What to spend money on to stay warm this winter?
October 23, 2020 4:03 PM   Subscribe

For various reasons, I'm renting a drafty, poorly insulated house this winter. I only plan to live in this house for one winter. Is there any money well spent to improve the warmth and efficiency of the house given the short time scale?

I live in one of those ridiculous places where it is regularly well below freezing and this (typical) house has no insulation in the walls, none between the crawl space and the house, and very little in the attic. The windows are fairly drafty. Suffice it to say, I'm cold (and it's not even that cold yet), and the heating bill isn't going to be pretty. I'll be working from home thanks to the pandemic.

What I would do if I owned would be to blow insulation into the attic and walls, insulate the floor between the crawl space and the house, and if I could afford it, upgrade the windows. Obviously that isn't what I'm doing now. However, I'm paying for the heat, so would like to do something to improve the situation.

What I'm thinking might be worth it:
Use some cardboard to cover the gaping hole from the outside to the crawl space.
Figure out how to cover/seal the fireplace since I likely won't use it.
Roap calk + plastic shrink wrap stuff to cover the windows.

Is there anything else that might help? For example, is blowing insulation into the attic potentially worth it (with the homeowner's permission, of course)? My memory is that it really wasn't that expensive. Cellular blinds?

I'm on the front range of colorado, it is much warmer but still snows occasionally in April, to give a sense of the timeline.

For context: before I rented, I asked the homeowner (I rent directly from the owners) if the house was going to be expensive to heat or if it was well insulated. He said it was reasonably well insulated. I may ask for some help with some of this given that's obviously not true. I don't expect he'll do anything though.

Also, there are some really good suggestions here (window plastic, rugs, things below the doors) and here for how to keep myself warm. I think my questions is more specifically about the cost/benefit given that I'm a renter and will be leaving before next winter, but do have a full winter of working from home ahead.
posted by lab.beetle to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Poorly insulated homes reminds me of Japan where it can be miserable inside a house even when it is above freezing outside. The thing that makes it bearable is a kotatsu (a low table with a heater built in and blankets to trap the heat in). If you could get a kotatsu then you'd be happy spending all winter sitting at it and as its heating a small area it'll use up much less electricity than a space heater for example. You can use them in the new place you move to as well, then run the heat a bit lower in the house and sit under the kotatsu.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:11 PM on October 23, 2020 [11 favorites]

Silicone in a squeeze tube for the window drafts, and/or put up window plastic.
posted by rhizome at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Draft stoppers inside for the windows aren't expensive and they're very effective. Shrink window plastic on the outside will help a lot, too.
posted by Dolley at 4:22 PM on October 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Given you're only going to be there for one season, I would be very surprised if there's any changes you can make to the house that will save you more on your heating bill than they cost you in time and materials.

The number one thing you can do is restrict yourself to a small number of rooms. Get a space heater and an electric blanket ($100 total), and run the central heat enough to stop the pipes bursting elsewhere in the house.

For extra credit, install door jams, heavy curtains (window plastic has literally no effect in my experience) and rugs in the occupied rooms. The nice thing about these changes is you can take the curtains and rugs with you when you leave (unlike caulk and plastic wrap).
posted by caek at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

My advice to everyone this year is to sit on an electric throw (Target has cute ones every Fall), and since you're working from home I'd suggest you seal off your underdesk area with cardboard or foamcore (dollar store has it cheap) to leave only enough kneehole for your comfort, and put a low wattage "personal" space heater under there - like a kotatsu, but for working.

Heated mattress pad for your bed, and in Colorado definitely a warm-mist humidifier running so it's blowing into the general area you're breathing from.

I would probably, if possible, plan to hole up in a single room for work/living/sleeping all winter and throw all my effort at getting that room comfortable, which might even mean nailing thrift store blankets over the exterior-facing walls (plus window plastic) to help keep them from sucking your room heat out. If your bedroom just isn't feasibly large enough for studio living, if you've got a second bedroom I would make that the living/office. Only keep the rest of the house warm enough to not do damage, and just focus on making two small areas truly comfortable.

If you do super-extra-cover your windows, get yourself some daylight bulbs (or the white Hue bulbs, which can cycle through different temperatures of white to mimic daylight/sunset).

What kind of heating does the house have? Central forced-air, radiator, something else?
posted by Lyn Never at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Central forced-air.

I use a standing desk, but can imagine containing the area somewhat.

