How are you keeping warm this winter?

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 9:53am

I saw a recent estimate that this year, a typical family here in Vermont will spend $2200 on oil for heating.  Yikes.

Got any good, cheap/free tips to share?  Or things to invest in that pay back way more than they cost?

Some I can think off off the top of my head, that work for our family (me + two preteens + two teens):

  • wool socks and warm slippers for everyone (and nobody is allowed to wear out their socks by not wearing their slippers!)
  • woolen long johns for everyone (this is frugal in our family because the kids are still growing and each pair gets worn by 4 kids, so 4x the return); also diligently mending woolen items as soon as they need it, and keeping them in plastic all summer to prevent moth-eating
  • dressing in layers no matter the fashion impact
  • warm tea and soup, to keep us warm from the inside out
  • moving away from oil heat and towards cheaper types if possible
  • weatherization (in stages if you can't afford it all at once -- even door-stripping is helpful)
  • draft-stoppers at the bottom of exterior doors
  • layers on the beds, too (blankets, comforters, etc)
  • keeping shades/curtains open during the day on the sunny side of the house for max passive solar
  • rethinking how we use our house, so we concentrate our activity in the room with the woodstove

What other things can you think of?  What does your family do to stay warm affordably in the winter?

27 Comments

Nervous Nelly's picture
Nervous Nelly
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Thermostates with timers....

We have an electric furnace with a programmable timer that shuts down in the evening at around 20:00 and let in come down to 16 celsius (60F) and it starts back up at 8am if we're home to 20C. Otherwise it stays at 16C.  Also we close vents in rooms not being used. 

Invest in a quality goose down comforter and flannel sheets. You'll be able to sleep buck naked and  will not want to get out of bed in the morning. Cats like nesting in them and adds to the heat.

NN

 

Don35's picture
Don35
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Amish wood cook stove

I heat with an Amish made wood cook stove. A Kitchen Queen. Love it! Makes great pizzas, cook top is super, has hot water reservoirs, warming bins and a nice sized oven. It heats my small cabin easily. Of course I'm in southern Tennessee so my climate is fairly mild. I do have propane and central heat and AC as backup.

very green's picture
very green
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Hot Water Bottles with Flannel Covers

Sure they're old-fashioned, but they're also easy, low-cost, portable, sustainable, and highly effective personal warming devices.  ;)

Tycer's picture
Tycer
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Fashy
very green wrote:

Sure they're old-fashioned, but they're also easy, low-cost, portable, sustainable, and highly effective personal warming devices.  ;)

Yep!

Fashy brand.

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Rice-filled tube socks

Named "The Sock of Awesomeness" by a houseguest from a warmer clime. We use these the same way you'd use a hot water bottle, mostly to keep our toes toasty in bed.

And the fashion-flaunting dress layers include hats and scarves.  I even wear silk lining gloves when my hands are cold, and can type in them. They can be mended when they wear, too.

 

eta: (Amanda, you always start the most useful threads! Thanks.)

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Keeping warm...

We have a huge woodburning stove that can heat the entire cabin. We live at 8500' in Northern NM and get up to 200" of snow. It is sub zero every night for up to 3 months. At night temps in the cabin get into the low 50s to high 40s. We build one big fire in the morning, dress in fleece layers and wear tall sheepskin boots. My philosophy is heat the person not the room. My husband is older and colder natured. He has a small "mancave" with a very economical wall radiant heater that costs about .03 per hour to keep his room about 70. We also use passive solar not only to maintain daytime temps but to grow lettuce, swiss chard, basil and tomatoes. We usually have a pot of soup simmering on the stove.

I prefer temps in the 60s. My space is where the stove is, and as it cools down I have a 24" heating pad and use a corn bag I heat in the microwave. I have a heated waterbed I keep at 78 and do not heat my bedroom. It stays in the 40s all winter and I take a warm corn bag to bed. We have installed a small, efficient propane heater in the part of the cabin where the pipes are and set it to 50 to prevent freezing when we aren't home to build a fire and shut off the rest of the cabin. It's taken me 23 Yrs for this system to evolve...

 

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Rice

Try whole kernal feed corn. I used to use rice but switched to corn when I realized was cheaper, lasted longer and holds heat longer. I make and give corn bags away as gifts and use old flannel sheets as the bags...or buy Christmas motif fleece or flannel and give as gifts...

jtwalsh's picture
jtwalsh
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Keeping warm

Our one hundred fifteen year old year round house has municipal gas service.  Ten years ago I invested in a state of the art gas boiler. The unit is not even the size of a small file cabinet (about 14” x 24” x 36 inches in height).  It is connected to a super-insulated forty gallon hot water tank.  This was the best investment I ever made.  The unit provides all hot water. (showers, laundry, dishes, etc.) and central heat.  In summer, when I am not running the central heating I pay less than forty dollars a month for the hot water for seven people.  In winter, depending on the weather, I may add an additional $200.00 for central heat (the worse months ever, when the temperature stayed in the low teens for a couple of weeks was less than $400.00.)

