I need to winter-proof my rental — are tapestries my only hope?

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A reader wrote to us asking how she can warm up her rental house:

I live in an older rental house in Canada, where temperatures often reach -35C (-31F!) in the winter. I’m wondering if there are any clever winter-proofing things I can do to decrease my energy consumption and heating bill over the winter — besides the standard heavy duty heat shrink plastic over the windows, which we already do. I tend to be cold all the time to begin with, so packing on a third sweater starts to feel excessive.

I have visions in my head of castle-style wall tapestries in the bedroom to warm the freezing cold wall behind my back. I know there are plenty of solutions out there, but I need something functional, not super ugly, and suitable for rental homes — i.e., not a brand-new heating system combined with better insulation.


Oh, we’ve got you!

I’m from WI, originally, so I feel your gut-wrenching, frozen pain.

I think tapestries would be a beautiful (if expensive) way to go about things. I never used them myself, really, but they really would be lovely.

The window plastic only works so well, and don’t forget to check on them every month (or slightly more often if you like) to see if they couldn’t use another go-round with the hair dryer.

First order of defense: block the gusts from doors and windows

First, You might want to consider getting some insulation board like this. You could paint it or stick nice wallpaper on it to make it look better. You could then prop it up against your existing walls, kind of like modern tapestries.

Other good tips are to make draft blockers out of old tights or socks filled with other socks or newspaper to put in front of doors and windows where drafts creep in. You can even sew or knit them if you’re crafty!

If you’re NOT crafty? you can totally buy stick on drauft blockers,

Finally, really heavy, thick curtains are very good insulation around windows. Have a look in charity shops for old velvet ones. They look great up, really vintage!

Now let’s talk about blankets

This is my favorite electric blanket!

I always like a lot of blankets. I seem to feel warmer if there’s a blanket (or six) spread on the couch cushions as well as one (or six) to cover up with.

Get yourself a really good heated blanket – I love this one

The heating blanket under the mattress pad is absolutely crucial to having warm, fuzzy, happy slumber.

What about a cold floor?

Felted wool slippers from here

Invest in a good pair of slippers, and I mean a really, really good pair like one of these.

I seem to warm up faster and stay warmer longer if I have good, thermal socks (I love my Smartwool socks!)on as well as slippers.

Also, rugs on the floors to ward off icicle toes and help lock in heat… I’ve gotten a few wool rugs on sale at Wayfair and loved them.

And what if you’ve covered all those bases and your house is still cold?

If you have ceiling fans, make sure they turn clock-wise so they suck the cold air up and away from you. 

Cook with your oven a lot, and when you’re done, turn the oven off and leave the door open just a smidge in order to let all that lovely heat escape into your surroundings. This is what baking is for. (Plus, cookies and pies and casseroles and comfort food automatically make you warmer, right? Isn’t that like, the law?) 

Space heaters, while a bit dangerous and definitely not eco-friendly or energy-consumption-lowering, will do in a pinch, and I had a friend whose mom put one in/near the bathroom. No frosty bums at her house!

Hope you find a cozy way to hibernate this year!

Check the comments for even more ideas….

Comments on I need to winter-proof my rental — are tapestries my only hope?

  1. As an Oklahoman, I can’t totally relate. Our winters are bitter cold and windy, but they only last two or three months and there’s usually a 60 degree day in there somewhere.

    But one thought I had when you mentioned the cold walls–instead of tapestries, what about heavy draped fabric. You could a achieve a look much like Ariel mentioned in her recent post about decorating ideas from Burning Man, except use a heavier fabric that’ll insulate better. Add the black out curtains and you’ve just put another layer between you and the elements! Just make sure to open the curtains every now and then to soak in some light. Don’t want you getting depressed or anything! 🙂 Lots of luck and stay warm! (that’s so weird for me to say since it’s like 110 here!)

  2. Not sure if anyones mentioned this and it might be a bit out there for some people but what about moving into one room for winter.

    Obviously it depends how much you entertain and this wouldn’t be for everyone.
    If you have a sofa bed (or find one off freecycle) or move TV, table etc into the bed room. It means you’d only have to heat one room.

    After living in what is effectively a studio for the past three years the thought of heating a whole house is a bit hard to get my head around now!

    Also yep, dogs really are the best hot water bottles. They never go cold either. 🙂

    • This is a great idea and I wish we could just move in our living room. But where we live, the rental agreement says we HAVE to keep all rooms heated throughout the winter. Bummers. Not sure why, really.

  3. WOOOOOOOOOLLLL!!!! It’s your friend. On your bed, on your feet, on your head, you can’t go wrong. Down comforters are also awesome.

    I have a personal bed heater. He is 6’4″ and cuddly.

    I’ve read other people suggesting window quilts, but you can make door quilts, too! We also turned off the heat in our second story/attic, as we rarely go up there, and we have a programmable thermostat, which we turn down when we’re sleeping and when we’re at work during the day. And while we don’t live in a place as cold as you, we do live in upstate NY in an old house with, we’re pretty sure, no wall insulation, judging by our hideously high fuel oil useage.

