Staying warm this winter

Winter is well and truly here, so keeping your home toasty on the inside is often at the top of everyone’s priority list. Fortunately, most new homes have a minimum six-star energy rating. Yet, complaints about temperatures in confined spaces are very common – it is either too hot or too cold; the temperature varies drastically through the day; the draughts are terrible; and so on. It’s not only the temperature that affects how people feel, but also the humidity levels and air movement. If you’re having trouble setting a temperature that is enjoyed by all, you’re not alone. Generally speaking, the optimal temperature for women is three degrees Celsius warmer than men. Solving the battle of the sexes is another issue altogether, but there are many methods to maintain warmth indoor to the satisfaction of both parties.

Proper insulation is the first and most obvious step as a well-insulated home provides comfort and significantly lowers heating bills. It’s always easier to insulate your home before you move in, so make sure you identify the possible gaps in various areas of your home (heat can escape through the ceiling, walls, windows and floor) and seal them. If you need to tackle this after you have moved in, it is recommended that you first determine where you need insulation, along with the recommended R-values of the areas you would like to insulate. An R-value measures the resistance to heat flow – the higher the R-value, the higher the level of insulation. Once you have your product, check for details such as the R-value and whether it requires professional installation — some types of insulation require the use of masks and protective clothing. Ensure that it suits your particular application and fits within the space available.

Blocking wind is another important step to staying warm, as winter drafts can significantly drop indoor temperatures. Practically, this means making sure your doors and windows are sealed to prevent air leaks. Up to 40 per cent of heat can be lost through windows, so it’s important to seal them properly. Sealing gaps and cracks is a convenient tip. If you add up all the cracks and gaps in an average home, it would be the equivalent of having a 1m x 1.5m window open all the time – which accounts for up to 15-20 per cent of heat loss.

Chances are that you’ll be wearing layers in winter, and so should your windows. Replace thin curtains with heavier wool or fleece drapes, although remember to open them on sunny days for free heat. Windows aren’t the only draught culprits, as doors can also be guilty of this icy-cold crime. A simple door snake or a rolled-up towel can really help. Covering the floor with rugs also plays a role as they act as insulation between your feet and the cold, hard floor. Believe it or not, reverse ceiling fans can also combat cool indoor temperatures. Warm air rises, so if  you’re able to flick the reverse switch, the fan blades will turn anti-clockwise and push the warmth from your heating system back down so your room maintains the heat. 

In the longer term, maintaining and servicing your heaters professionally at least every two years will help keep them running more efficiently, and thus save on bills. If there are any rooms in the house that aren’t being used, close the doors and turn off the heating in that area. It might feel great to have your favourite seat in front of the heater, but that particular position absorbs heat that could be warming your home. By moving it away from the radiator, hot air can circulate freely. The same goes for curtains or where you dry your clothes indoors – keep them away from the radiator so that you can get the most out of your heat source.

If you want to take the party outdoors, there are countless options to keep you and your posse just as toasty as you are when indoors. There is a tendency to shun the great outdoors in cooler temperatures, but research shows that there are many benefits to being outside over winter – even if the temperatures are low. There’s something inherently healing about spending time outdoors. Part of it has to do with exposure to natural light. Spending time outdoors is a recommended treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is sometimes called “winter depression.” Outdoor light exposure may help your mood, even if it’s cold and cloudy. And if the temperatures dip too low, there’s always adequate heating to support your outdoor adventures in the colder months. Luckily for us, outdoor heating allows people to stay substantially warm in unenclosed spaces, and there are a variety of outdoor heating appliances – from gas patio heaters, quartz or ceramic electric lamps, to wood-burning chimenea and fire pits.

Gas heaters
Outdoor gas heaters are probably the easiest way to add warmth to your al fresco. The heaters are portable and affordable, and because they use radiant heat, there is a steady stream of warmth that is easy to control. They’re clean burning (i.e. leave little contamination while consuming fuel) and practically odourless. There are plenty of outdoor gas heaters in styles and sizes to suit any al fresco space. Table-top heaters are great if you’re working with a smaller space, while patio heaters are best for warming more expansive areas, such as the patio, deck, or around the pool. Some gas heaters can be connected to your natural gas line, but for portable heaters you’ll need to get a propane gas bottle to connect it to the heater. In either case, gas heaters are an energy-efficient and economical way to keep warm.

Wood heaters
Wood heaters, or chimeneas as they are sometimes known as, come in a range of styles and shapes. Just like a potbelly stove, they work by burning wood but with wood heaters, you can use anything from newspapers to garden waste. It is akin to having a portable fireplace on your patio. The chimeneas have an advantage over other heaters and this is that the fire within it is contained. This way, any wind or breeze won’t affect the flames and those sitting around the fire won’t get ash or smoke blown into their faces – always handy in a social situation! Wood heaters also retain heat well. They are a good option for contained and covered outdoor spaces. Beautifully designed and environmentally friendly, these heaters look great and offer reliable radiant heat with low emissions. Plus, they’re safe and can warm up larger areas quickly.

Fire pits
Alternatively, fire pits offer an open fire, which you can keep building with as much wood as the pit will hold. They come in a variety of bowl shapes and sizes and make great centrepieces. The best thing is you get 360-degree heat that people can gather around. The downside is your fire is more vulnerable to other elements and can get smoky.

Electric heaters
Heat strips are a stylish and energy-efficient heating option for covered outdoor areas. They’re ceiling mounted and provide radiant heat, which is more effective than convection heating and provides targeted warmth. With their low-key style, electric heaters fit in with any decor. They don’t emit any light or glow either so you will hardly notice them. For smaller spaces you’ll probably only need to install one heat strip, but it’s possible to line them up in larger spaces. They’re also easy to use and don’t require much maintenance. Running costs are low and you can install timer controllers to save on energy.

Heating 101
Before you buy an outdoor heater, it’s important to consider the size and function of your area. If you have a large space, then a radiant heater is going to keep everyone warm at the same time, while portable heaters create a bit more ambience and are ideal for smaller gatherings. Fuel is another aspect to think about. Electricity may be more expensive than gas, but there are still energy-efficient electric outdoor heaters around. If you go down the wood heater path, you’ll need a steady supply of firewood. 

Indoor options
Using a hot water bottle is an oldie, but a goodie. Emanating warmth and comfort, hot water bottles provide quick and easy relief from the cold, and are kind on your wallet. It’s important to remember to always use a cover or wrap a towel around the bottle to prevent contact burns, and to also only use a hot water bottle to warm the bed. Once it’s time to sleep, remove the bottle before you get into bed and empty it or place it out of reach. Choosing a hot water bottle with a large opening can also reduce the risk of water spilling on to you while filling the bottle. 
It might also be a good idea to light some candles in your home. Not only do they provide light and heat, candles add ambience to your home with a variety of shapes, colours, and aromas. Just be sure to keep an eye on the flame!

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