With energy costs reaching ridiculous highs, it’s no surprise that everyone is asking what’s the cheapest way to stay warm at home this winter?
It’s a worrying time to be sure, but there are ways to stay warm that don’t involve handing over thousands of pounds, euros, or dollars to your energy supplier.
And the good news is the methods I’m going to talk about in this post aren’t difficult or expensive.
Why should you listen to me?
Well, I’ve been living with minimal heating (my choice) for over 10 years, and because I work from home, where I spend hours sitting at my desk, I had to figure out how to stay warm in a cold room. I’m a pro at this stuff.
Quick tip – When you’ve finished reading this post, make sure you check out my low-cost, bubble wrap, window insulation method. Insulating your windows is another cheap way to stay warm at home and save money on your heating bills. Sounds weird, I know, but it makes a real difference.
What’s The Cheapest Way To Stay Warm At Home This Winter? Option 1 – Heat One Room
You can make significant energy savings if you only heat the room you’re in.
Depending on how cold your winters get, you may find that you can heat one room without running into problems with freezing water pipes or mold growth.
If you have very cold winters, you’ll need to heat more of your house to avoid costly repairs, but if your winters aren’t too severe you should be fine heating one room.
The rest of your house will be cold but at least you’ll have one warm room where everyone can gather. It’s not ideal, but if you can’t afford to run your heating, you’re going to have to cut back on your energy use.
Where I live, our maritime climate isn’t too cold. The winter daytime temperatures are usually comfortably above freezing, and nights don’t dip too low. But last year we saw below-normal temperatures all winter, and from December to March almost every night was below freezing with temperatures often between -3°C and -6°C (26°F and 21°F). That’s pretty mild compared to many parts of the world, though.
Even with colder temperatures than we’re used to we were fine and we only heat one room for a few hours each evening.
What’s the secret?
We wear warm clothes and super warm thermal underwear, have extra warm bedding to sleep under with hot water bottles, and we’re as quick as possible when we use the bathroom.
The cheapest way to stay warm in one room – and the heating method I use – is with a wood stove, but since most homes don’t have a wood burner, many are unsuitable for a wood stove, and wood stove installation can cost a small fortune these days, I’m not going to focus on wood heating in this post.
Instead, let’s look at the running costs for an electric oil-filled heater. These heaters don’t cost a lot, they’re easy to find, and there’s no special installation required, all you need to do is plug the heater in and you’ll get heat.
Because these heaters are portable, you can place your heater right next to you so you get the most benefit from the heat it produces, and you can move it around the house with you when you need to spend time in another room.
With electric heating, almost 100% of the energy is turned into heat. Contrast that with a natural gas-powered furnace or central heating system where even the most efficient systems waste about 10% of the energy they consume. Then you’ve got heat loss through ducts or pipes as they run through the house to deliver the heat to the room you’re using.
Most oil-filled heaters on the market have 2 settings. A low setting that uses around 1300 watts of power and a high setting that uses 2500 watts. You can even get smaller heaters that use around 500 watts for very small spaces. These smaller heaters are also ideal if you only need to worry about heating yourself.
Oil-filled heaters often have an adjustable thermostat so the heating element only comes on when the temperature falls below your desired setting. That means they won’t run constantly.
Oil-filled heaters are also more energy efficient than electric heaters that blow warm air because the oil acts as a heat reservoir and because they don’t need to power a fan. They’re safer too.
How much space can they heat?
A 2500-watt heater should be sufficient for a room with a surface area of up to 25 square meters or 270 square feet. In smaller rooms, the low 1300-watt setting should provide enough heat unless it’s really cold out.
How much power do they use?
On the 1300-watt setting, if the heater ran continuously it would use 1.3 kWh of electricity per hour.
To convert watts to kWh and work out the running cost of any electric heater just divide by 1000. So 1300 watts divided by 1000 = 1.3 kWh.
How much do they cost to run?
If you used the heater for 5 hours in the evening, the heater would use 6.5 kWh of electricity a day. 1.3 kWh x 5 = 6.5 kWh.
Your cost to run the heater depends on the electricity rate where you live.
In the UK where the price of electricity is currently capped (Oct 2022) at £0.34 per kWh your heating cost for those 5 hours would be £2.20.
The calculation looks like this –
1.3 kWh x 0.34 = 0.442 – so 44p per hour. Run for 5 hours that’s 44p x 5 = £2.20
Over one month the cost would be around £66 (2.20 x 30 days). However, if you used more heat at the weekend, your cost would be higher.
