Number 1 cheap, free, easy energy saving tip

When it comes to saving energy, most people don't want to spend a lot of time or money on the subject.  Everyone wants an easy way out these days...well...lucky for you I'm giving it to you.  The number 1 cheap, free (if you have one already), and easy energy saving tip is: Install and Use a Programmable Thermostat!

Using a programmable thermostat was 1 of our 5 topics on our Free Energy Saving Guide (sign up for our newsletter in the top, right corner to get it)!  Heating and Cooling your home make up about 50% of your energy consumption, so using a programmable thermostat to lower the amount of heating and cooling you have to do is your best bet for saving energy.

When I say actively use your programmable thermostat, I mean constantly tweaking your temperature set points so your AC or Heat is coming on as little as possible!  For example, in our downstairs area (we have  split-zone heating/cooling) we have our programmable thermostat set to 75° at 6 PM (this is down from 79° from 8:15 AM - 6 PM).  Then, we have the temperature set to go to 80° at 10:30 PM (about the time we go upstairs to start getting ready for bed).  Now, if we go up any earlier than 10:30, I walk over to the thermostat and go ahead and turn the temperature up to 80°!  Why continue cooling the space if we aren't going to be in it?  If I notice a pattern of us going up earlier than 10:30, I'll adjust the programmable thermostat setting to reflect this.  This is what I mean by actively programming your thermostat! Constantly tweaking your setting so you use the least amount of energy as possible.

Do I believe most people do this?  No, not at all.  This belief was reinforced recently while reading the Earth2Tech blog titled, "FAIL: Energy Savings Foiled by Dastardly Thermostats".  From the post:

There is “widespread misunderstanding of thermostat operation,” according to the study Usability of Residential Thermostats: Preliminary Investigations, led by senior scientist in the Energy Analysis Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Alan Meier. The majority of users operated programmable thermostats manually (ie not programming them) and almost 90 percent of survey participants said they rarely or never adjusted the thermostat to set a program.

Beyond not programming the thermostats, 15 percent of the participants in one study displayed the wrong times on their thermostats and 33 percent of the participants had set their programmable thermostats to a “long term hold,” overriding the programmable aspect. Not surprisingly survey respondents would say one thing, but after submitting photos of the thermostats, their thermostats told another story.
The data is disturbing on a couple levels. If consumers aren’t interested enough to even learn the basics of how to save energy via an already installed programmable thermostat, it’s going to be a long road ahead for any energy-saving consumer-facing technology. A variety of companies have built businesses around soliciting consumer participation in energy reduction measures.

Here's a link to a PDF of the programmable thermostat study (or at least one very similar with Alan Meier contributing).

Last month I was asked to contribute to some questions appearing on a Well Home - Ask the Experts series.  The first question was, "What are 5 easy-to-do things that people can do to cut their energy usage today?"  3 other "experts" answered before I did and not one of them mentioned installing and using a programmable thermostat!  They gave good answers that included:

  • Unplugging things when not in use
  • Installing CFL or LED over incandescents
  • Adjusting the fridge/freezer temperature
  • Monitoring your energy

And all of these are great things to do, but only after you install and start using a programmable thermostat!  Now, some Home Energy Pros would say you need to make sure you have insulated your home envelope first, but it's a chicken and egg problem.  For most people, going to the store and getting a $50 thermostat is much easier than finding a contractor to come out and insulate properly.   Also, most people already have programmable thermostats, they just don't use them!  Here was my response to the question from Well Home on 5 easy things to do (surprise, surprise, I didn't go the traditional route in my answer):

People have heard of all the easy things they need to do to save energy. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. But if there were only one thing I could tell people to save energy, it would be to install and use a programmable thermostat. And I mean actively use it by adjusting the temperature settings to ensure that your AC or Heat is only coming on when you need it to, and not when you don’t need it to (like when you are away at work). If those settings don’t work for you and your family, keep tweaking them until you get it just right. Heating and Cooling make up 50% of the average American’s energy bills. If people aren’t going to do this, there isn’t anything I can tell them that will make a dent in their energy bill. If you are already doing this, and you have changed out all your incandescents to CFLs or LEDs and you turn the lights off when you aren’t using them, you’re doing alright.

If you aren't willing to use your programmable thermostat correctly, then you don't really care about saving energy.

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I <i>think</i> most energy-star qualified thermostats today come already programmed for fairly reasonable setback periods... Oh, wait, no! There is <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">no longer an Energy Star qualification</A> for thermostats: <blockquote>EPA’s action is not due to an issue with programmable thermostats per se, but to the importance of and need for consumer education on how to best use these thermostats to garner significant savings.</blockquote> Geez. Who knew this was so hard? In other news, I got a couple of WiFi thermostats like <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">the ones you mentioned in another post</A> - they just released a programming API for these, so I hope some neat applications spring up around them. Although, if your thermostat still blinks 12:00 such technology may not be for you ... :)
ckmapawatt's picture
I think there is a lot of promising tools being developed around the 3M development, but again, the internet programmable thermostats are going to be too advanced for most people.
Am I wrong to have these reasons for not implementing energy-saving solutions? <b>Why I don't program my thermostat</b> (except reducing heating at night): 1. I work from home. My out-of-the-house schedule is irregular. Sometimes I turn the heating/cooling off when I go out, but I usually don't because: 2. I have tenants in my basement and 2nd floor. If they had consistent schedules of being out, and those schedules matched in whole or in part, I would program my thermostat to reduce energy use when they are out, but they have irregular schedules and one works from home. 3. This is not a factor now, but for 12 years my Mom who has Alzheimer's lived with me. When she had two outings per week, I set the thermostat accordingly, but besides that, the house (or at least the room she was in) needed to be comfortable. (The first step was ensuring there was appropriate body insulation/ventilation: blankets / sweaters in cool times; light shorts etc in hot times.) This may answer why some rational and energy&amp;ecology-concerned people don't make extensive use of programmable thermostats. I think working from home and providing accommodation saves more energy per capita than reducing heating/cooling during working hours. <b>Why I don't program different parts of the house separately.</b> (Does anybody? I want to!) - Before I had tenants, and when I was out daytimes, Mom would be in one room but the whole house had to be heated. Closing doors helped a bit, but not enough. - I want to have separate controls for the 3 living units (2 tenants plus myself). Alas, among other things, that would require ductwork reconstruction, and (for a different issue) I was given a price quote for HVAC installation of $1400 just for moving one duct within one room. Is there hope for me or others who want to program parts of the house separately? <b>Why I have no insulation in my walls:</b> Built in 1912, my exterior walls are brick outside, lath and plaster inside. I asked about insulating my walls: the price quote was $20,000. I'm not sure if that included repainting or just re-drywalling. Also, the rooms would become smaller because there would be no space in the existing walls for insulation, even after the lath-and-plaster is removed. (Apparently the lath-and-plaster is thin and occupies little more than the sheet of drywall that would replace it.) End of confessions. I think that for many people, the #1 thing they need to know about programmable thermostats is that they can add more programming [events] than the standard weekend/weekday/morning/daytime/evening/night [events]. If you are out from 10am-noon on Tuesdays, 10am-noon and 2pm-5pm Wednesdays, etc, you can add those events to your thermostat program.

Post new comment

Subscribe to Comments for "Number 1 cheap, free, easy energy saving tip"