Saturday, July 19, 2008

Do - you - know how to program your thermostat?

Last - week - was hot here. The temperatures were well over 80 and it’s supposed to be even warmer this weekend. So I finally broke down and turned on the air conditioner. Every year there’s a fine line between needing to cool the house and watching my gas & electric bill rise in the summer months. Well, the first step in keeping those bills down is to get a programmable thermostat. According to the EPA, when programmed properly, these thermostats can save you about $180 a year on your energy bills. Unfortunately, the EPA also found that most consumers don’t know how to program their thermostat to maximize their savings. Here are a few guidelines from the EPA to help you make sure that you’re getting the most out of your thermostat.

  • Raise the temperature setting by 7 degrees when you’re away and 4 degrees when you’re asleep in the summer.
  • Save even more by using the “Vacation” and “Hold” features to manage temperatures while you’re away from home for an extended period.
  • Lower the temperature setting by 8 degrees when you’re away or asleep in the winter
  • Visit the EnergyStar website for more tips and tutorials on how you can get the most savings out of your programmable thermostats

Which - Programmable Thermostat - is Best for Me?

In general, every ENERGY - STAR qualified programmable thermostat comes with four pre-programmed settings and maintains those settings within two degrees. Many qualified models also come with additional features, such as:

  • Digital, backlit displays
  • Touch pad screen programming
  • Voice and/or phone programming
  • Hold/Vacation features
  • Indicators which tell you when it’s time to change air filters
  • Indicators that signal malfunctioning of heating/cooling systems
  • Adaptive Recovery/ Smart Recovery features — control features that senses the amount of time it will take to reach the next set-point temperature, and reach desired temperatures by the set time

How Do You Choose the Right One for You?

To decide which model is best for you, think about your schedule and how often you are away from home for regular periods of time — work, school, other activities — and then decide which of the three different models best fits your schedule: the 7-day, 5+2-day, or the 5-1-1-day.

7-day models are best if your daily schedule tends to change, say, if children are at home earlier on some days. They give you the most flexibility, and let you set different programs for different days — usually with four possible temperature periods per day.

5+2-day models use the same schedule every weekday, and another for weekends.

5-1-1 models are best if you tend to keep one schedule Monday through Friday and another schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

Thermostat Know How

You’ll save -- energy -- and money if you lower the temperature setting on your central furnace or heat pump thermostat.

Selecting the proper temperatures throughout the day and night can be a bit confusing. You want to balance comfort with energy and dollar savings. However, it is surprising how comfortable you can be at a lower indoor temperature once you become accustomed to it. Thereafter, you find yourself uncomfortable at higher indoor temperatures that used to seem normal.

It actually does save energy overall if you lower the temperature setting on your central furnace or heat pump thermostat. The actual amount of dollar savings depends primarily on how low you set the thermostat, how long you have it set back, and to a lesser degree, your climate.

There are other advantages to lowering the thermostat during winter. A lower house temperature requires less moisture indoors to keep the indoor air at a given relative humidity level. And, your furnace or heat pump runs less at a lower indoor temperature, meaning the equipment will last longer and need fewer repairs.

If you look at setback savings charts, don’t be confused by the fact that the percentage savings are actually higher in milder climates than in colder ones. This is because the total amount of energy used to keep a house comfortably warm in a cold climate is much greater. This makes the base number larger in cold climates so the percentage savings are less even though the dollar savings are greater.

It is a myth that it takes as much energy to reheat a house, in the morning for example, as was saved during the temperature setback period overnight. The amount of heat a house loses through its walls, ceilings and floors is directly proportional to the difference between the indoor and the outdoor

temperatures. Air leakage into and out of your house also increases with larger temperature differences.

When the indoor temperature is set lower, the indoor-to-outdoor temperature difference is smaller so less heat is lost from your house. During the summer, the same is true in reverse. If less heat is lost from your house, your furnace has to use less gas, oil or electricity to create the heat to replace it. The amount of heat used to reheat the house, therefore, is less than the amount saved over the temperature setback period.

The only time a temperature setback may not be wise is if you have a heat pump with backup electric resistance heat and an old thermostat. When it is time to reheat the house and you set the thermostat higher again, the expensive backup electric resistance heater may come on. For a long eight-hour setback, you will likely still save overall, but not for just a short setback of a few hours.

If you have a heat pump, install a special setback thermostat designed for it. These heat pump thermostats have electronic circuitry to keep the backup resistance heating elements off after the setback period. My own heat pump thermostat works this way and it also allows me to block out the resistance heating when the outdoor temperature is above a certain temperature. I have mine set at 20 degrees.

There is not a “best” thermostat setting for all homes and climates. The lower you set it, the greater the overall savings will be. The amount of savings per degree for each nighttime eight-hour setback period ranges from 1 percent to 3 percent. Since many people are also gone to work during the daytime, the temperature can be set lower for about 16 hours per day. Unless there are health problems in your family, 62 degrees is comfortable if you are wearing long sleeves or a sweater.

In moderate climates, let your comfort dictate how low you initially set the furnace or heat pump thermostat. As you get used to the lower temperatures and wear a sweater, you will be able to gradually lower it more. In colder climates, excessive window condensation often limits how low the indoor temperature can be set. To set the temperature lower, you will have to reduce the indoor humidity level.

Use smaller room-heating appliances with built-in thermostats to keep just a room or two warmer if you like. Reiker) makes ceiling fans with a built-in heater and remote digital thermostat. honeywell digital thermostats makes a very efficient portable heat pump with a thermostat and remote control. Many inexpensive electric space heaters also have thermostats for zone heating.