8 March 2008

How do you stay warm in winter?

I wasn't going to post today but I just received an email from a reader who needs our help to stay warm. Here is part of her message:

"Last year I had three months of $100 heating bills. This year I was determined not to have that again. My thermostat is set at 58 when I'm home, 50 at night. I breezed through Nov. without the $100 bill and felt good. Same with Dec. I'm feeling really good. Then Jan., Feb. and now March are here and these are the coldest in record. Wind chills of below zero and I am freezing every day in my home and still have heating bills of over $100 a month. All practical measures have been taken -- windows with plastic on them, rugs up at doors, everything sealed nice and tight, wearing 3 and 4 layers of clothes, microwave rice/grain bags to keep me warm. It's just darn right frigid and cold. Sometimes I just give up and go to bed 3 hours early -- what a waste of time!

Any and all tips from
other people in cold parts of the country would be greatly appreciated. To use wood heat, would cost me an arm and a leg to get it installed and vented properly. Add to that some states in the U.S. are now only letting you use a home fireplace on certain days (gov't determines what days those are). Some states (Colorado) have not been allowed to burn their fireplaces at all this winter. I could use some help and I'm sure I'm not the only one."

I know very little about heating a house, our aim is to cool ours. So it's over to you, dear readers. I hope you can give us some frugal tips on how you stay warm in the depths of winter.


  1. Here in Scotland we can get very cold in the winter!

    My first thought was that 58 is too low for a daytime setting. Maybe a higher thermostat setting for a shorter time might heat up a room quicker. The UK government recommends 70 for keeping warm. If you do a search for Keep Warm Keep Well you should get to our Dept of Health guidelines for staying warm in winter.

    Try not to look at the $100 a month cost. Average it out over the year. I don't need heating from May to September but I still pay for it as the cost is spread out over 12 months.

    Going to bed 3 hours early is not a waste of time. You can read, knit, write a novel, cross stitch, make plans etc I love going to my bed early in winter :)

  2. I second the suggestion to have your bill spread out over 12 months. I have done that for many years now - helps me to know just how much my bill is going to be each month. I also like to try to get the "Level Pay" amount reduced each year, even if it's only a few dollars - means I'm doing something right!
    My heat (and everything else) is electric, so I only have one utility amount. Here in northern Idaho, the winters can be fairy cold, too - and it always seems that January & February are the coldest months. I've done all the things you've done, and have already planned on what additional things I"m going to do next year: make window quilts, partition off the laundry end of my kitchen (with sheets/blankets/quilts/mattress pads/heavy tablecloths - whatever I can find at the thrift stores. I don't turn the heat on in my bedroom unless I have a grandchild staying overnight, & then it's just for a little bit before bedtime. I'm going to add wall hangings in there next winter.
    I hope some of this helps...
    Carla in North Idaho

  3. I'd love to be paying only $100 for heat. Our last gas bill was $250 and we keep our house at 55 during the day, 45 at night, plastic over the windows, etc. I think the lesson here is not to live in the American Midwest!

  4. Believe it or not, $100 a month is really low.

    Over the last several months, we've reached $300/mo. for an all-electric mobile home (these are not so insulated unfortunately). Living in New England, U.S., it is hard to avoid such bills. We've cut back everywhere possible & have had an energy audit. It is the one bill I truly dread to see each month. I am looking forward to Spring soon.

    Unfortunately, higher bills are a sign of the times with everything increasing. There's only so much one can do and it's not worth it to freeze one's self & perhaps get sick or die in the process.

    In future months, put aside a litle extra when you can to accomodate for the colder months.

    Honestly, I don't think your bills are too high. Ask around and you will be surprised I bet.

  5. Also, just wanted to add to not put your heat too low or your house pipes can freeze which would be more expensive to deal with for sure.

  6. Buy a case of caulk to seal windows better. Use a candle to look for any air drafts. Put up heavier drapes in the winter. Also invest in your house, buy some insulation every year, it really helps.

  7. we used to heat our 2000 sf home with propane...$450 MINIMUM per month in the winter and we kept it at 58 24/7.

    now we heat with wood and supplement with a kerosene heater. it's amazing how much heat that puts out. 3 containers of kerosene lasts us 2 weeks. stocking up on it during the off season heat to buy it at lower prices. our heater has a blower on it.

    also, we had closed off part of the house with blankets over doorways to rooms we don't use. if you have central heat, shut the vents off to spare rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.

    good luck!

