December 10, 2009

Tips For Staying Warm(er) With Wood Heat

Everyone who heats with wood knows what a comforting warmth it provides, as well as a sense of security that one can stay warm even if the lights go out. On the downside, we also know that the farther one gets from the heater, the cooler the house gets. Of course, many of us use fans to circulate the heat, but we still have to deal with chillier areas in our homes. So, here are some tips on how to dress for increased comfort.

Wear wool. I'm talking about real sheep's fur here, nothing synthetic. The individual fibers of sheep's wool aren't smooth, but covered with microscopic scales. In addition, they are crimpy. These two factors enable wool fibers to trap air, which in turn traps warmth. Wool is also hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water, up to 1/3 it's weight without feeling wet. In return, it gives off heat, so that even when wet, wool has the amazing capacity to keep you warm. If you have cold feet, 100% wool socks are a must and can make a big difference!

Wool's too itchy, you say? Either try next-to-the-skin soft Merino wool, or use wool sweaters, vests, etc., in layers as outerwear.

Allergic to wool? Well, maybe. Oftentimes the allergies folks have to wool is actually an allergy to the powerful scouring chemicals used by industry to prepare the fiber for commercial use. Before you give up on it completely, try some hand-scoured handspun and see if that doesn't make a difference. If it's still a problem, switch to alpaca, which is hypoallergenic.

Even warmer than sheep's wool are alpaca, angora (bunny fur), cashmere (from goats), or qiviut (musk ox). These can be worn 100% (expensive unless you find it in a thrift store), or in wool blends for wonderful warmth. Avoid blends with polys, acrylics, cottons, or silk however, as these decrease the warmth value. Other possible natural wool fibers for warmth are mohair (from angora goats) or camel. If these wools can keep animals from freezing to death, then they can certainly help keep humans warm as well.

Wear cotton flannel. Some fabrics have the feeling of instant warmth to them. Flannel is one. How many of you have flannel sheets on your beds? (Show of hands.) Flannel night clothes, shirts, and dresses are warmer than plain cotton or polyester blends, especially next to the skin.

Try down, as in goose down, the undercoat of feathers that keep birds warm in freezing weather. Again, the real thing works so much better than synthetic filler. The advertisers may try to tell you different but t'ain't so! I have two down jackets and both of them keep me toasty warm when I have to go outside for chores.

Avoid silk and linen, especially loose blouses and flowing garments. These are cooling fabrics, perfect for hot summery days, but chilly to put on and wear during the winter as they do not retain warmth. This is (I have lots of silk purchased from thrift stores, very cheap! It enables me to buy only natural fibers, which is one of my personal "musts.")

Wear undershirts. I'm not talking about t-shirts here, I'm talking about the sleeveless kind we little girls used to have to wear before we were old enough to wear bras. I believe they use them as summer tops these days. Or you can find them in the men's department as "a-shirts". A snug-fitting stretchy one can be worn under anything to add warmth without adding bulk. It's amazing how much difference can be made by keeping your chest and trunk warm.

Wear vests. These should be wool (knit, crocheted, woven, or felted) or down. A vest keeps your trunk warm like an undershirt does, but obviously it's worn over shirts. I use all three layers (undershirt, shirt, and vest) plus a sweater to keep warm when it's really cold.

Hats and caps. When you go outside, keep your head warm too because it really makes a difference in your overall comfort. Natural animal fibers will keep you warmest. Some folks just wear earmuffs, which keep your ears warm, but not the top of your head. You'll feel warmer with a cap over those earmuffs.

Use shawls. Now, I'm not a shawl wearer. I prefer sweaters. However, when I need to wear my winter dress coat, I love a large black shawl in a fancy yarn to wear over it. Dress coats really aren't very warm and that shawl really makes a difference and hopefully looks stylish to boot.

Ladies, wear longish skirts. Think I'm nuts? Well, besides being more comfortable than jeans (which I do wear too), skirts and dresses can be worn over sweat pants, warm-ups, or leggings, and provide oh, so much more warmth than jeans or pants alone. If I want another layer, I put on a cotton slip too (but not flannel, which grabs the skirt fabric). When I need to go out, I simply pull on my knee high boots over my warm ups. My hemline falls below the top of the boots, so no one is the wiser. [Hint: to keep your leggings from pushing up when you pull on your boots, tuck the bottoms of them inside your socks.]

