Icy cold? Don’t just whack up the thermostat. Try these 18 heat-saving hacks instead

From tackling draughts to going back to basics with a hot water bottle, here are some tips that may help keep the bills down

Temperatures are due to plummet over the next few days as high pressure over Iceland forces an Arctic air mass south. At night, the mercury will drop to below zero and barely inch above it during the day.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t sit at home freezing to cut down on costs. The Government has reassured householders that no one will be disconnected for not paying their home heating bills this year. Still, few of us can afford to have the central heating blasting all day, particularly with current energy prices. And if you haven’t already done so, it’s a bit late now to start insulating the attic and lifting floorboards.

So, short of taking a holiday to South America, which is braced for an unseasonal heatwave, here are 18 tips that may help keep the heating bills down.

Use your central heating wisely

Make your central heating system work for you. The absolute best way to do that is the subject of – appropriately enough – heated debate. Some experts argue that it’s more cost-effective to leave the heating on low all day, on the basis that it’s like driving on the motorway – just as a steady speed is more fuel efficient, keeping homes warm cuts down on condensation building up in the walls.

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This is a myth, say a number of experts, including the UK’s Energy Saving Trust. Unless you live in a hermetically sealed house, heat leaks out during the day and that lost heat will need to be replaced, forcing your boiler to work harder. So if you live in an extremely energy-efficient house, it might be worth experimenting with running the boiler on low for a 24-hour basis. But for most of us, the best advice is to use the central heating only when you need it.

Set the timer to come on half an hour before you get up and go off at least half an hour before you go to bed. If you’re not home all day; if you will be mostly in one room, or just feel you can live without heating for a few hours, turn it off in the middle of the day.

Use your thermostat wisely

Turning down your thermostat by just 1 degree, from 19 to 18, could cut your energy usage by 10 per cent, says Electric Ireland. Thermostats are designed to keep rooms at a near constant temperature, so one word of caution: make sure yours is not programmed to kick in if the temperature drops by one degree or less, or you risk the heating system firing on and off constantly.

Allow your radiators to do their thing

Bleed your radiators at the start of every season and regularly throughout the winter. Move furniture away from them. If you have thermostatic radiator valves, use the lowest setting you can live with, because the less hot water in your radiator, the less energy required to heat it, the less you pay, and the lighter your impact on the planet.

Try an infrared panel heater

The science behind infrared heating is that it works like the sun – it converts electricity into radiant heat, which is then directly transferred to an object such as a person or surface, without heating the air in between. Infrared panel heating is more energy efficient than conventional heating and easy to install – you just plug it in. Heaters come in wall-mountable or free-standing versions.

This household invested in two infrared panels last winter for the parts of the house not well reached by conventional central heating. While neither is entirely satisfactory – the smart home functionality on both models is disappointingly glitchy – they do give out tremendous heat and are impressively cheap to run. Our 700W infrared panel costs 34c an hour to beautifully heat a bedroom (at the current Bord Gáis rate of 48.19c per KWatt hour – we’re on a reduced rate so it’s cheaper again).

Get some reflector panels for your radiator

The clue is in the name. Radiator reflector panels reflect the heat from the radiator back into the room.

Close your curtains

Curtains or blinds should be closed as soon as the sun goes down to prevent heat escaping. Door curtains are an underutilised way of keeping the cold out.

Tackle draughts

According to Electric Ireland, 25 per cent of heat is lost through windows and doors. Identifying where those draughts are getting in and sealing them is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of saving money and heat. And you don’t need any real expertise to do it. Foam, metal or plastic strips from the DIY shop are your friend, while expanding foam will deal with bigger holes. Use an old-school door snake draught excluder or a door sweep under draughty doors. There are instant stopgap measures you can take without even going to the DIY shop: a rolled-up towel or thick shower mat under the window works just as well.

Windows in old houses that don’t open can be sealed with silicon. Remember to seal the letter box and any keyholes too – most hardware shops sell simple covers for these.

Block the hole in the roof

“A chimney is just a hole in your house if you’re not using it to light a fire,” says Electric Ireland. If you have disused fireplaces, an inflatable draught excluder – sometimes called a chimney balloon – can stop the heat escaping. Just make sure it has a small vent, and obviously take it out before you light a fire.

