Do programmable thermostats really save money?

Programmable thermostats save you money. That's a no-brainer, right? You've seen that advice in books and magazines and on personal-finance blogs — even here at Get Rich Slowly.

Well, it turns out programmable thermostats aren't the miracle device we've believed all along. In fact, sometimes using a programmable thermostat costs more than not having one at all. But the fault doesn't lie with the thermostat. The trouble, as my father used to say, is the nut behind the wheel.

ThermostatTheory and Practice

In theory, programmable thermostats are a great way to save on home energy costs.

According to the Energy Information Administration, about 42% of home energy costs go to heating and cooling. A lot of these costs come from heating and cooling empty (or unused) spaces, including heating and cooling while people are asleep. In plain English: People spend a lot to heat and cool their homes, and they're not good about turning things off when they're not needed.

In fact, some folks think it uses more energy (and thus costs more) to turn the thermostat down at night and then re-heat the following day. They're wrong. 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.

Based on this, it makes sense that a programmable thermostat could reduce energy usage. You simply program the thermostat to warm (or cool) your home when you're actually there; when you're away (or asleep), the thermostat switches off. As is often the case, though, practice is different than theory.

The main problem is that people don't use programmable thermostats the way they're intended. Someone might keep the home cool during the day, for instance, but crank the heat above room temperature at night. But even when used properly, programmable thermostats may not offer a cost savings.

Where's the Savings?

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document from 2004 describing the Energy Star programmable thermostats specification [PDF] summarizes the research into their efficacy:

Consumers are often advised that installing a programmable thermostat can save them anywhere from 10 to 30% on the space heating and cooling portion of their energy bills. While reliant on proper use of the programmable thermostat, such savings are easily true in theory; however, there needs to be more field-tested data to better substantiate savings claims. Analyses from recent field studies have suggested that programmable thermostats may be achieving considerably lower savings than their estimated potential.

How much lower? In 2007, RLW Analytics prepared a report for GasNetworks, a New England-based energy company. “Validating the Impact of Programmable Thermostats” [PDF] 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 (in other words, those who didn't install a new heating system at the same time) saved an average of 6.8%.

And that study painted the rosiest picture of programmable thermostats.

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

In 2000, the Energy Center of Wisconsin published a report entitled “Programmable Thermostats Gone Berserk? Taking a Social Perspective on Space Heating in Wisconsin” [PDF]. The study found, in part, that:

Despite the emphasis that has been placed on the use of programmable thermostats to reduce thermostat setpoints and so save heating energy, respondents with programmable thermostats report thermostat setpoints that are not substantially different from those of respondents with manual thermostats.

[…]

These details and the conclusions above lead us to suspect that the aggregate savings that can be expected from the installation of programmable thermostats in residential housing is probably quite modest.

Elsewhere, it's worse. Sometimes those with programmable thermostats use more energy. In 2008-2009, Florida Power & Light conducted a study of 400 homes with programmable thermostats [PDF]. Turns out that those who programmed their thermostats actually used 12% more cooling energy than those who did not.

Sure, those who programmed the thermostat used less energy when they weren't around; however, they tended to set the thermostat much lower for the times they were home. As a result, the folks who did nothing saved more energy.

Why is there a discrepancy between the theoretical and actual savings with programmable thermostats? Because the proposed savings were, in actuality, theoretical. That is, they were based on computer models and not on real-world experience. Now that there's enough real-world data, it's clear that programmable thermostats have only a minimal impact on energy consumption. As in other areas of personal finance, it's human behavior that make the most difference.

The Bottom Line

In May 2009, the EPA suspended Energy Star certification for programmable thermostats [PDF], writing:

EPA has been unable to confirm any improvement in terms of the savings delivered by programmable thermostats and has no credible basis for continuing to extend the current Energy Star specification.

Programmable thermostats can reduce energy consumption — if they're used right. But so can regular thermostats. What does make a difference on your heating and cooling costs? According to the Wisconsin study I mentioned earlier, your attitude toward conservation makes a big difference in energy consumption.

