A year into the pandemic, winter is the last of the four seasons we’re newly experiencing during this crisis. Each season has had its curveballs, but one winter challenge may be staying warm if you can’t afford or are cutting back on indoor heating.
Since we still need to prevent spreading the coronavirus, pre-pandemic ways to escape wintry chills may not be available: such as visiting a library, warming center or a friend’s house.
Staying warm is necessary “for a variety of health reasons” in addition to comfort, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. For people with arthritis, stiffness “in your back and neck and sore joints do occur more in colder weather. … People who have metabolic conditions can be sensitive to the weather, like diabetes, for example, and heart disease. The more cold you are, the more stress you put on your heart.”
Despite being limited in terms of public or social alternatives, a little savvy based on our warm-blooded bodies, food, appliances, furniture, the outdoor elements and more can go a long way. Here are 25 ways to stay warm this winter — with or without indoor heating — that won’t break the bank.
Warming your body
1. Warm up with store-bought hand warmers, microwaveable heating pads, hot water bottles or heated blankets. Following the manufacturer’s instructions and concentrating on your torso are key, said JohnEric Smith, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Mississippi State University. “If you warm the core you can warm the hands and feet. It is harder to warm the core by warming the hands and feet.”
Be careful that you don’t burn yourself, Benjamin said. “They’re very effective on a knee or shoulder or the back of the neck. … You rarely put it directly on your skin. You usually wrap it in something, maybe a thin towel.”
2. Move your body. Physical activities like indoor exercise or dancing can help you warm up, but don’t get to the point where you’re sweating, Smith said. “We sweat to lose heat and sweating will make us colder.”
3. Think twice about a warm shower or bath. “While a warm bath or shower will feel good for the minute,” Smith said, “you will be cold after you get out and your wet skin is losing heat more quickly.”
4. Cuddle. Snuggles really can keep you warm. “Each of us produces heat through our metabolic processes. We lose our heat to the environment as we maintain body temperature,” Smith said via email. “Increasing skin contact decreases opportunities for the heat to be lost to the environment around us. If two people are under a blanket both of their heat losses combined can increase the temperature under the blanket more quickly than either could do independently.”
5. Change how you perceive cold. Some people have trained their minds to perceive cold as an objective, acceptable sensation rather than something dreadful to control. Some of the best ways to adapt include wearing clothing in layers then removing it, or gradually lowering the thermostat and putting on a sweater, Benjamin said.
Warmth that’s comforting
6. Enjoy warm beverages and foods, and use the oven and stove to cook them. Since foods higher in fat and protein are metabolized slowly by the body, those could make you feel warmer, Smith said. “Consider hearty soups with beans and meat.” Slow cooking meals can help generate heat throughout the day.
Drinking warm beverages “certainly helps take the chill off,” Benjamin said. Leaving the oven or stove on is “a bad idea because it burns fuel,” Benjamin said, “but more importantly, people fall asleep, they forget and leave the stove on. Sometimes things on the stove can catch on fire. So like any tool, you should use it for the purpose in which it was designed.”
“It only has to go poorly once to be life changing,” Smith said. If you don’t have children or pets, when you’re done cooking and you turn off the oven, what doesn’t hurt is leaving the oven door open to let residual heat escape.
Time to bundle up
7. Layer on the clothes. “Layering is critical,” Smith said. “Even thin layers added together to increase one’s ability to retain heat … focus on keeping the torso warm. Often an extra shirt or vest can warm your hands and feet more than an extra pair of socks or gloves.” Inexpensive pairs of tights or long johns can be worn underneath clothes. However, be sure that layering doesn’t make your clothing tight, he added, since that could reduce blood flow and thus your body’s ability to get warm blood to those areas. Wearing a hat, too, can also keep the heat in.
8. Wear thick socks and slippers. Fuzzy socks, slippers or a pair of shoes you reserve for wearing around the house can add extra comfort.
9. Pile on the blankets. “The more layers you put on, the better it helps trap the air between you,” your sheets and your blankets, Benjamin said. Since you lose a lot of heat from your head while you’re under blankets, he added, wearing a skull cap can help also.
10. Embrace less breathable clothing and linens. While breathable linens (such as cotton-based) are often recommended during the summer, linens with other materials and higher thread counts may be better for winter — higher thread counts have more weaving per square inch.
Optimizing your home and appliances
11. Work with the weather. Open your curtains or blinds to let the sun in during the day, or when outside is warmer than the inside of your home.
12. Seal your windows and doors. Even if your windows and doors are totally shut and locked, drafts can seep in through small crevices. You can use caulk or shrink film to seal those cracks. Placing inexpensive, transparent shower curtains over windows can keep the sun in but the cold draft out. For the bottoms of doors, cloth draft stoppers are “very effective,” Benjamin said.
13. Close off unoccupied rooms. By shutting the doors of rooms no one is using, you can create additional barriers between yourself and the cold outdoors. This can also aid preventing heat loss from the room you’re in.
14. Reverse your ceiling fan. If possible, send your ceiling fan in a clockwise direction so that it sends the warm air down.
15. Sit near indoor heaters. You can safely use portable heaters if they are space heaters that have automatic shut-offs and can be plugged into a wall outlet instead of an extension cord. Since space heaters are a common cause of fires, they should be at least 3 feet away from any drapes, bedding or furniture. To prevent high levels of carbon monoxide — which can cause potentially fatal poisoning — ensure you have a carbon monoxide monitor installed and that you don’t “use any type of outdoor gas heater or anything that is not electric,” Benjamin said.
16. Move anything that’s blocking heat vents or radiators. The heat will better circulate throughout your home that way.
17. Spend time and sleep in the upper levels of the house. Heat rises, so moving your working, sleeping and living spaces upward may be more comfortable.
18. After showering, don’t run the bathroom fan or close the door. Unless your bathroom is prone to growing humidity-induced mold, the warm steam from the shower can make the nearby air less dry and cool for a short period of time.
19. Buy magnetic vent covers from home improvement stores. Used to cover vents, they can be inexpensive and help to force heat to exit vents in the occupied rooms only.
20. Put down rugs or carpets. These can be warmer to the touch than bare floors.
21. Insulate your attic. If you can afford to, padding your attic with insulation from hardware stores can help to retain some of the heat you usually lose through the attic since heat rises.
22. Research what your residential area offers. Some locations may be running warming centers set up for safety during the pandemic.
Cozy up near the elements
23. Light a fire. If your fireplace runs on wood instead of gas, a fire is another way to keep a room warm and enjoy a cozy night. “Make sure that your flue is properly opened and clean to make sure that smoke doesn’t come back in the home but goes properly up the flue,” Benjamin said. “When the fire is out, you should of course close the flue because it’s like having an open window.”
24. Keep warm and enjoy s’mores. If your state, city, county or neighborhood allows, have a (moderate size) backyard bonfire to keep warm for a while.
25. Don’t light candles. Candles can emit a small amount of heat, but using them as a source of warmth can be dangerous. “People will light candles and go to sleep, and they fall over,” Benjamin said. “The cat comes in and kicks it over and starts a fire.”
With these tips in mind and any others you find, be “broadly thoughtful about how to stay warm in the winter,” he added. “If it sounds like it’s a bad idea, it probably is. Look it up and check it out before you do it.”