I can work in just one area of the house (and will priortize making that room good so that I don't have to heat the whole house all day every day), but half of the mornings/evenings/weekends include two elementary kids (currently with in-person school). So I'm looking for slighly larger-scale solutions as well.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:42 PM on October 23, 2020

Snuggies or Slankets for the times a person must be in the rooms that are least used.

Slippers with wool lining, pair with socks as needed.

Heating pads or heated throw blankets.

Wrist warmers to keep your hands from freezing while you type/color/play.
posted by bilabial at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2020

Plastic over windows definitely helps. Wearing a knit hat also helps.
posted by pinochiette at 5:10 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd follow your original plan of using cardboard and blocking off the windows but I’d seriously reconsider blocking off the fireplace.

I'd be lighting that fire everyday I could, get great big hunks of hardwood timber (if available) the kind that take all day to burn and just keep it running. Not a roaring fire that goes through lot of wood, just a slow burn.

The house will stay warm, the heat will eventually be retained in the bricks if you do this for long enough and you won't have to use as much power for other heating. Plus I would close up most rooms of the house and try to live in just a few and keep those warm. Then everything that others are suggesting, snuggies, socks etc. All good ideas.
posted by Jubey at 5:12 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I added a peel and stick door draft stopper and am impressed with the effect.
posted by jennstra at 5:20 PM on October 23, 2020

Plastic over windows definitely helps.

Huge pain and makes a world of difference; 100% worth the tediousness.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:25 PM on October 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

Another vote here for heavy curtains vs the seemingly useless plastic film on windows. (You can do both of course, apparently it’s effective for others in this thread but not in my experience.) Focus on things you can take with you or resell/offer to the next tenant for a deal, like curtains, rugs, heating pads. Basically, don’t put much money into the thing in ways you can’t take with you.

The fireplace might be more help than you think it will be, if you can build a good slow burning fire for warmth, and if the room is usefully situated. If you can find a good deal on firewood and store it without hassle, it can be one of the more efficient ways of warming a whole room quickly.
posted by Mizu at 5:30 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are three rooms you will need to have warm enough to be bearable: The food prep space, the place where you wash your body and the living area. You'll need your bed to be warm enough but not necessarily the bedroom. Do not try to keep every room warm enough to be comfortable. Plan ahead where you will be during the day and do what you need to to make these rooms warm enough.

Make sure that your space heaters will not overload the electrical system. The kind with two prongs not three are much less likely to blow fuses. If and when you use extension cords keep a close eye on them and unplug extension cord from the outlet before you go to bed. You may want to use them to ensure that the heaters are plugged into different circuits, if the kids' play area and your work area are different rooms but the same electrical circuit. In that case your work area should be the one with the heater on the extension cord not the kids. Get heavy duty ones, not the little thin household ones, but the kind that can be used for heavy equipment.

Before you shower put the heater in the bathroom with the door closed. Likely you will need to use an extension cord and may not be able to close the door because the cord will be in the way. Fix up a system so you can have the door closed except for the crack needed to let the cord go through. An hour should do it - dash in there with everything you need, turn the heater off, put it outside of the room and seal the door again and take your shower.

Proper clothing is essential. Big socks, slippers and felt inner soles will be necessary for your feet, and a hot water bottle in the bed to ensure that your feet are warm enough for you to fall asleep, or else an electric blanket or heating pad for the bed. Modern heating pads shut off to avoid overheating you and do not retain heat after that, so I recommend the hot water bottles as more effective. It is important to make sure your feet do not get chilled at bedtime so don't run around barefoot or in thin slippers for those last fifteen minutes while you get ready for bed.

You will want a big thick house robe, one large enough to wear over your day clothes and jacket. Wear a hoodie with the hood up under the house robe. The robe will be essential for dashing out of bed to the bathroom if you don't like to sleep in full pajamas. Indoor clothes should be roomy and loose so you can layer them. You may want a bed cap of some sort. A hoodie often works, or a knitted cap that is loose enough to be comfortable. You may want to take a small cover to drape over your head when you sleep instead. I call these snuggle blankets and use small cozy throw blankets not much bigger than a baby blanket. Look for finger-less mittens or knitted wristlets. They will make things like reading books or using a kindle more comfortable.

