Friday, March 1, 2013

Keeping warm

Our favorite heat source
In an emergency situation in winter, such as power loss, it's important to keep warm. If you're like us, you have a wood stove and a supply of cut wood on hand for heating things up. Not everyone does, though, nor is it possible for those who live in apartments or condos. So what are the options for keeping warm, safely?

Dry wood is good (1)
Alright, so wood is always the first option I mention. Larger wood stoves, such as our Franklin style pictured above, or old fashioned wood cook stoves can be used for heat and for cooking. There are smaller backpacking versions, too. If you're able to have one hooked up and ready to go, it will make your life a lot easier in case of a power outage. In inclement winter weather, you can even get your wood stove going in advance of problems, so that if you lose power you're already ahead on keeping things warm.

Just lighting up the wood stove isn't enough, though. There's a reason that stories like the Little House series and the Anne of Green Gables books always mention the flying leap into the bed at night in the winter. That's because in the era of wood heat, you didn't heat rooms that weren't used. A bedroom comes equipped with lots of blankets and a sleeping cap, so there's no real reason for heating it. You heat kitchens and parlors, where people spend time throughout the day.

If you've seen old houses, you will notice that all the doorways either have, or are capable of having, doors in them. They aren't just passageways, as in modern homes. This is because those doors were used to keep heat where it was most needed and wanted. You might opt to open doors and heat bedrooms slightly just before retiring for the evening, but it's unlikely that you'd do so during the day. This is true in an emergency situation as well.

Whether you are heating with wood or some other method, it's important to close off the area in which you'll be staying. If there are no doors to close, hang blankets or sheets up over doorways, and be sure to cover or tape over any windows or doors that are allowing in colder air. Duct tape is a wonderful emergency tool, because you can easily cover over the cracks above and below doors for the duration, and remove it afterward.

While electric stoves won't work during a power outage, gas stoves will continue to work until you run out of fuel. Electric starters will no longer function but you should be able to start the gas and then light it with a match or long-reach lighter. Camp stoves, too, can be used for emergency cooking, as can the burners on the side of your barbecue grill. Be aware, though, that you should not use gas stoves for heating your home. Carbon monoxide can build up and smother you very quickly. A battery operated CO alarm can be a life-saver, warning you if the CO levels become dangerously high.

There are a variety of small personal heaters available on the market. HeatMax hand warmers are an example of ones to wear close to your body. If you know an emergency will be of short duration, this type of heating device can make a huge difference. If your emergency will be longer, though, it's important to consider other options.

Tents hold in heat (2)
If you find yourself without heat in the winter and you have no access to a wood stove or other non-electric device, you still have options. As mentioned above, smaller spaces are easier to heat. Set up a tent in your living room and pull in blankets and pillows. The smaller space will heat up much faster, and keep you from freezing. The hints for winter campers in Backpacker Magazine are quite useful even in the house, and will help you sleep better. When used with extreme caution, a single candle can bring up the temperature in a tent by several degrees (for a fairly safe and efficient version, check out this how-to on making a candle heater!).

If you don't happen to have a tent on hand, try draping sheets and blankets over a table, and crawling underneath. Use whatever you have on hand to trap your heat inside the smallest space possible for you and those with you. Foil "space blankets" work wonders when combined with blankets or jackets. 

Keeping warm is something your body will attempt to do on its own. Even sitting and doing very little will cause you to lose calories as your body stokes its furnace. If you find yourself getting very cold, eating a bit of high calorie food such as cheese or chocolate will get the furnace burning again, and help maintain your body temperature.

For optimum comfort, dress in layers. There will be times when the sun hits your home and it warms up considerably. Be ready to shed one or two layers and take advantage of that passive solar heat. Open curtains on the sunny side of the house and allow the light to shine in and raise the ambient temperature. Keep your head covered, especially while sleeping. We lose a lot of body heat through our heads, and a night cap will do wonders. Any wool or microfiber hat will do, or even a scarf wrapped around the head like a turban.

The most important thing in any emergency is not to panic. Be prepared, as much as you can be, and have at least an idea of what you will do to last it out. No one can be ready for everything, but if you've spent time thinking about the most likely scenarios, you'll do fine!

Shared at the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #22.

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1) Image by digitaldundee / morgueFile
2) Image by Kenn W. Kiser / morgueFile