When fall creeps toward winter, we know we’ll have to turn on the heat. But when is the right time? If you’re arguing with your partner or roommate about the thermostat, we’re happy to be able to end that argument for you. (They’ll probably never admit they’re wrong, though.)
To find the ideal time to turn the heat on, we can’t just look at the calendar or even the outdoor temperature. The temperature inside your house is what matters. If your house occupies a sunny spot in a warm climate, you may be able to delay turning on your heat until it’s nearly the dead of winter. On the other hand, if your house is poorly insulated, sits in a shady area, or your local climate is on the chilly side, you may need to turn it on sooner.
So while you can ask your neighbors what date or what outdoor temperature they usually use as their guideline, you’ll need to look at your own thermostat to know when it’s time.
Keep the indoor temperature above 64 degrees for your health
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A report from the World Health Organization points out that temperatures below 18 degrees Celsius (about 64 Fahrenheit) may cause issues for smokers, people with asthma, and people with cardiovascular disease. Warmer temperatures are associated with better lung function and better blood pressure in these people. They conclude that 64 is a good minimum for most of us, but that people with these conditions—and people who are 65 or older—should be especially sure to keep their house at 64 degrees or warmer.
That said, if you’re under 65 years old and don’t have lung or heart conditions, the WHO is fine with you putting on a sweater and dealing with it. They say lower temperatures aren’t a health risk for healthy people who are moving around enough to generate plenty of body heat. You can also safely use clothing, bedding, or heating devices to stay warm at those lower temperatures—say, snuggling up in flannel pajamas with a hot water bottle under a warm duvet.
Set your programmable thermostat to turn on the heat when the temperature drops
So that’s the general rule, but what if you have a thermostat that lets you program different temperatures for different times of day?
Energy Star suggests setting your thermostat to kick on the heat when the temperature drops to 70 degrees in the morning or evening. If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set a “setback” to allow the house to cool down a bit at night and when you’re not home.
An eight-degree setback is recommended for when you’re out of the house during the day (at the office, for example) and then again for nighttime, since cool temperatures help us sleep, and we can use blankets if we’re too cold. That eight-degree setback would give us an indoor temperature that could fall as low as 62 degrees. Try that and see how the house feels. If it’s too cold, consider bumping up to at least 64.