What's the Most Energy-Efficient Way to Set Your Thermostat

Some things never change. Every fall, people begin to ask us about the “right” way to use a thermostat to save money. They generally fall into two schools of thought. On one side, there’s the set-it-and-forget-it group and on the other, the never-seen-a-thermostat-that-didn’t-need-tweaking group.

What’s the right answer? Read on. 

The two schools of thermostat energy efficiency

School of Thought #1: Set it and forget it.

We like to call this first group, the School of the Straight and Narrow. They choose a one-size-fits-all temperature, set the thermostat to it, and leave it there until summer. Doesn’t matter if it’s nighttime or no one is at home. That temperature stays set.

The reasoning behind this school is that it will take more energy to heat up a cold house than it takes to maintain a consistent temperature.

School of Thought #2: The only constant is change

We refer to the second school as the School of the Rollercoaster Ride. Its adherents believe that the thermostat should be turned down when you’re sleeping or away from home.

The reasoning behind this school of thought is that leaving the thermostat set will cost more in the long-run because the energy saved from those off-times will more than make-up for the extra costs of heating a colder house.

So, which is the right way to use a thermostat and save on energy?

Adjust your thermostat for greater energy savings

Ding, ding, ding! The second school of thought wins the prize for energy savings. The Department of Energy estimates you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by changing your thermostat setting depending on time of day.

That percentage of savings is greater for buildings in milder climates, i.e. not New England. But still. If you turn down your thermostat at night and when you’re away from home, you’ll save energy. And saved energy equals saved $$.

But won’t the furnace work harder if the thermostat is setback?

False. Nope. It’s a common misconception that a furnace will have to work harder than normal to warm the house back to a comfortable setting than if the thermostat is setback at night and when no one is at home. The reasoning goes that the extra effort on your furnace’s part results in little or no savings.

The truth, however, is that a furnace, your furnace, works harder the higher the setting during winter. Why is that?

The reason involves the laws of thermodynamics. And without going down that particular rabbit hole, basically cold air is heavier than warm air and so when it’s cold outside, that cold air moves into your house through various nooks and crannies. And when cold air comes in, warm air is pushed out.

Now, the greater the difference between your warm house and the chilly outside, the more rapidly you will lose heat. When the air temperature in your house is 68°F and its 20°F outside, you will lose heat more rapidly than if your house was 58°F. And because you lose heat more rapidly, your furnace will have to kick on more often.

In a nutshell, the lower the inside temperature of your house, the slower the heat loss.  That means, that every time your house is allowed to fall below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the outside MORE slowly…and the more energy you will save. And the more energy you save, the more money you will save.

What’s the best temperature setting on my thermostat for winter?

So, now you know that it’ll save you both energy and money if you set back your thermostat at night and when you’re away from home. Now the question is, what’s the best temperature setting for winter?

The Department of Energy suggests setting your thermostat to 68°F when you are at home. If that feels a little chilly at first, put on a sweater, make a cup of tea, and know that your body will get used to it. If 68°F feels good to you, try turning it to 67°F, and so on.

Once you go to bed, or while you’re at work or away from home, set your thermostat
7°-10°F cooler than your normal setting. Remember, the longer your house is at a cooler temperature, the slower you will lose energy, and the more savings you will realize.

Anyone not particularly interested in saving money?

Yea, that’s what we thought. 

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