How to Program a Digital Thermostat to Slash Utility Bills

Energy-efficient and wallet-friendly ideas

It requires a huge amount of energy to raise or lower the temperature in your home by even a few degrees. That's energy you pay for on your electric, oil, or gas bills. Controlling these costs, and the amount of energy you use, means controlling the temperature both when you’re at home and when you’re away. This is the magic of an energy-saving thermostat — a gadget that can help you save money on utility bills.

Most people simply turn their heating and air-conditioning system on and off when they want to be warmer or colder. Some even leave the system on when they leave the house, so that it will be the right temperature when they return.

Maybe you leave the heat running at your preferred temperature all night long — even though you’re sleeping under a blanket or a comforter — because you want the house to be nice and warm when you get up in the morning.

But why spend all that money, and waste all that energy, keeping your house comfortable when you’re not there, or when you can simply add another blanket to your bed at night?

If you have central heating or central air-conditioning or both, you can install and use a programmable thermostat instead of an old “set the temperature and it’s either on or off” thermostat. This way, you can save energy and money and have your house at the right temperature when you get home, when you wake up in the morning, and when you’re asleep.

You will have to invest a little more money up front than you'd pay for a regular thermostat. But a programmable digital thermostat will pay for itself in heating and cooling savings in a year or less if you use all of its features.

How to program an energy-saving thermostat

1. Make sure you program the energy-saving thermostat to shut down the heat or air-conditioning automatically when you leave for work or for school, and to turn it back on 20 to 30 minutes before you expect to return.

2. You’ll also want to program the thermostat to reduce the temperature when you’re heating the house (or to increase the temperature when you’re cooling it) about 30 to 60 minutes after you normally turn in for the night. Once you’re under the covers and asleep, you won’t require  as much heating or even cooling. (You’d be surprised how much less cooling is necessary to keep you comfortable at night. And you can always open a window in the summer if it’s cooler outside at night.) Again, you just program the thermostat to return to “awake” mode 20  to 30 minutes before your alarm goes off in the morning.

3. Program different settings for weekdays and weekends.You don’t need to worry about being uncomfortable if you’re home all day on the weekend.

4. If you plan on going out of town, make sure you override your normal programming and shut down everything until you return. The caveat here is that if you’re in a very cold climate and you’re worried about your pipes freezing, don’t let the temp fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. And you might not want to shut the system down completely if you’re leaving pets in your home. Even so, you can see there’s tremendous potential for energy savings here.

Temperatures change day to day, so don’t be afraid to adjust your program settings, daily if need be, to maximize the efficiency of your system. I check mine every time I leave the house.

This will save money on utility bills (assuming you can agree on a temperature setting)!

It’s one thing to talk about programming the thermostat. Everybody says, “Sure, makes sense.” It’s another thing entirely to try to reach an agreement with the people living in your home about what temperature is comfortable.

Let me talk about the temperature in my house before Rachelle (my wife) and after Rachelle. When I was single, I would keep the house at 65 to 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer. I didn’t think twice about simply wearing a sweater or sweatshirt in the winter and changing into a cotton T-shirt and shorts in the summer.

There is no amount of thermostat programming that can replace good ol’ shutting down the heating and cooling completely when the temperatures outside and inside your home are within your own personal comfort zone. Well, that ain’t gonna fly anymore in my home. I have a wife and a daughter who require considerably more creature comfort than I did when living on my own. So it became essential to learn how to use that digital thermostat!

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