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Dialing Down Your Winter Energy Bill with a Programmable Thermostat

December 18, 2006

Mr. Money Saver’s excellent (see: Con Edison Offering Self-Service Meter Reading Online”) about inputting your meter readings for ConEd reminded me of another ‘demand side’ savings tool: programmable thermostats. Natural gas and oil prices are expected to rise this coming year.

The latest Get Energy Smart tips recommend installing a programmable thermostat at home is one of the most cost effective ways to lower energy bills this coming winter.

Programmable thermostats prices range from c. $50 to $250 with features to match. Programmable thermostats let us to choose a cooler temperature for those hours we are asleep or away and a warmer setting for when we get up or return home after work.

The fuel savings can be immediate and substantial over the course of the year. If I turn down my thermo by 10 degrees (say from 72 to 62 degrees) for 8 hours a day, I’ll use about 5% less fuel per month at minimum, all else being equal.

Our home performance energy audit indicated—among many useful findings—that we have a highly efficient oil burning steam heat system. That was good news. The audit recommended we increase insulation and reduce infiltration, which we have since done.

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But our existing thermostat had two deficits: (1) it was poorly located opposite the fireplace—drafty when open—and in the room that was closest to the furnace—always warmer than other rooms, (2) and it could only be dialed in for a single “all day” temperature.

A thermostat controls the heating system in a home according to the desired temperature selected, e.g. 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermostat turns on a heating system unitl the air temperature near it rises above the desired temperature.

old-thermostat.jpg

Be aware that many old thermostats contain a vial of mercury, pointed to here by the yellow arrow between the dial and the backing plate. So dispose of mercury properly at the County’s Household Chemical Clean Up Days!

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A programmable thermostat combines a thermostat with a clock. The one pictured here cost about $80. It took me about three hours to install. I would have been done much sooner if I had not confused which wires to the old thermostat came from my furnace and which from a old step-down power supply. Thermostats like this one run on 2 AA batteries shown here and do not need a hardwired power supply.

6781-newthermo2.jpg

We located the new thermostat according to the instructions—away from drafts and on an inside wall in the center of the house—and where we could snake a new wire without trouble.

Who sells programmable thermostats? At the Energy Star search website, type in your zip code and check the box for “programmable thermostats.”

A basic “Automatic and Programmable Thermostat” fact sheet is aviable on the EREN website and on the Energy Star website.

— Leo Wiegman



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