Gather 'round the thermostat, and bicker

It's `Turn on the heat!' vs. `Put on a sweater!'

October 23, 2004|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The thermostat dance has already started in Chrissy Hester's Upper Fells Point rowhouse.

It began with the drizzly rain, when the daytime weather dipped into the 50s and the chill in the night hovered in the 40s. It started getting harder to come out from under the cozy, toasty covers in the morning. And it stayed that cold for the next two weeks.

It was time.

She turned the heat on.

She set the thermostat at 68 degrees in her three-story home. But then her husband snuck up later and turned it down. She turned it back up. He turned it down. Back and forth.

Their temperature tango will continue through winter.

It's that time of the year again. All across the country, people are making hard decisions between Red or Blue America, Bush or Kerry, Laura or Teresa. Here, though, we are struggling with our own important choice: Put on a sweater and hold out a little longer, or turn on the heat and embrace it until spring?

"I turned it on that first cold day," says Hester, a photographer who was bundled up tightly in a chic green jacket yesterday while out for coffee with her friends and their children at the Patterson Perk in Baltimore. "I am a complete wimp. I cannot stand the cold."

It's a question almost everyone is asking as winter crawls ever closer. Is it really cold enough yet?

Reasons abound for shunning the thermostat.

Thrift might be the most logical motive - after all, heating bills are expected to jump by 7 to 11 percent this winter. Natural gas, propane and heating oil prices are about 15 to 22 percent higher than last year.

But maybe it's plain old East Coast hardiness. Or a deep-rooted reluctance to admit that summer is really over. Or perhaps it's that one last act of defiance before conceding the coming of winter.

"I'm not ready yet," says Cathy Buccheri, who unlike her friend Hester has yet to turn on the heat in her Butchers Hill home. "I'm still sleeping with the windows open. It's too soon."

Sadly, it was hard not to see the cold coming.

The leaves started changing earlier this month. All manner of colorful scarves started popping up around everyone's neck. Women began wearing knee-high boots again. And then that blasted little reminder from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. showed up in the mail with the October bill, reminding heat lovers to start winterizing their homes.

Kim Carrington says she started picking up the frosty signs when the telephone at work started ringing every other minute. They were all from customers asking for someone to come out and check their furnace.

"`It won't come on.' `It's making a funny noise.' `It smells bad,' " says Carrington, listing the complaints she hears when people turn on their heat for the first time. Her family business, Carrington Heating and Air Conditioning in Bel Air, was booked solid this week and part of next to check home furnaces.

"The calls are a little earlier than usual," Carrington says. "Usually, it's the last week in October when we start hearing from people."

She's been hearing it at home as well, from her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.

"My kids are begging me to turn the heat on, but I keep saying no. I hate to do it before Halloween," she says. "I just tell them to go get a blanket."

Kenny Vieth, owner of Henninger's Restaurant in Fells Point, says a steady supply of Christmas sweaters and down comforters will keep him warm enough for the next few weeks.

"I say you can only turn on the heat when the temperature hits 40 or below 40 for at least a week," Vieth says. "I'm not turning it on yet."

At home, that is. Thankfully, he's not subjecting his dining guests at the restaurant to the same standards. The heat was cranked high. That's for all the "soft people" out there, Vieth says, jokingly.

But why bother, he says, "It'll just get warm again."

True. After a few more days of cold, forecasters are calling for daytime temperatures to hit the upper 60s next week. That's plenty warm.

Who needs heat?

Certainly not Matt Clark, environmentalist and Green Party candidate for Baltimore City Council's 1st District. Clark says he's got some firm heat rules he lives by.

"I don't wear shorts until it's 92 degrees outside and I don't turn on the heat until it's freezing outside," Clark says. "I say throw a blanket on."

His wife, Isabel Lipman, shakes her head and disagrees.

"I like heat. We'll compromise," she says, firmly.

Not surprisingly, the men say it's a "guy thing." Guys can take the cold better than women. Guys like the cold. Guys thrive in the cold. Not surprisingly, the women just roll their eyes at that conclusion.

Studies have shown, however, that women are not usually able to create as much metabolic heat through exercise or shivering when compared to men. Research has also shown that the cooling rate of the extremities - in other words, hands and feet - is faster among women.

Studies have also shown, however, that women maintain their core temperature and conserve energy better than men. So who really knows?

Just take a hint. When you exhale indoors and see your breath, even manly men should give it up. It's time, says one who has braved much colder climates than this one.

"I wasn't psychologically prepared for winter to arrive yet," says Ron Orol, a writer for a financial newspaper who lives in an apartment near Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood. "But it was cold in the apartment for a few days so I closed the windows. That was the first stage.

"Yesterday, it was really cold so I turned the heat on," Orol says. "I'm Canadian. We love the cold. That's why I waited this long. But it's cold. So turn the heat on."

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