  8. Rhonda, I thought our place was cold! Australian cold weather has nothing on everyone else does it! Lisa x

  9. They say that burning candles tricks the mind into feeling warmer. May be worth a try!! We hit the sack early in the winter. The upstairs is much warmer. I agree with spreading the bill over a 12 month period. Our last will was over $300 (old drafty victorian) but spreading it out over the year has made it much more manageable. Good luck to you~ it'll be spring soon!!


  10. I wear a little woollen hat in the house or a fleecy dressing gown with a hood (over my clothes) if it is really cold.

  11. When I was a student living in a drafty unheated bedsit my survival blanket was an electric one. They don't use a lot of electricity yet make your bed toasty warm and I spent most of my evenings in bed :)

    Now we tend to keep our heating on low but most of the time rather than let the house get cold then have to warm it up. Our bills - gas and electricity - come to about £80 per month paid monthly.

    Kathryn x

  12. Sleep with a dog or two - or a few cats!

    Actually, I don't think your bill is all that high either. We are paying much more than you. This morning was 20 below, tomorrow morning they are predicting 25 below.

    Costs have risen. Can you shut off unused rooms? Make window quilts for your windows?

    Draft dodgers at the base of your exterior doors?

    I drink hot tea through the day and that warms me.

  13. It surely doesnt get as cold here as it would in other parts of the world during winter, but I still dread the cold months. Winter chills me to the core of my bones! I keep warm at night by having two quilts on our bed, a hot water bottle, and thick bed socks. Sometimes, when it gets really cold, I'll wear a beanie to bed also. The days arent so bad, but night time can be awful. We only have the one heating unit located in the living room; thanks to poor design and poor insulation, it heats only the living room. So, when at home I tend to wear many layers of clothing, ugg boots (always a great investment), and a beanie. If I'm reading or doing something where I'm sitting down, I cover my legs with a blanket. This year I plan on investing in a couple shrugs. Good luck!

  14. I wrote a long comment but I think blogger ate it, as it hasn't shown up. So I 'll try again and apologies if the original shows up later too.

    1. For the coldest times, "move" into the warmest one or two adjacent rooms in the house. Block those doorways (if there are no doors) with blankets.

    2. Drink spiced chai hot tea. For some reason, that warms from the inside better than regular tea or hot chocolate!

    3. When baking, heat up a brick or piece of soapstone along with it, but make sure you have a safe place to put it when it comes hot out of the oven that won't damage anything. The heat absorbed by the brick will continue to radiant into the surrounding air.

    4. Add moisture to your air, by having jars of water around. If your furnace vents are in the floor sometimes you can sit a jar down inside the vent so the warm air picks up the moisture as it enters the room. Moist air is always warmer.

    5. Use WOOL as it's a wonderful insulator. Use down comforts if you can get them, too.

    6. Wear a hat inside. Put a wool liner in your shoes (cut from an old wool blanket or shrunken wool sweater/jumper). Wear fingerless mitts or even just cuffs to keep your wrists warm.

    7. Exercise a little bit, maybe 5-10 minutes, every hour. Doesn't have to be extreme, but make sure you're moving. Cleaning and dancing work, too.

    8. Eat well, stay hydrated and well rested so your own body is regulating your internal temperature as efficiently as possible.

    I think those were all the ideas that came to me earlier. HTH.

  15. Here are a few other more tips:
    Shut off rooms you are not using.
    Invest in down comforters for beds.
    If you do use your oven or clothes dryer, open them up after to let out the heat into your home.
    Take a hot shower or bath at night before going to bed.

  16. Here's the URL for the chai tea mix that I've used successfully. It makes a large batch, great for sharing as a gift. I substituted an artificial sweetener for the sugar and it worked fine.


