One of the most common energy-saving tips out there is that you should replace your regular thermostat with a programmable one. It’s good advice – advice that pays for itself in just a few months, and can rack up significant savings long term. And they aren’t just good for your pocketbook – it’s good for the earth, too. As much as half the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, and reducing that amount also reduces your carbon footprint. But what is a programmable thermostat, how do they work, and why do they make such a big difference on your energy bill?
With an ordinary thermostat, like Hunter Mechanical Thermostat, you set a single temperature that stays until you change it. Maybe you turn it down at night and back up at the morning, or off and on when you leave and come home from work. But if you hate waking up to a cold house on a winter morning, or coming home to a sweltering living room in the summer – or if you’re just forgetful, chances are, you probably don’t. That means your AC is working harder and longer than it should be, and you’re paying more to run it than you have to.
Programmable thermostats, like this Hunter 7 Day, do the periodic daily temperature changing for you. Almost all models come with four “zones” – morning, day, evening, and night – that you can program to specific times and temperatures so it will adjust your heating or cooling automatically at those scheduled times throughout the day. That means you can wake up to a warm house without running the heater all night, and can come home to a cool home without blasting your AC all day while you’re at work.
It takes less energy to reheat or re-cool a room than it does to maintain a temperature that’s significantly different than the outside temp. Even well weatherproofed homes leech heat, but an efficient heating and cooling system can change the temperature in your home very quickly. So in the dead of winter, programming your thermostat to turn off when you leave and back on 30 minutes before you get back home can hugely slash your energy bill – and you’ll never feel the difference.
As for the thermostats themselves, there are three basic types: 5/2, 5/1/1, and 7 setting versions. Which kind you should buy depends entirely on your schedule. If you have a very regular weekday work schedule and a pretty normal weekend routine, a 5/2 thermostat like this Hunter Weekday/Weekend allows you to program two separate four-zone timetables to fit your schedule – one for Monday through Friday, and the other for the weekend.
A 5/1/1 thermostat like this Hunter Three Setting one, as you might have guessed, lets you program one setting for the work week and a second an third one for each weekend day, for those of you that have significantly different Saturday/Sunday routines. This one is especially good for dedicated churchgoers!
Finally, a 7-setting programmable thermostat, like this Hunter 7 Day, lets you – as the name implies – program a different schedule for every day of the week. This is ideal for large families, or ones with very busy (or highly varied) schedules. If your kids get home at different times on different days (because of after school activities, sports, or classes), this type of thermostat will allow you to program your temperature settings individually by day, so your air is always on when you need it, but no one comes home to an uncomfortable house.
When is a programmable thermostat not for you? If you have someone that lives or works at home full time, you won’t have much cause to change the temperature in your house throughout your day, which minimizes the usefulness of a programmable thermostat. It can still be nice for those cold mornings, but if you don’t drop the temperature during the day you won’t see quite so significant a change on your energy bill, and you’d probably be better off with a regular digital thermostat like this Hunter Just Right.
What kind of savings are we talking? As a rule of thumb, for every degree off your normal setting (hotter in the summer, colder in the winter), you’ll save 2% on your energy bill every year. Assuming you set back your thermostat 8 degrees (winter) or raise it 4 (summer) for 10 hours during the day and 8 at night, you’re looking at saving $180 a year. That means a new thermostat will not only pay for itself in just a few months, but will continue to save you money as long as you’re in your home. The best part? If you’re just replacing your old one, and you aren’t afraid of a few wires, you can even install one yourself. Do you have a programmable thermostat? If so, what kind, and would you recommend it? If not, which kind do you think is best suited for your schedule?