  • If you're motivated to save energy (for whatever reason), you're more likely to use less energy. In this case, a programmable thermostat makes no difference.
  • If you don't care about saving energy, you're likely to use more energy. Again, a programmable thermostat won't change this.

Programmable thermostats can save money — not just in theory — buit only if they're used correctly. Pick your set points based on your household's habits, and then leave them there. Don't fuss with the thermostat. The following is a typical energy-efficient program:

  • During the winter, set your thermostat for 68°F (20°C) while you're awake, and set it lower for when you're away or asleep.
  • During the summer, set your thermostat for 78°F (26°C) while you're home, and turn it off when you're away.
  • Better yet, heat (and cool) individual rooms instead of the entire house. If you tend to spend a lot of time in just one or two rooms, you can save a lot of money by using a space heater or a room-sized air conditioner.

Our thermostat is programmed for 65 when we're home and 58 when we're away or asleep. It kicks on about an hour before we wake or arrive home. (We don't have a cooling system, so the thermostat doesn't get used from June to October.)

After all these words, the bottom line is common sense: Whether you use a programmable thermostat or not, if you turn down the heat (or turn off the air conditioning) when you don't need it, you'll save money.

Further reading: This entire article reminds me of last year's post about money myths and the importance of thinking for yourself. Remember: Nobody cares more about your money than you do. Don't just take someone else's word about financial matters — not even mine. Conduct your own tests and experiments. Read. Draw your own conclusions. Do what works for you.

Footnote: This post was inspired by a discussion at The Simple Dollar, in which “Lurker Carl” pointed out that programmable thermostats have come under fire. His comment prompted me to spend three hours researching this stuff and another two hours writing up my findings.

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Dink
Dink
9 years ago

I know that sometimes new and interesting content is hard to generate and I appreciate all the work that JD does, but I really can’t read another article on a financial blog about programmable thermostats.

J.D.’s note: Imagine how painful it was to WRITE yet another article on programmable thermostats! 🙂 Yet I like to think this one is very different than anything else that’s out there…
Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I know you said last week that nobody would be interested in this article, but take heart- I am! We have electric heat throughout our house, unfortunately, and we pay a fortune in utilities because of it. We’re willing to try nearly anything and everything to get the bill down, and we’ve had more success with some than with others. Similar to the conclusions presented here, our programmable thermostats seem to be a wash. Not saving much, but not any worse off either. Can I ask what the theory behind turning the temperature down when you’re asleep is? We’ve programmed… Read more »

Lance
Lance
9 years ago

We just installed a new furnace, and the installer told us *not* to program different temps day and night. He said it cost more to bring the temp back up in the morning, than it would to maintain the temp during the night (thermal mass?).

And this in a Minnesota winter! I’m highly skeptical, so I’ll be checking my next gas bill very closely.

Coley
Coley
9 years ago

The revelations in this article are no surprise; they’re yet another example of some level of “rebound theory.” “Sure, those who programmed the thermostat used less energy when they weren’t around; however, they tended to set the thermostat much lower for the times they were home.” This type of thing happens all the time for those who think they are going to “go green.” Recycling your bottles? Great, no reason to worry about drinking only bottled water. Drive a Prius? No problem taking longer road trips on the weekends. Live in the city and walk to work to save on… Read more »

Crystal @ BFS
Crystal @ BFS
9 years ago

We live in Houston, TX and our specific neighborhood doesn’t have gas lines, so we are electric all the way.

