Brr… The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we’ve got no place to go, let’s find some ways to save money on the heating bill. (Heh heh, I’m finally starting to get into the Christmas spirit.) It’s getting cold here in Portland. I’m a wimp even though the cold here is still much better than most parts of the US and Canada. Last week, we had a dusting of snow and the school shut down for two whole days. Portland (Oregon) just can’t handle snow. We may get a little more snow this week so RB40Jr is eagerly waiting to see if he’ll get a few more days off*.
Getting some extra days off is great fun, but it means we had to use more energy to heat up our home. Normally, I turn off the heat after Mrs. RB40 and Junior head out for the day and turn it back on when they get home. With the snow days and Junior at home, we had to keep the heat on all day, but we still do pretty well on our heating bill. We usually pay about $40-$50 more during the winter months. That’s not too bad for heating, right?
First, let’s go over our …umm… somewhat unusual heating arrangement.
We don’t have central heating
Our central heating system broke down about 4 years ago and we haven’t gotten around to fixing it. This is mainly due to the accessibility problem. The duct and pipes are stuck behind our full bookcases. We’d have to move these ridiculously heavy bookcases just to fix the heater. (At least, that’s what the heater guy told me 4 years ago.) We almost gave ourselves a hernia when we moved these bookcases from our old house and I don’t even want to contemplate maneuvering them around. Also, the heater is very old and we need to replace the whole system. That would cost over $3,000 and I’m not looking forward to that either. So we’ve had no central heat for 4 years. How did we survive?
I love concrete
We live in a 22 story concrete tower that was built in the 60’s. It was refurbished with energy efficient windows about 10 years ago and our condo is pretty good at holding in heat. I think the concrete is the key here. Concrete has awesome thermal mass which means the temperature doesn’t fluctuate as much in our building. In our previous standalone house, it was much more expensive to heat and cool. I think we also benefit from the neighbors heating up their units. The heat naturally transfers to our place. Our unit is usually about 30 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature in the winter and that gives us a very good head start. This morning, the indoor temperature was about 66° F when I woke up while the overnight temp outside was less than 30° F.
So instead of fixing our central heater, I got a couple of space heaters instead. Currently, we have an oil filled radiator heater for the living room and a ceramic heater for Junior’s room. This setup works well for us and it saves us quite a bit of money in the winter, but it has some drawbacks, too.
First of all, the radiator heater takes a little time to warm up. If you just came in from the cold, you want to warm up quickly, right? Luckily, we also have a kotatsu table which fills that gap and warms us up instantly. Let’s head on to the #1 on my list of 10 unconventional ways to save money on the heating bill.
1. Build a Kotatsu table
As Mrs. RB40 puts it – “the kotatsu table was our best purchase ever!” What the heck is a kotatsu table? It’s basically a coffee table with a big blanket over it and a heating element below. It warms your lower body very quickly and the warm blood flows to the upper body. That works very well in our temperature range. The kotatsu table is amazingly cozy and warm. We love it and spend an inordinate amount of time around the table in the winter. You can buy one on eBay for $150 – $500 OR you can build it yourself. Here is my guide on how to build a kotatsu table. It really is the best thing ever when it’s cold.
2. Look for free wood for the fireplace
When I was a kid, my dad always kept a lookout for free wood. Whenever he saw someone cutting down or trimming a tree, he’d ask them if he can take the wood. We’d load these huge logs into our van and take them home to split. We had a plenty of firewood to last the winter just by doing this. (We lived in Southern California so our winter was short and mild…) You would also get a very good workout splitting the logs and warm right up. I loathed that chore when I was young, though.
3. Live in a smaller home
We used to live in a 2,000 sq ft house and it cost a lot more money to heat in the winter. Now, we live in a 950 sq ft condo and we pay about than $50/month to heat our place up in the winter. Our building is very efficient so that helps a lot, too. Living in a smaller home makes a lot of sense financially because you save in so many ways.
- Utilities – It’s just cheaper to heat up a smaller space.
- Property tax, property insurance, and a smaller mortgage are all good side effect of living in a smaller home.
- Less stuff – Less space means less stuff unless you get a storage unit…
- Higher quality – You can splurge on higher quality materials when you remodel.
- Cleaning – less space to clean
Moving to a smaller home is really one of the best ways to reduce your expenses.
