How We're Saving Money on Heating This Winter

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I have been challenged by the Money Advice Service to write a post on my January's "survival guide". For me, the biggest challenge in January has got to be keeping warm, as that month usually is the coldest month of the year. Right now I hear there has been a blizzard (or pseudo-blizzard) going on in the east coast of the US- we had a snow "storm" and freezing temperatures in the beginning on January- keeping warm is probably on everyone's mind.
But warmth usually means high utility costs, because most of those things that heat up your home typically use a lot of energy. Especially after December, usually a month in which most families have many extra expenses, cutting costs is something most people are think about- so why not talk about how to keep warm without blowing the budget?

Where we live it is relatively warm year round- only occasionally does it dip below freezing temperatures (though it did do that already a few years in a row in December and January). But that doesn't mean it actually isn't cold here. It often is 40-50 degrees outside... and the houses here generally have no central heating. Which means that the only heating options are on the expensive end- they're electricity or gas run- both expensive round these parts.

Because of how expensive our heat is to run, I try to run the heaters as infrequently as possible, and use these various tips to keep warm without the heaters. If you live in a place where it is colder than my area, you'll need to keep the heat on all the time to prevent frozen pipes- but consider setting the heat very low- like 45-50 degrees or so (or however high you have to do it to prevent freezing/damage) and use these tips to warm yourself the rest of the way.

So, let's start with the basics.

Insulation works. All types of insulation. If you have heat but it isn't being trapped, then you end up using much more energy and therefore money to heat the place. The best thing to do is to make sure that you have insulation in as many places as possible.

  • First, if you can insulate your windows, either with plastic and/or with thick curtains, and make sure to caulk any holes; that should help prevent heat from escaping rooms.
  • Make sure your beds are insulated. That means good quality blankets, ideally fluffy down or similar blankets, since they help trap heat best. Since it gets coldest at night, good quality insulation in bed can help you avoid or minimize heating costs during the most expensive part of the day.
  • Insulate your body! Wear warm clothing! There's no reason why your house should need to be raised to summer temperatures in the middle of the winter. It's fine to keep your house on the cool end in the winter, and expect everyone to walk around wearing sweaters, socks, and slippers. (Though some might say if you have to wear gloves and hats indoors you've gone too far, others would disagree. Your call. Depending on your budget. We don't do gloves and hats indoors at this point in time.)
Ok, so now once we've gotten this out of the way, how about lets talk about some real, concrete ideas that my family is doing to save money on our heating bill.

Directed Heating. We only heat up the room that we're in, while we're in it. That means that during the day, when we're not sitting in bed, our living room/kitchen has the heat on (if at all). During the night, there's no heating in any room other than the bedroom, if at all. No use in heating up empty rooms in the house- that's pretty much throwing money down the drain.

Indirect Heating Via Cooking. Yesterday I had a bunch of friends over, and as they walked in, they commented on how warm my house was and asked what I did for heating. I told them I had no heat on, and they didn't believe me. I tried to think about what I was doing that possibly was heating the house so much, and then I discovered what was making my house so warm- my cast iron skillet! I know- sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. 
You know that "flower pot heating" thing that has been going around the internet? It may or may not work- I haven't tried it- haven't got terra cotta pots, nor do I want to spend money on something like that which may or may not work...
But, in essence, the way it is supposed to work is that the terra cotta pot traps the heat from the candle, which it slowly radiates outward, because of the properties of the clay.
Cast iron cookware is like that. Cast iron takes a while to heat up, but once it does, it retains its heat for a long time. I've noticed that cooking with my cast iron pans actually heats up my kitchen more than cooking with anything else- you can literally feel heat radiating from my pan, and even heating the general area, for long after I have turned off the fire underneath it. It's really amazing.
Baking will also heat up your house- making homemade baked goods from scratch is cheaper than buying the store bought alternatives- and warms up your home at the same time without needing to use your heaters.
I've discovered that using my pressure cooker also heats up the kitchen and the surrounding rooms, more so than any other regular pot.
So get cooking!
Added bonus? These hot soups and other things you're cooking will make you feel all warm as well.
Super bonus? Drink tea with foraged medicinal greens (my husband drinks with rosemary and olive leaves)- this'll both warm you up and boost your immune system, so you're less likely to get sick, even with the cooler weather....

