How Not To Freeze For Nearly Free

by Amy B. Scher on 12 October 2007 25 comments
Photo: Cozy toesies

We've finally just figured out how to stay cool for the summer, and now it's starting to get chilly (or already has, depending on where you live)! Time to switch gears, pull out the extra blankets and figure out how to keep your money from flying away with the wind this winter. When it’s cold outside, the cost of staying comfy often starts to heat up. Here are a few ways to survive with just a little bit of effort and not a lot of dough.

1. First and foremost, make sure your house isn’t inviting in the chill. Make the time (and maybe a small monetary investment) to ensure windows and doors are sealed properly. You can buy weather stripping at any hardware store. Or, you can roll towels to put under the doors to kill the draft (hey, nobody said being thrifty was fashionable all the time).

2. Become a furnace. Most body heat escapes from your head. So, a hat can make a huge difference. Technically, another place heat easily escapes is your thighs. Putting an extra blanket on your lap can be really helpful too, or you can wear Long Johns under your jeans if you can stand them. There is no particular study to prove my own personal theory, but being a woman, I know that if my feet get cold, the rest of me follows suit. Socks are a quick fix for this. I always carry an extra pair in my purse in case I need to double up.

3. If you don’t have carpet, buy some throw rugs. There is no faster way for your tootsies to become popsicles than to walk on a cold floor (even if you follow the sock rule).

4. Buy an electric blanket. Most of us are especially cold while cuddled up on the couch trying to get through our favorite weekly sitcom. Why? Because we are doing nothing – or nothing productive anyway. So, instead of cranking up the heat in the whole house, just make yourself warmer in the places you are the least active, and most cold.

4. Cook more. This will help with your take-out food expenses and the heat in a working kitchen goes a long way to keep you toasty.

5. Close all the doors in the house to rooms you seldom use. If your office is just for storage, let the boxes and file cabinets get frostbite and keep the heat where you need it most.

6. Use space heaters. If you buy energy efficient ones, you’ll save money on your central heating bill. Space heaters are particularly good for areas like under your desk to keep your lower body warm, or in a bathroom where you don’t need the heat pumping in full-time when you only occupy it occasionally.

7. A quick heat-me-up can do the trick. My blow dryer is my best friend in the winter. If I’m really cold, I use it for about 30 seconds to warm up my arms, head or whatever is icy. A lot of times you waste your own body's energy trying to get warm. It’s much easier to stay warm.

8. Let Mother Nature help. If the sun is out, let it in. Open the blinds or curtains on the side of the house the sun rises on (and then remember to close them later). You’d be surprised how much it can actually heat up through the windows. And if everything is sealed properly, the house should hold it well.

9. Don’t use your gas fireplace. Last winter I had a repairman come to fix my stove while my gas fireplace was blazing. He told me it’s one of the quickest ways to a raging gas bill with the least amount of effectiveness. Who knew? You are basically paying for the “pretty” on that one.

10. Find a buddy. Grab your guy, girl, or cat. Anything warm blooded to cuddle with is an almost instant way to stop the shivers. And since you already have them, it might very well be the cheapest and most fun way too!

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Guest's picture
Guest

hmm the cuddling one is definitely my favorite...yay for brawny firefighters...:D

Guest's picture
Heresyoftruth

I just moved from a three bedroom double wide trailer after I sold it. It was a nightmare to heat. I had insulation blown in the crawl spaces above and below, but it only helped so much. I then replaced every single window with double paned ones. (It's pretty cheap if you do the work yourself.) That cut my heat issues to about half. It was still cold whenever there was a drop in temp, but not so cold your feet burned when they touched the floor.

Now we live in a tiny apartment above the buildings laundry room. The heat cost alone is so cheap that we live cheaper than when we owned the trailer. (Plus no yardwork!)

Now, with this in mind, I am going to be very careful about where I live from now on. The heat cost alone can kill our monthly budget.

Julie Rains's picture

I've become a huge fan of wool socks -- not all the time necessarily but for hiking, camping, and probably at home whenever it starts getting cold.

Guest's picture
Barbara

Thick curtains across windows, and even doors on the inside, do a tremendous job of keeping out the chill. Not only does it help with drafts if they aren't sealed properly, but the cold that emenates from window panes is trapped behind the fabric too. But the drawback is I'm taking about heavy duty, thick curtains. I had a pair in my old apartment (which was over 100 years old) and it was just amazing the difference they made in the winter!

Guest's picture
Jamie

When I just can't seem to get warm, a warm shower always helps me (as long as I dry my hair right away with a blow dryer).

