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Living in a Cold House

Updated on March 1, 2014

Surviving the Winter

My daughter and I recently moved to a rental house that is very cold. The house is about a hundred years old; and, while it has a relatively new furnace, it has high ceilings and not much insulation.

We moved here in January, and the first morning we woke up, the house was 60 degrees in my bedroom and only 55 degrees in my daughter's room. We had kept our previous home about 70 degrees in the winter, so this was quite a shock! Especially since the thermostat was set at 69!

My first impulse was to try to heat the house to a more comfortable temperature. Turning up the thermostat to a higher setting did not solve the problem. Even when the furnace ran constantly, the house only got up to about 65 degrees. I was worried about the high utility bills, so I decided I needed to take a different approach.

This has been an exceptionally cold winter. We have dealt with three visits to Louisville from the polar vortex. What a year to learn to deal with a hard-to-heat house! But, I have done it, and now I will share with you the lessons I have learned. I hope this will help someone else who is dealing with this issue for the first time.

Wood Burning Stove

This house came with a wood burning stove installed in the living room. It has been hard to get fire wood delivered this time of year. I was very fortunate that I had a friend whose family had extra and shared with us. This got us through the worst of the frigid weather in January and early February.

Not only does a fire warm the body, but it warms the heart. We enjoyed having the fires burning, but as the wood got low, I decided to save the rest in case we had a power outage or other emergency. So, I am not currently using the stove. Next year I will be sure to get firewood delivered in the late summer or early fall.

Pleasant Hearth 1,800 Square Feet Wood Burning Stove, Medium
Pleasant Hearth 1,800 Square Feet Wood Burning Stove, Medium

This is similar to the stove that is installed in our house.

 

Ceiling Fan

The house came with a ceiling fan installed in the living room. Turning it on helps push the warm air in the house down from the ceiling. It does seem to help.

I plan to install another ceiling fan in my bedroom, which is in the back of the house. Keeping the air moving seems to help the furnace to run more efficiently. They will also help cool the house in the summertime.

I Finally Got a Clue!

After several weeks of trying to get the house warm, it finally hit me! I had a 5 room house with two people in it. I needed to warm the people and not the house!

Dress in Layers

My first line of defense was to dress the people in the house in layers. I started with long underwear and worked from there. Fleece pants and thermal socks for the bottom half. Sweaters, sweatshirts and jackets for the top half. Don't forget hats and gloves, if needed!

Women's Thermal Underwear Set Top & Bottom Fleece Lined, W1 Black, X-Large
Women's Thermal Underwear Set Top & Bottom Fleece Lined, W1 Black, X-Large

This long underwear makes a cozy first layer to keep the women in your family warm. It comes in many colors, in sizes small to 2XL.

 

Stay Warm at Night

As soon as I gave up trying to get the house warm, I realized I could turn the heat down at night and just focus on our beds. I dressed the beds in flannel sheets and piled on the blankets. Then I purchased a heated mattress pad.

This has been a wonderful investment. It soothes my aching joints at the end of the day, in addition to keeping me warm at night. I don't know how I would have gotten through the arctic temperatures we have had without it. My bedroom is very cold, but I stay toasty warm!

Sunbeam Quilted Heated Mattress Pad with Dual Side Controls and EasySet Pro Controller, King
Sunbeam Quilted Heated Mattress Pad with Dual Side Controls and EasySet Pro Controller, King

This is the mattress pad I bought for my bed. It heats the bed very quickly. I turn it on before getting ready for bed, and the bed is toasty by the time I crawl in. I usually turn it off before I go to sleep, but sometimes I turn it on if I am reading. It makes a nice, even warmth. I don't need the dual controls, but if I had a partner it would be a nice feature.

 

Heat the Room, Not the House

There is no sense in trying to heat the entire house, when there are only two of us in here. I remembered my Grandmother's house back in the 1960's. It was an older house and heated only with two small gas stoves. One was in the living room and the other was in the bathroom. In the winter, these were the only warm rooms.

With this in mind, I set up two space heaters in the rooms we use most often. I put one in my teenage daughter's bedroom, and the other in the living room. With her door closed, the heater keeps my daughter's room very comfortable.

The living room is harder to heat, as it is open to the kitchen and also has an outside door, as well as a large, double window. The heater definitely makes a difference though.

Winterize the House

As soon as we moved in, I realized that I was losing heat through the single-pane windows. The house has the original windows, which have not been very well maintained. They are loose in their frames, and very drafty. Not only that, but some of them are actually nailed open!

Yes, in an effort to keep intruders from breaking into the house when it was empty, someone had nailed the windows. However, they did not make sure first that all of them were closed all the way. Several of them have gaps of up to 1/4 inch where they are open at the top. No wonder we were freezing!

I stuffed whatever I could find into the gaps to stop those cold drafts. At first I used plastic grocery bags. Then I found a bag of quilt batting. I tore off strips of this and stuffed it into any holes I could find, all around the house. It is a very cheap option for stopping drafts.

Frost King B2 Mortite Caulking Cord 19-ounce 90-Foot Long, Grey
Frost King B2 Mortite Caulking Cord 19-ounce 90-Foot Long, Grey

For the tiny crevices between the upper and lower windows, I used rope caulk. This is like rolls of coiled clay that you can push into tiny cracks. It does not cost much, and works great at stopping up these gaps. It is also easy to remove when no longer needed, so a great option for renters.

 
3M Indoor Window Insulator Kit, 5-Window
3M Indoor Window Insulator Kit, 5-Window

After I got the windows sealed as well as I could, I covered them with plastic. Using the plastic on the insides of the windows adds a layer of insulation and keeps out the cold air. I could tell a big difference after each window I sealed up in this way.

