Whether you’re going on holiday and want to reset the thermostat while you’re away, or you’re looking to save energy all winter long, here’s what you need to know.
The difference between personal comfort and security
In this discussion, we are not focusing on optimal comfort. When you leave the city you will not be unhappy because it is 10 degrees colder than normal. And if you’re staying home, we’ll assume you’ve braced yourself for the chill and have a cozy blanket ready.
Furthermore, things like preferred temperature in winter are subjective and opinions vary widely. While my immediate family loves to keep the house cool in the winter, our relatives from subtropical climates think we’re crazy for setting our thermostat so cold.
However, if you’re curious about the universally accepted optimal thermostat range for colder weather, sticking to around 20-22°C is a sweet spot for most people for overall comfort.
But general comfort is not the same as how far you can safely turn your thermostat back without endangering yourself or the physical fabric of your home.
As a general rule, you should keep your thermostat set to at least 55°F. This is well above freezing and ensures that even when the temperatures in your home are slightly cooler, there is still enough warm air circulating around your house to keep it out of harm’s way.
If setting your thermostat to 55°F isn’t keeping your home adequately and evenly warm enough because the outside temperature or poor insulation is making the thermostat reading inaccurate across your home’s range, adjust the thermostat up accordingly.
Monitor your home while experimenting
If you decide to dial back your thermostat, we strongly encourage you to do a few simple things to ensure your experiment goes smoothly.
First, play around with the temperature if you’re home for a long time in cold weather. Your first attempt at turning your thermostat much lower than usual shouldn’t be right before a two-week winter vacation.
Second, actively monitor your home during the process, including underused or infrequently accessed rooms. Since it’s difficult to estimate the actual temperature and humidity (and because you can’t be everywhere at once), it’s totally worth getting your hands on a pack of inexpensive Bluetooth thermometer/hygrometer units. You can rotate them through locations in your home to see how cold/humid it gets in your basement, attic, crawl space, and other rooms during your experiment.
If you have piping on outside walls in addition to pipes in the crawl space and the like (e.g. a kitchen sink on an outside wall), be aware of how cool it gets inside the closed closet where the pipes are located.
Govee Hygrometer/Thermometer 3-Pack
These handy little wireless sensors are perfect for monitoring conditions in your home while you experiment with your thermostat.
You may not feel uncomfortable turning back the thermostat and the pipes may not be frozen, but there may be side effects that you may not have expected.
For example, let’s say that previously enough heat leaked through your home’s poorly insulated floor into the crawl space below to keep moisture and mold at bay. But then, after you’ve turned your thermostat way down, less heat gets in and moisture levels in the crawl space rise, causing slow but eventual damage to your home’s wood structure.
You may end up solving this problem not by turning your thermostat back on, but by steam sealing the crawl space, installing a dehumidifier, or any number of other solutions. But you want to be aware of this and any other changes in your home that result from changing your heating and cooling routine.
While every home is different, here is a quick summary of some general things to look out for:
- General humidity: The mere living of people in a house, cooking, showering and other everyday activities increase humidity. When your home is damp but cold, the moisture will condense on the cold walls, causing mold and mildew problems.
- General air quality: With convection heating, turning down the heating means that the oven fan runs less frequently. You may want to set your thermostat to run the fan on a schedule to circulate the air.
- Cracks in drywall or plaster: A classic abandoned home in movies is crumbling walls and missing patches of plaster. This is less a film trope and more a harsh reality. Extreme changes in temperature can cause significant expansion and contraction of building materials. Maintaining a human-friendly and stable temperature in your home is not only good for you, but also for the structure itself.
- drafts: Resetting your thermostat won’t cause drafts, you’ll just notice them more. Sealing them is generally good practice, but is especially helpful if you run your oven less. You want to keep every bit of heat inside.
We’re not sharing these things to scare you into never resetting your thermostat, but to alert you to things to consider if you’re adjusting your home’s temperature significantly outside of the range you previously kept it in.
As long as you monitor your home’s temperature and make adjustments to ensure no part is getting too cold, you can safely turn your thermostat down.
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