Cost-effective Ways to Keep Warm in Winter

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Cost-effective Ways to Keep Warm in Winter

Making cents of staying cosy during Cape Town’s cold season

Last Updated 9 May 2018

It’s a disheartening fact: winter can give our wallets a serious wallop. We all want to keep that icy bite at bay, and that typically means adopting various habits (like putting heating devices on the maximum setting) that run up our costs and empty our pockets. In fact, according to Eskom, the average South African household’s electricity bill increases by an estimated 30% to 40% in the cold season, and considering that the price of electricity goes up a whopping 16% to 20% annually - that’s big bucks you’re saying farewell too.

The problem is, people naturally assume that keeping snug has to be pricey, but this is not always the case; if you make some simple, smart decisions, hone your DIY skills, pick the right heating system and change your routine slightly, you can stay toasty without breaking the bank.

To help you know what these decisions and changes should be, we’ve compiled a guide to keeping warm economically with the help of a number of different professionals, namely the folks at Eskom, respected handyman Tim Erasmus from household maintenance company DIY Cape Town, BHC School of Interior Design Course Facilitator Sue Lunnon and sustainability communications consultant Sheryl Ozinsky, who’s worked with the City of Cape Town to orchestrate energy-saving campaigns and to put together parts of the Smart Living Handbook.



  • Block gaps and air leaks in windows and doors to cut out draughts (no/low-cost). Tim suggests fitting insulating pelmets at the top of windows, lining door and window frames with a 10-mm strip of foam (it’s possible to purchase this at any hardware store), and placing old-fashioned threshold rolls at the bottom of doors to prevent currents creeping in (you can just roll up old towels or sew a long tube-like receptacle using scrap material and fill it with sand). Similarly, Sheryl recommends shoving material into the space between glass panels if your house has sash windows.
  • Identify and cover up mini-draughts too (no/ low-cost). Cold air can leak in through the tiniest and most unexpected places. Tim’s advice is to keep keys in keyholes, to stick up paper over vents above windows (it’s unsightly, but it’s only for a few months) and to block the holes behind light switches, plug points and TV connections – just remove the cover and plug leaks with normal insulation or masking tape.
  • Stick tin foil behind any wall-mounted heaters (no/low-cost). This prevents heat from being absorbed by the cold wall and reflects it back into the room. “Just make sure the shiny side faces outward,” advises Tim.
  • Close gaps between the roof and cupboard tops (no/low-cost). Sometimes the ceiling isn’t properly sealed into the top of built-in closets, and this is a point of potential heat escape. If this is the case in your home, Tim suggests that you slot a cheap piece of board into the gap.

  • Seal up your fireplace when you’re not using it (no/low-cost)A huge amount of heat can escape through the chimney, so close it up with a chimney plate or protector. You could even just place a blanket, piece of board or large painting (like Tim does) in front of the fire pit.
  • Hang thick curtains or roller blinds over windows (low-cost) to, as Tim says, “blanket your house”. You can even line your curtains with an extra padded layer or do what Sue does and cut out a large square of foam or quilt backing fabric to place behind blinds. You could even do like granny used to and install a swing arm to drape curtains over doors.
  • Throw down carpets on bare floors (low-cost). “One of the most economical ways to keep yourself warm in winter is to head to a place that sells affordable carpets, buy a rug and toss it over kitchen tiles,” says Tim. This is also especially important if you live in one of Cape Town’s old Victorian houses with draughty, gap-ridden wooden flooring. If you already have flimsy, thin mats, bolster them up with some underfelt.
  • Glaze your windows (invest-to-save)You can reduce the need for switching on that heater by keeping the warmth in with double-glazed windows, but this is quite a large once-off cost and you will need a professional to install them. Though, if you want to simulate the effect, you could purchase thick plastic sheeting from a hardware store and stick it to the inside of your panes.
  • Insulate your ceiling (invest-to-save) if it hasn’t been done already! Considering that between 40% and 51% of heat is lost through the roof (according to Eskom), insulating is the number one way to retain all the warmth inside and keep your home cosy. It is possible to line your loft yourself with products like Isotherm or Glasswool (available at hardware stores; check out the Isotherm or Isover websites for installation guidelines) or even just with rolls of foam or recycled cardboard. But, for safety reasons, it’s highly recommended that you hire a professional to apply the thermal layer – in this case, “goedkoop is duur koop” (going cheap will cost you in the long run, so pay now and save later). The same goes for wooden floors – ensure that they’re lined with plastic so that cold air doesn’t creep up from under the house.


