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Baby It’s Cold Outside

Winter has finally arrived.  Frequent and holiday travelers are bracing for weather-related travel delays.  Kids are praying for snow days.  It’s finally time for fur-lined boots and hot chocolate.  I’m originally from Hawaii, where we really only have one season, summer.  Occasionally it got cold enough to warrant close-toed shoes and maybe some long sleeves.  But that’s really as far as it got.  Now that I live on the continental united states (the mainland), I’m experiencing seasons, the good, bad, and the ugly.  For me, the ugly is cold.  And staying warm is proving to be expensive.  It’s not just the warm clothing and layers you have to buy, but the heating costs!  Oh my!  For an island girl like me, keeping warm is constantly on my mind cuz Baby, It’s Cold Outside!!

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I’ll never forget my first “mainland winter”.  I was given an electric blanket.  I didn’t know what it was really for.  It was simply a blanket that had a power cord attached to it.  I plugged it in and wrapped it around myself.  Then I got hold of the controller and turned it on.  Nothing happened.  I waited for close to a minute, then fiddled with the controls more.  I waited a few more seconds.  This electric blanket was broken!  To make things worse, it was now getting hot!  Scared, I turned it off and unplugged the cord.

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Yes that’s right, I turned it off when it was getting hot, thinking it was broken.  At the time, I didn’t know that it was a heated blanket.  I didn’t even know what a heated blanket was.  I thought it was a massage blanket.  When I initially wrapped it around myself, I was waiting for vibration!  Months later, I learned that in fact, it was working just fine.  It was supposed to heat up.  That was the whole point.  Of course I had to wait until the next winter to use it, but it is now a winter must-have in my home.

It’s been about 10 years since my first electric blanket encounter.  Over the years I’ve learned how to identify a good quality blanket.  When you get a good one, it should last about five years.  What makes it good?  Well first, it should be made of soft, comfortable fabric that doesn’t pill or shed.  It should also have different adjustable heat level settings to customize the temperature you want to achieve.  I’ve also found that I like blankets with timers.  Usually after I fall asleep I don’t need the heat on so high, or at all, so I like blankets that let me preset an off time.

Now that I have kids, a blanket that is machine washable and dryer safe is important.  I have to wash the blanket a lot more often than before.  It’s also nice to know whether the material is stain resistant and whether the blanket is waterproof.  When dealing with electricity, water is always a concern.

After trying out several heated blankets, I settled on one from Sunbeam.  It’s got a long power cord, the size is right for my bed, and it has three warm settings.  It’s machine washable and dryer safe.  And I love that it comes in many different colors.

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The only down side is it only offers a 3 hour auto off function.  Sometimes 3 hours is too long.  But I found a great solution.  I have a programmable plug-in digital timer from Topgreener.   It’s their TGT02, and it works wonders.

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You can program up to 18 unique settings and the LCD digital display is easy to read.  At night I plug my blanket into the timer, plug the timer into the wall, set it, and forget it!  That way if I don’t want the Sunbeam electric blanket 3 hour off setting, I can customize it to longer or shorter lengths of time and achieve the same energy saving, heat customizing effect!

The electric blanket was a great addition to my home during the cold season.  But I wasn’t always in a spot where I could wrap a blanket around myself.  Sometimes I needed to be doing housework or wrapping gifts and a blanket just wasn’t practical.  We’re all looking to save on our electric bill and running the heater in a home can get very costly.  Well, I was at Costco one day walking towards the back of the store to get my rotisserie chicken when all of a sudden a wave of warm air hit me.  I took a few steps back and on an end-aisle display was a space heater.  Again, the Hawaiian in me was mesmerized and excited by this new discovery.  Space heaters are unheard of in Hawaiian households, but they are common in many mainland households, and now you can find them in mine too!

