Emergency Heat - how to survive power outages in the winter

Emergency Preparations: It's COLD Outside!

It's  Cold Out There!

Tips to help you through power outages and during severe weather conditions

Dangerous Heat:

Numerous deaths are associated with our efforts to keep our homes warm during power outages. Fire as well as Carbon Monoxide poisoning present serious and AVOIDABLE risks.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The use of gas-powered appliances, such as generators, and charcoal or gas grills, increases the number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases and fatalities due to improper use of this equipment. Carbon monoxide is known as a “silent killer.” It is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas and is highly poisonous.

Depending on the level of exposure, carbon monoxide may cause:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Chest pains for those with heart disease
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, and lack of coordination
  • Impaired vision
  • Loss of consciousness and, In severe cases, death

Tips and tricks to heat your home SAFELY during a power outage:

    • Insulate Your Home From the Cold: The first step is to insulate everything the best you can to keep as much heat as possible inside the house. Seal cracks around doors and windows with towels and blankets. At Home Depot you can buy window sealing tapes that you wrap around windows and blow dry to vacuum-seal.
    • Limit the area to be heated: Select a space on the "warm" side of the house, away from prevailing cold winds. It's best to avoid rooms with large windows or uninsulated walls. Interior rooms, such as inside bathrooms or closets, probably have the lowest heat loss. Your basement may be another great option in cold weather, because of the heat gain from the earth. Isolate the room from the rest of the house by keeping doors closed, hanging bedding, heavy drapes, blankets, or towels over entryways, or erecting temporary partitions of cardboard or plywood. Hang drapes, bedding, shower curtains, and other insulating items over doors and windows.

Explore alternative heating methods to electric heat:

Examples would be gas ranges or fireplaces (below listed are more options). The least desirable solutions are makeshift heaters, such as charcoal-burning grills, camp stoves, kerosene heaters, or industrial-type oil heaters.  If you must use them, do so only with plenty of ventilation. Below is a listing of alternative heating options - but first, consider the following.

  • If possible, stoves should be connected to a chimney flue. Many older homes have capped stovepipe thimbles in rooms once heated by stoves. You can also remove the nonfunctioning furnace pipe from its flue entrance and hook up your stove or heater in its place. Sometimes a stove pipe can be extended through a window to provide proper venting of gases.
  • NOTE: There are some risks associated with some heating methods. Scroll down or click here to see important safety considerations.
  • Camping Stores are a wonderful place to find gadgets that will take you through these crises times.

Alternative Heating Options:

  • Generators: If you have a generator, obtain fuel. DO NOT store fuels in heated areas. This is particularly true for highly combustible items such as gasoline and kerosene, or even paper. When in use, generators need to be kept OUTDOORS with cables leading into the house and to the appliances they are powering up. It is deadly to operate generators indoors.
  • Portable Power System: A power inverter can be a lifesaver if you need to heat up a formula for your baby or chicks, or have to power up an incubator or hospital cage during an electric outage. This is a small electrical device that converts DC current, from a car cigarette lighter or a battery, into 110 AC current. It enables you to use a common electrical device or appliance in your car or any place that has access to a 12-volt battery. Power inverters can be purchased in a computer store, camping/recreation vehicle stores, marine supply stores, or online - some of them are featured to the right. They cost from $50, for a simple 100-watt unit, to several hundred dollars for large units that will enable you to use electric appliances and provide power for up to 24 hours.
    • The 100-watt unit allows you to heat several normal-sized heating pads. Average heating pads use 25 watts. Wrap these heating pads up in towels and place them in the bottom of a pet carrier or incubator.
    • Accessories: To use this item in your home, you can buy an accessory for the power inverter - a detachable set of miniature jumper cables that cost about $5 to $10. This cable allows you to bypass plugging the power inverter into your car's cigarette lighter and enables you to hook up directly to any 12-volt battery. An extra, fully charged car battery is inexpensive and will work for 6 to 12 hours, depending on what you plug into the inverter and how much electricity that device uses. You can purchase small rechargeable electric batteries that will last for 6 hours each. They are compact, about one-third the size of a car battery, and really add to the portability of your power inverter. They last for years and are well worth the extra cost. Expect to pay between $80 to $100 dollars for one of them.
    • Multiple Batteries: If you anticipate lengthy outages, multiple batteries are recommended to extend the length of time that you can provide power.
    • Larger Units:  If you have larger power requirements, a 400-watt power inverter would be advisable. They cost hundreds of dollars less than a gasoline generator but handle the same electrical capacity.
  • Oil Lamps: It is generally not recommended to use oil lamps around birds. However, you can use them in other rooms, as long as the birds are not exposed to any fumes.
  • Fire Places: If wood logs aren't available, paper "logs" can be made by rolling newspapers or magazines tightly into small log-sized bundles, which can be burned if they are stacked to allow proper air circulation. If the situation gets critical, other burnable wood can be considered, including lumber and even furniture.

