How to Stay Warm While Using Less Heat

In these days of tight budgets and expensive utilities, staying warm without spending several hundred dollars a month on your heating bill is a major point of concern. Luckily, there are all sorts of low-tech ways to stay warm using less heat.

Not many people can afford an astronomical utility bill and the prices of natural gas, propane, and electricity are only going up from here. We’ll need to use other methods for staying warm aside from cranking up the thermostat if we want to stay cozy without going broke.

While a lot of these ideas came from my time living in a cabin in the frigid Algonquin Forest, I’m using several of them now while living in a place that only gets chilly a month out of the year, and thus has no central heating.

I’ve lived in all sorts of houses and worked with different types of heat.

Back when I lived in the afore-mentioned inexpensive cabin with wood heat and a million-dollar view I learned exactly how drafty and chilly our little house was.  The breeze off the lake also increased the nip in the air.  With an older wood stove as our only source of heat, the rooms more distant from the stove moved from rather chilly to downright COLD.

Later, I lived in an old house with radiators. It was usually cozy in our moderate climate, but on days when the mercury didn’t rise to double digits, it got pretty darned nippy in there with the glorious large Victorian windows and high ceilings. I’ve gotten up on mornings when the heat is set at 64 to find the main floor stubbornly resisting warmth and staying at a brisk 57 degrees.

Currently, I’m staying at a beachside condo experiencing “winter.” Now, winter here is in only the 50s but that’s still pretty brisk when the salty wind off the ocean blows up against the drafty windows. But for the month or so that it’s that chilly, I’m not going to invest in a heating solution and I’m going to use other strategies to stay cozy.

There are different heating solutions for more extreme situations.

When you rent, it isn’t feasible to insulate or replace the windows and wood stove with more efficient models. In that situation, you have to work with what you’ve got. So low-tech methods that don’t change the house are ideal.

Using less heat allows you to extend your fuel supply if you have to fill a propane tank or stack firewood. Low-tech methods will let you ration your fuel while still remaining comfortable. Keeping the bills low is important regardless of how you heat.

Low Tech Ways to Stay Warm

So, in the interest of low-tech solutions, here are a few ways that we keep warmer without plugging in the electric space heaters. These ideas can be used when the grid is working and most can be used to supplement your winter power outage plan so that you use up fewer resources.

