Emergency Strategy to Keep Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Without Electricity
How Prepared Are You for a Power Blackout?
If you rely on electricity to heat your home in the winter and to cool it in the summer, what happens in a power blackout? How do you keep warm in the winter without electricity? Can you keep cool without air conditioning during a heat wave in the summer?
What would happen to you and your family if a natural disaster or unexpected power blackout robbed you of your electricity for more than just a few hours? There is every possibility that your entire area could be without power. Running next door won't help if they are without power as well.
If you live in the city and are suddenly confined within the four walls of your home and forced to rely on your own resources for a week or more, what will you need? If suddenly you have no power for lights or cooking or heating your home, and you cannot access a local store, how will you cope?
There have been enough natural disasters and extreme weather events globally in recent times to encourage us all to prepare for the worst. Here's one simple strategy to help you keep warm in the winter without electricity and cool in the summer without AC.
My Story of a Harsh Winter Without Central Heating
My family and I experienced the frustration and anguish of losing our central heating for almost a week in the winter in the UK. There was snow on the ground outside and ice on many items inside our home. Fabrics became damp, some of them crispy.
There was no way to effectively heat the huge rooms in our old stone building. A couple of the rooms still had original fireplaces, but we had no wood. With effective central heating, we had previously seen no need to light a fire for anything more than pleasure and effect. Storing wood for emergencies was, sadly, something we'd never considered.
The air within our home became so cold, it hurt to breathe. Despite wrapping ourselves in the warmest clothes and bedding we could find, we were still suffering. Our reliance on heating was our greatest weakness, because suddenly we discovered we just didn't have enough blankets or bedding to keep us warm individually through the night. Central heating and electric blankets had replaced old-fashioned blankets and bedding, so we only owned quite thin bed covers and quilts. Our entire family had to climb into the same bed with all our bed covers, plus extra clothing piled on top to stay warm.
At first, we'd thought the problem would be quickly fixed, but it wasn't. On the second day, my husband fought his way through foul weather to buy blankets and thicker covers for the bed. We were lucky that stores were open. In some emergency situations that cause power outages, all stores could be closed.
Functioning in the daytime was difficult. As soon as we sat up, we were cold. Too cold. I distinctly recall how dreadful it was to be dressed like the Michelin man inside our home and not being able to stop my teeth from chattering.
I will assume you have children. I know from experience how frightening it is when you see your child's face red with cold, then blue with cold when you are indoors. I also know how difficult it is to continue encouraging and jollying a child to make the effort to stay warm when everyone's nerves are frayed and you've all just had enough.
During my horror winter week, I dreamed of how nice it would be to have friends or family I could turn to for a night in their warm home—but I was new to the country and all my friends were an ocean away. I tried to find accommodation in a nearby hotel or bed and breakfast to give us some respite, but it was a busy holiday period and none was available.
It took me a while to come up with the idea I present to you here for keeping warm inside your home during a power outage. I wish I'd thought of it a lot sooner.
This system worked fine in the UK when we had an electricity blackout, and I've used it since then in Australia. I'm sure it would be helpful in the US or any other country. This, my friends, is an idea worth remembering!
How to Stay Warm in the Winter When There Is No Electricity
Most people who live in cold climates know the luxury and convenience of central heating. I loved walking into my warm home on a cold winter's day when living in the UK and colder areas of Australia.
Even without central heating, there are many options to keep us toasty, including gas heaters and simple bar radiators. But during a crisis, a power interruption can suddenly leaving you sitting huddled inside a sleeping bag 24/7 with no way to heat the entire area within your home.
A wood burning stove or even an open fireplace offers some relief from the cold, but what happens when you don't have access to wood? In the city, there is not much chance you can just walk out into the yard and chop up a fallen tree that's been lying around drying for the past 12 months.
If you cannot get a delivery of wood for your fire, what else can you use to stay warm? Are you really considering burning the legs of your chairs?
Use a Tent Inside to Keep Your Family Warm
The simplest and most effective solution to coping with freezing temperatures inside your home is to clear some floor space then pitch a tent. A simple three-person tent has plenty of room for a small family to sleep in.
- Erect your tent close to a window. The more sun, the better. You'll want the panel connected to your solar light to reach to a window, so don't position your tent in the middle of a room if you can help it. Move your furniture if necessary.
- Toss the fly sheet (the second layer that comes with most tents) over the top for extra insulation. There's no need to secure it to the floor because you're not expecting wind and rain indoors. You just need the extra layer to help exclude the cold.