We have no way to cost effectively install a wood stove.  Instead we installed a gas space heater in our main floor living room.  It has an oxygen sensor and thus does not need to be vented to the outside and can be placed against any wall.  The flames are visible but do not really mimic a fireplace.  Not totally romantic, but still really nice to sit next to while reading on a cold January or February night.  The space heater thermostat is non-electric so we can have heat even in the midst of a storm with the electric power out.

At this time of year my goal is not to turn on the central heating system until after November 1st.  The space heater will warm the first floor.  The cost of running the space heater runs between a $35-$45 per month as opposed to $125-$200 for the central heat). The second floor has a heavily insulated ceiling, under a full attic.  The whole house has double pane replacement windows.  Just the daily sun and heat from sleeping bodies are usually enough to keep the second floor temps in the sixties until well into December.

Both my wife and I experienced unheated bed rooms when we were young.  Every bed in the house has at least two quilts with additional blankets/quilts in every room for really cold nights. We also change our cooking style with the seasons.  In summer we grill outside or cook meals in a pan on top of the stove.  In winter we plan meals which we can cook in the gas oven and we bake.  Not only does this smell great, but running the oven for a couple of hours adds heat to the first floor for almost no cost.  One of the bedrooms, on the north side of the house is always colder than the rest.  Rather than turn up the central heat for the whole floor we place an electric heater in the room at night to compensate for the lack of central heat.  As a couple of other people stated, flannel sheets are wonderful in cold weather.

Sweat pants and sweat shirts as pajamas are common in January and February. We also encourage layering. Our constant winter mantra is to put on a sweater or sweat shirt. Warm yourself instead of trying to warm the whole house.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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I love this!!
aggie74 wrote:

My philosophy is heat the person not the room.

This is great.  I am going to use it -- hope you don't mind!

Thanks also for the feed corn vs. rice tip.  Is there a particular size/shape you make for "taking to bed"?  I may make these for my kids for Xmas (they would actually think it was neat, I'm betting -- or at least useful).

I'm impressed -- lots of great ideas in this discussion!

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Corn bags...

My favorite corn bag sizes are about 5"x15" or 18".  My mom has had a hip replaced and prefers a squarer bag. The bigger the bag the longer the heat hangs in there.  I can feel the heat for up to 2 hours.  One year when my son was small, I taught him to sew by making these bags for Christmas.  Make great hostess gifts, as well. I've found I fall asleep much quicker snuggling up to a warm corn bag and you can move it around to the different parts of the body that are chilled.

kellyr's picture
kellyr
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Corn bags

How do you heat up the corn bags?

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Rice bag comfort for lower back

My sister gave me a rice bag for Christmas a year or two ago, and it is one of my favorite, most-used presents ever.  It is 10" x 10" and filled loosely with rice, so you can mold its shape as suits you.  I usually heat it for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes in the microwave.  Not only is the warmth wonderful when the temperatures start to drop, but I also find it very soothing under my lower back if its aching; really a wonderful simple pleasure.

I've tried a corn bag as well, but for me, the I prefer the rice bag.  The corn feels a little bit lumpy (the old princess and the pea syndrome:).

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Heating Corn Bags

Since bags and microwaves are all different, I start with a minute with 30 sec. increments until I find the right temperature. My small bag is a minute and my large bag is 2.5 minutes with a 1100 watt microwave.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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the soup kettle

One very old-fashioned pioneer way to keep the house warm is the old soup kettle, on a hook over a fireplace. I saw that recently at the historic home of Washington Irving, on the Hudson River.  We have an airtight stove that  (although it heats our 1,000 SF home beautifully) really does not heat things on top too well, so we just put a large, flat steel pan on top to add moisture to the house. The kettle of soup (or stew, anything liquid) for dinner on the kitchen stove heats the house right when temperatures are falling. This is the time of year for all kinds of soups.

Another, related tip from an elderly neighbor: walking to school or work, she put still-warm boiled potatoes and hard boiled eggs in her pockets for lunch. Says it kept her hands toasty.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Dodging the issue.

I managed to pull through a winter that dropped all the way down to 15C (59F) by heating my bed with an Electric blanket.

