Frugal Ways To Winterize an Apartment

by Reader Contributors

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Renters often can’t make the same improvements that homeowners can to keep out the cold and lower heating bills. However, renters can protect an apartment from winter’s chill with these suggestions from our frugal readers.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I was wondering if your readers have any ideas on winterizing an apartment. Since it is rented, I can’t get new windows, and I can’t put that plastic stuff over the windows to keep out the cold air. We have already put up insulating drapes on every window, which has helped with both cold in the winter and heat in the summer. The realty company takes care of putting in new furnace filters and making sure the furnace is working at an optimum.

We have put those draft dodgers under the doors leading to the outside, which helps some. I want to head off those exorbitant heating bills at the pass. Does anyone have any other frugal ideas for winterizing an apartment?
Barbara P.

Insulate Outlets

I live in an apartment at the end of a building and noticed that in the winter, I would get cold drafts. I traced the problem to the electrical wall outlets!

I took off the cover and put some expandable foam insulation (the kind in a can) in the empty space around the outlet. I also installed a programmable thermostat that is easily removed and replaced with the original one from the apartment.

Another thing I have done is run a room humidifier during the dry, cold winter months. Moist air holds heat better than dry air. I have seen a dramatic drop in my electric bills.
Dawn A. from Cincinnati

Use Masking Tape To Put Up Plastic

I have always used masking tape and gone ahead and put up plastic over the windows when in rentals. Masking tape comes off with no damage. In fact, you will probably have to re-tape it at least once during the year. It won’t hurt wall coverings unless they are peeling off the wall already.

You can also put pieces of white foam up over the glass. From the outside, it just looks like the lining of curtains. I also had good luck with the use of a small space heater to supply spot heat for where I sat.

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Create an Insulating Pocket

You might try creating an insulating pocket of air between you and the walls by hanging large cloths, cloth hangings, quilts, etc.

Also, check into making a frame that will fit the window frame. Attach your plastic to it, and then some felt around the edge so drafts don’t get through. Measure carefully so it fits snugly. A narrow tension curtain rod across the sash would also hold this lightweight insulating frame in place.

Create a hard barrier (like an entryway) that will catch the cold air coming in the front door. Use three-panel screens, furniture, etc.

Tips From a Danish Grandma

Here’s a tip from my Danish grandmother: Americans need to wear more clothes in winter, and keep thermostats lower. We live in central Ohio and keep our winter thermostat at 55 at night and 60 to 65 in the daytime when we are home. We save a lot more than our friends who crank up the heat so that they can wear T-shirts in the winter.

We wear fuzzy slippers and sweaters and enjoy hot tea and hot cocoa. Your skin will benefit because winter heat is very drying, and your furniture will also crack less. We also spend a lot of time in the nice warm kitchen, where normal use of the range warms the room. Polypropylene long undies are comfortable and lightweight. As an added bonus, we have colds less often than our overheated friends and neighbors, since there is less temperature contrast between inside and outside. Use flannel sheets and a nice puffy comforter on your bed

And get some winter exercise. The extra circulation will make you feel warmer. Fortunately, we have a lot of snow to shovel and sweep, and then we go sledding!

Run a Vaporizer

One thing I have found to make my condo warmer and more comfortable in the winter months is to run a vaporizer. With the moisture in the air, I can turn down my thermostat five to eight degrees and still feel warm. It also cuts down on carpet shocks from static electricity.

Make Your Own “Double Pane” Window

First, get a water heater cover. Some utility companies will provide these for free or low cost with a “winterizing checkup” (call your power company for details.) (See Are Hot Water Heater Blankets Worth the Cost?.)

Depending on the style of the window, you can do various things. If windows are old-style casement windows, you can stuff plastic bags into any holes or cracks. Our trailer has crank-out windows with aluminum frames. We took off the frame (it unscrews), taped heavy plastic to the underside and replaced it. In another window, we put Plexiglas over the whole window, attached by bathroom mirror supports. In a frame window, we cut Plexiglas to size and set it inside the frame, making it an exact fit. We could have also used foam stick-on door seals to ensure the fit. This gave us a “double pane” window. If the window has cheap molding, you can take it off carefully, staple plastic to the wall, and then replace the molding.

I would only do this with windows that I could easily replace the molding, in case it breaks in the removal process.

Try These Many Ways To Winterize an Apartment

If you can move your bed(s), recliner/easy chair(s) and sofa to an inside wall, or at least a few inches away from the exterior walls, it may help a little bit. I used to do this each winter in an old garage apartment I rented, and it kept me from shivering. Electric blankets or layering several blankets on your bed are also a “must.”

Go to the hardware store (or hardware area of a home improvement or discount store) and purchase the foam insulating pads you put underneath your electrical outlet plates and light switch plates. They usually come with plastic plugs to put in the outlets themselves (which are doubly useful to keep small children from inserting things in the outlet). This blocks the cold air that seeps into a room via the electrical circuitry. In older buildings particularly, a lot of cold air can come in this way.

If you have window unit air conditioners that stay up all year, turn the setting so the vent is off and try to cover it with a quilted pad, such as a mattress pad. (You can also buy special covers designed for this purpose.) This will keep the chilly air from blowing in.

You might want to supplement your heat in the room you use the most with an electric radiator or heater, but use sparingly, as this can run up your light bill. If you have a real radiator, try putting aluminum foil behind it to reflect the heat back into the room.

Also, put out blankets or Afghan throws to wrap up in when you’re watching TV. If you’re really cold, bring out the sleeping bags from your camping stuff. During the 1970s, when we had an energy crisis, people used those as “cocoons” when they watched TV in the evenings. I’ve also heard of people using electric blankets or heating pads when they’re just sitting around.

Dressing warmly (wearing sweatshirts or layering sweaters over your clothes) is another trick the British use in their homes. Thick socks or house shoes will keep your tootsies warm.

Cooking in the “big” oven or on top of the range instead of using the microwave or a slow cooker will also warm up your kitchen.

In medieval times, people would put up thick tapestries on exterior walls to help keep out the chill. Maybe tacking up a blanket, quilt, beach towel or rug as a wall hanging would accomplish the same thing.

Extra rugs, such as throw rugs, may help warm up bare floors. You can also put them over carpeting if you have a wood floor underneath the carpeting; cold air may come up through the cracks in the floor and the extra layer of rug may help.

If you have a ceiling fan with a “reverse” switch, this will blow the warm air that accumulates around the ceiling back down into the room and help keep you snuggly warm.

Put Rope Caulk on Windows

Try putting rope caulk on the windows where air may seep in. We use it every year in our older windows that we can’t afford to replace yet, and it’s made a noticeable difference. And it comes off easy in the spring with no damage to the window.

Check with the super about sweeps to put at the bottom of the door instead of draft dodgers. They won’t get in the way, and you won’t have to remember to put them back. The sweeps are attractive and should not detract from the door’s appearance.

Make sure your insulated drapes are closed at night. And make sure the drape wraps around the side of the rod. If it’s not possible to close because it’s a stationary rod, use insulating window shades.
Sue C, New Hartford, NY

Reviewed October 2023

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