My dad lives in Michigan and doesn't turn his heat on at all during the entire winter, relying on the heat that seeps through the common walls of his neighbor's condos to provide just enough warmth to keep him from succumbing to hypothermia. Knowing my family would not want to pursue such drastic measures, yet still wanting to reduce my energy impact, I have devised twenty-one simple ways to survive the winter while keeping my thermostat set at 55 most of the time.
1) Acclimate to colder temperatures.
It takes awhile to get your body used to colder temperatures. Start by lowering your thermostat every few days while adding more layers of clothing until you find your comfort zone. Last winter, I needed the temperature to be at least 68-70 degrees to be comfortable. This winter, I kept the heat off through October and November and find that I can now be cozy in a range of 60-65 degrees.
2) Turn down the heat to 55.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service suggests lowering your heat to 55 or 60 degrees at night when wrapped in bed with warm blankets. I take this suggestion one step further by applying it during the daytime as well. I have two heating zones in my house, one downstairs which contains the kitchen and family room and the other upstairs which has the bedrooms. I keep both zones at a constant 55 degrees and only turn the downstairs zone up to 65 between 5 pm and bedtime. Because my house uses hot water radiators to heat, I find they maintain comfortable temperatures for about 2 hours after I turn them back down to 55 for the night. On the flip side, my forced air furnace in Illinois made the house feel cool within minutes after scaling back temps for the night. Notice what your furnace does and adjust accordingly.
3) Use less rooms.
Figure out the one area of your house where the entire family can hang out and only heat those rooms to 65 in the evening when everyone is home and gathered together, keeping the rest of the house always at 55. This winter I moved my computer downstairs so that I could work at it in the evening when the family room was warmer. Being together in one room also provides for more family time to play board games or just allowing time to talk.
4) Only warm the rooms you use.
Close the doors to the rooms you are keeping the heat down in. Hang drapes or sheets between arches so that heated areas don't lose precious heat to the cooler areas. We hung a spring rod between a large arch from our heated family room area to the foyer which leads upstairs to the cooler areas. We then ran the rod through the bottom of an old sheet to form a curtain which traps warm air downstairs. Despite the sheet being thin, it is amazing how much heat it holds in.
5) Cover your windows with plastic.
Just before the cold weather set in, I bought some plastic window coverings from Home Depot. These inexpensive coverings are made to fit various window sizes from small to patio door size and form a seal around the window which keeps out cold air beautifully. I covered the three air conditioning units in my house and can no longer feel a breeze when standing near them.
6) Surround yourself with down.
I happened to have a very comfortable down jacket...one of those thin ones with good fill power, which I started wearing in the house as the weather got colder this fall. At first it felt silly to wear a jacket in the house, but as the days went by, I got accustomed to it and it felt more normal. I now find my down jacket is the last thing I take off at night and the first thing I put on in the morning. It is the single most important thing which allows me to keep my heat down and I really couldn't survive without it. Make sure your down is either 600 or 800 fill. The larger the number, the better the down quality. Something called "Down alternative" is not a good alternative for keeping you warm I have found.
7) Keep your core warm.
I find that as long as my core is warm, then I will be warm. I haven't had to resort to hats or gloves yet this year because it just hasn't been cold enough. I also haven't had to wear long underwear either, but figure it will come in handy as the weather gets even colder. For now, keeping my core warm has been enough. Whatever material you use to keep warm- be it wool, fleece, or down, make sure that your core is covered adequately and the rest of your body will stay warmer overall.
8) Invest in a down blanket.
Again, I must mention down. There is nothing like a good down comforter to keep you warm in a 55 degree room at night. It only takes a few minutes to warm it up with your body heat and then you are toasty for the duration.
9) Don't set your thermostat to auto heat in the morning.
When I wake in the morning and slip into my down coat, I find that I have enough residual heat in my body that I don't need to step into a warmed-to-65 degree room. Before you switch the heat from 55 to 65 first thing in the morning, gauge how you are feeling and determine what your plans are for the day. If you will be leaving soon for work or such, why warm your place for only a few hours? You may be surprised that while rushing around in the morning, you don't have the need for much heat and can skip jacking up your thermostat until you arrive back home later in the day.
10) Eat and drink warm things.
