New or upgraded thermostats can pay for themselves

According to the EPA, the average home heating and cooling energy cost is $830 annually. A digital, programmable thermostat can save as much as 10 percent a year on those costs.

With fall waning and winter fast approaching, it’s a good time to get started or review and upgrade your energy saving actions. One of the easiest ways to start saving heating and cooling costs is by installing a programmable thermostat. Because everyone has busy lives, trying to remember to turn the thermostat up or down when coming home or leaving the house can be hit or miss. And how many of us have just gotten comfortable in bed when we realized we forgot to turn down the thermostat?

Homeowners can save up to ten percent annually on their energy costs for heating and cooling by dialing back 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day. So, while everyone is at work or school, you can save money. When you are at home, the general rule of thumb is to set your thermostat’s temperature at 68 degrees in winter and 78 degrees in summer. I actually set my winter temperature at 66 degrees and turn it up when I am there but if I’m not home, it’s still saving energy.

Programmable thermostats reduce discomfort because rather than manually changing the temperature when you get up or return home and then waiting for it to warm up or cool down, it automatically returns the temperature back to a comfortable level before you arrive or get up.

There are three options for programmable thermostats: digital, electromechanical or a combination of both of these. Digital thermostats offer the most features for multiple settings, overrides and day light savings adjustments. Electromechanical ones typically use pegs or sliding bars to set the temperature and are fairly simple to program. Determine if the thermostat starts heating or cooling at the designated time or if it starts and stops prior to the set temperature so the house is at the desired temperature at the time programmed.

Location, location, location. Like real estate, where you locate your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. For best results, the thermostat should be on an interior wall of the house away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylight and windows. It should be in a location where the natural hot air rising and cool air sinking can occur. Avoid putting furniture in front or beneath the thermostat as this will affect the natural rise and fall air flow. It also makes it easier to program and adjust if it’s in an accessible area.

Programmable thermostats are not recommended for heat pumps. When the heat pump is in the heating mode, reducing the temperature can result in the heat pump operating inefficiently. There are, however, some new programmable thermostats designed specifically for heat pumps.

Avoid setting the temperature to a warmer/colder setting than is comfortable to hurry the heating/cooling process. This will not heat or cool your home any quicker and could increase your energy costs.

When programming your thermostat, consider the schedules of everyone in the house. When do most family members go to bed at night and get up in the morning? Do they prefer to sleep in a cool room during the winter months? If the household has different schedules during the week vs the weekend, a programmable thermostat that allows separate weekday and weekend settings is a good option.

For more information on other energy saving activities, see Energy Conservation for Your Home and Pocketbook and other energy saving articles at Michigan State University Extension.

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