Should I Consider a Programmable Thermostat?

One of the easiest ways to save money on your energy bill is to stop cooling or heating your home when no one is there.  The easiest way to do that is by using a programmable thermostat.  Rather than waking up to a chilly house, or walking in after work to a home that feels like an oven, a programmable thermostat allows you to control when your home needs to be cooled or heated, and when it doesn’t.  But as much as they are cost-saving and efficient solutions, they aren’t necessarily right for everyone.  To see if you could save money and enjoy a more comfortable home using a programmable thermostat, consider the following factors.

  1. Your family schedule – Do you work away from the house? Does your home sit empty for 6-8 hours per day? If no one is home for large portions of the day, using a programmable thermostat can help save you money by only cooling or heating the home in the mornings and evenings when you’re there.  The average homeowner spends more than $800 per year just on heating and cooling. Using a programmable thermostat can save you 5-12 percent of this cost. However, if some family members are home during the day then a programmable thermostat will offer more limited benefits.
  2. System compatibility – While programmable thermostats work on the vast majority of heating and cooling systems, there are a few exceptions.  Solutions such as radiant floor heating, for example, may not interact well with the adjustments.  In addition, some heat pumps require a special kind of thermostat. It’s always best to check with your contractor before making any system upgrade investment.
  3. Technical ability – A standard thermostat is a simple device requiring you only to adjust the setting to your desired temperature.  A programmable thermostat will require you to enter your desired temperature by time and day and some have several other convenient settings.  While these are increasingly easier to use, it will require following some instructions.  If you can operate a TV and cable box you’ll have no trouble programming a thermostat. If you ever do get stuck, a contractor will happily walk you through the process.

Programmable thermostats come in several levels of sophistication and costs. If you have a fairly standard schedule then investing in the top-of-the-line thermostat is probably unnecessary; however, if you have a very fluid schedule, a newer heating and cooling system with additional functionality, or you prefer more system control, then a more high-end solution might be right for you.

One final tip: check your existing thermostat! Many people realize they have a programmable thermostat already and have failed to program it.  Don’t throw money away!

Do you take advantage of programmable thermostats?  What are some reasons holding you back?

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2 thoughts on “Should I Consider a Programmable Thermostat?

  1. we have radiant floor heat in two bathrooms and have been unable to program the thermostat. it has no manufacturer’s name on it and nothing we’ve done has worked. do we need a new thermostat and if so, how do we choose among the many brands? are they all ocmpatible? thank you.

    • I am not sure what you mean by being unable to “program” your thermostat. Most of the content on this site deals with central air conditioning and heating systems that have a thermostat on a wall to regulate temperature in a home. Some of these are truly programmable and you can set them to automatically change temperatures throughout the day or night to save energy. If your radiant floor heat has a thermostat like that or one that automatically changes the temperature settings over time, and it is not working then you probably need to replace it with a similar model. You could also probably replace it with one that is simpler and does not have the program feature It would just have one temperature set point to maintain and a manual on/off switch.. You might want to spend some time searching for various thermostats on the internet to find one that looks like the one you have and research a little before buying a new one that might not work. You also might want to call someone who knows about home electricity before trying to replace it yourself just to be safe. An electrician or HVAC contractor could help you locate the right replacement options and install it for you.

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