  4. A lot of the advice here is muy bueno–just remember, if you tend to get sad in the winter, you will need the light from the windows! Make sure you have at least one Easterly facing window whose cover is REMOVABLE. I made this mistake in my last (frigid) apartment!

  5. This is amazing.. such fantastic ideas:D Glad to see we’re not the only ones worrying about winter (during UK summer!) I got chilblains on my toes earlier this year, which I thought were something only Victorian servants got!
    The only thing about just heating the one room is that if your house is prone to damp, any moisture condensing on cold unheated walls can lead to some pretty nasty mould, as me and my fiance found out to our horror (‘It’s ALIVE!’).. We had to keep the heating on low after that until the worst of the weather had passed.
    Ah well, you live and learn..

    • You could still heat one room hotter than the rest. 🙂 And then you could keep the windows open in unused rooms which helps keep the mould at bay.

      Living in one room wouldn’t be for everyone but it might be an option for some. Or if your lucky enough to live in a massive house just using less rooms. 🙂

  6. Draft blockers are great, I fill them with rice and fabric scraps, we use them at the doors and on the window sills. Find air leaks around windows and other places that you can seal up. If you don’t have carpeting then keep an eye out for inexpensive rugs for oft-used rooms. Heavy drapes are great too because they make a room feel cozier visually as well. For faux tapestries head to a fabric store and check out their clearance section for heavy fabrics you can hem with iron on hem tape or just sew and hang.

  7. If you have access to fabric, and lots of it, you can cover your walls with it-especially the coldest ones. I have seen rooms designed to look like harems or tents by putting fabric top to bottom in gathers. You can get this effect by putting it on strips of lathe and then hanging them up on the wall at ceiling height. Even one wall could make a difference. Here’s a link that might give you some ideas depending on how much you can do as a renter.

  8. As a Minnesota resident now for 6 years (after moving here from the SOUTH! I question “why” every winter…), I wholeheartedly agree with these comments! We got a heated mattress pad last year- it was about $80 and worth every penny. At night, we closed all the heating vents except the ones in our room, turned the heat down, and cranked that puppy up to save on our bill- it seemed to work. Since we have a forced-air system, we found a humidifier was important to run at night as well to avoid bloody noses and the like. I’ve also just discovered magnetic vent covers, which I think we will try this year, since the levers for our vents are kind of old and rusty. When we were home, we usually covered all the vents except our family room and bedroom (the kitchen stays pretty warm with all the cooking). Also, that self-cleaning oven setting? Use it on the coldest day of the year 😉

    I also insisted when we moved into our place (a rental house) that we painted our family/dining room in rich, happy earth tones to get us through the monochrome of winter-it makes us feel warmer, even if it’s just a mental trick 😉

    And the usual- lots of tea/coffee/hot chocolate, crock-pot recipes, thick socks, blankets. Draft guards. Furry friends (our cat is only cuddly in the winter-such a user).The usual 🙂

  9. Municipal code says we can’t plastic windows in a rental property. My solution: Pool noodles. They hold upright in the window and can be wrapped. They also stuff and wedge into any crevice, seal around air conditioners, can be “capped” on the bottom of a door if you slice lengthwise. Oh endless uses for those dollar store treasures.

  10. I lived in Wisconsin and just thinking about the winters there makes me cold. Hanging up quilts really helps keep some of the heat in as does shaggy rugs. Also, you might try an electric fire place. They have a variety that look like real fireplaces or mountable wall electric fire places. They are safer and more efficient than a space heater and should you move, you can take it with you!

  11. Another resident of the Great White North (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario) here. We’re sewing heavy insulating blinds for our bedroom window for this winter — it’s a design my mom and grandmother have used before. I believe the pattern and materials came from http://www.warmcompany.com/, although pre-internet, so they would have been purchased in a store! My family had leftovers, so we got those free; I don’t know what the supplies cost if you need to buy them now. The main key features are the insulating layer of puffy stuff (which also has a reflective layer in it), and the magnet strips around the edges, both of the blind and of the window, which stick together to make a seal.

  12. Make sure your bed (and couch, or anywhere you spend a lot of time on) is up against an interior wall. Try to keep away from exterior walls as much as possible, and insulate them with boards/tapestries as described above.
    Buy some Thermacare Heatwraps, the lower back pain or the menstrual cramps ones are great. Stick it on your lower back, keeps your core warm for hours, while allowing you to move about & not be tied to a heating blanket or pad.
    Definitely rugs, lots of rugs.
    And definitely insulate the windows. Caulk, plastic wrap, and heavy-weight curtains.

  13. Even though this might be just another contemporary myth, they say most body heat is lost through the head. So in addition to wearing thick socks and sweaters, you could consider wearing a beanie, or one of those woolen headband that cover your ears and are coming back into fashion.

    I’ve taken a modern twist on the traditional nightcap and I wear a beanie in bed. Much to my husband’s dismay, I admit, but this trick is keeping me a lot warmer than wearing socks at night.

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