Winter is coming! (Photo: Getty Images).

How to keep your family warm this winter

It’s getting cold and, errrr, winter is coming. As part of our budgeting series brought to you by the awesome folks at Flick Electric, here’s everything you need to know about keeping your family warm. These tips from New Zealand parents have been curated by Emily Writes, editor of The Spinoff Parents.

It’s freezing. I hate winter. Here are some great tips that have been tried and tested to keep you warm even if your house is a cold and shitty damp hole in Wellington (I speak from experience my friends). I asked our Spinoff Parents readers to let me know what worked for them so we can share the wisdom and all stay warm. I’ve also get tips from Flick Electric on keeping your bill down. Energy poverty is real and it sucks – I’ve written about my experience with it. I’ve actually used almost every one of these tips myself.

One in five Kiwis live in energy poverty. Our friends at Flick throught that was not good enough, so they donated 10,000 LED bulbs to households in need. Find out why you should Give a Flick.

Setting up your home

  • “I hang blankets in the windows at night time in winter. I peg them to the cord thing that the nets hang on and then pull the curtains over them. Because I rent there are never floor-length thermal curtains in any flat I’ve ever been in, and blankets do a great job at keeping the heat in.”
  • Consider sleeping together – in the warmest part of the house. Remember to lean your mattress against the wall during the day if you are sleeping on it without a bed base to avoid mould.
  • “Bubble wrap your windows! You buy a big roll and spray the flat side with water and stick it to the glass. Works wonders!”
  • “We got window film from Bunnings that works well on windows. It’s not as cheap as bubble wrap but perfect for small windows.”
  • “We have a local arborist company that gives away firewood to the community. Takes some work splitting it but if you have a wood burner it might be worth approaching arborist companies to see what they do with their excess wood.”
  • “Use plug-in heaters for small rooms only. They are cheap to buy and if used wisely can heat the room at minimal cost.”

If you can’t afford a heater…

  • “Have knitted, crochet or patchwork thick blankets in every room. The thicker the better. Use these to cover yourself when watching TV or working at home.”
  • “I cook lots of curries and slow cooker meals. They keep the kids warm for breakfast, lunch and tea – but they also keep the kitchen warm too.”
  • “I wear my robe all day when I’m inside. I bought the kids onesies on sale at The Warehouse and I put them over their normal clothes.”
  • “I bought an army blanket from the Salvation Army – it’s old and ugly, but I put it on my mattress then cover with a sheet. It seems to help.”

Tips from real families on how to stay warm this winter, not weird stock image families Photo: Getty Images).

Curtains

  • The Sustainability Trust provides free lined curtains to people on low incomes in Wellington. They make living room curtains for all, and if there are children and elderly living in the home they can also provide curtains for bedrooms. The curtains are upcycled from good quality donations and lined to increase effectiveness. Anyone can get these curtains. You just need to call Freephone 0508 78 78 24 x 705 to discuss your needs. They run mobile curtain banks on the following days: April 30 to May 11 – Porirua Whānau Centre; June 11 to 22 – Pomare Taita Community Trust; August 6 to 17 – Wainuiomata Community Centre; September 17 to 28 – Timberlea Community Centre.
  • The South Auckland Curtain Bank offer a free service to the community, ensuring donated good quality thermal/lined curtains are being distributed to the families in most need.
  • The New Zealand Red Cross has curtain banks in Rotorua, Tauranga, Napier, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa.

Trapping the sun

  • The sun falling on a square metre of window produces one kilowatt of heat every hour – keep curtains open during the day to heat the house.
  • “We cut down trees around our property and now the sun comes in keeping us warm for longer.”
  • “Shut the curtains before it gets dark – that seems to trap the sun.”
  • “Wrap towels up and jam them under any doors to keep the heat in. Keep bathroom doors shut and keep rooms with drafty windows shut.”

Stay healthy

  • “Get rid of mould straight away. Mix three parts water and seven parts white vinegar and spray it onto window sills, around doors and in closets, leave it for 30 minutes then wipe it away.”
  • If you’re experiencing housing-related health issues, The Sustainability Trust can help. They provide free advocacy, support and advice for families who live in cold, damp homes in Wellington.
  • “If you can, let air into the house twice a day. The drier the air the easier it will be to warm your home.”
  • Get rid of your portable gas heater – it’s the most expensive form of heating out there, and it can also be a risk to your health.

Bed time

  • “Wear warmer clothing to bed – merino and flannelette PJs with thick socks and a beanie.”
  • “Use a hot water bottle. It will last longer than a wheat bag which means less reheating which means less power used.”
  • While hot water bottles generally aren’t safe in bed with children, you can still heat up your child’s bed before they get in. Put one hot water bottle where your child’s feet will be. If they have warm feet they’re likely to stay warm.
  • “We keep a thermometer by the bed, if it gets too cold we carry the kids into bed with us from their room – body heat keeps us all warm”.
  • If you use an electric blanket make sure you switch it off before getting into bed. Electric blankets should be replaced every five years.

Stay in control of you power bills with Volt (Photo: supplied.)

Power bills

  • Get your kids involved in saving power.Here are some energy conscious children and some ideas to introduce in your own family.
  • Ask other families how they save power and adopt their techniques too. The Andersons describe here how they save money.
  • Control what you pay each week – and spread the cost of power. Flick has a new free product called the Volt, a tool tucked inside your Flick app and on your bill dashboard. It lets you choose a regular dollar amount to pay to Flick each week so that you can build up credit on your account that’s only used when your bills reach a certain amount, chosen by you. You choose the bill amount that triggers Flick taking money out of your Volt to help pay it. You can change how much you pay, and when your Volt gets used, any time.
  • The price of power is dependent on supply and demand. So at 6pm when a whole lot of people arrive home from work, start heating their homes and cooking dinner, the price of power tends to increase. If you’re with a company like Flick, understanding these daily trends and using timers to switch on appliances during low demand times can reduce your power bill significantly. No timer? Check out WeMo – a family of switches and devices that allow you to control your home from your mobile.
  • User plans are designed to save you money. Most people choose their user plan when they sign up with their power company, then forget about it. But small changes to your living situation can have a high impact on your power bill. Adding to the family, a change in working hours or new appliances and power tools can switch you from a low user to a standard user or vice versa. Ensuring you’re on the right plan for your situation is an easy way to reduce your power bill, and with most power companies you can switch plans once every year at no cost.
  • Data tracking sounds daunting, but it can give you some very important clues about your power usage. When your household is asleep and all appliances are switched off, it makes sense that you should be using very little power. Usage-peaks overnight or during the day when nobody is home could indicate an issue with your hot water cylinder or other appliances that are inflating your power bills.
  • It’s easy to get sucked into a fixed-term contract by shiny cash offers, prompt payment discounts and other add-ons that appear to be a good deal at face value. Before signing a two-year contract in exchange for a $200 cash offer or a new TV, consider the long term implications. What you could save with an alternative company over those two years could far outweigh the initial upfront payment. And being locked into a fixed term contract means you can’t leave the power company if you change your mind in a few months time. Prompt payment discounts are often just late payment penalties in reverse. Look beyond the clever marketing tactics of big power companies for honesty, transparency and fairness in practice.

This content is entirely funded by Flick, New Zealand’s fairest power deal. Their customers save $350 each year with no tricks or traps. Support the Spinoff by switching to Flick now!

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