“Close the door! You’re letting all the heat out!”
I can hear my father’s words echoing down the decades. He’d chastise us like this on winter days whenever we came in to warm up from playing in the snow.
“In or out…make up your minds!”
There’s a fine line between cheap and frugal. In hindsight, I suppose he met criteria for frugal. I recalled his words this week as I wrestled with trying to regulate the air quality in the apartment.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll remember from Episode 36 that I bought an air quality measuring device to see if there were any hidden environmental dangers in our new apartment.
Although I was able to take measurements, I didn’t see how I could improve the air quality if it was problematic, and so I decided to return the monitor the next day. Thankfully, I never did. By a process of trial and error, I learned to keep the air in the apartment pristine by leaving a window open to provide ventilation that flushed away elevations in formaldehyde and total volatile organic compounds (TVOC). And it seemed to work without running up a big air conditioning bill, too.
Now that we’re into the heating season, though, the problem has re-emerged.
Honoring my father’s wishes and respecting my own desire not to waste energy, I closed all the windows when it got cold outside. When I did, I saw that the air pollutants spiked as soon as the heat kicked on. It didn’t get up to dangerous or unhealthy levels, but the readings for both formaldehyde and TVOC were significantly higher.
What to do?
My first thought was that, since we want the bedroom relatively cool at night (~65 degrees) to promote a good night’s sleep, maybe I could open one of its windows and close the door to the rest of the apartment. This would give us clean air overnight air without triggering the thermostat in the living room.
Both of those goals were achieved, but at the cost of forfeiting our sleep: the second I opened the window, the din from the steady stream of cars on Route 202 flooded the room. I did my best to give it a fair shot, but I finally closed the window at around 3am after the driver of a car without a muffler gunned it when the light at the intersection turned green.
This would be easy if my father hadn’t taught me so well.
This would be easy if I didn’t care about conserving energy.
I’d just open the window, crank up the heat, and pay the bloated electric bill each month.
But he did teach me well and I do care about energy conservation, so back to the drawing board I went.
I came up with the idea of leaving the bedroom window open a little (~2 inches) during the day, from noon to 4pm when it’s as warm as it will get, and leaving the door into the living room open as well.
It worked. Air quality was good all day and the cold air flowing in from outside only triggered the heat once or twice. It remains to be seen, though, what will happen when it gets down into the teens during the day instead of the mid-40s that we had this week.
“What, are you crazy? Close the window…you’re letting the heat out!”
I went back to the bedroom problem and tried something a little different. I opened the window at 7:30pm (about 3 hours before our bedtime) and closed the door. I figured this would chill the room and lock-in good overnight air quality without triggering the thermostat.
Although it got a little too cold in there, the concept clearly worked. Over the next few days, I’ll play around with how long I refrigerate the bedroom before bedtime in order to get a good sleeping temperature.
My father would never have embraced the idea of opening a window in the winter with the heat on, not even for the worthy purpose of preventing cognitive decline. Knowing that I used an electric mattress pad to warm the bed in the room I just chilled would have driven him to distraction!