How cold is it inside up North?
January 3, 2014 4:58 AM   Subscribe

I live in the southern US and am curious about heating systems "up North".

Waking up to 16F here this morning (this is very cold for the southern US), I already know my electric central heat pump won't keep up with it, so I don't even try to let it run it's normal schedule. (62 at night, 66 in the mornings, 64 in the daytime, 62 in the evenings) - I just left it at 62.

As I was drinking my coffee though, it got me thinking about what it would be like to live where it's routinely colder than this, say, like in Ft. McMurray Canada (only because I listened to a radio program about it recently).

I know electric heat pumps are out of the question for winter heating anywhere much further north than where I'm at, so I'm guessing gas or heating oil is the fuel of choice - but what do folks keep their normal indoor temp at for a house using these kinds of fuel? Does the furnace run 24/7? I mean, if the average temp is between -3 and 12 (I checked Ft. Mc), it would seem like you'd have to have either a super insulated house, wear a lot of wool, or have a super duper heating system to keep up.. or a combination of all of the above? Brrr!
posted by dukes909 to Home & Garden (84 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not in Alberta, but outside Toronto, Ontario where the current temperature is -9F (feels like -29F!). We use gas for heat and keep our thermostat (when we are home) at 69F. When we aren't home or just before we go to bed we will turn it down a degree or two. I'm not sure if that is typical though. This is the first place I've lived where my father didn't control the thermostat.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 5:06 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Outside Boston. Regarding the 24/7 question, our new thermostat allows us to see how long it's run each day. At worst (coldest day, highest settings because we're home), the furnace runs around 6 hours a day total. On warmer days, or days when the set point is low because we're away, it can be much less. A super insulated house would definitely help, but isn't always the norm for old old houses. High heating costs and lots of wool are pretty much standard. We keep our thermostat around 69°F when we're home & awake, 60°F when we're sleeping, and 50°F when we're gone.
posted by jeffjon at 5:18 AM on January 3, 2014

Calgary, Alberta here. It's about 28F right now, and will hit -2F within the next 24 hours. We have forced air heating with a high-efficiency natural gas furnace. Our house is (relatively) well insulated. We keep the house at 68F, and don't really notice the furnace, but it kicks on at different times throughout the day. Oh, and heating costs are around $100-150/month in winter for 2400sqft. If it were up to me I'd keep the temperature much lower, but we have a 10 month-old that moves so much when he sleeps that he's never under the blankets.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:25 AM on January 3, 2014

We live in a town on the North Shore of Massachusetts. We tend to keep our thermostat at around 68-72 depending on how cold it is outside. We have gas heat in a small apartment, so even with the thermostat up all day, our furnace isn't running all day. A number of furnaces shut off or work less hard when the temp of the place reaches what the thermostat is set to.

Right now, it's 9F out with a windchill that makes it feel like -12. So, our furnace will work extra hard today.
posted by zizzle at 5:26 AM on January 3, 2014

Greetings from 8"-deep Philadelphia! Depending on who you are, it's a combination of up to three of those. Many of our houses are pretty well insulated, so the furnace doesn't have to run all day, though that's not as true of the older housing stock that a lot of us have in old northeastern cities (I rent a crazy-drafty house). The question of wear-lots-of-wool vs insulation-and-furnace is a matter of preference; I tend to keep my house around 65 and wear layers, while plenty of people I know just keep their houses at 72 year-round and deal with the bills. (Not that mine are dirt-cheap, but a lot lower than if I had to blast the heating more often.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:27 AM on January 3, 2014

New Vineyard, Maine here. Weatherunderground says it's -8 outside, -28 with the wind chill. I heat exclusively with wood, mostly ash and birch. When I got home from work this morning at 6:45 AM the thermometer near the wood stove read 50 degrees. I dug a few arm fulls of wood from underneath the snow (we got about 5" last night), rekindled the fire, and I've got the temperature up to around 58 degrees now. Time to put on my long underwear and turn in for the day. BTW, it's not so bad. You get used to it. Except having to walk the dogs. That always sucks in this kind of weather.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:28 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gas furnace for me here in Minneapolis. Almost all homes here use gas furnaces. We keep our home at 66 while we're home and up, and 62 overnight and away. It's been a very, very cold winter here so far, but I haven't noticed the furnace kicking on much more than normal. I would say it runs maybe 6 times a day for 20 minutes each. Once the house gets to 66 or 67, it takes a surprisingly long time for it to drop to 62.
posted by sanka at 5:33 AM on January 3, 2014

Maine here as well, same temps as jwhite1979, but I've got oil heat, hot water baseboard. I keep it at 55 at night, and 60 during the way when I'm at work, because how water baseboard heat is slow to warm things up and I don't want to sit in my coat for an hour when I get home. After that I turn it up to high-60s for the evening.

Because my furnace uses hot water, it runs winter and summer, because I'm always using hot water.
posted by JanetLand at 5:34 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis here. It is 0F here right now. We have a forced air system with a relatively new natural gas furnace. We also have a very well insulated house. The thermostat is set for 69 in the mornings and evenings and 66 the rest of the time.
posted by Area Man at 5:34 AM on January 3, 2014

In the US, the Energy Star efficiency guidelines recommend (ideally with a programmable thermostat) 68F when you are home and awake and about 10f cooler at night and when you are out. Anecdotally, I'd say almost everyone goes warmer than that, except for a small set of people who go low 60s and wear thick sweaters. (That's for the northwest, including Alaska and BC; I saw more variation in the northeast, maybe because of higher energy costs and older buildings and furnaces.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:34 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's -3 degrees here in Islesboro, ME and we heat with wood. With the woodstove cranking as hot as we can get it, the temperature in the house is up to 64. It cools down a bit over night as the fire cools and we have a backup K1 heater that comes on at 50 to make sure pipes don't freeze.
posted by unreasonable at 5:36 AM on January 3, 2014

It's -5 here in Muncie right now.

Up here, if you have a heat pump, you usually also have a secondary heating system (or, at least, you should) My heat pump is pretty worthless once the temps drop into the 30's or so.

Newer homes generally have great insulation here. My older, early-70's home has crap insulation and, as a result, I'm currently trying to thaw a frozen cold water pipe in my kitchen this morning.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on January 3, 2014

Last year when I was without power for 10 days with outside temps in the 20s and 30s, the coldest it got was around 43 degrees inside. That was on the last day at night. During the day with the sun shining, I had most of the house at a toasty 52 without any heat or electricity. You get used to it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:38 AM on January 3, 2014

Insulation is a lot better in houses in the north, especially with respect to windows. The design of the houses is also different-- fewer floor-to-ceiling windows. Sliding doors out to the porch,if they exist,are much more well insulated. Multiple levels allows the heat to rise to the upper floors, keeping the bedrooms warmer. In the apartments I've lived in, if I turn the heat completely off in the winter, the temperature settles at about 55-58 F or so.

Gas is typical. Oil is more common in older houses. Electric baseboard heating is actually not uncommon and works reasonably well.
posted by deanc at 5:38 AM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Balmy Montreal reporting in at -9F. We have electric heat, forced air. That system replaced heating oil, which this place had until about 5 years ago. Oil is still quite common in this neighborhood. Some people have dual systems and heat electric until it gets to a certain temp, then switch to oil when it is really cold. Our post WWII home has ok insulation, double glazed windows are of course standard around here. The heating system is on all the time from Nov-May so pipes don't freeze. It cycles warm air on and off as needed. We keep it at 64 at night and when we aren't home, put it up to 71 when we are home. Our electric costs for the year are about $2500/year for a fairly modest single family home. We also have A/C for the sweaty summers (ah, Montreal!) but rarely turn it on.

