Seeking advice

Reader Becky sent me the following message, which she said I could post here in the hopes of getting advice from other CHJ followers.  (I’ve already sent her my own thoughts– including that 60F is probably pushing the envelope in her situation– but she’s happy to have more advice!) (P.S.  Being pregnant in El Paso in the summer without A/C sounds, to me, fairly literally, like hell.)


I saw your blog and I think you might be able to help me. For a number of reasons I try to keep heating and cooling my house to a minimum. I grew up in Texas so I am accustom to warmer climates. I spent the past summer in El Paso Texas, without central air and I was pregnant. It was HOT. My house temperature was in the nineties. I would often sit in my house drinking ice water, wearing minimal clothing and sweat would pour down me despite not actually doing any activity. On the worst days, I soaked down in the shower, clothes and all and walked around the house wet.
Then in September we moved to Maryland. I am cold and it’s not even winter. First, how do I adjust my body temperature to cope with the cold? How long did it take you to adjust? I feel like I am going to freeze if I turn the heat below 67. I think it would be unreasonable to go without heat for the winter, since I have a baby, but I would like to keep the thermostat no higher than 60. Secondly, what do I need to stay warm? I don’t really own any winter gear such as a coat, vest or proper shoes. I have very little experience buying any of these things and they are pretty expensive. What is worth buying? Is there a big difference in brands? I noticed a number of people wearing north face jackets, but when I priced the coats they cost $250. It seems crazy to me to spend that much money on one article of clothing but I would rather spend more money on something that will actually keep me warm.
Please help me,

16 Responses to “Seeking advice”

  1. alifesgayventure Says:

    hi, what u buy? fleece jackets, trousers, skirts, it is a wonderful material that has various thicknesses, but all very good insulation. wear in layers. i get them free from recycling bins, and charity shops so they can be quite cheap to buy. they are easy to wash and dries quickly too. btw, i think u can keep the temp at 60F . it is comfortable esp if u are pregnant. right now it is 15C (60F) in my flat in london uk, without heating, and it is comfortable with fleece.

  2. val Says:

    Hi, I find dressing in layers is best. A tank top and then a long sleeve top with a sweater on top of that. There is also no reason that you need to buy new. 2nd hand thrift stores have great buys and you can find excelent quality at a good price. Look for 2nd items that are showing a minimunal amount of wear. Wool blend socks are the best for keeping your feet warm and dry. I don’t buy socks 2nd hand. Wearing jeans with a layer under makes a big differance. I feel NorthFace is Way over priced. My children have jackets and feel its worth them putting in funds of their own but I think its a name game thing,
    I found this year it took me about a week to get use to the cold. I just put on extra layers and in time my body adjusted.

  3. bmc Says:

    Here’s some info that I hope helps Becky:

    re: Clothing/Blankets/Socks — Polartec/Ebtec

    North Face has some nice clothing — but you’d be paying for the style and brand name, more than the warmth.

    There is nothing that beats Polartec, in my mind. Warm and cozy, plus lightweight and repels water. I much prefer my three polartecs to thick wool sweaters. They are warmer, comfier, and sooo lightweight. And no toxic dry cleaning needed. I wear them around the house all winter — and have one I often sleep in as it is sooo comfy. And I have one that is stylish enough to wear out (to a point).

    Lands End used to carry Polartec pull-overs for men, women and kids. I’m sure they still do. Mine are all several years olf, and look great. They used to have some quite nice looking ones. Eddie Bauer also carries a similar product, called “Ebtec.” I have three total — one or two from Lands End and one or two from EB (I forget what brand one of the three is). The heaviest one is an Eddie Bauer — it’s a zip up, and the other two are pullovers.

    They almost always go on sale before Christmas. I’d be you could get a women’s pullover from Lands End for $35ish. That would likely be the lightest weight one. The heavier weight ones would cost more. Try wearing a turtleneck and a Polartec pullover. That would keep you warm even in 60 degrees, I think. (Though, I agree that you may want to work your way down to 60 given you’re not used to colder temps).

    Try one or two of the lower cost Polartecs or Ebtecs to see how you like them. If you like them, you could order an outdoor jacket with one of these materials as a lining.

