I grew up on a small farm in rural northeast Wisconsin. We lived in a shotgun shack which is more familiar to the U.S. South. If you don’t know what a shotgun shack is, it is a home with so many holes you could shoot at it with a shotgun and the pellets would pass right through without hitting the building.
A shotgun home in NE Wisconsin has problems in the winter months. The small furnace kept the pipes from freezing and not much more when the temperatures dipped below 0 F. My upstairs bedroom had no heat. As luck would have it, I had an electric blanket. There was one more advantage: I kept ice cream under my bed for two or three months a year and it would not melt. Those are wonderful memories.
Things changed. My parents started an agricultural repair business and started to flourish. The homestead was remodeled and filled with comfortable warmth. So I moved out. (Hey, I was an adult and needed to spread my wings. Besides, all that comfort was making me weak in the middle.)
Years later I bought my own homestead complete with my very own shotgun shack. Now married, I had other considerations and plenty of training to do. Not everyone takes to a shotgun shack as fast as I do. The homestead was remodeled before we moved in. (The softness stuck with me.) When we bought the homestead (10 acres) the furnace and water heater were caput and there was no air conditioner. (I never had air conditioning growing up so I avoid the unnatural cold air whenever I can.) We installed a geothermal heat pump (this is back in 1995 and still have the same heat pump) which replaced the furnace and hot water heater. As a bonus we had air conditioning.
The air conditioner rarely gets used. In the summer our electric bill is very low. We use about 20 kilowatts a day and much of that goes to pump water for the steers. The winter is a different story. A geothermal heat pump does not sip electricity, it gulps. Sure, it is more efficient than most other heating methods. It still adds up.
The electric bill in the winter causes me to shutter. We have electric heaters in the barn to keep the water open. Heating tapes wrap the water pipes and the chicken waterer sits on a raised heated disk. Now add the home heating and I am ashamed of my energy usage. (There are several days in the dead of winter where we use over 100 kilowatts a day.)
My childhood memories provided a partial solution. I put on my salesman’s hat and sold my family on a colder house. No more 67-68 degrees for the tough Accountant family. No, we were going back to a 50 degree house during the winter. As I gave my sales pitch I could see I was losing the sale. The look I got from my dear loving family was, to put it politely, rude.
A good salesman does not hear the first “no” or even the twenty-second. I had to reformulate my proposition. I started turning down the thermostat a degree or so. There was push back. However, the clan adjusted. That was my opportunity to cut another degree off the top.
By the time I played out my goodwill with Mrs. Accountant and the junior Accountants, I had the house at 60-61 all winter long. I guess we call that a compromise. I did not get the 50 degree house I wanted, nor did I get a full force revolt. (There were a couple of coup attempts we will leave out of today’s story.)
There were several benefits from the cooler house. We seem to sleep better at night. Of course, the light bill dropped significantly. I even remodeled the barn where the water works were and cut my utility bill further. The barn remodel paid for itself in one winter. The surprise came from our health. We don’t seem to gets colds the way we used to.
We bump the heat when entertaining guests. It takes getting used to and I do my best to treat guests with respect; we turn up the heat to 65. (A man has his limits.)
We have a cold house. It is not about the money. A larger utility bill would not change my lifestyle. It does go against my constitution. Spending money in a wasteful way bothers me to no end. Humans can easily handle colder temperatures. I have not died (yet) from working outside in 20 below weather with a 30 mile an hour wind. The more you practice, the more your body adjusts.
My annual spending hovers around $30,000 per year. A cold environment could bump that number up, but does not for me. When you allow your body to adjust to seasonal weather you are no longer a slave to human modified environments. In the summer we use open windows for air conditioning. We knuckle under when the humidity becomes oppressive. The air conditioning unit of our geothermal heat pump runs two or three times a summer; some summers it never gets used.
Why all this so-called craziness from a wealthy accountant? Simple. When I cut my needs (really wants), my cost to survive becomes low. It does not take much for me to cover the basics. My $30,000 a year lifestyle allows me massive amounts of frivolous spending. If things got tight I could cut to $10,000 – $12,000 before it would really hurt, as I did before and in the early years of my marriage.
The real benefit is the tax-free money. If I spend an extra $1,000 per year over-heating my house because I am too soft, I need to work long enough to earn $2,500 to pay the taxes, pay for the transportation to work, pay for work clothes and any extra cost of not eating at home. A frugal guy like me might get it done for $2,000 and if I bike to work, $1,750.
How long does it take me to earn $2,000? How long does it take you? When you spend time away from your family to earn this money, do you think about what you will do with that money? Would you burn a $100 bill? No? Let me end with one last question: What are you doing this winter if your home is warmer than 60 degrees?