Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan of the colder months. At all. In fact the cold weather is one of the main reasons I chose to return to Africa from the UK. Our last winter there in 2010 was spent with six weeks of frozen snow on our front garden. It didn’t snow for six weeks, but it snowed and then the temperature dropped and stayed so low that the snow that had fallen froze. For SIX WEEKS! It was about that time that we decided we just did not want to live in that cold weather anymore. During my time in the UK I did learn a few tricks and tips on how to keep warm in winter, and also how to save a bit of money doing so. 

Now I am in living in central South Africa (not far from the Drakensberg and Lesotho), and whilst the summers are lovely and hot, the winters are cold! Freezing. It even snows not far from where I live. I did not realise that it could get this cold in Africa. Well that was four years ago. I know now that I was kidding myself. This place gets COLD!

Cold is cold – right?

The difference between cold in the UK and cold in Africa is that Africa is NOT equipped to deal with the cold weather as well as the U.K. and Europe are. For obvious reasons. It’s cold for about four months of the year in Africa, whereas it’s warm for about three months of the year in Europe.

Most buildings, houses and public transport in the UK have central heating. There is no such thing as central heating in South Africa, certainly not in 99% of homes and houses anyway. So we look to other ways to keep warm in winter.

With the cold in Africa comes higher electricity usage and fuel burning as everyone tries to keep warm. This in turn costs money. A lot of money. It also puts a huge strain on the already fragile national energy grid. This past Saturday was the first real day of winter which saw temperatures plummet throughout most of the country, seemingly overnight. There were warnings on the radio of load shedding that would have to be introduced as everyone was now switching on their heaters.

Load shedding is basically when the national grid couldn’t cope and they were therefore forced to turn it off completely in some areas, mostly the high density suburban areas.

It got me thinking about the little ways, tips and tricks to keep warm in winter, that can also be used to lower the costs of household heating and also make a small difference to the national grid.

How To Keep Warm In Winter

There are a few things I learned living in the UK, and others that I have found after researching this online – thanks again google! Now some of these might sound like common sense, or a waste of time, but every little bit does help. Besides, nothing ventured nothing gained right?

Here we go:

  1. Curtains:  As soon as the sun starts going down I close my doors and windows, and then before the sun is completely down I close the blinds and curtains in my house, even earlier in the South facing rooms as these are the coldest in the house. It also helps if your curtains are the heavy and lined variety as this will help to keep the heat in and the cold out.
  2. Dress warmly: It sounds simple enough, but really, if you want to walk around the house in a pair of shorts and flip-flops (slops), please don’t cry and complain that ‘it’s cold’. Layer up!: – vests, long sleeve shirts, jumpers (jerseys), fleeces, trousers, socks, slippers or trainers (tekkies). All of this will help to keep you warm and delay you turning your heater on.
  3. Blankets: Put a blanket over your legs while you are watching TV or ‘chilling’ in the evening. Invest in some good quality thick thermal blankets for the beds at night.
  4. If you use a heater to heat up a particular room, ie. the living room, close the doors to the rest of the house to contain the heat and make it more effective. If you’re heating up a bedroom before bedtime, close the door and it will heat up much quicker, and then you can turn it off quicker too.
  5. Hot Water: Once you have boiled the kettle, but the remainder of the hot water in a flask for the next time you need it rather than boiling the kettle every time you want a cup of tea or coffee.
  6. Hot Water Bottles: These are a good way to keep your body warm, and they work just as well with the hot water from your tap, you don’t need to boil the kettle to fill them up. That said, please, please, be very careful with them. Don’t allow kids to play with them! I’ve heard far too many horror stories of kids jumping on them, then they burst and cause 3rd degree burns. Personally we don’t use them, although I know a lot of people do.
  7. Laundry: Only use the washing machine if you can do a full load. If you have a portable clothes horse, move it to where it’s in the sun most of the day. Leave your clothes to dry outside or inside as much as possible and only put them in the dryer to get rid of the last lingering damp. Don’t use the tumble dryer to dry clothes from sopping wet.
  8. Ironing: If it doesn’t need to be ironed, don’t iron. Hang your fleeces, jackets etc on a hanger to dry, that way they won’t have peg marks etc and so won’t need to be ironed. Most winter tracksuits, fleeces, etc don’t need to be ironed. The same goes for most clothing that has come out of the tumble dryer – these don’t need to be ironed. Only iron what you really have to.
  9. Bathing: Bath the kids early in the evening if you can. Then you can dress them warmly before it gets too cold. That way you won’t need to heat the room where you will dress them after their bath. Even better, keep the bathroom door closed when running their bath and dress them in the bathroom where it’s still warm. Remember, showering uses much less water than a bath and so less hot water and therefore less energy used to heat the water.

Longer Term Investments

These next tips need a bit of an initial investment but have long-term financial benefits:

  1. Heaters: Gas and oil are great alternatives to electric. I’m a huge fan of gas heaters. They heat the room much quicker than electric. The heaters to avoid are the old-fashioned bar heaters, if you must use electric, the most energy-efficient are space heaters but even those are not good, you can almost see the metaphorical wheels spinning on your meter.
  2. Pools: If you have a swimming pool, it would be a good idea to invest in a closed canvas pool cover (not a net) and then you can turn the pool pump off for the whole winter without having to worry about the pool going green. The cover will also reduce evaporation which will save on water.
  3. Invest in energy-efficient appliances.
  4. Energy efficient light bulbs. Whilst the LED light bulbs are a lot more expensive than the standard bulbs, they have a much longer life and are far more energy-efficient than the standard light bulbs. This is not only for winter though, it’s an all year round investment.
  5. If you use electric blankets, turn them on for half an hour before you go to bed then switch them off when you get into bed. If you put a thick heavy blanket on top of your bedding then the heat from the electric blanket will be trapped and will linger longer.
  6. Solar: Although solar heating and electric systems cost a lot to install, they have obvious huge financial benefits – sunlight is free, right?

External Resources

Here are a few links to other educational resources you can use to make sure you are doing all you can to save money and stay warm:

There are many more online resources you can refer to, and I hope that you do.

Let’s Do Our Bit

If we all do a little bit, we can make a difference. Not just to our own pockets, but to the national grid and the global energy drive toward a greener living. Who knows, maybe we can even contribute to reducing global warming.

At the very least we need to educate our children on how to be more energy-efficient and ‘save the polar bears’ – a statement frequently used in our house. .

If anyone has any more tips on how to stay warm in winter, and save a bit of money doing so, then please put them in the comments section. I will do an updated post adding them to my existing list in a few weeks time.