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Monday, December 10, 2007  

Conservation

One early Saturday morning in the winter of '97 or '98, I woke up and sensed a definite chill in the house. Sometimes I imagine these things, but since the thermostat told me the temperature in the house was in the forties -- Fahrenheit -- that didn't seem to be the case this time.

I went right down to the basement to see what was wrong with the old gravity furnace, and I could see the problem immediately: there was no fire in there. What to do about it was a little beyond my purview, however. Fortunately we pay a few bucks a month on our gas bill to have the utility standing ready when problems like this occur, so the person on the phone was able to walk me through relighting the pilot light. Apparently the furnace's process of cycling on had blown it out. I went back to bed and would have slept until the house finished warming up, if there hadn't been someone already there who started screaming "COLD HANDS! COLD HANDS!" as soon as I arrived. Sadly, she now owns pajamas.

This happened a few more times that winter, with increasing frequency. At least I knew how to relight the pilot now, and always kept a big box of fireplace matches nearby. But it was inconvenient, and kind of a gyp. I mean, one of the things we liked about this house was the fact that the primitive old furnace would last forever because it only had, like, two moving parts. And now both of them were failing. By spring, I was relighting the pilot light almost daily, and that summer we just had the old beast ripped out and replaced with a new model, along with central A/C.

It was a good investment, but now, with the world about to run out of oil, we've been trying to be more energy-efficient. Now that it's gotten cold outside, I've shrinkwrapped most of the windows on the main floor, and installed weatherstripping around the back door, and we almost always keep the front door closed when we're not at home. We even invested in a new, programmable thermostat. I programmed it to let the house cool down a few degrees overnight and when we're at work, but I don't think it's working. I telecommuted last Wednesday, and the temperature never dropped more than half a degree. I need to look into that.

But what has saved us more on our heating bill than that semi-programmable thermostat, at least so far, is two other features that work in concert to reduce our furnace activity. One of these is a light switch on the side of the furnace that's about two feet above the floor, and allows you to simply turn it off. The other is a three-year-old.

As soon as I finished the first draft of my Desperate Housewives weecap in front of the basement TV on Sunday I had to get up out of the cold. Our basement gets chilly in the winter no matter what, but my laptop's liquid crystal display was rapidly becoming more crystal than liquid. But even the main floor had a distinct chill. Trash has been wanting to keep the house cooler this winter than I have, but when I checked the thermostat I asked her, "Don't you think 65 is a little chilly?" Trash disavowed any knowledge of having set it that low (although she admitted it was a good idea). Then I remembered that light switch, and that M. Small had been hanging out with us downstairs earlier that day while we organized Christmas presents. Sure enough, when I went down to check, I saw the switch in the down position. I turned the furnace back on, which at least doesn't require the use of a fireplace match these days, and informed Trash, "Your son turned off the furnace."

And then Thursday night, M. Small and I were playing Cars on the PlayStation. He was with me the whole time, and never wandered over to the side of the basement where the furnace is. Which was why I was so confused when I woke up the next morning and discovered that the temperature in our house was 59. 59 degrees is a lovely spring or fall evening outside with a light jacket or sweater. 59 degrees is less lovely inside your house on an early December morning before the sun is up or you've remembered where you keep your socks. I hurried down to check the furnace, which I now assumed was broken since I knew M. Small hadn't turned it off. Fortunately he had turned it off. I guess I was more into that tractor-tipping game than I thought.

But I was also pleased at this clear indication that the house is much better insulated than it was years ago, even with three times as many upstairs windows as we had back then. Trash, however, had a little more trouble looking on the bright side, even though it had warmed up to 63 by the time she got up. Something about a sinus infection, I don't know. Whiner.

I know there's a simple way to fix this problem. There are childproof light switches you can buy, and I could easily pick one up and install it on the side of our furnace in place of the current one so this doesn't happen again.

But then I'd have to figure out how to program the thermostat, too, and why would I take on two jobs when I can do none and conserve the same amount of energy?

posted by M. Giant 3:57 PM 7 comments

7 Comments:

We set our thermostat to 60 at night and 65-68 during the day.

How warm do you have it?!

By Anonymous Lea, at December 11, 2007 at 1:25 AM  

Well, 'tis the season for furnace issues, I suppose - ours did its semiannual "refusal to cycle on" thing which means the little flame sensor thingy needed to be cleaned. (Our furnace is only 8 years old, as we built our house 8 years ago and splurged on a brand-new furnace at the time.) The HVAC tech came out on Friday and when he was cleaning the sensor off, he mentioned how our furnace has an indicator light to tell us what is wrong. First time in 8 years we'd ever heard of such a thing! Turns out that there is this tiiiiiiiny, red light that blinks a sort of Morse Code type signal number in this tiiiiiiiny window on the lower part of the front of the furnace, and one merely has to pop off the front panel of the furnace to look up what the code means, assuming one has accurately counted and translated the blinks. (Was that two short, one long, five short or one short, two long, five short?) I guess this is why no one ever bothered to tell us about the light in the first place... :P

(Oh and if this is a contest about how low one sets one's thermostat, ours is programmed for 64 at night and during the day when we're not likely to be at home, and 68 in the mornings/evenings/weekends when we are likely to be home and awake. I have been known to bump it up to 70 when chilly for an extra burst of warmth, though.)

By Blogger Heather, at December 11, 2007 at 4:39 AM  

My god I am decadent. It’s at 64 nights and during the day when we are not home, it brings itself up to 71 in the am so I am not freezing my cha cha’s before work, and then it is 71 when we come home, unless I am freezing and then I bump it to 73, and yes I am wearing sox and a sweater (and no I am not a size 2…) If the boy toy can get the log splitter up and running we will be good. We have 2 wood stoves and that brings the house up to 76-80, which really isn’t good, because then I want all the windows open. I just can’t win.

By Blogger me, at December 11, 2007 at 10:23 AM  

I don't get the point of having the heating on at night. You're in bed, with a duvet and maybe a quilt as well and maybe if you're lucky, a hotwater bottle shaped like a dalek. It's warm. Having it timed to come on when you're out of bed, sure, but in the middle of the night?

By Blogger Jennifer, at December 12, 2007 at 4:27 AM  

If I didn't have any heat in the middle of the night, I'd wake up shivering. No matter how many blankets, that much cold air on my face makes me wake up with my face and ears like ice. I don't always sleep with my arms completely under the blankets, and if I had a hand exposed to an unheated house in the winter, I'd wake up as a result of my hands being so cold. Everybody's got different tolerance levels, I think, but there's no way I could sleep without heat -- I would just keep waking up all night long, and when the heat doesn't work in my apartment, that's exactly what happens.

By Blogger Linda, at December 12, 2007 at 2:51 PM  

Certainly where I live (Canada) you'd be in danger of freezing your pipes if you turned the heat off at night during the coldest spells.

I don't know the Fahrenheit equivalent, but before we had kids we set ours to 19.5 degrees when we were home and awake, and 16 at night and when we were out for the day. Now that it's not just us we don't generally let it get below 17.5 if we're in the house.

By Anonymous Shawna, at December 13, 2007 at 7:09 AM  

We set our at 60 at night, 65 during the day.

We don't allow our children in the basement so they can't turn ANYTHING off, like the furnace, the water heater, the washer and dryer, the circuit breakers . . . but we don't have a PlayStation in ours either. Of course if we did, we still wouldn't let the kids in the basement so they wouldn't play with our toys!

By Blogger Bunny, at December 13, 2007 at 8:55 AM  

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