My parents (in a rural area with similar temps) heat mostly with a wood stove and supplement with electric.
posted by Cuke at 5:41 AM on January 3, 2014

London (UK) here. Heating is ridiculously expensive. A friend moved into a large house a couple of years back during a cold snap (20ºF) and his monthly heating bill was £600 ($900) until he starting cranking down the thermostat and unused rooms colder.

Insulation is pretty important or you're just burning dollar bills as the heat escapes to the outside, especially where wind chill is a factor. It also pays to do things like keep doors to rooms shut to keep warm air in, shut drapes when it gets dark to prevent heat loss.

My own home in London, which is not that well insulated, drops to about 60ºF during the day, and sometimes lower if it's cold and nobody's in. So yes, a woolly jumper helps. In my old apartment, I barely needed heating at all because I was surrounded by four apartments and it picked up tons of heat from my neighbours.

In places like Russia and Finland district heating, which is generally more efficient, is more of a thing. You do find it in Canada and the US - notably Manhattan's steaming sidewalks - but it is less common.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:42 AM on January 3, 2014

Outside of Boston, here.

We have an oil furnace (ugh - expensive, and you have to pay for it in lump amounts when the tank gets filled, rather than monthly as for gas) and steam radiators. The house is around 100 years old and probably not super well-insulated, but it's small and the windows are relatively new, so it's not terrible. We keep it at 67 when we're home/awake and 59 when we're asleep/at work. It got down to around 0F last night and we noticed the radiators coming on at 3AM or so, which is very rare - usually it just slowly cools down to 59 and then cranks up again around 5 or 6 to get the temp up before we wake up.

My mom's 30-something-year-old condo has a heat pump and also electric backup heat. As much as she hates turning on the electric heat, I'm guessing she's doing it today.

I've lived in the Northeast most of my life, in houses heated with gas, oil, electricity and even wood and coal and I can't remember ever *not being able* to keep the house in at least the high 60s (except when the power goes out, ugh). I've certainly turned the heat down in horror over how much it's going to cost, though.
posted by mskyle at 5:59 AM on January 3, 2014

It's not so much wind chill as wind penetration that makes it hard to heat poorly-insulated houses. Wind chill only affects living organisms. I heated with wood for many years and miss it sometimes as I could always reheat myself quickly by sitting next to the stove.
posted by mareli at 6:01 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in Minneapolis as well and I keep my heat at 70 in the evenings when I'm home and let it go down to 60 overnight and during the day while I'm at work. It's been especially cold here lately though so I've been putting it up to 71 or 72 when I'm home otherwise I sit around just feeling like I'll never get warm, despite wearing warm clothes, socks and being under a blanket. My house is almost 100 years old and the windows are kind of old so I don't know how well insulated it really is. I think it could use some updating.

The biggest frustration for me during this really cold weather is how the heat sucks every last bit of moisture out of the air and my house is bone dry (along with my hair, which is long and which can only be kept in place by me putting a coating of hand lotion on it several times a day). I use a humidifier which helps, though it's limited, so I usually just end up boiling a big pot of water every night to keep some moisture in the air.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:03 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm sitting at my mom's house in Vermont, where it's currently -8F. There's a wood stove in the living room, which makes the living room quite warm and the upstairs and kitchen cool. (There's a family room and a bedroom which were added to the house at some point. They're basically freezing because the stove doesn't heat them.) There's a propane-fueled furnace powering baseboard water radiators that's set somewhere in the low 60s that I think mostly comes on at night when the fire has gone out.

I live in Minneapolis. AFAIK, my building is heated by a natural gas-powered furnace. There are steam radiators in the apartments and very little control of the heat (anywhere--I don't think the landlord can control the furnace properly either), so my apartment is generally either freezing or so warm you have to wear shorts when it's -30 outside. (I had the window open at -30 one year.) I think this is about par (maybe a little worse) for older (1910s) Minneapolis apartment buildings.
posted by hoyland at 6:05 AM on January 3, 2014

Yes, a combination. I'm in NYC, but even at 10F I'm in wool, and the heat is running nonstop to keep up with the draftiness (gas-fueled, hot-water baseboard heaters; I can hear the water running through the pipes as I write). I'm in a 2-family building that's well over 100 years old, so despite having replaced windows, etc., even the walls are cold to the touch. Like blue_beetle I have to keep heat on through the night, because my son kicks blankets off.

Our gas & electric bill is about the same, on average, in winter and summer. We use minimal a/c to temper humidity, and still I rarely see a spike in either season (though one is more electricity and the other more gas).
posted by whoiam at 6:07 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm also in Toronto, Canada. My current townhouse is heated with Natural Gas and this cold snap seems to be a lot for the furnace, so I'm sitting at about 65F right now indoors. I've been here for two years and expect the furnace is original (so 17 years old). I can't do much about insulation here, but will also be looking at improving the seal around the doors this weekend.

My old house had oil heat and was a bit drafty (55 years old). It also had a poorly insulated attic and we ended up sleeping in wool long underwear a lot, under a warm duvet. The bedroom was much colder than what we had the thermostat set to. Once we added more insulation to the attic, the long underwear was no longer necessary. Insulation makes a big, big difference and newer construction has a lot more of it.

The house I grew up in had old slider windows that were super drafty. As a kid in the 70's I could scrape frost off the inside of my bedroom window. Those were replaced with insulated windows with some sort of gas in them and were much, much warmer. That house had an electric furnace, but that isn't nearly as common here as natural gas.

I've also lived in a south facing high rise where I rarely had to run the heat in the winter.
posted by TORunner at 6:07 AM on January 3, 2014

Also, I should mention that Centerpoint (our local energy company) allows a plan where you can pay a set amount per month based on your average use for six months. So this month my bill went down to about $60/month, which is based on the previous six months of energy usage (and included summer, when I hardly used any). Before that, it was $90/month which included part of last winter. If they didn't have this plan, I'd likely be paying around $250-$300/month right now for heating and next to nothing in the summer, so it's nice to be able to spread the cost out over the year. I don't know if other areas do this or not.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:08 AM on January 3, 2014

SE Michigan here - it's currently -5F and we have 8 inches of snow. My house was built in 1900 and while we're replaced windows and added insulation it's a drafty old house. We have hot water heat and a gas furnace - the furnace pump runs often when it's this cold and we set the thermostat at 69 during the day and lower at night. Still need lots of layers because old house=leaks despite years of caulking, replacing leaky openings etc. Radiators are the best - quiet and a place to heat one's jackets, towels and cats!
posted by leslies at 6:08 AM on January 3, 2014

On the Riviera of Vermont (near Brattleboro, Southeast corner) — it's about 4 degrees. We have a well-insulated 2100 SF house that we heat with one small woodstove plus we leave just the master bedroom zone of our central heating system on at 60 degrees. We use 3 cords of wood and around 100 gallons of oil. The kitchen/family room area that's well-heated by the stove and where we spend most of our time is 70-75 degrees, except overnight when it drops to 60-65 depending on the outside weather. With outside temps in the aughts as they are now, the stove gobbles up about 5.5 cubic feet (the full size of our woodbox) or .04 cords, and is kept going about 18 hours a day. But most of the time it's just 2-3 cubic feet.

