Please read my disclosure if you have questions.
Wood stoves and central heat are awesome! Right up until they fail when there’s several feet of snow on the ground for at least a week. If you heat your home with a wood burning stove , a snow storm is NOT a good time to run out of firewood. Talk about being unprepared! Having lived through this mistake, here are some ways to keep warm (and happy too!) if you find yourself in the middle of winter without any heat in your house.
The winter this happened we were car free at the time, and my husband would bundle up and hop on the bus to get to work. Then I would bundle up the kids in snow coats to take warm water out to the animals. Then the kids would run back inside to my bedroom, huddle around a pathetically tiny electric heating fan while I kept on my snow gear to cook breakfast.
Heating a drafty 900 square foot house in below freezing weather with one tiny fan is like trying to scoop the water out of the ocean with a plastic bucket. It’s just not going to happen. So we had to use some alternative techniques.
Here’s what helped us keep warm:
Reduce as much heat loss as possible.
Put blankets over all the windows and outside doors, and bean bag draft busters were at the base of every door. Shut off as many outside doors as you can to porches or the garage. Close off any rooms you aren’t using and put draft busters at the bottoms of those doors. This creates an air buffer zone that will help reduce temperature fluctuations. The time when we were without heat we mainly lived in one small room. This helps electronics, or lights, and body heat keep the room warm.
Winter is a good time to cocoon anyway, so just consider this extra rest and rejuvenation time. Just as there are seasons for running around and being energetic there are seasons for rest and quiet. It’s okay to cuddle in bed with a book all day during certain times of the year. We can use a little hibernation during the cold times of the year. And resting doesn’t need large expanses of space.
This is not the time to run around in your bathing suit. (Two year olds, I’m talking to you). Go with socks, gloves, hats, tights, sweaters, coats, wear all the things! Body heat is a beautiful thing when you need to keep warm. Keep it! You can increase your body heat with activity. Do some jumping jacks or running in place. If you’re cooped up in one bedroom with three small children this means that there is probably going to be a lot of jumping on the bed… Also, after you’re done jumping you can wrap up in all those blankets and read a book so it doesn’t matter if the beds get messy.
Pick your favorite most comfortable sweaters and pants. At a time like this being cozy is of utmost importance. Comfort wins out every time during times like these. And how often do you get to stay in warm jammies all day? Call it a comfy holiday.
Eat warming foods.
Soup is your friend. Really, it is. Please don’t eat ice cream; that makes it worse. Warm spices such as red pepper, ginger, cinnamon will also help you feel warmer. If you are interested in learning more about different properties of herbs and spices the Herbarium is a good place to start. Also your body is using a lot of calories to keep yourself warm. Just like we feed the chickens extra grain to keep them warm our bodies need extra calories too.
Now is not the time to worry about calories. Obviously don’t eat if you aren’t hungry, but there are reasons that winter seasons come with hearty, rich foods. If ever there was a time to thoroughly appreciate a hot meal, do it now!
Keep Warm Safely
Be careful using alternative heating sources if you’re in a desperate situation. Carbon monoxide will kill you without a bit of remorse, and lot faster than being cold will. Don’t use propane, or outdoor barbecues in enclosed spaces. Get a detector. Even if you’re almost broke. Just do it. Be super duper careful with candles or other open flames. Simple tea lights can give you something to warm your hands over, but accidentally lighting your house on fire isn’t a long term good strategy for staying warm.
If you might be in a tough spot long term it might be worth it to ask for help. A few days into our extra cold storm with no firewood my husband rented a pickup and drove to buy a cord of firewood. I hopped onto the truck at four months pregnant and tossed the wood off in a snow storm so we could keep it as dry as possible. While Edward was buying wood in a U-haul, the sellers were getting frantic calls from people asking for wood delivery and in a panic because they wouldn’t deliver in the storm. Sometimes you just have to do what has to be done.
Know When To Get Help
We only needed these strategies to keep warm for a few days, and we knew that a little discomfort was worth being self-sufficient. But long term? Oh that’s hard. Very hard. Be creative in your long term solutions. Call your utilities and see what kind of payment plans they might be able to help you out with. Call churches and ask if they can offer assistance in exchange for service. Ask around if anyone has firewood you can haul away in exchange for work.
Be Warm and Happy
Keeping happy can be done in extreme situations, but sometimes it takes a lot of effort. Being thankful for what you do have can really help. The same winter we ran out of wood, our family took our sleeping bags and gave them to some homeless people in our neighborhood. It helped us to remember to be grateful that even though things weren’t ideal, at least we had a house. Focus on what’s going right. Do you have a way to cook warm food? Focus on that. Is your electricity on? Hooray! And remember, just as the seasons change, so do seasons of life. Someday it will thaw out, and spring will come both literally and figuratively.
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