Polar Vortex Power Outage? 5 Ways to Stay Warm When the Grid Goes Down

by Joshua Krause

Last week, esteemed physicist Michio Kaku made a rather dire and unexpected announcement on CBS. A massive cold front is moving down the continental United States, that is being caused by Superstorm Nuri. As the storm combines with the jetstream, it’s going to create a drop in air pressure all over the United States. This will in turn, cause heavy rains in the Northeast and relentless blizzards throughout the Midwest. Temperatures are expected to reach as low as -30 degrees in some parts of the country, and the effects might be felt as far south as Florida.

He expects this storm to peak this week, but it will continue to wreak havoc for the rest of this month, and possibly through December. While the United States faces disruptive weather every year, this one is going to be a doozy. He is predicting that “In the worst case scenario, it could mean a deep freeze. It means airlines canceling flights left and right. It means transportation being disrupted…”

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And that’s an important distinction to make. We can survive just about anything when we’re connected to the grid, but a storm this severe could easily break down our transportation network and cause power outages throughout the country. For those of you who live in some of the colder parts of Canada and the U.S., you know how lethal that can be.

To give you an idea of how dangerous it is to be without power, in the UK it was estimated that 31,000 people died last winter, because they couldn’t afford to heat their homes. As hard as it is to believe that such a thing could happen in a developed country, that’s not a made-up number. That’s what every British news outlet reported last year, and that number comes from the government’s own Office for National Statistics.

Every year, thousands of people find themselves without power in the dead of winter. So this year, make sure you have more than one way to heat your home. Fortunately, there are several safe and affordable heating methods you can turn to when utilities are disrupted. Below, are the five best alternatives to electric heating.

Wood Stove

Portable military tent stove

Good ol’ firewood. There’s nothing quite like a hot fireplace on a cold winter day. This is one of the best solutions for anyone living in a rural area, where firewood is relatively cheap and abundant, and can often be gathered in your own backyard. There are, however, several drawbacks. Firewood has to be kept dry, and should be chopped and prepped before winter arrives. There’s also the issue of ventilation. Without a chimney, or some other form of ventilation, an indoor wood fire is very unsafe, and modification to the home can be quite expensive. But if your home is already set up for a fireplace, then this will be one of the most reliable options.

There is, however, a cheap way to add more utility to your fireplace. A wood stove is a great way to not only heat your home, but cook and boil water as well. While some can cost as much as a thousand dollars, you can get a portable military tent heater for a little over a hundred bucks.

Pellet Stove

pellet stove

Much like the wood stove, these tend to be rather expensive. However, they have a lot of advantages that make them far more attractive than wood burners. The pellets are often made of compressed sawdust, grasses, or coconut shells, which makes them very space efficient. In addition, the heat efficiency of a pellet stove is far superior to a wood stove. It’s so efficient, that the government will often give you a tax deduction to mitigate the cost.

The main disadvantage though, is that they usually require a small amount of electricity to operate. Fortunately, there are some non-electric models you can buy, in case the power goes out.


Kerosene heater

Let’s go over some of smaller heating systems for those of you who don’t have a chimney. If you live in an apartment or small house, you have the advantage of not needing a big wood stove to heat your home. One of the most portable heaters you can buy is a convection kerosene heater, which can heat up a small room or garage in no time at all. Kerosene is a very energy dense fuel that’s been around since the 1800s. When burned, it gives off so many BTUs that it’s often mixed with jet and rocket fuel. You’ll still need some ventilation though, so be sure and crack a window while it’s running.


buddy heater

While propane contains about 30 percent less energy per gallon than kerosene, it’s probably the best option for most people. Since it won’t freeze unless the temperature drops below -44 degrees, it’s a very reliable source of heating in the winter. It’s also one of the most common fuel sources in the United States, so you’ll have a large variety of heaters and stoves to choose from, and you won’t have any trouble finding tanks in all sizes. You can buy a small propane heater for about half the cost of a kerosene heater, and you can easily find a propane stove for even less. Much like a kerosene burner, some ventilation is still required.

Candle Heating

Realistically, this should only be used as a last resort, but I think it deserves to be mentioned since most preppers tend to keep a lot of candles around for emergency lighting. One of the most popular ways to use candles for heating, is the flowerpot method, which seems to have gone viral on a lot of prepper and survivalist websites.

It involves stacking several clay pots, and attaching them with a long screw lined with washers. You then place the candle underneath, and as it heats the clay and steel, the heat is radiated to the rest of the room. To be honest though, I’m not entirely sold on the idea. Candles are a very weak source of heat, and it seems like the clay is just going to slow down its ability to heat a room. And even if it does work, there’s no way you can heat an entire room in the dead of winter with a few candles, no matter what contraption you use.

What you can do, however, is heat your personal space. Find the smallest and most insulated room in your house. There should be no need to worry about ventilation. Get yourself a lawn chair or any kind of seat with a thin fabric cushion. Light several candles and place them on the floor directly underneath the seat. While it’s certainly not the best option, it should be enough to keep you from freezing to death if all else fails. To really seal the deal, use a few more candles to boil some water. Drinking that will help warm your body from inside.  And, whatever you do, don’t buy candles from the store. They’re outrageously expensive for what they’re worth. You can find bulk unscented candles for cheap on the Internet.

Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .

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