    There are other similar “lightweight performance fleece” materials such as Polartec and Ebtec out there, too.

    I also have a Polartec blanket. Nearly as warm as a down comforter I have — and a lot less money and a snap to wash/dry.

    And make sure you get some warm socks — it your feet are cold while outside or inside (including in bed), you’ll likely be cold regardless of what you have on. Thick fleence (Polartec or the like) slipper socks are cozy for inside and, if you wish, in bed. Not sure what to suggest for outside — i have various types.

    Best of luck!

  4. bmc Says:

    The above is link to Lands End. They are now having a sale — 30% off some items plus free shipping (but ends 11/13). Buy 2, save $15 for certain Polartec pullovers and zip ups (not sure when that sale ends). Regular cost $34 for pullover, so 2 for $53. Great deal. Heavier weight one and zip ups a little more.

    Though I agree with Valerie about good quality second-hand items (but NOT socks), if you can swing in, it might make you feel good to buy 2 new items in just the colors you want. Then fill in other clothing needs with seconds. Just a thought.

  5. Pete Says:

    I agree with everyone above…go to the goodwill or Salvation Army. If you really can’t find anything there go to Walmart or Target.

    I was a land surveyor for years and years. We worked outside every single day regardless of the conditions. Whether it was dumping snow or pouring rain, we were outside 8 hours a day. I always found that it took a couple weeks of cold weather each year to get acclimated to it. After that it wasn’t that bad most days. I still had to dress for the cold and be prepared for it, but I just didn’t seem to be that uncomfortable after those two weeks.

  6. Kevin Says:

    Dear Becky,

    Your situation is of course compounded by concerns for your child. Temperatures near the floor are on average colder than even a meter above the surface. Leave a thermometer near your floor to monitor the child’s thermal environment.

    I also agree with Val. Shop at the thrift stores. My favorite cold weather clothing is the thermal jumpsuit, the kind construction workers sport. My house is about 42 degrees fahrenheit and I feel comfortable in my jumpsuit. Also, wear a hat.

    A method i use is to create small heated spaces in my house. Our bodies are the smallest area, but I also construct spaces with tents or slotted angle iron and place a low wattage electric heater inside. Heat loss/ transfer is reduced by low differential temperatures (inside/outside) and reduced surface area. In addition, convection and conducted heat loss can be slowed by the addition of insulating layers. I use surplus parachutes over my small spaces, even old silk parachutes can be sometimes be obtained. I would caution mixing small children and electric heaters though I have little experience with little people.

    I was briefly reading about low wattage mattress heaters commonly used by commercial truckers. I think some even use a heated water mat, ( eliminating some electric field concerns). I wonder if this might be used for the child.

    Best Wishes,

  7. Kathleen Says:

    For the adults, long underwear and SmartWool socks will go a long way towards taking the chill off. If you are worried about too much bulk, you can purchase silk long underwear, which you can find at most department stores, and online at places like L.L. Bean. SmartWool socks are relatively seem expensive for socks, but much less so than a NorthFace jacket, and definitely worth the investment, in my experience.

    For the baby, a cotton onesie + fleece (Polartec) footie pajamas or a fleece sleep sack should more than do the trick. If you are worried about the baby’s hands being cold, cotton socks as mittens work fine, but are probably unnecessary.

  8. Noel Says:

    Well, we only live in Missouri where it doesn’t get that cold, but for us, I found that it took a summer of living without a/c with the inside temps reaching as high as 101 to find that it helped me get used to the cold. Yesterday it was 28 degrees and while filling up our water buckets I was outside with only a t-shirt on and jeans. It felt a little breezy but I was not uncomfortable. (Not to say I never wear a coat- but allowing my body to adjust to all the seasons helps.)

    I’ve been lucky to find a lot of wool clothing at the local thrift store that charges only 25 cents a piece. Last summer I found a full length wool coat with hood! It is so warm and comfy. Lucky for me no one else around here appreciates wool blankets and coats so I’ve been able to get some really good finds. We use a mixture of wool and cotton for our bed. I’ve found it makes a difference in the order of the way you layer it too, whether in bed or for clothing.