Guest's picture
Jared

9. Don’t use your gas fireplace.

This is not entirely true. Our gas fireplace actually LOWERED our gas costs. We have a modern gas fireplace (1 year old) installed, and it is 85% efficient, compared to our furnace at a measly 68% efficient. Our fireplace also has a blower installed which helps to move the heat away from the fireplace to the rest of the room - and with an intricate system of fans set up, we can move warm air all over the house.

Amy B. Scher's picture

Hmm....I'm going to have to look into this. Mine is also fairly new. Thanks for the info. The blower sounds like a great component.

Guest's picture
Wesa

We live in a small one-bedroom apartment in Seattle. The apartment stays fairly warm, but this last week I was sick and having problems warming up. Eventually I turned the heat on (for the first time) and stood over it while blogging on my laptop. It felt great and finally warmed my body up to where I wanted it to be. I turned it down, then off completely about an hour later. No reason to try to heat the entire apartment. I'm sure a hot shower would have worked the same, but this was an indulgence.

Many times people leave their heat set to too high of a temperature. Wearing warm slippers and using a blanket or even a sweater can enable you to turn the heat down a few degrees. Also closing heat registers in rooms where you aren't using it often (such as the office example in the post) will help place the heat in the areas that you actually use it. I've also picked up cheap weather-stripping for our previous apartment after I discovered that I could feel cold air blasting through the cracks from 2 feet away. Since we rent, we can't make too many modifications to our home but there are still some that you can get away with if landlords won't take action themselves.

Guest's picture
Charise

I agree that efficient space heaters can be a great thing, but I'm not so sure about using them in bathrooms. I used to work in a hardware store and every single space heater we carried had a warning on it to not use in the bathroom.

Perhaps it's because our bathroom is small, but just turning on the shower heats it up pretty fast.

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this but I use that plastic sheeting that you can shrink with a blowdrier on my windows. As I rent I am surely not going to put in new windows, but the sheeting is a nice compromise.
Also, last night I lit 7-8 candles in my 16" by 14" bedroom and I watched the tempature go up 5 degrees!! I also had the door closed to conserve heat, but what a wonder some candles can do!

Guest's picture
sylrayj

When you shower, swish hot hot water around your tub first, then put the plug in. My showers always take longer if I'm standing on a cold cold tub shivering away, surrounded by a ton of cold wall and tub. If I preheat it, I can get to warming myself a lot faster.

Leave the nice hot water there, unless you have small children who don't know not to drown in tubs, or aren't sure if your cat has more brains than a butterfly. You paid for that heat; let your bathwater keep your bathroom a bit warmer. Pull the plug after the water cools to room temperature, though - too much humidity isn't a good thing. You'll need to wash the tub, because everything you washed off you will have settled out, but it's fairly quick if you get to it while everything is still wet.

Tuck a blanket over the back of your chair, or your spot at the couch, wherever you tend to sit. It feels nice and warm at your back, even if you tend to get up and wander often, and it's right there if you want to wrap up in it. Similarly, a nice thick robe isn't just for over pyjamas or after a bath - think of it as a big long sweater.

My mom learned about make-your-own insulated curtains. The outside was white - possibly for reflecting the sun in summertime - and the inside was chosen to complement the room. A light layer of quilt batting provided further insulation. With grommets along the edges, L-hooks fasten the curtain right to your window frame. Unhook it as high as you want when you want to let the sunshine in. Bear in mind that it takes a lot of L-hooks to do it well, and hardware stores don't usually have *that* many packages - it took my mom 3 trips to get enough.

Hot water bottles/heat bags do work. Snuggle it if you have a cat which 'cuddles' from four feet away. Tuck it under your feet if they're cold, drape it on your lap, tuck it into the small of your back; but when it's cold, feel free to set it aside again. Check it seasonally for leaks!

And have a hot drink. I love holding a steaming mug of tea, letting the heat seep into my hands. Mix equal parts condensed soup and milk or water and microwave, if you'd prefer something savoury, or consider other broth-type meals. Coffee-flavouring syrups are great in hot milk; it's just like a steamer, without the froth. I want to like hot lemonade but I don't - it could be a great option for those who enjoy it. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

When using your computer for many consecutive hours, keep the door closed to the room with your computer and it will help warm the room. (If it gets too toasty it's time to have your machine checked!)

Guest's picture
Mats

Your body become a radically better furnace if you exercise regularly. Make sure to, at least, walk in a fast pace a couple of times per day. Doing this and after a while you will notice you both get warmer and improved appetite. This is because the body gets better at taking care of your food, or "burning it" better:)

So keep up the pace!

