Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Cheap Ways to Stay Warm When It's WICKED Cold

When I heard about the Polar Vortex, my first thought was to post some comments about staying warm, but I was pretty sure that I'd covered the topic on my blog in the past.  There have been numerous occasions when Deus Ex Machina and I have had to stay warm in our house when there was no electricity, and over the years, we've developed the infrastructure that allows us to not worry when the electricity goes out - regardless of the time of year.  As I've said here before, also, the only real concern when we lose electricity is the stuff in our freezer. 

On Facebook, I belong to a group where we chat a lot about ways to live more frugally.  Today, one of the other members posted a query asking folks to comment on "cheap" ways to stay warm when the heat is out.  The poster didn't clarify whether or not there was electricity, but just that there was no heat. 

Comments ranged from the silly (sex!) to inane ("set your partner on fire") with a few decent ideas tucked in the middle.

There were the usual recommendations to layer one's clothes, wear heavy socks (or several pairs), don a hat and a scarf, cover doors and windows with heavy blankets, use sleeping bags, snuggle with pets and/or loved ones, and drink hot fluids.  Several people talked about using fireplaces, but unless one already has the fireplace, this is not a "cheap" option when other heat sources aren't available.

There were several recommendations for flower pot heaters.  Unfortunately, while it would be so amazing if it really worked like some YouTubers claim it will work, those heaters will only work in a very small and very well insulated space.  If one is expecting to heat more than a large closet with four tea lights, one will be very disappointed, and cold.  Although, moving into an interior walk-in closet and closing the doors is not a bad idea, come to think of it. 

I was more surprised by the ideas that weren't offered, though.  I guess frugal folks aren't, necessarily, prepper minded. 

The "cheap" heating solution that I recommended was a Kotatsu.

Kotatsu originated in Japan, but the technique is not specific to southeast Asia.  There are a lot of cultures that have something similar.  This was just one of the only that still seemed to be in widespread use, and so I could learn more about it than the other similar heaters from other cultures.

From what I've read, homes in Japan are not well insulated (although my sources may be lying to me) nor are they heated - at least not like our homes in the United States are heated, with a central heating system that keeps the entire house at (roughly) the same ambient temperature.  According to articles, like this one, space heating is the most common way to keep out the winter chill in Japan, and the most energy efficient heating option is the Kotatsu.

Basically, a Kotatsu is a coffee table covered with a very thick blanket.  A heater (these days it's usually electric, but in the past it was a brazier) is under the table, and one sits at the coffee table with one's lower half under the blanket.  It sounds very cozy, and if I didn't have a woodstove, and I were facing a few days without heat, I would be trying to figure out how to make a Kotatsu for my house using some of my iron cookware and some hot bricks.

Another cheap way to stay warm that I was surprised hadn't been mentioned was using a tent.  

While going out and buying a tent just to stay warm when the heat goes out isn't cheap or frugal, if one already has a tent, setting it up in the house and sleeping in it or watching Netflix curled up in sleeping bag is not a bad way to spend an evening. 

Suppose one doesn't own a tent?  The same thing can still be accomplished by stringing a rope across the room and draping a blanket over the rope.

In many cultures with cold winters, having a drapes around one's bed was common.  Since we live in a time in which our homes are centrally cooled and heated, we rarely see canopy beds with drapes, except in magazines where the effect is supposed to evoke some feelings of fancy that will encourage us to purchase a vacation or some bed linens.  As a cheap way to stay warmer in a cold house, we could harken back to those days and put curtains around our beds.

There's actually a company that makes bed tents, which are being marketed to people who have anxiety. 

While a lot of folks talked about moving into one room, the usual commentary centered around moving into the room with the wood stove or fireplace.  For those who don't have a wood-burning heat source, moving into a small room is still not a bad idea.  If there is still electricity (assuming the loss of heat is not due to a power outage), moving into a room with heat-producing appliances could be comfortable with just the heat from those.  It's actually pretty amazing how much heat appliances like a refrigerator or a freezer give off. 

Even televisions and computers give off heat, and several years ago, there was a television show in which participates roasted a chicken using a 100w incandescent bulb. 

Finally, given the usual answers from folks in the group, I was surprised that no one suggested baking as an option.  Taking the recommendation to move into one room, and adding baking, one could move into the kitchen, drape any windows and doors with heavy blankets, bake some pumpkin bread, a few potatoes, maybe a roasted chicken, and end the day with a satisfying hot meal and a warm room.

No one asked the original poster if she had a basement, but with no heat in the rest of the house, moving underground, if possible, would be the best solution.  Many years ago, we had a neighborhood-wide power outage that lasted several days.  Our neighbor moved into her basement for the duration of the outage.  It wasn't toasty, but she was warm enough not to freeze to death.  The temperature underground stays at around 55°.  If she had employed some of the suggestions above, she might have been even warmer.

It can be very scary to lose one's heat source - especially if one is currently living in one of the areas in the path of the Polar Vortex.  None of the suggestions above are long-term suggestions for people who live in areas with bitterly cold winters, but any one of those ideas would work in the short-term, or for people who live where the winters rarely get below freezing and where snow is still a surprise. 

What are some cheap solutions you have for staying warm in a house with no heat?


  1. We have no woodstove and our heating system is gas but needs electricity. The only thing I can think of, since we cook on gas, is to put some big pans (with soup or so) on the stove and lit all the four burners of the gasstove. However that would also create a lot of moist ;-)

    1. Definitely YES to the soup, but also don't forget about heat transfer. If you have things that hold heat for a long time (like cast iron, stoneware, leftover tiles) that you could warm up on one of those burners, you can keep the heat for longer while conserving the gas. Be careful using tiles and rocks and stuff like that, though, because you don't want to overheat them and cause them to break.

      I'm thinking, though, that you could warm up your stoneware, then wrap it in a blanket and put it on the chair and then sit on it. That would make some nice, toasty buns ;).

  2. Great ideas! I love Japan, very inventive. I've been thru several ice storms and lost power for several days (with a baby) used our fireplace and bundled up. Great post and hope the storm is over soon..

  3. Great post. I live in an 1-bedroom apartment with all electric heat. Ground floor on a cement slab.
    The first winter, I moved my living room into what should be the bedroom. And the bedroom into the original 'living room'.

    "My" living room is a much smaller area to heat and because of the floor plan can be closed off to the rest of the apartment. I really only heat this smaller room. I also invested in thermal draperies which were well worth the money.
    SJ in Vancouver BC Canada