Family feuds over furnace

Dear Alice,

Please help a family dispute. What is the optimal temperature to keep the furnace at during the day and night during the winter months, and can keeping the temperature too high result in increased illness?

Dear Reader,

For the most part, at what temperature you set your thermostat is a matter of opinion. Unfortunately for you, it sounds like there are many opinions and no consensus. Worth mentioning, there is research to support that it is better to lower the heat before you go to bed at night, with the optimal temperature being between 60 and 67° F (15 to 19° C). Cooler rooms with well-circulated air are more conducive to getting a good night's sleep. If the house is too hot, it can disrupt your rapid eye movement (REM) cycle, causing you to wake up and be restless throughout the night. While people may also experience heat-related illness if a space becomes too hot, this tends to happen during bouts of hot weather or when people are wearing so much clothing that their body isn't able to cool themselves down. 

In terms of getting sick, it's not the heat per se that will promote illness, but the dryness created by most heating systems. When people are trying to get over winter colds, it's common for health care providers to suggest cracking open a bedroom window or using a humidifier at night. If avoiding illness is your greatest concern (and you can't agree on anything else), perhaps your family can work together to create an environment to support quality sleep and health.

As for the daytime temperature, this decision could be left up to the family members who are home during the day. Of course, if no one is at home, it's best to turn the heat off or down low to conserve energy and save money on your heating bills. But, if more than one opinionated person is home all day, perhaps they can alternate between warm and cool days. The people who prefer higher temperatures can wear thermals and sweaters on designated "cool days." Likewise, the warm-blooded members of the household can wear shorts and t-shirts on "warm days." Or you can keep the temperature low and invest in space heaters for those who are intolerant to the cold. However, if  none of the above suggestions are appealing, you and your family can brainstorm together to come up with a few other solutions to the problem. 

You mention having concerns around the temperature, but when it comes to the living environment, it may be worth considering other ways in which the heating or cooling units may affect health. Depending on how the unit is set up, the way in which air is circulated could have an effect on air quality or allergens that may be in the air. Additionally, if the space is more or less humid, it may affect the ability for mold to grow. In addition to considering the temperature of a space, you may also consider how air is circulating or the humidity of the space.

Your family may never find a setting on the thermostat that everyone is comfortable with because we all tend to have different tolerance levels for heat and cold. From your question, it seems that your family is no exception. Hopefully, you'll find a way to accommodate everyone's needs (at least part of the time). 

Good luck and stay warm (or stay cool—whichever you prefer)!

Last updated Nov 25, 2022
Originally published Jan 17, 1997

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.

Can’t find information on the site about your health concern or issue?