How to Stay Warm with Less Heat

I live in an older house.  It’s not too fancy, but it features things like wood heat, an independent water supply and a million dollar view with a frugal price tag.   In the Northern winter, however, I notice exactly how drafty and chilly our little house is!  The breeze off the lake also increases the nip in the air.  With an older wood stove as our only source of heat, the rooms more distant from the stove move from chilly to downright COLD.

From a prepping point of view, using less heat allows you to extend your fuel supply. If you are totally without heat, greater measures would need to be taken than the ones listed here.  For some SHTF heating ideas, this article has some fantastic and inexpensive tips.

I rent so it isn’t feasible to insulate or replace the windows and wood stove with more efficient models. So, in the interest of non-tech solutions, here are a few ways that we keep warmer without plugging in the electric space heaters.

Keep your wrists and ankles covered.  Wear shirts with sleeves long enough to keep your wrists covered and long socks that keep your ankles covered.  You lose a great deal of heat from those two areas.

Get some long-johns.  Wearing long underwear beneath your jeans or PJ’s will work like insulation to keep your body heat in.  I like the silky kind sold by discount stores like Wal-mart for indoor use, rather than the sturdier outdoor type sold by ski shops.

Wear slippers.  You want to select house shoes with a solid bottom rather than the slipper sock type.  This forms a barrier between your feet and the cold floor.  We keep a basket of inexpensive slippers in varying sizes by the door for visitors because it makes such a big difference.  Going around in your stocking feet on a cold floor is a certain way to be chilled right through.

Get up and get moving.  It goes without saying that physical activity will increase your body temperature.  If you’re cold, get up and clean something, dance with your kids, play tug-of-war with the dog, or do a chore.  I often bring in a few loads of wood to get my blood flowing and get warmed up.

Pile on the blankets. If you’re going to be sitting down, have some layered blankets available.  Our reading area has polar fleece blankets which we top with fluffy comforters for a cozy place to relax.

Use a hot water bottle.  If you’re just sitting around try placing a hot water bottle (carefully wrapped to avoid burns) under the blankets with you.

Use rice bags.  If you don’t have the ready made ones, you can simply place dry rice in a clean sock.  Heat this in the microwave, if you use one, for about a minute, or place in a 100 degree oven, watching carefully, for about 10 minutes.  I keep some rice bags in a large ceramic crock beside the wood stove so they are constantly warm.  You can put your feet on them or tuck them under the blankets on your lap.

Insulate using items you have.  A friend recommended lining the interior walls with bookcases or hanging decorative quilts and blankets on the walls to add an extra layer of insulation. It definitely makes a difference because it keeps heat in and cold air out. If you look at pictures of old castles you will see lovely tapestry wall-hangings – this was to help insulate the stone walls, which absorbed the cold and released it into the space.

Layer your windows.  Our house has large lovely picture windows for enjoying the view.  However, they’re single pane and it’s hard to enjoy the view if your teeth are chattering.  We took the rather drastic step of basically closing off all the windows but one in each room for the winter.  We insulated by placing draft blockers at the bottom in the window sill (I just used rolled up polar fleece – I’m not much of a sew-er.)  This was topped by a heavy blanket, taking care to overlap the wall and window edges with it.  Over that, we hung thermal curtains that remain closed.

Get a rug.  If you have hardwood, tile or laminate flooring, an area rug is a must.  Like the blankets on the walls, this is another layer of insulation between you and the great outdoors.  We have no basement so our floor is very chilly.  A rug in the living room protects our feet from the chill.
Wear a scarf.  No, not like a big heavy wool scarf that you’d wear outdoors – just a small, lightweight one that won’t get in your way and annoy you.  This serves two purposes.  First, it covers a bit more exposed skin. Secondly, it keeps body heat from escaping out the neck of your shirt.

Burn candles.  Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.

Cuddle.  Share your body heat under the blankets when you’re watching movies or reading a book.

Note: This list isn’t comprehensive – these are the things that we do at our little home in the woods.

What do you do to stay warmer at your house during the winter?  Share your cozy ideas in the comments section!

