Staying Warm Without Central Heat

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?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Valuable information, but probably unnecessary for most, as I think many people will be burning in hell this winter…


Woodstove for sure. I have used a woodstove as my primary heat for the past 12 years. It makes sense when you have a wood lot and plenty of free time. If you dont, buying wood still makes sense from a preparedness standpoint because wood is local. Its not a global industry dependent on geopolitical uncertainties, shipping, or market speculation. There’s usually a local guy who cuts and delivers wood from his lot to make some extra cash.


Trust is the first thing to go...

Wool hats, wool socks (can sleep with both), wool shirts, wool vests. All are much warmer than clothes made of synthetic materials. I live in Bozeman, MT, and I wear long-sleeved wool shirts almost exclusively in the winter.


For staying warmer indoors, long underwear, heavy socks, and warm footwear (to insulate your feet from cold floors) make a big difference.
Microwavable rice bags are also a treat when it’s cold . You pop them in the microwave to warm up for a minute or 2, then throw them in your bed to take the cold out of the sheets. They also are wonderful under your lower back if it is feeling achey.


Odd alot of these require power, if you have power, heat shouldn’t be too hard.
If you have a natural gas or propane furnace you can get a small transfer panel for just that circuit to run it off a generator. Bonus if you have a tri-fuel generator to connect to the gas line.
Also a big buddy heater is cheap and super effective.


My goto for cold hands. Flip the top back over fingers not used on the keyboard. Any combination of fingers can be exposed. Stock up now, but you can easily make them.


I live in a coastal temperate zone. It is rare to have temperatures below zero. There is no concern for pipes freezing. The ground never freezes and frosts in my specific location are a rarity.
I decided to do an experiment this year, to see if I could live without using the electric baseboard heaters in my 1200 sq. ft. condo. I have long observed that no matter the season, my home seems to maintain a constant temp in the 15-20 C range - very livable! Dressing warmly in layers works wonders, as does having hot tea and foods. The coldest night thus far has been 6 C, and the interior temp was 16 C. In the evenings I usually light about 8 tea lights in various jars in the main living area, while keeping bedroom doors closed. The candles can raise the temp by 2 degrees, and also make for a nice atmosphere. I have a wood burning fireplace, and while I know a lot of heat goes up the chimney, it does really warm the place up well when I use it.
So far so good! While electricity costs are not huge for my circumstances, winter heating seems to be what bumps up the monthly average cost. So it will be interesting to see how this works out, cost wise, and comfort wise. More than anything, it will be good to know I can survive and be just fine without a main heat source.
In the event of a grid down scenario I do have back up sources for power including a Jackery 1000W generator with solar panels, a gas generator, and multiple ways of cooking food, with good supplies of the necessary fuels for all equipment.
It will be fun to see if I can go through the winter without turning the heat on!


It can get cold here in Interior Alaska, -40 for a few days. (but not a few weeks at a time like a couple of decades ago) We love our woodstove, it’s just a different kind of heat than the baseboard heat, much cozier! And we’ve got one (a blaze king, great stoves) that is efficient and we can cook on top of in a pinch.
That said, I think it’s less a grid down, all the oil is gone scenario that is most challenging, but instead an issue of cost. I think heating fuel will likely still be available, if you can afford it. Our borough (=county) offers free and discounted energy audits and they can save people a ton of money, often times by finding things you wouldn’t think of. The energy audits (a person comes to the house and tests for air leaks among other things) offer amazing financial returns even if you have to pay something for them upfront.


There is nothing better on a dark cold night.


I have seen these itsy-bitsy wood stoves mentioned for heating a tent.
15" x 20" x ?? $349 20#

Since I am now in an apartment I have been thinking about it. Would have to vent the smoke through an opening in a high window or something.
Any one tried a little stove like this?

Bozeman is cold, but my hometown of Butte is brutal. Glad I live in the tropics of North Idaho now.

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These pewter lamps don’t push out much heat, but do provide a few BTU’s if the power goes out. I almost look forward to using them when our power goes out.