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Vornado TouchStone sold at Costco

I learned there are two basic types of space heaters: convection and radiant.  Convection heaters provide even heating to an entire room but take time to warm everything up.  Radiant heaters are quicker and are used in small spaces for quick spot heating.  When buying a space heater, look for heating capacity.  As a general rule of thumb, a heater uses 10 watts per square foot of space.  So think about the area you want to heat and buy the appropriate heater.  Also, since the whole point is to save energy from heating your entire house, look for energy efficient features like energy saving mode, adjustable thermostats, and programmable timers.  Again, if there’s no built-in programmable timer, you can also bring back that Topgreener TGT02!

Lasko makes some of the best and most popular space heaters on the market.  Their best seller on Amazon is the Lasko 751320 Ceramic Tower Heater with Remote Control.

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It has overheat protection and a programmable thermostat.  There is a built-in 7 hour timer and it has 2 quiet settings, so it won’t bother you when you’re watching a movie or sleeping.  A space heater is nice to have not just to cut down on electricity costs, but to also reduce the wear and tear of your main home heating system, which costs a lot more to use, maintain, and replace.

I get it, some people don’t like to rely on space heaters.  Some people just want all around consistent temperatures in and out of each room throughout the house.  They don’t want to worry about turning them on and off, waiting for them to warm the room, etc.  Completely understandable.  On really busy days when the whole house is in use and more people are in and out of the house at random times, I want that too.  The solution without breaking the bank?  A thermostat, and not just any thermostat.  A smart thermostat.  Thermostats control half of your energy bill.  So while it is sounds like a daunting task, researching what will work for your home, weighing out costs and the overhaul demands, the yearly savings are worth it.

Before smart thermostats, there were thermostats that had programmable timers, but 40% of owners did not use this feature, so they did not achieve any energy savings (Statistic reported on Consumer Reports).  Enter smart thermostats, the devices that are actually designed to eventually bypass programming altogether!  New in 2017, Energy Star began to tout smart thermostats that learn your preferences, factor in local weather forecasts, and connect to the internet via WiFi to help lower your energy bill while keeping you at a comfortable and in control of your indoor temperature.

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The first device to earn an Energy Star rating, and the highest rated smart thermostat to date, is the Nest Thermostat.  The Nest Thermostat automatically turns itself down when no one’s home, learns your preferences, and connects to your phone.  It is sleek and modern looking, and has a big sharp display that is easy to read.  Nest Thermostats are predicted to save an average of $131-$145 per year.  It more than pays for itself over its lifetime.  And are you ready for the icing on the cake?  It works with Amazon Alexa!  Is there anything this can’t do?  While expert installation is recommended, there are many tutorials online that walk you through the process yourself.

While we’re on the topic of home heating, let’s not forget the most basic yet necessary item of all…the water heater.

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Gone are the days (hopefully) where we had to heat small batches of water over a fire and slowly transfer a pot at a time to fill the tub for a bath.   The modern water heater takes care of that and so many other needs that we sometimes overlook the role it plays on our daily lives.  Hot water heaters are key not just to baths, but laundry and kitchen needs too.

Make sure you have the right water heater for your home.  Look at the space it requires.  Know your ground water temperature to calculate how much it needs to be able to heat and how fast it can do so.  Identify your flow rate requirements by adding up the demands of all major appliances you anticipate to run at the same time.  It’s also important to know the electrical demands and requirements for the water heater you use or choose to purchase.

Somewhat new to the game is the tankless water heater.  A tankless water heater, unlike the traditional storage tank heaters, is small and heats only the amount of water needed for a particular purpose.

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Currently 20% off on Amazon, the EcoSmart Tankless Water Heater claims to provide savings of up to 50% on water heating costs.  It is made of copper and stainless components to ensure efficiency and longevity.  It controls the temperature of water down to the single degree, giving you complete precise control.  This tankless water heater’s large capacity heats nearly 3 gallons of water per minute, so it’s great for application in homes with high simultaneous demand.

My island girl self is so relieved to have warm things to get me through the winter.  Is it winter where you live?  Is it cold outside?  What do you use to stay warm without breaking the bank?