Nine ways to keep warm at home… without turning up your heating

Most of us simply can’t afford to crank the heating up
Most of us simply can’t afford to crank the heating up

Rain is lashing down, the nights are drawing in and the Met Office is warning that temperatures are expected to be below average next week, especially in the south, which is due to be lashed by cold winds from Scandinavia and Russia. But extortionate energy bills mean most of us simply can’t afford to crank the heating up – so what can we do? Here are nine alternative ways to keep warm this winter…

1. Have a hot lunch... and leave the oven door open

Certain foods have been shown to activate thermogenesis, the body’s natural production of heat. Whole grains, such as oats, brown rice and quinoa, are high in bran and fibre, which are slow to break down. This lengthy digestion process releases warming energy and also prevents spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to dips in body heat.

Spices are a winter diet essential. Ginger has vasodilating properties, meaning it relaxes blood vessels, which in turn increases blood flow, while cayenne pepper contains a phytochemical called capsaicin, which cranks up the heat in your body.

Also recommended are bananas, rich in B vitamins and magnesium, which support the health of the thyroid and adrenal glands, essential for regulating body temperature. And don’t skimp on caffeine: not only will a hot cup of coffee warm those cold hands, but it increases your metabolism, which in turn generates heat.

If you are using the oven, leave the door open when you’re done – and consider working from the kitchen, to benefit from the ambient heat, while you cook.

2. Bubble wrap your windows

Almost a fifth of heat from your house escapes through the windows – even when they’re closed. This is because warmth is conducted through the frames and radiates outwards from the glass.

Phil Ashenden, of Suffolk-based Ashenden Architects, has an unusual suggestion for winter-proofing your windows. “Try putting bubble wrap over the glass,” he says. “The air bubbles work as insulating pockets, and this method can reduce heat loss through glass by up to 50 per cent, while still letting light through from the outside.”

He also recommends checking the trickle vents at the tops of your windows are shut. “If these are left open constantly, they’re a direct link to the chilly air.” For added insulation, try DIY sealants on your window frames, between floorboards and in unused keyholes – all unwitting sources of draughts. You can buy foam sealing tape on Amazon (£10.99, Amazon), as well as gap-filling putty (£13.99, Gapseal) and keyhole guards (around £4, most DIY shops).

3. Rearrange your furniture

Obstructing radiators with large pieces of furniture can stop heat getting into – and circulating around – a room. Make sure heat sources are unblocked and arrange furniture around the edges of a room to allow warm air to move freely. If you’re working from home, put your desk in a cosy corner, near a radiator but away from doors and windows where heat could escape.

Ashenden suggests relocating your whole workspace for the winter months. “Warm air rises, so, if you have the space within a room upstairs, try moving your home office to a higher level,” he says.

And why not consider giving the walls a lick of paint, too? “Repaint ageing brickwork and masonry,” adds Ashenden. “Cracks in joints are often the source of air leakage, particularly in older buildings.”

4. Close the curtains at 3pm

There might not be much sunshine around, but make the most of the daylight hours by letting natural light flood in. Experts suggest leaving curtains open until 3pm, an hour before sunset, to allow the room to heat up during the day – and retain its warmth overnight.

If you can, swap lighter blinds and toiles for heavy sash curtains; the thick fabric is a better insulator. It’s also worth shutting off rooms you’re not using during the day. “Keep internal doors closed and compartmentalise rooms to help control and retain heat,” says Phil.

5. Move yourself warm

Health experts recommend getting up and moving around at least once an hour to boost circulation and stop the cold from setting in. Polar explorer Eric Larsen, who has survived sub-zero conditions in Antarctica, says: “I’m all about avoidance, which means managing your layers so you never get cold. If you do get cold, movement is the best tool you have. Keep moving until your body temperature rises enough to where you’re producing excess heat and you’re comfortably warm.”

Easy indoor exercises include shoulder shrugs (which pumps warm blood down your arms and into your fingers), windmilling your arms (which generates heat by activating muscles in your shoulders and upper back) and – if you have the mobility – jumping jacks (which raises your heart rate). Repeat each 15-20 times for a quick-fix winter warmer.

For the multitaskers among us, ten minutes of brisk vacuuming or mopping the floor will also get your heart pumping.

6. Focus on your fingers

Women, especially, are prone to getting cold hands: research published in The Lancet found the temperature of women’s hands is, on average, 2.8 degrees lower than men’s. This is due to cells called thermo-receptors below the surface of the skin, which shut down in the cold, diverting warm blood elsewhere.

“Women do tend to feel the cold more,” explains Dr Clare Eglin of the University of Portsmouth. “Because of the hormone oestrogen, blood vessels in the hands and feet are more likely to constrict and that makes us feel cold.”

Short of wearing gloves at your desk, simple exercises can counteract this effect. Try rubbing your palms together vigorously, and repeat on the backs of your hands: the friction will generate instant heat. Hook the fingers of both hands together and pull in opposite directions, or touch each of your fingers with your thumb in turn and repeat until you feel warm.

If all else fails, you could invest in a heated computer mouse, which uses infrared to warm your hands as you work (£18.99, Hot Mouse).

7. Turn your heating down

It might sound counter-intuitive, but experts insist dialling down your central heating by 1-2 degrees will make no discernible difference to the temperature of your house – and, according to the Energy Saving Trust, could cut your annual bill by 10 per cent. And resist the urge to keep the heating on low all day. Instead, best practice is to switch it on for set periods – a couple of hours twice a day; such as 9-11am and 3-5pm – to boost the indoor temperature.

Turn it on half an hour before you need it, to give it time to heat up, and turn it off half an hour early as your boiler will still emit heat while cooling.

8. Make a DIY draught excluder

“Heat loss through gaps is one of the main battles when it comes to keeping warm,” says Ashenden. “The closer to airtight you can make a space, the better.” He advises covering cracks in floorboards to minimise cold surfaces. “If your home office has a hard floor, try introducing a rug or even laying a blanket down. Layer them up if you have spare.”

Draught excluders can reduce heat loss under doors by as much as a third. If you don’t have one to hand, make one: all you need is a pair of old tights and two lengths of pipe insulation (or wrapping paper tubes stuffed with tissue). Measure the width of your door and cut the pipe insulation to fit. Snip one leg off the tights and slide both lengths of insulation inside, before tying the end. It should fit perfectly under the door, with one piece of insulation on either side.

Make the most of your radiators, too. Bleed them regularly to ensure they’re working at full capacity and don’t have trapped air bubbles. Ashenden adds: “Consider installing radiator reflector panels, which work by reflecting heat at the rear of the radiator back into the room, rather than it being absorbed within the wall.”

9. Heat your seat

If you spend most of the day sitting at your desk, consider a heated seat. Dutch company Stoov sells electric heat pads designed to fit over most office chairs, which use infrared heat up to 42C to warm your body and soothe stiff backs (£139.99, Stoov). You can also buy heated seat cushions (from £49.99, Amazon), pillows (£35, Lloyds Pharmacy) and fleece-lined foot warmers (£41, Lakeland), all designed to keep you warm while you work.

And, if you’re still resisting putting the heating on, try an energy-efficient infrared heater. Normally used for patios, indoor versions of these gadgets are ideal for small office spaces and can heat a room in seconds. Online warehouse Garden Sanctuary sells a remote-controlled one (£57.99, Garden Sanctuary) which generates 2000W of heat, equivalent to a roaring fire.

Do you have any alternative methods for keeping your home warm? Let us know what they are in the comments