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We usually use heated tents (my friend has an arctic oven, amazing tents) that have a small wood stove in them when we go winter hunting. They heat a tent really well, but they absolutely have to be vented carefully, you can’t burn them too hot or the bottom will burn through eventually (usually when you least expect it), and they don’t hold a great seal (you can’t easily control the air flow like a regular wood stove) so you usually have to stoke them (add wood) every 90 minutes or so. I would be terrified to use one in an apartment or house.
edit: They do make small wood stoves for inside dwellings. I don’t have any experience with them but if they’re designed to be used in buildings they should be safe? (if properly vented, which is essential of course)


I know that this doesn’t help most people but about 20 years ago we had a house with a large basement. It was 10 to 15 degrees warmer that the house in the winter and 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the summer. It took only the smallest space heater to make it toasty warm and if we had 4 or 5 people down there you didn’t even need that.
If you are looking to move I would seriously look for property with a basement. Ours had window wells and I always made sure to circulate air as often as possible.
On those really hot days everyone would come over and we would go down into the basement for relief…of all sortes.


As we go deeper into the grand solar minimum there’s going to be more polar vortexes, and overall colder winters. The winter in the N. Hemisphere last year was unusually long, and had notable extreme cold snaps within it in N. America, Europe, and China. Do people recall the polar vortexes, killing of major crops such as a big percent of France’s wine crop, and snow storms in the U.S. as late as the end of May? This winter is setting up for more of that. China has already been getting an early polar vortex which will likely oscillate to N. America in the next 2-3 weeks. If so, that means there could be unusually low temperatures across all of the US. The event in Texas last year was a tragedy as they were completely unprepared for the supposed once in 100 year event. People might want to take a good inventory of vulnerable pipes which could need extra insulation or heat to keep from freezing. Just because one lives in the south does not provide immunity from freezes, and ironically the risk can be much more than those who are prepared in the north. I think most people should be prepared for very cold temperatures all the way around: houses, layers of clothes from head to toe, (SAFE) heating devices, etc. There are two things I can’t stand being: 1) truly hungry as in no access to food to provide adequate nourishment (have experienced it and I think most people would have very different views in life from such an experience), 2) being bitterly cold.
Btw, how many people caught the tidbit of news that the Antarctic had its coldest winter ever this year? That was a little inconvenient truth that wasn’t widely reported in the MSM because it didn’t go along with mainstream narrative that the world is going to burn to hell this next year. Yes, last summer the western US was extremely hot, but the rest of the country was cool. What’s going on? Solar minimums cause the earth’s magnetosphere to be weak which leads to great oscillation of the jet stream. The jet stream becomes much more wavy, and dips much further towards the equatorial direction. This results in what we saw last year in Texas (Europe & China), and what’s going on in China now. Also, the jet stream oscillates further towards the poles as well which brings warmer temperatures in the pole direction. This is a big reason why there’s been large extremes of temperatures around the globe the past two years.


Living in East Texas, I was in that very unexpected zero-degree freeze, grid down, last winter. I hadn’t stocked up on wood for the fireplace insert—and with no electricity, the fan wouldn’t work to blow the heat into the living room anyway. It was nearly useless.
I had figured on propane heat. I had bought a Comfort Glow heater that accepts a 20 pound propane bottle and has three plaques. It’s supposed to be for heating at job sites and such, not in a house. But my money says that most of them are used in homes.
Anyway, it was a lifesaver. It costs about $100, depending on where you buy it.
I have seven tanks at the ready, but I cut a bunch of wood as well.
Can’t say enough about that heater though.


Yes to houses with basements! It’s been a “must” on my house list for a long time for just that reason - stable 50 degrees or so.

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In the event of long term disruption in energy supply, like a total shtf scenario, folks living where it snows heavily could make igloos to sleep in. I’m a southern man, but I spent three weeks in the Cascades in January and February in the Okanogan National Forest. National Outdoor Leadership School. Pasaytan (sp?) Wilderness Area. We built igloos. SO warm compared to bivouac. Zero air movement and a constant 40 degrees F with three people inside. Downright toasty compared to what was outside. Have to vacate it during the day so it can re-freeze. It’ll fall apart if you stay in it day and night—so build one for day use and one for sleep.
no matter how cold it gets outside, the igloo will stay around 40 degrees if people are inside. A single candle is all the light you’ll need.