    A few other neat things I learned is that eating cinnamon for breakfast will keep me feeling warmer all day. I like to sprinkle it on my toast. Also, I sprinkle cayenne pepper in my socks to keep my feet warm. I learned this tip in my favorite herb book, 10 Essential Herbs by Lalitha Thomas. She also tells you how much to use and why you shouldn’t put too much. I will also wear a hat if I’m feeling chilled and it seems to keep my whole body warm.

    Hope you find something that works for you!

  9. Jane Says:

    I’m a Vermonter, a lifelong New Englander, and it still takes me a few weeks to adjust to colder temperatures (inside and out). I endorse just about everything said by other posters.

    One absolutely key thing as you’re adjusting to lower temps is never, ever to let yourself get overheated. Keep that thermostat just a degree or two below where you feel comfortable, and then put on another sweater rather than turning it up again. Turn it down another degree or so after a day or two as you get comfortable. (I agree 60 is likely an unrealistic goal at this point, so aim for 63 or 64 and then see how you’re doing.)

    For clothing, two things: Layers, and wool or fleece.

    Also, warm socks, wool or fleece, are critical, as is good warm indoor footwear. One thing I do pay $$ for is the latter– Qwaruba sheepskin slippers with thermal or wool socks will keep your feet warm better than anything I’ve ever found.
    Thermal underwear– at least the bottoms, because it’s easy to throw on another top, not so easy with slacks.

    Everybody has a different cold tolerance. I couldn’t live in the temperatures the Cold House people do (well, I could, but I’d be miserable), so don’t try to push yourself to some ideal. Find out what your body (and temperament) can adjust to.

    PS I suspect your baby will do much better with lower temperatures than you do. Think of the infants born all over the world in colder climates without central heating. They do fine. It’s adults whose systems (and minds) are less flexible who have the problems.

  10. Scribhneoir Blog (@scribhneoir) Says:

    What an interesting post and many great suggestions in the comments. This is a problem that is facing more people these days in Ireland too as many can no longer afford to heat their homes as much as they had become accustomed to.
    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far is that as you start to wear woolen or thicker socks your shoes may become a little tight and I have always found that it is almost impossible to keep your feet warm if your shoes are too tight. It is essential that your feet have some space in your shoes.
    I do agree with everyone else that NF is way over-priced as are lots of branded outdoor gear. The thrift shops are the place to go for sure, especially in an area where the weather is cold and lots of winter clothing will likely be available.
    I am also a great believer in hats and warm slippers, shrugs or shawls are also amazingly warm for those times when you are sitting down for the evening reading or story-telling.
    Don’t be too harsh on yourself, allow yourself the time to acclimatise and good luck!

  11. otsegony Says:

    As a lifelong dweller of cold climes (Vermont, upstate New York) I would agree with all stated above and add that you should think about your adjusting your lifestyle to manage the temperatures. I have found that many people who move to the North want to hunker down in their house and turn the thermostat up to get through the winter. This is counterproductive because the more sedentary you are the more you need heat from an external source to feel comfortable.
    I would suggest that if you get out in the weather for walks, sports or work you will adjust to the cold quicker and need less heat when you are at home. You could also take advantage of public places or community activities like libraries or cafes to take advantage of their heat and meet a few people. When I was a young parent I used to take my daughter from a very young age to story hour at the library every day I could. It was warmer than my own home, there were other kids to interact with and it started a lifelong love of learning.
    Adjusting my cooking to the climate helped me in the winter. Baking bread at home both warms the house and is good for the budget. Making plenty of soups and stews in a crockpot has the same effect. Also, when you are cold instead of turning up the thermostat make yourself a hot cup of tea with honey. It will get you warm with far fewer BTUs expended.
    Good luck and let us know how it is working.

