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Dressing for warmth

Dressing in layersAs I mentioned previously, I don't really recommend planning to heat a whole room with a backup heating arrangement.  If you don't use your backup equipment in your everyday life, it will take a long time for that equipment to pay for itself and the heaters often won't work when you need them to.  Instead, I recommend changing your habits so that you heat your body instead of the room, both during outages and to whatever extent you're comfortable with during your daily life.  The great thing about learning to stay warm without electricity or fossil fuels is that you'll be prepared no matter how long the power outage lasts, and will also enjoy a lower heating bill during normal winters.

So how do you warm your body instead of the room?  The first step is to invest in some winter clothes chosen for warmth and utility instead of style.  A good winter coat, a hat that covers your ears, warm socks, sweaters, and long johns go a long way.  On cold winter days, I wear fleece long johns under normal pants, two pairs of socks (if they fit in my boots), and on top am decked out in a t-shirt, a thin fleece shirt, a thicker fleece shirt, and then a winter coat.  Throw a wool hat on my head and some good gloves on my hands and I'm quite comfortable even sitting still at 40 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you head down to the local goodwill, you can probably find most of these pieces of clothing for just a few bucks apiece.

Three environmental conditions can make the outfit above useless, though: wind, wet, and constriction.  I'll start with the last, which is the least intuitive.  When you're building a house and adding insulation to the walls, you'll soon learn that you can't cram two layers of insulation into the space meant for one layer and get twice the protection from cold.  Instead, that double layer of insulation will actually work less well than a single, properly installed layer would have.  Insulation --- and that includes your winter clothes --- works by creating pockets that trap air in place.  So if you put on two pairs of socks and cram your feet into boots meant for one pair, your feet will be colder than if you'd only put on one pair because the constricted clothing will push out all the insulating air pockets.  Ditto if you try to wear long johns under close-fitting jeans.  That's why, when planning your winter layers, you'll need to choose some clothes a bit bigger than normal to go on the outside.

You're probably more familiar with the way wind and rain can make you cold despite lots of insulative clothing.  If you're going to be inside during cold weather, you probably won't have to worry much about these problems, but you should plan ahead in case you need to go out.  A waterproof wind-breaker on top of your other clothes goes a long way toward keeping both water and chilly winds from penetrating.  This is especially important if you use synthetic fleece clothes, which wind cuts right through.

You also need to think about water that starts on the inside of your clothes --- sweat.  If you're outside chopping wood and notice that you're starting to heat up, take off layers until you're comfortable again.  Otherwise, your sweat will quickly chill your body once you stop moving.

Keep your feet dry in wet bootsFinally, keep some plastic grocery bags on hand to deal with wet feet.  Boots eventually spring a leak during slogs through the snow, and wet feet make even the most cheerful person cranky.  If you can put on dry socks and slip each socked feet into a grocery bag apiece before putting on your boots, the plastic layer will keep water in your boots from seeping into your socks and coming in contact with your skin.  You may look like a homeless person, but you'll be a warm homeless person.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Weekend Homesteader: December.  The 99 cent ebook walks you through the basics of planting your first fruit trees, staying warm without electricity, understanding the uses of essential tools, and turning trash into treasures.  If you're interested in other aspects of basic emergency preparedness, Weekend Homesteader: November gives tips on storing drinking water and the upcoming Weekend Homesteader: January will cover backup lighting options.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackThis post is part of our Emergency Warmth lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Interesting series. I've been thinking about his ever since the Halloween snowstorm we just had in the Northeast. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power for almost a week. In cold weather, this would have been a huge problem! Many people (myself included) have no good Plan B should this happen.
Comment by BeninMA Wed Nov 30 15:27:30 2011
I think of myself as moderately hard core about roughing it, but I was surprised at how hard our winter power outage hit us in 2009! Since then, we've been slowly getting more prepared, and hopefully later outages won't be as troublesome. I highly recommend getting prepared.
Comment by anna Wed Nov 30 18:17:52 2011

I've always been a big fan of layers when it comes to cold and I am always shocked when I meet people who seem almost disgusted by the idea of putting something on when they are cold.

Several friends and I lived overseas for a few years and the winters never got below 10c. The apartment we shared, like most others in the country, had windows with poor insulation and no heating. One roomate and I solved the problem of cold nights by covering our windows with towels and sleeping with shirts and socks. Crisis averted. The other two went out and bought a heater for almost 100$ because they refused to not sleep naked for the six weeks of the year that it was needed.

Comment by Matthew B Wed Nov 30 23:41:28 2011
Matthew --- I like the house to be quite cold when I sleep, so I'm a big fan of layers then. On the other hand, sleep is such a personal thing --- I can understand if you really just can't get to sleep if you're wearing clothes. Sounds like your friend should have invested in a heavy duty sleeping bag.
Comment by anna Thu Dec 1 10:17:24 2011

Growing up, the heat was only turned about 65 when it was time for showers. At our old apartment, my wife and I kept the heat at 60 throughout the winter.

On tip I would definitely recommend when keeping the heat low in the winter: move the bed away from exterior walls if at all possible. Especially in poorly insulated homes like our old apartment was. There was frequently frost on the inside of our windows, so we know the exterior wall was frequently below 30, but the interior walls were a comparatively toasty 60.

I'm currently working as a flagger, so I'm no stranger to standing still in cold weather. Over the years, I've built up a pretty good collection of cold weather gear, but I still struggle with my feet. Combinations of thermal sock liners, regular cotton socks, and wool boot socks only take me down to about 40 degrees and then my toes start to get cold. I wanted to try two pairs of wool socks, but that combo simply doesn't fit in my boots.

Comment by Edward Antrobus Thu Dec 1 10:25:35 2011

Great tip about interior vs. exterior walls! I would take that a step further and say that if you're going to commit to heating a whole room and don't have one that's passive solar heated, you should probably choose a room in the center of the house.

In our trailer, the barely insulated floor is the coldest part. Stay a foot or so above it, and everything is much warmer....

Cold hands and feet are often a circulation problem. Tough to do when you're working as a flagger, but I find that if I wake up with cold hands, going for a walk warms then right up.

Comment by anna Thu Dec 1 16:01:26 2011

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