Monday, December 03, 2007

A Thermostat Poll

Over Thanksgiving, I spent the a few days taking an informal poll of the people at home and at work, asking the question: "Where do you set your thermostat?"
The range of answers was interesting, as was the range of thought that had gone into the decision. A good many people just automatically said "68," as if there were no other alternative, much the way they said "72" when I was a kid, before the energy crisis of the 1970's. The people who heat with wood, of course, have no thermostats, or they leave the thermostat on the backup heat set really low --45 or so-- and sit closer to the stove if they are cold.

People who have electric baseboard heat know that their heat is pricey, but they make up for it by only heating the rooms that they are actually using and turning the rest off. People with fuel oil furnaces are facing a 22% jump in fuel costs this year, but most of the people I talked to have already switched to natural gas or (in the remote areas) propane. Propane has also risen in price, by 16% according to today's newspaper, but nobody mentioned this.

One woman told me that her mother complained and wouldn't stay to visit if the thermostat was below 70. Parents of young toddlers were the most likely to set the thermostat at 68 despite worrying about the cost. As the ages of the kids rose, the setting of the thermostat dropped. One smart dad said that he starts out the winter with the thermostat at 65, but dials it down one degree a week until the kids get used to wearing socks and sweatshirts and he can run closer to 60 as a daytime normal. (He still turns it up to 65 for the hours worth of "getting up and getting dressed" time in the morning.)

Among the people heating with natural gas, one guy was keeping his thermostat at a whopping 78, for economic reasons. He shares the heat bill with the larger apartment in his building and pays one third; the neighbors of the monthly bill. Nate calculates that they only way to make sure that he's not subsidizing his neighbors is to turn the heat up high enough that his neighbors subsidize him. He has to strip down to his underwear to be comfortable, but he thought that wearing a sweatshirt around the house, as I do, must be awfully constricting. They also split the electric bill in a similar way, so in the summer, Nate cranks the AC up and wears clothes.

Most people turn the heat down at night, and a few mentioned how much they liked a gadget that I had never heard of, an electric mattress pad that preheats the bed and keeps the foot of the bed warm, even if you move your feet to a different spot.

The winners of my informal poll were Shelagh and Jordan, who had still not even turned their heat on as of Thanksgiving. Living on the south side of the apartment building and with their neighbors all turning the heat up, they found that the place stayed reasonably warm without it. "Around bedtime the temperature goes down to 60," said Jordan, "but we just go to bed."
Liz, the environmental science major, lives in an old dormitory with steam radiator heat. Although she turned her radiator completely off, she was still opening her window to cool the place as the radiator in the hall, with no shutoff valve, cranked out heat like nobody's business. I sent this article about radiator maintenance. It turns out you're supposed to bleed the radiators and level them, to keep the steam flowing more evenly, otherwise some rooms heat hotter than others, and the super ends up cranking up the heat to suit the coolest areas, while the people in the hottest areas open windows. Based on my own poll, I'm thinking that the problem is not the temperature, but how people think about the temperature.
These past few days it has gotten cold and windy. Hearing the furnace turn on every half hour sounds like wasting money to me, but such is winter.

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