For example, you might need heating for 10 hours a day at the weekend if you’ll be home most of the time. That’s an extra 5 hours a day two days a week or 40 hours. So we need to add the cost of those extra 40 hours to the monthly total which bumps it up by £17.60 to £83.60 for 190 heating hours in total.
If you ran the heater at the highest setting to heat a larger room and it consumed power continuously, your heating cost would be double.
To work out how much it would cost you to heat one room with an oil-filled radiator, figure out how many hours you expect to run the heater each week then multiply by the hourly running cost.
In the United States, there’s a huge variation in electricity costs across the country. According to EnergyBot.com which monitors electricity prices, the cheapest electricity rates are in Utah at 9 cents per kWh, while the most expensive rates are in Hawaii where the cost is 42 cents per kWh. The average cost is 10 cents per kWh, so I’ll use that for the calculation.
Running an oil-filled heater for 5 hours a day on the low setting which uses a total of 6.5 kWh, at the average rate of 10 cents per kWh hour would give you a heating cost of 65 cents a day. Over one month the cost including extra weekend hours would be around $25 for 190 heating hours. On the higher setting, your cost would be $50.
You can also use a heater to give the room you’re in a boost if you run your whole house heating system at a lower temperature.
Since you’ll need to use the higher setting for a larger room, it makes sense to use a smaller room (if available) as your living room during the winter.
For readers in the UK, and in US states where energy costs are very high, heating one room for a few hours per day will certainly save money but what do you do if you’re at home for most of the day? Maybe you’re retired, unemployed, at home with small children, or like me, working from home.
How can you keep yourself warm when even heating just one room all day long may cost more than you can afford now that the prices have soared for energy and so many other essentials?
If you need to watch every penny at the moment, and I think many of us fall into that camp these days, then the only thing you can do is use less energy, which means heating yourself in other ways. And that’s what we’ll look at in option 2.
What’s The Cheapest Way To Stay Warm At Home This Winter? Option 2 – You Heat Yourself
Heating yourself uses a combination of 4 tactics:
- Find your minimum tolerable background temperature.
- Hold onto your body heat by wearing the right clothing.
- Use a sleeping bag or blanket when clothing isn’t enough.
- Add direct supplemental heat when you need it.
You’re going to find the minimum tolerable background temperature for your home, or a single room, then heat yourself for comfort at that temperature.
We’ll get into some details in a minute, but first, let’s look at the potential energy savings you can make.
How Much Will You Save By Adapting To A Lower Background Temperature?
Back in 2012, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change issued a report looking into the energy savings associated with various changes in consumer behavior. Their number crunchers concluded that by setting the thermostat a tiny bit lower and dropping from 20°C (68°F) to 18°C (64°F), the energy saved heating an average home would be in the region of 2630 kWh and 3900 kWh per year.
There’s a variation shown because the report takes into account both low and high-efficiency heating systems and differing levels of home insulation.
The current (Oct 2022) UK price of natural gas per kWh is 10.3p, and a quick calculation based on that rate shows that lowering the temperature by a small amount will save between £270 and £400.
And if we take a quick look at the average US natural gas price which is around $16 for 1000 cubic feet and do the math (1kWh = 3.41 cu ft natural gas) we get savings of roughly $130 and $210.
18°C (64°F) is still a cozy room temperature, though, and healthy people can go a lot lower than that and save even more money.
I’m not sure if energy savings are exactly linear as you continue to lower the thermostat, i.e. saving the same amount for each 2°C drop, but if they are then dropping 4°C from 20°C to 16°C could save UK readers between £540 and £800 at current prices.
Dropping 6°C from 20°C to 14°C could lower bills by £810 to £1200.
And if you dropped 10°C from 20°C to 10°C you could save between £1350 and £2000.
US readers could likewise see savings of up to $1050 by setting the thermostat to 50°F.
Look at your budget and work out what you can afford to spend on heating based on the rate in your location. If you look at last winter’s bill or check your energy consumption on your online account, you’ll see how much energy you used over the winter months last year.
Now, take the current rate and multiply that by the kWh or cubic feet you used. I’ll bet the amount you come up with is shocking.
Next, do another calculation based on the energy savings we just looked at. Take last winter’s energy usage, deduct 2630 kWh or 3900 kWh, to reflect a 2°C or 4°F drop, then multiply the remainder by your current rate.
Can you afford to pay that? If you can, that’s great and you won’t need to make too many changes to your lifestyle because you can compensate for a drop that small with an extra sweater or a set of long underwear.
If the amount you’ll need to pay is still far too high, then you’ll need to adjust to a lower background temperature.