  • Gas or Charcoal Grills:
    • For cooking your food, a grill is a great option during an electric outage; however, do not ever use a grill indoors unless it is an indoor grill. Carbon Monoxide is a byproduct of burning charcoal - and in an enclosed environment, it is a deadly gas.
    • Carol Dunn, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at the Bellevue Fire Department, points out that there are risks associated with using an indoor grill if its fan is no longer functioning. Since Carbon Monoxide is not particularly lighter than air, it won't be pulled out of a vent without a working fan. Sound is a good indicator of whether the fans are working.
    • Even though gas grills are used roughly 1.5 times as often as charcoal grills, they were involved in five times as many fires (Ref.: National Fire Protection Association - http://www.nfpa.org)
    • To warm up the house, you can use your outdoor grill to heat bricks or even rocks. These hold heat for quite a while.

Helpful Tips to Keep Warm:

  • "Green" Heat:
    • Great for Outside Flights / Aviaries: Susanne Russo recommends: "A simple and cheap heater can be made by taking any leaves from the yard as well as kitchen table scraps and like items. Place them in a double-layer trash bag, wet the contents until they are slightly damp, then tie the bag closed. Put it in a trash can with a lid. This is my emergency heater for cold weather. The stuff in the bag starts composting and in several hours starts building up heat. Within 24 hours, it can almost get hot to the touch and will radiate heat for a few days. If you have outside aviaries, place the closed trash can in your flights and it will radiate some heat. Another thing that can be used to get the leaves and compost heating up quicker is Compost Starter, which can be found at some nursery and garden supplies."
    • Solar Heat:  An appreciable amount of heat can be gained through large windows on the southern side of the house.
  • Heat Packs / Hand Pocket Warmers: Wrap your pet cages/carriers on the top and 3 sides with bubble wrap or thick towels/blankets. If you use bubble wrap, make sure the bubbles face away from the cage. Most drug stores carry heat packs that you "snap" to activate the heating element. Wrap a couple of them in towels and place them on the bottom of the cage. Make sure your bird can't get in direct contact with the heat pack (or chew on it as the contents are toxic). These heat packs/hand pocket warmers can usually be found in the "camping" section of your local drug store and are really recommended for such emergencies. They only cost a dollar or so and work well for small areas.
  • Rice Packs: Sandra Cadle suggested the following: "Two pounds of rice placed in a pillow case and tied, is not only great for aches and pains but will stay warm for long periods, especially if kept under goose down quilts. Since microwaves differ, start heating - the 1st 2 minutes, then 30-second intervals, thereafter, refrain from getting wet, and be careful not to burn. When my pooch Pinkie sees my rice bag, she’ll lay on it quickly, therefore she has her own rice bag. "

  • Heated Bricks (Please also see below: Gas or Charcoal Grills): If you have a gas oven or fireplace, you can heat bricks up to a high temperature. If you have an electric oven and expect a power outage, you can warm the bricks up as a precaution. Remove the bricks when they are warm but still touchable. Bricks hold warmth for a long time, sometimes days. You can wrap these bricks in towels and warm up your bed or place them under your bird's carrier/cage. You have to make sure that your bird can't actually touch the hot brick. You could place the brick under the grate or even under a metal colander, strainer, or under the cage.
  • Hot water: Filling your bathtub with hot water will help if your power isn't out for long.

