How to keep warm through winter without using the heating
22 February 2021 | Matt Mostyn
Staying warm without cranking up the heat can be a tricky business over the winter months. And with many of us currently working from home, running the heating more often can lead to some potentially eye-watering bills – and a spiralling carbon footprint.
But worry not! There are some smart ways to stay warm that don’t involve using too much central heating. So here are our top 10 simplest, most environmentally-friendly and cost-effective ways to stay warm this winter. They’ll help you keep your heating bills in check, and your tootsies warm – even when the wind howls and the rain lashes outside.
1. Layer up
It may sound obvious, but the best thing you can do if you’re feeling the winter chill is to throw on another layer. It’s the same principle as adding insulation to your home. Layers help to insulate your body, and make it easier to regulate your internal temperature. And of course, it’s really easy to slip them on and off as needed.
What’s key here is to keep your core warm – and fleeces are one great option, because they’re thick and cosy, without adding too much weight. Thermal underwear is another good bet for warming you up. And there’s no shortage of fans of wearable blankets like the Comfy – who say they’re like living inside a giant hug. Which, in the midst of our current lockdown, is definitely no bad thing!
Whatever you do to layer up, the trick is to reduce the contact between your skin and the air around you, and use layering to trap warm air around the centre of your body.
You can also ignore the old wives tale that tells you to throw on a hat because you lose half your heat through your head. In fact, you lose no more heat through your head than any other exposed part of your body – especially if you have hair. So reach for that beanie if you must – but don’t necessarily expect much benefit!
2. Heat the feet
Walking on a cold, draughty floor is one sure-fire way to give you the shivers – and interestingly enough, there’s a good reason why our hands and feet often feel the chill first. That’s because our bodies need to keep our vital internal organs warm. To do that, they cleverly shut off circulation to the extremities, so they can direct more warm blood to the important bits.
One quick fix for icy feet is to choose the right kind of socks. Cotton and synthetic socks aren’t great for trapping heat. And they can cause your feet to perspire, making them feel even more cold and damp. Instead, choose socks with a high percentage of wool.
They may be a bit more expensive, but wool is a fantastic insulator, and can absorb a lot more moisture. And because wool fibers are naturally antibacterial, you won’t need to wash them as much. Just try to find socks with high-grade Merino wool, which won’t itch – unlike some lower-grade wools.
And if you want to fix the cause rather than the symptom, think about taking steps to better insulate your floors. Anything from filling in gaps in floorboards and skirting boards, to throwing down a couple of rugs can do the trick.
For more ideas, check out point 5 below – and head to our how-to article on underfloor heating. Your toes will thank you – and because you’ll keep more warmth inside, you’ll likely use less energy – so the planet will, too.
3. Get moving
A quick burst of activity can do wonders for warming the body and pumping blood around. But you don’t need to go the whole hog with a full Joe Wicks workout. You could clean the house, do a little DIY, or challenge the kids to a hula-hoop championship. Even just a few star-jumps or some push-ups will likely be enough to help you create a little extra heat to stay warm.
Remember, it’s all about finding that happy balance. You only need to do just enough to feel warm again. Start sweating and you’ll actually lose body heat faster, which will just make you cold all over again. Which, if anyone asks, is the perfect excuse for a super-short workout!
4. Eat for heat
Food is fuel – but you don’t necessarily need to eat more to stay warm. Instead, eat smart. We know it’s even more tempting in winter to snack on sugary snacks like biscuits and chocolate bars.
But simple carbohydrates digest really quickly, so they won’t help you stay warm for long. Instead, stick to complex carbohydrates like whole grains, potatoes, and lentils, and start your day with a bowl of porridge, for that Ready-Brek glow.
Food that takes longer to digest can also help to raise your body temperature. Root vegetables like radishes, turnips, and sweet potatoes are one great example. Being quite slow to digest, they’ll cause your body to produce more heat than normal, as it works to break them down.
But on the other hand, if you think chilli could do something similar, not so fast. This is the one example where chilli does actually live up to its name. That’s because it makes you perspire slightly, which will only cool you down.
What you drink is just as important – and ginger is one miraculous little root for promoting blood flow, to help warm you up. Try making a hot ginger tea, or add it to soups, stews, or smoothies. You could even try making this delicious concoction, a ginger and turmeric juice shot to put some fire in your belly.
And if you tend to get cold easily, maybe drink more water. This seems counter-intuitive, but water helps to regulate your body temperature. When you’re dehydrated, your core temperature drops. Just drink it at room temperature, rather than over ice!
And finally, sorry to say it, but the “warming” effect of a nip of whisky is just temporary, and can even be counterproductive. That’s because alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, which makes the skin feel warm – but it actually causes you to lose that heat from your core. So you’ll end up feeling colder.
The short answer: you’ll use the heating less! Did you know that heating our homes accounts for a whopping 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions1? And in a typical UK household, more than half the money spent on energy bills goes towards heating and hot water2. So it makes sense that if you can stop any unnecessary heat loss, you’ll be keeping your home warmer for less, and you’ll also be helping the fight against climate change.
