It’s also that time of year when the heating systems start kicking on in homes, schools and offices.
Ironically enough, that’s my cue to start wearing light summer clothing to work in a vain attempt to be comfortable in rooms that are so overheated that they are nearly unbearable.
By contrast, in the warmer months the air conditioning is set so low that many of my colleagues and I bring sweaters and jackets to school to keep from freezing during work hours.
In my own domain, however, I definitely have more control over what goes on and how much money I spend.
So here are some quick, common sense energy- and money-saving tips for you in case you haven’t thought of them already.
Set your thermostat temp lower – Okay, I know this is painfully obvious. But too few of us actually do it.
It’s too hard, or uncomfortable, or we forget, etc., etc. I suspect that we all know people who set their summertime air conditioning to 68, then turn their wintertime heat up to 72 or even 75 because they “freeze” at any temperature that is lower.
I understand completely about this type of resistance. When my husband and I were living in NYC years ago, heat was included in the rent.
We had no thermostat or control over the temperature at all, and our apartment maintained a steady and astounding 78 degrees.
It was so warm that we were able to walk around in our underwear quite comfortably. Of course, our bodies acclimated nicely to that temperature so that whenever we visited Mom or any other house with a more normal thermostat setting, we "froze".
In our infinite, young adult wisdom and certitude about all things, we swore that we would ALWAYS keep any place we ever lived as warm as our NYC apartment so that we and any guests could be toasty warm.
We'd NEVER allow anyone to feel the remotest chill in OUR home.
Needless to say, our attitudes changed quickly and completely when we actually had to pay our own heating bill.
We soon realized that oil, gas and electric heat costs are a big budget item in northern households that can take a hefty bite out of paychecks. Suddenly, Mom’s ways made a lot of sense to us.
She was the ultimate thrifty homemaker, and generally kept the bedrooms in our home at 55 degrees, and the living quarters at 60.
With our new-found practicality, we decided that those were good target ranges for us, give or take 2-3 degrees. Setting the thermostat lower was a logical and important first step in reducing our consumption, getting a handle on our utility budget and putting some substantial savings in our pocket.
And since we’d much rather pay ourselves than literally burn through money, we’ve adhered to this practice ever since.
Start Small. Getting started in the lower thermostat lifestyle can be hard, though. So, a good starting point would be to turn the heat down 5 degrees when you plan to leave the house, in any rooms you do not use, and at night.
Otherwise, try starting with a setting just 1 degree cooler than your usual one when you’re at home, and lowering it a degree at a time until you are in the 65 degree range or cooler. That will help ease you into lower temperatures without a major shock to the system.
And eventually, you will arrive at the place where you find the higher temperatures downright uncomfortable. As we do when we visit my sister in her overheated apartment in NYC.
It helps to also bear in mind that cooler indoor temperatures are healthier and sap our energy less than hothouse temps do.
Dress appropriately for the season both indoors and outdoors in layers - If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that a good number of even budget-minded people actually cringe at the temperatures suggested above. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that people have no idea how to dress.
Of course, common sense dictates that we wear appropriate clothing to prevent feeling chilled or - even worse – experiencing hypothermia.
Previous generations knew that and dressed in multiple layers – usually of wool - to stay warm.
As any athlete can attest, layered attire is still an excellent way to stay comfortable in a variety of temperatures from the playing field to the warm-up bench.
So dress yourself each day so that you can remove or add articles of clothing as needed.
But truth be told, my own sons took some educating about lower thermostat temperatures.
When they were growing up, they would often complain quite bitterly about the “freezing” temperatures in our house when the heat first kicked on in October or November.
I sometimes wondered if their crankiness wasn’t karma for my scoffing at Mom’s sensibly heated house in early adulthood.
But I only had to glance at what they were wearing to see why they might be chilled. Short-sleeved t-shirts! I’m betting the same situation exists in many homes today.
I’m not sure exactly how it came to be that t-shirts - or spaghetti straps -- are now the year-round uniform of choice for today’s youth, but that’s what you’ll most often see them attired in, regardless of the season, weather, or outdoor temperature.
