How to stay warm in a cool house: 20 tips

thermometerI like to keep the thermostat turned as low as I can stand it (15.5C/60F when I’m up, 10C/50F when I’m in bed), both to save money and to minimize my carbon footprint. Sure, I can fire up the wood stove, but in this small house, that often makes the house uncomfortably hot — and then there’s the hassle of cutting, splitting and hauling wood. The best solution, of course, is to live in a passive solar house like our neighbors do, where even on an overcast winter day, their heat-exchange unit rarely kicks on. And if you own your home, you should definitely make sure it’s well-insulated to cut down on the drafts. My house, being old and hard to insulate, is uncommonly drafty, which is mainly what qualifies me to offer the following suggestions on how to survive the winter.

  1. Work up to it. If you’re used to a 70-degree house, turn the thermostat down in increments — say, one degree a day — while implementing some of the other suggestions in this list, until you’ve toughened up.
  2. Adjust your circadian rhythms. If your work schedule permits and you’re not at too far north a latitude, try to rise with the sun. Why not spend the coldest hours snug in bed?
  3. Dress in layers. I really can’t stress this one enough. Usually, I find that people who complain about the cold are simply unwilling to dress for it: sweaters, hoodies, quilted shirts, turtlenecks… there are lots of sartorial options. But yes, high fashion may have to be sacrificed. You might find yourself wearing some truly heinous footwear.
  4. Wear long johns and/or lined pants. Yes, it’s important to keep the torso warm, but don’t neglect the legs. Thermal underwear bottoms are a must as far as I’m concerned. You might have to go to a sporting goods store and look in the ski supply section to find the super-warm ones. The ordinary, thin kind can be combined with lined pants. I don’t wear the latter, but I gather that the retailer Eddie Bauer is a good place to get lined jeans, while lined chinos can be ordered from Dickies online.
  5. Wear a wool cap. If you’re perfectly warm without a hat, I’d say your thermostat is too high.
  6. Grow your hair out for the winter. Yeah, I know, the shaved-head look is cool — I’ve done it myself — but why be cold? Let it grow. Stop shaving beards and legs. Get in touch with your Paleolithic roots.
  7. Try fingerless gloves, which keep the hands warm while still enabling you to type, text, read, pick your nose, or handle a remote.
  8. If you find gloves too cumbersome, you can generate quite a lot of heat in the hands by rapidly rubbing your palms together, then cupping the hands and blowing into them. Remember, even if you’re not a writer as I am, you are still full of hot air — a valuable resource!
  9. Use an afghan. I’ve been doing this a lot lately, draping the folded afghan over my legs even while I sit at the desk. Obviously, if you have someone to cuddle with, afghans are a big plus. (More on cuddling below.)
  10. Use a laptop rather than a desktop computer, and hold it on your lap. This isn’t an option for me, but I do sometimes find myself wondering how I might take advantage of all that wasted heat going out the back of the computer on my floor. I just don’t think I can hold it safely in my lap.
  11. Drink warm beverages: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled cider, maté… A thermos mug is a must-have, letting you sip a hot beverage more or less continuously throughout the day. Save the soda pop for the warmer months. And if you’re the wine-drinking sort, give hot saké a try.
  12. Cook and eat hot meals. Obviously calories in any form warm up the body — I find I rarely get cold during the first couple hours after supper — but using the stove or oven heats up the kitchen. Why let some takeout place keep all the heat?
  13. Do dishes by hand, in the sink. I know some people find this an onerous task, but if you live in a cold house, you’ll relish the opportunity to thrust your hands and wrists in hot water. (Just don’t be one of those people who runs the hot water continuously — that’s such a waste.)
  14. Be strategic about baths and showers. In Japan, people have been taking scalding hot baths right before bed for centuries. It was one of their main strategies for surviving the winter in thin-walled, uninsulated houses with paper windows. Me, I take advantage of the heat from my morning shower to bundle up and sit outside every morning while I drink my coffee.
  15. Stay in close proximity with other warm-blooded creatures. I live alone and don’t have any pets, so I am not sure if it’s quite worth hooking up with a significant other or getting a pet from the animal shelter just to stay warm. Nor am I entirely certain whether cats are, in the main, heat sources or heat sinks: a cat in the lap can help keep you warm, but a cat occupying the warmest seat is a competitor for limited heat resources. Other, more useful creatures might be preferable. I am kind of averse to keeping any animal that couldn’t be eaten in an emergency.
  16. Get up and exercise. It’s amazing how a brief walk can warm you up for hours. If the weather is inclement, consider housecleaning. They tell me some crazy people even do what are called “exercises,” but to the extent that such unproductive exertion risks burning off valuable body fat, I advise against it.
  17. Confine sex to the bed until spring. Look, I know it’s your god-given right as an American to have sex anywhere in the house at any time, but winter is a time of sacrifice.
  18. Get a down comforter for your bed. Yes, you’ll still need at least four blankets and a quilt, too, but adding a down comforter lets you turn the thermostat at least five degrees lower.
  19. Wear flannel pyjamas or long underwear to bed, plus socks and a non-itchy knit cap. That is, if you’re sleeping alone. I have a feeling that wearing a nightcap is a pretty effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
  20. Try an electric blanket. I had one once, and it was O.K., but I have a friend who swears by hers — rarely leaves her bed on the weekends, I gather.

