We all want to save energy and money. One of the best, easiest and most inexpensive ways to do this is to install and use a programmable thermostat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 50% of household energy goes to heating and cooling. A 4 pre-programmed thermostat, which is properly programmed and used, can reduce energy consumption and cost with little sacrifice in comfort.
The way it works is that you have 4 times of the day where the temperature is programmed: when you wake up, leave for work or school, return home, and go to bed. There is a 3% savings for each degree which you turn up the thermostat in the summer and down in the winter. If you set the temperature 8 degrees lower in the winter and 4 degrees higher in the summer when you are away from home and sleeping, the average single family home will save about $180 per year over the life of the thermostat. And if energy costs continue to rise, the savings could too.
Personally, I wasn’t too sure that programming my thermostat with 4-8 degree differentials would really save energy. I had always heard that getting your house back to a comfortable temperature uses as much or more energy than it saves. However, the Department of Energy says that is a common misconception and that turning the temperature up in summer and down in winter will always save energy. The science as I understand it is this: Heated air moves from hot areas to cold areas. How quickly, or the rate at which the air moves, depends on the temperature difference between the indoor and outdoor temperature. The greater the differential, the quicker you will have heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, and the more your heating and air conditioning will run. So if your house is set at 70 degrees in the winter and the outdoor temperature is 45, you can reduce the rate of heat loss if you lower the temperature to 62 degrees when you’re not at home and when you’re sleeping. And if you’re not losing as much heat, the furnace or heat pump isn’t running as much, and you’re saving energy.
If you don’t want to wake up or come home to a house that’s 62 degrees, you can program your thermostat to begin heating 30-60 minutes before you get up or come home. Obviously, the same logic applies in summer.
If you and your family have set routines and schedules during the week, a programmable thermostat is an ideal solution for energy savings. But when routines and schedules change, you can change your thermostat too. You can “tweak” it regularly so that you minimize the heat or air conditioning from coming on, but accommodate changes in schedules. For example, if you’ve programmed the thermostat to drop to 62 degrees at 10 pm when you’re headed for bed, and you decide to stay up to watch a movie, you can change the thermostat. Just change the temperature back to 70 degrees and enter the time you want the normal program to resume. It’s that easy. And you can make changes all the time to accommodate temporary or permanent situations.
A programmable thermostat isn’t for everyone. If you are home all day, a programmable thermostat is not as helpful because you want to maintain a certain comfort level. Of course, you can still change the temperature during sleeping hours. In the summer ceiling fans are helpful in maintaining comfort. Dehumidifiers are also very helpful because the lower the humidity, the more comfortable we are, even at higher temperatures.
Programmable thermostats range in cost from $50–$90 for the 4 pre-programmed options. If your house has more than one heating/cooling zone, you’ll need a thermostat for each zone.
I hope you’re sold on the idea that this really is a good, affordable option for energy savings. But there is a problem that appears to be pretty widespread that you’ll need to overcome: people have programmable thermostats in their homes and don’t use them! Unbelievably, a study conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed these sad statistics: 90% of those participating in the survey who have a programmable thermostat rarely or never adjusted the thermostat to a set program! Of the 10% of those who did program, 15% of them programmed them incorrectly and 33% simply put the thermostat on “hold” which means the temperature remains constant all the time!
So, once you’ve taken the smart step to purchase and install a programmable thermostat, you’ve got to use it!! When we make changes in our lives and routines, there is always a period of adjustment. We need to get used to things.
When we moved into our home with it’s 5 heating and cooling zones, we had to think about the way we use each of the areas within a given zone and program the thermostats accordingly. We had to pay attention to changing needs, and make adjustments. We needed to remember to re-program if we were going to be away from home for a few or more days. But once we got accustomed to our programmable thermostats, using them effectively has become an easy thing to do, and puts a little money back in the bank each month.
We’re headed toward those hot and humid dog days of summer. This would be an excellent time to head to the nearest home improvement store, or to call your HVAC contractor, and install a programmable thermostat. By carefully following the instructions, and if you’re handy, it is certainly possible to install one yourself. Most are low voltage, but you’ll still need to turn off the electricity during installation. However, it’s a good idea to consult a knowledgeable person like your HVAC contractor to ensure you purchase the best thermostat for your application. I think you’ll be glad you took this easy step toward energy savings and that you really use it!
Author’s note: I am grateful to the publisher for the opportunity to advocate for and promote energy and water conservation and to help increase awareness of environmental issues. I welcome your comments, questions or critiques. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lorraine Horably