Fighting Over the Thermostat in Your House? Here’s How to Win

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My ex-husband frequently complained about being cold. He was always turning up the heat and I was always sneaking it back down. After all, we lived in a drafty trailer in Alaska and the place was never going to be really cozy no matter how high the thermostat went. So why didn’t he just put on another layer?

In other words, we fought on opposite sides in the Thermostat Wars.

Maybe the same skirmishes are breaking out in your household, too: Thermostats go up and down, complaints and counter-accusations fly like shrapnel.

The collateral damage, unfortunately, is your utility bill.

Winterizing your domicile could mean a truce. But some places (like trailers!) are not likely to be toasty warm no matter how much caulk you apply and how much heating oil you burn.

If you’ve done all you can to winterize your domicile and it’s still drafty or downright cold, try winterizing yourself. These 13 tactics can help keep your core temperature up and your utility costs down.

1. Layer up. I hate to sound like your grandma, but here goes: Wear long underwear under your slacks. It won’t make you look lumpy because it’s available in a variety of fibers, including polypropylene and even silk. Or just wear tights.

2. Layer up, Part 2. Put on a T-shirt (or long underwear shirt) topped by a blouse/shirt; if it’s really cold, add a sweater, sweatshirt or fleece layer. Choose wool socks over cotton ones – and like long underwear, wool socks have greatly improved in terms of style and comfort.

Wear fur or felt slippers around the house; a contractor once told me that if your feet are warm, your head is warm. If you own one of those drafty historic houses, you might need to don a hat or cap in the house and/or wrap a scarf around your neck. Either one can be a stylin’ look if you do it right.

Check thrift stores for sweaters, scarves, sweatshirts and hats. Or buy them new, since “good clothing is far cheaper than heating your house,” writes Sharon Astyk, author of “Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place.”

Oh, and tuck in that shirt. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes. (Hint: You’re tucking in body heat.)

Household heating hints

3. Go where the warmth is. Take up residence in the better-insulated room vs. sitting in the drafty parlor. Shut the door, if there is one; two or three people in a closed-up room will contribute body heat. You also get the figurative warmth of togetherness.

4. Bring warmth with you. Don’t have a “warmest” room, only less-shivery ones? Use a space heater to fill the most comfortable room with BTUs, then turn it off and let that togetherness factor take over.

Be extremely cautious, however. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters were responsible for one-third of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths. Check out the NFPA’s list of safety tips.

5. Redecorate for winter. Move your favorite furnishings into the least drafty parts of the room. That picture window may have great light for reading but, boy, is it chilly. Scoot the high-backed sofa into the spot once dominated by those Morris chairs. And don’t just sit there …

6. Wrap yourself up. Immobilized by a good book or a crossword puzzle? Put a chenille throw on your lap or a rice sock around your neck, or get yourself one of those heated throws (sort of a mini-electric blanket) to stay comfortable while doing paperwork, reading or watching television. I have all three items but prefer the rice sock because it’s so solidly warm.

7. Take a motion break. Go up and down the stairs a few times. Walk around the house for five minutes. Do some basic stretches, yoga moves or even pushups. Or take a walk outdoors, because when you come back in, the house will seem mighty cozy. Bonus: Whatever you choose means a touch of good-for-you exercise.

Creature comforts

8. Sip hot drinks. Tea, coffee, cocoa or just hot water with a slice of lemon warms your insides, and holding the hot mug or cup is soothing to chilly fingers. The heat stays with you for a good long time. (Remember that cocoa has a lot of calories, and too much coffee might keep you awake, so be judicious about refills.)

9. Warm your kitchen. If you don’t work outside the home, do your cooking and/or baking during the day vs. in the late afternoon or early evening. That way you’re adding extra heat when you need it most vs. when you’re relaxing with a book in the evening.

Run the dishwasher then, too, and partway through the drying cycle turn off the machine and open it to release heat and a little extra humidity into the winter-dry atmosphere.

