Staying warm without breaking the bank

June 16, 2022 by Lisa Bywaters

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“Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless.” Terri Guillemets.

Winter is well and truly here ❄. And for many of us with conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and Raynauds’s phenomenon, we feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

As much as I’d like to be writing this to you from a toasty warm room, with the heat cranked high, there’s just too much pressure on the household budget to be so careless. And I know I’m not alone in feeling anxious about rising costs – food, petrol, mortgage/rent – everything seems to be going up. Except for the temperature outside, that’s stuck in a downward spiral 😨.

So what can you do to stay warm and keep the costs down this winter? Here are some strategies to try.

Dress for success

Let’s start with the basics. You need to dress for the temperature and wear layers of clothing. It can sometimes feel cumbersome and bulky, but it’s one of our best defences against the cold. So put on the warm pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and/or tights and appropriate footwear. When you head outdoors, add more layers– including hats, gloves, scarves and masks (if required/desired).

If you’re working from home and still feeling the cold, consider using a blanket over your legs as you sit at your desk. I can tell you from personal experience it’s very cosy. And my cats love it 😺. Just be careful you don’t trip on it.

Deal with draughts

Cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during miserable days to keep the warmth inside. If you have floorboards, consider putting down rugs (just be careful they don’t become a trip hazard). And check out these handy DIY draught-proofing videos from the City of Port Phillip (Melbourne).

Turn down the temperature

While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can set the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound particularly warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when it’s 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

And only heat the areas you’re using. If you’re able to turn the heating off in unused parts of your home, do it. Shut the doors and use a draught stopper to prevent the warm air from the rest of the house escaping into these areas.

Let the sun shine in

Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even if there’s a chilly wind, the sun will bring some wonderful warmth into your home. And remember to close them when the sun goes down.

Snuggle up

Get cosy on the couch with your partner, kids, pets. Grab a warm blanket or doona, share your body heat and just enjoy being together.

Install heavy curtains

Thick curtains made from heavyweight, tightly woven fabrics can prevent heat escaping from your home. For the best results, curtains should be fitted as close to the window frame as possible, extend below the sill and well over the sides of the window frame, and a pelmet fitted over the top. This acts to ‘seal’ the window from the rest of the room and prevent heat loss. Curtains will also keep the hot air outside in summer.

Turn it off at night

You sleep better when your body has a chance to cool down a little, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can remove the chill from your bed by using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket. Just don’t forget to turn your electric blanket off before you go to sleep.

Winter-proof your bed

There’s nothing like slipping into a deliciously warm bed on a cold night, especially if there’s soft flannelette involved! So swap out your lighter, everyday bedding for heavier winter ones. And add layers – a top sheet (if you don’t already use one) and extra blankets. Finally, if you have floorboards in your bedroom, adding a rug under your bed can prevent any draughts from making their way to your bed.

Get active

Go for a brisk walk outdoors – wearing appropriate clothing – and you’ll warm up in no time. Save on pricey petrol and instead of driving, walk to the shop/school/post office etc.

When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving and you’ll feel warmer than you would if you sit in one place for hours on end.

However, if you’re having a flare or experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your shower, if you can

Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However hot water uses a lot of energy, and even a few minutes extra will add to your bill. If you’re able to, shorten the amount of time you spend in the shower, even if it’s just a little.

Move clothes horses and other obstructions away from the heater

Anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing around the room uninterrupted. So move them away from the heat source. And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing one metre from your heater.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles

If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can help get you up and about and provide temporary pain relief. Always follow the instructions when using them. Don’t overheat or smother them under blankets or clothes, and let them cool down between use. It‘s also important to let your skin temperature return to normal before using them again. To avoid burns, wrap your hot water bottle in a cloth or use a cover, so it doesn’t come into contact with your skin. Always examine your hot water bottles and heat packs before use, and toss them out if you notice signs of wear or damage. Finally, check their temperature before use to make sure they’re not too hot.

Warm up from the inside out

Many delicious winter recipes bring comfort and warmth on the most miserable days. So crack open the cookbooks and get cooking! Or go online for inspiration for yummy, warming drinks, curries, soups and stews.

Choose energy-efficient heaters

If you’re in the market for a new heater, make sure you’re buying one that’s energy-efficient and best suits your needs. Read Canstar’s article ‘A guide to energy-efficient heaters in 2022’ for more info.

Working from home

If you run a home-based business, Energy.gov.au has some simple tips to reduce your energy costs. Many of these tips are also applicable if you work from home because of the pandemic and have changed your working arrangements.

Billing and payment help

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, Energy.gov.au also has some information about support for Australian households, including info on potential rebates that may be available for you.

We’ve also put together lots of info to help you if you’re struggling with financial stress.

Insulate

If your house isn’t adequately insulated, this is something you can do for long-term benefit. Obviously, there’s a substantial upfront outlay, but it may be an option for some households. Find out more about insulation, including the different types available and how to install it, from the Australian Government’s website ‘Your home’.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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