October 17, 2005

"It's going to be tough, because I'm used to keeping it at 78."

Suffering with the thermostat at 65. Staying warm in the winter is imperative, and facing increased heating bills is hard, but why are people drastically overheating their houses in the first place? Would the prices be going up the way they are if we weren't overconsuming? I'll bet when the temperature outside is 78, this woman turns on the air conditioning! Now, she's piling on sweaters and extra blankets to deal with an indoor temperature of 65. You should have turned the thermostat down to 65 long before the prices went up. You would be healthier and sturdier now if you hadn't been slow-roasting yourself all these years. You'd be even better off at 62 degrees, especially while sleeping. Putting the thermostat above 70 is like driving a big gas guzzler car, except that other people don't see your overconsumption -- unless you take up whining to the press about how much you miss creating T-shirt weather indoors year round.

52 comments:

Ross said...

On a recent visit in the Loire Valley to what was called a "village troglodytique" -- farmers who dug caves for homes, the wife and I learned that the caves were really quite warm and dry in the winter, and the community room, when full, would be a toasty 12 degrees. Errr ... isn't that 55 degrees in our country?

And they wonder why you can't keep kids on the farm ...

Ross said...

Ah, and coincidentally the Times informs me that 55 is the bare minimum temperature for an apartment house in the winter. I guess those caves would have passed muster in Manhattan.

XWL said...

No offense, but I've never seen the wisdom living where lack of heating could kill for months at a time. But people really might want to have some perspective and realize wearing sweaters indoors shouldn't be considered too big of a problem.

I recall at UCR they had specific guidelines as to how cool and how hot each occupied classroom could be (no lower than 65 no hotter than 78, IIRC) and given the desert location both extremes were tested frequently, I assume similar rules apply at UW at Madison (will the increase in energy costs lead to the bending of the rules to say a brisk 60 degree minimum?)

Jonathan said...

Chacun a son temp.

Dave said...

I hate overheated buildings.

An interesting thing about New York City: many old apartment buildings' radiators are controlled via the heater in the basement. Thus, all apartments are (over)heated to the same degree.

Result? Many people keep their windows wide open to vent some of the heat.

One of the main selling point of new, so-called "luxury" condo development in NYC is that radiators are controlled by the occupant of the apartment, not the superintendent in the basement. That these new buildins are also well insulated adds to dramatically lower heating bills.

Charlie Eklund said...

Plus la change, apparently. Here in Texas, walking into a movie theater during the summertime can cause injury or death as you move from 105 blazing degrees in the parking lot to 62 bone-chilling degrees in the theater lobby. During winter, indoor temps in Texas' public buildings are normally pretty comfortable although if the outdoor temperature rises above 60 you can bet money that air conditioners across the state are going to be turned on.

Mom Underground said...

Did you notice, Ann, that most of the people quoted in that story are elderly?

It's kind of their job to keep the temp hot and stuffy, drive big cars and then complain about the cost of everything.

I can't wait to grow old.

Steven Taylor said...

While I am fond of a/c, I dislike heat unless it is truly cold outside--like in the low 30s. I'd rather put on sweats and get a hot cup of coffee than turn the blinkin' heat on.

Now, I do like a nice fire in the fireplace.

DaveG said...

I always tell people that my wife keeps the thermostat solidly set on 600 bucks a month. Hot in the winter, cold in the summer. It's a year-round spendfest.

kimsch said...

It's amazing to me that people keep the a/c in the summertime on temperatures that they wouldn't accept in the wintertime. In the summer they keep the a/c on at 60-65 and in the winter the heat must be at 70-75. For myself and I my family, we have the a/c on at 76 and the heat is at 67 (65 overnight).

I've always felt it was kind of dumb to wear a sweater indoors in the summer. My favorite is when I can turn off both the heat and the a/c and just open the windows...

Ann Althouse said...