10. Eat hot foods. Keep something delicious simmering in the slow cooker, because the fragrant promise of a hot supper is emotionally warming. Working folks can program the appliances to have dinner ready when they walk in the door.

Don’t have a slow cooker? Get one. They’re perfect for delicious (and cheap!) meals. Visit the Year of Slow Cooking website and you’ll be amazed at the variety of foods you can produce both easily and frugally.

Got a bread machine? Put that on a timer, too, so you either wake up or come home to fresh bread. I once interviewed a single mother who set both appliances up each morning so that on dark, cold winter nights she and her children came home to a house that smelled delicious and to meals that didn’t break her fragile budget. Fresh bread, she told me, turned even the most plebeian casserole into a banquet.

Nighttime nurturing

11. Pre-warm the bed. Start with flannel or jersey sheets, which are so much cozier than diving into a pool of icy percale. Some people swear by electric blankets and others prefer down comforters. Quilts have their champions; my childhood home had no heat on the second floor or in the attic, but the patchwork quilts our great-grandmother made for each of us did the trick.

12. Dress for dreamland. Those long johns also work under a nightshirt or nightgown; so do sweatpants. Those whose feet are never warm should just leave on the wool socks.

Remember that people used to cover their heads at night (“Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap/Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap”), so don’t rule out some kind of headgear – an acrylic knit cap from the dollar store, a polypro hat or whatever is comfortable enough to sleep in.

People also used to have curtains around the bed, creating a still air space warmed by body heat and breathing. Sharon Astyk suggests this as a good option for unheated bedrooms. Small children might enjoy bivouacking in pup tents set up in their rooms. That’s a bit extreme, but Astyk lives in upstate New York and doesn’t have central heating so I tend to trust her.

13. Buddy up. Add warmth by letting your cat or dog sleep on the bed, or at least in the same room. Or, for that matter, to sit on your lap or next to you on the sofa during the day. This is good for your emotional thermometer as well as your internal one.

Readers, what are your favorite ways to stay cozy in the winter? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Al Seaver

    Point #11. Do yourself a favor and get an electric mattress pad instead if a blanket. Heat goes up, not down.

    • Dena Kelley

      Agreed. I’ve tried both, the mattress pad works better, especially with our bed which is one of those Sleep Number air beds- air beds suck body heat down and take longer to warm up than a standard mattress does.

      • Al Seaver

        We have the Select Comfort, aka Sleep Number, bed also. We had a water bed before that, and the warmth was from below with that also, and we really missed that till we got the heated mattress pad. Also ended up having to put a 4″ memory foam topper on the air bed as we were never quite happy with the comfort on this bed regardless of how much or little it was inflated. Also made a world of difference.

        • Darla

          I used to have a water bed and I loved it, especially in the winter. I got rid of it when the mattress sprung a leak. Probably just as well because a few months later, I adopted a big dog and I don’t think he would have liked the water bed.

  • Johnny

    There is nothing quite like wood heat. Once the fire is going and there are red embers just add a larger piece of wood that will burn for the night. That way when you wake in the morning at least one room will be warm. Another means of staying warm, [but electricty is needed] or a vehicle battery, buy and install a pellet stove. You would be surprised at how much oil/propane is saved.

  • Darla

    I use a small electric heater in the bathroom in the morning when I’m getting ready for work. I refuse to turn up the furnace and heat the whole house for the 1 hour that I’m out of bed before going to work. My dogs sleep with me when they want and that helps keep the bed warm at night. I hate anything on my legs so wearing sweatpants to bed is out of the question. I haven’t tried the flannel or jersey sheets but I might because I hate the freezing cold sheets.

  • Shirley5412

    I leave the water in the bathtub after a hot bath or shower, works like a radiator for a half hour or so. the extra humidity helps against static electricity. after all you paid to heat it, use it until it is cooled down. Same as your water in your sink when you wash dishes, leave it sit for a few minutes.