Old School to Nerd School: Two Breeds of D.I.Y. Home Heating

01_15_featureType 1: Old school

The average old-timer here isn’t especially known for having much education, but necessity is the mother of invention, and the following contraptions are still used by some for keeping warm, and by others for nostalgia.

0115_featureThe hot wife

Take a guess at what this pumpkin-shaped, bronze thing is. It’s a Chinese percussion instrument? Nope. This traditional Chinese foot warmer has been used since the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) and by the elderly to this day. Figuring out how to use it is child’s play, but its name lends itself to humor of the adult variety. In Chinese it is called tang pozi, in which tang means hot water, and pozi refers to a young women who has come of age. Imagine for yourself the comedy gold. A poem from the time entitled with its name ends basically saying, “It’s a pity that the tang pozi has no sentiment and will leave me when the spring comes.”

01_15_feature_bloody hotIt’s bloody hot

Yes. You are right. That’s a bottle used for blood transfusion and I.V. medicine drips in the hospital. I definitely don’t suggest keeping warm by going to the hospital since all I can feel about the hospital is cold. Back in the 1980’s, the poor yet clever Chinese made them into water bottle warmers. Just like the tang pozi, once you fill the water bottle with hot water and wrap it in cloth, you could easily stay away from the cold. For many born in that decade, water bottle warmers are precious childhood memories just like those days when you get Christmas presents as a little child. “My mom would always ask for a water bottle at the clinic and make it a good warmer for me,” said Weibo user Xiaoli.

01_15_feature_One size fits allOne size fits all

Back in the day, folks didn’t have time, or heat for that matter, to waste. The elderly Chinese that still use this bamboo frame to keep snug, known in China as the Hong Long, probably have more creative uses for the chimneyed heat of the small coal burners inside, but the stories we found include hand warmer, clothes drier, incense burner and sweet potato cooker. The only thing it isn’t, is what it looks most similarly to, a birdcage. It was common in times past for coal merchants to stop door to door selling coal for families to add them to the drying frames.

Eat well

01_15_feature_Eat wellWe always say that a chubby guy has less trouble fighting the cold because he has much fat to burn, producing lots of warmth for him. So let a hearty meal get your body heat going! But it would get your weight going as well. According to many experts, mutton, beef, shrimp and sea cucumbers are very useful in protecting you from the cold since they’re rich in protein. And foods rich in iodine, such as seaweed and kelp, are also helpful.

Type 2: Nerd up

Unlike the country that is skilled at copying, the university students of the country are quite inventive when it comes to keeping warm.

01_15_feature_iron manIron Man

Sometimes creative heating takes only a simple look around at what is supplied by household items. For Ye Wenjie, an engineering student at the Dongguan University of Technology, a steam iron becomes his magical tool for keeping warm. Purchased to steam the wrinkles from his clothes, like the discovery of penicillin, Ye found his room was warmer after leaving the machine on for a stretch. “It’s so warm as the steam goes all over the room,” he said. It has a double effect as well; wetter air holds heat longer than drier air.


01_15_feature_Magic pot warmerMagic pot warmer

This one has been pretty trendy for the last two winters, but the experiment has been proven to work in peer review by a student in South China. In the adaptations made in China, a terra cotta planter is often substituted by a porcelain version which is reported in at least one attempt as bringing the room from 13.5° up to 26° Celsius. Wondering how to make it happen? Light votive candles enshrined by three bricks, or rocks, and overturn the flowerpot on top, then, the magic warmer is born.

01_15_feature_Washroom fireWashroom fire

Discovered floating through the pages of China’s falling-in-popularity Twitter-style forum, Weibo, at least one college student decided to take sitting on the hot seat literally. I’m not sure if I blame him, squat toilets do kind of look like a fireplace and most of them, especially in college dorms, could likely benefit from a little bacteria burning heat. I asked our local engineering student, Ye Wenjie, if he’d heard of it. He said, “this sounds a little bit crazy. Sounds easy, but I could only imagine the washroom wouldn’t bring me warmth but goosebumps.” Although, how big could the flame get anyway? Just flush it down like the night after a spicy Sichuan dinner.



01_15_feature_Microwave random thingsMicrowave random things

To keep it simple we suggest a bag of rice or dried beans. Rub it around on your bed before slipping in and keep the bag near your feet or under your neck or back for a comfortable sleep. But make sure the bag is tight and firm, or you’ll wake up to find yourself sleeping in an ocean of rice or beans. Or take the advice of Martha Stewart, and other household gurus, to insert them, along with essential oils for a soothing scent, into a sock, tie it up and, viola, a homemade heating pad.


01_15_feature_In hot water

In hot water

Humid air helps you feel warmer. It’s good supplementary equipment for an electric heater. The heater would increase the temperature, but make the air muggy and people sleepy. A humidifier increases the humidity. Turn on the electric heater as well as a humidifier, you would feel warm and comfortable with the wet heat. If you can afford a humidifier, get one. But there is a smart way to “make ” a homemade humidifier. Depending on your household you might want to leave the bathroom door open when showering. It’s a cheap humidifier. Or make a cup of hot tea and leave the kettle running. But only use the boiling method if the room is very dry, otherwise it will just condense and run down the walls.



I’m sure that as smart as you are, you will be an inventor of thousands of other home-made warmers, no matter if you’re from the old school, the nerd school or simply the buying school. But always remember to keep safe as you keep warm with your home-made machines.