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Emergency Heating - Keeping Warm During a Power Outage

Updated on January 31, 2013

Emergency Heat - How to NOT Freeze When the Heat Is Out

My family lives in Minnesota and the winters can be downright bitter. The last few winters we've seen frequent power outages, and when the power goes out, so does the heat. When it's below zero outside it doesn't take very long for a previously warm and toasty home to turn into a freezer.

We decided that we absolutely had to have a plan for keeping warm when we lose power during the winter. See the lovely wood stove over to the left there? I would love to have one, but it just isn't possible to install one where we live so we had to come up with another plan for emergency heat. After spending hours researching different options we came up with a plan that worked very well for heat during a power outage, so I figure I'll share with folks what we've learned.

Thanks to madaise on Flickr for sharing this photo under creative commons licensing!

Be Safe Using Emergency Heaters!

Always make sure you have functioning battery operated smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when using emergency heaters. Keep them well away from combustible materials and children. Crack a window about an inch for fresh air, and NEVER sleep with a heater running!

Non Electric Emergency Heaters- Blue Flame Heaters - Explore the Options That Will Work Best in Your Home

These are a few of the non-electric emergency space heaters that we looked into when we were trying to figure out what we should do to keep warm when the power goes out. Consider things like the area that you would like to heat, the availability of fuel, and the building and safety codes in your area. Don't expect any backup heater to heat your entire house. Decide on a comfortable area where the whole family can hunker down in the event of a power failure.

We looked at a lot of different options, including these ventless "blue flame" natural gas and propane heaters, but found they weren't legal to use where we live. I wish they were! For us, natural gas would have been one of the most affordable options for emergency heat at our place. They are affordable and reliable, but be sure to check the codes in your area, and make sure to have a qualified professional install the gas line!

Emergency Heating With a Kerosene Heater

Kerosene heaters can really crank out the BTU's, and if you have an affordable source for kerosene where you live, they can be a very good option to heat your home during a power outage. One of the disadvantages is that you have to fill and prime the heater outside, and it's next to impossible to avoid spilling a little bit of kerosene when filling, and well, kerosene does have quite the "aroma"! They can put out enough heat to scorch floors, so be careful what type of surface you put them on, or set up a brick hearth to protect flooring.

The wicks do require periodic replacement, so be sure to keep backups on hand.

Use only 1-K heating fuel in a kerosene heater, other types have more impurities, and are not safe to use for indoor heating.

Emergency Propane Heat - Mr. Heater Big Buddy - Portable Indoor Safe Propane Heater

After much consideration we finally settled on buying the Big Buddy portable propane heater made by Mr. Heater.

HEATSTAR MH18B Mr. Heater Portable BIG Buddy Heaters, 4,000/9,000/18,000 BTU/H
HEATSTAR MH18B Mr. Heater Portable BIG Buddy Heaters, 4,000/9,000/18,000 BTU/H

We chose this heater for several reasons.

* It has a variable BTU output so I can adjust the heater up or down depending on the size of the area we are trying to heat.

* It's lightweight and portable, I can use it with either one or two disposable propane cylinders and take it on the go with us. It makes a great little heater for warming a tree stand during hunting season, or taking to the cabin once the weather turns chilly.

*We can hook it up to a 20# propane tank, the kind that our outdoor grill runs on, we just had to buy a hose with a regulator to hook it up. See right below for the hose we have. It's a bit more expensive than the others, but regulates the pressure from the 20# tank to the heater so we don't have to worry about the high pressure damaging the hose and heater. The unregulated hoses give off an oily residue that royally screws things up! We keep the large tank outside and run the connector through a cracked window to the heater. We always have several tanks around, so we don't have to worry about storing different fuel. We can keep an area in our home warm for several days on a full tank, in frigid Minnesota!

*It has a low-oxygen sensor that cuts the heater off if the oxygen level in the room drops too low. This is a nice safety feature, but it doesn't replace the need to have reliable smoke and carbon monoxide detectors set up when we use the heater. Safety, safety, safety!

So far we love this heater, it's really easy to light, and there isn't a smell after the first use. I think a bit of the manufacturing residue burns off the first time you use it. We just hooked it up outdoors and let it burn on high for about half an hour before we used it indoors the first time.

