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The Metric System Is for Lovers—A Valentine’s Day Manifesto

Valentine Day Building Science Metric Imperial International System Units

What better time than Valentine’s Day to make a pitch for going to the system of units that the vast majority of the world uses. No, really, I’m dead serious. Here’s my reasoning (and you know how good I am at this kind of sideways thinking).

First, I drive my wife wild — a good thing for Valentine’s Day, right? — whenever I tell her the temperature in degrees Celsius! (Unfortunately, that’s wild with frustration, but it should still count.)

Second, we abbreviate the International System with SI, from the French, Système International d’unités, and everyone knows that French is the language of love. If you whispered into the ear of your sweetheart, “J’aime la façon dont ces kilos en trop te vont,” in a sexy French accent, the object of your affection would no doubt respond with something like, “Oh, baby, I love it when you talk metric to me!”  (Of course, you may not want to try this with someone who understands French).

Third, if God had meant us to use the metric system, we’d have 10 fingers…and well, actually, that’s what most of us have.

But seriously, isn’t it time we just get over this silly hurdle and use the system of units that makes sense? I mean, wouldn’t you rather figure out how many grams in a kilogram than how many furlongs per slug-minute you need to equal a rood-pint per stone century?!

If so, join me in my new campaign to start the conversion by making Valentine’s Day our first metric holiday.  Instead of a dozen roses, bring 10 roses to your sweetheart!

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Allison Bailes of Atlanta, Georgia, is a speaker, writer, building science consultant, and founder of Energy Vanguard. He is also the author of the Energy Vanguard Blog and is writing a book. You can follow him on Twitter at @EnergyVanguard.


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Photo by ADAM BELL | PHOTOGRAPHY from, used under a Creative Commons license.


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This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Being a European who moved to
    Being a European who moved to the US a few years ago – I’m all with you!

  2. Being in Canada and having
    Being in Canada and having lived half of my life in Metric and half in Imperial (or I guess we call it American now) I must point out that the Imperial system is much more related to the body than the metric, ten fingers notwithstanding. 0 F is really really cold and 100 is really really hot, chosen points because of how we feel. In Metric, it is all related to water, and we spend most winters in the minus numbers for months, its depressing. (not this year though). The inch, foot and yard were also based on human scale, not a subdivision of the circumference of the earth as calculated in 1793. While I am completely comfortable in Metric now, and while it is so much easier doing architectural drawings, Imperial is in fact much more human, much more loving, part of our being and not a dispassionate cold science. 

  3. As a long time computer
    As a long time computer scientist guy, I actually have something of an appreciation for a system of measurement whose factions are based on inverse powers of two. Face it: recursively dividing something in half always takes you to the mid point of the next quantity. There’s a great deal of utility associated with that fact. Also, as a computation guy, dealing with and combining incommensurate units based on different base units (e.g., linear versus angular) is something one does all the time. Standardizing on base ten for lineal/mass/volume/force -type measurements isn’t going to make the trickier stuff go away. So I guess in my old age, I like living in a world with a diversity of units to choose from depending on the application, feel confident that I can move between them with total ease, and now view that pedantic hobgoblin on the mind that says “all things must be unified” with a certain degree of disdain! 🙂 
    Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

  4. I meant “fractions”
    I meant “fractions”. (Really wish one edit comments posting them)

  5. The metric system came out of
    The metric system came out of the era of the French Revolution did it not? Not exactly warm and fuzzy.

