How We Won The Thermostat War


Winter is a time of cold temperatures, snow days, and bundling up to fight off the chill.  In many homes, winter also means fighting about where the household thermostat should be set.

Since the invention of forced air central heating, men and women have been fighting over the household thermostat like cats and dogs. Everyone likes to save money, but nobody really wants to be uncomfortable.

And so the Thermostat Wars are started…

 

The Thermostat War

Central heating is a perfect example of a technology created to give the consumer more comfort, but it ultimately ends-up creating endless discomfort due to the incessant fighting between household members over temperature.

I’m almost certain this was not the motivation for the invention of central heating, but hey — it’s reality!

Further innovation in modern times has attempting to “improve” upon the original technology by giving us “smart” thermostats.  Unfortunately no amount of artificial intelligence has been able resolve the unwinnable battle of the thermostat.

Why?  Temperature is extremely personal.  One person’s hot is another person’s cold.

Did Mrs. Tako and I resign ourselves to fighting endlessly over a couple number on the thermostat?  Or, did we suffer in the cold just to save a few dollars and reach FI a little sooner?

Absolutely not!

Instead of blowing money on Nest thermostats (or expensive divorces), our family solved the problem cheaply by looking into the past…

 

Life Before Central Heating

Before central heating was commonplace in Western homes, houses were cold in the winter.  The most common sources of heat in those days was a fireplace or a wood-fired kitchen stove.

If you’ve ever lived in a home with an open hearth fireplace, you’ll know they’re not actually that warm — lighting fires can be tricky at best, and the vast majority of the heat gets pushed up the chimney along with the smoke.

Kitchen stoves were a big improvement on open fireplaces, but they share the same basic problem — they heated only the room they were in, and someone had to be around to maintain the fire.

cooking stove
Cast iron cooking stoves like this made the kitchen one of the warmest rooms in the home.

This meant only one or two rooms in a house were warm… the rest of the house was often quite cold in the winter.  It wasn’t a perfect situation, but people didn’t fight about the thermostat setting either.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect.  Our forebears simply learned to bundle-up and wear layers.

 

Fix Those Cold Toes

Did I mention the floor is always the coldest part of a room?

Throwing on a sweater makes a HUGE difference in general wintertime comfort, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem — sweaters don’t cover your fingers and toes.  Those small extremities furthest from the heart are the most sensitive and often closest to the floor (in the case of toes).

Understanding these simple facts goes a long ways toward solving the thermostat “battle royale”.

In Western cultures, it was once very commonplace to wear footwear indoors.  Before cushy wall-to-wall carpeting and central heating, homes had dirt floors or rough hewn floorboards.  People wore shoes indoors to keep feet clean, dry, and warm.

sod house
Before hardwood flooring and carpet, dirt floors were all the rage!

Asian cultures were different of course.  Inside a typical home they commonly used woven straw mats for flooring.  In Japan, this is called tatami and it’s a mortal sin to wear shoes on it.

Any dirt,water, or mud would completely ruin the expensive straw mats.  So in countries like Japan it became the culture to not wear shoes indoors.

tatami flooring
Woven straw flooring eventually led to a culture of slipper wearing during winter months (rather than shoes).

This Japanese culture of slipper wearing keeps feet warm despite having no central heating even in modern Japanese houses.

Nowadays, Western homes have nice floor coverings too … and the practice of wearing shoes indoors has slowly fallen out of practice in-favor of having floors that aren’t disgusting and dirty.

Sound familiar?

Except unlike Japan, we don’t have this “slipper culture” in the West.  People just crank-up the thermostat to near tropical levels to compensate for what simply amounts to cold fingers and toes.

wool slippers
Got wool slippers?  These are my wool slippers I wear in the winter.

Turning up the heat is a insanely wasteful way to solve a problem that was already solved a thousand years ago by our ancestors (who didn’t have central heating).

 

Our House

Here in the Pacific Northwest, winter temps outdoors are usually in the mid-30’s (Fahrenheit)… but we don’t rely on central heating to stay warm in the winter.

Do we suffer in the cold to save a few dollars?

Nah!  Indoor temperatures average about 60F in our house without the heat on.  For some people that might sound cold, but I’m toasty warm in my wool slippers.  (Sometimes even too warm!)

There’s absolutely no need to turn on the central heating during the day when indoor temps are this warm.

house thermostat
When your feet aren’t cold there’s no need to turn up the heat. Our house was 61F today.

Yes, we mostly won the Thermostat War by simply adopting a slipper wearing culture at home!  It sounds stupid, but it’s completely true!

