Yuka Yoneda

How to Squash Your Monthly Energy Bill & Save Money With a Programmable Thermostat

by , 10/28/12

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Did you know that the average American household spends more than $2,200 annually on energy bills, and close to half of that figure can be attributed to heating and cooling? If you’re looking to chop that number down, there are a lot of things you can do, but one of the most effective is to install a programmable thermostat. You’ve probably heard about these useful gadgets before, but they can be a little intimidating for homeowners who have never used one. The truth is that they’re probably much less complicated than your Tivo or DVR system, and once you have the hang of it, they can save you about $180* a year. Read on as we break down the basics of programmable thermostats into digestable bits.

* Based on ENERGY STAR averages. The $180 savings assumes a typical, single-family home with a 10 hour daytime setback of 8° F in winter and setup of 7° F in summer, and an 8 hour nighttime setback of 8° F in winter and a setup of 4° F in summer.

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Why would you want a programmable thermostat?

If you’ve made do without a programmable thermostat so far, you might be wondering why you would want one. The answer, plain and simple, is that this small device will make your home’s heating and cooling system smarter and save you money and energy. How does it do that? Programmable thermostats help you control and optimize your home’s temperature by allowing you to create pre-programmed settings for the summer, winter, while you’re asleep, when you’re at home, and when you’re away.

The idea is that every household has periods of the day and year when they don’t need as much heat or cooling. For example, it doesn’t make much sense for you to be paying to heat your home during the day when you’re at work and your kids are at school, right? A programmable thermostat “knows” that (you actually tell it by inputting the times of day you won’t be at home), and can adjust your home’s temperature accordingly. It’s kind of like that old As Seen on TV slogan “just set it, and forget it” — and save money while your programmable thermostat does the work and the thinking for you.

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Setting daily schedules

Purchasing a programmable thermostat is the first step, but in order to really maximize the savings you can achieve, the key is to create a schedule that works for you. Most programmable thermostats come with a pre-programmed settings based on the hours that a typical household might keep (wake up around 7am, leave the house around 8am, return around 6pm and go to sleep around 10pm), but not everyone is the same. Maybe you prefer to go to bed around 2am and wake up around 11am. You can teach your thermostat to keep the same hours that you do by simply adjusting the pre-programmed times. The controls work much like an alarm clock or a stove clock, so you should have no problems setting them up.

Once you’ve decided on your schedule, you can also adjust the setbacks and setups. If you’re not familiar with those terms, a setback is the number of degrees your thermostat automatically drops the temperature at certain times of the day to save energy, and a setup is just the opposite – the number of degrees your thermostat automatically increases the temperature at certain times of the day to save energy. For example, in the winter, you can make it so that your thermostat knows to automatically cut the heat and drop the temperature of your home at least 8°F after you leave for school or work. In the summer, you can set your thermostat to turn on your air conditioning ten minutes before you usually get home. We recommend creating a program and then playing with it and adjusting it based on your comfort level until you get it right.

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Controlling Your Thermostat Remotely

One of the coolest features that newer WiFi-enabled programmable thermostats offer is the ability to adjust the temperature of your home from work, while on vacation or basically anywhere with an internet/mobile phone connection. In addition to being a fun way to prank the other members of your family by making them freeze or burn (just kidding, please don’t do this), you can save a lot of energy with this function by checking and adjusting your temperature settings right from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Desktop Apps

Most WiFi-enabled programmable thermostats have their own desktop apps or programs that allow you to register and login to control your thermostat using your computer. For example, Honeywell’s is called My Total Connect and it’s very easy to set up. The registration is very similar to setting up a router, and Honeywell even has a step-by-step video showing you how to set up your wireless connection to your thermostat.

Mobile Apps

Having access to your thermostat via computer is great, but what if you’re on your way home from work or sitting on a beach? Many WiFi-enabled thermostats now have their own apps that let you receive high/low temperature alerts and control your heating and cooling right from your smartphone.

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How to pick a programmable thermostat

Today’s programmable thermostats can range in price from $40 to over $300 and have many features to choose from like digital displays, touchpad programming, voice-activated programming, air filter replacement alerts and more. Deciding how fancy a system you need is up to you but one way to narrow it down is to choose between 7-day, a 5+2-day and 5-1-1-day models.

7-day models

7-day models are for families that have very hectic and changeable schedules. Maybe your kids have soccer on some days, but are home early from school on others. A 7-day model lets you be really flexible and set a different program for every single day of the week.

5+2-day models

Many people will find that the 5+2-day model is easy to use and convenient. As the name implies, the idea is that you set a schedule for five weekdays and a different one for the two-weekend days of the week since you might wake up later or be at home all day.

5-1-1 models

The 5-1-1 model type is slightly more flexible than the 5+2, and is for households that keep different schedules on Saturdays and Sundays. If you rest and lounge at home on Saturdays, but leave for church at 9am on Sundays, this might be the best model for you.

Now that you know the basics of programmable thermostats, you’re ready to save even more money and energy for your home. If you want to increase your financial savings even more, visit Energy Star’s rebate locater to see if your programmable thermostat purchase is eligible for some money back.

For even more energy-saving products, visit Home Depot’s EcoOptions website.

+ EcoOptions

At The Home Depot, we pride ourselves on being sustainability minded. To make saving energy and money even easier, we’ve launched our EcoOptions website dedicated to green products such as WaterSense® and ENERGY STAR® labeled products and wood harvested from sustainable forests. EcoOptions also offers helpful tips for homeowners trying to go green to help you every step of the way. Whatever your home improvement project, we’ve got the organic solutions that can help make your home healthier and air cleaner; and products that can help you conserve water, be more energy efficient and save money.

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13 Comments

  1. Theresa Harmanen Theresa Harmanen October 28, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Great article! Love how you can control the thermostat remotely!

  2. Tafline Laylin Tafline Laylin October 26, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Excellent information for home owners. Thanks so much Yuka.

  3. Diane Pham Diane Pham October 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    the wifi enabled thermostat is great. wish it was a little less expensive, but i guess you get what you pay for.

  4. Hazel Saunderson Hazel Saunderson October 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    This is really useful… It’s starting to get cold over here in Scotland, but any welcome energy saving tips for keeping warm this winter are always welcome!

  5. Molly Cotter Molly Cotter October 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Great idea with the app! I can adjust my thermostat from just about anywhere!

  6. Mike Chino Mike Chino October 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I’d love to have one of these in my house – adjusting the thermostat from my phone would be great.

  7. pupapup October 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Love the wifi thermostat apps – what a good idea!

  8. Mark Boyer Mark Boyer October 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I would love to be able to control my thermostat remotely when I’m traveling.

  9. Alyssa Alimurung October 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    I know so much more about thermostats now having read this article. Great post, Yuka!

  10. Alyssa Liana October 24, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    I didn’t know there were different kinds of thermostats!

  11. Lori Zimmer Lori Zimmer October 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    This is great- I’m really penny pinching this winter!

  12. Jill Fehrenbacher Jill Fehrenbacher October 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Nice article Yuka, this really breaks down the thermostat thing and makes it easily understandable!

  13. Alyssa Alimurung Alyssa Alimurung October 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    That WiFi-enabled thermostat looks super useful for busy people!

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