Feeling Warm About Saving Money

By Chelle Cordero

July 12, 2019 5 min read

The comforts of home are worth every penny. But when you can save those pennies, it's a real bonus.

You can ensure those savings -- and feel comfortable no matter the weather -- by using a programmable thermostat. You can program it to respond to your family's personal schedule, to keep the house running economically while no one's home and to have your home temperature just as you like it when you walk through the door at the end of a long day. Some programmable thermostats feature seven-day schedules so you can set a different pattern for each day of the week. Others have a five-two schedule: one setting for during the workweek and one for the weekend. There's also the option of five-one-one, for more versatility on the weekends. The most basic "clock thermostat" usually permits two programmed settings per day. Digital thermostats allow for more settings instead of just one hot and one cold. And all programmable thermostats offer temporary overrides.

Smart thermostats offer even greater control, such as through smartphone apps, which can receive energy usage reports; learned responses to your home schedule, which help make efficient temperature changes as needed; voice controls; Wi-Fi adaptability; humidity sensors; and easy one-touch screen controls. Imagine you have a last-minute change to your schedule. You can notify your thermostat using an app on your smartphone. Or, if the night is just a tad too chilly and you really don't want to come out from under the blankets, all you have to do is tell your thermostat to make an adjustment. And smart thermostats will often offer more complex scheduling adaptations for your family's unique needs.

According to the Department of Energy (as cited by Jennifer Noonan on Bob Vila's home improvement website), "You can save as much as 1 percent on your winter heating bill for every degree you turn your thermostat down for an eight-hour period, and a programmable thermostat can automate those savings for you." The biggest savings are normally found in moderate climates.

It's best to keep your home at the energy-saving temperature for a minimum of eight hours at a time, such as overnight or when no one is home. If you have multi-zone heating/cooling, you will need to program multiple thermostats for specific areas in your home. Try to keep your programmed energy-saving temperatures compatible with the outside weather; this will help you avoid heat/cooling loss and heat or cool your home with less energy when the program demands the "at-home" temperature setting. Heat/cooling loss through transference increases as the difference between inside and outside temperatures increases.

When you are shopping for a programmable thermostat, check for these important features and consider how they may serve your needs:

1. Make sure the thermostat you choose is compatible with the heating/cooling system you have in place. Most programmable thermostats are inefficient with heat pumps in their heating mode. Electric baseboard heating systems require line-voltage programmable thermostats, which are manufactured only by a few companies.

2. Have a fairly accurate account of your family's home schedule so that you have a realistic idea of how many programmed settings you will need or if a smartphone app would be the most helpful. Select the thermostat schedule and means of programming that work best for your household.

3. Consider who will most often be doing the programming or using the setback features. Digital thermostats offer many options for programming, overrides, and daylight saving time adjustments, but they are usually complicated to program. By contrast, electromechanical thermostats are usually controlled by sliding bars and are very easy to program.

4. Plan where your thermostat(s) will be located. Make sure that your thermostat won't be blocked by furniture or in the path of a draft; this will make the thermostat less responsive to the house's overall temperature and may easily over- or underheat the rooms you use most often. It should be positioned in the natural home air currents, not in direct sunlight or over a heat or cooling vent. Also check whether your thermostat runs on AC or DC power.

5. If your chosen thermostat will respond to voice commands, either through a smart-home device or a smartphone app, be sure that it has reliable voice recognition so no one else can inadvertently or maliciously change your settings.

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