Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Comfort comes at a cost

February 6, 2014

As if I didn’t already hate this winter enough, the gas bill was over $600 last month. That’s almost twice what January usually costs us, and it’s enough to screw up February’s household budget.

“What, did someone leave a door open all month or something?” I asked as I wrote the check. Sure, January was the coldest month in the history of Januaries, but something else must be amiss to blow through that much heating fuel.

It had to be the family thermostat tamperers – those who don’t care that every time they push the button to crank the heat, someone at the other end of the line is adding a few zeroes to the bill. And the tamperer is not I.

I can live comfortably at 68 degrees. Sure, that temperature makes me not want to get out of bed in the morning, and I always feel a little bit exposed around the shoulders, but they say that’s the best temperature for a house. Whoever they are.

I’ve left the house in the morning, having spent a goose-bumpy couple of hours cleaning the kitchen and writing a column, and then arrived home that evening to a greenhouse. In my absence, someone will have cranked the heat to 74. They’ll open swimming pools in colder weather than that.

“Who turned this up?” I’ll ask as I peel off layers, and nobody will step forward to claim responsibility. This is usually followed by my lecture about money not growing on trees and you’re not paying the bill and put on a sweater, doofus! But man, the heat is nice while it lasts, which is usually an hour or so. In a big house with radiators, the warm is slow to come but slow to leave.

Before the polar vortex of last month, the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced was in Chicago in 1982. A graduate student at Northwestern University, I lived in tiny dorm room with a single, malfunctioning window. The top pane didn’t quite stay pushed up, leaving a one-inch gap between me and the cold.

Temperatures reached 17 below that winter – that’s before the wind chill – and the custodian never did come around to fix the window. Every night I slept in a room in which I could see my exhaled breath. My parents did all they could do from 500 miles away and sent an electric blanket. I wore it all the time when I was in the dorm, and would have worn it outside on campus if the power cord were long enough.

Electric blankets are better now, I’m sure. I could probably find electric slippers and battery-operated long johns to wear around the house. That way, I could keep the furnace low enough to recoup some of what January cost me. First, I’ll have to put a lockbox on the thermostat. The other people in this house just aren’t as tough as I am.

Heck, I could go as low at 62 degrees. I saw a report last week that said cold bodies burn more calories. If that’s true, and if I could handle it, a steady household temperature in the low 60 degrees would save me some serious money. And also, make me skinny, skinny, skinny. It sounds like the perfect plan. Summer and swimsuit season are coming soon.

If only.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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