My parents played hosts at a recent holiday party in their home. Everything was perfectly cleaned and decorated and the spread of hors d’oeuvres was simply stunning. But as the guests started dwindling, I noticed the chill in the room. My mother had reached for her sweater and I found myself curled up in a blanket. Ah, winter in Pennsylvania! But for those of us who prefer our Christmases in warm climates, here are a few ways to keep your home toasty warm through the cold months without straining your budget.
Many homes in Pittsburgh have at least one fireplace. Older or more traditional homes are likely equipped with a wood-burning fireplace which can be an excellent source of heat in the winter. While you can purchase cords of wood, keep an eye out for signs (particularly in the rural suburbs) for firewood. In our densely wooded landscape, trees must be cut and pruned which often leaves homeowners with more than enough wood to last them through the winter. Typically people are excited to share their surplus for a minimal price.
The Earth Stoves of the 1970s may be a bit too retro for your tastes, but they have more modern cousins that are also excellent sources of in-home heat. Wood burning stoves require a bit of extra maintenance (like a fireplace) so you may even choose a gas powered earth stove for those chilly winter nights.
My favorite innovation of the recent decade is microfleece fabrics, particularly in blankets and bed linens. These are great because they are so warm that it is possible to turn the whole house heat down significantly overnight and yet still feel comfortable.
When is the last time you had your heating vents checked? A lot of HVAC companies will do a free diagnostic of your ventilation system to determine if you are due for a cleaning. Believe it or not, dusty vents actually cause you to spend MORE money in home heating because your furnace has to work harder to get that warm air where it is needed. While you have your technician at your home, ask about upgrading your thermostat. Some models allow you to program your home heating depending on the time of day. For example, you can allow a lower temperature over night that warms up around the time you wake.
Additionally, check the location of your vents. I remember the 1940s era house where I grew up had a small formal living room that had three heating vents! In the winter, that room would get so warm while the rest of the home was freezing cold. Magnetic vent covers solved that problem as we covered two of the heat vents to distribute the air more evenly.
If your home is older, you may wish to reconsider your insulation. Ground denim, foam, and new eco-friendly insulation methods are extremely good at sheltering your home from the cold. Check your attic, in particular. It is true that warm air rises and if your attic is improperly insulated, you may be heating the outdoors more than you realize.
Let’s remember to be safe as we stay warm this winter. If you have a fireplace, have it professionally cleaned yearly especially if you have a wood-burning model. Creosote logs are also very useful in keeping your home and family safe. Make sure your carbon monoxide, fire, and radon detectors are all in proper working order with fresh batteries. If you choose to use a space heater, select a newer model with an automatic shut off in case of tipping or overheating. Do not ignite your stove as a means for heat as it produces unhealthy gases. If you are unable to maintain a reasonable temperature in your home, reach out to local organizations who are able to help. Lastly, check on your friends and neighbors; share the warmth this winter!