Prepping in small apartment in the NorthEast?

I’m living with my elderly parents in a small apartment. Due to their health, we are going to have to “bug in”, not out. I’m stocking up on food, water and other basics, but I’m most worried about heat if we lose power. I read the gear review on space heaters but I’m not comfortable running a gas-powered heater indoors. Has anyone tried it? Or does anyone have any other suggestions for heat if the building loses power? Thanks


  • Best Replies

  • Comments (33)

    • 4

      Good morning Clare,

      I do have a couple of propane cartridge space heaters. They work here in rural area but not safe for an apartment. They consume oxygen requiring the opening of a window a little defeating the purpose of spending $ on propane cartridges.

      Consider upgrading clothing to include wool socks, wool watch hat, good quality slippers.

      Definitely upgrade sleeping material even if getting parents (I am also elderly [74]) a goose down sleeping bag not zippered up but used as a quilt.  Whatever is less costly – quilt or bg will work.

      It can be done.  I’ve done it.

      Manhattan, NYC has a small but high-quality prepper group run by a firefighter with NYFD. Jason Charles believe is leader’s name.

      It is good prepping to consider building losing heat.  This has happened even for non-technical reasons eg the owner will save a fortune if heat off for several hours – and claim a weather emergency.

      Keep your costs down !  Can’t recommend sources for discounted goose quilts and sleeping bags. Much has changed in last couple of years. This is one reason I recommend trying to join a local prepper group. Your situation is not unique.

      All thr best to folks.  I’m old and admit to having difficulty with the aging process. The novelists and philosophers were correct.

      • 3

        Thanks Bob, I appreciate your suggestions. And getting old is tough, but it beats the alternative. 🙂

    • 4

      Hi Clare — Check out the thread on heated clothing, if you haven’t already! I got a couple of recommendations for heated vests and gloves, as well as some other (i.e., non-heated-clothing) good ideas, like electric hand warmers and hot water bottles. I still don’t think I’ve found the magic solution (and it probably gets much colder for longer in your neck of the woods than in mine) but some of the suggestions might be relevant. (I’m not comfortable with gas-powered space heaters, either, FWIW.) I also wonder about window coverings and other strategies for keeping the heat you have in. (For the other end of the temperature continuum, we recently started putting reflective material in our windows and it has made a huge difference in keeping the house cool. We basically doubled the efficacy of our air conditioner.)

      • 2

        Thanks Sarah! I hadn’t thought about heated clothing for indoors, but it makes sense. I will check out the thread, and also stock up on hand warmers.

    • 3

      With bottled gas heaters you must have adequate ventilation on two counts, (1) to ensure you dont end up poisoning yourself with Carbon Monoxide, and (2) to get rid of the water vapour that is also created by the gas fire.     Space heaters are normally only suitable for things like warehouses and construction sites. But Bottle gas portable butane, two or three bar fires are suitable for domestic use. ALL should be used in conjuction with Carbon Monoxide detectors.

      You can also get portable gas powered Catalytic heaters in the UK but I do not know if they are available in the US.

      Portable bottled gas heater

      GAS portable Calor Fire

      Warehouse space heater


    • 5

      Bob rightly mentions upgrading bedding and clothing and I would also suggest locating a space in the apartment that is naturally warmest. It’s simple enough to find simply monitor the temperature around the apartment for a few weeks until the area with the higher temperature is found. It may only be a degree or two, but it could also mean that this area is easier to heat.

      I would also suggest investing in a tent that can be used as a ‘bedroom’ inside the apartment. It is easier to warm up and keep warm a smaller space. I have a relative who lives in Canada and they have used this method with great success when they were without heating. 

      Plenty of hot drinks and don’t forget hot water bottles/ chemical warmers. 

      • 2

        Thanks so much Jenny! I have a tent that I keep in my car – so I will definitely give it a try.

    • 2

      If money was no object… You could get a solar generator like the EcoFlow Delta for $1300. It can run a 1500w space heater for 51 minutes.

      Which doesn’t seem like much, but you could potentially space that out by running it for 5 minutes every 30 minutes or so in a small room when everyone is huddled around it. And then charge the unit with a solar panel.

      Not the best solution, but everyone has already taken all the good answers!

      • 3

        Thanks so much Gideon! I think that would be worth the money just so I don’t have to worry about my parents freezing to death in a bad storm.

