23 Brilliant Winter Tricks for Warming Your Home

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iStock

Your house should be a refuge from frigid weather, not an extension of it. Luckily, raising the temperature in your home a little can be as easy as getting a new rug and some drapes.

1. USE A SCREEN

A red, wooden folding screen with intricate cut outs.
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When people used to gather around their fireplaces at night for warmth and entertainment, they used large, decorative screens to keep as much warmth in the room as possible. The old trick will still work today—and will add some interesting decor to the room as well.

2. GET A SMART THERMOSTAT

A circular thermostat that's silver on the outside with an electronic screen that shows the number 76 on an orange background.
George Frey, Getty Images

While we're talking thermostats, if you have an old model, consider replacing it with a smart thermostat that learns and adjusts itself accordingly. It knows when you've been sleeping (or when you're out of the house), so it automatically turns the temp down. Smart thermostats also know when you're awake, and give you those extra degrees to make sure you stay toasty with zero effort on your part. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering the temps when you're not home can save you as much as 10 percent a year on your heating bill.

3. LET THE SUN IN

A woman in a white sweater with her back turned to us is opening heavy curtains, letting the sunlight stream in.
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Pay attention to the way the sun hits certain rooms in your house. Take advantage of its natural warmth by keeping curtains and blinds open during the day to let some rays in.

4. TRIM YOUR TREES

Green ivy almost completely grown over a white-paned window.
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The sun is a great resource for warming your house, sure—but it won't do much good if your windows are blocked by branches and shrubs. Before the cold weather hits, make sure to trim up plants and trees that may be preventing light from getting in.

5. PUT A BALLOON IN YOUR CHIMNEY

Logs burning in a fireplace with large flames licking off of them.
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Not just any old balloon—a chimney balloon designed to block drafts when your flue or damper is broken or missing. You can't light a fire with it in, of course, but if you're not using your fireplace anyway, it's a good way to keep the cold air out.

6. SHRINK WRAP YOUR WINDOWS

Fingers pulling on a sheet of clear plastic wrap.
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According to EnergyStar, adding a layer of clear plastic over your windows really does help better insulate your home during the colder months. The plastic is inexpensive and easy to install, so it's a good DIY project for even the most amateur home improvement enthusiast.

7. MAKE SURE YOUR CEILING FAN IS SPINNING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Looking up at an older wooden ceiling fan with frosted glass sconces.
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Your ceiling fan isn't just for cooling. During the colder months, switch the blades to a forward or clockwise rotation to pull the air up, then push the warm air down the sides of the room.

8. UNBLOCK YOUR HEAT REGISTERS

A white HVAC register set into a tan wall with neutral-colored carpet in the foreground.
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If your couch or your bed is sitting on top of your heat register, the underside of your furniture is probably feeling the heat—but you aren't. Make sure you're not blocking any of that precious heat, rearranging your room layout if necessary (sorry, feng shui). While you're at it, clean those suckers out, too—a blocked register can cause problems with your HVAC system.

9. OPT FOR ENERGY STAR APPLIANCES

A white furnace that is unattached to anything, on a white background.
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If your heating and cooling system is older, replace it with a more energy efficient option. It will cost you upfront, but your overall savings (more than $100 per year) and overall comfort will be worth it.

10. CHANGE YOUR FURNACE FILTER

A hand putting a new furnace filter into a furnace.
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Your filter should be changed every three months at a minimum, but once a month is a better idea during peak times of the year. If your filter is dirty, your system works harder to keep you warm—or may not keep you warm at all.

11. QUIT USING YOUR ATTIC FOR STORAGE

An attic being framed and insulated, with tools splayed out across the floor.
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If your attic floors are just wood (and thus a great place to stack boxes and holiday decorations), you're losing a lot of heat. Pulling up the wood and covering the floor in another layer of material, like blanket insulation, can take as much as 50 percent off your heating bill.

12. OPEN THE BATHROOM DOOR WHEN YOU SHOWER

A clear shower door open to show the tiled wall inside. A white bathtub is off to the left.
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Though it's tempting to keep all of the warmth in the bathroom for when you get out, letting the steam out will help raise the humidity and the temperature in the rest of your dwelling.

13. ONE WORD: RUGS

A white sheepskin rug on a rustic wooden floor.
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The same theory about bare wood floors in the attic applies to the rest of your place. We don't suggest you lay insulation down in the living room, but adding a few rugs will help absorb the cold coming through the floor. Put a pad under the rug for added oomph.

14. ADJUST DOOR THRESHOLDS

A welcome mat with a gold door threshold behind it.
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If you can see light under the bottom of your front door, cold air is definitely getting through. Many times, you can raise the height of your threshold by turning the screws. Otherwise, invest in a new threshold—or at the very least, get a draft stopper.