Furniture makes a difference. You want a padded chair with arms, and if available with wings. The wing chair has sides that project as far forward as the shoulders; the wings will block drafts at the level of your head and face. That is the reason they put those wings on them, not as a decorative feature. They were functional furniture in their time. Investing in an expensive upholstered chair may be more than you want, so in that case use comforters to turn the chairs you sit in into upholstered ones - for example you may have a computer chair. Throwing a comforter over it will block the draft from between the seat and the back and below the arms. When it drapes down the front below the sat it will block drafts that would make you legs cold. Small wool blankets or throws make a good lap robe. These can be used on the bed at night time, so you don't need to buy a lot of extra bedding to do this. If the kids have bunk beds they may want to both sleep in the top bunk on brutally cold windy nights. High up beds are much warmer than ones low to the ground.

The temperature at floor level is normally several degrees colder than at knee level or higher. A foot stool can help a great deal with cold feet when it is not possible to curl your feet up on the seat beside you.

If you have a large eat in kitchen it will be much harder to keep it warm enough to hang out in there while you prepare meals and clean up after them. A small kitchen that can be warmed up by the oven or by a space heater will be much easier to deal with. Use comforters as draft blockers in the kitchen if it is large so that the heat stays in the area your are using near the stove or the space heater. You can drape them over a couple of kitchen chairs positioned to make a partition. This is a good time to get into cooking with the oven. If you make bread put the oven on to the lowest setting as used to warm the plates and leave it on so that the top of the oven is warm enough for the bread to raise. Roasts, stews made in the oven in a roasting pan, and baking pies and muffins will be good excuses to have the oven on. Use the time while you are baking things to be in the kitchen doing clean up and prepping for other meals. Making baked potatoes every day is a good habit.

Make sure pets have good safe spaces to be warm in - you want them to not have to block the one bit of aisle space if they want to bask right in front of the heater. Everyone will be distressed if you keep walking on them. Make sure that your perishables are not so cold they will spoil. You may have to find a place to put bags of potatoes and onions and such so that they do not freeze as the back corner of an unheated pantry can result in frozen produce.

To prevent the cold water pipes from freezing you can leave them on a trickle overnight during the bitter cold nights. Get a thermometer or three and put them where you can test to make sure the pipes are not at risk.

You can usually fill a coal fireplace with fabric stuffed into garbage bags, but if the hearth is meant for burning wood it will be larger and you might want to source something like straw to fill the space. A few sheets of cardboard will block gusting drafts but the cold will still come through it, so you will need insulation as well as cardboard. If you have the styrofoam that protects electronics during shipping that is a good thing to fill the fireplace with. Don't use anything you want to keep that could be damaged by condensation. It is a bad idea to stuff the fireplace area with books or your summer clothes, even if they are in plastic.

Many country people bank the house before the winter with things like boughs. This can be a fire hazard if there is anything like out door bonfires or a fireplace in use. Once the snow is down go around and pile it up thickly against the foundations. If you make a packed bank that is three feet or more thick and three or four feet high it will make a big difference. Of course this requires there to be plentiful snow and there to be no thaw. If the house is badly built the boughs will prevent heat escaping from the house from melted the snow and creating a gap so that the cold can get in and more heat can escape. If the house is not allowing masses of heat to escape at that level you don't need the boughs. You can also use the woodpile or hay bales instead of boughs. If you use the woodpile though, you won't be able to get at it easily under all that snow.

Keep in mind that vapor barriers may be necessary when insulating windows and walls. Otherwise condensation may collect and cause mold and damage your curtains and wall hangings.

Other people have mention using the korsi (kotatsu) or getting rugs. A rug beside the bed is very helpful for when your bare feet first come out from under the covers.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:37 PM on October 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

Look for cheap rugs or carpets; they can make a big difference. Check craigslist or your local carpet store for remnants. They can also be used as wall coverings.
posted by shoesietart at 5:46 PM on October 23, 2020

>"Keep in mind that vapor barriers may be necessary when insulating windows and walls. Otherwise condensation may collect and cause mold and damage your curtains and wall hangings."

i second this. when i lived in an apartment that had no central heat and i holed up in one room with the heat on while the rest of the place was 60 degrees, it developed mold near the windows due to the lack of circulation.
posted by hollisimo at 5:48 PM on October 23, 2020

Thick wool socks, comfortable hoodies, long underwear, and that sort of thing are your best bet. You can eliminate the worst of the drafts relatively easily, but it still won't be to the point that any reasonable level of heating expense will make it possible to lounge around in shorts and a tee shirt comfortably.

