A recent study revealed that living in a cold home can increase the risk of poor mental health. We take a look at why this is and share some tips for staying warm for less this winter

Energy prices have caused a stir for years but none more so than during the current cost of living crisis. We know that living in colder temperatures can affect our physical health as it lowers our immune response, but new research from The Conversation suggests it poses a significant risk to our mental health, too.

As Britain sits in the temperature climate zone, we don’t typically experience extreme changes in the weather and our temperatures remain fairly mild throughout the year. Despite this, the UK has higher deaths associated with colder weather than many other colder countries which is thought to be the result of poor quality housing, poverty, and the increasing costs of heating our homes.

How does the cold affect our mental health?

In recent months, we’ve seen the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on our energy bills. As we head towards winter, our heating bills will likely exacerbate feelings of stress and financial worries. In 2018, the average cost of heating a UK home was £453.24 which has since risen significantly.

Not only can this financial uncertainty create anxiety, but also feelings of being out of control of our own environment. People might avoid socialising to climb into bed early to keep warm or may simply be exhausted from draining their body’s energy for warmth. This can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Sadly, for those who may already be experiencing poor mental health, the risks are often more severe and this does not consider the impact across the wider population - those who are unemployed or on lower incomes are more likely to live in a colder home, as well as single parents and those who rent.

For those currently working from home, the choice between heading back into the office or staying put offers little comfort as commuting also comes with its fair share of costs.

How can we heat our homes for less?

In light of the current energy crisis, here are some tips for keeping warm for little to no cost.

1. Make use of curtains

During the day, make sure you open curtains or blinds to let as much natural sunlight into your home as possible. This is a great way to heat your home for free. When it starts to get dark, draw your curtains and this will trap the heat as well as provide an extra layer of insulation.

2. Rejig your furniture

Take a look around your home and note any furniture that could be blocking radiators. If possible, try moving your furniture away from the heat source to allow the warm air to flow more freely around your room.

3. Locate and block out draughts

If you’ve noticed a chill from your front door, around your windows, or coming from a crack in the floor, now is the best time to draught-proof your home before winter firmly sets in. You can make your own draught excluders cheaply, or for a temporary solution, try wrapping a towel or blankets around the base of your doors. You can also purchase self-adhesive rubber seals for windows and draught excluders for doors for a small cost.

4. Turn your temperature down

This might sound counter-intuitive, but research suggests that turning your thermostat down by one degree could cut your heating usage by as much as 10%. The Energy Saving Trust recommends keeping your home at a temperature between 18 and 21 degrees during winter. Turning your dial down by one degree can go a long way to reducing energy bills and you’ll likely not notice a change. If you’re comfortable, try turning it down another degree. Most people are comfortable at a constant temperature of 18.

The topic of whether it’s best to keep your heating on low all day or only when needed is hotly debated. Whilst some argue that more energy is used bringing your home up to temperature, other experts say that the idea that it's cheaper to have your heating on all day is a myth. Whenever you choose to heat your home, turning it down just one degree can make a huge difference.

5. Layer up

Layering up with thermal vests or getting cosy under blankets is a great way to keep your internal temperature warm. For those wanting to gain some extra heat, you could try a heated blanket. Whilst the initial outlay can be expensive, in the long term, heated or electric blankets can save a lot of money on your energy bills as they consume very little electricity and stay warm for a time after they’re turned off. Make sure to use them safely - it’s advised not to sleep with the blanket turned on, but instead use the blanket to heat the bed and turn it off right before you get in.  

6. Keep your feet warm

Ever wonder why we’re so prone to getting cold hands and feet? When our internal temperature falls, heat is directed to our vital organs and away from our hands and feet. Keeping your feet warm, whether with some comfy slippers or cosy socks, improves thermoregulation by opening up the vessels needed to move blood (and therefore heat) around our bodies.

7. Add soft textures to your home

Not only will this help make your home feel extra cosy, but adding lots of soft textures like rugs, cushions and throws to your home can help retain the heat by providing an extra layer of insulation. It’s also a convenient way to grab a blanket whenever you’re feeling a chill, as well as add some colour to your home.

8. Take advantage of other heat sources

Each time you use your oven or take a bath or shower, leave the doors open to allow the excess heat to escape into your home. Again, make sure you do this safely and ensure pets and young children are kept well away from any hot surfaces.

Whilst these tips may not provide a solution to the current energy crisis, we hope they can go some way to keeping the chill at bay this winter. If you’re struggling during this time, know that you are not alone. Below we’ve listed some useful resources and support that are available.