Freezing Point of a Cat?
January 2, 2008 8:41 AM   Subscribe

What's a safe minimum temperature to keep my apartment during the day while my cat is home alone?

I live in Chicago, and as always, the winter this year is ridiculously cold. It's a brisk 14 degrees out right now, and it should get down to 7 or so tonight. Heating my charming (read:old) little brownstone apartment cost a fortune, and I'm trying to cut down on the cost wherever I can. I've already sealed all of my windows, and put those little pillow-log things on the doors to keep the drafts out. Now, I want to now, how low can I set my heat during the day while I'm out without hurting my cat? I've got it at 63 now without much of a complaint from him, but I'm hesitant to set it any lower than that.
posted by Oktober to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What sort of condition is the cat in? Unless he's somehow more delicate than a typical healthy adult cat I don't see why any temperature above freezing should be a problem. He has a coat of fur and he can curl up in a ball on your bed if he gets too cold.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2008

When I was much younger (and so was my cat), I ended up living one winter without any heat in my apartment except for a couple of portable space heaters. Which, of course, I could not leave running during the day. My cat (who was less that a year old at the time) was routinely in temperatures in the 40-50's (or at least cold enough to see your breath) during the day without any problems.
posted by kimdog at 8:48 AM on January 2, 2008

He's a completely healthy almost-3-years-old cat, if that makes a difference.
posted by Oktober at 8:51 AM on January 2, 2008

Yep, set the temp as low as you like, leave a nice fluffy blanket or something on your bed for Kitty to snuggle into, and he'll be fine. Bonus if you can arrange a sunbeam to fall on said blanket at some point.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:52 AM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Somewhat offtopic: What do you set it at when you are home? Oftentimes the power consumed by the system whilst heating your home back up is more than the net savings of turning it way down. In other words, its cheaper to maintain a cool temperature than heating it way back up from really cold.

Note: I live in Arizona, and have figured this all out for air conditioning requirements in the summer. Your mileage may vary in a cold climate, but I suspect it works both ways.
posted by uaudio at 8:53 AM on January 2, 2008

55 degrees is the target setting for a lived-in house when people are not present. Going lower than that can cause damage to plaster and other fun things, mostly due to expansion when the house warms up.

Get him a fleece blanket or a little bed and he'll be happy as a clam.
posted by TomMelee at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2008

Your cat would be fine at a much colder temperature. A lot of cats live outside, 24/7, in that 14 degree weather.
posted by beagle at 8:55 AM on January 2, 2008

on preview: @ uadio it's come to be known know that it's mostly a myth that you burn more energy reheating a cold house than keeping a constant temperature...assuming that your max warming temp does not exceed 70 degrees. FWIW, you can expect to save 5% on your energy bill for every DEGREE you turn down your winter thermostat, assuming you maintain a constant heat. Adds up fast.
posted by TomMelee at 8:56 AM on January 2, 2008

If you rent, not own, your landlord has to keep the apartment at a minimum temperature anyway. It's 68 degrees during the day and 63 at night. (Reference from a cursory Google search - I'm sure a better search can find the actual ordinance.)
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2008

We have two dogs that remain home while we're out. I keep the home in the low 60's (60-63). I've read where pets actually prefer a cooler climate than us so it's roughly 10 or so degrees less than our preference.

It's funny, when we're home on days we have off I always complain "why is this house so cold?" and then I realize it's set for us not being home.
posted by timmins at 9:00 AM on January 2, 2008

Just get him one of those electric cat pads and stick it in his favourite spot, so you know he always has somewhere toasty. Sure lots of cats live outside, but that doesn't mean your cat wants to be cold all the time. (As evidenced by the sudden onset of cuddling when the temperature drops.)
posted by anaelith at 9:01 AM on January 2, 2008

My thermostat is set to 57 degrees from 10pm - 6am, and the cats are fine. Even Wampa, my heat-seeking cat. I turn on a space heater in my bedroom so the dogs and I stay warm, but the cats, they wander the house. Unfortunately my nearly fatless, nearly hairless greyhounds don't handle cooler temperatures that well, so I have to keep the heat at a normal temp (68) during the day, even if I'm out. (And if I'm in, *I* require a normal temp.) I keep dropping the nighttime temp to see what we can handle. My house is not insulated and is damn difficult to keep warm, and the space heater isn't going to keep up after a certain point. But anyway, I wouldn't set it at 40 or anything ridiculous, but I'm sure you could go down to the mid 50s without complaint.

