Pretend to Be Warm

The "snow hut" the boys built last winter.

Last week we shared how we keep our electric bill at less than half the national average. But to be clear, our home’s furnace is fueled by natural gas. So today let’s look at how we keep our gas bill low, too. Even during last year’s winter, which was the coldest on record in our area!

We spend less on heat with a few simple, straightforward strategies:

  1. Set the thermostat back. We keep it at 65 degrees night & day; I know people who go much lower than we do. Before kids we set it back more at night, but below 65, they seem to wake up more. And sleep is one thing I’m willing to pay for.(Sorry world, I’m an ignorant Fahrenheit-user.)

Your gas bill will increase or decrease about 3% for every degree you change the temperature from 68 full time.  So if you keep it at 72 around the clock, you’re paying 12% more. Comparing 65 to 72, we’re saving 21%. For our typical bills, that equals about a $20 difference. We save even more by employing these additional strategies:

  1. Winterize. Proper insulation makes a huge difference in maximizing your furnace’s efforts. You’ll feel cozier and spend less–insulation has a good return on investment. Caulking and weatherstripping can also help seal in warmth, reducing drafts and heating costs. Newer windows will also make your room feel cozier, but the ROI is dismal…essentially non-existent.
  2. Build a fire. We have a fireplace with a heat exchanger that helps warm our house. So we have found lots of free firewood, which Neil splits for exercise, and build fires to supplement the furnace’s efforts. You can read more about that in our firewood post, which describes different heating apparatus as well as how to get & split free wood.
  3. Space heaters are an accessible alternative to the fireplace. It costs less to heat a small space with one than it does to raise the temperature of the whole house via the furnace. Electric blankets are similarly efficient.
More snow hut.

More snow hut.

5. Wear clothes. Seems obvious, but we pile on the layers. My typical winter uniform includes a long-sleeved tee, a wool sweater, one of Neil’s fleece jackets, jeans, and wool socks or fleece slippers. Sexy, I know.

Neil also lives in wool. I truly feel sad for anyone with a wool allergy. It is so much warmer than cotton!  Wool socks and sweaters are available in abundance at thrift stores. If you are just going to wear it around the house it doesn’t have to fit or look perfect. I’ve found some amazing pieces there, including one with a skier knit into it! And a pair of J.Crew wool harem pants that unfortunately were too many sizes too big to even stay on my body. It’s probably for the best as I never would have changed out of them, ever.

On kids—aside from not wanting to wake up every hour to put more blankets on them, I’m convinced that kids are highly adaptable. Mine are more used to our 65 house temp than I am. And whatever gene causes certain men to wear shorts till Christmas, my son has it. (Neil doesn’t.) And my daughter would wear nothing but a diaper underpants if we let her.  (Yay! She’s potty trained! That’ll save us $30 a month.)

6. Cooking—We have a gas stove & oven. I don’t worry too much about cooking for optimum energy use except to avoid heating the place up during the summer. I do prefer the pressure cooker or slow cooker for long cook times so I can be lazy. And these appliances are much more efficient than the stove or oven.

I also try to bake as much as I can at once. For example, I might bake chicken and line the sides of the oven with potatoes followed by a loaf of bread. It’s not going to make us rich, but we prefer to conserve resources when it’s possible.

7. Our sun room. Some days, even if it’s cold, it gets hot in our sunroom and we open it for some “free heat.” My son likes to check the temperature in the sun room on sunny days, and once reported that there was only free cold that day. Of course we don’t want any of that!

8. Random–My other pretend to be warm strategies include drinking tea, dancing, or snuggling my kids. Filling a 1-liter bottle with water and microwaving for a few minutes makes a good foot warmer. Building a snow hut also gets the blood moving.

How do you pretend to be warm in the winter?


26 Responses to “Pretend to Be Warm”

  1. Amy says :

    The title of this post cracked me up!!

    We use propane to heat our house, and are very grateful that we bought our own tank and switched to a coop provider last fall!! That’s the biggest thing we’ve done to save money on our heating costs.