Everyone in our household owns a pair of warm slippers, including the kids.

winter slippers
During the winter, we *all* wear slippers. Even the kiddos!

Having warm feet wasn’t quite enough for Mrs. Tako however — her hands were cold too!

She types a lot, so wearing fingered gloves indoors wasn’t a solution that was going to work.  Instead we splurged a little on a North Face thumb loop hoodie for her.  It looks pretty close to this:

thumb hole sleeved hoodyEssentially these are extra-long sleeved hoodies with a thumb loop that keeps the sleeve positioned over the hand.  It does wonders for keeping her hands warm but the fingers are free to move.

It’s hard to describe, so it was easiest for me to just take a picture of her hand in it:

thumb hole sleeve hoody

She absolutely loves these and owns several different coats and hoodies in the same style. She says they’re easy to use when tapping out a message on her phone.  I’m told they’re even quite stylish.

If you don’t want to invest in all new clothes, Mrs. Tako also pointed out these fingerless arm warmers do a very similar job:

arm warmers
Apparently arm warmers like these are also popular (according to Mrs. Tako).

 

Final Thoughts

So that’s how our family ended the Thermostat Wars.  It came from the realization that feeling cold mostly stemmed from cold fingers and toes.  Peace was achieved by solving this problem, and money was saved.

Nobody suffered.

Instead of cranking up the heat, we adopted a culture of wearing slippers indoors and hand coverings (for Mrs. Tako)

Once we solved the real problem of feeling cold, there was no need to heat the house to tropical summer levels.  We’re now quite comfortable with temperatures in the mid-60’s (Fahrenheit).

Yes, slippers and hoodies do cost money, but these solutions are incredibly cheap compared to the cost of running our central heating 24/7.

This was how we ended our Thermostat War, and I’d gladly pay the cost all over again.

 

[Image credit: Flickr1, Flickr2]

 

55 thoughts on “How We Won The Thermostat War

  • March 3, 2018 at 4:19 AM
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    We all have house slippers too. Makes all the difference!

    Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 6:08 AM
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    I mentioned keeping the house at 61 degrees to Mrs. DS…..she’s not going for it. We agree upon 68 degrees in the winter. We aren’t as hardcore as you but it keeps the peace in our house 🙂

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    • March 3, 2018 at 8:30 AM
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      Haha! I don’t think we’re hardcore at all. That was just the temperature it happened to be. On a nice sunny day it can get as high as 70F!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 6:45 AM
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    This was our first winter after home purchase. We were quite shocked by our energy bills. We have been working on reducing it using some of the techniques you mentioned. But, next year we are going all out. Thanks for the tips.

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    • March 3, 2018 at 8:35 AM
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      I think we were the same our first year dividendgeek! It’s been a slow process, but having Mrs. Tako on-board has been a huge help!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 6:53 AM
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    Happy spouse, Happy house. I compromise by never touching the thermostat at all. Only if I get up first I’ll always nudge it enough to turn the heat on so she doesn’t have to get out of bed into a cold house. The rest of the time she’s in charge of it. I am only in charge of foreign policy, anything inside the house is her call. I’m not crazy enough to tell my wife to get thumb shirts or to wear snowmobile boots in the living room. Whatever works for you but personally I have a healthy fear of my wife, especially if she is uncomfortably cold. She grew up in a farm house with no indoor running water where to use the bathroom you had to walk outside to an outhouse in the cold and dark. I spoiled her by giving her things like flush toilets and electricity. If only I had known……

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    • March 3, 2018 at 8:32 AM
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      Snowmobile boots? I never thought of that one! Will have to work on that…

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 7:43 AM
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    I keep the temp at 60 during the day, and 58 at night. Most people sleep better in colder temps and I’m definitely that way. We had a huge windstorm in the DC area yesterday and my power went out. I’m still without power (doing this from the library) and my house is now at 51 degrees! Needless to say we’re hoping they get it fixed soon.

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    • March 3, 2018 at 8:34 AM
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      Brrr…. 51 is getting to be coat-indoors territory. Hope you guys get power back soon!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 8:36 AM
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    As a host, we turn up the heat for our guests and the international Chinese guests pumps the heat out like crazy. It’s like 88 degrees in their rooms all the time and although I know they’re guests, I’m still thinking about how wasteful it is to blast heat. I’m starting to wonder what their utilities bills are. And how are they ok with paying that much.

    All the Japanese guests we had over the years were wonderful, polite, and considerate in contrast. Justtt an observation!

    Reply
    • March 4, 2018 at 11:41 AM
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      Hi Lily! As a airbnb host you have the opportunity to meet and interact with people from many cultures — it’s really interesting to hear your observations about cultural differences!

