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Brrrring on the heat ; Getting creative with ways to stay warm and save money

When the weather outside gets frightful, Western New Yorkers get skillful about ways to stay warm indoors.

Sure, we have the basic techniques down pat, like covering windows in our homes with plastic to cut out drafts.

The furnace was serviced early in the season to keep it in working condition until March, at least.

And except for a brief reprieve over New Year's weekend with three days of unseasonably mild temperatures well above average, we've been wearing extra layers for weeks.

But sometimes all of that still is not enough to beat the freeze.

To add insult to injury, there's another two or three more months of winter bliss left to enjoy.

Raising the thermostat is one way to keep warm. But it's a costly, unattractive one for those who want some money left come spring.

So how do we stay warm and healthy without going into the poorhouse?

Some people at the HEAP and National Fuel offices on Main Street have some ideas on how they keep warm -- some less conventional and more individual than others.

Imagine your home is so warm in the winter you rarely have to turn on the heat.

It's true for Thomas Jones, a 70-year-old resident of God City Apartments on Pershing Avenue for the past two years.

Someone lives above him, and there's an apartment below. Because of how his unit is located, he said he rarely turns on the heat.

"I may turn [the thermostat] to the comfort zone setting every now and then, but for the most part I don't turn it on at all," he said.

"I stay warm all the time," he added. "And in the summer I don't turn on the air conditioning at all. I just open the patio door and the bedroom window and air flows through."

Andrew Jacob also lives in an apartment, but he does not have the same luxury.

With two children, 9 and 14, he has developed a process for building up heat in the Town of Tonawanda unit "for later on."

At around 4 or 5 p.m., he turns down the thermostat, closes doors of rooms not in use and starts cooking.

When he's done preparing dinner, the kids have arrived home, and he reopens the doors.

His children may be happy to know Jacob plans to take up baking soon for the same purpose.

"That'll work even better," he said.

Not to be confused with the former Buffalo Bills player, Bruce Smith lives in an East Side apartment and has his own way of dealing with drafty windows.

He wets paper towels or newspapers and stuffs them in the airy spaces.

"It sticks to the window better. Once it dries it becomes like insulation," he said. "And it don't cost that much."

Rich Mitchell lives in West Seneca with his wife and two children, 8 and 6.

On a "real" cold day, he will get the fireplace going "even if we're not in the room." He puts a fan in front -- at a safe distance, he said -- to circulate the heat.

Sometimes it takes "a chain of fans" to get the heat circulated through the house, he said, "But it works."

Silvia Gonzalez, 26, lives alone on the West Side and turns her heat down to 60 degrees when she's not home and up to about 64 when she is.

Many of us adjust our thermostats similarly, and it's not a bad habit to get into. But it is important to be careful how low you go, said Karen Merkel, spokeswoman for National Fuel.

The company's website, nationalfuelforthought.com, suggests keeping the thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees when at home and at 58 degrees when away from the home for more than a few hours during the winter. (Also keep in mind cold tolerance for pets and houseplants.)

Mike Childers, 43, of South Buffalo hopes a previously owned EdenPure portable heater will cut out his family's dependence on the furnace.

His father recently gave him one of the infrared heaters, which works much like the technology used to keep McDonald's french fries warm until they are served, Childers said.

"It's indirect heat that can warm about 1,000 square feet for as little as $30 a month," he said.

If purchased new, one of the heaters would retail for about $400 new.

In addition to the long-term reduction in home-heating costs, another great feature is it won't burn sources that come in contact with it, Childers said.

"It can be pushed right up against furniture. The cat sleeps on it," he said.

How effective a space heater is depends on where it is used, how it is used and the condition of the house, said National Grid spokesman Steve Brady, who also advised what to watch out for when using electrical space heaters.

Appliances should be accredited, he said. For example, look for the UL tag. UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, which tests for design and function.

Use electrical space heaters that have internal thermostats or automatic shut-offs.

And since units vary by size and strength, it is important to pick out the right one for your needs.

If the unit is too big for the space, "you're just wasting energy," Brady said.

Don't buy something that's too big "or you will be using more energy than needed or could overload a circuit," he added. "But don't get one that's too small, or it will have to run more than otherwise."

Keep in mind that once you turn on an electric space heater, your bill will rise because more energy is being used.

"Be aware a bill will come due," he said. "So look for other ways to keep warm, like adding another blanket to the bed or putting on another sweater."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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