As the dead of winter or “midwinter” sets in, many of us have to adjust to colder and colder temperatures.
This comes with many concerns – heating our homes, paying our utility bills, or even just going out and about to run errands. Winter can be really hard when we’re constantly freezing our buns off.
But many people don’t know that there are simple ways to improve your temperature situation that cost this much: $0. And some low budget options as well.
Read ahead for 25 inexpensive or free ways to reduce home heating bills and stay warm inside and out this winter!
Yes yes, we all hated it growing up when we were freezing and Dad would say “Put on a sweater.” Well turns out he had something there. Half the reason winters can be so torturous is because we aren’t wearing proper layers.
Our bodies are continually creating heat. Extra layers add insulation to hold in our body’s natural warmth.
Typically there are 3 key layers:
- Base layer
- Mid layer
- Outer layer
You can always double up any of these layers if you need more.
- Base layer
The base layer is the layer that touches your skin. This is usually a long john layer. You don’t have to have official long johns though. Any long sleeved shirt or t shirt will do. Cotton and polyester are best.
Usually this layer is a little thinner, because it “wicks” moisture away from your body. This is good in winter because we still sweat, and if that sweat gets trapped in the inner layer, we feel colder.
2. Mid layer
The mid layer is a sweater or a light jacket. Sweaters come in all thicknesses levels. A simple hoodie is great for this layer. You can also double up, for example a sweater with a light jacket, or a thin sweater under a thicker sweater. The warmest fabric is wool.
3. Outer layer
The outer layer is your big coat that shields you from wind, rain and snow.
- It should be made of water-proof fabric on the outside.
- It should have thick batting, the best is feather “down” or wool.
- Wool and down are the warmest fabrics for winter.
- A plus if it has a hood.
- Big pockets to keep your gloves in.
- A good zipper that works
- Long coats are extra warm
Check the tags for fabric types.
Tip: You’d be amazed at the coats and sweaters you can find at a thrift store! This is probably where I’ve seen the best deals by far on coats that are made of real down or sweaters made of real wool. I’ve seen nice big wool coats with barely a scratch for $10.
Flannel Bed Sheets
Flannel sheets are thicker and a bit fluffier, and keep you warmer than regular thin bed sheets. You can usually find a set at a thrift store or Ross always has the lowest prices that I’ve found.
Layer Up In Bed
This photo is an exaggeration, but multiple layers of blankets can take you from freezing to sleeping soundly.
It’s important to relax at night in order to fall asleep. We can’t relax if we’re cold or shivering. The same principle that applies to layers of clothes on the body applies here. The more layers, the more your body heat is trapped in for a warm and snuggly sleep.
One tip is to put a foam mattress pad under your fitted sheet. This traps in heat from the bottom, not just the top. Here is a great DIY option.
Sock and Hat
Have you ever heard the phrase “If your feet are cold, your whole body feels cold”? Well, it’s very much true. Just having a warm pair of socks on can take you from feeling frigid to feeling quite comfortable. It’s sort of a perception thing, but it really works.
Same principle applies to our noggin. We forget that we can lose heat through our heads, not just our torso.
At night it helps to pull blankets up over the head, like a sleeping bag, to trap in as much body heat as possible.
During the day, a simple knit beanie goes a long way in preserving heat, and is stylish to boot.
Seal Up Leaks
Now we get into the nitty gritty housing improvements.
When it comes to heating bills, even a small crack around your window or door frame can add up. For only $4 you can seal these leaks with an inexpensive sealant like GE Sealant & Adhesive.
But be SURE to watch tutorial videos first, there are many online. It’s very simple if you follow instructions, but you don’t want to do this wrong and have it look awful, cause more problems, or have to re-do it later.
Another alternative if you aren’t repair-savvy is Draft Stoppers. These are tubes of fabric stuffed with batting that you put at the bottom of your doors or windows to keep drafts out.
Yes you can purchase them, but there are also many ways to make them yourself. Hint: What to do with all those old jeans?
You can also seal air at the bottom of your garage with a Universal Garage Door Bottom Threshold Seal Strip:
Or if you have $8, Door Sweep Weather Stripping could be useful:
You would be amazed at the amount of heat lost just around your windows.
During the day, you want your windows exposed because the natural light cuts down on your electric bill. Also sunlight used correctly can warm your home nicely during the day.
But at night those windows need to be covered. Remember all those old timey poems about icy window panes? There’s a reason.
However, curtains by no means need to be expensive. Below is a great tutorial on easy window curtains out of bed sheets.
Even better? Use flannel sheets! Flannel will keep the cold out much better than a thin cotton sheet. Or check out Walmart- they often have a $1 fabric bin in their arts and crafts section.
You can even put a layer of bubble wrap over those lesser-noticed windows in the house, as the ultimate budget-friendly way to add another layer of heat protection.