      • 4

        They have even larger capacity and better models out there (the Ecoflow brand is one of my favorites), but those come a higher price tag. We are working on a solar generator article here on The Prepared, so look out for that in the coming months.

      • 2

        Cranky comment: I hope part of the future article discusses the “solar generator” name tag that these battery banks somehow got as a marketing label. Everytime I see “solar generator” my eye twitches a bit and I think poorly of marketers, because I’ve yet to see any explanation of how these products are not just battery banks being marketed to a specific demographic. The “solar generator” label seems like a way to end up with a small minority of underinformed customers who order a “solar generator” alone and don’t realize it is just a larger battery for storing power that must be generated by *some other device*, which doesn’t have to be a solar panel and could in fact be a gas generator (ignoring the inefficiencies of using the gas generator to recharge a battery with electricity), or grid-electricity from a coal plant.

        Ok, rant over. Looking forward to the team’s reviews of available battery banks.

      • 1

        Totally agree with you RS. Most people probably won’t be using them with solar panels for power generation. And I’m sure many buy them without the knowledge of how they work because of tricky marketing thinking that’s all they need. We hope that our article will clear many of these misconceptions up and properly inform people of all that is required and what these units are capable of. 

        You aren’t being cranky at all, many people feel the same way.

      • 1

        Good morning RS,

        It’s just a technical point that’s useless, but …

        For our inflatable boat we have a mast mounted (or elsewhere ) windmill to power our salt water distillery. The windmill’s technical sheets says also has “solar input”. We guessed this input wasn’t occuring during nighttime or no sun out. 

        Had always thought poorly of marketeers.

    • 5

      This is a good question, here are some approaches that came to mind:

      1) Not trying to solve this at the household level and using the “best way to avoid danger is to not be where it is” method. Specifically, instead of trying to figure out how to heat your apartment to a degree that keeps you and your elderly parents safely warm, develop your/your parents’ social network so that other people can help you solve this problem by offering you space in their warm homes.

      Whether it’s a local prepper group like Bob mentioned, or friends who live nearby, you would benefit from knowing someone who rarely loses power (maybe lives on the grid line that serves a hospital), or has gas heat, or has a woodstove (and the type of home where they can use it in emergencies), etc. If you haven’t done this already, it will take time to find people and set up the arrangement and figure out what kind of help you can offer them. And it isn’t a perfect solution (e.g., if you’re snowed in and can’t reach the other household, or if they have a COVID exposure that coincides with the power outage), but it’s an approach to the solution I didn’t see mentioned in detail just yet, and could really give you good bang for your buck. (Or as a backup to other methods.)

      2) Along the line of heated clothing, consider whether an electric blanket would require less energy than a space heater, and more efficiently focus the heat on the people who need it.

      The blankets may or may not be more affordable/easily acquirable than heated clothing that pnwsarah mentioned, but it’s a similar approach . So if the math works, perhaps you could run two or three blankets off of a battery bank/”solar generator” with an AC inverter, like a Jackery or the one Gideon Parker mentioned, for a longer period of time than you could run a space heater. The blankets (like the heated clothing), would more efficiently focus the energy directly on your parents (and you) while they are sitting somewhere. (I’m guessing you could be more mobile than they are and generally more able to regulate your body heat through movement/exercise and eating, but if you’re all just hanging out on the couch together, listening to the radio while waiting for the power to be restored, it shouldn’t be difficult to add that third blanket to the mix, or share body heat under two blankets).

      3) Learn about the Mors Kochanski Super Shelter for some additional principles to warm up your “tent” bedroom (that room-within-a-room method mentioned by JennyWren).

      The official source for the super shelter principles is a pamphlet that is available as a pdf (https://karamat.com/shop/product/e-a-survival-kit-shelter/), but it is also described by students of Mors in other places (e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QZI2QSiwTY, although sorry I realized that this video is a bit long/anecdote-filled about the information). I’ll highlight some of the principles I think would be relevant for creating a warm place to sleep in an apartment:

      * Make sure you are sleeping at least knee height above the floor (cold air sinks, so sleep higher in warmer air instead of down in colder air). For you specifically: set up any tent(s) on an existing bed/couch/table, not directly on the floor.

