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How to Optimize Energy Savings With a Programmable Thermostat

While old-school manual thermostats allow you to increase or decrease indoor heating and cooling as desired, they're little more than on/off switches for your furnace or air conditioner. As such, they may allow the system to produce more heating or cooling than necessary. This can reduce efficiency and increase costs by causing the HVAC system to run at its highest level for longer periods, even when unneeded. A manual thermostat requires a vigilant homeowner to constantly adjust it up or down in order to achieve a comfortable home with energy savings.

A programmable thermostat, on the other hand, is a sophisticated device that gives you precise control over the operation of your HVAC equipment. Here are some ways you can use a programmable thermostat to improve energy savings and reduce your monthly energy bills.

What Is a Programmable Thermostat?

A programmable thermostat is an electronic controller for a furnace, air conditioner or heat pump. These devices allow you to control when the heating or cooling system runs, the amount of time the equipment operates, and the level of operation the system attains. Their easy-to-read screens are often backlit and provide important information, such as indoor temperatures, at a glance. Programmable thermostats can significantly boost indoor comfort levels by providing consistent responses to actual temperature needs. When used properly, then can trim heating bills by as much as 33 percent and cut cooling costs by up to 25 percent.

Programmable Thermostat Features

The most important feature of a programmable thermostat is the unit's set points. These are programmed temperature settings that allow the heating or cooling system to operate at its most efficient and money-saving level. The thermostat's set points are the basic tool it provides for improving HVAC efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The most common benefit of programmed set points is the control they give you over when heating and cooling systems operate. For example, a common use of set points is to reduce the amount of heating and cooling the equipment produces when you and your family are away from home during the day. The set point will then automatically raise or lower indoor temperatures, as appropriate, to ensure the indoor environment is comfortable when family members return home from work or school.

The set point maintains indoor temperatures at an established level during the evening, then again makes adjustments to HVAC operation and temperature levels during the night when everyone's in bed and less conditioning is needed. In the morning, the set point activates the furnace or air conditioner before the household becomes active, providing plenty of heating or cooling while residents are getting ready for their day. The cycle then starts again when the set point decreases heating or cooling for the majority of the day.

Set points can be changed or manually overridden if necessary. For example, if you come home early in the day before the set point kicks in and starts the furnace or air conditioner, you can override the settings to get the heating or cooling you need.

Improving Energy Savings With a Programmable Thermostat

There are several practices that can boost the performance of a programmable thermostat and increase energy and monetary savings even further.

  • Maintain set points for at least eight hours at a time: The longer you can use set points to reduce heating and cooling, the more energy and money you'll be able to save. The recommended time period for set point usage is at least eight hours at a time.
  • Limit the use of manual overrides: Sometimes a manual override of programming will be necessary, but each time one is used, it reduces the benefit of using set points in the first place. Use manual overrides sparingly and only when actually needed.
  • Don't make rapid adjustments at the thermostat: Making quick changes in the thermostat settings won't make the equipment heat or cool faster. In fact, these abrupt slams in temperature settings are more likely to waste energy. When operated by a programmable thermostat, the equipment responds gradually to changes in temperature. Excessively high or low setting changes will not improve this process.
  • Make sure programmable thermostats are installed correctly: Programmable thermostats should be installed by an HVAC professional to make sure they work properly and maintain good control over your HVAC equipment. They should also be installed in an area where they're not affected by sunlight, heat-producing appliances, cooling equipment, or other sources of false temperature readings.

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