I grew up in rural America in old farmhouses. When ice and snow storms take out power lines, you can expect to have no power for several days. The same is true in months of excessive heat after summer tornadoes and wind and hail storms. There are some basic things anyone can do to keep warm (or cool after summer storms) inside their home even during extreme temperatures for extended time periods. The first thing is that you should have already done some basic things to your home. At this point, that ship has sailed. Deal with your current situation first.
Heat travels upwards. Windows, doors, and baseboards leak cold air inside your home. Air conditioning vents including return vents also leak cold air inside your home. Your exterior rooms will be the coldest. People and pets generate heat. You want to seal the heat you generate inside your home and the cold air outside your home.
First, dress appropriately to maximize your own body heat. Get rid of any tight clothing. Dress in as many warm loose layers as you can pile on. Your body heat is held between your clothing layers and your skin. Tight clothes make you colder. Cover your head and feet as well as your hands if you do not need your hands bare to do something. Dress like a homeless person in the winter. They know what they’re doing when they are wearing everything they own.
Your exterior doors and windows are next. Cover them with any insulating material you can find. Hang blankets etc over your windows and doors. If you have plastic trash bags, tape them over your windows before covering the window with blankets or whatever you can find. Cardboard works well as an insulator. Duct tape the heck out of the seals on your windows and any exterior door you aren’t going to use. Just seal it up and move on. If you have the aerosol spray foam from someplace like Lowe’s or Home Depot, use that around doors and windows. Shoot the spray foam between your baseboard and the floor back into the wall. That will seal out air from coming in between your wall and the floor or from underneath your house. It will also keep your house cool in the summer and lower your utility bills.
Pick an interior room if possible to be your new living and sleeping room. If you have hard wood floors or poorly insulated floors and you still have spare blankets, cover the floor with a layer of insulation. Keep everyone in it and the door closed. People running in and out of the room or of your house will let out all of the heat. Stay in or stay out. It’s that simple.
If you have candles and any type of tin can, you have enough heat to heat one small room. You can light a candle inside of any type of metal can, or you can use your metal cooking pans. The candle flame will heat the metal and radiate heat outwards into the room. Make sure you do have some ventilation. Don’t light too many or light them where they will start a fire. Don’t put the metal container on anything that might over heat and ignite. The candle needs to be shorter than the sides of the metal container. Between your body heat and the candle inside the metal containers, you will actually generate quite a bit of heat. You won’t be warm and toasty, but you probably won’t freeze either. Do not burn anything else. You do not want carbon monoxide poisoning. If you start getting sleepy or a headache, you are getting carbon monoxide poisoning. Anything burning needs some ventilation, including candles.
If you have no candles, your room will still heat up just by blocking out cold air and body heat being retained inside the room. You will be cold, but you’re not going to freeze to death. Try and gather everything you need into the room such as food and snacks. Stay inside the room unless you need a bathroom break or something necessary. When you leave that room after being inside it for a while, you will notice a big difference in the temperature outside the room. Drink lots of water and eat. Your body needs fuel to generate heat.
If you have kerosene lamps, they are great. Kerosene also needs some ventilation. More ventilation than a couple of candles.
I don’t normally share pictures of the inside of my house, but I am going to share a couple just to illustrate my point. I have a two story home with a partial unfinished basement. My plumbing, water heater, and central heating and air unit are in my basement. My house has a deed with an estimated build date of 1900. They do not have the records for when it was actually built but do have records showing it was here in 1900. The plumbing, including washer and dryer, bathroom and kitchen is all in one area of my house that is housed in the basement underneath the kitchen and bathroom. It’s pretty handy for maintenance and bad weather. On Sunday morning, my thermostat went out so my central heat did not work. Sunday night was -11 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -22 degrees Fahrenheit. My thermostat was replaced Monday morning. Thankfully, I had a small 1500 watt fake electric fireplace upstairs in my son’s room and a larger 1500 watt fake fireplace in my living room. Is that enough to heat a 1700 square foot home at those temperatures? No, not even close. We closed off the upstairs and brought my son’s fireplace down to the bathroom doorway. The bathroom opens off the kitchen. I pushed the large fireplace out of my 20 x 40 ft living room into the smaller dining room. The dining room opens into the kitchen and my bedroom. I used plastic I had saved from when I bought new mattresses and hung it up blocking off the living room. The lowest the temperature got in the blocked off area with the two heaters was 62 degrees Fahrenheit. The other side of the plastic wall, the living room, was below freezing. The inside of my living room windows and front door were ice covered. Do not underestimate what covering and sealing leaking air from windows, doors, and baseboards will have. The same is true on your day to day utility expenses. I also have covered several more decorative windows inside my home with vinyl covering that looks like stained glass. It provides extra insulation but lets in natural sunlight. Here are two pictures of what two very simple, cheap and easy things can do that make huge differences. I’m still working on repainting my ceilings. I’m still working on painting the trim including the decorative poles to the dark gray from the old white trim. The carpet is getting removed or replaced after the ceilings are finished. It’s a work in progress.
Good luck and stay safe with the continued arctic air and the rolling power outages!