7 Ways to Get Warm On the Cheap

By Sarah Winfrey on 17 December 2009 32 comments

Brrr . . . it's cold outside. Even if you live somewhere that's usually warm, if you're in the northern hemisphere it's probably been anywhere from a mite chilly to downright freezing out there. If you're at all like me, there's not too much that's worse than being really and truly cold . . . except maybe paying the electric bills on the central heating that will fix that.

Luckily, over the years I've found ways to stay warm, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. As an added bonus, these are all ways that don't cost nearly as much as it would to run the heater all the time. Warm and snuggly, here we come!

Keep the Cold Out

Before you worry about how to fight the cold that gets in, work on keeping it out. Make sure your doors and windows have airtight seals around them. If they don't, duct tape can help in a pinch, or you can get some foam sealant from your local hardware store. Roll up rugs and put them up against cracks at the bottom of your doors and make sure everything is latched.

If you have to use your doors or windows for something, close them as soon as possible. In addition, try to isolate any room where you plan to have a door or window open, so the cold won't spread to other areas of the house.

Cover Your Floors

It's easy for any heat that is in your home to escape into the ground through uncarpeted floors. Even small rugs act as insulation, and any insulation is better than none. If you have a large area covered in wood flooring or linoleum, getting a large area rug or even an extra piece of carpet from a local store can go far toward lowering your energy costs and keeping you warm.

This is especially helpful if you live in an upstairs apartment or condo or spend a lot of time on the second floor of your home. Upper level floors don't even have the benefit of the ground as insulation, so heat can escape even faster.

Wear Layers

If you've ever lived somewhere truly cold, you probably know this secret already. You don't have to go out and buy a bunch of big, old, bulky sweaters to stay warm. In fact, it's more efficient, both for your budget and your body, if you wear several lighter layers. As an added bonus, this lets you adjust your temperature as the need arises.

Wearing layers works even where you think it might not. Wear fingerless gloves under mittens, or knitted gloves under bulkier ones to keep your hands warm. Layer a scarf around your head under a hood or hat and help your body heat stay in.

Snuggle With Someone

A little cheesy? Yes, but it works. When it's cold outside, keep your loved ones close and you'll all be warmer. Body heat is almost miraculous in its ability to keep people warm — that's why curling up in a sleeping bag with another person is one of the top cold-weather survival tactics. While you may not want to warm your cold toes on your partner's body without asking, know that if you do, you'll have warm toes all night.

Space Heaters

A $10 space heater from Target can go a long way towards keeping you and your family warm. While running it all the time or using it as your main heating source is expensive, it can save you money with strategic use. Instead of turning on your main heater before you leave in the morning, let your space heater warm up a small area, like your bedroom and bathroom, and you don't have to heat the whole house.

If you're still concerned about cost, spend a little more and get a heater with a good energy saver rating. Because these use electricity more efficiently, they will cost you even less over the long haul.

Get Moving

Exercise is great for warming you up, and you don't even have to break a sweat (in fact, you might not want to, since sweat is designed to cool you off). Doing simple household tasks, like cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the living room, and anything else around the house, can help get your blood flowing fast enough that you'll be much warmer, and will stay that way for at least a little while after you're finished. What better motivation to get the house cleaned for your Christmas visitors?

Cook for Yourself

Both your stove and your oven generate heat, and using them is a great way to keep at least a small portion of your home warm. So get started on all those holiday treats and find your kitchen and dining area warmer as a direct result.

This is especially useful if you're making a holiday dinner or having a party in your home. Between the body heat generated by having extra people around and the heat wafting out of the kitchen, you may not even have to turn on the heater to make your guests comfortable.

How will you stay warm this holiday season? I'd love to have even more tricks up my sleeve, so share yours in the comments!

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32 discussions

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Guest's picture

Very good ideas. I had a heater from target, I paid $20 and it lasted about 6 months. It got me through the winter, but it is definately not a long term solution.

Guest's picture

I've been using a "radiator" style, oil-filled heater. One is a little over a year old, and the other is around three years old. Both have simple designs with few moving parts (just the switches and thermostat).

There's a small heating element that heats up the oil. The hot oil rises, and the cold oil falls, creating circulation. The oil flows through these large fins that help radiate the heat.

I wholeheartedly recommend these heaters. They don't get as hot as the heaters with fans, so they don't blow the fuse, either.