      * Trap a bubble of warm air to sleep in, potentially with an air-tight and/or radiant-heat-reflective layer over 1/3 to 2/3s of the tent. For you: A) drape spare blankets and/or bedsheets over your tent. And B) if you have a spare space blanket/mylar sheet, put that as a layer between two blankets on top of the tent. A layer of blankets alone should help in an apt with no airflow, so if you don’t have a space blanket, don’t feel rushed to go out and buy one. (I’d say there are plenty of more important things to do.) And importantly, DO NOT try to cover the entire shelter with non-breathable plastic and risk suffocation–make sure there is airflow at the bottom of the tent (thus the 1/3 to 2/3s coverage recommendation). As I said, you will benefit from the blankets alone, so if you’re worried about oxygen, don’t feel you need to add the reflective plastic or plastic in general. But if you watch the videos on the principles of the shelter, and feel comfortable adding some plastic in to help cultivate a warm air bubble, that is an option.

      4) Use extra insulation anywhere that you are sitting/lying down. Last winter I had success creating an unheated pseudo-kotatsu at my work desk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kotatsu).

      Traditional kotatsus have heaters under them, to keep legs and feet cozy. My unheated, improvised kotasu was me draping blankets under the footwell of my desk (where my legs and feet fit into) in order to make it very easy to pull a blanket across my lap and around my feet and legs while I was sitting. This was in addition to wearing cozy “house boots” (I had pulled the removable inner liners of winter boots out of the boots and wore the liners alone around my house). I also had a blanket on the chair itself that I could wrap around myself if needed, but usually it just worked to keep any cool air off of my back. Essentially, I had a setup where I could easily slide into and out of the chair while working (for bathroom breaks), and yet still pull insulating layers around myself while I was motionless in the chair.

      5) Identify if you have any incandescent bulbs around the apartment that can be put into adjustable lighting and be directed at people (at a safe distance not to burn). See the experiments here: https://richsoil.com/electric-heat.jsp

      I think you’d have more reliability with heated blankets/improvised kotatsu and headlamps, but just in case there’s a sale on battery banks, and you decide powering a lamp indoors is important and have the battery power to do so, an adjustable lamp with an incandescent bulb might be able to do double duty for both light and heat.

      6) I’m getting sleepy, so I’m not thinking of easy ways to heat water in a powerless apartment right off the bat, but if you figure out safe ways to heat water, you might have some thermoses/insulated storaged containers on hand to more easily help keep the water warm for later use and present whatever energy you used to boil it. I will also second the recommendations for hot water bottles placed in beds (as long as you cover them in blankets to keep them from burning anyone, these work wonders for me while camping and with very minimal fuss, as long as you have tested the seal of the bottle to your satisfaction, or put it in a plastic bag to guard against leaks).

      The weather is turning cooler, so right now is an excellent time to start experimenting with different things (e.g., setting up the tent on a bed and covering it with blankets and hanging out inside) to test out how much effort is required to implement a solution, and how much benefit you’re likely to get from it. Good luck!

      • 2

        RS< Thanks so much for your suggestions and for taking the time to share them. Great point about seeking community, not individual, solutions. I had not heard about the super shelter principles, so I will definitely check out your links. I really appreciate the help!

      • 3

        Great comment RS! Especially the point of using an electric blanket instead of what I recommended up above with a space heater.

        The space heater uses 1500 watts/hr. An electric blanket uses 100-150 watts. You can run that 10-15 times as long!

        Or… just a small heating pad that is about the size of your back. I have two of these ones and love them. They only use 50 watts and are great at heating up your core either on your chest or on your back. That’s 30 times longer run time than a space heater, so I am changing my answer and recommendation to get a “solar generator” and a small heating pad. 

        Heating pads really do so much better at warming the body than a space heater in my opinion. If you are laying on a pad all that warmth goes into your body with a small portion into the bed below you. Where as a lot of the warmth of a space heater goes into the air and that quickly gets spread around the entire room and is not very efficient. 

      • 2

        I used to buy boxes of those disposable single use hand warmer sachets that were basically iron filings and something else, When the pack was activated it used to warm up and last a few hours.  I used to put one in the bottom of my sleeping bag in the army.

      • 2

        Another great suggestion! They also sell disposable foot and larger adhesive body warmers as well. A box of those could last you for a very long time.