Our programmable thermostat saves us a ton because we would never remember to turn up the temp every single day when we go to work….we have it auto set to 80 on work days, 75 on work afternoons when we get home, and 72 while we sleep (I like to hibernate). Our electric bills are always between $80-$160 (summer), which is STELLAR for our area. LOVE my programmable thermostat. 🙂

Coley
Coley
9 years ago

Kate (2) who wrote “We have electric heat throughout our house, unfortunately, and we pay a fortune in utilities because of it.” I don’t know where you live or how much property you have, but you should Google “outdoor wood boiler.” I don’t have one, because we have natural gas and it’s terribly cheap, but otherwise I’d look into it. It’s like a little shed-style woodstove that you put out in the yard. You throw in any sort of wood that you can get your hands on; it absolutely does not have to be split firewood. It heats a closed… Read more »

Sustainable PF
Sustainable PF
9 years ago

Programmable thermostats idiot proof the process. We are as diligent as any in our energy savings (to the point we write about it) but even still, on the non-programmable thermostat in our sun room (baseboard heaters – eek!) I still forget to turn it down some evenings and I pay for it in electric billing. http://www.genywealth.com/programable-themrostat-savings Good article there about a careful analysis of GenY’s bills one year to the next. If you are able to 100% guarantee you will never forget to turn the heat up or down as needed these devices make no sense – but no one… Read more »

Seth
Seth
9 years ago

I live in Austin, TX, where summer temperatures usually soar above 100 degrees, and it has always been for me an accepted fact that turning off the a/c during the day would use more energy than just turning it down a little, which makes sense to me: depending on the size of the house, cooling it from 90 or higher to a comfortable temperature could take several hours of continuous a/c. Can you point to any information detailing the most efficient use of programmable thermostats in hot climates?

Stacey
Stacey
6 months ago
Reply to  Seth

See Crystal’s comment above,.from Houston, TX. She describes how she sets programs her electric A/C and saves money, although I would set it to 90 while away in the summer, unless I have furry animals or delicate flowers in the house.

Dink
Dink
9 years ago

J.D.’s note: Imagine how painful it was to WRITE yet another article on programmable thermostats! Yet I like to think this one is very different than anything else that’s out there… I’m with you, JD. And while I’ll agree that this article is different than the others concerning programmable thermostats, it’s just a matter of oversaturation. It’s almost like how the health media changes their stance on eggs every couple years — they’re good for you, so here are loads of articles about how good eggs are; oh wait, now they’re bad, cue the negative articles about eggs. It’s not… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

This is right on the money: “If you’re motivated to save energy (for whatever reason), you’re more likely to use less energy. In this case, a programmable thermostat makes no difference. If you don’t care about saving energy, you’re likely to use more energy. Again, a programmable thermostat won’t change this.” We have a programmable thermostat but as my husband is home during the day we cannot use it to acheive cost savings by setting it lower during the day. We kept fiddling with the temperatures and time frames but ended up settling on setting it around 64 during winter,… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Great article! I must have missed all the internet discussion on programmable thermostats, because all that comes to mind is Funny About Money about a year ago complaining that her electric bill went up when she installed one. It’s nice to see that she’s not just crazy. We do have a programmable thermostat– in the winter it’s nice to get up to a warm house and I am really bad at remembering to turn the a/c down when we leave the house in the summer. I do manually adjust it, generally warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter.… Read more »

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
9 years ago

I’m surprised anyone thought that programmable thermostats were some kind of miracle device. They are just a simple timer – similar to the type you might install on your Christmas lights so you don’t have to manually turn them on and off. That study by Florida Power and Light doesn’t make any sense: Sure, those who programmed the thermostat used less energy when they weren’t around; however, they tended to set the thermostat much lower for the times they were home. As a result, the folks who did nothing saved more energy. This is like saying that fuel-efficient cars don’t… Read more »

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

@Coley- nice idea, but it’s unfortunately illegal in our area. Too urban. Not surprising considering our yard is about 50 square feet!

