Hot or cold – don’t touch that dial!

Ah, the Thanksgiving season. When we gather around the table taking stock of our blessings, appreciating our families, and pondering that age-old question, “Why can’t we turn up the furnace??!!”

“Nope,” I quash that craziness immediately.
“But it’s freezing in here!”
“Put on some pants!”
“I like wearing shorts! I’m turning it up!”
“Don’t do it!” You’d think my husband would be on my side. After all, I’m trying to save money on our utility bill.

But Brian’s right. Our house is freezing. It’s not surprising when the walls have the insulation R-value of gauze, our electrical outlets have a wind chill factor, and our kitchen cabinets moonlight as mini-fridges. And our basement? Forget about it. It makes Fargo feel like Ft. Lauderdale. But I’m still not turning up the furnace. If I did it would run all day, all night. Therefore, it’s set at 70 during the day and 68 at night, which assumes my family isn’t dressed for a Coppertone commercial and sleeps under blankets. It’s like, winter, people. Put on some pants.

In the summertime when I was a kid, the heat index would need to be somewhere between Malaysia and Kuwait for the air conditioning to be turned on. And if anyone other than my dad adjusted the thermostat, it was cause for a firing squad.

“Who touched the thermostat?!” he’d holler from the hallway, glowering over the golden dial, mid-August.
“You have it set at 83! What’s the point?” I’d yell from the basement – the only place in the house not in the mid-90s.
“I’m pulling the humidity out of the air and stopping the compressor from running all day! DO NOT TOUCH IT!” I suppose he was trying to get the house to a Death Valley kind of dry heat.

At night, life was even better. No matter how hot and hellishly humid it was outside, the air conditioner was turned off (if it was on at all) and the windows opened because my mom felt “closed in” with all of them shut. I’d lie roasting in my bed, box fan on H, sweating through my Holly Hobbie sheets while praying for another Ice Age. My prayers were answered in November.

“Dad! It’s freezing in here! Can’t you turn up the heat?”
“Wear layers! When you’re paying the bill, you can set your thermostat to whatever you want!”

Everything changes when it’s you paying the bills.

“I like wearing shorts inside when it’s cold outside,” my 14-year-old said recently with an alarming amount of glee.
“If you can do that comfortably, I need to lower the thermostat settings.”
“Come on, Mom!”
“Wear layers! When you’re paying the bills, you can set your thermostat to whatever you want.” Oh my gosh, I’ve turned into my dad.

He was also right about the layers. Once the outdoor temperature reaches 40 degrees, out comes one of mankind’s greatest inventions: long underwear or as the cool (warm) outdoorsy-set call it, the base layer. Forget about the scratchy waffle long johns of years gone by. Now the chilled may wear soft, high-tech fabrics that wick away moisture. Yep, material so awesome you may actually sweat. And when my base layer goes on for the season, it only comes off for exercising, bathing, and June.

Just so you don’t think me a cruel and terrible person, let me tell you about our space heaters. We have five of them. There’s a fancy one for the living room and if anyone manages to claim a spot in front of it before the dog does, it’s quite toasty. For everybody else, they may enjoy a spot on the couch under the blankets. And if it’s really cold – maybe I’ll fire up the heating pad!

One of those five space heaters resides in our shared home office where Brian and I work.
He used to be hot all of the time. Let me rephrase. Ever since his DVT a few years ago, Brian is almost always cold. This makes for a balmy workplace environment.

“Holy moly, did I just walk into an oven?!” I exclaim. “I think my eyebrows are singed! What’s the temp in here? Eighty?”
“I’m freezing!” Brian complains while warming his hands over the space heater like a homeless guy over a fire. I’m half expecting him to be sporting gloves with the fingers cut off. He looks cold and miserable.

In this moment, I can’t help but feel guilty about my need to control the thermostat. Is it fair that I decide what the settings should be? Shouldn’t Brian have a say in this? After all, not only am I wearing multiple layers, I too have a space heater sitting inches from me on H, as I write this. And could it be, having all of these space heaters constantly running isn’t doing the utility bill any favors?

“If you want to save money on our utility bill, we need to properly insulate the house,” Brian says. “It’s the smart thing to do.”
There he goes again, talking sense. “You’re probably right.” I say, sounding a lot like Eeyore. “I guess we should start with the basement. I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain about the thermostat. I was wrong.”

So, back to that age-old question: when can we turn up the furnace? Here’s my answer: I just did…two degrees. It’s 72 in here. Are you happy? Good. Now turn off that space heater and put on some pants!

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