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I suppose that this post is a sort of follow up to my last one, kind of like a specials insert in a laminated menu. But it occurred to me that while I was writing my post about how I fixed the furnace that a friend of mine thought her upstairs heat had gone out and was texting me about it. What was causing her to worry was mainly that her two kiddos (a toddler and infant) were asleep on the floor where it was getting colder, and without the ability to immediately call for an HVAC guy to come out (or without paying some hefty fees for emergency HVAC repair), what was there to do?
There’s always a chance that even if your brand new furnace is working incredibly efficiently, the power can go out. Or you can live in Atlanta and get stuck in your car in the middle of the Snowpocalypse. So, here are some tips I shared with her along with some that I’ve researched myself when I realized my heat had gone out, plus a few tips about how not to “let all the bought air out” on a regular basis (note: contains some affiliate links).
How to Keep The House Warmer – Regular Habits
Open curtains during the day; close at night
As much as possible, let the sun in when it has a chance to warm up the house. But at night, thick curtains help trap heat in. This may sound weird, but cheap clear shower curtains during the day in the winter (as opposed to sealing the window with that heat-shrinking plastic) can also help with keeping cold air out while letting the sunlight add a little warmth (I mean, they even come with tiny suction cups on the bottom… what’s not to like? Except maybe that there’s a freaking shower curtain over your window).
Install a Programmable Thermostat
I’ve been delaying this mainly because I have an odd affection for my old school thermostat (I just think it’s adorable in its oldness), but a programmable thermostat can help you keep the house chillier at times when you’re not home (like during the day when you’re at work) and warmer when you are.
Add Rugs to Bare Flooring
Now that I have a pet, I definitely wish I’d just put laminate in the upstairs bedrooms like I did the rest of the house. But the rooms without carpet are definitely colder, so adding warm layers (just like you would in cold temps with clothing) help trap heat. In fact, this is probably the reason why rugs and other decor (like curtains) were created in the first place. According to the National Energy Foundation, it can add up to 10% less heat loss than a bare floor!
Switch Your Fans in Winter
During the winter, your blades need to turn in the opposite direction than in the summer. This can be done either by actually removing and turning your blades to tilt in the other direction (if it spins only in one direction) or, if you have newer ceiling fans, by flipping the reverse switch on the fan’s housing. The reason for this is simple: the summer setting (usually counter-clockwise) pushes the airflow directly downward and then circulates up near the walls, cooling the room; in the winter, the opposite direction forces heat from the top of the room down the walls and back up the middle, forcing hotter air toward the floor (and since heat rises, this keeps the warmer air flowing in rather than out).
Unblock Those Heating Vents
Many people often put furniture in a room without planning around heating and air vents. But moving furniture away from these spots helps air flow and prevents heat from getting trapped in the wrong places. Be sure to do some proper space planning, and at the very least, scoot your furniture away from the walls to prevent blocking vents.
Shortly after moving into the house, I installed more insulation up in the attic along with plywood to increase storage space. But you should also look to add weather stripping around the attic door. And did you know you can wrap a fiberglass insulation blanket around most hot water heaters? It pays for itself in about a year (ignore if you have a tankless one, and check your warranty before doing this… I have a separate post coming up about hot water heater savings ideas alone, so I’ll get to that soon). Inexpensive upgrades can save you a lot of money in the long-term.
If You Have a Radiator
Use heat reflective tinfoil on the back to help trap heat, and add a shelf above it (especially if it’s under a window) to help prevent heat loss. Just don’t rest anything directly on top for safety reasons (float the shelf a couple inches off).
Close Off Unused Rooms
Rooms that you aren’t using much don’t really need to be heated as often, so consider shutting the doors and/or turning off the vents that go to those rooms (though this does compromise the efficiency that the heating system was made for, so take this into consideration). You should also test this out a little when it comes to your own home. I noticed that when I close off my primary bedroom door (where I spend most of my time upstairs), it’s the rest of the upper floor that stays warmer, so I keep the door open to allow the heat from the hallway to flow into the room.
Mind the Gap(s)
If you can’t afford to replace them, caulk the ever-loving shit out of your old drafty windows. DIY draft snakes are also good for additional insulation (towels and the like can be more effective than nothing in a pinch, but you might want to make some of these for the long term if you live in a drafty house and caulking isn’t enough). I especially like this faux fur version!
