar candles can last a really long time, and they are safer than tipsy tapers and holders. I have to say that good candles can be expensive so you may want to consider making your own.

Gasoline generators can run a space heater or two.

Solar generators cannot be relied on to run space heaters during an emergency. A gasoline or diesel generator can produce the power to run one or more depending on the size of the generator. A typical space heater burns 1500 watts. Gasoline generators must be used outside, and power cords run into the home, of course, due to the fumes. They are less expensive for the amount of power they generate when compared to solar generators. Be prepared to use a lot of gasoline if you use a generator to provide backup heat.

Area rugs can help insulate your floor.

A cold floor just makes you feel so much colder. Even if the ambient temperature is just cool, some types of floors can really bring the chill into your bones. Stone, tile, hardwood, and laminate can all feel very cold during the winter months. While I am not a fan of wall-to-wall carpeting because it is so hard to keep clean out in the country, area rugs can be nice, and you can keep them cleaner than an installed rug. Some you can just throw in the wash.

Check your heat vents and make sure dampers are open.

Vents may be closed that you think are open. There have been times when I have taken the vents out to clean them and then put them back in, and they closed, and I did not know it until it came time to use the heating system for the year.


When the electrical grid is stressed, power may be intermittent. The best you can do is try some of the things discussed in this article and make the most of the time that you do have heat and electricity to take care of things.

The supply chain and shipping problems that started during COVID-19 are more concerning than ever. Purchasing what you need to stay warm sooner rather than later is something to consider. As the holiday season approaches, shipping networks will be very stressed.

What do you use for backup heat? Have you went for more than a few days without heat during a winter in the past? What tips do you have for staying warm this winter?

About the Author

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Samantha learned the foundation of preparedness on the banks of the Skagit River in the North Cascades of Washington State with her single father, a Vietnam combat veteran. At 16, she moved to his home state of North Carolina where she worked on farm projects before attending Warren Wilson College, graduating in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Sustainable Forestry. After college, she spent a few years in Ketchikan, Alaska before returning to N.C., moving into a 1970s Holiday Rambler camper on 11 acres of family land when the adventure of building a house and farming began! Over the years, her articles have appeared in various homesteading magazines such as GRIT, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Countryside and Small Stock Journal. She is currently a managing editor and writer at Ready To Go Survival.

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