Kimsch: It seems people are just out of touch with nature. They don't even keep track of what the temperature is outside. They'll leave the AC on because it WAS hot before, but don't notice when it's cooled off. I'm always checking and ready to turn it off an open the windows. I dislike the noise and the artificiality. I prefer real air, especially when I'm sleeping. I feel the same way about the heat. I turn it very low at night because I don't want to hear the blowing and feel the processed air. Actually, I'm as cranky and fussy about this as the lady in the article is about her 78 degrees. But at least I'm saving energy with my crankiness.

michael a litscher said...

I know someone who sets the thermostat to 65 in the summer, and 75 in the winter. It's a shock to the system every time I walk in the door.

Myself, I only turn on the air conditioning when it's really uncomfortable, which usually starts when indoor conditions are 80 degrees and 70 percent humidity. That's when I turn on the air conditioning, but I can almost always get away with setting the thermostat only two or three degrees below that. While the air conditioning system is trying to make that three degree adjustment, it's also pulling lots of moisture out of the air, which makes all the difference.

In the winter, 65 is just too cold for me. I'm much more comfortable at 67, as long as the humidifier is doing it's job.

Yes folks, it's not necessarily the heat, it's the humidity, on both ends of the temperature scale.

gs said...

It's sad that those old people can't afford to keep themselves comfortable.

If NY state reimburses utilities for low-income customers' unpaid bills, funding the reimbursements by cutting energy research and development does not sound like a good idea.

Ann Althouse said...

Michael: Try gradually lowering the temperature. I keep my thermostat at 62 or even 60 in midwinter, but early in the season I might put it as high as 68, at least during waking hours. The key is to acclimate yourself. It's good for you!

Henry said...

There was a long comment discussion on the centerfield blog a few months ago in which a number of posters kept arguing, with authority, that energy costs were inelastic.

Arguing differently, it's nice to see the evidence start to trickle in.

Ann Althouse said...

GS: You mean it's sad that an old person has to wear a sweater in the winter? And maybe the rise in gas prices will mean that old people will need to replace their SUVs with fuel efficient cars. Horrors!

Freeman Hunt said...

78?! I would feel nauseous indoors at 78.

michael a litscher said...

Ann Althouse: It's good for you!

You've suggested twice that lower temperatures are healthier for you. I'm curious as to why you think 60-62 is healthier than 65-67. I've not seen any studies done on this, and if you have, I'd like to read them.

Ann Althouse said...

Michael: I think it makes you hardier and that it is also good for your respiratory tract. The latter point I base on personal experience: I've had one cold in the last 10 years. Not a scientific study, but try it yourself. Put the thermostat very low, especially at night, and see if you don't feel a lot better .

Ann Althouse said...

Michael: I think it makes you hardier and that it is also good for your respiratory tract. The latter point I base on personal experience: I've had one cold in the last 10 years. Not a scientific study, but try it yourself. Put the thermostat very low, especially at night, and see if you don't feel a lot better .

michael a litscher said...

Henry Woodbury: There was a long comment discussion on the centerfield blog a few months ago in which a number of posters kept arguing, with authority, that energy costs were inelastic.

I absolutely REFUSE to pay $3 or more for gasoline, at least as long as I have a working pair of legs and a bicycle.

gs said...

Ann: I meant that it saddens me when people, as they approach the end of their life, can no longer afford simple things which make them comfortable.

Eddie said...

Ann, I own stock in Chesapeake energy, symbol CHK, and would greatly appreciate it if everyone on this blog would please continue to over indulge.

However, I am with you, haven't turned on the heat yet and don't plan to until it becomes absolutely necessary, and unbearable.

Ann Althouse said...

GS: I don't see why overconsumption by older people should be considered special. I would expect older people to have attained some wisdom and perspective about waste and limits. They are not children.

kimsch said...

Ann, you're a woman after my own heart!

It does save both energy and money to keep the temperatures of the a/c higher and the heat lower. I'm a couple hour's drive southeast of you so we're in the same climate zone. I have a blanket on the couch for tv watching and wear a sweater. We recently had an offer from an affiliate of the gas company to spread all our payments out over a year and "save money". Turns out they were going to charge us 132% more than we paid all of last year. My costs were lower last year because I held the temperatures down in the winter. Even though the gas prices are supposed to rise this year, I don't think they'll be rising 132%! I can lower the temp another degree or two and still save.

