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November 2, 2012 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Post-Sandy, my house may not have heat for two weeks. What can I do to keep my kids warm at night?

I live on Long Island. In the aftermath of Sandy, my power is out -- the line that goes from the pole on the street to our house is damaged, which makes us a low-priority single-home repair. According to LIPA, it might be two weeks and more before our power is restored.

We have hot water and a gas stove, so we can cook and shower... but we've gone to family in Pennsylvania because it's getting cold at night, and we just don't know how to make sure everyone is warm enough. Stacks of blankets and warm pajamas, of course, but is that enough? How do you even tell if your kids are warm enough?

What else can we buy while we're still in Pennsylvania to keep ourselves and our kids warm at night once we return home? Hot water bottles? Chemical packs like you put in your pockets? I doubt space heaters are safe with the little one, even if we could afford a generator to run them on.

...if it matters, two adults, one ten-year-old, one six-year-old.
posted by Andrhia to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Camp out in the living room. Sleeping bags, blankets, layers of covers, mittens, socks, knit caps, layers of clothes.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:24 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe borrow sleeping bags from a "serious" camping enthusiasts? The kind that are rated for icy weather.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:25 AM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Before we figured out that my room was not hooked up to the heating system, I slept in a sleeping bag underneath my blanket in my bed.
posted by hmo at 9:26 AM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: People sleeping next to each other keeps people warm. Don't know if your kids would go for it, but we slept two to a bed when my parents' house would lose heat/power.
posted by zizzle at 9:37 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yep, good sleeping bags, rated for -30 degrees can be had at cabelas for around $130 degrees. The trick to staying warm is to have as much insulation UNDER you as you have above. If they are using them on their beds, they should be fine. Hot water bottles (since you have hot water) would be nice to prewarm and keep feet warm as they are going to sleep.
posted by HuronBob at 9:37 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you each pair up with a kid and sleep together? Or would the kids be willing to sleep together? Body heat is often more effective than any number of blankets.
posted by anderjen at 9:39 AM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Snuggle. Everyone sleep together in one bed. It works extremely well. (I have done this in a tent with a few blankets and three adults in 25 degree weather in the mountains and slept just fine.)

If that isn't acceptable, hot water bottles with cloth covers so children don't get burned.
posted by Michele in California at 9:39 AM on November 2, 2012

A couple years ago, my apartment had no heat for the entire month of November and it got into the 40s inside my apartment. My best trick was to take as hot of a bath as I could stand right before going to bed, then hopping under a down blanket (I got one from Target that's great and very reasonably priced) with lots of sweats & socks on. I'd usually be warm enough to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep.
posted by jabes at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: If you build yourself a blanket fort (or put up a tent), more of the body heat you all churn will stay in the smaller space without running off into the house.

Sleeping bags, extra blankets (over and under), hot water bottles, hats, mittens, socks, layers - these are all excellent.

If you can get mylar sheets from a camping or surplus store, they are great at heat conservation as the layer above your clothes.

Heating bricks or iron cookware, wrapping it in a towel, then putting it into the bedding a bit before crawling in (remove before actually laying down) will make it so the body doesn't have to play catch-up as much in heating the layers around it.

Sleep together - adults on either side of the kids, if possible, so the little ones have maximum worth buttressing them and can cuddle together more easily.

Best indicators of "too cold" are whatever is unexposed of the following: ear tips, end of nose, fingers, and toes. If whatever you can reach of these is chilly to the touch (not just cool), figuring out another layer or adding another warming mechanism would be a good idea.

Chem packs can be good, but they can also be dangerous, so I'd put them in a couple layers of fabric before using them. Seems like they'd be great between two socks on the bottom of each foot and perhaps between a glove and a mitten on each hand (or however you manage to get two textile layers onto the hands).
posted by batmonkey at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A sleeping bag, or even better, ones that can be zipped together so the kids are sharing warmth, will be plenty warm. You could also get some hot water bottles and use those for some extra warmth, although you might need to switch them out in the night.

There's really nothing wrong with the kids getting cold, though, so you don't have to worry about getting it right off the bat. You can always add more blankets later if you need to.
posted by OmieWise at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently went camping... in interior Alaska... in a snowstorm. No heater, no electricity. I am not an outdoorswoman by any stretch of the imagination. I stayed warm just by layering both clothes and blankets.

- Slept in socks, hats, and mittens. One night, I wore a fleece jacket to bed.
- Stacked up blankets. In my case, I had a summer weight sleeping bag (rated to 55 degrees) and on top of that I piled up a down comforter in a duvet.