Finding Your Minimum Background Temperature
Before energy price inflation sank its teeth into your life, you were probably used to a standard background temperature of around 20°C or 68°F.
Most people are comfortable in normal indoor clothing at that temperature, and 68°F is the indoor temperature recommended by the United States Department of Energy.
In the UK, a 2020 uSwitch survey found that two-thirds of households (17.7 million) set their thermostats to over 20 C (68 F), with 2.7 million homes heated to a positively balmy (or should that be barmy?)25 C (77 F) or higher.
To me, these are astonishing figures and they just go to show how accustomed we’ve all become to the relatively cheap energy that is unfortunately fast becoming a thing of the past.
Contrast that with the temperature I’m used to.
At my house, the lowest ‘comfortable’ background temperature is 10°C (50°F) – half the standard level.
I know that probably sounds crazy, but it isn’t.
At that temperature, as long as I’m dressed appropriately, I can sit and work at my desk without feeling cold. Actually, my nose will be cold, but that’s all.
The background temperature you need may be higher than mine, and you won’t know what you can manage with until you experiment.
Pay careful attention if you’re elderly, unwell, or if you have young children in the family. The elderly and the very young are less able to regulate their body temperature and can easily become too cold.
So how do you find your ideal energy-saving background temperature?
Start off with your thermostat set to a low temperature like 10°C or 50°F and layer up your clothing (see below).
If you’re not warm enough, add a blanket, sleeping bag, and/or a hot water bottle.
If you’re still not warm enough, turn your heating up a degree or two and see how you feel. Still chilly? Bump your heating up again.
Okay, so that’s a basic overview, but as always it’s the detail that’s important, so stay with me while we dig a little deeper.
Holding On To Your Body Heat Is the Cheapest Way to Stay Warm
Did you know that you’re a heat-producing engine?
You are. You’re a mighty furnace. And unlike your home heating system, your furnace is a finely tuned, ultra-high-efficiency model.
All day long (and all night long) the metabolic processes in your body pump out thermal energy keeping your body temperature at a cozy 37°C – 37.8°C (98°F – 100°F).
If you sat in a room that warm, you’d overheat in no time.
But we usually hang around in temperatures lower than that and when the external temperature is lower than our internal temperature, we lose heat to the environment.
If we lose too much heat, we get hypothermia and we die.
The clothes we wear affect the rate of heat loss.
In the summer we wear light, loose clothing so our body heat can escape. In the winter we can put the brakes on our heat loss by wearing heat-trapping clothing.
With the right clothing, we’ll stay warm.
It’s not rocket science, it’s just plain old common sense and it’s how our ancestors kept warm in their drafty huts and houses.
But we’re modern people with modern habits, and thanks to the affordability and abundance of fossil fuels, we’ve feasted at the cheap energy buffet and got used to lounging around in lightweight clothing even when it’s snowing outside.
If we want to feel warmer, we turn up the heat another couple of degrees without a second thought.
Heating the air in our homes is a wildly inefficient way to maintain our body heat, but it’s convenient, and sitting in a warm room when it’s cold outside is certainly one of life’s pleasures.
When energy costs were low enough that they didn’t eat up a significant percentage of household income, being inefficient didn’t matter so much, and comfort and convenience were an understandable priority for most people.
Now that energy is a significant expense, though, we need to layer up and keep our body heat close, and instead of heating the space you sit in, you heat yourself and maintain a warm envelope around your body.
Have you ever wondered how the climbers who adventure to the top of Mount Everest stay warm in sub-zero temperatures?
They eat high-calorie food, and layer up their clothing, trapping the heat their body pumps out.
Of course, you won’t be facing those temperature extremes in your living room, and there’s no need to rush out and buy special Everest-grade gear. Just layer your clothing properly and you’ll be able to stay warm and comfortable without using as much external heat.
What’s The Right Kind Of Clothing For Holding Onto The Free Heat Your Body Produces?
Choosing the right kind of clothing for indoor wear during the winter months is crucial if you plan on staying warm. You can’t simply throw on a sweater and think that’s going to work if your background temperature is 10°C (50°F).
Staying warm starts with thermal underwear or a thermal base layer, and it’s important to get this layer right by choosing a long-sleeved top and leggings.
For affordable, effective thermal underwear, the Marks and Spencer Heatgen Plus range is hard to beat.
These thermal tops and leggings are super soft, thick but lightweight, and incredibly warm, and you’ll notice the difference the second you put them on.
Compared to other budget-friendly brands I’ve used over the years, Heatgen Plus wins hands down.
