Friday, 2 January 2009

Living with the Cold

I don't know about you but I think the utility companies are trying it on a bit. Margaret, from the sewing group, had a ridiculous story about her account being over £200 in credit, but the company still wanting to raise her monthly direct debit. She would have to pay month to month to avoid this rise and thus lose her direct debit discount. She changed gas suppliers. The first company came back with apologies for 'miscalculations'. That's one way of putting it.

I recognise that I can't change the cost of heating, I can only choose (to some extent) how much heat I use. We've always turned on the central heating system (a gas combi-boiler and radiators with thermostats) in the morning (6-8:30 am) to make getting ready for work a bit more comfortable and again in the evening (5 - 9:30pm). The thermostat is set at 15-16 degrees C (about 60 F). It's off otherwise, though we tend to keep it on more during the weekend when we are home.

Now that I'm at home most days I have a choice of either watching the gas bill treble or doing something else. I recognise that it's not good for my physical or mental health to sit in a cold house and I'm not prepared to make myself that uncomfortable, but the gas bill has already gone from £82 to £129 a month of late and there are a million other things I'd rather spend money on.

Hot water bottles are brilliant inventions. They are part of my bedtime routine if Bill is away and sometimes part of my daytime routine as well. Contrary to the recommendations I do use boiling water to fill them, so it's my own fault if there's an accident though, touch wood, I've done this for years with no problem. Bill taught me to fill them only partially full, then squeeze out the air (I squish the bottle between me and the kitchen counter til I see the water reaching the top of the neck); this makes the water stay hot longer. I will probably make some cute little covers for our hot water bottles one day; for now I just avoid direct contact and move them aside to enjoy the warm sheets. I've often read that dropping off to sleep is difficult if ones feet are cold; it is certainly true for me.

When sitting in a cold-ish room, I sling a big scarf or a towel over the back of the chair and use it as a sling to keep a hot water bottle in the small of my back. I rest my feet on another hot water bottle on the floor. With those bases covered, I rarely notice the cool room.

Bed clothes don't have to just be your jammies. I prefer a gown that is loose around the throat, so I don't feel like I'm choking. That said, cold air down your neck isn't wonderful either. I keep a large pashmina style scarf at hand to cover my neck and throat, shoulders, hands, whatever seems to be cold that the covers don't seem to reach. This morning it was especially cold and I put the scarf over my head so I could snooze a bit longer. Bill thinks of this scarf as my security blanket.

Keep moving. If I'm doing housework I don't feel the chill nearly as much as when I'm just sitting in front of the computer. Washing dishes in hot water and doing the ironing are also quite useful for staying warm! Ideally I should get up and get all the downstairs chores done while the heating is on in the morning, but you and I both know that doesn't happen very often.

Some rooms in our house are naturally warmer than others. In the morning, the sun shines into the East Wing (bedroom/office/sewing room). I don't think it's the sun that makes this room warmer, though. More like the fact that it's upstairs and heat rises, and that it's sheltered by the garage (down) and bathroom (up) wall from the worst of the North wind. In the afternoon, the living room gets the full brunt of the sun and it can be quite cozy at times. Mind, when the sun sets you can feel the chill setting in.

Some rooms are naturally colder than others. The length of our kitchen has a northerly aspect and the cooking end has a concrete floor covered with linoleum. Add the holes in the cupboards for plumbing and stove ventilation (some of which Bill promises to address) and you have a very uncomfortable room. The eating end of the kitchen has a large radiator that curves under the length of the bay window, but it's old and doesn't quite keep up. I don't hang out in the kitchen much in winter and I try to remember to keep that door shut so as not to spread the cold. We have in the past tended to eat dinner in the dining room in the winter more, because it has a gas fire in addition to the double radiator. If I'm going to be doing a lot of work in the kitchen, it's usually cooking and that does warm the place up. All the same, I try to remember to wear my walking boots or snow boots with their thick soles, to protect against the icy concrete floor.

Radiators are brilliant inventions. I have turned off the radiators in unused rooms, mainly the box room and the dining room. Having recently wolfed down my dinner to get out of the cold kitchen, when I want to be eating slowly and therefore less, I'm thinking I would rather use the dining room to eat dinner. I'm going to try lighting the gas fire when I start making dinner. I would still tend not to heat the dining room for all day at the weekend.

Radiators aren't just good for heating rooms. I like to toasty up my nightgown when I get ready for bed. When I can remember, day clothes left on the radiator overnight get warmed up in the morning, making it easier to get out of bed and get dressed. If you are warm enough in bed, pull your day clothes in with you to heat them up. When I take the clothes off the dryer in the kitchen (one of my favourite features of this house)

if there are smalls (a neat word for socks, underwear, hankies, etc) that seem damp / cold and perhaps damp, I pile them in the top of one of the double radiators and leave them over night to get crisped up. People with airing cupboards have an advantage in this regard.

