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Thermostat Hacks That Save You Money

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Programmable ThermostatFor many homes, ours included, one of the biggest monthly costs is our electricity bill. The largest portion of our monthly electrical bill is the bit consumed by our central heating and cooling HVAC system. While I don’t know what percentage of the bill it actually comes out to, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s probably the largest percentage when compared to lighting, appliances, water heater, computers, and other electrical consumers in our home.

So, if you want to reduce your electricity bill, the first place you should go is the biggest consumer right? Our HVAC system is, like many, controlled by a programmable thermostat and with a few little tips and tricks, we hope to drop our electricity bill by a little bit (or at least stop it’s rocketing rise) this winter.

Install a Programmable Thermostat

One of the great lessons of personal finance, and in life, is that if you can “set it and forget it” then more people will do it. Make automatic contributions to your 401(k), make automatic transfers from your checking to savings – make automatic and you’ll go far. That’s why a programmable thermostat makes so much sense. Automatically turn on and off your HVAC for the times you can appreciate the heat (or cool), saving energy and money on the times you won’t appreciate it.

Some power companies will even give you a free programmable thermostat, as mine did. BG&E, our local electricity provider, gave away free touchscreen programmable thermostat that you can access from the internet with free installation. Check with your provider to see if they’re running any promotions like a free or subsidized programmable thermostat.

Thermostat Setbacks

A thermostat setback is the fancy term for lowering the setting on your thermostat when you need less heat. A setup is when you raise the setting on your thermostat when you need less air conditioning. The idea is that you save energy whenever your HVAC system isn’t running, so turn it off when you aren’t around (at work) or won’t notice it (sleeping). I’ve had numerous debates about this but the topic was tackled by The Straight Dope and I agree with her analysis.

Lower The Temperature

According to this chart from TXU Energy, whose job is to supply and sell electricity, lowering the temperature setting of your thermostat one degree below 78 degrees in the winter can save you 1% of energy. Raising the setting one degree above 68 degrees in the summer can save you 1% of energy. A percent or two doesn’t seem like a lot of money but over the course of a year it can result in significant energy savings, especially if you don’t even notice the degree or two of change in temperature.

Keep a Log

One of the benefits of a programmable thermostat is that you can program it to turn on right before you get home or turn off right as you leave. The best way to know when to turn it off and on is by keeping a log of when you leave and when you return. You won’t need to keep this log for too long, just long enough so that you know your actual patterns (instead of what you think of as your actual pattern) and program your thermostat accordingly. By doing this, you’re simply making your heating and cooling more efficient by tightening the constraints of when it comes on and off.

Finally, there’s always the one hack that my mother always told me – put on a sweater. :)

(Photo: drh)

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16 Responses to “Thermostat Hacks That Save You Money”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    Programmable thermostats help. How much depends on what condition your house is in, and the condition and power source of your HVAC system, and whether it is heat only or heating and A/C. Regardless, programmable thermostats are cheap and will save you money.

    One noteworthy thing: natural gas and electricity are often sold by the same utility in many areas (I have only lived in one area where gas was available and this was not the case) and so gas and electricity both appear on the same bill.

    Gas is much cheaper per unit of work than electricity, so if you have gas heat, you should look very closely at your bill to determine if it is, in fact, your biggest expenditure. You may find you actually have some other electric energy hog that is costing you more in electricity than your heat is in gas (think old appliances: fridge, freezer, TV, etc).

    • Bey says:

      Agreed, Glenn, I took Jack’s idea one step further and have my power bricks (for computer, cell charger, etc.) on a timer at home so that when I’m at work these little leeches aren’t making the dials on the meter spin faster. This in addition to several lamps in my house on timers — this is valid even when you’re *not* on vacation.

      • Strebkr says:

        There are so many things that I would love to put on a timer, but can’t. I need my computer on all day because I connect to it from remote places. The DVR and that stuff isnt worth turning off due to all the resetting that needs to be done when it comes back on.