It's entirely possible in these parts and much farther north to build a net-zero energy house. A friend of mine is completing one (actually a retrofit of a 200-year old farmhouse) that will rely completely on solar panels running a heat pump, supplemented with resistance heat in the coldest weather. See PassiveHouse.
posted by beagle at 6:09 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Center of the Catskill Mountains here. I've shoveled 20 inches since yesterday. I moved back from North Carolina's piedmont because of the heat/humidity. Don't forget, most people in the north don't mind cold as much as people in the south. I heat by electricity but have separate thermostats in each room. I keep the temps about 65/62 day/night unless I'm in the room and then I have a small portable heater and a large great dane who loves to cuddle.
Oh yes, and warm clothing, of course.
posted by donaken at 6:09 AM on January 3, 2014

If you lived in Ft. MacMurray you're not only have to heat your house but your truck/car engine as well overnight with a block heater.
posted by beau jackson at 6:09 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was really impressed when I stayed at a friend's family home in upper Vermont. Their basement has a wood pellet burning stove. They have a yearly delivery of a truck load of shrink wrapped pallets of pellet bags (think 50lbs bags of dog food). The pellets pretty well fill the basement at the beginning of winter. A bag goes into the hopper in the morning or every few days, ash gets shop-vacced out daily, shop vac gets emptied every few days. They keep the basement door open, and this is basically enough to have the heat rise to the upper floors.

They could have a heated house with no outside contact for the whole winter. It costs quite a bit upfront but when you're 3 miles to a neighbor you need to be pretty self-reliant.

I don't know what they kept the thermostat at, but I was very warm.
posted by fontophilic at 6:10 AM on January 3, 2014

-9 degrees here on the shore of Portage Lake, just north of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I'm in a smaller house built in 2007, a renovated cottage. When the house was rebuilt they put in walls with 6 inch studs instead of the typical 4 inch, my house is super insulated. Heat is via a very efficient naturaly gas fired boiler that supplies hot water heat to baseboard heaters in the basement and the 2nd floor, the main level has a radiant heat concrete floor (three inches of concrete with rows of hot water filled plastic tubing running through it). The boiler also heats the water in the water heater. We keep the temp at about 68 degrees most of the time. The great thing is that I can walk barefoot all winter, the heated floor is toasty. The boiler doesn't run all the time. Once the concrete floor is warm it holds the heat nicely and takes a long time to cool down. I get the same effect in the summer, once the AC has cooled the house (and the concrete), it stays cool and the AC doesn't run constantly.

I do have a small woodstove in the basement entertainment room that, when I fired it up yesterday with temps in the single figures, heated the basement to about 70 degrees with no help from the boiler.

I'm on a hill where a wind usually blows in off the frozen lake, last month my heat/hot water bill was about $130, it probably won't get much more than $150 this month (if it stays this cold).

Stay warm... Husky (from last year's walk about this time) and I just got back from a beard freezing three mile walk... She wanted more, I had enough!
posted by HuronBob at 6:12 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live in Minnesota in a crumbly Victorian. We have radiators and a relatively recent furnace. We keep the thermostat at 60 most of the time, cranking it up to 63 or so for guests. The thing is, many people (not everyone - age, health and physical type modify this) can adjust to lower temperatures over time, just as people can adjust to higher ones. I wear a thick cotton cardigan and socks when at home, but I stay pretty warm. The key is to accept that for the first week or two of cold weather, you're going to be chilly. (I've noticed the same effect when living without air conditioning - I'm comfortable in temperatures about 5 degrees higher than I used to be when I had A/C.)
posted by Frowner at 6:21 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

As you're seeing from the responses, it depends on a lot of factors including the age and design of the house. For the most part, people know what the weather is like in the places they build houses, though, so houses up north are better-insulated with better heating systems. (It got down to ~-10F last night and the gas furnace in our 1950's-era house ran about 15 minutes per hour with the thermostat set at 62.) For landlords, there are usually rules about the living spaces being able to be kept at 65-70F, so you can assume that most functional living spaces can be heated to those temperatures in all typical weather. I'm sure your house does a better job of venting heat out in the summer than my little oven does, and central air conditioning in homes is somewhat rare around here.

That said, most houses I know of have one room that is much colder or warmer than the others. The reason our master bedroom is the "guest room" is because it's the coldest room and I don't want to sleep in there! We close the door and the heating vents when it's not being used so we don't waste the money in heating an unused space, and it's probably in the 50's when the rest of the house is in the 66-68 range, as it usually is when we're inside.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:22 AM on January 3, 2014

It is much, MUCH warmer inside northern houses in the winter. Our houses are very well insulated. I've lived in Minnesota and am currently in Wisconsin and the coldest winter I've ever spent, by far, was in Berkeley.

At the moment it's -11 outside, I've been up for an hour, and I haven't heard my furnace kick on. We keep it at 68 usually but it's at 70 at the moment because we're sick and whiny.
posted by gerstle at 6:24 AM on January 3, 2014

-1F right now here a bit north of Chicago, living in a 'historic' apartment building. Which means that we have single pane windows and the hundred year old doors are not terribly well insulated. On the other hand, our walls are solid stone.

We're running a gas boiler in the basement which uses the original hydronic massive cast iron radiators. My indoor thermometer says 60 degrees, but it's near a window, and I feel toasty warm.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:25 AM on January 3, 2014

Oil is most common in my area of central CT, but it varies by town. Even new construction will have oil in many cases. I work from home, but I keep my thermostat at 64 almost always. We have a propane fireplace as well, which helps quite a bit.

My old house had a unique setup that I don't think many people know about, which is a shame. It was a hybrid heat pump/oil furnace. Basically, if the temperature was below 25-30F, or if you turned the thermostat up a great deal then the oil furnace would kick on. At other times the heat pump would run for heating and cooling. We choice this when we needed a new furnace, and it ran us about 4k more than just the new furnace would have. But it also provided air conditioning to our house (as heat pumps do). Fabulous system, and it reduced our oil bill by maybe 40%. If I still lived there, I'd put in solar panels to run the heat pump in order to make it more cost efficient.
posted by smalls at 6:29 AM on January 3, 2014

I live in Chicago. My apartment has a...unique heating situation so I thought I'd share. (NB this is not typical at all, I've never seen it before and no one who has seen my heating system has ever seen it before.)

I have a box of fire in my living room.

It is gas fueled. It's a glass front metal box (with some ductwork that vents outdoors) with ceramic bits in it. There might be a small fan to project a bit of hot air out of it. Basically there's a fire in it and it heats up the ceramic bits and makes things warm through radiant heat. I generally keep it cranked to max if the weather is below freezing, and mid-high if it's in the 40s or so. There is no readable thermostat on the fire box.

I also have a very small gas heater in the kitchen (other side of the apartment) that kicks out some radiant heat. I keep it set to low (62°) on days when it's below freezing.

This does reasonably OK at heating my 3 bedroom apartment. In the living room it's generally around 75°, getting down to about 65°

Even running full blast nonstop (I have a small dog so leave everything running during the day) I've never had a gas bill over $90, which is reasonable I think compared to other apartments I've lived in with central heat.

I think this was the cheapest way my landlord could put heat into a 100+ year old building.
posted by phunniemee at 6:34 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eleven degrees here in NYC. My 100-year-old-plus coop apartment building is heated by heating oil, with a big boiler in the basement. Heat is distributed via radiators and pipes through the building. Most of the time I have both radiators turned to low or off, as I am on an upper floor (upper floors are typically warmer due to heat's rising), but in this cold snap we turned the living room radiator up. The pipes just radiate heat and have no controls. The windows are a bit drafty, and I can feel cold on the tile floor near the window in the kitchen, so I know it's not the best insulated structure.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:35 AM on January 3, 2014

As many people have said, insulation is what really makes the difference. I've lived most of my life in northern climates, but I spent one year in Florida. There was a "cold snap" in which the temperatures went down to 40°F overnight, and the temperature in my apartment (an older building) went down to 50-55°F because of it. Double-paned windows and wall insulation really do make a difference.

