Last winter was the start of my final semester in college, and for this California boy, it was cold. The D.C. metro area got more snow last winter than ever in recorded in history, and with an unexpected week off school and nowhere to go, my four housemates and I had to find a way to make our drafty house snowpocalypse-proof. The problem? After a through-the-roof fall bill, we had agreed to use the expensive central heating sparingly. After much trial, tribulation, and shivering, we found some solutions and survived the season. Here are a few D.I.Y. ways to save on your heating costs this winter, as tested under extreme conditions on live college students. Note: all of these tips work just as well in case of nuclear winter or arctic zombie siege.
1. Cover the windows
Feel your windows, if they're cold, that means they're making your whole house cold. The smart, long-term thinking, cost-effective solution is to insulate your doors and windows for extreme weather conditions. Proper insulation cuts your electric bill and makes your house more energy-efficient, which is all great, but not much use when you're under three feet of snow. The bricoleur last-minute freezing-your-ass-off solution is to nail heavy blankets over the windows. One important tip: make sure the windows are shut all the way before you cover them.
2. Hot water bottles
They're not just for sick cartoon characters any more! Water has a high heat capacity, which means it takes a lot to change its temperature. A bottle of warm water will hold its heat for a while even in a cold house, acting as a very cheap mini-furnace. The rubber bottles made for this purpose may be better insulated and more comfortable to hug, but any bottle will do in a pinch. A quick and dirty D.I.Y. cover made out of an old sweater improves warmth storage and snuggliness.
3. Hot beverages
This one is hardly a secret, but cup after cup of tea, cocoa, and/or coffee are an integral part of any winter survival plan. It seems important to mention here that, despite what you may have heard, liquor doesn't actually make you warmer. From my pre-storm grocery run, the wider population doesn't seem to have received that particular piece of scientific information. However, for those so inclined, the right drink can make you feel warmer. A cup of just about any kind of non-fruity tea with a shot of whiskey combines the best of both worlds.
Living-room forts should be familiar to anyone who has ever been or met a child, but here's how they work: gather as many pillows and blankets as you can from around the house and pile them into an inhabitable structure. They're not only a fun way to make a mess of the house, forts can keep you warm for free. As long as you're willing to confine yourself to one room that you leave for food and cocoa, a fort is a great way to make a final stand against the cold since it concentrates all the available insulation in a smaller space. Fort building is also a fun group activity to combat seasonal affective disorder. Look for inspiration at the tumblr Fuck Yeah! Forts.
Anyone who puts on one sweater and then wants to turn on the heat just isn't trying hard enough. If one doesn't work, try two, three, seven sweaters or pairs of socks. This is basically the same operating principle as step four: concentrate available warming materials. If you're cold under a blanket or two, add more. If you've nailed all your extra blankets to the walls in accordance with tip one or constructed them into a fort as in tip four, put a few clean towels in between layers. Sure, you may not be able to put your arms at your sides wearing all your flannel and sweaters at the same time, but you won't be cold.
The most efficient, least costly, and most fun way to stay warm in the face of winter's chill is to hang out with friends and family. Besides distracting you from the cold, people produce their own heat. Crowd everyone into a small room or a fort in accordance with step four and feel the literal and figurative warmth. A concentrated crowd can turn an icebox into a party sauna, and everyone can bring their own sweaters and blankets, increasing the collection of warmth beyond your physical into your social network. Without my housemates and the extra handful of guests who always seemed to be around, I'm not sure I would have survived last winter. All the hot water bottles in the world don't hold a candle to sharing the cold with others.
This article was originally published in 2010 and was updated in 2019.
Header image via Wikimedia