Keeping Warm When The Power Goes Out

kero1You ask and we listen!  Here’s a post from an idea I took from a comment awhile back.  Thanks for the ideas and please keep them coming.


If you live in the north like I do there will come a time when the power goes out and it gets cold in the house.  For those of you who live in the south, 30 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t really count as cold weather.  It can get uncomfortable if the heat goes out, but it’s not that bad.  It gets bad when the temps are in the teens or below zero and your heat system stops producing.

And you don’t necessarily have to be out of power in order to lose heat.  If you forget to pay your heating bill (oil for most people in the Northeast) you might find yourself in the cold.  Or you might get cold if you run out of firewood, or if the furnace malfunctions, and so on.  All of these have happened to me or people I know and believe me, it’s no fun when it gets cold in the house when the outside temp is way below freezing.


Let’s assume that you’ve lost power in your home and it’s going to be in the teens for the next week.  Your mission is to keep your family as warm and comfortable as possible during this time.  If you’re snowed in, or low on funds,  going to a hotel for a few days isn’t going to be an option, so you’d better have a few ideas set aside for just such a scenario.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past to stay warm.


First, figure out what rooms in the house really need to have heat.  When the power goes out I’ll usually just heat a couple of rooms to keep the family warm.  If the rooms I decide not to heat don’t have doors I’ll hang blankets over the doorways to keep the heat where I want it.  For example, if I decide I want to heat the living room and kitchen and maybe a bathroom that’s connected to this area I’ll wall off everything else and just focus on using my heat in those areas.

If the power still hasn’t come on by bed time I’ll open up a bedroom and get it warm enough for the family to sleep in.


Dress warm.  Get out your long johns and wool sweaters and socks.  The more clothing you wear the less you’ll be bothered by the cold inside your house.

Heat Sources

What kind of alternative heat sources are out there?  Luckily there are quite a few.  First of all, don’t depend on electric heat sources because they won’t do you a bit of good if the power goes out.  Make sure you read the instructions on whatever it is you decide to use for heat, so you don’t accidentally kill yourself and your family.

Kerosene heaters – these are an excellent source of heat when the power goes out.  I always have at least five gallons of K1 standing by along with a kerosene heater or two.  I’ve used both types of heaters shown in the pictures here.  The round one throws much more heat than the square one.  Make sure the wicks are in good shape and burn them occasionally to make sure they don’t need anything in the way of maintenance.  This is a radiant heat source, so be careful if you have pets or kids because they will get burned if they touch it.  My oldest daughter got a nasty burn on her arm when she was about eight or nine playing near one.

Make sure you vent the room(s) you’re burning this in though because it can emit some powerful fumes, especially if the wick is dirty.  If it’s cold outside these heaters won’t make you feel like you’re in a sauna, but will help take the edge off.  Some people are more sensitive to the fumes than others and can develop headaches if not vented properly.  Having said that I used one of these in a camper for about two years during the winter months and never had any bad side effects from it.  I kept the little vent above the heater open and it worked beautifully for me.

Propane heaters – take a five gallon tank of propane like the one attached to your grill and get one of the small propane heaters that attaches to it and you’ve got yourself a nice little heat source.  These burn a lot cleaner than K1, but you should still vent them.

Wood stoves – if you heat with wood you’re pretty well good to go.  Just make sure you have enough fire wood standing by and if the power goes out you might not even notice the electricity is gone until you go to turn the lights on.    Then it’s just a matter of getting your lantern out!

I recently did a post on a military wood stove I use in my tent and if necessary I could hook something like this up in the house in case of an ongoing emergency.  I wouldn’t want to use it a long time, but for a short duration emergency it might save the day.  It’s big enough to heat a room or two and that’s all I’d need.

I’ll mention pellet stoves here.  A pellet stove is an awesome thing to have in your house.  I have one and love it; however, if the power goes out they are useless unless you can hook them up to a generator of some kind.

