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How to Stay Warm During Winter Storms and Power Outages

Mother putting snow year on small child.

Paulo Sousa / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • In the event that you lose power, double layering on clothes and blankets and closing off all drafts from windows and doors can help retain heat. 
  • Experts advise against propane heater usage inside the home and sleeping in running cars in enclosed spaces as they are a carbon monoxide hazard.
  • If you experience carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 immediately and seek immediate emergency care.

Strong winter storms have left some parts of the U.S. without power and clean water for days, particularly in Texas. For over a week, Texans have struggled to get by without water, electricity, and heat during freezing temperatures.

As winter stretches on, it's uncertain if storms will hit again. Verywell spoke to experts on how best to prepare yourself and your home in case of such an emergency and how to stay warm if your area experiences power outages in the future.

What This Means For You

If you live in an area that has lost power and have a backup heat source, use it sparingly and turn it off when you are away from home or are going to sleep. If you do not have an alternative heat source, consider double layering your blankets and clothes, remaining in the same room as others in your home, and sealing any drafts. 

Tips for Staying Warm

Paula D. Walker, MD, MPH, physician and board-certified health and wellness coach in Georgia, tells Verywell if the power goes out, double layering blankets and wearing several layers of clothes can help keep people warm.

Additionally, “it is often helpful to create a microenvironment to retain heat with family members huddling in one room of the home for warmth, instead of being in separate rooms,” Walker says. 

Another technique for staying warm without electricity or heat is sealing all the drafts that may come from windows or doors using duck tape, according to Michael Billet, MD, emergency room doctor and assistant professor at the University of Maryland.  

For people who choose to sleep in their cars, Billet says that a tailpipe in an enclosed space can be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning. “If you are sleeping in your car and leaving it running, you need to make sure that the tailpipe is completely unobstructed so that the exhaust can vent out into the air," Billet says.

When navigating the power outage, Walker advises people to use flashlights instead of candles. “Using candles when the power goes out may present a fire hazard,” Walker says. “Instead, keep flashlights nearby for illuminating areas when the power goes out.” 

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you own a gasoline-powered generator, Walker advises against using it inside the home, basement, or garage. “Gasoline-powered generators produce carbon monoxide, and the fumes can be deadly,” Walker explains. 

Billet says that carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous gases because it’s odorless and colorless. People may only start showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning when the condition has already worsened. “So what carbon monoxide does in the body is it blocks the ability of your red blood cells to carry oxygen,” Billet says. 

Billet adds that carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Feeling fatigued 
  • Shortness of breath

Because of its odorless and colorless nature, Walker recommends installing a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm within your home. If you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, she says to seek emergency care immediately. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is a life-threatening emergency," Walker says. "Do move to a fresh-air location and call 911 immediately if you experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning."

Portable generators also shouldn’t be plugged into any home electrical outlets because it can cause backfeeding—when the flow of electric power has not been isolated and allows for unfiltered electricity to flow through circuits. This can cause an overload of some equipment and appliances.

"A backfed generator will put power into the grid and put neighbors and electrical workers at risk,” Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric, tells Verywell. Generators should only be connected to the home through what is called a “double pole, double throw switch”, sometimes called a two-way transfer switch. Your generator's connection to the home should be established by an electrician.

Considerations Before Buying a Generator

For people using generators, Walker recommends storing them in a clean, dry, and easy to access space and using the generator only sparingly. “Turn it off when you’re asleep or away from your home to avoid a possible fire hazard,” Walker says. 

When operating your generator, Walker says using dry hands instead of wet hands is the best practice because using wet hands can cause electrocution. Worthington also suggests turning off appliances connected to the generator when not in use. “Interesting fact, coffee makers use a lot of energy," Worthington says. "If using a generator, turn off the coffee maker once the coffee is made.”

Before rushing to purchase a generator, Worthington suggests understanding what your power needs are and how your plug-ins use energy. “For example, [consider] whether you want the generator to run the refrigerator and a couple of outlets, or the entire house during a power outage,” he says.

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Article Sources
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  1. Helsel P, Talmazan Y. Texas water shortage adds to power crisis as new winter storm moves in. NBC News. Updated February 17, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Updated July 17, 2020.

  3. Hale’s Electrical Services. What is electrical backfeeding? Updated September 18, 2017.

  4. BARC Electric Cooperative. Generator safety.