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Design

How To Make Your House Warmer and Cozier When You Can’t Fix Your Insulation (+ Some Solid Renter Hacks)

Years ago when I lived in San Francisco I lived in a house built in 1950. If I had to guess, that house hasn’t been renovated since. Insulation was abysmal and we had windows that were only held in place from years of painting over and over the window sill. I imagine this is why we discovered black mold in the walls and floorboards, a fact that the landlord could care less about–reminding us that if we wanted to terminate our lease he could find new tenants in a heartbeat. Oh, sweet SF.

Of course, San Francisco isn’t the coldest climate but it is wet and drafty most of the time (Have you ever heard “the coldest winter I’ve ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”?). As a Southern California gal, I was often cold in the city and I wish I knew what I know now. I know those who live in actually cold climates are laughing hysterically at me right now, but I wish I would have researched how to make your house warmer when I needed it. Perhaps then I could have unplugged my space heater every once in a while. But now that I know what I know, my hope is to share this knowledge with anyone else shivering in their drafty, poorly insulated homes.

Rugs & Tapestries

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: ryann’s moto reveal: a moody multi-functional living and dining room with a lot of soul
photo by tesaa neustadt | from: my living room update

Let’s face it. Hard surfaced floors are cold. As much as hardwood or cement tile floors look good, in the winter they can be one of the reasons your house is anything but cozy. Bring in the large-scale textiles. Adding large rugs will simply add an extra layer between your floor and your feet, making your home feel warmer and cozier. Similarly, hanging tapestries or large-scale art can provide an extra layer which helps to block airflow through the walls.

Hot Tip

A bookcase-lined wall is also a great way to block the cool air from coming through your walls. Your own little literary forcefield that also looks awesome.

Use Draft Stoppers

Under the door draft stoppers are a good option to keep warm or cool air from escaping from one room to another. They will also conserve energy (and thus save you money) by closing up that space under your door.

1. Door Draft Stopper 36 Inch-Beige | 2. Double Draft Stop for Doors or Windows | 3. 6 Inch Under Door Draft Stopper

Get A Window Insulator Kit

If replacing old windows is not an option for you, window insulator kits can help block unwanted drafts entering your home. They are user-friendly, affordable, and are a great option for those who aren’t trying to put a lot of money into a rental.

1. 3M Indoor Window Insulator Kit | 2. Window Seal Strip Self-Adhesive | 3. Max Strength Indoor Window Film

But if you are handy or are willing to spend a little more for something easier on the eyes then this next option is great for you!

Consider A Storm Window Insert (DIY or Custom Made)

For those that want a reusable option that’s a little prettier, storm window inserts might be just what you need. You have a couple of options. If you are handy with tools (or know someone who is and does) then you can totally build your own. If you have a lot of windows then this is definitely the more cost-efficient option. Here is a YouTube video tutorial (and a corresponding blog post) that will help give you an idea of what it entails (also you can use plexiglass instead of real glass if you want). But there’s a ton of info out there, so search away to find a version that works best for you.

via yellow brick home

But if power tools aren’t your thing, then there are companies that will build them for you. Yellow Brick Home did a collab with a company called Indow and they look great (see above)! This probably makes more sense for homeowners that are quite financially ready to replace their windows or you have beautiful vintage windows you don’t want to replace (but are real drafty). As you can see in the photo on the right the insert looks really nice. There are of course lots of companies so definitely shop around.

Line Your Curtains

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: how to pull together your own dream suite

Layering thick black-out curtains under your primary curtains can also help insulate your windows. Similar to adding rugs and tapestries, this simply will add a layer of protection from the exterior of your home. Thicker curtains will keep cold air out way better than thin curtains.

Get An Electric Fireplace

If you don’t have a fireplace, electric fireplaces are becoming more and more popular (are you proud of me for not saying they are so hot right now?). They are also more sleek, modern, and fresh-looking than ever so they’re definitely a more stylish option than say, a space heater.

1. Updike 19.7” W Electric Fireplace | 2. Hollis 32″ Electric Fireplace | 3. Frescan Electric Fireplace

Emily’s best friend, Suzanne, has this one and loves it (so does Emily but it’s a splurge for sure). It’s so pretty and looks built-in.

