This Cold House

by Katy on December 9, 2008 · 20 comments



I made some very silly plans about how cold I was going to keep the house this winter. Because I have a programmable thermostat, I’m able to get all fancy with the furnace. Keep in mind, I live in a 94 year old uninsulated five bedroom, (one bathroom) house.

I set the thermostat to 65 degree from 6:30 A.M. until 8:45. This way, the house is nice and warm when we wake up.  (I have a hard enough time getting up in the morning without the added barrier of a freezing cold house.)

Let’s just say I’m not a morning person.

Then the thermostat backs down to 60 degrees until 2:30, when the kids come home from school, and it surges up to a toasty 62 degrees. Nighttime is set for 57 degrees, which is fine since we all have thick flannel duvets.

This was not a problem when there was actual sunshine in the state of Oregon, but it is definitely a problem now. I sat on the toilet today and gasped from the shock of cold to my backside. 

Okay, that’s too cold.

I also noticed that even though I was wearing thick pants, wool socks, a T-shirt and sweater . . . I was still cold!  Specifically the backs of my hands. 

I lived in England for a few years as a child. We rented the upper half of a house in the Golder’s Green neighborhood in London, and our ancient landlady had not received the message that the war had ended. The house was so cold, I have vivid memories of steam rising from the toilet! My parents would go downstairs and plead with her to turn the heat up. But she would say that she was perfectly comfortable. This was because she wore a full length wool coat, a hat and fingerless gloves in the house.

I don’t want to be that frugal. That’s not balanced.

So I’m going to set the thermostat a little higher during the day for tomorrow, (62 degrees) and maybe my only gasps will be from funny reader comments.

How high do you set your thermostat in the winter? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan December 9, 2008 at 3:01 am

I guess one of the advantages to living in S. FL is not having to use the heat, although we have the opposite problem of the A/C in the summer. We are very happy to say that we haven’t had to use the A/C since Nov. 16th – 1 cold front had come through and the weather has been pleasant since.

We have the opposite strategy for the A/C. In the summer, we raise it to 76 during the day – DH works from home & he can sit here w/o a shirt on & a pair of shorts. We face west, so we have alot of hot afternoon sun beating on our townhouse. We have planted a ton of trees and shrubs around our place to block the sun and installed a thicker screening on the patio to diffuse the sun & it has made a difference.


Jessica December 9, 2008 at 5:32 am

I too have tried to keep my heat down but I have to keep it at 64 degrees. As a stay-at-home-mom with two small girls (4 and almost 2) I just can’t go any lower. I also have an old, uninsulated house. My pantry off my kitchen gets so cold that liquids freeze!! But the girls and I are just fine…

My biggest problem is my husband. He comes home from work and starts complaining about the cold. Big baby!!


Mary C December 9, 2008 at 7:02 am

I am home all day most of the time. I don’t turn the thermostat on until I am freezing. Then it’s set to 68. I know, I am hanging my head in shame. I turn it all the way off at night. I am wearing a knit cap right now because I discovered if my head is covered, I stay warmer. Plus, I wear two pairs of socks.


GLM December 9, 2008 at 8:07 am

I think the most important thing is balance. (well, that and spelling, since I almost misspelt balance!)

We have heat for a reason, and it’s not a crime to use it. It’s also not worth getting sick by chronically keeping the house too cold.

I need to look in to some heavy drapes, because the glass windows in my condo are old, and a real heat drain. I should look at that before cranking my heat up first.


LeAnna December 9, 2008 at 8:13 am

My new (to me) house is 112 years old. I insulated the attic this summer to help with the heat costs and such, as there was NO insulation left. Zero. Maybe squirrels ate it, I don’t know. But anyway, we keep it at 61 all day, and so far that’s working well for us. I would turn it down at night, but I don’t currently have a programmable thermostat–not sure how that transition process would be. I have plastic on about half of the windows, but I do need to look into getting some serious drapes, like GLM. Some of them are STILL drafty, especially around the edges if there’s plastic on them. *sigh*


steplikeagiant December 9, 2008 at 9:44 am

56 at night, 60 during the day…married to an old English guy who advocates wool, fingerless gloves and hats, and shawls (I have all that on now)…we work at home and find that if we are up and about we are fine…if we sit at the computer too long, it gets cold…it was 19 here the other morning and the wind made it colder…we were fine…average insulation, double pane windows…we’ll see as the winter wears on…


Dawn December 9, 2008 at 10:54 am

The heat stays off until we are layered up and we STILL feel cold. So basically that works out to turning on the heat once every other day if the temp. outside is below 35 degrees.

But if it is above 35 degrees we rarely turn it on since we use the oven to cook on occasion and that helps heat up the house.


Meadowlark December 9, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Shoot me, I’m married to a non-conserver. 62 at night, but set to shoot up to 68 right before we get home, then I turn it down to whatever I can get away with until bed.

I can’t even imagine the words fifty-anything coming outta my mouth. But then again, last year I had to keep struggling to get him not to turn it up to 70 or 72.



Wendy December 9, 2008 at 2:28 pm

We live in an older home in upstate, NY and the winters are quite frigid. Lately, we have been working with the sun. That is, on sunny days we turn the temperature down to 58 during daylight.

During the day, we are moving around and cooking so we generate our own heat. When there is no sun (includes evening), the temperature is set to 67. Simply, when the sun is hiding and we are in bed we feel more vulnerable, even with warm blankets, so we set the temperature higher. I know this is the opposite of most people. Nonetheless, we are considering making adjustments to this routine; our gas & electric bill is uncomfortably high and demands tweaking.