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Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at

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33 Comments  to  How to Stay Warm with Less Heat

  1. Anonymous says:

    We also layer clothing–don’t forget your hat!, use a hot water bottle, pile up the blankets, and use draft dodgers. In addition, we drink warm drinks and of course homemade soup!. Upon occasion, we may keep a pot of hot water on the stove; it adds to the warmth. We have a clear plastic strip barrier at the archway leading into the area of back door. This prevents the cold air from coming into the rest of the house when the back door must be used. It works very well.

    • Daisy says:

      Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I forgot to include hot beverages! We even got travel mugs to keep them hot in! :)

      Great list!

      ~ D

    • charles says:

      the house we live in has very loose windows. we cant afford to replace them. I went to our local thrift and found heavy mattress pads and hung them over the windows then thermal blankets. they really block the in and out going air

    • Jason says:

      hats are invaluable in the cold because 35% of your body heat escapes from your head.

      • Gary says:

        Jason, that is an old myth perpetrated by the US Army using bunk science from the 50s.

        • Laurie says:

          I hate to tell you but mythbusters busted that one and proved 35% of body heat is lost through your head. Hats do keep the heat in!

          We use hats at night at camp especially in the spring and fall even for this specific reason.

  2. Connie says:

    We also have older windows you can feel the wind blow thru them ( Been wanting to replace but something more important always comes along)I cover ours with plastic then that way during the day we still can let in a little light. I dont use the expensive sheets for windows I just go buy a roll of clear/white plastic and duck tape works great.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t have any idea how I came across this blog last night (probably something to do with preparedness), but I just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading of your adventures :)
    Keep up the good work!

    Jer N Gen

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would be careful when using candles in an enclosed area. Check to see if they have Zinc or even lead cores if they are decades old. Zn is supposedly safe but even without it the high concentration of unburned hydrocarbons from candles make this an emergency only practice. Perhaps use a Kero lamp?

    • dtayls says:

      Don’t forget to use (and check annually) a UL listed smoke detector. A carbon monoxide detector in the rooms that have kerosene, oil or coal burning appliances is a MUST. Candles have been known to set either one of these detectors off; so, don’t just turn them off. Fix the air source that caused the problem. If you burn wood in your stove or fireplace, NEVER use treated or painted wood or pressed or layered wood of any kind. A Michigan family burning plywood scraps as their fuel began losing all their hair, and it took several years for experts to relate the health issues with the fuel source.

  5. Sophie says:

    When I was a kid, growing up in an old drafty house in Northern Indiana, our upstairs bedrooms were unheated but Mom always gave everyone a hot water bottle at bedtime. We slept under wool filled comforters too. Today we use rice socks …. helps to drape one over arthritic hips and elbows too.

  6. Debby says:

    I have an old house with drafty windows, and a lot of them, especially the patio doors. i don’t use those cheap, flimsy plastic window kits … instead, get the heavier “mil” plastic rolls in the painting section … 2-3 mil is good, 5 mil is too heavy and may fall off. FIRST, put them on the outside of the house. Putting the plastic on the outside provides much better insulation … if you only put indoors, when the wind blows, the plastic “puffs out” into house, full of cold air. When doing outdoors, make sure to use outdoor doublesided tape, and then staple around plastic too, to keep it up in windy weather. After the outside, you can also put plastic up indoors for a double layer. It has cut my heating bill down by almost half. It doesn’t look the best from the outdoor view, but think of it this way … nobody will think you’re rich and target your house for burglary, lol, because they can see you don’t have $$’s for new windows :)

  7. Scarlett says:

    Love this blog! I too have a wood stove as well as a jet pump for auxiliary water if needed. I only heat the core of the house, and leave my bedroom icy cold in the winter. What makes the difference is an electric mattress pad I turn on before bedtime, and then lower the temp when I go to bed under layers of micro fleece blankets. The room air is then a much healthier cold temp to breath than overheated room air.
    When it’s really cold, I hang out in a full length robe and snuggle in it. Pure coziness. Also, I buy insulated booties at K Mart on sale to keep my feet warm enough to be comfortable. I’ve noticed Russians that often wear gloves with the fingers cut out inside their apts. Makes sense.
    I like a lot of the tips on here, such as rice filled socks! I fell in the yard yesterday and my neck and shoulders are aching and hurting like crazy. I’m gonna make one or two of these today!

