Americans often use vast amounts of electricity on central heating systems in an effort to keep Old Man Winter out. According to data released in 2011 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, space heating is the single largest culprit of energy consumption in typical American homes, accounting for 41.5 percent. Another study in 2012 showed that almost three-fifths of U.S. states have average home electric bills of $100 per month or more, much of that due to inefficient energy usage during winter months. The bedroom in particular tends to be a major factor, not only because so much time is spent there, but because that time is often at night when outside temperatures have dropped. Fortunately, those who are inclined to save a little money this winter have numerous options for keeping their boudoirs toasty without breaking the bank.
A burning tea light candle releases 80 watts of power, or about the same as many standard household light bulbs. However, unlike the bulbs, candles release more of that power as heat than light. Take four or five candles, place them in a metal container, light them, and cover the container with a small terra cotta pot. Place a second larger pot with a hole in the top over the smaller pot and leave it in the center of the room. The smaller pot will become extremely hot, and the heat will emit from the hole in the larger pot. Use one of these makeshift candle heaters for smaller rooms, or several for a larger room.
Passive solar is the practice of using materials with high thermal mass to harness the sun’s energy for heat, as opposed to active solar, which requires a myriad of electrical and mechanical equipment. While a passive solar setup may generate less heat than an active solar one, it will also cost a fraction of the price. Place materials such as brick, stone or tile in the south-facing windows of your bedroom, which will collect and release heat through processes like conduction, convection and radiation. Naturally, this works best in sunnier climates and in homes with windows that have unobstructed access to solar rays.
Rural residents with access to decaying organic matter like manure or vegetable waste can easily make their own compost, and by storing it up during warmer months, will have an abundant heating source come winter. Books like Gaelan Brown’s The Compost-Powered Water Heater take the pioneering work of early permaculturist Jean Pain and translate it into a user-friendly how-to guide for practical, modern-day application. Pain’s method involved insulating wood chips and sawdust inside a large hay bale dome, and then using a hydronic loop to capture the heat from the decomposing matter.
Windows tend to be one of the largest sources of heat loss from a bedroom because caulking often deteriorates over time and glass is an inadequate insulator. Replacing your standard curtains or blinds with thermal-lined curtains can reduce your heating bill by up to 25 percent, according to some manufacturers. Thermal curtains are usually made from dense, woven fabrics like wool, cotton and polyester, with an acrylic suede backing to protect them from sun damage, and they feature double- or triple-layer construction that insulates against cold outside air.
Double-glazed windows can be expensive to buy and install. Instead, try some low-cost methods for creating your own double glaze, which works by trapping a layer of air between two panes, with the air serving as a better insulator than the glass ever could. However, the second pane doesn’t have to be glass. Companies like 3M and Nexfil USA make window films that act as a second glazing to help keep more heat in and reduce energy bills up to 30 percent. An even lower-cost alternative would be affixing bubble wrap to your windows, although you’d likely be sacrificing aesthetic.
Those of us lucky enough to have a fireplace in our bedrooms can enjoy a winter evening huddled around crackling flames. But what about when the fire’s not going? Chimneys allow heat to rise up and out of your room while cold air travels down into it. A simple device called a chimney balloon can be purchased for under $50 and used to practically eliminate fireplace drafts. You insert the partially inflated balloon inside the chimney approximately one to two feet above the fireplace opening and then inflate it to maximum capacity. Next time you wish to start a fire, simply deflate and remove it.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, space heaters “can be less expensive to use if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in one room.” Most retailers offer an array of space heaters for an average cost of $40 to $80. The number of heaters needed to give you adequate warmth will depend on both the size of the heater and size of the bedroom. It is important to note that newer models have become even more energy efficient while outputting greater amounts of heat. Research the best brands online. The right model might mean you can turn off that thermostat completely.
Rugs and carpets
The National Energy Foundation reports that as much as 10 percent of heat loss can occur through uninsulated floorboards and tiles. Laying down a thick wool area rug or plush carpet can be a temporary and inexpensive winter solution to minimizing this loss, while also feeling warmer to walk on. On average, the R value (thermal resistance) of carpeting is five times greater than that of hardwood, six times greater than that of laminate, and 12 times greater than that of ceramic tile. And come summer when you want to show off those beautiful hardwood floors again, just roll up the rug and throw it in storage.
If you have a bathroom attached to your bedroom, then you have a built-in mechanism for creating heat. Simply run a hot shower for 20 minutes, which heats up the air around the water, creating that misty condensation we often falsely call steam. Warm air carries water better than cool air, and by leaving the bathroom door open, the warm air from the shower will begin to circulate into the bedroom. Better yet, you’ll save money because the cost of running hot water for 20 minutes is still cheaper than cranking the thermostat (especially if you have to shower anyway).
Many people fail to take advantage of their programmable thermostats, which control when the heat runs and at what temperature. Keeping a thermostat running on high all day creates higher bills without much better results. Nor should the heat quickly be cranked to max when the sun sets. Instead, use the timer to turn the heat on sooner, but at a lower level. Then program it to drop back down when you leave for work. Turning the thermostat back by seven to ten degrees for eight hours a day can save you upwards of 10 percent per year on your heating bill, according to data found at Energy.gov.
Believe it or not, ceiling fans can actually be used to warm your bedroom. Typically, they spin in a counterclockwise direction, forcing air downwards to create a cooling effect. However, by reversing the direction of the fan to clockwise, air will be forced upwards, where it will mix with the warm air that has risen to the ceiling. The air that begins circulating through the bedroom will then feel warmer to you. Additionally, this technique can be used in conjunction with some of the others mentioned above such as space heaters, bathroom steam, passive solar and candle power.
Hot water bottles
After all this, what if you still feel cold when you climb into bed? Well, a cost-effective technique that has been used for generations is the hot water bottle. Place one under the covers, either next to you or at the foot of the bed. To make your own, soak a towel in warm water and wring it out. Place it in the microwave for 30 seconds to get it piping hot; then remove it with a pair of tongs and place it inside a resealable plastic bag. Create as many as you need to get the job done. A bonus effect is that they’ve been reported to help relieve minor aches, pains and muscle spasms as well.