The rules are simple. Make every single crack, hole, or crevice that lets cold air in your enemy! Whether it’s gaps around windows, or draughts under doors, go on the hunt for the main offenders and take steps to silence them. Learn some great fast-fixes, with our guide to cheap and easy draught-proofing.
Some other quick DIY wins include installing reflector panels behind your radiators. They reflect heat back into the room, rather than letting it escape through an external wall. You can even improvise using tinfoil!
And if you’re handy with a power tool, you could even take it up a gear, and tackle some of the more important insulation jobs that could make your home even more energy-efficient. Here are a few ideas:
- Find out how insulating your loft can help you conserve energy and lower your bills
- Learn how and why to draught-proof your windows and doors
- Find out all about cavity wall and solid wall insulation
- Learn how to create a more energy-efficient heating and hot water system
- Find out how to get up to £5,000 of vouchers to make some brilliant energy-saving home improvements, with the Green Homes Grant
And remember, if you’re using less energy, you’re being charged less on bills. It’s as simple as that. The more energy-efficient your home, the less heating you’ll use, the cheaper your fuel bills – and the cosier your winter!
Interested in reducing your carbon footprint and your bills even further? Get a quote in just 2 minutes and switch to OVO.
6. Shut that door
One quick and easy way to use less heating (and cut your bills) is to avoid warming rooms that you don't spend a lot of time in. Whether it’s a spare bedroom, or a dining room, it makes sense to turn the radiators off in these rooms unless you’re using them. Thermostatic radiator valves are very handy here.
They allow you to adjust the temperature of individual radiators, which means you can set the best temperature to suit different rooms.
Remember to also keep the doors to unused rooms closed. That stops warm air from the areas you’re heating escaping into those rooms, and colder air from those rooms from creeping in. And finally, closing the doors of the rooms you’re heating will also really help.
Most heating systems work by creating what’s called a "convection current". Hot air rises, moves round the room, sinks down, and travels back to the heater, to be warmed up once more. By keeping the doors of each room closed, you’ll encourage this cycle, so the room stays cosy.
7. Tweak the heat
You can also take some simple steps to optimise your heating so it’s as energy-efficient as possible. So for instance you could try:
- Setting your boiler to turn the heating on 30 minutes before you get up in the morning – but at a lower temperature. Doing that will be cheaper than turning it on at a higher temperature when you need it.
- Avoiding leaving your heating on all day, which wastes energy and raises bills.
- Lowering your thermostat setting by one degree – and see how you go. If you feel cold, just bump it up again. Every degree helps!
- Setting your timer for the heating to come on when you return from a trip out. Get yourself a smart thermostat and you can time your heating or air conditioning to only run when you need it. You could, for instance, programme it to lower the temperature a few degrees when you’re not home. And if you’re going to be back earlier (or later) than expected, you can simply change it with the touch of a phone button.
- Getting a smart meter is another great way to help you see how much energy you’re using. It can give you some interesting insights into what you’re using on heating, helping you to tweak your energy use, and cut back where you can.
8. Sneak some heat
Heat comes in many forms, so you don’t always need to rely on your central heating to stay warm. Here are some bright ideas to help you steal a bit of heat from other sources:
- If it’s sunny, throw open your curtains to warm the room with sunlight.
- Leave the oven door open after you’ve finished cooking, to create a bit of extra heat in the kitchen (though of course, be careful if you have pets or small children).
- Cuddle up with your pets and loved-ones. You don’t really need an excuse for this one – but dial up the cosiness by snuggling with the kids, or train the cat to sit on your lap while you’re working. It probably won’t need much encouragement!
9. Use heat pads
There are some great low-cost options out there to help you concentrate heat where you need it most. So rather than heating the entire room, get yourself a heated seat cushion.
They come in all shapes and sizes, and you can choose from plug-in options to battery operated, USB chargeable, and microwaveable ones. And even just a good old-fashioned hot water bottle wrapped in a towel is perfect for warming your hands and lap while you’re sitting.
10. Reverse the fan
It might sound counterintuitive to switch on a ceiling fan when you're feeling cold – but it can actually help to warm you up! If you’ve got one, set it to turn at a low speed in a clockwise direction during the winter months. This will push the warm air that rises toward the ceiling back down towards you. Clever stuff!
Learn 120 more quick and easy energy-saving tips, with our run-down of the best ideas
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Sources and references
1. This figure comes from this report by the Committee on Climate Change and its Adaptation Committee.
2. This figure comes from this report by the Committee on Climate Change and its Adaptation Committee.
3. The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work
4. Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.
5. Interest Rewards are paid on credit balances of customers paying by monthly Direct Debit. It is calculated at 3% in your first year, 4% in your second year and 5% in your third year (and every year thereafter) if you pay by Direct Debit.