Oh, and as was also alluded to above, you can get away with heat-pump-based systems farther north than where you are; I had one when I lived in Bloomington, IN. But if you use a system like that, you need an auxiliary heat source for the colder days. Mine was electric. (The advantage of a heat pump system is that if it's hooked up right, you can use it for air conditioning in the summer too — which was also necessary in Bloomington.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:36 AM on January 3, 2014

Here in Cleveland, Ohio it's an (apparently) balmy 10 degrees F.

Most of the heat systems here use natural gas. Older buildings and apartments often have boilers and radiators (hoyland makes a good point about these systems having little control over the temp - no pants for me at the moment and the not-entirely-trustworthy thermometer on my desk clock says it's 78.8 inside the apartment, but there's just enough of a chill from the windows that I'm right on the verge of putting on some sweatpants.) Newer buildings tend to use forced-air systems.

Either way, the general consensus seems to be to keep the thermostat set around 68 - 72 if people are present and awake, and the heat systems don't run all the time, they cycle up and down. We do tend to wear maybe a bit more clothing around the house than down South (I spent 10 years in southern Florida), but between getting personally acclimatized to the temperature and generally better-insulated buildings, we're talking sweat pants or long pajama pants and maybe a light sweater or flannel shirt, not bundled up in layers of wool.

And triggerfinger's post about the energy company allowing people to spread the heating costs out across the whole year applies up here, too.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:50 AM on January 3, 2014

I grew up in Chicago, in not-terribly-well-insulated houses, and when I went to grad school in North Carolina, I could not BELIEVE how badly insulated the houses and apartments were. It was like they were built of plywood and spit! Okay, I know that's not true; they're just built for different weather conditions, but I always felt like I was living in a hut whenever it got cold because of the complete lack of insulation ... and both of the houses I grew up in were drafty and a bit chilly because they weren't very well-insulated. It's just a totally different level of "barely insulated" in the South than in the North.

Right now I live in a 1950 cottage in Central Illinois that is reasonably insulated, though not great. My furnace runs on natural gas (which is a utility that magically comes to the house in underground pipes, like water; it's not like propane where you have to go buy the tanks -- I did not know steam was a utility in NYC until literally yesterday, so maybe other people don't know about natural gas) and my heat is forced air. It's not a terribly up-to-date furnace but it works fine. I keep the house at 64 during the day and 62 overnight; it's 1*F outside right now and comfortably 64 inside and my heat has just shut off because it's done its job. Most people keep their houses warmer but I am cold-natured and cheap about paying for store-boughten air. If it were 68 I'd be in short sleeves! At 64 I'm barefoot but I have a sweater on. The furnace will probably kick back on in 20 or 30 minutes and run for 10 minutes or so. I don't usually pay more than $120/month for natural gas even in the winter (which is mostly heat, but my water heater, dryer, and oven/stove are also all gas, so a little bit "other").

I paid nearly as much in North Carolina for a couple of unusually cold months, because the townhouse was barely insulated and the heat was electric and electric heat is the devil's work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

* In Boston, I lived in a big old brick building with centralized gas heating. Even with my individual furnace off, it emitted so much heat that I had to leave the windows open in the deepest deadest winter (say, -10F).
* In Minneapolis, we had centralized electric heating in a home that stayed around 70F almost all the time.
* As a contrast, I've spent the last couple holiday seasons in Portugal. The houses are routinely colder than any I've ever wintered in, because the nighttime is not warm (say, 40-50F), but the houses are totally uninsulated since most of the year is between hot and very hot.
posted by whatzit at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2014

Bonjour from the Eastern Townships of Quebec, specifically Sherbrooke which is about an hour and change east from Montreal. It's about -14F right now (windchill of -31F). We have an old house. The back windows are double-glazed, but the front ones have all been sealed with plastic. We have a newish thermal pump for central heat/AC, but on days like today, we keep it running around 65F inside the house and use our woodstove to push us up to a balmier 70F and over. We mostly stick to the area where the woodstove is during the day because it's the warmest area. At night, we set the thermostat to a minimum for the rest of the house, pull the curtains over every windows just to lock more heat in, and sleep with an oil heater on in the bedroom with the door closed.

Winter sort of sucks when it's this cold.
posted by Kitteh at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 1890's Vermont house (3800 ft2) is selectively heated with timed thermostats, and supplemented with electric space heaters, heated sheets, and until a few years back, heater cats. The cats are all gone now, and I have an endothermic beagle I have to keep warm.

House has three sections. Oldest house is kept at 50 for the winter, barring guests and the newest section is modern construction and insulation and is still cool. It's not unusual for us to leave hats on inside in bad weather.

I have been shovelling snow this morning at -3 or so, high today will be 0. Thus, I am still wearing sub-layers of ski underwear and 4 top layers and I have been inside for a bit. WHen I go back out, it -40 down for weather this bad. Close to as bad as it gets. Will be -20 or so tomorrow morning.

House costs 4k/year to heat and power.... maybe 5k. Duty cycle on the heater depends on target temperature and outside, but is way less than 50% depending on ambient conditions.

The upside of all this is that the area is very stable. Most folks can't deal with this level of cold. The other upside is that the summers here are the most lovely things you can imagine. Just glorious.
posted by FauxScot at 6:59 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, I went to college in a dorm built around 1900, with radiator heat run on a steam plant that supplied the whole campus, and in a building housing 400 with tiny little individual rooms, and it was ROUTINELY so hot you were in short sleeves with the window open when it was below zero because you had to bleed off some of that damned radiator heat.

My senior year I lived in a basement room with a well-insulated steam pipe near the ceiling, and the combination of being underground, the ambient heat bleeding into my room from the rest of the building, my body heat in the small room, and the little bit of heat that bled off from the steam pipe meant that I didn't turn on my radiator all winter, and sometimes had to open my window.

A lot of older buildings have big boilers for heat that take three days to start up, and three days to turn off, so they start up October 1 and run until April 1 and if you get cold days in April you just freeze your butt off, and a warm day in February means everyone sweats like crazy. They're extremely efficient at heating a large building but don't give much fine control. Most Northerners probably went to a school or a college with a building like this, or lived in an old boiler-heated apartment building, where a couple day a year it was 80 degrees inside because it was 45 outside in January and the boiler couldn't be shut down.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:08 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm frugal and live alone, so I close up half of my small, old, unevenly insulated house in Maine during the cold months. The rest is heated by forced air, thermostat set to about 60 degrees during the day, 52 at night. I also have electric heaters in the bathroom and beside my computer desk.

I treat it like a competition to see how long I can go before having the oil tank filled. Last year I made it from Dec. 7th to Feb. 14th. I doubt I will be able to go that long this year.
posted by Knappster at 7:19 AM on January 3, 2014

Checking in from the North Shore of Minnesota, which is currently a balmy -8F. Temps will be in the -30 range with a strong wind off the lake this weekend...uff da.

I live in a house with in-floor heating. I am okay with a cooler-than-normal house, so I keep the thermostat at about 63 in the dead of winter. My east windows face the lake so when it gets windy I cover them with blankets to help keep the drafts out.

