10 Unconventional Ways to Save Money on The Heating Bill

10 unconventional ways to save on the heating bills

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 in many 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. Generally, we pay about $50 to $60 more per month in the winter. 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 60s. It was refurbished with energy-efficient windows about 10 years ago and our condo is pretty good at holding in heat. I think 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 #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.

Build a kotatsu table

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 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. I hated 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 pay about $60/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 effects 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 simpler exercises 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 stovetop. However, I make an 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 helps 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 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.

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.

That’s all I got. Do you have an interesting way to stay warm in the winter?

*Passive income is the key to early retirement. These days, I’m investing in commercial properties with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the United States. It’s been working so well that I’m planning to sell our rental condo so I can invest more. Go check them out!

Disclosure: We may receive a referral fee if you purchase or signup for a service through the links on this page.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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54 thoughts on “10 Unconventional Ways to Save Money on The Heating Bill”

  1. One common gripe that I have is the widespread reporting of the statistic (and myth) that raising your thermostat by 1 degree will raise your heating bill only by 3%.

    This implies that if you raise your thermostat from 65 degrees to 70 degrees, your heating bill will go up ONLY by ~16%, for example, from $180 to $209. Not bad, huh? Only an extra $29.

    But that’s non-sense.

    From experience (and I have lived in many houses and apartments, some with central heat, some not), the actual heating bill will likely go up by an average of at least 6% to 8% for EACH degree of increase.

  2. I never turn on the HVAC winter or summer. OK, Atlanta has a mild winter but still, I use a space heater and fans in the summer and that’s perfect.
    Some say mold will happen but it didn’t. It’s only blablabla to make you spend more in energy

  3. While it’s a great frugal tip to lower the thermostat and bundle up in winter, there is potential for major disaster! If you live in an older house in a cold part of the country you may have water pipes that are not very well insulated. If these pipes are not getting enough heat, and the outside temperature drops below freezing, you run the risk of a frozen pipe – which can quickly lead to a burst pipe. I probably don’t have to tell you a burst pipe is often a shockingly expensive repair, and something you should avoid at all costs. So don’t just think about your own comfort when lowering the heat – think about your house too!

      • The problem is that thermostats are often located in the middle of the house. Even if you set it for 65, the exterior walls and the pipes located in those walls can be much colder. This is mainly a problem in older homes with no-so-great insulation. For instance, I live in Montana in a house built in 1900. I’ve learned from experience that I cannot set my thermostat lower than 64 without risking a frozen pipe on sub-zero days. All it takes is one weak section of insulation and you can have a major headache.

  4. I fully approve of these tactics, especially #10.
    I hate running the heater, and we rarely ever had down here in SoCal, but now that we have a baby I’ve been keeping it on overnight to help her sleep comfortably.

  5. This year we lowered the temp in our house by 1 degree from last year to 68 degrees. Just wearing an extra layer like a long sleeve shirt under my hoodie seems to make up for it. We’ll see how it affects the heating bill. Wool socks have made all the difference too!

  6. Some great ideas on here! But vents shouldn’t be closed on a forced air system in general. (The exception is if the furnace has been designed to allow for this.) It will cause the furnace to work much harder to push the air. This will cause the furnace to fail earlier. If the furnace is older, it may die right away. This happened to a friend of ours; they closed some vents in unused rooms and had to buy a new furnace the next week.

  7. The newer windows make a huge difference in savings for me and I put lined curtains on a few of the cooler rooms. I keep my house cool, wear sweats all winter, with warm socks, down slippers and use a down comforter on my bed…that does the trick. I follow most of your hints, and I really like your idea of eating spicy hot foods to warm your insides, hadn’t thought of that.

  8. Granted it doesn’t get comparably cold down here in Texas, but we’re still going to get into the very low 20s this weekend. One of the methods you described is used in our household quite often in the winter. every time the oven is used for cooking, we always leave the oven door slightly open after we’re done, to allow it to “cool” into our home, as opposed using its cooling fans, this also gives the added bonus of using less electricity! We also use a space heater in one of the rooms that always seems drafty, but what’s really helped us recently is changing out our 60 year old windows for new ones, that was a great investment.

    • New windows are so much better than the old ones. I’ll have to look into getting efficient windows when we move into our 100 year old rental…

  9. The trick is definitely to heat the person not the home. If you take steps to keep yourself warm, you won’t mind (or pay for) the whole house needing to be warm. Our biggest success on that front has been the heated mattress topper. It uses much less energy than heating the entire apartment and keeps us nice and warm while we sleep.

  10. RB40 –

    Great reasons. I typically do #10.. toughen the heck up! Obviously, keep my heating about freezing. I definitely gauge and monitor the thermostat, turning down to upper-mid 50’s and still am ginger when I’m home – low-mid-upper-mid 60’s. I work out at home, check, and use plenty of warmer liquids (Tea, coffee). Additionally – layering up. Great reasons above and recommend them!


  11. Glad Jr. got home ok. My son was almost 2 hrs late but still better than a lot of others. Enjoy the early winter break 😉

    After living here 20 years, we’ve definitely become more sensitive to the cold (came from northern MN) and appreciate our insulation and heating. And we’ve all been wearing sweaters or sweatshirts as well.

