One of the silliest stories to come out of Westminster recently – and there have been a few – was David Cameron’s advice to householders worried about rising fuel bills that they should put on an extra jumper and turn down the thermostat. The Prime Minister didn’t actually say it, somebody in Downing Street merely agreed with the question of whether this might be a good idea. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron was castigated about it – how could he be so out of touch?
One person’s out-of-touch is another’s common sense, though. To me, putting on an extra layer is, in fact, very good advice for both our health and our household budgets – because the majority of us are sitting on our sofas as if we were enjoying a balmy summer’s day, while at the same time burning money, quite literally.
A survey for HomeServe, an energy repair firm, has found that the thermostat in the average home is set at 23C (73F), and in a third of houses it is 25C (77F). Separately, a report for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says that our homes are 4C warmer than they were in 1970 – the average indoors winter temperature is 17.7C.
I’ve sat in a room that’s 13C, and I can tell you that it’s rather cold. I am not sure we would want to go around living like it was 1970, with ice on the windows and frozen bathroom taps. This 4C difference is obviously down to better insulation, double glazing and central heating. Yet our eagerness to turn up the thermostats to the mid-20s is extraordinary.
As I write, I am sitting in a busy office in the House of Commons – not exactly a well-insulated building – that is heated to around 25C. It might be 5C outside but the heat is so stifling that I’ve just opened the window and I’m down to one layer of clothing. At home, I’ve just sown some chilli and tomato seeds in a propagator at 21C – because they need sub-tropical temperatures to germinate. But we humans don’t need to be this hot.
In 2014, we are cosseted, slanketed and toasty, and yet we become outraged with the Big Six over the price of gas and electricity. Another survey published earlier this month found that half of us leave the lights and heating on when we go out. Is it any wonder that our bills are climbing?
The DECC report says that in the 1970s people had “very different expectations of thermal comfort”. But why is this so? I believe the reason is because we 21st-century humans have simply stopped moving. We do less exercise and spend our time letting technology do the leg-work. Instead of moving around a kitchen making food from scratch, we’re using the microwave. We go from our heated homes to our heated cars and back again. And when all of our entertainment is on iPads or BlackBerrys, why do we need to move at all? As a result, our bodies rarely undergo physical exertion. We never break out into a sweat – unless you can count turning up the thermostat to 30C (86F), as one in 20 people do, according to HomeServe.
All that dry, stuffy air is making us more prone to asthma and sore throats; we are getting lazier, and fatter; but who cares, as long as we’re warm? I’m sure the Prime Minister would love to encourage us to turn down the heat and put on a vest or a jumper – but to do so would trigger those cries of “out of touch” again. He should do so anyway – for the health of the nation.