You know the drill. Winter’s coming, which means cold – if not freezing – temperatures. Sure, you could crank up the thermostat and make your home warm and toasty. But then you’re likely to get an unpleasant surprise when you open your next heating bill.
While you don’t want to transform your home into a balmy 75-degree retreat in the winter, you don’t have to spend December through March shivering. There are ways to stay warm all season without getting stuck with an astronomical heating bill.
1. Check Up on Your Heater
Remember when you were in school and the first few days back from summer vacation were rough? You just spent the last three months relaxing and lounging. Getting back to work was a challenge.
Your home’s heating system likely feels the same way at the end of its summer break. It’s been kicking back, not doing much at all for several months. Next thing you know, someone’s turning it on and expecting it to get to work. It’s going to be a little out of sorts.
Schedule a maintenance check-up or inspection of your furnace or heating system before the cold weather sets in to avoid some unpleasant midseason heating hiccups. Not only will an inspection ensure your heating system is in working order, tuning it up will also increase its energy efficiency. The Department of Energy points out that regular maintenance combined with adjusting your thermostat and sealing your home reduces your heating costs by up to 30%.
What can you expect during a heating system tune-up? While the exact process varies from contractor to contractor, you can generally expect them to do the following:
- Check and calibrate the temperature settings on the thermostat.
- Change the air filter.
- Test the voltage and check the electrical connections.
- Check the flue, ducts, or chimney.
- Inspect the burner and clean it if necessary.
- Check the condensate drain.
- Lubricate moving parts.
If you’re not sure what the contractor is going to do during the inspection, you can always ask them.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure who to hire, start with HomeAdvisor. They conduct background checks and they’ll provide you with the best HVAC contractors in your area.
2. Layer Up
When I was a teenager, I was always cold at home. My parents responded to my complaints by telling me to put on a sweater. When I pointed out I was wearing a sweater, they told me to put on a warmer one. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Although it was annoying at the time, they had a point. Just because you can crank up the heat enough to wear a tank top and shorts in the middle of January doesn’t mean you should.
Instead, embrace layering. It looks cool and helps you stay warm. The number of layers you wear depends on how cold you are.
In the winter, I usually spend my days working from home wearing pants, long-sleeved shirts and sweaters or wool dresses with a long-sleeved shirt underneath and thermal tights. For extra warmth, I wrap up in one or two blankets. Sometimes, I pull on fingerless gloves. Warm wool socks keep my feet from freezing.
But not everyone feels that chilly in 65-degree weather. A warm wool sweater worn over a T-shirt is enough to keep some people comfortable.
The great thing about layers is they give you options. Pile on the shirts and sweaters at the start of the day and peel off one or more as you warm up. Toss several blankets on top of your bed and kick them off at night if you get too warm.
You can also start the evening with an electric blanket and turn the blanket off or remove it if you start to feel too hot. If you want to get really old-school, you can fill up a hot water bottle and tuck into your sheets before crawling into bed at night. The body heat of a partner or pet will also keep you warm at night. Just keep in mind you might not be able to kick them out of bed if things get too toasty.
It’s not just how much you wear that will help you stay warm this winter. What you wear also matters. Some of the best fabrics to don for warmth are:
Moisture-wicking fabrics and natural fibers are ideal for the winter. Silk and wool are both breathable fibers that help keep you warm and pull sweat away from your body. Many types of base-layer shirts and pants are made from wool, silk, or breathable and moisture-wicking synthetic fabric.
Flannel and fleece are popular in the winter too. But it’s best not to wear them directly against your skin, as they don’t have the moisture-wicking properties of wool or silk. If you get a little toasty in a flannel shirt or a fleece and start to sweat, the shirt just becomes damp. As your body cools itself off, wearing a damp shirt makes you feel colder.
3. Cook Warming Foods
The foods you crave in the winter are probably very different from what you want in the summer. In the winter, you want foods that warm up your core. Appropriate winter meals usually require a fair amount of cooking or baking.
But you don’t just feel cozier when you eat them. Cooking meals also warms up your home as the heat from your stove or oven travels to other areas of your space.
Plus, cooking saves you money. Eating at restaurants gets expensive. There’s also the cost of traveling to your favorite eatery or paying for delivery, plus the time cost of travel. And if you eat out often in the winter, you have to venture into the cold frequently.
If you’re pressed for time, a slow cooker is a great way to make classic winter meals like soup and chili with minimal prep time and cleanup.
Another way to keep warm in the chilly winter months is to drink hot drinks. There’s a reason why people love hot chocolate during the holiday season. It’s sweet and soothing and helps you keep warm. If you’re not a fan of cocoa, enjoy hot tea or coffee when you need a warm pick-me-up.
4. Seal Any Leaks
A drafty home tends to be a chilly home. If your house has older single-pane windows or an unsealed door, you’re most likely dealing with heat loss. Heat escapes out into the cold outdoors while cold air sneaks in to replace it. This also happens through openings in your electrical outlets or near pipes. Keeping the warm air indoors and cold air outdoors makes your home warmer throughout the winter with less energy – read: a lower energy bill.