  17. I sympathize totally. It gets very cold here in these months and to make matters more difficult I have a health problem that makes it hard for me to stay warm. I know $100 a month may seem low for some but even in my small apartment I could not afford that. If you don't have a big income it can be hard to get that money together. I have electric heat to so what I do is turn off the breaker for the heat to an unused room and close that door. I keep the rest of the apartment on 60 degrees F. With the unused rooms unheated I can feel ok about having it 60 in the rest of the apartment. The next thing is that I use outdoor dressing tips inside. 1- Wear a hat, you would be surprised at the difference it makes. I crocheted myself one out of left over yarn from a finished project so there was no cost. If you can't make one try a thrift store and look for something that is warm natural fiber. 2- I wear thermal underwear under my clothes as a base layer. Layers help to trap air and that acts as insulation to help warm you. 3- I wear fingerless gloves so long as I'm not doing any cleaning that involves water or liquids. I can still dust, vacuum and so on with the fingerless gloves on and I stay warmer. I also cut back on other energy sucking things like the checking the refrigerator thermostat. I open it as little as possible and since it's colder I don't keep it as low set as summer. Also a full fridge stays cooler than a mostly empty one so if you have to keep things in there that you may not usually and your fridge will turn on less often. If you have laundry in your house limit it to full loads when necessary and hand wash a pile of small things like socks, undies and so on so you don't need to run a washer for that. I also have one of those rack stands for drying and I can set it up in the tub and let things drip dry there. No dryer coasts. I also have heavy drapes over the windows. Also you might want to call your local power company. Sometimes they have free services to check the energy efficiency of your house and maybe they can tell you if there is some problem you can't see for yourself. Also some states will offer discount to low income individuals but you have to ask for program details since every state is different. Use your early bed time to make a thick blanket. If you don't already know how to crochet, knit or sew this would be a great time to learn. I really hope you make it through winter and stay as warm as you can.

  18. One tip about curtains is that you need to build a wooden thing (and I can't remember its name!) like a roof with side walls, over the top of where the curtains hang to create a dead space of air. This really will make a difference in warm air escaping. You can cover it with fabric if you wish. Otherwise, I think everyone has suggested everything I can think of. I use budget billing too, which makes all months the same, and I use almost no airconditioning in summer....A few years ago we bought a 99%efficient furnace, and I'm very glad about that.

  19. I cam across some articles that may also help with energy efficiency so I thought I would come back and post them

    Green Your Electricity: Conduct a Home Energy Audit

    Get Recession-Ready: Conduct a Home Energy Audit

  20. I agree with the others. $100 is not bad for a month of heating. Are you concerned about saving money? saving the environment?

    For me, it is a quality of life issue. I will do what I can to save energy and and I also have to think about what I can afford.

    But I won't be miserable in my own home.

  21. I am curious where you heard that in CO you can't use your fireplace. I live in CO and have not heard that. I do know that in Denver, where there is a problem with pollution, there was something about restricting use. But everything there is restricted because the pollution is so bad - not necessarily because it is so cold.

    I will say however, that we did turn off the gas to our fireplace and have not used it because we felt it was costing more to use it than to not.

    There is a site out there that talks about window quilts. It is a great way to keep out the cold. I agree with the down comforters. Look at the thrift stores or even Criagslist, and once it warms up garage sales. :) You can always recover it. You mostly just want it for the down. :) We open up the window shades when the sun is shinning in, and close it as soon as the sun starts moving away. It lets the heat in (and keeps it in). I was hesitant to do it at first, but once I felt that hot spot on the carpet where the sun was shinning, I was sold. We cut our utility bill by $80 this past month (one of the coldest we have had in a while). :) Good luck with getting your costs down, but do know that you are doing really well. What is the avergae cost for homes in your area? I bet you are already MUCH less than they are. :)

  22. I forgot to mention that the restriction in Denver was (from my understanding) only for woodburning and only on "red days" (i.e. the brown cloud is getting ugly). :)

  23. You may also want to check if you can qualify for heating assistance if the bills are a burden for you.
    It is helpful for anyone with a lower income.

    Even though our bills have been $300 the last few months, it's been a big struggle for us to pay them - especially since my dh's income has been cut greatly. This amount is nearly 1/5 of our monthly wages. We are considered lower income.

    I don't think anyone here thinks that $100/month is something to sneeze at, however, comparative to others, it is relatively low for heating (just perspective, that's all). I think it's horrible how difficult it has become for many to exist with such increases in utilities, food, gas, etc. All we can do is pray, work hard & do our best. I wish all it would take is speaking to our government officials, but they don't seem to be really listening. These problems are rampant in the U.S. but pretty much worldwide too.