Robert said...

Now that I'm older I've become totally skeptical of people who tell me situations that they would like to see prevail are "good for me" without anything but anecdotal proof. What if it turned out that it was healthier to keep one's tootsies from freezing in the winter? Would the same people be in favor of keeping the thermostat at 55 in order to get rid of all the inconveniently healthy oldsters?

Ann Althouse said...

Robert: You've heard of socks? Slippers? Comfortors and blankets? You don't need to burn fuel and warm all the air in the house to warm your toes. That's incredibly wasteful. And I bet you get more colds than I do.

Diane said...

Watching my parents grow increasingly frail the past couple of years I have learned that older people often do not have a strong enough circulatory system to keep warm and feel the cold more. So they turn up the thermostat. I would be miserably hot when visiting while they added a blanket.

Our daughter's cross country coach told us one season that the body can acclimate to heat but not to cold.

Meade said...

A favorite exercise physiology instructor of mine was fond of exhorting, "We are each an experiment of one - discover your own optimum." What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. Not every body has the same capacity for homeostasis.

Anecdotally, I agree with AA to a large... degree. My family and I feel more rested after sleeping in cooler more humid air. Taken to an extreme, that would mean sleeping in a cold rain. No.

There are many peer-reviewed studies that suggest improved health results come from challenging physiological systems and allowing them to adapt - respiratory and circulatory, digestive, musculoskeletal, nervous, and even immune systems - all lose vitality and balance if not put to work and then allowed to rest.

As with most things, moderation is key.

Ann Althouse said...

Diane: I'm willing to believe there are some very elderly people who need extra heat. But the people quoted in the NYT were not in this category. And 78 is way hotter than anyone needs (unless something is terribly wrong with them, like that old guy in the greenhouse in "The Big Sleep").

Meade said...

Diane: Healthy human bodies adapt to both heat and cold but there are limits at either end.

gs said...

Ann wrote:

"I don't see why overconsumption by older people should be considered special. 'Overconsumption' is your choice of wording. One might say 'undersupply' instead.' I would expect older people to have attained some wisdom and perspective about waste and limits. Maybe, maybe not. There's a saying that the misfortune of aging is not growing old, but staying young. They are not children. Neither are they in their resilient prime."

reader_iam said...

I certainly agree with the basic philosophy you're espousing, Ann. And living in an large, old (by midwestern, if not eastern, standards) house, circa 1855, replete with many, many large, non-standard size windows and heated by a 1915 boiler, we implement it, too. Our heat doesn't go on until Halloween week, at a minimum, and every year (except for the one in which my son was an infant) we run a "contest" to see how long we can wait to flip the switch. The thermostat is set all winter so that the heat only kicks on if the temperature drops below 58 degrees; we have throws everywhere; and we dress in layers. Out East, we conserved based on philosphy and stewardship; now we do it based on economics (who would want an energy bill the size of which otherwise would be exceeded only by the mortgage, after all?).

All that said, I feel that the criticism of old people is perhaps a little unfair, given that I'm thinking there are some factors not being considered.

First, I think there's a bigger difference in the older body's ability to regulate temperature, among other things, than is being given credence here. This is also exacerbated by a different level of activity, which is perhaps not being enough taken into account.

But the major thing I want to point out is that it's not just about feeling warm--it's also about joints , mobility, and other related issues. It is one thing for me to bundle up and still be able to move around effectively (if not as freely). It's another for someone who is elderly. If you suffer from significant issues of arthritis etc., your mobility is very much affected by temperature. If you "bundle up," you may address that issue (although not for hands, a not-insignificant point), but you may also be significantly restricting mobility and comfort in other ways.

Ever been skiing? Or outside when you've worn layers plus a snowsuit? For the average person, free movement is significantly less under those circumstances. It might be fine for recreation, but not for working around the house. (Personally, even in just a North Face parka, I hate driving because I don't like the feel of restricted motion.)

