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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Putting up with a cold house now, so that we can have more heat when it's really cold out

I try to keep the furnace off until about the 10th of October. Last week I could hear it coming on, so I had to reset the thermostat even lower. I have a set amount of money to pay for heat for the entire winter. If this ends up being a colder winter than usual, I'll use all of that allotment, and have to divert funds from other areas of the budget. The last two years have not held any surprise extended cold spells, which meant that we did not have to go beyond what was set aside for heat. This doesn't mean that we are completely freezing these weeks. We are staying warm enough, with the help of basic frugal-living tactics. We are:

  • putting extra layers on the beds
  • wearing fleece sweatshirts and jackets around the house (and shoes indoors for me, too -- keeps my feet warmer)
  • cooking soups more often -- adds a little heat to the kitchen while simmering, and heats our tummies when we eat
  • drinking copious amounts of tea during the day
  • using a portable electric heater for one room, when I am the only one home (electricity is expensive to heat with, but heating just one room with electricity is cheaper than running the furnace for an entire family-size home)
  • I'll be using the self-cleaning feature on the oven next week. I'll time it so that it is in operation for the hours just before dinner. The oven is right next to the kitchen table, so it will heat the breakfast nook up well.
So far, we're doing well, but we haven't gotten to the colder days and nights, yet. Do you turn your furnace on later, to postpone shelling out a lot of money for heat, for as long as possible? Or is heat one of those priorities for your household. There are definitely circumstances where heat would be a priority. What tricks do you employ to save on your heating bill?


  1. I must keep the home comfortable for DS for medical reasons. That said, I am also conservative with energy. I've just had an expensive home insulation project completed (most funded by state and electric company rebates, a philanthropic organization's 0% 3 year loan, savings). We immediately noticed warmer floors. We've had a weird Summer: lows into the 40's some evenings then fast forward and skirting 90 degree weather the following week. Like you, we already have extra blankets and quilts on the beds, wear extra layers as warranted, and I'm drinking a lot more tea than past months. I invested in replacing very ill fitting, non locking (!) sliders with an energy efficient patio door and I installed a matching Anderson casement window in the half bath/laundry-the only window in the home that was different. Now all windows are construction grade, energy efficient ones. I shut drapes before dinner, opening them during the sunny days (if not hot!). I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Winter, which is forecasted to be brutal. Hopefully, we will be comfortable, while remaining on a budget. I enter the heating season with a full 250 gallon tank of heating oil, anticipating refilling it at least once. I am budgeting $150/month =$1800 to get me through the heating season.

    1. Hi Carol,
      I can understand needing to keep your home warmer for your son. I need to do this to a certain extent for sinus headaches for myself. I'm really glad for you to have all this insulation in your new place, especially where you live. For us, the forecast for the next 2 months is slightly colder than normal, and winter is supposed to be cold and dry, which could mean clear skies (clear skies in winter make for very cold nights for us). We'll just have to see how this all turns out. In the meantime, more tea, right?
      Have a great day, Carol!

  2. I think we're in the opposite situation. We can handle a cool house pretty well here, but don't sleep well hot. We have central a/c, but also put small window units in the kitchen (on west side of house so heats up in afternoon when I need to be cooking dinner) and our master bedroom. We are counting down till it's cool enough to remove those. Supposed to be getting a cool front this weekend that will take our highs down to mid-70's and low 80's. Sure hope so!

    As for heat, we keep ours set quite low and do much as you do--wear sweaters or jackets if needed, shoes, have fleece blankets on the sofa and loveseat for when sitting, etc... . Flannel sheets and electric blankets that we use to preheat the bed.

    Cannot WAIT for cooler temps and to be able to mostly have open windows! And for our bills to go down as heating is much less expensive than cooling for us.

    1. Hi Cat,
      When we lived in Utah our kitchen was on the west side of the house, with a big window. It was so hot in there, during summer. We didn't have A/C. Cooking was torture. The kitchen was easily in the upper 80s while I was trying to cook. So, I can relate. I hope you do get your cooling this weekend.
      Have a great day, Cat!

  3. Similar to you, we try to avoid using the furnace as long as we can, which is usually mid to late September, and we pre-set the furnace to go lower at night and warmer in the morning. We also close as many doors as possible, dress in layers, make more soups and baked items and add more blankets to the bed as needed. I also wear a shawl most of the time, and drink a lot of tea too. (And with tea, I am trying to get the most out of each tea bag by using a large tea pot, filling it full with the tea bag and consume all of the tea over a day or two, heating it up in the microwave). We just recently replaced the majority of our windows so that will definitely help this winter too. And like you, we need to self-clean our oven this week too. Wishing you a warm winter this year.

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Keeping doors closed, to the rooms that you're not heating, is very effective I think. When I'm using a portable electric heater for just myself during the day, I close the door and keep the one room warm, but the rest of the house will stay cool (but not cold) until the evening when family returns.

      I've read that ideally, you turn the house down 7-10 degrees F for the day, if you are away (or for me, when it's just me at home, then I use an electric heater for the one room). This is supposed to be the ideal temp variation. Your house does not get so cold that it has to work extra hard to heat itself back up, which may waste more energy than simply keeping it at a low setting.

      I hope that you have a warmer than usual winter, too! Have a great day, Jayne!

  4. We also try to postpone using our heat as long as possible. There were a few nights a couple of weeks ago, that we had lows in the 40's at night. Our bedrooms were a little cold on a few mornings. Like you, we used extra blankets on the beds and were fine. Now, we're having hot and humid weather again. It looks like we'll be in the 90's again later in the week. Ugh, I liked the cooler weather much better.

