How to Stay Warm if the Heat Goes Out

stay warm

The winter season is fast approaching, and that means cold temperatures. Depending upon where you live, that might mean the slightly chilly kind of nights that are perfect to take a stroll wearing a light jacket, or it might mean the bone-chilling cold that requires bundling up in layers or better yet, staying home underneath several quilts. Add in a severe winter storm and suddenly, the cold becomes an even more serious issue.

Just as cold weather can take a toll on a person’s body, it can also take a toll on the aging infrastructure that keeps the heat flowing into our homes. Lessons from the 2021 power outages in Texas revealed that electrical grids across the United States might not be up to the challenge of extreme cold weather events.

For some, the loss of power can be a minor inconvenience. But for some elderly residents, it can be a devastating problem with deadly consequences.

While the majority of deaths attributed to cold weather exposure happen to those who are outside when temperatures drop, Public Health Post reports that 25% of those who died of exposure in New York City were actually inside when their body temperatures dropped too low.

And in fact, the problem is likely quite under-reported. That’s because medical reports often list a cause of death that is related to a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease, instead of exposure to the cold. The problem disproportionately affects the elderly, with the vast majority of hospital admissions for events related to cold weather occurring among those aged 85 and older[1].

That begs the question: How can you stay safe if the heat goes out?

How to Stay Warm Without Power

It might seem like the answer to staying warm without power is obvious: Just bundle up in heavy clothing and coats and wait it out. And that might be just fine if a power outage lasts for an hour or two. But for an extended power outage that might last for days, it takes more than a heavy coat to stay warm and safe.

Staying warm during a winter storm and power outage is possible. It takes some advance planning and having the right items on hand to keep things comfortable.

There is one potentially sife-saving that you should have on hand when facing a winter storm or other power outage, and that’s a carbon monoxide detector. A battery-powered carbon monoxide detector can help you stay safe by detecting the poisonous gas if it begins to build up in your home. Another life-saving device often recommended for seniors is an affordable medical alert system.

Swing into Action – Fast

If you’re in the midst of a significant storm or even a deep cold snap and the power goes out, don’t wait to see if it might come back on. The temperatures in your home will start to drop almost immediately, especially if you open an exterior door for any reason[2]. Quick action can keep your home warm over the coming hours or even days. Start by keeping your doors and windows closed, reaching for your warmer clothes the moment the power goes out, and diving into these other tips right away.

In a home without power, you might not have the illumination you need to get around safely. You might not have access to the safety features of your home that require power to run, such as a stair lift or even a lift chair. And you might be in bulky clothing, which can make it tough to move around.

For all of these reasons and more, using a medical alert device is a good idea. If you don’t have one yet, consider a medical alert system with fall detection from Alert1. This small medical alert pendant can provide you with the peace of mind that in an emergency, help will be on the line within moments. As an added bonus, the on-the-go option for Alert1 Medical Alert Systems provides you with a wireless solution that relies on an internal battery – one that lasts for a week on a single battery charge. 

Keep the Heat You Do Have

You are now depending on only the existing heat in your home as well as body heat to stay warm. You want to keep as much of it as you can. To that end:

·         Stop the drafts. Press rolled-up towels or blankets along the bottom of doors and windows. Try to cover any area where you feel a draft rolling in. If you happen to have heavy quilts and comforters to spare, you can hang them in front of windows and doors to keep more heat in and the cold out.

·         Bundle up. Just as you’re trying to keep the cold out of your home, you want to keep as much heat around your body as you can. Dress in layers, starting with a thin fabric and building up to thicker ones. Don’t forget to cover your head with something warm, such as a cap or hat, and to layer socks that cover your ankles before putting on comfortable shoes. Gloves for your hands are also a good idea.

·         Choose the warmest place. Where is the warmest spot in the house? That might be your bed, where the mattress will block a great deal of cold air. Layer with blankets and pillows to keep more heat in. If you happen to have reflective emergency blankets on hand, these can work wonders for helping you maintain a proper body temperature. Remember that the warmest room might be on an upper floor, as any remaining heat will rise.

·         Close off unused rooms. You want to keep all the heat in one place. Any family members, all pets, and even your plants can go into one room to keep in more heat. Don’t forget to close the HVAC vents to the room, if you can. Leave a light switch in the “on” position so that when the power does come back on, you’ll know it when the room is flooded with light.

Reach Out to Family and Friends

If it looks like the outage might last a while, reach out to those who might be able to help. This might mean neighbors gathering together in one home to keep everyone warmer. Perhaps you have friends who can come to pick you up and take you to a warmer area. Alerting family to what is happening can help them stay aware of your potential need for help if the power is out for an extended period of time.

