Ironic that we’re having a little heat wave at the same time.
A question I’ve asked before: what exactly is the goal of the cold house? Is it to spend less/use fewer resources, or to live in a house that’s cold the way houses used to be?
Put another way, what would strike you as a fair thing to do? Would you be ok with burning a bunch of wood from a hurricane-killed tree to keep your house at 70°? Or living in a super-insulated version of your house where it was easy (resource-wise) to keep the temps around 70° even in winter?
Oh, there are so many ways I could answer (or retort) this. I mean, first of all, there might not be any goal. Does anyone ask the guy who heats his house uniformly to 72 all winter, burning a thousand gallons of oil in the process, what the goal of his behavior is? If not, why not? Is it because, in spite of the utter nonsustainability of the behavior, it is considered “normal”? If everyone else was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, and I wasn’t, would I be called upon to explain the “goals” of my behavior?
Okay, I am being a bit cranky. I will try to legitimately answer the question. Reason #1: To see if it can be done. In the words of George Mallory, “Because it’s there”. To see if there is a Good Reason not to live this way, or what. Admittedly, these questions have been answered, and admittedly, I’m a bit ready to move on to the next big thing. But, there are other reasons. Reason #2: It has been fun, and, believe it or not, actually increases some of the enjoyment and aesthetic appeal of winter. Reason #3: It has saved a lot of money. Compared to how I previously lived, I guesstimate that I’ve saved at least $2,500, maybe much more, over the last three winters. Other people could do the same. In this recession I bet there are people who have filed for bankruptcy while sitting in a house heated to 72. Nutty. Reason #4: I think it would help save the earth without really trying. Really, this is the biggest reason.
To answer your other questions: if the hurricane-felled wood was in danger of rotting, I guess I’d burn it faster. Otherwise, no– the less burned the better– doesn’t matter if it’s wood or oil. Yes, obviously, a better-insulated house is preferable to less-insulated one. But you see what happens: people insulate a house better, and then the tendency is to say, “Now I have an insulated house, so I can turn up the heat in here.” So the benefit is offset by a new behavior set-point. Would you be shocked if I told you that the average homebuilt 40 years ago was much less well insulated than the average house built recently, yet perhaps used no more heating oil? I think this is likely. How can it be? Because the average home size has doubled in that time. In other words, better insulation could have allowed us, as a society, to build same-size houses and use much less oil, but what we actually chose to do is build much larger houses. Somewhat similar to the way hybrid car engines have, mostly, just allowed us to have heavier, safer, and perhaps faster cars with the same gas milage (a 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, for example, gets about the same MPG as a 1982 Honda Civic… but weighs almost twice as much, and has almost twice the horsepower. Progress on safety and comfort? Probably. Actual progress on petroleum consumption? Not much. This is human nature…)
As to your question though: why heat the house to 72°? How about because that’s a nice temperature to be at, not too hot, not too cold and I wouldn’t have to wear bulky sweaters or anything else. Isn’t that obvious? Who would rather be at 50° than 70° while sitting at the dinner table or lounging in the living room? Why would I rather be uncomfortable when I don’t have to be?
To be honest I think this is more complicated than you make out. There are all sorts of trade-offs involved that are not necessarily obvious or easy to weigh. For example, the amount of money you cite is trivial for a lot of people: maybe $1,000 a year? That’s $200 a month in the winter, and you live in a cold place. For most people, it might be less than that, and, they would say, totally worth it. (And I highly doubt that would push anyone into bankruptcy.)
And the insulated house question leads to an easily imaginable hypothetical: you live in a house the same size as your current one, that allows you to use the same amount of fuel as you do now, but maintain the temperature at 70°. Do you? Or do you let it get cold too? What if it needed half the fuel? Is there some point at which you say, “I’m using a small enough amount of fuel, so I’m not going to feel bad about having my house be at 70°.” I suspect that many people would say that such a point exists, and that they live there now. Would you say it exists? And this gets to my question about the point of the project…to which I think you gave a good answer.
And I do think you need to, because to my mind the person who wants to be comfortable at 72° has to explain why burning so much fuel is worth the environment he is creating, and your alternative isn’t really very appealing on its face, but I think it is part of a strategy for sustainable living with a lighter impact on the world.