  12. Thanks, all of these are pretty good advice! We already have a kotatsu at home, and, since we moved from Japan to the US, we barely use it. Our trick is that the landlord is paying for gas, so we abuse the gas fireplace. Ha, that one’s for all the landlords in the personal finance blogosphere out here who are trying to squeeze as much as possible out of their “passive income”: us renters also have our tricks 😉

    Seriously though, my landlord is a pretty cool guy but he’s been increasing the rent by 5% every year which is kinda tough. So I might as well use the perks.

    • Makes me glad, our tenant pays for the gas. 🙂
      5% isn’t bad at all. Rent has been increasing quite a bit more than that in Seattle and Portland. Pretty crazy.

  13. great list with some unique ideas, Joe!

    In the winter time I open my blinds and curtains during the daylight hours to let the sun come in and help with the heat. Be sure to close them when the sun begins to set so that you’re warm air doesn’t escape!

    Make you you block/fix/plug up all drafts.

    Do you laundry during the evening – heat from the machines will transfer into your home.

    Cook in the home rather than going out to eat. When you’re done using the oven, leave the oven door open to let all of the heat out.

    Wear shoes and socks in the house. Cold feet = cold body.

    Sleep with a hot water bottle at night.

    I had some other ‘winterize your home’ tips on my blog as well. Thanks again for this list. I’ll have to check out that table!

    • Good idea with the laundry. I haven’t heard that one before.
      The hot water bottle is good too. Mrs. RB40 has a microwaveable heat pack that works very well. Same concept.

  14. We get pretty cold here in Ohio… last night it dropped to 1 degree F and that was before the wind chill. We have a programmable thermostat and I do let the heat drop pretty low at night (around 60-62 degrees). That might not be that cold for some people, but I’m a freeze baby so that’s really chilly for me. I’ll sleep with extra blankets on the bed and sometimes in a sweatshirt.

    You just reminded me how much I hate the winter… thanks a lot, Joe! 🙂 Time to figure out if Panama is the right move for us!

    — Jim

    • Brr… that’s cold. 🙂 Panama sounds good. I’d like to visit someday. When we’re retired full time, we’ll spend the winter in warmer locations.

  15. Today it is 10 degrees in my city. My windows are (partially) open, my fans are on, and I walk around the apartment in shorts and a tshirt. I haven’t worn a sweater in a year and a half. Why? Because I don’t control my own heat, and heat from the building keeps my place boiling hot. I hate it and would love to save some money on the heating bill. Instead, I heat the outdoors just to avoid heatstroke. The worst part is that I know the heating bill is an integrated part of my rent, and it’s being wasted…

  16. Fun article Joe with some great ideas. After living in an RV for seven years where we were subject to the outside temperatures to a greater degree than a stick home, cold temps are one area of concern as we age. There’s nothing like a warm, glowing fireplace. In fact, in our dream home we had a woodburning stove plus two fireplaces for 3000 sq feet. However, the downstairs main living area had a 32 foot ceiling. At the time when working with an architect it seemed lke a good idea, and the result would have been acceptable to architectural digest. But in reality, a stupid, stupid design for energy savings and warm, winter temps.

    When one is retired with the children gone, anything bigger than 1400 sq ft plus a garage and workshop is not necessary for the majority (IMHO). In fact, now after traveling around the world for 12 years, we are in a cozy apt with 1100 sq ft. After living in an RV with 200 sq ft, we could easily manage 900 sq ft which is not an unusual area for a small condo or apt. Let’s face it, we Americans are spoiled when it comes to space.

    However, we will survive the winter temps one way or another. And, yes, Sam I totally agree. head south or to Hawaii or someplace warm. We usually spend the winters in the deserts of Arizona and love it. In January, that’s exactly where we are headed. Thank God for the public lands of the American Southwest. May we keep them for all generations.

    • Wow, that’s a high ceiling. We had 20 ft ceiling at our old place and that was already tough to heat. That kind of ceiling probably works better in a warmer climate. Enjoy the Southwest! It’s been a colder than usual winter so far here in the Pacific NW.

  17. That table is interesting and I’ll definitely need to look into that. Our house is an old house with horrible windows and radiator heat, so our heating bill goes sky high in the winter. We typically just go with point 10 – toughen up.

    Also, that Google weather snapshot would be a heat wave here in Minnesota! I’d be biking home from work in that weather.

    • Heh heh, we’re wimps when it come to cold. I can’t live anywhere colder than this. 🙂
      You should try the kotatsu table. It is extremely helpful.

  18. I like the idea of exercising at home. BRRR, indeed!

    You forgot one. LEAVE! I’m currently on a 10 day business offsite in Hawaii to plan for the new year, and my heater in SF will be off the entire time I’m gone. Score one for being frugal and living a better life!