  1. Keep your wrists and ankles covered.  Wear shirts with sleeves long enough to keep your wrists covered and long socks that keep your ankles covered.  You lose a great deal of heat from those two areas.
  2. Wear fingerless gloves. You’ll look very 80s, but if you wear cozy knit fingerless gloves, you’ll be able to still use your hands for the computer or for needlework while staying much warmer. You can splurge on nice ones like these or you can grab those inexpensive $1 stretchy ones from the dollar store and cut off the fingertips.
  3. Get some long-johns.  Wearing long underwear beneath your jeans or PJ’s will work like insulation to keep your body heat in.  I like the silky kind sold by discount stores like Wal-mart for indoor use, rather than the sturdier outdoor type sold by ski shops. The more you layer, the warmer you’ll be. You can also put leggings under your jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts under your other tops.
  4. Wear slippers.  You want to select house shoes with a solid bottom rather than the slipper sock type.  This forms a barrier between your feet and the cold floor.  We keep a basket of inexpensive slippers in varying sizes by the door for visitors because it makes such a big difference.  Going around in your stocking feet on a cold floor is a certain way to be chilled right through.
  5. Get up and get moving.  It goes without saying that physical activity will increase your body temperature.  If you’re cold, get up and clean something, dance with your kids, play tug-of-war with the dog, or do a chore.  I like to bundle up and go outside for a brisk walk to get my blood pumping.
  6. Pile on the blankets. If you’re going to be sitting down, have some layered blankets available.  Our reading area has polar fleece blankets which we top with fluffy comforters for a cozy place to relax.
  7. Use a hot water bottle.  If you’re just sitting around try placing a hot water bottle (carefully wrapped to avoid burns) under the blankets with you.
  8. Use rice bags.  If you don’t have the ready-made ones, you can simply place dry rice in a clean sock.  Heat this in the microwave, if you use one, for about a minute, or place in a 100-degree oven – watching carefully – for the love of cats don’t set your house on fire – for about 10 minutes. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, keep some rice bags in a large ceramic crock beside the unit so they are constantly warm.  You can put your feet on them or tuck them under the blankets on your lap.
  9. Insulate using items you have.  Line the interior walls with bookcases or hanging decorative quilts and blankets on the walls to add an extra layer of insulation. It definitely makes a difference because it keeps heat in and cold air out. If you look at pictures of old castles you will see lovely tapestry wall-hangings – this was to help insulate the stone walls, which absorbed the cold and released it into the space.
  10. Layer your windows.  Our cabin had large lovely picture windows for enjoying the view.  However, they were single pane and it’s hard to enjoy the view if your teeth are chattering.  We took the rather drastic step of basically closing off all the windows but one in each room for the winter.  We insulated by placing draft blockers at the bottom in the window sill (I just used rolled up polar fleece – I’m not much of a sew-er.)  This was topped by a heavy blanket, taking care to overlap the wall and window edges with it.  Over that, we hung thermal curtains that remain closed. Another option is to pick up that plastic that you apply to your windows using a hairdryer. You can also spray the window with water and apply bubble wrap if you don’t have another way to layer it.
  11. Wear a hat. A lot of heat escapes out the top of your head, so keep it cozy with a knitted hat. (We used to call them stocking caps but I think the kids call them beanies now.)
  12. Get a rug.  If you have hardwood, tile, or laminate flooring, an area rug is a must.  Like the blankets on the walls, this is another layer of insulation between you and the great outdoors. If you have no basement, your floor will be particularly chilly.  A rug in the living room protects your (slippered) tootsies from the chill.
  13. Wear a scarf.  No, not like a big heavy wool scarf that you’d wear outdoors – just a small, lightweight one that won’t get in your way and annoy you.  This serves two purposes.  First, it covers a bit more exposed skin. Secondly, it keeps body heat from escaping out the neck of your shirt.
  14. Drink hot beverages. A warm beverage like coffee, tea, or cocoa will help warm you up from the inside out. Invest in some travel mugs with lids to keep your drink warm for longer. Also, warm up your mug with hot water while you’re waiting for your coffee, cocoa, or tea to brew.
  15. Burn candles.  Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.
  16. Cuddle.  Share your body heat under the blankets when you’re watching movies or reading a book.
  17. Close off one room. What is the warmest room in your house? Maybe it’s the one with the heat source or maybe it’s tucked into a more protected area of the home. Close it off using curtains and tension rods in the doorways for a toasty-warm retreat.
  18. Hang out together. Even if you aren’t cuddling under blankets, if everyone is in the same (closed off) room, your combined body heat will raise the temperature a few degrees.
  19. Bake something. Bake a dessert or roast a chicken to add some heat to your home. (Bonus – you get a delicious home-cooked hot meal out of the deal.)
  20. Get everyone an electric blanket. This isn’t totally low-tech, but an electric blanket uses far less power than turning up the heat for your entire house. We keep our thermostat set quite low and use electric blankets instead. Newer ones have an automatic shut-off for less risk of fire or burns and they’re very energy efficient.

How do you keep your house warm without turning up the heat?

What do you do to stay warmer at your house during the winter?  Share your cozy ideas in the comments section!

How to Stay Warm While Using Less Heat
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

29 thoughts on “How to Stay Warm While Using Less Heat”

  1. Some really great ideas there-I’ll be trying the candle soon enough! I too will bake something to naturally raise the temp. 2 more tips I use are Hoodie sweatshirts, they’ve got the handy hand-warmer pouch often included, and I’ll double-layer socks. I’ll use regular tube socks and then wear my thermal skiing-socks, or slipper socks over the tube socks. I’m a really big fan of yours thanks Daisy!

  2. Brinda Patterson

    Look for drafty areas. We had paneling that seem to let air in between the mailed paneling. I put duct tape on it during the winter. Yes it sealed out draft.

    1. That’s a great idea!

      For those trying to pinpoint a draft, go to the suspected area with a tealight candle on a saucer. Use the movement of the flame to help you discover where the air is getting in.