I have an elderly friend, who used to ski a lot 20 years ago, tell me that multiple layers of clothing in winter gave her the same feeling--except that far from being voluntary and time-limited, she felt like that all winter, especially when trying to do basic things, like cooking, cleaning, climbing stairs and so on.

I'm just suggesting that THIS issue may help account for the difference between needing, say, 70-72 degrees and 78 degrees--or, "T-shirt weather." It's easier to move around in a t-shirt--or fewer layers--after all.

Kathy Herrmann said...

My late father strove to keep the thermostat at 80+, winter and summer. Even in the Charlotte summer which climbed well into the 80s anyway, my dad wore a sweater. The man must have had about zero body fat.

We had a...hmmm...raging battle of the thermostat. He'd swing by and whip it up ('course he couldn't see toward the end so the thermostat sometimes hit the 90 mark) then my mom would wait until he wandered out of the room and hike it back down.

Oh for a digital thermostat.

For myself, I set heat in winter at a level where my nose doesn't run and my well-slippered toes aren't cold. In the summer, that means a setting that doesn't require a sweater. That tends towards about 68 -ish in winter. In the summer, I usually wait until it's above 80 before cranking on the a/c which is then set to about 76 (unless my sister the heat weenie from WY is visiting then it's down at about 70.

I admit it. I'm a bit of a cold-weather weenie but bet I could handle more heat than Ann!

Bruce Hayden said...

I, and I think my family, am a warm weather weanie. 60 or so in the winter is fine, but 80 in the summer is hard to sleep in.

My father in his eighties does just fine in the mountains in the winter. But, then again, he just got a new pair of skiis, and thus is committed to ski at least one more season.

Jacques Cuze said...

Sorry to hear about how this will be inconvenient for you. Real shame that after 9/11, when everything changed, Oilmen Cheney and Bush and Rice didn't set the country off in a new direction.

What does it take to get through the head of a conservative blogging law prof?

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: Did you READ the post? Do you understand quotation marks?

Kathy: I almost never put on the air conditioner. Usually, it has to get into the high 80s before I even consider it. And only half of my house even has air conditioning! I live in a house assessed at over half a million dollars but it does not have central air.

ShadyCharacter said...

It's pretty clear quxxo is at least borderline mentally disturbed. Ann writes "tomato", quoxxo responds "BUSHITLER!"...

lindsey said...

Am I the only person who just sets it at 70 degrees year round?

Ann Althouse said...

I've got the problem in my office that the AC will come on if I try to set it low so the heat won't come on. Setting it at 68 today to keep out the heat caused the damned AC to come on. I stood on a chair to reach the switch to turn off the AC, even though I know from experience that if I leave the AC off too long, eventually it will drip rusty water on everything. Ideally, you should be able to set a middle range where you reject the unnatural effects and you can measure your virtue by the number of degrees separating your heat on and air on numbers. For example, a 30 degree range would be impressive. A 10 degree range should be considered the minimum acceptable. I have about a 20 degree range. How about you?

chuck b. said...

I'm with you Ann. Turning the heat on is a last resort during the winters (which aren't too bad where I am...40s at the very coldest).

We don't have AC in the house, but I don't even like it on in the car. I've been driving again after many years of not driving and I've noticed on warm/hot days, I'm frequently the only person on the road w/ the windows rolled down.
Seems like one of life's basic pleasures to me! I'm nonplused that others don't enjoy it too. It seems like people either have the top down, or they're all closed up w/ the AC on. Yuck!

I like the windows down so much that sometimes on cold days, I'll roll 'em down and turn the heat on low.

chuck b. said...

I have a wide range...I'm happy in normal clothes into the low 60s... colder than that and I put on socks and a sweater. If that doesn't work, the heat goes on.

I like the windows open whenever possible. So they're usually open at 70 on up. That's like April to late October here (San Francisco).

It never gets much over 100 where and only over 90 a few weeks total. I don't mind those temps at all. I just drink more.

