RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS PA—Spring’s on the way, but we probably still have a cold snap or two ahead of us. Having grown up in a drafty old house with parents who lived without central heating for years, and who turned the thermostat down as far as it would go every night before bed, I’m an old hand at weathering for the winter and staying cozy without spending a bundle. If you’re trying to keep your heating bill down without freezing your assets off, here are some strategies you might warm up to. And remember, burning less oil or using less electricity not only saves you money, it means fewer greenhouse gases are released into our atmosphere.
Body heat is free. Keeping your entire house warm and toasty through the winter is a modern convenience that few of us in 21st-century North America have ever lived without. But just a few generations ago it was a far less common lifestyle, and 100 years ago even the very rich rarely heated their entire home. Humans, if you recall from your high school bio class, are warm-blooded animals. We burn calories to make heat and keep ourselves warm, and since calories are something most of us are well supplied with, we have what it takes to stay warm—given the right clothing—in just about any weather. I’m not suggesting you stop heating your house (frozen pipes are a real drag and can cost you far more in repairs than your heating bill would have been), rather that you turn down the thermostat and dress a bit warmer to conserve your own personal heat. Your wallet and the planet will both be healthier.
The hot item this year for staying warm is the Snuggie—yes, “the blanket with sleeves.” Some 4 million or so of them have already been purchased. To me, the winter equivalent of a backless hospital gown seems pretty silly. I say, get a nice fleecy winter bathrobe instead—it’s just as warm and won’t leave your hinter regions out in the cold when you stand up. For a taste of old-fashioned warm comfort on a cold night, snuggle in front of the TV with a hot water bottle or heated beanbag (a cloth pouch two-thirds full of dry beans, rice, or grain and microwaved for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the size). Throw one or two into the foot of the bed a few minutes before you crawl in, and you won’t notice that you’ve turned down the thermostat.
Dress your house for cold weather. Keep heat inside your house, and cold air out, and you’ll be more comfortable and have lower heating bills. If your house doesn’t have storm windows, consider installing temporary storm windows—they’re plastic sheets that tape to the inside of the window to seal out drafts. You can find them at any hardware or home-improvement store, and they’ll likely will save far more fossil fuel than it took to make them. Use caulk to seal the edges of any door or window you don’t need to open (there are types that are easy to remove, should you need to open them in the spring). Even the best windows still allow heat to escape and cold to come in, so close the curtains (the thicker the better) over all your windows, especially at night. Tacking up an unused comforter or blanket will do nicely if you don’t have heavy drapes. Just remember to open them to harvest free solar heat whenever the sun is shining directly on them.