  2. PK says:

    Lower the temperature: Okay who in the world has a thermostat set to 78 in the winter! I have mine sent to 62 in the winter and I’m comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt. So what would I save if I lowered it?

  3. Jean says:

    The title is very misleading. It set the reader’s expectation that there are some tricks that are not generally known that you can do with the thermostat to save money. Calling the process of lowering the thermostat setting “thermostat setbacks” does not make it a “hack”.

    • cdiver says:

      agreed, my thermastat came with an energy star program built into it. I dont have to do anything!

    • Strebkr says:

      To this audience it might seem like a no brainer. But to the rest of the world that hasn’t read this content, it might be a big break through. Just take note when you go to someone else’s house. TONS of people dont have them.

  4. Ron says:

    Watch out for Programmable Thermostats if you have a heat pump. You dont want to pay for the backup heat to come on.

    From http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/space_heating_cooling/index.cfm/mytopic=12720
    Programmable thermostats are generally not recommended for heat pumps. In its cooling mode, a heat pump operates like an air conditioner, so turning up the thermostat (either manually or with a programmable thermostat) will save energy and money. But when a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back its thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby canceling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting. Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost-effective practice. Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed programmable thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat cost effective. These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems.

  5. eric says:

    I live in an area with (relatively) mild weather year around but during periods of uncomfortable heat or cold, I try not to use the HVAC at all (or at least very little). It helps to turn on some fans or put on some extra sweaters instead.

    • Strebkr says:

      The rule in our house is: You can’t say the C word unless you have on pants, sweatshirt, and slippers. 62 used to be our normal, but now we have a 2 year old and a 2 month old so that doesn’t fly anymore. We are up to 68.

  6. zapeta says:

    We wait as long as possible to turn on our heat or air, and we leave it as cool or warm as we can stand.

  7. elloo says:

    That’s all good, but insulate, insulate, insulate. seal, seal seal. Attics, attic hatches, fireplace openings (yes! a biggie), doors, windows, exterior electrical outlets and switchplates, etc. Your thermostat will kick on often if your home is leaking like a sieve.

  8. Shirley says:

    As we age we find that cold bothers us more. Perhaps blood circulation is not what it once was.

    In the winter the heat temp is set at 68 for daytime and 58 for night (though the house seldom gets down that low). Summer finds us at 78 for the AC.

  9. Ladywisdom says:

    I am a little confused. I live in Miami Florida where it’s most heat all of the year except for a very few months of below 60s weather.

    In summer I have a/c set at 80 and turn it off during the winter. Yet, I am thoroughly comfortable.

  10. Judi C says:

    I think the writer has the temps backwards. I was always told to keep the thermostat around 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. However, our HVAC is crappy and our apartment poorly insulated and it gets unbearably hot upstairs if we have the temp set above 74 in the summer. We keep it around 73 (or I try too). My husband routinely comes and turns it down to 71 or 70. I wish there was a thermostat you could lock so only someone with the code could change it.

  11. scott17818 says:

    I have looked online at what to do to save fuel oil as I am up here in the great midcoast maine area where oil is the main heating source of choice. but it is’nt cheap. you would think with all the woods up here I’d have a wood stove in my house, but no.. I have a 2010 ranch modular about 1344sqft. it’s a good size, and fairly efficient with 1 zone heating. I keep the thermostat set at 60* all winter unless it’s a very cold spell, and then I’ll bump it up to 64* just in case we lose power for a length of time (we have before) From what I have learned it’s better to set your thermostat to have a 8-10 hour cycle… where it runs at 60-62* for 3-4 hours, than a cooldown period, down to your max low of about 10* cooler.. so mine is set to drop to 50-52* at night, and heat up in the morning to 60-62* and then cool back down until we are home at night… running in a continuos 8 hour cycle.. it is fairly efficient, and I only burned through about 575gallons of oil last year!!! the oil company quoted me 900-1000 gallons of oil!!! in the summer the master bedroom, and the living room have window units @ 12,500BTU that only get turned on on the 90-100* days with high humidity..


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