With seasonal changes, a lot of homeowners start thinking about ways they can save a few dollars on energy costs. Last week we showed homeowners how to do a mini energy audit focused on home climate, as heating and cooling activities can definitely cause a spike in electricity bills.
After homeowners have figured out where there may be energy losses – in other words, once the drafts have been fixed and the insulation shored up – it’s time to turn to the actual components of your HVAC system to find energy savings in upgrades. One of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to find potential savings? Moving up to a programmable thermostat.
What is a Programmable Thermostat?
Most of us are familiar with thermostats – they are the portion of your heating and cooling system installed on a wall somewhere in your living space. The thermostat provides information on temperature settings, letting you know what the current temperature is in your home and showing you at what temperature your heating and cooling system will turn on to provide peak comfort.
Programmable thermostats add a little more to the experience. Just as the name implies, homeowners can program these thermostats to change temperatures over the course of a day. This means that you can change the temperature to a lower energy setting during times when you are not in the house, or during the night when household members are sleeping. These devices can vary drastically in price, ranging from $20 to well over $200. As you can imagine, the larger investment items generally come with the most bells and whistles.
Typically, the most common programmable thermostats are available with the following settings:
- 1-Week: Generally the least expensive option, 1-week thermostats allow you set a heating and cooling schedule that repeats every day of the week. This is a good option for homes that run on a very regular schedule.
- 5-2 Thermostats: Slightly more complex and higher in cost, this option allows homeowners to set a schedule for weekdays and weekends (Saturday and Sunday combined). Another great option for families who run on a regular schedule.
- 5-1-1 Thermostats: Much like the 5-2 option, the 5-1-1 allows for one weekday setting, with separate settings for Saturday and Sunday. If you work regular hours during the week, but have a varied weekend schedule, this option provides more flexibility.
- 7-Day Thermostats: This option is great for families that have a irregular schedule, as it allows homeowners to program individual settings for every day of the week.
- Smart Thermostats: For those who have the resources to invest in a smart thermostat (they can cost well over $200), the benefits include a learning ability. In a nutshell, the smart thermostat doesn’t require programming – it learns your schedule and adjusts the temperature in your home accordingly.
What Are the Benefits?
Programmable thermostats are useful because they allow the temperature of a home to rise or drop during times when the home is not in use, or times when the family is sleeping and likely doesn’t need the air conditioner or heater to be on full-blast. By reducing the load of the system, homeowners can see a difference in their energy bills.
In order to maximize these benefits, homeowners need to find the thermostat that is right for their home and schedule, and learn how to program it properly. Most thermostats have four basic programming components: Wake, Sleep, Leave, and Return. These time settings let the thermostat know when you are in the house and actively using the space. General guidelines for programming are:
- In winter months, set the temperature to lower about 30 minutes before you leave for work during the week. For summer, you’ll raise the temperature. Resume normal temperatures about 30 minutes before you arrive home.
- For sleeping, raise or lower the temperature about 60 minutes before bedtime, with normal temperatures resuming about 30 minutes before you wake.
- Summer schedules and winter schedules will likely be a little different from each other, so remember to reprogram the system during these times.
These are the most basic suggestions for programming, but of course each household is different. It might take some tweaking to get the programming exactly right for you and your family, but once the right schedule is in place, you will likely see a difference in your energy costs.
A Note of Caution…
Programmable thermostats have been somewhat controversial in the HVAC community, because installing one of these devices does not automatically equal energy savings. In order to get the most benefit from a programmable thermostat, homeowners must use them properly.
It is not unusual to find families who use programmable thermostat in an old-fashioned way; that is, they are manually controlling the temperature 24/7 without using any of the beneficial programming features. Without programming, the thermostat stays on a “hold” setting, generally used for long periods of absence like vacations. The scheduled temperature changes are where the energy benefits are found when using this type of equipment.
Unfortunately, we hear from many homeowners that they don’t program their thermostats because they don’t know how! If you find yourself in the position of not knowing how to program your thermostat, check out this list of YouTube videos – you may even be able to find information on your particular thermostat brand.
If your family has an issue with sticking to a single schedule with a programmable thermostat, or if you just forget to program it on a regular basis, then a smart thermostat may be a worthwhile investment. They are pricey, but they also learn your schedule automatically, making the proper adjustments to keep your home at the perfect temperature.