Save Energy with a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable-thermostatProgrammable thermostats can help reduce your energy bills, and installing one is a relatively easy do-it-yourself project. Because of this, switching to a programmable thermostat is one of the easiest ways to save money and help the environment by reducing energy usage.

The basics

A programmable thermostat is a temperature control device that allows you to automatically adjust temperature according to a predetermined schedule. This provides energy savings by reducing your air conditioner’s use when you’re away from home and then returning the air to a comfortable temperature shortly before you’re scheduled to return. Programmable thermostats can be overridden, so if you’re home sick, you won’t boil in a house heated to 88 degrees. The schedule will automatically return to normal the following day so you don’t need to worry about changing it back.

Types of programmable thermostats

There are a variety of options available that allow for different levels of temperature control. Most can accommodate four temperature changes per day for when you wake up, leave, return, and go to bed. Daily scheduling depends on the model. They may have different names depending on the manufacturer, but here are a few common types:

  • 7 day programmable thermostats have different settings for every day of the week. This offers maximum flexibility for those with varying schedules.
  • 5-1-1 programmable thermostats have one set of settings for Monday through Friday and separate settings for Saturday and Sunday. These are ideal for people with a consistent work schedule, but varying weekend schedule.
  • 5-2 programmable thermostats have one setting for weekdays and one setting for weekends. These are often cheaper than the above options and are good when your weekend schedule is either consistent on both days or changes so much you can’t schedule it in advance.
  • 1 week programmable thermostats use the same settings every day. These are often the cheapest models and a good start if you’ve never had one before. They may also be perfect for people who are almost always home such as stay-at-home parents and retirees.


Installation of a programmable thermostat takes about an hour and is simple enough for any homeowner to install. Start by cutting off the electricity to the current thermostat. Carefully remove the old thermostat from the wall plate. Older thermostats may contain a glass tube with mercury, so use caution, and contact a local recycling center for instructions on how to dispose of the thermostat.
Label the wires with the letter designations found on the old thermostat. Match each lettered wire with the proper terminal on the new thermostat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Mount the thermostat to the wall plate, and refer to the instructions to set up the temperature settings.

Optimal use for maximum energy savings

The Department of Energy suggests keeping thermostats set at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer. When you’re out or asleep, reducing the temperature in the winter or increasing the temperature in the summer by seven to 10 degrees further increases savings. The rule of thumb is that each degree over an eight-hour period of time reduces total energy use by one percent. That means adjusting the temperature just 10 degrees during the workday will reduce your air conditioning energy use by 10 percent.

Use with heat pumps

Installing a programmable thermostat in a system with a heat pump has been discouraged until recently. While in heating mode, heat pumps don’t operate on a simple on and off switch. Unnecessarily adjusting the temperature causes the heat pump to work less efficiently and negates savings from using a programmable thermostat. New programmable thermostats made specifically for homes with heat pumps can efficiently regulate the heat pump. If you have a heat pump, be sure to check for compatibility before installing a programmable thermostat.

Programmable thermostat tips

Programmable thermostats can help slash your utility bills, but they don’t do it on their own. In fact, multiple studies have shown that programmable thermostats may even lead to increased energy usage when used incorrectly. To achieve savings, you’ll need to have the discipline to set a schedule and stick to it. While it’s OK to turn the AC on when you come home early, constantly overriding it to a lower temperature or to stay on just in case you might come home early will wipe out your savings. To help stay disciplined, remember how much money you’ll save, and you’ll no longer need to choose between coming home to an comfortable house or cutting your utility bill.

-Abe Jefferson


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  1. I still don't believe that you will save that much more by raising and lowering your thermostat. The unit has to work harder longer to bring the temp up or down to your set temp, whereas if you leave it set at one setting it only works to maintain the same temp. I say set it and let it.

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