I've never lived anywhere with in-floor heating before, but I really like it. Having a warm floor somehow makes the whole place feel warm. I have a pair of fuzzy slippers I wear in the house. I also have my Warm House Clothes that I keep on when I'm just bumming around: corduroys, long sleeve t-shirt, and a wool sweater. Sometimes I wear a hat in the house. I've got about 30 blankets lying around (and covering windows) and I often will just drape one over my shoulders.

If I could just keep the drafts out, my house would be perfectly warm. I've tried putting plastic over the east-facing windows, but the drafts are strong enough to make the plastic flap and be noisy. I've found that tacking up wool and thick blankets works better.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:20 AM on January 3, 2014

Oh: and having in-floor heating is a great excuse to use the floor to store my clothes. When I pick clothes up off of my floordrobe, they're nice and warm. I keep my mittens and scarves on the floor of my coat closet, where there is a particularly warm spot.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:23 AM on January 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm in Montreal and in a sixplex; we each have electric baseboards which work fine at heating. I don't have programmable thermostats, I just turn them up when I go in a room and down when I leave. I usually leave them around 62-64 if I am in the room (they're at 64 now because it's so cold outside; I am completely comfortable), but I'm on the top floor and have people on either side of me.
posted by jeather at 7:29 AM on January 3, 2014

Living just 5 hours south of Ft. Macmurray in Edmonton, the temperatures are slightly warmer in the winter. In cold snaps, we hit -33C (-27F). With wind, it can feel like -40C (-40F). I've lived north of Ft. Mac for 2 years, where temperatures dropped to -40 without any wind factor.

Our natural gas furnace keeps the house at 21C (70F), though the windows tend to develop ice on them due to condensation. The car doesn't like to start at that temperature, and should have an engine block heater plugged in. Don't notice the cold unless we're outside, to be honest. It's a part of life and we adjust. It's a bit of a bragging point, actually.
posted by Amity at 7:31 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in the Boston suburbs and have a fairly new, well-insulated house with a ground source heat pump. This is an electric pump that runs glycol down into the ground (2x 400 foot shafts) to pull up some steady 50ish degree heat. Then the electric pump compresses it, boosting the temperature to 110 or so. This fills a big water tank which then runs to two air handlers in the house. No gas or oil. No combustion.

We leave the thermostat at 68 all the time because this type of system doesn't do well with setbacks. It takes a while to catch up if the temperature drops in the house and, unlike an oil system, you can't crank it up higher. Slow and steady.

When we first moved into the house we would set the temperature back at night (because that's what we always did) but we found it would have a difficult time coming back up to 68, especially if there was a big drop in the outside temperature during the night. Our system has electric backup heaters in the ducts (basically big toasters) that kick on if the primary system is having a tough time of it but we've never used them and have the breakers shut off because we feel they're not necessary. Some future owners of the house might feel otherwise.

We have a fireplace insert in our living room that is very efficient. It has a blower and really cranks out the heat. We run it most nights in the winter to boost the temperature in the living room a bit while we're watching TV. Last night I filled it before I went to bed just to give the heat a bit of a boost. The house was nice and toasty this morning despite the 0 degree temperature when I got up.
posted by bondcliff at 7:34 AM on January 3, 2014

No one has described this one yet, so up here near Sturbridge, MA, we have radiant ceiling heat, basically electric heating coils all throughout the ceiling that were installed in 1969 when the house was built. Think the heat lamps on the fries at McDonalds. They are controlled by separate thermostats in every room, but the thermostats don't have numbers, just notches. The notches mean different things in different rooms, so we don't know what temperature we're setting anywhere. We have learned what is comfortable and marked that on the dial. Although it is expensive, it is a very comfortable heat. THere are no drafts. If you turn the bed down before you get in for a little while, the sheets get nicely toasted...

But heating that way is ridiculously expensive. Previous homeowner showed us their $600/month bill. We used a tax rebate to install a Harmon pellet stove that heats most of the house very nicely, without turning the ceilings on. It runs non-stop, even when we're at work for the day except when we clean out the ash once a week. My husband throws a 40-lb bag of pellets into the hopper about once every 30 hrs. (We buy several tons of pellets at a time and have them delivered for a few hundred dollars). THis keeps most of the living areas at least 70F most of the time. If we leave on a trip, we typically turn off the stove (which would go out anyway when it runs out of pellets) and leave the electric heat on in a few rooms at a level we know will keep it in the sixties (for the cat). Our water pipes are in a basement that seems to stay at 50F with our current habits, so we don't worry about them too much.

We also have a more conventional woodstove in our den. When that is running, it can be more than 80F in the den and pleasant in the rest of that half of the house. It is completely free for us to use the woodstove because we cut the wood ourselves from our many trees; our little forest is way overcrowded because it was untended for a long time, so we would have had to have some of the trees removed anyway. I guess we pay some $$ in gas for the chainsaw and time. THe woodstove takes a lot of attention to run though, so we use it more like people use a space heater - it is a nice treat but not to be depended on. It is also our backup for power outages since both the ceiling and the pellet stove require electricity.

ANyway thanks for the question; it has been very interesting reading how people keep warm around here.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:35 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Madison, WI, here, where its 2F as we speak and supposed to get down to -20F next week. Our house has a radiators and a gas boiler, no forced air at all. We keep the thermostat at about 67 when we're home, which is no problem. The previous occupant had the thermostat set to 72 round the clock, so apparently the heating system could keep up. We do have high-quality windows, but almost no insulation in the walls or attic (working on that.) I'll echo what gerstle and others have said above about houses being generally built to stay warmer in the north. I had an apartment in San Francisco where I wore a wool sweater and a hat to bed at night because the windows were so drafty (one had actually been stuck about 1/4 inch open at one point and then repeatedly painted in place there by the slumlord) but I am consistantly very comfortable inside here, even on very cold days.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:48 AM on January 3, 2014

It's hardly warm though not super freezing here in the UK and it seems I have it far easier than most of you.

We have a pretty basic gas boiler in our small 2 bedroom house and we just turn on the heating when we feel cold, and turn it off when we feel warm. This means we leave it off all night then turn it on first thing in the morning. It takes about an hour to feel toasty. Our combined gas/electricity bill is about £80 a month ($130ish).

I have absolutely no idea what temperature it ever is in the house or what the thermostat is really "set" to as I just use it as a binary toggle up and down. If I'm going away for the day and want it to be bearable when I get home though, I'll usually put it anywhere between 15-20C (59F-68F).
posted by wackybrit at 7:54 AM on January 3, 2014

-8 in Central Maine, wind chill -36. Oil heat, paid by landlord (phew!) and every other place we've lived has also been oil heat, mostly paid by us. Generally keep it in the mid-60's. Sometimes up to 68 if one of us is feeling chilly but not for long.

Maine has a heating rebate program and you get anywhere from $100-$300 back if you apply for it. It's not much compared to what it costs to heat a house with oil all winter, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:56 AM on January 3, 2014

Pittsburgh, and formerly of Cleveland snow belt. Temp when I got up around nine was 5F. We have a 860 square foot house that's moderately poorly insulated, and keep the temp inside to 55 all winter, and I have a yearly contest with a friend to see who can put off turning on their heat the longest. (I lost this year--early November, 47 degrees in the living room. Unfortunately, I live with a child and partner who don't feel that "you can't see your breath yet!" is a reason not to turn on the heat.)

Despite the low temps, our heating bill, amortized over the course of the year, is over $100/mo. That also covers our hot water, etc, but the bill's about $30/mo when we're not using the heat, so--you know, math. There are things you can do to insulate better, but we're in a rental, so we're pretty limited.

