The perfect temperature


Does anyone else find the thermostat confusing?

Ok… probably should have looked to phrase that question a bit differently. EVERYONE finds their thermostat confusing. There are only two possible ways you wouldn’t…

One – You’ve never had anything in your home upgraded in fifty to sixty years, and still use that circular like thing on the wall in the hallway with a little dial in the middle and an easy to read needle. Clockwise to raise the temperature. Counterclockwise to lower the temperature.

Two – You work professionally designing thermostats.

This essay is not about setting your thermostat and the confusion associated with various functions of the unit. My thermostat is wrong six months a year because I have no clue how to change the time on the display for daylight-savings-related changes.

This is an essay about temperatures inside the house. Hence, the basic question involves what that thermostat is reading as a temperature, and so we arrive at a point where a bit of clarification may be in order.

I don’t understand how a temperature can be too hot one day and too cold the next. (And yet, unlike a bowl of porridge, it turns out that hot, cold and just right can in fact exist all in the same bowl. Go Goldilocks, go.) Terry and I usually keep the house temperatures fairly steady throughout the year. What becomes crazy is how the feeling of one temperature can fluctuate so much across a complete year.

Let’s throw a number out there, just to give us something to work with. We’ll say 65-degrees. (Your comfort, and actually ours as well, may vary.) When getting ready for bed in February, 65-degrees is brutally cold and I’m wondering if I should search for an extra blanket or two. When getting ready for bed in August, 65-degrees is ridiculously hot, and I’m kicking off the sheet while trying to figure out why it’s even on the bed at all.

Chances are good someone has an answer that involves science and biology and blah-blah-blah. Something involving being outside on a bright, sunny, scorching 95-degree day… something involving snow and slush and ice on a cloudy, damp, bone-numbing 15-degree day… something involving the adjustment of the body as it recovers and looks for sleep comfort… something that covers the details of what is actually going on.

But I’m not so sure the science—however well-intended and accurate—matters. Because there are other factors that come into play, and they come into play all the time.

In one house there is a conservation project going on, because funds are tight, so the thermostat stays low in the winter to save oil, and the windows are open with no air conditioning in the summer to keep the electric bill down. In another house the people want it 72-degrees, while in the house next door the people want it 68-degrees. Friends are arguing in an office because as two people are drenched in sweat, two others are bundled up in their sweaters and looking for space heaters to place near their feet.

So, science is nice… but everyone is different. And yet…

The weird part remains.

65 and I’m cold in February… 65 and I’m hot in August. (And somehow, this is just a general thought.)

If I’ve been outside shoveling snow, on a windy 10-degree day… I’ll come in the house, thinking about a mug of hot cocoa, and the greeting of the 65-degree room is a warm hug.

It I’ve been outside mowing the lawn, on a humid 90-degree day… I’ll come in the house, thinking about a tall glass of lemonade, and the greeting of the 65-degree room is sigh inducing relief.

Too cold… too hot… just right… all at the same time.

And yet as I get into bed, take a deep breath, and try to settle in for a night of rest, the differences remain. Chilly under a comforter and warm without a sheet, all in the same room. A kaleidoscope of realities.

(I wonder if Goldilocks had these problems?)


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at