I slept with my tent door open, so I didn't benefit from any of the captured warmth. In the morning, I had to scrape layers of ice and frost off my tent and boots, but I slept WARM.
posted by mochapickle at 9:40 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely hot water bottles. There was a nifty experiment a while back showing that kids under a certain age can't really grasp the distinction between 'emitting warmth' and 'retaining warmth'. With hot water bottles, kids will feel safely warm & snuggled when they first reach their toes down inside their (otherwise icy) sheets or sleeping bags.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:42 AM on November 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

My dad grew up in the 50s/60s in Indiana in a poorly-constructed house with no electricity or plumbing or money to buy fancy warm clothes with. His method for staying warm was hot water bottle, socks, hat, and cover yourself entirely with your blanket, head to toe, and only leave a tiny gap by your mouth so that you can breathe. And then don't move the blanket.

Even when you've got meager supplies, this is surprisingly effective.
posted by phunniemee at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2012

I find that my body temperature is pretty closely related to how warm/cold my feet are. A wheat bag (literally a cloth bag full of wheat) on my feet will warm me right up no matter how cold it is out. I don't know where you'd get one from, because I made mine - sew up 3 sides of a square, put some wheat in, sew across top - but they're good at retaining heat when microwaved for a few minutes and they're much safer than hot water.

My sister really feels the cold, so she'll sleep inside a duvet "sandwich". It's as warm as a sleeping bag with the added bonus of being able to kick the top off if she overheats.
posted by Solomon at 9:54 AM on November 2, 2012

posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:55 AM on November 2, 2012

Firewood, if you have a fireplace. (Sorry if that's obvious, but I didn't see it mentioned.)
posted by Houstonian at 9:56 AM on November 2, 2012

Honestly a big pile of blankets and some warm socks and winter PJs and they'll be fine. I have only had heating of any sort on at night since moving to Indiana 4 years ago and I have lived in deserts that get down to freezing at night and in northern England in winter. If it gets really cold put the two kids in one bed and they will keep each other warm. Even now in Indiana this time of year our furnace is barely on at night and then only downstairs to keep pipes and small animals at OK temps and in a 100 year old badly insulated house our whole family just sleeps under warm blankets and duvets and drags the dogs under the duvet if it gets really cold (we try not to use heat upstairs at night while it's above freezing outside). So if you are only going to be without power for a little bit and before winter hits you should be fine.

Barring any dogs, if you are worried if they are warm enough maybe they can share a bed until the heat comes back on. Kids are like little furnaces pumping out the heat and that way they'll keep each other warm.

While any part of your child out of the blanket might feel cold, if you are worried if they are warm enough slip your hand under the blankets and feel their skin down there.

My mum used to use hot water bottles to warm the bed for us before we got in but they cold pretty quick and spent most of my childhood kicking them out onto the floor and treading on them in the morning.
posted by wwax at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need any special gear to get through this kind of situation. I and my two very young children lived for almost 2 years in a developing country where houses are drafty, no-one has central heat, and nighttime temperatures routinely hover just above freezing in the winter. We just had ordinary clothing and heavyweight fleece blankets.

The first trick is to not get into a "heat deficit" in the evening hours before bedtime--wear a coat or extra sweater, hat, socks, slippers, gloves if necessary. Looks kind of dorky, but I've also discovered that knotting a standard throw-sized blanket around your waist like a sarong skirt helps retain extra heat in your lower extremities if you're moving around and can't keep your legs snuggled up under a blanket. Then toss some extra blankets on the beds, and use flannel sheets or sleep on top of a thin blanket over your regular sheets to lessen the cold sheet sensation.
posted by drlith at 10:19 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm reading the novel Housekeeping, and at the point where I am in the book the (earlier-era) characters are heating bricks in or on a wood stove to sleep with at night (in the aftermath of a flood, as it happens) and I see this also suggested here: Making Brick Feet Warmers. If you have access to some bricks, you might try heating them in the oven, wrapping in towels and using as bedwarmers. Apparently they deliver heat for many hours.
posted by taz at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2012

I like the suggestion of a hot bath before bedtime. I have used this method one unheated winter long ago. In addition, filling gallon jugs with hot water, and placing them in the shared room, will yield some heat for a while.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:33 AM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: If your kids are old enough to enjoy it, start reading Little House on the Prairie with them. There are great descriptions in there of how the kids in that story stayed warm in their unheated bedrooms over the long, cold winters. Then, turn it into a fun game to try some of the things they tried. Blankets, snuggling, heating stuff ahead of time to put near your feet (probably hot water bottles are better than bricks heated in the open fireplace), etc.

Alternative: borrow a big tent from a camping enthusiast friend. Set it up in your living room, full of blankets and sleeping bags. Tell ghost stories, make smores over the stove, tell ghost stories, etc. Then, everyone sleeps together in the tent, like you're camping.

