Cold house may be the product of an insufficient heating system

The Baltimore Sun

Are all heating systems the same? My heating system is running constantly and it can only maintain a temperature of 67 F in my home. It's very cold outdoors, actually below zero. But still, I would expect the house to be comfortable even if the temperature got bitterly cold. Why is my home heating system not able to keep up? What can be done to keep me warm when it gets really cold?

Bitter cold temperatures are straining hundreds of thousands of heating systems all over the nation. I think you may be a victim of an undersized furnace or heating system.

Furnaces, boilers, portable heaters, electric heaters and so forth come in different sizes. A boiler that works to heat my home will not be large enough to handle heating a hotel or an office building. Heating contractors have the ability to actually calculate the heat loss of your home. That's the actual term - heat loss - and it's a measurement of how many BTUs (British Thermal Units) of heat your home loses each hour in its battle with cold temperatures.

When your house was built, the heating contractor was supposed to take all sorts of measurements that enable him to calculate the heat loss very accurately. These calculations are done on a room-by-room basis so the contractor can make sure that he pumps or pipes into each room the necessary BTUs to make that room comfortable. These calculations are based upon a seasonal average low temperature in your area. When Old Man Winter drops the temperature far below this average for days on end, your furnace can't deal with the larger deviation.

Understand that the colder it gets outdoors, the more BTUs your home loses in an hour. Assuming your home is at 72 F and it's 60 F outdoors, the inside of your home will stay comfortable for quite some time. But if it's minus-25 F outdoors, the temperature inside your home will drop like a rock. Your furnace or boiler works to offset this leakage of heat to the outdoors, and when it gets bitterly cold, it simply can't produce the amount of heat each hour that's being lost.

You can install a bigger furnace if you like, but in mild weather, it will run you out of the house as it sends vast amounts of heat into the house in a short amount of time. If your home has forced-air heat, understand that in a perfectly balanced system, the air floats out of the ducts at lower velocity. This means no whistling noises at the registers. You want gentle amounts of air flowing from the ducts that keep you warm without noise.

To keep yourself warm now, I suggest wearing more clothes. It's important to keep your hands and feet warm even inside your home. The extremities on your body send signals to your brain when they sense the temperature is starting to fall. It's a defense mechanism that helps preserve body heat.

If and when you get a new furnace or boiler, be sure you see the calculations that are required to show what your heat loss is.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."


When a contractor calculates the heat loss of a home, they look at many things. They need to know the amount of insulation in the walls and ceilings, the number of windows and doors and how big they are, the type of construction of the house, the number of occupants, how many lights are in the home and more.

If the side of the house that has the most windows faces north, the heat loss will be greater than if they face south. In the northern hemisphere, the north side of the house gets no direct sunlight into the windows in the winter months. This can make a difference.

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