Marks and Spencer deliver to most countries and you can shop in your own currency on marksandspencer.com by clicking the flag in the top right corner of their website.
(Grab an instant M&S discount by signing up for their newsletter).
Make sure you tuck your thermal top into your thermal leggings to create a heat envelope around your body.
Don’t underestimate the difference tucking in your clothing makes. When you’re untucked, you don’t have a secure thermal envelope, so heat escapes and drafts creep in.
Finish off your base layer with a pair of thermal socks.
Your next layer should be a long-sleeved top with a high neck and a pair of joggers or other winter-weight pants/trousers. Denim jeans have very little warmth, while cozy corduroy and heavy jersey are much better choices.
If you feel too cold, you could opt for a pair of insulated pants, otherwise, the clothing for your legs is done.
Your upper body still needs extra layers though. Mix and match a thick, long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt, with a sweater, a hoodie, or a light/medium weight fleece top. Add an extra layer of warmth when you need it with an insulated vest or body warmer.
I like hoodies a lot. Ones with a pouch pocket on the front provide the perfect place to pop cold hands, and the hood adds to the heat envelope effect.
Your head and neck are areas you must pay attention to. You lose a lot of heat through your head, and if your head and neck aren’t covered, you’ll feel cold.
If you’ve chosen a top with a polo-neck, you might not need anything else to cover your neck, otherwise, good choices are a lightweight scarf or neck gaiter.
Finish off your indoor winter wear with a pair of fingerless gloves or wrist gaiters.
To get an idea of how much warmth different types of clothing provide we can turn to some research to find out about clo units.
A Quick Look At Clo Units
A clo unit is a measure of the insulation provided by clothing. The higher the clo value, the warmer the clothing or clothing combo.
When clothing worn adds up to a combined clo value of 1, a person is suitably dressed for comfort while sitting still in a room at a temperature of 21°C (70°F).
On a warm summer’s day, a typical comfortable outfit will total 0.6 clo.
At the other end of the spectrum, someone hitting the ski slopes would typically wear clothing with a clo value of at least 2.
For each degree centigrade drop below 21C, you need to add around 0.16 clo of clothing to your outfit.
This table gives some average clo values for various types of clothing, it’s not too specific because clothing is made from different fabrics with different insulating properties. You can see a more complete list here.
|Clothing||Clo Value||Clothing||Clo Value|
|Women’s briefs||0.03||Long sleeve flannel shirt||0.34|
|Men’s briefs||0.04||Long sleeve sweatshirt||0.34|
|Long underwear top||0.20||Trousers/pants (thin)||0.15|
|Long underwear bottoms||0.15||Trousers/pants (thick)||0.24|
|Calf length socks||0.03||Thin sweater||0.25|
|Knee-high socks (thick)||0.06||Thick sweater||0.36|
|Shoes||0.02||Long sleeve pajamas (thick)||0.57|
|Slippers||0.03||Long-sleeved long robe (thick)||0.69|
Let’s put an outfit together.
|Long underwear top||0.20|
|Long underwear bottoms||0.15|
|Knee-high socks (thick)||0.06|
|Long sleeve jersey top||0.34|
|Long sleeve sweatshirt||0.34|
At 1.43 clo that outfit is pretty warm and it won’t be bulky. With a body warmer/insulated vest on top, the clo value would be closer to 2.
I don’t have a clo value reference for a body warmer because clo values are hard to find, but it stands to reason that an insulated body warmer would be warmer than a second sweatshirt which itself would add another 0.34.
For me, that’s usually a warm enough outfit to sit indoors at 10°C with a blanket over my legs.
Sleeping Bags And Blankets For Extra Warmth
Sleeping bags and blankets are essential for keeping warm when you can’t afford to run your heating as often as you would like. Used in addition to the type of clothing we’ve just talked about, you should be warm and cozy at lower temperatures.
There’s a good chance you’ve already got suitable blankets and sleeping bags stashed away, which is great because you won’t have to spend any money getting new gear.
But if you need a sleeping bag, then look around for a 2 or 3-season bag. Most sleeping bags you find at big box stores, or outdoor retailers will get the job done.
I picked up inexpensive 2-season, Basecamp 200 sleeping bags from Mountain Warehouse during one of their sales.
Mountain Warehouse runs regular sales (especially at weekends), so pop over to their website when you do your price comparison shopping and see if you can catch a discount. They cover the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.
If you look at the table below, you’ll see the average outdoor temperatures that different types of sleeping bags are usually designed for. Sleeping bags carry 2 ratings, the extreme rating, and the comfort rating.