  8. pat johnson says:

    I put an electric blanket on the sofa seat and then cover the entire sofa with a large bedspread – even keeping the blanket on the lowest setting provides enough heat to keep you comfortable. Also – the obvious thing – a couple of layers of clothing make a huge different – I wear jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and wear a sweatshirt over that. Covering up the windows is a terrible idea – blocking out sunlight is a huge contributor to depression which is already a problem in the wintertime.

  9. MamaLiberty says:

    I live in a log cabin in rural Wyoming, almost at the Montana border. I use most of these methods to help keep warm, except the plastic or blankets at the windows. I’m fortunate to have double pane windows, but discovered that I lost a great deal of heat overnight anyway. I got some furniture boxes and cut panels of cardboard to fit the windows. On cold nights, those panels are placed against the glass, then the thermal drapes are closed. Makes a tremendous difference, but the cardboard is easily removed and stored behind the couch for the day time so the sunlight gets in.

    I have also gone looking for air leaks, especially around doors, electric switches and outlets, and behind the cabinets. The careful use of foam insulation, duct tape and so forth has plugged most of them, but it is still possible to find serious frost around the doorjam on the windward side in a real storm.

    My wood stove is a very good “airtight” type that draws the air down the pipe from outside for the fire. That was an incredible improvement over the old stove and I use less than half as much wood now – with less than half the ash to haul, of course!

    Do keep a pot or kettle of water on the stove all the time. Wood heat is extremely drying. One of the reasons folks get sick with “colds” in the winter is due to chronic dehydration and low humidity that irritates the mucous membranes (nose and lungs) and makes them vulnerable to infection. Keep inside humidity at least 40% if at all possible, no matter how you heat your home.

    And one last suggestion is NOT to use an “electric blanket” on the couch. If you sit on a fold for long, the wires will break. The electric mattress pad would be a much better idea because they are much more sturdy and less apt to fold.

  10. Susan says:

    I make felted slipper clogs. They are very warm and very easy to make and slip on and off easily. Most mistakes disappear during felting! My favorite pattern is there is also a childrens version.

    • Daisy says:

      Those are lovely! I have to learn to knit! I can crochet, but it seems like knitting is so much more versatile and cozy.

  11. Peter Simonsen says:

    I like the cuddling idea. I have a wood furnace.It is great. I have an 8′pattio door. When the sun is shining it acts as a furnace and keeps the house warm in the daytime even when it is minus 20 celcius.

  12. Pat Webb says:

    Great article. Don’t forget a sherpa fleece lined vest, a feather bed and sleeping bags.

  13. Charles bishop says:

    Hi. Thanks for sharing your methods. Our family uses only fireplace and stove for heat and though Oklahoma winters rarely drop to zero, we regularly have freezing winter temps. Our house is enormous and not well constructed for maintaining heat. With freezing temps we can keep the interior at 50ish. However for the wife and small children this is still uncomfortable. We opted several years ago to buy coveralls for everyone. We are never cold now whether indoors or outside feeding livestock at 6am. The boys can easily spend an hour walking the goats in 30 degree weather with these. My mil surplus coveralls can be regularly found at gun shows for $25. Wife and children wear carhart knockoffs from Walmart which run about 35 and go on clearance after winter. My solution works indoors and out and is easily packed for travel. We also invest in cheap beanies which are worn 24/7. Enormous amounts of heat are lost at the crown

  14. Barb says:

    Although I built our little house and insulated it reasonably well, the wood stove is our only source of heat and like many of you, the place can get mighty chilly by morning. Because it’s a tiny building, I went with a smaller stove and that means it has a small firebox. If I know it will be a particularly cold night, I have resigned myself to sleeping on a mattress about 6′ from the wood stove. This encourages me to get up periodically to restoke it as I’m far more apt to do so because it is only a few feet away. The other upside to this idea is that because the mattress is on the floor, I tend to have a cat or dog join me… may run out of room on the bed, but they definitely help keep you warm.

  15. Cindy says:

    I made a curtain for my bedroom doorway,I have 4 cats so they will scratch at my bedroom door.This way,the cats can come and go,without me having to get up and let them in and.out.Also, a electric blanket,electric space heater keeps the one room I stay in nice and warm.I also put up bright curtains on my windows to keep depression at bay.

