Do I need a programmable thermostat to save energy?

If a programmable thermostat installation is not in your budget or if you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of using a complicated scheduling program, then there are a couple of practical ways you can get the most out of your basic non-programmable thermostat.

First idea: Do it manually. Before bedtime or leaving the house, turn the temperature down a little (3 degrees to 10 degrees) in winter and up a little in the summer.

Second idea: Keep your thermostat set point modestly set all the time.

Does changing thermostat set point affect comfort? 

It is usually the case that people really cannot tell the difference between 3 degree Fahrenheit temperature variations. So, if during the hotter days of summer you are comfortable at 72 degrees; give 75 degrees an honest try. If you utilize your curtains and ceiling fans the temperature change will surely be bearable possibly even unnoticeable. Similarly, during the chill of winter if you’ve grown accustomed to 70 degrees be bold and set the thermostat down to 67. You definitely won’t see your breath and just maybe you’ll have a few extra bucks in your wallet for a hot chocolate.

Will setting the thermostat back make a noticeable difference?

You can save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you're awake and setting it lower while you're asleep or away from home. By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours; you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill -- a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.

In the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and lowering the thermostat setting to 75°F only when you are at home and need cooling. Although thermostats can be adjusted manually, programmable thermostats will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to normal before you wake or return home.

A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. In fact, as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. Lower interior temperature equals slower heat loss in the winter and vice versa in the summer. So the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save, because your house has lost less energy than it would have at the higher temperature. The same concept applies to raising your thermostat setting in the summer - a higher interior temperature will slow the flow of heat into your house, saving energy on air conditioning.

Where should my thermostat be installed?

The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer's installation instructions to prevent "ghost readings" or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. To operate properly, a thermostat must be on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and windows. It should be located where natural room air currents–warm air rising, cool air sinking–occur. Furniture will block natural air movement, so do not place pieces in front of or below your thermostat. Also make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for programming.

How often should I change my air filter?

Change your air filter regularly. Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure.

Why should I have regular system maintenance performed?

Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your cooling and heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. It is recommended to plan check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.

What does a typical maintenance check-up include?

  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to insure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Check your central air conditioner's refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15 percent.
  • Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

What maintenance can I perform myself?

Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. Your contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.