When there's a chill in the air inside your home, it's more than just uncomfortable — that dip in the mercury levels can be bad for your health.
Experiencing cold temperatures indoors where you live is "associated with increased blood pressure, asthma symptoms and poor mental health," according to the 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) Housing and Health Guidelines.
A cold home can lead to respiratory disease, per the WHO. Cold alone won't make you come down with the cold or flu — these diseases are the result of a virus, not the temperature. But chilly temperatures can create an environment where viruses flourish, making you more likely to catch a bug.
There are plenty of reasons why your home may be frosty.
For one thing, heating a home is a pricey endeavor, amounting to about 42 percent of your utility bill, per the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE). But if you've got the thermostat turned low to cut costs — or, if you don't have central heating available in your home — there are some simple, low-budget adjustments you can make that'll help warm up your space.
1. Find — and Eliminate — Drafts
Even a teeny-tiny hole can have an outsized effect on the temperature of your home: As much as 10 to 20 percent of the money spent on energy annually could be wasted because of drafts, leaks and outdated heating and cooling systems, per the EERE — that amounts to between $200 and $400 a year for the average American.
"Check windows and doors for leaks around caulking and weather-stripping, and fill those up," says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a Chicago-based HVAC cleaning company.
Other places to look include the edges of flooring, where walls meet ceilings, around plumbing fixtures and by outlets, per the EERE. There can also be air escaping by air conditioners, mail slots, baseboards and more.
Many holes can be filled with caulk, which is a simple DIY project, says Justin Edwards, a Michigan-based HVAC contractor — all you'll need is a tube of caulk to fill in small cracks.
"You can always use caulk to fill a crack in a window," he says. In fact, he recommends people do this task themselves instead of calling a contractor. "It's not worth the cost if it's only a few small cracks you need to fix and since it's so simple anyone can do it."
Weatherstripping is another handy solution, per the EERE — this comes in many forms, but basically is a small roll of material you can squeeze in wherever you find gaps. For gaps at the bottom of the door, you can install a door sweep (or, just roll up some towels or blankets and place them in front of the gap).
2. Update Your Window Treatments
It's easy for heat to escape from your home — or cold air to make its way in — through the windows. So once you've patched up holes and cracks, put up window treatments to help your home retain heat.
The most effective option is insulated shades — they fold up like an accordion and are designed with a honeycomb-like structure to trap air layers, per the EERE. Curtains and drapes are also an option. A tip from the EERE: Hang them as close to the window as possible, with the ends hitting either the window sill (curtains) or the floor (drapes) for the most effective prevention of heat loss.
If you're shopping for blinds, insulation is a must, Edwards says. That way, the blinds will keep heat from leaving the home during the winter, and during the summer, they'll keep hot air outside, he says.
If you get blinds, consider getting programmable ones, Edwards suggests. “You can program them to open in the morning when it's cool and close in the afternoon when it's warmer,” he says. Expect to pay around $150 or more for these blinds; Edwards recommends this option from Amazon, but notes that you can find plenty of options at big-box hardware stores like Lowe's and Home Depot.
If you can, install storm windows before the winter weather hits. But if that's not an option, covering your windows with plastic (from the inside) will protect against cold air, per the American Red Cross.
A trained professional can install a permanent window film, which can prevent heat loss and also block glare and reduce fading, says David Flax, vice president of operations at Window Genie.
DIY window film products, which are available in hardware stores, are also an option, he says.
"In a pinch, these DIY materials will work to cut down on drafts and will help to keep heat in your home," Flax says, noting that they can be hard to work with and unsightly compared to more permanent options.
3. Let the Sun In
While you want to have window coverings in place, open them up on bright, sunny days to let the light in. Those rays will help increase the temperature in your home, Edwards says.
Just make sure you cover windows once the sun sets.
And don't forget to clean the glass.
"Windows that are dirty will prevent a home from benefiting from the natural light," Edwards says.
4. Don't Block the Heat
Take note of how your furniture is arranged in terms of heaters. You'll want to avoid having big, bulky furniture or long drapes directly in front of the heat, because that can block it from heating the space, according to the EERE.
If your home has a fireplace, make sure the flue or damper is closed when you don't have a fire lit, per the UW Extension. While your chimney lets smoke escape as the fire blazes in the fireplace, it can also let cold air in while the fire's out. Having the damper open has the same effect as an open window, per the EERE — it makes it easy for warm air to exit your home.
If you have a radiator, add a reflector to the wall behind it, per the EERE — that way, the heat will be reflected out from the wall and into your space.
5. Layer Up
This won't make your home warmer, but dressing for the temperature can help you feel more comfortable. Keep your feet warm with socks and slippers, per the University of Minnesota Extension. Extra layers in general — from sweaters to thermal underwear — can help you stay warm.
If you’re a tenant, know your rights when it comes to heat.
Laws about heating differ depending on where you live. For instance, in Minneapolis, heating equipment must maintain 68 degrees Fahrenheit from October through April, per Home Line, a Minnesota tenant rights organization.
Bottom line: While landlords may not be required to pay for your heat, rental apartments must have a working heating system in place.
6. Use a Space Heater
Space heaters are a highly effective way to heat up a single room, but they can also start fires — in fact, 43 percent of home heating fires are due to incidents with space heaters, per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
So if you opt to use a space heater, do so with safety in mind:
- Make sure it's tested: This is one situation where you might want to buy new, not used. Look on the packaging to see if it's been tested by a laboratory (such as CSA International, Intertek or UL), per the NFPA.
- Look for a space heater with auto shut-off: This ensures it'll turn off if it tips. NFPA also recommends using space heaters with overheating protection.
- Put it in the right spot: Space heaters should be at least 3 feet from anything flammable (think: books, curtains and so on), per the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Keep children away from the space heater, and find a spot for it that's out of the way (so people aren't frequently walking near it), recommends the NFPA.
- Plug it in properly: Space heaters should be plugged into wall outlets, never extension cords or power strips, per the CPSC.
- Don't leave it running: Turn off and unplug space heaters when you're not in the room or when you go to bed.
Is This an Emergency?
- World Health Organization: "WHO Housing and Health Guidelines."
- Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: "Home Heating Systems"
- Home Line: "When is my landlord required to turn the heat on?"
- EERE: "Why Energy Efficiency Upgrades"
- EERE: "Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits"
- EERE: "Weatherstripping"
- EERE: "Energy Efficient Window Attachments"
- American Red Cross: "Winter Storm Safety"
- UW Extension: "In-Home Energy Audit Tips To Save You Money"
- EERE: "Fall and Winter Energy-Saving Tips"
- University of Minnesota Extension: "Keep your home warm and safe in winter"
- National Fire Protection Association: "Space heaters account for 43 percent of U.S. home heating fires and 85 percent of associated deaths"
- NFPA: "Electric Portable Space Heater Safety"
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: "Your Space Heater Needs Space"