While it's often best to have your furnace inspected before winter is in full swing, oversights happen and you need to be ready when they do. If you can't afford a hotel, and you live in a frigid region, being ready with an alternate heat source can make all the difference. Piling on extra layers of clothing or blankets will only get you so far after the sun has set and the chill really sets in.
Make the Most of the Heat You Do Have
While your furnace is the primary source of heating in your home, it's by no means the only one. Lamps, light fixtures, electronics and especially your oven are all sources of heat you can capitalize on to alleviate some of the chill. Turn on an extra lamp or two, and when a meal finishes roasting in the oven leave the door open to let the warm air out. You'll want to be mindful of small children if you try this last option, to prevent them from burning themselves.
Throw open curtains during the day to let sunlight in, and draw them again at night to prevent drafts from seeping in. This ambient heat will help a lot, and if your home's insulation is up to code you'll be in much better shape than you might have been. If you have the money to do so, pick up a space heater from a local hardware store and keep it running in a small space to improve its efficiency and your comfort level.
Emergency Heating on a Budget
If an electric space heater is beyond your finances there are ways to build one for a fraction of the price. You'll need a supply of small tea light candles, several popsicle sticks, a small bread pan, a small piece of foil and two small, unsealed terracotta pots of different sizes, so that one can fit over the other with space between them. Start by plugging the hole in the smaller of the two pots, and arranging the popsicle sticks across the middle of the bread pan, like a shelf.
With your shelf in place, arrange three to four of the candles in the middle of it and light them. Place the smaller of the two terracotta pots over the top of the candles, which will start heating the clay, causing it to radiate warmth. Place the larger pot over top of the smaller one, which will cause the convection current to push heat up through the center hole in the pot and circulate in the room. This arrangement works well in small spaces, but should be limited to stable surfaces to minimize the risk of it toppling over.
Having a few tricks up your sleeve while you wait for heating repair can mean the difference between a bit of mild inconvenience and a night spent shivering under a pile of blankets. Use this as a reminder to make sure you have your furnace checked for problems next fall, before the brunt of winter hits in earnest.