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Emergency Strategy to Keep Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Without Electricity

LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.

If you live in a region with weather extremes, how will you keep warm—or cool—if your home loses power?

If you live in a region with weather extremes, how will you keep warm—or cool—if your home loses power?

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 heatwave 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.

It can be frightening when the weather is freezing but you don't have warmth.

It can be frightening when the weather is freezing but you don't have warmth.

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 headroom. 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.

Safety Warnings

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 a 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.
Some people will go to any length to get cool in a heat wave.

Some people will go to any length to get cool in a heat wave.

How to Stay Cool in the Summer Without Electricity

If your goal is to be self-sufficient during a heatwave, 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 heatwave 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 the heat. I remember when there was a heatwave 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 airflow. 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 heatwave. 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 heatwave. 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.

A good night's sleep in a hastily erected tent. The white lead in the foreground connects the light to the solar battery just outside the tent door.

A good night's sleep in a hastily erected tent. The white lead in the foreground connects the light to the solar battery just outside the tent door.

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


LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on February 18, 2021:

Eight years since I wrote this article but still just as relevant today. In Texas freeze and other regions, clear some space indoors and get your tents out.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 25, 2018:

It is a simple solution that most people never think of, Mary. I often wonder how many folk suffering power outages in extreme weather events are unaware how helpful their little tent in the cupboard could be if they used it for the additional insulation. I’m glad you’re prepared. I suggest you mention it to friends and family since you’re in a potentially very cold place.

I know some people put a link to this article on Facebook, saying their friends might think they’re mad ... but it useful to know. I hope you never need it, but life is full of unexpected events.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 25, 2018:

I never thought a tent is the solution to extreme cold or heat. I have never been in such a situation but whenever this happens, I am prepared.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on December 21, 2014:

Hello GetitScene, Au fait and word55. The seasons seem so extreme in recent years, I'm sure there must be a lot of people trying to escape the heat - or the cold. Thanks for the positive feedback. :)

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on December 15, 2014:

I like your research here. Thank you LongTimeMother for sharing.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 15, 2014:

You have some interesting sounding ideas here. Having grown up in central Wisconsin I know about extreme cold and snow. Currently living in North Texas I know about extreme heat. Definitely food for thought here. Sharing so that more people can learn about this.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on December 01, 2014:

Interesting ideas.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 08, 2014:

That all makes perfectly good sense. Thanks for visiting, Vvitta. :)

Kalaichelvi Panchalingam from PETALING JAYA on May 04, 2014:

In Malaysia where the weather is constantly warm, we just adjust our life style. Do most work and errands in the morning. Stay indoors at noon. Outdoors in the evenings. Lots of water to drink. Lots of tropical fruits and we re good. being in open areas is better than being in confined spaces. Large rooms as opposed to small rooms. we love the weather here and tourists too flock to this area for the warm weather.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on December 26, 2013:

Hello, Silva Hayes. Small tents are surprisingly cheap at the moment (in Australia at least) so we bought another 2 person tent as a Christmas present for our pre-teen. It cost about $20. I'm not expecting her to use it out in all weathers but it will be ideal even in winter if she wants a friend to sleep over. I let the kids set small tents up in our undercover area where it can get really cold but stays protected from all but wind-driven rain. They have the fun of 'camping' and can make as much noise as they like. It is great how toasty and warm the space is inside a tent. :)

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on December 24, 2013:

Wonderful hub! This information is so valuable! We are foolish if we continue to depend 100% on our central heat and air. Let me give an example of how comfortable a tent can be in winter. We two adults and two children went camping in the spring and the temperature plunged during the night. My husband and I were sleeping on cots in a screened shelter and almost froze. The two children were sleeping in a small two-person tent. I went to check on them, fearing that they were cold and would perhaps get sick from the weather. I was so surprised to crawl into their tent and find it comfortably warm and cozy from their body heat.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on October 27, 2013:

Hello liesl5858. Sorry I didn't notice this comment earlier. Thank you for your positive feedback. :)

Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on June 22, 2013:

Good ideas LongTimeMother, another great hub, well done. Thank you for sharing your useful tips.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 16, 2013:

Thanks, Victoria Lynn. Body warmth is quickly lost in a big cold house. :)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on April 16, 2013:

Good tips! I never thought about a tent. Great idea!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 15, 2013:

Thanks, Alise-Evon.

Yes, it definitely helps to be able to erect a tent outdoors before trying to erect it in a confined space. The first time with poles extended, and the next time with poles held folded in your hand, just extending one piece at a time as though there's a wall not far from your elbow. lol.

Perhaps I should be mentioning to people who don't camp that tent poles these days tend to come in pieces, held together by a long elastic thread that allows them to be folded without separating.

This idea never would have worked in the days of canvas tents with long upright wooden poles. :)

Thanks for sharing this hub. I appreciate it.

Alise- Evon on April 15, 2013:

Great hub! I really hope people take your advice and practice setting up their tent outside, more than once, before needing it:) We have a tent, being campers (not snow campers, though!), but I hadn't thought about using it in this way.

Voted useful and shared.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on April 13, 2013:

Hi LongTimeMother,

Thank you for the tips! Yes, a two person tent would probably be more practical indoors. We have some space in our new home and a lot of natural light....

As for the chicks, there ARE many in this area right now; we would most likely let them out during the day and keep them in a small barn/building at night. This is our first step :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 10, 2013:

A 4-person tent would be hard to erect inside the house in an emergency, vandynegl. The bigger the tent, the more space you need to insert the poles. Not only do you need room to work when erecting it, but there has to be space to get mattresses from the bedroom into the tent. Have you considered keeping an eye out for one to use when you are actually camping, and another smaller one for emergencies?

