I’m just going to get the obvious low-tech advice out of the way first–
If you want to stay warm, put on more clothes. Wear multiple layers to trap insulating air in and keep you nice and toasty.
You probably didn’t need a blog to tell you this, but it is an important preface to the rest of this post. There are plenty of nifty heating gadgets that you can plug into this, that, and the other thing to keep you comfortable on a cold winter’s day, but really the cheapest (and most effective) thing you can do it put more clothes on.
But what fun is that?!? Let’s get to the gadgets!
Electrically Heated Clothing
Yes–you can stick a battery in your pants and warm up. Although marketed mostly to outdoors enthusiasts, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy these battery-powered thermal clothing items. They sell electrically-heated vests, socks, insoles, pants, jackets, and gloves. Most of these come with a rechargeable battery that can last anywhere from 2 to 9 hours. Google “battery powered clothing” to see all the options available.
I only include space heaters in the gadget list to try to talk you out of using them. You’ll see infomercials toting how some space heaters are “designed by NASA,” and “ultra efficient,” but these are just marketing tricks to get you to spend a lot of money on your electric bill. Yes–space heaters will warm your room and make the temperature more comfortable. But electricity ain’t cheap.
Every space heater comes with a power output in Watts. If you must get a space heater, get one that operates with a lower wattage. This is what will determine your electric bill–not the physical design of the heater. Heaters work by pushing electricity through a resistant material, causing the material to heat up. Heaters only produce heat because they are by definition NOT efficient–losing a lot of energy to heat.
With that said, there are some instances where space heaters can make sense. If you spend 90% of your time in one or two small-ish rooms and can let the rest of your house go cold, then you’ll probably save some money by using a space heater. But if you plan on continuing to heat your whole house AND use a space heater, expect a significant bump in your heating bill.
Instead of heating an entire room with a space heater, why not just heat your seat? You can buy an electric pad that rests on your chair or couch. Just turn it on when you’re watching TV or reading a book and that little bit of extra heat will make you feel delightfully warm. Note that these things use much, much less power than space heaters.
Electric Mattress Pads.
Lower your overall heating/electric bill by turning DOWN the nighttime temperature in your house and turning UP the temperature on your bed. You can buy an electric mattress pad that essentially works the same as an electric blanket–except that it’s underneath you.
I like these better than electric blankets because less heat is lost to the air (i.e. more heat transfers to the mattress), making it warm beneath you. As the heat rises from the mattress, you are warmed and some of the heat is retained by your blanket.
TIP: Turn this on 5 minutes before bedtime and you can crawl into a delightfully warm bed. This is what I do.
Remote Car Start.
It’s cold outside—the kind of cold that sinks into your bones and won’t be warmed by a hot cup of Joe. The only thing colder than the temperature outside is the temperature inside your car. Brrrr! Imagine grabbing hold of that five-degree-below-zero steering wheel. Imagine the icy cold of the driver’s seat pushing into your once warm flesh. Yuck!
There is a way to avoid getting into a cold car—the remote start.
You can install a device in your car that will allow you to start it from several hundred feet away. These devices are usually integrated with an electric keychain that will also unlock doors and pop the trunk. Some fancy models even allow you to control the temperature inside the car.
These devices range in price from less than $50 to more than $200. Oh… you should also pay for installation, which will run another one to two-hundred bucks. Do you need this? No. Do you want this? Probably—especially if you have cold winters.
Search for “remote car start” on any search engine to begin your investigation.
Sometimes the only way to deal with the cold is to go somewhere warm. Luckily, there are a bunch of travel websites that offer great deals on trips to warm-weather destinations. You can book a 5 night all-inclusive trip to Mexico right from your own computer for less than $700 (including airfare). And you can stay state-side by going to Florida or Southern California for much less than that. Check out www.kayak.com for cheap flights. Check out www.travelzoo.com for a list of great vacation deals.
Home Improvements (for those of you with gobs of cash lying around).
There are a few energy-related home improvements that can increase your physical comfort while lowering your operating cost (i.e. power bills). But they aren’t cheap. Sure, the cost is usually offset by energy savings, but it usually takes around 10-15 years to fully pay back the investment. Like I said, if you have gobs of cash lying around and don’t care about your return on investment, you might consider one of these.
* Upgrade windows and insulation.
If your house is anything like mine, your windows are drafty and you your attic is under insulated. Our house was built in the 1980’s, when energy prices were so low that builders didn’t really care about insulation. It was cheaper to heat your house for 10 years than to pay for better windows. Well, times have changed. Energy prices are up, so now my inefficient house is costing me. I’m saving up for some energy upgrades:
Windows–will probably cost me around 15,000 total parts and labor. Yikes!
Insulation upgrade–will probably cost me a few thousand to have someone come and blow extra insulation into the walls. We tripled our attic insulation depth two years ago and have notices a big change. If you do nothing else, I would encourage you to check your attic for proper insulation. Heat rises, so you want to make sure it doesn’t all escape through your ceiling.
* Retrofit Radiant Floors (with optional Solar Thermal)
Radiant floors are awesome. With very little power, you can pump water beneath your floors to heat your house. If you couple this with a solar thermal installation (i.e. solar panels that heat up water for your radiant system) then it uses even less power. Radiant heat is comfortable and affordable to run. To install, however, is another issue. To retrofit radiant heat into your house, you basically need to rip up all of your floors, run the radiant tubes, and replace the floor. This is a BIG job, and BIG jobs are expensive. (Not a problem if you have gobs of cash.)
A note on solar thermal systems. Solar thermal systems are much cheaper than solar electric systems and have a quicker return on investment, often less than 7 years. This is because the technology is simpler. It’s basic plumbing. A solar collector consisting of copper pipes collects heat from the sun, transfers the heat to some fluid, which then transfers the heat to your floors. The solar collectors is the cheap part of the system. The expensive part is ripping up and reinstalling your floors.
Lots of ways to keep warm this winter. Remember, though, that it’s hard to beat a good pair of long underwear and a sweater.