Here on the Rehovot homestead, it still looks (mostly) like fall. Yes, we’ve had snow and freezing temperatures, and staying warm hasn’t been a huge deal.
But our latest snowstorm last week left around an inch or two of cold powdery white stuff. And it has now mostly melted off.
We know winter is coming. And that brings delicious baked goods, hot cider and chocolate, and hearty stews and roasted root vegetables.
But also that means cold temperatures. Now around here the coldest we see is around -20°F.
Some of you readers may see -40°F or more, or you may only see 20°F.
But it’s always a good idea to be prepared for cold weather, whatever that means to you.
Since many great homesteading bloggers have cold preparedness lists already, here’s a selection of what I’ve found.
After their ideas, I’ll have some suggestions of my own.
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Topic: Keeping kids warm on the homestead
Nutrient-dense whole foods
Yes, absolutely. You will require more food to keep warm, as it takes calories to produce heat.
Make sure it’s good food, not just sugar, cookies, cake, and pie.
Use natural fibers (wool)
Wool is naturally warmer, has loft which traps warm air, and stays warm even when wet.
Remember the survivalist’s mantra – “wool warms, cotton kills.”
I would also add silk to this idea. Silk long johns (long underwear) are nice and warm on a cold day or night.
Have a warm house to come back to
After they (and you) run about and get cold and wet, make sure to have a warm comfortable place to return to.
Then snuggle up on the couch under blankets in front of a fire, with some hot cocoa or cider.
This is one of the best parts of winter!
Topic: Keeping warm without turning up the heat
Wear multiple layers
Layers help trap warm air and slow down heat loss.
Yes, I mean outside and also inside the house. If you’re cold, put on another layer.
Don’t forget a hat as well.
Oven door open
After cooking or baking, leave the oven door open to let the warm air go into the room instead of up the oven exhaust.
And speaking of the exhaust, unless you need it on to remove smoke or steam, leave it off.
It will suck warm air out of the house, which causes cold air to be pulled in.
This is how good passive cooling works, but it’s the opposite of what we want.
Hot food – soup & coffee/tea
Direct contact with warmth (conduction) is the most efficient method of heat transfer.
And it doesn’t get more direct than taking warm liquids inside your body.
For bracing against going out in the cold, keeping yourself warm or warming up after an adventure outside, hot soup or cider/coffee/tea is hard to beat.
Open window curtains/blinds when sunny, close at night
Let the low winter sun angle help warm the house during the day.
Then when the sun goes down, close your curtains to slow down that heat loss.
Brick or tile (or water containers) will be warmed by the sun. They will soak up more heat that will be released at night.
Reverse ceiling fans
During the summer, using your ceiling fans to blow on you for cooling is smart.
But in winter, reverse the rotation to let them pull the cold air up to displace the warm air near the ceiling.
This warm air then is closer to where humans live, and also the thermostats. So it will make the furnace turn on less often.
Doing activities to keep yourself moving like cleaning, cooking, and projects will stimulate your body to make more heat, and you will feel less cold.
I used to work at a place where I did a lot of digging and shoveling dirt. I worked with a guy who always complained about being cold.
He was always the first to quit and the last to start up again after a break. No wonder he was so cold.
If he had worked like I did, he would have been much warmer.
Open door when showering, and no bath ventilation fans
The heat and humidity from showering is a good thing in the winter to have in your house, since it’s usually very dry.
It cuts down on sniffles, coughs, and makes the indoor air more pleasant.
As well, don’t turn on the “fart” fans unless really necessary. Like the oven exhaust fan, it just sucks warm air out of the house, and pulls in cold air.
Cut down on drafts
If you have drafts under doors or around windows and can’t fix them properly, block them with towels or “door snakes.”
Pinterest has lots of examples of these crafty ideas, so if you can sew you’re good to go.
For myself, I can’t sew a straight line, so I would use a towel or ask The Crew for help making one of these.
Close fireplace flue
If you have a unused fireplace closing the flue can cut down on heat loss through the chimney.
Chimneys (and their effects) are really good at getting heat out of the house. This is of course the opposite of what we want.
Flannel bedding and thick comforter (down/wool)
At night when temperature drop, beds can be cold if you’re still using cotton sheets from summer.
Instead, put on warm flannel sheets and a thick down or wool comforter.
This will help regulate your body temperature better and be more comfortable.
Hot water bottles, or rice/bean bag
Putting these warming devices against you is conduction, which as I said above is the most efficient method of moving heat.
