When you live on a shoestring almost nothing will be more of a challenge than staying warm, and staying in budget. Heat is expensive. Period. There’s no way around it. Gas, oil, electricity, coal, and logs are all expensive now, and only going to become more so in the future. And being cold all the time is no fun, trust me on that, I know, in fact let me share a little about my past.
In the last ten years I’ve lived in two frigidly cold homes. One was an apartment in a hundred year old house in Cork City. I loved that apartment so much it was the first space that felt like it was mine. I loved everything about it. I loved that it was on the third floor above MacCurtain Street in Cork City with the view to match. I loved that it was just the right size for me, with a small kitchen/living room, tiny bathroom, and (to me at that time) huge double bedroom. I loved the radioactive orange walls, the 12 foot high ceilings, the panel doors with half an inch of white oil pain on both faces. Everything, I loved it all. But in the five years I lived there I spent every year from late Autumn to mid-Spring perpetually cold. Not chilly, not cool. No this was the real deal, genuine shivering while fully clothed, looking at my own breath cold. A combination of those wonderful 12 foot ceilings with hundred year old, single glazed, badly fitted sash windows meant that it was often even colder inside my home than it was outside on the street.
The second time I was that cold was in a beautifully refurbished apartment. Around 2500 square feet of 9 foot ceilings (not much higher than the industry standard for Ireland), three largish bedrooms, huge kitchen/living room, and a hot-press that was larger than my first childhood bedroom. I shared it with my Partner in Crime, and our slavegirlfriend of the time. I wish I could say we were happy there. I wish I could say we were warm. But despite triple glazed windows, 5 inches of high-efficiency insulation in every wall, and 18 inches in the attic space we froze our asses off for two Winters. So badly in fact that I honestly am not certain that over two years later my health has fully recovered from the damage it took during that time.
Funnily enough both of those apartments shared one trait that made them frozen hells for me, and that trait is my first piece of advice.
1. If you can avoid it at all never ever live anywhere large or with high ceilings that is heated exclusively with electric heating (actually, to be honest, just avoid it like the Goddesses damned plague).
Heating in general is expensive, but electricity based heating is so expensive that it’s almost like a cosmic joke at your financial, and psychological expense. Those two homes I lived in both were heated with electricity powered storage heaters. Essentially big piles of bricks that are heated over about 12 hours during the evening and night, to then release that heat over the course of the following day. Except in my experience all they actually do is chew up huge amounts of electricity, and spit out hardly any heat worth talking about. Now admittedly these were apartments with either huge floor spaces or high ceilings which didn’t help. But any landlord who is stupid enough to put that sort of heating into that sort of space needs an intimate discussion chaired by Mister Lead-pipe.
How bad was it? Well in the first place I realised fairly quickly it was worthless and just refused to use it. So I sometimes shivered all day, but mostly I found ways to stay warm that were a lot cheaper, if sometimes a little awkward. The second time…well I wound up owing the main Irish electricity supplier, the E.S.B. almost 1200 Euro. It took the better part of two years to break even with them again. Two years during which my PiC and I were constantly harassed by a foreign based collection agency, constant bullying phone-calls, and threats of disconnection. This while we constantly paid it off. So when I say avoid electric heating, I mean it.
One exception to that though.
2. Own a small high efficiency electric fan or halogen heater.
Yeah I know, after the last section I be you didn’t expect this but there’s a reason. For very small rooms small fan heaters can provide nearly instant, and as long as you use them very carefully, cost-effective heating. The halogen heaters are often rather cheap to run, and provide a lot of light as a useful by-product, though they won’t heat the room, only what the light shines on to. Used for short periods of time they can be a sanity saver if you’re stuck in a cold home, with a small bedroom.
I’ve found that they’re best used to keep yourself warm while you either change clothes or get dressed. Or in a particularly cold bathroom while you sit high upon your throne. So short bursts are the key.
3. Hot water bottles are your best friend.
Between my moms house, and my own place I own four or five of these little joys. Boil a kettle, fill 3/4’s full, squeeze out the excess air, and slosh, you’ve got a source of heat and comfort for hours, and hours. And they stay hot even longer if they have a fleece cover, which has the added bonus of saving your delicate ass from getting minor burns from the bottle if it’s particularly hot. Even where I live now, with my log burner, and two puppies always willing to cuddle me warm, I often walk around with a hot water bottle stuffed under my top, or hanging/strapped from a sort of string-based harness down to the small of my back. But back when I lived in that apartment in Cork I never, ever let my bottle get cold once the Winter rolled around. It was my constant companion, my inanimate friend, perhaps even my lov…I kid, but it really was a life saver.
4. Sleeping bags are your other best friend.
Sleeping bags used to be ridiculously expensive. These days you can get a halfway decent one for maybe 20 or 30 quid. And they are a great investment. Not only are they source of extra bedding for when guests show up, but day-to-day they can keep you snug while you watch telly, be used to add an extra layer of insulation to your bed on really cold nights, and combined with a hot water bottle can really make up for a lack of heating on all but the coldest of days. At one point in my life I would often spend my time at home in a sleeping bag, with hot water bottle, on my couch, and not actually care that my apartment was so cold that the windows were iced over, on the inside. I would suggest getting the “mummy” type with the hood if possible though, you want to keep your head as warm as possible. Also if you find yourself sitting under it, zip it up and get in to it instead. Sleeping bags work best as traps for body heat, so use them as such.
5. Hot drinks.
This one must seem pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how often you find yourself wanting a cold drink simply because they’re often more refreshing. Well, when you’re eating a hot meal, ya that’s fine. But when you’re just chilling out (See what I did there? I crack myself up.) your body isn’t being active, and isn’t generating much extra heat, so drink something warm. Fruit teas make a nice, affordable alternative to the more traditional options (Ldle or Aldi’s own brands are rather yummy, and cheap as chips.), but bring to mind some forgotten traditional options too, Bovril is surprisingly tasty, Horlicks has a nice malty bite to it, and a cup of hot milk is both warming and relaxing.
6. Hot meals.
Eat them. Period. Breakfast cereal with hot milk is only 45 seconds in a microwave away. Soup is delicious, nutritious, warming, and if made by yourself as affordable as you choose to make it. Dinners, well if I have to make any points about hot dinners, you may have worse problems than living on that shoestring.
7. Foot warmth.
And finally for today we come to your feet. I’ve been assuming that you’re bright enough to know that you should dress warmly in general to feel warm. But I’ve genuinely seen people wearing multiple layers of clothing on their upper bodies, with a pair of light leggings on their legs, IN SANDALS! And they stood there shivering, and wondered why they were freezing their asses off. Well, there’s a simple rule of thumb I follow, that actually does seem to hold true for most people. If your feet are warm, the rest of you feels warm too. So wear socks, two pairs there-of. Wear slippers, big bulky ones will usually work best. This is all about trapping dead air against and near to your feet.
So two layers of thick socks means a reasonable amount of dead, warm air next to your toes. The big bulky slippers, mean even more. But when you do this don’t neglect your legs, a pair of leggings under your jeans will make a huge difference to your comfort on a cold day/evening. So will and extra pair of panties. Wear one pair of socks that go up to your knees or even higher, AND bring them up over your leggings. No-one will see, but they’ll trap even more warmth.
Staying warm when you’re poor is a mega-bitch. It can be heartbreaking at times for a single person. I can’t imagine the heartache of watching your children go to sleep cold. But I hope at least some of this proves of help to someone.
Part 2 of this article will be here next week.