Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Cold Weather Survival Without Power

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Everyone who is caught in the Texas snowstorm is in my prayers. Here are some cold weather survival tips, by me and by others in our Facebook group, that I hope help you out. Since many of you are checking on phones which may be low on batteries, please be advised that the following information is mirrored as a PDF which you can download once and use later even if you lose connection. 

Cold House Survival
If you run out of power and your home gets cold during the night, do the following:
  1. Gather in the smallest room you can stand to be in.
  2. Close the door and stuff the crack with blankets.
  3. Seal the windows with plastic wrap and duct tape. 
  4. If you need to be in a large room due to having a large number people and pets, wall off as much unused space as possible with hanging blankets. Use rope if needed. Blanket forts are your friend, so embrace your inner child!
  5. Get as many people/pets onto a bed as possible (if no bed, then make make a ground cloth with thick rugs and pull a blanket over you) and snuggle up. Your body heat, and the heat of any family and pets you have, ought to get you through the night.
  6. Those people who are naturally the warmest should plan on being on the outer edges of the group.
  7. Layer up, and cover your head and feet for maximum insulation. 
  8. If you feel yourself starting to overheat, take off layers until you are comfortable. The last think you want to do is start sweating, because dampness next to your skin will greatly accelerate heat loss.
  9. Avoid cotton, as it hangs onto moisture. Use wool or synthetics instead, and change out of anything which is wet or damp. 
  10. If you have a gas water heater, that means you have hot water. Take a hot bath or shower to warm yourself. Be a human hot water bottle!
Cold Weather Car Survival
If you plan to sleep in a running vehicle, make sure you do the following:
  1. Make absolutely sure your exhaust pipe is completely clear if your car is outside. A snow drift too close to your pipe (or worse, a pipe full of snow after backing into a snow drift) can result in the carbon monoxide filling up the interior and suffocating you. 
  2. If your car is in a garage, then your best bet is to move your car outside to prevent the door from falling while you are asleep. 
  3. If you have a powered garage door, look for a red pull handle close to the motor; this will release it from the track and allow you to open it by hand.
Prevent Frozen Water Lines
  1. Disconnect any hose attached to exterior faucets. 
  2. If there is an indoor shut-off valve for exterior faucets, turn it off, then open the exterior spigot to drain the line. 
  3. If there isn't a shut-off valve, open the spigot slightly so that a trickle of water comes out. 
  4. Wrap up your exterior faucets in blankets. 
  5. If your house is plumbed in series, then open the furthest faucets on each line to a trickle. If your house is plumbed in parallel, or if you don't know how it's plumbed, set all faucets trickling. 
Toilet Flushing Without Water Pressure
If you've lost the ability to flush due to a frozen water line, you can always force a manual flush by pouring a bucket of water into the toilet bowl. Most toilets just need a bucket containing a gallon or two of water; older toilets may need 3-5 gallons of water to start the flushing cycle.

With advance warning, you can fill buckets, plastic totes, and other containers and store them in your bath tub. (Most tub drains have some degree of slow leakage.) Alternately, you can line trash receptacles with heavy-duty trash bags and store water there.

If you don't have warning, but have a gas stove, you can melt snow to make water for flushing. If not, you may have to bring a bucket in and let it melt on its own. Keep that bucket away from your sleeping area, though, as it will make your bedroom colder!
To manually flush your toilet:
  1. Fill a bucket with at least one gallon of water.
  2. Begin by pouring the water into the bowl, from as high as you can comfortably pour (and control). Pour slowly at the beginning while gradually speeding up, and dump the remainder of the water into the bowl.
  3. If done correctly, the water should push the waste in the toilet through the pipes, and your toilet will flush.
Rule of thumb: If it's yellow, let it mellow (a capful of bleach can help neutralize the odor); if it's brown, flush it down.

Cooking Without Power
If you do not have a natural gas stove, it may be possible to cook food indoors, but you must be careful of two things: Carbon monoxide (CO) exhaust and fire safety. 

CO exhaust is mitigated by having fresh air available. Open a window a small amount to ensure good airflow; the little bit of cold air that comes in is offset by the heat from burning fuel.

If you have an alcohol burner, propane stove, or sterno (or other form of "canned heat") stove, then you should be safe from CO as they are very clean-burning, and your main concern should be fire safety. Cook on a level, fireproof surface with no nearby flammables in a well-ventilated area. 

If you have a camp stove which runs on charcoal or biofuel like wood, leaves etc, then CO exhaust is a real risk. Do not use this unless you have a chimney of some sort! If you have a functional fireplace, use this for heat and for cooking instead. However, some homes have small, decorative fireplaces which nevertheless have a flue; if that's the case, you may be able to cook with the stove inside the fireplace. However, be especially careful that embers do not escape and set your carpet on fire!

Finally, if you have an outdoor grill and have sufficiently warm clothes, you can always have a cookout. Just make sure you have nothing overhanging your grill! The last thing you want is to weaken snow or ice overhead and have it come crashing down on you and your grill. 


  1. You can also fill the flush tank with water and get similar results (We've been doing that for the last couple of days. Who in their right mind builds the plumbing in the _*ROOF*_ even in Texas...) and tends to be a little bit less messy overall. Try one or the other and see which works best with least issues.

  2. If you, or a neighbor have a swimming pool, you have flushing water, and if it's a fresh water pool, you have water that you can drink, and use for cooking.
    My understanding that the salt in a salt water pool makes the water undrinkable, but I'd like someone with real expertise to weigh in on the subject.

  3. We have survived! Plumbing is in the attic and we were dripping water and running a 75000BTU kerosene heater in the garage every couple of hours to keep it and the attic above freezing. Lost water pressure Tuesday as it was single digits outside. Closed main to the house and ginned up an adapter to hook the air compressor and blew the lines out. Then blew 200yds of line across the north pasture out back to the water meter. Had the generator out on the back porch so we could switch over to it when the rolling blackouts hit us. They became more power off than on for a little while. Finally got solid power back Thursday mid day and water came back at reduced pressure late Friday. Still under a boil water notice and we need to clean the rust residue out of the bathtub from the water we ran to fill it before water went away completely. Also need to clean all teh sinks for the same reason. Overall we are pretty happy with how our preps worked. A few minor tweaks on the fly to adapt to changing conditions but that boils down to attitude. We are going to make a couple small changes but nothing drastic. 133 continuous hours below freezing with a low of 3 degrees and nights below freezing with highs 33 to 35 for a few days on either end of the long stretch. Houses in Texas are not built for this and the power and water systems aren't either. We won't go near HEB for food or any of the hardware stores right now. If they do have anything in stock it is a free for all but mostly they are out of almost everything.


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