How To Keep Your House Warm In Winter

Every year winter arrives, and with it comes the challenge of maintaining a warm and comfortable home—especially for those managing the complexities of M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or those caring for someone who is. For those facing the daily realities of M.E., comfort isn’t just a luxury; it’s a vital aspect of staying ahead of as many symptoms as possible. 

In this guide, I’ll aim to provide straightforward, actionable advice to create a snug living space without unnecessary fuss; offering practical insights and tips to make your home warm this winter.

We’ll explore the essentials: from re-familiarising yourself with and optimising your heating system and fortifying against drafts to making simple, impactful changes to your living space. 

Your comfort matters. Let’s go. (Check out the table of contents below for a TL;DR version)

Why Is A Warm Home So Important?

We’ve all done it. As soon as the temperature starts to drop, we dig out our favourite blanket, grab our ‘indoors jacket’ and throw the wheat pack in the microwave.

But instead of muddling through the cold months, what if we could improve our environment on a home-level, rather than playing ‘every person for themselves’ when it comes to maintaining an acceptable, comfortable level of warmth when living with M.E.?

Financial Benefits of a Well-Heated Home

  • Energy Conservation: Efficient heating practices help conserve energy, translating to potential important cost savings on utility bills. The more efficient your setup, the less you’ll likely have to use additional (more expensive) measures such as storage heaters.

Long-Term Savings: Investing in proper insulation and heating solutions can lead to substantial long-term savings by reducing the overall energy consumption of your home. If you have the financial ability to ‘front-load’ this sort of work, future-you will thank you.

Impact on Health and Wellness

  • Temperature Sensitivity: Individuals with M.E. often experience heightened sensitivity to temperature fluctuations. Maintaining a consistently warm home environment helps manage symptoms and enhances overall comfort.
  • Reducing Stress: A well-heated home creates a stress-reduced space (both physically and mentally – no more worrying about the ‘how’ of keeping toasty), promoting relaxation and aiding in the management of M.E. symptoms.

Next up are some practical steps: from figuring out what sort of setup you have now (and remembering how it works!) to upgrades that are renter-friendly, and some that are more structural.

First Step: Assess Your Home’s Heating System

Before anything else, we need to make sure the system we have already is as efficient as possible. A well-maintained heating system is the cornerstone of a warm home. Let’s delve into some practical steps for understanding your current setup.

Inspecting and Maintaining Heating Systems

  • Check Before You Need It: I’m not saying that you should start turning your boiler on mid-summer, but using it for one day in mid-autumn to ensure that everything works as it should and there are no odd noises or gurgles coming from it is a great way to determine if anything might be ‘off’ before you desperately need it.
  • Note The Quirks: If your heater is making odd noises or isn’t turning on at the times you’re setting on your thermostat, don’t ignore it and hope that the good old ‘switch it off and on again’ will work. However small the issue is, make a note of it and ask a professional why it’s happened and how to prevent it in the future.
  • Regular Professional Checks: Consider hiring a professional to conduct an annual inspection and servicing around the end of autumn (it’s much more difficult to get a call-out mid-winter). They can address technical issues, clean filters, and optimise the system for efficiency. In the UK, routine boiler maintenance costs around £50 per year (or often cheaper if you pair it with a service such as a gas appliance check).

Heating Systems Maintenance Checklist

  • Refamiliarise Yourself: Read through your boiler manual (and other instruction manuals where relevant) to refamilarise yourself with how to use everything before winter sets in.
  • Inspect the Furnace Filter: If you have a furnace, check the filter and replace/clean it if dirty. A clean filter improves efficiency and indoor air quality.
  • Test the Thermostat: Verify that the thermostat is functioning accurately. Consider upgrading to a programmable or smart thermostat for better control.
  • Clean Heating Vents and Registers: Remove dust and debris from heating vents and registers to ensure proper airflow.
  • Bleed Radiators: If you have a hot water radiator system, bleed radiators to release trapped air and improve efficiency.
  • Know The Numbers: If you have a trusted tradesperson, make sure you still have their current phone number (you can check against their online listing or – if you’ve been in touch via text previously – send them a quick message), and ask them if they’re still working over the winter, and if so what their callout charge is.

Renter-Friendly Changes To Improve Home Heating

For folks who are renting their living space, the quest for a warm home often comes with the challenge of navigating lease restrictions. This section offers a list of inventive, non-permanent changes that are renter-friendly (or even if you own your home but don’t want the hassle of structural/large projects) but still effective for keeping your house (or apartment) warm.

Insulation and Energy Efficiency

  • Heavy Drapes and Curtains: Use heavy drapes or curtains to add an extra layer of insulation. Closing them at night (and even in unused, non-sunlit rooms during the day) helps retain warmth and can be especially effective in bedrooms.
  • Draft-Proofing (Thermal) Curtains: Choose curtains with built-in draft-proofing features. These specialised curtains often have thermal lining that minimizes drafts and enhances heat retention.
  • Ceiling Fans: Reverse ceiling fan direction to circulate warm air downward during the winter. (No, I didn’t know this was a thing either!)
  • Radiator Reflector Foil: Here at Casa Cayack, we invested in some inexpensive radiator reflector foil just for the rooms where we usually turn on the radiators: the main bedroom, the small bedroom (aka my office), and the main bathroom. (All of these radiators are also affixed to externally-facing walls). We’ve not been using them for long so the jury is still out in terms of whether we purchased the ‘best’ brand, but we have noticed a bit of a difference since ‘installing’ them.

Coming Soon: Are Radiator Reflectors Worth It?