Of course, there are plenty of other options for heating that might allow you to save money on your bills: for example, if you can stay in one room with an electric space heater, and keep your thermostat just high enough that the pipes don’t freeze. The one winter I lived in Japan, we stayed warm the semi-traditional way with a small electric heater under the table, and a tablecloth-quilt that went all the way to the floor. Four or five of us could squeeze around the table at once, bumping knees as we read, did homework, and drank hot sake. Good times.

What did I miss? Please add additional suggestions in the comments for the benefit of all the frozen people coming in from Google.

91 Replies to “How to stay warm in a cool house: 20 tips”

  1. It was the wind blowing through our old farmhouse in the winter that finally persuaded us to seek a warmer abode. Our north wall was paper thin. You’ve covered all the bases, except perhaps good slippers during the day, but I suppose that’s a given.

    1. Yeah, I did have one about wearing slippers or insulated boots, but I figured that was too obvious to need pointing out. On the other hand, it’s always hard to know how much people know. Some of these suburbanites just beginning to fall on hard times might be pretty clueless.

  2. Great suggestions! We had solar panels on our house for some 10 years now, and they have helped us keep the house cool during the hot summer and fall months, as well as provide us with electricity. Of course, for the cold spells, we still crank up the gas-powered heating system. My joints can’t take 50-degree nights anymore.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure I won’t be able to keep the house quite this cold as I get older, but we’ll see. At some point, I may have to dip into savings and get a modern, less-polluting and more efficient woodstove than the leaky and dangerous old thing I have now.

  3. Cool home or meat locker, Dave?

    If temperature drops below 66 during the day, my fingers stiffen unless wrapped around the hottest tea mug I can bear. Fingerless gloves are a possibility, but I may experiment first with a muff.

    I can endorse the benefits of a lively dog, who demands to be chased from room to room once an hour. Warning: heat-generation and productivity may prove mutually exclusive.

    Night is flannel sheets and pjs, socks and my guilty secret:

    Admittedly this solution works only for immobile sleepers, and is the saddest admission re social life. But even one round of chilbained toes can recast shameful as necessary.

    1. Actually, I find it quite tolerable, Julia, though I admit I do have my masochistic tendencies. I’m aware that people have wildly different physical tolerances based on body mass index, circulation, joints, and other conditions, which is why I didn’t try to prescribe any particular thermostat setting. I mentioned my own simply because I see references to a 65-degree setting as the utmost sacrifice one can reasonably be expected to make, and I simply don’t buy that.

      I am actually very jealous of your sleeping bag, though I would use it for camping only. My present mummy sack really isn’t much use below 20 degrees unless I remain fully dressed. Obviously there’s no shame in singleness as far as I’m concerned.

      1. My guys sometimes sleep on the back porch in the dead of upstate winter in their fabulous mummies. Not for me. This Southern mummy stays in her flannel sheets and fleece pajamas and socks. With cats.

        I think we should bring back the hot water bottle for Wodehousian pranks. Or maybe the hot brick.

          1. Thank you, yes, I am normal but surrounded by strange men and boy (or man and boys?) It is assuredly not my fault, and I would never sleep out on the porch in winter. There was one year when they slept out every month of the year for at least a few days. I think that was something to do with Scouts. And also, they made ice caves.

  4. Besides the electric blanket, which functions as a bed warmer even in the daytime as I turn it on when I’m cold to read or whatever, I’ve taken to wrapping my legs in an old down sleeping bag and holding an equally old heating pad on low on my lap. Last year I splurged with some gift money and bought a really thick thigh long Peruvian wool sweater coat that I wear all winter long. Fairly old sheepskin slippers are essential too. No hats, though! If it gets that cold, on with the heat! (Electric heat here, building constructed in early 80s when *they* thought electric was the way to go.) At night I turn the heat off completely.

    1. Good strategies, Brenda! You live in Toronto, as I recall. The heating pad is a good suggestion I hadn’t thought of, and I’m sure my friend with the electric blanket would endorse your suggestion for daytime use. A while ago, in some myth-busting article, I read that that old assertion about 80% (or whatever) of body heat being lost through the head is completely made-up nonsense, but I’m still surprised by your intransigence re: hats. That Peruvian sweater sounds pretty stylin’!

