close the curtains on the vortex

Six Quick Fixes to Get You Through the Vortex


Everyone in Chicago is grumbling that we already earned our extreme cold badge for the winter but that won’t make today’s temperature drop any easier to weather.  As an architecture firm, we feel obligated to remind you that good insulation, up-to-date windows, passive solar orientation and design for climate are all important factors in keeping your home warm all winter and pleasantly cool in the summer.

Right now we have a polar vortex to get through…

so here are a few quick and simple tips to help you handle today’s extreme chill:


National Resource Defense Council says one third of your home’s total heat loss happens through windows and doors.  Improving their insulation is THE low hanging fruit when you look for ways to warm up your home.  Put plastic up over single paned windows (try to seal up the entire window area by connecting with the window frame all the way around).   Plastic sealers may not be the most stylish option but they can make a noticeable difference to your winter comfort level.

If you have curtains, use them!  Open curtains on windows that get direct sunlight during the day–that’s heating energy for free.  Then close them all tightly at night, not just to keep your private life private but to insulate and reduce cold air movement.  Pull drapes all the way closed and lower insulated blinds all the way to resting on the sill.  Gaps make drafts, and speaking of which …



If you have a drafty house or apartment, you will really be feeling the effects today.  As a long range solution consider new windows and doors, or at least some heavy duty weather stripping, but for now you can go with a quicker fix, using temporary caulk or clay sealer (available at home improvement stores right next to the window plastic if you can stand to venture out for it) on your windows.  Tackle under-door air flow with handy draft guard tubes or just a rolled up towel in a pinch.

In older apartment buildings, check for cold air flow around your cable/internet wiring; it may be a hole drilled straight through to the outside of the building.  In houses, watch out for the gap under the attic door.  A quarter inch gap has the same air flow as a commercial air duct so block the fall of cold air with a draft guard or towel.


circulate warmpth

If your home has a ceiling fan you have an easy way to access all the warm air which is hanging out above your head.  In the summer, fans should rotate counterclockwise, to blow air down into the room.  In the vortex … or just winter, generally, a fan turning slowly clockwise will pull air up (no noticeable breeze), and force warm air at ceiling level down into the parts of the room, where you can actually enjoy it.  Newer fans come with remote controls to make this adjustment, while older ones often have a switch on (or inside) their motor housing.  Its worth while to take a screwdriver to the casing to see if there’s a switch inside the decorative cover.

Pro tip: swipe the dust off the fan blades before reversing!


fire up the kitchen

Before you turn to the thermostat, consider some heat-generating cooking options.  In summer we try to avoid using the stove on hot days and mentally curse our zeal for canning which raises the kitchen temperature to boiling point every August.  In winter we can use that waste heat to the advantage of the whole house.  Making tea or soup on the stove top will add needed humidity to the air and heating up the oven for a roast, loaf of bread or even a batch of cookies will warm your kitchen right up.


bundle up to stay in

You probably wouldn’t sport a wool sweater on the hottest day of the year.  Likewise, don’t plan to hang around your house in a T-shirt today.  Keep your scarf on as a fashion statement when you come in from the polar vortex cold.   Adding long underwear or tights under jeans and doubling down on socks will combat any cold seeping into your home on cold days and evenings.


snuggle down to sleep

The same holds true at night.  You, like Marilyn, may enjoy sleeping only Chanel No.5,  but days like this are the time to start adding extra layers – dig out the long underwear, or, at least, pile on the down blankets.  You can also warm up under the covers with an electric blanket, hot water bottle or microwave-heated bag of rice.

The good news, sleeping in a cold room is supposed to be helpful for sleep.

Emily just posted about the Polar Vortex and Climate Change here on Strawville two weeks ago!  Check out our thoughts on the effects of climate change and the importance of designing buildings that can handle the change (without contributing to it)!