And from what I've read in various places, the "costs more to heat the house back up" theory (brought up by uaudio) is pretty debunked. It just never adds up that way.
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:10 AM on January 2, 2008

I live and work in a house set at 17-19 Celsius (63-66 Fahrenheit). I'm acclimatized enough to walk around in a t-shirt and light trousers most of the time; the cats curl up on the couch. The heat-seeking Burmese either burrows under a handy blanket, stalks the patch of sun from the unshaded window, or parks himself on my feet while I work.

If you want to go lower, try anything in the 55-60 range. Have blankets and cosy cat beds handy when you're not home and electric heating pads when you're there to supervise. Unless you've got a Sphynx, your cat will be fine.
posted by maudlin at 9:11 AM on January 2, 2008

I stand corrected. I would, however, really like to see where the theory is debunked (totally sincere request).
posted by uaudio at 9:32 AM on January 2, 2008

Lots of feral cats survive the winter living in unheated spaced. Your cat will be fine-- you should be thinking more about your house.
posted by miss tea at 9:39 AM on January 2, 2008

If you keep a small box for your cat with rugs or blankets around it for insulation - if they sleep in it their body heat will warm it up.

But they don't care. I live in the north and plenty of cats live outdoors through the winter. My cat insisted on spending the night outdoors and it's been between 10-20 F. He loves it. He's acclimatized though.

But you need to keep your house to a certain level to keep the pipes from freezing. I have heard 50 degrees F. I believe you would be liable if you let the house go below 50 and the pipes burst and damaged the apt.

We keep our house at 55 degrees. And we have heat tape on our water pipes.
posted by cda at 9:53 AM on January 2, 2008

I have an outdoor cat (basically feral cat who has never been able to pick up the niceties of indoor living) and we live in a cold climate. We have a cozy spot rigged up for her in the garage so she stays warm in the winter: it's a cardboard box (and what cat doesn't love a cardboard box?) lined with old wool sweaters (and what cat doesn't love wool sweaters?) with a clamp-style heat lamp, on a timer, set up directly over it (and what cat doesn't love hot rays of light?). We've done this for years and years and she's perfectly fine. You could do this for your kitty and it would still cost way less than heating the whole place. The lamp, I believe, is the kind originally intended for hatching chicks. It's like that clamp-on lamp from your dorm room, but with a big aluminum reflector and a heat lamp bulb. Very inexpensive. You'll probably have to turn the lamp off to get your cat to budge from under it!
posted by Enroute at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2008

@ uadio and the theory of the harder working furnace. It make sense that that would be true, but let's analyze it properly:

I had a big long explanation typed out, but I'll give you this: fun toy

No matter whether you heat your house to 50 degrees or 100 degrees, you're always battling heat loss as the cold outside literally sucks the heat from your home. There's no reason any home's furnace should have to work more than about 30 minutes to bring the home from, say, 55 to 69 after you get home. Your furnace doesn't have 50% on or 75% on, it's either blowing or it's not. So, for that 55 degree setting, it's only X degrees above the outside air, which is, say, 20 degrees. That's still 35 degrees above ambient, and your furnace will have to kick on maybe 7-10 minutes an hour, times 8 hours, for a total of 56-80 minutes of run time plus 20ish to come back to heat, so ~100 minutes. Same house set to stay at 69 is now set to stay 49 degrees above ambient. It's going to have to turn off and on a LOT more to maintain that, say about once every 10 minutes for 2-3 minutes at a time, or 12-15, even 20 total minutes per hour. Not to mention the fact that it flames up before the fan kicks on and wastes a little gas there. Now across 8 hours you're looking at 120 minutes of heating. That's a 20% difference.

Now add that power (and gas too, in many places) costs more during the day and less at night, and it starts to add up.
posted by TomMelee at 12:33 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Uaudio, it isn't a theory -- it is pretty simple physical facts. Try this analogy. Think of your house as a bucket with a small hole in the bottom. You fill up the bucket (your house) and the water (heat) leaks out the bottom. You have a faucet (furnace) that you turn on briefly every few minutes to keep the buck filled to the brim to keep up with the leak. Now here is the key. Averaged out over the day your water bill (heating bill) is exactly equal to the amount of water that leaks out of the bucket because the water you put in is equal to the water that leaks out.