The extreme rating is based on the survival temperature for a person wearing long underwear inside the sleeping bag. For example, in a 0°C (32°F) temperature, you would survive in a 2-season sleeping bag without suffering hypothermia, but you wouldn’t be warm.
The comfort rating is based on the temperature a woman in long underwear would be able to sleep and feel warm inside the bag. The rating is based on a comfortable temperature for women because sleeping women have a slightly cooler body temperature than sleeping men.
Based on the ratings, if you used a 2-season sleeping bag indoors, you could easily lower your room temperature quite a bit, especially as you’ll be wearing more than just long underwear.
As you can see from the table, a 2-season sleeping bag would be fine in a minimally heated home at 10°C ( 50°F).
Remember, you aren’t relying on the sleeping bag to be your sole source of warmth like you would be if you were using it on a camping trip.
|Type of Sleeping Bag||Extreme Temperature Rating||Comfort Temperature Rating|
|Season 1 Sleeping Bag||5°C (41°F)||15°C (59°F)|
|Season 2 Sleeping Bag||-5°C (23°F)||6°C to 15°C (42.8°F to 59°F)|
|Season 3 Sleeping Bag||-13°C (8.6°F)||2°C to 7°C (35.6°F to 44.6°F)|
|Season 4 Sleeping bag||-30°C (-22°F)||-4°C to -11°C (25°F to 12°F)|
What’s better a sleeping bag or a blanket?
Actually, they both have their uses.
I start with a sherpa fleece blanket (Mountain Warehouse again) then switch to a sleeping bag if I need to.
Here’s my dog snuggled up in her sherpa blanket.
To be honest with you, a sleeping bag is a pain in the you-know-where during the day. It’s super warm, but to get the full benefit you need to be inside the bag, and for me that makes leaving my desk to pop to the toilet, grab a snack, or let my pets out a colossal nuisance.
A blanket is easy to throw aside, but if you’re in a sleeping bag, you’ve got to unzip it and climb out, and if you’re a clutz like me, your feet get tangled up and you end up falling into things. Then you’ve got to get back in again.
Still, I’ll take fussing around with a sleeping bag when I need to over being cold.
In the evening, when there’s less need to venture off the couch, burrowing into a sleeping bag is the ideal way to stay toasty.
At night for an extra warm layer on your bed, unzip your sleeping bag and lay it over the top of your other bedding. Or, sleep inside the sleeping bag with your other bedding on top.
For Direct Supplemental Heat Use a Hot Water Bottle
A hot water bottle is a super efficient direct heating method.
With a hot water bottle, you get the direct transfer of heat from the hot water in the hot water bottle to your body. Direct heat transfer is the most energy-efficient way to get warm, and the water for a hot water bottle costs next to nothing to heat.
Best of all you can place the hot water bottle wherever you feel coldest. Maybe that’s your legs, your feet, or your back.
And you can go a step further by placing the hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag. That way you’ll get the benefits of direct heat transfer and the hot water bottle will warm up the air layer inside your sleeping bag. The sleeping bag will also act as an insulator for the hot water bottle, keeping it warm for longer.
Let’s work out how much it costs to keep warm with a hot water bottle with an electricity rate of £0.34 per kWh (the current UK price cap).
A standard hot water bottle has a 1.8-liter capacity, but for safety reasons, you should only fill it 2/3 full which is 1.2 liters.
A standard kettle has a 1.7-liter capacity and a maximum power draw of 3000 watts.
With a 3000 watt or 3 kW power draw, if you ran a kettle continuously for 1 hour you would use 3 kWh of electricity which would cost you about £1. But a kettle doesn’t take 1 hour to boil, most kettles will boil in 3-5 minutes.
Boiling a full kettle will cost you about 5 pence and give you water for your hot water bottle with enough left over to make a hot drink.
In your sleeping bag, the hot water bottle will stay warm for at least 1 hour. Which means it costs you 5 pence per hour to be ultra warm.
If you feel warm enough with your hot water bottle and sleeping bag without any background heating, then 5 pence per hour is your total heating cost until it’s time to fire up your heating system for some extra heat.
I think at 5 pence per hour, a hot water bottle inside a sleeping bag has to be the cheapest way to stay warm.
That just about wraps up this post.
For the cheapest way to stay warm this winter, set your thermostat at a lower temperature, heat one room, layer your clothing, use a blanket or sleeping bag when you need to, and when that’s not enough, add direct heat from a hot water bottle.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you can make use of this information to keep your family warm and lower your energy bills. If you think this post could help anyone else, please share it with your friends.