I've spent my adult life living with heating like this, and it doesn't bother me. About once a week I'll have a day where I just can't get warm and end up with blankets and a hot water bottle, but for the most part, I can wear a long-sleeved tee and sweatpants and be pretty comfortable. Generic you, and maybe especially children, adapt pretty quickly to the cold. I took the dogs out this morning in a long-sleeved tee and a hoodie, and though I wouldn't have stayed out for an hour, the ten minutes I was out there was just fine. You adjust.
posted by MeghanC at 8:07 AM on January 3, 2014

Here in NYC, it is 15F and was colder this morning. My thermostat is set at 68F right now, and that's the interior temperature, although some rooms in my apartment may be a few degrees colder or warmer than that. I'm wearing a light sweater, pants and slippers and I'm fine.

The main thing to remember with heating systems up North is that you don't want your pipes to freeze. So if we're gonna be away for a few days during the winter, we don't turn off the heat - we'll set it to around 50F.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:20 AM on January 3, 2014

I live in the north (Boston, and formerly Chicago and New Haven) and visit my parents in Los Angeles every December for the holidays. It normally drops into the 40s at night in the winter, and those nights in my parents' house are usually the coldest nights I spend all winter.

Obviously it's much colder outside in Boston and Chicago overnight in the winter than in LA, but houses in LA seem to be built with very little insulation whatsoever (which makes sense, as temperatures seesaw between the day and night) so when it gets cool outside, it's cold inside.

So, yes, insulation makes a huge difference. As for temperatures, if I lived alone, I would keep my heat at 66 when home (or 68 if it's a particularly drafty place), 62 when sleeping and 55 when out of the house. I think it's silly, and a waste of money, to be walking around in a T-shirt and shorts inside when there is snow outside, but I also run fairly warm so that's that.
posted by andrewesque at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2014

Also, I don't know how the heating system fully works in my rental apartment, but it's natural gas and it comes up through radiators. You can usually hear it when they go on - they make a low hissing noise. We pay for heat, and it's generally about $50-$100 more on our gas bill during the worst of the winter. Our apartment is small, though.

One quirk in NYC (not sure how this works in other cities) is that the law says that if you can control the temperature in your apartment - if you have a thermostat - you pay for heat. If you can't, the landlord has to pay. Somewhat ironically, many apartments with landlord-provided heat are swelteringly hot during the winter. I used to regularly open my windows in January at my old place.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2014

This is a similar post that I wrote last year. Some of the answers are pretty interesting.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:33 AM on January 3, 2014

It's not super cold where I live (occasionally into the teens), but my parents heat their house with a wood-burning furnace and it is freaking hot. Much more efficient than the electric heating system I have. I'm sure it would keep them toasty in negative degree weather.
posted by Safiya at 8:38 AM on January 3, 2014

Toronto. Forced air from a gas furnace, good insulation and warm clothes, plus an electric space heater. Some places still have radiators, and those places are always chilly. Some places have electric baseboard heaters and those places are expensive and chilly. Plastic on the windows. I've lived further north in less well-insulated places and the key was to pin heavy blankets to the walls and over the doorway. Further north you can also bank up snow around the sides of your house for added insulation. Plus, you eat lots of warm food and stay active during the day. Hot water bottles in bed. Lots of fleece-lined tights or jeans, wool socks, and layering your clothes while out. Add someone or some pet to cuddle with and you're golden!

Bear in mind too that back in the old days, people would wake up and break the ice off the water basin in their bedroom. They were warm enough to survive, not to be comfortable.
posted by windykites at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in northern DE, which usually gets the edge of every Nor'easter (including the most recent one), and our house is all-electric. We've never had any issues heating up the house to whatever the thermostat is set at during the winter--usually it's 67 during the day, 62 at night, and 68-69 when we have visitors.

Personally, as someone who apparently runs cold I can't imagine how people can walk around in only one cotton sweater when it's in the 60's; at 67 I'm wearing one wool layer and another chunky cotton layer at all times, and my hands are still cold. It has to get up to 70 before I can wear just a thin merino wool sweater.
posted by serelliya at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in Toronto and our house from the 1950's has a 8-10 year old gas furnace. The temperature is constantly around 22-23C in the house (72-73F?) because both my wife and mother hate being cool at all inside the house. Our bedroom is above a garage and gets cooler, so we have a small electric heater for the room. If it were up to me the electric heater would go and the house temperature would be down to 18 or so. Last I checked the gas bill was about $200/month but it is averaged out over the year and the water heater, stove and oven all run on gas as well.

Our power went out for a couple of days after the ice storm and the coolest the house got was 14C, but we had a fire going during the daytime which got the temperature up to 17-18C.

My most uncomfortable winters were when I was in Japan because it was always cold inside the house.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2014

Oh, and the temp is set to 21° C.
posted by windykites at 8:57 AM on January 3, 2014

Fairbanks AK. It was -42F over Christmas, although it's warned up since then. We use heating oil and hit water baseboard radiant heaters (ugh) and supplement with wood stove heat for comfort and entertainment; the apartment behind our garage uses radiant floor heating (off of the same heating oil boiler).

We lost power for about 36 hours earlier this winter due to a windstorm, and we were able to keep the house at about 65 using the two woodstoves. Of course, it was in the teens at the time. If it had been forty below, it would've been more challenging.

We keep the house set at 65 and supplement with the wood stove, to actually keep it around 68.

But it's not typically windy in Fairbanks.

We tightened up our house a lot last summer, and now we're getting some frost/ice buildup on the crappy double-paned windows upstairs. The new windows are triple-paned and significantly better insulated.

I tend to be cold, so I wear long sleeves and a fleece jacket inside all winter.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2014

Three years ago, I moved from a house built in 1927 in Tennessee to a house built in 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri. Here's a brief breakdown:

TN House:
-forced air heat
-thermostat set around 69/70
-during cold snaps it ran almost constantly and didn't keep up.

STL House:
-gas furnace with radiators
-forced air heat that never gets used because I hate how it feels
-thermostat set around 69/70
-heated tile floors in bathrooms
-during particularly harsh cold snaps, furnace runs much more frequently and manages to keep the house quite warm. In slightly warmer winter weather, we actually get a little hot upstairs.
-woodburning stove in unheated/uncooled section of the house that can seriously put out some heat to the rest of the house when it's going full blast.

My takeaway, the house in St. Louis is better insulated and was designed for cooler weather. Also, radiant heat is vastly superior to forced air and regardless of where I live next I will never go back to a heat pump. Finally, the small tweaks like heated floors in the bathrooms and a wood stove make the particularly brutal cold snaps more livable.
posted by teleri025 at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2014

Re insulation: when I lived in Finland our windows were triple-paned. The front door led into a small area (not a full mudroom) with a second door leading inside, to help prevent the blast of cold air from blowing into the house, like an airlock.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm a recent transplant to Minneapolis. However, I'm from the south, and I cringe at y'all enduring temps that low, because houses there are just not constructed to deal with it. On the rare occasions that it was actually, for real cold when I was growing up, we just rolled up in blankets during the day and the furnace struggled to keep up--it pretty much ran all day. It was pretty miserable, even at temperatures far above what I'd consider cold now.

Here that isn't really an issue; even though our rental house is older (1950s), it's well-insulated. We have gas heat, and I suspect the house is stucco under the siding. Stucco seems to be common on older homes here, and I've been told it keeps out the cold better. We keep the thermostat at 67 during the day and 65 at night, and it kicks on relatively infrequently. I expect we'll lower it as we get more used to the climate.

