The Smiths Save 15% on Heating

by Gary Foreman

"Hey Hon, we gotta do something. This heating bill is really getting out of hand." John had been paying the bills when he called to his wife. "I don't understand it. We did all that insulating last summer. If anything, these bills are worse than last year."

Mary came and saw what was upsetting her husband. She enjoyed learning about new subjects, so she suggested a trip to the library to collect some materials on the subject. They agreed that some additional information was a good idea.

When Mary got to the library she discovered some information on 'thermal comfort'. She found that there were scientists that studied what made people uncomfortably cold and what steps could be taken to inexpensively solve the problem. She selected a couple of magazine articles and books for her study.

Once Mary began reading she made some fascinating discoveries. She was happy to note that the experts found that proper management of thermal comfort would allow the Smiths to lower the thermostat by as much as eight degrees. And even happier when she read that even a five degree drop could save up to 15% in their heating bill. But Mary wondered how do you gain thermal comfort?

"John, listen to this. It says that most people think a room needs to be a certain temperature before people feel warm. Actually, air temperature is only one factor that effects comfort. The others involve the person and their surroundings."

"That's great, but what does it mean in English?" John was interested, but puzzled. "So we just plant some palm trees in the living room, right?"

Mary was beginning to sort out the info. "No, it says that other factors are equally as important. Some of them are the insulation value of clothes, activity level, air speed and even something called mean radiant temperature."

By now, John was pouring over a journal. "Here's some stuff that makes sense. It says that to measure the insulating value of clothing scientists use something called 'clo-values'. A person not wearing any clothes has a clo-value of 0.0. If he puts on a typical business suit his clo value will rise to 1.0. What's interesting is that we feel cold on any individual part of the body. So we can be wearing lots of clothes and still feel cold because of a small patch of uncovered skin at our necks, hands or feet."

"Just what I thought. I keep telling the kids that warm socks are important!" Mary had begun to look at some material that discussed how activity effects warmth. "Here's one for you Sweetheart. It says that you can increase your bodily heat output just by switching from sitting to standing. Think you could watch TV that way?" Even though Mary's article said that was often enough to make a person feel warm, John was not persuaded.

Mary still wasn't finished teasing John. "Hon, here's another one you'll need to know. It says that older people aren't actually colder, it's just that they're less active. So I suppose if you're just too old to move we'll just have to accept the inevitable!" She ducked just as the pillow that John had playfully tossed breezed by her left ear.

"Oh, I don't know. This says that we're sensitive to air moving over the skin. If I move too much I'll be uncomfortable!" Mary looked skeptical. "Seriously, it does say that air movement in a room can make it feel five degrees cooler than it actually is. I'm glad we did all that weather-stripping. Supposedly leaks are the major cause of drafts. Boy, this is interesting." John read aloud as Mary listened. "Even warm air moving over the skin can cause discomfort. Heater registers should be equipped with inexpensive air deflectors. Favorite chairs should be positioned away from drafts."

Mary's furrowed brow was a clear indication that she had gotten into some heavy material. "Ever hear of something called 'mean radiant temperature'? Evidently it's the average temperature of all the surfaces in a room. If one surface is colder than the others it will drag down the average and make the whole room seem colder."

"Does that mean that the living room window effects the feel of the whole room?" John was beginning to grasp the concept as Mary replied. "Yes. It's worse if you sit near a window. On a day when it's zero outside, you'll want the room nine degrees warmer to feel comfortable. But you don't need to be sitting near the window to be effected. The window actually lowers the average for the whole room making it colder."

John was ready to take action. "OK, so if I understand this stuff we begin by eliminating drafts. I'll get some vent deflectors at the hardware store and check out some of those insulating blankets for the windows on the north side of the house."

Not to be outdone, Mary had a few thoughts, too. "And I'm starting a new rule. Everyone wears socks in the winter around here. Including you...only you won't have to wear mittens!" This time John's pillow toss caught Mary flush on the nose.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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