Comfort is a funny thing. When we have it, we’re usually not aware of it. It’s just there. Sure, we’ll lean back and say, “Ahh,” now and then when everything is just right, but most of the time, comfort is something we don’t really notice.

Discomfort is different. It comes in two main types: The first is the type that we decide we can do something about. You tell your doctor your arm hurts when you move it like this. He tells you to stop moving it like that. 

So there you go. 

The second type of discomfort is the one that you think is normal, so you just accept it as such. Hey, it’s miserably cold outside. Well, that’s because it’s winter. What can you do?

When I was a kid, I would complain to my father that it was too cold for me to go out and shovel snow off our drive-way. “Cold?” he’d say. “You don’t know what cold is, kid. When I was your age, I had holes in my shoes. That’s cold! Get out there and shovel.” 

And so I would. And as I shoveled and wondered why he would wear shoes with holes in them, I accepted the cold as something I could do nothing about.

Life’s funny that way.


Everything is Fine

Our daughter, Erin, along with her husband and our granddaughter, Bridget, live in an old house in Maryland, a Southern state with Northern winters. I wrote about the wimpy furnace and leaky ductwork in her house during that first winter after they moved in. We all pretended that everything was just fine because they had paid lots of money for the house, and when you spend lots of money, you want to believe that everything is just fine. It’s just the way we are. 

I once brought home a gadget that broke the first time I tried to use it. The Lovely Marianne told me I was an idiot to buy that thing, but guess what I did? I defended it. You know why? Because, well, that’s just the way we are.

On my first January visit to Erin’s lousy furnace, I sat covered in throw blankets and misery. They have a powder room just east of their front door that has five sides exposed to the elements and a floor-level register that couldn’t expel the slightest of warm breaths. I suggested we keep the beers in there. That got me dirty looks.

After our next visit, I decided to get in touch with a local contractor buddy to see if he could take a look. He did, and then made what fixes he could in accordance with their budget, which wasn’t very healthy at the time. 

I was just as uncomfortable on my next visit, so I accepted this as “normal” (It’s not my house, right?) and did what I usually do: I wrote about it in this fine magazine. And in that column, I mentioned that even the best guy I knew couldn’t make this place comfortable. It was a hopeless cause. We would just have to accept discomfort.

So there.

Well, the best guy I knew took that column sort of personal. He showed up at Erin’s cold house one day with the issue of PM and tossed on her dining-room table. “He doesn’t think I can make this place comfortable, eh?” he said. “I’ll show him!”

What followed was a month-long hydronic retrofit to the whole house, done as a barter project (Erin is brilliant at things internet), and I cannot be more grateful, or more comfortable. 

All of this reminded me of a rule we adopted when The Lovely Marianne and I first went into business. We would help people, knowing that some of those people couldn’t pay us with money just then, but they could in other ways. Our new motto was this: We have to make money, but we don’t have to make it every day. Some days we just did things because we could. It’s a good way to live, and it all worked out just fine. 

Erin told me that one of the school mommies came with her daughter for a play date with our granddaughter, and when she walked in, she stopped in wonder. “It’s so comfortable here,” she said. 

“It is,” Erin said.

“How do you do that?”

Erin showed her the cast-iron baseboards. “We have panel radiators in the bedrooms,” she said, pointing upstairs. “We have five zones. There are Bluetooth TRVs on the third-floor panels.”

“Excuse me?” the other mommy said.

“It’s hydronics.”


“Hydronics,” Erin said.

“I want it,” the other mommy said.

That’s the thing about discomfort. Folks think they have to accept it because they don’t know there’s something much better available. They think it’s normal to have dry, hot air blasting down on them, or up on them. They think it’s normal for tumbleweeds of dust to be rolling across their floors, chased by robot vacuums. It’s normal to them. They believe this because this is all they’ve ever known. 

But then, they walk into a hydronically heated home done oh so well, and suddenly, there’s this new, much better thing to consider: Comfort!


The New Normal

Stop here for a moment and think about your customers. They don’t know they’re uncomfortable. They accept what they have as normal. You need to speak up and tell them it’s not, and the best way I know to do this is to tell them about The Wedgie Factor. 

It goes like this: Most folks (and especially men) think that all underwear is the same. The only difference is price. And since most folks are not showing their underwear to others (well, most of the time) most folks choose to buy their drawers in a cheap store like Target or Kohl’s, or even the local dollar store. And trust me, the older you get, the more you will believe that drawers are drawers, and dollar stores are the bee’s knees.

And consider this: Drawers are not something you get to try on in the store. This is especially true of the dollar stores (and I’m sure we can agree that this is a very good thing). So when you try them on for the first time, you are in the privacy of your own home. You tug them up and then wonder why you bought medium when you actually should have bought large (extra-large?). And then, you remember that you’re going to lose some weight. Probably. Right? “These drawers aren’t tight,” you say through gritted teeth. “They’re my inspiration.” 

What kicks in now, there in the privacy of your own home, is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Your inner brain realizes that you did something dopey, but you don’t want to be dopey, so you just tug up the draws and give yourself a magnificent wedgie that you accept as normal.

What can you do? You defend those drawers. They’re perfect because you chose them.

That’s The Wedgie Factor.

And so that the ladies should not be left out, and since I have one wife and four daughters, I am qualified to ask you this question: At the end of a long day, how often in your hard-working life have you said under your breath, “I cannot wait to get this brassier off!” 

That, too, is The Wedgie Factor.

But here comes the best part. You get to explain to the world that wedgies and the discomfort they bring are not normal. No one has to put up with wedgies. You can do something about them, and right now. 

So step up. Get out there into the world. When you see a wedgie, give it a good solid tug, hydronically speaking. Pull it out; and then stand back and watch as they smile and say, “Gosh! I had no idea it could feel this good!”

Then go kill their furnace.