How can I make my rented flat warmer? On the cheap, if possible?
October 14, 2009 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm renting a flat and it's cold, and it's going to get colder (I'm on a 1 year contract in the alps). Is there anything noninvasive (preferably cheap, but I'm ok to spend if it's really going to work) that I can do to warm the place up? What sort of portable space heaters give the best performance for electricity/gas? Are there any decent renter-based guides to improving insulation?

There's one mains gas heater in the middle of the flat that's supposed to cover the whole thing. I have shutters and decent single glazing. Local people who've visited have looked at the heater and laughed.
posted by handee to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A given amount of electricity or gas is going to produce the same amount of heat no matter what; there is no inherent efficiency difference in space heaters as in, say, air conditioners.

What will be different how well that heat is spread throughout your flat; though if you don't mind keeping the heat localized and you staying within that localized heat area, you will end up using less energy.
posted by trevyn at 4:16 PM on October 14, 2009

If you have single glazing, these should be able to help you. They're kind of ugly, but they work pretty well.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:23 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Are the shutters insulated? If they are not, consider putting blankets or quilts over the windows at night and when you're not there in the daytime (unless they face south and let in sun). Single pane windows let in a lot of cold. Go around the apartment on a cold day and figure out where cold is seeping in, like cracks in walls, uninsulated outlets, cracks under doors, etc. Stuff something in there, old cloth, newspaper, cotton. You should be able to feel it with your hand.
posted by mareli at 4:23 PM on October 14, 2009

C. Pickle hits the big-bang-for-the-buck: windows and doors are BIG air leaks between inside and outside.
Find air leaks and close them.
Use a BIC lighter or a cigarette's smoke to ferret them out.
Caulk, duct tape, Glad-wrap, & rolled-towel @ door's sill will all plug air-leaks.
posted by aptbldr at 4:31 PM on October 14, 2009

I lived in a drafty apartment in Philadelphia — I could literally feel the cold wind come through the windowpane seams during the subzero winters. My monthly heating bill hit $300 in one winter (natural gas). I ended up installing these over the drafty windows and it saved me a fair chunk of change.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 PM on October 14, 2009

Human comfort comes not only from the temperature of the air in the space, but also from the surface temperature of everything your exposed skin can 'see'. That is, there is a significant radiative component of comfort. That is why the window films mentioned above seem so effective, they significantly increase the surface temperature that is exposed to the inside, so that you are more comfortable at a lower air temperature. If the building is really bad the same theory can be applied to walls by hanging drapes or tapestries on the walls. If you are really desperate you can cordon off a smaller space with tapestries around the source of heat, which is much the way people lived in winter in cold climates for all of human history before our cheap energy era.
posted by meinvt at 4:44 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Electric heater. Gas will produce carbon monoxide, which can kill you unless you open windows, which defeats your purpose.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2009

Propane heaters are the best. We heated a large school bus very efficiently and stayed very warm. Just be sure to place one of those inexpensive carbon monoxide detection strips on the wall too. We never had any problems with carbon monoxide, but it's recommended in a closed-in space. These heaters are usually sold by RV dealers and places that fill up propane tanks.
posted by VC Drake at 5:04 PM on October 14, 2009

When I was growing up in Michigan, my mom used to put plastic over all of the windows and hang sheets over all of the doorways. She would then close the heat vents to all rooms she didn't consider "important" - including the bathroom, which got COLD. The kitchen and our bedrooms where pretty much the only warm places in the house, and it was a lot like living in a yurt.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:06 PM on October 14, 2009

Plastic over the windows, it's a pain, and you'll miss being able to open the windows, but it makes a big difference. If you use a space heater, and it sounds like you will, try to only heat a small space at a time -- like if you want to be in the living room, hang a curtain between that room and other rooms so you can trap the heat around you, something heavy.

Also, don't cheap out on socks and double up! And hats and scarves really help. But really the big thing is mentally dividing the place into manageable smaller spaces. I've never cared about being warm in bedrooms, for instance. Our bedroom is pretty freezing here and was in the last place we lived, but I think warm bedrooms are the pits, which has worked out swell in New England.

