How To Use a Programmable Thermostat

Digital thermostat photo

Having a programmable thermostat is an easy way to save energy (and therefore money) if you use it correctly.  By turning your thermostat back 10-15 degrees for eight hours at a stretch (at night while you sleep or while you're at work), you can reduce your heating bill substantially (by approximately 10% per year).  In the summer, you can reduce your cooling bill by keeping your house warmer when you're gone, and cooling it down only when you are home.  The percentage savings from using a programmable thermostat is greater in milder climates than in more extreme climates.  Here are some points to help you understand how to use your programmable thermostat.

  1. Programmable Thermostat Model.  Choose the model that's right for your schedule:
    • 7-day models are the best if your schedules changes regularly and you want to be able to set a different schedule for every day of the week.  You will have to do quite a bit of programming at the start as you program in seven different schedules, one for each day of the week.
    • 5 + 2 day models use the same schedule for five days in a row (presumably the weekdays) and then another schedule for two days (presumably the weekend).
    • 5-1-1 day models use the same schedule for five days in a row and then a different schedule for each day of the weekend.
  2. Programmable Thermostat Placement.  The manufacturer's instructions will give you a good idea of where to put the programmable thermostat, which generally should be in a central location away from draft, doors, windows, or skylights, and direct sun.  In short, you want the thermostat reading to be accurate and not affected by outside sources.
  3. Programmable Thermostat Use.  Programmable thermostats generally have four programmable periods of the day, and you get to choose what you would like the temperature to be during each of those periods.  Consider what time you go to bed and perhaps begin cooling the house down as bedtime approaches.  Remember that the goal is to have an eight-hour period during which the heater (or air conditioner) does not turn on.  In the winter, your greatest savings are from the time that the temperature is at the lower level to the next time that heat is needed.  And though it is a common misconception that it takes just as much energy to warm the house back up to a higher temperature again, in fact, the fuel required to reheat is approximately the same as the fuel saved as the building's temperature drops.  In the summer, the inverse is true.  
  4. Programmable Thermostat Features:  A key to using your programmable thermostat well is to understand its features:
    • Manual Override  You can manually override your settings at any time by using the manual override feature.  When the next preprogrammed part of your day begins, the system reverts to its program.
    • Vacation Override  This override allows temporary override of the settings programmed into your thermostat.  This way you can turn the temperature down while you're gone without having to program your thermostat from scratch once you return from your vacation.
    • Keyboard Lock  Once you've got your settings programmed in, keyboard lock prevents changes to these settings.

    • Battery Indicator  Once you've got your settings programmed, it's a shame to have to program them again due to a battery that runs out of juice.  Many thermostats have a low battery indicator light which lets you know when the battery needs replacing.
    • Filter Change Indicator  This indicator goes on after a pre-set amount of time to remind you that it is time to clean or replace the filter.  A clean filter improves the efficiency of your furnace (or air conditioner).
    • Auto Season Changeover  This feature changes your settings with the seasons.
    • Energy Monitor  This monitor keeps track of how many hours your system has run for any period of time that you select: This way you can back up your argument with your teenager with some hard data.

Good luck with your programmable thermostat.  If you haven't purchased one yet,  be sure that the programmable thermostat you purchase is compatible with your heating system before you buy.  


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