Is it just me, or has this past October been a lot COLDER in Albany than it has been in the recent past?

I mention this as my fingers feel slightly numb while typing this. Other apartments in my building aren’t exceptionally cold yet, but I’m in the basement, so I’m feeling it a little bit more. I remember my landlord putting the heat on well before I felt this way last year, but I honestly can’t remember if it was actually earlier that he put it on, or if it really is colder this year.

Anyhow, this is my second winter in an apartment where heat is included, if you don’t count the apartment I had my senior year of college. My first apartment post-college I had on the “budget” plan, and was tiny, so my utility bills were at $80 a month, and I got money back at the end of the year – close to $200, actually – telling me that I used even less than that. I was quite pleased with my efficiency. I also remember, that year, not turning on the heat until sometime in November. Of course, I lived about 70 miles south of Albany, so perhaps that made somewhat of a difference.

So, based on the fact that it’s starting to get cold, I’m hearing various problems with friends who room together that do not have heat included, about whether or not to turn the heat on now. If you’re fighting about this now, just wait until winter comes … it will get worse, trust me.

You could be like one pair of friends: One would turn the heat off during the day when no one was home. Or, sometimes, when my other friend was upstairs sleeping. Not down. OFF. And it would be below freezing outside. It’s a miracle that these two didn’t have frozen pipes at some point during the year.

Or, you could be like one of my former roommates: He’d insist on keeping the place cold (i.e., 65 degrees), and insist on turning the heat down (i.e., to 55 degrees) during the day (even though I was in grad school at the time and therefore home a lot during the day, studying), but then when HE was home, he’d go in his room, shut the door, and plug in a space heater.

I have a million stories like this about a million friends, and a couple experiences of my own with this – but, the bottom line is, are you really saving any money by quibbling over a few degrees?

No.

According to a VERY reliable source – someone who works for National Grid, but who has no vested interest in the company’s profits, as he is a union labor employee – I have learned the following:

1. Keeping the temperature below, say, 68 degrees when it’s “cold” out (i.e., winter) often ends up costing as much (sometimes more, depending on insulation quality) as keeping it at or above 68 degrees, because the walls don’t heat up, causing the boiler to have to work harder.

2. For the same reason, turning off the heat once it has been “cold enough” to turn on (or, in the same breath, turning it on and off again once it’s “warm enough” to do so) actually uses more energy than just keeping it on, because when you set the thermostat, the boiler will only “work” until it’s that temperature – i.e., if it’s 68 degrees, the heater won’t kick on again unless the temperature in the apartment/house dips below that. However, the “on again, off again” causes the boiler to work harder than it otherwise would.

It is the same idea as when you drive a car on the highway, you use less gas than in stop-and-start traffic, even though you’re going faster/further.

So, therefore, the moral of the story? You’re not going to save any money freezing to death this winter. Heating sources are obscenely expensive, period. Your utility bill did not increase because you decided to turn the temperature up a few degrees. If anything, it might have gone down a bit – or, at least, your usage will have gone down, because I’m sure rates have increased.

If you want to save money on your utility bills, do it on the electricity end. Turning lights off when you’re not using them and unplugging things until you need them again will conserve a lot more money – and probably cause a lot fewer fights – than messing with someone’s creature comforts.

It’s cold enough up here as it is!

Oh, and as a final FYI – did you know that, in NY, if your heat is included your landlord should technically be turning on the heat effective October 1st? I agree, this is excessively early by some standards, but let’s not forget Buffalo’s freak October snowstorm last year, either …

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