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Program your thermostat for energy efficiency

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By installing a programmable thermostat in your home and keeping your temperature set to a comfortable temperature, you’ll save both energy and money. You'll also reduce your carbon footprint, all without a lot of thought or effort.

How to program your thermostat for energy efficiency

Most people can live quite comfortably at a temperature of 78°F. To maintain this temperature:

  1. Manually set your thermostat at a higher temperature. Rather than reducing your air conditioner’s temperature setting to a chilling 72 degrees, try raising it one degree at a time to see how warm it can be before you become uncomfortable. Remember, the higher you set your thermostat (in summer months), the more energy you’ll save.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats come with a variety of features. Look for:
  • Number of day settings: Seven-day models allow you to program your thermostat differently seven days a week. This is especially good for families whose schedules change from day to day or for businesses that stay open all week long. 5-1-1 models permit a little less flexibility. They allow one program for 5 days of the week (usually Monday to Friday) and then unique schedules for two additional days (most often Saturday and Sunday). 5+2 day models, on the other hand, have the least amount of flexibility since they only allow two unique schedules—one for weekdays, another for weekends.
  • Number of program periods per day: Depending on the complexity of the thermostat, it should allow you to program several blocks of time each day—often up to four periods in each 24-hour span.
  • Hold/Vacation feature: This allows you to suspend your regular thermostat program while you’re away.
  • Special indicators: Some programmable thermostats have special features, such as the ability to notify you when the air filters need to be replaced or when your heating or cooling systems are malfunctioning.
  • Look into an ENERGY STAR programmable thermostat: Check out ENERGY STAR’s product list for recommended models.
  • Occupancy- or light-sensing features: Some thermostats have the ability to sense whether or not you're in the room. Occupancy-sensors thermostats rely on you pushing a button to begin heating or cooling a room. These are relatively inflexible systems and not as energy-efficient. Light-sending thermostats, on the other hand, adjust a room's temperature based on the amount of light in a room. These units are more complex (and perhaps more suitable for commercial settings) and more expensive to boot.

Installation tips for programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats are simple systems that are generally easy to install. Here are a few tips:

  1. Choose a non-drafty, interior wall: The ideal spot for your new programmable thermostat is on an interior wall where cool drafts and heat sources are at a minimum. Avoid putting them near vents, doorways, windows, skylights, or bright lamps.
  2. Shut down your electricity: Thought they require a low voltage wiring installation, it’s a good idea to shut off your electricity while you install the thermostat.
  3. Follow package instructions: Every thermostat is a little different, so it’s best to follow the package instructions carefully. The programmable thermostat shouldn’t involve more than two to 10 wires that will be connected to previous attachment points.
  4. Call a professional for more complex installations: If your heating or cooling system involves more than 10 wires, it’s recommended that you contact a professional HVAC installer.
  5. Practice eco-friendly disposal: If your old thermostat has a mercury switch, be sure not to break the tube during installation. Once you’ve removed it from your wall, contact your local hazardous materials center for information on how to properly dispose of the old unit.

Using a programmable thermostat

Once you’ve got your new programmable thermostat installed, follow these energy-saving tips:

  1. Set optimal, energy-reducing temperatures: To maximize energy savings, try to get your summer thermostat setting up to 78°F or higher while you occupy an area (at work during the day; at home during the evening). Likewise, during cooler months you should try to turn your thermostat down to 68°F. or lower. Then, when space isn’t occupied—at home during the night or while away at work, or at the office during non-business hours—be sure to adjust temperatures down 5 degrees during cold weather and up 10 degrees during warm weather.
  2. Avoid frequent use of hold feature: Using the hold feature on your thermostat to override the automatic temperature control allows you to temporarily make an area warmer or cooler, but this will use more energy. If you find yourself using this feature more than once or twice each week, you should think about adjusting your preset temperatures.

Before you buy

If you’ve got a large house, or one with multiple heating or cooling zones, you’ll likely need more than one programmable thermostat.

Find it! Programmable thermostats

Programming your thermostat for energy efficiency helps you go green because…

  • It prevents excess energy from being wasted, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
  • A programmable thermostat reduces the effort it takes to adjust the temperature to optimal energy-saving levels, which reduces energy consumption.

On average, an air conditioner emits 2,263 pounds of CO2 every year. During the hot summer months, raising an air conditioner’s temperature 6°F can save 10 percent on cooling costs.[1] In fact, for every degree the temperature is raised above 72 degrees, cooling costs drop by 3 percent[2] and carbon dioxide emissions decrease by 121 pounds.[3]

Close to half of the energy used in homes today goes toward heating and cooling.[4] Using a programmable thermostat can cut heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent, commonly amounting to annual energy savings of $150 for the average household.[5]

External links

  • ENERGY STAR - Programmable Thermostats: There are several programmable thermostats that are ENERGY STAR qualified. Use this site to find the most efficient models, and then follow their tips for setting it up.