    We keep our temperature set at 68 (gasp!) during the day, and at 62 overnight. If we’re going to be out for more than an hour or two, I turn it down to 64. Our two-level house is on only one zone, which is hugely inefficient, especially in the summer. Since hot air rises, we close the doors upstairs to minimize the amount of heat that’s being sucked into the upstairs rooms. I also try to take advantage of solar heat (and light) during the day, but opening the blinds in the rooms that get direct sunlight.

    Like you, we’re all bundled up in our house all winter. I typically wear sweats or jeans, with a long-sleeve t-shirt and a fleece, and wool socks. Gotta have my wool socks. My daughter is like your kids, and walks around barefoot all year round. Crazy kids!

  2. Elise at Uphill To Easy Street says :

    Great tips! I am dreading our gas bill this month so I’m trying everything in my power to lower it. We bought these cute slippers that have rice in the bottom. You put them in the microwave to heat them up a bit. It really does help keep the chill off! We also eat lots and lots of soup in the winter!

  3. Emily says :

    Love all the ideas these energy posts contain! We definitely “pretend to be warm” over here too. I know what you mean about kid’s acclimating too. My oldest asks to be barefoot and pant-less even in our chilly house! I wish I was that well-adjusted!

    • Kalie says :

      I know, I’ll have so many layers on and the kids are taking off their clothes! I guess they never stop moving so that must help.

  4. Sarah Noelle says :

    Yay baking! I did that yesterday morning when it was -8 degrees F. 🙂

    You mention microwaving a bottle. I will also put in a plug for investing in a fleece-covered hot water bottle (about $25 on Amazon). Just heat the water in a kettle, carefully fill up the bottle, screw in the stopper, and sit under a blanket with the bottle in your lap or on your feet. I often sleep with one under the covers in the winter, and it’s still a little bit warm when I wake up in the morning. For people like me who are totally paranoid about fires, this can be a great alternative to a space heater or electric blanket.

    • Kalie says :

      We don’t use space heaters at nice since we are also nervous about them causing a fire. The water bottle for bed is a great trick, but I didn’t know the fleece-covered ones existed. It sounds awesome.

  5. Abigail says :

    I’m all about layering. Having grown up in Alaska, I just put on sweaters or huddle under blankets. I kind of like being a little cold. It’s easier to warm up than cool down.

    But Tim’s joints ache in the cold, and fibromyalgia means he gets cold much easier and has a hard time warming back up. So our thermostat has been set annoyingly high lately.

    Now it’s warming up, so we’re going to start worrying about cooling down rather than warming up. Thankfully, we have ceiling fans and there’s always a *lack* of layers to consider.

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure you’re a pro after your Alaskan childhood. I am such a freeze baby; I hate being cold! But I’ve found that swathing myself in wool makes a huge difference. I do feel for people who need to turn up the heat for health reasons. Your health is worth more than $20 a month, obviously. Haha, I remember your lack of layers suggestion from last year…sometimes I worry that people think I’m too scantily clad in the summer, but I’m not spending hundreds of dollars if wearing a tank top would solve the problem.

  6. DC YAM says :

    The renter of our basement apartment has a space heater, since we control the heat and sometimes it obviously gets too cold for her. The space heater works GREAT at night as the heat travels upstairs and we end up paying a lot less using that than cranking up the heat for the whole house.

    • Kalie says :

      We used to rent our friends’ basement and space heaters were essential. It’s hard to fight that underground temperature when it’s cold out. That’s nice you get some of the heat upstairs, too.

  7. Jim Wang says :

    Hahaha free cold, that’s so cute. 🙂 Kids say the darndest things!

    Your other has a gem in there that you should consider more… but physical activity and exercise will warm up your body temperature. When I feel cold, I do a few pushups, sit ups, and generally get myself moving. That, and of course, drinking something hot like tea.

    • Kalie says :

      Physical activity definitely warms up the body temp. I should employ this more, though I’m sure you know how dangerous pushups can be with little ones waiting to pounce!