 Generator – a generator is a good choice if it’s big enough because you can run a good bit of your house along with the furnace or pellet stove.  I have a 5600 watt gennie, which can run the lights, water pump, furnace, freezer and refrigerator, and a few other odds and ends in the house.  The things I can’t run are the electric stove and the dryer.

This would be good for as long as you can get fuel for it.  When they’re running under load they can suck up fuel pretty fast, so be prepared for that.  I don’t think a generator would be ideal for a long term SHTF event, but it would get you by a few weeks if the power was out.  Years back during the ice storm up here power was out for some folks for a month and those people who had generators were the ones you wanted to visit.

Another thing about these is that during that ice storm people were stealing generators while they were still running.  No joke!  If you do get one I’d suggest making sure that it doesn’t walk off by chaining it to your house, or something equally substantial.

One last note:  do not use this inside your home!!  Every year I hear about someone who set one of these up in their basement and died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Where you live obviously has an impact on which type of heater to use.  For example, if you’re on the 24th floor of a high rise in downtown Manhattan you’re probably not going to opt for a wood stove.  Maybe a small kerosene heater with a little fuel set aside might be a better option for you.

If you live in the country like I do a wood stove is the perfect way to heat.  (Although I heat with a pellet stove.)  Heating with a wood stove has certain logistics required, such as fire wood.  This takes up a certain amount of space and if you’re cutting it and splitting it yourself there’s some noise and mess involved.  You can tell it’s fall in Maine because you hear the chainsaws firing up from all the neighbors – all three of them.

I grew up with a wood stove in the house and my father used to take us out in the woods to cut down and limb the tree, carry it back to the truck (sometimes in the snow), then take it home where we cut, split and stacked it.  You truly learn to appreciate what goes into keeping your family warm when you do firewood this way.

What other ways can you think of to hear your home in the winter months if the power goes out?

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor


29 comments… add one
  • Roseman November 22, 2013, 8:38 am

    When we were growing up in a small city, my father and uncles ran/owned a fuel delivery, heating and plumbing business. We obviously heated with oil. When I was old enough to drive the trucks, we were selling it for 16.9 cents/ gallon.
    My wife and I moved out of the city in 1978 to rural property with several acres of hardwood. I bought a Vermont castings Defiant and am still using it. Processing firewood is labor intensive but I like to do it anyway.
    In 1984, we bought our 5500 Homelite generator which we still use when the power goes out. Our transfer switch allows us to operated everything but the kitchen stove, central air and clothes dryer.

  • NC Mtn Man November 22, 2013, 11:00 am

    Enjoyed the article, thank you. Very informative, as usual. I have used most of the items you describe, particularly the kerosene and propane heaters.

    I am currently deciding which generator to get for the future, leaning towards a Kubota 11000…Expensive, I know, but I should never need another one. I’m using a Generac portable propane 3750 watt backup the moment. I think diesel is the way to go for the long term.

    Thanks again.

  • Pineslayer November 22, 2013, 11:17 am

    Wood burner here. Since I cut trees all summer, we burn with impunity. I would recommend that if you do not have a wood stove and have the structure to install one, get one. Nothing can do what they can when the power goes out. Heat, cook, heat water for bathing, and a little light if you have a glass door. We burn around 4-5 cords a year and the house is always warm. Sometimes I am opening a window just to cool things down, because I just keep adding logs so that I don’t have to start a new fire later. If we had to buy wood it would cost us 1K a year to heat, that’s not too bad. We have neighbors who think that burning wood is too messy and use propane, they spend thousands and have to keep the thermostat low. Our house came with a propane boiler, works great, but is an energy hog. Lastly if you install a wood burner, be opportunistic when gathering fuel. It should be a chore that occurs 365. I have friends who start calling in October for some cheap wood when we tell them every year that the cheap wood was gone in July. We try to set people up with discount stuff, sometimes free, off of our job sites, but they just don’t want to think about it in the summer. I will never understand that mindset. It is like going to look for a job because the rent is due next week.

