The power is out, you have no alternative heating and it’s midwinter in a northern climate. The temperature is down far below freezing, and you know that there is a danger of dying if you don’t keep warm enough. How are you going to keep warm?
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Dress in layers
It’s important to have a layer directly against your skin and then at least one layer that traps air over the first.
There’s nothing quite as jolting as frozen jeans against your inner thighs! Really – why does anyone wear jeans in winter without long underwear?
Cover your head
When you go outside, add a warm hat that covers your ears, a wool scarf (I’ve never found a non-wool scarf that was worth wearing), and your coat and boots.
A ski mask can prevent frostbite if you’re outside for a while.
Wool, wonderful wool
Wear wool – wool socks, wool slacks/skirts, wool slippers.
Keep your FEET and your HANDS warm. One pair of cotton socks plus slippers in the house. One pair of cotton socks plus wool socks inside your boots. Add another pair of wool socks if you’re still getting cold toes.
And that means buying boots a size bigger than usual. Unless you’re going directly to a heated car or bus, you need to keep your feet warm.
Keep your feet DRY
Speaking of slippers – knitted wool slippers are the old faithful. If you have someone who loves you a lot, ask them to get you a pair of sheep shearling-lined suede slippers from Land’s End.
Real fur and real leather
And sheepskin – a lambsskin on a child’s bed will keep them wonderfully warm. (I’ve actually found lambskin to be amazing – they keep babies warm in the winter and cool in the summer)
A heavy leather coat with a sheepskin lining over top of a wool sweater, and you’re toasty. Sorry, PETA, but animal skins are sustainable and really, really warm.
Living animals are warm, too, although you can’t really wear them on your head or feet. I suppose you could try, but the claws might be a problem. Cuddle with your cat or dog. Or goat.
Hat and gloves
Wear a wool hat and fingerless gloves indoors.
Warm Your Insides
Eat warm food and drink coffee and tea. If you can get a pot of hot water going, this can keep you warm.
Or spiced hot cider, although again, heating it will be an issue.
Make sure you’re using an insulated coffee mug (get a stainless steel one NOT plastic!) so that you’re not losing all that heat. It’ll warm you twice – your hands around the mug and then when you drink it.
Eat fatty food and stop worrying about a few extra pounds. They won’t kill you. They will, however, keep you warmer through the winter and might keep you alive. People who thrive in cold climates expect to put on a bit of fat during the winter.
Don’t worry too much – you’ll be burning off a lot of those calories.
Don’t drink much alcohol.
You’ll actually lose heat even if you do feel warmer. Plenty of people drink alcohol because it makes them feel warmer, but if you have no actual heat, that’s a way to comfortably die.
During the day, if it warms up at all, open curtains.
At night, shut them.
And by the way, that means heavy, heat-holding curtains, not silly frilly things. If your curtains are thin, you can add insulating curtain liners. Think tapestries, or even heavy blankets, on your windows.
Make sure there are plenty of blankets on beds. The only place to store your “extra” blankets in the winter is on the beds.
A raggedy blanket can be quilted between two other blankets, making one blanket that traps heat well.
Do not sleep alone.
Most definitely, children should not be separated into their own rooms, not if the temperature is very low and there is no way to raise it.
Small children kick off blankets in the night – keep them close enough that you’ll notice. At any rate, if several beds are in one room, the room will be warmer.
Baby sleep sacks, by the way, are great.
Think This One Through
Sex will also warm you up, except you don’t want to be doing that with kids in the room AND it’ll make you sweaty … so you might want to consider this one carefully.
Use flannel sheets.
Heavy flannel sheets and pillowcases are the best thing in the winter. As soon as the weather starts cooling off, I put away the thin cotton sheets.
Stuffed animals or a wall of pillows will insulate your bed. During the day, make sure your pillow is UNDER the blankets. Put your nightclothes under there, too.
Change Your Clothes
Do not EVER wear your day clothes in bed.
Change everything, right down to socks and underwear. You sweat all day, even if you don’t notice it, and you want that sweat OFF you at night.
Have separate socks just for bed.
Wear pyjamas or a long flannel nightgown (or bedshirt for men!) to bed, with warm socks.
If it’s cold enough, consider a night cap – yes, a hat, not booze. Ignore the description that this is a man’s hat. A night or sleep cap is pretty genderless! Footsie pajamas are cool. I don’t care if anyone says otherwise. When I was a teenager, I had a pair that even had a bum flap, but I haven’t seen one of those in a long time.
Curtain The Bed
The very best bed, by the way, is a four poster with heavy curtains! Hack together a way to create the same effect – surrounding the family’s small sleeping area with curtains to keep in the body heat.
A hot water bottle or two, can be slipped under the covers to warm up your bed. Put one at your feet and one near your middle. (Wrap them in a cloth so you don’t get burned.)
When you stop moving, you cool off. Keep busy. Especially, keep your fingers moving. Knitting or crocheting is warmer than reading.
If you’re not busy, wrap up in a blanket. All chairs and sofas should have a blanket.
NO bare floors – put a carpet down under the kitchen table and in front of the sink and stove. Use rags to crochet small rugs to put everywhere people will be standing.
Stop The Drafts
If there are any drafts, use draftstoppers.
Make sure all windows and doors are as draft-proof as possible. Check them – putty up any cracks, even ones as little as 1/8″.
Don’t let ANY heat escape! If you are in an apartment building, hang heavy blankets to block off the entry hall, so that cold air from the building’s unheated hall won’t suck out precious heat.
Humid air feels warmer, something many of us know from hot, humid summers, so if you can, get moisture into the air.
Don’t smoke. Seriously.
While it might make your chest feel warmer, it will cause the blood flow to your hands to almost shut off! One puff lowers the temperature of your fingertips by 1-3F in 3 minutes.
If you have a safe place to use a barbecue, this can be a way to heat water and cook food if the power is out. Definitely this is something to plan for. Buddy burners are a good idea, too.
Do NOT use a barbecue inside the house.
Get a dozen or so of your neighbours over on a cold winter evening and spend the night dancing, singing and swapping stories. Just remember to have room for people to sleep in case everyone gets snowed in.
Block Off Rooms
Small rooms and homes are easier to heat.
If possible, block off bedrooms and keep your activity, candles, etc. in one room so that you’re only trying to heat a couple hundred square feet (yes, your whole family can live in that). The blocked-off rooms will act as an extra buffer against the cold outdoors. When you do go in those rooms, be prepared for a shock of cold.
Master The Sponge Bath
Getting washed is going to be miserable. There are going to be a lot of stinky, stinky people. Not because water will be hard to find (it’s piled just outside your door all winter!) but because we won’t want to get naked and wet if there is no heat in the bathroom.
Mastering the art of the sponge bath would be a good idea. If you can block off all except one room and get that room warm, wash there. Our ancestors would use privacy screens, or a blanket over a rope, so that Mom had privacy.