It may not be winter quite yet, but the weather has definitely turned to cold in the last week. Makes me almost glad that I’ve gotten laid off from my outdoor job. But I’m cheap natural gas isn’t. Over the past two months, I’ve seen my gas bill steadily rising (thankfully, the electric bill is going down faster than the gas bill is going up). So I’ve been looking for ways to stay warm in the winter for cheap.
I’ve been keeping the thermostat set as low as I can get away with. It’s currently set at just over 60. If it were just me, I’d probably lower it even more, closer to 55. But I do share this place with two people and a cat.
Trident already camps out in front of the heater vent as soon as the furnace kicks on. My wife is more proactive. She just turns the thermostat back up when I lower it. And the roommate? He just complains until I turn it back up.
If you have an older home, you are guaranteed to have various drafts through-out the house. Even newer houses can have this problem. If you invest in an energy audit (utility companies frequently offer discounts or rebates in the winter for this), you will likely be surprised and appalled by the results!
If any of your windows are drafty, cover them with plastic for the winter. You can find kits in the store that contain sheets of thin, clear plastic and strips of double-sided tape. Apply the tape in a perimeter around the window and cover with the plastic. Cut the excess off and use a blow-dryer to shrink the plastic to make a tight seal.
Doors are trickier. Obviously, you can seal off your front door! (We do it for the sliding glass door leading to the patio however). Drafts around doors seem to be mostly at the bottom. Placing a rolled up towel behind the door will take care of most of it.
Another place that drafts appear in holes in the wall or floor. You may be saying, I don’t have any holes in my wall Of course you do! Outlets, light switches, and telecommunication jacks are all cutouts from your wall and probably have limited insulation behind them. Take the face-plates off and use some expanding foam to close any gaps. Sand the excess down and re-install the face-plate.
Stay Warm with a fireplace
If you have a fireplace or pellet stove, these can be a great way of heating your home without resorting to firing up the furnace. My first experience with a pellet stove was at a friend’s house in Boston. A bunch of us went up for the New Year’s Eve celebration and made a weekend of it. We camped out in the basement and the pellet stove pumped out so much heat, I removed all of my blankets and slept in a t-shirt and shorts.
Fireplaces and wood-stoves can have a similar effect. My mother starts a fire in the dining room at one end of the house each evening and uses a series of fans to blow the warm air across the house to her bedroom. Even with those fans on high, the dining room quickly gets to warm to stay in comfortably.
If you buy wood or pellets, they can be expensive. My wife’s store sells packages of .75 cubic feet of firewood for $5. That much wood will get you through one night. $5 per night is a pretty expensive way to heat your home! However, if you look, there are usually plenty of sources of free firewood, at least in the summer and autumn when people are trimming trees. Check the free section of Craigslist.
After a large storm is another great time to find firewood. A friend lost 7 trees to Hurricane Sandy this year. Most of them are too green to burn this year, but he recently joked that he won’t have to turn the heat on at all next winter!
If you have a pellet stove, see if you can find a source of feed corn. It burns a bit sootier than wood pellets, but you can sometimes find it for cheaper. My former boss barters for corn with her neighbor. The neighbor borrows the skid-steer when he needs it and in exchange, my boss and her husband get a truck load of corn after the harvest.
A kotatsu is a Japanese table surrounded by a quilt and heated with an electric heater. You sit at the table with your legs underneath and the heater keeps you warm. I don’t have one, but I’d really like to. If I had one in my living room, I could use it as a coffee table. Then it would be a simply matter to set the laptop up and sit at it while watching tv and stay productive.
In the summer, I try to run the clothes dryer as little as possible. I don’t have a clothes line, but I do have one of those bamboo folding racks to try “line dry” stuff inside. In the winter, however, I’m using the dryer for everything that can be tumble-dried.
The way dryers work, they are typically vented to the outside. In the winter, that’s an incredible waste of heat! Invest in a switching box for your dryer. This box will have a lever to control the flow of your dryer exhaust. In the summer, keep it vented outside. In the winter, however, switch the lever and have the vent blow out into the house. These boxes aren’t meant for use with gas dryers, but my parents have a gas dryer and have been using that vent box for 20 years.
I’ve also heard complaints about lint blowing out. Clean your lint trap after each load of laundry and routinely clean out the trap connected to the vent box. My mom pulls the dryer out once per year to clean behind it and it isn’t any dirtier back there than any other area that only gets cleaned once per year. Besides, you should be cleaning those lint traps frequently anyway. Lint is flammable and nearly 3000 house fires each year are caused by dryer lint.
When I go to bed tonight, I will get in between my flannel sheets and cover up with 2 fleece blankets, a wool afghan, and a thick comforter for a total of 3 blankets. With all that warmth, I never want to get out of bed in the mornings!
The bed room is just one place where copious blankets are found in my house during the winter. We keep several blankets on the couches in the living room. Some days, I want to do nothing more than veg out in front of the tv. When I do that in the winter, I’m always curled up under a warm blanket.
Blankets are also in the office. I’ve got a fleece throw on the back of my desk chair for when I get chilly. My wife uses a snuggie. Those things are often ridiculed, but they are effective for keeping yourself warm while still having the use of your arms.
Hat & gloves
Want to know what else is on my desk now (I’m feeling a bit warm right now, so they are off)? A knit hat (they call them beanies here) and a pair of finger-tip-less gloves. My hands get cold easily. When working outside last winter, I had to wear those chemical hand warmers that fit in your gloves… and then wore two pairs of gloves.
It’s a lot warmer in my house than outside of it in January, but sitting at my desk for hours working on blog posts and other writing projects, my hands still get cold. When that happens, it is time to break out the gloves.
I don’t need the hat as often, but sometimes my ears suffer from the same circulation problems as my hands and feet (while I’m barefoot whenever possible during the summer, come winter time, my feet are swaddled in thick socks). The hat is handy when the ears get cold. Besides, the majority of your body heat is lost through your head. Insulate that better and the rest of your body will be warmer.
The last item on my list is also the most fun. You are constantly putting out nearly 100 degrees worth of heat. On a cold day, why don’t you use it to warm up a loved one? They can’t help but to return the favor!
Yesterday I got all my online tasks done by noon and my wife was off of work. There was an NCIS marathon on USA. We decided that we wanted nothing more to do for the day than lay on the couch together under the blanket and watch our favorite drama.
When my wife isn’t around, the cat likes to lie in my lap. After a couple hours, the little fur-ball feels like a small nuclear reactor!
How do you like to stay warm in the winter?