- Keep the tent away from your fireplace or gas burner (if it still works) to avoid accidentally setting the tent on fire. Don't waste wood on the fire and don't waste your gas. You'll need them for cooking. The cold air in the room is excluded by keeping the window flaps on your tent closed, so don't waste fuel trying to heat the room.
- Place mattresses from your beds on the floor of the tent and bring all your blankets and warm bedding into the tent along with your pillows. Your body heat will warm the smaller space within the tent.
- During the daytime you can fold up some of the bedding if you don't want to sit on it, but keep it within the confines of the tent so it doesn't get damp.
- Place clothing and anything else you want to keep warm and dry into plastic bags just outside the door. If you have young children and will be needing supplies like diapers etc, keep them handy in bags outside the door as well. You don't want to be letting cold air in for long when you need fresh supplies.
- Remember to allow a small amount of air flow, particularly when you are sleeping. Most modern tents have a small flap in the top of the tent to allow hot air to escape. Or you can leave the door unzipped a little at the top to allow a small amount of air to circulate. Without it, you might find you have a condensation problem.
Even in freezing weather, a tent in your living room will keep your whole family warm. Tents are made to protect people from the harsh elements outdoors. Indoors, where there's no rain, no wind and no snow, they are even more effective.
It is surprising how warm the inside of a tent can become with a bit of body heat. Children can read and draw and play in comfort. Parents can take off their overcoats and relax. And at night, everyone is snug and warm.
Tips for Choosing a Tent
- Measure the size of the space that your tent will need to fit into: height, width and length. You need room to get in and out of the door. What is the biggest area you could clear (near a window) to accommodate a tent?
- You don't need to fill the entire clear area in your room. You certainly don't want to buy a huge tent, because that would be pointless when you are relying on body heat to warm the area. Look for dome-shaped tents that are quick and easy to erect.
- Tent poles in dome-shaped tents are obviously long. They arc up and over. The good news is, they fold up into a small bag. But when you are erecting a tent indoors, you need enough space to extend the poles as you insert them. In other words, leave a bit of elbow room between your tent and at least one of the walls.
- Camping stores often have tents erected on display. Take your family and climb into one. Lie down in it, side by side. Sit in it, stand in it, see if you have enough head room. Imagine what you'd want to put in there, and how comfortable you'd be for a week if necessary.
- Remember, you will need mattresses on the floor not only for comfort when sleeping, but also to protect you from the cold that passes up from any floor when the temperature is very low. You can use your children's single mattresses, camping mattresses or even the queen size mattress from your own bed, as long as it will fit through the door.
- Measure everything that is relevant: door size, floor size, mattress size, room size, cleared space size, etc. Then make your decision about which tent to buy. Tents come with labels that give dimensions. It's not hard to figure out whether or not a particular tent will be appropriate.
- I think you'll be surprised how affordable tents can be. If budget is a problem, however, look for a secondhand tent on eBay, online or at local car boot sales. Put a sign up 'Wanted. Secondhand tent' on the noticeboard in your local supermarket.
- When you get your tent home, erect it outdoors a few times. Any tent is much easier to erect outdoors than indoors. You'll be glad you took the time to master the process before you attempt it in a confined space.
Stay smart when keeping warm. Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill you. Here are some tips to avoid some common mistakes:
- Never operate a generator indoors. (Carbon monoxide poisoning.)
- Never burn coals indoors. (Carbon monoxide poisoning.)
- Never start a fire indoors in anything other than a correctly installed fireplace with proper chimney and ventilation. (Carbon monoxide poisoning.)
- Never burn a candle in a confined space—including a tent. (There's a danger of fire . . . plus the danger of burning your available oxygen.)
- Don't completely eliminate your supply of fresh air. Most tents allow air to circulate—so don't cover and seal the entire tent. (Oxygen needs to find its way in.)
- Leave a small ventilation point close to ground level, where carbon dioxide can escape. (Carbon dioxide in your breath is heavy and needs to escape.) This is particularly important when you are sleeping.
How to Stay Cool in the Summer Without Electricity
If your goal is to be self-sufficient during a heat wave, you have to work with what's available. Your children are hot and you're afraid they are dehydrating. Your home is an oven and it is far too hot to sleep.
Opening Your Windows at the Right Times
If you don't have air conditioning, the basic principle involved in keeping a home cool during hot weather involves only opening your windows during the cooler evening time (to let the heat out) and closing your windows (and your curtains or blinds) to block out the sun and the heat during the day.