I start each day with a cup of coffee and some hot oatmeal. The act of moving about and preparing my food helps to keep me warm while eating the food warms me from inside. It also feels good to stand over a hot stove and take the chill off while stirring the cereal.
11) Use other people's heat for free.
Admittedly, it does start to get cold in a 55 degree house after a few hours in the morning, so at that point, I tend to head out to a heated place like the library or coffee shop to take advantage of the free heat. Kinda like using public transportation- the subway is using energy whether we are riding on it or not and the same is true of the library. It is going to be heated if I am wandering the stacks or not, so I may as well take advantage of the free heat it provides by hanging out a bit.
12) Let the sun shine in.
Before I leave the house on sunny days, I make sure that my blinds are open on the south side of the house to take advantage of any ambient heat that may want to stray through my windows and help to heat the house up. I keep the blinds on the northern colder side closed to keep out the cold.
13) Get outside.
When it is only 55 degrees in the house, stepping out into 35 or 45 degree air feels relatively balmy. Taking a walk helps to get my blood flowing and warms me up perfectly. The sun on my face feels great and lends me the benefit of much needed wintertime Vitamin D.
14)Stay active in your house.
Usually after a morning of running errands and soaking up free heat at various places, I am then faced with returning to a cold 55 degree house. This can be the hardest time of the day, especially on cold and rainy days. Sometimes, I give into the temptation and turn the heat to 65 in my downstairs zone. Other times I get busy doing laundry or cleaning which keeps me moving (and warm) until the evening.
15) Cook your meals at home.
Why buy precooked meals and bring them home when you can make meals yourself and gain the benefits of heating your house in the process? I found this to be particularly true on Thanksgiving Day. While it was cool outside, we didn't need heat inside with warmth of the oven and the body heat of our guests. Again, before you turn up the heat, think if the heat from the stove will do the trick.
16) Layer your clothes.
I suppose this goes without saying. We have been hearing about this for a long time now, but it really helps to keep you warm. Typically I wear a t-shirt, thin fleece shirt and then my 600 fill down coat and find I can stay warm while alternating between moving about and sitting in a 55 degree room.
17) Tuck your shirt in.
Again, this simple trick goes a long way toward keeping you warm. I find if I am feeling cold, if I simply tuck my t-shirt into my pants, I will be warm. Try it.
18) Be engaged.
I tend to get the coldest during the evening if I am siting at home reading or watching TV. Rather than let the cold seep into my bones and force me to think about turning up the heat, I find if I get engaged in a conversation with my son or husband or we play a board game that involves talking or laughter, I forget about the cold and find I feel warmer.
19) Wear a scarf, socks, slippers, and maybe even a hat.
Wearing a scarf is key. It goes a long way toward keeping your body heat locked in and is comfortable to boot. Socks and slippers make a huge difference in how warm I feel too, especially if they are closed slippers with a back and sides. I haven't had to wear a hat in the house yet, but I bet if I did, I could keep my heat a bit lower from 5-10pm.
20)Take showers differently.
Nothing like taking off your warm clothing for a shower to ruin your attempts at keeping the heat down. In order to stay warm after your shower, take all of your clothes into the bathroom and put them back on the minute you dry off. Don't forget to put on your down coat right away too...it will help keep the warmth of the shower acquired by your body trapped in for a good long while. Wash your hair less frequently...cold hair makes for a cold person. Besides, it isn't good to wash your hair too frequently anyway.
21)Sleep with your dog.
Last of all, use the trick my son uses to help keep him warm- sleep with your dog. I am not sure if there have been any studies done on the warming properties of a dog, but my son manages to sleep in a T-shirt with a thin blanket each night and never complains about getting cold.
Maybe after reading this, you may think I am just as crazy as my dad or that we both are genetically wired to put frugality above common sensibilities. You may also feel that your family wouldn't adopt any of these methods without complaint, or you may think that they would just as soon move out than do any of the above. I say, give it a try. Adopting one or two of these ideas could help to reduce your energy impact if it results in lowering your thermostat even a few degrees. If you are interested in how low others are willing to set their thermostat (so that I don't appear as the only crazy one), check out the "Freeze Yer Buns" post at The Crunchy Chicken.