Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Thermostat Wars

When I was an undergraduate, I spent my upper class years living in an off-campus apartment with a bunch of buddies. The flat was one of three in a big, old rambling house with lots of character. We loved the fire place with the built in bookcases and the big front porch, but the draftiness made heating a challenge, as did our lack of unity on what a reasonable indoor temperature should be.

The roommates didn't argue about it. Rather, we engaged in passive agressive thermostat wars, with each roommate secretly turning the thermostat up or down as he or she saw fit. I fell solidly into the camp that was constantly turning the heat DOWN. I abhor the practice some people have of heating their homes to the point that they can be comfortable wearing shorts in the wintertime. Put on a freaking sweater, already. I am wearing two right now.

So I was thrilled to stumble upon the Freeze Your Buns Challenge over at Crunchy Chicken. Basically, the idea is that participants will pledge to lower their thermostats this winter. People aren't being asked to literally freeze, just to think about their energy consumption, and to try to reduce it. Even one degree makes a big difference, and it is great to see so many people excited to participate.

We have a rule in our house that we don't turn on the heat before November. Last year, we succumbed on November 2nd, but it was partially just to make sure the furnace in our new home actually worked. This year we lasted a little longer: it was November 6th when I arrived home from work to discover that SodaBoy had turned on the heat. The very next day, we had the first snow of the season.

Our house has a programmable thermostat, which is awesome, because we can't forget to turn the heat down at night. Last year, I set it to 62 degrees during the day, and 56 degrees at night. Technically, I am not sure I am participating in the challenge correctly, because I haven't lowered the thermostat per se. But I did go into the program and dramatically reduce the number of "day" hours. We are dropping to 56 earlier in the evening, and kicking it up to 62 later in the day.

Even wearing long underwear around the house, layering the sweaters, drinking lots of hot tea, and huddling under blankets when reading or watching tv, I am not sure we can go lower than 62 in the evenings. I am tempted to try for a lower temperature at night though. I often wake up at night too warm, so I am not worried about comfort. My concern is that the pipes could freeze.

Is there a safe method for determining how low one can safely turn the heat without bursting a pipe?


Andy said...

My heat is controlled by the bank beneath my apartment. They also pay for it, which significantly lowers my heating costs.

Woman Warrior said...

My Thermostat hangs out around 22. That's celcius. Too warm, I think, but the GS gets really cold and likes to be hot while he sleeps. I, on the other hand, like to be cold so have a tendency to give him all the blankets and turn off the heat totally during the night when he won't realize it.

Korean heating is different, and I think more efficient than American. Does that count for anything?

ScienceWoman said...

I'm impressed that you can keep your house at 62 when you are awake. We found that 65 was as low as we could go pre-baby. Now we keep it at ~68. I feel so extravagant keeping things that warm, but little bodies aren't as well insulated as ours, and they don't like to be bundled up!

Sara said...

I loved our programmable thermostat back in MO -- keep it at 58 all night, kick it up just before the alarm goes off to warm up the bathroom for showers, turn it back down just before we head out the door.

We have a hand-me-down programmable that we need to install now..

I'm like you -- I feel that if you want to be able to lounge around in shorts year-round, you need to move to a tropical climate. Central heating was not invented so people could watch TV in their underwear in January, it was invented so people's pipes don't freeze.

Speaking of which, you can get special tape to wrap pipes in that runs a low voltage current through it - just enough to keep the pipes above freezing.

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Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Frogman and I both kept our thermostats at 53 degrees day and night for a number of years and neither of our houses got frozen pipes. Mine was pretty well-insulated, his somewhat less so. It does depend partly on your insulation. Haybales around the foundation and other insulating steps do help.

Every year, I get Biker Buddy to turn the thermostat down a little more. YAY! We have a programmable thermostat too. Piano boy complains bitterly. He likes to hang about in his boxers or gym shorts. Too bad!

Aliki2006 said...

We've lowered ours, too, and I have to say I prefer a house that's a tad on the chilly side, rather than one that's overheated.
I don't know about the pipes bursting business--maybe google it?

BerryBird said...

I might be excessively paranoid about the pipes freezing due to my history of living in old drafty under-maintained apartments in the student neighborhoods. Our landlord used to send out letters in December advising people not to turn their heat below 62 so the pipes wouldn't freeze. I thought that was absurd... until ours froze solid, on numerous occassions. Luckily they never burst, but it was terribly inconvenient to have no water until things finally thawed. I can't imagine the damage if one actually did burst, though--it frightens me. We never had any problems here at our house last year with 56 degree nights. Maybe I'll try 55.

Anonymous said...

Don't push it bb.

purpleteardropsofhappilymarriedness said...

My roommate downstairs is from Africa, and I feel like he hates me and the rest of the house because we are used to cold weather - being from Northwest of the Big Apple But Defined by Its City state. He's been wearing gloves since the end of september. The heat is now on at night, but my room gets very little so the blankets at still my friend