Heating Beds Vs Bedrooms. I felt like such an idiot for only discovering this now... but did you know that using an electric mattress pad can seriously reduce your utilities bill? When everyone is in bed for the night, if you have your heat on in the bedroom, what you're doing is heating up all the air- and heat rises, so the warmest air is at the top of the room, while your bed is at the bottom- instead of heating up the place that really needs to be warm, because that's where you are- the bed! Even assuming you had the mattress pad on all night, it still would use only a fraction of the amount of electricity that electric heating would cost; the heat is direct, so much less wattage is needed to make you feel as warm as you'd be with heating up an entire room.
But even that isn't necessary- you can and probably should put your electric mattress pad on an outlet timer, having it heat up your bed for the first hour or two that you're in bed, and then turn it on randomly for 15-30 minutes a couple of times throughout the night, and you'll be cozy warm for a fraction of the cost. Or you can do it even thriftier- like I do- and just turn it on before you get into bed and for while you're falling asleep, but shut it off when you're ready to go to sleep, since good insulation (remember I mentioned warm blankets above?) will keep that heat in and you won't get cold, even after it is off.
If you're worried about danger- the modern electric mattress pads are made differently than electric blankets used to be made in the past, and they are not the fire hazard they once were. And putting it on a timer means that you won't be running it the whole night, which decreases the danger even more.
I recently bought these electric mattress pads for my family (from a deal site, so it was relatively cheap) and it has made such a difference- we're so cozy at night, but we barely use any electricity.

January.... Brrrr...

But don't let the heating costs get you down. You can lower the heating bills, without compromising your comfort too much!

What are your tricks for keeping warm in cold weather, without setting your bank account on fire?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. What about babies? I don't have any yet but I've heard blankets can be dangerous.

  2. we don't use any heat overnight, and our apartment is 4 degrees celsius at the coldest point in the winter. the apartment is just not worth heating- 3m ceilings, all external walls with many windows (at least no actual drafts!), cold tile floor. we wear two layers of warm pajamas and use two quilts apiece (both my husband's are down, one of mine is). i take a hot shower right before bed, get under the covers, and wake up toasty. last winter i had a 6-month-old who wore four layers of pajamas, and either slept in his crib in a snowsuit, or slept in my bed. this year he's 1.5 and we layered him in pajamas, blankets, a sleep sack, sometimes a hat (he didn't always keep it on), and on rare occasions (such as when he was sick) used heat to warm the area near his crib to closer to 8 degrees (and put him in only two layers of pajamas and two blankets). we're not home during the day, and all have warm offices/classrooms, but at home we got accustomed to wearing sweaters and slippers. we really only left heat on over the one coldest weekend of the year, and we put the heater under the table which was covered with a tablecloth that trapped the heat in. also when we had company over we turned on heat for them. i promise i'm not nearly as frugal as you, but i just can't blow money on heating the 1m of ceiling that nobody occupies b/c it's so pointless. the flipside is that the apartment is so airy that we barely use air conditioning in the summer.

  3. I love my heated mattress pad. It's what allows us to have our bedroom in the basement, giving the kids the warmer main floor bedrooms, without spending a small fortune trying to heat it. It might be because my mattress pad is a few years old now, but I find I need to leave it on at least medium all night to not wake up too cold in the night. We've used a kill-o-watt meter on it, and even using it all night, it uses barely any electricity vs heating the room.

    I live in a place where above freezing temperatures are the exception from late Nov to late March, so no heating is just not an option, but we do keep the temperature lower than most people we know, turn down the heat at night except in the kids' rooms (it's controlled by individual room), and enjoy baking and cooking on especially cold days. Since we're going to have to use the energy to heat the house anyway, we might as well get some yummy food out of it as well.

  4. When I lived in the city, I could never understand why my older friends would consider my babies underdressed. I once left our little girl at a friend's house and came back to find her with about four layers on. Well, those older friends grew up in wood-heated houses.

    NOW we live in a wood heated house. Our baby was born in May and she doesn't have the best circulation in her hands and feet. She wears socks (big socks that are a little loose and go all the way up to her knees) under a sleeper and then a warm cotton dress over that. And THEN I often put a sweater on her, too! At night, I'll often put a hat on her, and I swaddle her at night to keep her from moving around much, and then put a warm blanket over her.