It really cranks out the heat. It works well even without batteries for the fan, although the fan does help circulate the heat a bit better. It's nice to know that the heater still functions even without any batteries installed.


This is the Hose We Use to Hook the Big Buddy Heater to a 20# Propane Grill Tank

12ft Big Buddy Hose with Regulator
12ft Big Buddy Hose with Regulator

This is the hose we chose to connect to our propane grill tank. The quick disconnect is really handy, it makes setting up and breaking down the heater a breeze.


Check Out These Videos of the Big Buddy Propane Heater

The Other Things We Do to Stay Warm

A backup heater is only part of how we prepared for staying warm during a power outage emergency. Here are some more suggestions I have to stay safe and warmer until the heat comes back on...

Lesson #1 For Keeping Warm When the Power Is Out - Keep in the heat you have.

trustypicks on flickr shared this photo under cc licensing.
trustypicks on flickr shared this photo under cc licensing.

Keeping Warm During a Power Outage - Retain the Warmth in Your Home

The first rule to keeping warm during a power failure is to retain the heat that is already in your home. There are a few simple things that you can do to keep the heat in, before it escapes to the outside.

  • Make sure that all of your doors and windows are securely closed and locked. When windows are locked they have a better seal that helps keep warm air in, and cold air out. Keep in mind that anytime you are running an emergency heater, you need to have a bit of a window cracked for safety reasons. After we turn the heater off, we close the cracked window to keep in more of the heat. It's better to lose a little bit of the heat in your room, than to die of carbon monoxide poisoning!
  • Close blinds, curtains, and draperies on all windows that aren't receiving direct, warming sunshine. Keep windows covered in the evening, or on a cloudy day.
  • Hang a heavy blanket, quilt, or drapery over doors to the outside.

Lesson #2 For Staying Warm in an Emergency - Put on Warm Clothing to Hold in Your Body Heat!

Thanks to Andrea Hughes on flikr for sharing, cc licensing.
Thanks to Andrea Hughes on flikr for sharing, cc licensing.

You want to retain your body heat as much as possible, so break out the long underwear, hats, gloves, heavy wool sweaters. Try to dress in layers as this will help hold your body heat in more than a single layer will.

It's a lot harder for our bodies to warm up once we're already chilled. When you are able to, try to keep gloves or mittens on as well.

Use Hot Water Bottles to Warm Up!

It's amazing how much this helps. We heat water to boiling on our natural gas stove, fill up hot water bottles, and snuggle up. It really does keep us warm and toasty, especially when we're only using the emergency heater to keep from freezing.

A hot water bottle will keep you really warm under a blanket. I also fill a couple up and tuck them into our sleeping bags to keep us warm overnight when we don't run a heater. It makes a huge difference. I like to put one at my feet and one up by my chest to snuggle up with.

If you don't have a gas stove, you can boil water on a camp stove outdoors.

Thanks to cleveralias on flickr for the lovely photo, shared with cc licensing.
Thanks to cleveralias on flickr for the lovely photo, shared with cc licensing.

Lesson #3 Eat Plenty of Food to Stay Warm

Calories are heat. Make sure that you have plenty to eat, this will help keep you warmer.

We're fortunate enough to have a gas range that works even without the power, so we do a lot of cooking. It helps warm up the house a bit, and hot food sure is comforting when the heat and lights are out.

Don't ever use a camp stove indoors or try to use your stove as a heater, it's not safe! But the heat from a bit of cooking is welcome when it's cold outside. Warm tummies are just happier...

I'm wondering how many people that read this are ready for a heating emergency.

Are You Prepared to Heat Your Home in an Emergency?

See results

If you made it this far reading, I'd love to know if you have any other suggestions for keeping warm when the power goes out... I feel so much better knowing that we won't freeze to death during a power failure and I hope everyone in cold climates has a plan for staying safe and warm when disasters strike. There are a few more things that we are going to set up, and I'll keep you posted as we try them out. Health and happiness to you!

Thanks for Stopping By! - Stay Warm and Safe This Winter

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    • MBurgess profile image

      Maria Burgess 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I am glad you shared this information about keeping warm in a power outage. I live in a climate that does not get very cold, but we could lose power in winter and that would be an emergency. I do hang blankets over the windows because my apartment is a little drafty. You have several interesting tips here. Thank you for sharing this! Have a great day! =)