Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Cold House Epidemiology & Psychology

October 2, 2011

Back in May, a group called the Marmot Review Team, in conjunction with Friends of the Earth, published a paper titled The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty.  An associated editorial was also published in the British Medical Journal.

The bottom-line conclusions of the Marmot paper, which focused primarily on Britain, are that living in cold housing is harmful, that the harm falls disproportionately on the economically disadvantaged, and that fairness demands that society provide more warmth to those in “fuel poverty”.

As you might expect, my feelings about this report are mixed.  On the positive side, I strongly support the authors’ sense of social justice, and of course agree that living in cold housing is potentially hazardous for elderly, disabled, or otherwise physically compromised people.

I have skepticism, however, about many of the inferences drawn in the paper, which are based primarily on epidemiologic correlations, rather than proven cause-and-effect.  For example, the paper notes that there is an increase in deaths over the winter months, and goes on to state: “Cold weather, and in particular cold homes, is believed to be a main factor in causing the winter increase of respiratory and circulatory diseases”.  The one citation for this statement leads to another policy paper by the same group, which, by my reading, actually provides no data whatsoever to support the assertion that cold weather (rather than, say, the increased indoor contact, lower exposer to fresh air,  and lower indoor humidities common in winter) cause these diseases– let alone any evidence for the “belief” that cold homes are to blame.

Indeed, I cannot picture any way that scientific conclusions on this topic could be drawn from epidemiology alone.  Why?  Because (more…)

Central Heating Causes Obesity?

January 27, 2011

Wow.  J. came across this fabulous article in the New York Times (which discusses a paper published by some UK smarty-types in the journal Obesity Reviews).  The gist of the paper / article is that there may be a causal relationship between central heating (or, more specifically, increasingly warm homes) and the explosion in obesity rates.  I love it!  Finally, a real reason for living the way we do that people might be able to get on board with (other than the reasons of saving money and saving the planet, which don’t seem to hold much appeal to most people.)

On the flip side, though, all through this three-year experiment I’ve had some fears that the opposite might be true: that living cold might be inducing my body to slather on an extra layer of blubber, to try and up the R-value of my natural insulation.  That’s not what I want.  So far, I haven’t seen much personal evidence either way.  I did lose some weight last summer, and have gained it back this winter– but I was getting a lot more exercise in the summer, and have definitely been a slug since the snow fell (went skiing once– torqued my shoulder– have been sidelined since : (

Anyway, there may be some glaring holes in the author’s thesis.  For example, it fails to explain why obesity rates are even higher in the south, where presumably central heating developments have had little impact, than they are in New England, where you’d think the effect would be pronounced.  I call for more research!

More Google Queries

November 9, 2010

A few Google queries which, it seems, landed people on this blog today:

Query:  “is 1.2 cord enough firewood”

Comment:  Oh, most possibly so!  If you live in a 400 sq ft house, it probably will be.  If you have hyper-insulated two-foot-thick walls and passive solar, it probably will be.  If you are only using wood as “ambience” heat to supplement fossil fuels, it probably will be.  And it just might be if you live with a house so chilly that most of your friends think you’re a little strange.  1.2 cords is about what I’m projecting we’ll use for the 12 months ending at Christmas… but maybe less?

Queries: “unhealthy cold house”, “bad health to have a cold house”, “cold house sick”, “respitory [sic] infections from cold house”

Comment:  Whoa whoa whoa.  Sure, a cold house can be unhealthy– if it’s saturated with radon, or asbestos, or rabies. But seriously, I’d be interested to hear any real evidence that a cold house is less healthy than a hot house for otherwise-healthy adults.  Hey, did you know that bed bugs’ reproduction, development, and feeding is hindered by cooler temperatures?  So much so that the state of Connecticut, in an official paper on how to counter the current bed bug plague, advises residents to “Keep bedrooms cool (if possible) at night to slow down bug activity.”  How about that!  (And one must ask– why not keep the bedrooms cool during the day, too??)

Query:  “humidity in bathroom doesn’t move”

Answer:  Uh… where where you hoping it would move to?  Akron?  Time for my annual plug for using a dehumidifier, rather than bathroom fan vent, in the winter.

Danger, Will Robinson?

February 20, 2010

I provided a little interview material for a recent article over at, which has garnered quite a few comments.  The most amusing of them was a guy who accused us of doing this only to save money in order to spend it on drinking more beer (which is funny, because we’ve actually been drinking less beer this winter.)  But here is an interesting comment thread:

“Autumn said… I think this is a bad idea. You could go to sleep one night and not wake up due to freezing to death. I have lived without heat before because of frozen pipes so I know you can get comfortable enough with warm clothing and lots of blankets but I think this is a dangerous thing to try.

Kelly said… Who ever froze to death at 52 degrees?

Justin said… It’s called hypothermia..and you only need your body temperature to drop to 95 degrees before it may not be able to be reversed. You may very well go to sleep and not wake up. Temperatures need not be below freezing for this to happen.”

This did get me thinking (after I stopped laughing, of course):  Is it likely, or even possible, that one could go to sleep euthermic, become hypothermic while sleeping, and perish without waking?

I’ve done a lot of outdoor activities in cold weather.  I have been mildly hypothermic, have been with people who were considerably hypothermic, and have known people who have died of hypothermia.  So I don’t take the topic lightly. Certainly it can and does happen that people become hypothermic, fall asleep / lose consciousness, and never wake up.  If you are already actively hypothermic, and your house (or igloo, or snow cave) is cold, I don’t suggest going to sleep.   I suggest staying awake and trying to get warm.

But my experience says (and a bit of research confirms) that an otherwise healthy person cannot go to bed warm-enough and then just die of cold in his sleep.  If you’re okay when you go to sleep, but start to get too chilly while sleeping, the first thing that happens is: you wake up, feeling cold!– so that your brain can do something about the situation before it’s too late.  Well before your brain becomes addled by cold, your body will start shivering violently enough to awaken you.  Indeed, if you’re feeling rather too chilly (but not seriously hypothermic), it’s pretty hard to get to sleep in the first place– which is a protective mechanism.

The fatal sleep that drags over hypothermic people after their body temperatures have dropped so low that their brains no longer function properly is a whole different story that unravels after your body’s defense mechanisms are exhausted.  But if you go to sleep not-hypothermic, you will not just drift off into hypothermia and perish without waking up and having a chance to do something about your situation first.


January 14, 2010

There are still comments trickling in on the TV news website from our 15 seconds of confused quasi-fame.  J. forwarded this excerpt from one to me today:

“…What is bad about this cold house story is that it is highly recommended that you leave your house if it gets 55 or below it is a safety precaution for many reasons.”

This made us laugh pretty hard.  Ha!  Ha! we laughed.  What the “many reasons” are that one should “leave your house” if it gets below 55º (13ºC), we have no idea.  Even funnier is the idea of running out of the house as a “safety precaution” to save our lives from the cold, only to wind up outside in the driveway where it’s 45 degrees colder still.

I’m here to tell you that we’ve been sleeping in a bedroom that is BELOW 50 DEGREES for weeks now, and there have been no discernible adverse health effects, except that Max the Cat has taken to sleeping directly on top of me, which left me feeling a bit sore this morning.

Oil Lobby Fear-mongering?

January 15, 2009

A tip from the U.S. National Institutes of Health website:

“To prevent hypothermia, make sure your home is warm enough. Set your thermostat to at least 68° to 70° [20-21C]. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60° to 65° [16-18C] can trigger hypothermia.”

Do they also advise not going outdoors when it is below 65º outside??