Staying Warm this Winter

February 1, 2014  Snow Cat (Photo credit: clickclique)

After opening the December utility bill, (my first winter bill for the whole house,) and nearly having a heart attack, I decided I’d better find a way to reduce my dependence on the gas furnace.

Granted, my son was still living upstairs for most of that time, though that part of the bill was less than fifty dollars and granted that the big hole in the foundation didn’t get repaired until the first week of January, gas usage for downstairs came to nearly $200 dollars of the $326 utility bill.

In my defense, lest you think I am just an old lady who is easily shocked, the biggest gas bill I paid for heating the upstairs – where I was home most days (unlike my son) and so, had the heat on – came to no more than fifty-five dollars.

Granted, also, that the January bill – which should come this next week – will be lower, even $100 or $150 to heat the downstairs apartment is just unacceptable to me; I’m supposed to be learning how to do without fossil fuels. And I certainly can find better things to do with that money.

This past month, as I mentioned before, I tried turning the thermostat to sixty-eight or seventy degrees during the day; I really did. I always wear an undershirt under my sweatshirt in the winter and even add a sweat jacket. And as long as I keep busy (and I mean really busy,) I’m okay. But there is only so much dirt and so many dishes accumulated by one person during a day.

As soon as I sat down at the computer, or did something less heat producing than running a vacuum cleaner, washing dishes, or mopping a floor, I found myself sneaking over to the thermostat and turning the heat up, upper and, finally, uppest (nearly eighty degrees on those coldest days). I even tried stopping what I was doing and running in place for a minute or two. It helped – momentarily – but, let me tell you, that heat dissipates very quickly.

I would love to dismiss all this as my just being “cold intolerant” rather than my being a rank hypocrite, but …

Fearful that it was the latter, I spent the last few days researching how I might become more cold “tolerant” around the house, so that I can keep the heat down. And here are some things I learned:

Layering – I was doing it wrong. I had a couple of pairs of good, thermal underwear I’d bought back when I first started prepping. I even un-packaged one pair and stuck it in my chest of drawers where it remained. (I did wear the top under my sweats a couple of times, upstairs, when the temperatures got well below freezing, but when I moved downstairs, I pretty much forgot it was there.) And the sleeveless cotton tees I’d been wearing under my sweats just didn’t do that much. So, if you’re as ill informed as I was about layering, here are a couple of articles I read that might help. and

A hot beverage – I found conflicting information about whether this really makes you warmer, but it makes me feel warmer and it warms my hands, which also makes me feel warmer.

Running in place for a couple of minutes – or just moving my arms and legs rapidly when I’m sitting at the computer does help me warm up if I start to feel chilly.
For those of you who, like me, have an older house that isn’t as energy efficient as you’d like (but can’t afford,)especially in the city, here are some ideas on staying warm from Farmer’s Almanac.

If you live up north, where winters are harsh, all of this may sound pretty wussy to you. But here in southwest Missouri, where I live, our average temperatures across the winter months are in the low forties for highs and the low to mid twenties for nightly lows. So much of this winter has been as harsh for us as yours has for you – and I really was not prepared for it.

But I’m happy to report, today I’ve been sitting at the computer, writing this post in a sixty degree room and am comfortable. It’s thirty-one degrees, cloudy and rainy outside and the temperature is dropping. So far, I’m good.

But climate change weirds our weather more and more. The peaking of conventional oil is here, now. The economic costs of both, this winter, are only going to increase over the coming years. This old house, built before air conditioning, stays fairly cool in the summer. Having moved downstairs, to a much larger area, what I’m having to learn now, is how to be frugal with money and energy and still stay warm this winter.

We’re due for another round of below-average weather this month, too, so for those of you who are in the same situation I am, I’ll keep you posted on my progress and please feel free to make suggestions from your own experience in the comments section.

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14 Responses to Staying Warm this Winter

  1. CaityJ says:

    And y’all laughed when I said I kept my thermostat at 60 degrees. Now you know why… not only for the environment but for the pocketbook! I’m glad it’s working for you, too. I stay wrapped in my wee quilt whenever I’m sitting down in the cold months. It’s cozy. When I was a kid I used to have to practice piano in my mother and father’s room (where the piano was, of course). In the wintertime I could see my breath it was so cold in there. Not the best conditions for playing the piano, by the way, but set the standard for the economics of life through a New England winter!

