Winter is coming!
We are about to feel winter first real icy caress as a thumper of a cold front breaks through. We live in heat pump country and while they are equipped with backup electrical heat to supplement on those really cold days, sometimes they still struggle particularly if your home or business is older and not tightly constructed. Cold snaps are also expensive. So we at Boer Brothers would like to share some tips on keeping warm.
1. Install a programmable thermostat.
Yes we know, we always say this but really, it will keep your bill low, and your efficiency high. Instead of having to manually fiddle with your thermostat every time you leave the house or every time you come back home, we recommend programming your thermostat for the following temps/times during the week if your house is empty during the day (we also recommend setting the thermostat to 55 degrees when you go on vacation for a few days or more):
6 a.m. to 9 a.m. = 68 degrees
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. = 60 degrees
5:30 to 11 p.m. = 68 degrees
11 p.m. to 6 a.m. = 60 degrees
Their nighttime recommendation seems a little chilly, so adjust accordingly as to what’s comfortable for you. Keep in mind, though, that research has recently shown that cooler temps — say in the mid-60s vs upper-60s/low-70s — promote better sleep, and is also good for your metabolism, save money and lose weight.
2. Let sunlight in during the day.
Once the sun is up, you want to capture as much of that free heat as possible. Even on cold days, the sun is still warm. So before you leave the house for the day, open up those curtains and let the light shine in. If there are certain parts of the house that don’t get sunlight, no need to open those curtains. Just do so where it streams in for a good part of the day.
3. Keep curtains closed at night.
Once the sun goes down, keep all that heat from leaving through the windows by closing the drapes. If you’re in a particularly cold home, consider getting insulated curtains. They’ll prevent some of the warmth in your home from escaping. You can even put up temporary curtains (or even sheets, rugs, etc.) over doors to the outside, even if just at night while you’re sleeping.
4. Mind your wood-burning fireplaces.
While they’re romantic on a chilly evening, lighting a fire is terribly inefficient for the rest of your home. It’s warm and toasty right by the roaring flames, but for all that heat being exhausted up through the fireplace, cold air is being pulled into the house elsewhere (this is due to a physics principle called the stack effect – more on that below).
You don’t want to put the damper on idyllic evenings spent in front of crackling logs altogether, so when you do have a fire, just be sure to buy/use a glass front for your fireplace, which keeps some of that heated air in your home from escaping up the chimney once the flames have gone out.
Beyond that, remember to keep the flue closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. Failing to do so means basically having an open window in your room, letting warm air out and cold air in.
5. Take a look at your ceiling fans.
If you have ceiling fans in your home, they may be sitting needlessly dormant during the winter months. Many fans have a “winter” setting, which reverses the fan so that it moves clockwise vs. counterclockwise. Since heat rises, the clockwise-spinning fan will push the heat back down into your rooms versus being trapped up at the ceilings. This is especially recommended if you have high or sloped ceilings. Don’t turn it on high because it will make you cold! Just try it out on a low speed, and see if it warms the room. It definitely works.
6. Move furniture away from vents.
You may have unknowingly placed furniture in front of heating vents when you moved in or rearranged. Go around the house and double check that vents aren’t blocked, and if they are, find a way to move your furniture, at least for the winter. This will make sure every room is getting its max heat potential. Blocking return vents in a central heating system could also cause air pressure issues, which further disrupts the flow of heat.
7. Mitigate the “stack effect.”
The stack effect is the movement of air in and out of homes and other buildings, essentially creating large-scale chimneys. The rising warm air in a home will pull in cool air from the outside through any gap it can find. This creates negative pressure in lower levels, which acts like a suction cup because that warm escaping air needs to be replaced. This pulls cool air in and obviously chills the home. The effect is magnified in taller homes (more air rising to greater heights, so more cool air is being pulled in), so be extra aware of the stack effect if you live in a multiple-story home.
To combat this, you obviously want to seal those gaps. The most common offenders are doors and windows. To test this out, you can light a candle and carry it with you throughout the house, holding it close to the doors and windows. When you hold it still and it flickers, you have a possible gap. Hold your hand out to test it and you’ll often feel cold air. It may seem like a small and unimportant leak, but it can definitely make a big difference, especially when they’re multiplied around the house.
You can use towels at the bottoms of doors or by door sweeps that seal those gaps on the bottom. For gaps on the sides and top of the door, as well as window gaps, weather stripping works to negate the stack effect.
8. Seal other leaks, too.
There can be air leaks in your home beyond windows and doors. Think attics, basements (where cements meets the wood frame), even kitchen hood vents. Take a look at this handy guide from energystar.gov to find those leaks and seal them. Hint: caulking can be your best friend.
9. Keep certain rooms toasty warm by closing doors.
If you spend a lot of time in certain rooms, you can close doors and create a little sauna. I do this with my office, and it works like a charm. I simply leave the door closed at night, let the heat run like normal, and since there aren’t as many gaps for heat to escape, it’s nice and warm in the morning.
You can also close doors to rooms that aren’t frequently used in your home — just make sure you also close the vents in those rooms. This sort of acts to lower the heated square footage, and the warm air will spread quicker and easier through the house. As a bonus, this will save a little bit on your heating bill, too. (Just make sure you aren’t sticking your in-laws in the guest bedroom without first letting it heat back up for a day or two, or do if you want to send a passive aggressive message)
10. Utilize space heaters, but with caution.
Space heaters are excellent tools for keeping individual rooms warm. The danger is that they are a high-risk fire hazard, especially compared to other tips listed here. In fact, they account for one-third of all heating-related house fires.
11. Use the oven.
Baking, convecting, and broiling things will keep your house warmer, especially in rooms nearest the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to roast a chicken or bake a ton of casseroles when the temperatures dip! (This is also why, in our household, we don’t use the oven much in the summer.) If you make extra we are always accepting homemade dishes here at Boer Brothers.
12. Add layers to your wood floors.
According to the National Energy Foundation, uninsulated wood floors can account for up to 10% of a home’s heat loss. Carpets and rugs were created for a reason — to keep rooms warmer. They’re far better at trapping heat than your creaky wood floors. Add a rug or roll of carpet to your floor in the winter, and you’ll notice a difference in coziness.
Ultimately, keep the person warm versus the house. In doing research for this article, I came across one mantra over and over and over again: it’s more about keeping the person warm versus the entirety of the house. The house doesn’t really care if it’s a little chilly, but you care if you’re cold. So throw on hoodies and sweaters, get a warm robe, sip on hot coffee or tea all day, break out the thick blankets and bed sheets; do whatever you need to do to stay warm and comfortable (being comfortable is key — you don’t want the thermostat so low that you have to wear a coat in your own home). In all likelihood, you can probably handle the thermostat being a couple degrees lower if you take some of the measures above.
If none of these work then it may be appropriate to have Boer Brothers come and make sure that your equipment is appropriately sized, all the ductwork is free of tears and blockages, that the air filters are not blocking air flow, that the refrigerant level is correct, that the burners on the furnace are generating the appropriate flame, that the heat strips on the heat pump are engaged etc…
What tricks do you have for keeping your place warm in the winter? Let us know!