15. SEAL DUCTWORK

A shiny silver piece of ductwork.
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Making sure your ducts are properly sealed and insulated can make your heating system 20 percent more efficient. Properly sealed ducts will also help keep your house cooler in the warmer months, so you'll still be appreciating your efforts come July.

16. DO A HOME ENERGY AUDIT

A person holding a pencil over a piece of paper with a book open in the background.
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You can have the most efficient furnace in the world, but it won't be able to keep up if your home is full of air leaks. The Department of Energy has a list of places and items you should check for leaks, including some easy fixes. You can also hire a professional to conduct the audit.

17. GO GREEN

Closeup of an indoor houseplant.
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Get ready to work that green thumb! Adding a few key plants to the house will create more humidity, making your house feel warmer. English Ivy, rubber plants, and spider plants are all good choices for this purpose. Bonus: Keeping plants in your home will also help improve the air quality.

18. ADD DRAPES

Heavy turquoise drapes adorn the windows in a modern-looking living room with a low white couch and sunburst mirror.
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Like a good rug, a thick pair of drapes will help block some of the cold air coming in from windows. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy says curtains can reduce your heat loss by up to 25 percent. Choose wisely; sheer or lacy options might look pretty, but they won't be very effective. Just make sure your new drapes don't block any HVAC vents!

19. CLOSE DOORS TO RARELY-USED ROOMS

Heavy wooden doors locked in the middle with a padlock.
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Why waste energy on rooms you don't use? Keep the heat concentrated in the areas you do use by closing the door to that guest room that never gets used or the bathroom down in the basement you haven't set foot in for weeks.

20. THWART AIR LEAKS AROUND OUTLETS

A white outlet with a cord plugged into it on a lime green wall.
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The electrical boxes behind outlets are known for being drafty because they're rarely sealed well. Popular Mechanics recommends removing the cover, then filling the gaps around the boxes with acrylic latex caulk (larger gaps may require foam sealant). Top all of that with a foam gasket, then replace the cover plate.

21. LIGHT SOME CANDLES

A candle in a white candle holder sitting on top of a rustic wood table. A knit blanket and an open book lie nearby.
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It sounds a little facetious, but candles put off a decent amount of heat in a smaller space. Get even more heat by making this mini space heater out of terracotta pots.

22. PLUG ANY HOLES THAT GO OUTSIDE

A hand is holding electrical work that has been pulled through a cement wall.
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Think dryer vents, electrical work, oven vents—any hole that leads to the exterior of your house should be sealed well with caulking. If they're not, you're probably losing heat.

23. SNUGGLE YOUR PETS

Three dog noses stick out from a gap in a colorful knit blanket.
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OK, this one won't keep your house any hotter, but it will warm your lap and your heart. Win-win.

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.
SereneLife/Amazon

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner
Black+Decker/Amazon

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon
Mikikin/Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.
Juscool/Amazon

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner
SHINCO/Amazon

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.
Honeywell/Walmart

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

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12 Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender

Zach Tyler in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Zach Tyler in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Nickelodeon

One of the best cartoons of all time has come to save the summer of 2020. Avatar: The Last Airbender's arrival on Netflix could not have come at a better time, and a slew of old fans (now in their thirties) and new ones (all other ages) are reveling in the epic journey of Aang (Zach Tyler), Katara (Mae Whitman), Sokka (Jack De Sena), and Toph (Michaela Jill Murphy) to best the Fire Lord.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko for Nickelodeon, the animated series—which chronicles the adventures of the reincarnated master with the ability to psychically move air, water, fire, and Earth in order to bring balance to the world—originally ran from 2005 to 2008. Stuffed with a variety of Asian fighting, design, and philosophical influences, the mature-for-kids action show challenged preconceived notions (and fate itself) with intelligence, empathy, and beauty. And its resurgent popularity is proving its young status as a classic.

1. Bending is based on real martial arts styles.

Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the show's creators, consulted Northern Shaolin master Sifu Kisu to craft distinct styles to correspond to the four main elements that are bent within the series: Tai Chi for water, Hung Gar for Earth, Northern Shaolin for fire, and Bagua for air. The styles are tonal matches for the elements; Tai Chi is smooth and controlled, for example, while Northern Shaolin is aggressive and dynamic.

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender exists because of a documentary about Ernest Shackleton.

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an early 20th century explorer who led many expeditions, the most famous of which was a journey to the South Pole aboard a ship called the Endurance. The trip went dangerously awry, but Shackleton was able to get everyone back alive. DeMartino was watching a documentary about Shackleton around the same time Konietzko had doodled a funny drawing about a bald kid with an arrow on his forehead. Those two elements merged together and became the beginning of Aang's journey.

