Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Programmable Thermostats


Small devices, big savings

If you have a programmable thermostat, you can automate your heating and cooling systems to save energy when you're not at home or asleep. In winter, for example, your house can be a nippy 60ºF while you are at work, and then--while you are still boarding the bus for your commute back home--it can automatically move up to a toasty 68º or 70ºF. When you step in the door, the temperature is right where you want it. If you're home all day, the benefits are not as great. But the program still helps trim your usage while you're asleep. All in all, it's a sweet deal--dramatic energy savings with no sacrifice in comfort. Plus, while programmable thermostats range in cost from $40-$200, most people will save $180 per year or more using one. That means you'll get your investment back very quickly! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnT_U7FesIU[/youtube] Watch Sierra Club's Owen Bailey teach you how to install a programmable thermostat.

Top Tips

At home

  • Understand your system. If you have an old, do-nothing thermostat, you can easily replace it with a nifty programmable model. Just make sure the thermostat you purchase is compatible with your type of heating system. (Many do not work with heat pumps or electric resistance heating.)

  • Understand your house. If your house is large, with multiple heating or cooling zones, you'll need a thermostat for each zone to maximize energy savings and comfort.

  • Don't override the programming. Resist the urge to override the pre-programmed settings, unless, of course, you decide to go for a warmer temperature in summer and a cooler one in winter.
  • Programmable Thermostats

  • Go low, and high. In winter, set the temperature down to 55º while you're away or asleep, warming it back up to 68º half an hour before you wake up or get home. In summer, set it at 85º or 90º while you're away, coming down to a comfortable 78º a half hour before you return home.

  • Take advantage of the "hold" button. You can set the "hold " button at a constant energy-saving temperature when you are away for long periods of time on weekends or vacations.

  • If you have steam or radiant floor heating, experiment a bit. These systems respond more slowly, so you may want to program for a temperature drop several hours before you leave the house or go to bed.

  • Install in the right place. If the thermostat is near heating or cooling registers, appliances, lighting, doorways, skylights, windows, or areas that receive direct sunlight or drafts, it should be moved, because it won't be responding to the true temperature of the room. It's best to install thermostats on inside walls because, if they are on outside walls (which are often colder or warmer than the room itself), the thermostat will misread the overall temperature.

  • Don't let the batteries go dead. Change the batteries when your unit indicates the time has come.

When shopping, look for

  • An Energy Star. Thermostats that qualify for the government's Energy Star label will save you the most energy and money. The amount will depend on how much you lower your consumption while you're away or asleep.

  • Thermostats that fit your lifestyle.

    • 7-day models are best if your daily schedule tends to change--if, for example, you work irregular hours or the time the children are at home varies. These 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 have one schedule Monday through Friday, and different schedules on Saturdays and Sundays.

Other Considerations

Don't expect the thermostat to do everything. You should also take all possible steps to tighten up the house by following the recommendations in the air sealing, insulation, air conditioning, and heating equipment sections of this website.

Common Mistakes

Using a programmable thermostat with the wrong system. Many programmable thermostats should NOT be used in houses with heat pumps or electric resistance heating. These require special thermostats for optimum efficiency.

Getting Started

Many old thermostats used a switch that contains mercury, a toxic metal. Don't break the mercury container or toss the old switch in the garbage. Contact your local hazardous waste office for instructions on proper disposal.

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