      1. If I wore a hat and fingerless gloves in the get-up I already sport I’d feel like I was encased in a trap of clothes! When you write of your hat, I think of those Victorian paintings of men in their nightcaps. It can be a fashion item, of sorts.

        My daughter likes it cold and often opens her window – all through the Winter. Heating my small apartment is impossible with a window open.

        Besides, sitting at a computer in a cocoon of wrappings offers a comfort those with heating never get to experience, right.

        I love to tell people that when I get cold I turn on my bed. Folks rarely respond, but the looks I get!

        Since my computer’s on a laptop table with wheels I can sort of pull it over and work on the bed – such a warm, cozy setup is luxurious.

        I love heat, warmth. Summer is my season. Life begins at 30C/90F! My heating bill runs around $250./month in the Winter, and last Winter the electric blanket as warmer saved me $100. a month. It more than paid itself off.

        1. If you put your hand on the ceiling, you’ll see that all the heat is in about a foot deep there. Too bad we can’t live on the ceilings all winter.

          The electric blanket, on the other hand, seems a more efficient form of electric heat since it doesn’t pour out of a heater and travel straight up to the ceiling but warms over a wider space and the heat is kept in by the comforters. On its lowest setting has always been more than enough and often I turn it off during the night. No, no, not promoting them! Beginning to sound like an ad salesperson here.

          Do I love my electric blanket!

        2. My parents sleep with their windows open, too. (They close their bedroom doors so it doesn’t cool down the rest of the house.) Right on about the comfortableness of a “cocoon of wrappings” (great phrase!). I knew you were a summer person, so I’m impressed by your positive attitude toward all this.

          1. Let’s move onto the ceiling in the winter and back onto the ground in the summer.

            But only when you walk into a cold house; otherwise, everything’s on the ground, as usual.

            (I’m not sure about furniture – turning it upside down every winter, but hey, we rearrange our closets for the seasons, so why not?)

  5. If your clothes dryer is inside, you’re blowing hot air outside. You could take the tube that leads to the outside, pull it in, put something on the end so that lint doesn’t blow over your house (old pantyhose work great), and enjoy moist warmth.

    Of course, if you’re one of those sturdy people still using the clothesline through the winter months, this won’t work.

    I’m a great fan of space heaters, which you’ve mentioned. When we lived up north (admittedly, not that far north, just South Carolina), we kept our daytime thermostat temp at 50 or 55 degrees and just heated up whichever room we were in. At night, we piled on the blankets.

    1. Great idea for the clothes dryer! Yes, outdoor clothelines can work even in the coldest weather, since H2O can go directly from a solid to a gaseous state. But people with big basements like my parents might be able to do what they do and string up clothelines aroud the furnace. I have one of those folding clothes racks that works well for socks, underwear and t-shirts.

      Interesting to hear about coping strategies in the South. Thanks.

  6. All good stuff. I’d only add: keep busy and happy. Body temperature also has its subjective element. I’ve been very cold during the recent unaccustomed London freeze. If I’m honest, I have to admit that a lot of it comes from my heart. Physical resilience has to start with emotional resilience. I’m tempted to stay in bed and try to sleep all the time I’m not at work. But I know what will warm me is spending time outside walking and taking photographs and inside thinking and writing.

    1. A valuable point, Jean. The psychological aspect becomes clear to me when I think about how I react to an outside temperature of 15C, especially on the first day the thermometer hits it in March or April: off with the coat! Sometimes even: off with the long-sleeved shirt!

  7. most of our house seems to mange to stay around 17.5C and that’s about ok, but the kitchen gets warmer… i admire your strategy but i’m not sure i’m going to follow it… we had the loft insulated this year with 11 inches of insulation and we have really felt the difference…

    1. Well, if everyone kept their themostats that low, there’d be a tremendous reduction in CO2 emissions — especially here in the States, where I believe people are much bigger babies than they are in the UK. Though I think it’s really businesses and not homeowners who are the worst offenders in this regard.

  8. Hands and feet–those are the vital things for me to keep warm. Other parts can withstand lower temps, but if my hands and feet are cold, I can’t think about much else.

    Thanks for the reminders Dave. Only thing I can add: those hand/foot warmers for time outside around the firepit with friends, while chopping wood, etc.

    And always have a pot of soup or stew cooking–just the aromas warm!

  9. Great advice – I’d only add the humble hot water bottle, that most versatile and portable of body heaters. I was brought up in a house where the only fixed heating was a single open fire in one room, which was pretty typical for housing at the time – no loft lagging or double glazing either. So putting on another layer was second nature. Obvious to me, but evidently less so to people (like my offspring) who have only lived in centrally heated houses.

    1. I wasn’t sure about hot-water bottles, never having used one myself. I was thinking maybe an oven-warmed brick wrapped in towels would retain heat longer than water, but I don’t know.

