Here are a few tips for getting through an extreme cold wave.
- Forget about using the setback option on your thermostat. Once we are subject to temperatures below our design temperature, which is 10 Degrees in our area the heating equipment in our homes does not have the capacity to keep up or to make up a 5 – 10 degree deficit. Try setting your thermostat to the hold position instead of using the automatic set-back and you may find that you can be quite comfortable and reach temperatures between 67 - 70 degrees.
- Setting your thermostat to 80 degrees or higher will not help! Just because a thermostat is set to a high and unrealistic temperature does not mean the heating system has the capacity to reach that point. Heating systems in North Jersey are designed to achieve a 70 degree indoor temperature at a 10 degree outdoor temperature. This assumes that the home is properly insulated and that there is a properly designed air duct system or baseboard system. The older the home the less likely this is to be true. So, 70 degrees inside at 10 degrees outside is really good. The colder it is outside the cooler it will be inside.
- Do not close or block any of the supply or return air registers anywhere in your home if you have a warm air furnace. Many people believe that closing registers in unoccupied rooms and closing the doors to those rooms will provide for better heat to the spaces that they do occupy. While this may work in a small way it allows for a potentially big problem. By closing off rooms and the registers in them very cold spots will be created in those closed off rooms. Those cold spots have the potential of allowing pipes hidden in walls or under cabinets to freeze and possibly burst. Many times when this occurs the homeowner does not know there is a problem until the pipes warm up sufficiently and the frozen water in pipes begins to thaw and then all at once allow water to pour out of those pipes uncontrollably causing very costly damage.
- Turn on all of your zones if you heat your home with a hot water boiler. Many homes that are heated with a hot water boilers have two to five zones and therefor 2 – 5 thermostats. During extreme cold every zone should be working in order to prevent water from sitting in the pipes without circulating. Every thermostat for every zone should be set to at least 65 degrees in order to ensure that the water in the pipes is hot and circulating. Often time a basement zone is forgotten about because it is too cold to enjoy a finished basement in the cold winter months so it is left off. The danger here is that pipes in a basement are most at risk for freezing and bursting. Once this happens it is just a matter of time until there is costly water damage and a big clean-up.
- If you heat with steam radiators do not turn off any of the radiators. Each radiator is just like a baseboard zone and by turning off any one radiator you run the same risks as turning off a zone of baseboard, frozen and or burst pipes.
- Using a heat pump to heat your home will be a challenge in extreme cold. For the most part heat pumps are not used as a primary source of heat in Northern New Jersey. Our design temperature of 10 degrees is below the temperature that most heat pumps are capable of working at. Heat pumps are air conditioners that work backwards. They take the heat from the outside air and put it back into the home. They do this using the same refrigerants that air conditioners use. The problem arises when the outside temperature drops below 35 degrees and there is not enough heat in the outside air to properly heat a home. This is why most heat pumps have back-up heat. The back-up heat is much the same as the heat strips found in a toaster. The heat strips, much bigger than in a toaster get hot and air flows over them warming up the home. With electric costs what they are in Northern New Jersey this is a very expensive way to heat a home. A three week cold snap like the one we are having now could easily produce a $1,000 plus monthly bill.
None of us wants a big fat heating bill at the end of the month just because we had a long cold snap. A heating bill that may be 50% larger than an ordinary winter month is not all that bad when you consider that not doing any of the items I have listed above can result in bills of thousands of dollars should any pipes freeze, burst and cause water damage throughout your home. Our homes were not designed to endure temperatures at or below zero degrees for any length of time. They are not properly insulated or air sealed so cold air gets in very easily and warm air escapes the same way. Once the temperatures drop towards zero we all see how our homes just can’t keep up. Keep your thermostat fixed, keep all of your registers, zones and radiators fully open and put on a sweater. Lastly if your home can get to 75 degrees when it is 5 degrees outside you may be thinking that you have it made – not true! Your heating system is actually too large for your home and it is costing you money and comfort the other fifty weeks of the year.
We will all get through this cold snap and back to a normal winter very soon. Do your best to stay warm and most of all be sure to protect your home from freezing!