This time of year, we play a strange game of “chicken” at my house, watching each other to see who will break down and turn on the heat. We have radiant heat, which means a boiler circulates hot water through pipes in the cement foundation, warming it; the warm foundation in turn warms the floors which in turn radiate heat inside the house. I love radiant heat generally, but you can’t turn it on for just a few minutes to take off a chill. You’ve got to decide whether you’re going to warm the whole cement slab, or not; and you’ve got to decide the night before because it takes a couple hours for the system to get everything up to temperature.
In shoulder seasons, it can be either quite warm or quite cool, or go both ways throughout the week. Since we’d rather be too cool than waste gas, we keep the heat off until it gets consistently cold. As a result, our house is chilly on chilly fall days. This is a problem when I’m working from home because I’m likely to be sitting at my computer for hours on end and my extremities get cold.
I’ve recently learned that lots of people play this game in one form or another, and I picked up a bunch of helpful tips for others similarly inclined. Note, I am not trying to re-raise a Jimmy Carter In A Sweater ruckus, nor am I saying that climate change mitigation means we have to be cold in our houses. I’m just saying that if you want to keep your overall house heat down, here are some tips:
**Wear a sweater.** Yeah, I know what I just said, but still, dressing warmly is the simplest way to maintain comfort. A hat (even a baseball cap) is another good idea because so much body heat is lost through the head.
**Eat breakfast.** I don’t know if this is physiological or psychological, but I know I feel colder if I am hungry.
**Populate your home with throw-blankets.** Or those sleeved things. At our house, we use grandmother’s afghans.
**Use the microwave to warm things you can keep with you.** Ideas include Nalgene bottles filled with water to tuck under the covers; beenie-filled items you microwave then wear around (neck, wrists, booties… there are lots of these on the market).
**Use a mug warmer** (it’s like a very small, low-power hot plate). This is a product I thought totally ridiculous until someone gave one to me. The great part isn’t that it keeps the tea warm (an insulated mug will do that); the great part is that it keeps the mug warm. This way, I can hold the warm mug for a few minutes whenever my hands get cold.
**Heat your bed with an electric mattress pad cover.** Again, never thought I would use something like this. It’s designed to be turned on a few minutes before bed, and it heats up all the blankets because it’s on the bottom. You can turn it off immediately upon getting into bed. It is just nirvana to get into a warm bed in a cool house.
**Get a dog or a cat** small and cooperative enough to sit on your lap or your feet.
**Stand up and move around.**
**Space heaters.** I have mixed feelings about space heaters, and I have given up on them in our house. I don’t like the way the fan-type ones smell, and the dish-shaped radiant ones provide great heat but use a surprising amount of energy. Still, heating a small space with a portable heater may be preferable to heating an entire house – the specifics will depend on where your energy comes from and how much heat you need. For what it’s worth, my dogs prefer the space heater to sitting on my feet.