This trick also works with old blankets or towels.
This is a good tip if you’re moving to a cold climate for the first time. Carpeting is one form of insulation. The thick fibers add a layer of heat protection to your home.
There are some ingenious and easy ways to make a rug out of old t shirts, bed sheets or fabric: 10 Doable Designs for a DIY Rug
Lower The Thermostat
This one is obviously a no-brainer, but there are some tips and tricks to consider here. It’s important to make sure to hit the thermometer when it’s warmer out, and hit it again at night.
But oftentimes we forget, which actually makes a big difference to the overall bill. It’s only $20 to buy a programmable thermostat to replace the one on your wall. If you use it, this will save you a lot of money in the winter AND in the summer.
All that said – do not turn your thermostat off or below 50 degree F!
Anything below 50 F, and your pipes will freeze, which will be a major headache that is expensive to fix.
Turn Down The Water Heater
For your water heater the same principles apply.
It will conserve energy and money to turn that water heater temperature down. Many things that we use hot water for – like dishes and laundry – are unnecessary. I’ve washed my laundry with cold water for years now. You can also always turn it up about 15-20 mins before taking a bath or shower, and then turn it down again after you’re done.
This one doesn’t need to be programmable as for the most part you won’t need to adjust it. However again, the bare lowest you can go is 120 degrees. This can save you 6-10% of your bill. Any lower than that, and you could possibly have growth of microorganisms.
Remove Your Window A/C Unit
This is kind of an odd one, but speaking of leaks – we never think about the little gaps around our air conditioner units.
Remove the unit for the winter and put it in storage. This allows you to close the window completely, make sure it’s sealed, and even cover it with a curtain as mentioned above.
It’s also helpful because that unit can accumulate mold if left there and not properly drained for the winter.
Here is a great 2 minute tutorial on how to do this:
Check Your Filters
Remember to check all the filters in your heating system to make sure they’re clean. Clogged and dirty filters cause higher heating costs because the air can’t flow freely, which puts a strain on the system. If they are dirty, they need to be replaced. There are a few different types of filters and places where filters can be found.
The instructional videos below give a few options:
Step Outside: Check Your Heating Unit
Go outside and check the exterior of your heating unit. Make sure nothing is stacked against the heat pump or draping over it. If there are any leaves, dirt or grass on it, carefully remove them.
If your indoor unit seems to have extra water around it, check to see whether the condensate pan and drain are blocked.
Close The Doors
It’s a no-brainer to shut all the exterior doors and windows in the winter. But what about the inside doors?
If you’re not using rooms in your house, keep those doors closed, including pantry doors and cupboards, reducing heating costs.
However there is a myth that closing the vents will re-direct air to other parts of the house and save on energy. This isn’t true. Modern homes are designed to heat the whole house at once, so if you close vents, you only cause more pressure in the system, which can actually cost more energy.
If you need to save money, just turning the heat down on the whole house is the best bet.
Close The Flue
Not many houses have fireplaces these days, but if you do, make sure that the “flue” is closed whenever you aren’t using it. Many of us probably don’t even know what a “flue” is. It’s also called a “damper.”
They purposefully designed it so that when you’re not using your fireplace, air won’t come into your house through your chimney.
There are few different kinds, so it’s just up to you to figure out which one you have. Note: Always make sure the fire is completely OUT before closing the damper. And by the same token, make sure the damper is completely OPEN before lighting a fire!
Reverse your ceiling fan direction
During the summer, fans spin counter-clockwise, pushing cool air down. If you reverse the direction, the cold air is sucked upwards and warm air is pushed down around the edges of the room. Otherwise, warm air gets trapped on the ceiling, which is useless. Most ceiling fans have a switch that enables you to switch the direction.
Space heaters are the greatest kept secret. I discovered this exact model back in college, and in the morning I would put the heater in the bathroom and turn it on, and jump back in bed for 10 minutes. By the time I got back to the bathroom, it was toasty warm for my shower.
You can also run it while doing your work or studying in a certain room, or run it before bed so that the room is warmer while you fall asleep. These devices work incredibly well and I can’t talk about them enough. I have used this model year after year, and even gifted it to friends: Pelonis Space Heater: $12.88
They also are great because it’s not good to close vents in the rooms. Closing vents can put a strain on the system, which will surprisingly cost more money. So instead, you can turn down the overall heat, while using one of these little nuggets in the rooms you ARE using.
Use Clothes Drying Racks
I’ve personally been addicted to this one for years because I am tall enough that I can’t risk having my clothes shrink in the dryer.
Estimates show that it costs about between 50 cents to $1.08 every time you run your dyer. This adds up when you have kids or multiple generations in the house. Air drying does work best in dry/arid climates. In more humid climates, you may need to decide between mildew and just paying that slightly higher electric bill.
