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Turning Up the Heat, but Keeping Down the Cost

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

As the temperature falls, heating bills are on the rise. Acording to the building research group BRANZ, space heating accounts for about a third of the average household annual energy bill. Just under half of all household heat is lost through the ceiling, so insulate this first. Walls account for about a quarter of heat loss and the remainder lost about equally through windows and the floor. But fear not, those living of the smell of an oily rag have come up with some imaginative ideas on keeping those heating costs down.

  • Canny Scot from Christchurch says, “I have a heat pump but it does not cost me much to run as I also have a DVS which blows the warm air from the roof space down to dry and warm my home. I also have a solar panel to heat the water. My monthly bill averages $80 over the year, last one was $57. For a 3 bedroom house with 2 adults. I have calculated a saving of approx $500 a year from the DVS and solar so it does not take long to pay for itself, especially the way power prices are going.”
  • Thirties Depression Baby from Auckland says, “For those with a wood burner or pellet heater: Install a small swivelling fan high up in a corner of the room. It will drive warm air down to where you need it most and, if you like, into adjoining rooms.”
  • K.B. from Kerikeri says, “My daughter and I, as well as making firebricks from soaked newspaper, also save toilet roll inners; cardboard rolls from different products and some small cereal boxes and stuff them full of squeezed out soaked paper for the fires in winter.”
  • Another oily ragger says they warm a bed rather than a bedroom. Electric blankets are very cheap to run and hot water bottles even cheaper.
  • Close up rooms that are not used in wintertime, and close up fireplaces. One oily ragger says they stuffed scrunched up newspapers up their never-used chimney to stop drafts.
  • Raised wooden floors can leak heat. Use floor coverings to minimizing heat loss or fit insulation under the floor – cardboard can be stapled between floor joists, creating an insulated layer of air.
  • Well-made, full-length curtains or thermal drapes are a simple answer to heat loss through windows. Thick, heavy fabrics are the most efficient. Light materials should be lined. Because a lot of air is lost around the edges, the curtains should extend 150mm on each side, and below the base of the window. Heavy drapes are more heat efficient than blinds.
  • Make your own “stop draught sausages” to eliminate door draughts. This is a fabric sausage filled with sand or sawdust. These sneaky heat hounds develop a personality of their own by adding buttons as eyes (an excellent family project).
  • Leaky window and door joinery can be sealed with sealants or a self-adhesive foam strip. A reader from Christchurch says they have used plastic window insulation. They bought a kit that works like double glazing but at a fraction of the cost. A plastic film is taped to the internal side of a window frame to create a sealed air cavity between the plastic and glass.
  • A wood burning coal range or potbelly stove is a cheap way to heat your home and a great way to save on cooking costs.

The website has hundreds of new money-saving recession-beating tips.
* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at