Or I could just hibernate
December 18, 2009 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Please help me keep warm at home!

The single-glazed flat I live in is rubbish at keeping heat in and has a funny timed heating system which kicks in about 2-3am and goes on all night; but you can't switch it on before that. So that means that the flat is absolutely FREEZING in the evenings before the heating kicks in.

What are some cheap ways of keeping warm that would be effective immediately? I don't mean structural changes to the flat which would be more a medium-to-long term solution. I just mean simple tricks to stay warm. Right now, I wear multiple-layers of clothing and take really hot showers. Does the hivemind have any other tips that don't involve spending money?
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Housework. Especially something fairly vigorous like hoovering.

Take a walk outside; the flat will feel relatively warm when you come back in.

Cook something in the oven. Even though ovens are well insulated, some heat will escape and warm the place up a bit. And of course you then have hot food, which will make you feel warmer. (I guess this does involve spending money in that it will add to your electric or gas bill though.)
posted by Dali Atomicus at 3:35 AM on December 18, 2009

For no money, the two things I always do/did were to (1) run a hair dryer underneath my sheets before I got into bed, to warm it up, and (2) microwave a sock full of (dry!) rice, tied shut at the end, so I have something warm to hold onto and keep my hands from going numb.

I have also been known to use the hair dryer trick to warm up socks and things. Warm socks make life better pretty much instantly.

But I think the best thing I ever did was to drop a few bucks on an electric blanket which I spend as much time as possible huddled under. (Hence, I have now retired the hair dryer trick for the bedsheets, but the rice sock is still going strong.)
posted by pemberkins at 3:38 AM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Tape some clear polythene into your window frames to act as secondary glazing. Not free, but very cheap, and it makes quite a difference.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:45 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

This does involve spending, but not much.

If you can bear the shame, consider a snuggle.

My other tips (I used to live in a huge apartment with no heating at all apart from a coal burning stove).

- Close doors to rooms you aren't using.
- When you have used your oven, keep it open - let the heat out
- Identify obvious drafty gaps - they dissipate a lot of heat
- Keep your curtains shut when it's warm, and open when the sunlight comes in. Be rigorous about this
- Buy a large comforter/duvet

Apart from that, your best bet really is to do something like buying an oil-filled radiator. They are not fashionable, but last for ages - i.e. you should be able to pick up a decent one secondhand for not a lot of cash.

And don't take really, really hot showers. It might seem therapeutic, but it's not a great solution. One tip for minimising timespend wet and cold post-shower is to have your clothes laid out already and to use two towels - in an apartment as cold as yours a single towel used every day may not dry out.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:55 AM on December 18, 2009

I bought some rather ugly, but very thick wool leg warmers from H&M a few years ago for about £10 and a pair of full arm fingerless gloves from Monsoon for about £12. I know you said you didn't want to spend any money, but that small investment (coupled with an always-present scarf) keeps me at an acceptable level of warmth, even in a very chilly office. Also, perhaps you have a family member or friend who needs a good Christmas gift idea for you?
posted by brambory at 4:00 AM on December 18, 2009

This thread is full of suggestions.

Hats help a lot. Hot tea is also surprisingly effective -- suddenly, this winter, the British obsession with tea makes a lot more sense.

Another one I just discovered: a heating pad in the bed under where my feet go. So nice!
posted by amtho at 4:13 AM on December 18, 2009

Plastic window insulation, which you can get at home depot or wherever and shrink-to-fit with a hairdryer, makes a huge difference, not just on keeping the heat in, but on your bills. If you can afford them or find some, put up curtains, too.

Hats are very helpful - why do you think sleeping caps were a big deal back when houses were so much harder to heat? You lose a lot of your body heat through your head, so keeping a loose, comfy hat close by at all times is important. If you have a knitting friend (and everyone should have at least one now that knitting's back in style) get them to make you something hideous and warm to go on your head.

