By Kathy Roth Eastman, Smart Choices editor
If you are taking steps to conserve energy, you are probably turning down your thermostat a few degrees, especially at night when you’re in bed. And while sleeping in a cool room may have health benefits and certainly can save energy, you will want to remain warm and toasty in your bed.
In bygone days, warmed bricks or hot water bottles helped add warmth to the bed while the sleeper attempted to cozy into the covers and capture body heat to stay warm. Today, it’s much easier to cover your bed with flannel sheets and then turn on either an electric mattress pad or blanket for added warmth as you snuggle in.
And while my household includes an electric blanket on each bed, I still have a few questions about them. Here is what I found out. You can find more details about electric blankets and mattresses at The Electric Blanket Institute.
Q: Do I really save energy by turning down the thermostat at night and turning on electric blankets instead?
A: First, the cost of running an electric blanket or mattress pad. According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, it costs about 98 cents/month to operate a blanket. The Electric Blanket Institute breaks it down by blankets and mattresses at 3–4 cents/night for blankets and 2–3 cents/night for mattress pads.
To put this into perspective, the Institute says that cutting back your thermostat by 1 degree for eight hours is estimated to save about 10% on your heating bill. If your heating bill is $100/month, you can save $10/month in heating. This is offset by the $1 (approximately) for using an electric blanket or mattress pad. In my case, using four heating blankets ($4) can still provide a net savings of $6 (assuming my heating costs are $100 in a given month).
Q: Why doesn’t the blanket feel warm to the touch before crawling beneath the covers?
A: The low-wattage produced by blankets is designed to prevent fires. Your body traps the heat produced by the blanket, and that’s what feels warm. You can feel warm even if the air outside the bed is as low as 50 degrees F.
Q: Besides bed-warming, are there other reasons for using an electric blanket/mattress pad?
A: According to The Electric Blanket Institute, there are numerous reasons for using one, including relieving aches and pains (arthritis, fibromyalgia, sore muscles), relieving tension, improving sleep, improving Renaud’s (a condition whereby extremities—fingers and toes, for example—are very sensitive to cold), and some experts say that it is generally healthier to sleep in a cool room. One other interesting finding on this Web site: Using an electric blanket/mattress pad may reduce the number of dust mites because the blanket reduces the amount of humidity in the bed; humidity is necessary for mites to survive.
Q: Which is better: an electric blanket or an electric mattress pad?
A: My family has always used blankets, not mattress pads, but surprisingly, sources seem to look more favorably on the mattress pad for several reasons.
The pads are more energy efficient. About half of the energy generated by electric blankets transfers into the room, upward toward the ceiling. Heat is more contained by mattress pads.
Mattress pads are safer because they lay flat. When blankets get balled up, there may be no place for the energy “balled up inside the blanket” to escape. This can result in a fire.
Note: It’s interesting that in the U.S., electric blankets are far more popular (about 85% of the market), while in Europe, it’s exactly the opposite. That makes sense, as I have rarely seen electric mattress pads advertised and have never (until now) considered purchasing one.
Q: What features are available and should I be looking for when buying a new electric blanket or mattress pad?
A: UL Listing (Underwriters Laboratories), 10-hour shut-off so that you don’t go off to work in the morning with it left on all day, quiet controls, machine washing/drying, lighted and quiet controls, overheat protection, a 3- to 5-year warranty, and some form of manual or auto prewarming.
Q: Are there any precautions or safety issues with electric blankets or mattress pads?
A: A few, mostly common-sense cautions. You might want to check them out here, at The Electric Blanket Institute. Cautions focus on kids, pregnancy, elderly folks, and those with diabetes, for example. In addition, there are general precautions for using them safely, mostly involving taking care not to bend or break the wires.
Electric blanket safety tips