One simple way to air-dry clothes that I use is just hanging them up in the closet, and over doors. Make sure there’s a little space between each item.
Or you can purchase a drying rack that you can use over and over for years. Here are a few styles that are so easy to fold up and slide into a corner when you’re not using them:
There’s only so much coffee one person can drink in a day before going kooky (though many have tried). Even hot cocoa is only recommended occasionally, as it contains so much sugar.
But hot teas can be consumed safely all day long, and there are so many varieties.
Do hot drinks really warm you up? Well, according to a study, if the drink is between around 98.6 and 115 degrees, the body will feel warmer by about 2.6 degrees.
Most boxes of tea at the store are only $3-4 each, and there are so many flavors and even therapeutic herbs to choose from. It can even be a great replacement for over-the-counter meds for common ailments like gas reflux, headaches, and constipation. Here are some common tasty and beneficial herbs used in teas:
- Chamomile – helps with relaxation and digestion
- Mint – wakes you up and relieves headaches
- Lavendar – Anxiety and stress, helps with sleep
- Spruce Needle – high in Vitamin C
- Lemon and Honey – lemon tea supports weigh loss, and honey is antibacterial
- Ginger – boosts immunity, fights respiratory ailments
And here are other ideas of beneficial herbs that you can grow in your own garden or indoors in a pot, for free! 19 Best Tea Herbs to Make a Tea Herb Garden
Note: Avoid drinking teas with caffeine all day long. Caffeinated teas are essentially the same as drinking coffee, and should be used only when needed.
Here is a next-level DIY tea tip: foraging. Foraging has exploded around the world in recent years, and it’s very simple and easy skill to learn. Herbs are some of the easiest things to forage, and herbs like mint even grow like weeds – for free! – in your yard.
There are some amazing YouTube channels on this such as this one
Sock Heating Pad
If you aren’t aware of these you are missing out! I made my first one 5 years ago and I have used it so many times. It’s a completely free (if you have rice and old socks on hand) and amazing way to warm up in winter.
- A large old sock
- Dry beans OR rice OR legumes OR peas OR even oatmeal
It’s also excellent for relieving tension in the shoulders, or anywhere you have pain. Add a little menthol to your child’s neck or chest and apply this on top, and you have a simple and inexpensive remedy for coughs and sore throats.
And each family member can have their own to snuggle up with. Simply put it in the microwave for 3-5 minutes, then test the heat with your palm or wrist before applying.
Note: After you have made the sock, be careful not to drop it in water or drench it. You will find out why! If the skin is a little damp before applying, it’s ok.
Snuggle Up With A Hot Water Bottle
This definitely a throw-back. Did you know that before hot water bottles, there was a contraption called a “bed warmer pan.” It was made of metal, you’d fill it with fireplace embers, and put it in your sheets – and hope it didn’t burn your house down.
Then we graduated to hot water bottles with the invention of rubber, and thank goodness this old classic is still around. It can be surprisingly cuddly to snuggle down with a water bottle on your chest or at your feet.
Just make sure the temperature isn’t too hot! Especially when using it for children.
Here is a good tutorial on safely filling your hot water bottle and here are 5 tips for getting the most out of it.
This one is lower on the list because candles don’t put off an incredible amount of heat, but they can warm your hands and create a cozy feeling. And there are many very inexpensive candles at Walmart or grocery stores, like votive candles for $4 that have a soft scent, or pillar candles that you can re-use dozens of times.
Also I have to include this, because it’s just such a cool little project and an effective mini heater. Just be careful to keep an eye on it:
Take A Hot Bath
Now, this can backfire if you’re doing this all the time or missing out on some techniques to maximize usage, as hot water is also expensive. But taking a hot bath not only raises your body temperature but has many long-term health benefits, and good health means fewer healthcare bills.
Hot baths have been a long standing tradition in Japanese culture, because they are stress-relieving, relaxing and soothing, on top of cleansing. Stress-relief is very important for long-term health, as stress and anxiety can be a direct cause for:
- upset stomach
One efficient plan is to draw a very hot bath and take 10-20 minutes to soak in it yourself. Then when the temperature drops, let water out and use it for the kids.
Honestly, a hot bath is pretty enjoyable even only half full. I have tried this and realized that I didn’t even need to fill the bath to the top like I thought.
Heart Warming Foods
Here’s a new one I learned: Foods can make you warmer! This is sort of a surprising discovery, there’s some great tips here: Nutritious Foods To Keep You Warm In Cold Weather
Get Your Own Heat On
There are so many benefits to getting some movement. It elevates your mood and takes your focus from the difficulties of life. It literally makes you warm. It makes you healthier long term, which in turn is better on your pocketbook. This is one of my favorite tips and it’s a good reminder to myself that I need to do this too.