Try to keep yourself from being too sedentary. If your blood is pumping, you'll be warmer, so instead of curling up in your comforter when you get a chill, force yourself to do some exercise. Jumping-jacks, squat-thrusts, even leg-lifts are good.

Try your hardest to keep your bedroom as warm as possible by plugging any drafts or gaps, and putting your most heat-emitting appliances in there to run for a few hours before bedtime. If you have a computer that runs hot, put it in your room and keep the door closed. When I lived in a crappy little drafty hellhole in Boston, my roommate's three computers and a blanket under the door and over the window kept his room toasty-warm, while I froze to death in my sunny, window-filled south-facing bedroom with a dinky laptop.
posted by Mizu at 4:33 AM on December 18, 2009

Response by poster: These are EXACTLY the kind of ideas I'm looking for. Thanks a lot everyone!
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:36 AM on December 18, 2009

I think hot-water bottles might be a bit of a British thing, but if you can get one (they're super super cheap as long as you don't get a really fancy one) you would love it. (I've got mine with me now and I'm toasty warm even with snow outside.) And because you fill it up with hot water you can make a nice hot cup of tea at the same time. Brilliant!
posted by raspberry-ripple at 4:52 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I sit on my heating pad on low when it's particularly cold. I wear socks and shoes both to keep my feet well off the cold floor. Burn candles - I read somewhere that a single candle adds the same amount of heat as having another person in the room. Even if it's not true, they add a coziness that just feels good.

I second the covering the windows - I did two on the outside (clear shower curtains, rather than film; it's thicker and I've reused the same one for two years now), and one on the inside, and it's made such a difference. And the best winter purchase i've ever made (besides my space heaters) is the electric mattress pad on my bed.
posted by lemniskate at 5:03 AM on December 18, 2009

I wrap myself in a blanket on the sofa. If I have a bath, I keep the water in until it's cold (acts like a big albeit rather humid radiator). The plastic film over the windows does work: I did this last year in my single-glazed house. Certain parts of your body make you feel more miserable when they get cold, particularly your feet and hands. Keep them warm at any cost -- fingerless gloves and thick woolly socks.

And yes, drink tea. Lots of tea. Those who condemn it as watery and flavourless are probably not doing it right. I would also recommend toast, English muffins or crumpets with it. Very warming, inexpensive and quick to prepare.

On preview, noting raspberry-ripple's comment and if you can't buy a hot water bottle where you are, you can use a plastic drinks bottle with hot water, but not so hot it will melt and deform the plastic. About 60 deg. C is about right. Then put it in an old sock and hug it.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 5:06 AM on December 18, 2009

B&Q sell a plastic film that you can cut to size, put on your windows, affix it by blowing a hair-dryer over it--and it's supposed to have nearly the insulating effect of proper double-glazing. The guy at my local B&Q swears by it, and it's quite cheap.

Hot water bottles are cheap. They're a little more at Boots, but the ones they have (or had years ago when I bought two) came with a four year warranty and have held up really well (despite my ignoring the warnings and always using boiling-hot water). But anything that's not from the 99p store should do well.
posted by K.P. at 5:22 AM on December 18, 2009

Do you have a gas hob? Just turn on the burners, it will heat your kitchen at least. And costs exactly the same as gas central heating, obviously.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:23 AM on December 18, 2009

a heating pad in the bed under where my feet go. So nice!

My beloved bought me an electric lap blanket last Christmas, now I don't know why we ever went without. Not only does the lap blanket keep us cozy on the couch, we also use it to warm the bed up-- no more icy sheets which make a big difference. This winter we are doing without central heating and the house is around 50 degrees or so. Here is my nightly routine:

1: Switch on the electric blanket and stuff nightgown underneath. Pile on the blankets (keeps the heat locked-in.)

