All About Programmable Thermostats

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You probably already know that turning up the thermostat during the summer can help you save big bucks as the mercury rises (and of course, doing the opposite during the winter has similar results!). But if you’re not already in the habit, remembering to turn the thermostat down before you leave the house in the morning isn’t always easy. What you might not know is there are devices that do it for you!

We’ve talked about programmable thermostats a few times before on our blog, but now that summer is coming (and going…and coming…and going…seriously what’s with this weather) we figured now would be a good time to give everyone a refresher on what a programmable thermostat is, what they can do, and why you should install one (if you haven’t already!).

How to Save Energy with a Programmable Thermostat

For every degree you adjust your thermostat up during the summer or down during the winter, you could save up to 3 percent on your heating and cooling bills. For best results this summer, set the thermostat higher during the day when you’re not home, being mindful, or course, of any pets you have that may be affected by the heat.

Do you need a programmable thermostat to do this? Of course not. The nice thing about a programmable thermostat, however, is that you can input the times of day you’re most likely to be away from home, and it will automatically adjust the temperature for you. When you’re about to come home, it will make sure the house is nice and comfortable before you walk in.

A common misconception many people have about thermostats in general is that the air conditioner will have to work much harder than normal to make your home cooler after a hot day, and that this extra effort will negate any potential energy savings. This is certainly understandable, but what might surprise you is that a higher interior temperature will actually slow the flow of heat into your home, saving energy on your air conditioning. In addition, other considerations like insulation, sealed windows, closed blinds, and other energy saving strategies will prevent heat from entering your home in the first place.

Limitations for Homes with Heat Pumps, Electric Resistance Heating, Steam Heat, and Radiant Floor Heating

If you have a heat pump, you can use the same programmable thermostat strategies that you use for your air conditioner in order to save energy during the summer. In the winter, however, you should be careful—remember that when the heat gets low in your home, most heat pumps kick on a gas or electric backup heater, which will cause your unit to run inefficiently and effectively cancel out any energy savings. Fortunately, new programmable thermostats are being designed that use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems.

Electric resistance systems, such as electric baseboard heating, require thermostats capable of directly controlling 120-volt or 240-volt circuits. Only a few companies manufacture line-voltage programmable thermostats.

Steam and radiant floor heating systems can take several hours to really kick into gear, so trying to set back the thermostat might result in you coming home to a freezing cold house that takes a long time to warm up during the winter. Some manufacturers now offer thermostats that track the performance of your heating system to determine when to turn it on in order to achieve comfortable temperatures at your programmed time.

Another strategy you can use with a normal programmable thermostat is to set it up so it begins its cool down long before you leave or go to bed, then get back up to its regular temperature two or three hours before you wake up or return home. This might take some initial guesswork, but after a while you should be able to get it down and save energy while maintaining a comfortable home.

Choosing and Programming a Programmable Thermostat

You can choose programmable thermostats that are fully digital, fully analog, or a combination of the two. Digital thermostats tend to offer more features, including multiple setback settings, overrides, and adjustments for daylight savings time, but may be difficult for some people to program. Analog programmable thermostats usually involve pegs or sliding bars and are relatively simple to program, at the cost of some more complex features.

When you start programming your thermostat, think about your normal schedule: when do you go to sleep and wake up? When do you leave for and come home from work? Also consider the schedules of everyone in the household. If there is a time during the day when the house is unoccupied for four hours or more, it makes sense to adjust the temperature during those periods.

Other Considerations

Where you install your thermostat can have a big impact on its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer’s installation instructions to prevent “ghost readings” or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. For best results, your thermostat should be installed on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and windows, and in a location where natural room air currents–warm air rising, cool air sinking–occur. Furniture will block natural air movement, so do not place pieces in front of or below your thermostat. Also make sure you can easily reach your thermostat for the times when you need to program it.

You can read more about programmable thermostats at the Department of Energy.

Programmable thermostats can make a world of difference when it comes to your energy savings. For programmable thermostat installation in Maryland or Washington, DC, call Michael Bonsby HVAC & Plumbing today!

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