    • Good idea about leaving, but the problem is you have to come back.
      Thailand was hot and it was tough to come back after 3 weeks. It’s a lot colder here. When we retire full time, we’ll spend winter somewhere else. 🙂

  19. I’m frugal in a lot of ways, but I don’t worry too much about saving money on heat. I’d rather just be comfortable. The difference of a few dollars for a few months doesn’t mean that much to me.

    I’m interested in that table though. Unfortunately, I have no handyman skills and I’m a huge fan of lift-top coffee tables that come in a quarter circle shape to fit our sectional. They are pretty rare to find without adding the heating element requirement too.

    • The kotatsu table is extremely easy to build. Anyone can make one because most of it is already made. It’d be tough to find the right shape for you, though…

  20. Kotatsu table is pretty awesome. Had one of those when I was a kid. 🙂

    The thing with burning firewood indoor is that you need to watch out for air quality. Need to make sure you have one of those newer fireplaces that captures all the dusts so you don’t end up breathing them in.

    A few more ways to save heating bill:
    1. Having heavy curtains
    2. If you have wood floor, have large rugs.
    3. Invite friends over to your place and use their body heat to warm up the house. 😀

  21. To this list I would also add, “Live in Texas.” The one great thing about living in the south is that it doesn’t get super cold here. Now, that does mean we spend far more money during our 110 degree summers, so I guess it all evens out. I’m always shocked when I read blogs like Mr. Money Mustache that say not to turn on the A/C in the summer–that would probably kill us lol! But I guess that’s what you can do when you live in a mountainous climate, eh?

    When it does get a little chilly in the house, I do like to bake with the ovens, which warms it up a little bit. I’ll turn a cold Saturday morning into a bread-baking extravaganza and before you know it I’m sweating!

    • We’re pretty lucky to live in a mild climate. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold here.
      Texas was pretty cold when I visited last time in the winter, but much better than in the North for sure.
      Enjoy baking! 🙂

    • Texas is 28th place on this list of most & least energy efficient states + Wash. D.C. (#1 is the most expensive, #51 is the least expensive):

      Oregon where Joe lives is 48th — almost the cheapest state energy wise to live in.

      Living in temperate regions (e.g. west coast) has the lowest overall heating/cooling cost, but all the other costs are much higher.

  22. I’ve seen some people add more insulation to the walls through hanging tapestries or having thicker curtains for insulation. I guess I’m wimpy, because a cold home really puts me out of commission and I want to sleep all day.

    I think keeaping the feet warm is really what distinguishes between what is tolerable or not.

    • Keeping your extremities warm makes a huge difference. That’s why we love our kotatsu table so much. It keeps our legs warm. I think thick curtain could help, but I just don’t like the darkness. Winter is already too dark here.

  23. I am also a big fan of making pizza this time of year! We move all our cooking inside during the winter. Running the oven can make a big difference.

    Not having to go to work, I’ve been able to collect enough firewood to heat our home the entire winter. Most of it from friends who I help clean up trees in exchange for free fuel. Our house isn’t huge and the wood stove in the basement can heat the whole thing.

    Lately ive been also flexing my cold muscles by running to the gym in the morning. With my core body temp up, I can let the house temp slowly drop until the afternoon, then start a fire.

  24. Small home, yes. But we are still getting taxed to death! ha,ha, but not really funny.
    The Swiss know that eating chocolate conducts heat. No arguments there.
    Mother Earth News Magazine says that covering your windows w/insulated drapes, etc. is one of the best ways to retain heat-makes sense.
    I love the baking more cookie ideas from one of your readers! Bring it on.
    I would also like to hear an in-depth analysis from the Nest user sometime. I’ve had my eye on that gadget for a while now.

    • I’ll add chocolate to the list. 🙂
      I heard window shrink film work well, but I haven’t tried it yet. Our windows are quite new so I don’t think it’d make a big difference.

  25. Interesting ideas! I splurged on a Nest thermostat a few years ago. It seems to have cut back on our heating and cooling bills, but I haven’t conducted an in-depth analysis. Maybe I should? I’ll admit I’ve been more focused on saving in other areas. But my attic could definitely use some additional insulation.

  26. Cold, yes, we’ve got that here. This weekend, we’re expecting lows of -20 F and highs below zero. But please, tell me more about this cold snap in Portland. 😉

    I’ve decided that warmth is good, and while I do enjoy saving money, I also enjoy comfort. We went from a daytime thermostat setting of 68 last year, to 70 this fall, and split the difference at a long-sleeve comfortable 69. We do use a woodstove for heat and ambience some days. The problem is the periphery of the house gets no heat when we rely on the woodstove as the sole source of heat. It’s tough to beat standing next to a hot fire, though.

    I also encourage my wife to bake lots and lots of cookies. Heating the home with a 350 degree oven, with a pleasant side effect of more cookies.

    Stay warm!

    • It was crazy yesterday. That was the worse I’d ever seen in 20 years here. I guess we have a lot more people now and the road hasn’t expanded at all. A bunch of cars were abandoned on the road and there were many fender benders. We saw 20+ fender benders just in front of our building. RB40Jr enjoyed the show, though…
      I want to get a wood stove when we move into our rental home. It’d be great to have a fire again. Mrs. RB40 loves baking too. 🙂


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