    I agree with Kathy's post. I have fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease. I am often very cold and in the summer very hot. And sometimes both. I can only do so much without feeling totally miserable - one's health is more important. Our temp is at 60 degrees consistently. Sometimes it is very hard to have the balance of being frugal yet taking care of one's self & family, especially with limited income.

  24. It's been chilly here in Northern Ontario this winter. Many days of -20C or colder (sorry can't think of the F conversion)

    I'm lucky that my heating costs are covered in my rent. (please don't hit me) However, that being said, I do turn the heat off during the day when I'm not home, and have it on low when I am home. At night I leave it off completely, unless it's bitterly cold. Then I leave the heat on a little bit so that the floors aren't ice cold.

    I do wear long johns all winter, and undershirts. Flannel pjs at night (sans long johns), 2 blankets on the bed, plus comforter and a wool afghan if I'm really cold. Buddy the cat is a great little heater too :)

    Wool socks, or heavy slipper socks. Definitely agree with the containers of water -- I have one sitting on top of my radiator in the livingroom to add some moisture in the air and Buddy seems to like warm water to drink. Go figure.

    Hot tea or hot chocolate. Sweaters. I have a great cape like blanket that I got one year as a gift. It literally drapes over your arms and around your back like a cape. and warm too!

    I would agree with what others have said about being able to spread your heating costs throughout the year if possible. And yes, as someone pointed out, although 100$ may seem like peanuts to some, to others thats literally the difference between having heat and having food on the table.

    Hope you find some good tips here.

  25. I was curious about the window quilts so I googled it.

    This is a link to a heat catcher (passive solar)

    That could add free heat to the house on sunny days.

    Here's a link to window quilts and instructions to make some.

    Don't have any other advice that hasn't already been mentioned.

  26. I totally sympathis- $100 is a lot for you, so there must be things one can do to lower this figure.
    We have a dear friend who lives in a small place and has very low utility bills. He swears by a heated water bed that he bought second hand years ago. Your floors do have to be strong for this.
    Also, he keeps the heat around where you do, and wears layers/thermal wear. Good luck.

  27. We tried this last year and it seemed to (psychologically?) help. I put a wool blanket under our fitted sheet. It seemed to block any cold that would have come from under the floor.

  28. Found a few links concerning cutting heating bills:


  29. I'll try again, not sure how to paste links so they don't get cut off (you'll need to paste the first line, then the 2nd).



  30. Drink lots of hot drinks throughout the day, dress in layers, use those window sealing kits from home depot (basically plastic), use those draft dodgers at the door bottoms.

  31. A friend was grumbling about always being cold in bed, and I was amazed to hear that she had never used a blanket under her sheet, above the mattress. I suggested this...she went home, found an old sleeping bag that zipped open (she hadn't got a blanket!) and used this under the sheet......now she is too hot!!!!!

    Another friend who was in Canada during the ice storms in the 90's said the advice there was to heat only one room, and in an emergency you can do that to a small extent with something as small as a candle...! I have read that a candle, or even a nightlite type candle, lit and placed under an upended earthenware flower pot (must have a hole in the bottom...not a cache pot) makes a nifty little heater. Stand the whole thing on a plate on a placemat if your surfaces are polished or precious. You could do two or three of these if you need to.

    And...we have Whippets, two. These dogs were bred by northern miners (UK) to keep their kids warm in bed. Their coats are so short that they need to be covered up at night, so ours sleep with us. They don't smell (not just our opinion...LOL!!). (We miss their conforting presence when we go away and can't take them with us.)

  32. I added quite a few to my checklist when it started getting cold last year. It's a long list so here is the link to the blog entry:

    Good luck and remember Spring is only just round the corner. Heck, I feel warmer just seeing the sun shining outside the window! :D

    Hope any of my ideas help. Bless you.


  33. I know the initial cost of this would be expensive, but what about thermostats in each room?
    I read that your bills can reduce alot... so if there's a room which you're not using then you can turn it down...?

  34. In Russia they tape the windows shut with something that looks like broad masking tape/painter's tape. When I was living in a dormitory there I had to do that as well, otherwise the wind howled through the room.

