Keeping cold hands warm while typing

I love my apartment in Potrero Hill, but the heating doesn't reach my room, and with thin walls and single-paned windows installed a couple decades ago, things get cold really, really fast.

For most things, I don't really mind the chill – put on some slippers, bundle up in a sweater, or use a blanket. Using a computer, though, my fingers start to lose circulation and make it hard to type.

Up until recently, I've solved this problem in the most ham-fisted way possible: run a space heater to keep my room warm. That has some auxilary benefits, like friends being willing to actually spend time in the room, but it feels wrong to run an 1000+ watt device for hours on end just to keep a couple cubic feet of air somewhere above 60 degrees. Also, massive PG&E bills.

With this year's December getting colder than usual, I started investigating alternate solutions:

Gloves:

Any gloves that kept my fingers completely comfortable ended up restricting dexterity too much to type. Fingerless gloves with no finger separators (kind of like arm-warmers with a thumb hole) worked okay, but I still found myself running the space heater.

And yes, they do make some typing gloves with integrated heating, but these come with a few problems:

  • Your hands are constantly tethered to your computer with a mess of USB cables
  • They still don't keep your fingers warm.

Warm-usb-typing-gloves

No. Just….no. And also no to this:

image from i.stack.imgur.com

Heated Keyboard:

This seemed like an obvious solution to me, so I was surprised when the only product I found was the V8 Tools Heated Keyboard, with pretty poor reviews on Amazon.

I was also reluctant to turn in my awesome clicky mechanical keyboard for something so…..beige :-/

Also out of the running were products like the Warm Keyboard Pad, which only warm your wrists.

Infrared Heat Lamps:

Just when I was close to losing hope, I stumbled on this thread on the permies.com energy conservation forum (Internet, eh?):

I also don't want to do wear clunky stuff or feel inconvenienced by my choices.  For example, the fingerless mittens do work really well – but when I get up to eat or pee or do anything, they are bothersome.  I feel like they get in the way and need to be futzed with.  In the end, they are outside of my comfort zone.  I feel the reptile heaters is a much smarter way to go. 

Reptile heaters, eh? With a new keyboard to play with, a little googling brought me to the page "Micro heaters saved me 87% on my electric bill." Jackpot! The author described solutions to the exact problems I was having:

This odd looking thing is a reptile heater that fits into a standard light socket. At first I used it to hover over my keyboard. It worked GREAT! My hands were quite warm. It even warmed my face a bit.

Reptile-keyboard-warmer                                 

Apparently they make these lightless ceramic warmers for reptile terrariums. I ordered one for about $18 on Amazon, screwed it into a gooseneck desk lamp, and tried it on. Just for the hell of it, I also grabbed a standard infrared lightbulb to see if there was a difference. At ~60w a bulb, even using two would barely be more than 10% of the energy of the space heater.      

Keyboard warming-1
I only got the single one to start, and I noticed that while it warmed my left hand a bit, the heat was pretty localized and not quite strong enough to replace the big heater– and the single lamp was already cluttering up my desk and obscuring the screen a little.

Cool idea, though.

Desk Heater:

I ultimately found my solution in this little guy:

The Lasko MyHeat: Small footprint, cheap (<$20), and only draws 200W. It has a small ceramic heating element and a small fan – it's definitely not silent, but I like the white noise. Tipped on its side, it's the perfect height to blow hot air over the top of the keyboard:

Keyboard warming-3

We have a winner! With San Francisco in the mid-40's today, I typed for a few hours without turning on the big oil heater. I did notice that while the fan covers the keyboard nicely, the trackpad is still pretty chilly, so I took the reptile heater and moved it over to the right. The finished setup:

Keyboard warming-4

Conclusions:

Micro-heating is the way to go. At a cost of ~$40, the setup saves at least 15kW a week (assuming a conservative three hours of use a day on weekends and two on weekdays), and pays for itself in a couple months. For work-from-home types, the savings will be a lot bigger. 

More than the monetary/environmental impact, though, it just feels nice to burn electricity on the places that actually need it, rather than heating up a big room just to keep my hands comfortable. The author of the article I found suggested a heated dog mat for feet; I prefer these guys:

Keyboard warming-6
Happy heating!

*Note: *Paul Wheaton, who wrote the article on reptile heaters, eventually switched to the heated keyboard I panned. Sounds like it works for him, though I stand by my keyboard vanity. To be honest, I'd pay quite a bit for a heated mechanical keyboard with good fit and finish – Kickstarter?