You can heat a rice or bean bag (again back to the sewing) in a crockpot or microwave to use as warmer when sitting.
Putting on wool socks and/or slippers will keep heat from leaving your feet so fast.
Wool is a great insulator, so make sure you have some available to put on when in the house.
Candles for lighting
Safely using candles is great for mood lighting, couch snuggling and give off a little bit of extra heat.
But don’t burn any open flames bigger than a candle. Many fires start during the winter from improper fire usage.
And last but not least:
As the title indicates, this article is more focused on power outage due to a winter storm.
Have wood on-hand for heating, and fuel for power generation
Make sure your chimney is cleaned and the generator is ready for running.
Also, have some kindling ready to start a woodstove.
An extra layer of trapped air to slow down heat loss, storm windows or shutters can be installed outside your normal windows.
Ensure everyone has clean insulated long underwear
Since you may be needing them for a while, being prepared with clean clothes beforehand is a good idea.
Close all interior doors, avoid opening exterior doors
This will also slow down heat movement.
Move to the basement
In summer the basement is cooler, and it may not seem like it’s a good idea in the winter. But it’s also a stable temperature, and 45°F is much warmer than the -10°F outside.
It’s also likely less drafty since it’s made up of concrete or block walls.
Run bathtub of hot water
Like showing with the door open, this adds heat and humidity.
You may want to put in a water storage device like this WaterBOB.
Use wood stove
And keep it running if it’s still cold. This is why you have lots of wood ready, right?
Only burn safe methods
Like the candles tip above, be safe when it comes to burning things inside.
The tip is to burn nothing bigger than a candle, and no other open flame or diesel heaters!
There are some sad stories about families dying from fire or carbon monoxide poisoning when trying to stay warm during a bad winter storm.
Don’t be one of them.
Live in one room
Similar to the above tip about closing all interior doors, doing this concentrates the heat and makes it more livable.
You can also hang blankets over door and windows at night to further slow down heat loss.
Make sure to open them when it’s sunny.
For kid fun, put up a tent in the “one room” and let the kids camp out indoors.
Putting a blanket over the tent can also make it warmer.
Cover your head
Since the rest of you is covered, most of your heat will come out of your uncovered head.
So put on a warm wool cap.
Eat more calories and drink water
As above, it takes calories from food to make body heat, so eat more. It’s good for you!
Also, even though you may not feel like it, make sure to drink plenty of water.
Surprisingly, if you’re dehydrated your body doesn’t heat as well.
Use the cold to keep food fresh
If you’re out of power and concerned about refrigerator/freezer food spoilage, put the food in a cooler and into a secure place outside.
You also might want to think about using up fridge items that don’t respond well to freezing.
Ok, we’ve seen some ideas from homesteading bloggers. Now here’s some ideas of my own.
Some I’ve heard of before, but I don’t have a specific source to give credit.
We’ll start with some lower cost (and time) options, then more onto larger and more expensive projects.
Free or low-cost options
When you must work outside, keep your clothing dry. Don’t get it very wet from snow or rain, and don’t sweat in it.
Take off or put on layers to avoid overheating and sweating or chilling. This traps air and keeps you warm enough.
Keep the person warm
Forced air heating is the most inefficient means of heating. It’s the process of convection, where a hot gas heats the air, and then the air heats you.
Conduction is the process where direct physical contact moves heat from one object to another, and is the most efficient means.
Radiation is where heat moves directly from one object to another without using a gas for transferring heat.
So the better ways to keep a person warm is by using radiation or conduction.
A campfire or wood stove gives off (thermal) radiation, and a rocket mass heater or hot water bottle conduct heat directly.
Wood stove fan
Get something like one of these wood stove fans. It uses heat to spin the fan blades.
It’s nearly free air circulation for the wood stove heat.
You will get heat and humidity in the house, both of which are good in the winter.
Tin foil behind radiators
Since many times they are in front of windows, the heat goes up and out the window.
This trick will reflect more of the heat into the room from hot radiators.
Don’t place furniture in front of windows
Spaces in front of windows are generally colder, so don’t place furniture there.
Put them facing the wood stove or fireplace.
Cover bare floors
Since many floor will conduct heat away from the room, put down rugs or blankets to slow down heat loss.
But you’re also wearing your slippers like I suggested, right?
This will make it seem warmer in the house.
Seal cracks & gaps
Drafts will rob heat and make it seem colder.
Sealing up these gaps with spray foam, insulation or new weatherstripping helps to keep the heat in and cold out.