If you have medical alert technology at your fingertips, never hesitate to press the button to get help.

Create More Heat – Safely!

It can be tough to create heat during a power outage in the wintertime, but it’s certainly possible! Here’s how.

·         Use hot water bottles. As soon as the power goes off, make use of what’s in your water heater. Fill up hot water bottles and seal them well, then place them underneath the blankets on your bed to trap in the heat. If you don’t have hot water bottles handy, you can make your own by filling a plastic bottle with hot water, sealing it well, and slipping it into a thick sock.

·         Eat snacks regularly. Your body needs fuel to keep it going. Fill up on non-perishable foods, fresh fruit, veggies, and other foods that are filling and pack a protein punch. You should also stay hydrated with water.

·         Use your fireplace or wood stove. If you have a fireplace, you might be in luck. A wood-burning fireplace or stove can keep you toasty warm in your home no matter how long a winter storm lasts. Make sure it is well-maintained. Always use it safely. The Insurance Information Institute offers great tips on using this heat source.

·         Use a portable heater. Only use a battery-powered heater in the home, or a space heater that is specifically designed for use in an indoors, enclosed space. Carefully follow all instructions when using these heaters.

Know What to Avoid

There are things you should never do to stay warm, as they can lead to even greater danger. The risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning can make an already bad situation much worse, or even deadly. Though the risks of fire are obvious, the risks from carbon monoxide might not be as readily apparent – that’s because it’s an odorless, colorless toxic gas that can kill you with little to no warning[3]. Stay safe with these tips:

·         Do NOT use a grill to stay warm. Grills, barbecue pits, camp stoves, anything with charcoal – these are all incredibly dangerous to use as a heat source, as they create carbon monoxide.

·         Do NOT use portable generators inside. The Environmental Protection Agency says that all portable generators powered by fuel should be kept at least 20 feet away from any building.

·         Do NOT run your car in a garage. Though you might want to get into your vehicle to stay warm, make sure that it is parked safely in your driveway or on the street. Opening the door of the garage is not enough – get the vehicle away from the house. You must also make sure that the tailpipe isn’t blocked by snow. These steps will help you avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

·         Do NOT use your kitchen appliances to generate heat. It might be tempting to use gas ovens to provide heat, but keep in mind that these might not burn efficiently or the flame might even go out, allowing gas to seep into your home[4].

·         Do NOT use open flame. Though candles might seem like a good idea to heat up the room, they should be used only for illumination – and only if they are in a safe container well away from anything flammable[5].

Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

These two conditions can happen when you’re exposed to cold weather for too long. Though anyone is at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, it holds special dangers for seniors. Those over the age of 65 might have a diminished response to cold due to a variety of factors, including some chronic conditions that affect blood flow (like diabetes), some medications, and aging itself. The result is that the elderly can suffer from hypothermia during even relatively mild exposure to the cold[6].

Hypothermia is a very dangerous condition that can occur when your body temperature drops too low. That can lead to shivering, exhaustion, memory loss, and confusion. You might fumble when you try to do things with your hands. Your speech might be slurred. You might also be very sleepy.

Frostbite usually affects the extremities, such as fingers and toes. It happens when these body parts experience decreased blood flow as a result of freezing temperatures. The elderly are especially at risk if they have a problem with blood circulation or already suffer a loss of sensation in a particular area, such as someone with diabetes who has lost feeling in their feet due to diabetic neuropathy. Frostbite might be starting if areas of skin are numb, feel unusually firm, or have a white, gray, or yellowish tinge.

If you suspect you or someone in the home with you is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, get help immediately. Since hypothermia can lead to confusion and exhaustion, it’s a good idea to have an personal emergency response system, or PERS device, that requires only the push of a button to summon help. That’s why a mobile medical alert system from Alert1 is an excellent idea. Our trained professionals can get you the help you need immediately.

Create a Plan on What to Do Next

If it appears that the power outage will last for a long while, consider what to do when the heat you’re generating in your home just isn’t enough. The Red Cross offers shelters that can keep you warm and provide you with food, companionship, and other assistance. This map will help you find a place near you.

Local community centers, churches, schools, and hospitals will often provide warm areas to keep the community safe. Don’t hesitate to visit one if the cold temperatures become too much to handle. Some will even allow you to bring your pets with you. If you can’t get around well and need transportation, reach out to family, friends, and neighbors for help.

If you already have a medical alarm for elderly adults, you’re in luck! You can press the button on your Alert1 life-saving senior device at any time to ask for assistance. Even our home-based alert systems that require a landline connection have a battery backup that lasts for 24 hours. Alert1 offers good peace of mind even when the power is out!