Top winter heating tips

With the mercury in every Australian city except Perth, and Darwin expected to dip to a single digit during the nights this week, it feels like winter has finally blown in – full of cloudy days and toe-freezing evenings.

If you want to avoid feeling like you’re living in a tent, now is the time to get your house sorted for winter.

Dragging the ankle biters across the countryside recently on one of those family road trips that feels more like three weeks of endless work rather than relaxing, we had the chance to stay at two different relatives’ houses in the same town on successive nights.

They were both pretty chilly evenings but neither that much colder than the other, and it was fascinating to see just how much warmer one house was.

The first property, a bare-fronted brick home that was well-sealed with wall-to-wall carpet, and heavy curtains with pelmets, was comfortable overnight to the point that it didn’t really feel cold at all.

The next was an older fibro house whose foundations had shimmied and shifted overtime. There were no pelmets and mostly light curtains. It was freezing and had me reaching for a thick jumper and woolly socks.

It really drove home the point that it’s not just important to artificially heat our homes, but vital to seal them up and insulate them too.

Ten tips to keep warm

1. Seal up all the gaps. Windows and doors can leak in substantial volumes of cold air. But some simple draught stoppers fitted in or around door and window frames and at the bottom of doors can make a huge difference.

This was job number one at our place on the weekend. We opted for brush-strip seals on the bottom of the doors. They are basically an aluminium strip that has a narrow but dense nylon brush sticking out one side.

I like this option a lot better than “door snakes” which rely on someone remembering to put them back in place every time they come inside. As if that is going to happen!

The door strips were super-easy to put on. They did have to be cut to size, but it was one snip with some bolt cutters and they were ready.

For the windows I chose a woven pile self-adhesive strip. It squashes down a bit more easily than the foam strips, and if it’s a tad to bulky you can easily trim the length of the pile or furry stuff with a pair of sharp scissors. Plus, if they ever need to come off, they’ll be a lot easier to remove than old foam strips, as I found out on the weekend when attacking one ageing seal with a pocket knife.

2. Stop the gaps around internal doors. If you have rooms you are not heating, such as laundries and bathrooms, you should draught-proof these too, so that when you close them off, there’s no unwanted air leakage happening.

3. Cover those windows. Single-pane glass has little insulation value, so you’ll need to cover it to keep the cold air out (or warm air in), especially overnight. The idea is to provide an air-trap between the window covering and the window. That’s why heavy curtains that extend across to the sides of the windows, and down to the floor are recommended.

A pelmet at the top is also needed to stop the cold air flowing upwards.

I prefer the look of blinds, and find curtains a bit of a hassle, so we’re going to put in honeycomb or cellular blinds that have pockets within them to trap the air. They aren’t the cheapest option but because they meet the top of the window frame, we should avoid having to install pelmets and save money there.

Because we are thinking of doing some renovations in a few years, we’ve opted for cheaper cellular blinds on the windows that may not be staying, and have invested in better-quality versions for the permanent windows.

Of course, if the blinds aren’t doing the trick, we’ve still got the option of adding curtains later, but hopefully shouldn’t need to.

4. Use the sun. Harness nature by drawing back the curtains and blinds during the day to letting the sun’s rays warm up the house, especially if you have north-facing windows.

5. Floor coverings. Timber floors really became popular a decade or so ago and show no signs of waning. However, they can be a bit cold in winter, especially if there is no insulation underneath. So it’s time to roll out the carpet, or the winter rugs at least. The good news is, in summer you can lift them up and store them.

If you have tiles or polished cement in areas that get the sun in winter, you may be better off leaving them uncovered to let the sun work its magic by heating the floor during the day.

6. Buy a caulking gun. And a tube of no more gaps, or three. Attack any gaps with the vengeance of any angry bee. Remember to look up high, and down low. If you clean up any overfills straight away with a damp cloth it saves a bit of difficulty later.

7. Throw me a blanket. Keep a couple of throws draped over the back of your lounge to use when you’re watching tele. Even a light blanket will make you a lot warmer.

8. Insulate your ceiling. So much heat is lost through uninsulated ceilings that it’s a no brainer to get this sorted. Make sure you use a reputable installer though.

9. Set the thermostat. The experts say 18-21 degrees is warm enough for the inside of your home in winter. I think I’ll be opting for 21, but keeping in mind that every degree cooler you make the house can save you about 10 per cent on your energy bills.

10. Shut it out. Close air-conditioning vents, and cover up with some cardboard and bluetack, or a similar removable covering, any permanent vents on your walls. We’ve got an older style house so we have at least one fixed vent in every room. Luckily our walls are white so we can just use some white cardboard, or I might invest in a little bit of painted plywood. That’s next weekend’s job…

If you want to find out more about keeping your home warm in winter, visit the NSW Environment, Climate Change and Water site, or this interesting little presentation from the Portland Sustainability Workshop.

What are your tips for keeping the cold at bay in winter?

Carolyn Boyd,

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