3. There's a simple reason Avatar: The Last Airbender included heavy themes like genocide and imperialism.

When you think of kids shows, you don't usually think about genocide, which is why most people express astonishment that Avatar: The Last Airbender was able to explore such dark material alongside all the Sokkasm and Appa burping. Konietzko, however, has an easy explanation. "Kids are deeper than a lot of people, and especially corporations, give them credit for," he told The Mary Sue.

4. Bryan Konietzko got beat up a lot for Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The team made reference videos to make the animation rooted in real-world fighting, typically doing about three video sessions per episode. Sifu Kisu usually portrayed one fighter in the scene, and Konietzko (who was also one of Sifu Kisu's students) would portray the other. That meant a lot of time being pulled around by the thumbs or dumped on a practice mat by a world-class master. Great art requires sacrifice.

5. The voice of Azula on Avatar: The Last Airbender got the job because she didn't yell at the audition.

The team was looking for a famous actress to voice the villainous Fire Nation royal, but didn't find the right fit, so Grey Griffin got an opportunity to audition. When she did, she stood out by avoiding yelling lines that clearly beg to be yelled from a character with an explosive temper. "I was very contained and quiet because I felt like Azula was just so powerful she didn't need to yell at anybody," Griffin told Syfy.

6. Avatar: The Last Airbender's Commander Zhao was inspired by the actor who would eventually voice him.

Jason Isaacs in Dig (2015)
Jason Isaacs in Dig.
Virginia Sherwood/USA Network

Zhao is the vicious big bad for season 1—a zealot who is willing to destroy the moon in order to weaken the water tribes. When writing his character, the team drew inspiration from Jason Isaacs's portrayal of Colonel Tavington in The Patriot. DiMartino asked casting director Maryanne Dacey to find someone like Isaacs. "A few days later, she got the real deal," DiMartino said.

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender's Fire Lord Ozai is Luke Skywalker

Mark Hamill is famous both for playing that scruffy nerf-herder who loses his hand in a laser sword fight with his (spoiler alert!) dad, and for crafting an indelible voice acting career marked by disappearing into roles. The ultimate villain of Avatar: The Last Airbender is on that list, which is why you might detect just a hint of The Joker's voice from Batman: The Animated Series when Ozai scolds Zuko. When Hamill originally got the script, he thought the show wouldn't last because it was too intelligent.

8. Avatar: The Last Airbender's scariest bending technique had a silly nickname.

Bloodbending! It's terrible! As a more nefarious version of waterbending, bloodbending has some spooky implications. We get to see just how creepy it gets when Katara accidentally learns it from Hama. It's sometimes called the "Puppetmaster Technique" in the show's universe, but the production team called it the "Stop Hitting Yourself Technique" as a joke.

9. Toph and her parents are the only characters with last names.

Aang, Sokka, Katara, Toph Beifong. The quartet travels the world trying to train the savior of the world in anticipation of a devastating, comet-fueled invasion, but only one of them gets a family name. Even the royal Zuko and the rest of the Fire Lord crew are last-nameless. The creators haven't weighed in on this specifically, but Toph is also introduced in the context of her wealthy family's celebrity within the Earth Kingdom, and she also uses her last name to score instant tickets for the ferry to Ba Sing Se, so the name is vital to the plot.

10. Toph was originally going to be a 16-year-old boy.

Michaela Jill Murphy in Avatar: The Last Airbender
Michaela Jill Murphy as Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Nickelodeon

The team wanted to add a muscular foil to Sokka in the second season, but as they explored the possibility, they found it far better to create a blind 12-year-old girl who absolutely wrecks larger, physically stronger Earthbenders. Her original animation design became the basis for Sud, Avatar Roku's Earth-bending instructor.

11. In the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe, toys are used to identify the Avatar.

At least they are among the air nomads. The method is to show thousands of toys to children, and if they pick only the four Avatar relics to play with, it's highly likely that they've found the reincarnated Avatar (who is picking the toys already familiar to them). The relics are a clay turtle flute, a pull-string propeller, a wooden monkey, and a wooden hand drum, all owned by previous Avatars.

12. Avatar: The Last Airbender was largely inspired by Studio Ghibli films and FLCL.

Crafting Katara's character also created a tragic backstory for the Southern water tribe. When developing Katara (originally named Kya until Nickelodeon's legal department axed it), the show's creators wanted her to have the waterbending power instead of her brother, and they didn't want her to be a master of her element like Aang is with air. Because of that, they decided Katara was still a novice because there were no waterbenders left to learn from—which required inventing a painful past, one of the terrible consequences of the war, and a key motivating factor for both her and Sokka.