  3. I really appreciate your trying to help others in this day and age. I have no intention of denigrating your help to them.
    I April I will hit the 70 mark. However, I look at what you have posted and am reminded of my upbringing in WV. Some houses only had a central coal fired fireplace or one central gas stove. It was a race to get to the heat so you could back up to it and get your tush warmed up. I don’t regret my upbringing in any way, shape or form. In bed i was thick feather-tick mattresses and plenty of hand made quilts. You didn’t realize how cold it was until you got out of bed.
    Considering that, I chuckle to myself and wonder how the folks of today would react to that same situation.

    1. I loved staying with a great aunt in rural Alabama. Me and my cousins slept in a really old and worn feather bed, whoever was in the middle sunk into the mattress and got dog-piled by the others! She had to teach us how to use a hot water bottle and a chamber pot. She had a coal heater in her living room.

    2. 73 here. It was 29° last night and today till around noon. Warned up just a little this afternoon. Opened curtains on. Side toward sun. Helped a bit. Closed before sun was off that side. We heat with a gravity fed pellet stove. Lit a fire around dark. Set a teakettle on the heat collector. Cooked a simple dinner on the propane stove. Heated 2 metal cups and made tea. Both wearing long sleved shirts and Laps covered with fluffy throws. Sipping hot tea.
      2 hours before bedtime i’ll light the propane heater to take off the chill. Dress for bed in long underwear pants and long skeved knit shirts. Cover with pIenty of covers. You’ll soon warm up the bed.
      Daylight brings breakfast, and time to feed chickens, ducks and rabbits. Then work on whatever projects are important at the time. By mid afternoon its cooling off more do time to cook a warm meal. Close the drapes and soon light a fire. Days are shortening and temperatures are dropping. A lityle fridge set by the door is cold , almost freezing outside on the porch. Mayve well have the array repaired or up dated by spring. No power for the past 10 months. Solar chargers chargers keep lanterns and phone going. I also have oil lamps. A small array with an inverter keeps tv usable a while each evening.
      Simple life lived with the seasons.

    3. We raised our kids (all currently in their 40’s) while living in a house (30+ years) built in the early 1900’s. The only source of heat was a floor furnace, fairly centralized between the living room and dining room. We have used every one of your suggestions, and they do help. One more…flannel sheets. While we all live in centrally heated and air conditioned houses now, I still use many of the suggestions, mostly because I’m cheap, Excuse me…FRUGAL. My kids have always said that the floor furnace brought the family together with everyone crowding around on a cold morning.

  4. Fleece blanket with a kitty on your lap. If your fingers get cold place on kitty’s belly. Sleep in a sleeping bag.

  5. Ardelle K Wachter

    I find Curry recipes are good at self-generation of warmth. You don’t have to get crazy with the really hot/pepper style just some regular curry meals. I picked up a really great recipe for Quick Shrimp Curry from Taste of Home’s Sharon Tipton.

  6. What works here: long underwear, depending on the temperature, there’s the man-made stretchy fabric that fits close to your bod and wool. Layer until you feel warm.

    Am in the process of switching to 100% merino wool base layer then layering with other items. Can keep the thermostat at 69 degrees & still manage w/o wearing gloves.

    Gloves: get the ones made for use with hand-held devices – works well for desktop, too, on days you’re sick or the electricity is off.

    To sleep: sleeping bags–sized for couples or singles. Years ago I stopped using electric blankets; if the power goes off here in the country it can get down to freezing indoors: we have single-pane windows & our home is older now.

    When electricity is off, we’ll wear hats but usually I don’t, indoors. Depends.

  7. My little home 810 sq ft. I warm by keeping an upside down 12 inch flower pot on my gas stove, on low flame. There is no heater or insulation in my home, built in the 30’s. Keeping a small fan aimed at the ceiling to bring the heat down where we are. I close off the rooms that are not needed during the cold season, and wear fleece hat and warm gloves, and wool socks to sleep. Also learned while living in Alaska that if you have an extra sheet, spread it over the top of your blanket to keep in your body heat.

  8. Learned this trick from my husbands grandmother. She used a blanket on the mattress instead of a sheet, top and bottom. Instant warmth as soon as you got into bed. Snug as a bug in that old farmhouse.