Of course, these tips are for everyone, not just those of us with wood heat. I think a lot of folks are keeping thermostats set lower these days and looking to dress more warmly instead. The choices of fabrics and garments can a big difference in one's comfort level. And comfort is pretty important to most of us.


Michelle said...

Too bad I couldn't get the Aran-style vest I'm going to knit for myself done in time for the arctic cold snap we're in! As soon as two more gift knits are done, I'm casting on. I will say, though, that I love my silk long johns. They are thin enough to wear under any of my pants/jeans, and make a BIG difference in how warm my legs are!

Robin said...

Check, check, check... Oh dear, I seem to be doing most of that already. I'm still freezing though. I live in my wool cap around here. Not to mention I wear two layers or more at all times. I LOVE my wool socks and my wool slippers. Bed better believe they are flannel. There are two down comforters on my bed also! Hey you gotta do all you can when you live in an insanely cold house.

Leigh said...

Michelle, I've never tried silk long johns so I appreciate the comment. I've never tried them before but I know silk blouses can be chilly, as can loose flowing silk garments. I will amend my post!

Robin, I had to chuckle at your comment because considering the state of renovation your house is in, you definitely need it all! I think by the time you and Lee get done though, you all will be cozy snug.

Randy said...

Thanks for the tips, Leigh! We all need to stay warm these cold days!


Not much I can say, I'm still wearing tank tops, shorts and flip flops, sucks being this far south.

katrien said...

Thanks for this checklist!
I also have silk long johns. I jump out of your pajamas into the 54F morning chill and then into my silks, and I immediately feel my skin's warmth being reflected back it me. Lovely!
It's amazing to me that I have not found 100% cotton flannel pajamas for my four-year-old. They all call them "flannels" but they're all 100% polyester! Does it have to do with fire-safety? So I bought some flannel and will be making the pajamas myself.

Julie said...

Thanks for all the tips we are freezing here in Utah with 0 temps and lots of snow.

Happy Holidays!

Renee Nefe said...

I may have to try some of those tips that I'm not already doing...this cold snap doesn't seem to want to end this year.

Normally we get a cold day or two and then it warms up. but not this year. burrr

Theresa said...

I have cashmere leggings that I wear riding in the winter, warm, soft and not bulky underneath the outside pants. I also think the polar fleece socks are great for a second layer on your feet.
Winter boots, neoprene lined ones like BOGS makes, waterproof and can't be beat for keeping your feet warm, ditto for gloves with neoprene and thinsulate.
A knitted pair of soft wool fingerless gloves is also a staple around here.
Stay warm!

Nina said...

Long Johns or thermal underwear, long sleeve thermal undershirts, any kind, though I've not seen silk ones here. They sound yummy. If I'm cold, I don't mind a little extra bulk. Wool socks are a must. Layering - at least 2 layers. I often use a polar fleece cardigan for when I'm busy about the house, easy on when I'm in the cooler areas and easy off when you get warm. Lots of wool blankets and throws on sofas to cuddle with, down duvet, down parka, wool half mitts for inside, thick wool mitts for outside, scarves, shawls and a huge mug of hot herbal tea!

Anonymous said...

I am allergic to wool - even to my own handspun :( - but I do like my cashmere scarf, which keeps me warm outdoors in any weather. When I am working at home my simple solution is to wear two layers of everything, or should I say AT LEAST two... The more air trapped the better, although it does make one reluctant ever to take anything off it is so nice and cosy!

bspinner said...

Great ideas!!

My favorite is flannel sheets. We have a mung bean and rice warmer which I warm in the microwave put at the bottom of our bed and it keeps us warm and snuggle all night.

Also just bought a pair of brand new in the package alpaca socks at the Goodwill for only $1.50. Can't beat the price.

charlotte said...

Thank you for all the tips! At the end of october I start to freeeze all the time, even indoors. The cold seems to come from inside my body, I guess it has to do with the lack of light somehow. Woolen underwear helps a lot, many layers, and woolen sweaters, fingerless gloves or wrist warmers are a must. I will try flanell I think, I never tried it before.

