It’s October. The fall leaves are either gearing up — and have all flown off in the wind. Brrr…that wind’s an unpleasant reminder of the winter months looming on the horizon, if you live in a chilly climate.
Are you ready?
First and Foremost Task: Heat.
Double-check your furnace: it should work properly when tested. That may involve relighting the pilot light and turning it on — We turn ours off every spring to save on energy. (Have you thought about doing this?) Colorado’s climate is actually quite mild from about May – September, and we can get by just fine with a fire in the fireplace now and then.
Turn your furnace on. (This helpful checklist suggests cranking up the thermostat to 80 degrees, to make sure everything’s operating properly.) Everything ok?
Next: Set the Average Temperature. Your thermostat should have an automatic feature that lets you set what temperature you’d like it to be during the day, as well as the evening. Remember: the lower it goes, the more you save. Are you gone all day at work? By all means, set the temperature around 60-62 degrees; it’s warm enough to keep pipes from freezing, but doesn’t waste energy keeping the house warm for no one. (During vacation, it can go even lower.)
Over the years, we’ve found that we actually prefer a much cooler house — we don’t feel as sleepy, and our skin and plants benefit. Last winter, our average daytime temp was 67 degrees, with a night-time set at 62. This winter, we’re going to try a 65/60 combination.
Finally, are your air filters clean? If you didn’t do this at the end of last winter, have them replaced. Your air will be cleaner and fresher, too.
Important Task #2: Your vehicle.
Have you changed the oil, added antifreeze? (It’s not a bad idea to get a tuneup right now, as well.) Tires ok?
Add a small box in your trunk or back seat, with a warm blanket, bottled water (lower the level, so even if it freezes, it won’t burst), some protein or candy bars. Put in a large candle and matches. (This makes a remarkably good heat source, if you’re stuck in the car, for some reason.) Add a flashlight, extra batteries, handwarmers, extra clothing, and if you’re in a really cold climate, chains. Now you’re better prepared for those unexpected blizzards.
Task #3: Alternate sources of heat.
These not only can supplement your furnace, but help out a lot if it’s being repaired…and you still have to stay warm and keep the pipes from freezing.
If you’ve got electricity (and you usually do), portable and space heaters are a godsend. These little guys keep the air in your personal space comfortably warm, rather than needlessly heat the rest of the area – or the house. They’re easiest to use if electric, but kerosene and other fuel heaters are out there.
The space heater should be handy wherever you spend most of your time: in the office, living room or wherever. If it’s on rollers, you can move it from space to space quickly. We even keep an extra electric portable heater, disguised as a ‘woodstove,’ in our guest bedroom for chilly guests. (Not everyone likes their home temps in the 60s!) An electric fireplace, like the one shown below (Barrington Electric Fireplace from Amazon), looks nice and can be easily moved. (It’s on casters.)
The other option is a real fireplace or woodstove. Nothing’s nicer to warm your toes in front on a snowy day. Has your chimney been cleaned? Are the old wood ashes shoveled out? (If your soil is acidic, spread them in the garden. We can’t do out here – like many states in the west, it’s already too alkaline.)
Got enough wood? Your local edition of Craigslist should have free or inexpensive firewood advertised. Other inexpensive options include pallets, scrap wood and even slab lumber leftovers from sawmills. One year, we burned cut-up timbers from an old deck we tore down. (Make sure the wood’s not treated if you do this.)
Last of all: check your wardrobe.
Think layers: a light silk long underwear top, with a heavier shirt and/or sweater, will keep you warmer than just a thick sweater. (The silk actually traps heat toward your skin, and wicks away moisture.) Natural fibers like wool, cotton and silk are comfortable — but if you find a good buy in an thick, well-made acrylic sweater, don’t hesitate. Don’t pay full price for this season’s sweaters, though. Thrift and secondhand shops will produce higher-quality items at a lower price. Look for classics that will be in style more than one season, and strong enough to stand repeated washing and wear. Pay more, if you have to — a well-made sweater or shirt can look good for literally a decade, rather than just one season. (Divide the item’s price by ‘how many times can I wear this?’ That will give you your answer.)Wool socks last for ages, and cut the chill nicely.
Add a hat, some gloves and warm boots, and you’re set. (Jackets are easy to find at thrift shops, too.) Can’t find the scarf you like? Knit it yourself; hobby stores like Michael’s often have discount coupons that apply to skeins of yarn. Or take a too-small or thrift shop sweater, and unravel it. Gently hand-wash the yarn and let dry. Rewind into balls for your next project.
Easy knitting how-tos are here. Lion Brand yarns has thousands of free patterns for knitting and crochet, from everything to sweaters and vests, baby outfits, and perky hats, like the one shown below with matching scarf, to home dec afghans and accessories. Take a look here.
If you want to try something different that will keep you warm and cozy while saving money on electricity, check out how to make the kotatsu table.
The key, of course, is think ahead. Prepare now. Then you’ll be able to enjoy the winter weather…instead of just shivering and making do.