Brandon
Brandon
9 years ago

Its good to see a post explaining that programmable thermostats are not always right for everyone. My fiance and I work erratic schedules and are not home too frequently during some parts of the week, so we tend to only heat rooms we are in when we are in them, and keep slippers and blankets around the house to use until the room warms up. A programmable thermostat would certainly do us more harm than good. At the same time, my mom’s household has central heating and everyone there tends to be on a pretty consistent schedule, so a programmable… Read more »

Alex
Alex
9 years ago

I can’t believe this hasn’t been mentioned yet, especially that it wasn’t in the article itself. It is NOT better to use a programmable thermostat in the SUMMER. With air conditioning, the energy used to lower the temperature is far greater than that to maintain it at a temperature. So in the summer, you should pick a temperature, and keep it there, day and night, all summer long. In the winter, the standard logic of cooler at night and when you’re away, and normal when you are home and awake, is sound. Adjust to your personal preferences obviously. I’ve heard… Read more »

echo
echo
9 years ago

I finally switched to a programmable thermostat but haven’t really noticed a decrease in my energy bill (perhaps because the price keeps going up?).

68 degrees is fine in the winter and then we have A/C kick on at 74 degrees in the summer.

You must be freezing with the house at 65 degrees, and I don’t think I have a blanket on my bed warm enough for me to handle 58 degrees at night 🙂

Dusty44
Dusty44
7 years ago
Reply to  echo

Blankets will not do for cold temperatures at night. Find a quilt (online)that has box construction. That is: a top and bottom and vertical walls of the fabric inside forming compartments with the spaces filled with insulation. Duck or goose down is expensive and can cause allergic reaction. Buy synthetic-fill quilts. At least one vendor in New England also sells blankets like this that are only a quarter-inch or so thick that can help. Insulating blanket for the cool part of summer nights, add a suitable quilt in colder seasons. Note that a quilt intended for very cold conditions can… Read more »

sarah
sarah
9 years ago

We don’t have AC, just a window unit in the bedroom for sleeping. But for winter, we definitely use the thermostat. It can get well below zero here and the gas bills are high even for an apartment (close to $300 even using heat cautiously). The main way I use it is to have it set to turn itself down several times throughout the day. This way if I leave and forget and leave it up (at 68-72) it will turn itself back down to 58. At night it’s 55. I’ve seen a difference of over $100/month doing that, and… Read more »

AP
AP
9 years ago

JD I am surprised that you did not speak to the new trend in climate control, where you sign over control of your thermostat back to the power company. They reduce your power usage when energy costs are higher and reallocate it to you when the costs have stablized again. How does this compare to a self-controlled thermostat? I believe you are allowed to program in limits as well e.g. I don’t want my house above 80 in Summer.

Gabe
Gabe
9 years ago

I installed a newer programmable thermostat last year. It has definitely made the house more comfortable and I believe it has saved some money. We had a much colder winter than usual here in New Jersey and found ourselves running the heater much more than last year. All-in-all the bills came out to about the same as last year – even with a rate increase. We are also out of the house for the entire day. We have it set to 60 when we are not home, 65 when we are home, and 62 when we are sleeping. It may… Read more »

Coley
Coley
9 years ago

“It is NOT better to use a programmable thermostat in the SUMMER. With air conditioning, the energy used to lower the temperature is far greater than that to maintain it at a temperature.” Alex, can you explain this? I’m a mechanical engineer, with an educational and career focus in thermodynamics, and this just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s just not correct. Here’s the only caveat I can imagine–if, somehow based on the schedule of your energy usage, your utility is charging a higher rate for electricity during certain times of the day, and your higher use coincides with… Read more »

Bob
Bob
6 years ago
Reply to  Coley

Very simply Coley. The big part everyone misses and no one ever mentions is that HVAC systems are designed to maintain temperature using the smallest possible size units. Say in the summer your unit is sized to maintain temp for a 30 year 1% temp max and running at 100% duty cycle to do so. So now you have set the temp higher for the whole day you are gone and now your house and everything in it is absorbing heat. So now your AC kicks on and starts cooling in the hottest part of the day. So by the… Read more »

Linda in Chicago
Linda in Chicago
9 years ago

I’d like to also add: KNOW YOUR HEATING SYSTEM! I tried to follow the conventional wisdom of programming the thermostat to a lower temp in winter while away and ended up paying a HUGE gas bill ($500 for one month!) and nearly burning out my boiler pumps. This may work for people with forced air heat, but I have a boiler and radiant heat in the floors of the basement and first floor of my house. I programmed the thermostat to a temp considerably lower (about 10 degrees less) and when I got home I’d find the boiler working like… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