They will even insist on going outside wearing such attire on subfreezing days simply because they cannot be bothered to put on a jacket.
In extreme cases, they pair them with shorts and flip flops, even when there’s snow on the ground.
Suffice it to say that I have very little sympathy for anyone who refuses to apply common sense that will make a noticeable difference to their sense of well-being. So I did not adjust the thermostat for my sons.
The fact is that layering our clothing is very much the key to comfort in cold or transitional weather. It can allow us to painlessly turn down the thermostat and save money and resources. So here are some suggestions for dressing that way.
Most days, I typically wear only a short- or long-sleeved thermal undershirt and reserve the thermal pants for outdoor activities and particularly cold weather.
Unlike the cotton long johns of my youth, nowadays we have high tech underwear fabrics that have special wicking and quick-drying characteristics to help us stay warm and comfortable even when exerting ourselves.
Undergarments made of soft wool, such as merino, are also great options. One of the nice things about wool is it is a natural fiber that will keep you warm even when it’s wet.
One of the drawbacks is that it takes a long time to dry.
Silk is another natural fiber with terrific thermal properties.
Regardless of your choice for underwear, don’t think you have to spend a fortune on name brand ones.
Many of the knock-off brands are just as good – and may even be produced in the same factories as the big name ones – for a fraction of the cost.
I also recommend checking consignment and thrift store racks, and looking at end of season sales at discount stores such as Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. When my kids were young, I saved hundreds of dollars on winter clothing using this approach.
Collars and turtle necks also help in keeping drafts from going down our neck and making us feel chilled.
A practical way to wear a t-shirt in cold weather months is to put one on OVER the base and mid-layer.
Top with Outside Layering.
Layering extends beyond under-garments and the middle layer of pants and long-sleeved tops to outer layers as well. By that I mean sweaters and the like, of course.
I personally prefer wool sweaters, and I am particularly fond of cashmere and alpaca.
Before you gasp at that incredible indulgence, let me hastily add that I buy them at thrift shops for just a few dollars. I love their softness and the lightweight warmth that make them so comfortable for wearing and layering.
Polar fleece – either the name brand or a knock-off - is another good option. Again, check local thrift shops for some excellent buys.
Other types of polyester sweaters offer less warmth but are still affordable, easy-care options for warm layering. However, I generally do not recommend cotton sweaters. They do not offer much warmth and also do not retain their shape very well over time.
In the “olden days” women wore shawls around their shoulders in the home and elsewhere. These were not merely decorative, but served the purpose of keeping the wearer warm. It’s interesting to note that capes and shawls are very much in vogue right now on the fashion scene, a gratifying nod to the practical.
This tradition still very much has a place in the modern home. Whenever I am sitting at my desk or watching TV, I myself wear a wool shawl I inherited from my Mom.
It is very soft, warm, and comfortable. I also have various “wearable” blankets stored in our TV cupboard that we can either wrap around ourselves in the traditional way or snap together to make a type of caped blanket suit that we can wear around the house.
I’ve seen many versions of this type of winter “attire” advertised. I recommend investing in it.
I try to find wool or wool blend socks on sale or ask for them as gifts at Christmas. Slipping on a pair of merino wool socks can feel positively luxurious and help keep me warm and toasty even with the thermostat set a degree or two lower.
Wear Practical Sleepwear. Practicality trumps fashion, so look for styles such as flannel pajamas or long nightgowns and warm robes to get you through the dark, cold wintertime nights.
Eliminate drafts from the home. A draft is simply moving air, which has a cooling effect. In warm weather, such currents create cross-ventilation, which is a great thing, but in the depth of winter, feeling any flow of air can be very uncomfortable.
These occur wherever air of different temperatures comes into contact with one another, so typically around doors and windows, around electric switches and outlets, and near the floor.
That’s where inadequate or non-existent insulation allows the exchange of warm and cold air between the outdoors and inside the home, creating the drafts that have us reaching to turn up the thermostat.
But that’s a very expensive proposition. On the other hand, adding good quality storm windows can sometimes achieve the same thing at a fraction of the cost.