  10. All good points, Dave. I love roasting vegetables this time of year – makes the veggies so flavorful and warms the house. I’m lucky to have 2 thermostats in my apartment so I can keep the bedrooms cool and just warm the rest of the living space, plus they’re on timers so I can turn things down when I’m not home.

      1. Yeah, both of my thermostats have 4 settings per day – wake, leave, return, sleep. I set all weekdays alike (warm just before I get up, off when I leave for work, and warm again just before I get home). There are also “hold” settings for when I’m away. These have been around for along time – you can get a programmable thermostat for about $25.

  11. And, close curtains/shades on non-sunny side of the house, and OPEN curtains/shades while the sun comes in — then plop yourself in the sunshine to work. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a sunspot on a cold winter’s day. Don’t forget your quilt and puppydog!

    Wristies, by the way, work really well–not as cumbersome as fingerless gloves, but work really well. I also turn the heat down in the entire house when I’m writing, and just use an oil heater at my side to keep warm. After I work out, of course.

    1. Sunshine is essential to my morning routine. The cat and I plop ourselves on the floor in a square of it for breakfast, and we move with it until the meal is done. If the sun is really bright and strong, I’ll sometimes bare my back to it, getting warmth and Vitamin D in one go. :)

      1. I might also add my mom’s tricks. IF you use the dishwasher, open it so the dishes can airdry. That way you save electricity *and* the heat/humidity will warm up the kitchen.

        Finally, when you bake something in the oven, leave the door open after you turn it off and let the hot oven air warm up the house. :-)

        I enjoy your blog, thanks to my friend Kelly for posting this link on FB (if you wondered where all these crazy unkown people came from).

      1. My husband grew up in Kirkenes, Norway and slept several nights of his childhood in a down coat and pants inside a sleeping bag, under the duvet. I thought he was politely telling me my feet smelled the first few times he told me to stop complaining and just go change my socks.

  12. Here in Japan houses are still freezing in the winter and people deal with it by getting a stove that you move from room to room and keeping the doors closed. We also have a “kotatsu”, a heated, coffee table sized living room table with a blanket under the table top. It uses little electricity and keeps you luxuriously warm even in a room where you can see your breath.

    If you don’t want to wear gloves wear insulated wrist warmers. Just by heating up your wrists you warm up your hands.

    Put dried chili peppers in your shoes, especially in front of your toes, to help keep them warm.

    At the foot of the beds of mountain huts in Japan in the winter people use “anka”, insulated metal capsules with red hot stones placed inside them that stay warm most of the night. Does a great job of keeping the bed warm.

    When wearing wool socks wear a plastic bag directly over your skin with the wool sock over it… this keeps the wool from getting moist from your sweat, which causes your feet to get cold. If the plastic bag makes it too sweaty, wear a very thin liner sock, merino wool if possible, to absorb the sweat. Make sure the wool socks are loose and not tight against the skin, which restricts blood flow and cools your feet.

    To reduce drafts, cut a clear polyethylene sheet to tape over the outside of your windows. This acts like double glazing and keeps a room considerably warm.

    In Korea people use heated floors, traditionally warmed by the hot water used in the baths, but today heated by electricity. You can use a small heated carpet for the specific area that you occupy in a room and stay warm that way.

    You and the room feel colder when the surface of materials in your room are cold to the touch. Cold surfaces means that materials are heat sinks, stealing heat from the room and your body. Try to cover the surfaces with materials that are warm to the touch. Wood, for instance is better than steel. Rock, though cold when unheated, retains heat for a long time when heated. This goes for the floor, too, If the floor feels cold, or your shoes don’t insulate well against the cold in the floor, you will feel colder.

    One thing that ultralight backpacking has taught me is giving double use to gear. Ultralight backpacking enthusiasts carry very light sleeping bags, but supplement the thin insulation with their insulated clothing, and thereby get the same warmth out of their sleep system as someone who is carrying a bigger, heavier sleeping bag. If you’re cold in bed, you can wear your down jacket while sleeping, too.

    When buying down make sure that it is the best quality you can afford, with as few feathers and as much down as possible. You can tell the quality of a down comforter when you pull on the outer shell and there is quite a strong resistance in the pull. A good down comforter should fill in all the cavities between you and the comforter… there should be no gap due to the stiffness of the shell and the clumpiness of the down.

    And finally, food with high fat and dense calories, like olive oil, will keep you warmer for longer at night than something sweet or with high carbohydrates. Carbohydrates will quickly dissipate, but fat will burn slowly all night long.

    Just some more tips.

    I am kind of averse to keeping any animal that couldn’t be eaten in an emergency.

    I guess that rules out fish in the solar heat retention water tanks.

    1. Dude, I should’ve asked you to guest-write this post! Excellent suggestions all; I might adopt some of these myself. I do always wear two layers of socks, though that’s partly so I can use the same pair of wool socks for several days before they get stinky, and just change the thin under-socks.

