Oct 29 2008

How I’m going to outsmart old man winter


When I stumbled into the kitchen at 7 a.m., it was still dark outside. I fumbled with my glasses and searched for a sweatshirt and sweatpants to keep off the chill.

“It’s starting to snow,” Shane told me.

I turned, facing our northern window, shaking my fist in protest.

Here in Pittsburgh, we abruptly went from warm sunshine to frosty mornings and freezing rain. While we could see temperatures back in the 60s, I’m not counting on it. Though it’s not quite November, I think it’s time I discussed some tips and tricks for keeping warm this winter.

Winterize your house

Seriously. Don’t avoid this one, unless you live in a tropical climate or love paying ridiculously high heat bills. Last year, I installed foam covers on the reverse side of our electrical outlets and covered our windows.

Window treatments: I’ll repeat what I did last year. After cleaning the windows to remove dirt (adhesive tape sticks better to clean surfaces), I lined the seals and other edges of our windows with adhesive foam tape. Then, I covered the seals with blue painter’s tape. I wanted to make sure the tape stayed put for a few months, and I hoped the tape would add an extra little layer of protection.

Next, I covered the windows with clear plastic designed for this purpose. Finally, I rolled some beach towels and placed them along the window sills. I thought the towels might be a bit of overkill, but on one particularly frigid day in February, I felt just how cold those towels were. They were doing their part to keep cold air from seeping in, and hey, since they’re beach towels, they’re a little reminder that summer will come again eventually.

The whole project cost less than $20. See how frosty my windows can get, even after being bundled up.

Doors: We have one door to our apartment, and it opens into an enclosed entryway. I’m sure this setup helps us stay warm inside. Still, this year I’ve added a foam door seal along the base to keep drafts out, but also to prevent our heat from seeping into the hallway.

Insulation: If your attic could use some more insulation, do it now, rather than wish you did come January.

Be sure your furnace is working properly. One broken bit could quadruple your bill, a customer service rep. at my electric company told me last year. And, change your filters regularly. Also, turn it on now just to make sure it works. You don’t want to turn it on in a few weeks when you really need it, to find something wrong with it.

Change the settings on ceiling fans. Flip that little switch on the fan so that air is blowing upward, rather than down.

Close your doors. Keep closets closed, as well as bathroom doors and doors to rooms you’re not using throughout the day. I close the vents in my bedroom during the day, and the ones in the living room at night.

Adjust your thermostat. If you have a programmable one, you’re in great shape (so long as you adjust the temperatures!). See how cool you can keep it before driving your family nuts, and be sure to lower your thermostat when you’re not home. Typically, you can set it lower at night when you’ll be toasty under your covers. Just don’t set it so low that you’re too cold. It can be dangerous — even life-threatening.

Maximize extra heat

Don’t use your shower’s exhaust fan. In the winter, we don’t use the exhaust fan in our bathroom. We want to keep that warm, moist air in the apartment for as long as we can. I tape over the switch so we don’t forget this. After a warm shower, we leave the bathroom door open for awhile so that nice air can escape to the rest of the apartment. After that, we close the door again.

Open your oven door. Of course, you should never ever use your regular oven to heat your house. But if you’ve used it to bake some goodies, why not leave the door open a crack so that heat can warm up your kitchen? It’s only a good idea if you don’t have pets, small children, or clumsy adults living with you.

Stay toasty

Keep blankets handy. I have a basket of throw blankets ready for cuddling with. I’ll also use our warmer bedsheets and add an extra blanket to our bed. Don’t really need this now, since I’m a human furnace, but on down the road that extra blanket will feel nice.

Pre-warm your bed. If you can’t stand the initial chill of cold bedsheets when you first turn in, heat up a rice sock and put it under the covers a few minutes before bedtime. It’ll start to warm things up, and you can hold on to it. Or…you could have your spouse get into bed first, but lay on your side to warm it. Heh.

Eat warm things. Believe it or not, not all people are significantly warmed when they drink hot coffee. Weirdos, I know. But if I want to warm up from the inside out, I just drink some hot tea, cocoa or coffee. Choosing hot foods over cold alternatives also helps me. This morning, I had hot oatmeal (used some apple cider in place of water and added cinnamon and brown sugar — oh man, that’s good!). If I had cold cereal, I’d certainly feel cold.

Wear warm clothes. Duh. You already know this, but let’s just say one of you is from Hawaii, and you’re spending your first winter in a northern climate. Layers are your friend. Wear a t-shirt or tank under a long-sleeved shirt, and put a sweater, jacket or vest over that. Wear heavier-weight pants, or leggings/hosiery with your skirts. And for goodness’ sake, wear socks! I know ballet flats are super cute, but when it’s cold out, wear sensible socks and boots! Sometimes, two pair of socks are needed.

For those sub-zero days, you can’t go wrong with a pair of long johns under your pants. Whether you opt for real thermal underwear or some sort of cotton blend, this important layer can make a huge difference on your comfort.

If you’re shopping for a winter coat right now, then look for something that will cover your rear. It’s amazing how much warmer you’ll be with a covered rump. The coat should fit snugly against your body, so that no air can seep in. If the sleeves don’t have binding at your wrists, then you’ll want longer gloves to compensate. Attached hoods are nice, since they can help protect your neck from the elements.

I have two winter coats: A black semi-water resistant (I think/hope) coat that ought to be good until about 25-30 degrees, and then a big blue monstrosity that I wear on days so cold your snot freezes in your nose. That does happen, by the way. Both coats are from Old Navy.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good hat, scarf and gloves. Some people go without these items. I don’t know why. Your head loses a lot of body heat, and if your ears get too cold, they can hurt pretty bad. Scarves are incredible. It’s amazing how such a small piece of fabric can keep you so much warmer. My husband refuses to wear one, but maybe I can find a super-manly scarf and convince him to try it this year. Finally, gloves will help keep your fingers from falling off. Yah. Ever tried to scrape car windows or drive in a cold car without gloves? It’s torture.