Check for drafts by looking for light coming in around doors, windows, or outlets. On a windy or particularly cold day, those poorly sealed areas let in cold air you can feel.
Sealing up drafts is a do-it-yourself project for most people. A quick and easy way to keep air from leaking underneath a door is to roll up a spare towel and push it up against the bottom edge of the door.
Caulking also helps to keep the hot air in and the cold air out. If there are cracks around your window frames or openings near electrical outlets, use caulk to seal them.
5. Find Ways to Stay Active
When you exercise, you break a sweat, burn fat, and build muscle. You also increase your body temperature thanks to your body’s metabolic response. That’s why, when you work out in the summer, you need to be careful to avoid getting overheated.
Although it’s possible to overheat during winter exercise, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, many people enjoy the warming feeling of a quick indoor workout. Just remember to talk to a doctor before you begin any new programs.
There are many ways to move around and increase your body temperature this winter:
- Workout to a Streaming Exercise Program. Whether you like power yoga, Pilates, or Zumba, there are lots of online workout routines. Some cable providers also offer workout programs on demand. You can also look into Aaptiv. They have thousands of workouts and add something new every day.
- Clean. Spring-cleaning doesn’t make any sense, anyway. Why trap yourself indoors tidying up when the weather is so beautiful? Play it smart and do your hardcore cleaning in the winter when you’re going to be indoors anyway. Not only will you get the chores done, you’ll also warm up as you move around.
- Keep It Simple. Not a fan of workout videos or cleaning? Don’t worry. Get some indoor exercise by running or power-walking up the stairs, jumping rope, or even just jogging in place.
6. Use a Humidifier
It’s not entirely the temperature that dictates how warm the air feels. Humidity also plays a role. A dry 60-degree day feels a lot colder than a 60-degree day with 80% relative humidity.
If you don’t own a humidifier, boil a large pot of water on the stove, switch off the heat, then let the water vapor moisturize the air. Or place a bowl or pot of water near a radiator or vent. The warm air will blow over the water, speeding up evaporation.
7. Add Some Rugs
My childhood home had wall-to-wall carpet. As I got ready to move into a college dorm, one of my must-have purchases was a throw rug. At first, I thought it was just a decorative touch.
Then I got up after my first night in the dorm and put my bare feet on the cold linoleum floor. That’s when I realized rugs and carpeting are much more than decoration.
Along with keeping your feet cozy and comfortable, a rug also provides an insulating layer that helps keep the heat in a room.
8. Use Curtains Wisely
While a heavy set of curtains is no replacement for energy-efficient double-pane windows, curtains do keep some cold air out of your home – if they’re the right kind.
Thin, gauzy panels won’t provide as much insulation as tweed drapes. Hang heavy or insulated thermal curtains in the winter, and trade them in for something sheer and light in the summer.
Keep in mind that you might want to keep your curtains open during the daytime to let the solar heat from the sun warm your living room and other rooms in the house. As the sun sets, draw the curtains to trap some of the heat in.
9. Redecorate Your Space
If you need an excuse to rearrange your furniture, here’s one: Moving pieces to the right places helps you feel warmer.
Take a look at where your couch and bed are. Are they sitting directly in front of a vent or next to a radiator blocking the airflow? Even if it’s warm near the couch or bed, that doesn’t mean the rest of the room isn’t cold.
Move furniture away from vents, leaving several feet of space for the heat and air to flow freely.
Also, it’s common for people to arrange their furniture around the perimeter of a room. Couches get put in front of exterior walls. Beds get placed under windows. But in the winter, those areas tend to be the coldest since they’re nearest the outdoors. Position furniture near the center of the room as far away from the home’s exterior as possible.
10. Turn on a Ceiling Fan to Keep Your House Warm
Turning on a fan in the middle of winter probably seems counterintuitive. Won’t a gently blowing breeze make you colder? Not if you reverse the direction of the fan.
Most ceiling fans have a small switch on the base that lets you change the direction in which the fan blades rotate. Switch the direction to clockwise or “reverse” in the winter. As the blades spin, they’ll draw warm air up from the floor toward the ceiling, helping the warmer air travel through a room.
11. Know When to Adjust the Thermostat & When to Leave It Alone
The Department of Energy recommends keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees throughout the winter for maximum en ergy savings. When you’re not home, lowering the thermostat to 58 degrees saves you about 10% a year on your utility bills.
But there’s a catch. Lowering your thermostat that much only works when you’re out for a significant amount of time, such as a full workday or longer. The amount of energy needed to heat your home back up to 68 degrees after just a few hours is more than you’ll save by reducing the temperature.
Pro tip: Consider adding a smart thermostat from Honeywell. This will allow you to program the temperature in your home based on your schedule.
Depending on where you live and whether you use gas, electricity, or even solar power, heating is often one of the highest utility costs during the wintertime. If you want to save some money, getting creative and finding ways to stay cozy without raising your thermostat helps.
But staying warm in the winter means more than throwing on a sweater and tucking into some soup or chili. Taking care of your home’s heating system, being smart with your thermostat, and sealing your home all help warm up your house. Plus, giving your heating system some love and care will also increase its efficiency and lifespan, so you save money in the long run.