    • theozarker says:

      Hi, Caity. I grew up in the middle of the country at a time when oil and gas was so cheap, I don’t think even a lower middle class working family like ours really worried about the utility bills. Although my parents went through the Depression and skimped on a lot of things because of their experiences, I don’t remember heating the house being one of those things. But in just the ten years I’ve owned this house, utilities have doubled and nearly tripled. So, like you, finding ways to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels is a matter of economics as well as of the environment and climate change.
      I keep an old afghan over my living room chair to wrap up in when I’m reading or watching TV. Sure makes a difference.

  2. graveday says:

    60 is pretty cool. I’m sitting in a 64 degree F. downstairs, and that gets cold just sitting. It’s warmer outside sometimes, so I go there, because I can. But if one must die, cold is a good way to ease into that final torpor.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi, Grave. Sixty is cool indoors. I edged it up to 65 yesterday evening when the outside temp dropped into the twenties and I was watching TV. It’s a good thing I don’t like to sleep with the heat on, or my bill would probably be double. But it’s hard to work around the house while you’re wrapped up in two or three blankets. 😀
      Mmmm, not sure I’d want to die of cold. Always thought just going to sleep (under all those warm, cozy blankets) and not waking up was the best way to go. 🙂

  3. jj says:

    Up here in the Canadian Prairies, a $200 gas bill in December/January is actually pretty cheap. With the baby, we keep the thermostat cranked a lot higher than we otherwise might choose, but we didn’t generally have it set to 60 in the daytime before, either.

    When I’m cold, I find it most effective to cover the core first (chest, basically), then make sure my head and feet are covered. A knit hat can make a shocking amount of difference.

    Also, have you looked into insulating curtains for your windows? You can prevent a lot of heat loss that way, and most people aren’t looking outside at night anyhow. It could be as simple as an old blanket over the window at night, but watch for condensation and mold (that was what killed that project for us).

    • theozarker says:

      Hi, JJ. That’s why I didn’t move to Canada (or the northern US.) 😀 I agree about keeping your core warm. And I just went in and got my knit cap. It really does seem to make a difference. (And such a fashion statement!)
      The nice thing about sitting around in sixty degrees yesterday is that it sure made 65 seem downright toasty yesterday evening.
      The windows all have storm windows and I put that shrink wrap over the windows that seem to “leak” when it’s windy. That helped. And getting that hole in the foundation closed up. Right now it’s 23 outside and sixty inside and I feel pretty durn comfortable, so maybe I’m adapting. Don’t know if it would be the same if it were -23 outside, though. 😮

  4. Rob says:

    I tried to warn you about the utilities down there, lol. Have you gotten around to hanging blankets over the doorways in the hall? Even just blocking off the back half of the house will help quite a bit…best way I found was to block off the living room, it will stay warmer, then just move the space heater between the bedroom and bathroom as needed. And hopefully, that son of yours will have a job, and be able to help you out with those utility bills before long 😉

  5. graveday says:

    Linda, we turn off the heat at night here too, and open a window in the bedroom. I spent a lot of nights in my life on screened in sleeping porches, so that open window is a bit of that.
    I didn’t do that when I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska and it was seventy below though, heh.
    Glad to hear you are adapting handily. The bit about curtaining off spaces if there are no doors to do that is indeed effective, and red velvet does so make a nice rich statement if you do.

    • theozarker says:

      LOL, a little cool to be opening windows around here, yet. I just hung a curtain over the door from the living room that leads to a straight shot down the hall to the back door. Think the front and back door may be conspiring against me, so I thought I’d better put a stop to it. No red velvet, though; just an old bed sheet. 🙂

  6. expedeherculem says:

    We’re feeling your pain down here in Austin, where it’s been 80 one day and 30 the next. I can only imagine how confused the plants are.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi, Herc, that’s the thing; one day we’ll be 20 degrees over the average daytime temp and a day or two later, we’ll be 20 or thirty degrees below the average. We’ve had some of the coldest nights (-10 degrees) I remember for January this year. Then a nice, sunny, warm day will pop up and just confuse the heck out of everyone. 😀

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