Andy December 9, 2008 at 3:42 pm

My apartment is amazing. I actually measured my walls the other day, and they are 20 inches thick! The heat hasn’t been turned on here yet, and so far its been about 65 if its above freezing outside, and got down to 63 when it was around 10F for two days out. In the summer it didn’t get above 67 inside either. A lot can be said for insulation!


Cheryl December 9, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Andy–I need to know what kind of walls those are! My house is 10 years old and leaky. I am looking into pursuing the heavy plastic where it doesn’t show etc…When we are home the programmable thermastat is at 67 with gas fireplace on. Night and when we are gone…64…


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl December 9, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Ahh, that makes me feel better. I was wondering how in the world you were managing to keep it at 60, when I was freezing my butt off at 64-65.


thenonconsumeradvocate December 9, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I found out that for me, 60 degrees was only okay if I’m bustling around.

However, I spend a fair amount of time on the computer. So I would use a down throw on my lap. (Heaven!)The downside was, I would get so cozy, I’d be completely unwilling to get out from under the comforter to do laundry, dishes, etc.

A bad cycle.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Klara LeVine December 10, 2008 at 12:55 am

I’ve been loving reading your blogs – so down to earth. I’m in agreement with lots of the solutions, insulations, heavy curtains, wearing warm clothing – two things not mentioned. One weird – you asked about the toilet seat. I actually read about someone (believe in California, could probably google it) who invented a warmed up toilet seat – maybe not a need, but sure sounds like a good want. The other aspect is food – besides what Wendy said about cooking (which can also add heat) certain foods can cool you and certain foods can heat you up. Nice warming stews and soups and anything baked is good for now. I’d drop the salads, fruit smoothies and just don’t understand people eating ice cream now. Also certain ingredients can be more warming, root vegetables, ginger, beans, while other foods are more cooling, tofu, fruit, sweets, lemon – and of course, anything eaten straight from the fridge.



mama December 10, 2008 at 3:05 am

We have a very well insulated home and a high efficiency furnace. I set the heat on 52 at night. In the daytime it is on 60. At bathtime it goes up to 62. That is usually comfortable unless it is subzero outside. We do put it up a bit higher if it is extremely cold outside, but it never needs to go above 65. It just seems to stay very well heated in here since we invested in all the extra insulation, new windows, and new furnace.
Last night I had it set on 52, but it never kicked on. It was still 58 in here simply from heat the night before. It is about 35 outside right now. After the sun is up, the south windows allow the sun itself to heat the house up quite well, so the furnace doesn’t run that often.


CanadianKate December 10, 2008 at 6:32 am

After putting off turning on the heat to Nov. 11, we’ve left it set at 64 – 65 since the heat has been on. We are well insulated and air tight but really notice how cold it seems it on windy or cloudy days. We are desk workers from home so aren’t moving around much to keep our internal heat up.

We have a heat pump so the heat can’t be moved up and down during the day efficiently (a change of more than a degree causes the main furnace to kick in and then you lose all the savings from the heat pump.)

Currently, I’m in hotel room in DC and have the AC on, trying to keep the room down to 69. If I turn the HVAC system off, the room goes up to 73 and that’s too hot for us. The windows don’t open so that’s not an option. Last hotel stay caused us to raise the heat at home because we had lost our ‘conditioning’ and were freezing when we got into our own home (which had felt just fine when we left.)

The room here was 76 when we arrived and I just don’t have appropriate clothing for that kind of heat.(It was below freezing outside when we arrived so we were dressed for the weather.) The first night we slept poorly due to the heat in the room until I broke down and turned on the AC. (I’m not sure how I’ll cope with Perth, Australia in Jan but at least that heat will be coming from the season and not from an overactive heating system.)


Magdalena December 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

The bathroom issue reminds me of my childhood. My frugal father, in northern Maine (think subarctic) kept the heat down at night. My five sisters and I never wanted to be the first to the bathroom at six a.m.!

Acclimation helps. I try not to bundle up when stepping outside in the cold, so the house seems a lot warmer when I come in.


Pat December 10, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I live on a farm in southern Michigan and we have always kept our house at 62; until this year. Propane is pretty high right now so we lowered it to 58 which is still pretty comfortable (all those years of living with 62 degrees). We do have a fireplace were I set up a fire each day around 2:00 so the living areas are warm by the time the kids get home from school. But I agree – those bathroom seats are cold (my only complaint).


Kassie December 13, 2008 at 9:09 am

I love your blog as I am an obssesive believer in “one mans trash could be my treasure”. Living in Utah the wintertime heating bill is always a concern and I also live in a 100 year old home. I set my auto-therm to go up and down during the day and night and allow for a bit warmer weekends… we have bookoo blankies available if you get chilly and I am often found wearing my warm robe (over my layers of regular clothing) during the day if I am home. My mother raised me in “a barn” so I am accustomed to this and hopefully my kids will learn to get used to it. I also have a small electric heater for the bathroom tubby times!!


AJ Wischmeyer December 13, 2008 at 11:54 am

We live in central AZ, so never turn on the heat at all. It is a heat pump anyway, so doesn’t do much good if the temp drops below 40 degrees F. We generally build a fire in the woodstove in the AM if we are to be home that day, or not at all until after dark when we will be sitting around before bed. Very rarely do we keep a fire going all day when we are here; only when there is NO sun all day. The uninsulated block gives heat to the inside if the sun is shining outside; ditto with cold if there is no sun.
As for morning showers, a small ceramic heater runs only for that short time. Our electric bill runs from 20-40 dollars per month in the winter, and most of that cost is for pumping water. Oh, would I love to have a solar pump on the well.


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