Programmable Thermostats

When installed correctly, can mean big savings
By Magen Howard, CCC
Programmable Thermostats

It’s important to properly program your thermostat to get the most cost savings.

Programmable thermostats, when used correctly, have the potential to save up to $180 a year on your heating and cooling costs, according to Energystar.gov. If you're considering purchasing and installing one yourself, it's important to install and program it correctly to save the most energy and money.

Installation

First, your thermostat should be situated on an interior wall, about five feet above the floor and away from heating and cooling vents and other drafty places such as doors and windows. Keep it away from skylights, direct sunlight or lamps. (If you have problems with the position of your thermostat, hire an electrician move it.)

Next, shut off the electricity before you begin the replacement. Programmable thermostats require a low-voltage wiring installation and will have two to 10 wires, according to Energystar.gov. As with any home-wiring project, safety is the priority. Read instructions carefully and exercise caution throughout the installation. If you are replacing an old thermostat that has a mercury switch, take care not to break the tube that holds the toxic metal.

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Refer to the manual on how to wire your new thermostat. A handy tip: once your old thermostat is removed from the wall, wrap the wires around a pencil to keep them from falling back into the wall.

If the project is more complicated than a basic replacement, have a certified HVAC technician handle it.

To see a start-to-finish thermostat replacement on video, visit www.youtube.com and put in "Home Depot thermostat installation" in the search field.

Choosing the right thermostat

Programmable thermostats are not for everyone. They're best for families who are away during the day and homes with HVAC systems other than heat pumps. When a heat pump works in its heating mode, setting back the thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby canceling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature. Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost-effective practice for homes with heat pumps.

If you decide a programmable thermostat is right for your home, consider which type best suits your lifestyle:

7-day models allow you to set different programs every day and provide the most flexibility.

5+2-day models follow the same schedule during the week and a different one for weekends.

5-1-1 models keep the same schedule during the week and different ones for Saturday and Sunday.

Many units come with multiple features, such as voice programming options and vacation settings.

Getting the most savings

Programmable thermostats enhance your home's efficiency only when set properly. To be sure to save, set the temperature back for at least eight hours at time — for example, when you're at work during the day or asleep at night. You can save 5 percent to 15 percent per year on your heating bills by setting your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees over that period.

Program the thermostat to begin warming or cooling to your desired temperature shortly before you get home or wake up, so your home is comfortable when you need it to be. The goal is to set it, and then leave it alone.

Energy Star's savings calculator can help you see how much you can save. Visit www.energystar.gov and type in "programmable thermostat calculator" in the search field.

Sources: Energystar.gov. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), EnergySavers.gov (U.S. Department of Energy), Home Depot and Cooperative Research Network, the research arm of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

About the Author

Magen Howard writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the service organization for the nation's 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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