Even if you can keep the overall air temperature of the house at something reasonable like 68F, you'll still have cold floors, cold walls, and cold corners.
posted by wierdo at 6:00 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

How many heating zones? How much space do you need? With hot air, you should be able to close off unneeded rooms. You need to protect kitchen and bathroom pipes from freezing, so they have to be adequately heated.

Fireplace - they can be pretty inefficient. A wood stove insert is more efficient and cozy, maybe the landlord would make that improvement? since there is inadequate insulation. Def. insulate any crawl space - cardboard, and, after the holidays, christmas trees work, or pine boughs.

Rugs are hugely helpful as insulation, so are curtains. If thrift shops are open, buy quilts/ comforters/ blankets for windows and to cover doors of unused rooms. I used to go to the Goodwill Outlet in Colo Spgs, lots of that stuff. Bubblewrap is a decent insulator for windows; I have bubblewrap under the curtains on the north-facing windows. It's cut to size and tacked to the top of the frame. It allows light in, which is nice. Colorado sun is pretty warm, even in winter, so make sure to open curtains on south-facing windows during the day.

Consider making cozy tents above beds, it really is warmer. Install a ring on the ceiling, drape sheets; for kids, some LED fairy lights would be fun. Electric blankets or mattress pads for all beds; pre-heat beds, then turn the blanket off or to very low. I used to have an electric blanket with a boost setting that went on high for 40 minutes, then down to low. I have a couple down comforters, and on really cold nights use both, and maybe a fleece blanket. I don't currently have an electric blanket, and I use a hot water bottle, which can be one of the rubber ones, or a scout canteen, or water bottle (they proliferate at thrift shops). Just the hottest tap water is fine to keep me warm until the bed is a bit warm.

Cozy slippers and fleece all around. When somebody say I'm cold, the 1st response is to add a fleece or wool sweater. Wool or fleece throws on the couch for movie-watching, maybe an electric blanket to sit on. The kotatsu - heater under the table and a blanket over the table - is quite effective. I don't like being cold, but I keep the house quite chilly, except for the living room, where the wood stove is and it takes an hour for the stove to really warm up. Every year I get acclimated to the cold and tolerate it better than people who keep houses at 72F. The kids presumably spend time at another house, and may not acclimate; just something to keep in mind. If you can at all embrace winter by snowshoeing or other winter activity, it helps so much.
posted by theora55 at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Use pajamas for long winter underwear to save expense. Woolly tights also work.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:15 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Walk around the house with a candle looking for drafts. If the flame flickers wildly or points sideways when you are holding the candle still you have a draft. Check around doors, windows, vents and corners.

Make draft snakes for the bottom of doors that need them. They are just tubes of fabric stuffed with something heavy enough to keep them in place and large enough to cover that crack along the bottom. Sand is a good stuffing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:18 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I suggested baking bread I didn't mean you necessarily had to make it from scratch - buy frozen bread dough to defrost overnight in the refrigerator, raise during the time of day when you want a little more warmth in the kitchen and bake when you need the kitchen warm enough for meal prep.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:21 PM on October 23, 2020

I live in an uninsulated, drafty 1930s house. Mediocre roman shades halved my heating bill, I imagine thick drapes would do even better.

Make sure all the doors have sweeps on them. There's stick-on weather stripping you can use for windows and for the sides and tops of doors. Draft snakes also work well.

Caulking between the baseboard moulding and the wall, and any cracks on the baseboard moulding helped a ton. Caulk around the windows and doors where the moulding meets the wall. If there's a gap between the baseboard moulding and the floor, you can try to tuck some foam in there to fill the gap (as a more permanent solution, remove & replace the quarter round to not have a gap or add quarter round if there isn't any).
posted by miscbuff at 7:00 PM on October 23, 2020

Draft suck, do what you can. Removable window film is worth it; it can be less-than-sightly but it definitely helps. If you don't care about appearances, bubbewrap is a solid insulator.

I moved into an apartment that was surprisingly astoundingly poorly insulated (lots of windows with original 1980's glass). Heating is by electric baseboards - the cost of winter heating was 4x+ the average cost per month in any other apartment I had lived in with electric baseboards has costed me.

Just picked up a $70 CDN oscillating radiant heater (the round parabolic kind) the other day - and OMG. The build quality is crap, but is the pricepoint of cheap "ok-ish" space heaters.

