Ways to Keep Warm When You Can't (or Won't) Turn On the Heating

There was a time in our lives when we had no heating or hot water for an extended period of time. Like, years. Our oil tank was deemed unsafe and our oil boiler knackered. We could not afford to install gas and so had to find other ways to stay warm.

Dog wrapped in blanket:Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Thankfully having endured this and survived (we now have gas central heating) my children aren't as horrified as some at the prospect of me turning down the dial to a heat low enough to not cost a fortune but  enough to stop pipes from freezing - a constant worry when we had no heating.

Actually - I exaggerate. We have an open fire and back then we used a couple of panel heaters which we wall mounted and oil filled radiators for the absolutely worst days and for when we had visitors who might not have coped so well with nithering cold.

Don't tell anyone but we even put an oil filled radiator in the bathroom for shower time - DH drilled a hole through to our bedroom so it was plugged in out of the steamy environment so pretty safe. Well. No-one got electrocuted so it worked out fine.

So here are my top tips for surviving the winter with little to no heating:

Dress for the temperature.

Blindingly obvious but I still see people complaining of the cold while wearing T-shirts. PUT MORE CLOTHES ON! Those fleecy onesies were a lifesaver for day and night, especially the ones with hoods. Layer, layer, layer for ultimate warmth and check out Primark's thermal underwear range. 

Dress like you do when camping on a chilly night - joggers and sweatshirts make excellent PJs and there's no shame in adding socks and even hats.

Snuggle in a Blanket

My house is littered with blankets and throws - some I crocheted myself. We've found weighted blankets to be especially warm and soothing for anxiety and neurodiversity. You are more likely to feel cold while sitting so if you are watching TV, gaming, working or reading just pop a blanket over your knees or round your shoulders. It looks a bit Dickensian but it's cosy. Really cold? Grab your duvet and snuggle up in that or just go to bed.

teen with crochet blanket round shoulders

Eat warm food. 

Even on a budget hot food is doable. Beans on toast, soup, toasted cheese sarnies, jacket potatoes. All will warm you up. Any food however will help warm you up as the act of digestion uses chemical reactions which can increase your temperature by up to 2 degrees. I'd avoid ice cream though for the best effect.

I bought a soup maker in the charity shop and love making homemade soup with leftovers and those cheap casserole veg bags you get in supermarkets. Leek and potato and chicken noodle are my faves.

homemade soup in bowl with bread

Stick to one room. 

One spectacularly cold night we actually all slept in our living room where the open fire is. As the fire turned to embers we piled onto sofas and cushions on the floor for a family sleepover.

 I work from home and my youngest is EHE (home educated) but we work in the same room, joined by any other children who aren't at work or school. Headphones mean no-one is distracted and we only have to heat one room. 

Radiators can usually be turned off or down in rooms you aren't using much. We generally don't have the heating on at all - warm clothes and blankets suffice. Don't forget to shut the door - let the heat build up in the room you are in. Use those sausage-shaped draught excluders to stop cold air coming in under the door or stuff pillow cases with old clothes or towels to block the gaps.


This is one time you don't want to be cold. I've just invested in a new, more energy efficient electric blanket for our room (our old one died) as my husband works nights and getting into a warm bed helps him fall asleep. It has a timer and multiple warmth zones - I only ever need the foot warming region. 

My children (all over 14) didn't want electric blankets but are happy with old school hot water bottles. Make a warm bedtime drink and fill the bottles at the same time for efficient kettle use. Preheat the beds with electric blankets- hot water bottles before getting in for the best effect. About ten mins or the time it takes you to get changed, clean teeth etc should do it.

ice crystals close up in black and white

Invest in good window/door coverings 

About 10% of the heat in our homes is lost through windows. Curtains and/or blinds are vital for keeping the house warm in the winter (and cool in the summer!). I have cheap but effective velour thermal curtains which may not be absolutely beautiful but aren't horrific either. Lined curtains or blinds are a good second best. 

Make sure curtains don't drape over  radiators sending the warmth up to the window not your room. Whether you prefer curtains or blinds the key is to get as snug a fit as possible with minimal gaps. Blinds are slightly less effective at preventing heat loss but there's not much in it.

I even have door curtains to draw over my front and back doors which are delightfully vintage but draughty as hell. Most doors let in some cold air through gaps, letter box etc and we found the curtain system really helps. 

Add draught excluders to letter boxes and draught excluding foam tape round the door frame to minimise draughts. I actually used tape to seal up our French doors in winter as we didn't really use them October-March. You can get special cling film type stuff to add another "pane" to draughty windows. Apparently you can hugely decrease the heat loss from windows by using electrical tape to fix them to the wall either side of the window. Not sure I'd go that far but worth knowing.

Insulate and air. 

You don't want burst pipes so make sure you have adequate insulation round pipes and tank. Keep the heating on just enough to prevent freezing - most modern systems have an automatic frost setting anyway. And make sure you air the house. Low/no heat and people breathing can cause condensation which can quickly help life threatening mould to flourish. Those cheap moisture collectors on windowsills are good but make sure you open a window or two for a while to air the house regularly too.

So there you have it- these tips got us though some very cold times and even though I enjoy having gas central heating I have no qualms about turning that thermostat right down this year.