Keeping Warm

by Daisy on 11/06/2009

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If it snows anything like it has been raining in my neck of the woods this year, we are in for a lot of power outages.

Ice is all twinkly and everything and goodness knows there’s nothing like a good snowball fight, but there’s very little fun associated with being stuck in an all-electric house during the dark of winter.

There are many ways to heat without electricity–corn, pellets, wood, coal, even recycled cooking oil. It’s not easy to sort through the heating options for the coming chill. I would love for those of you who have been there to share your wisdom and experience.

Please comment with your favorite ways to heat: your experiences, tips and tricks for keeping the winter at bay.

I’m feeling warmer already.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Tabitha Klucking November 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

We heat with our central air/heat gas with a digital control. We keep it low, though and practically turn it off at night. I invested in down comfortors for every one in the house and warm jammies to prevent freezing at night. Daytime we use the afghans I crocheted and wear our sweaters and slippers. A cup of hot tea or cocoa always helps too.

Granola Girl November 6, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Our heat this year is entirely from our wood fireplace. We had a blower installed and live in a small house (900 sq.ft.) It is more than enough for us and did just fine last year when we were snowed in for three weeks of December. When I know it is going to be a cold night, I usually make bread and soup allowing the house to gain as much heat as possible throughout the day. Knitted wool blankets which will be felted and T-shirt quilts are in the works for next year as well. They not only keep you warm themselves, but the nostalgia helps a bit too.

apollocircle November 6, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I don’t have any science or verification behind this BUT I have found that if I drink danelion leaf tea on a regular basis, the cold doesn’t feel so cold. My feet and hands stay warm and I am generally more comfortable. I don’t know why or how but my daughter and friend who drink it too say the same thing.

Lynn November 6, 2009 at 9:37 pm

We heat with gas and electricity. Last fall I wanted a big kerosene heater. Hubby didnt want one because of the smell. We have ceiling fans for circulation. He balked but we got one anyway! haha. You know I just had that feeling something was gonna happen!
Wouldnt you know it…..The furnace broke down right before xmas, and it was freezing! Guess what kept us warm? Now I want another one……just in case the power goes out or something crazy like that!
Oh ..and we turn it off when the room gets warm and right before getting into bed for the night!

Shannon November 7, 2009 at 6:38 am

We have a wood-burning stove. We’ve skipped a few years using it while my daughter was toddling, but this year it’s coming back in. The first year she was a baby we lost power in the middle of the night in the middle of winter. It was freezing; but we all piled into the living room where the stove was and hung a blanket between us and the rest of the house and slept in the armchairs, nice and cozy. We were very thankful to have it. It seems like every year in the winter the power goes out once or twice…

Naomi November 7, 2009 at 7:28 am

I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve read that putting cayenne powder inside your socks will help keep your feet warm. Guess that’d be kinda messy though! lol

We use a portable propane space heater with a tank connected to it for emergency or supplemental heat. That thing kicks out heat like nobody’s business. Also, I have hung some kind of heavy-ish blanket or something at a door to keep most of the heat in one room, usually the living room. If we have to hunker down in an emergency we have a down comforter and several wool throws to stay warm, wearing however many layers of clothing needed. This was a normal way of life for my family when I was growing up; we kept one main room warm and everyone stayed in there, using blankets hanging at doorways if there was no door to close. Some air escapes through there of course, but it really works to help keep the room warm. Sometimes you just do what you gotta do to survive, you know?

Naomi November 7, 2009 at 7:31 am

Oh, and also, consuming cayenne pepper does help you keep warm by increasing blood circulation, so eat plenty of spicy food! Also, foods like ginger and horseradish.

Wendy November 7, 2009 at 7:42 am

Having lived in a couple very drafty apartments, I am a big believer in both window sealing tape and the window insulation kits where you put up the plastic and shrink it with a blow dryer. My roommate’s bedroom was the coldest room in the place since she had her door shut to keep the cat out. We taped her window and the room temperature rose about 5 degrees in one hour. Draft dodgers and making sure that the door seals are good are also helpful.

MK November 7, 2009 at 8:06 am

I live in a nature conservancy and the electric goes out a lot. During hurricanes we loose it for at least seven to ten days. Ice storms can knock it out for a week. Since there are few people here, our area is on the low priority list for utility repairs.
We have a fireplace insert which works to a degree. Have on hand commercial hand and foot warmers from a survival goods store, solar batteries and solar charger, crank radio. We did have a small battery run tv but since the changeover in tv reception it no longer receives channels. Waiting on the new small tvs to be produced. I have bricks wrapped in aluminum foil ready to be heated on a propane grill and then popped very warm (not burning hot! You don’t want to scorch your bed.) into a denim pocket and put at the foot of the beds at night. You don’t want to do this with small children however. You can heat up the bed prior to night-night, but take the brick out when the child is put to bed. Keeps you pretty warm. Put window quilts on the windows to keep heat in and cold out. And fleece! Lots and lots of fleece pants and tops and wool socks! This is mainly a lights out situation, but can be adapted for just keeping warm and the utility use low.