4. Minimize central heating
Central heating is very convenient, but you’re heating up a lot of space. Even in a small home, we spend most of our time in the living room and the kitchen. It’s not efficient to heat up the whole place when you’re in the living room 90% of the time. That’s why I like using the space heater. A radiator style electric heater is energy efficient and can easily warm up a small/medium size room. You’re just throwing money away if you heat up the rooms that you aren’t using.
If you have to use central heating, you should program it to a lower setting at night and when nobody is home. Also, close off the vent to the rooms that aren’t being used. (Beware: A reader commented that closing off vents can stress your furnace and it could fail early.)
5. Exercise at home
Here is a way to stay warm, get your exercise, and work while watching funny cat videos. Check out this FitDesk exercise bike with a work tray at Amazon. Look how happy this guy is! Normally, I don’t like multitasking, but this is pretty awesome. Unfortunately, we don’t have any space right now. This would be a great purchase once we have a bit more room.
If you don’t want to buy an exercise machine or don’t have space, then you can do a simpler exercise like pushups and jumping jacks. These simple exercises will get your blood pumping and warm you up very quickly.
6. Use the oven more
Cooking with the oven is a great way to warm up your home. Whenever I make pizza at home, the whole place warms up nicely for the evening. Cooking in the kitchen also keeps you moving and that will also warm you up. I always have to shed a layer or two whenever I’m in the kitchen. I usually cook Asian cuisine and that’s mostly done on the stove top. However, I make special effort to use the oven more in the winter. The pizza will also help with the next one…
7. Bulk up for the winter
Muscle tissue generates heat and fat help insulate it. That’s why muscular guys with a thick layer of fat are warmer than smaller people. Use that oven and eat more to bulk up for the winter. You also need to lift weights to build some muscles. This morning, I saw a dad dropping off his kid at school in scrubs. He didn’t look cold at all in the 30° F morning.
8. Eat warming food
Did you know that certain foods will warm you up? Try these and see if they help keep you warm.
- Coffee and tea – Caffeine helps raise your metabolism and encourages your body to burn fuel.
- Ginger – Ginger opens up blood vessels and improves your circulation. Ginger tea, fresh ginger, or even candied ginger would work.
- Spicy pepper and hot sauce – The capsaicin in peppers will get you sweating pretty quickly. Winter is a great time to make a nice spicy bowl of chili. Too bad Junior doesn’t like chili.
- Brown rice, quinoa, and other complex carbohydrates – Your body takes time to break down these complex carbohydrates and release energy slowly over time.
Basically, you should eat good fat and food that boosts your metabolism. Coconut oil, fish oil, and avocados are sources of good fat. Boosting your metabolism is a bit harder. You’d need to exercise and also eat foods that encourage higher metabolism. Also, minimize trans fat because they actually slow down your metabolism.
9. Indoor Camping
Here is a fun one for the kids. RB40Jr loves making a fort in our living room and it is very cozy in there. If you do it right, your body heat will warm up the space and you won’t have to spend much money on heat. Well, I guess this would work for a day or two, but it might be tough to hunker down inside a fort any longer than that. If you’re really low on cash, this might be a good solution until you start making some passive income.
10. Toughen up
Here is the last one and you won’t like it. Toughen up! 🙂 Your grandparents only had a wood stove and they survived the Minnesota winters just fine. Bundle up and get cozy with your loved ones because that’s the cheapest way to stay warm.
Lastly, be a kid. The little kids are always hot. They run around in t-shirts and they don’t feel cold at all. Their metabolism is through the roof and they are always active. Keep moving and you won’t feel cold in a 67 degree home. I can’t really do that, though. I’m over 40 and my metabolism already slow down quite a bit. At this age, I prefer more sedentary activities like reading or goofing off on the internet. Maybe it’s time to buy that pull up bar. That will warm me right up whenever I start to feel the cold.
That’s all I got. Do you have an interesting way to stay warm in the winter?
*It snowed about an inch on Wednesday afternoon and Portland metro became a huge parking lot. It seemed like everyone rushed out at the same time and proceeded to crash into everyone else. It was nuts! A ton of people took 3-6 hours to get their kids home from school. It made the our 50 minutes school bus delay seems trivial in comparison. Anyway, RB40Jr got his wish and school is close on Thursday.
Image credit: pixabay.com englishlikeanative