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RISMEDIA, Feb. 12, 2008-We’ve still got plenty of chill weather ahead, and if you think your only options are to crank up the heat or shiver between the covers, think some more. Turn down the heat, save on that utility bill, and outfit your bed to keep you warm and toasty for the rest of the winter.

Here are the basics on how to turn up the heat in bed. Our sources are Anita Iodice, president of the Company Store, an East Coast-based company that’s been making down comforters and other home products for 119 years; and Stacie Pacheco, director of marketing for Sunbeam’s bedding division.

Comforters:

A comforter, whether it’s made of down or synthetic fluff, is a great way to add warmth without the weight.

How they work: The down or synthetic fibers in a comforter trap air between the comforter and the bed, which is warmed by your own body heat.

Demystifying the numbers:
Thread count: The covers on comforters are graded by thread count. If a comforter has a thread count of 250, that means there are 250 threads per square inch. Higher thread counts usually translate to warmer comforters, because the finer cloth allows the down or fill inside to fluff more and thereby trap the air better.

Fill power: A good, lightweight comforter may have a fill power of 500, while a heavier comforter may have a fill power of 800-900. Fill power refers to loft. The number is determined by taking 1 ounce of down, compacting it, and then allowing it to expand-or loft-to its fullest. The down is then measured to see how much cubic space it fills.

The higher the loft, the greater the fill power, and the warmer the comforter will be.

What you can expect to pay: Prices range from $100 to $1,000, depending on the materials used (synthetic fill vs. duck or goose down), the thread count and fill power.

Things to watch out for: Although that winter white sale on a down comforter may look appealing, be careful. Cheaper down comforters are often made by using short cuts, usually in how the feathers are processed. The down in quality comforters may be cleaned a dozen times to remove dust and dander. If you have no allergy to chicken, turkey or duck but your comforter makes you sneeze, you may be reacting to the dust, not the down.

Before buying, consider how you sleep. If you like to keep the room warm with a heater, you may prefer a lighter-weight comforter. If you turn the heat down and sleep in a cool room, you may need one medium-weight or heavier.

Basic care: Most comforters can be laundered, but you may need to visit a laundry or take it to a dry cleaner if you own a queen, king or California king size. Washing a comforter in too small a washer may damage the feathers inside and reduce their lofting abilities.

Manufacturers also recommend a cover for the comforter to protect it from spills and day-to-day wear. The cover can then be stripped off and laundered often.

Flannel:

There are two distinct camps when it comes to flannel sheets. Half of the people love them, half despise them.

How they work: Flannel is made from a woven cotton fabric that has been napped on both sides, making them fluffier and warmer. In some ways, flannel acts like down, trapping warm air against the body. The fluffiness of the sheets also feel softer and warmer than smooth fabric.

Demystifying the numbers: No need to worry about thread counts when it comes to flannel sheets. They are sold by weight, based on ounces per square yard. A standard weight is 5 to 6 ounces.

What you can expect to pay: Prices can range from $10 to $40.

Things to watch out for: Flannel should feel soft and cozy like a comfortable blanket. If your sheets are stiff, they probably were not heavily napped, or the dye may be weighing them down. Check that they are color-safe.

Basic care: Flannel is one of the few fabrics that gets better with washing, although they have a limit. Washing can make them fluffier, but at some point, you start to lose the nap. If your sheets are starting to pill (develop fuzz balls), you may want to replace them.

Electric Blankets:
How they work: The first electric blanket came out in 1912, and while there have been many upgrades, improvements and enhanced safety measures, the basic premise remains. Heat is radiated through the blanket by a network of wires within the blanket.

Demystifying the numbers: There is little mystery when it comes to electric blankets. Larger blankets are sold with two controls, so that two people can share the blanket and select their own heat settings. Heat settings range from three (low, medium and high) to 10.

Higher-end blankets have sensors that can tell whether the room has gotten colder or if you’ve kicked off the covers, raising or lowering the heat as needed. Some also have an automatic preheat feature that kicks on before your scheduled bedtime and lets you slip into a toasty bed.

If you used an electric blanket years ago and remember the odd texture fabric that was prone to pilling, you’re in for a surprise. Quality blankets now have a regular blanket feel to them.

What you can expect to pay: Prices range from $30 to $100.

Things to watch out for: Electric blankets are much safer these days, but caution must still be exercised. They aren’t recommended for people who have sensory deficits and wouldn’t be able to tell if the blanket was getting too warm. But worries about water spills on blankets or other mishaps have been reduced. Older blankets, however, should be replaced with newer ones, partly because of improved technology and partly because wiring in blankets can become frayed and might spark a fire.

Basic care: Follow package directions and take care not to damage the interior wiring or plug connections. Blankets can be laundered without problem.

© 2008, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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