Let The Sun Shine

Lest we forget that the sun is the most natural heater there is! When the sun is shining during the warm part of the day, open your curtains so your home can absorb as much natural warmth from the sun. Then when the sun sets, be sure to close the curtains which will help trap the cold air when the temperature drops.

Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

photo by tesaa neustadt | from: the easiest guest room makeover ever

Reversing the direction of your ceiling fan actually moves the warm air near the ceiling downwards. Most ceiling fans have a reverse switch on the motor housing so it’s easy to switch back and forth. No electrician necessary!

Move Your Sofa

If you have a radiator you should make sure that large furniture like your sofa is not blocking the heat flow. As much as you might want to hide it for aesthetic purposes, it actually needs room to do its job. If something is blocking it, the warmth can’t travel and is less effective in heating up your home. That said, should we do a post on how to make an old radiator look better?? I’ll let you vote on that in the comments.

Let The Shower Steam Out

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | design by emily bowser | from: moto reveal: emily bowser’s 32 square foot bathroom is packed with small space hacks

Shower steam is a precious commodity when you live in a cold house. A great way to capitalize on all that warmth is to shower with the door closed so you can collect the steam. When you are finished open the shower and bathroom door so you can let the steam out into the other rooms of your house.

As an added bonus, electric blankets are just good to have in the winter when your home isn’t retaining heat like it should be. Em is also a big fan. Here are some of the best-reviewed:

1. Purerelief Radiance Deluxe Electric Blanket – Queen | 2. Beautyrest® Zuri Oversized Faux Fur Heated Throw | 3. Sunbeam Heated Throw Blanket | Reversible Sherpa | 4. Wicked Cozy Heated Blanket | 5. Sunbeam Heated Blanket | 5 Heat Settings | 6. 50″x60″ Electric Diamond Sherpa & Faux Fur Throw Blanket – Threshold™

That is all from us, but I am sure you all have a wealth of knowledge so please share all your tips and tricks down below. xx

Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Calm Scandinavian Master Bedroom

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Elle
3 months ago

Just to warn anyone who already has damp – don’t do the shower steam one if your house is damp! It brings more moisture into your walls, which doesn’t help. Keep the bathroom door closed and open the window for half an hour even if it’s cold outside, or make sure your extractor fan is working at full capacity for that time instead.
If you have radiators or a stove, get a little fan that clips to the back of the radiator or sits on the stove which will circulate the air – it helps the warmth spread through your home and makes the radiator work more efficiently.

Penny
3 months ago
Reply to  Elle

Yes, a damp house costs more & takes longer to heat. That’s what extractor fans are for. Do not steam your house

Nina
3 months ago

Emphatic YES to a post about making radiators look pretty!

… and the black mold thing really gave me pause. I work with people with chronic illness from mold – run, don’t walk, away from that shit! Glad you don’t live there anymore.

steph
3 months ago
Reply to  Nina

my radiator tip: add tiles. instantly useful and perfect for flowers 🙂

Sarah Lovinger, MD
3 months ago

I am a physician, and I also work on environmental policy. You made a big mistake here, and you should edit your blog post. Basically, YOU SHOULD NEVER HEAT YOUR HOME USING YOUR GAS OVEN. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and can worsen asthma and other lung conditions. Here’s information from the CDC website: “Learn how to protect yourself from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning: Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by furnaces, vehicles, portable generators, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges, or burning wood. You can protect yourself from common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning, which can lead to serious illness or death. For example, don’t ever heat your house with a gas oven…”

Kelly
3 months ago

Read again – She didn’t tell anyone to heat their home with an oven. She wrote that you can leave the door open as it cools (which, again, happens when the oven is already off). No need for the demanding tone.

Mouseface
3 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

The poster is saying beware of carbon monoxide. People die every year from using their gas ovens to heat their homes. No this article is not saying to do that but it is so easy to make the jump from ‘use leftover oven heat’ to ‘ turn the oven on for heat’ especially for renters who don’t get enough heat. Anyone who has lived in the midwest sees heartbreaking local news stories of families who die using oven to heat homes, they don’t make national news. Heating equipment is the second cause of fire in the US, followed by electrical malfunction. Any article about heating and plug in heating appliances should include STRONG language on safety, just as any article on ceiling scraping should include strong language on asbestos.

