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Radiator wars: the great debate over turning on the central heating

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Hollie Richardson
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One in three couples argue over the central heating, and there’s a scientific explanation that proves why. 

Couple privilege is a very real thing (well, it is to me at least). Just the other week, I had to step off the pavement and onto the road, just because an oncoming couple refused to let go of each other’s hands to walk single file and let me pass. That is a true story. Then there’s the fact that it’s way cheaper to rent or buy a house with a partner than on your own. In fact, everything seems cheaper and easier for people in relationships.

But I recently learned that it’s not all Champagne and roses while watching a Bodyguard marathon together, after discovering a disadvantage that comes with being coupled up. 

It started when a friend recently complained to me about how her boyfriend refuses to turn on the central heating whenever she stays at his house. “Every man I’ve ever been in a relationship with was the same,” she huffed.

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This got me thinking. As a single woman who lives with two female friends, I could crank up the central heating for a solid three hours most nights without judgement if I really wanted to (I wouldn’t – I’m conscious of the effects on the climate, after all). So I’ll happily investigate any reason to feel smug about the fact that I can freely prance around a heated flat on a freezing winter’s night. The fact that it’s potentially a rare act of “single privilege” is just the cherry on top.

Is the central heating causing arguments between heterosexual couples up and down the country? And do most men really insist on turning blue before turning on the radiators? The answer is yes. In 2017, a study found that one in three couples argued over the heating in their home.

And there’s science to help explain why.

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In 2015, a study by Dutch scientists found that women are comfortable between 24-25°C, a temperature 2.5°C warmer than men. More recently, a study showed that women’s brains actually work better in warmer temperatures. And more research found that the average temperature of women’s hands when exposed to cold was nearly 3°C degrees lower than that for men.

And even the female hormone oestrogen is a contributing factor. By slightly thickening the blood, it reduces the flow to capillaries in areas of the body such as the fingers and toes, meaning they shut off more readily when it’s cold. Research has also shown that women tend to feel colder when they are ovulating and oestrogen levels are higher than usual.

So is all this really affecting people’s relationships at home? I asked around the Stylist office and the answer was a unanimous yes.

Cold woman in house
One in three couples argue over the central heating at home.

Megan, digital writer

“My boyfriend and I have discussed moving in together next year and one of my conditions is that he needs to learn how to turn a bloody radiator on. I think I’ve won – he’s been trialling timing them to come on in the morning and there have been reports of ‘it’s roasting’ at 6.30am. I’m rubbing my hands together in glee.”

Meriam, fitness editor

“My husband and I constantly argue about the heating. I cling to him for body warmth when we sleep, but he overheats easily, so he’s gotten into the habit of heating up hot water bottles at night and surrounding my side of the bed with them.”

Kayleigh, digital editor

“Chris has a running joke that he’s Elsa because the cold doesn’t bother him anyway, and I’m a shivering blanket monster. He literally runs around in an unheated house in bare feet and shorts. I get home, breathe out to see the white breath, and shiver pointedly until he turns it up. Fun games for all.”

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Felicity, executive digital editor

“Yes! I’m always putting it on, and my husband is always turning it off. Our house goes down to 11C in the winter, and Aaron could very happily sit there in three jumpers, his dressing gown and a hat, and still tell me it’s not cold.”

Kat, freelancer

“Harry calls me the White Walker as I’m always so bloody cold, but he got a Nest thermostat and that has at least meant that we have a more regular temperature. Plus, turns out he bloody loves an electric blanket LIKE ALL SENSIBLE PEOPLE.”

This, to me, is madness. Yes, it is a total privilege to be able to afford central heating at all. And, in our fight against climate change, we really should be conscious of not overdoing it. But if you’re cold, and you can afford to sacrifice a few extra quid – just put the bloody heating on for an hour. 

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Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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