Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to acclimate to cooler indoor temperatures

Everybody is different when it comes to cold tolerance. The biggest factor is what you are "used" to and, by that, I mean what you've been acclimated to. Someone who routinely lives in a cold clime can tolerate much lower temperatures comfortably than can, say, my sister-in-law who is originally from Thailand and could barely tolerate the "low" temperatures of California when she first moved here and would sleep in a down filled coat.

I was reading an article the other day about how to deal with cooler indoor temperatures and, in addition to the basic stuff, the focus wasn't so much on staying warm by alternative methods (like wearing a lot of extra clothes, drinking warm tea, or using a space heater), but more on acclimating yourself to cooler degrees. We spend so much time fighting to keep warm as if it were 70 degrees inside, it makes sense to acclimate our bodies to cooler temperatures instead.

Some of the suggestions in the article were to hold off on using the furnace and, once you do start using it, keep the indoor temperature around 60 degrees. Another suggestion was to not overdress or wear extra clothes when you go outside (assuming the outside temp is ~60 degrees at the start of this acclimatization). That way the shock from going from a warm house to the cold outside and vice-versa isn't so extreme. The author also suggested you air the house out for a few hours a day by opening the windows (although you should turn off your central heat during this).

"The lower the temperature your body is acclimatised to, the less of a shock it receives when temperatures begin to plummet. The longer you can maintain this regime, the lower your fuel consumption will be during the winter months... In a sense, you are hardening yourself off just like you do with tender plants in the spring. Consider yourself that tender plant that needs to be acclimatised to the winter cold. The hardier you are the easier you'll be able to weather the months of frost and snow."

This got me thinking of the limits of human cold tolerance. So, I did a minor bit of digging and found out a few interesting things. Laurence Irving, of the University of Fairbanks, ran a study on students that he noticed would walk around barefoot on campus (for religious reasons), even in the winter and in the snow.

He convinced them to do a study wherein they sat in a room cooled to 32 degrees. They were allowed to wear light clothing. As a control, he enlisted a healthy young man to undergo the same test. The control student began to shiver violently after 30 minutes. The year-round barefoot students, however, didn't begin shivering until 50 minutes had passed.

The students who were adapted to the cold were very conscious of what happened to their bodies during the experiment. Every time their fingers and toes dropped to about 50 degrees, they felt a tingling of warmth, which was followed by a steady rise in the temperatures of their fingers and toes to about 68 degrees. Thus, demonstrating that the human body can adapt to lower temperatures without pain or discomfort.

So, clearly, adjusting to a lower temperature is indeed possible and without massive discomfort. Hold off on turning on your furnace this year and/or keep your wood heat to a minimum. If you start slowly reducing your thermostat setting, you'll be adjusted in no time. And, to a much lower threshold than you think you can.

What about you? How low can you go? 60? 55? 45?

This post was included in Barn Hop #33!


Hazel said...

I haven't read the article, but I'd say for many people a big factor is that they don't go outside.
If your life is get up in centrally heated house, dash to car, turn car heat up, dash to centrally heated office across car park and then vice versa in the evening, there's not much to get acclimatised to.

Melanie, One Wellness said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this timely information and the beautiful photo.

Sonja said...

Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

If I run around and exercise or bundle up with a book, I can go as low as 17 Celsius (during the day). However I mostly sit still at my desk and study, and if I don't keep my hands warm they start to hurt. Thus, 20 Celsius is what I need for studying. But I've already reduced that from 22-23 Celsius, so I don't feel all bad :-)

Your Vegan Friend said...

Lots of body heat is the secret to staying warm in our house! :) We put flannel sheets on the bed and have two adults, one baby, and four puppies in bed with us. That generates enough heat to keep everyone warm and the thermostat low!

Wendy said...

We're at 60° rught now, because we haven't fired up the woodstove, yet ;).

I did a similar post the other day - or at least the conclusion of the post I did was the same.

My husband, our daughters and I take a lot of ourdoor skills classes, and at a recent one, we were studying the shelters used by the indigenous people in our area, which were, basically, bark or grass covered frames. One of the kids asked the guide how the people kept warm, and he said that they had fires inside the wigwam, but mostly, they just "got used to the cold." It was a very interesting realization as to how adaptable the human body really is.

Michelle said...

I noticed this during my travels between New England and Northwest Florida. My first summer in Pensacola I thought I would DIE from the heat. The second summer, not so bad. However, that second October, when I flew home to visit my parents? I thought I'd FREEZE! When I moved back north, the first winter was really hard - but after that, not so bad. You truly can acclimate!

dandelionlady said...