    One day we were out all day, so the fire was out when we got home and it was COLD. 8C inside! By the time I went to bed, we had warmed it to 15C but that was still pretty chilly. I left the baby in her snowsuit all night!

  5. I live in Ottawa pretty cold winters, so we need to put on the heat to keep the pipes (and us!) from freezing. We have a natural gas forced air furnace and the we pay $62 a month all year long. Considering how cold it is here, that's not that bad!

    We keep the thermostat at 64 during the day and 59 over night. Not the lowest setting, but much lower than 72 where we used to keep it! If we're cold we turn it up (I get a chill sometimes when the sun stops heating up the room until the temperature drops enough for the furnace to kick on). But usually we get by with fuzzy socks, a sweater, and a nice fuzzy blanket if we're just sitting around watching tv. If we're moving around/cooking then 64 can feel too warm!

  6. My cousin got me one of those bean type pillows that you heat in the microwave and it's great! I heat it for 3-5 minutes and put it under my blanket when I go to sleep and it keeps me warm all night

  7. This works especially well if you have big picture windows, and doubly well if they face east, like ours: close the curtains as soon as the sun goes down and open them as soon as it's daylight. Even on cloudy days, ambient solar light energy from the outside will warm up the inside of your house. Our radiators are never on during the day, and we set our thermostat to 68 F/20 C.

    The other thing I've heard is to put things over the walls, like picutres or bookshelves or even a simple poster. The reason for this is that the walls lose heat to the outside through conduction, but air is a lousy carrier for heat, so if you can trap a layer of cold air between your walls and your room, the heat isn't going to reach the walls to escape. I'm not sure how well this works, actually, but most of our walls have something in front of them, so..?

  8. I use a hot water bottle :-) If I'm sitting down I have one on my lap and cover myself with a blanket, sometimes I have one for my feet too. If I'm moving around I just stick it up my jumper! I fill two up before bedtime and put them into the bed, one for me and one for my husband. I wear sheepskin slippers with socks and at least 2 layers of clothing. I'd much rather put more clothes on than heat the house up unnecessarily.

  9. Our area gets lots of snow and cold and our house has lots of windows that lose heat. To help minimize that my husband bought rigid foam insulation panels and cut them to fit the windows. I wrapped the ones that would be seen by neighbors or from the street in old white sheets. Once put in place they blocked a lot of the cold from coming in and kept most of the heat from escaping. The tops of our double hung windows were all insulated and most of the bottoms, especially in the rooms that were only used at night. We did keep some bottoms open to allow light in.
    Also, we put some of that same rigid foam insulation behind our water filled radiators (on outside walls) to direct the heat from the back of the radiator back into the room and not out the wall of the house to the outside.
    The final thing is we changed the direction of our ceiling fans to push the hot air that rose back down into the room.
    By doing all this we made the most of the 57 degree heat for daytime, except for shower time when my husband would let us turn it up to 62 :-), and the 52 degree night setting on our automatic thermostat.
    It felt good keeping the money we would have otherwise been sending to an already rich utility company.

  10. - Hum... I would say not having the bed too low would help. I remember once I was sick, and it was way worse (made me cough badly) when I laid down on my bed which was directly on the floor. I think that the air below was actually significantly colder.

    - Having a device that heats up the kitchen / dinning room 30 minutes before the alarm clock is the best thing in the world. Getting up early to a very cold kitchen to have breakfast is HARD.

    - I get cold very easily. My blood circulation is just bad and my body is just that way. I hate HATE when different rooms have different temperatures. Happens a lot in too big houses or too old houses or in big and old houses. A very cosy robe helps. I used not to own one but it feels so good when moving from a warm room to a colder one ! I wouldn't live without one ! (at least not in too complicated to warm up house)

  11. The cooler the place, the more efficient the heating, it seems. I moved from North Carolina to Colorado. In NC I had inefficient blowing-air central heater that had to run at least half the time in the winter. Now in Colorado, I have baseboard heaters that I've only had to use a handful of days, a few hours at a time. The rest of the time, this place stays warm enough from the sun (yeah, skylight!) and ambient heat from my neighbors. I love it!

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