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7 easy and efficient ways to keep your house warm this winter

Simple changes you can make to keep the warmth in and the cold out.

reading a book on a floor rug
Last updated: 07 May 2024

Australian houses have been called "glorified tents" because of their inability to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Is yours one of them? 

There's no need to freeze this winter: these small changes can make your home warmer and more energy-efficient and help keep your heating costs down. 

1. Insulate

In winter, 25–35% of an uninsulated home's warmth is lost through the roof. Insulation will keep your house warm in winter, but it'll also keep your home cool in summer, so it's worth the investment. 

family freezing at home

If you don't have ceiling insulation, expect to BYO blanket.

If you're going to spend money on heating and air conditioning, you might as well make it as cost-effective as possible by insulating your home.

"Average households that install wall, floor and ceiling insulation can save hundreds of dollars on energy costs each year," says Chris Barnes, CHOICE home heating expert.

"Insulation is best installed when building or renovating, but can be retrofitted to an existing home. This is best done by professionals, though ceiling and underfloor insulation can often be done by a capable home handyperson."

To keep the heat in, ceiling insulation in particular is a no-brainer. You can DIY it, but there are some things you need to know before you have a crack at it.

Average households that install wall, floor and ceiling insulation can save hundreds of dollars on energy costs each year

Chris Barnes, CHOICE home heating expert

"DIY insulation is a messy, hot and uncomfortable job but I saved myself over a thousand dollars doing my house myself," says CHOICE staffer and insulation enthusiast Ashley Iredale.

But he says to be aware of the risks.

"You need to be very careful if you DIY this because you need to leave clearances for light fittings and take electrical wiring into account. Remember that there have been a few deaths and fires as a result of work by unqualified installers, so there are some not insignificant risks associated with it," he warns.

2. Go with the flow

Be aware of how the hot air moves around your house. It's tempting to move the sofa as close as possible to the heater, or to put your wet laundry in front of it during a rainy week, but this will restrict the flow of hot air around your house. 

To ensure you get the most out of your heat source, make sure nothing is blocking the flow.

And to make your heating more efficient, close doors to rooms you're not using. Only heating the rooms you're actually in will reduce your heating bill – there's no point heating the spare room if no one's in there.

3. Magic carpet

If you have hard floors, rug up – literally. Any distance that you can put between the cold floor and your tootsies will make a difference, so consider covering hard floors with rugs.

Rugs are also effective insulation – if you have an older house with gappy floorboards, a thick rug can do wonders to prevent extra chilly air seeping in. 

4. It's curtains for cold

Curtains will help you keep warm in winter, but cool in summer. Up to 40% of heating energy can be lost through windows, so pull the curtains closed to keep the warmth in. 

For maximum insulation, adding a pelmet will stop the warm air escaping through the top of the windows.

Up to 40% of heating energy can be lost through windows

"If you want to take things to the next level, double glazing is the Rolls Royce of heat loss reduction, but it's a major job," says Ashley.

Our counterpart in New Zealand, Consumer NZ, has an excellent comparison of the benefits of different types of curtains and blinds as well as double glazing.

5. But let the sunshine in

While it's certainly true that curtains and blinds are an easy way to stop heat escaping through windows, you might be missing a trick if you leave your curtains closed all day. 

Sunlight is free and even in the most southerly parts of the country, you'll still get around eight hours of it a day in the middle of winter. When the sun is out, let it warm your rooms before closing things up again when the evening draws in. 

6. Seal it up

Track down any draughts in your home, particularly around doors and windows, and seal them up. 

Most of the products you'll need to do this can be picked up at a hardware store, but do your homework before you start shopping or get some advice.

Products that can make a difference include:

  • door snakes
  • weather seal tape
  • silicon sealant or caulk
  • roller door seals
  • PVC door strips
  • storm-proof seals
  • brush door seals
  • auto-lift door seals.

If you're renting or you're not confident in your DIY abilities, weather seal tape or draught strips are a good place to start. They look a bit like sticky tape, but are made from foam or rubber with an adhesive backing. 

To install, just remove the backing and stick the adhesive side inside the doorjamb or window frame. It's a good idea to measure up before you hit the shops – each door will need about 5m of tape to seal.

If you have a chimney, install a chimney balloon or a damper that can be closed when you're not using the fireplace. 

woman freezing on sofa

Sorting out draughts and gaps in your house will make your heating system more efficient.

7. Turn back time (... and your fans)

When you change your clocks at the end of daylight saving, turn your ceiling fans to reverse mode (most models have a reverse switch).

This makes the blades turn anti-clockwise and, since warm air rises, it'll push the warm air from your heating system back down towards the floor.

Thinking of installing ceiling fans? Check our ceiling fan reviews before you buy.

Bonus tip: Heat the human, not the house

If our suggestions for keeping your home toasty only take you so far, consider making your approach more personal.

woman holding hot water bottle

Keeping warm doesn't have to be expensive – it can be as simple as curling up with a hot water bottle.

A heated throw can be a cost-effective way to create a personal cocoon of comfort during the day – some of our CHOICE team swear by them when working from home. And an electric blanket can make sliding into bed between cold sheets a thing of the past. 

An even cheaper option is a hot water bottle, but take care when using one to avoid the risk of scalding. Follow these tips:

  • Don't overfill a hot water bottle and never use boiling water – instead use water from the hot tap. 
  • Check it before use to ensure it's free of leaks and doesn't have cracks or other damage. 
  • Wrap the hot water bottle in a towel or use a cover to avoid direct contact with the skin.

Safety first: 3 heating no-nos

Some heating techniques are a bad idea, but some can be downright lethal when used indoors.

  1. Heat beads or barbecue briquettes give off carbon monoxide as they burn, so shouldn't be used indoors.
  2. Indoor gas heaters, particularly unflued gas heaters, must not be used in small rooms such as bedrooms due to the emissions they give off.
  3. Never use outdoor gas heaters indoors, and don't use gas stoves or cooktops as heaters – they aren't intended for it and give off too much carbon monoxide (they don't have the same filters as indoor gas heaters).
We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.