PS - if you have a chimney, look up "rocket stove mass heater". These are wood stoves that use a large canister to radiate heat. They are "green" because they're designed to build and concentrate heat long enough to combust any smoke and carbon monoxide - that is, they totally vaporize wood. What's left is CO2, steam, and heat.

Guest's picture

You forgot the most important, easiest, and funnest one!!!


Seriously, adding a little glass of holiday cheer to one of those frigid winter evenings certainly never hurt anybody.

Great post

Guest's picture

I like how you think!

Guest's picture

I think the one about keeping the cold out is the most important. Just this week my wife and I hung some wreaths on our windows for Christmas. We have the older double-hung wooden windows so we hung the wreaths down from the top sash using a ribbon wedged between the sash and the top sill. We had to secure some of the wreaths with tape though because the fit between the window and the sill was not tight enough to keep the ribbon in place in all cases. Big wake up call! We're probably losing a lot of heat around those windows.

Guest's picture

Also look for drafts under doors. You can use scrap fabric to make tubes, and fill them with more scrap, beans, etc and other heavy things, to make a thing to block the draft.

Guest's picture

Probably cheaper than a space heater--energy costs are slightly lower and it uses materials you likely already have on hand--is a hot water bottle. I use a Nalgene filled with water boiled in the electric kettle. At first I stuffed it in a sock to keep it from getting too hot on my skin, but now I've sewn a simple felt drawstring bag for it. Works great either way under the covers to keep me toasty all night. It's often still a little warm in the mornings!

Guest's picture

Another type of hot "water" bottle is a hot sock. They're pretty much just socks filled with cheap rice and microwaved. You don't have to worry about them burning you or leaving them on all night, and they stay warm for really, really long time.

Guest's picture

To piggy back on the cooking idea whenever you use your oven leave the door open after wards the heat you have already paid for will waft it's way into your kitchen. For around ten dollars you can buy a louvered vent for your dryer and instead of heating the backyard vent that heat into your house. Either just let it run in the laundry room or add some vent hose and move it to another space. We vent ours through an old exsisting floor vent and pipe it right to the kitchen. My family of four uses roughly 5 hours of dryer heat a week why waste it???

Guest's picture

It can be dangerous to leave your oven door open, especially with a gas stove.

Also the venting of your dryer is a big no-no. Depending on which state you live in, I am in MN, it is not allowed. So, before anyone does this check with your state housing codes. Also talk to anyone in the heatting industry and they can fully explain why this is a really bad idea!

Guest's picture

That's not just heat, it's moisture and that sort of thing can create all kinds of problems with moisture growth inside a house. I don't even know if it's a good idea if you live in a really dry climate, but definitely a no-no if you live in a moist climate like the pacific northwest.

Guest's picture

Opening a gas stove after it's shut off is safe. no big deal.

But venting a gas dryer into the house is a carbon monoxide risk. You should get a detector that will warn you of excess carbon monoxide in the home. As an alternative, you can lengthen the exhaust tube and dump the hot air into some kind of large metal box like an old storage cabinet, and then vent the cabinet to the outside. The heat will warm up the box, and the box will radiate heat into the room - you'll have to figure out what to do with water condensation. (And there's not much risk of slowing the air flow. Slowing the flow causes the dryer to be less efficient.)

Guest's picture

The space heater idea is probably OK for households with not-forgetful adults with no pets and no kids and not using an extension cord...otherwise, getting warm on the cheap might involve your house burning down:-(

Guest's picture
Stacey Marcos

Dryer vents dump huge quantities of water vapor into the home. When you go above 50% relative humidity the mold starts to grow. You think paying the extra heating bill is expensive, try mold remediation ($$$). Leaving the oven door open is unnecessary. Your oven vents into the kitchen anyway (the vents at the top). Also buy a space heater with UL certification and a tip sensor. Stay away from the no-name brands. Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

Guest's picture
John Gilbert Thorgood

I like to watch Survivorman while I pile my bills in a metal trash can and burn them in the living room. I can keep the fire going for hours. I roast whatever small animals I can catch with one peanut butter cup, string and a Macgyver paperclip.

Guest's picture

You loose a lot of your heat through your feet. Wearing socks (cotton or wool) and slippers around the house will keep you toasty warm. Don't wear your street shoes in the house but have clean socks and slippers to change into. Wearing clean socks to bed is better than throwing on an extra blanket.

