Each MidWestern winter brings with it the threat of power outages, which could mean a lack of ability to keep warm inside our homes, increasing the danger of hypothermia in both young and old.
Although power outages generally occur with little warning, thankfully, there are some ways that one can prepare not only for winter, but also for winter storms.
To watch an in-depth discussion of the strategies discussed in this blog article, click on the videos below.
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Emergency Heating Equipment
Although a fireplace or a wood burning fireplace can add heat and comfort to a cold home, not everyone has access to these items. So, here are some readily available products, which will provide heat during a winter power outage.
Small, portable, propane heaters, such as the Mr. Heater can be used indoors and are easy to set up. The large Big Buddy model will heat up to 450 square feet.
Run by two, one-pound propane cylinders, a sparking mechanism makes them easy to ignite, while built-in safety features guard against oxygen depletion and the possibility of the unit catching on fire. Additionally, the design of these propane heaters also makes them practical for apartment use.
Though lesser known and not as commonly used, kerosene heaters can provide heat to a fairly large square footage.
We own three sizes and models of kerosene heaters. Two are radiant heaters, designed with a reflective back, which magnifies the heat, radiating it into the room in one direction.
The third is a 10,000 BTU convection heater, with a tall, circular design, which heats equally in all directions.
When properly vented and used for short periods of time, kerosene heaters will not cause a build up of carbon monoxide.
Small Electric Heaters
If you have a back-up gas-powered generator or a larger capacity portable power station, you can power small electric heaters to keep rooms toasty warm.
Our Taotronics tower heater has two power settings, runs at 1500 watts, and rotates to emit heat in a wide arc. It can be powered using our gas generator.
A gas generator will work to run a 1500 Watt electric heater and heat a space that is about 15 X 15 feet.
Our smaller, parabolic Heater used just over 650 watts and is nicely powered using our Oupes 1100 portable power station. It won’t heat as large an area as the Taotronics heater, but it does provide very warm, direct heat for legs and feet.
General Heating Device Tips
Whatever heating source you choose to use, be sure it is hooked up, in good working order, and is properly vented.
Secondly, be sure to consult the owner’s manual and read up on it ahead of time. Finally, make certain you have a good supply of fuel on hand to operate your devices.
A gas generator
Gas powered generators come in a variety of styles with many different configurations of plug ins and connectors. Smaller models will provide basic wattage, which will power the basics: refrigerator, a few lights, and your internet router.
Medium-sized generators, like our Brute, cost about $500 and will allow you to plug in and power more items for longer periods of time. We can run our necessities with the exception of our furnace or central air.
We do have to pick and choose which heavy-duty appliances are run at the same time. For instance, we don’t run the sump pump and wash a load of laundry at the same time. But, for the most part, we can maintain a relatively normal level of lights and power with our generator.
Industrial units will power entire homes or even medical facilities and businesses. These units tend to be run by natural gas (rather than gasoline) and are permanently installed and wired directly into the home, allowing the owner to simply flip a switch and have all their power nearly instantly running off of the gas-powered generator.
A Portable Power Station
We found the Oupes 1100 to be a very helpful, and effective, at-home emergency power supply.
Our Oupes 1100 came with two, 100 watt, folding solar panels for charging using the sun’s light. It can power up to ten devices simultaneously.
I appreciated that it was very intuitive, had a clear, easy-to-understand display, and was lightweight. I had no trouble carrying the 24-pound unit from room to room.
Larry loved that it came with a lithium LifePO4 battery, meaning that it will charge up to 3600 times, giving it significantly more charging longevity than most of its competitors.
We put the Oupes 1100 to the test and gave you the low-down on what it will (and will not) power in this video.
Turning on the Lights
Bring in outdoor solar lights from landscaping or the garden to provide a quick lighting solution if the electricity goes out very unexpectedly. The solar lights will allow you to see while gathering other needed emergency supplies from around the house.
