Programmable thermostats have become a popular way for people to reduce their energy use and save money on their energy bills. With the arrival of smart thermostats, many people are now investing in these ultra-programmable devices in order to eke every last bit of efficiency out of their heating and cooling system.
At least, that’s the idea. But do programmable thermostats really live up to their billing and help people reduce their energy costs? It turns out, the answer is more complicated that most people realize.
Energy Savings—In Theory
Many consumers opt for programmable thermostats because they have seen through another common energy myth—that keeping your home at a steady temperature uses less energy than turning your system on and off. In fact, it uses quite a bit more energy to run your furnace or air conditioner all the time than to turn them off when you don’t need them.
This means programmable thermostats have a theoretical advantage, because you can set them to turn on and off at regular intervals. With manual thermostats, your system may end up running when you don’t need it if you forget to adjust the temperature or aren’t around to turn the system off. Programmable thermostats should allow you to avoid these situations and save energy.
Real Savings Are Often Minimal
Despite the advantage that programmable thermostats should have, real studies have found that these devices often save people much less money energy than advertised. Other studies have even found that programmable thermostats may translate to higher energy use rather than lower. What’s going on?
It turns out that people are the wild cards in the thermostat game. Many people don’t use their programmable thermostats they way they are meant to be used, and the results can be costly.
Some people, for example, use their programmable thermostats to run the air conditioner during the day and the heater at night. This means that the HVAC system not only runs all the time, but has to overcome a much greater temperature range than if the system were turned off and the house allowed to cool or warm naturally.
Other people take an excessively hands-off approach with their programmable thermostats. They may leave their system running normally even if they leave for vacation, or let the heat turn on early in the morning even when they sleep in on the weekends.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Programmable Thermostat
This doesn’t mean that programmable thermostats can’t save you money. Most studies have shown that these thermostats do bring energy savings, even if the average savings is lower than the commonly advertised figures. And if you use your programmable thermostat the right way, you can get energy savings that are well above average.
The most important step toward saving money with a programmable thermostat is programming at least eight hours of setback time. Studies have found that eight hours of setback equals about a one percent energy savings for every degree that you turn the thermostat down.
You can also save energy with your thermostat by programming different temperatures by season. By choosing a temperature on the higher end of comfortable in the summer, and the lower end of comfortable in the winter, you can rack up significant energy savings.
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