Operation One Less (degree)

Two degrees less, actually. Sometimes more.

I’m talking, of course, about the thermostat. We finally had one of those handy programmable types installed when we replaced our ancient oil furnace with a newfangled gas one.

The previous thermostat (not to mention the furnace itself) was old and unreliable. It was set to 70 degrees most of the time, but the internal temperature always read two degrees lower… and I’m willing to bet that was less of an accurate reading and more of a guesstimate on the part of the thermostat. And since it wasn’t programmable, there were plenty of times I forgot to turn it down when I left the house and before I climbed into bed at night.

Now, with a new furnace, new fuel type, and a new thermostat, we’re set to 68 degrees most of the time; 65 degrees when we’re gone or asleep. I’d love to tell you that the transition has been an easy one, but it hasn’t.

Someone once told me that oil burns hotter than gas, which gives the resulting heat more staying power. I have no idea if there’s any validity whatsoever to that claim, but I’ve lived in three houses with oil heat and they all felt cozier than the houses I’ve lived in with gas heat. This highly unscientific comparison is, I’m sure, due to the differences in the houses themselves, rather than the fuel type: square footage, insulation, etc. would all play a role in the perception of heat’s “staying power.” Having experienced both types of heat in this house, however, I’m prepared to say that the oil heat felt cozier. (Though, in fairness, the GIANT oil furnace resided in our partially/shoddily finished basement and gave off a low – but constant – ambient heat. The much smaller gas furnace does no such thing.)

Regardless of the relative hotness of the heat, it’s been a bit chilly around here. Our single thermostat is upstairs in an internal hallway, shielded from the cold air sneaking past the single-pane windows in every other room in the house. So, while the hallway might be a cozy 68 degrees, it’s doubtful that the rest of the house is – particularly during our mostly sunless Seattle winter. And the basement – location of our family room and my office space – is decidedly cooler. Knee-socks, slippers, hoodies, and a hot mug of tea have become my constant companions. But after several months of practice, I’m finally getting acclimated to the slightly lower temperatures.

Sadly, I don’t have any good data to show the effects of our efforts. Comparing usage to the same period last year is apples to oranges, thanks to the change in fuel sources (plus, they way my oil was delivered and billed makes it impossible to know how much was used in any given month). Comparing monthly usage since September (when the new thermostat went in) is also apples to oranges, since the temperature outside has changed dramatically over those months. But popular wisdom says that for every degree you turn down your thermostat, you’ll save 1% – 3% on your heating bill. I can’t find any popular wisdom discussing how much fuel you’ll save, but then I didn’t try very hard (crying baby – you understand). If anyone has any averages or estimates to share, please leave them in the comments.

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