Not only is it effectively silent, the radiant heating is amazing. I have it lasing down my computer desk/ chair, beanbag footstool (with a cheap lambskin from Ikea over it) island and it is sooo comfy; things pick up the radiant heat and themselves radiate it back out. Radiant is why it can suck in the summer when outside air cools down overnight but inside stays hot when the walls radiate the heat they gained during the day.

For this kind of application (localized heating), it beats the stuffing out of forced air from a ceramic heater (it warms the air, but doesn't transfer a lot of heat into objects very effectively).

The room air temp in the other room is set to 17'C, but sitting at my desk is super cozy and a subjective 24/ 25'C. It's a 400W/ 800W (I have it on 400). The rest of the room eventually warms up to 20 (thermostat on the wall) and I shut down the heater for a while.

The (broken) forced air spaceheater it replaced was rated at 1500W and I'm thinking I need to run the radiant less than the spaceheater.

On the 800W setting, oscillating, it warms up my bathroom in the mornings from 16'C to a subjective low-mid 20's in about 15 minutes. Also, having a thicker carpet/ mat over ceramic tiles to stand while drying off/ brushing teeth helps a lot.
posted by porpoise at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

One of the benefits of curtains is that if you live in a place with passive solar gain, keeping curtains open during the day and closed at night can keep the heat in. Insulated curtains aren't too tough to purchase or make. I agree with your general plan and I've found that plasticing windows esp if you are also using rope caulk or similar can really matter. Same with heavy curtains over doors, can be hung on those curtain rods that fold out of the way. Carpets on floors assuming floor itself is cold. Carpets on carpets. Get a small space heater for the bathroom so you can warm it up for showering etc without having to (inefficiently) heat up the whole house. Try to close up any room you're not using (cover up doors etc) and they can stay cold and more heat can be funneled in to the parts of the house you are using. Have heated mattress pads so you can keep heat lower at night but not get into freeze-o beds at night. Nice hats for everyone.
posted by jessamyn at 7:21 PM on October 23, 2020

1. You can call up your energy provider and ask what the bills were for this house or apartment over the last few winters. This should give you some idea how much money you can save by insulating.
2. There are numerous state and federal programs to help owners and renters pay for insulation / energy efficient upgrades. These programs are offered through your energy provider, so start by asking them. Ask for an energy audit, or whatever they are calling it now.
3. If there is no attic insulation, no crawl space insulation, and drafty window and doors, your landlord was inaccurate when he said the place was reasonably well insulated.
4. The temperature can vary by 60 degrees in 24 hours on the front range. You want some way to take advantage of the warm times. Open your curtains and let the sun in when it is warm. Close them at night or in cold times.
5. Ask the landlord to defray the costs of these repairs. Stopping drafts around the windows and doors will take a great deal of time and effort for you, bot only about 3 hours in a whole house for a proficient handyman. Insulation above and below is cheap, but has to be done properly to avoid moisture problems.
6. I don’t agree with closing off most of the rooms and only heating some. If you were only paying for the heated rooms, that would be ok but you are paying to use all the rooms.
7. Make sure, if you use space heaters, that the electric can support them and you have proper smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. The oil filled radiator type are the most safe.
8. All those various gaps for getting in the crawl space should be blocked immediately by your landlord with metal screens. You need someone other than yourself to do this, as the worker first has to crawl under the house to make sure there are no skunks, raccoons, squirrels, cats, rats or other animals living there. You don’t want to know how I Know this. Some of the animals carry hantavirus and plague. If they get trapped in the crawl space they may find or make a hole in to your living space. You can still vent the crawl space and keep rodents out. (Because of radon in the front range, you need to vent the crawl space or test for radon, or both.)
9. The front range of Colorado is different from other areas of the county because of the vast changes in temperature in 24 hours. Special techniques are used for insulation and moisture management,so you should consult someone local, starting with your local energy company.
10. You will have much better luck with radiant heat than forced, so consider that for your space heaters and future rentals or property purchases.
11. There are many days you will be unable to use the fireplace because of air quality restrictions. You have to be very careful never to burn on a no burn day, as your neighbors—even those 10 miles away—will drive to your house and give you hell until you put the fire out and all the smoke has cleared. This can take a while and involve a great deal of unpleasantness from your neighbors.
12. It is very cheap to convert your fireplace to a gas fireplace using an insert. The main expense is running the gas line and lining the chimney. If you get one with a tiny quiet fan, you can cozy up that room and all the connected rooms far more efficiently and cheaply than using your forced air furnace. I did this and was shocked how much more powerful and pleasant the gas fireplace was compared to the forced air furnace installed immediately before I bought the place. You can get free estimates and suggest this to your landlord.
13. There are numerous books about this in the Denver Public Library, and likely in Ft Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and other front range towns.
14. To summarize: other people want your house to be warm and cozy without you paying an arm and a leg. Start with the energy company, then the landlord, then the self-help insulation methods suggested above, but be careful to get help to avoid problems with moisture, rodents and radon. And feral cats that want to keep warm and use your crawl space for a litter box. Again, you don’t want to know how I know this.
15. I wish you a warm and cozy winter!
posted by KayQuestions at 8:07 PM on October 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thank you all - so many good answers I didn't know which to mark.

