Keeping warm this winter

With the temperature in every Australian city except Perth and Darwin expected to dip to a single digit during the nights this week, it feels like winter has finally blown in, full of cloudy days and freezing cold evenings and mornings.

If you want to avoid feeling like you’re living in a tent, now is the time to get your house sorted for winter.

The construction of your house will influence how cold it will feel during those cold wintry days. If you live in a brick home that is well-sealed with wall-to-wall carpet and heavy curtains with pelmets you may not feel cold at all. But if you live in an older fibro house whose foundations have shimmied and shifted overtime, has polished wooden floors, no pelmets and mostly light curtains you will certainly feel the cold and will find yourself reaching for a thick jumper and woolly socks with ugg boots.

It’s not just important to artificially heat our homes, but vital to seal them up and insulate them too.

Ten tips to keep warm

1. Seal up all the gaps. Windows and doors can leak in substantial volumes of cold air. But some simple draught stoppers fitted in or around door and window frames and at the bottom of doors can make a huge difference. There are several types of seals including brush-strip seals, which are an aluminium strip that has a narrow but dense nylon brush sticking out one side. Otherwise you can use “door snakes”, but they rely on someone remembering to put them back in place every time they come inside.

An option for windows is a woven pile self-adhesive strip. It squashes down a bit more easily than the foam strips, and if it’s a tad to bulky you can easily trim the length of the pile or furry stuff with a pair of sharp scissors. Plus, if they ever need to come off they’ll be a lot easier to remove than old foam strips.

2. Stop the gaps around internal doors. If you have rooms you are not heating, such as laundries and bathrooms, you should draught-proof these too, so that when you close them off, there’s no unwanted air leakage happening.

3. Cover those windows. Single-pane glass has little insulation value, so you’ll need to cover it to keep the cold air out (or warm air in), especially overnight. The idea is to provide an air-trap between the window covering and the window. That’s why heavy curtains that extend across to the sides of the windows, and down to the floor are recommended.

A pelmet at the top is also needed to contain the warm air in the room. Pelmets stop the warm air from being drawn behind the top of the curtain by a thermal current created as the warm air from the top of the curtain travels behind it, and falls towards the floor as it cools, and travels back into the room.

4. Use the sun. Harness nature by drawing back the curtains and blinds during the day to letting the sun’s rays warm up the house, especially if you have North-facing windows.

5. Floor coverings. Timber floors really became popular a decade or so ago and show no signs of waning. I love timber floors, but talking from experience, they are a bit cold in winter. So it’s time to roll out the carpet, or the winter rugs at least. The good news is, in summer you can lift them up and store them.

If you have tiles or polished cement in areas that get the sun in winter, you may be better off leaving them uncovered to let the sun work its magic by heating the floor during the day.

6. Buy a caulking gun. And a tube of no more gaps, or three. Attack any gaps with the vengeance of any angry bee. Remember to look up high, and down low. If you clean up any overfills straight away with a damp cloth it saves a bit of difficulty later.

7. Throw me a blanket. Keep a couple of throws draped over the back of your lounge to use when you’re watching tele. Even a light blanket will make you a lot warmer.

8. Insulate your ceiling. So much heat is lost through uninsulated ceilings that it’s a no brainer to get this sorted. Make sure you use a reputable installer though.

9. Get a (much) better heater.If you have an old radiant electric heater get rid of it and replace it with a MUCH more efficient reverse cycle air conditioner. If you have an old gas heater, the new ones are much better too. The saving will pay the system off quickly and you’ll be burning less energy.

10. Set the thermostat. The experts say 18-21 degrees is warm enough for the inside of your home in winter. I think I’ll be opting for 21 or even 22, but keeping in mind that every degree cooler you make the house can save you about 10 per cent on your energy bills.

11. Shut it out. Close air-conditioning vents, and cover up with some cardboard and bluetack, or a similar removable covering, any permanent vents on your walls.

12. Be active. Going for a 30 minute walk each morning will get your blood moving and help to increase your core temperature, keeping you warmer throughout the day.

If you want to find out more about keeping your home warm in winter, visit Environment Victoria, the NSW Environment Climate Change and Water site, , or this interesting little presentation from the Portland Sustainability Workshop.

What are your tips for keeping the cold at bay in winter?

Adapted from Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2011,