    • poorman December 4, 2013, 10:25 am

      With you on the wood stove. I burn about 3-4 cords a year which figures to about 800.00. ( I just don’t have the time to go cut my own right now) If I ran my house heater the gas would run about 300.00 a month or about 1500.00 a year and still wouldn’t work for a power outage situation. Since we lose power several times a year ( was out for 9 hours 2 weeks ago ) I would never depend on anything but wood.

  • TMM November 22, 2013, 11:39 am

    well, we live on a boat and currently use electric with a teeny tiny wood stove for back up… you have to feed it every 15 minutes and not let it get too hot or it affects the fiberglass… almost not worth it…

    BUT.. we are looking to moving to a different one that has this:
    about 1 to 1.5 gallons a day on full burn, less if you turn it down/limit use. the only thing it needs is a small 12v pump to move the fuel, which takes very little battery power. Easily used on a solar system.

  • Ray November 22, 2013, 11:40 am

    The EPA says they are going to outlaw all wood stoves that “don’t meet current standards” they further state that they want ALL “older model” stoves “turned in” to be destroyed. Keeping your old wood stove would be a federal crime. You’ll need a federal permit to have a woodstove and that stove will be heavily regulated. They will become the ornamental toys of the very wealthy , NOT something used to heat your home or cook with. Add to that ; King Obama I is shutting down all the “old/ dirty” coal fired power plants just in time for what may be the worst winter in memory here in the Midwest . Oh! They(the EPA) are going to include fireplaces , outdoor fires, pellet stoves, coal stoves, corn stoves and “other forms of carbon pollution” in the new “rules”.

  • R.C. November 22, 2013, 12:07 pm

    I have 2 of the round kerosene burners and love them for what they do. In the winter time, because I don’t have a heated garage, I light one up when I am out there working. Puts off enough heat for my needs.

    As for the fumes, I will say that if you take the heater outside, fire it up, and wait until it’s at the settings you want, you will eliminate most of the fume issues when you bring it back inside to heat things up.

    Otherwise you’ll need electric heat, or some type of oil radiator if you want to so “scent-less”. None of the other heating choices offer that. :)

    • Jarhead Survivor November 22, 2013, 1:48 pm

      Good point, R.C. I do the same thing when I light mine.

  • irishdutchuncle November 22, 2013, 1:44 pm

    I need a couple good hoses (propane) and then I’ll be in good shape for a while. I have a small Mr Buddy, and a Coleman propane camp stove. (Kero is out of the question until I can get out of this apartment) I would like to get a marine or RV gas range, sometime, so there could be an oven.
    knowing that you need to prepare for this is half of the battle. you need to plan ahead for the woodstove chimney, hearth and backboard. you need to plan ahead for your plumbing: how to drain the system. how do you shut everything off if a pipe bursts, etc. you need antifreeze for the toilet, bathtub and sink traps.

    it would also be a good idea to have sand, tire chains and extra gas for the BOV, in case you can’t make things work where you are.

  • Novice November 22, 2013, 2:53 pm

    I have a natural gas fireplace so I’m not too concerned about a power outage. Instead of a generator I opted for a 2000w power inverter for the car. I know I won’t maintain a generator like I need to and it won’t start when I really need it. My cars on the other hand get driven daily. The downside is that you can only run one large item at a time. I ran too much once and burned up the alternator in my van (luckily I had just replaced it so I got it swapped out under warranty). I wired my furnace so that all I have to do is plug it into the inverter and I’ve got heat. I would have to switch off with the refrigerator and freezer and sump pump depending on the situation but everything is doable in rotation. The inverter has the added advantage of no noise, using the gas that’s already in my car’s fuel tank, no large storage needed, and no maintenance.

    • irishdutchuncle November 22, 2013, 3:02 pm

      …you must have some heavy duty wiring in order to make that work. what are you using for an extention cord?