      Kotatsu, that’s the word! I’d read about anka but didn’t know they were still in use. And yeah, the Koreans sound like the real masters of staying warm.

      1. That was an interesting list! I do have radiant floor heat in one room but never liked it–then when I got a new furnace, I discovered that the mixing valves were set improperly. The one thing I’m never sure about is how to set that room’s thermostat, as some people say to set and don’t move it, and others that it is okay to move.

      2. The “medieval” Chinese had heated beds, though I don’t remember the name — brick with channels built into them to conduct heat from a fire. (Presumably they had blankets or such to cushion the brick). Some of my college reading suggested that they would basically live on those whenever they were home, entertaining guests there etc..

  13. I also have an old, drafty house, and a 31 year old furnace on its last legs. We keep the thermostat at 66 F in the day time and 58 F at night. The only tips I’d add are: wear wool socks (there are nonscratchy, machine washable ones out there), with loose shoes — I wear my crocs around the house (helps the circulation). Always wear something around your neck (especially if you have short hair); if you don’t have enough turtle necks to wear every day, wind a light scarf around your neck. We keep old comforters and sleeping bags on every chair, in every room, and wrap ourselves in them while working at our desks or reading or watching TV. By-the-by you’re right about cats begin a heat sink. Mine like to sit right on top of the air vents from the furnace!

    1. Sounds like you’re really organized about it! Yeah, I’m a black-turtleneck kind of guy — goes along with being a pretentious intellectual. :) But if I used neckwarmers too, I could probably keep the thermostat a few degrees colder.

  14. thanks for the dialog! I live in Seattle where it doesn’t get very cold, but it rains all the time, so it always feels cold. It’s usually in the 30s-40s without much day/night variation. I rent and the house is drafty, can’t do much except put blankets at the thresholds. I turn on my heater twice a day for about one hour, when I first wake up and when I get home from work. On days that I work at home, I try to maintain this rule, and cook in the middle of the day to add another hour or so of warmth. I dress in layers and for a treat, if I’m really cold, I wash my face with hot water– it is a delicious treat.

    1. That’s interesting about washing your face. I’ve noticed the warming effect too, and wonder if it’s purely pysiological or also part psychological? Anyway, good to hear how you do it in Seattle.

    2. I wonder if the washing face bit partly has to do with the humidity factor. Which reminded me about the important os slathering on Karmex and using lots of skin lotion, in addition to the water. Water alone will feel good for a few minutes (which tells you your body is craving moisture) but will actually dry you out. Just pondering …

  15. Great suggestions, I’m already using them! I just have a few more to add.

    Radiant floor heat. It doesn’t have to be a major effort and might be easily possible in homes with hot water boilers and a live-in plumber. My partner Sam, the live-in plumber, added a few loops of PEX (?) tubing with hot water circulating from the boiler just under the floorboard where the kitchen sink is. It is delightful to stand there on the warm floor while doing the dishes (by hand, see original post).

    Programmable thermostat. Seems obvious, but it is easy to forget to turn the heat up or down at the appropriate time.

    Accept not doing as much in the winter. Many evenings I just give up and go to bed to get warm when in summer I would spend time sitting at the computer, reading, or puttering around the house. One thing I haven’t adapted well to is winter insomnia. When wide awake in the middle of the night in winter, I just lie in bed fretting because it’s too cold to get up and occupy myself with anything.

    You can get or make microwaveable tubular sacs filled with rice or something that holds heat. I bought one when I broke my wrist and it was sweet to put it on and feel the heat penetrating.

    1. Accept not doing as much in the winter. Yes.

      The hot-water-circulation idea is intriguing. And I don’t have a microwave, but that sounds like a really useful tip as well. Thanks!

    2. Catherine, you might enjoy reading At Day’s Close by Ekirch. He writes about the experience of night in the pre-industrial era, and one thing that he talks about is that most people had “first sleep” and “second sleep” with a quiet wakeful period of an hour or two in the middle of the night. They used it for writing, praying, talking with loved ones in bed, and other such quiet, thoughtful activities. I’ve noticed this camping; maybe some of what we think of as “insomnia” is just those older patterns reasserting themselves?

      1. So interesting, Rana. My dog has established a new routine, and so I’m up again after three hours of sleep. I’d been surprised at how quickly I adapted, and how much I enjoy this quiet period between REM cycles. Will track down Ekirch on this sweetly contemplative interregnum.

  16. I’m using most of these suggestions right now! I can’t stand turtlenecks, but wear a neckwarmer when I’m really cold. We keep our house at about 64 F during the day and 54 at night.

    1. Another vote for neckwarmers! Yeah, I know some people hate the feeling of fabric right next to their skin. Most of my turtlenecks are old, though, and the necks are quite loose (and in some cases beginning to tatter).

