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Staying Warm, On the Cheap

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Ah, fall.

The magnificent display of changing colors as the trees stage their annual pageant, the indescribable pleasure of leaves crunching beneath your feet, the delightful crispness in the air after endless weeks of heat and humidity; it is hard not to enjoy the magic of autumn.

Bummer that fall has to turns into winter.

Not that the winter doesn’t have many redeeming qualities, but with the advent of winter comes (at least in my little corner of the world) snow, ice, bone chilling cold and by extension, high heating bills.

I can’t halt the precipitation and I have no way of keeping the temperature above freezing, but if there is one thing I can do, it is help you put your heating bills on a diet.

Let me begin by saying that while I am all for saving money, I am not advocating that you keep your thermostat at sixty degrees, nor am I suggesting that you dress your family in hats and gloves inside the house in order to save money. And while there is no doubt that new windows or a new heating system will pay for themselves over time, they are both major expenditures that many of us are just not prepared to make at this point in time. But there are definitely inexpensive ways to trim heating bills as the thermostat starts to dip lower and lower.

Start with your windows. It goes without saying that you should keep them closed. If you have storm windows, keep them shut as well. Check for drafts and use caulking and/or weather stripping or even old towels or t-shirts as needed to keep cold air at bay. Consider hanging heavier weight curtains during the winter, leaving them open during the day to allow the sun to heat your home for free, and closing them at night to provide an extra layer of insulation against the frigid air. For the seriously frugal, consider spending a few dollars on an inexpensive sealing kit that, with the help of plastic film, double sided tape and a blow dryer, virtually shrink wraps your windows and creates an extra layer of insulation.

The same advice goes for doors. Install a door sweep at the bottom to block any cold air that might be seeping in through the cracks and install weather stripping as needed. Contemplate getting (or even making) one of those long fabric snakes to block any drafts that may be coming in at the bottom of your door. Don’t have one? Take a towel, roll it up and place it right in front of the door. It will work just as well.

Invest in a programmable thermostat. Yes, you do have to buy one and if you aren’t handy you will have to pay someone to install it, but it is one of those gadgets that pays for itself. Keep your house running several degrees colder during the day when no one is home and at night when everyone is tucked into bed, while ensuring that it is toasty warm when you wake up and when everyone comes home at the end of the day.

Remember your good friend from the summer, Mr. Ceiling Fan? While running in normal mode (counter-clockwise), it moves air around the room, providing a cooling effect. Switch it to reverse and it will take all the warm air that is gathering at the top of your room (remember eighth grade science class when you learned that heat rises?) and push the delightfully warm air back down to the lower part of the room, where the humans are.

Do yourself a favor and invest in down blankets for every member of the family. A natural insulator, they are comfortable in the summer, yet seriously warm in the winter. If you have never tried flannel sheets, the added delicious warmth they provide makes them worth considering. Cover bare floors with rugs and your toes will thank you when you hop out of bed in the morning as well. And once we are talking insulation, check with a contractor and see how much it costs to insulate your attic, which will also be money well spent.

While this might seem obvious, move furniture away from your heating sources, be they vents, registers or radiators. Do you want the back of the couch to be warm and toasty or your kids? For those of you with forced hot air heating, change the furnace filter on a monthly basis, which will both save on energy costs as well as minimize dust in your home. Decide if you want to go with replacement filters, which are extremely inexpensive, or washable filters which, while more costly, can last for several years with proper care. If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, keep the flue closed when the fireplace isn’t in use to prevent heat loss through the chimney.

Touch your electrical outlets and light switches and see if you can feel any cold air coming in. If so, head to your nearest home improvement store where you will find inexpensive covers that fit behind the cover plate in order to block the cold. If your air conditioner spends the year living in your window, make sure to cover the vents to keep the cold air outside, where it belongs.

While I am not a big fan of candles since I am always worried that something will catch fire, feel free to head to the kitchen and pull out your favorite cookbooks. Remember how hot your kitchen got in the summer when you were using your oven? Play that to your advantage and delight your family with freshly baked bread, cake, cookies, kugels or anything else that strikes your fancy. Or pull out a big pot or two and start making soups and stews. Not only will they warm everyone from the inside out, but the added heat from cooking will be a welcome fringe benefit.

When all else fails? Take those freshly baked cookies, cook up some hot cider and invite a group of friends over to enjoy the goodies. The extra body heat from all your invited guests will raise the ambient temperature in the room, keeping everyone warm and toasty!

Other ideas, some new fangled and some old fashioned? Consider an electric blanket. A Snuggie. Hot water bottles. For a totally bizarre yet novel idea, bake two small potatoes and keep them in your pockets to use as hand warmers. (Refrigerate them when you are done and find a way to use them the next day in your meals. After all, we wouldn’t want to waste perfectly good potatoes, now would we?) Keep a stash of fleece blankets handy to use as throws. Fill a sock with rice, microwave it until warm and tuck it under your blanket to warm your bed. Buy some long undies, layer up and drink lots of hot beverages.

Still feeling a chill in the air? All these years later, my mother’s words of wisdom still echo in my ears.

“Go put on a sweater!”

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full scale productions. She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.

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