When the weather outside is scorching or freezing, the temperature inside makes all the difference in helping you stay comfortable.
Making sure the home’s heating and cooling systems are in good order at the start of the season is important, but so is knowing how to use them when they’re on. Most homeowners have a decent grasp of how to adjust climate control settings in their home.
However, a recent study by the Energy Research and Social Science journal points out that people often use their thermostats the wrong way or have misconceptions about how they work, especially if the thermostat is programmable.
“Out of 192 people surveyed, 42 percent of respondents said their thermostats were programmable — rather than manual — but many did not seem to know how to use them. Fourteen percent of those claiming to have programmable thermostats said they ‘do not know where the settings are,’ and 25 percent said they ‘know where the settings are but (they) do not know how to change them,’” Chris Mooney wrote in a recent Washington Post article.
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Furthermore, many respondents held false beliefs or misconceptions about how thermostats actually work to heat or cool the house. The main one was the belief that adjusting the temperature throughout the day uses more energy than simply leaving the thermostat on the same setting all the time. According to the Home Owners Network, not only is this myth untrue, it could end up wasting money.
“In reality, the fuel required to reheat an area to your comfort is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the temperature drops to that lower setting. You’ll actually save some money between the time the temperature stabilizes and the next time heat is needed. The longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save,” the website states, referring to heat settings in the winter. The same is true of air conditioning in the summer.
Bob Hudson of Bob Hudson Heating, Cooling, Refrigeration and Appliance in St. Joseph agrees. Leaving the air conditioning on the same low setting during the day, when no one is home, means the unit is running all day to cool an empty house. This can end up costing homeowners more than they realize, especially during the summer when utilities already are high. Whether your thermostat is manual or programmable, it’s a good idea to adjust the temperature while you’re away from home or while you’re sleeping.
“It is beneficial if you can program it. It’s just like the heat in wintertime. Some people like to sleep in a cool house at night, so they’ll put it on 62 at night, then program it to be 68 when they wake up,” Hudson said.
Programmable systems are an easy, hands-off way of controlling the home’s climate. If you have a manual system, simply make a mental note to change the temperature when you think it’s necessary. You could post a reminder by the door as you get ready to walk out of the house or set an alarm before going to bed.
Many study respondents also thought that the higher they set the heat or the lower they set the air conditioning, the faster the temperature in the home would change. This also is false. Hudson says whatever temperature you prefer to feel comfortable, the unit will run at the same power and speed until the desired number is reached, and then it will shut off automatically.
It’s good to remember this on extremely hot days like we’ve had recently. No matter how low you set the air conditioning, sometimes it could take hours to achieve the cool 68 or 70 degrees you desire. Instead of letting the unit run nonstop, it’s best to put it at a slightly higher setting and hope for a cold front.
If you’re looking to save as much on utility costs as possible during the summer, Hudson says there is a sweet spot he likes to use on his thermostat.
“In my own personal home, I’ll keep mine around 78 to 80. When you get under 78 degrees, it actually costs your utilities around 8 percent per degree,” he said.
So if you like to keep the house a consistent 72 degrees in the summer, you might have to sacrifice more of your income to keep it that low. The age and condition of the home does have an effect, though.
“In newer houses that are insulated real well, you might be able to drive (the temperature) down to (a lower setting) without that much energy consumption,” Hudson said.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve been using your thermostat correctly, don’t know how to program it or want to reduce your energy consumption, contact a professional.