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Thermostat Hacks That Save You Money

For 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 [3] and I agree with her analysis.

Lower The Temperature

According to this chart from TXU Energy [4], 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 [5])