Andrea Karim's picture

True, a quick walk around the block, even on a chilly night, can do wonders for your internal temperature. I also love to use flannel sheets during the winter - they just don't get all cold and clammy the way regular sheets do during a wet Seattle winter. If I use my oven to bake anything, I open is afterwards to heat the house, too. I never heat my lower level, unless I have guests, and then, I use a space heater.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

The best way we have found to get thru cold Syracuse NY winters is to use microwaveable corn bags (cloth bags filled with feed corn) for the kidlets to hold when going into chilly beds. Their beds have flannel sheets and many layers of quilts, but still the corn bags help them warm up the bed faster. Plus, the kids still like footed pajamas best to keep warm.

We adults at my house go to bed earlier in the winter months and watch tv in bed. We have a heated mattress pad with dual control (her side is warm, my side goes up to inferno) to keep warm in the evening hours. We turn the mattress pads off when we curl over to sleep. We find our heat can be kept at 62 during the night if we do these things.

Guest's picture
Sarah

One tip I've seen that goes along with the closing doors tip above... close off vents in rooms you don't use. It will keep the heat from pumping into those rooms and will just circulate back into the rooms you do. Just make sure that you keep the doors closed, too!

Guest's picture
Leslie

We live in Minnesota in an old house with wood windows. For about 10 years we used the plastic shink wrap on the windows to make the house livable. Then we invested in replacing all the windows with energy efficient windows. What an amazing difference in both heating costs and comfort. Last fall we invested in a good storm door. We felt an immediate difference - no more drafts coming in under the front door. Next on the list is a new back storm door.

Guest's picture
pb

we have a waterbed which doesn't take much electricity at all to keep warm in winter and we turn it waaaay down in summer so it helps keep us cool, which is a bigger deal than warm since we're in Phoenix. Still ... It's dropped belw freezing several times this week here.
pb

Guest's picture
katy

Please don't buy an electric blanket; true story: a good friend was under her electric blanket, she had it turned on a few minutes. The phone rang. She got out of bed and went to answer the phone in the next room. The electric blanket had caught on fire while she was on the phone!!!

Please just get extra quilts or extra blankets - non electric!

Guest's picture
Cindy M

It's paid for itself many times over. I'm usually very busy when home, moving around a lot, hardly ever sit down except when I'm working (I do work from home as a transcriber 5 days a week from 2-11 p.m.). I do wear sweat suits, heavy socks and slippers most of the time in my Ohio winters. And dumb as it sounds, I find it helps tremendously when I'm cold to the bone (rarely) to just get out in the kitchen and run some hot soapy water and get busy cleaning and picking up the house a bit. I warm up in no time. Then I get the other extreme, oh those midlife hormones, ha-ha.

Guest's picture
Guest

High top house shoes that cover your ankles--yes, you'll look old, but your whole body will be much warmer.

Guest's picture
RJ

Replacing single-pane windows with double-pane will make a huge difference in heating bills if you can afford them. Windows are not cheap, however. A less expensive alternative that will work well is clear plastic nailed over windows with some wood strips to seal around the edges. I used Visqueen clear plastic in my old cabin.

Guest's picture
Guest

Wear a Snuggie, 2 pairs of Socks, Sweats & use plently of blankets or quilts. If still cold climb into your bed & turn on your space heater with an auto thermostat & set the timer...turn on your T.V. & the next thing you know you will be waking up to the daylight of the "Icy Cold Morning". Quickly run to the bathroom, turn on the small space heater, close the bathroom door & quickly run back to your bed....in about 15 minutes your bathroom will be warm enough to start your morning ritual to get ready for the day. You will probably end up having to turn off your small space heater in the bathroom before you start blow drying your hair.

Guest's picture
Scott

"Most body heat escapes from your head."

Wrong. That's an old myth.

There's nothing unusual about the head regarding heat loss other than it's the body part most left uncovered.

From a New York Times article:

"The amount of heat released by any part of the body depends largely on its surface area, and on a cold day you would lose more heat through an exposed leg or arm than a bare head."

"THE BOTTOM LINE: The body does not lose most of its heat through the head."

Guest's picture
Randy

I disagree with you on #9. I have a standard cookie-cutter 3/2 ranch but I only live in two rooms (master bedroom and kitchen/den) of it. The rest of the house is unfurnished and closed off and is only there for resale. The highest natural gas bill I have ever had is $56 (month) and that was a very cold winter. I have gas logs that are 99.9% efficient (do not require the flu to be open) with all the heat it produces coming out into the room as heat. It will sometimes get my den too warm. Rather than run my central system (an ultra-high 95% efficient system) I use the gas logs when I am in the den and a small gas catalytic heater in my bedroom and I stay as warm as I want to be. So, respectfully, to say gas logs are wasteful is not true. But I understand your point ... it CAN be. If your flue is open all of your heat is going away and all you're paying for is a pretty flame. If your fireplace is glassed-over, the same thing - none of that heat is coming into your room.