Programmable Thermostats: Efficiency and Cost Savings

DIY Tips


As winter approaches, many homeowners are thinking of ways to reduce their winter heating costs. Programmable thermostats are a go-to as they have the potential to reduce home energy bills, but are they worth the higher initial investment? We take a look at whether a programmable thermostat is really a good investment for you.

Your heating and cooling costs eat up a hefty 45% of your monthly energy bill. For most homeowners, these costs often go to heating empty spaces when you’re away or when you are sleeping. For every 1°F you turn down your thermostat in the winter (and up in the summer), you save 1% on your energy bill. If we apply this principle to times when you are not at home or are sleeping, we can make impressive energy savings.

This is where programmable thermostats come in. These devices are programmed to turn the heating and cooling down during times when you are scheduled to be away. They turn the heat up just before you get home or get up in the morning so that your home is always comfortable for you. Manufacturers claim that, when utilized correctly, homeowners can look forward to savings of 10-30% on heating and cooling costs. This means that you can pay off the initial investment in about two years and look forward to savings in the years to follow.

But how do these numbers really stack up? Reaching a 30% energy savings requires discipline from users and is fairly difficult to achieve. Some studies put the figures closer to 6.2 to 6.8% while one study in Florida found that people who utilized programmable thermostats actually used 12% more energy.

What the studies showed was that education of the home occupants was the biggest factor in success. Occupants had to commit to saving energy when they were away or asleep as well as when they were home. Large swings in temperature were actually less efficient than keeping the home between more reasonable temperature fluctuations.

That means that your programmable thermostat should be set to between 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) when you are home and 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit or 6-8 degrees Celsius lower when the home is unoccupied or when you are sleeping.

From the EPA: “Consumers are often advised that installing a programmable thermostat can save them anywhere from 10 to 30% on the space heating and cooling portion of their energy bills. While reliant on proper use of the programmable thermostat, such savings are easily true in theory; however, there needs to be more field-tested data to better substantiate savings claims. Analyses from recent field studies have suggested that programmable thermostats may be achieving considerably lower savings than their estimated potential.”

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