Spring may be around the corner, but right now, it’s still pretty chilly at night. How do you make sure your home is as warm as it could be? Read on and fend off the chill as cost-effectively as possible, whether you’re buying a new home, renovating or hibernating.

Look before you buy

When it comes to buying a warm house, the golden rule is to choose a solidly built, well-insulated, north-facing home. This doesn’t mean that you have to haul out your compass, but look for a house that gets sun for most of the day, especially in front so it is brighter and warmer. It is costly to produce heat, but trapping heat that’s naturally in your home doesn’t cost a dime.

Take note of the flooring (carpets or wooden floors are warmer than tiles, for example), room size, ceiling height and layout, as all of these contribute to the temperature of the house. Make a point of finding out if the house is insulated, as well as how adequate the insulation is.

If the property you love seems like it may leave you shivering in winter, don’t despair. There are many ways to make a home warmer.

Renovate right

When renovating, don’t forget to factor warmth, dryness and comfort into your plans, which are no doubt focused on beauty.

It’s said that a well-insulated house uses 45% less energy for heating and cooling, so get your insulation right or top up old and thinning insulation, particularly in the ceiling and under floors. If your house has recessed downlights, consider replacing them with non-recessed light fittings – many of the recessed types fitted more than three years ago required that holes be cut in the insulation for fire-safety reasons, which means you are losing heat through these areas.

 If you have north-facing rooms with lots of sunlight, you might want to leave the concrete exposed, either polished or painted. It will soak up the sun’s heat by day, and slowly release it at night. Tiles can be cold and hard on your feet in winter, while carpeting and wooden flooring tend to be warmer and will help keep the heat inside. 

Seal gaps and cracks that let cold air in, particularly in old homes. Use filler, sealant and expanding foam on wall cracks, and seal strips on badly fitted doors and windows. Also block unused chimneys. While renovating, check for rising damp and open all the vents. 

Floor to floor 

The three primary ways of producing heat indoors are underfloor heating, heaters and fireplaces. 

Underfloor heating works with a water-heating system. It uses solar power, electric heat pumps, gas or a boiler, and runs through a heat net-work under carpets, laminate floors, tiles or bamboo. The downside is, it’s rather costly to install and needs to be well designed to eliminate damage, so do a background check on suppliers. 

Underfloor heating is best executed when building a new house or redoing flooring. Once in, it’s an economical, environmentally friendly solution, slow to heat up but effective once going. 

Price is dependent on many factors, and a solar system is ideal, as gas and electricity will cost more, depending on the size of the room and the size of the heater you have installed. Save power by turning the heater off while in bed, and keep the room insulated to trap heat. 

The heat(er) is on 

You may want to install wall-panel heaters. They emit 90% of their heat from the back of the panel and only 10% from the front, so that the heat rides up the wall to circulate around the room. And they’re cost-efficient: Eskom’s Energy Appliance calculator works out that a 1 100 kWh wall heater turned on for 12 hours every day for a month would cost R240. 

Fire power 

You have options when it comes to fireplaces, but make sure you choose one that is best suited to your home and needs. 

 A traditional fireplace is great during load-shedding, cost-effective (it is estimated at R3–R6 an hour) and environmentally friendly (burn invasive alien wood). The traditional fireplace is masonry; part of the building and generally made of brick or stone on concrete. Because it’s built-in, it can be pricey, but will last for years. Just make sure you have good ventilation and put the fire out properly. 

A factory-built fireplace is typically made of metal with a glass door and air-cooled pipes. They are insulated and designed to burn hotter and cleaner, which makes them more efficient than traditional fireplaces. Fireplaces don’t rate highly in terms of heating efficiency, as much of the heat is lost through the chimney. Like an open fireplace, a factory-built one uses logs, or anthracite or coal, all of which are cost effective. Again, burn alien wood. 

Gas fireplaces are factory-made, may or may not need vents (outlets similar to chimneys) and have the advantage of turning on at the flick of a switch. They can be installed in a traditional fireplace and have ceramic logs with gas lines to give the appearance of flickering flames. Many have electric blowers to blow heat into the room. So you get the convenience and safety of a gas fire with no ash to clean up. Currently, though, gas is costly in SA; it’s more expensive than electricity. You could pay R200 (or more) to refill a nine kilogram bottle. Depending on how often your fire is lit, you may use a cylinder a month in winter. 

An electric fireplace is similar to gas in that it can be installed in a fireplace and does an imitation of a wood-burning fire. But it’s powered by electricity and could be cheaper than the other three. You don’t have to pop it in a fireplace, so you can move it around and plug it in. These will provide similar heat to a standard heater, and are often the desired option for their practicality.


Five tips your grandmother might have given you for staying warm. 

1. Keep chilly drafts out. Our grannies had long rolls that looked like sausage dogs stuffed with sand to block draughts under doors. You can buy a draught excluder at a hardware store, make your own or use a rolled up blanket or towel to block the cold air at windows and doors. 

2. Let sunshine in during the day on the sunny north side and close blinds and curtains when the sun sets to trap the warmth. 

3. Use heavy, lined curtains to help keep the heat inside. Up to 40% of heat loss can be attributed to uncovered windows in the home. 

4. Shut doors to rooms that are not in use. It’s no good heating empty rooms, so rather keep the heat in the rooms that are being used. 

5. Dress warm; wear socks, wrap up in a blanket and drink hot chocolate! 


[Photo by Rachel Claire from Pexels]