  9. I got a space heater for my bedroom so I don’t have to heat the whole house at night beyond just preventing the pipes from freezing.. I got one of those nylar space blankets from survival supplies and put it under mattress covers–makes it much easier to warm the bed and reduce the setting on the space heater.

    My daughter suggested one you did not mention. She told me to go outside where it was really cold. When I came in, somehow the house was a lot warmer!

  10. For the last 20 years since moving to Michigan i have worn tights under every thing in the winter. You can even find fleece lined tights! I think it was Joe Nameth who has a commercial for wearing tights or panty hose to stay warm!

  11. We have a direct vent propane heater, set on 64 usually. Has a fouble timer, comes on @ 6am, off @11, on @ 6pm off@10. Beyond this we have a small wood stove, sart a fire when I get up and feed it once, then let it coast til late sftrrnoon whrn I fire it up but don’t feed it again. Last winter we burned maybe 1 cord of wood in northern VT. Lots of throws on the sofa, and I live in microfiber tights under blue jeans with a tee shirt under flannel button down. Hot water bottle (in fleece or knitted cover) which warms the foot of the bed. Thanx for all the great ideas, everyone!

  12. I grew up in Northern Vermont where temps could drop to -40. Our first house had a coal furnace with one grate in the living room and a combination gas/kerosene stove in the kitchen. My mother covered the windows and doors with heavy drapes, we used a hot water bottle in our beds and wore footed pJs which I hated. Today the house we live in is an all electric house but has thick walls and extra insulation. We close off the rooms we don’t use and basically use the kitchen , family room and bedroom. My husband loves his heated mattress pad turned up to 8. We invested in a 75 panel solar system when we moved in . It was an investment but at the time there were grants and tax incentives. It provides all our electric needs for heat, cooking , lights and drying clothes. We pay $50 a month for 10 months and sell back enough electricity to get 2 months free. The $50 we pay each month is for the meter fee and the natural gas for the hot water heater. We install the system in 2015 and it will have paid for itself by 2022. Even with that we are careful and of our electric use.

  13. Kimberlay Kiernan

    Wool is warm when wet. Synthetics are NOT. I use merino under both pants and shirts. Pure merino garments do NOT ever get smelly. They do not absorb odours such as body odour, smoke odour, etc. Hand wash and air dry ALL woollens. Wool socks up to mid calf, over the merino underlayer, and then another larger pair over the fleece lined tights, or fleece sweatpants. I use ONLY woollen sweaters, usually two or three layers, and a down coat over, or a windproof lined coat. Always a toque or hat. I have used a mattress warmer before getting INTO bed. Sleeping with the electricity running disturbs the sleep. If I have to get up in the middle of the night I turn it on until I get back. A down comforter with a double sided duvet cover of flannelette on one side and a blanket on the other, bigger than the correct bed size so there is lots of cover to wrap up in. Flannel nightdress or Pajamas and socks of course. People allergic to wool can usually wear it if there is silk or cotton next to their skin with the wool overtop. We turn down the thermostat to 55 at night, and start the electric heater only at 6:00 am for an hour before we get up. Makes a huge difference. Then we heat to 65 during the day and turn down an hour or two before bedtime.

  14. Another great article. I’ve have heated with wood stoves and/or kerosene “space heaters” most of my 80 years. Older homes (built before WWII) had smallish rooms and lots of doors. Newer homes are wide and expansive with few doors (of course curtains and blankets can be substituted for wooden doors if necessary). With old houses, the wood stove was in the center of the house. Get up in the morning and it’s cold. Close all the doors and start the fire. As the room warms, or as that section of the house warms, open the doors. Open progressively — open, open, open. As the house cools, close the doors (starting with the rooms farthest away from the heat). So it’s open, open, open. Close close, close. Open, open, open. It’s a primitive heat circulation technique from the days before electricity or electric fans . . . used around the world for eons. It works.

  15. I have arthritis. A few years ago I read about sleeping in a sleeping bag for people with arthritis. Works great. Keeps me warm and cozy.
    Also I found hooded blanket sweatshirts on one of the home shopping channels. Like wearing a blanket but you have mobility. I recommend both the sleeping bag and sweatshirt if you have arthritis.
    I love your website and enjoy all your tips.

