electric mattress padUsing creative heating options, you can keep Old Man Winter on the run without burning a hole in your budget. I stumbled onto my top hint by inhabiting a Hell's Kitchen shoebox of an apartment that sucked in plenty of tour-bus fumes but let out all the heat during the three Pleistocene winters I spent there. A friend suggested I buy an electric mattress pad. Not an electric blanket, but a fitted pad that heats from underneath. I never feared winter or my Con-Ed bill again.

Most electric mattress pads come with 10 settings for both sides of a queen or king. Putting the dial at 4 or 5 kept me toasty. I spent the day layered and gloved in my hovel, but nights were pure, near-naked comfort. It was as if I were on a bearskin rug by the fireplace in a ski chalet.
The savings can be huge. A Mother Earth News report estimated savings of nearly $3,000 on heating over 10 years. For a cost as low as between $29.99 and $39.99 for a new electric mattress pad, you can save 15% on your monthly heating bill when you lower your thermostat 10 degrees to 15 degrees for the eight hours you are sleeping. It was my experience that you can set it even lower and still be a cozy lump of sleeping serenity. The pads are far more energy efficient than the electric blankets, too, the report added, consuming about .15 kilowatt hours per sleep cycle.

Just note that you have to be able to turn the temperature of the pad down yourself if you get overheated, so that eliminates the infirm and infants. It's also not a good idea for the incontinent, who could conceivably get electrocuted, wisegeek.com warns.

The following are a few other unorthodox heating enhancements that I routinely use when the mercury plunges. Not surprisingly, two involve food.

Bake Potatoes
Four spuds require at least 75 minutes of 450-degree heat. That'll warm the surrounding area for an additional hour or two after your turn off the oven. If it isn't already, your kitchen will become the most popular room in the house. You have to cook anyway, right? Might as well let the task provide atmospheric comfort, too. One-pot meals that take a long time to cook can also do the trick, but not at the extreme temps that potatoes need.

Hats and Gloves Indoors
When my hands and head are warm, I'm happy. The fingerless gloves
make me feel like an urchin out of Dickens. I'll wear a cotton ski hat cause it's less itchy. You've heard this before: remember layering for the rest of the body.

Spicy Food
I am a chili head who hits the spicy stuff harder in the winter. If I make a fiery soup, all the better. Even thinking about it makes my goose bumps recede. I like packaged spicy ramen (33 cents a bag) that I spice up further with raw jalapenos, cayenne or rooster sauce, adding eggs, garlic, greens and onions. For other food components that can elevate your personal furnace, try these.

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