2. Pour a glass of whiskey.

3. Quickly change into warm nightgown, pop into bed, pull off socks, drink whiskey.

I stay toasty all night with no need for space heaters or any other source of heat-- last night I had to turn down the setting because I was actually sweating.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:25 AM on December 18, 2009

Flannel sheets.
posted by rheumy_the_dwarf at 5:44 AM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Taking a hot shower just before bed will see you warm enough until you fall asleep. Or just soaking your feet in a basin of scalding hot water. That's how I survived an icy flat in London one winter.

If your windows are particularly drafty, you'll need to do two layers of shrink-film, making sure they don't touch each other. The first one makes a gap-less seal and the space between the two layers is what provides the insulation.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:46 AM on December 18, 2009

All good advice, here is my small contribution. 1.) Wear pajama pants. 2.) Wear thick socks. 3.) Tuck pants into socks. 4.) Forget about it and answer the door. Keeping my hands and feet warm were the hardest. This trick worked for the feet.
posted by syntheticfaith at 6:38 AM on December 18, 2009

Get blankets and quilts from thrift stores and yard sales and put them over the windows at night, it will make a huge difference. Put a nail on either side above the window, put safety pins on the blanket to hang it from the nails, et voila! Also check to see that cold air isn't rushing in under the door. If it is put a towel or a blanket down.
posted by mareli at 6:39 AM on December 18, 2009

nth-ing the plastic film on windows. I used to live in a very, very drafty 1890s Victorian house in Michigan (which is not noted for being warm during the winter months) and the plastic film cut my heat bill from > $200/mo to <>
Also, this may sound odd, but if you've got some spare or can get some spare blankets (of the woolly and crappy variety), hang them over your doors. Those tapestries in castles served dual purposes, after all.

You might want to check on tenant laws where you live. I know here in Chicago, it's pretty strictly enforced that apartments must be able to maintain a temperature of 66 F at night and 68 F during the day from mid-October through late April. I have coworkers who've successfully gotten their landlords to replace heaters and boilers because of this law.
posted by moitz at 6:41 AM on December 18, 2009

Put a big pot of water on the stove to simmer. The humidity it creates makes the air feel warmer. Set a timer to remind yourself to turn it off.
posted by futz at 6:45 AM on December 18, 2009

I have no idea if you have an oven or not, but it is good weather for flexing your cooking skills - bake and roast food. Cookies, bread, cakes, hors d'oeuvres, roasted meat, baked casseroles -endless options. Also making big batches of hot soup or stew or anything else with some hot food on the stove works well. Hot food warms you at the core, and the oven will heat your place up surprisingly well. Standing in front of the stove while cooking or checking on your food will be warming too :)
posted by lizbunny at 6:46 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you have a gas hob? Just turn on the burners

put inverted ceramic plant pots (unglazed, like these) over the burners, they will radiate the heat (rather than just heat the air which rises to the ceiling, where you are not).

alcohol and hot showers dilate your circulatory system, causing you to lose heat. so if you do, get yourself under the blankets before you cool off.
posted by gijsvs at 6:47 AM on December 18, 2009

Hats are excellent, but I've found it even better to wear a warm fleecy hoodie with the hood up. This keeps the back of the neck warm and covered as well. You can top it off with a fleecy scarf wrapped round the neck, so everything is snugly covered except your face. In my experience, this is worth at least five degrees on the thermostat.
posted by Kat Allison at 6:57 AM on December 18, 2009

In cold weather, shower at night. You'll go to bed warm and you'll sleep better. Take tomorrow's underwear into bed with you.

A cat is a handy thermometer. Where the cat is, it's warm. A cat is also a portable lap heater if it deigns to cooperate.

A warm vest, gloves, a hat, thick socks, tea, hot soup, hot chocolate all work.

