Most families already feel the pinch of high gas prices. But now, with the weather turning colder, we’ll feel even more pain heating our homes. Thankfully unlike Europe and many other nations, outside of storms or disasters, we remain unlikely to have lengthy utility outages this winter in Illinois.

At the same time, prudence demands preparation. Because those who fail to prepare are merely preparing to fail. With a modicum of knowledge and proactive steps, you can turn a life- or property-threatening disaster into a mere inconvenience.

Here are some strategies to prepare your household, with minimal financial expense.

Great tips on cold weather camping (indoors or outdoors) at UCO… Image via UCO.

#1: Keeping warm / Alternative heat
People can survive a cooler environment with extra blankets and long-johns (do you have those?). For short-term power outages, a kerosene lamp will heat a small room quite nicely. Just keep the door(s) closed.

For longer-term outages, alternative heat for the home will keep Mr. House from freezing, as frozen pipes will wreck your home. I’d recommend a kerosene heater, in part because the fuel is safer to store than propane. A heater and ten or fifteen gallons of kerosene will run you $300 total, but that remains a fraction of your homeowner’s insurance policy deductible to repair a frozen water pipes claim.


#2: Alternative Water Source
What happens if the city water fails?  Or for the rural folks among us, when the power fails and you have a well pump?  For big city residents, things will quickly become ugly, that’s what. Just look at the water situation in Ukraine, for example.

Have the ability to make potable water through filtration, chemical treatment or storage. Store a case or two of bottled water and have a plan. Without clean water, you can die from disease (which usually involves death by diarrhea) or by dehydration.

Rural folks have probably already made preparations for power outages.  If that’s not you, then you need to do so (and keep reading).


#3: A tent and/or a sleeping bag.
Outside, a tent provides shelter. Indoors, that same tent creates a nice, warm bubble for two or more people to keep comfortable inside with fewer layers of clothing in adverse conditions.

A sleeping bag, likewise, can keep you cozy warm both outdoors or indoors overnight. “Double” bags work well for kiddos and adults who really like one another. Just make sure you have an insulating sleeping mat or heavy blanket under the sleeping bag to prevent a cold floor or the ground from sapping body heat.

Added bonus:  if you have unexpected guests because of an emergency in their lives, sleeping bags will keep guests warm if you’re short of beds and blankets.  Just keep them off the floor with a cot, mat, or other insulator.

#4: Get a camp stove for warm food.
At home, I recommend a propane camp stove for emergencies. Spend the extra $30 and buy a twin-burner camp stove if you can afford it. 

You need a way to cook foods indoors if the power or gas services are down in an emergency.  Warm foods and drinks are a big plus when you’re cold too.  Plus you can use it while camping!

Be sure to buy extra bottles of propane fuel as they don’t last as long as you think, especially when boiling water.


#5: Shelf-stable foods
You need fuel to keep your body warm. Be sure to store at least a week of shelf-stable foods if you live in an apartment. For homeowners, two weeks should be your bare minimum. Stews, soups, pasta, beans, rice, instant potatoes, instant oatmeal & Cream of Wheat, mac & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, etc. along with canned meats, fruits and veggies… you get the idea.

Watch out for freeze-dried or nitro-packed foods as they look good but calorie counts are dangerously low – even for a sedentary life.  How low?  300-400 calories for a “serving” at a meal.  Folks, that’s a very aggressive diet, and that won’t keep you warm, much less provide fuel to do work.  All hope isn’t lost though!  You can fortify them with calories from a bed of rice or instant potatoes.  Or better yet, something protein rich like beans.


#6: Defensive tools.
You want to defend you and your family from those who would rape, rob and pillage their neighbors. A stern word doesn’t stop bad people with evil in their hearts. Get a gun and learn how to use it. Get some defensive ammo too.

As a subset to this: make sure your defensive armament have either red dot/holographic sights or night sights. Without night sights or optics, it’s difficult for most people to reliably hit a man-sized target much beyond room-length distances.


#7: Security cameras.
Live in an area you’re not 100% confident is and will remain safe?  Security camera systems for your home have come way down in price. Buy a hard-wired system, not wireless, and one that has night vision. They sip electricity and can warn you of prowlers while you keep an eye your property from indoors.

In rural settings, they’ll provide advanced warning of both two- and four-legged resource predators.  


#8: Friends and a good neighbor or two.
Maybe this one should be #1 on the list.  Have a network of friends and a handful of good neighbors you can call upon in an emergency.  Communicate with them to plan for contingencies ahead of time and make sure to be available to help them too.  Knowing you’re not alone will provide a big psychological boost for all to say nothing of “safety in numbers” if things get really bad.


#9: Electricity.
Having backup electricity will help you and your family maintain some sanity as crews work to restore utilities.  Especially if you have kids.  Electricity will charge hand-held electronics, run your security cameras and power medical devices.

For those in homes, have enough generating capacity to run your refrigerators, freezers, along with sump pumps and wells as applicable. The alternative is a flooded basement and spoiled food. Buy inverter generators. They run quietly and sip the fuel.

If you buy a solar system and plan to rely on it to some degree, make sure you can store some or all of your generated electricity for both literal and proverbial rainy days.  Most of the typical systems advertised “sell” electricity back to your utility and if the utility goes down, those panels also shut down, in part for safety.

Gavin’s Garage at YouTube has some good reviews of generators if you want to get a college-level course in gensets and honest reviews without much spam.


#10. Common sense & prudence.
Extreme cold poses a greater risk of death than heat. Cold can kill you and winter is right around the corner. Take proactive steps to ensure your family are ready and safe just in case.