“This week sure had us hugging our stoves.”
I can’t remember the exact wording the Palacios Beacon used describing a freeze my great-grandmother went through in the early part of the 19th century, but the imagery stuck with me. On February 10, 2021, I went through the “Texas Deep Freeze” while living in the same house. Only the wood-burning stove my ancestors huddled around to keep their house warm has long been taken out and its chimney boarded up after Hurricane Carla damaged it. We had to take out the gas heaters as well, so for three days, we had no electricity, no heat, and limited water. Being a family that enjoys camping and loses electricity from hurricanes, we thought we were prepared. We weren’t.
The kerosene lamp wouldn’t work.
The camping stove caught on fire in our kitchen.
The pipes burst on the second story and started a waterfall outside of the window.
Our freezer grew so warm that we ended up dragging all of our food out into the snow.
The bottled water we had on hand froze, so much that there was nothing to drink except icy drips.
My father got a lamp working and a small heater than just couldn’t keep up. We patched the water leak. I warmed lukewarm tea with a Turkish coffee pot over a candle after an hour over the flame.
I cooked over a fire outside, 1830s style, with our cast iron Dutch oven, until my dad finally got the generator running enough to work the microwave. It was warmer outside there because at least there was some sun. The neighbors sat on their steps with the doorway gaping behind them because it was 13 degrees inside. Up and down the roads, people were barbecuing in their grills. Only two stores in town had generators.
It felt like a ball of ice was permanently lodged in my heart. At one point, I did nothing except stay under blankets, too sleepy to care. I told myself this wasn’t hypothermia…mostly because I had no idea what to do if it was. The only time in the entire three days that my feet were warm was when my cat, Spring, curled up on them and went asleep. He didn’t normally do that, so I think he knew I needed the help. Ironically, I had snapped a photo on Instagram of him before the storm hit with the caption, “Somebody’s not worried about the weather…
We had to conserve the gas in the truck, and even if we drove the 36 icy miles to the next town, there was no telling if there was room or any place open to go. Rumors of a warming center at a distant school wafted over the town. Some people went. Most people just toughed it out. We weren’t strangers to having the electricity and water knocked out by hurricanes, sometimes for days. My house was built to sway with the fierce winds and conduct the breeze through the windows to cool in 100 degree summers. Most of the house isn’t insulated. So when the cold hit, all that precious heat began to seep away and carry us into a world of trouble.
Now I’m in Ohio, where there is a lot colder weather, but buildings and people are more adapted. I’m still living in an older building, so I did some research to see how people kept themselves toasty(er) and warm(ish) in the past.
How to Warm Your House in Winter
1. Use your Windows
Let in the sun during the daytime for free heat. Close the curtains at night to keep in said heat. Putting up thermal curtains can have the added benefits of keeping your house cooler when you want it cool and trap the warmth inside.
2. Check for air leakage
Warm air will pull in cold air from outdoors everywhere it is allowed. Light a candle and see if it flickers when held near doors and windows. The taller your home, the more air will be pulled inside, so be especially aware of upper stories. For doors, you can buy weather stripping to line the sides and tops of the doors. To help keep drafts away from the base of doors, especially when they’re not in use, you can make your own “door snake.”
3. Close off unused areas
Not only does closing off rooms make the rooms you spend time in more toasty, but it can prevent you from heating rooms that are rarely in use, wasting less electricity. But be sure to close the vents in these rooms or block them using vent blockers. Also check the position of your furniture to make sure nothing is blocking the vent that sucks in all the air to be heated! Tell that warm air where you want it to go!
4. Use the oven
Not only will baking and cooking cheer you up and warm visitors or families coming in for a bite to eat, but it will make your kitchen warmer too. Be sure when you are finished baking to leave your oven door open so the heat can escape into the room. If you do this, be sure to keep an eye on pets or little people.
5. Add layers to wooden floors
Carpets and rugs can keep your house from losing heat. According to the National Energy Foundation, 10% of a house’s energy loss seeps from its wooden floors. Adding a carpet or throw rug can not only protect your feet from the jolt of a cold surface but keep your heat where it belongs. Don’t have money for rugs? Try using those old clothes or blankets to create your own braided rug.
If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my email list so you don’t miss any posts!