My coworker came into work the other day complaining about a $225 heating bill. That is about 3 times as much as my wife and I normally pay! We had a couple straight weeks below freezing, so the high amount wasn’t very surprising. But it still seemed higher than it should be. When I asked him about it, he said it was only about $50 higher than normal.
A few questions later I was able to determine that his house is roughly the same square footage as ours, we have the same gas company, and the reason why his bill is so much higher than ours – he leaves his thermostat set at 75 degrees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of whether or not someone is home. I could understand this if he were married and had an infant at home at all hours of the day, but he is single and has two dogs.
This is a brief excerpt from our conversation:
“Why don’t you turn the thermostat down when you go to work,” I asked?
“Because I feel bad if my dogs get cold,” he replied.
My thought was – “I would feel bad spending $200 per month on my heating bill!”
Of course, I didn’t say that out loud! Instead, I explained how programmable thermostats can save him a ton of money.
Use a Programmable Thermostat to Save Money
Some quick research showed how he could save at least 20% on his monthly heating bill by installing and correctly using a programmable thermostat. You can buy one for less than $30 at many hardware stores, or on Amazon. If used correctly, the programmable thermostat could pay for itself in the first month! I also pointed my friend toward these inexpensive ways to save money on heating bills.
Here is one of the least expensive programmable thermostats on Amazon. As you can see, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to buy one!
Installation is a relatively easy DIY project. Most of the thermostats have a common adapter that makes it easy to plug into your heating and cooling system. The first one I installed took less than 10 minutes – the plug was the same, but I had to use some drywall anchors to install the bracket on the wall. Just be sure to pull the appropriate breaker before working with electricity!
How Much Money Can You Save with a Programmable Thermostat?
The US Department of Energy estimates you can save 10% on your heating bill by rolling back your thermostat 10-15% for just 8 hours! Since he is gone 10 hours a day for work and sleeping 6-8 hours of the day, he really only needs to keep his house warm enough for his standards a few hours per day. Reducing his average temperature by 10% for a total of 16 hours per day could save him 20% on his heating bill during the fall and winter months. And that is a baseline estimate.
Of course, programmable thermostats also work just as well in the summer as they do in the winter. Your cost savings will vary depending on your energy costs. But the principle is the same. Reducing the amount of energy used is better for the environment, and much better for your budget! Add a programmable thermostat to these tips to reduce your cooling costs, and you can save a lot of money each year – certainly enough to pay for the cost of the thermostat several times over in the first year alone!
As for the dogs, I think they will be fine in a cooler or warmer environment. Their coat will keep them very comfortable in any at home environment.
Learning Thermostats May Save You Even More Money
About a year ago I installed a Nest learning thermostat. These are nice because they can be controlled by a smartphone, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or an online app. These smart thermostats “learn” your preferences and automatically make changes to save energy usage and reduce spending. Some of them are able to detect when you are away from home and they can change the settings accordingly.
Of course, since you can control it with an app, it is easy to change your settings when you leave home for an extended period of time. So you don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn the thermostat up or down when you leave on vacation.
We have found further savings since we transitioned to the learning thermostat, though I admit it can be difficult to quantify since you have to compare raw energy usage, the average temperature in your area, and other factors. So I’m going off the reports sent to us by Nest.
Look for rebates from your energy company
There was nothing wrong with our programmable thermostat when we replaced it with the Nest Thermostat. But our electric company and our gas company were both offering substantial rebates on the purchase. I was able to buy the thermostat for $200, then get a $100 rebate from one company, and a $50 rebate from the other reducing our effective cost to $50. At that point, I figured it was worth the cost, even if it took a year or two to pay for itself. That said, I’m more than confident it has paid for itself in the year we’ve had it. If you are coming from a non-programmable thermostat, I’d say it will pay for itself within a year or so at full-price, and more than pay for itself if you can find it at a discount, or with rebates from your energy company.
Here is the best price I could find at Amazon:
Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation - Control w/ Wi-Fi, Alexa, Google Home Price: $228.99 Use a learning thermostat to control your thermostat from your smartphone, wi-fi, Amazon Alex, Google Home and more.
What Temperature Should You Set Your Thermostat?
The thermostat will automatically regulate the home’s temperature and you never think about it again – or at least until the seasons change. Where you set your thermostat depends on your personal preferences, costs of energy in your area, and whether or not you have extenuating circumstances, such as someone being at home all day, medical conditions which require warmer or cooler environments, etc.
My friend asked what thermostat settings might be a good fit for him. I recommended he set the thermostat to automatically warm up his house right before he wakes up, then decrease to the low 60’s when he leaves for work. He can then set it to come on to 70 when he comes home from work, go down to 65 when he goes to sleep, and repeat the process. That should dramatically reduce his energy usage, and his dogs will be perfectly fine in those temperatures.
These recommendations are sensible, and not too drastic of a change for most people to deal with. My wife and I actually keep our temperatures a little cooler during the winter. Our thermostat is usually set around 66-68 when we are home, and 55 at night, or when we are away. But, it is easier to make transitional changes instead of drastic changes, so I recommended the middle ground for my friend. In the summer we usually set the thermostat at 76-78 when we are at home. We try to open windows at night when weather and temperatures permit, or use our whole house fan to get a breeze going to cool us off.
What is too hot or too cool for a thermostat setting?
There is no “best temperature range” for your thermostat. You need to find a balance of comfort and utility usage. If you can walk around your house in shorts and a t-shirt in the winter, you probably have your heater set too high. Conversely, in the summer, if you need to wear pants and a sweatshirt to stay warm enough to be comfortable, you probably have your AC set too low. In both cases, you are probably wasting a lot of money.
I find that in the winter, I want to be comfortable wearing long pants, a sweatshirt, and slippers. If I need additional layers, it’s probably too cold. In the summer, I wear shorts and a t-shirt and use fans to circulate air flow. If I’m still too hot, I’ll look at decreasing the thermostat settings to a more comfortable level.
Using these rules of thumb, we’ve been able to keep our energy use to a reasonable and affordable level. There are still spikes when we have extreme weather, but it’s not enough to break our budget.
What temperature do you set your thermostat?