  8. Laurie Frugalfarmer says :

    Great tips!!! We can’t wait to get our wood stove installed. That will be a huge money saver for us. In the meantime, we turn the heat down at night and pile on the clothes like you guys do.

    • Kalie says :

      We are hoping to get a wood stove within the next few years, too. I’m hoping as my youngest get older and better at sleeping (and stops teething!) we’ll be able to set it back at night again.

  9. Our Next Life says :

    I have loved this series, you guys — just behind on commenting! We are huge advocates of keeping the house cold (sub-60), but have stopped even pretending to be warm. 🙂 Now we just embrace the cold — everywhere except in bed. For the up-and-about stuff, we do as you say — layer up in fleece (I can’t wear wool — I’m one of those people!), sometimes light a fire in our woodstove, run up and down the stairs if we get super cold, and even wear fingerless gloves to work in. But we do have an electric heated mattress pad that we’ll fire up before bedtime when it’s really cold, and then turn it off when we get into bed. Or sometimes we supplement with a hot water bottle. But we totally believe that people are adaptable, and even as a formerly “cold all the time” person, I’ve completely adapted to the cold. No pretending needed! 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. You are my cold-embracing hero! I have always been a “freeze baby” and though I’ve successfully lowered my threshold for comfortable temps, I’m not crazy about winter. Adapting to the degree I have leaves me to believe I can change even more, though.

  10. Prudence Debtfree says :

    I just spent two hours shoveling the driveway, and I’m not feeling cold at all. It really is true that those of us who live in cold climates should embrace winter. And with that embrace comes warmth : )
    (Is there a typo in your second paragraph for item #1? Should that second 72 be a 62? and should that 21% be another 12%? Or am I wrong?)

    • Kalie says :

      Shoveling the driveway will definitely warm you up! Though that’s off-limits for me with my back problems right now. It’s true that our attitude toward weather (or anything) makes a big difference. Perhaps as much as any number of practical strategies could.

      I double-checked my numbers and they are correct. To clarify, I’ve compared 68 to 72 (12% cost difference), and then compared our temp (65) to if we kept it at 72, which results in a 21% difference in cost.

  11. Latoya - Femme Frugality says :

    .Lowering our thermostat is one thing that I wish we could do, but even after experimenting with a bunch of clothes on – it just doesn’t work for us. I could walk around with a house robe, sweater, leggings, pants, socks, and shoes with our temp at 68 degrees and I would still complain about it being cold if I have a hot mug of tea in my hand. I honestly think it’s a southern thing. Considering that most of the year we have temps of 70 and above, anything below that makes us extremely uncomfortable:(

    • Kalie says :

      Sounds like you’ve given the temp setback a good try! I’m sure the climate you’re acclimated to is a huge factor. And setting it back is relative–maybe 72 (just for example) would be a big sacrifice for you. Plus if you’re in mostly warm weather, heating costs won’t be as significant for you. I’m jealous of your warm weather!

  12. Jen at Frugal Millennial says :

    Good tips! I don’t know if we could handle it at 65 degrees! My hubby and I live in a basement, so it feels extremely cold even when we wear multiple layers and bundle up with tons of blankets. And I actually prefer the cold more than most of the people I know (whenever I go over to anyone else’s house, it feels like a sauna).

  13. Mary in Maryland says :

    We leave the thermostat set at 60 all during the heating season. One year we tried 58, but I spent too much time under the down comforter. I turn the heat up when we get company–to 65. I notice that many guests don’t bother to take off their coats. I don’t feel cold as long as I keep moving, and wear long underwear and a hat. When I sit to read, I put on my fingerless gloves and wrap a quilt around myself and a dog or two. We have space heaters in the two rooms where we do the most work.

    Our biggest problem is being comfortable when we travel. At 68 we take the b and b comforter out of its cover and sleep under the cover.

    • Kalie says :

      Sounds like you’ve got some great strategies for staying warm without cranking the heat. I remember leaving our coats on at home in college because our gas bills were so high.

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