  • Beds may be the safest, warmest place. Use of adequate blankets and coverings to trap and conserve vital body heat, and several people in the same bed can share heat.

  • An easy and safe way to warm up your pet's food and water: To warm up your pet's water and food, place a beeswax candle under a container and also under the empty water/food dish to heat it just a little bit. Pour the heated water back into the bird's dish and place the food back into its dish and provide it to your pets. This will give them something warm to eat and drink, which will be comforting during cold spells. If you have access to a car, you can also use a small traveling commuter mug that plugs into a car lighter and will boil clean drinking water or heat the handfeeding formula for chicks that still need to be handfed. These units cost between $10 and $20 and can be purchased in sporting goods/camping stores, or at Macy's or any other stores that sell household gadgets.

  • Chicks:
    • A hot brick or even a hot baked potato can keep chicks warm when kept in an insulated environment, such as a cooler. Wrap the hot brick or the hot potato(s) in aluminum foil and then in a washcloth or hand towel. Bricks and potatoes hold heat for some time. Place another towel over the edge of the cooler so that the lid doesn't close tight, to prevent the chicks from suffocating.
    • Another cyber friend told about her experience of an electric outage in the midst of an icy winter, with chicks in the incubator. She said she was able to save them by putting on several thick sweaters, putting the chicks underneath the sweaters, right up against her warm body, and huddling in the bed underneath a thick comforter. Her body heat was able to sustain the babies until the electricity was back up.



  • Carbon Monoxide Detection:
    • Carol Dunn, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at the Bellevue Fire Department, recommends battery powered Carbon Monoxide detector - to keep you safe during a power outage.
  • Ventilation:
    • Do not burn anything larger than candles in your home without providing adequate ventilation to the outside. All heaters, except electric heaters, should be vented to provide oxygen and to safely remove exhaust fumes, gases and smoke.
  • Generators:
    • Do not ever operate generators indoors, not even in the garage. Operate them outside and connect them to your appliances via cables. There are also ways to connect them directly to your home's electric system, thereby allowing you to run all your appliances as you usually would. Ask a professional for guidance, if this is your choice.
  • Fumes:
    • Toxic gases present a serious danger when there is insufficient ventilation. For safety, provide cross ventilation by opening a window an inch on each side of a room.
  • Someone should always be awake:
    • During these crises situations, it's best to have one person stay awake to watch for fire and to detect other problems, such as fumes. Drowsiness is one sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. If the "watch person" feels sleepy, it may be a sign of poor ventilation. Introducing fresh air into the room may be life-saving.
  • Prepare for Fire Fighting:
    • Set up some firefighting items near your emergency heating device. Dry powder fire extinguishers will put out most types of burning materials. Sand, salt, baking soda or water can be used on most non-oil materials. A tarpaulin or heavy blanket can be used for smothering flames. Post your local fire department's telephone number near your telephone.
  • Discuss emergency procedures with all members of your family:
    • Finally, discuss safety, firefighting techniques and a home evacuation plan with all members of your family.
  • Further Information / Questions: If you have questions about safety or would like to learn more about getting prepared for disasters, please visit www.2resilience.org - a website administered by Carol Dunn, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at the Bellevue Fire Department.

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Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.

GreenAndHealthy.Info strives to maintain accurate and up-to-date information; however, mistakes do happen. If you would like to correct or update any of the information, please send us an e-mail. THANK YOU!