The upstairs of the house stays pretty comfortable, but I definitely had to make some changes in my house attire--no more sockless feet or strolling around starkers!
posted by timetoevolve at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I just moved here from living my entire life in the South. (I had to use autocorrect to spell the name of my new state just now...) I've got a forced air gas furnace for my 1 bedroom apartment (with a big set of poorly insulated double doors out to the patio).

The furnace can keep my place up around 70°F without running all the time. In fact, I can show you how often it runs thanks to my Nest thermostat. The weather here on Jan 2nd had a high of 28°F and a low of 3°F, and my furnace ran for 9 hours to keep it around 71°F all day because the snow kept me home from work. ( I knew I collected all this data for something...)

I wore pajama bottoms, a T-shirt, a hoodie and house slippers all day and was perfectly comfortable, even with my Southern temperature preferences.
posted by cmchap at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in western Massachusetts, just far enough away from town that I can't connect to the gas line, so I and my neighbors are all propane. Like my neighbors, I have two 85-gallon tanks that are connected together. The propane company comes automatically to fill the tanks; I don't have to keep an eye on how much I have. I do a pre-buy thing in which I pay for my gallons of propane (estimating the amount I'll need for the season/year) in the summer, so I get a big, but expected, bill at one time instead of per filling. I think this past year I paid something like $1,300, and it should last me until March, hopefully later. My house is old, but had been renovated and insulated fairly well, and is very "open plan." The entire 2-story place is heated with one propane stove, which has (real) flames and fake logs, on the first floor, and a large ceiling fan on the second floor (which is one big room with a cathedral ceiling) which mixes up the air. The difference in temperature between the first and second floor is only a couple of degrees.

I keep the thermostat set pretty cool because I am cheap, at about 61 during the day, 58 a night, and if I'm home I'll manually turn it up to 63 or 64. Depending on the outside temp, the fire will click on and stay on for various lengths of time, and click off when the temp is reached. Even when it's this cold out, the fire will click off eventually. I wear long underwear sometimes, a scarf of some kind almost always, and every sofa has a blanket or two. (My sister lives in an overheated rowhouse in Brooklyn, the kind where she has to keep a window cracked some days, and she cannot tolerate the cold in my house. It's something you get acclimated to, for sure.)

In short: New Englanders LOVE to talk about heating.
posted by chowflap at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pittsburgh, PA and it's about 9F right now. We have a 150 year old townhouse with hot water radiator heat that works pretty well. We installed a 98% efficiency boiler in the system a few years ago and our monthly budget for gas works out to be about $90 if we keep the temperature around 68F.

Our windows are from 1869 and not exactly very good at keeping drafts out so we could be doing better with better windows but we're Victorian restoration purists. At some point we plan on putting in magnetic interior storm windows which should help things a little. There's no insulation possible with this house because the walls are solid brick with no air space.
posted by octothorpe at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2014

My in-laws live in Western MA and they have a coal stove heater deal. They converted from a wood burning stove maybe 5 years ago to save money. They got something like 3 tons of coal delivered a year or two ago. I think they're still working on that.

I find buildings in the Northeast US to be stifling hot in the winter.
posted by tealcake at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm in Vermont up the road from FauxScot. It's zero here. I live in a smallish (750 sq ft) apartment. My landlady lives in the big house in the front. Her place has high ceilings and is tough to heat but she has two wood stoves in rooms that can be closed off from the rest of the place so it might be 70 in her kitchen and 55 in the rest of the house. She has an oil furnace and we share it so I can't tell how often it's running for her or for me specifically. I keep my heat at 64 during the day and 55 at night (if it's really windy I might knock it a bit lower at night and higher during the day). My place is decently well insulated. Heat is stupid radiant baseboards. If I keep it at 55 at night, the heat comes on maybe twice in the eight or so hours that I sleep. I can only vaguely hear the furnace but when we're both settled in for the night with the thermostat way down, it's off. The big deal in winters here too is solar gain. I have some big south facing windows so if the day is sunny and not too windy, the house gets a lot of heat that way.
posted by jessamyn at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2014

Another Minneapolis check-in here. People earlier have done an excellent job of describing heating and insulation situations here. The one tidbit that I'll add: my home security system has a feature where if the temperature falls below 40F, it will generate an alarm at the monitoring company, who will then call me directly. That way I can hurry home (or call someone I know with a key to go to my house) and turn off the water before the pipes freeze.

The indoor temperature hasn't gotten that low yet. I did have a furnace emergency last season where the furnace went out at some point during the night. The outdoor temperatures that night were in the low 20s F, by 7:00 the next morning the indoor temperature was in the 50s.
posted by gimonca at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2014

Outside of Boston here, and it's boiled all the way up to 13F. But with 30 mph winds, so it feels a lot colder outside and of course drafts are increased.

We have a bizarro combination of a gas furnace with steam radiators (heats the downstairs, 1000 sq ft) and forced hot air/air conditioning in the upstairs (450 sq feet) because the previous owner illegally converted the upstairs into a separate apartment. "Newer" windows help a bit (at least I can't see the curtains blowing in the breeze like I've dealt with in other places) but this place was built in 1885 and there isn't much insulation in the walls. (We just had the kitchen redone and that meant going into an outside wall to rearrange some pipes, so when they got into the wall we could see there was zilch insulation apart from what the horsehair plaster provided.) It costs about $300 a month in gas in winter to keep the downstairs 60 at night and 65 when we're home, plus an additional $100-$150 to keep the upstairs at 62 all the time (it's just bedrooms and one bathroom which is like a 3 season bathroom. We've got a space heater in there but even so, the hot water has to come all the way up from the basement and apparently passes through some pretty cold pipes all the way, because in winter it doesn't get much warmer than lukewarm, which is not super comfortable to shower in if the ambient room temperature is 68 or so.)

Oh, and we are on the 2nd and 3rd story of a 2 family, so we benefit from the downstairs neighbors heating their apartment but lose a lot of heat via the uninsulated attic space (adding DIY insulation is a project for this spring). The snow is melting on the roof and falling off into the driveway even in these temperatures - that's how much heat we're losing via the attic.

We are expecting a baby in February and will probably need to suck it up on the heating bills aspect until she's a couple of years old and her system can self-regulate. In the meantime, the baby acts like a nice little onboard heater for me and my husband just suffers and wears a lot of layers. We use down comforters on our beds and that is damn toasty even if the room is about 55. Currently I am wearing leggings under jeans, a tank top, long sleeved shirt and cashmere sweater and I'm comfortable. (Oh, and socks and slippers with real soles). If I wasn't pregnant, I would have needed to add a bathrobe and probably a hat and maybe fingerless gloves because I am normally one of those people who is always cold.