  6. LOL, oh my one had better
    LOL, oh my one had better pray she doesn’t speak French… ouch 
    Amen to Lloyd & yeah to what John said, wait what did he say in that first part again??? 
    Happy Valentines Day all

  7. True about the French
    True about the French Revolution. Although both the American and French Revolutions are considered products of the Age of Enlightenment, and I suppose the metric system is, as well. So, if you can get past all the gore, well, there ya go! 😀

  8. Teresa:
    Teresa: Great! 
    Lloyd: I never thought of negative numbers for temperatures as being depressing, but I’ve never lived in Canada either. Still, I’d rather have -10° C than +5° F.  
    “Imperial is in fact much more human, much more loving, part of our being and not a dispassionate cold science.” But we’re talking about numbers, and Imperial System numbers, when you have to work with them, aren’t very humane. In fact, I find them depressing. 
    John P.: Wait! I thought you lived in Connecticut. Are you really from New Hampshire? 
    M. Johnson: Ah, well, the heart is what pumps the blood around the body, you know. 
    Sean: John said that mathematics and computer science proves that SI units are better. ;~) 

  9. “…vast amount of the
    “…vast amount of the majority the world uses” I thought we in America was all about diversity, and minority culture interests, Changing Our adopted system of measurements has work for us about 250 plus years..why change? Its not culturally corrected to do so.

  10. I believe the Mesopotamians
    I believe the Mesopotamians had a number system base on 12 (ours is ten) which is where a dozen eggs or roses comes from. How romantic. But romantic at what cost? It costs my small company about $80,000 per year to use both units. The military and scientists in the US use Metric and the proletariat was nursed back to Imperial units (Now called US units) by Pres Reagan who said “Metric is downright UnAmerican”. Correction, British Imperial units are unAmerican. Remember the war against the British for independence.. and who helped us? The French! The Metric French who I believe gave us the Statue of Liberty! 
    Anyone who has been to Europe knows that virtually everyone there speaks English. No small thing when you consider it takes years to learn. You could get a Masters Degree in anything you like for the effort it takes a European to learn English. We benefit doing business, travel etc. Since learning Metric could be accomplished with almost no effort by comparison why don’t Americans sign up to be co-operative and learn Metric? One generation and poof, its done.  
    I know all my equations in both metric and Imperial and convert back and forth daily. Surely the masses can all learn that 50 MPH is 80KPH and that 20C is room temperature pretty quickly. We can still learn stuff can’t we? If not, at least our kids can speak International units when they grow up. After all they didn’t have to spend years learning English like all their counterparts in other countries.

  11. Chuck H.:
    Chuck H.: Many of the units we use apply to quantities we didn’t know about 250 years ago, or had only a glimmer of what they were about, so actually our system has changed over that time. 
    Colin: Hear, hear! That Retrotec spends that much money each year because of our unwillingness to change is indeed a powerful argument in favor of changing. Any company that wants to do business with the rest of the world has to use SI units. It makes the US look weak and egotistical (if a country can be that) not to change. And you’re absolutely right – it’s not that hard to figure out the metric system.

  12. Hey! I never said that
    Hey! I never said that mathematics and computer science prove that SI is better! I said that, personally, I’m fine with either system, and can happily transition back and forth between both… 
    (But in all seriousness, I do realize that supporting dual systems of metrics adds much cost to industry, and that standardization is inevitable. And no, never lived in NH! :-).

  13. many orgs and industries in
    many orgs and industries in the US already heavily use metric: dept. of defense, GSA, nuke industry, medical industry, nutritionists, science/research, sports (swimming, olympics, track & field)…  
    if it’s good enough for the army, surely it’s good enough for PHIUS or the rest of us…

  14. If for no other reason than
    If for no other reason than to be able to drive “100” again. 
    That and there’s something about a speedometer that goes to “240”! 
    ♫ I can’t drive, 88.5! ♫ 😉

  15. I wouldn’t mind the metric
    I wouldn’t mind the metric system, and I love speaking and hearing French, but I have absolutely no idea what John Poole is saying in his first comment. What language was he typing in – Metringlish?

  16. Semi entranced by ya’ll unit
    Semi entranced by ya’ll unit slingers & history romancers, but how about a man who drives his wife sauvage!

  17. We got part way there in the
    We got part way there in the 70’s, until we ran out of money and common sense. Remember all of the public service ads – “Take 10, America” and the Metric Marvels cartoon show? Anyway, to my friends in Canada, -40 degrees = -40 degrees no matter how you look at it.

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