  • JAS November 22, 2013, 3:36 pm

    These heaters are great. We lived in Maine during the ice storm of 98 and went 4 days without power. Yes we were some of the lucky ones, with only 4 days. At that time we didn’t have a wood stove, so we set our Kerosene heater up in the family room and everyone pretty much lived in that room. After that we always kept the heater and 4 five-gallon cans of kerosene on hand, even after we installed a wood/coal stove. One suggestion, buy several of the wicks ahead of time and keep them handy, because when SHTF everyone is running out and buying them to replace the old dry one in the heater. After you use it, make sure to follow instructions on burning it dry and cleaning the wick.

  • Larry Bailey November 22, 2013, 6:53 pm

  • Ray November 23, 2013, 5:51 am

    Let me ask a question, What are y’all going to do WHEN the EPA orders you to turn in your alternative heating device(stove) for “proper disposal”? Ignore them and face possible SWAT raids? Comply and freeze? Comply with the new “rule” (it’s a done deal) and buy a “stove” that costs three times as much as the old ones and heats half as well? What do you do for OPSEC when the smoke from your chimney is the only thing needed to prove you are in “violation”? How do you hide a full winters wood?

    • irishdutchuncle November 23, 2013, 3:42 pm

      yeh, it doesn’t sound good.
      at least this will get everyones minds off their “free healthcare”.

  • Cheryl MacKenzie November 23, 2013, 10:13 am

    Jarhead and company –

    Thanks very much for posting and sharing suggestions. I have no experience with real ice, but my 2 cents suggestion is to include 2 disposable diapers and a cooking bag in your kit. Wet one diaper a little, soak the other. Put in the cooking bag and put on a heat source (fireplace, generator, car) or microwave 20 seconds. Wrap in a towel. Use for an arthritis wrap, or an all night warmer.

  • Steve suffering in nj November 23, 2013, 12:03 pm

    That’s a pretty good idea. I do something similar when camping in the extreme cold. I heat rocks in the fire. Let them cool down and place them under my jacket. Obviously you need to be careful and use some common sense or you will burn the crap out of yourself. Always wondered how to apply that method for indoors. Good idea thanks.

    As for wood stoves yes two thumbs up. Installed mine about 7 years ago. Our oil bill is about 3-500 a year with a 250 dollar service contract.

    Let me clarify, it’s not a wood stove it’s a woo burning insert. We originally had a fire place and not enough room for a free standing stove. For those not familiar with an insert its exactly as it sounds. Fire place comes out insert goes in stove pipe up the chimney. Fits almost flush to the wall.

    Downside it had an electric fan to circulate air around it. Power out no fan. To combat the loss of heat with out the electric fan I remove the stove door and put a fireplace screen over the opening. Works almost as well as the fan.

    So for people with a fireplace and limited room the insert is a great way to go. Spend a little more $$ and get a good one. The cheep ones from tractor supply and such don’t heat as well. Can’t comment on good models less my own which is a regency.

    Burn about 4-5 cords a year. For back up I have a Mr Buddie propane heater. Got 4 BBQ grill sized tanks on stand by for fuel.

    • Pineslayer November 23, 2013, 12:57 pm

      Suffering Steve, my neighbor had a similar issue with his house. To install an actual wood stove he set it outside the fireplace, lining it up so he could put a T at the flue. One end went outside with a cap and the other end to the stove. Makes cleaning very easy, which is the biggest downside of trying to put a stove in a fireplace hole. Keep the pipe length and cap on the outside to a minimum and insulate it . It does encroach on the space, but…

      • Steve suffering in nj November 23, 2013, 4:41 pm

        Thanks Pineslayer. Thought crossed my mind to do something similar. Unfortunately, the rooms just too small to accommodate .