      • 3

        I’ve used the chemical warmers in a sleeping bag too. When I used to do a lot of back packing, it was a welcome feeling indeed to slide into a warm sleeping bag at the end of a hard day’s walking. If I was feeling particularly cold, I would pop one in each sock, there’s nothing like cold feet for keeping you awake, lol.

      • 2

        And if you don’t have a decent sleeping bag and are cold all night, your body will draw your warmth into your core to keep you alive. Thus leading you to the potential of frost bite on your toes. 

        Definitely worth the dollar for those hand/toe warmers.

      • 2

        Ideally you should get sleeping bags suitable to your geographical location, IE where I live we all keep bags rated for Minus 18 C, but others further north from me us bags rated at Minus 23 C, But in trop climates I think bags rated 0C to plus 4 C would make for more comfortable rest.

      • 2

        I think many of us on The Prepared get a certain “kick” out of planning for SHTF situations. But I’ve found that my preps have helped me most in very mundane events. One time I went to a concert in the mountains while on vacation. On the way back to our hotel, there was SO MUCH FOG that it was impossible – impossible – to drive.  We had no choice but to pull into a parking lot and spend the night in the rental car, which was completely unplanned. I had two of those handy-dandy toe warmers in my bag and BOY did it make the difference between a fun story to tell our friends the next morning vs. a miserable night. This type of experience is also why I always keep water, TP, hand sanitizer, a blanket, and snacks in my car – even a rental car. You never know……

        Perhaps whoever invented those toe warmers should get a Nobel Prize. 

      • 3

        Thanks M. E.! I’m worried about the increasingly frequent, almost mundane weather emergencies. Our building lost power for over 24 hours last week due to Ida, which is what prompted my concern with losing power. I agree about the rental car. Unfortunately I lost my carefully assembled first aid kit by leaving it in a rental car. I’m definitely buying electric blankets and hand/feet warmers today.

      • 4

        Good afternoon M.E.,

        Excellent point; the unplanned for events are what must not be neglected.

        Due my aging, if driving and adverse but still minor weather makes driving situation less than ideal / safe, I, too, pull over and rest. Part of my “kit” for this are magazines easy to read by flashlight. With cold weather arriving here … I know, but it’s cold for Southerners ! the field jacket pockets will have a small AM-FM-SW radio and a flat pak of extra batteries in same pocket. Food = a 16 oz plastic jar of tree nuts. Case of water in truck – always.

        The Noble awards will be given out in best climate-controlled building there is !

      • 3

        And a 12V electric blanket uses only 48 watts! I got one similar to this to plug in to my Jackery (as mentioned in the heated clothing thread). I haven’t tried it yet but am looking forward to cooler weather to give it a spin on the back porch and see how well it works. Based on the Jackery materials it should last quite a while (I’m sure the power geeks on this forum can calculate precisely HOW long ‘a while’ is)

        Combined with the hand / foot / body warmers mentioned below (which can make the difference between a MISERABLE night and a tolerable one – keep some in your car in the winter in case you get stuck overnight) that should help keep your parents safe and warm. 

      • 2

        Using a 12v electric blanket is an even better solution if using it with your solar generator. Thank you for bringing this up M.E., I’ll try and be that power geek as I respond. Although you lose some versatility by only being able to use this with your solar generator or in your car, you do gain the added benefit of efficiency. 

        If you use the 12v cigarette lighter socket on your solar generator, the electric blanket will not need to covert the battery’s DC current to AC like your normal wall outlet supplies. In short, that means you will get more juice out of your device. 

        You would think that using a 50w blanket on a 500w solar generator would produce 10 hours of use right? But lets say it is only 90% efficient. It may only give you like 9 hours or so of power. But if it doesn’t have to go through that conversion process, maybe it’s something like 92 or 95% efficient. That could be an additional 20-30 minutes of run time potentially. Each generator and device is going to have varying levels of efficiency and hopefully my math is all correct there, but you get the point. Plan to get less use out of your generator than you think you will be able to, and using the 12v DC outlet will be more efficient than the 110v AC outlet.

    • 3

      Good morning,

      To return to initial point re loss of “power”;

      Do accept that electricity is typically lost in many situations.  Batteries, for example, are a prepper’s blessing but for purposes other than initial reliance on provided source of electricity.