    We use a lot of the same tricks as you to keep warm and postpone using our heat: the extra blankets, warm socks and sweatshirts, hot coffee or tea and soups all help tremendously. I even notice a slight warming in the kitchen from burning my scented candles (which is why I try to avoid that in hot weather). Another thing is baking and then opening the oven door to let the heat out after the baking is finished. Love that on a cool day or night!

    Have a lovely day!

    1. Hi Angie,
      And if you time your baking so that the family is in or near the kitchen about the same time the baking is done, everyone gets the benefit of that extra heat. Of course, if you bake in the morning hours, you heat the kitchen early in the day. I guess it's a matter of when you want a warm kitchen.
      I'm guessing your warmer weather won't last long, though. I hope it doesn't become too unpleasant, Have a great day, Angie!

  5. As a follow up-how low do you set your thermostat come Winter for the night? and how high for the day? I go down to 60, up to 67, unless someone is ill, I may go up to 68.

    1. Carol, it varies a bit as the season progresses. Right now, I keep the house at 63 or 64 (during the day it naturally rises) during the day, and 62 at night. When colder weather sets in, I'll keep the house at 65-66 during the day, and 61 at night. Last winter I noticed that I needed the house just a bit warmer than previous years. I used to keep it at 64/day, 59-60/night. When it is just me during the day I keep the house at about 63, and heat my space separately, to about 66/67. This year, I plan on experimenting with turning the thermostat down a little earlier for the night than I've done in previous years.

    2. Even with the recent 40 degree temps at night, since my new insulation project, the house stayed warm at 67-69 degrees without the furnace kicking on, which is a great feeling! We've only been here 4 months, so time will expose other areas for improvement. I turn the temps down (preset thermosat) about 1 hour before bed. Works for me. Also, in about a month, I'll be adding flannel sheets to all of the beds, and I'll turn to flannel nightgowns/pj's.

  6. Add us to the list of those who try to put off turning on the heat (ironically, I'm having my furnace checked today--waiting for them to show up now, as a matter of fact!).

    I think I have used all of your ideas as well as those of the other people commenting. Two that I didn't see mentioned ... snuggling under a blanket or throw (with hubby, kids, or the cat) helps if we are having a quiet evening at home, and also heating up a hot pack in the microwave and snuggling with it on the sofa or putting it in bed to warm the bed up at night. A friend of mine gave me a homemade corn bag for a Christmas gift a couple of years ago--I think it's one of my absolute favorite handmade gifts ever. So practical! If you are looking for handmade gift items to give this year, I think those are fast and easy to whip up and can be pretty, too, with a nice flannel fabric pattern.

    1. Good question! It's a heating pad made with dried corn as a filling (I think it's field corn ... ). You can also use rice. Here's a link:
      My 11 year old made one last winter (filled with rice) to give as a gift ... so it must be pretty easy to do. :)

      We also use the curtain option to let in sunshine. It is an iffy solution as Michigan tends to be cloudy all winter, but when the sun is out, I like to take advantage of it--partly, I admit, because the sunshine improves my mood.

    2. I have made a lot of corn bags as gifts and for my own use. Years ago, I saw on the internet that a hospital was using them instead of heating pads. A nurse there experimented with many different grains and determined that corn (field corn) held it's heat the longest (less surface area say compared to rice). I figured if it were good enough for the patients, it was good enough for me. I think one reason you don't see them much commercially is they could attract mice. Over a lot of years and a lot of field mice in our house, we never had a problem. I have made many different shapes and sizes over the years.

    3. I had a commercially produced one for many years--not sure what was in it, but apparently my cat thought it was something tasty! All sorts of little grains were falling out ... I tried patching it but that didn't work so well. I also have those booties with pockets for heat pads (my feet tend to get cold) but they don't work very well--I think the booties may be too sloppy on my feet to get the hot pads close enough.

      I love the idea of making different shapes. Fun!

    4. I get it now! I have actually seen those things, but the ones I've seen were made with wheat. Makes a lot more sense than what I was picturing - which was some sort of indoor flannel sleeping bag shaped like an ear of corn... which didn't exactly sound like an easy DIY project to me! ;-)

  7. Oh my gosh, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this post since it's only just now getting cool enough to have the windows open during the daytime here. But yes, I am a bit of an energy Nazi, so I try to avoid turning the furnace on in the fall.

    I have lots of tricks for keeping the house warm, but the main ones involve careful use of curtains. This probably wouldn't work in a cloudy climate, but here in sunny Denver, you can get a huge warming to your house just by opening the shades on the sunny side of the house and closing the ones on the shady side. My strategy is to get up around dawn and open all the shades on the east and south sides of the house - my bedroom is in the northwest corner, so I go back to bed and the light doesn't bother me - but it's usually enough to raise the indoor temperature by 3-4 degrees. When I get up, the sun has usually moved far enough that it's stopped shining directly into the east windows, so I close those shades, and open the ones on the west side of the house so they're ready to let in the afternoon sun. Then as soon as the sun sets, I close all the shades to keep in the heat.

    I do other things too (insulation, closing off the vent to the whole house attic fan, yadda, yadda, yadda) but the sunshine trick really seems to make the biggest difference.

  8. We're still trying to figure out our new house as far as heating and cooling goes. The back of the house where we spend most of our time, gets really hot from the afternoon sun. Sometimes, it's even too hot in the winter. And the thermostat on the AC and furnace doesn't seem to work very well so adjustments to it don't seem to correlate to corresponding changes in temperature. However, overall, this house seems to be pretty well insulated. And when we get a chance to replace the old windows, it will be even better. In the meantime, we are constantly discussing whether it is too hot or too cold inside. That is something we rarely agree on.


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