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By Miranda Boutelle

Heating and cooling account for about half the energy used in a typical home, so it’s a great place to use less energy. When used wisely, your thermostat can help reduce wasted energy. 

An excellent place to start is understanding thermostat types and common operational misconceptions. Then, start implementing best practices.

Types of thermostats

Mechanical thermostats are easy to control by adjusting a dial or sliding switch. The downfall is that you must manually make temperature adjustments, which is easy to forget. They are inefficient because they typically heat or cool the home beyond the set point.

If your cooling is set to 72 degrees, a mechanical thermostat may cool your home to 70 degrees before turning off, wasting energy. Then, it might not come on again until the home reaches 74 degrees. That four-degree temperature change is noticeable and can lead people to adjust the thermostat setting down even more, which wastes more energy.

Also, some mechanical thermostats contain mercury. You can determine that by removing the front plate and looking for small glass bulbs. If your thermostat contains mercury, replace it and find a way to recycle it properly.

Digital thermostats are more accurate and efficient, and some are programmable, which is a great option for people without internet access. Smart thermostats, which require an internet connection, are Wi-Fi-enabled and can be controlled using a smartphone app. Programming is easier, and you can track and manage use and temperature data. However, that data is shared with the manufacturer.

Smart thermostats can learn your preferences and set a schedule that automatically adjusts the temperature. Some even have geofencing, which changes the temperature based on the distance your smartphone is from home.

Misconceptions about thermostats

A common misconception is that the higher you turn your thermostat up or down, the faster your home’s temperature changes. Turning your thermostat down to 55 degrees to cool your home faster is like repeatedly pushing the elevator button and expecting it to come faster.

It’s likely you will forget you adjusted it and waste energy by over heating or cooling the home. Set your desired temperature for heating and cooling or program your thermostat so you don’t make extreme adjustments. 

The larger the temperature variance between inside and outside, the more energy your system uses. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, setting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day can save up to 10% a year on your energy bill.

Use these cooling tips from the DOE to add efficiency and savings to your home:
  • Set the thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer when you are home and awake and warmer at night or when away.
  • Upgrade to a programmable or smart thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature throughout the day and when you leave the house.
  • When on vacation, set your thermostat to 85 degrees in the summer.
  • In the summer, fans let you set your thermostat about 4 degrees warmer without feeling it. Remember, fans cool people not rooms, so turn them off when you leave a room.

Miranda Boutelle writes on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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