For the first day and maybe even the second, that's an effective way to deal with hot weather. But during a heat wave when the temperature is savage, there comes a time when you simply have to open the windows and hope for a breeze.
To further complicate the issue, in many parts of the world houses are simply not built to cope with heat. I remember when there was a heat wave in Paris and hundreds of people died. If your home relies on air conditioning and you lose power—and there's no swimming pool or beach nearby in which to cool down, and the local mall (which is always pleasantly cool) is closed due to the far-reaching effects of a natural disaster—what are you going to do?
Unpacking Your Tent
If you have a yard with shade and you think it is safe to camp outdoors, pitch your tent outdoors . . . but not in the sun. You'd be better off erecting the tent indoors, following the same guidelines as for winter but avoiding direct sunlight.
Try to choose a different location for your tent in the summer. Ideally you'll erect the tent on the cooler side of your home, where you get the best air flow. Windows on two different walls that can create a cross breeze would be good.
Erect the tent close enough for your portable solar light to extend to a solar panel in a window. But when the weather is very hot, the sun is probably very bright. So you won't need the sun's rays hitting your panel directly. Any daylight will charge a solar panel.
An inflatable camp mattress is good in a heat wave. If you have enough water to wet a towel and drape it over you, there's no danger of the water causing damage. Don't fill the tent with bedding. Bring a couple of chairs in, and keep the space uncluttered in the hottest part of the day.
Open all the windows in your house and all the panels in the tent's windows and doors. Leave the fly screens closed if there is a danger of mosquitoes or other biting insects coming through your open windows.
Extend the flap in the roof to its full extent to allow hot air to escape. You won't need the fly sheet (the second skin) on your tent. Many tents have mesh sections in the top where hot air can escape, and that's really useful in hot weather. If you feel that the heat that gathers beneath the ceiling of your home is reaching down and into the top of your tent, however, drape a cotton sheet over the mesh to help create separation.
Using Wet Sheets and Towels to Cool Down
If you have enough water, wet the sheet. With sufficient water, you could dampen sheets or sarongs and peg them across the fly screen sections of your tent's windows. Evaporation as the breeze passes through makes the air cooler.
If you have limited water, wet a towel, wring it out over a bucket or bowl (no point wasting drips) and use it to keep wiping your face, neck and wrists. Put your feet in a bucket of water. Cooling your feet will help cool your body.
When the water in the bucket becomes hot, as it may after your feet have been heating it, put the bucket aside. Its temperature will drop in time. That same water can be used to wet a towel (as long as your feet don't stink—you're wiping your face with it!) or to keep your plants alive.
Do you know how to cool a wet towel that becomes hot? You simply hold one corner and spin the towel in the air. It doesn't take long.
Here's a hint on wet towels for those who are not experienced using them as a cooling device. Don't use a big thick bath towel, and don't use a very thin tea towel. Face washers or hand towels are best. If you want to use a larger towel, choose one that is quite smooth and not too big.
A wet towel should be a wet towel. Wetting half a towel is pretty useless. Choose a smaller towel and soak it, then wring it out.
Note: I should mention that I have suggested this idea to people who do have power, but don't have air conditioning during a heat wave. I know a few people who have implemented it to good effect. They had plenty of water, but it doesn't take much water to be effective. I'm sure even if your water supply is interrupted, you'll find it helps.
Tents Are Valuable in More Ways Than One
Having a tent small enough to erect inside your home and large enough to accommodate your entire family, particularly when sleeping, is one of the first recommendations I make to anyone who is planning to live off the grid.
Pursuing a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle is an adventure. Lots of unexpected things can happen. That's no surprise to anyone who is settling into a new lifestyle and getting used to the process of generating their own power. If you're off the grid and planning renovations or even if you mistakenly fill your home with smoke, it can be really nice to just erect the tent in the garden and sleep out until things return to normal.
But a family tent is also, in my opinion, an extremely good investment for anyone who relies on electricity or other traditional power sources for heating and cooling.
A tent has multiple uses, including giving you an option for holidays and a 'spare room' when friends come to stay.
Most importantly, it gives you an option to keep your family warm in an emergency—and cool if you have no other option.
I won't bore you with a list of scenarios that could result in you needing to keep warm in the winter without electricity, without LPG, and without fire. And I'm sure you can imagine circumstances when you need to keep cool without air conditioning. Faced with such an event, I suspect you'll be very pleased to be able to erect your tent.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 LongTimeMother