In your car

One day, I will have a garage. And it will be lovely. Until then, I get to deal with the joys of a frosty car. There are a few things you can do with an outdoor-living vehicle to try to outsmart winter.

Park facing the east. If you don’t need your car until after the sun rises (yay, daylight saving time next week), those sunbeams facing your front windshield can help minimize the dew or ice on that window. Of course, you’ll still have three other sides to deal with, but maybe your biggest window will be in slightly better shape. Plus, the direct sunlight can start to warm up your steering wheel and seat.

Remote car starter, anyone? I don’t have one, but I’m thinking I’d really love to have a remote car starter. Of course, this isn’t great on gas or the environment, but if you’re going to let your car run for awhile so it’ll heat up, you might as well be able to start it without going outside first. Anyone know what this costs to have one installed?

Emergency supplies. Hopefully you have a first-aid kit in your trunk. In some pre-assembled kits, you’ll find a space blanket. I also keep a regular blanket to wrap up in if we need it, and I’ll probably add one or two more. It couldn’t hurt to have some warm clothes (especially warm socks!) in your trunk as well. I’m going to toss a pair of socks in my husband’s work bag, so he can put them on at work if his feet get wet or extra cold.

Gas. Some people suggest not letting your tank dip below 1/4 full ever — especially during the winter. But, if you can stand filling it up a little more often, it might be a good idea to keep it closer to 1/2 full at all times. You just never know when you might be stranded somewhere. It’s no fun to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or on a busy freeway.

Other car maintenance: Oil changes, fluids topped off, tires rotated and inspected for wear, tires properly inflated (check this often, as cold air can really help seep air from your tires) and any important repairs. Do ’em now.

The proof is in the numbers. Last winter, I tracked our electric usage and kept track of our bills. Our highest electric bill was $89, but we had a $67 bill from late October to mid- November.

From the bloggosphere:

How do you stay warm in the winter?

Posted under Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “How I’m going to outsmart old man winter”

  1. Thanks for the tips!! We moved from Texas to NY in March so this will be our first real winter. Snow is pretty but being freezing cold is not high on my wish list!!

  2. Question: what do you keep your thermostat at normally? And are you going to adjust that after the baby is born? Ours automatically kicks on after the temp dips below 50 in the house and we don’t keep it higher than that (so far). We’re also going to have a working fireplace after our landlord fixes it up so that will help. For those who have fireplaces we found out that we can buy a $25 permit and go collect wood in the Nat’l Forrest near us. Waaay cheaper than buying it!

  3. Oh dear…50? Brr!

    Last winter, we kept it at 62 at night to 67 in the day time, typically. Anything warmer than that actually felt too warm at times.

    I definitely plan on keeping it warmer for our baby. I’m going to check with our pediatrician (once we find one) to see what they recommend. If it’s in the mid-70s, then whatever, that’s what we’ll do.

    A fireplace sounds awesome!

  4. Kacie, thanks so much for the link love for our Winter Checklist! I’m glad you had an extra month longer than we did before you got snow.

    Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice)

    Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice)’s last blog post..Homemakers Fight Poverty – Blog Action Day

  5. Great ideas! What’s a foam door seal?
    BTW, it’s recommended that your baby sleep in a cooler room rather than a warmer one for SIDS prevention. I think it’s a pretty wide range, 60-70 degrees, but it pays to do your research!

  6. Great ideas, Kacie!

    We keep our house around 68-70 degrees with the little ones around since they don’t all use blankets yet. Once they’re a little older, we’ll drop the thermostat a little bit.

    One other tip… if you want to stay warm, KEEP MOVING! Exercise, clean the house, whatever… just keep busy. It will distract you from the cold and warm you up!

    Christina’s last blog post..Teachers: Save on Grad Credits

  7. I never thought to not use my shower fan to keep the warm air in the house. Brilliant!

    Dani’s last blog post..The Amityville Office

  8. Wonderfully helpful tips, thanks!

  9. great tips! i really need to seal our windows…they’re really really really drafty.

    tiffanie’s last blog post..hectic schedule makes for lazy blogging!

  10. I have a DS who is 6. I have “programmed” him to grab his robe and slippers as soon as he wakes up. When he cuddles on the couch in the morning before school he grabs the cozy throw I keep on the couch. I keep our thermostat at 50 in the kitchen only. I have baseboard heat which drives me crazy. The living room as 2 6 foot windows and 2 4-1/2 foot windows. It is a constant struggle in the winter to keep the drafts out. I have decided this year that I don’t care how tacky it might be. I’m hanging blankets from the tops! I have sheers (not curtains) so there’s no real blockage. The kitchen is in the center of the apt. so keeping it warm moves the air around the whole place. It’s a good habit here in PA to wear robes and slippers and keep the blankets around. Now – can you come over and do my windows for me please??? :)

  11. About the remote starters…I had one in my old car…LOVED IT!!!!!! and miss it terribly. You can buy relatively cheap ones at places like Target and Walmart(under $100) but there are definite draw backs to those…one of the big ones is you usually have to manually set them and if you forget, you can remotely start your car, hubby had one of these…major pain in the hiney. You can usually get a decent one installed for around $300-$400. Do I think it is worth it…ABSOLUTELY!!! But only if you have the money to spend, it is definitely a luxury. I still haven’t done it in my new car yet. Hopefully soon…it’s getting mighty chilly here in NJ!!!
    Thanks for all the great hints!!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

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