You can make this into an awesome, fun time for the kids, where even if they're a little physically uncomfortable at times, they'll remember it as a cool thing you did as a family. They won't freeze, I promise. And they'll be more comfortable if they feel safe and happy, even if they're a bit cold.
posted by decathecting at 10:35 AM on November 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

If you *do* develop that "heat deficit" drlith warns about, I have a great way to combat it: vigorous exercise after you (or your kids) get into bed/sleeping bag. Situps or crunches or leg lifts are simplest to do in a sleeping bag; you have more options in a bed with a fluffy duvet. Just try to activate your core. A kayak camping guide taught me this trick a few years ago and now I use it all the time (and I wonder why no one told me this sooner - so many wasted cold nights!).

Also: don't worry *too* much - my sister and I have fond memories of power outages that my parents remember as being freezing and worrying.

Also also, when I lived in a very poorly heated and insulated apartment during one of the coldest winters I've ever experienced (an entire week during which temps never rose about 15F) I bought a featherbed at Marshalls. Best purchase ever!
posted by mskyle at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2012

If you have lots of extras, sleep over the blankets as well. Creates an extra layer to retain heat. Make sure the blankets and clothing aren't retaining moisture since the usual AC isn't there to dry them out during the day.
Real (not alternative) down comforters are among the greatest inventions of mankind.
posted by Neekee at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2012

If your neighbors have power, see if they are willing to help. Run a heavy duty extension cord and use an outlet that is ideally on a lightly used circuit. You can run a space heater and possibly other appliances as needed.
posted by cosmac at 10:50 AM on November 2, 2012

Sounds a bit silly, but last night I used thermacare heat wraps. I actually did have pain in my knee, but it warmed up my entire body. I wish I had thought of that before! If you're worried about overuse on very young children who don't really have injuries, perhaps you can put them in your kids sleeping bags so the bags are warm and snuggly when they climb in for bed.

Do any drugstores near you have the one time use handwarmers? Possibly buying them in bulk online could work too.
posted by lovelygirl at 10:59 AM on November 2, 2012

Hats! Hats all around. Nice warm stocking caps. Not the big bulky tasseled kind, though. Something that's close to the head will stay on better as you roll around in your sleep. Since you can't breathe with your head under the blankets, you need a blanket for your head. I know this from camping.
posted by echo target at 11:04 AM on November 2, 2012

Lots of good ideas in here. A few more:

Winterize your house:
- caulk around windows and doorframes, anywhere that breeze is leaking in, seal.
- buy shrinkwrap winterizing film and put it up over the windows.
- put blankets over doorways and windows so that all the heat gets trapped in a small space. spend all your time in as small an area as possible (the living room is a good option).

Winterize yourselves:
- Fancy sleeping bags will work, but so will thermal underwear tops and bottoms (and thermal underwear is cheaper).
- Sleep in socks, thermal underwear, gloves, and hats. You want no part of your body uncovered save your mouth and eyes. Balaclavas work even better than hats to keep heat in.
- Even if you don't use sleeping bags, wrap blankets around you cocoon-style to simulate a sleeping bag.

You'll be fine doing this stuff down into the 20F range, maybe colder.
posted by zug at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few people mentioned this, but I will reiterate: insulate from cold floors as well by sleeping on foam or blankets. Air mattresses or cots alone are very cold, but a wool army blanket on top makes a big difference. My special warmth trick is to put one of those 30 dollar sheepskins from Ikea down at my feet, so if you have any of those around, use them. they get crazy warm. Also hats.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:58 AM on November 2, 2012

What up fellow Long Island miserable cold person. We use the chemical hot pads that have adhesive on one side -- you stick them to your shirt (the outside of your shirt, so you have a layer of fabric between it and your skin), and then put another shirt or sweater on over the hot pad. It traps the heat, keeps the little ones from burning themselves on the pad that's facing out, and helps you feel toasty warm all night!

Also, snuggle up.
posted by telegraph at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2012

For non-sleeping times, try doing more backing. It provides a bit of warmth and the smells of something delicious in the house can be comforting.

Honestly, you might as well turn it into an adventure. Build a blanket fort, bake a lot and pretend that you and the kids are living at the North Pole as advance scouts for Santa as he seeks a new home. Or maybe Santa's arch foe, the Easter Bunny, who wants all the Christmas glory for himself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:21 PM on November 2, 2012

warmth for worth. exposed for unexposed. yeesh. i even took advantage of the edit window and didn't catch those.
posted by batmonkey at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: Great advice so far. When I was on an extended cold weather camping trip we always had a hot drink in the evening. Great way to keep yourself feeling toasty and it was a nice diversion with nothing to do after dinner. Also, doesnt warm milk make you sleepy? So that might help the kids go to sleep!
posted by orangemacky at 12:34 PM on November 2, 2012

Propane Space Heaters (crack a window and don't leave them running - just heat the room up to keep it bearable and shut down for a while)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:59 PM on November 2, 2012

Hey, Long Island neighbor. Here's what's been working for me in my ice cave apartment:

-Lots of layers of clothes. Leggings AND wool socks AND pants. Several shirts. Gloves and a hat.
-Sleeping in a sleeping bag, under my sheets and blankets. It's a summer sleeping bag, so it's not rated to zero degrees or anything, but it is doing the trick.
-Keeping as little exposed as possible. All my clothes are tucked into one another, my sleeping bag is zipped all the way up, and the bed is actually made so the blankets don't shift about. (Left to my own devices, I usually sleep in more of a blanket-pile, but that doesn't keep the heat in so well!)

