So, confession time. In wintertime, I keep the most popular room in the house at 64 F (less than 18 C) during the day. The rest of the house is cooler, some used areas as low as 56 F during the day. I crank the thermostat down to 52 F (just over 11 C) when we go to bed. I actually love sleeping in a really cold room with warm blankets. Sleep has never come easily for me, but a cold room helps considerably. Daytime is another story. Our house is not toasty, but we manage. So I thought I'd share some of the tips I've found useful.
Get used to it. Slowly. If you're trying to reduce your heating bills, don't crank your heat down from 72 to 60 from one day to the next. You can accustom yourself to significantly cooler house temperatures, but you're less likely to succeed if you attempt an abrupt change. So adjust the house temperature by a few degrees every other day or so. You'll find the going much easier.
Layer Up. Fleece clothing is a godsend in winter. So are a few pairs of long underwear and sweatpants. No, it's not sexy. But it'll save you money if you use it to compensate for 5-10 degrees of heating for three or more months. Invest in a really warm pair of slippers, and the best thermal underwear you can afford. Camping stores have good options for very thin, layerable clothing that can keep you very warm. Keep an eye out for sales on these in late spring.
Really Layer Up. Plenty of people have given me crap for this, but I don't care. I wear fingerless gloves and a comfy fleece hat for most of the winter. I'm cheap and I'm a wuss. I don't want to suffer too much in pursuit of saving money. Remember your mother's admonition that you lose more body heat through your head than through any other part of your body. Find yourself a comfy hat that you can wear indoors for warmth. If you're crafty, you can make pairs of these knitted fingerless gloves for yourself and other family members.
Activities I know winter is hibernation time for many people. The temptation to hunker down and become sedentary is always there for me. But I've found that having small activities spread throughout a winter day helps keep me pretty warm. Even five minutes of vigorous movement will make you feel warm for quite a while, especially when you're layered up. If a part of your day requires you to be sedentary, then try to break it up with some of these activities:
- Handwash some dishes. The water will warm up your hands nicely. This is a nice excuse for not tackling all the dirty dishes right after dinner, too.
- Vacuum one room at a time. Rather than cleaning the whole house all at once, break up the chore so that you get your blood moving several times during the day. If your rooms are small or few, then do the details, like using the brush attachment to get the cobwebs, clean the trim, and vacuum under the couch cushions.
- Shovel some snow or rake some leaves. Do a little yard work, whatever you've got. This will warm you up with aerobic exercise, and when it's cold out, the house will seem warm by comparison when you come back inside. Again, when your goal is to warm yourself up, working in 15-minute increments is totally legit. No yard work of your own? Offer to help an elderly neighbor or nearby relatives. You'll earn good karma and maybe a warm cookie.
- Shake that cosmic thang. No productive chores to tackle? Then just put on some music that makes you want to boogie. It's hard for frugalites, who won't pay for gym memberships, to get enough exercise in winter. A few minutes of dancing around your house like a lunatic is good for you in more ways than one.
Bake something. Wintertime is a great time to use your oven. Not only does it warm up your kitchen, but the smell of something freshly baked, whether it's bread or brownies, is just incomparable in a winter house. Consider stocking up on homemade goodies now if you have the freezer space to store them. That way you won't have to heat up the house in the summer months. Pot roast, casseroles, and meatloaf are great choices for oven dinners too. (While you've got the oven going, throw in a head of garlic, some beets, a winter squash, or a few potatoes to maximize the value of the energy you're using to heat the oven. There are lots of good uses for leftover baked potatoes.)
Cuddle up with a loved one or a (mammalian) pet. Body heat is the best blanket, in my opinion. Get cozy with someone you love for a reading session, a movie, or something more interesting.
Go to the library, or somewhere else that's heated, preferably where you won't be tempted to spend money. Make a day of it; hang out for hours. Hey, I'm not above mooching heat off someplace that's funded by my tax dollars anyway. The library is one of my favorite places: cool in summer, warm in winter. It's a great way to save money on books, magazines, movies, music, and heating or cooling costs. You're paying for it, so you might as well get your money's worth. Before you leave, turn down the thermostat halfway to your overnight setting.
Devices The old standbys are old standbys for good reason: they work well and cheaply. A hot water bottle will warm your lap during the day or your bed at night. When I was a poor student, I rested my feet on a hot water bottle while I studied and read for hours each night. Hot water bottles are cheap enough to replace on a regular basis, and they do need replacing every so often. Eventually the rubber breaks down and makes a catastrophic high-temperature leak a real possibility. Check your rubber hot water bottle carefully each winter before you begin using it. Or make your own substitute with a one-liter plastic bottle stuffed into an old sock. Old tube socks can also be used to make the "bed buddy," which is just a cloth tube half filled with whole grain barley or rice. Sew up the opening and any holes or just tie off both ends of the tube sock to prevent the grain from coming out. Then microwave for 2-3 minutes and enjoy the steamy warmth for 30 minutes or more. This project is easy enough for kids to make one for themselves.
Eat hot foods, especially soups. I remember reading an account of an obscure part of World War II, the Russo-Finnish theater. The border between Russia and Finland is a rather chilly part of the world in wintertime, which is when most of those battles took place. The history book I read said that a hot meal often meant the difference between life and death for those soldiers, which occasionally played out in tragic ways. No joke. Warm foods affect our body temperature powerfully. Include a soup in your weekly meal plans for the winter months. You can make great soups with beans or potatoes, two extremely economical staples.
Did I miss anything? Sound off in the comments if you've got a good way of staying warm when the heat is set low.
Related post: Stop Wasting That Heat!
Wrong season for you? Check out Stay Cool Without Touching That Thermostat