More Heat, Less Money

by Gary Foreman

It sure is cold out there! From the great Northwest all the way to normally sunny Florida we're setting records for cold and snow this winter. It's enough to make a furnace plead for mercy!

How about some ideas to help fight those winter heating costs? Here's a couple of simple, low cost methods to stretch your heating dollar.

There's more than one way to attack the cold. The actual temperature of the room is only part of the story. Humidity, drafts and layering play an important part in how warm we feel.

Humidity is important because of how our skin reacts to the air around us. If the air is dry, our skin will lose moisture to the air around us. This moisture on our skin causes us to feel colder. It works just like sweating does in the summer, except with much less moisture coming from our skin.

Heating our homes not only raises the temperature, it removes water from the air. That's exactly what we don't want. How do we solve it? The best way is to purchase a humidifier. Thirty dollars and up at your catalog showroom. If that's too expensive, just leave a bowl of water to evaporate in rooms where you spend the most time.

Drafts are another problem. Windows and doors are the biggest offenders, with older homes the most vulnerable. Next spring you'll want to check that all your windows and doors are properly caulked. Since it's the dead of winter, let's see what we can do from the inside.

Why are windows a problem? Cold air falls off the inside of a window, just like rain falls off the outside. The cold air falls to the floor and sweeps into the room. Begin by closing your drapes. Naturally, the heavier they are the better. If you can, move your favorite chair away from any windows. Even a few feet will help.

If you have severe drafts you can insulate the inside of the window. The simplest, but least stylish, method is to take plastic sheeting and tape it over the window opening. Run the tape all along the outer edge to seal the cold air out of the room. Some people even fill the opening with styrofoam popcorn to act as insulation.

If that's too tacky for your tastes (it is for mine), you can make `designer window inserts'. Go to your local home center and look for insulation. You'll find 4 x 8 foot sheets of styrofoam insulation in various thicknesses. The stuff with the foil coating is best. Cut it to a size just larger than your window. An eighth or quarter of an inch too big will do. Now, cover the non-foil side with a cloth that goes well with your decor. You can staple it around the edge on the foil side of the foam. Push the foam into the window opening with the foil side out and the cloth side facing in. If you've measured carefully the draft will be gone! When you take the insulators out in the spring remember to put them in a plastic bag before storing them for next winter.

Now a few words about layering. My scientific friends tell me that warm air rises and cold air falls. So when we heat our homes the warmest air is near the ceiling and the coldest air is near our feet and our kids! If we could move that warm air down to where we actually live we wouldn't need to keep the thermostat so high. If your room is equipped with a ceiling fan it will do the job nicely. If you have one with a reversing switch, that's best, but any fan will do.

No ceiling fan? There's still an answer. Use the fan from your central heating system. Leave the fan in the `on' position. Check the owner's manual for your heating system. Some are not made for continuous operation. However, you may be fortunate enough to have a `slow' speed available for the fan. If you do, use it.

Now for some personal warmth. No, I'm not talking about cuddling with your honey (but that's not a bad idea!). Let's look at a variation on an idea that our grandparents were familiar with - the hot water bottle. Some smart people have taken the best parts of a good old idea and updated them to `90's technology. It's a microwave heat pad. You'll see them in the stores for $10 to $15 each, but you can make them at home for almost nothing.

Just take some leftover fabric and sew it into a 5" by 10" pillow with one side open. Fill it with white rice and close the last side. Heat it in the microwave until it's just warm to the touch. Place it in your bed or favorite chair. Ooohh, doesn't that feel good? If you like that `homey' touch you can even add some herbal spices for a nice aroma, too!

Not too bad. Whether you're comfortable shopping in the sewing center or the home center there's something you can do to keep your home warm without burning money to do it. Besides, I'm told that the flame from burning money doesn't really generate much heat anyway!

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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