When it comes to seeing in a dark room, the Tough Light is our favorite LED lantern, providing a of light in a small package. It’s also very durable and the battery-life is incredibly long-lasting, meaning you don’t have to charge it as often.
LED flashlights come in a variety of brightnesses and sizes. Small flashlights with a carrying loop can be hung around doorknobs, ensuring that all family members always know where to find a light source when it is dark.
External LED light switches are incredibly inexpensive and can be mounted on any smooth surface. We have several of these lights and love them. They have a traditional “on/off” switch that is just like a traditional wall light switch.
A Danforce headlamp which is secured to your head by a flexible band allows you to free up both hands. The light beam can be adjusted by tilting the apparatus on the front of the headlamp either up or down. This is a super handy option when carrying items, especially if you are going up and down stairs.
In cold weather, keeping warm becomes your number one priority in the event of a power outage. Here are some suggestions for keeping comfortable in the house.
Layering clothing has a significant impact on your ability to retain heat next to your body. Long underwear is a great item to wear. However, in the event that you don’t have any long underwear on hand, layering sweat pants, work out pants, or even panty hose underneath your pants will be a great help to you.
Create a Small, Warm Quadrant
Divide the living space into a much smaller area in which you will sit and sleep. Close doors or spend all your time in a smaller bedroom. This area can also be created by hanging a blanket over doorframes, if needed.
If you have a tent, line the floor with blankets for insulation from the cold air seeping up from the basement or floor and then set your tent up in the room you have chosen to live in until power is returned. High quality sleeping bags rated to zero degrees will keep you warm at night (especially if they are set up inside the tent). Tents can safely be preheated using special candle lanterns. We have used our candle lantern when camping outdoors, but don’t recommend keeping any sort of heating device or flame lit overnight or when not attended.
Dealing with Water and Freezing Pipes
If the outdoor temperatures drop to 20 degrees for more than six hours, pipes may freeze. Here are some methods which may prevent frozen pipes, saving you headaches and a lot of clean up later on.
Wrapping pipes with black foam insulation or rolling on insulated pipe wrap ahead of time is your best preventative maintenance for preserving pipe integrity. If the pipe is just too close to the outside wall of your home to get any insulation around it, you might consider heat cables.
A tried and true method is to simply open cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom. Then, turn on the faucets, allowing a pencil-thick stream of water to run. Ambient room temperature air will warm the pipes, especially overnight when the temperatures dip lower.
Be sure that the sink traps are open, so water doesn’t collect and overrun the sink.
If you will be in the room (and can keep a close eye on the running water) grab cooking pots or a five-gallon bucket to collect the water. This can be used later to flush toilets.
Water may be an issue in the event of a large scale power outage. Pumps at the water plant may not work and if you live with a well, you won’t be able to get any water pressure from the pump.
So, when the possible weather emergency is first announced, it’s a good idea to fill the bathtub and any available pots, pans, and buckets with water before the power goes out.
One final way to guard against frozen water pipes it to shut off the mains in your home. Then, open the spigots on all the faucets and let the water drain out. Drain the entire system, starting from the highest floor and working your way to any sinks in the basement.
By following these suggestions, if your pipes do freeze, the damage will be minimal and you may be able to stop it from happening altogether.
Here are some other emergency and storm-preparedness items which you’ll want to keep in a designated space so everyone knows where to find them.
- A solar powered battery bank will charge small items like cell phones or tablets.
- A portable, hand-cranked radio will keep you up-to-date with any important information you need to know from local radio stations or NOAA weather radio.
- A fully-stocked First Aid Kit is also a good idea.
- A high-quality water purifier will allow you to filter even pond water if needed to stay hydrated.
- Cards, games, and books will help keep the kids busy and happy if the power outage lasts for a number of hours or days.
- Finally, an up-to-date list of pantry supplies will be indispensable in knowing what you have on hand to create tasty meals.
By utilizing all of these tips and strategies, you’ll be able to remain much more comfortable while you wait for the storm to pass and power to be restored.
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