KayQuestion has it spot on that I don't think the wood fireplace will be much help becasue of the air quality restrictions.

Luckily, the gaps in the crawl space are poor design, but shouldn't allow much animal entry (though I'll have to cheeck tomorrow).

I definitely feel mislead by the homeowner.

I'll hit the thrift and hardware stores tomorrow!
posted by lab.beetle at 9:06 PM on October 23, 2020

On bedrooms:

We heated my childhood home using a wood stove in the den. It was surprisingly powerful - but its power diminished the further you got from it. My bedroom was the furthest room in the house from the wood stove, and as such my bedroom was the coldest room in the house.

What made up for that was an electric space heater which I'd put on for a couple hours before bed, and then a big pile of blankets and comforters and such on the bed itself. On really cold nights I'd add a hot water bottle, tucked into the foot of the bed about a half hour before bedtime. Sometimes I'd also fold down the bedsheets when the space heater was on so it could warm up the sheets. Getting undressed in the room wasn't that much fun, but I would do it in a hurry and jump into bed and cover up snug in the blankets and that would make up for it. Sometimes I even got hot enough in the middle of the night that I would take off my pajama top.

I have drafty windows in my bedroom as well, and each year I spring for a couple rolls of this cheap foam-rubber stick-on insulation stuff - it comes in different widths, and you just unroll it and cut it to the length you need and stick it over drafts. A couple of rolls are enough to run around both windows and cut back the draft considerably.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Adding attic insulation would make a big difference since hot air rises. Maybe your landlord would split the cost to have it installed?
posted by summerstorm at 9:10 PM on October 23, 2020

Absolutely invest in a REAL feather and down comforter. They will last 30 years and are worth every penny (I think I got mine from Ikea for around $100usd). It will keep you warm without making you too hot and sweaty (unlike synthetics) and anything electric with it is gonna be overkill. I have a second, thin-ish cotton blanket for the really cold nights. (BONUS: sleep on top of it in the summer and it will make you cooler. Feathers are like magic.)
Caveat/comparison: I live in NYC area, not, like, Canada or Maine, have pretty decent double-pane windows, but never use the (expensive electric baseboard) heater, like at all. ever. (OK, I will run the stove for like 20mins a day on the coldest days of jan/feb, but that's about it...my gas/electric bill is never over $30/mo.)
Also, plain old 100% cotton long underwear all the time. AVOID SYNTHETICS LIKE THE PLAGUE, in both clothing and bedding. It will make you TOO hot, then sweaty, then freezing cold as a result. Wool socks are a good investment as well, but it doesn't really get cold enough for that here and regular socks are fine for me.
Hoodies. Heat rises, and a really large percentage of body heat is lost through the head. It really makes a difference.
Yes on the window plastic, it really does help, but don't go crazy with curtains or it defeats the purpose of windows. Glass is not for seeing out, it is for trapping heat. Proof: greenhouses.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:51 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have successfully used a chimney balloon to block drafts. Cheap, easy and non-permanent, no chimney cleaning required! Something like this: https://www.rockfordchimneysupply.com/chimney-balloon.php
posted by mollymillions at 10:25 PM on October 23, 2020

Just one Winter? More than one person living there? If only one person, I'd get one of those battery powered vests, a second battery for it to give me 12 hrs, a kettle, a couple of hot water bottles, and a -20° sleeping bag.
posted by at at 10:29 PM on October 23, 2020

Heated pet beds make incredibly comfortable butt and foot warmers. Pressure sensitive versions are especially effective at giving a little extra oomph of comfort without wasting electricity.
Shower slippers are nice in cold houses. Just that extra insulation from the cold floor at a very vulnerable moment.
Try putting an extra hot water kettle, mugs, and tea or broth supplies in your workspace or some other havily used room away from the kitchen. Mugs are better than bowls here because part of the goal is to warm up your hands and avoid interrupting your workflow.
Hands, feet, head, and butt. If any of those feel cold it's distracting and that's where you'll want to focus any additional heat sources.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 10:41 PM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Scarves and hats indoors.

