9 low-cost apartment heating tips

Updated April 6, 2023

Renting an apartment has its advantages, but control over your environment isn’t always one of them. When the weather gets cold, your options for staying warm are limited—especially if you live in an old building with drafty windows and without modern climate control.

Maybe you can’t install a new HVAC system or fancy triple-pane windows in your rental unit. But, with these 9 low-cost apartment heating tips, you can stay warm without breaking the bank.


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1. Talk to your landlord

Obviously, when you’re renting your home, you don’t have the ability to make major changes or upgrades. If the furnace doesn’t work well, it’s not your responsibility to buy a new one.

In a rental home, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide adequate heating. If your apartment is extremely cold, you should inform your landlord before you try to do too much on your own.

There are rules about how warm rental units need to be during the winter. These rules vary depending on where you live. But, generally speaking, your apartment must be able to maintain a temperature of 20-22 °C during the winter months. For example, in Toronto, rental units must be capable of maintaining a temperature of 21 °C between September 15 and June 1.

If your unit doesn’t consistently reach the minimum temperature requirements for where you live, it’s your landlord’s responsibility to address that.

But, of course, the ambient air temperature can be 20 °C while there are freezing drafts blowing through the apartment. Or, maybe you just like it warmer than the minimum. Either way, let’s move on to the inexpensive things you can do yourself to keep your apartment warm.

2. Remove obstructions from your heating system

Even if your apartment’s built-in heating system is a good one, it won’t work properly if you’ve got your furnace ducts covered with rugs. No matter the type of heating system you have, you need to give it room to work.

If your home has a radiator or baseboard heating, make sure there’s room around them for air to circulate. Leave at least 30 cm between the heat source and any furniture. Not only will this improve the efficiency of the heating system, it’ll reduce potential fire risks from combustible materials sitting too close to heat sources.

If you have baseboard heaters underneath your windows, make sure your curtains or drapes aren’t dangling in front of them. Not only does that create a fire hazard, it severely restricts the heater’s effectiveness.

If your apartment has forced-air heating (like from a furnace), make sure there’s no furniture on top of floor vents or in front of wall vents.

3. Close (and seal) doors and windows

It may go without saying, but keeping your windows and doors shut during cold weather will keep your place warmer. Of course, sometimes it’s not quite that easy. In old buildings, windows and doors often don’t seal completely. A drafty door is just as bad for staying warm as an open door.

To seal drafty doors, you can install (or ask your landlord to install) a door sweep or weatherstripping on the entrance door to your unit. Both options are affordable and relatively easy to install. It’s also possible to install weatherstripping on the windows, if cold air is leaking through the gaps around the windows’ edges.

In the absence of those permanent solutions, you can also stop door drafts temporarily with a draft stopper. Draft stoppers are like long pillows that rest along the bottom of a door, stopping cold air from blowing through the gap. In a pinch, you can also roll up a towel and place it along the bottom of the door.

4. Cover windows with plastic sheets

Speaking of windows, they’re one of the main places that warm air leaks out. If your apartment has old, drafty windows, chances are you’re stuck with them.

Since you can’t replace the windows, one thing you can do is stretch a thin sheet of transparent plastic in front of them. If done correctly, the plastic will barely be visible, and will eliminate any air leakage through the window.

You can buy window insulation kits that don’t cost much and are easy to install. The most common form you’ll find is a type of shrink wrap. These fit snugly against the window and frame with the aid of a hair dryer.

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5. Let the sun in

If you’re lucky enough to have an apartment that gets plenty of sunlight, make sure not to waste it. After all, there’s nothing cheaper than free solar energy.

Open all your blinds during the day to let the sunlight heat up the surfaces in your home. If your apartment is reasonably well insulated (perhaps thanks to the previous tips) you can trap some of that energy for the evening.

Once the sun sets, close your blinds to add another layer of insulation.

6. Pay attention to your humidity

The humidity level in your apartment doesn’t influence the actual temperature, but it does affect how you perceive the temperature.

During the winter, when things are very cold for a long time, humidity drops. When humidity is too low, it makes the air feel colder than it really is. Not to mention the other effects of dryness, like cracking skin and static shocks.

On the other hand, extremely humid air can also make a person feel much colder than the temperature suggests—just ask anyone who lives in southwest BC.

The ideal humidity level for your home during the winter is 30-40 per cent. Any higher, and you may have condensation forming on your windows or (in extreme cases) moisture damaging your apartment and furniture.

To raise the humidity, you can buy a humidifier. There are affordable models available. But, it also helps to harness whatever moisture you already have. If you’ve got a dishwasher, pop it open when the cycle is finished to let the warm, wet air out. Same thing with showers or baths—don’t let the humid air sit inside the bathroom when you’re finished. A portable fan on low setting can help push the air where it’s needed.

Reducing humidity is a little harder. You can buy a de-humidifier, but they tend to be pricier than humidifiers. Aside from that, just pay attention to sources of humidity in your home. When you’re cooking or showering, make sure turn on the exhaust fans to move steam out of the apartment, for example.

7. Buy a hot water bottle

Lean on some old-school wisdom and invest in a hot water bottle.

Boiling a few cups of water costs almost nothing, and you’ll get a portable heat source that stays warm for at least a couple of hours. You can keep it on your lap while you watch TV, or slide it under your bed covers an hour or so before you go to sleep. A hot water bottle lets you heat up a very specific area while consuming almost no energy.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are also the best ones.

8. Run the ceiling fan

One of the best ways to stay cool in hot weather also happens to be an effective way to stay warm in cold weather.

Your ceiling fan should have a switch that reverses the direction of spin. You’ll want it turning clockwise during the winter. Rather than pushing air down, this will pull air up. The air at the ceiling is a little warmer than the air at the floor. By pulling cool air up, the fan will push the warm air out and down. This helps mix the air better and make use of the warm air lingering above your head.

If you run the fan on its lowest setting, it’ll move plenty of air without creating a noticeable breeze.

9. Combine style and warmth

If you’re thinking about sprucing up your apartment from a design standpoint, you might as well pay attention to warmth in addition to aesthetic appeal.

For example, if you want new window coverings, you can invest in some heavy ones. Thick drapes, when closed, act as a layer of insulation between the cold window and the warm room in front of it.

Even better, get some rugs. If your apartment has laminate or wood flooring, the floors can get icy cold under your feet. Throwing down some rugs provides a double benefit: a layer of insulation, and something warm to step on.

You can even try some psychological tricks. For example, warm colours like brown or orange make a room feel warmer. Similarly, you can replace fluorescent or blue-toned LED lights in your house with warmer, whiter shades.

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