To Build a Fire or Not?
You should also look to other places in the home that compromise the heat from being trapped inside, such as your fireplace. As much as a cozy fire seems like it will heat the house well, the fact is that most of them are drafty, meant more for decoration than a heat source, and will actually cause heat from the rest of the home to get sucked out even faster (and will suck chilly air in). Not to mention, even after a fire goes out, you still have to leave the flue open to help prevent carbon monoxide buildup in the home, which is basically one giant opening for escaping heat. In many cases, it’s actually better to close the flue and to use a fireplace insert to seal it off when not in use (do NOT use any weather stripping, btw… this is a fire hazard). This DIY version below from Pretty Handy Girl is also nicely decorative.
How to Keep The House Warmer – More Immediate
Get Your Bake On
For the same reason people complain about cooking in the summer heat, cooking in the winter will make your house a little warmer. If the power is still on, bake a chicken; use the crock pot. In the same vein, drinking warm fluids also help you feel nice and cozy. Eating also raises your metabolism, so use snacking to your benefit!
Getting wet will chill you down quickly, so unless you don’t expect the power to go out, avoid a hot shower since steam and anything else that brings in moisture will make rooms feel colder in a hurry. But if you’re expecting that the power will go out long enough to need to do some cuddling with family and friends, it’s probably a good idea to take a shower early on and make others more likely to want to sit next to your stinky ass.
Heat rises. If you live on multiple floors, go upstairs and allow science to do its thing. However, note that due to another phenomenon called the “stack effect” that the lower levels of your home will suck in colder air when the hot air travels to upper floors. To mitigate this, seal off doors and windows as much as possible (see above).
Use One Room
This advice is on the extreme side, but sometimes it’s needed. Smaller rooms are easier to keep warm than larger rooms. During extended periods when the power is out, use just one common room in the house with the least amount of windows. Do all of your activities (sleeping, awake activities) in that room as much as possible (except for, you know, cooking and using the bathroom, of course). You can even go so far as to hang blankets above the doorways and windows to help trap all of your body heat in the room. Make it fun for kiddos by propping up a small tent with sleeping bags; the confined space will trap heat in while they sleep even more.
Cuddle with Your Pets
Charlie loves to cuddle, and it usually drives me MAD when she won’t move out of my personal space. But she’s also a living, breathing space heater (slash fart machine). Your pets will probably love the extra snuggles and won’t mind at all that you’re blatantly using them for your own toasty gain.
Find that ugly ass Snuggie you got as an office Secret Santa gift that you swore you’d never wear and compromise that fashion sense like a boss. I won’t judge.
Make and Use Handwarmers
Chemical hand warmers and those awesome post-workout muscle heat wrap thingies can last for several hours without requiring an external heat source. If you have a sense that your power is about to go out, you can also create some temporary heating elements by heating up a satchel of dry rice in the microwave (it’s kinda smelly, but I used these a lot as a kid).
If there was ever a good excuse to do this, now’s the time. Raise your heart rate, circulate your blood, and generate some body heat. Just wear some type of deodorant if you’re all stuck in that one room, k?
Use Extra Heating Elements
If your power still works, things like electric blankets and space heaters (there actually are some energy-efficient ones these days) are a nice solution. But since space heaters are known to also be dangerous if they tip over, be very cautious with these and any open flame, like candles. Never leave it unattended, or you’ll have more heat than you bargained for when your house goes up in a ROARING blaze (just ask my neighbor down the street… thankfully they all got out safely!).
For Your Car
It’s definitely not a great scenario, but after Atlanta’s whole issue with ice creating chaos for drivers a few years ago that left a lot of people stranded in their cars without heat, a good emergency kit is essential. I’ve already mentioned many of these elements above, but keep these things in your car to provide some potentially life-saving help:
- chemical warmers
- thin thermal blankets
- food, such as energy bars (raising your metabolism heats the body, plus you’re kinda trapped and eating gives you something to do)
- extra layers (cheap fleece jackets, gloves and hats can be purchased at the dollar store or Walmart on sale)
- other emergency items that have little to do with heat: emergency flares, reflective vest, rain poncho, water, jumper cables, first aid kit, duct tape, multi-tool pliers, whistle, zip ties, flashlight, etc.
That about does it. Got any of your own tips to share? Please do!