Warm your heart

It’s an old wives’ tale that your head is the greatest source of heat loss, but it’s still no harm to wear a hat around the house. However, investing your efforts in keeping your torso warm will pay off in better blood flow to your extremities.

A thermal vest is what your granny would have advised. Thankfully, today’s versions are less itchy and uncomfortable than the ancient Elastoplast-style fabrics she might have had to put up with. The idea isn’t so much that your base layer needs to warm you up, but that it should work to stop the heat escaping. Try the lightweight, comfortable and surprisingly toasty Thermal Heat Activate range from Dunnes Stores, which comes in grey, black and white. Prices start from €8.

Go old school: use a hot water bottle

Have one in your lap while you’re sitting at your desk or watching TV.

Move

There’s a reason runners don’t go out in puffer jackets and cashmere leggings. Exercise warms you up, which is something we seem to forget when we’re sitting at a desk all day. Hold off on the jumping jack: you don’t want to start sweating, or you’ll just lose heat again. Instead, take five minutes away from your desk to move briskly around the house once an hour.

Snack often

If you’re often especially starving after a swim, you’ll know that food is a good way to stoke the furnace. The scientific explanation for this is thermogenesis: 30-60 minutes after eating, your body generates 10 per cent more heat than when you have an empty stomach. Something that’s high in fat and protein, such as a chocolate bar with nuts, will require the body to work harder to digest it, says physiologist Dr John EricSmith at Mississippi State University.

WFH? Put a rug under your desk

Cold feet and ankles are a recipe for misery. If the floor in your home office is uncarpeted, purchase (or better still, pilfer from somewhere else in the house) a rug for under your desk. Or just go into the office – they’ll probably have the heating on in there.

Get your dry robe out

You bought it during your flirtation with sea swimming and wore it twice; now is the time to get the cost-per-wear of that dry robe down. You could also consider investing in a version custom designed for the terminally idle, like a Danish-designed SittingSuit. These were originally created by a Danish restaurant owner for her customers to sit outdoors year-round as an alternative to providing them with blankets or gas heaters. These are not a cheap fix (at €149 from mountcongreveshop.ie), but have some clever features such as side slits so you can access your own pockets (they’re meant to be worn over a coat) and are wind and water repellent. Another alternative if you’re really unconcerned about crimes against style is the Oodie – a full-body, fleecy hoodie. You can buy the original online, or try one of the more cost-effective “homages” available in Dunnes Stores and Penneys.

Wear merino wool

If you are dry robe resistant, 100 per cent merino wool garments make a much more elegant outer layer, as well as a brilliantly functional inner one. There’s a good reason why Edmund Hillary wore wool to climb Everest. Also, fleece had not been invented.

Many people swear by merino wool socks and undergarments because of its reputation for natural breathability, moisture wicking, antimicrobial and temperature control properties. This writer lives in the long, chunky 100 per cent merino Creadan cardigan handmade to order by Bébhínn in Waterford.

Try an electric throw

Twitter introduced us to this brilliant innovation – a machine-washable cross between an electric blanket and a fluffy couch throw. We have no personal experience of this, but the reviews suggest there are a lot of happy, toasty customers out there. “It’s like being hugged,” says one ecstatic Amazon customer. Look up “heated throw” online.

Clean your windows

Make the most of the free solar heat available at infrequent intervals in this country by keeping your windows clean.

Cling film your windows

This was brought to our attention by another Twitter user, who says it’s common practice in Minnesota – where temperatures fall to minus 20 in winter – to put plastic wrap on the inside of windows. Further investigation reveals that while you can technically apply cling film to your windows, it may be a better idea to buy plastic film specifically for glazing windows. You stick it on and get the creases out with a hairdryer and, theoretically, you’ve got a cheaper alternative to double glazing. If you try this one out, let us know.

Got a cheap heat-saving hack we missed? Email jennifer.oconnell@irishtimes.com

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O’Connell is a feature writer and opinion columnist with The Irish Times