This thread is great - I have been wondering for a while what other people in my area kept their heat at.
posted by data hound at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2014

I am in Alberta, older home. We have two forced air natural gas heaters, one for the main floor and one for the smaller upstairs bedrooms. We use programmable thermostats so that the house sits at 15 degrees when we are at work and about 18 when we are home. At night the main floor furnace is basically shut off and runs at 15, keeps the bills down. Takes about 5-10 mins to bring the house back to temp from 15-18.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2014

I'm living in Chicago right now sitting next to an open window because the damn steam heat in my old building can get stifling. My understanding is that this isn't abnormal behavior for older apartment buildings but that once you get a more modern place with a thermostat and central air you can actually keep things at a livable temperature.
posted by Carillon at 12:56 PM on January 3, 2014

Western MA here, also just outside of the gas-line range so we have a combination oil/wood burning furnace so we can use what's cheapest. There are electric baseboards in every room as well, but it's incredibly expensive to run them. House design makes a huge difference in heating efficiency, as far as I can tell. I've lived in upstate NY in 800 sq ft two story-townhouse apartments with gas fueled radiators and it was so so cheap and easy to keep warm. This house, by contrast, has no basement or attic (so we lose any buffer those may provide), lofty cathedral ceilings, has been added onto over the years (so there's no easy way to heat the entire house with a wood stove), many sliding-glass doors (total heat sink), and was not built with the best materials (so walls are thin-ish, windows in varying states of replacement.) In short, it's a struggle to keep the house at 61ºF today when it's about 11ºF with a breeze. You can feel the cold pouring off the walls. They're predicting -20ºF tonight. I imagine we'll be lucky to keep the house in the mid-50s (with electric heat on to keep pipes from freezing.) (The house came with the husband, so, I can't complain, but I won't be sad to move out of this house.)

We had the duct-work redone about two years ago, and that made a huge difference in the heat flow through the house. Before that, it used to cost about $3-4000 a year for oil!!! With the new ductwork, and putting plastic over windows that need it, plug up drafty bits with foam, and we've got the cost down to about $2000 for heat and hot water per year, and that's WITH us burning wood in the furnace to cut down on cost. But yeah, it is a LOT of money. In New England, oil is the major heating source since many of the houses are older.

There's not much to do about it, except layer clothes and sleep with water bottles. But as many posters have said, summers are glorious (gratuitous pic of a pudding mold).
posted by absquatulate at 1:20 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just moved to Northern Michigan, 1/2 a mile from a lake, so lake effect is a thing now. This house, with a gas heater I believe, stays nice and toasty just under 70 degrees. The windows are new which is a huge factor in my experience.

The place I moved from downstate was terrible -- it rarely got over 60 or 61 inside and that was with the gas heater running constantly when it was in the 30s outside. You'd hear the air stop blowing from the vents and then immediately hear the pilot click back on to start again. The windows were old and single-paned; you could feel drafts right through the sashes. Putting plastic over them did nothing to take the ease off the furnace -- I'm sure with the state of the windows the attic was not insulated or hadn't been re-insulated in a very long time. So I just had a little space heater than followed me from room to room and wore a big fluffy robe and slippers all the time. (There is no after pants up here during the winter. There is just velour yoga pants, slippies and robes.)
posted by mibo at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2014

I'm in Denmark, where it is never really hot during the summer, and winters change between really cold and just cold and damp. This year we are having cold and damp. I like it this way, hot weather is not comfortable to me.
Right now, I am changing from oil to geothermal, and really excited about it. I need to improve the insulation of my house dramatically, there will be floor heating, and I will supplement with wood stoves, but if this works, I'll be self-sufficient (there will be solar panels, too!). I get tax deductions for doing this.
We have a tradition for well insulated and warm houses - because of the building works, I'm living in what used to be the farm-hands quarters, and it is warm (72 degrees) and good, heated with a tiny wood oven and a supplement of an electrical heater in the bathroom. I even open the door to the yard for hours during the day, because it gets too hot.
posted by mumimor at 3:44 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've spent time with my husband's family in Sweden in winter, and inside was always much much warmer than I found comfortable. In his grandparents' place, that is achieved just with a small wood-burning fire. Basically the houses are insulated beyond a joke, with triple glazing (which I previously didn't even know existed), and super thick walls and ceilings.

Similarly in cold parts of Germany and Denmark, where I have lived, buildings are so well insulated that the outdoor temperature is kind of irrelevant. And living in apartment buildings in those places I generally didn't have to heat my apartment at all in winter, because it was surrounded by other apartments that were kept at ridiculous temperatures (like 25 C/ 77 F). Many Germans like to be able to wear t-shirts inside all year round.
posted by lollusc at 5:56 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm on the West Coast in Vancouver living in a condo downtown. This winter is mild for us. I have not heated my home yet, and some days have the windows a bit ajar during the day to let fresh air circulate.

Electric heat throughout the building with the common areas very warm. Me I tend to run hot and prefer a cooler apartment, I like to wear a sweater and sheepskin slippers indoors.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:00 AM on January 4, 2014

Philly, >100 year old rowhouse. This post got me thinking about what is meant by "insulation." I think of my house as not very well insulated because it's drafty as heck, but on the other hand, the walls are brick and the foundation is masonry and the joists are heavy and many of the walls are drywall over the remains of (often beat to hell) plaster. Plus, we're flanked by similar rowhouses on both sides. All the windows are modern double-paned guys. So we're not sealed up by any means but the style of construction does itself some favors, which is of course the point.

Anyway. Old cast-iron radiators heated by an ancient oil-fired boiler. One timed thermostat which is situated on the ground floor set as follows: 68 when we're home. 63 when we're sleeping, 60 when we're at work. (Give or take a degree.) I would love to set it higher because I'm part reptile, but I must admit that the ability to manage the finite tank of fuel makes it easier to be a miser about it. Oil costs us $400-$800 per year (depending on carryover, weather, price fluctuations, etc.) and after seven years it's fair to cite $600 as an average. It most certainly does not need to run all the time to keep up, even when it's 6 degrees like it is right now.

We wear normal seasonal clothes in the house, though usually that's a layer or two including a cardigan or hoodie, and socks with shoes or slippers. We have throw blankets handy to keep cozy while lounging in the living room. We are plenty warm sleeping naked under a sheet, blanket, and comforter. I have an electric-heated throw-blanket wrapped around me right now in my exceptionally drafty back bedroom/home office.
posted by desuetude at 1:10 AM on January 4, 2014

Ontario, Canada here. In my apartment, my unit has been converted to electric baseboard heating. It's an old stone building, and I'm surrounded by apartments, so they don't need to run all the time. The store downstairs keeps their place a little colder, so the floors are kind of cold.

My parents built a house recently with some 'new tech'. Argon filled windows, blown cellulose insulation, foam filled with concrete foundation, and my favourite - radiant in floor heating. Bunch of little water tubes got installed in the concrete floor of the basement, and when it got cold, it would run hot water and it made the tile floor REALLY nice to walk on. Since the heat was even over the entire floor, it was also more even throughout the house (which was otherwise forced air heating).

Insulation is king where it gets cold. Spend an extra $10k when you're building, and it will save you thousands in passive heating over the years. If the snow can build up on your roof, it actually helps insulate AND it means you aren't losing money from roof insulation. (Of course, rooves need to be designed such that dangerous amounts of snow will come off).
posted by aggyface at 6:51 AM on January 5, 2014

The furnaces aren't blowing hot air 24/7 during the intense cold. They cycle on and off in the keep-a-constant-temperature effort. The natural gas, propane and oil furnaces and similarly fired boilers provide a more efficient heating option for cold climates versus electric jobs.

During intense cold periods (<5>60 minutes. Heating the entire house to comfortable isn't very efficient and economical if one is only going to be in the living room and kitchen and the bedrooms are unoccupied.

Digital and digital programmable thermostats instead of those old fashioned round jobs are appropriate too. Because of the furnace's efficiency for the intense cold (compared to an electric pump), it is appropriate for temperature set backs during long, >4 hours unoccupied periods and nighttimes spent asleep and under the synthetic-, down- or silk-filled comforters and electric blankets.
posted by dlwr300 at 6:34 AM on October 28, 2014

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