    • 1

      What are some forms of electricity free entertainment you can participate in with your elderly parents? Can’t just stare at each other for two weeks… hahaha

      • 3

        Good morning Mike,

        Reading excerpts of books to parents is one way. I had good time when power failure over 4 days, daughter read to me parts of a book on investments for individuals. She knows the sort of humor I like. Book’s examples were hilarious.

        In pre-electricity times, candles were used. Whale oil a little expensive. 

    • 5

      Hi, Claire-

      I’m in the same boat as you, and we did lose power for over a week about three years ago… during the coldest week of that winter!

      What I’ve done to be ready for the next winter power outage:

      Emergency blankets: good ones, fabric with a reflective layer. Don’t skimp on these – they are invaluable. Buy the best you can afford, and have extras if possible, even if they’re just the disposable ones. Older people lose body heat faster than younger ones and may not be aware of hypothermia or frostbite due to medical issues. Check extremities, especially feet, frequently.

      Have a way to heat water and food, but be safe. A gel alcohol camp stove or chafing dish will do the job and pose less of a carbon monoxide risk. Be sure to use any open flame away from pets and small children, keep any flammable items away, and use only on a flame proof, sturdy surface not overhung by shelves or curtains. On a table protected by good tiles is good. Don’t put it on metal unless you have a tile to absorb the heat. Metal can get quite hot otherwise and damage surfaces or cause a burn.

      In an apartment, the two biggest hazards are fire and carbon monoxide. Any open flame is a danger to yourself and your neighbors. If you are using an outdoor grill to cook on, be sure to follow any guidelines from your local fire department and also keep a fire extinguisher handy. During a “weather event” of any kind, first responders may be delayed in responding to even an emergency. Again, get a good extinguisher or at least have a bucket of sand on hand.

      Stay hydrated. Your body requires a certain amount of water to properly metabolize food to create body heat, and winter air is often very dry.

      Use thermoses to keep food and drink warm. 

      If you have southern exposure, be sure to open the drapes to let the sun in to warm the air. It can raise the air temperature as much as twenty degrees with direct sun. Close the drapes if it’s dark.

      Check window seals and insulate or recall if there are drafts. (Check with your landlord first!) If you are not allowed to do heavy repairs, hang good curtains. There are insulating plastic curtains to both maximize solar heat or reversed to reduce it during the summer. I haven’t tried these yet, but they’re supposed to be good.

      A solar oven or water heater might help if you have access to an area where you can put it and have it undisturbed. Watch the glare… have sunglasses and silicone potholders for removing (hopefully) hot containers. Follow directions for safety protocols.

      Sorry, this was kind of a long post, but I’ve been going over this myself since this winter is supposed to be a bad one. I don’t think I forgot anything, but let me know;). Good luck.

      • 4

        Good afternoon Miss Kitty,

        Real good info – especially the focus to safety aspects.

        I give a favorable interpretation to prepper material but am concerned some new arrivals here to TP.com might misconstrue “outdoor grill”.

        I viewed the above narrative meaning the metal grill was just used for a platform and not for charcoal with starter fluid. It’s the charcoal that kills; not the metal campfire substitute.

        Thanks for briefing all on SAFETY matters !

      • 2


        Good catch on the “outdoor grill”!

        To clarify that statement, one should never cook on a charcoal grill inside due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

        Also, many municipalities have fire ordinances regarding the use of any kind of grill on an outside deck, fire escape or balcony. Be sure you know what the local laws are. In my community, local fire laws prohibit the use of any kind of grill or fire pit on the balconies, due to the fire hazard.

        Evacuation during a winter blackout is an absolute nightmare, especially for the elderly. Also, many fire alarms are wired in to the electrical system and may not work. If you don’t have battery powered smoke and CO2 detectors, get some and make sure that batteries are tested regularly.

        Be safe and prep on.🤙

    • 1

      lots of electric (coal powered) and shipped in PPG propane >> both vulnerable as hell 

      other than a bottled gas powered Mr Heater there’s no real answer to your particular situation …

      have the usual heat loss preventative insulation available – extra blanketing and sleeping bags especially – reduce heated space as minimum as possible – ect ect 

      will need battery op lighting for safety & convenience – but fuel co-oped with heater for long term lighting …

      basic cooking off heater output and/or gas powered lighting – food stocked accordingly – water stored for severe outage possibility …