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Home Heating - What’s your magic number?

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

This has been a cold February here in New Hampshire. Cold and snowy and Februarish and I’m not complaining in the slightest. But this month has been a test of our magic number, so I think it’s time we talk about it.

Our magic number is 63. That is, we set our downstairs thermostat to 63 degrees (we don’t use our upstairs heat). If we try to set it to our young-married-couple magic number of 60, the kids complain of “freezing” and my mom turns up the heat when she visits. If we put it higher, people in the house start neglecting the basic principles of winter in New England (i.e. one should wear layers and wool socks inside).

Globally, heat accounts for nearly half of all energy consumption and 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, so your thermostat number is not a small matter. It’s worth putting some thought into whether the extra emissions are worth you not having to put on a sweater. And, honestly, if you are setting your thermostat above 70, you can definitely go down a couple degrees without anyone noticing. If everyone in the United States set their thermostat down just a couple of degrees, the resulting greenhouse gas reductions would be huge!

My favorite mug, a soft wool blanket, and my much-loved slippers keep me plenty warm.

Do we ever get cold in our 63-degree house? Sure. But we have invested in some nice slippers, sweaters, and blankets, and we boil water for tea or hot chocolate a couple times a day. We opt for soup a lot. We practice all the winter hygge techniques I wrote about in the fall, and, honestly, 63 is really the perfect temperature for our family.

Have YOU investigated your magic number? Chances are it’s lower than you are setting your thermostat. If anyone in your house is walking around barefoot or wearing short sleeves in January, you are not at your magic number. We in the United States tend to overheat our houses, which is unhealthy and unsustainable. It’s also unfair. As a “developed nation”, it is our job to lead the way in greenhouse gas reduction.

Not ready to to go low? You don’t need to keep your thermostat low all the time. Set your timer (if you have one) to lower the temperature when you’re asleep or at work. Contrary to popular belief, this does reduce your energy use!

You can also investigate other heating techniques. Check out the following BBC chart for other options. And winterizing/weatherizing your house is a really effective way to keep the heat in and the cold out. Weatherized houses stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Oil and gas burners are the most carbon intensive forms of heating a home while thermal solar panels are the least (Credit: Leonardo Soares)

Play with your magic number this week and see what you come up with. Remember, even a few degrees makes a big impact over the course of the winter, and, chances are, no one will be able to tell the difference between 70 and 68.

Let me know how it goes!

– Hannah

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