Strategies on keeping homes toasty warm Old doesn’t have to mean cold in our historical houses

One of my favourite memes I like to share with friends overseas when describing our winters in Alberta shows Luke Skywalker riding on a Tauntaun (on the icy planet of Hoth) saying, “I’m going to the store, need anything?” I love the cavalier nod to the fact that it’s going to get so cold Luke will have to climb inside that Tauntaun to survive, because it is bloody freezing here.  

Like many in the Rat Creek Press area, I live in an old house. I don’t mean 1970s old. I’m talking 1914 and still standing, just like some of yours, made of that old-growth timber that teams of horses dragged up from the river valley.  

Last winter, I decided to try some of the more historical ways (as well as some modern methods) of keeping the house cozy until spring. My housemates and I started with the exterior, doing the mandatory window caulking and filling gaps in the parging and stucco.  

Throw rugs and drapes add warmth during colder months. | Alita Rickards

The front of my suite in our house must have been an addition, because the floors are noticeably colder than the rest of the house. You can stand with one foot two meters from the wall and the other beside it and feel the difference in temperature. I went on Kijiji and found carpet tiles to insulate the entire first two meters of the front of the house. Then I went back online to find throw rugs. I bought six and laid them on any exposed floor.

At a second hand store, I acquired multiple sets of floor-length heavy drapes, and up they went as well. The difference was immediate, no doubt in part because of the psychological effect of all that coziness the Danes call hygge.  

Simple additions created even more warmth, both visually and physically: throw rugs and blankets draped over every seating area. Warm slippers at the door in a basket and winter robes and pajamas. Flannel and thick cotton sheets, feather duvets, and fuzzy pillow cases replaced lightweight linens on the beds.  

My front door got a thin layer of frost one particularly bitter night, and though I mean to replace that door next spring, the blanket I tacked to it last winter is still up and will have to do. I also installed a door sweep and replaced the sealing around the door frame.  

Swap out those summer linens for heavy duvets and plush pillow cases to attract heat-giving cats and cuddles. | Alita Rickards

We even started baking more and opening the oven door as it cooled.

But we do live in the modern world, and after our furnace came to an untimely demise last winter, we bought an energy efficient model.

This year, I contacted Energy Efficiency Alberta and asked for advice. Doris Kaufmann Woodcock, the director of communications and public affairs, gave her top economical tips for winterizing. Install a smart thermostat, turn down the heat at night by a couple degrees, make sure your furnace filter is clean and change it often, and change the direction of ceiling fans to push warm air down. For long-term planning, she recommended replacing leaky doors and windows.  

She also suggested getting your furnace tuned up to make sure it’s running smoothly.
I wish I’d thought of that last year.

Visit efficiencyalberta.ca for more tips and information on incentives.

Featured Image: The Danish concept of hygge suits our cold climate and is easy, affordable, and practical to create. | Alita Rickards

Alita Rickards

Alita moonlights as a freelance writer focused on interesting people, music, arts, food, culture, sustainable lifestyles, and human rights. These same things attracted her to become a homeowner in vibrant, diverse, walkable Alberta Avenue.

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