How to Maximize the Benefits of Your Home Thermostat
By Robert Bundy
Automatic thermostats offer the most intelligent, and cost-effective use of your heating and cooling systems, but many people fail to take full advantage of them. Here’s how to use yours to get the most bang for your buck.
More Important Than Ever
Our energy bills would make our grandparents gasp. Those huge bills aren’t simply due to everyday inflation or recent runaway fuel prices, but also because our homes are getting larger. Much larger. Fifty years ago, the average home was a modest 983 ft.² Just since 1970, the size of the average home has increased a whopping 55%, while the average family has actually decreased in size by 13%.
That means using more energy and spending more money to pay for heating and cooling ever-larger spaces for the enjoyment of fewer people. However, an automatic thermostat can make a real difference in the size of your energy bills. According to Consumer Reports, you can save approximately 20% on your energy bills by setting temperatures back 5° at night and 10° during the day.
How Thermostats Work
Thermostats use sensors to monitor your home’s temperature and regulate heating and cooling equipment in accordance with the temperatures you specify. Older thermostats require manual adjustment of the temperature, but today’s thermostats have microprocessors that allow you to program your home temperatures to better fit your lifestyle. Now your thermostat can keep your house at the perfect comfort level while you’re home, and automatically dial up or down the temperatures to conserve energy when you’re sleeping or away. Program it once to set the desired times and temperatures, and you’ll save on your energy bills all season long.
Swiss Army Thermostat
The feature list of modern thermostats is a long one, with scads of fancy doodads to do everything but tuck you in at night. Here are some of the most notable bells and whistles:
- Seven-day programming, permitting a different schedule for each day of the week, or any combination of days you want.
- A vacation override, which lets you temporarily alter the programmed settings.
- A keyboard lock, which prevents unauthorized changes to your settings, to the consternation of uppity teenagers and presumptuous babysitters everywhere.
- A low-battery indicator that warns you when the battery used to store the programmed schedule weakens.
- An automatic season changeover that switches between heating and cooling at the onset of different seasons.
- And much, much more!
Harness the Power
Even slight adjustments to your thermostat can result in big savings. Here are some basic guidelines for programming your thermostat to best advantage.
When running your air conditioning system, set the thermostat to 78°. Keeping your house at 78° instead of 72° can save you 39% on your cooling costs. For those hours when you’re out of the house, set the system to switch to an even higher temperature to save even more. Of course, if you have pets, you must preserve a stable, comfortable temperature for their wellbeing, so don’t go hog-wild. Only turn the air conditioning off completely when you leave for extended periods, and when the house will be completely vacant.
When it’s cold outside, and your furnace is doing the heavy lifting, set your thermostat to around 68° degrees, or lower if you can stand it. Each degree below 70° saves you roughly 3% on your annual heating bill. For those periods when you’re absent, set it to switch to 60° or so, and then revert to its normal setting when you come home. If you leave for an extended period, set the thermostat to 55°. Again, don’t get carried away, as turning it off entirely may cause your pipes to burst if temperatures drop far enough.
NOTE: When you return after an absence, you might be tempted to crank the heat up in an attempt to heat the house quickly, but that can erase any savings you’ve accrued so far.
Thermostats of the Future
The future is now for thermostats! Doesn’t that sound exciting? No? Well, I guess you’ve got a life. There are some super-deluxe options out there that do more than you thought possible. Now on the market is a thermostat that you can communicate with over your cell phone, and adjust remotely. Granted, this is the kind of toy coveted by those who wear eyeglasses held together with tape, but I suppose there are situations where it could be useful. And nothing impresses fellow Geeks like shushing them, cupping your phone protectively, and saying, “Please! I am trying to talk to my thermostat!”
Well, that would be the “Proliphix NT10e,” the world’s first, and only, Internet-enabled thermostat, allowing you to enjoy secure, Internet-based remote control from anywhere in the world. Picture this: You’re strolling down a magnificent stretch of beach on the Dalmatian Coast. The sun is shining, the sea is sparkling like liquid diamonds, and you’ve never been so relaxed. Then you’re stricken by a thought: “Say…is my thermostat at the optimal settings as to ensure the greatest efficiency?” Before the advent of the Proliphix NT10e, your vacation would have been ruined, as you would have to drop everything to fly home and check. Seriously though, if you’ve bought everything else in the Sharper Image® catalog, you might want to pick this up as well. Just, you know, to have the complete set.
Relax & Enjoy
Of course, another big plus of automating your thermostat is that you have one less thing to think about around the house. When properly set to mirror your schedule, it’ll seem like your home is responding to your presence, and providing you with heat and warmth without you having to lift a finger. Now if you could only automate it to do the dishes…