Susannah Wollman November 7, 2009 at 8:37 am

We lived in the mountains in northern New Mexico for five years, and my favorite way to heat was our wood-burning stove in the corner of our living room. Start it with pine or cedar (soft woods) and then add oak to keep it burning all night. In the morning when you add more wood, you won’t need to add the soft woods again, unless your fire has completely gone out. Now, and here’s the important part, put a huge pot of stew on the top and let it cook all day. The smells will warm your heart!

silverilex November 7, 2009 at 11:26 am

I know it is only a small effort, but on winter days when the heating is off (I only run the heating for an hour in the morning and a couple of hours at night unless it’s extremely cold) we light candles in the fireplace (flue is blocked. Hubby is scared of using a fire to heat). We close the living room door (but open it at regular intervals for ventilation), snuggle up with blankets always kept at hand in the living room and a homemade hot chocolate or herbal tea. The candles keep the chill off the air and lend an ambiance. I use the oven a lot in the winter for baking and cooking. Slippers, sweaters, and a rice or wheat filled warmer heated up in the microwave for a few minutes all help to keep us toasty.

AnnieJ November 7, 2009 at 11:36 am

Last spring I picked up a pair of thermal underwear pants at Sam’s Club for $6.80 and just broke them out this week. Wow, they are comfortable and warm without trapping moisture and making you feel sweaty. Unfortunately, Sam’s doesn’t seem to carry them anymore, and the prices elsewhere are around $20 or more, which is more than I’m willing to pay.

Also just bought a hot water bottle recently; that works nicely to keep me warm while I’m working on the computer.

Ariana November 7, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Wool socks. They are like my secret boyfriend!

Lindsay November 7, 2009 at 8:00 pm

We also have a wood burning fireplace. We didn’t hardly light it last year (our first winter in our home) but my husband installed a blower in it and that fireplace warms up our house, with just a couple hours of good burning up 10-15 degrees! We haven’t needed it much lately as it’s been in the 70’s here, one of the warmest Novembers in our state’s history, but we’ll need it soon enough!

Caroline November 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm

We live in Texas so we don’t get that cold for very long but they do like to charge a pretty penny for the use of natural gas in the winter months so anything helps. “)
We invested in a couple of small oil filled radiator heaters from Lowe’s. They run off of electricity but so far they have been a wonderful blessing and not a big cost. I plan on not using the furnace at all this year if I can. They heat the whole room and not just spots like the blower ones do. Also they are very safe if you have young ones or pets, never getting too hot to the touch. At night I put them in the bedrooms to keep us comfortable using the thermostat on them. And then move them into the living room for the day is needed. So far, I’m in love with them and they do a wonderful job! Also dressing the family (I’m a stay at home mom with two little boys) warm helps a bunch. For those of you that have a fireplace, blessed you are! Sure wish we had one and if we ever move it will be a must for us.

JRT November 7, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Hey! I was thinking of what to do as a healthier, greener, cleaner, more-pet-friendlier alternative to store bought salt/chemical mixes for thawing drive ways and side walks; of course, while thinking of this I thought of you two ladies and was hoping you had some super-effective solution?

Tomato Lady November 8, 2009 at 9:08 am

JRT–There are a number of products that purport to be pet-safe mixes. As usual there is still debate about the eco-safety of these products. The consensus seems to be that a combination of mechanical means (elbow grease) and blends which contain a mixture of the salts with the lowest environmental impact PLUS plain old sand to cut the amount of mix used even more (and add traction) is one way to mitigate the risk to pets and environment vs. the risk of slipping on ice.
Any suggestions from the readers who deal with this all winter?

Buch November 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm

nice Posting. I just starting with Internet. My parents didn’t allow me this, before I was 16 years old. It’s very nice, becaus now can I improve my English language.

Amy Sirk November 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I can sooo relate to the fear of being stuck without power. Last year’s ice storm was difficult. I had planned to replace this old gas floor furnace with something more efficient but now I think I’ll keep it. While my neighbors spent a fortune on generators we kept warm and learned some new skills. Did you know you can cook a frozen pizza on the stovetop? LOL. There are many websites with plans for solar air heaters that hook up to a south facing window. There are also outdoor propane stoves, although I don’t know how much outdoor cooking I’ll do in the dead of winter. But I will pray for you and for myself too. Please no gnarly ice storms this year.

Angie's Frugal House November 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Has anyone tried the red pepper? My concern would be the pepper would burn the skin it came in contact with.

We have a propane heater for outages. Our stove is propane as well and does not need electricity to start. We have just moved here from the south so I’m hoping this will work. BRRRRR

SHERRY PRITT November 8, 2009 at 6:25 pm


nancy November 9, 2009 at 8:55 am

I also am a big fan of hot water bottles. Keeps the toes toasty, which makes a big difference. ~ A few years ago I saw the cutest pattern for draft dodgers and can no longer find it. Do you ladies have one?

