Staying Warm Without Power
We can't effectively teach something we haven't experienced. In keeping with that philosophy, our family agreed to turn off the electricity in the dead of winter for a self-inflicted frigid experience. I have to admit that I cheated right up front. I still had a working refrigerator, freezer and hot water. At the time of the experiment we had four small children living at home the youngest of which was not quite two years old. Allow us to share this icy experience with you.
Day One – Low 1°F with a high of 18°F – Inside Temperature 51°F
We embarked on this adventure with a great deal of excitement. Our little research assistants, ages 6, 5, 5, and 2, thought this was going to be better than camping. We began to make all of the preparations we had researched and started the game.
We set up two little inexpensive pup tents in the family room, one for the boys and one for the girls, and spread out sleeping bags and blankets inside them. Extra blankets were spread on the master bed where mom and dad would sleep. The family room was our designated living area as it had good access to the kitchen and could be isolated from the rest of the house. Flashlights, candles, glow sticks and lanterns were gathered and placed in strategic locations in preparation for use at nightfall. We made cardboard inserts for the windows and placed them next to the glass and closed the blinds in an effort to retain the heat inside the house.
Meals were simple. Foods were cooked over a collapsible stove with canned heat under it. We used candles for light in the kitchen, which was a mistake. After several attempts by the children to light various items on fire with the flame from the candle, we gave up and used the battery powered lanterns and flashlights. At bedtime, we dressed the children in blanket sleepers, gave each one a glow stick and tucked them in their little tents. Jonathan and I went to sleep in our bed, which was covered with a heavy stack of blankets. We slept comfortably snuggled in our bed together.
During the night, I woke terrified my little ones were going to freeze to death. I was shocked when I unzipped the first little tent and was struck by a blast of warm air in my face. The twins were sleeping on top of their sleeping bags toasty warm. The tents had created a microenvironment and worked like a charm.
Day Two – Low -1°F with a high of 18°F – Inside Temperature 51°F
Breakfast was a little frustrating. I wanted hot cocoa right now and I couldn't use the microwave. Cooking takes much longer when you are dependent on an alcohol stove to heat the water. I was excited to take a hot shower because I was really cold. I hadn't thought it through very well. After a delightful shower, I returned to the cold with a wet head. I couldn't stop shivering and soon I realized I was in trouble. The children and I walked across the street to my parents' home where I sat in a warm house in front of a warm fireplace. I realized I had hypothermia. I knew better and I let it happen anyway.
All productivity ended with nightfall. The dark was depressing and difficult to function in. No television for entertainment, only games or reading by dim lights. Bedtime was a blessing and I allowed it to come early.
Day Three – Low 12° with a high of 21°F – Inside Temperature 49°F
I started day three without a shower. I pulled out the butane stove to cook breakfast on because I was tired of the slow alcohol stove and way too cold to cook outside. I didn't really care whether or not it was safe to cook with it inside the house.
By late afternoon I decided I was done with this experiment and called to tell Jonathan, who had been sitting in his heated office at work while I was freezing at home with the children. I announced I was finished and expected a pat on the back for my valiant effort. Instead, he told me to put on a hat. He is one lucky man that he didn't say that to my face. After a considerable amount of venting, I put on a hat. He was right. I was much warmer.
Day Four – Low 16° with a high of 28°F – Inside Temperature 46°F (low)
Today I got to experiment a little with heat sources. We had a gas fireplace which will work without electricity. It was nice to sit up against as it would warm my back but it did not affect the temperature in the room. We tried the Mr. Buddy propane heater and I was a happy mama. I put it on the table and for the first time in days enjoyed playing games with the children.
I enjoyed a shower today with the Mr. Buddy propane heater on the bathroom counter. It heated the bathroom nicely. The house felt colder today.
We learned valuable lessons from this experience. I had originally agreed to go for one week without electricity and heat. It wasn't as much fun as I thought, and I could, so I bailed. We had intentionally avoided using alternative heat sources until the last day because we wanted to see how cold the house would get and if we could survive. Here are a few of the things we learned:
You can survive without electricity.
Cold results in survival mode. Keeping warm becomes an all consuming activity. I made stupid decisions when I knew better. Plan for safe ways to cook and provide a little warmth.
Dark is depressing. Productivity started with sunrise and ended with sunset. Alternative sources of light are important.
Open flame is dangerous. Children were fascinated by the candles. Accidents happen quite easily.
Store easy-to-prepare foods. Hot cocoa, hot apple cider, soups, hot cereals, and other warm foods are wonderful for warming from the inside out.
Wear a hat.
Store LOTS of blankets.
Think about what you would do if the power went out in the dead of winter. If you live in Hawaii, you might not have to worry much. However, Alaska is another story. Power outages in the winter months can be deadly unless you have taken time to plan and prepare. You don't have to keep the house at a toasty 78 degrees, just warm enough to keep your family healthy.
Prepare your home. Plan for alternative lighting, cooking and if possible, heating. Practice ... even for just one day. You will be amazed what you learn.