Higher cost and time projects
Now let’s talk about some projects you can plan during the long cold winter.
These will be higher cost, but should pay off over time.
They are mostly in order of increasing cost or time.
Adding insulation to your attic is a good way to limit heat loss that way. It’s like putting a warm hat on your house.
A radiant barrier may be better for southern climates, or thermal insulation like fiberglass or cellulose.
I’ve even heard of using wool or ground up denim for insulation.
Windows have very little insulating value, and so much heat is lost through them.
Thermal curtains or movable window insulation closed/installed at night limits heat loss. They are then opened/removed during the day to allow solar heating.
I grew up in a passive solar house that had homemade thermal curtains with insulating batting and a mylar-type reflective layer. Between the solar heating of the tile, the bricks behind the wood stove and the curtains, it was quite warm at night.
I’m not aware of a commercial source for movable window insulation. But you can get this book (Movable Insulation by William K. Langdon) to show you how to make your own.
Or your local library probably has it.
Solar air heater
And speaking of solar heating, this is a low-cost fun project that will give you surprisingly high benefits.
Many variations of these exist, from the smaller systems made with soda cans and sheet metal, to larger systems.
They can be powered or passive, freestanding or mounted on the side of a house.
Rocket mass heater
Another darling of permaculture, the RMH is a great application of low-cost building and waste stream re-use.
It’s made from cob, which is clay, sand, and some kind of fiber, usually chopped straw or dry fibrous manure.
The “mass” is usually formed into a bench or bed with fire exhaust pipes running underneath.
Classically, it also usually involves fire brick, a steel pipe or two, and a steel 55-gallon barrel.
Many times they are only cost a few hundred dollars, going up or down depending on what you have to buy.
When you are actively burning wood, you can use the barrel as a cooktop, and it’s heating the mass up.
After the fire goes out, the mass stays warm for much longer, sometimes days. Unlike a traditional wood stove, it’s not blazing hot in the evening then freezing cold by 3AM.
The way the RMH is designed, you have more of the heat staying in the house and not going up the chimney.
It’s a cleaner hotter fire, so you don’t have nearly as much smoke or heat being wasted out of the chimney.
I haven’t heard this, but I would guess it’s safer too, since the chimneys don’t get as much creosote buildup.
Plus you don’t have a ton of heat going through the ceiling and onto your potentially flammable (asphalt shingles, anyone?) roof.
You can also burn twigs and small branches that fell off trees from the woods. And one person I heard of kept their RMH fed on only junk mail for an entire winter.
You don’t have to fell and buck cords and cords of firewood, unless you want to.
Because a RMH is so much more efficient, you don’t need nearly as much wood. The figures I’ve heard are from one-fifth to one-tenth the wood of a traditional wood stove, or 10-20%.
For tons more info on the RMH, see the richsoil.com article here.
Solar water heater
This uses the same idea as a solar air heater, but runs water through instead.
The DIY option will be much cheaper, but there are commercial products available as well.
There are several options like gylcol exchange or straight water drainback.
Another somewhat different idea is using a big pile of wood chips and manure to heat water through decomposition.
Earth heat sink
Sometimes also called annualized geo-solar, or earth tubes, or geo-coupled air tubes.
This uses the idea that the earth can store a lot of heat energy, and can be used for low-cost cooling and heating.
It works like this: in summer, you insulate the ground and pump hot air into it. This cools the space by removing the heat.
This heat adds up over time, then you use it in the fall and winter to put heat back into the house.
This is an extra room on the outside of the main entry to the house.
Often its door is a right angle to the main door. It keeps heat from quickly leaving from a single entrance.
It’s like wearing multiple clothing layers to keep you warmer and trap heat.
The two-door system prevents losing a ton of heat due to “the kids” or dog from leaving the door open during cold weather.
They may be heated, or have wood storage, but almost always are used as a place to take off boots and coats.
See here and here
Lastly, if building a new house or buying a new one, consider your home’s location.
Houses in valley bottomland will be colder due to cold flowing downhill, not to mention vulnerable to floods.
Conversely, a hill or ridge-top house will be colder due to its exposure and the cooling winds.
The best location is mid-slope between the bottom and top of a slope.
Also consider solar aspect, and positioning to take advantage of winter sun and summer shade.
Lots of great ideas to conserve heat, use the sun to heat and make hot water, and keep you comfortable.
Stay warm this winter!
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OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about heating, staying warm, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
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