There’s nothing quite like retreating to your warm, cozy home on a cold fall or winter day. But making your home that welcoming can really cost you when the mercury drops. You don’t have to compromise — there are plenty of free and affordable tricks you can employ to make your home feel warmer without bumping up the thermostat, and if a power outage suddenly leaves you without electric heat, there are emergency measures you can use to keep your family safe.
How to Keep Your House Warm Without a Heater
The next time you think it could stand to be a little warmer in your house, try these solutions before you reach for the thermostat dial:
- Run your ceiling fans in a clockwise direction. In summer, you spin your fans counterclockwise to create a cooling downdraft, but in colder months, a clockwise turning fan helps redistribute warmer air that’s lingering over your head.
- Dress in warm clothes. As long as you’re staying in, break out the sweats and slippers. Grab a throw blanket if you need an extra layer.
- Turn on the electric blanket. You don’t need to add more heat to the air if you’re lying in bed or snuggling on the couch. Just be sure your blanket doesn’t have any frayed or broken wires, and remember to set the deactivation timer or turn it off before you fall asleep. You can even use an electric blanket to pre-warm your bed before you get in.
- Use space heaters. If you’re spending time in an especially chilly area of your home, a small space heater can make you more comfortable at a fraction of the cost of your furnace. Always observe safety precautions as indicated by your heater’s manufacturer.
- Be smart about your windows. Draw open the shades on sun-facing windows during the day to get free solar heat, but otherwise keep your windows covered with insulating blinds or heavy drapes. You can apply plastic wrap or bubble wrap to the glass for even more protection from the cold.
- Search for drafts and seal them. Replace old weather stripping around doors and windows if it’s cracked or loose, and use spray foam insulation to seal other cracks and gaps around plumbing pipes.
- Make sure your HVAC vents aren’t blocked. If you have furniture sitting on top of a floor vent, you aren’t heating your home effectively.
- Get your furnace tuned up every year before heating season. Dirty, poorly maintained furnaces heat less effectively while costing you more money.
How to Stay Warm Without Heat or Electricity
Winter winds and storms can bring power lines crashing to the ground, and if your home has electric heat, that can quickly create emergency conditions. If you have a standby generator or a large portable generator capable of supporting your furnace, you may not need to make many adjustments. But if you’re roughing it, use these techniques to stay warm and safe:
- Check for drafts. If you didn’t get around to sealing all drafts properly before your power went out, use rolled-up towels and tape to block them in a pinch.
- Keep exterior doors closed. If you have to go outside, use a door through an enclosed porch or attached garage if possible.
- Gather the family in one room and close the doors to unoccupied rooms. The warmest room is often the one with the least amount of exterior wall exposure.
- Heat your shared space with a propane-fueled heater that is rated for indoor use. If you live in an area where winter power outages are common and you have electric heat, you should always have one of these on hand, along with at least one filled propane tank.
- Build a fire in your fireplace if you have one. Make sure the flue is open and the chimney has been well maintained; a defective flue or a chimney that hasn’t been cleaned in years can be hazardous. If you have a gas fireplace, it will still work even if the electricity is out.
- Drink warm beverages if you have a safe way of preparing them.
- Exercise indoors periodically. Simple cardiovascular exercises like jumping jacks and running in place can warm up your body considerably.
- If it’s safe to go outside, retreat to a parked vehicle as needed and use its heater to warm up.
How Long Will a House Stay Warm Without Power?
Even when the outside temperatures are below freezing, most homes will stay relatively warm for at least a few hours after a power outage that knocks out the heat. The South Central Center for Public Health Preparedness estimates that a well-insulated home can stay warm for up to three days, but there are several factors affecting how quickly any home will cool down:
- Insulation. The quality, condition and thickness of the insulation in your walls — and especially in your attic — has a huge influence on how long your home will retain heat.
- Windows. Gas-filled, multi-pane windows will help hold heat inside, while single pane windows create weak spots that can undermine quality insulation.
- Drafts. Crumbling weather stripping and cracked walls let cold air stream inside.
- Multi-dwelling structures. If you live in an apartment or condo that is part of a larger building, your unit may retain heat a little longer.
- Wind exposure. If you have lots of trees and fencing around your house to help block the wind, heat loss will be slower.
- Sun exposure. The downside to having lots of trees is that they may block the sun. Any sunshine hitting your house will help keep your home warm.
- Outside temperature. The colder it is outside, the faster it will cool off inside.
- Starting temperature. If you think a power outage is imminent, you can give yourself a better starting position by cranking the thermostat a little higher.
Remember, interior rooms will stay warmer longer than rooms with lots of windows and exterior walls.
During a prolonged power outage:
- In the event of a prolonged power outage, you may need to leave your home. Make sure you exercise safety precautions and contact the right people to get your power restored. If you have a vehicle and the roads are safe, head to a public place with climate control or an emergency shelter. If you cannot safely leave by road, call your local authorities for help. To make sure you’re able to call for help, it’s best to have some type of backup battery or charging device for your mobile phone like a rechargeable external battery or a solar or hand-crank charger.