@ Kate – We live in Illinois and also have electric heat. Our electric bill was getting close to $450 in the coldest months of the year…this was after we had set our theromostat to 55, closed off some of our rooms that we don’t use (including the entire upstairs). So, we purchased a wood-burning stove and my husband started chopping wood. He’s had no problem finding free sources of wood; many people want him to clean up dead trees, etc. Our bills are cut in half. Yes, it’s more work, but this is what has worked for us. Perhaps… Read more »

Leah
Leah
9 years ago

How many people these days go without AC? Maybe it’s because I live further north (southern Minnesota), but I do not use AC. I didn’t when I lived in Oregon, Washington, or Michigan. Yes, it gets hot in my apartment. When it did so, I use fans and opened/closed windows judiciously. I have been known to sleep with a fan pointing directly at my body. A few times a summer, if it’s really blisteringly hot, I might spend the hours from 1-5 in a public library or other air conditioned space. But, for the most part, I try to stay… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

I was looking forward to this post when J.D. first mentioned it. I’ve had programmable thermostats for years and find them really helpful. What most people miss (and that is alluded to in his article but not stated directly), is that a programmable thermostat is just one piece of an energy-efficient lifestyle. My thermostat is part of a package that includes dense packed insulation, a high-efficiency furnace, an on-demand, high-efficiency water heater, a clothes line, a small house, lots of sweaters and warm socks, etc., etc., etc., But @Coley #4 makes a great point that conservation doesn’t decrease overall usage… Read more »

Geek
Geek
9 years ago

Brrrr. Setting the thermostat to 68 EVER would lower my heating bills (Ok, the heat is off when I’m not home…but still). No thanks anyway.
Like Nicole said. Being comfortable now is important to me.

cherie
cherie
9 years ago

Actually this is the most useful article on the subject imho. I don’t have one but have been feeling guilty about it LOL. However we have a fairly well insulated house and tend to keep the heat quite low. Then we get cold and kick it up for a while but are careful to lower it again because it makes the nights unbearable if we leave it on downstairs. And upstairs? It’s mostly on OFF except if it feels chilly when we go up – then we leave it on for an hour or so and shut it – otherwise… Read more »

Paula @ AffordAnything.org
Paula @ AffordAnything.org
9 years ago

I have a programmable thermostat — and I don’t believe it has saved me any money. Why? 1) Different members of this household are home/not home at different, erratic times of the day, making it impossible to simply program the thermostat to be “off” from, say, 9am – 5pm. 2) Even when the thermostat is off from 9 – 5, its freezing indoors when we come home … causing us to crank the heat. 3) Gaps around the windows, doors and even in the outlets, which let cold air blow into the house, make a much bigger difference. A $10… Read more »

Steffie Erikson
Steffie Erikson
9 years ago

Insulate, Insulate, Insulate,esp the attic, seal up the cracks around the foundation and windows with foam, this will keep the heated air/cool air in the house which should lower the amount of time the furnace/air conditioner is running thereby saving $

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

I actively tweaking our thermostat settings for over a year now and I’ve notices a big difference in our bills. biggest savings appears to be in not running at all when we are not home (8-10 hours a day). we used to subscribe to the theory of maintaining the temp all day but once we abandoned that we started to see a real savings. Peak month bills were always $400+ before we got aggressive in our programming. our highest bill over the winter was $368, and that was over the coldest period of one of the worst winters on record… Read more »

Ken Montville
Ken Montville
9 years ago

Just out of curiosity how does the use of ceiling fans play into this? I understand that ceiling fans use electricity but they can also cool down the room I’m in vs the whole house. Reversible fans, theoretically, distribute heat more evenly or quickly.

I also understand that the motor from ceiling fans create their own heat.