Admin
3 months ago

We definitely don’t advocate for using your oven to heat your house while it’s on but this is obviously an important point so I have removed it from the post. xx

Sarah Lovinger, MD
3 months ago
Reply to  Jess Bunge

thank you!

SE
3 months ago

Does your state have a green incentives program like mine? https://www.masssave.com/en/learn/residential We got a free home energy audit which led to a zero interest long-term loan for all new windows, generous rebates on a super efficient heat pump system for heating and cooling. This works for both residential homeowners and also landlords can partake. Love our new tight windows, and it feels great to have lowered our carbon footprint .

Julie
3 months ago
Reply to  SE

I just had this done too in my state! They added door sweeps, plugged drafts as they could, and even replaced lightbulbs. Definitely worth the $50 or so we paid for it. Ditto on the zero interest window loans – the majority of windows in our house are single pane aluminum, and I know we’ll want to replace them eventually, but the cost is bonkers and I am too overwhelmed with the choices to know where to begin. Maybe a post (or series?) on windows??

3 months ago
Reply to  Julie

Yes, please, we need a post on windows.
So many options are very confusing.

Susannah Elliott
3 months ago

Does your state have a green incentives program like mine? We got all new windows with a long term interest free loan (can do insulation too if you need it) and a heat pump system w a great rebate, for super efficient cooling and heating. You get a free energy audit to start off, and this works for private homeowners and landlords can do this to to help their renters. https://www.masssave.com/

ali
3 months ago

Yes, to post on radiators please.

Kari
3 months ago

Yes to the radiator post! Many of the design tips (particularly around curtains) don’t address what do to when all the outside walls are lined with radiators…

Kelly
3 months ago

I lived in a very cold rental, in Pennsylvania where we get cold winters. One of my tricks was to hang curtains in interior doorways to keep heat into rooms. I had curtains at the living room doorway and with a space heater that room stayed super cozy.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

Yesss!! This is done all over Europe.

Melissa
3 months ago

Great tips! One other thing to consider when it comes to the warmth of the sun is your exterior landscaping. Ideally you would have deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house ( gives shade in summer, warm sunlight in winter). Consider trimming limbs or large shrubs to let in more light. Foundation plantings around the perimeter of the house do more than just look pretty. They help block drafts and offer another layer of protection.

Even better than an electric blanket – consider an electric mattress pad. We have been using one for several years and it is heaven( made by Sunbeam). In addition to individual settings for each side of the bed, they each have 3 zones (feet, torso, head). We preheat the bed every night before we get in – no more cold sheets!

Never thought I’d say this, but I would love to replace my my wood burning fireplace with an electric model. I’m glad to see they are getting better looking. I’m so over the mess of the wood and gas is not an option in my neighborhood.

Susan
3 months ago

Actual morning air temp here is -17f this morning. It’s been below zero every morning for the last week. We do many of the tricks mentioned. But rather than trying to make the house warmer, we focus on warming ourselves by dressing in layers, and making sure every lounge space has a pile of quilts. I have a stack of wool cardigans that are house coats and all of my socks are wool based. It’s the only way.

Stephanie
3 months ago

Great tips! As an old home owner myself if you have original windows keep them! The window companies are making a killing telling you every 20 years you need new vinyl windows. So much ends up in a landfill. How about fixing the old windows so they can last another 100 years? Original wood windows are old growth wood that is denser. That type of wood can’t be found anymore. There are great resources out there like the blog blakehillhouse.com or thecraftsmanblog.com.

Lori
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Scott at Old Town Home did a great post on how to add spring bronze weatherstripping and exterior storms, too– that combo makes old windows nearly as efficient as new windows!

And don’t even get me started on that vinyl crap. Everyone in my neighborhood is putting those in and it’s completely ruining the character of the architecture.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

I agree Stephanie. There is no Planet B.🌏

Emma
3 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

As someone who lives in a building with horrible “historical” windows, I think this depends on the situation and is not good blanket advice (although I agree that vinyl is a bad idea and I’m not sure why people use it for ANYTHING considering how toxic it is). The original wood on my seventy year old windows has become spongy and is falling apart. I can feel the breeze from outside when the windows are closed, and there is zero sound isolation – I could have a conversation with my neighbors across the courtyard with both of our windows closed. One of my neighbors had her entire arm and hand lacerated because the glass shattered in one of her windows as she was opening it. We get infestations of bugs nesting in the wood. I get so much soot from pollution and ash from wildfires even with windows closed and added foam weatherstripping. I just want to point this out because a lot of homeowners and landlords like to tout the “historical” and “authentic” aspects of these properties but may not realize what it’s actually like to live with them day to day. And if you’re worried about the environment,… Read more »

Stephanie
3 months ago
Reply to  Emma

Sounds like your windows are past the point of saving. Dry rot is tough to fix.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Emma

You could buy a piece of perspex cut to size and silicon it into place on the inside – this will seal your window and can be easily removed if/when you leave.