In future I shall avoid such hardships by becoming seasonally migratory. Life on a yacht has its vicissitudes and its rewards.

ferralhen's picture
ferralhen
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hi i've written similar

hi

i've written similar before...but it fits this thread. i start with a well insulated house, r25 walls, r40 attic, a solar heater on the south wall that a solar fan blows the 110 degree heat(even if -10 outside) into the basement,(on a sunny day) lower level, . the heat rises to the ceiling and and in the  floor joist, which heats upstairs wood floors which provide radient heat upstairs...if it's sunny no fire, no furnace,,,keeps house between 65-70.for 24 hours. i have a woodstove in the basement that works on the same principle for cloudy days. i burn between 9am-5pm only with an all nighter log in at 5 for extremely cold nights-10---20. natural gas furnace that can be run via solar if power out, for when company here or in early am before 9am. all use the idea heat rises.i sacrificed have nice cathedral ceiling up stairs for 8 ft high walls...that was tough to not have visually, but i don't sit up there and that is where the heat would go.

heat bills probably $200 for a 6 month season.oct -mar. $35/month in jan for total heat bill.

i wear layers, and sleep with a blocked off room with the window open year round..3 wool blankets and a comforter....socks only when it's -10 at night.night cap if it's really cold,,,my ears get cold at night in the open air.

i continue to walk 5-7x a week, 3-5 miles a time all winter long...blizzard whatever. only time i don't walk is if it is below 0 windchill or otherwise. and walk during warmest time of the day. being outside daily makes the house at 60 seem suffocating....alot has to do what we train ourselves to be in.i open windows if house temps hits 68 degrees.

i think being healthy and active is a key. soup , definitely...i alway have something cooking on top the wood stove , or in it!  i distill alot of water on the woodstove top.

i put up with a cool house while i wait for the sun to do it's job .so i guess toss the idea that i have to be comfortable every single minute.

with a woodstove i can come up close to it if i get cold, and once warm can tolerate a cooler room.

 

 

 

 

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Good point, Ferralhen
ferralhen wrote:

i put up with a cool house while i wait for the sun to do it's job .so i guess toss the idea that i have to be comfortable every single minute.

with a woodstove i can come up close to it if i get cold, and once warm can tolerate a cooler room.

You make a very good point here.  The idea that one should be thoroughly comfortable in every corner of the house and that the house should always be at an even temperature all through is not very sustainable. 

Once I adjusted my expectations, I was surprised to find that I prefer having warmer and cooler areas of the house to go back and forth between as my body requests.

I put up with a cool house while I wait for the woodstove to heat up and the warmth to spread through the house.  With good insulation (which I am very thankful for), the house is comfortable (for me) even in early morning when the fire's been dead for awhile. 

Another helpful thing is to keep moving around...when I've been moderately active outside, it's like it heats up my internal furnace and then I feel warmer all day.

cstraq's picture
cstraq
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Our plan

We recently moved and were confronted with no heat or AC. The unit was old anyway, so we decided to go with a propane (whole house) unit with electric AC. We had the propane connected to a new stove, a future site for a  water heater (not sure if we'll use it though), outside connection for a grill, and a wall unit. We purchased the wall unit that has a temperature cut off. I am really excited about it because it enables us to heat when the electricity goes out. So far, we have just turned it on in the morning for an hour or so to take the chill off. I understand it is like 98% efficient and I'm guessing it is less expensive than heating the whole house for a short bit of time. 

My original thinking in picking propane was that I wanted to be independent of electricity, if at all possible. From that aspect, I am happy with our choice. From a preparedness standpoint, I am thinking we would be smart to add an additional tank at some point. Ours is 750 gallons.

The next step in our plan is to build an indoor rocket mass heater which includes a warming bench. This would help in a back room that is more difficult to heat, would heat with small pieces of wood for approx. 12-18 hrs. Cheap heat and cooking combo!

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Where you live matters...

You don't mention if you are rural, close to forests, climate, etc. We live in northern NM at 8500'. We quickly learned when propane hit $2.99/gal that we had to get creative. Propane is now our backup heat and we heat with wood. We selectively use electricity...stove, dryer, small space heaters. Each room has its own source of heat (except my bedroom...I like it at 40 degrees with my heated water bed).  Amanda likes my philosophy...heat the person, not the room. The wood burning stove is large enough to heat the entire cabin and we get our own wood.  We have a small propane heater with a thermostat that we can set to keep the pipes from freezing when we are away. Our nights are sub zero Dec- Feb. with up to 200" of snow. We've tried to get away from propane and we bought an 1800w solar generator for small appliances for our frequent power outages.  However, we still average $160/month between propane and electricity.

cstraq's picture
cstraq
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Our plan

Aggie74, we live in the country in NE Georgia. I agree that with propane, you need to be creative to keep costs down. Your costs are very low in my opinion so you must be doing a lot of things right. Honestly, I am struggling to figure out how to reduce our monthly costs because I know we definitely need some fine tuning. I think that a layering of options is a good idea. We still have a lot of work ahead of us in that regard. At the moment our unattached garage and office has its own heat pump. Every time the garage doors are opened,  the AC or heat floods out. I need to somehow route heat directly to the office. We also have a pond fed by its own well. All very expensive. I am interested in knowing more about your solar generator if you don't mind sharing!

