Everything is getting more expensive these days, and the fuel that heats your home is no exception. Whether you burn oil or gas or have electric heating, it’s going to be more expensive than ever to heat your home during the coming cold weather.
There are some obvious steps you can take to save money on heating costs, from seeking out alternate ways of heating the house (though many of these aren’t any less expensive) to adjusting your thermostat with a precision normally reserved for scientists doing science. But once you start down the road of deciding just how low you can set your thermostat before life becomes unbearable, you may find yourself wondering: Do you even need heat? You’re a healthy, relatively tough person. Can you just turn off the heat and ride out the winter swathed in layers and fueled by warm drinks? The answer is, yes, maybe, depending on the climate where you live. But the real answer is that you really, really don’t want to.
Baby, it’s (probably going to be) cold outside
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The first thing to consider is that you can’t assume a mild winter, especially in this age of chaotic climate change. The second thing to consider is just how cold it’s going to get inside your house. If you think being sealed up in an interior space will protect you from the winter, you’re only partially correct. Your home will spare you from being lashed by the wind and will keep the snow and slushy rain off of you, but no matter how well-insulated your house is, it will eventually become as cold as the outside temperature. Your house transfers whatever residual heat it has to the outdoors via three basic processes: Conduction, convection, and radiation. This transfer of heat energy will continue until the home reaches “thermodynamic equilibrium” with the outdoors—until the house is as cold inside as it is outside.
That means if your area has a history of getting frigid during the winter months, you’re not going to just be cold and uncomfortable, you’re going to be freezing—and that can be deadly for both you and your home.
The effects on your home if you leave it unheated
Your home wasn’t designed to be unheated, and it will suffer if you let it get too cold for an extended period of time. The potential (and probable) damage can include:
- Condensation. Maybe you think of cold weather as dry and harsh, but if you let the temperature get too low, the surfaces of your home will start collecting condensation, and everything will get damp. This will drive up the humidity and encourage mold growth, which can lead to severe health issues. It can also make it impossible to dry your clothes or bath towels, and wearing damp clothing all the time can lead to skin conditions.
- Burst pipes. If you let the interior of the home get too cold, you run the risk of seeing your water pipes burst when the water inside them freezes and expands. You can turn off the water or leave taps running to try to prevent this, but that leaves you without running water as well as no heat.
- Everything else. Just about everything inside your home was designed to exist or operate at something close to “room temperature,” generally between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s colder than that, some materials will shrink and dry out. This can damage everything from your flooring to your walls to your appliances.
Just like your house, your body is also susceptible to the damaging effects of chronic cold temperatures:
- Illness. The aforementioned mold growth will certainly negatively impact your health, because cold air causes inflammation in the lungs, exacerbating existing conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also lead to a long list of health issues including infections, heart disease, and stroke.
- Skin health. Living in constant cold can dry out your skin and make it prone to cracking and sores, and living in damp clothes that never quite dry out can lead to rashes and other skin ailments.
- Sleep. It’s more difficult to fall asleep in temperature extremes, though using a hot water bottle or heated blanket can help with this.
In the end, the potential costs in terms of damage to your home and your health will more than offset any financial benefits of living without heat. It’s a much better idea to set the thermostat to a low (but not insanely low) setting and find other ways of saving money that won’t make your life a misery.