  16. Merritt says:

    Great info. I needed this because I live in Nebraska and we have only a wood stove for heat. I am definitely going to rethink how I handle the windows this coming winter. Oh, and get those detectors put in. Thanks

  17. lynn says:

    I have used plastic wrap to block any draughts through our single pane windows. It has really done the job and our rooms are much warmer. Here is a video showing how to do it

    here is another video showing how to use bubble wrap to insulate windows

  18. tony says:

    A while back I ordered some surplus ‘kidney warmers’ from Sportsmans guide of Cheaper than dirt. Basically it was a piece of soft felt-like fabric with strings that tied in the front.

    Doing some research I learned that you lose most of your body heat from the top of your head and secondly through your kidneys. Anyone who has lived in a colder climate [I'm from Chicago] knows that after you relieve yourself you get get quite a bit colder right away.

    These worked amazing, and you could improvise by tying a scarf around your midsection under your clothes. Wearing a hat and a kidney warmer has kept me very toasty even when I’m not bundled up all the way.

  19. dAVE says:

    Check out

    You will find an ingenious way to heat a room with one candle and some flower pots.

  20. Greg says:

    I have an old ‘shotgun’ farmhouse with single layer, multi-pane glass windows (6 panes in each upper & lower window). They have separate screens on the outside. I use heavy mil clear plastic, clear taped onto the screens which holds the plastic in place. On the inside I have some radiant barrier material which I have cut to fit the window and which my mini-blinds hold into place .. (“reflectix”, like bubble wrap with foil on both sides..reflects 97% of radiated heat)..they can be put in and taken out depending on the side of the house they’re on and whether you want the the light/sun coming in. I also use them during the summer to keep the heat out. I’ve also added a 10″ tubular skylight to the kitchen, bath & office so in the daytime I don’t have to take the radiant barriers out of the windows or turn on lights in those rooms where I spend most of my time when home.

  21. Donc400 says:

    In the day time attach some black trash bags on the curtain rods, in the windows that face the sun. The sun will heat the black plastic, and the air will rise and circulate in the room, even on cold days it will cut your heating bills a lot. just be sure to bundle them back up when not in direct sunlight.

  22. patrick prince says:

    I just steal electricity above the meter to operate 2 space heaters and at 5am every morning I disconnect it. Air conditioner too.

  23. Pickles says:

    My family and grandparents lived thru the Depression. I learned a ton of simple, sound lessons and advice from them! You all have found great solutions to keeping warm! Kudu’s to you all, with the exception to stealing.
    Today’s economy, or lack there of, has forced many to frugalize their preparedness; self included… a point. When it comes to the life saving basics, I go for long term INVESTMENT. I can’t afford to keep replacing cheaply made items.
    For me, THE absolute best way to be and stay warm, year after year, after year was to invest in WOOL! Before your mind starts thinking back to the old scratchie stuff, look into today’s MERINO WOO; especially at the end of the season, or right before the final holidays…..they’re looking to unload their inventory by year end.
    One wool blanket will do the work of a bunch of synthetic blankets. Do the money math. Same goes for sweaters, pants, coats, hats and gloves. Sportsmanship Guide always has a good deal on europen military wool pants. Thrift stores ALWAYS have donors foolish enough to give away wool items. I buy every wool item I can, for both sexes, all all sizes (children to adults). The day may soon approach when the foolish or less fortunate aren’t prepare and will need some ‘wool seeds’ sown their way.
    I can sit, comfortably, in a fifty degree room, wearing a pair of SmartWool socks, and a $2.00 thrift store or an $80 L.L.Bean sweater. Wool is wool. eBay sells long johns from the military that are 50% wool and 50% cotton. Cost? About $15 for a two piece set. One good wool coat, whether new or old is worth all the synthetic layering you would bundle up in. And let’s not forget what wool contains……lanolin. Synthetics and cotton absorb moisture, which wicks away your body heat. Snow, ice, rain, will bead upon contact with wool. Of course, at some point it, too will get saturated, but you are far more likely to be wet and cold a lot sooner with the other materials I’ve mentioned.
    Don’t take my word for it. Do the research. Get a wool item from the thrift store and try it for yourself. There is nothing to keep you warm and toasty, as some of you have described, like good old (or new) wool! :)
    Stay warm! :)

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