No doubt about it, winter is a time for the drawing in of your energies, back into the nest of your home. With the weather laying down its worst, and the outside world storming and blowing, that age-old instinct for shelter and comfort takes over.
It’s also a time when the hand reaches instinctively for the thermostat dial, to nudge the central heating up a few notches. Comforting for you, maybe, but not so comforting for the planet. Perhaps, instead of helping to turn the dial up for the planet’s thermostat, it’d be worth thinking about making your house a warmth-retaining snug – and less of a climate-changing burden.
With most of your home energy-use burning away merrily during the winter months, there are big gains to be had from cozying up your house. The first place you need to head is to your loft. Heat rises, and will quickly drain out of your roof, if you your insulation is lacking. So make sure you have thick swathes of glass-wool quilt – it can prevent up to 25% of the heat loss of an uninsulated house.
The next place to turn is your windows. These are your friends in daytime, at least when the sun is shining. Even though the sun is lower in winter, the incidental solar radiation can make a big difference in topping up your home’s energy budget. So if the forecast is for sun, throw those curtains open wide, especially for south-facing windows. But windows can also be your enemy, at night.
The chilling effect from the outside air can reach through even triple glazing – and that cool air on the surface of your window will start to sink. That creates a draft – and it may start a convection cell. The cold air sinks, warm air replaces it, and a cycle of warm air moves to your windows to be cooled. Convection is one of the quickest ways to bleed away heat, so you need to stop those drafts from forming. Long heavy curtains, or short ones fitted snugly against the window sill, should do the trick.
Drafts can also be a problem throughout the house – so get down to ground level, and see whether your doors are guilty of letting the cold air in. Badly fitted doors can be replaced, but simple draft excluders around the frame will be enough for most portals. You can even sow up your own beany draft-dodger, and attach it to the base of your door.
An somewhat odd-sounding way of making the most of your warm air comes courtesy of ceiling fans. Most people are aware of their cooling benefits in summer, but they may not realize that, correctly operated, they can be very helpful in winter too. The air in your house quickly stratifies- that is the warm air, being lighter, rises. So much of the warmth that your heating system pumping out ends up stacked up near the ceiling.
But if you put your fan on a low setting, or with some models, reverse the spin direction, the turbulence breaks up those layers. And you get more heat where you want- nearer ground level. The small extra drain on your electricity budget, from the motor, is more than offset by the overall gains in thermal efficiency.
Finally, there is that ultimate refuge of the winter- a nice warm cozy bed. But rather than using an energy-sapping electric blanket, try warming your bed with strategically located hot water bottles, or heated wheat bags. The choice of bedding can also make help you stay warm. Forget thin cotton sheets – go for woolen blankets underneath, and flannelette sheets on top, as well as the highest tog duvet you can find.
Your feet are very much prone to becoming blocks of ice at night, so wear thick night-socks or winter stockings. And don’t forget that once that body heat has built up in your bed, you will keep nice and toasty- there’s no need for the heating to be on once in bed. That’s especially the case if you can persuade another body to share heat with through the long winter nights!