Several of my busy friends have asked me if there is just one thing they should definitely do, what is it? To save money and use less fuel, get an Energy Star programmable thermostat and program it. The energy auditors I work with tell me that reducing your house temperature by 1 degree for 8 hours a day (at least in New England) will reduce your heating fuel use by 1%.
If you have a regular (non-programmable) thermostat for your heating system and you leave it at the same temperature all day and night, then you will see considerable savings by just installing a programmable thermostat to turn the temperature down after you go to bed and bring it back up before you get up in the morning. If you are out of the house during the day, an Energy Star thermostat has settings for morning, daytime, evening and night, allowing you to turn the temperature down during the day while you’re gone as well. You can easily set your temperature down 8 degrees for 8 hours at night, and if no one is home during the day, 8 degrees for 8 hours during the day, resulting in a 16% savings on your bill!
A decent programmable thermostat costs anywhere from $50 to $90 at EFI or your local hardware store and can be installed by any “handy homeowner.” You do not need an electrician to install a programmable thermostat. In Massachusetts the heating fuel companies think that a programmable thermostat is such a good idea they offer a $25 rebate for each one you buy. You can find out if there is a rebate for Energy Star thermostats in your area on the Energy Star rebate page.
Many people tell me, “I turn my thermostat down every night so I don’t need one.” What I like about a programmable thermostat is that you don’t have to remember to turn it up and down every day and you can program it to have the house at a comfortable temperature when you arrive home or when you get up in the morning. Mornings are so much nicer when I wake up to a warm house
Another very helpful feature is the “hold” button. When you go away on vacation, you can pick a temperature to set the house to and push the “hold” button. We use 55 degrees because we have cats and don’t want them to get too cold. This overrides the programming to keep the house at that temperature until you push the hold button again. This is much simpler than reprogramming the whole thing (which we did before we learn about the hold button).
Another question I get a lot is “what temperature should I set my thermostat to?” You need to set it to the temperature comfortable for your household. I find that temperature is very subjective, so you need to find the temperatures that work for you and your family. My favorite way to figure out the right temperature is to run a little experiment: without telling the other people who live in your house, every few days turn the temperature down 1 degree. When the other residents complain that it’s too cold, turn the temperature back up 1 degree. Bingo, you’ve found the right temperature for your family. The same works for the nighttime temperature. As a starting point Energy Star suggests that you should turn the temperature down at least 8 degrees for the most efficiency.
Energy Star has information about Energy Star thermostats and tips on how to use them.
If you want to do one thing that is going to be cost effective, make a real difference to your bills and for the environment, install an Energy Star thermostat and program it to best match the habits of your household.