by Julie Genser

Surviving winter with MCS/ESFor those with severe chemical and electrical sensitivities, staying warm through a cold winter can be quite challenging, if not life threatening. Some of us have great trouble tolerating heating systems, because we experience debilitating symptoms from exposure to the natural gas, propane, and/or the electricity that powers them. Dr. William J. Rea, director of the Environmental Health Center-Dallas, has said “no one with chemical sensitivity can live around or with natural gas [including LP gas and propane gas] and expect to get well.” In his 3/12/08 Planet Thrive Q & A column, he says that “the only exception would be a heating system where both the gas tank and the heat exchanger were located in a shed or utility closet at least 20 feet from the home to avoid exposure to the fumes.

In the Snowflake community in Arizona where over twenty people with severe chemical sensitivity (MCS) and/or electrical sensitivity (ES) have built custom homes to accommodate their illness, some people have solved the heating issue in one or a combination of the following ways:

Passive Solar Sunroom with Trailer• Designed a passive solar house that captures solar heat during the day using thermal mass and releases it slowly overnight to warm the interior of the home. See Planet Thrive’s FREE read-only PDF brochure “Safer Construction Tips for the Environmentally Sensitive” for more on passive solar design principles.
(photo: Trailer with Unattached Sunroom © Kathy Hemenway)

Cadet SoftHeat Baseboard Heater• Used Cadet SoftHeat Baseboard Heaters which are low EMF and have a powdered coating that has been well tolerated by those with both severe MCS and ES.

Caution: The circulating fluid in the heater is 80% water and 20% ethylene glycol (antifreeze). This is the type of heat I currently have in the home I am renting here and two of the heaters have leaked while I’ve lived here and had to be replaced.

• Installed electric hot water baseboard heating with the heat exchanger located at a distance from the home.

• Installed in-floor radiant heating under concrete or ceramic tile with the heat exchanger located at a distance from the home.

CeramiCircuit™ Infrared Portable 1000 from REH• Installed wall-mounted ceramic radiant heaters or used portable ceramic radiant heaters.

Note: This portable ceramic radiant heater actually brought out my severe electrical sensitivity while I was living in a high-EMF home and I cannot tolerate this form of heat. But for those who can, it seems to be a very chemically safe (but expensive) option.

From the ENERJOY website:

These solid state ceramic heating units have been perfected over a period of years in working with the environmentally challenged, eliminating the hazards inherent in most other types of heat.

No heat is as healthful and safe as radiant heat, which produces no chemicals, dust particles, odors, or fumes. A radiant heater will maintain optimal comfort in a room. The electromagnetic field emitted is well within the safe range. The ceramic-coated heating elements have a large emitting surface that is easily cleaned. All metal parts are washed in a baking soda solution before assembly. After assembly, the heaters are energized for three days before they are shipped.

We offer a variety of models: stainless steel units for individuals with extreme sensitivities; units with powder coated finishes cured at 450º; and units with no painted parts. Sold through Radiant Electric Heat, Inc. (REH) located in Wisconsin and SSHC, Inc. (ENERJOY) in Connecticut.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a custom home built for chemical and electrical sensitivities. Some of us have great difficulty tolerating clothing as well as heating systems. For those that absolutely cannot use the heating system in their home and don’t have enough tolerable clothes to stay warm, below are some tips for conserving body heat and surviving the coming winter season:

12 Ways to Stay Warm this Winter with Severe MCS/ES

Root vegetables1. Eat cooked root vegetables and other warming foods. Root vegetables like carrots, onion, turnips, parsnips, yams, and squash have a warming effect in the body. Other warming foods include whole grains, butter, spices like cayenne pepper and ginger, and beef. Avoid cooling foods such as uncooked vegetables, fruits and ice cream.

2. Drink warm liquids. Nourishing soups, teas, and glasses of hot water can help keep you warm from the inside out. Drink spiced tea if you can tolerate it, with a mix of warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, peppercorn, and cardamom. My boyfriend does not tolerate the heating in his house, has few clothes, and is unable to drink tea, and so he warms himself all winter long by drinking lots of hot water, and warming his hands on the glass.

3. Stop shaving. Body hair helps keep us warm, just as an animal’s coat provides insulation from the cold. In winter months, letting leg and underarm hair grow out if you’re female, and facial hair if you’re a male, can help to conserve your body heat.

4. Keep extremities protected. A winter cap, gloves, a scarf, and socks or booties can go a long way to prevent heat loss from your body.

Rise with the moon5. Rise with the sun — or with the moon. If you have warm enough clothing and bedding to sleep soundly through the night, try to adjust your sleep schedule so that you are up and about during daylight and asleep soon after dark, when temperatures drop. But if you are too cold to sleep through the night, you might try reversing your sleep schedule for the winter months, staying up and active at night and sleeping during the warmer daylight hours. I got through last winter this way, sleeping in my car during the day when it was nice and toasty inside from the sun.

6. Keep the blinds open on southern windows during the day. The sun is the best source of heat for those with severe MCS and ES, unless you are sun sensitive, of course. Keep all window blinds on the south side of your home open during the day to maximize solar gain.

7. Seal window and door frames that leak cold air. Use weatherstripping, aluminum foil tape, and other tolerable materials to seal all cracks that let cold air seep into your home.

8. Take warm baths and showers. A hot shower or Epsom salt bath will warm you internally, as well as your house. It’s a daily ritual I always look forward to, no matter how cold it is out.

9. Keep moving. Sometimes the power will go off in the area where I live and it may take hours to go back on. Without heat or proper clothing to stay warm, I have to move my body to avoid the involuntary shivering that can sometimes wrack my body in lower temperatures. Dance, do jumping jacks, yoga, use your rebounder — whatever it takes to keep the blood flowing and your extremities warm.

An array of water jugs10. Fill glass jugs with hot water. Recycle one-gallon glass jugs or purchase them new and fill them with hot water from the tap. It’s a great chem-/EMF-free way to stay warm while sleeping, working on the computer, reading, or watching TV. One of these on your lap and another under your feet will keep you nice and toasty. They are easy to refill over and over if they cool down. I have wrapped myself around 2 1/2 gallon jugs from Mountain Valley Spring Water at night, and used smaller quart Mason jars throughout the day, as well. They are breakable, so some care is needed — it’s no fun cleaning up shards of glass and 2 1/2 gallons of water at 3am!

11. Buy vintage hot water bottles. Try searching eBay for antique metal or stoneware hot water bottles—they’ll keep you warm through the night. Place in a hot water bottle cover so you don’t burn yourself and keep one on your tummy and one by your feet; or one at each side. Because they have had former owners, they will need to be cleaned well and may not be tolerated. Due to my metal sensitivity, I was never able to use the antique metal canteen I purchased, but the stoneware version kept me warm the winter I was without heat.

Massage stones12. Use heated massage stones. A couple of years ago I was seeing a lymphatic drainage masseuse who used hot rocks on me regularly. Later that winter when I discovered I could not tolerate the heat in my apartment, I bought some for myself and would heat them religiously every night and place one under each foot, one on my stomach, and two under each shoulder near my neck — such a soothing way to fall asleep. They only stay warm for about an hour, depending on their size, but it was enough to help me drift off into a deep sleep, at least for a few hours.

Warning: Handling boiling or very hot water can be dangerous. I sustained 2nd degree burns on my foot when boiling water splashed out of the pan I had my rocks in. Be careful!

For more tips, see Heating and Cooling Options for the Environmentally Sensitive written by Andrew Eriksen on

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