(Not that it should matter, but I haven’t had the thermostat above 68° in any house I’ve lived in for decades, and last winter we kept it at a max of 60° most of the time, inspired by you.)
“Is there some point at which you say, “I’m using a small enough amount of fuel, so I’m not going to feel bad about having my house be at 70°?”
Yes, there is– it’s the point somewhere around late May when we throw open the doors and windows and the house settles down at 70° on its own : ) Truly, I don’t like 70 in the winter, at least not pervasively throughout the whole house, all day. Sure, I spend some time right next to the wood stove, where it might be 80 or 90 or 100… but that’s part of the beautiful contrast of the season. (Similarly, in the summer, even if I had air conditioning, I would strive to keep it 70 inside… doesn’t 74, 76, even 80 or more sometimes, feel good and right in the summer? Does to me, anyway.)
I’m a little surprised that you didn’t address this:
“For example, the amount of money you cite is trivial for a lot of people: maybe $1,000 a year? That’s $200 a month in the winter, and you live in a cold place. For most people, it might be less than that, and, they would say, totally worth it. (And I highly doubt that would push anyone into bankruptcy.)”
Based loosely on facts and figures recently published by MPBN, census.gov, the Kennebec Journal, and others —
– Oil prices started higher this year than they peaked at last year
– The Low Income Energy Assistance Program budget, which covered nearly $60 million in heating costs for 70,000 Mainers (80% of which use oil), may be slashed in half
– The average Maine home will spend $3000 to heat their home this year
– According to the most recent statistics I could find, the median family income in Maine is $45k
– Unemployment is sky-high, oil prices are rising, and Maine has the old, if not the oldest (and consequently, the inefficient) housing stock in the country
“For most people” is shortsighted, and “trivial” is outright insulting. Maine is a poor state with high heating costs. A thousand dollars a year is a LOT of money to a LOT of people here.
I can’t speak for cold house, but the thought of having my house at 70F in the winter just makes me shudder. On the other hand, cold house is too cold for my taste. I *like* my house at around 64 or so (colder in the sleeping rooms). Year round, though I don’t AC my house….
I’m a woman, which is relevant, as I believe our internal temps are a bit different than men’s, so we (generally, of course) get cold a bit easier, and tolerate the heat a bit better.
That said, environmental and monetary issues aside, from a pure comfort standpoint, I would NOT even want my place at 72 (or 70) during the winter. It’s just too warm. It’s been about 65-67ish during the day now, and I’d not want it to be any warmer.
I agree with the Cold House’s point about feeling the contrast between the seasons. 72 feels too warm during the winter, but too cold during the summer. Interesting (to me at least). Perhaps our bodies somewhat adjust to the outside temps??
I used 72° as a “too high” temperature. I thought that was obvious. 70 though? I suspect few Americans would complain that that’s too warm for winter, esp when you can count on houses having cold spots.
As for costs, my point was that most people don’t live in Maine or climates that cold, and therefore most of the country doesn’t face an decrease of $1000 a winter from lowering their heating levels to cold-house standards. Check out the population distribution in the US, if you don’t believe me. Given that, why should they even think about it (they would say). Clearly most of them don’t, or else the idea of someone keeping their house cold wouldn’t be a novelty.
I’d suggest a little googling to see what temps people actually use, if you think that anyone reading this blog is typical. 🙂
(And, once more, because I suspect a lot of the reaction is ad-hominem, I have never kept my thermostat over 68° for heating, and have yet to turn on the heat in northern NJ.)
I entirely agree that 70 is completely reasonable. I’m happiest at around that temperature, don’t like it higher, especially in winter.
But you seem to have changed your argument from post to post. Your original comment said, “For example, the amount of money you cite is trivial for a lot of people: maybe $1,000 a year? That’s $200 a month in the winter, and you live in a cold place.”
That’s just false. Nobody who lives in a cold climate spends so little on heating unless they’re in a new and heavily insulated house. Or unless, like Cold House, they’re willing to live in a cold house all winter, which is what this blog is about.
And really, for most people in this country, wherever they live, even $200 a month is hardly a trivial hit.
I suggest you get out more and see how the most of rest of the population actually lives.