Use a programmable thermostat to automatically turn down the heat at night or when you're away from home.

It's been a beautiful fall here in Colorado; 70 and 80 degree days and comfortably cool nights have spoiled us. We haven't had to turn on the heat or air conditioner once in the last month or so.

So it was quite a shock to the system when last week we went from 80°F one day to less than 50°F (and a chance of snow!) the next. Suddenly, I was bundled up and considering turning on the heat.

However, even though I felt cold, a quick look at the thermostat told me it wasn't really that cold in the house yet -- 68°F is a degree or two above our normal setting when we're home in the winter. With appropriate clothing (and sometimes a mug of hot coffee or tea), this is plenty comfortable. Each year, it just takes a little adjustment before we get used to these cooler temperatures.

If you're also feeling the chill from the newly cold weather and have been tempted to crank up the heat, it might be time for a refresher on the best way to set your thermostat for money and energy savings. Your own adjustment may take a little time, but adjusting your thermostat to the correct settings will help you avoid the temptation of higher settings and save money -- especially if you have a programmable thermostat.

How can a programmable thermostat keep you from succumbing to the temptation of higher temperatures? By allowing you to "set it and forget it," a programmable thermostat allows you to set temperatures based on the times you are normally home and your habits -- and then you almost never have to bother with it.

Here's how a weekday schedule might look for a family with adults and children that are out of the house all day for work and school:

  • 6:45 a.m.: The family wakes up to get ready for the day. The temperature of the house is 68°F; the heat automatically turned on a bit earlier so it would hit this temperature by 6:30.
  • 7:45 a.m.: The family leaves the house and the thermostat is set to 56°F. By turning their thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, the family can save 5% to 15% a year on their heating bill -- a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.
  • 4:30 p.m.: The family starts returning home from work and school. The heat turned back on a bit before this so the house would again be 68°F for their return.
  • 10:30 p.m.: The whole family has gone to bed (bundled in warm pajamas and snuggled under blankets), and the thermostat is again set to 56°F.

Note that for all of these temperature changes, the family never once touched the thermostat. At the beginning of the season, they programmed it once to follow this schedule and the changes happen automatically -- and so do their savings. That's important for busy people!

Want to practice on your own? Try out the ENERGY STAR® programmable thermostat tool. It may not look exactly like your thermostat, but it will help you understand which settings you need. ENERGY STAR also has more guidelines for setting your thermostat and effectively using hold and temporary override features.

Learn more about programmable thermostats (including some of their limitations) on Energy Saver. 

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