How to Survive A Winter Power Outage and Stay Warm

September 25, 2021

Every winter, we see a freeze-out somewhere.  That’s when the power goes out, and the temperature outside stays below the freezing point for more than a day which can be catastrophic if you’re not prepared.  Whether you’re watching this video now because your power just went out in the middle of a winter storm or you’re preparing for the coming winter, this video will examine the six things you can do now. 

Radiate Warmth

The first key to survival is to radiate warmth.  When the power goes out and the temperature drops, you need to maximize radiant heat sources.  Something as simple as a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag can increase your core temperature considerably.  On that note, the second the power goes out, fill every available thermos and pot with hot water from your water heater.  Not only will this provide you with some radiant heat, but you will also have water should pipes freeze, or the flow of water to your house stops.  

If you haven’t already prepared a pile of wood, now may be a good time to do so if you have a fireplace.  If you don’t have a fireplace, that’s fine as  something like a Mr. Heater can put off enough warmth in a small space to make things bearable.  If you have one, be sure to stock up on the propane bottles to fuel these.  If you do use it, be sure to crack a window and probably best to have a Carbon Monoxide alarm nearby in the same room, just to be safe.  Personally, I wouldn’t sleep with one of these on in a room unless I’ve got solid ventilation.  Also, with any flame source, make sure to have a fire extinguisher handy.  

A far better solution would be a small personal low-wattage electric heater combined with a generator or backup portable power station, such as a solar generator.  If the individual low-wattage electric heaters all pull too many watts for your portable emergency power station, consider the radiant heat from a simple heating pad.  This will only draw 50 watts, so it’s not a significant drain on your resources, especially if you can replenish your batteries via solar.  What it will give you, though, is an excellent radiant heat source that easily fits under clothes or in sleeping bags.  You will be surprised at how many degrees it will raise ambient temperatures in a sealed and contained environment.

If you can warm water for tea, hot drinks, soups, and stews, you will more easily maintain an average body temperature.  You will also be able to fill a hot water bottle and create a personal radiating heat source for yourself that can last for hours.  

I debated discussing using candles with a terra cotta flower pot tea light radiant heater, heating rocks on a bbq grill outside and bringing them in, and a few other methods, but all of these introduce potential risks, especially if you’re trying them out for the first time.  The options we just outlined here are simple, relatively inexpensive, and if you prepare enough in advance, they’ll keep you warm.

Sealed small room with a tent

The second key is to keep your heat in and the cold out.  Immediately after the power goes out, seal off windows and doors with plastic sheeting and duct tape.  Place a rolled towel at the crack below each door.  Isolate yourself to one room, preferably a smaller room, that you will seal up.  Remember, a smaller space will be much easier to warm up and keep warm.  You also want to create a smaller space within that small space.  That may mean pitching a tent or building a makeshift fort out of blankets, tarps, and a table and chairs.  A tent will help maintain a climate within the room’s climate and double insulates you from the outside cold temperatures.  Adding a small radiant heat source into your tent or fort will keep the temperature up even more.

Turn your actual sleeping space into a multiple-layer bed.  This is the oldest method of keeping warm, layer upon layer of sheet, blanket, furs, or whatever.  The more layers on top of you with a few below you, the easier it will be to retain your heat.  If you know you are in an area susceptible to cold weather, you absolutely need to get a quality sleeping bag such as a mummy bag.  If you can stay in your contained space within your controlled room, you will easily be able to retain your body heat.  Be sure to not sleep directly on the floor, but put a blanket or pad under your sleeping bag.  Sleeping directly on the floor in a sleeping bag will pull the warmth off your body.  

Dress Better

The third key to surviving the temperature dropping is to dress appropriately for the extreme conditions you face.  Anyone who lives in a cold climate will tell you the same thing– layer up.  You want water-wicking top and bottom base layers in lightweight and mid weight fabrics.  You will want a midweight fleece jacket, wind or rain jacket, pants, glove liners, mitts or gloves, a scarf, sock liners, skullcap or another cold-weather hat, thick socks, insulated boots, and maybe even insulated coveralls.  You will have to experiment and plan, so you have a range of mobility and a balanced temperature.  You want to be comfortably warm without sweating.  Moisture is your enemy when it’s cold, so be careful not to allow sweat to build under the layers as you’ll create a new problem.  You can remove layers to get your personal temperature dialed into the correct comfort zone.