    Here in Denmark they actually recommend that you leave your heater at the same setting all the time, instead of turning it off at night and on during the day. This is because it apparently uses less energy to maintain a constant temperature than it does to reheat every morning. (The exception is if you sleep with windows open, which it doesn't sound like you do.)

    It's also important to avoid a too-low temperature inside because there is a risk of condensation, which can cause damage to your home in the form of rot and mold. That would be very expensive in the long run, not to mention that molds are extremely unhealthy. Even unused rooms shouldn't have the heat turned *completely* off because of this. (For example our radiators go from 1-5 and they recommend that unused rooms have radiators set to 1, while a room with a comfy temperature is around 3, maybe 4.)

    In the long run, it's much better to insulate, insulate, insulate than it is to turn the heat off, you will save both comfort and money. Of course this is easiest if you own your own home!

    The window quilts and draft blockers for doors look good. I know someone who has made plexiglas frames for his windows so they get an extra layer to keep the heat in and the cold out in winter.

    Candles are also cosy, but be careful with burning too many if you have any respiratory problems such as asthma, because they do send particles into the air. (Unless of course you air out once in a while.)

  35. $100/mo for heat? Wow! Wanna trade houses?

    Seriously I don't think you're going to get lower than that - especially with rising fuel costs. This year we went to a pellet stove for 90% of our heat, and though it isn't $100/mo it's less than half of what we used to pay, and the rooms are a bit uneven (one room at about 80 to keep the remaining rooms at 55) so we're constantly putting on and taking off layers. the plus side of the pellet stove is that you can direct vent it and it costs way less than installing a whole wood burning stove, plus it can be vented out the chimney that has multiple items venting out of it (our scenario) without fear of carbon monoxide poisoning. Also it doesn't cause nearly the amount of particulate polution that whole wood does so it isn't restricted.

  36. We had a power outage a few years ago and I hung a cheap blanket over our large picture window and the temp went up about 5 degrees in 30 minutes.
    I would definitely recommend this , you can find blankets at thrift stores or maybe you have some extras.
    We still hang blankets over our windows , really makes a difference.

  37. It may sound contradictory, but a heavy skirt worn with tights is warmer than a pair of pants. I didn't believe it until I tried it, but I think that the skirt must trap more air than pants do. I also keep a shawl handy to throw around me when I get cold and I wear wool socks. Keeping my feet good and warm seems to be key, for me at least, to keeping my body warm.

    I would also suggest purchasing a small space heater to use in the room you are in. I think that would make it easier to tolerate a low thermostat setting and wouldn't add much to your electric bill. Good luck to you and remember, cold as it has been, spring is not too far away :)

  38. http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/CreativeHomeschooling/235571/

    Check out the above link on how to make a solar heat catcher for a window. Looks like a great idea - and it worked very well for the family who tried it.

    Hope this helps!

  39. http://www.homeschoolblogger.com

    Here is the link. You'll have to cut and paste! Sorry, not so computer savvy here... LOL! I noticed the link didn't show up completely on my last post.

  40. Hello,

    I live in Colorado and wanted to clarify for your readers that the ban on "woodburning fireplaces" is for non-epa certified stoves or open fireplaces. You can burn your epa certified stoves or fireplace inserts everyday with no restrictions.

    We have 2 woodburning stoves and heat our old Victorian house primarily with them. We do have a furnace but hardly ever use it. We have saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars by investing in good epa woodburning stoves.

    I just thought I would clarify this for anybody here in our state that might not install a stove because they think that they can't use it often enough to justify the cost.

    Love this blog and use so much of the information in my daily life!

    Yours truly,
    Honey Hill Farm

  41. I have had a look at all the comments and although many mention insulation I couldn't see any that specifically mention loft insulation (in the roof cavity, don't know what it's called in anywhere but the UK). We had an extra layer put in and it really has a tea cosy effect. Our bungalow has been noticeably warmer even when the heat goes off at night since we have had it and this winter has been colder than last. A lot of heat goes out through the roof (heat rises). If you live in the UK and are on a low income you can even get help towards it from the Warm Front scheme. If you keep some rooms really cold it is worth paying out for lagging for any pipes that may freeze as a consequence of being over unheated rooms.

  42. There's no doubt about it. You really are a caring bunch of people. Thank you so much for helping this lady. I'm sure she appreciates your help as much as I do.

