Winter weather brings sloppy conditions, big blasts of cold, and tons of dry air. Each of these elements puts your home heating system to the test as you try to balance comfort and safety with affordability. So what is a reasonable temperature for a home in winter? Keep reading to find out what you should set your thermostat to, and for some tips to help you make the best choices when the winds are howling from the north.
Average House Temperature in Winter
A detailed study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found residents preferred a wintertime heater setting between 67 °F and 70 °F (19 °C to 21 °C). The Department of Energy recommends a winter heat setting of 68 °F (20 °C), which matches up very well with the temperatures most of us are comfortable with.
But, ask 10 people what’s the best winter setting for their home thermostat, and you may well get 10 different answers. Let’s explore how to find what winter heater setting is best for you and warning signs when something is out of whack.
Excessive heating (over 72 °F or 22 °C) will waste energy and give you a sky-high utility bill. Heating to higher temperatures also lowers the relative humidity (RH) in your home, which dries out everything from your skin to the wood on your floor. A quality, affordable home environment system will help you keep the RH between the recommended range of 30% to 60%.
Overly dry conditions will also increase the fire hazard in your home, especially if you have a fireplace or other open flame source. Plus, dried-out mucus membranes in your nose or eyes make it easier for bacteria and viruses to get into your body. Not good!
Though you’ll want to avoid overheating your home and drying out the air around you, using a humidifier to ease the dryness problem brings its own challenges. Moist air is more difficult to heat than dry air, so using a humidifier will cause you to use more energy to keep your home warm. Excessive moisture (above 60% RH) can lead to condensation on windows and mold growth in the ductwork, around windows, and such, making allergies worse. A built-in humidifier as part of your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system is the best choice.
What Temperature is Too Cold for a House?
While everyone has a different tolerance to cold, ideal winter heat settings should generally be at or above 63 °F (17 °C). Excessive cold (anything below 62 °F or 16 °C) in your home can actually raise your blood pressure as your blood “thickens” in the chilly temperatures. A cold house is more likely to be damp, leading to mold and mildew growth, and the mold can also get in your air vents. These conditions can increase your aggravation from allergies. Older citizens are more susceptible to cold, so beware of turning the heat down too much as it’s possible to get hypothermia right in your own home.
Keeping Your Heating Costs Low
Now that you know what you should set your thermostat to during the winter months, it’s time to examine your home heating system. It can be a challenge to keep your home comfortable as frigid weather systems sometimes bring dramatic temperature changes. You’ll want to pay close attention to your heating and air conditioning system to understand its capabilities and make sure it operates as efficiently as possible.
The Goldilocks Syndrome
Ah! It can be so frustrating. Some rooms are too hot, some rooms are too cold, and some are just right. Try tracking down these villains:
- The enemy may be an air leak in your ductwork or around windows.
- Try leaving doors to unused rooms partially open; closing them inhibits airflow and can make for hot and cold spots in the home.
- You can install “zone” units to balance the heat by thermostatically controlling the opening and closing of room ducts for modest cost.
Make Sure Your HVAC System is Operating Efficiently
Do you change your HVAC filter regularly? If not, now is the best time to start. Poor filtration leads to dust buildup, which not only reduces performance but is downright dangerous, especially with a gas system. The National Fire Protection Association reports about 6,000 fires started by whole-house heating systems each year; the two primary causes are dirty or malfunctioning chimneys on gas furnaces and poorly maintained equipment.
A unit can only heat the air so fast; the colder it is, the longer it will take to heat up. Heat pumps are least efficient below 32 °F (0 °C); the secondary electric heat strips kick in about that time and it will really take a toll on your electric bill.
Your Thermostat Matters
What type of thermostat do you have in your home? Each unit gets at the job in different ways; it’s helpful to know how yours fits into optimizing your heater settings. The more expensive options offer the best control of your heater.
This is the old-style control dating back to the 1950s. A small paddle or wheel moves a pointer to the desired temperature setting.
- These units are simple, offline, and require little maintenance, but they don’t allow automatic functions.
- The dial types are analog and can be inaccurate; the digital versions are very inexpensive and much more accurate.
If you have a manual thermostat, we’d suggest leveraging an environmental monitoring system like the AcuRite 5-Sensor Indoor Humidity and Temperature Smart Home Environment System with My AcuRite to get a better picture of the conditions in your home.
Programmable electronic thermostats have been on the market for decades, and homeowners with these units can create a series of “events” throughout the day to vary their homes’ temperature. For instance, the heater can be programmed to lower to 60 degrees at 11 p.m. and heat back up to 65 degrees in the morning when you wake up. These units are not mobile app compatible.
Smart thermostats allow you to control the home’s HVAC system from anywhere in the world via your mobile phone. Like the first-gen systems, the units can also be programmed to vary their heating and cooling on a digital timer. The smart systems offer the greatest flexibility for your home’s climate control as they also measure the relative humidity and can control a humidifier, but they are also the most expensive of the bunch.
Smart thermostats can save you up to $180/year on your heating/cooling costs, but only if used correctly, so it is essential to take a little time to program it. Sometimes you’ll want to override the automatic settings, and every smart thermostat allows a manual mode too.
Home is Where the Heater is…
Finding your home’s ideal wintertime temperature is not as elusive as it may seem. You’ll want to start by making sure your heater is in good working order with a clean filter and the ducts and doors to unused rooms open. Then you’ll want to set your thermostat in the upper 60s and experiment with what’s most comfortable. Consider using a humidifier if you find it too dry, or turn down the heater to make it cooler. You’ll definitely want to lower the thermostat setting at night to save money and for better sleep.
How do you heat your home efficiently during the winter? Sound off with your tips in the comments below!