Living in a Cold House
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.
This is similar to the stove that is installed in our house.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Outlets and light switches on exterior walls can let in a surprising amount of cold air. Seal it up with these insulators!
More Ideas to Help You Keep Warm this Winter!
- Managing Winter Energy Bills
A terrific list from Bob Waldrop for keeping your house warm while managing your winter utility bills. Highly recommended!