Deborah
3 months ago

Be careful about the shower steam one depending on where your smoke detectors are located. In my old apartment, there was a smoke detector right outside the bathroom door, and more than once I set it off by exiting the bathroom too soon after a particularly steamy shower before letting the exhaust fan disperse the steam a bit.

Roberta Davis
3 months ago

I used some of these tricks when our furnace went out on New Year’s Day and we had no heat in the house for 4 days!

alexa
3 months ago

Yes to post on radiators! I have the old steam kind and they’re a clunky eyesore.

Lori
3 months ago

I have old leaky single paned aluminum windows (anyone have instructions on how to diy reglaze aluminim windows?) and the single best thing I did for energy efficiency was to go to Lowes and buy cut to size Levelor cellular shades. Cheap, lets the light in, and almost completely stops the drafts. If you lower the shade slightly lower than the windowsill, then prop the bottom on the windowsill and hit the button, it adjusts the length so the bottom of the shade acts as a draft stop. I added some Roman shades mounted outside the frame too to cover the top of the cellular shades when they’re pulled up and also to add an extra layer of insulation as needed. Two thumbs up!

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Lori

We don’t have Lowes in Australia, but IKEA sells them too.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago

I live in a draughty olllld house and I have leadlight glass front double doors.
In summer, they let the heat in and in winter, tgey suck the warmth out.
I hung blockout curtains inside. It can be a tad annoying to open and shut them, but they’ve made an enormous difference. I’m looking jnt8o blinds, which 8s what I slways wanted, but couldn’t do, bc Mr Ex.

Anyone use one of those double under-the-door draught-stoppers???
I’ve thought about trying one, but didn’t want to buy junk and add to landfill if it was rubbish.

#I’m.sooo.over.Am-a-zon! 😠 Gah!

Jo
3 months ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Those double under the door draft stoppers are great! They open and close with the door so you don’t need to remember to put them back in place. I got mine from Bunnings – not Amazon but also not as good as supporting a local independent business.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Jo

Thanx Jo, I can’t keep away from Bunnings!!
I might buy one and give it a go. 🙂

CLP
3 months ago

“Geez, what a boring idea for a post,” I mumbled, and then proceeded to order a draft dodger that purportedly fits under the door (we’ll see) because I am tired of the artic chill I feel while sitting on my couch. So, thanks for being boring sometimes.

Cris S.
3 months ago

In our previous house, in addition to all of the above, the only thing that really warmed a room was a plug in oil filled radiator. They were inexpensive, felt a lot safer than a ‘space heater’ with the hot coils, and VERY effective. Now that we rented out that house we offered them to the renters. In the fall they said they didn’t need them, but now that the chill has hit Chicago, we offered again and they accepted. Here is a link: https://www.homedepot.com/p/600-Watt-to-1500-Watt-Electric-Portable-Oil-Filled-Radiant-Portable-Heater-98593169M/313156119

There is a great series of videos on YouTube that I used (I mean, I watched a bunch of them, but these are the ones I kept coming back to) on sewing curtains with blackout lining and interlining. It’s a National Trust video and there is something so reassuring about a British accent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaPyeoaVMmU I did this for all the new curtains in the new house and they are both very nice looking and insulate great!

Lori
3 months ago
Reply to  Cris S.

Yes to that heater! I actually got one of these for my outdoor enclosure for my tropical plants since they’re so much safer than regular space heaters. Works great!

Robyn
3 months ago

We’re house hunting in Portugal (and moving toward the end of the year) and most houses built before 2000 aren’t really insulated there. Our realtor told us to get electric mattress toppers. That it’s a million times better than an electric blanket. She warms her bed up and then turns it off when she gets in. Sounds heavenly!!