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Solar Generator

Our generator is only 1800W and we paid around $1000 for it.  Our homeowner's association won't let us put up panels but we can get away with a portable panel. I also am not knowledgable enough to put together a system from scratch although that is the cheapest way to do it. We have a battery that it feeds into.  At this time, I'm using it to make sure the cat's heating pad stays on when our electricity blinks.  However, if we lose power for an extended period of time, I will have enough battery backup to selectively run our microwave, satellite radio and keep the fridge from getting too warm.  I have a little solar panel just for charging my cell phone...

I bought it from Solutions from Science and learned about it off The Blaze website.  They are currently running an end of year special.  Hope this helps you...

 

cstraq's picture
cstraq
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Solar and windows

That sounds great aggie74! I'll check it out. It's always good to know when someone purchased something and that they like it.

i actually just finished a project for a charger using a deep cycle battery. It works! Doing projects like this is totally foreign to me, so I'm pretty impressed with myself at the moment! The video I followed was "build a portable power pack for $25" on YouTube. He also shows you step by step how to do the solar panel setup.

On the window front, I talked to my dad who is a retired engineer, he has been working on a project to insulate his windows, what he's doing is making a sandwich and glueing it all together. First he takes cardboard, then bubble wrap and another layer of cardboard. He paint the outside layer with flat black paint. On some windows where he wants light, he only installs this on the top half of the window. For his patio sliding door, he has encased each side with wood and instead of having them sit up against the window, he made a stand that they lie on. Somehow he is changing the angle as the days pass to capture more light onto the black area. I'm not sure about that part entirely. I know he's experimenting with all of this to see what happens. He lives in Ohio.

aggie74's picture
aggie74
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Accordian doors

I LOVE my southern view of the mountains so refuse to block views  However, we have converted a single car garage into living space. Where the door was we have a sliding patio door. Now, we made insulated accordian doors and painted them dark brown so we can use them as door coverings. We can open them all the way and just get solar gain and enjoy the view or slightly open them and the heat rises and warms the room.  At night, close to insulate.  Simple and cheap.

 

I only have the one battery for the solar generator but just realized I have two uninterruptible power supplies that my computer and satellite receiver are on...another 1250w and 650 w. I can use my solar charger to charge them as well...amazing what we already have if we just look at things a little out of the box.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1982
GA & SC, neighbors

Welcome and thanks for sharing, I live in the Columbia, SC area. We got our bill down to  $153 a month (from $300/mo) in electricity for a 1,000 sq ft home - it has a heat pump but is heated with wood when it gets below 40-45 degrees. To help with cooling, we added eco-foil to our attic for about $200, which is reflective insulation. It reflects the summer heat back outside. We also have a solar attic fan and two box fans we use as gable fans during the summers. We have solar hot water--75 gallons worth--which works most of the year due to climate. We have new or repaired screens all around, and two new screen doors for ventilation. Insulated window treatments and ventilation ducts complete the cooling plan. Oh - and we have three cats so we put a cat door in one of the window mullion panes: this means they are not constantly asking us to open the people-sized door and causing us to lose heated or cooled air. We want double-insulated windows; those will be next.

Our only solar panels are enough to recharge laptop and cell phones. After the windows we want to put in a grid-tied system, and then build a chest freezer into an efficient low-energy fridge. If there is another 100-plus degree summer heat wave, we intend to put the leftover eco-foil in the windows.

bob980's picture
bob980
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Posts: 26
Getting Cold in Georgia

We are planning on building a new house on our homestead in Fannin County but are living in a too large house near Marietta now.  Because we are going to sell the current home fairly soon, we have been reluctant to put much money into improvements/sustainability.  But, a couple of years ago, we replaced most of the old, single pane windows with modern windows.  While that has not greatly reduced the heating/cooling costs, it did add greatly to the comfort and livability to the house. 

It got cold early (and often) this winter so we have simply added layers of clothing.  Fortunately, we have a separate central heating/cooling unit for each story (two story house) so that we can adjust the temperature to keep just one story comfortable while the other one remains sort off chilly. 

Basically, we are just going to tough it out here but are planning for excellent insulation and some solar systems for the new house. 

Jemma's picture
Jemma
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Roughing it

I wrote a comment here about roughing it but reading the other comments made me realize my situation and where I am situated is very different so I deleted it. I'm renting small two room unit with an even smaller backyard and would not be able to install solar, wood stoves, water tanks or anything like that. 

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Posts: 60
Jemma, tell us how you're improvising, please.

You may find some reading this thread will have creative suggestions, and what you're doing in your situation might give others useful ideas, too. Not everyone has their own home or land (we're on a very small village lot ourselves), and we need people in a variety of living situations sharing how they manage.

Please. :)

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