  16. There’s a discussion of indoor footwear that’s needed — especially in this era where the real estate fashion is for hard cold floors without carpeting. It’s easier to clean but harder for keeping your feet warm. The concept of wool fleece-lined UGG pull-on boots makes a lot of sense but I was never too sure whether UGG was just a brand name or an expression of disgust at the high price (around $170 on Amazon).

    SportsmansGuide has a really competitive entry in that market for between $45 and $50. After trying out a couple of cheap Chinese knockoffs that each disintegrated within the first year or so, I found these wool blend fleece lined boots to be very durable and cozy — now going on 6-7 years or so.

    Guide Gear Men’s 10″ Suede Boot Slippers
    Item # WX2-77189

    https://www.sportsmansguide.com/product/index/guide-gear-men039s-10-suede-boot-slippers?a=1582788

    In combination with some long wool or wool-blend socks, you can get along with even sub-freezing floors.

    Bob Wells (of CheapRVliving on YouTube) even heartily endorses this concept for his nomadic lifestyle.

    And yes, SportsmansGuide has a female equivalent fleece-lined boot as well.

    –Lewis

  17. I’ve worked from home for 20 years! My office is in the basement which drops to the low 60’s in the winter when the upstairs is comfortable. Besides a warmer wardrobe similar to what you suggest, I have a 60W light bulb covered by a large terra cotta pot under my desk on which I rest my feet while working. It takes a while to heat the pot, but it eventually gets downright toasty for my toes! The second trick is I have a 150W infrared bulb, like what is used for a reptile cage, hanging just above my work area. This raises the temperature of my desktop and keyboard to about 72 and feels wonderful.

    I enjoy reading your thoughts.

  18. My little apartment has very little insulation and is half buried in the ground, it is now winter in Montana and a slow cooker with soup or a stew really warms the kitchen a few degrees warmer and the warm food is yummy.

  19. Our farmhouse is >100 yrs old in the old part and drafty. We close off the coldest rooms for the winter. I LIVE inside a sleeping bag when sitting down-awesome!! Stock up them if you find some at Goodwill or yardsales. I keep one in the car in winter in case I would get stuck somewhere, along w other survival stuff.
    Our electricity went out last yr in 20 degree weather after a high wind storm took out some of the wires. Even though we had cattle, it took over 24h for some major repairs. We used candles and left the gas stove elements on overnight; slept under some of the above mentioned sleeping bags and wore a LOT of flannel/fleece, sox/hard sole slippers, etc. Could prob handle several days that way but sure hope not to have to—we are > 65yr old. House is routinely set at 65 so used to cooler house/extra layers of clothes which helps the mindset adjustment. Our kids cannot live in less than 72 degrees as they run around in shorts, bare feet and tshirts in their city houses… keep warning them to adjust down before things go bad but—oh well, they will remember quick enough our warnings at that time.

  20. Just a small comment. We use a couple of space heaters. One in my office and one at my wife’s computer in the family area. BUT we do NOT use the old style space heaters. These have wires that heat up to a high temperature, glow bright red, and will ignite any paper, cloth or other flammables that touch them. The guards are not good protection. Instead we buy ceramic heaters. You can’t see any wires. The grill gets hot but the maximum temperature they reach is below the ignition temperature of paper. Many companies sell ceramic heaters. They were originally developed by a Canadian company, PELONIS I think, for use in airplanes where they worry about fires a lot. final note. No matter what they say about the size of the room a 110-120 volt plug in heater maxes out at 1500 watts and they all produce similar amounts of heat.

  21. I’m 75 and remember my father getting up early in the morning to shovel coal into the furnace. The house was still cold, so I sat by the register (a fancy grate in the wall where the heat came out) to get dressed for school. One thing we never had was a humidifier. It’s something I wouldn’t do without these days. Heat draws moisture from your skin, causing you to feel chilly and your skin to feel itchy as it evaporates. I also dry laundry on a rack overnight (it dries fast in a heated apartment) and make sure my plants stay watered as they also give off moisture. I’ve just discovered your website, and I love it. Many thanks.

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