Programmable thermostats can cut heating costs

Save money while you sleep and wake up to a warm house...


By Sharon K. Anderson via The Ithaca Journal, 12/6/12

You can save money while you sleep and still wake up to a warm house with a programmable thermostat.

These devices automatically lower and raise the temperature settings at times you specify. For example, you can program the thermostat to 60 degrees shortly before you go to bed and set it to 68 degrees starting an hour or so before you wake up.

Many programmable thermostats will allow you have multiple settings during the day, allowing you to set a cooler temperature when you leave for work and a warmer temperature again before you typically return home. Many thermostats also have a separate weekend program. It is easy to override the program if you want a different temperature at any time.

It is less expensive to reheat a cooler house than it is to keep the heat at a higher temperature 24 hours a day. For each eight-hour period a reduction of 1 degree will save 1 percent of your fuel costs. This means if you reduce your thermostat setting by 5 degrees every night while you are sleeping, you will save 5 percent. If you reduce the temperature 1 degree for a full 24-hour period, you will save 3 percent of your heating bill. Set it back 5 degrees, and you will save 15 percent. That could add up to $200 or more over the course of a heating season.

The benefits of a programmable thermostat include having the temperature reduction take place automatically, without you having to remember every day, and having the heat increased so that you are warm and comfortable when you typically awaken or return home.

Be cautious about setting the thermostat below 60 degrees since pipes in outlying areas or outside walls of the house can be significantly colder and it could result in frozen pipes. If you have a boiler, you may not be able to turn down your heat as low and you should allow time for the water in a boiler to return to the temperature needed to heat your home.

A traditional programmable thermostat typically costs about $75, so it will probably pay for itself in just one heating season. There are also more expensive “smart” thermostats that can cost from $100 to $470. Different brands offer different features such as a motion detector to determine if anyone is home, the ability to learn your schedule over time and the option to communicate with it remotely over the Internet or via smartphone. Professional installation is required for some brands of smart thermostats.

Here are some other simple ways you can save money by saving energy:

  • Ensure good air circulation by keeping furniture and draperies away from baseboards, radiators and heat and return air vents.
  • Insulate pipes or ductwork running through unheated spaces.
  • Have the boiler or furnace checked regularly by a qualified professional.
  • Check the chimney or exhaust flue to make sure it has no obstruction such as a bird nest.
  • For forced-air furnaces, replace or clean filters monthly during the heating season.
  • For hot water heating systems, keep hot water baseboards and radiators clean.
  • For radiators, place a sheet of aluminum foil or other non-flammable reflective material behind the radiator to reflect heat into the room.

Watch for an upcoming Get Your GreenBack article for more information on checking and sealing ductwork.

Sharon K. Anderson is the environment team leader of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. The Get Your GreenBack Tompkins column appears weekly in The Journal during the heating season. For more information on how to reduce your energy consumption, call 272-2292 or visit or

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.