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The cost of energy is skyrocketing around the world and the days of setting our thermostats at a cozy 76 degrees in the winter are over, at least for now. In these days of tight budgets and expensive utilities, learning how to stay warm with less heat can save you several hundred dollars a month on your heating bill. Luckily, there are all sorts of low-tech ways to stay warm with 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 (here’s more about that adventure), I also used several of them while living in Mexico in a place that only gets chilly a month out of the year, and thus had no central heating.
I’ve lived in all sorts of houses and worked with different types of heat.
Back when I lived in the aforementioned 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.
More recently, I stayed at a beachside condo experiencing “winter” in Mexico. Now, winter there was only in 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 was that chilly, I didn’t want to invest in a heating solution and I used 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 stoves 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Burn candles. Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.
- Cuddle. Share your body heat under the blankets when you’re watching movies or reading a book.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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?
Every fall, I spend time cozying up my house so that I can use less heat when the weather gets cold.
What do you do to stay warmer at your house during the winter? Share your cozy ideas in the comments section!