Just curious.

moni
moni
9 years ago

I live in a cold climate, so we spend a lot on home heating and nothing on air conditioning. Like everyone, we would like to consume less energy and see a reduction in our heating bills. If a programmable thermostat would help us do that, we would consider it. A bigger problem for us is that the fee structure of our gas bills offers a disincentive to save energy. My most recent gas bill was $200, of which only $104 is the actual cost of natural gas. The other $96 are fees and taxes that don’t go away if we… Read more »

Coley
Coley
9 years ago

“how does the use of ceiling fans play into this?” They’re wonderful in the summer, and somewhat nice to have in the winter. Your body is 98 degrees, and it’s constantly generating heat, so you need to transfer that heat away from your body. The temperature of your surroundings is an important variable in this equation, but it’s only one variable. Equally important is the effectiveness of your surroundings at transferring the heat off of your skin. Water is much more effective than air at pulling heat off of your body, so you can cool off in an 80-degree swimming… Read more »

Hunter
Hunter
9 years ago

Great read. Training and educating will only make a difference in the way these devices are used. Unfortunately, as high as the cost of energy is, it needs to go higher for more people to take action to consume less and save their money own money. Thanks, Hunter.

ChicagoGirl1
ChicagoGirl1
9 years ago

In my experience the programmable thermostat does save some money on gas/heat in the winter. We leave the temp down at 60 during the day while we’re at work and from midnight to 5 am. The one issue we have had is that we are freezing going to bed at night and layer more blankets on the bed in order to fall asleep. Then at 5 am you wake up covered in sweat because it is 70 in the house and that many blankets is far too many. This also happens on weekends when you try and sleep in. I… Read more »

R S
R S
9 years ago

@ #2 Kate, I think “never notice” is overstated, but to compensate, you use more blankets in the winter. Alternatively, you could use a room heater in your bedroom, or as I recently discovered the wonders of electric blankets/mattress pads! They auto-shut off in 3 – 10 hrs, so you’re not burning extra power when you don’t need to. Compared to my room heater which runs at 1500 W, I think my electric blanket is at 400 W. Major plus points for not getting into a cold bed! I live in the NE, and lower it to 55 at night,… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

It does not take more energy to raise (or lower) the temperature of something to a given temperature than it does to maintain it there. Get a glass of water out of the fridge (or soda, or your favorite beverage) and put a thermometer in it. Every time the temperature rises above 38 degrees, add more ice. Keep the glass below 38 degrees for eight hours. Count how many ice cubes you use. Then, get a glass of room temperature water and add ice until it cools to 38 degrees. Count how many ice cubes you used. Guess which glass… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
7 years ago

It seems odd that this is completely contradictory to what I was taught in college Physics. Laws of thermodynamics say that it takes MUCH more energy to change the temperature of something than it does to maintain that temperature.

Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes
7 years ago
Reply to  Aaron

Obviously it takes less energy to maintain a temperature than to change the temperature, you don’t need a degree in thermodynamics to tell you that. That is not the issue. We are talking about the difference in energy usage between maintaining a specific temperature for an extended period of time vs changing the air temperature by the amount of temperature change that would have occurred over that maintenance period.

LauraElle
LauraElle
9 years ago

JD’s article is correct- programmable thermostat’s aren’t all that. Especially if you live in a 100-year old, drafty house with a moody furnace.

jones
jones
9 years ago

My summer thermostat program is a little different than the recommended, but it works for me – In the early morning (5-7am), my thermostat is set to cool the house to 70 degrees (with windows open at night to help the cooling). The outside is cooler before dawn, so it takes less energy to pump the heat out. And my electricity company charges less for electricity in the night than during the heat of the afternoon. The thermostat then turns to 78 degrees for the rest of the day, which it generally doesn’t reach until late in the afternoon or… Read more »

Sal Curiel
Sal Curiel
9 years ago

I added a programmable thermostat and after comparing the first two months this year versus last year, I saved more than $16 and $40, respectively. It saves when one is away at work but also in the middle of the night. I set the temp lower once every one is asleep, since everybody is under the sheets.

