How cold your home feels … is different for everyone. I like it toasty warm and I have to work hard to acclimate to colder winters by wearing extra layers and slowly lowering the thermostat. It's frustrating sometimes when I've got a winter sweater on while my husband is comfy in short sleeves.
Getting your home warm enough for you and the rest of your family can also be a challenge, as you're constantly juggling comfort versus cost. You have a range of temperature you can work with, generally from 50 or 55 degrees up to 70 or 72 degrees (and I do think older people need a warmer house). Get tips on figuring out how warm (cold) your home is, how to get what you want without robbing the bank … and when to be extra careful.
Do You Know How Cold Your Home is?
You're thinking this is a silly question but it's not. Everyone knows you set your thermostat to the temperature you want and the heat (or air conditioning) comes on until the thermostat reaches your desired temperature. That's absolutely correct. Now look where your thermostat is mounted and almost certainly it's on an inside wall. I'm sure it is exactly the temperature you've set for anyone standing next to the thermostat.
Unfortunately as you walk from your thermostat to an exterior wall, the air temperature is going to get colder (warmer) and it's not uncommon for the difference to be 20 degrees or more in a single room. Now imagine how cold it might be in other rooms sharing the heating zone controlled by that one thermostat. This is why you may not be truly comfortable even when the thermostat says you should be warm.
Now a story to illustrate why you need to understand what temperature your home really is. A friend went away over the holidays leaving their older son to check on their home as he lives close by. The house was set to 50 degrees to save on heating costs. Unfortunately none of us can easily tell what 50 degrees feels like, besides “colder than we expect to feel indoors.” When the furnace stopped working, the son wasn't able to tell the difference between 50 degrees and … something lower, which eventually reached freezing? Now you should understand that even if the house was just a few degrees colder, say the thermostat read 45 degrees … that where the pipes were, it was possible and they did freeze.
Keeping Conditioned (Heated or Cooled) Air Where You Want It
Maintaining a consistent temperature (warm or cool) in your home requires that your home be well sealed, and have heating/cooling capacity and distribution to adequately provide the desired temperature. What does this mean? The short definition for each of these terms follows. My home energy report (check free resources) offers 10+ pages of detailed concepts, terminology and tips to keep your home warm (cool). Here are just a few of the most important ones.
- Keep your home set at 55 degrees to reduce the chances of frozen pipes that most often are running along outside walls that are colder than your thermostat reading. When leaving home for an extended period, open cabinet doors with plumbing behind them to help warm air circulate around the pipes.
- Replace windows in the 2 or 3 rooms you use most during the day, to keep these rooms warmer (cooler) and you'll remain comfortable while spending less money to heat/cool that part of the house.
- Get a good thermometer and use it to identify cold (hot) spots in the room and correct the problem, i.e. remove window trim and add insulation between the window and rough framing; remove electric outlet covers and add foam insulation covers to the backs of the covers … and you get the idea.
Here is a great graphic that shows you the most common places where your conditioned air is leaking out of your home. This should help you find those problem spots in your kitchen, office, etc. If you want to do a more thorough assessment of your home, visit the EnergyStar web site, Assess Your Home.
- Sealing – involves closing or “sealing” the gaps in your home where air can enter from the outside.
- Heating/cooling – refers to some type of furnace (air conditioner) unit that alters the temperature of the air inside your home.
- Distribution – refers to the way in which the warmed/cooled air is circulated around your home, typically via air ducts or hot water pipes.
- Ventilation – is another key component of your heating/cooling “whole house” system. As warmed air will escape to your attic, it must be release outdoors so that the moisture it carries does not collect and cause mold to grow.