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Can you live in a house with no heat?

Living in a house with no heat source can be challenging, but is possible with proper preparation. There are a few key factors to consider when determining if and how you can live without heat.

Is it legal to live in a house with no heat?

The legality of living in a home without heat depends on where you live. Many cities and states have laws requiring landlords to provide heat and hot water during cold weather months. For example, in New York City, landlords are required by law to provide heat from October 1 through May 31 to tenants in multiple dwellings. The minimum temperature required by law is 68 degrees Fahrenheit from 6AM to 10PM if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, and 62 degrees overnight from 10PM to 6AM.

However, the laws may differ for single family homes or in rural areas without access to natural gas or other heating sources. Some areas may not legally require heat to be provided. If you own the home, there may be no laws prohibiting you from living without heat, unless housing codes in your area say otherwise.

How cold can it get without heat?

Indoor temperatures will correspond very closely to outdoor temperatures when there is no heat source present. At night and during cold seasons, the inside of the home will be only slightly warmer than the exterior temperature. In areas with moderate winters, overnight lows may only drop into the 30s or 40s Fahrenheit. But in areas with colder winters, overnight temperatures can plummet well below freezing inside a home without heat.

Living in a home without heat during extreme cold would be life threatening. The CDC warns that indoor temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit pose health risks like hypothermia and frostbite. Elderly people and infants are most vulnerable. With no heat, it’s unlikely a home could be kept livably warm in areas with winter lows in the teens, single digits, or below zero.

Insulation and weatherization

Insulating and weatherizing the home to prevent drafts can help moderate indoor temperatures somewhat when there is no heat source present. Adding insulation, sealing gaps and cracks, installing storm windows, and using insulating drapes or shades will all help retain heat inside the home.

Improving insulation and reducing air leaks could potentially keep temperatures 10-20 degrees warmer inside versus outside. However, the effectiveness depends on factors like the existing insulation levels, air tightness, and the actual outdoor temperatures.

Supplemental heat sources

It may be possible to live without a primary heating system if small supplemental heat sources are used strategically. Options could include:

  • Portable electric space heaters
  • Propane space heaters
  • Kerosene heaters
  • Electric blankets and mattress pads
  • Wood or pellet stoves
  • Fireplaces

Using these judiciously can potentially maintain tolerable temperatures, though they are often expensive and inefficient for whole home heating. Technically it may be possible to live with no central heat by using enough of these options, but it would likely be impractical and come with high energy costs.

Climate considerations

The climate where you live is a key factor in determining if forgoing heat is feasible. In generally mild climates like much of the West Coast, it may be possible to live through the winter without heat, especially if the home is well insulated. Overnight lows in the 40s or 50s Fahrenheit wouldn’t necessarily require active heating. However, places with cold winters will likely be unlivable for extended periods without a heat source.

Location Average Winter Low Feasibility Without Heat
Miami, FL 60°F Feasible
Dallas, TX 39°F Maybe feasible
New York, NY 26°F Not feasible
Minneapolis, MN 8°F Not feasible

As the table shows, average winter lows give an indication of whether living without heat is possible. Mild climates may allow it, while colder climates make active heating a requirement.

Making the space smaller

Heating a smaller space is more feasible than trying to heat an entire house. If you don’t need your whole home, one option is to close off unused rooms and just heat a smaller area. Concentrating life into one or two rooms and shutting them off from the rest of the house makes it more manageable to stay warm.

Making one room your personal sanctuary allows supplemental heat sources to maintain a comfortable temperature more easily. The smaller the space, the easier it will be to live without central heat.

Warm bedding and clothing

Bundling up in layers of warm clothing and using thick, insulated bedding will help you retain body heat when living without indoor heating. Especially for sleeping, having an excellent sleeping bag or lots of blankets is essential to staying warm through the night. Sleeping fully dressed in sweatpants, socks, sweater, and hat can also help maintain warmth.

Health and safety precautions

Extreme cold poses health risks like hypothermia and frostbite. Infants and elderly people are most vulnerable. Be alert for early signs of hypothermia like shivering, fatigue, confusion and slowed breathing or heart rate. Move to warmer area immediately and seek medical help if needed.

Proper ventilation is also key to health and safety when using supplemental heating sources like space heaters. Ensure adequate air circulation to prevent buildup of carbon monoxide or fire hazards.

Have an emergency plan ready in case extremely cold temperatures occur. Identify warmer locations you can go to like a motel, friend’s house, or public building to ensure safety in extreme weather.

Is living without heat worth it?

A few key questions to honestly assess whether it makes sense to live without heat:

  • How cold does it get where you live? What are the average lows?
  • Do you absolutely need to live in this house, or could you relocate somewhere with heat included?
  • Can you truly afford high energy costs from supplemental heat sources?
  • Is your insulation and weatherization good enough to retain warmth?
  • Are you willing to live in one heated room all winter?
  • Are health issues a concern for you or anyone else occupying the home?

If you answer negatively on a few of these, it likely makes more sense to find a living situation with adequate heating provided. The costs and discomfort of living without heat may outweigh the benefits.


It is possible to live without a primary heating system in some cases, but requires thorough preparation. Factors like climate, insulation, supplemental heat sources, reduced space, warm bedding, and emergency planning all play a role. However, living without heat or with inadequate heat poses serious health and safety concerns in areas with cold winters. For most people, finding adequate housing with heat included will be the better choice for comfort and wellbeing.