  43. Tons of heat is lost through the head, so wear a warm hat. Do you have any of those undergarments that are just for warmth? I can't find the right word just now, but it is like a long sleeve shirt and long, clingy pants that have a waffle pattern? They go under all clothes and my parents used to love them. I want to call them insulated underwear, but that doesn't sound right.

    Also, this may sound crazy, but we turn on a fan near/behind an oil-circulating space heater to
    distribute the heat more evenly thoughout the room. This can work even on a low setting.

    If all else fails, throw on a cat and cuddle. Two cats... twice the warmth... hehe

  44. PS...
    Could you be anemic (low iron)?
    You could check with your doctor if this could be a possibility...

  45. I agree with Rebekka from Denmark - it's much better and more energy-efficient to keep your house at the same temp (can be quite low, because your house and belongings retain the heat) rather than raising or lowering the temps according to time of day.

  46. Hmm, try to use as few rooms as possible during winter. Decide one or two (small ones are the easiest to heat)rooms that you will use during the cold time. In this room, fasten woolen blankets over the windows, be careful to always close the doors to these rooms. Drinking something hot is also a good advice, but of course on cannot do that all the time. I wish you luck!

  47. Wow! I'm amazed at all the great suggestions. I have a problem getting warm once I get cold. I keep the thermostat on 68 all the time. We weather stripped all our windows(buy kit at discount or hardware store.) i made draft dodgers for all the doors. Open your drapes on sunny days to take advantage of the sun's heat and close when the sun wanes. Wear thin layers they trap heat better than bulky ones. I cook lots of soups and stews to warm me inside out.

  48. Not sure if this has been mentioned yet, but I just finished a pregnancy and spent the last month sleeping with a waterproof crib liner sheet under my fitted sheet (recommended by a midwife to protect the mattress should my water break while sleeping). I have never been so hot while sleeping in my life. The liner is very thin and flexible and has a fabric overlay so it is not uncomfortable to sleep on. Anyway, for warmth while sleeping you can't go wrong trying one of these out. You could probably find one secondhand pretty easily and if not they are very inexpensive to buy.

  49. Hi.....I live in the UK, our winters are not as cold as some of you experience. We are pensioners and live on a very restrictive income. Our house was gas centrally heated. We had the walls and roof insulated with a grant, a new efficient boiler was installed before we moved in.

    We paid our heating bills by direct debit each month spreading the cost over 12 months.

    We kept the heat on 24 hours in the worst of the winter with the thermostat set at 70 as recommended.

    We had thick heavily lined curtains at the windows and also over the front door. As soon as it started to get dark I drew all the curtains in the house. On sunny days I drew the curtains right back so the sun heated the room. On the chairs and settee we have throws and lap quilts that we can wrap ourselves in, and we also wear hats, you loose 75% of your body heat through your head.

    I cooked casseroles and stews with pulses as well as meat in, we have a hot drink every couple of hours.

    In the bedroom we had a sheepskin underlay over the matress under the bottom sheet, a 10.5 tog quilt on the bed with a quilt over the top. I put a couple of hot water bottles in the bed about half an hour before we went to bed and we took a hot drink with us, I also filled a flask in case we woke in the night.

    I made draught excluders for all the doors, they are in the shape of a roll which keep the draughts at bay, the rolls have a piece on them which we fix to the door with double sided tape, so it stays attached to the door even when you open it......

    We now live in sheltered accomodation and the heating and hot water are included in the rent, so we are never cold, again I have the rolls on each of the doors but our apartment is very cosy. If it gets cold I just put another light layer of clothing on. We find fleece zip-up jackets invaluable in our quest to keep warm and healthy.

    I do sympathise with anyone who has to make the decision whether to stay warm or eat........

  50. Our first day of winter here in Ballarat, Victoria,Australia. Our town is one of the coldest places in Victoria. I agree with the above for using wool. We have woollen doonas, mattress underlays, even for the dog bed. We used wood, gas and electric - not all at once of course. Temperatures have been zero and minuses in the evenings in the last week. Windows have been resealed etc but no doubt, you must layer up your clothing. I find that if your first layer is close to your body, it helps. Socks also help and slippers if needed - I love my slippers.


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