 
Frost King S214/17H Felt Weather-Strip 1-1/4-Inch by 3/16-Inch by 17-Feet, Grey
Frost King S214/17H Felt Weather-Strip 1-1/4-Inch by 3/16-Inch by 17-Feet, Grey

I put rolled up towels in front of the bottoms of all of the exterior doors. I also added weather stripping. This made a big difference too, because a narrow gap between the door and its frame can let an awful lot of cold air through.

 
Duck Brand Socket Sealers Variety Pack, 16 Outlet Sealers and 6 Switch Plates, 2 Decorative Covers, White, 283333
Duck Brand Socket Sealers Variety Pack, 16 Outlet Sealers and 6 Switch Plates, 2 Decorative Covers, White, 283333

Outlets and light switches on exterior walls can let in a surprising amount of cold air. Seal it up with these insulators!

 

Add Your Tips for Staying Warm! - What did I miss? Do you have any tips to help my family?

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    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Your house sounds like mine! I have a wood-burning stove in my living room, and it is the only heat source for the entire house. When it gets cold, I close off the extra (unused) rooms, put plastic on all the windows, and weather stripping around all the doors & windows. I have an electric blanket over my flannel sheets, and put a comforter on top for good measure. One of these days I'm going to tear down the sheetrock & insulate this house! And if I ever get rich, I'll replace the single-paned windows.

      I agree with @benjamindlee - I'd much rather be hot than freezing cold!

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      I have been debating heating units in my apartment for a couple years now. I've not been able to settle on anything. I think the oil heating unit will work perfectly for my needs. Great hub. Also, the fireplace in my apt is a great alternative to the central heating. I just can't leave it on when away or asleep and it doesn't heat the bedroom.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestions. You had me laughing as I remember a home I rented in Vermont...great old farmhouse, had everything we wanted....except heat upstairs. LOL Dead of winter...we learned many of the things you mentioned in this article out of necessity that winter.

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 

      4 years ago from Chicago area

      A couple of days ago I may not have clicked on this particular article, but as of today it is unseasonably cold in Chicago! My office area is always the chilliest part of the house, and I think I'm going to need to take some of your suggestions on wearing extra layers, maybe sooner rather than later!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 

      4 years ago

      Excellent suggestions. Especially to keep the people in the house warm, not necessarily the house. I find I'm very comfortable at 62 if I dress in layers, wear my down vest (which does not restrict movement) and a hat.

    • benjamindlee profile image

      benjamindlee 

      4 years ago

      I would rather burn to death than freeze to death :). Thanks for sharing.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      Yes we live in a cold old house, with no insulation, only bats in the roof. I shut all doors to the rooms not being used before evening, pull all thermal curtain before the sun sets. We have a pop-belly stove in the lounge, which goes all day, we stoke it up and closed down before we retire at night. Some mornings when I wake and look out the window, there was so much ice on the inside of the windows, so we installed a heat pump, just to heat the passage and our bedroom up, this is our own home.

      But as you said wear more clothes, it does help a lot. Hope you get some happy warm days soon. In NZ winter is approaching, not looking forward to that, but have the wood shed half full already.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 

      4 years ago

      Yes, close off the extra rooms and close the heat vents in there. Also a cheap way to humidify your house is to run a bathtub full of HOT water. The more humid a house is the warmer! I live in a dry climate (Colorado) and this trick is easy and free!

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 

      4 years ago

      I keep my house at 61 degrees during the day and 55 at night here in Colorado, to save energy and money. I layer on the clothes just like you do. I've found that fingerless gloves and headbands to cover my ears are very helpful. Also, I have a heated water bed with multiple blankets and bedspread. This works for me.

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

      4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I come from a warm country in the Far East. I have yet to experience winter.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 

      4 years ago

      My little studio apartment can get cold because of its location in the building. A space heater in the bathroom is great. Yes,warm the people! The stove is nice in the winter -- warmer than the microwave.

      and warm beverages are good.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 

      4 years ago

      Try a pellet stove. I lived on the base of Mt. Hood for 15 years, and a wood burning fireplace nor a wood stove could warm the house enough in the winter, to feel comfortable. After four years there, I found out about pellet stoves and that ended the problem. You will it once every 30 hours or so, and your house stays warm and toasty. We even took to cracking windows some in the winter. Thanks for a great reading lens though and cheers.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 

      4 years ago

      Yes a wood stove is a necessity in a cold house. The double beauty is that you can use it for cooking on in the case of a power failure. Stay warm!

    • profile image

      thebookhill 

      4 years ago

      You did a great job on covering all of the important parts of keeping everyone who lives in a drafty home warm. Great lens!

    • MelanieKaren profile image

      Melanie Wilcox 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      This is a really well put together thorough article! I too moved into a cold house this Winter in January. It's an old house with little insulation built in the 1800's. It's lovely,but cold!! (I'm in PA. It's been on heck of snowy cold Winter!)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I remember the farmhouse we lived in when I was a kid. The woodstove in the living room was the only heat. Some drifted up the stairwell to the 2nd floor but not much. At night the fire was banked, so we woke up to frost on the insides of the bedroom windows.

      Your tips are excellent.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      4 years ago from Vermont

      You're fast learning the challenges of living in an old house during the winter ... closing off bedrooms or the upstairs except where there's plumbing saves heat, fuel and money. We insulate and caulk everything, and wear layers of clothing and bedding to stay warm. I've learned to keep my office door closed and let the computer and monitor heat stay where I'm working.

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