Space heaters are brilliant inventions. I heat one room only during the day, the East Wing. I use an electric heater on the lowest tolerable setting to keep that room warm and am careful to close the door when I go in and out. I keep this to a minimum by batching my errands, like others do when using fuel in the car.

Natural fibres and technical running clothes are both brilliant inventions. It didn't take more than my first winter here in the north of England to discover the difference in quality between acrylic and wool sweaters. A silk long sleeved shirt is worth a mint. I found that I could dress comfortably to run in any cold weather (barring ice on the ground) with technical clothes that both wick moisture and hold in body heat. Helly Hanson tops are the staple of my winter running clothes. The trick is to dress in light layers that you can remove if you get too hot.

Unless I need to be dressed up for something, on club days I put on my running gear (leggings, running bra, Helly, socks) under my jeans and sweater. It saves changing more than my shoes later on. If it's not a running day, I still may wear leggings and a Helly for warmth. Large rectangular scarves in silk or wool are also very useful. I seem to always have a shorter hair style in the winter -- don't ask me how this happens -- and I prefer crew neck or v-neck styled clothing; I look like a turtle in a turtleneck. When sitting in a cool room, a scarf around my neck is a lightweight but warming addition.

Heat the teapot first. Somewhere I picked up that one should pour boiling water into the ceramic teapot first to heat it. This is poured out, the tea leaves/bags are placed in the warm teapot and more boiling water is added. I don't do much with teapots myself, but when it's cold I pour boiling water in the coffee mug to heat it whilst I get out the coffee stuff. The slightly cooled water goes back into the kettle to re-heat and then I make the coffee / tea / herbal tea. I run hot tap water over the dinner plates (and dry them) before putting the food on. Even if I'm not going to use hot water bottles, I will sometimes recline on top of the bedspread for a few minutes and read. The body heat helps warm up the bed before I get in. Sometimes Bill, being the super sweetie that he is, warms my side of the bed up for me.

Keep your distance from the source of heat, ie the radiator, gas or electric fire. I spent my childhood winters standing on the floor furnace (with cross-hatched soles to show for it and even a pair or two of burned-through shoes). I was never really warm after standing there, but I didn't seem to learn that. With gas fires, either the front, back or side is warm, not any other part, so I try to just keep my distance. That said, my love seat is pulled up beside the fire to catch the heat as it comes out, but not in front of, just beside.

Block the breezes. It goes without saying that ones house should be insulated and weatherproofed. That said, when heating only a single room, the cold seems to seep in under the door. Living in an older house I can tell you there are no 90 degree angles and their are always gaps of some size under the old panelled doors. I've attempted to make draft excluders, but without much success, mainly because I've insisted on using what I already had and refused to go buy any specific materials. I'm currently just using an old towel to stuff into the gap under the door to the East Wing and pillow edges stuffed under the door in the sitting room. I might get around to trying something again else later.

Ceiling fans are brilliant inventions. Not that we have any, but I hope to get some. We have 10 foot ceilings throughout the house, and a stairway that allows the heat to rise from the lower floor to upstairs. There are light fixtures I'm not ready to give up and obstructions like the shower enclosure, not to mention the small size of the box and bath rooms, that make a ceiling fan impractical. However, I'm pretty sure the cooking end of the kitchen, the upstairs landing and the East Wing could benefit from fans that push the warm air down. We'll have to try that out soon. (Is it too late to add this to my Christmas wish list??)

Relocate. If all else fails, I figure I can always take my lap top (with WiFi) and my knitting to the public library where they keep it positively roasting. That's where all the other mental patients and bag ladies go...

Be real. All those ideas aside, it is not healthy for older (particularly those over 75) people to be cold in their homes. The recommended room temperature is 21 degrees C (about 70 F.), though rooms can be as cool as 18 C (about 65 F) without health effects. I was surprised to read that a decreasing ambient room temperature can cause increases in blood pressure and cooler skin temperatures lead to increased blood viscosity. This increases risk of stroke and heart problems. I didn't realise all this, but I can say that when Bill and I both had bad colds over the Christmas holidays, we kept the heating on all day.


Anonymous said...

Being one who needs to be warm I am very happy the family moved from Minnesota to Oklahoma, I can't function if I am cold. A good way to warm up the bed, chair, whatever, is to have a dog who likes to snuggle.


Pauline Wiles said...

I adore hot water bottles. If I confess that mine (or at least its cover) is shaped like a reindeer and called Rodney, will you promise not to tell? :)