  • Draft-Check Doors: Check for gaps around windows and doors, common culprits for drafts. Use weatherstripping to seal these gaps, preventing cold air from entering and warm air from escaping.
  • Window Film: Apply thermal window film to existing windows. This thin layer adds insulation by trapping air and reducing heat transfer, contributing to a warmer interior.
  • Insulated Door Blinds: For glass doors, consider insulated door blinds. These not only provide privacy but also contribute to temperature control by minimizing heat loss.
  • Electrical Outlets and Switches: Inspect electrical outlets and switches on exterior walls. Install foam gaskets behind these fixtures to minimise drafts and improve insulation.
  • Use Door Draft Stoppers: Create or purchase draft stoppers for doors to prevent cold air infiltration. (Extra points for any that take the shape of sausage dogs or dragons).
  • Install a Door Sweep: Attach a door sweep at the bottom of exterior doors to block drafts (these are different to stoppers as they are actually attached and can open with the door itself, rather than lying in front).
  • Insulate Water Heater: Wrap the water heater in an insulation blanket to conserve heat and reduce energy consumption.
  • Furniture Placement: Arrange furniture to maximise warmth from heating sources. Make sure large pieces of furniture aren’t blocking the heat from radiators etc, and place them against external walls where possible.
  • Rugs and Carpets: Place rugs or carpets on cold floors (such as tile or wood) to insulate and add comfort. Remember that some types of rugs or carpets may not be suitable for wheelchairs and other mobility equipment, though.
  • Cover Bare Walls: Hang tapestries or artwork to insulate walls and add visual warmth.
  • Heat-Reflective Panels: Hang heat-reflective panels on walls to bounce warmth back into the room.
  • Use The Sun: On sunny days, keep the windows closed but open the curtains/shutters to let the sunlight in to warm your home as much as possible.
    • Once the sunlight moves away and especially at night, close thick curtains across your windows to stop cold air coming in. It’s all about trapping the day’s warm air inside.

Structural Home Changes For Improved Winter Heating Efficiency

Unfortunately, if you live in an older home or want the best efficiency possible when it comes to keeping your home warm in winter, some of the options are going to require structural changes.

  • Insulate Attic: Ensure proper insulation in the attic and walls to prevent heat loss. There are lots of options for this, but we don’t have an attic so I’m afraid I can’t write from experience! Make sure that your loft has at least 10–11 inches (270mm) of insulation. Any home with 4 inches (100mm) or less should have it topped up.
  • Improve wall insulation: Assess the insulation in exterior-adjacent walls (e.g. the walls that face the outside of the home). If possible, consider adding insulation to walls, either by injecting foam or adding batts, to improve overall energy efficiency.
  • Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Windows: Consider windows with Low-E (low-emissivity) glass, which reflects heat back into the room while allowing natural light to enter. This type of glass minimizes heat loss during colder months.
    • (Apparently triple glazing is also a thing now…)
  • Seal Unused Chimneys: Close off unused chimneys to prevent heat from escaping.
  • Wall-Mounted Radiant Panels: Install wall-mounted radiant panels for efficient heating.
  • Heated Towel Rails: Install heated towel rails (basically just vertical radiators, to be honest…) in bathrooms for added comfort.
  • Solid Core Doors: Consider replacing hollow-core doors with solid core doors. Solid doors provide better insulation and can help maintain a consistent temperature within rooms.
  • Underfloor Heating: Install underfloor heating systems for consistent warmth.
  • Inspect Insulation in Crawl Spaces:
    • Check and improve insulation in crawl spaces to prevent heat loss.
  • Evaluate Insulation in Garage: If you have an attached (rather than a free-standing) garage, check and improve insulation to prevent heat loss from connected living spaces.
  • Evaluate Ductwork:
    • Check for leaks or damage in the ductwork and repair as needed.

Energy-Efficient Heating Practices

  • Zone Heating: If possible, implement zone heating by heating specific areas when in use, rather than heating the entire home consistently. This can be particularly beneficial for managing energy costs.
    • Close doors between rooms that are not in use (e.g. if you have a spare bedroom, bathroom, or hallway).
    • Make use of any “spare” heat if you can. If you’re done cooking and the oven is turned off plus it’s safe to leave the oven door open, do so! That way the heat flows into the room. Heat from a hot shower or bath can also warm up a bathroom or bedroom sufficiently to get dressed and into bed in relative comfort.
  • Programmable Thermostats: Invest in programmable thermostats to regulate temperature based on your daily routines. This ensures comfort when needed and energy savings when spaces are unoccupied.
    • Time your heating: Set your heating to come on just before you usually wake up, 30 mins after you usually turn the light out to sleep. What’s comfortable for each individual may vary, but research suggests that folks should try to aim for around 21c (70f) in the day, and 18c (64) at night.
    • Smart Thermostats: Explore smart thermostat options that allow remote control via smartphones. This technology offers precise temperature management, adapting to your preferences in real-time. Smart thermostats allow remote temperature control for comfort and energy savings.
    • Home Automation Systems: Explore home automation systems that allow you to control heating remotely. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals managing M.E., providing convenient temperature management from the comfort of your bed or couch.

Use of Blankets and Layers: Encourage the use of cozy blankets and layered clothing to supplement heating, providing additional comfort without relying solely on the heating system. (I go into more detail about these and other ideas in the article linked below).

Related Article: Personal Warmth in Winter

Additional Heating Considerations for M.E. Symptom Management

  • Temperature Consistency: Individuals with M.E. often benefit from a consistent temperature. To reduce temperature fluctuations as much as possible, use programmable thermostats to maintain a stable and comfortable environment.
  • Air Quality: Ensure that heating systems also contribute to maintaining good air quality, as poor air quality can exacerbate symptoms of M.E and, in the damp winter, will also guard against mould. This covers both purification and humidity.

Coming Soon: Air Quality and M.E.

Over To You!

Is there anything on the list you want to try? Anything that we’ve missed?
Let us know in the comments box below. 🙂

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