Tomato Lady November 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

nancy–We haven’t posted one, but here are a couple good ones.
Martha’s is for windows (or doors) and the second one mimics those that go under doors and don’t have to be removed when you open them.

MsRobyn November 9, 2009 at 11:33 am

Hmmm… I’m just curious, no one has mentioned buying a small generator? I have often thought I needed one, on the other hand I have never been without power for very long. I don’t live in the country though, I’m a suburb girl at the moment. I have heard how handy a generator might be in the winter. Just a thought.

MK November 9, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I have a generator which is plugged into our house by a special electrical connection put in by an electrician when we need it. I can control from the panel box which breaker gets electric. The only thing we used the generator for is our pump for the well and refrigeration. Water is the number one utility you must have. I can heat water in the waterheater if necessary. The big problem is that generators take gasoline and while I store quite a bit with a stabilizer added, it gets used up quickly unless you are careful in running the generator. As I said in a prior post, we lose our electric for a week at a time. In severe ice or hurricanes, the gas stations can’t pump because they don’t have electric. BTW, cell phones go down too because the cell towers while battery backedup, eventually need electric. I have many battery operated lanterns so lights are not a problem. I also have a solar oven, but it can’t be used effectively in the winter. There are small folding camp stoves you can use with the attached propane canisters for emergencies. My advice is to have as many redundencies for water, cooking, sanitation, refrigeration, and washing as you can think of because there is always another hitch in the situation. This of course, isn’t a “keeping warm” advice, but maybe you can think on these lines about cost savings for the winter when you do have power.

Linda Stahr November 9, 2009 at 9:40 pm

My husband and I live – as my friend put it the other day – like the Ingalls family. We heat our entire house (all 2300 square feet) with a Vermont Castings wood stove, and cook on a Monarch Antique Wood Cookstove. The combination of the two stoves keeps the house toasty on the main level and comfortable on the other levels. We tell the children to put a sweater on if they’re cold, and pile blankets on their beds to keep them warm. When it’s REALLY cold, we bake cookies and cinnamon rolls and all sorts of fun things that keep the house warm and fill our bellies. We lost partial power to our house for a week last winter, with only enough power to keep the two freezers and two refrigerators running. (Try watching TV and making toast when you don’t have full power… SOMETHING doesn’t work, and it’s NOT the toaster!) Our house survived us not being in it for the week by an oil burning furnace that’s older than Dirt. It kicks on when the temperature in the house gets below 45 degrees. Aside from that, the wood stove does wonders for keeping warm… and for cooking on. I’m a fan of the hot chocolate too. I put a dash of cayenne pepper in it to just get the spices flowing.

Good luck keeping warm in your neck of the woods! Mine sees more rain than anything else, but it’s still enough to be cold.

Naomi November 10, 2009 at 11:56 am

I haven’t used the red pepper in my socks, but I have used it in my eyes (tincture, 4 to 6 times daily), and if it won’t burn my eyes it certainly won’t burn your skin. It does cause warming of the skin, just as it caused a little sting in my eyes, but that went away quickly. Sprinkling powder in your socks is not going to burn the skin. I don’t even know for sure if it will help warm your feet; I just read that once and I believed it because I am such a huge believer in the wonderful powers of cayenne pepper, which I won’t go into here because this is about winter heating. I am considering trying this soon because I’m diabetic and have cold feet nearly all winter and want to see if that helps.

Val November 12, 2009 at 4:04 pm

I live in Canada (and no we do not have winter year round – only 4-6 months of the year). I have a small house 832 sq ft and it is only heated with a wood cook stove. it is not ideal – it has a too small firebox and has to be replenished every half hour. it is not so pleasant waking up to -50 in your house. Brrrrrrrrr – dont want to get out of bed !!!! my newest purchase is a wood stove with a big firebox and hopefully that will keep the house warm for most of the night. i also live off of the electric grid – i have solar panels, huge batteries and a generator for back up. in the summer there is enough electricity that i can run a small fridge, small freezer, lights, tv and small electric appliances (not the electric kettle yet) and in the winter there is much less electricity stored, so the freezer is unplugged (hey its freezing outside and that is where my freezer is – under cover, but outside) and this year i want to make a fridge in the wall vented to the outside.

Val November 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm

in a pinch cayene pepper can be mixed with mud and used as a poultice on wounds because it clots blood, but you do have to be careful because it can burn the skin. use cautiously especially depending on the sensitivity of your skin.

Maven Koesler January 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm

We live in a 4000sq/ft 2 story barn we are converting to a house and meeting space. Currently we get all our heat from a 1970’s model Ashley wood stove. It does a good job since we stuffed the walls with R-30, and it will do even better when the main drop ceiling goes in and gets its’ blanket of R-30!

Tomato Lady January 3, 2010 at 1:51 am

Maven Koesler–That sounds like a good set-up. Can you say how much wood you burn in, say, one cold month?

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