You want warmth mainly in the bathroom when you're showering and in the living room when you're hanging out. The kitchen takes care of itself--when you cook, it heats up. Now is a good time to take up baking bread.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:17 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing the window film. (AKA "ghetto wrap.") Unless you have very good, very new windows, that stuff will make a huge difference. It can be a bit tricky to put on, though. I've tried to do it with a hair dryer and have never had good results; a heat gun with a 'heat spreader' attachment works much better. Also, once you put it on, you really can't take it off unless you want to replace it and completely redo the window—so you might want to leave at least one window in the kitchen and another in the bathroom uncovered for ventilation purposes, if you don't have vent fans. (None of the apartments I've ever lived in that needed window wrap have been nice enough to have vent fans...)

Tapestries can also help, but if you decide to put some up, be sure to use materials that are flame retardant—a lot of "decorative" tapestries aren't! Otherwise you can easily turn your apartment into a deathtrap in the event of a fire. Blankets designed for children's cribs are generally required to be fire-treated in most countries; you might want to research what the cheapest material available where you are located is.

All electric heaters are the same, in terms of thermal efficiency. They take in electricity, turn it into heat, and that heat goes into your room. However, some heaters may feel more pleasant or be more suited to some applications than others. My personal feeling is that small forced-air heaters are most appropriate for bathrooms or small spaces that you want to heat up quickly and get very warm, or for directing heat at a very small area. Oil-filled electric radiators are good for keeping a bedroom warm at night, because they're silent. They also put out a lot of radiant heat, so they're pleasant to sit next to while watching TV.

Gas heaters do vary in efficiency, if they're vented (have a flue connected to the outside). I don't think that unvented heaters vary, though, as long as they're getting complete combustion. Some gas fireplaces that are meant to look like wood-burning fireplaces (with yellow flames) are pretty hideously inefficient.

If you have a gas bill around and know how much gas you're going through, it should be pretty easy to tell (based on the size of your apartment) whether the heater is just really undersized, or if it's appropriately-sized and you're just losing a lot of heat through poor insulation. I think that the normal rule of thumb for heating is about 10-15 watts per square foot (this is for the northeast US, YMMV), not including blowers to move the heat around if you're producing it all in one place.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:22 PM on October 14, 2009

I feel your pain. I spent a winter in Grenoble in a flat that wasn't particularly heated. Wrap blankets around yourself. Seal windows, doors, cracks, etc. If there are any rooms you don't use, keep those doors closed, and jam something in the cracks at the bottom of the door.

Here's a heater at Carrefour that isn't too pricey.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:33 PM on October 14, 2009

Yup, window film. I live in the frozen wastelands in an old house, with period windows that I'm loathe to change, and I can personally attest to the effectiveness of window film. It ain't pretty but it works.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:34 PM on October 14, 2009

Turn oven on. Leave door open. Keep animals away. This works well only if you have a gas stove and don't pay for it.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:43 PM on October 14, 2009

If you have rooms with doorways but no doors you can block off space using a piece of hanging cloth. We sewed a large piece of flannel over a spring loaded curtain rod and put that in each doorway. That kept the heat in places we wanted it and out of places we didn't want the heat to go.

Baking also kills two birds with one stone.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:52 PM on October 14, 2009

Oven on with nothing in it == making an "air pie" in the apartments I've lived.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:53 PM on October 14, 2009

For watching tv/working at computer/ when you're not moving around much: zip up in a sleeping bag with a small electric heating pad inside at your feet. Wool and layers are your friends. Don't forget to cover your head as well.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:31 PM on October 14, 2009

if you have ceilings that aren't too high, i'd suggest a vornado heater. when we started using this last year instead of the (terrible) unit that came with our apartment, our electricity bill definitely went down. it was worth every penny.
posted by nanhey at 6:38 PM on October 14, 2009

A Terrible Llama had a great suggestion with drapes between living spaces. I have been poor and lived in pretty drafty/poorly insulated places most of my adult life. nthing the plastic on the windows - also (really cheap) put a towel or something down at the base of all outside doors. If you can pay for weather stripping, pay for it, but laying a towel down will cut the drafts *a lot.*

If you can get your hands on one of these, I understand that they're very nice for extremely cold weather.
posted by patheral at 7:02 PM on October 14, 2009

Don't forget area rugs and for that matter, a down comforter is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
posted by Allee Katze at 7:27 PM on October 14, 2009

I have a Lasko electric ceramic heater that can turn, has two settings - high/low and a thermostat and a remote. It's well designed, pretty loud on high, sounds like a fan on low. I'm not using thermostat because it'd spend too much electricity. It's important that a ceramic heater should turn because otherwise I get a headache if I point it at myself for 30min+ (maybe because of dried out air?) Remote is very useful - don't need to get up in the morning to turn it on.