      I wonder if your Chinese guests didn’t know how to operate the heat. 88F is really warm!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 9:17 AM
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    We have a no-shoe house too, and my daughter just asked for slippers for Christmas for this very purpose! We keep the thermostat at 67 but it will go down to 65 or 66 before kicking on. In Southern California it’s often colder inside than outside in the winter so I may be wearing wool socks when it’s 70 outside. (Our HVAC guy recently came for a maintenance visit, and he says he will find elderly customers shivering inside and sets up them on a chair outside in the sun.) I usually feel cold around the arms and shoulders so that loop hoodie is very appealing…

    Ironically, my husband is the one who’s always cold despite growing up in a house heated by a wood stove in the frigid north. My parents in Asia have radiant flooring heat. Now that feels nice but I’m not sure how cost-efficient is is.

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    • March 4, 2018 at 11:48 AM
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      Yeah, there’s definitely parts of Asia that do radiant floor heating. I’ve read it’s popular in Korea and experienced it myself in a couple houses in Japan. It’s pretty fancy.

      My guess is that it’s actually more efficient because people’s toes get warmed-up, helping the whole body feel warmer. The room temperature doesn’t need to be as high to help people feel warm.

      If you compare the amount of energy needed to bring a room up to the same temperature using two different heat sources, it will be the same. BTU’s are BTU’s.

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 10:07 AM
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    All of us wear wool slippers in our house too! Each of us have 2 pairs: 1 for the 1st floor with wooden flooring and 1 for the second floor with carpeting. I still feel cold walking on the carpet even if I wear socks. Those slippers are so powerful and not expensive at all!

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    • March 4, 2018 at 11:50 AM
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      Yes indeed Ms. FAF! Slippers are such a simple thing that I felt silly writing about it, but the results are HUGE.

      It’s made a big difference in the cost of our utility bill.

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 12:57 PM
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    One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “If your feet are cold, you’re cold all over.” Definitely true, and it’s the one battle you can’t lose if you want to be comfortable in winter. Great post and congrats on winning the wife over to a low thermostat setting.

    Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 2:10 PM
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    Another vote for slippers and a jumper here. I also have blankets on the sofa for extra snugglyness.

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    • March 4, 2018 at 11:51 AM
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      Plenty of blankets around our house too Ms. ZiYou! Mrs. Tako loves to get all snuggly!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 4:57 PM
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    What a great Idea. Hubs is usually the one that is cold he wears what they call in Hawai’i, slippas which is really what those on the mainland call flip-flops. I going to get him some of this..I think it will help tremendously.

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    • March 4, 2018 at 11:54 AM
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      Give it a try Marisa. A nice warm pair of wool slippers will work wonders. I like slippers that you can slide in and out of very easily (like flip-flops)

      This pair looks pretty awesome: http://amzn.to/2H00HTZ

      Wool? Memory foam? Easily slide-in and slide-out — Yes please! 😀

      Reply
      • March 15, 2018 at 8:15 PM
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        So, an update to my slipper comment. We bought 3 pairs from Amazon. For hubs, myself and my oldest son(my younger son never seems to get cold and my daughter already has slippers). I can tell you, it sure made a difference. My office, hubs office and the oldest sons bedroom are in the lower level and I have not had to turn on the space heater since using slippers. I had no idea this could make such a difference.

        Great tip!

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        • March 16, 2018 at 8:20 PM
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          Thanks Marisa! It made a huge difference for us, so I thought it might help others too.

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  • March 3, 2018 at 5:56 PM
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    My mom used to say, “If your feet are cold, you’re cold all over.” Truer words never spoken – glad you’ve figured out the hack to a low energy bill while staying comfortable.

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    • March 4, 2018 at 11:55 AM
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      Your mom might be something of a genius Paul! It took me years to figure it out on my own!

      Thanks for reading as always!

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 6:38 PM
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    I have the opposite side of the problem. Here in Thailand the ambient temperature is nearly always warm. Even night time temperatures during the summer remain at 85 F. It’s a question of when to turn on the A/C that is set to 78F in the main living room or 75F in the bedrooms. Normally I don’t use the A/C during the day, especially if there is a breeze but it can get up to 90F in the house. Once it gets north of that it’s time to usually break out the A/C.

    My wife never used A/C when sleeping until we started living together, and now she can’t live without that. When sleeping in very hot weather without A/C expect to wake up with a sweaty, oily, puffy face and the feeling that you didn’t sleep very well. I guess you get used to it after a few days, but it’s usually accompanied by wanting to nap during the day as the quality of sleep isn’t the best in my opinion. Thank goodness for A/C.

