Tips on Getting Enough Heat for Your Apartment

It’s getting cold in Chicago, which means it’s time to fire up the heater! For apartment dwellers, this can mean one of two things: either you have a radiator, or you have a thermostat. Let’s deal with them separately.

Apartments with a Radiator

If you have a radiator, you’re lucky in one respect: your landlord is paying for the heat. Yes, that’s right, you save hundreds of dollars a month in the winter at your landlord’s expense. But… this also means your landlord controls the heat. …Which might be why your apartment is always so chilly.

If this is the case, you don’t have to put up with it: the Chicago Municipal Code dictates that between September 15 and June 1, your landlord must heat your apartment to at least 68 degrees between 8:30 am and 10:30 pm and at least 66 degrees during the night. (Most major cities have similar laws, so if you have a heat problem, check out yours. In NYC, you can also call 311 with heat complaints. ) If you think your apartment is far colder than this, there are several steps you can take:

First, check your radiator. There should be a knob or dial at the bottom left or right. Turn it to increase and decrease the flow of hot water in your pipes. You may have your radiator on restricted flow and not even realize it. Wait for several cycles (read: a few hours at least) to see if this fixes things.

If that doesn’t work, talk to your landlord. Your landlord may not realize there’s a problem. Often, he or she will work with you by installing insulation or by simply turning up the heat in the building. Or, there may be an air bubble stuck in the radiator that your property’s maintenance guy can address.

If your landlord is unresponsive or refuses to fix the problem, contact the Metropolitan Tenants Organization about your rights. (Again, you’ll find similar groups in most cities.) One thing you can lawfully do in the meantime is buy a space heater and deduct the cost of the heater from your next month’s rent check. Just make sure to keep the receipt!

Apartments with a Thermostat

When you have a thermostat it usually means you have to pay for your heat. Luckily, it also means that you can control your heat. How to save? Don’t use your heat much. Turn it off (or turn it down) while you’re at work. Turn it down when you’re in bed, toasty under the covers. Most new thermostats allow you to program them so that the heat turns down during the middle of the day, when you’re usually at work.

My rule of thumb for the colder months: if you’re not walking around your apartment in your underpants, your heat should not be above 66 degrees.

Also, if your windows are old, or single pane, or a little drafty, you’re losing a lot of heat (and money) due to poor insulation. Try to convince your landlord to upgrade. Explain that it increases the comfort and desirability of the property. If your landlord is uninterested, you can buy a plastic insulation installation kit for less than twenty dollars at most hardware stores. This neat YouTube video shows you how to install it ­– the kit will save you heat and money!

Lastly, no matter how cold it gets, DO NOT USE YOUR STOVETOP OR OVEN TO PROVIDE HEAT.  Running a gas stove continuously is extremely dangerous, both as a fire hazard, and because carbon monoxide can slowly leak out of the burner. Over the course of a day, you may feel light-headed, pass out and die. Seriously. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.

Hope all this helps. And one last thing: take your A/C unit out of the window! Please, people – show some sense. Keeping it in during the winter months is incredibly inefficient and will cause a massive draft in that area of your apartment.

Also, check out Alissa’s low tech solutions for staying warm.

Well, start thinking about the coming holidays and have an eggnog for me!

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar Miranda

    I live in a state where winter temps hover between 25-35 degrees for months at a time, and I swear by black out curtains. Placed in front of a drafty, old window, they act as a layer of insulation that can help trap heat inside. If your lease prohibits the use of screws/nails, curtains can be hung using command hooks. Be sure to check that you cannot see daylight around the edges of your exterior doors. If you find your doors are exceptionally daylight-y, consider asking your landlord to replace the weather stripping, or make a draft stopper with socks full of rice/batting. Also, if you have hardwood floors (lucky you!), consider getting a few area rugs. Not only do they make your place look cozier, but they also protect your tootsies from the worst of the icy cold, as well as dampen noises for your downstairs neighbors. Hope this helps!

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Thanks Miranda,
      Such great advice and just in time for the first day of fall tomorrow! We can all save on heating bills with your advice.
      MFA Team