Keeping your core temperature stable and warm is of the utmost importance.  Serious brands like North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and many others will put temperature ratings, insulation fill, and other information as a selling point, but serious brands can cost serious money for something you probably won’t have to wear too much, if you don’t live in an overly cold environment.  If cost is a concern, you may consider going to a second hand store and look for a good wool jacket, a fleece, a windbreaker, a secondhand down coat, or similar that you can keep in your closet for emergency situations.  Again, there’s no need to break the bank if you don’t anticipate using it on a regular basis.

Keep the Water Flowing

Many municipal water systems are gravity and pump-fed.  While the water still flows after a disaster because of the gravity, it may cease because the pumps will not be replenishing levels.  When you add freezing temperatures on top of this system, lines can break far away from your home because of expanding ice, effectively leaving you without any water.  

Immediately after the power goes out, fill every sink, bathtub, and container you have with water.  For your containers and any hot water bottles, fill them with hot water and bring them into your isolated room.  These will radiate heat back into the environment.  If a thermos, it will give you warm enough water to make tea or cocoa or a similarly warm drink to keep your core temperature up.

Also, leave all your taps on a slight trickle.  Moving water is more difficult to freeze.  If you know where the main water is in your house, you may want to position a small heater there or even a candle.  Just a little warmth on the pipe may be enough to keep it above freezing.  Right now, however, is the best time to be wrapping any exposed pipes in the garage or under sinks with insulation sleeves.  Foam pipe insulation from your local hardware store and even pool noodles are in plentiful supply right now, and this quick fix on your pipes could save you thousands of dollars later.  

Get your Exercise, But Forget Your Diet

The fifth key to surviving a freeze-out is to engage in light exercise within the first hour of waking up and again in the early afternoon.  Just simply squatting, a few jumping jacks, even marching in place will get your heart rate elevated and your blood circulating.  This will raise your core temperature and keep you warmer for several hours.  

You will also want to throw out whatever fad diet you may be on when the disaster strikes.  Your body will need to burn additional calories to stay warm.  The process of thermogenesis is the production of heat in the body and to encourage this process, there are certain foods you can eat.  Fats and starches are what your body needs to keep its internal furnaces working at maximum efficiency.  Bread, bananas, oats, meat, potatoes, squash, and calorie-dense foods will keep your internal furnaces fired up.  And like hot beverages, hot soups will be a great benefit to keep you warm.

Food & Water

It may seem odd for some that I’m doing a video about surviving a winter disaster when many are still experiencing record high temperatures. Still, it is at this time, long before the threat of a freeze-out, that you should be preparing.  You should make sure that you have enough non-perishable food on hand to last you a minimum of three weeks.  

You should make sure you have the means to rehydrate, cook, and warm that food.  We have a simple propane camping stove we use for camping and I have this on standby along with small propane cans to ensure we can cook or warm up water.

Ensure you have adequate water stored up and bring it into your warmer room, where you are isolating yourself.  This will keep it from freezing and ensure you have a good supply on hand to stay hydrated.  Again, you want at least a 3-week supply.  Many in Texas were surprised during the recent power outage that water stopped flowing into their homes.  Remember, if the pipes freeze or the pumps that get the water to your house no longer operate, you may run out of water.  While you could melt snow for drinking water, this will require valuable energy sources you may need for other purposes.  


Of course, if you have a fireplace, that’s great.  You’re well-positioned.  Make sure it’s clean and ready to go.  Stock up on a couple of boxes of Duraflames or similar logs, so you don’t have to rely on a large wood stack or resort to lumber scraps and furniture.  A 6-lb Duraflame firelog will burn between 3 to 4 hours.  A 9-pack runs about thirty dollars but would provide you 1 to 3 days of continuous burn in a small space, though you won’t need a fire around the clock.  If you have a briquette barbecue, bring the briquettes in and add them into your fireplace a few at a time.  You can deal with creosote buildup after the disaster has passed.  If you do have fires of any kind, make sure to burn them in the morning when heat will be most critical.  You can easily sleep through even bitter cold if you’re well covered in layers.


You can’t rely on energy companies more concerned with profits than properly insulating equipment, and you can’t rely on the government to rescue you after a disaster.  The fact is that our power grid system was built at a time where we just weren’t experiencing so many sustained periods of extreme weather.  Though the sun may still be shining brightly and warmly outside, you should be planning for winter right now.


What are you doing now to prepare for winter?  

And as always, stay safe out there.

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