Keeping warm during winter

by John Stapel

I was originally going to use “Winter heating” for the title of this post, but then I realized that, perhaps like many other things, this misses the main point. At its essence, the problem is cold. The solution is to stay warm. How do we accomplish this.

There are two variables. The first one is how cold you feel. Naturally people with higher, what I would call metabolism although it is not technically correct tend to stay warmer. First, they have more muscles, second they move more. One reason you can wear jeans but need a thick jacket when it’s freezing is that the legs are more muscular and they are moving too. In fact, if you run, you need very little clothes even in sub-zero. The cardinal rule here is that if you feel cold, move faster. Another source of personal warmth is the anabolic/catabolic cycle: the break down and rebuilding of tissue. If you train anaerobically, the resting caloric burn is somewhat higher for up to 24 hours following the exercise. Intensive weightlifting is a very good way of keeping warm (and also losing weight).

Hence, naturally, if you are an active person, you will have an edge in keeping warm (as well as an edge in doing physical labor, getting around without relying on a car and it’s expenses and keeping yourself out of the doctor’s office. I highly recommend it.)

Obviously you can be physical all the time. The second variable is thus applying external heat.

The easiest method is simply to become a snowbird and migrate. This is something many RVers do for instance. These days most people are geographically attached by national borders or mortgages and other obligations, so the rest of the discussion will assume that moving south (or north as it may be) is not an option.

The standard prescription is to heat the entire house. This is insanely wasteful given that you only need to warm yourself. Presumably you don’t need to keep your furniture, books, and pots and pans warm as well, but that is what people normally do. The heating costs can be extremely large, especially given the size of the houses people live in: 3 bathrooms and 5 bedrooms for three persons. Come on! The tragic part is that some people in fact do not know any other way of keeping warm than the standard method and tragically stupid things like keeping the burners in the kitchen on for hours.

The first thing to do is to turn the thermostat down and consider alternative forms of heating. It is getting harder, but it is still possible to get free firewood on craigslist. We did this last year and it wasn’t too bad. What I would recommend is to “invest” in some good wool clothes. I prefer Filson, because I can afford to be decadent when I’m not throwing money away on eating out or buying new CDs or movies. However, it is possible to get good woolen jackets and pants for $20-30 bucks. How? Army Surplus! It may not look stylish (unless you’re into that sort of thing) but it will keep you toasty and you will easily make the money back in heating savings.

Of course you can do what we did and just move into a much smaller place. Turning the central heating down in a large house is penny-wise but pound-foolish. Turn it on in a smaller house is pound-wise but penny-foolish, and which would you rather be?

Originally posted 2008-12-04 15:56:42.