Furnaces are the sort of thing you probably don’t think about until something goes wrong. When the weather’s nice and the sun is shining, we rarely stop to think about whether or not our furnace needs a tune-up or a filter change. Then, the cold weather hits, we flick the thermostat on, and… nothing. The heat won’t come on. Maybe you wait a few minutes to see if it just needs to warm up, but nothing happens. Now you’re in trouble – it’s cold outside and you have no heat!

Your top priority is to diagnose and fix the problem. You can’t go through a winter without heat, after all. But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, when the first big cold snap hits in autumn or winter, many Denverites find out their furnace either doesn’t work or doesn’t work well — all at the same time. Getting an appointment within 24 hours with a heating professional during peak season can get tricky — it’s one of the reasons Swan recommends getting your furnace tuned each Fall before the weather turns. That way, you have peace of mind that when the first snow falls, your furnace will come on without a hitch.

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But we’re past that now. The furnace isn’t working and you’re getting chilly. What do you do? First, call for help. Even if you can’t get an appointment today, you will want to get booked in before someone else snags your appointment slot! In the meantime, your priority is to keep warm and comfortable until help arrives.

Use Alternative Sources When The Heat Won’t Come On

Provided your furnace is out but your electricity is still on, you have some options for keeping the house warm without a working furnace. In fact, most of us have a big heater right in the middle of our kitchens.

The Oven

Now, it isn’t safe or energy efficient to turn the oven on broil and leave the door open to heat your home. If you use a gas oven, you need to be extra-cautious. Without adequate ventilation, running a gas oven for hours can be very dangerous. However, the ambient heat from cooking a roast, for instance, will gently warm the kitchen and any adjacent rooms over the course of a few hours.

Space Heaters

Another option when your heat won’t come on is to use space heaters. Many of us have space heaters to supplement our furnaces in particularly cold areas of the home, or just as an emergency backup. If you don’t have one, you can find affordable and efficient infrared heaters for as little as $30 or so. These won’t put out enough heat to warm your entire home, but will provide enough heat to warm a single, smaller room, or part of a larger room. There are many varieties of space heaters. Be sure you know how to operate your particular heater safely, and don’t leave it unattended.

In case of a longer-term furnace outage, you may want to consider renting a more powerful heater. Be sure you understand how to safely operate any large heater. Many of them run on kerosene, propane, or other fossil fuels that will require adequate ventilation to operate safely.

Wood Stoves and Fireplaces

Finally, many homes still have fireplaces and wood stoves. If yours is in operating condition (don’t assume your chimney is clean and ready for a fire if you never use it — chimney fires are extremely dangerous!) and you have some dried firewood available, wood stoves and fireplaces generate plenty of heat and some cozy ambience to boot!

Dress for the Conditions

When your heat won’t come on, the cheapest way to stay warm is to bundle up. Pull out the heavy down blankets and Christmas sweaters! Layering clothing helps your body retain heat and dramatically lowers the need for heaters. You might not be totally comfortable in a cold house — bathing isn’t ideal, and fingers and toes still get chilly — but you can endure it by dressing for the conditions.

Use and Heat Fewer Rooms in Your Home

Heating an entire house is a big challenge. Furnaces make it easier and more efficient than ever — when they work. Heating an entire detached home with electric space heaters can get expensive quickly, and often means you’re heating rooms with no people in them. When your heat’s out, close off any rooms you don’t really need to use right away and focus on heating rooms where you and your family can camp out for a while. People generate a lot of heat, so a group of people in one room will lessen the load on any portable heaters you’re using. If you plan on using other rooms soon (like you’re headed to bed), just move heaters into the new room an hour before you plan on leaving the already-warmed area. As one room cools off, the next will warm up.

Take an Impromptu Staycation!

If all else fails and you won’t be able to get your furnace fixed and heat restored promptly, consider spending a night or two with friends or family, or at a hotel. This isn’t always feasible, but in some situations, like during a long-term winter power outage, it may be the safest and simplest way to stay warm.