  17. “averse to keeping any animal that couldn’t be eaten in an emergency” I think I will make this my status update on facebook…too great!
    Our house is a passive solar design but we also use a wood stove. If the wood stove is kept low, it is a wonderful object to cozy up to while keeping the house and contents minimally warm. We sleep with windows and doors wide open year round under a good down comforter; the Pacific Northwest climate is fairly mild, however. I just saw some nano-tech shoe liners designed to keep feet warm in below freezing temperatures (Sierra Trading catalog, I think).

    1. Sounds like you’re doing it right! You are of course correct about the superior value of radiant heat. It’s hard to keep a low fire going in an inefficient old stove like mine, but I used to be pretty good at it when I was more assiduous about heating with wood.

      I haven’t heard of these nano-tech liners. Good tip.

  18. I am surprised to find that I actually have something new to offer! I can’t keep the house as low as Dave mentions, because of health issues with asthma and peripheral circulation, but I do the best I can, which is mid to low 60s. I find 71F way too hot.

    1) Humidifiers. Keep them going, they make the cold dry air much more bearable.
    1a) I found what has made the hugest difference for me is having one humidifer be a very large (turkey-sized) slow cooker, which I keep filled with water on low heat. Yeah, if you forget about it, that is going to be dangerous, but it is absolutely what has made the biggest difference for me.

    2) I’ve been buying polar fleece when it is on sale and making any extra set of curtain liners for the windows. I also made a giant fleece “curtain” for the outside doors we don’t use in the winter. I don’t like sealing them off with plastic in case there is an emergency and the door is needed. (My ex used to do that, was horrible.) My son loves the polar fleece curtains so much we’ve started leaving them up all year round. They wash and dry easily, and don’t need pressing.

    3) When growing up, there were several years when I slept in the storeroom, which wasn’t directly heated (only what it picked up from the rest of the house), and my dad turned the heat OFF at night. This was in Iowa, where winter temps are commonly below zero Fahrenheit. I swore I was never going to be cold at night again (best intentions and all that). What I found then helped the most was having layers of blankets both under and over, flipping the ends under my feet (not under the mattress), adding my winter coats on top of the blankets. I’ve gotten several of those thick fake-fur blankets that are so gauche and gaudy. They are warm and wash easily.

    I agree about dressing appropriately, layers, longjohns, scarves, hats, flannel, etc. I recommend keeping a pair of extra large shoes so you can wear multiple layers of socks without cutting off your circulation. Typical for me in the winter is as follows.

    Skin >
    Underwear >
    REI silk longjohns and turtleneck (or Patagonia) >
    Bottom: Pants.
    Top: Shirt >
    Turtleneck >
    Vest (fleece or fake fur) >
    Fleece jacket or sweater >
    Extralarge fleece vest

    That is for wearing indoors. For outdoors, there is more.

  19. Fantastic suggestions. We have a condensing boiler (very economical apparently) running the heating and hot water with a sophisticated timer for the thermostat so on week days the heating comes on just before we get up in the morning, goes off as the children leaves for school, comes on again when they get home and goes off at 10pm. The thermostat is set on 16.5 (62 F) but some of the rooms (ok, my bedroom, which has a thermometer in it) apparently don’t make it much above 14.5 (58 F) when the heating’s on because there’s only one thermostat which is situated in a comparatively warm part of the house.

    Someone’s already mentioned the hot water bottle. Being an obsessive knitter is also very useful in keeping warm – fingerless gloves worn over thin cotton gloves with a small hole cut in the right index finger for touch-screens etc in turn worn over wrist warmers; many layers of socks inside the (ancient but still going strong) kiwi sheepskin boot-slippers; a hap blanket on the lap; a scarf around the neck; a hat (with ear-flaps, makes such a difference) upon the head and a shawl across the shoulders and upper arms. And that’s for during the day time – no heating on. The shawl has made almost as much difference as the recently acquired loft insulation, probably because of the wind whistling through the cat flap in the window directly behind where I sit at the computer. Cashmere bedsocks are a superb investment of knitting time and yarn money. Alpaca yarn is considerably warmer than sheep wool and although I find it too itchy to be immediately next to the skin makes great jumpers and cardigans.

    I’ve made much use of bubble-wrap and masking tape for blocking the cracks in the old, draughty sash windows. Curtains across the front and back doors. Draught excluders (rolled blankets if one has not yet got around to making a proper sand/gravel-filled version) at the bottom of doors to particularly cold rooms, which are kept shut to preserve the heat in the rest of the living space. Long-sleeved/long-legged thermal underwear. Many other layers. I find the heat of a good shower in the morning keeps me going for several hours, the brisk walk of the school run in the afternoon another couple.

    I wish the motivation were merely environmental but with both gas and electricity prices going up by 10% and VAT due to rise to 20% economics are at the core of the matter.