Great post! I love it when I learn a new bit of info! I find that making sure I keep up an exercise regimen really helps keep that internal heat going too. As long as I get really sweaty a couple of times a week, I stay warmer all week long.

Carrie said...

I am rereading the Little House On the Prarie series right now. Just finished The Long Winter, where Laura would wake up to the tops of her blankets being frozen, and havign to rub snow on their feet to make sure they were not frozen, yes, using snow to warm their feet up. Right now, in These Happy Golden Years, Almanzo drove Laura home 12 miles during a blizzard where it was 40 below. And they awoke the next morning knowing with it being much warmer, which was only twenty below. I think we take adcantage of things like air conditioning, and cental heat. And use them more and more, needing it colder in the summer and hotter in the winter. We are trying to lower our tems inside this year, little by little. Its hard with little kids, but we have managed to go to 65 and night, and about 67 during the day. It's a long process but hoping to get to 60 at night, and 65 during the day.

Aydan said...

I've noticed that. 55° in the house during the day seems a lot warmer now than it did two weeks ago.

Intentional Living Homestead said...

Great African children struggled with heat...they were wearing hoodies in the middle of the summer. Now after being here a number of years...they don't even notice when the weather turns cold. I have to make them put on socks...before they were wearing socks with their flip-flops.

Enjoyed reading this post.

Sue Sullivan said...

Our house is falling into the high 50s at night right now. We have a wood stove that keeps the upper story and a half fairly warm and we have barely used our furnace since we installed it (we're in Zone 5a). During most of winter it gets down into the low to mid 50s at night and that doesn't bother any of us at all, as long as we fire up the woodstove first thing in the morning. I'm willing to let the house get into the upper 40s but any lower than that and it just takes too long for the woodstove to render the upper levels tolerable. So we do run the furnace a few times a year.
This only works because we're home most days, the kids and I, to tend the stove.

Brad K. said...


I found out last year that my furnace setting goes to 55 -- but behaves erratically. So it will be 56 for me again this year.

I enjoy the way the house warms during the day, and blanket up at night. Adding a sheet to a couple of blankets adds a surprising amount of warmth.

Leaving the hot water heater turned off can help the (cold) shower speed the acclimatization.

I read that it takes 96 hours (four day) for a body to get used to a new temp. If anyone needs a timetable for "How long will I suffer before it doesn't seem so bad?" Usually, for me it takes long enough that I forget what it was like before. . . And I seem to have a painfully long memory.

Sarah said...

Interesting article, though a control group of only 'one healthy young man' does not a good science experiment make.

I can deal with cold and will be leaving our heaters off as much as possible. Heat and humidity kill me, though.

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

We just had our first frost here this morning. Not bad for October, but after being 90 plus degrees on Sunday, we are not yet acclimated to the cooler temps. So we are wearing our fleece and using blankets inside. But by January we will be thinking that this is a nice mild day. Acclimation is key, just as we managed to acclimate to 100 plus degrees this summer and nights that did not get below 80 we will acclimate to the cooler temps this fall and winter.

SL Westermann said...

The only problem we have with leaving the thermostat at 55 is that the hot water doesn't make it to the bathroom upstairs. We have also had a pipe freeze on us. The spaces between the walls and floors apparently get much colder than our living space. This might be attributed to our drafty 200 year old house though. I'm not sure what our upstairs temps are but they are not warm :) We have a woodstove in our study downstairs that we use to keep that room fairly warm and the rest of the house between 55-60. We are in a zone 6.

Olivia said...

I think we also have to take age and body type into consideration. I am older and VERY thin - no amount of heat bothers me but cold undoes me. My fingers go numb when most people are still wearing shorts and t-shirts.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

We keep the house pretty cool in the winter. While we have a wood stove for the main room (and central heat turned to no warmer than 65) it drops to the 50s at night. Not a problem for us but it does make you feel warmer than most when the office wants their thermostat in the mid 70s! The girls want to wear thin tops all year. I kept telling them that it's winter, put some clothes on and turn down the heat!

SisterX_83 said...

I live in Fairbanks and work at the University. Another common activity for students is to go to the temperature sign on the edge of campus and take pictures in their underwear or swimsuits at -40 (which is the point at which Celsius and Fahrenheit meet.)
It's absolutely amazing what the body can get used to. People are constantly amazed that I walk to and from work, even when (like now) the temperatures are hovering around -40, but because I've done this for several years I'm used to the colder temps. It helps to dress warm. :)

daniellaprice30 said...

I prefer lower temperature inside my room because I just can't stand the cold. However, my boiler is still with the boiler repair contractor, so I'll just have to bear with the cold for now.