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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).

20 ways to keep the house warmer this winter

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!

via Design Sponge (Now archived)

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).

ceiling fan

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.

Insulate Properly

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).

via Duece Vities Hen House – I also love this simple and unique shelf look!

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!

fur draft stopper

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!

Stay Dry

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.

Go Upstairs

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.

charlie snuggling

Wear Layers

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).

rice heat packs


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:

That about does it. Got any of your own tips to share? Please do!

Sources: BBC, wikiHow, The Art of Manliness, HuffPo, Common Sense Home, Mom

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  1. These are all great tips. I’ve found in my very tight house in Southeastern Connecticut, I use less heating oil keeping my thermostat set at one setting. It takes more oil to warm up a really cold house. I still need to put together a full emergency kit for the car … have jumper cables, shovel, emergency light and blankets, but those hand/foot warmers would be awesome if needed as well as some water and energy snacks.

  2. Hi, lived in Alberta, Canada for six years and, “Baby, it gets very cold out there!” (I live in SW Ontario now). And every August (usually the first frost) they would post in the paper about keeping a winter kit for your car and list what should be kept in it. Given I’ve golfed in the snow in June out there, the kit is usually only out of the car for a couple of months. Used to keep two kits: one for the winter and one for the things that I didn’t take out of the car(i.e. jumper cables, first aid kit, flash light, lighter, construction vest (don’t really know what they’re called but with the reflective tape on it) and make sure it is large enough to wear over your winter clothes, etc.).
    Kept everything in an old soft-side dufflebag:
    – an old winter coat, an old pair of boots, extra socks, mitts (not gloves), hat, scarf (even an old shawl), towels;
    – chocolate and/or sugar cubes (didn’t have energy bars then). Didn’t keep the chocolate as it calls my name all the time and I would have eaten it and then have none when I needed it.
    – flag or strips of cloth to attach to your antenna in case you’ve slid off the road and into a ditch. In time your car may become covered in snow and the cloth will still move in the wind;
    – keep matches in a waterproof container and a tin can. Eating snow will dehydrate you very quickly so you fill the can with snow, melt it and then drink the snow.
    If stuck in a ditch, don’t get out of the vehicle any more than you have to. Don’t try to walk anywhere: with blowing snow you might not be seen and there are always idiots out there who think it’s the middle of summer and the sun is shining. If for some reason you absolutely have to get out of the car and walk, There will be emergency workers along at some time.
    Always keep one of your windows down just a little bit. It is suggested that you turn your car on every so many minutes (can’t remember how often or for how long). With the window open you won’t get carbon monoxide poisoning. (Is it carbon monoxide or something else?)
    Lock all your doors.
    Never let your gas tank get below 1/2 full in the winter – 3/4 to full is much better.
    Always keep your cell phone charged.
    Try not to fall asleep. I always carry a couple of extra books in the car just in case – they keep me awake.
    If someone comes up to the car and knocks, don’t unlock your doors. Make sure they show you picture ID. There are some really strange people out there. I know it sounds silly but hopefully it’s an emergency worker of some kind and they will help you.
    I’m sure I’m forgetting something something but most of this is just common sense. Now for Snowpocalypses, they don’t normally have snow so all I can say is listen to the weather. If it’s getting bad get off the road and into a side street, gas station or whatever as soon as you can. Don’t wait until it’s so bad that you might just as well stay where you are. But don’t wait if you can avoid it. Stay at work if necessary.
    Hmmmm, well that was rather long winded. Feel free to edit. I get kind of carried away sometimes.
    P.S. Like Charlie’s sleeping position. My cat doesn’t like to cuddle unless he wants to cuddle.

    We didn’t have hand-warmers back then but will now keep them in my kit.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share all of your tips! I wouldn’t have even thought about the gas tank part until after my family all got stuck on the highways last year. Now I know better!

  3. Great article! Very sensible and ‘green tips’. Infact most of your suggestions are very commonsensical, do not cost money and are very easy to implement. I have also been reading about installing insulation roofs. Are they effective? Are there really roofs which can keep a home insulated during summer and winter?

  4. Taking steps to combat the problem can be surprisingly effective. We have got so used to our heat coming from radiators, boilers etc. that we sometimes forget that these haven’t always existed. It is possible to alter your surrondings to keep heat in.

  5. Great tips Sarah.

    People are often disappointed with the low savings after they install a programmable thermostat. Usually that’s because they are such a pain to program most people weren’t bothering to set them up. It’s even one of the reasons programmable thermostats lost their Energy Star rating in 2009.

    But that’s changing with the new Smart Thermostats like the Nest and Ecobee3. They program themselves based on the activity happening in the home.

    So if you’re looking for a new thermostat for better comfort and savings, look at the Smart Thermostats. The Nest has better marketing but the Ecobee3 is the better product.

  6. Great tips! We actually sleep with a hoodie on during the winter months in order to save on our energy bills and it actually works! I would also suggest cleaning out your furnace and air ducts since this can have an affect on your energy bills as well.

  7. “caulk the ever-loving shit out of your old drafty windows.” – that made me LOL! i just finished doing that a couple months ago – it helped so much! also love that fur draft dodger!

  8. Great tips there Sarah, thanks!!!

    I swear by that heat-shrink wrap plastic on windows, glass doors, etc. On some windows that never get opened, I leave it on year round (it helps trap the cool in too, same way). I have some that was installed 5 years ago and is still as air-tight and invisible as day one.

    In rooms that rarely get used (guest room for example), I shut the valve on the radiator and open the door periodically to change the air, deal with moisture build up, etc. No use saving money on heating if you end up with mold in a room because it’s cool and damp.

    I still have some single-glazed windows in my house and until the money is available to replace them, they stay shrink-wrapped. If you do it well, it really is invisible and you can still benefit from the light and the view.