    Oh, and animals? The cat is a useful hot-spot detector, but one then has to wrestle him off it. Beyond that he’s a waste of space and food and expensive vets bills as well as being inedible. The dog, on the other hand… champion mouser, guarder, alarm raiser and, as I confessed to my father the other day, nightly bed companion on the basis of her feet-heating abilities. (She snores. Sometimes. But I’ve known worse.) He pointed me to this cartoon which indicates a long and venerable English/British tradition. Also she provides fur which I could spin on my drop spindle. And she’s edible.

    1. rr, I think you just doubled the value of the post with this comment — and gave me a chuckle besides. And a hat! You gave me a hat which has become my regular inside wool hat, so I can attest to your skill with the knitting needles.

  20. Here’s the thing about cooking: often it can use as much if not more electricity than the heater (and I have electric baseboard heating). My ex, who sometimes visits, cooks all his meals. I frequently will snack all day over a full cooked meal. he left before I really needed to start turning the heaters on… and my electric bill dropped to about 1 third to 1 half it’s original level (of course, being that I have electric baseboard heaters, when I’m the only one home, the only one on is in my bedroom).

    1. That’s a very good point. I often use a toaster oven instead of a regular oven — that saves a lot of electricity. Of course, those few folks fortunate enough to have wood-powered cookstoves (like my friend with the electric blanket) can kill two birds with one stone.

    1. Is that true? I haven’t researched the relative ecological costs of one space heater from the mostly coal-powered grid versus running a newish, efficient oil furnace.

  21. a great article, dave — and i think you should re-release it in a couple of days under the alternate title of “preventing unwanted pregnancies” and earn another big batch of readers. :)

    we live in a berm — a hill built over our house, grass on the roof. large windows facing south. if we have sunny days, we don’t have to use our heat during the day even in january/february, but if we have a few days of darkness, we do get chilly. but we keep the thermostat down and take lots of these measures!

  22. Practical, delightful and hilarious – thank you Dave!

    Over here in Germany we don’t have thermostats, only individual heaters in each room. So we go by feeling, and let ourselves be surprised when the bill arrives.

    I find it helpful to look outside into the snow-filled landscape and imagine how it must be out there. Almost immediately I begin to feel warm.

    1. Yes, somehow having snow on the ground does make the house seem warmer! That is, presuming one hasn’t covered all the windows with thermal curtains.

      Interesting to hear how the Germans cope — or not — with cold. I don’t imagine this was quite such a pressing issue for you in India.

  23. A few additions (some already mentioned above, some not) —
    1) laptop — When I work on my laptop (like now), I sit sinked into a fabric-covered bean bag with the cat next to me. I also keep a knitted shawl around my shoulders. It’s really warm working like that! The laptop does keep my lap warm.
    2) in defense of cats — hey, you don’t have to take a cat out into the snow all winter long to pee and poop and frolic. All winter, I stay warm inside my house while my cat uses earth-friendly litter in a litter box.
    3) necks — yes, I have found that a scarf (fashion or outdoor) around my neck indoors is really warming. I pick up cheap scarves at garage sales, etc. My mother-in-law gives me her old scarves. I have a big bag full of them. They’re a great insulator.
    4) insomnia — yes, I too have spells of lying in bed unable to sleep because it’s only 10pm but it’s already been dark for 5 hours. As a poet, I use those intervals to silently compose new metaphors or lines of poetry to post on my blog. Really I do.
    5) warming exercise — yes! I can attest that doing housework will raise your body temperature. Try scrubbing the tub or vacuuming.
    6) windows — my husband seals almost all the window seams to keep the house warmer (and cooler in summer). Yes, it works really well to insulate, although I hate having windows closed all year-round. He leaves a few unsealed, so that I can open one now and then for fresh air.
    7) outdoor vest — I’m wearing one right now. I love vests because they allow room for movement, they can be fitted over other layers of clothes, and they can be taken off or put on easily.

    So — after vacuuming underneath the caulked windows, settle down in a beanbag with a vest, scarf, shawl, indoor cat, laptop, and dreams of metaphors!

    1. That sounds like a great set-up, Therese. I’ve always loved beanbag chairs, wish I had one! Interesting to hear that you can compose in your head & in your bed like that. Re: cats, Carolee Sherwood says in a comment at Facebook that it helps if the cat is long-haired and large — hers weighs 20 pounds. I have heard about cats trying to sit on the laptop; I guess yours must be better behaved.

  24. Gee, i thought I had a cool house but I do prefer it slightly warmer than you. I like 63 during the day and 57-60 at night. Your suggestions are all good ones. i’ve never been able to do gloves inside, but a down jacket and my felt beret are staples. I completely agree about doing the dishes by hand and warm drinks.