    We made the investment in double insulated windows and that makes a big different in how fast the room can cool down when the A/C is turned on, it also helps keep the room cool for a short while after the A/C is switched off.

    Also out here, there are individual A/C units for each room, so that removes having to cool the entire house just to keep one specific room comfortable. That’s the way to go. In spite of using the A/C every night in 3 rooms (our room, baby room and relative’s room) our electricity bills are under $100 USD per month.

    -Mike

    Reply
    • March 4, 2018 at 12:00 PM
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      Wow, warm temps sound like a really good problem to have Mike!

      I definitely sleep better when it’s cool. Whenever we go Hawaii or some other tropical place I turn the AC on to sleep too.

      Reply
  • March 3, 2018 at 9:33 PM
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    We’re also in the PNW, and I found that insulation additions to our 1962 house made a huge difference in our heating bills. We keep the house at a cool 65°F with a programmable thermostat, but the house was built in our mild climate with NO insulation. We’ve replaced the original single pane windows and had insulation blown into the walls and roof. A difference in comfort was noticed immediately. That said, dressing for the temperature is a strategy for us, too. I love my slippers (fuzzy on the inside). We also use heated blankets at night when we turn the heat down. I also find that I get cold if I sit for too long, which is a great incentive to get up and do something more active.

    Reply
    • March 4, 2018 at 12:05 PM
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      I’ve considered underfloor heating as well Michael … but I’m undecided if it’s a good investment for a whole house. It’s great in bathrooms where people are often barefoot or things need to be dried-out. A simple pair of warm slippers can keep feet warm in other areas.

      Reply
  • March 4, 2018 at 5:28 AM
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    Same at our house, kids know if they are cold , they can’t complain until they have their socks/slippers on and at least one extra sweater on!

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    • March 4, 2018 at 12:02 PM
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      That’s a smart policy Caroline! They definitely won’t be warm if they’re running around naked!

      Reply
  • March 4, 2018 at 12:21 PM
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    “Since the invention of forced air central heating, men and women have been fighting over the household”. Ha, glad we don’t have that issue. We have convection heaters fueled by gas heated water. We never have an issue in the House of Cheese, temp is set at 18C during the night and around 19.5C during the day, never an argument and if one is cold, there is indeed always the sweater!

    Reply
    • March 5, 2018 at 9:23 AM
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      Those are similar temps to where we keep it. 18C is pretty nice for the evenings. I let it drop down to 15C during the day and I really don’t mind it.

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      • March 7, 2018 at 3:55 AM
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        We have tried it lower, but both of us feel rather uncomfortable at that point. When we are not home, we will drop it down more to say 16-17C.

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  • March 4, 2018 at 3:20 PM
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    You need to admit that those Cookie Monster slippers are actually yours! 😉

    I might need to get some of those fingerless arm warmers like Mrs, Tako – I’m such a freeze-baby! We keep it warm in our house in the winter and I’m still wearing a sweatshirt every day while at home. I wear long johns to work under my clothes during the winter when I go to work… and I work in an office and have a space heater in there as well.

    My solution is to move to Panama in the mountains where it’s 75 F every day. Thermostat problem fixed! 😉

    — Jim

    Reply
    • March 5, 2018 at 9:23 AM
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      Hmm…. thermo arbitrage. Interesting solution Jim! I might need to look into that! 😉

      Reply
  • March 4, 2018 at 5:12 PM
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    Mr. Tako,
    I don’t think I’d keep the temp down in the low 60’s but I do prefer the temp to be around 64 to 65. Unfortunately, the Mrs. and the kids don’t concur so we usually keep the thermostat around 69 to 70. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting with my wife because she’ll just whine and complain about everything. At least we don’t have $300/$400 heating bills like most of my neighbors seem to .

    Reply
    • March 5, 2018 at 9:26 AM
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      Wow, $300 to $400 a month in heating bills is crazy. That’s like throwing money in the trash.

      You actually can get used to temperatures in the low 60’s quite easily. I’m quite comfortable in the 60-65F range all day.

      Once it gets into the 50’s however, I feel like I need a coat. 😉

      Reply
  • March 4, 2018 at 10:28 PM
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    I don’t like to wear slippers and I like to be barefoot but currently in an apartment so the electricity bill isn’t massive. About $40 a month on the really cold months.

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    • March 5, 2018 at 9:29 AM
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      I bet you could cut your electricity bill considerably just by wearing a pair of warm slippers.