In Japan, people often keep low temperature in the apartment and have a low table with a heater under it and with a blanket that goes all the way to the floor; they sit with that blanket covering legs and part of the body. Nice way to save on electricity!
posted by rainy at 8:18 PM on October 14, 2009

We have jolicy windows next to our front door, and froze last winter because of the wind coming in. This year we took foam insulation, decorated it, and fit in in the window. There's barely a draft, and no one can see in the apartment from the front door. So far it's saved us from turning on the heater.
posted by chana meira at 8:40 PM on October 14, 2009

I love my electric blanket; pre-heating the bed is a big help. Down or synthetic down comforters are fantastic. Wear warm clothes, especially a hat, even indoors. You'll spend your time near the heater and you may want to close off other rooms.
posted by theora55 at 9:43 PM on October 14, 2009

DieHipsterDie: "Turn oven on. Leave door open. Keep animals away. This works well only if you have a gas stove and don't pay for it."

bottlebrushtree: "Oven on with nothing in it == making an "air pie" in the apartments I've lived."

A more appropriate aphorism might be "Cooking with Sylvia Plath."

For the love of God don't do this, or if you do do this because you're really freezing, only do it during the day when you're up and walking around (not at night or when you're sleeping), and only in a house that's really drafty. Running a gas oven overnight with the door open like that, especially in a small apartment that's well-sealed (like one where you just applied window wrap...) is a great way to kill yourself.

Ventless gas heaters—modern ones anyway—have CO sensors that cause them to turn off if you start to poison yourself. Ovens don't, and they can burn through quite a lot of gas if allowed to run continuously. If the oven is old and isn't achieving totally complete combustion (sort of de rigueur in most crappy apartments I've lived in), it may really pump it out without much of a delay.*

Using a gas oven for heating is getting into serious Bad Idea Bears territory. You would be better off warming up rocks or something in the oven with the door closed, and then putting them in your bed or whatever, than actually trying to use the oven as a space heater.

An efficiently operating stove won't start to produce lots of CO until the free O2 level in the room starts to drop, which can take a while...but an inefficiently burning one will produce it right from the get-go. You might not ever notice this in normal operation, because the burner in an oven doesn't really run for that long at a time, but with the door propped open...well, you might not notice it then, either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:02 PM on October 14, 2009

We use DeLonghi panel heaters in our house. They work a lot better than the other electric space heaters we've tried, especially when heating small areas. Last winter, we didn't turn on our heat at all (we have awful and expensive radiators). As somebody already said, they work a lot better in small spaces, but I'm okay so long as I've got one pointed at me, and I'm one of those people who is always, always cold. Plus, they're lightweight and have wheels, so they're easy to move around.

Fuzzy blankets and warm socks are also key.
posted by rosethorn at 2:55 AM on October 16, 2009

This old thread has some good ideas.

Generally, you will get the most bang for your buck by reducing infiltration. This is warm air that is leaving and cold air that is entering. If you have any type of hatch in the ceiling, this would be the first place to try to seal. Next would be looking for air gaps around doors and windows. Frequently air will enter or exit through holes for plumbing or electricity.

If you are really on the cheap, you can use plastic grocery or trash bags to block gaps by pushing them in with a putty knife or butter knife. They compress really well and block air flow. The plastic window covering will work well, but don't forget to check for gaps around the window frame. You can also buy expanding foam that will fill up gaps, you can cut off the excess once it cures. It will degrade with exposure to sunlight over the long term, but this won't be a problem in a year. If you want to do it right, paint it anywhere that it will be exposed to sunlight.

Covering walls that are cold to the touch with some sort of fabric will make the place seem warmer, this is the idea behind the tapestries of old. Also, I can't say enough nice things about electric blankets for sleeping. Modern electric blankets cost a very modest amount to run compared to any type of heating.
posted by jefeweiss at 12:11 PM on October 26, 2009

« Older If you think about it, if someone helps CF Kane...   |   Best winter boots for an urban teacher? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.