    1. 63 is a good, sane temperature. But I think it’s useful to be aware of all these other options — I know I’ve learned a lot from the comments here today — in case the economy or one’s personal finances really go south.

  25. I do 12 of the 20, and the rest of the suggestions seem good, too. I find it helps to stay within a small area. It seems to let my body heat warm the ambient air enough to build a little cushion of warmth around me.

  26. Well, you know where my thermostat is always set … rock bottom. There’s just no point in heating the great outdoors. One thing I do to cheer up my spirit when it’s cold in every room but the kitchen and I’m off to bed knowing it will be cold everywhere in the morning is turn on my little oil-filled space heater in the bathroom to the lowest setting sometime in the middle of the night (when I get up to pee) and close the door. In the morning, there will be one cozy warm room…the bathroom.

    1. That’s a good strategy. I’ve never felt the need for a heated bathroom since I jump into the shower almost immediately, but then unlike you I am a wimp and keep the house at 50F.

      I think you must’ve been Japanese in a previous life!

  27. Rubbing your hands together and blowing in them can actually make them colder in the long run:
    Blowing on them can build up condensation and water transmits heat 30x faster than air – so that’s lots of cold really fast.
    Rubbing your hands together while they are -really- cold can squish the cells in your skin, sometimes even killing them, making them harder to rejuvenate / waiting for them to regenerate.
    Otherwise – yeah!! We also like to invite a BUNCH of people over to have dinner. We share good food, talk, and alltogether enjoy just being human… all those bodies and hot pot-luck items keep the house considerably warmer into the next day!

    1. Thanks for the science check there, though I would point out in my defense that a lot of this staying-warm-in-a-cool-house business is psychological, since in most cases the house really isn’t all that cold. So these little rituals can be important in creating a coping mindset. (See what I mean about hot air?)

      Good reminder about the warming effects of fellowship!

  28. I am seeing all these posts by folks saying “turn the temp down” then “turn the temp up.” I had been told that this actually increases costs by making the furnace work harder to bring things back up to a stable temp. So I decided to check it out. I don’t trust the folks selling the devices to report accurately, but coming from ag country, I do trust the extension service. So I checked it out, and you folks are right. :)




    Now, for my house holding it steady is practically mandatory, despite this, because the heat can’t get upstairs to the bedrooms, and if I turn the temp down I can’t breathe and wake up choking or gagging trying to breathe. So I will still keep it steady. From what my neighbors say, I have some of the lowest heating bills of any of them, so doing fair anyway. I think the brick & plaster walls make all the difference.

    1. Thanks for researching that! I hadn’t even heard that argument against adjusting the thermostat. Sounds like energy-company propaganda, doesn’t it?

      A brick or stone house has to be warmer. I have board-and-batten, which is crazy, but I just find it so much more aesthetically pleasing than vinyl siding.

  29. Wow, I feel warmer just reading all those ideas, and warmer for the chuckles some of them occasioned! Tom got ill the first winter we were here, and was wrapped in a blanket on the sofa in front of the fire. I used to cook potatoes in foil in the embers of the fire, then wrap them in something, socks maybe (clean ones) and tuck them under the blanket like hot bricks. Then one could eat the potatoes, when they’d cooled a bit. was offering a double-lined dark brown monk’s robe in polar fleece for a knockdown price, which I found very tempting, but the postage was enormous. It seems to have been sold now.

  30. A staggeringly good response to this post Dave. You could produce a manual of staying warm with everything learned here!

    I don’t have much to add that will be of use. I put my clothes on the Aga to warm before I dress, and I wear my favourite sweater with a hood to bed. The hood has the added benefit of shading my eyes when pulled down low, necessary on clear nights with a full moon, the brightness of which would otherwise wake me up. We have no curtains. I’m not a fan of curtains. But we’ve got inside window shutters on the ground floor… very solid and original to this old house, now restored and snug fitting, and they greatly add to the cosiness of rooms once closed. We need them too, as double glazing couldn’t be fitted to the historic windows without compromising their appearance. Maybe one day we’ll add similar shutters to the upstairs windows too. That would work well to insulate the rooms at night.

    Stay warm my friend!

    1. Thanks, Clive! You’re right — I was thinking that I had enough for a whole blog post of tips from VN readers, but really there’s enough for a small book here. Thanks for sharing your own strategies. What is an Aga — a radiator, perhaps?

  31. Thanks for all the helpful tips… i especially liked really one of the comments talking about the tumble dryer… i used to do this and it kept me very warm. I have also used fingerless gloves…. they work a treat and don’t cost an arm of a leg. However i recently read an article about how condensing boilers can save a lot of money, whilst allowing the thermostat to be changed in a number of different rooms – which is obviously great for warming up your bedroom right before you go to bed and letting the rest of the house get a bit nippy whilst they are not in use. I couldn’t find the article i read… so i just put a link to the website which offers the heating system.

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