A cheaper DYI option that takes a bit of labor is to remove the trim from the windows, caulk and spray expanding foam insulation into any gaps underneath to help eliminate drafts, and then replace the trim.
This is particularly effective if you have old windows or replacement windows where the frame was never removed when the windows were popped in. Here's a link to show you how.
But those are obviously big projects and not practical for many, particularly renters. So here are some other quicker, cost effective draft blocking options that anyone can do:
- Insulate behind switch and plug plates. Check out these products.
- Use foam and/or rope caulk together with special draft-blocking plastic around windows and window frames that you shrink wrap with a hair dryer. Here's a video to show you how and another one here. One word of warning about this method - you must take great care in removing the tape or it will lift entire coats of paint off. Many landlords object strenuously to that, so take care. Using a hairdryer to warm it up helps in this regard;
- Hang drapes on your windows and doors that you can open and close to allow access. Insulated ones work best, but any solid fabric will help stop air movement. Open them on sunny days to take advantage of the solar gain and close them at night or on particularly cloudy, cold days to block the cold.
- Buy or make insulated, quilted roll-up window quilt shades that form a tight seal around the window. Here's a terrificvideo to explain what I mean.
- Put draft blockers along the gaps at the bottom of doors and along window sills. Here's a link to show you how to make your own.
So they remove the problem of having to remember to turn the temperature down when we go to bed or when we leave the house.
And they can also make the house much more comfortable when you get up in the morning or when you return after an absence if you program the heat to kick on a half hour before you get up or arrive home.
Here's a video to show you how to install one.
Heat only the lived-in areas of the home. There is no reason to burn fuel to heat unused areas unnecessarily. If you have zoned heat, keep the heat very low in empty, or unused rooms.
Bedrooms, for example, can be kept at a much lower temperature than the rooms where you spend most of your time during the day. And hallways don't need to be heated much at all.
The only exception to this is during extreme cold waves when a room has water pipes running inside its walls. In that case, it’s better to raise the thermostat a bit during such extreme spells to avoid a pipe freezing risk.
Close doors and block off unoccupied areas of the house so that your furnace does not have to work so hard to heat square footage that is going unused.
If you don’t have doors, sometimes you can hang insulated curtains or heavy fabric over the open doorway to help keep the heat in the part of the house where you want it.
Here's a related article on the topic: A Cheap and Easy Hack to Cut Your Utility Costs
Moving blankets from a store such as Harbor Freight Tools also make cheap, surprisingly effective cold insulators and draft blockers.
Use ceiling fans to keep the heat where it’s needed. There’s a reason that old houses in cold climates tend to have low ceilings and smaller rooms.
They are easier to heat. The current popularity of soaring spaces and open floor plans may be aesthetically very pleasing, but it makes conserving on heat much more difficult.
A vaulted ceiling creates a lovely sense of space, but also a huge volume of uninhabited ceiling area where heated air can escape and rise, and cold air can sink.
To offset this uncomfortable draft situation, a ceiling fan set to reverse motion at very slow speed can help keep the warm air down near where it is needed.
Use area rugs on any bare floors where you walk. In my husband’s home country, they have tile and marble floors everywhere.
As anyone who has this type of flooring knows, it feels very cold in the winter, and pleasantly cool in summertime. To provide insulation in the cold months,
Cypriots and other residents of the Mediterranean region lay out thick carpets, which they then roll up and store away in the hot months.
It’s a definite help.
However, it’s perfectly possible to dry your clothes year round without resorting to the clothes dryer - one of the biggest energy eaters in the house.
Simply invest in some inexpensive drying racks and hang the clothes on them.
This will serve the added benefit of putting some much-needed moisture into the indoor air and making the house or apartment more comfortable in general.
If you follow just a few of these tips, you will find that it’s possible to adjust your thermostat downwards without undue hardship for some substantial savings. That’s essentially money back in your own pocket that you can allocate for something more meaningful than burning fuel in your furnace. Give it a try.
RELATED ARTICLE: Read about hot weather savings strategies in my blog on the topic here.