If the room/s you're thinking of focusing the heating on are not small, then I'd get a paneled room divider of some kind that you can use to make a perimeter around yourself and use the space heater inside that perimeter. I kind of unintentionally found myself with that setup last winter and it was pretty toasty. I'd be afraid to do that with the kids, though, for fear that they'd accidentally topple the dividers, which could be a fire hazard with a space heater.
posted by trig at 2:37 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don’t ever go to bed with cold feet. Even wool socks and an electric blanket won’t be able to warm them up enough to fall asleep. Just plan on filling a bucket with very hot water and soaking them for five or ten minutes, rub dry, loose wool socks and jump in bed. If your whole body is chilled, a hot shower. Even when the bathroom is unheated, even in the middle of the night. A very hot shower will knock you right out.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:42 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Most of these answers already cover the important things, but I’d like to point something else out:

You should never insulate the floor above a crawlspace. Instead, you should seal and insulate the entire crawlspace. The crawlspace should be considered part of the “heat envelope” of your house, and they should have conditioned air, vapor barriers on the floor, etc etc. An unsealed crawlspace will become rotten and filled with pests, and floor insulation will become moldy. This is a common and well known problem, feel free to google it. So don’t insulate the floor, do the whole area!

Otherwise, I’d suggest: put an electric blanket on your bed, UNDER your fitted sheets. Like, mattress -> electric blanket -> fitted sheet. It is incredibly cozy and got me through some very shit winters. Only problem is, you will never want to leave the bed.
posted by weed donkey at 8:37 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

+1 on hot water bottles, and you can make and place in beds a while before going to sleep so you get into a nice warm bed. They are what some warmer countries use during their winters (no central or other heating systems). Get a big electric kettle so you can make 2 at once and also many hot drinks without bothering with a stove etc. You can get both of these at most stores that have a pharmacy.
posted by meepmeow at 11:14 AM on October 24, 2020

Plastic or even bubble wrap over the windows and something to block air from coming under the doors. A rolled up towel works fine. If you have plastic sheets of any sort around that will work fine, you don't need the special window plastic, it's just for looks. If there's any windows you really don't care about you could put a blanket over them. If there's an area of the house you don't use, blocking it off with a hanging blanket can help -- I have one on a spring curtain bar in a hallway.

Financial investment here can be very minimal, so I don't buy the idea that it's not worth doing.

If you can get some sort of heated carpet for underneath you when you are working, you'll be able to turn down the thermostat 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit and still be comfortable. They can be expensive but if you would use it in the future it could be a good investment.
posted by yohko at 12:57 PM on October 24, 2020

bed warmth is solvable with an electric mattress pad.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:45 PM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you have plastic sheets of any sort around that will work fine, you don't need the special window plastic, it's just for looks.

Seconding that; I lived in a particularly drafty cabin with a wood stove for 3 years and using double layers of cheap plastic over the worst windows helped dramatically. I just got something like 4 mil plastic sheeting and skipped the more expensive kits with the whole hairdryer thing, except for any window you'd like to keep relatively see-through, then maybe use the more expensive kits for those.

The oil filled radiator type are the most safe.

And are the most effective, in my experience. An oil-filled radiator is great- no exposed heating elements and once the oil gets hot the whole thing radiates a nice heat for a while, even set on low. Can't vouch for these specific brands but here are a couple that seem well-reviewed.
posted by mediareport at 4:53 PM on November 2, 2020

Since writing my previous answer, I've gotten some mylar holographic gift wrap at the dollar store, if you have any views you don't care for or want to add some sparkle when you cover up your fireplace, glittering wonder can be yours!

You can tape the plastic to either the window frames or the wall depending on your window setup, how much your tape might damage the wall finish, and how much you care about that.

If you want to spend less time/less money on buying tape for putting plastic on the windows, in the past I've often taped just the top and planned to get to the rest "later" -- still works to a very noticeable degree.
posted by yohko at 1:10 PM on November 3, 2020

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