I went to grad school in Atlanta where I lived in a slum apartment. I left the AC on (a swamp cooler) at home 24/7 and never went more than a few feet away from it for any longer than absolutely necessary.

AnnsFuseBox said...

There may be a much more simple thing to do, though we're now past the season to do it in.

Apparently a gas furnace's pilot light is responsible for a considerable portion of your gas bill (like 25%). This means that if you leave your pilot light burning all summer, you are wasting a lot of gas--and paying for it too.

Keep that in mind next spring.

chuck b. said...

I don't think my furnace has a pilot light. I know it does have a motherboard tho... a contractor crossed a wire and surged the house and blew the furnace's motherboard. $400.

I wondered, "Maybe it has a webpage too. Does it blog?"

oregano said...

A friend is a missionary in Brazil. They don't have central heat. Rather, they drink hot tea to stay warm in the cold months.

He is here on furlough and was walking around a cold house (55-degrees) in shorts and a tank.

lindsey said...

What if it blogs about you?

reader_iam said...

Chuck and Lindsey: LOL. But ... ya know ... ya gotta wonder ... maybe someday ...

Oregano: I've had that exact same experience with friends experienced in other climes--and not always just from other countries.

OddD said...

Hmmm. I spend a lot of time in So Cal, in a house without heating or A/C. In the summer, I open the windows. In the winter, I close them. (Though only for a few weeks out of the year do they need to be closed all day.)

As for cold, a friend of mine who visits the IAHP in Philadelphia (www.iahp.org) says they keep their lecture hall around 68 degrees all year 'round, because the brain functions better when cold. Or maybe it was NASA that came up with that, I forget. It has to do with how much other systems require attention or something.

(Sorry, not well read on this. But it does present an intriguing alt.explanation for what happens to the great authors who come to Hollywood to write.:-))

reader_iam said...

Range:

Heat (central): 58 degrees.

Cooling: Harder about which to be specific and concise, since there is no central air in this old, approx. 3,000+-sq-foot home (or more, depending on how you count hallways, nooks, etc. etc. etc.--you in old homes know of what I speak, since mostly they "don't count" in terms of realtors, but do in terms of maintenance, heat, and taxes).

After five years of no air, we started to put in window units. Six years later, we have two downstairs and three upstairs.

Downstairs: One is at 68--because it's the largest and does the most work; if the room in which it is in is not "too cool," the rest of its area is way too hot. The other is at 74 (would be set higher, but its area includes the kitchen, already warmer because of the amount of "scratch" cooking and baking that goes on year 'round).

Upstairs: One is on during the summer only on a very part-time basis (meaning, not daily) and is set at 78 degrees. A second is on continuously during the hot months and is set on 75 during the hottest few hours of the middle of the day and 85 degrees the rest of the time. The third is also on continuously during the hotter months, and it is set at a steady 72 degrees.

Since you asked, Ann ...

kimsch said...

annsfusebox - won't work if your hot water and cooking are also gas...

The Private intellectual. said...

I find it fascinating to see how the acceptable indoor temperature has changed over the years. It's now accepted to be 21 degrees here; fifty years ago it was a mere 18 degrees. One hundred years ago it was warm around the hearth, and cold elsewhere.

The average temperature in my house, in rooms that I use, is 18 degrees. In rooms that I do not use the heaters are set to frost protection; they only come on when the temperature hits zero.

I have the advantage of owning a pullover which I have already paid for; why shouldn't I use something that is already paid for and ideal for the job of keeping me warm rather than paying even more money out and keeping the pullover in the closet?

Pi.

Sean E said...

We tend towards 65/60 day/night temps in the winter. Having said that though, if someone is comfortable at 78 and is paying their own gas bills, no skin off my nose. If someone who never turned the heat up past 50 lectured me on how wasteful I was and could put on a jacket and hat if I was cold, I would not be particularly impressed.

Re: pilot lights, I don't think the newer, higher-efficiency furnaces have pilot lights. We do turn off the pilot light on our gas fireplace every summer though. (Can I admit to having that? Can't get much more wasteful than burning natural gas just because it looks pretty.)