  • Put radiators and heaters under shelves to create a vortex of warm air and prevent heat from rising to the ceiling. After all, you want to channel the glow towards you. Also, if you are using a wall-mounted heater, don’t place anything in front of it that could absorb the warmth.
  • Eskom recommends that you close doors to any unoccupied rooms while you have a heater on so that you don’t waste warmth (and therefore energy and money) on unused areas. Essentially, only heat your immediate space.
  • Hang your washing up inside, even if it’s not raining out. “This will pick up the humidity level in the house and raise the temperature significantly,” advises Tim.
  • Shower with the door open (if you’re not anticipating any guests and it won’t offend fellow dwellers). Doing this serves the same purpose as hanging your washing inside – it acts as a natural humidifier.
  • It may sound counter-intuitive, but Tim recommends that you switch your ceiling fan on low if you’re using a heater to help circulate warm air that’s risen to the ceiling – the less that’s wasted, the less demand there is on heating systems and the more you save.
  • One of the  quickest to get all toasty in winter is to soak in hot water; if this is your go-to method though, rather shower than bath (it uses electricity). Sheryl suggests taking this one major step forward and installing a solar water heater. They cost around R20, 000, but considering that hot water heated the normal way accounts for around 50% of your electricity bill every month, one of these units will seriously help you save in the long run.

  • Drink lots of tea, coffee, hot chocolate and other warm beverages to heat yourself up from the inside – just be sure to only boil the exact amount of water you need.
  • It may sound all too obvious to suggest you dress warmly, but all too many people run the heater on high while wearing nothing more than a flimsy garment or two. We’re talking scarves, gloves, hats, slippers, fluffy dressing gowns, shawls and the likes. You could also invest in some thermal or heat-generating underwear – Woolworths is a forerunner in this field – or even a few silk items, which trap heat but also breathe well. “Why shouldn’t we treat ourselves to some luxuriously silky undergarments if we’re saving on electricity?” asks Sue.
  • Indulge in some cooking and baking. “It’s one of the nicest ways to heat a home, and you’re not wasting energy because you have to eat,” explains Tim. “Back in the day, they had cooking devices that doubled up as heaters, so they must have been on to something.”
  • Buy an eiderdown duvet (or the cheaper combination of feathers and down) and you will not need to waste hard-earned cash on all-night electric heating again. “It’s the best investment I have ever made,” stresses Sue.
  • Eskom does advocate the use of electric blankets – they’re cheaper than we think – BUT it’s important to only use them to warm up the bed before getting in. So, switch yours on about 30 minutes to one hour before sleep time and then turn it off as you hop in.
  • The City of Cape Town’s Smart Living Handbook, which is partly Sheryl’s baby, advises that you only use heaters that have built-in thermostats that switch the unit off when it reaches a particular set temperature and so regulate the amount of electricity that’s used.
  • Let plenty of warm sunlight in during the day by keeping curtains open wide, but then close drapes immediately at nightfall to seal in all that lovely heat.
  • Exercise lots, suggests Sheryl. Could there be a more penny-wise way to get your body temperature soaring than a run around the block?


With a background in interior decorating, Sue Lunnon from the BHC School of Design holds that it’s possible to convince yourself that you’re warmer just by immersing yourself in aesthetically ‘warm’ environments. “Winter is associated with sensuous words like cosy and snug, so you can connect with these feelings by titillating the senses through colour, texture and lighting,” she says.

  • Colour: Fill your home with reds and oranges that conjure up images of fire and yellows that “bring the sun into the house, even when it’s raining outside”.You could also go for browns that evoke taste associations of coffee and hot chocolate. Bringing these tones into your abode can be achieved simply by purchasing a few affordable sunset- and earth-hued throws and scatter cushions.
  • Texture: According to Sue, rough, chunky textures bring about thoughts of warmth and wellbeing, so invest in fluffy, knitted fabrics; cut pile carpets, ceramic tiles and accessories, wicker furniture, clinker bricks and flocked wallpaper that has a three-dimensional, velvety look. Because of the link between log cabins and cosiness, you could also fill your home with wood items.
  • Lighting: Ambient, muted lighting just screams snug, so dim those switches and light the candles – not only does this practice not cost anything, it also actually saves cash as you’ll be saving electricity. Finally, use yellow energy-efficient bulbs rather than white, stark fluorescent lighting to create the sense of heat.


Looking for ways to save cash in general? Take a look at our pick of things to do for free in Cape Town.


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