Program Your Thermostat to Save Money on HVAC

    Photo: Lars Plougmann/flickrDid you know that heating and cooling your home are responsible for up to half of your energy consumption? What's more, if you're not careful, it's easy to waste a lot of that delightfully conditioned air. The best way  to ensure you are operating your HVAC efficiently is to monitor your home thermostat, and the best way to accomplish that is to install a programmable thermostat to replace your existing one. Programmable thermostats are easy to love: they save money without causing you a lot of hassle. Here's how.

    Follow the Department of Energy's recommendation -- setting your thermostat to a minimum of 78 degrees in summer and 68 degrees in winter for energy efficiency and lowered utility expenses. The result? A programmable thermostat can reduce your HVAC bills by approximately $180 every year, but the cost of the simplest thermostat you can install starts at only $25. That means the device could potentially pay for itself in less than 2 months.

    All you need to do is "set and forget" your programmable thermostat. The gadget is capable of storing store 6 or more temperature settings per day in its memory. And, whenever you want, you have the option to manually override the program. Don't worry -- your override won't mess up the default programming.

    This type of thermostat ensures your house will be comfortably warm or cool at times when you are home and active -- during the morning "rush hour" and after work or school. (Don't assume, however, that you can just program it to turn off the HVAC system entirely the rest of the day. The resulting extremes of temperature could be dangerous for any pets that are inside while you are away, and might lead to frozen pipes in winter. Talk to an experienced HVAC technician about the best way to program the device.)

    Choose the right thermostat for your needs. For example, do you use a heat pump rather than forced air as your home's HVAC? It's advisable to install a thermostat specially designed for this type of system. The same goes for radiant floor heating. If you and your housemates disagree about optimal comfort levels, you might want to install more than one thermostat.

    Technologically challenged? An electromechanical thermostat is the simplest type to program for basic function. However, the digital kind offers a wider variety of options for flexibility -- for example, it can easily be updated to daylight saving time in the spring.

    A smart house thermostat goes several steps further. If you replace your old thermostat with one of these newfangled gizmos, you'll be able to adjust it remotely with the help of your phone or tablet -- say, for example, you have an unexpected dinner meeting that means you'll be home several hours later than usual. It will even inform you when the HVAC filter needs cleaning and "learn" your preferences by keeping track of the changes you make to its settings.

    In addition, do be sure to learn about -- and use! -- additional methods for reducing your HVAC costs. Seal, seal, seal, and insulate, insulate, insulate. Clean the filters for your furnace and air conditioning on a regular basis and make sure that nothing is blocking the thermostat or the vents (like heavy window treatments or bulky furniture). Have your HVAC professionally inspected, especially if it is an older system.

    Laura Firszt writes for

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