Be very cautious with candles. I would never leave a gas stove on, unattended, for safety reasons. It's not cheap, either.
posted by sevenstars at 7:02 AM on December 18, 2009

Best thing I bought this year: a $25 pair of down slippers from REI.
posted by matildaben at 7:16 AM on December 18, 2009

A chemical hand warmer in an inside pocket can help a lot. There are disposable and re-usable types. Place it as close to your body, under your clothing layers, as you can.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 7:44 AM on December 18, 2009

Maybe it's counterintuitive (?) but could you perhaps call and have the heater repaired so that it works properly?
posted by majick at 8:09 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I purposely keep my house at 10C in the winter even with a wonderful, high E furnace because I'm a cheap bastard. So: Slippers. Always. Hot tea and tisanes (and hot toddies/hot buttered rum). (Use a tea cozy to keep the pot warm!) Bulky wool sweaters and felt blankets. Exercising at home. Also seconding the shower at night recommendation. Also, plastic film on the windows is great, but it's really only for bad windows. If you have a double or triple glaze, I wouldn't bother with it.
posted by Kurichina at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2009

I don't know if you are a gentleman or a lady, and the condition of your hair, but if you are bald, as I am, the key piece of advice here is hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.

Preferably under a hoodie.

Seriously -- when it's really cold out, like -40, and I step outside, you can see heat shimmer off the top of my naked pate. You lose a ton of heat through your head.

The quality of a hat is paramount. A good toque made from alpaca wool (f'rinstnace) will breathe but also insulate to beat the the band; a crappy hat (like a baseball cap or whatnot) won't help nearly as much as a snug, tight-knit toque.
posted by Shepherd at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2009

Sexy lightweight wool/lace vest as undergarment; fleecy hoodie over that; LL Beans fake shearling vest over hoodie, fleece leggings; wool gloves without fingertips; wool hiking socks, short UGG boots. Before bed zap a microwaveable pillow for recommended time and put it in your bed--or have a shearling or down featherbed. If you're reading in bed, put the warm herbal pillow over your stomach. Wear part angora socks to bed and about half of the clothes above. When your body is cold, blood rushes to vital organs--heart, liver, kidneys, brain to keep them warm at the expense of limbs, fingers, toes. If you want extremities to stay warm, put on a vest and a hat then stocks and mittens. I'm a cheapsake, too, which is why I know all this.
posted by Elsie at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2009

Response by poster: You guys are brilliant.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2009

If you take more niacin it dilates the capillaries making you feel warmer. It also causes itching and hot flashes. It also lowers cholesterol.
posted by wrnealis at 10:46 AM on December 18, 2009

SmartWool socks are the best. Not scratchy at all. Expensive, but you can get them cheaper online (I've had good luck at Sierra Trading Post.)
posted by leahwrenn at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2009

Do you have a gas hob? Just turn on the burners, it will heat your kitchen at least.

And give you carbon monoxide poisoning to boot. Never do this. From the CDC website:
Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
posted by malp at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2009

When you take a shower, use a washcloth to exfoliate your skin head to toe. I started doing it to improve the condition of my skin, but a great side benefit has been warming my muscles up.

I get the washcloth soaking wet, put liquid soap on it and start at my feet. You can shut the water off while you're doing this, so as to conserve. Also, good time to let conditioner soak into the hair before rinsing

It really makes a huge difference! I don't have to burrow under the covers again to warm up after getting out of the shower.
posted by lootie777 at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2009

What sort of heating system do you have? It just seems a bit odd that it can't be changed from that strange timing. It sort of sounds like it's on a summer setting - ie. it comes on during the coldest part of the night but not in the daytime.

If you can't change the timing yourself then you need to go to your landlord. They are legally responsible for the flat being in a habitable condition - and having no heating all evening in the middle of winter is a pretty basic failure of that duty. I'm assuming you're renting if it's the case that you have no control over it.

You don't say how much you've been in contact with the landlord about it but I would set out the situation in writing to them and see how they respond.

If you're not renting, there's some good advice above :)
posted by cryptozoology at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2009

It sounds like a storage heater, which is supposed to heat up it's own fairly large mass at night when electricity is cheap then slowly release the stored heat during the day. I agree, they are rubbish.

You might buy a small space heater for your living room, they are not free but work quite well.
posted by fshgrl at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2009

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