First Frost: Winter Heat Survival Guide June 4, 2007

June 1st signifies the start of winter here in New Zealand. We’ve enjoyed quite a mild autumn and early winter with temperatures often in the high teens (65-70 f) and tomatoes still ripening throughout the month, a highly unusual occurrence. The weather made yet another record as May became the sunniest and warmest May in 140 years of recordkeeping. That’s the third ‘record breaking’ season we’ve experienced in our short time here (last winter was the coldest on record; spring was the wettest; fall has been the driest). Climate change anyone?

Last night though saw ol’ jack frost show his face as temperatures went to –1 c (30 f). Brrr, it was really cold in the house this morning. Lamenting the poor insulation, we donned our thermals and layered up with scarves and hats in the house. Heaters were turned on in some of the rooms which helps, but it’s never fun to have to put on a layer to get from one warm part of the house to the other.

Yes, winter’s coming. Thankfully we will miss eight weeks of it, but in a place where winter lasts for four or five months, we are sure to return in August to a few months of cold weather. We’ve chatted about our dislike of winter to friend Briar a lot. And after having been in NZ for almost twenty years, she knows how to survive the colder and darker days without losing one’s mind. She’s always full of useful information and so without further ado, here’s Briar’s winter heat survival guide:

Wool – lots of wool
Merino longjohns and vests and camis- not cotton or viscose or any other of those underwear fibres
Merino lounge wear
Wool socks
Wool sweaters (not sweatshirts in winter – too cold)
Sheepskin slippers – the ones that look like boots – what a difference in well being!
Wear at least three layers
Don’t be afraid to wear a hat indoors – lots of my friends do

Have an electric blanket that fits your bed. Turn it off when you go to bed, but take at least one hot water bottle (covered) to bed with you. If I don’t need it at first I stash it somewhere down the bottom of the bed where I can hook it in with my feet when needed. Which it will be.

Keep a small heater on all night at a low setting – but warm enough so that your nose isn’t cold when it is poking out of bed. (I’m serious.)

Log fires are the best but failing that:

Buy enough heaters – and buy them big enough for the spaces you are heating. Then you have to strategically think room by room if you don’t want to spend all your $$ on heating bills. Don’t try to heat the whole house. Think about living in less rooms than in summer. Organize your life seasonally.

Get a couple of fan heaters for rooms you want heated fast or only use briefly. For instance, when I get up I turn off the small radiator keeping the frost off the inside of the bedroom window, and turn on the fan heater. Then I go have my shower. Once I come back, the room is toasty for getting dressed. A good way to use energy is to heat rooms to desired temperatures as quickly as possible, then turn the heaters down low.

If your house is prone to damp and mould (like mine) you need to air it pretty much every day, or/and get a dehumidifier, and move it around form room to room. They will suck the moisture out of the curtains and furnishings — they’re amazing.

Try to avoid unflued gas heaters, except as a emergency back up. (The electricity here is prone to blackout at least once a winter.) They dump a whole lot of moisture into the room and are fumey.

And painful as it seems, accept and expect to pay a large amount of cash simply to keep warm – it totally pays off in wellness, wellbeing and productivity.

It pays to eat seasonally here – a fact that is bourne out by Chinese medicine, which perceives food as inherently warming or cooling. Lots of traditional winter food, like lamb roasts, oatmeal and pumpkin are considered warming. Cooking warms food, the less water you use the more warming the food will be, so for instance roast vegetables are more warming than steamed. Something I have noticed that makes a difference.

I think we’ve got enough heaters now (one for each of the main rooms) but I still need to pick up a hot water bottle, or a hottie, as they’re affectionately called here. I don’t know when was the last time I’d seen or even used the words ‘hot water bottle’, but they’re all the rage here, even coming with cute covers and even ones made from possum. Nothing like snuggling up with a warm comfortable hottie!