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How to save money installing a programmable thermostat

Posted on: November 29, 2010

One thing you can do to save money on your heating bills this holiday season is lower your thermostat every time you leave the house or go to bed. While this makes sense in theory, in practice it is not always easy to remember. If you want a way to save energy in your Maryland or Washington, DC home that you don’t have to think about, consider installing a programmable thermostat.

Benefits of a Programmable Thermostat

  • Set it and forget it – The best thing about installing a programmable thermostat is that you can set it up once and it will adjust the temperature by itself after that – you never need to touch it. That said, most are easy to change at any time.
  • Syncs with your schedule – You can program your temperature presets based on the time of day, allowing you to set lower temperatures at night and when you are away from your home. Most models of programmable thermostats let you set different presets for weekends and some even have vacation overrides to temporarily override all of the programmed settings.
  • Short payback period – While some high end models of programmable thermostats can have high initial costs, energy savings usually offset those costs within the first year or two.
  • Higher accuracy – Using a manual thermostat, it is possible to experience temperature fluctuations of up to five degrees or more. Programmable thermostats are usually accurate to within one degree.

Questions to Ask Before Installing a Programmable Thermostat

Since programmable thermostats are still a relatively new technology, it is a good idea to learn all you can about them before you install one. When you are considering installing a new programmable thermostat, there are some questions you should answer:

  • Does the programmable thermostat’s clock draw power from the electrical circuit or from a battery? If it draws from the circuit, is the clock thrown off when the furnace cycles on and off?
  • Is the programmable thermostat compatible with your current wiring?
  • Can you install the programmable thermostat yourself or will you need to call a residential HVAC company?
  • How accurate is the programmable thermostat?
  • Is the thermostat easy to program or will you have to refer to the directions every time you want to make changes to your presets?

Installing a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats are safe and simple to install because they connect to relatively safe, low-voltage wiring. However, if the wiring does not exist, installing a programmable thermostat can get a bit more complicated. Always consult a local residential HVAC company if you feel uncomfortable installing any sort of electrical appliance in your home.

Types of Programmable Thermostats

There are five basic types of programmable thermostats to choose from. Each one offers specific advantages and disadvantages and is tailored to suit a specific heating and cooling system.

  • Electromechanical (EM) programmable thermostat – Generally very easy to operate thanks to manual controls such as movable tabs and sliding levers, EM programmable thermostats have fewer features than digital ones. Designed for people with very regular schedules, most EM programmable thermostats can only store settings for one day. EM programmable thermostats work with most heating and cooling systems, excluding heat pumps.
  • Digital programmable thermostat – While often more complicated than EM programmable thermostats, digital programmable thermostats offer wide range and flexibility and can be used with almost all heating and cooling systems. Digital programmable thermostats provide accurate temperature control and allow for custom scheduling. If you choose to install a digital programmable thermostat, make sure you are comfortable with its operation – you can’t save money with your programmable thermostat if you don’t know how to program it!
  • Hybrid programmable thermostats – Hybrid thermostats combine the easy to use manual controls of EM programmable thermostats with the accuracy and flexibility of digital programmable thermostats. Hybrid thermostats are available for most heating systems except for heat pumps.
  • Occupancy programmable thermostats – Occupancy programmable thermostats do not change based on the time of day. Instead, the programmable thermostat turns on only when someone presses the button. The ensuing heating period can be set to last anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. The simplest programmable thermostats to operate, occupancy programmable thermostats also have the least flexibility and are most useful for rooms that are  not frequently occupied.
  • Light sensing programmable thermostats – Light sensing programmable thermostats rely on a preset lighting level to determine when to switch on and off. When lighting falls below a certain level, these programmable thermostats lower temperatures by 10 degrees. This type of programmable thermostat is most useful for retail stores or offices where occupancy determines lighting and heating requirements.

Installing a programmable thermostat in your home or office can go a long way toward lowering your heating costs and energy consumption all year long. If you live in Maryland, Virginia or Washington DC and want to experience the energy saving potential of a programmable thermostat, call James A. Wheat & Sons today!