  • smokechecktim November 23, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I installed a soapstone wood burner several years ago. Its vented thru a fireplace flue and is really efficient! You can watch the fire through the glass front, Open it up to get the real fireplace conditions or turn down the vent and with just a few pieces of wood, keep the living room/ dining room area warm all day….well part of the day. A ceiling fan helps send heat throughout. You can heat soup/tea/whatever on the top too. We just had our first snow of the year last night. Not a lot like certain folks in iowa or maine (5″) but a lot for us socal people. Heating some tomato soup on the wood burner right now.

  • Chuck Findlay November 23, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Years ago when I had a lot less money then I do now I used a kero heater (2 of them) to heat my mobile home. Never again, they stink and impart that smell into everything in the home. You go to a restaurant and all people around you can smell kerosene. It took several years before clothes, books, furniture and almost everything else stopped smelling like kerosene. I have moved from there and now use propane and wood as my heat. Yes wood can impart a smell, but it’s not nearly as unpleasant as kerosene.

  • Tolik November 23, 2013, 5:18 pm

    Super important …….just make sure everything you have is in working order . When the power went out several years back , a family in Biddeford was using a propane heater ……..their house burned to the ground , just three days before Christmas because of bad placement .

  • Captain H November 23, 2013, 8:58 pm

    I am a retired fire captain and a few years ago those kerosene heaters were all the rage here in central Arizona. We ran into a lot of problems because they give off a lot of sulfur dioxide. When you inhale the SD it mixes with the moisture in your lungs and creates sulfuric acid. You eventually accumulate much too much fluid in the lungs and find yourself in a world of medical hurt. If you live in a high humidity area the sulfur dioxide attaches itself to the moisture on the item and if it is metal, the corrosion is phenomenal. If you ventilate the area properly, you allow a lot of cold air into the heated space and negate the effect of the kerosene heater. Use these ONLY as a last resort… Be careful out there!

    • Hill Billy November 24, 2013, 3:42 am

      My parents used these things for years in OH, stopped because mom couldn’t drag the kerosene around anymore, and have never had a problem as you describe.

  • EagertoLearn November 24, 2013, 9:41 am

    My parents have a wood insert and a stove pipe that goes up the chimney. A very good investment and they have used it for 25 years. They have it cleaned and serviced by professionals each year especially since it has some age on it. Never had a problem……..Don’t take chances ……..Have help saved on electrical bills.

  • irishdutchuncle November 26, 2013, 1:14 am

    …and don’t forget to use your sleeping bags.
    set up “camp” in the room with the space heater, or use them in the bedrooms under blankets and comforters.

  • poorman December 4, 2013, 10:40 am

    I use a wood stove (sitting in front of it right now eating a big plate of biscuits and gravy) but have been in situations where I didn’t have this. I found a Coleman lantern puts of an amazing amount of heat if you are running one. You can also turn on the burners of your stove (if you have gas) to get at least the kitchen toastie warm. I have propane bottles with heater attachments also if needed and sometimes use them in the winter in my work shed. I always believe in having multiple sources for everything if possible.

  • awatkinson March 10, 2015, 12:16 am

    Buddy heaters are great. Had 3 major winter power outages in 30 years. The last was 2 weeks ago. Little Buddy with 2olb propane tank. Two days, three good sized rooms/ tank at 9000 BTU. Zero odor. Coleman propane stove with another tank great in kitchen. Can put light on top of Coleman camping L. Heat, light, just supply food, water.

  • J. ski August 6, 2015, 5:53 pm

    As we have a gas furnace, the gas is available during a power outage, however, there needs to be a power source for the fan, switches, and thermostat to function. I built a backup system for the furnace only, that switches from AC to battery backup using an inverter. It includes an indicator lamp that shows me when the AC power is back on, and a reset switch to reset the battery backup electronics to off. A small battery charger, on a timer, keeps the battery at peak levels during non-use. I calculated that I would get about a day and a half of available usage to keep the furnace running.
    LED lanterns are great for lighting…just keep plenty of batteries on hand for extended outages.


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