It’s the stuff of sitcoms: the thermostat wars in which one household member keeps cranking the heat and the family miser repeatedly ratcheting the dial back down. (You know who you are!) While this back-and-forth drama plays out daily in homes across America, the guideline for temperature settings sits as if carved in stone. The government’s energy-saving advice is simple: Lock in the thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re awake—and then dial it back by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day, usually while you sleep, to save on heating costs. For some ice-blooded types, though, 68 is a laughably high number. It turns out, there’s a small but vocal contingent out there who revel in chilling out at 55 degrees—the unofficial bottom line of “how low can you go.”
How much can you save on your heating bill?
Life at 55 degrees is also a great way to cut your heating costs, especially during these inflationary times. “The Department of Energy states that lowering the thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day saves 10% off a heating bill,” says Luke Hamel, owner of Hamel’s Air Conditioning & Heating in San Diego. For those who take things a step further and keep the thermostat at 55 degrees 24/7, the math works out to lowering your heating bill by 30%. Ang, who follows this plan, says his heating bill is just half that of his neighbors’.
Chilly temperatures may be good for your health
Still not tempted to live life at 55 degrees? Then know this: There’s evidence that an overheated home isn’t good for your health; hot, dry air can lead to sickness. According to the Cleveland Clinic, breathing dry air can cause respiratory ailments, as it dries out your sinuses so mucus—which helps trap infections—can’t do its filtering work as well as normal. Also, research indicates that having the thermostat set too high in the bedroom disrupts the body clock and could increase the risk of illness.
Staying comfortable at 55
If you're curious about joining the 55 club, here are some pointers from the experts.
“I always wear thick socks and slippers as well as a few warm layers, especially when I have to venture away from the wood stove,” says Ang.
“Make sure to double up on blankets for a comfortable night’s sleep,” says Christopher Morgan, founder of the website CreditHelpInfo.com.
Hold on to the heat you have, advises Chris Harvey, central heating expert at Stelrad, an international radiator manufacturer. “Instead of draining your hot bathwater after your soak in the tub, let it sit there a while so it adds warmth to your home. Similarly, after cooking and turning the oven off, slightly crack open the oven door and let the heat warm your kitchen, making sure to keep kids and pets away.”
Harvey also advises making sure that furniture isn’t blocking radiators and air vents, which could prevent heat from circulating through a room. Bookcases and couches are common culprits on this front.
Close the curtains. As the sun sets, pulling the draperies closed will help insulate your home, locking in the warmth that was captured during the day, says Harvey.
When a too-cold house is risky
It’s worth noting that going way low on your home heat should be done only if everyone in your household is in good health. The World Health Organization’s 2018 guidelines state that a minimum of 64 degrees is a “safe and well-balanced indoor temperature to protect the health of general populations during cold seasons.” There’s an additional caution that a higher minimum may be necessary for vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and people with a cardiorespiratory disease or other chronic illness. So for those of you wanting to try life in the 55-degree lane, make sure that your entire household’s constitutions can stand the cold before dialing that thermostat down.