Programmable ThermostatsWith all of the emphasis on reducing energy costs, it would seem that using programmable thermostats should save you money.  It turns out that programmable thermostats are just like anything else used by consumers. If used correctly they will save you some money in terms of heating or cooling costs. But in the wrong hands, a programmable thermostat can actually cost you more for heating and cooling your home!

The Right Way to Program a Thermostat

Turns out that the rule of thumb is to set the temperature for a period of 8 hours and leave it there. If you do this every day then you probably will save money. For example, when you go to bed, there is an 8 hour stretch were you can turn the heat down for heating purposes and reduce your energy costs. The same thing when you go to work. However if someone is constantly fiddling with the thermostat, and adjusting it every few hours either manually or by programming, you can end up using more energy than necessary.

A 1978 research paper (“Energy Savings through Thermostat Setbacks” by Nelson and MacArthur) confirmed basic physics. On average, if you turn the thermostat down by one degree Fahrenheit for eight hours every night, you’ll use about 1% less energy. (So, if you turn the temperature down by 10 degrees every night, you’ll use about 10% less energy.) But note that you’ll see less savings in milder climates (the bigger the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures, the more you save by adjusting the thermostat) and with electric heat.

The Real Answer About Programmable Thermostats

If you are motivated to reduce your heating and cooling costs then you are going to be setting your thermostat lower to be gin with when heating and higher when cooling and you are going to leave the setting alone. You do not need a programmable thermostat to do this. Rather it is all about what you as an individual and your family want the temperature in your home to be.

A programmable thermostat will help you manage the temperature better, but it alone will not save you money. If people in your family are constantly adjusting the temperature then you are going to pay more for energy. It is just that simple. No thermostat is going to change this unless you put it under lock and key. You might end up with a revolt in your family if you actually try this.

There were a number of studies that have been conducted that proved this point. We included an excerpt here for readers . See below.

If your motivation is to reduce your energy costs and save money, consider a programmable thermostat as a tool to help you accomplish your goals. By itself they will not save money. You need to program these thermostats to adjust the temperature in the same manner that you would have manually adjusted the temperature on a manual thermostat. Set the temperature once for an 8 hour period and leave it there.

Turning down the temperature for 8 hour periods will definitely save you money , only if you leave it and do not play with it.

Where’s the savings?

In 2007, RLW Analytics prepared a report for GasNetworks, a New England-based energy company. “Validating the Impact of Programmable Thermostats” found that using an Energy Star-certified programmable thermostat produced an average savings of about “6.2% of total household annual natural gas consumption”. Those who installed programmable thermostats into older heating systems saved an average of 6.8%.

Note: The New England study also found that people who micromanage their manual thermostats use more energy. This was in comparisonto those who just leave them at predefined points for longer periods of time.