Good luck with the bantam search. It is nearing the time of the year when there should be lots of chicks available in your part of the world. It will be good to have their house ready. Don't forget to bury your chicken wire around the perimeter of their yard so that foxes etc can't just easily dig or push their way under. Not so vital if you are letting them out to free range every day and locking them into a house with a floor in the night.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on April 10, 2013:

Thank you LongTimeMother! I am seriously purchasing a tent....thinking of a 4 person kind though since the kids are only getting bigger! Also, I have looked into some chicks too! Have not found bantams yet, but right now our focus in on getting a small "house" for them, so they are not attracting the predators around here :(

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 09, 2013:

Kids love going camping. Any time. Any place. lol.

Good to see you again, vandynegl. :)

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on April 09, 2013:

Hi LongTimeMother! I like being self-sufficient and you just gave me another idea! I'm sure my husband and kids will go right along with it too! Thanks for sharing!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 09, 2013:

Now more than ever, I suspect, aviannovice. Extreme weather events are becoming far more common, and anyone who lives in a cocoon of artificial heating or cooling is particularly vulnerable when their power supply is interrupted.

Your tent won't take up much space tucked beneath your bed. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 09, 2013:

Fabulous idea. I never would have thought of this. I will be looking at tents, just to be on the safe side. Realistically, anything can happen, and it is better to be prepared, than not.

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on April 09, 2013:

Hmm, that's funny. We had one last month and it was winter here!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 09, 2013:

Yes, good point! I l-o-v-e my solar oven. I just realised today that summer passed without a barbecue. Not one. lol.

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on April 09, 2013:

You are right, I did have goats and I really did love raising them! You are also correct that I don't have any articles about how we raised them and like everyone, we learned a few tricks that aren't in the books!

I know that produce vendors often have a second layer in their tents to keep themselves and their produce cool on hot summer days, so there is something to what you are saying.

I also know that closing the windows in the morning and opening them at night will keep a home cool indeed.

Doing the summer cooking, baking, and canning outdoors also helps keep temperatures down.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 09, 2013:

Hi cygnetbrown.

I'm glad to see you again. I was asked to write a hub about goats the other day, and I think I remember you and I discussing goats in some hub or other (can't remember where.) Have you written any goat hubs? I didn't spot one on your profile page but I thought I should check in case you have one I could send people to. I don't have a goat right now and I have no idea where to start looking for my photos. lol.

Wood burner stoves are a joy, when you have wood. Now that I live off the grid, I am very conscious of making sure we never run short of dry, cut wood again. lol.

On the subject of cooling, until you actually sit inside a tent inside your house it is difficult to imagine the effect. I appreciate that. It sounds mad, I know.

We have dreadful humidity here in some parts of Australia. When we lived in the humid rainforest climate, I would often erect a smaller tent inside the house for the kids to play in. It stays surprisingly pleasant in there.

In high humidity it is important to leave the windows and doors of the tent all open during the (relatively) cooler night. (That applies if you're sleeping in it, or if you're not.) Closing them in the early morning before the heat of the day sets in can slow the transfer of heat even more. but the vent in the top needs to be wide open.

I guess it depends a lot on the design of the tent, too. With a bit of experimentation it should be easy enough to decide whether or not there is a benefit to adding the 'fly' over a particular tent during extreme heat as well as during extreme cold.

Every place is a little bit different, but I think you'd agree that if you spend enough time in an area you start to anticipate how a hot day will pan out. There's no set rules about the best method for ventilation. That's individual fine-tuning.

In my experience, the biggest mistake most people make when dealing with heat is opening all their windows and curtains to let the air circulate from first thing in the morning, not realising that most houses will stay cooler for longer if they exclude the hot air as much as possible for as long as possible.

I used to think all I could do was stay in the shade, drink plenty of fluids and avoid strenuous activity. That's good advice with or without the tent.

I discovered the value of extra cooling with the tent inside the house quite by accident. We had bought a house that did not yet have fly-screens on the windows, it was stinking hot and we needed the windows open in the night. Mosquitoes invaded the house (lots of debilitating viruses we can catch down here from mozzies) so I put up a tent (with screens) inside the house for us to sleep in at night until we had the house screens sorted.

We couldn't believe how much cooler it was inside the tent even during the daytime. It was so much more pleasant!

I'm not suggesting that everyone should erect a tent inside their house every summer. lol.

My summer has just passed with some extremely hot days and I didn't feel the need, but I have tents here if I need them. I have no air con in my off-grid life but I do have a dam to jump into when I want to cool off, and a nice cold river not far away.

Air conditioning is a much easier option for people who have it, but in an emergency if there is no way to power the ac because the grid goes down, erecting a tent might just make the difference for people who can't cope with the heat.

If you have a little tent and a space big enough to put it without too much effort during your next hot summer spell, give it a try and let me know if it works for you. :)

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on April 09, 2013:

For me, winter heating is easy. A few years ago we were without power for ten days and our woodburning cook stove was all we needed to stay warm. Summer cooling is a different situation. In this area, summer humidity of 80% when the temperatures at 95 degrees is actually worse than temperatures above 100 degrees with a lower humidity. Some of the ways you recommend to get cool does not work in this scenario. About all anyone can do is stay in the shade, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid strenuous activity. One consolation I discovered was that if a heat wave continues longer than a week or so, our bodies have a wonderful way of acclimating to any situation.