Out of all these, the sleeping bag has really been the key. Everything else is bonus warmth.

It is COLD in my house, but this is working. I'm crossing fingers that we all get power back soon!
posted by pemberkins at 1:50 PM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: Even if you don't want to have everyone in one bed (lord know my own children would never let us get any sleep if we tried that) even having everyone in one room will help. Four bodies radiating 98F in an enclosed space will be warmer than two people in one room and two in another. If there is space to put your kids in sleeping bags in your room, with something to insulate underneath, they'll be warmer than in their own rooms. Bonus if you can zip the bags together.

Also allow me to sing the praises of silk long underwear. Very nice to sleep in.
posted by ambrosia at 3:01 PM on November 2, 2012

Down comforters work really well! If you're not that interested in camping as a family, they're probably a better investment than cold-weather sleeping bags. And if you can get to an IKEA, you can buy a good down comforter for 30-50 bucks.
posted by colfax at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lots of blankets. The house I grew up in (upstate NY) didn't have heat upstairs. Flannel or fleece sheets are really nice. If the kids are little and kick off blankets, get them snowsuits to sleep in. Sleeping bags if you can't get the blankets are great, as is sleeping together. Big clean smooth stones can be warmed in the stove, pushed around the bed to warm it before kids get in. Take them out so kids don't get burned. Dry rice warmed can work the same way.

Wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 5:52 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in Japan, in an older apartment. Freezing cold at night is the norm for most Japanese. The trick is to wear layers and pile on as many blankets as are comfortable. I take a small fleece blanket to cover my head, with just my mouth poking out. But those are for the really cold nights below freezing.

Layers. Blankets. Also, take a hot bath before bed and your body temp. will be up for hours afterwards.
posted by zardoz at 6:02 PM on November 2, 2012

A wheat bag (literally a cloth bag full of wheat) on my feet will warm me right up no matter how cold it is out.

I discovered last year in my first East Coast winter (mild as it was, we did have a few days of 10 degrees or so, which to my Northern CA self seemed pretty darn cold) that if you don't have another body to snuggle peacefully with, a pillow under the covers helps warm things up as it absorbs body heat.
posted by smirkette at 7:00 PM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: FYI: If you take advantage of some of the advice to use a tent or similar enclosure, I learned the hard way that several people breathing in a small, enclosed space can get really moist and wet blankets do not keep you very warm. We kept our tent window open in subfreezing temps after struggling with hypothermia one night. Cold dry air plus adequate dry blankets is a lot warmer than damp blankets in the cold.
posted by Michele in California at 7:28 PM on November 2, 2012

My kids are pretty much exactly the same age and we spend two weeks powerless and heatless thanks to Snowpocalypse.

- We all slept in the same room.
- The kids slept in multiple layers and under multiple blankets.
- During the day we got outside in the sunshine and ran around.
- We have a fire pit so during the day we would have a bonfire going to dry clothes and keep warm.
- At night we sat around and played games and read books.

I remember it as a very stressful two weeks. The kids remember it fondly.
posted by LittleMy at 8:27 AM on November 3, 2012

Response by poster: We got power back yesterday. Thank you, everyone, for helping us strategize how to stay warm during the second nor'easter and ensuing five inches of snow. Here's what we did:

* We pitched a tent in the middle of the living room, and then, mindful of insulation, pulled the mattress from our fold-out sofa into the tent. We all wound up sleeping the wrong way along the bed, and filled in extra head room with crazy amounts of pillows.

* Two comforters and a furry/microfiber blanket. Heavy but toasty.

* We all slept in many, many layers, including fleece bathrobes and hats (and then shed some of these through the night as we got too hot.)

* We bought Thermacare chemical heat packs but didn't use any, as I was afraid of burning one of the kids in their sleep. And anyway we were plenty warm.

By the mornings, the heat and humidity in the tent made it feel very much like being inside somebody's mouth. Thanks, Michele in California, for the heads up -- we never were in danger of actual wet blankets, but the tent walls got damp. Thanks to you, we made it a point to air out the tent very well during the day so it could dry out.

Thanks again, everyone, for your help in this. We were a little crowded but at least in no danger of hypothermia during this whole thing. Tremendous piece of mind and practical advice. I owe you one. <3
posted by Andrhia at 3:42 PM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

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