Energy Tip #19: Regulate home temperature

thermostat.gifSimple solutions are always attractive.

And it doesn’t get much simpler than turning down the thermostat to save some money and CO2, right? Well, say hello to the programmable thermostat, which combines the drama of temperature control with the thrill of programming a VCR (if this is even done anymore in an age of TiVos, DVDs, and YouTube).

Given the added complexity of what used to essentially be an on-off switch, why bother with a programmable thermostat? Because fine tuning the temperature control of your can lead to substantial reductions in heating costs.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, for every 1° you lower your thermostat, you save 2 percent in energy costs. What many people don’t realize is that you can comfortably lower your thermostat by 5-10° at night, when you’re tucked into bed. A programmable thermostat makes this adjustment for you, and can even be set to warm the house back up before your alarm clock goes off. With this one change, you can save $80-100 a year.

Let’s look at the numbers a little more in depth…

Annual heating and cooling costs: $850
Percent savings from adjusting thermostat: 10 – 33%
Annual savings: $85 – 283
CO2 Savings: 1,900 – 6,325

If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, consider it. And consider investing a half hour in learning how to operate it. The savings derived from one year’s use will more than pay for the $30 – 100 cost.

And as for turning down the heat? As my father used to tell us “Cold, eh? Well maybe if you put on a sweater and some socks…”

Last week 93 people pledged to follow the rules of the road for substantial CO2 savings. At an average of 320 lbs saved per pledge, this equates to about 29,760 lbs. of CO2 saved/year. Let’s keep it going!

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  1. Marcia - November 15, 2006

    Without a doubt, programmable thermostats make saving energy easy and (relatively) painless, depending on how low your comfort zone is for your household temperature. I keep my thermostat set at 65 degrees when we are home, and 56 degrees when we are away or tucked in our down blankets for a cozy nights sleep. Yes, this means wearing long pants and a sweater or fleece AND socks during the day. A small measure to take to save money, energy and CO2 emissions.

  2. Chad - November 15, 2006

    Another great trick that is related is to get a couple small electric personal space heaters. At least for a single guy like me, they save me quite a bit of money. I keep my apartment at around 60 most of the time, and just use one of my two little heaters to heat up whatever room I will be sitting around for the next few hours. If I am up and moving, the extra heat is not necessary (ie, the kitchen), nor it is necessary at night, where I just warm up my bedroom for fifteen minutes or so before I go to bed but then turn off the heat. I picked this habit up when living in Japan (in Kyoto, which has a Georgia-like climate), where few homes have a centralized heat source. It really works and is not inconvenient if you get used to it. My electric bill (my heat and cooking is all electric) runs between 25-35 dollars in the winter for an 850 ft sq apartment, including a ~10% green electricity fee.

  3. Heather - November 15, 2006

    My landlord claims that a programmable thermostat doesn’t work very well with steam-radiator heat that we have in our old house. In fact he says he used to have a programmable thermostat in my apartment, but put the old manual thermostat back once he realized it really wasn’t doing what it was supposed to (which is, accurately detect the room temperature, and then adjust the heat to match the preset temp). Have you heard this complaint before?

  4. Don - November 15, 2006

    I’d like to hear a response to Heather’s comment. My plumber who recently serviced my boiler (nat. gas powered steam heat, about 20 years old) told me that turning my temperature up and down or installing a programmable thermostat wouldn’t save money or gas. A second opinion on this would help me to determine if the thermostat would be worth it for me. (And I could make the pledge!) Thanks in advance for your help.

  5. Susan - November 15, 2006

    We have experience with a programmable thermostat for a hot water heating system that runs beneath the floors and above the ceilings. We have indeed saved money on our heating bill — between 10 and 20 percent a year. Because we have heating pipes in the attic, we were hesitant to insulate up there, but we just learned that putting anti-freeze in the pipes would take care of the problem. Make sure a professional handles this. We expect to save another 10-20% with the new insulation. The only possible down side of the programmable thermostat we have is that it takes a while for the system to catch up to the programmed temperature so you have to program the thermostat to kick up or down an hour or two before you want it warmer or colder.

  6. Adam Stein - November 15, 2006

    Hi all,
    I found a pretty good article on programmable thermostats that addresses the steam heat question:
    The short of it, you won’t see as much savings, because of the lag in steam heaters. But with some trial and error, you can achieve energy savings.

  7. Diane - November 15, 2006

    My thermostat looks exactly like the one shown. I can set different programs for weekdays, Saturday and Sunday. I can set the temp four times a day, so I have it like this for weekdays: 5:30am 64, 6:45am 58, 5:30pm 65, 10:30 54. On Sat and Sun I keep it 65 until 11am, then turn it down in the afternoon since I’m often out. If I’m cold it’s easy to press the Hold button and up the temp. It will stay that way until the next program time and then revert to the programmed temp.
    My budget payment went from $96/month to $69/month (I live in Minnesota).

  8. Bruce - November 15, 2006

    We have a fairly basic 7-day programmable thermostat (Ritetemp, about $30 or $40) that works perfectly with our steam radiator system. Remember that, as with any thermostat, it’s sensing the temperature at its location — not necessarily what it is in other rooms that my be warmer or cooler due to windows, stoves, etc.
    Our house is very old and it does take a while for the radiator system to adequately respond to changes in settings, but that has nothing to do with the thermostat being digital/programmable. Regardless of fuel savings, they’re worth it just for the convenience of not having to remember to turn it down at night, and you can set it to go on an hour or so before you wake up in the a.m., etc.
    With mail-in utility company rebates, our thermostat was basically free when we bought it last fall at Home Depot (in Massachusetts).
    According to our plumber, don’t exceed swings that are ten degrees or more because then you start to lose efficiency by trying to warm the entire house up again: for example setting it to be 55 if no one is home and then 67 when you return at the end of the day…

  9. Bruce - November 15, 2006

    I just read the link to the US DOE that evidently dispells the misconception that it takes *more* fuel to raise the temperature of a space if you’ve lowered it 10-15 degrees for a period. So disregard the last part of my previous posting (“according to our plumber…”).

  10. Alan - November 22, 2006

    Great tip. And some great comments.

    A digital programmable thermostat is an easy way to save money and reduce global warming pollution.

    The space heater idea is a good one too.

    You can find great prices on energy efficiency products at the Clean Air site (

  11. Leonardo - April 16, 2007

    7 day thermostats work, We have gas steam heat And it has saved us quite a bit of money and so has pipe insullation! It really helps and saves! Thank you Newark New Jersey

  12. Rick Creswell - April 19, 2007

    I use a programmable thermostat BUT it doesn’t work very well for my wife and me. We have different days off, none of them Saturday or Sunday. Six manual adjustments at least a week are required or my wife will just push the hold at 69. Does anyone make a true seven-day thermostat?

  13. billchuck - May 2, 2007

    How can I improve in-door temperatures during spring and fall seasons?

  14. Anonymous - October 10, 2007

    My thermostat also looks just like the one picture and has worked fine (steam/radiators) for a number of years. This year, the heat has comne on several times when not called for. I shut the boiler, and then switched it back on, and the heating stoped (it has been warm in New York). Does anyone think I should replace the thermostat?

  15. Edilberto Rosario - April 7, 2009

    Hello i have been searching all kind of save energy. but what im concern is that summer,Winter seem getting the fit what about the spring and fall which mostly my bill is highter then the summer and winter. What is going on. I would like to know every month setting from Jan to Dec. somthing like Jan 68
    feb 68
    march 70
    april 72
    may 72
    jun 75 This is what i’m looking for and can’t find anywhere. This will help save even more energy by acknowlege mothly setting.