Lindsay
Lindsay
9 years ago

I definitely think our programmable thermostat helps save us money. We do the colder during the day, and after 10pm (60 degrees) and warmer even we wake up and come home in the evening (68). We have a very old home with single pane windows which we shrink wrap every year (doesn’t look bad if you do it right). Abd we use 2 down comforters on our bed. This year during the coldest month our bil was about 30% lower than last year because I keep the temp down below 70. During the summer we use a swamp cooler because… Read more »

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

They are only worth it if you use them for the purpose they have been designed. Like Lindsay said above, you have to set them up right to reap the rewards. Also, if your house isn’t well insulated you are wasting your time.

Wilson
Wilson
9 years ago

I thought this was all fairly obvious. My wife likes the temperature how she likes the temperature. Whether the thermostat is manual or programmable doesn’t affect that. If you have trouble remembering to adjust a thermostat when you leave the house, it will save you money. If you don’t, then it’s an unnecessary upgrade and waste of money. Just train yourself to pay attention to the thermostat and it’s a non-issue.

Bonnie
Bonnie
9 years ago

I’ve always been interested in installing a programmable thermostat, but I living in Phoenix the recommended temps never apply to me. If I kept my house at 78 in the summer, my electric bill would be enormous. I usually keep it at 82 while at home. When I worked full time, I would turn it up to 85 during the day, but now I’m home with the kids and we need to keep cool too! I’d just love to find some good recommendations for my area.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

I think this post is pretty good. We have a regular thermostat and it works pretty well. It’s set to 68 degree now because we just had a baby and want to make sure it’s comfortable for him. Previously we just have it turned off until it gets to low 60s, then we set it to 65.

Quest
Quest
9 years ago

In winter, I turn my furnace on when the temps dip into the 40s and below. Even then, I set it at 60. Otherwise, the furnace is completely off. We wear sweaters during the day and sleep under goose down quilts at night. In summer, the A/C is set at 80 and only when we absolutely have to have it on. We belong to the electric company’s summer savings program which means that our electric bills are really low in exchange for the electric company’s ability to shut down our A/C and recycle our power elsewhere to fill consumer demand… Read more »

David M
David M
9 years ago

We have a programbable thermostat – but make the changes manually – which for us – ABSOLUTELY SAVES MONEY!

We turn it down – when we are not going to be in a part of the house and Turn it up – when we will be in a part of a house.

Thus for us, using a programable thermostat – correctly – would cost us money!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

I’m glad I read this because I’ll no longer worry about not having an automatic thermostat. During the winter we turn it up to 62 when we get out of bed, turn it down to 52 when we go to sleep. There may be some variances in case of illness, metabolic changes, etc (if we don’t work out in the morning we heat it up higher for about an hour). In the past we just set the heating at 68 day at night. The new system has saved us 20% during the coldest month and probably 50% in the not-so-cold… Read more »

Bonnie
Bonnie
9 years ago

@El Nerdo – I’ve done similar things in the past. I currently have a very militant HOA and they would freak if I tried it now. We’ve looked into the more HOA-acceptable options like sun screens, but they are expensive and my husband doesn’t like them. We have excellent shutters that keep the house pretty dark in the summer. They help a lot! But when it’s 110+ outside, there’s only so much you can do. If my highest electric bill in the summer is under $400/month, then I count it as a successful year.

Samantha
Samantha
9 years ago

@2 Kate: “Can I ask what the theory behind turning the temperature down when you’re asleep is?” I completely agree, and it seems like a bunch of people who’ve posted on here have the same issue. I can go to bed comfortably, but I wake up hot in the summer or cold in the winter, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because of it. In the winter I would definitely trade being warm in the evening for being warm at night. In the summer… well, I hate the heat. I would trade ANYTHING for not… Read more »

Cate
Cate
9 years ago

As someone who bought a home with a heat pump for the first time we found out that turning down the thermostat at night when it is really cold outside can actually cost you more money. That’s b/c when the temp outside is below a certain point the auxiliary heat has to kick in and the system is very inefficient.

So while I do think programmable thermostats are great it can be more important to understand your heating/cooling system first.

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