Mai
3 months ago

A note on black mold in SF—this is the thing landlords in SF get sued for the most and for which tenant suits are most successful. As a small SF landlord (don’t hate me we live in a 3 unit building live in the top and rent the bottom units) mold terrifies me and if any tenant ever alerts me to it we get it tested within 48 hours.

Your old landlord banked in you NOT knowing your rights as a tenant. To any other SF tenants: the city laws are preferential to you, don’t let scum bag landlords make you think otherwise. Learn and know and exercise your rights!

Emma
3 months ago
Reply to  Mai

Agreed. Once noticed mold in an apartment as I was moving in, and when I notified the landlord she suggested I “try Lysol.” So many people counting on tenants not knowing their rights (and in a lot of places, frankly, the tenants don’t have many rights) or they are just straight up negligent.

Kj
3 months ago

You can use bubble wrap to cheaply/easily insulate your windows. Bigger bubbles work best. https://www.leesheatac.com/bubble-wrap-your-windows-to-seal-in-the-warmth-during-winter/

jen
3 months ago

Thanks for this post! I live in an old house with zero insulation (I’m in So Cal so it’s bearable) AND tons of old windows so this info was much appreciated!

Korina Trew
3 months ago

Caulking. Caulk around the trim of your window casing and trim. Door casing too. On a cold day you can feel the air coming through there. Also wear WOOL socks.

Heidi
3 months ago

Wonderful to have this all together in one place!

Katie
3 months ago

To get the right size fireplace insert, do you measure the opening like you do for a tv – corner to corner? And then pick the one closest in size to that? Seems like they come in standard sizes. Great post!

Laurel Ceff
3 months ago

I love flannelette sheets – very popular in Australia – not common in UK. Combine with flannelette pj’s, hot water bottle, wool doona from Kmart – all means no electricity costs when sleeping.

Ray
3 months ago

Try venting your clothes dryer indoors. You already paid for the heat. Why blow it outside. Makes the house smell great. You just need to catch the lint. Stretch knee high panty hose over the duct.

Jeffrey C
3 months ago
Reply to  Ray

This could cause condensation and mold, so think carefully before doing so.

Anna
3 months ago

Yes please on the radiator post! We live in a 1912 Chicago condo and our radiators have definitely seen better days.

Lauren
3 months ago

This is the post of my dreams! Live in a beautiful old but VERY drafty SF apartment. I don’t want any type of film because the beautiful original windows were part of the apartment’s appeal but had actually just ordered weather stripping from amazon days before reading this article. I wonder if I should get window seal strip you recommended? What I should really do is go to my local ACE, might pay a smidge more but those employees are SO helpful.

Have also gone down a wormhole researching electric fireplaces. I am considering putting one in my (nonfunctional) fireplace? Curious if folks have a sense of the energy bills associated with this $$

And +1 to radiator post

Lauren
3 months ago

Would be very down for the radiator post but in my case it’s more a REAL ugly wall heater. Not only does it make the layout of my living room & bedroom super difficult (know a sofa is a no-no but can I put an end table in front of it?) plus it just looks ugly. I’ve been going deep on some DIY blogs and considering making a cover out of wood & metal? But I’m not really a DIY gal…

Jeffrey C
3 months ago

If you have centralized heating, check the output from your vents. You may discover low flow and have a clog to clean or could consider one of those inexpensive over the vent fans that you can add to boost output a bit.

E
3 months ago

Like others have mentioned, heated mattress pads are wonderful to take the chill off the sheets before you get in. Ours has settings up to 10, but we never need to use it above 1. I would also like a post on radiators, including a discussion of radiator covers (pros and cons).

Addie
3 months ago

I’m surprised you didn’t include adding rug pads under your area rugs (for solid surface floors like wood, laminate and tile). We live on a second floor with an unheated garage below and putting the kind of rug pads meant for wall-to-wall carpet under our area rugs has made a measurable difference in the heat escaping from our wood floors. It was very affordable too. We had the lengths we needed cut right at the store (a local flooring and rug retailer) and the rolls are six feet wide so we didn’t even need to customize it but you can tape widths together if necessary. Our rugs didn’t need to be be non-slip but you can either use tape or the non-slip pads layered underneath the pad. As an added bonus the pads we bought are made from recycled materials and include a vapor barrier.

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