Have you turned your heat on yet? After I divulged that Mr. Frugalwoods and I haven’t–and likely won’t until November–I received a number of comments and emails from readers asking that I share our methods for thermostat abstention.
We adore the shoulder months of fall and spring when we live totally sans climate control. Heating and air conditioning are money drains and we save a bundle by flat out not turning ours on. Summers are rather mild here in Cambridge, MA and we were able to squeak by with AC only in July and some of August.
Our winters, on the other hand, can be epically harsh. Going without heat all winter is an absolute impossibility–in addition to being extraordinarily uncomfortable, our pipes would freeze and burst, which is about the least frugal thing in the world. Despite this fact, we spend a fraction of what most folks do in order to avoid the shivers every winter. Here’s how!
11 Frugal Hacks to Stay Warm and Save Money This Winter
1) Don’t turn it on.
Wait as long as humanly possible to turn your heat on. In the early fall when the temperatures are waxing and waning, don’t get all hyper (as I am wont to do) the first time it dips below 60. It’s probably going to cycle up again before deepest winter sets in. Stay strong, my frugal friends!
2) Capitalize on solar heat.
What direction does your house face? We have a south-facing sliding glass door and we open those curtains during the day to let the sunshine soak in. Sometimes Frugal Hound and I pretend we’re cats and lay on the floor in the sunlight. Natural heat: feels amazing and is free!
3) Buy a hound warmer.
The first winter we had Frugal Hound, we quickly realized we needed a way to keep her warm. Being a greyhound, she doesn’t have much fat or fur and so she’s naturally a bit of a chilly dog. She has blankets on her beds and we tuck her in at night, but, she thrashes around chasing squirrels in her dreams and uncovers herself.
We conducted research into hound-warming mechanisms and lo and behold, found the K&H Pet Bed Warmer (affiliate link). This thing is fabulous. It’s basically a rectangular, waterproof, chew-proof heating pad that slips inside of her doggie bed. It plugs into the wall and is weight-sensitive, so, it heats up when she’s laying on it and doesn’t when she’s not.
The hound warmer uses very little electricity and keeps the hound snug. I’ll caution that I think an animal could chew through the cord and/or pad if they’re an aggressive chewer, so use this at your discretion. Frugal Hound isn’t a biter and she’s never shown any interest in electrical cords, so we’re in the clear.
4) Buy a human warmer.
Every year we debate the merits of purchasing an electric blanket, but, we have yet to take the plunge. What we do have is an extremely inexpensive little bag of rice that we heat up in the microwave. It’s perfect as an individual warmth device and we’ll drap it over our necks, laps, or feet for a bit of added heat.
5) Sweaters and blankets and slippers, oh my!
Wear all of your sweaters at the same time! Ok maybe not quite, but, Mr. FW and I do dress accordingly for the season. People, if you are running around the house in a t-shirt in November, newsflash: you’ll be freezing. I typically wear long underwear as my base layer with fleece PJ pants (pirate-print to match my pirate trash mug) and a hoodie sweatshirt. Sometimes I’ll layer a big sweater on top. Frugal Hound has a snuggly fleece coat that she wears indoors during the deepest chills. Changing behavior and clothes with the seasons is imperative. Plus, you get to pretend you’re in Little House on the Prairie (those people did not have heat).
6) Snuggle up.
In case you needed an excuse to squeeze your loved ones, here you go: body heat! Mr. FW and I love to curl up together on the couch to write or in bed to read. It’s frugal, it’s fun, and it’s good for your relationship. Bonus: drape your Frugal Hound across your lap for added warmth! Or, go curl up on the hound warmer (don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind… that thing is toasty!).
7) Fire up the oven.
In the same vein as dressing for the season, cook seasonally too! Resident chef Mr. Frugalwoods rarely turns the oven on in the summer, but in the winter, oh man does that oven get a workout! Last night he baked homemade artisan boule bread and split pea soup, both of which warmed the house up. Oven heat is no joke. Mr. FW’s culinary exploits yesterday raised our temp from 61 to 67 degrees!
8) Live in a small house or zone heat.
If you live in a small space, it’ll be cheaper to heat. We actually don’t live in a very small house (as it’s destined to be a rental property), so we instead employ zone heating. Since we rarely use our upstairs, we heat it to the bare minimum to prevent freezing pipes. Ditto for our basement. The main floor, our primarily dwelling space, is where we concentrate our heating.
9) Windows: you have options.
Mr. FW and I are extremely fortunate that our current home has new, insulated windows (thank you previous owners!). But, in the past, our apartments have been drafty and ill-insulated. To combat air infiltration around windows, Mr. FW used Mortite weatherstrip and caulking cord along with window shrink film fitted over every window (affiliate links). This dramatically reduced drafts and is a sound option if you’re renting or not planning on buying new windows for your home. We currently have Mortite on the windows in our basement as they’re less insulated than the others.
10) Insulate, insulate, insulate.
Insulating your home is the best way to temper your climate control expenses. At the very least, adding attic insulation is often a cheap and easy DIY project that’ll pay dividends after the first few years. The cost/benefit relationship of insulating beyond just your attic is a complex and expensive undertaking that’s worthy of exploration.
11) Acclimate and get over it.
At the end of the day, if you want to achieve frugal weirdo status with low heating bills, you’ll have to acclimate yourself to an icier ambient temperature. There’s no way around it.
Once Mr. Frugalwoods and I finally cave and turn the heat on, we keep it set at 62 degrees during the day and 58 at night. Yes, this is a lot lower than your average American, but, we’ve never claimed to be normal :).
I’m a naturally cold person and I’ll be honest, I’ve had to adjust to this over the years. My first winter in Boston was not a pleasant one–I was incessantly freezing in our dank basement apartment. But, I’m now totally accustomed to our climate and our indoor temperature.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I are not the only frugal folks who keep our home this frosty–check out this entire thread (started by my friend The Goblin Chief) of hardcore thermostat enthusiasts on the Mr. Money Mustache forum.