Guest's picture

If you warm up with a hot bath, let the bathwater sit (and open the bathroom door) after you're done, instead of sending it down the drain right away. Heat that you've already paid for will continue to radiate from the water into your house.

Guest's picture

Take a hot water shower, and if possible - keep your bathroom door open. it will heat up your bedroom

Guest's picture

Great article with lots of good tips. We practice all you mentioned and then some. One of my biggest things to stay warm is to keep the cold out via caulking, caulking and caulking. I am constantly on the look-out for drafts and seal them. I use the child proof covers to block out any remaining draft possible on all outside wall insulated outlets. We have a Braun eco-vent on both the range down draft system and dryer. It seals tightly when the appliances are not in use so stops any drafts from coming in. We snuggle in homemade afghans while watching tv. We have a natural gas fireplace that we use to take the chill off our lower level main living area (below ground) including kitchen. This means the furnace doesn't kick on during the evening hours. Our furnace is set to 65ºF for the day and 63ºF for night. I use candles a lot too :)

Guest's picture

Great post!

I currently work from home and turn my heat way down during the day, even when I am there. I also shut the vents in my basement because those rooms are not used as often.

Then, to work, I use the Presto Heat Dish from Costco to warm my office. It works great and uses much less electricity.

Good luck to everyone saving money this winter!

Guest's picture

Cover your head--wear a hat or scarf, inside too. It really helps!

Guest's picture

I use an outdoor high voltage timer to regulate my space heater. I only use it in the morning, to heat the shower room for an hour before and during the regular shower time. Takes the chill of and I know it is off the rest of the day.

Guest's picture

I've spent two New England winters in old, drafty houses, and with a grad-student budget (that is, try not to spend anything!). One way to warm up fast without kicking up the heat is to drink something warm. In fact, if you're trying to be really cheap, try drinking hot water. My husband once mentioned that a Chinese colleague was surprised that no one here drank hot water, and I thought I'd try it. It's really not that strange, and if you don't want to drink hot chocolate, coffee, or tea constantly, I recommend it!

Guest's picture

Try putting blankets on all the windows. it keeps warm in the winter, and even keeps it cool when summer comes along.

Guest's picture

We use "sock babies". Simple and cheap to make and they last for hours. Buy a new pair of large white tube socks. Put one inside the other and fill with plain white rice (uncooked). Sew up the end and heat in the microwave for about 3-4 minutes. Can be used over and over for years.

Meg Favreau's picture

I love these! My mom always one up for stomach aches when I was little, but I never thought about using them for general warmth. Great idea.

Guest's picture

I love the cook for yourself suggestion. That's like the double whammy of Winter time savings. Makes me want to go bake something right now. mmm.

Guest's picture

In older houses, you have a lot more small rooms with doors. Close those doors and you reduce the amount of space to heat - and then heat just the spaces you're using. Also, if the kitchen is not in the center of the house, keep it cold -- this will reduce the power used by the refrigerator, which should nearly stop running because the air temp is blow the fridge temp.

Guest's picture

All of these are great suggestions. Using a fire place rather than the heater may save on heating bill as well. I like the cooking suggestion because it's multi functional.

Guest's picture

We use old tube socks filled with rice as personal heat. Just throw in the microwave for a couple of minutes and then they are either placed at your feet under a blanket or we stuff them into the front pocket of a sweatshirt to warm the hands. They retain heat for quite a long time and are easily reheated in minutes. 42 degrees in the house this morning but I am toasty with one of these at my feet with a blanket and the other is keeping my hands warm as I type by using it as a wrist rest in front of my keyboard.
Easy, cheap and work great. Another tip. Use small socks and then you can put them in the pockets of a coat and you have great handwarmers when you have to go out!

Guest's picture

Since the heater broke, I am improvising with the oven door open and a electric fan to suck it out into the rooms

Guest's picture

Getting a timer on your electric furnace. We set the timer to come on at 4:00am and off at 6:30am and then again turn on at 2:50pm and off at 9:00pm.

Also a timer on your hot water tank. Only warming the water when you are using it. From 9:00pm to 4:00am not on.

Use the blinds in front of all windows. You can close them off at night and when you are not at home. Helps to keep the cold out. Also insulated drapes are a biggy!