When your house is at 70 degrees, the water is at the brim of the bucket and the water leaks out quickly. But if you keep the faucet off for several hours and let the water drain down to only half a bucket full (say 55 degrees), the water leaks out much more slowly because there is less water pressure forcing out the leak. So for half the day you only have a slow leak. Now you want to heat the house back up again by filling the bucket to the brim. You have to leave the faucet (furnace) on for a fairly long time to bring the level back up. But remember you are only paying for the water that leaks out of the bucket and for several hours during the day it was leaking less slowly because the temperature was lower. Even though you have to run the faucet or furnace a little longer for a while to refill the bucket, over the whole day, the amount of time the faucet (furnace) was on is less because the bucket was leaking more slowly for part of that time. Over the whole day you leaked less water or heat.

A leaky house is just like a leaky bucket. The higher the water level or the higher the temperature, the faster it leaks.
posted by JackFlash at 12:33 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Replace that typo with: But remember you are only paying for the water that leaks out of the bucket and for several hours during the day it was leaking more slowly because the temperature was lower.
posted by JackFlash at 12:38 PM on January 2, 2008

Electric dog/cat animal warmer:

I have one for my wussy cocker spaniel.
posted by andreap at 1:50 PM on January 2, 2008

On the leaky house subject:

I am by no means a physicist, but I don't think it follows, just by assertion, that heat loss from a building is exactly equivalent (whether by a linear, logarithmic or exponential relationship) to how water pressure affects the rate of loss of water from a bucket with a hole in it.
posted by galaksit at 2:16 PM on January 2, 2008

I am by no means a physicist, but I don't think it follows, just by assertion, that heat loss from a building is exactly equivalent (whether by a linear, logarithmic or exponential relationship) to how water pressure affects the rate of loss of water from a bucket with a hole in it.

I didn't say they were exactly equivalent but for the purposes of the analogy they may as well be. Most of the heat lost from a house is by conduction through the walls, windows and ceiling. Physics tells us that if you double the temperature difference between the inside and outside, you double the rate of heat flowing out. This is very much like increasing the water pressure by raising the level of water in the bucket. A large temperature difference behaves just like a large pressure difference -- it increases the rate of flow.

The same reasoning applies to the other two sources of heat loss, convection (drafts) and radiation. If you increase the temperature difference between the inside and outside, you increase the heat flow.

This might seem off topic but some people above suggested as a solution that the OP may as well leave the heat up all the time because it doesn't save any energy. This is not true.
posted by JackFlash at 3:22 PM on January 2, 2008

Get another kitty so they can snuggle together... or run amok - either will do the trick :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:25 PM on January 2, 2008

My local pet shop sells little cat dens that are like a box made out of padding, with a hole in one end for the cat to go in and out of, just big enough for a cat to lie down or stand up in. While it doesn't get particularly cold here, I expect that sort of thing would keep a cat comfortable, especially if put inside another cardboard box.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:32 PM on January 2, 2008

Lots of feral cats survive the winter living in unheated spaced.

And a lot of feral cats live short, unpleasant lives. We're supposed to want better for our pets.

Having your cat live somewhere too cold can cause kidney damage. I've seen it happen from two or three nights outside in a cold environment (above freezing), and it wasn't a happy eight months while he slowly wasted away. I don't know how low you can go before health problems set in, although I'd expect it to be similar as for humans, but don't go leaving your cat somewhere which is close to freezing fur coat or no. Even better, get some real information from a properly trained animal professional (preferably by ringing your vets office, it will be free and quick) rather than going by the crap posted here.
posted by shelleycat at 1:04 AM on January 3, 2008

jeez, Shelley, I wasn't advocating that she turn the heat off completely, just pointing out that 50 degrees or so is unlikely to cause harm-- and that's the temp under which your house may begin to have issues in the winter.

Sometimes this place is full of people who purposefully misconstrue the most innocuous comments.
posted by miss tea at 4:43 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've set the apartment to 58 while I'm at work today, we'll see how pissed off he is when i get home.
posted by Oktober at 11:03 AM on January 3, 2008

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