      Costs are all relative of course. I’m certain there’s a billionaire somewhere that says “I only pay 20 grand a month to heat my house, there’s no need to put clothes on.” 🙂

      Reply
  • March 5, 2018 at 8:30 AM
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    61 degree is cold. Mrs. RB40 wouldn’t stand for that. She already wears slipper, but she needs to be warmer than that.
    We go for the zone heating approach, much like the old days. We have a kotatsu table which is extremely helpful on those cold days. The room heater in our living room keeps the most used room relatively warm.
    My kid goes barefoot because he’s always hot. He’s a very fidgety kid.

    Reply
    • March 5, 2018 at 9:13 AM
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      Funny, my kids are usually really warm too. They never stop moving! I think that’s the secret!

      Actually 61F isn’t really that bad. You get used to it. If I spent all my days living at 75 degree temps it might feel cold, but I’m so used to it now I hardly notice.

      The human body has an amazing capacity to adapt… we just have to let it adapt instead of creating artificial environments.

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  • March 5, 2018 at 11:26 AM
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    YES! People laugh but I have at least 5 pairs of slippers (all Christmas gifts over the years) and wear them constantly. I even bring my own pair when I go over other peoples’ houses! You never know when it will save you from being uncomfortably chilly all night. Also layers, and fuzzy blankets. Sitting in a chair blogging or gaming for hours leads to chill pretty quickly, but throw a fuzzy blanket in your lap or over your shoulders, and you’re all set!

    Reply
  • March 5, 2018 at 1:02 PM
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    Had one friend who lived inside a tent in his own bedroom so he could save on heating for his massive house. Should’ve just used your warming tips!

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    • March 5, 2018 at 1:04 PM
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      That is the funniest story I’ve heard all day. 😀

      Reply
  • March 6, 2018 at 8:36 AM
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    We used to live in a house where the open fire would struggle to heat our small lounge and bedroom to 14 degrees (57 farenheit) . The country we lived in did not do central heating and energy costs were high. No – one ever heated rooms they were not in. We wore hats, gloves, jackets and a sleeping bag. We never had exposed skin. Long underwear at all times unless showering. Taking a leaf out of our ancestors book, I made a ‘tent’ to cover our bed. It was made of second hand candlewick bedspreads costing about $5 in materials. It had a conical top like a minaret and I think it looked great. Would easily get the temp up to 18-20 degrees inside there.
    When you look at old book illustrations people wore night caps as their heads were exposed to very low temperatures. Even with the bed canopies etc.
    Now I live in a place with hot summers where I use a freezer pack as a ‘coldie’ to go on my feet and spray myself with water to avoid using the aircon. I know people who have slept in wet sheets. It’s fun this frugal game.

    Reply
  • March 6, 2018 at 9:28 AM
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    I am a big fan of my wool sweater that has loops for my thumbs. They really help.

    I do, however, lack any slippers in my wardrobe. Sounds like I know what to ask for for Christmas!

    Reply
    • March 6, 2018 at 9:35 AM
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      Absolutely. They’re often on-sale during the Christmas season too. 🙂

      Wearing mine right now!

      Reply
  • March 6, 2018 at 2:49 PM
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    Ugh. I have electric heat and I’m allergic to the cold. Winter electric bills stink.

    Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.

    Reply
  • March 12, 2018 at 8:51 AM
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    Being from the Midwest, I thought everyone wore slippers inside the house in the winter! And socks.
    We keep our night-time temperatures around 62 at night and daytime at 66. There are on sale right now as well. I bought a brand new one at $8 on clearance, marked as $40! Can’t live without slippers in the winter. Also, I have a small space heater that I keep in the home office, for days that get really chilly.

    Discovered your blog recently; really good work!

    Reply
  • March 24, 2018 at 5:35 PM
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    Being warm enough isn’t an issue as our condo is on a middle floor and the elderly people below crank the heat. Don’t sleep well and food spoils quickly when temp inside gets above mid 70’s. We use fans when sleeping but use the AC regularly. Our quality of life is greatly improved so to us it is worth the cost. Plus our birds are healthier if the temperature does vary greatly. We do wear slippers at home though. Husband hates mess from shoes in house.

    Reply
  • March 26, 2018 at 6:10 AM
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    Living in an old house in New England, I thought everyone wore slippers all winter? I’ve found I really turned a corner when I started wearing long underwear bottoms (and not just tops as I had). Though for a 30 degree day, those are promptly removed for the tropical day. 🙂 10 degrees higher and my son starts wearing shorts. I have to say, using an electric blanket to warm your bed before you get in is worth every penny.

    Reply

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