  12. Claire Voskuhl Says:

    I think layers are a great way to go. We heat with wood and have a lot of thermal mass in our house that keeps the temps pretty constant through the year (67-72), but when I sit still I get chilly and find that a light scarf around the neck helps a lot. As for acclimating: We’re now living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, but we’ve lived all over the country and I’ve found that it doesn’t really take much time to get used to what you’ve got. When we lived in Sacramento I had my kids in jackets as soon as it got down to 70 outside, but when we lived in northern Maine we were all in shirt sleeves when it got up to 40 outside and we were only in Maine less than a year. So, just give yourself a bit of time to adjust to the difference in climate. Find a nearby park and walk the baby down there or around the block. You’ll get warm walking and maybe adjust more quickly. Just don’t hide inside!! I also found that kids are little furnaces and it’s really easy to dress them too warmly. Enjoy Maryland. There’s a lot of history there and the museums are amazing in DC. We loved our time in NoVa.

  13. Adomas Says:

    Well, we also moved from already quite cold Lithuania (where temperatures reach -35 Celsius) to a warmer but more windy Denmark. I would say that in our case not the exact temperature but moisture and wind does give more discomfort than a low temperature but calm and dry air.
    Changing clothes in such cases is a must, but You should consider what environment are You going to be in most of the time. A good cheap fleece pullover will do the job at home for sure (+good wool socks). There is almost no difference in brands of fleece clothes as what really matters is density and thickness. All of them are made from the same polyester anyway.
    Acclimatization to new temperatures should take more than one season…it means more than one year typically, although it is more psychological factor than physical one. For example I’m already getting used to local weather but my wife always complains that she is cold.
    Children…that’s another story in Denmark. We were used to dress our daughter a lot, but in here sometimes I see children who are all wet from rain and still running “half naked” on the windy day. The secret is that from birth they are “kept cold”. For example there is a rule that a baby is getting enough warmth if he is held by father or mother…no stupid extra clothes are needed except extreme temperatures. Babies and younger children are sleeping in kindergartens here even in minus Celsius temperatures or at least with an open window. Later in life they are fit and tough what comes to cold and wind.
    I suppose this attitude pays off over years…

  14. Joannie Lamie Says:

    Apart from wearing layers on your body, consider getting some fingerless gloves. (Take a 2nd hand pair of fleece-polyester fabric gloves and basically cut the fingers areas off & sew the seams up where the cut is) & also buy a knit hat that is slightly loose and able to come down over your forehead — both gloves & hat are for wearing INDOORS especially in cool winter evenings. This will help you stay warm in addition to the extra socks, long underwear, and layers of clothing on your body. The body does adjust to colder temperatures better than you think it will. Another tip is to carry an extra 3 to 5 pounds more weight on your body to help stay warmer (ie. fatten up !). Best of luck to you.

  15. Kitty Says:

    I disagree with the comment that all fleece is the same. I rely on the Polartec brand (it also goes by other proprietary names at LLBean… the last fleece I purchased from Lands End was borderline substandard. I would rather have one really good fleece to go on top and a couple of “substandard” items to go under. I’ve been living with no heat for six years and I’ve never had a/c. The only problem I have is no visitors after the first trek to my cold house. I’d rather go to their homes anyway, but don’t tell them…LOL. I am no spring chicken either, I’m 65. I believe that living through the seasons without too much artificial heat or cold is very beneficial to one’s body and mind.

  16. Larissa Says:

    HI, I found I was allergic to wool socks. Solution: buy a fleece top 2nd hand. Take existing pair of socks which fit you & trace a pattern on the 2 layers of fleece. Then sew the fleece (zig-zag is good on a sewing machine) socks around the edges. These home-made socks keep my feet cosy. Cheap to make! AND I swear by long underwear to keep warm & a hat, always. Remember children survived in 1800’s in relatively cold houses. Key is to bundle them up well when sleeping & dress the baby in layers. Your child will have fewer colds due to the lower temperatures indoors, and a stronger immune system. I found my 1st year of going with less heat, it took me over 6 months to stop shivering. But the body does adapt. 2nd year: it is fine, no shivering. It feels good to tell the electric power company to go to hell re: increasing heat bills.
    (If heat were cheap I would not be living with less heat. If rents were cheaper, ditto. And if groceries cost less, I’d have more heat. But thems the apples. These are realities for those of us under 40.)

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