Woolly Bits said...

luckily in our climate it rarely gets really chilly, and I find that I got used to the cooler rooms over here after being pampered by central heating in my apartment in germany. but as a handspinner I find that using my dogs' combed out undercoat warms sensational - and there are probably people around, who'd throw that stuff in the bin/compost etc.! it's far warmer than any wool you could find and it's free - apart from the time used in spinning!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Even here in South Carolina I am currently wearing undershirts, but under cotton turtlenecks. Not quite time to bring out the wool yet! Down---ah yes, wonderfully warm, but I am allergic. At hotels I have to check the pillows and ask for non-down-filled pillows. Also, if you sew, you can line dressier jackets with various thermal materials to make them warmer but still retain their dressy look.

Leigh said...

I'm getting some wonderful tips myself from you all! I would definitely love to try some silk long johns. All the silk I've work has had a wonderfully cooling effect.

Katrien, I believe you're correct about flannel for children. PJs especially are made to be flame retardant, so unless you make some for Amie, you will probably just have to settle for flannel. I personally try not to wear polyester, but if it keeps her warm, that's what counts.

Theresa those neoprene boots sound like a good idea. My feet get cold even with wool sometimes, especially when I have to work outside in cold temps for very long. I wonder if I can find them locally. One thing about living in the South, the winterwear isn't as heavy-duty as what can be bought up North.

Nina, yes! A mug of hot tea! Something warm to drink always does wonders. Both inside and for the hands as they hold the mug.

Cally, you are so right about trapping air. That helps no matter what the fiber content of the fabric.

Barb, what a score! I'd love to find some cashmere socks like that tool (Maybe someday)

Charlotte, I've always been dubious about fingerless gloves and wrist warmers because it's always my fingers and toes that get so cold. You all seem to think they work so I may have to make myself some.

Bettina, how wonderful to have dog fur to spin. Lovely stuff and warm. I'd forgotten to mention that.

Peg, sounds like your part of SC is warmer than ours! Enjoy it. I think our cold front is heading your way!

Sharon said...

Oh you peeked. I was going to blog this tomorrow! I'm not kidding, but you were so much more thorough. I'm still going to blog it, but now that you know, you can skip my blog. Yes on flannel, wool and down. Indispensable!

Theresa said...

Leigh, you can find BOGS easily over the internet, even on Amazon I think. A good Farm and Feed store should have them too. They aren't cheap, but worth every single penny as they do such a good job.
They can run small though so you might want to go up a half to a full size if your socks are heavy.

Leigh said...

Sharon, yes! Do publish that post! I'm learning a lot of good stuff from people's comments here.

Thanks for the info Theresa. It's something I really need to look into. Next winter we'll have critters and I could definitely use something like that.

Heather said...

Great checklist.I also like to wear only natural fibres and find most of my clothes at thrift stores. We're heating with wood this year and finding that felted wool slippers are a must.

Hope you are enjoying these wintery nights by the fire. ;-)

Leslie said...

Thanks for the info. When I moved from the coast where we wore the same things all year, to the mountains where there are four seasons, I haven't mastered this keeping warm thing. I spend most of the winter feeling like I am freezing no matter what the thermostat says the house temp is. I do not have the right kind of clothes to keep warm.

Leigh said...

Heather, felted slippers, great idea! Our floors are especially cold so I think I need to make some of these.

Leslie, proper layers of clothes really make a difference but it's also just plain hard to acclimatize to colder conditions. Still, I hope living in the mountains is worth the adjustment to you!

Life Looms Large said...

For some reason, I thought this post would be all about wood or fires or something and I didn't get to it until today. Yipes! I should have read it sooner!!

We set our thermostat down to COLD at night especially, and I'm often really cold in the house (except never when I'm sleeping under my super toasty down comforter!)

I think today I'll get out my alpaca sweater. And I do want to make some fingerless gloves and wrist-warmers. I think those could help a lot.

I've never tried the skirt tip, mostly because I often wear thin long underwear under my jeans or fleece pants, but I might give that a try too one of these days!

Thanks for all these ideas about staying warm!