Get With the Program

Convenience and energy savings make programmable thermostats a good investment.

Today’s savvy consumers are always on the lookout for tools that can help save them time, energy and money. And few investments are better at meeting those needs than a programmable thermostat. According to ENERGY STAR®, the average household spends more than $2,200 every year on energy bills. Of that money, about half goes to pay for heating and cooling expenses. With a programmable thermostat, homeowners can save about $180 a year – not bad for a device that can be found for as little as $20 at your local home improvement store.

The key to success with a programmable thermostat is knowing how to use it properly. Taking time to program it properly, and then maintaining those settings, will create more efficient heating and cooling patterns in the home and lower energy bills year-round.

Programmable thermostats come with pre-programmed settings, which you can then adjust to suit your own household’s patterns and lifestyle. The idea is to keep temperatures at energy-saving setpoints for long periods of times – such as during the day when nobody is home, or at night, when everyone is in bed. It is possible to override these settings temporarily and make the area warmer or cooler, but be aware that you’ll use more energy (and, therefore, spend more money) every time you override the programmed settings.

If you’re going to be away for a weekend or for a vacation, you can use a “hold” or “vacation” feature to temporarily override your regular settings and keep the house warmer or cooler while you’re gone. (You can also set it to begin cooling or heating your house to your preferred settings a few hours before you arrive home, so your home is comfortable when you arrive.)

To find what settings will work best for you and will provide both home comfort and energy savings, use the ENERGY STAR programmable thermostat calculator at

Programmable thermostats have several different features but come in three basic models:

  • 7-day. Great for people whose schedules change throughout the week because 7-day models offer the most flexibility and allow you to set different programs for different days of the week.
  • 5+2-day. This model keeps one schedule during the weekday and another on weekends,
  • 5-1-1 days. This model keeps a certain schedule during the week, but allows another schedule for Saturday and a third program for Sunday.

After choosing the model that is right for your household’s needs, you’ll want to make sure it is properly installed. All power should be shut off during installation, and if you’re not comfortable with installing it yourself, consider having a professional do the job. If you are installing the new programmable thermostat while upgrading your heating and cooling system, your HVAC contractor will be able to help determine which thermostat would work best for you and maximize the efficiency of the new system.

Finally, remember to program it! The thermostat can only save you money when used properly.

Reprinted with permission from Natural Living Magazine, Copyright 2012, PRISM Media Group.

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