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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.


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.


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!


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.


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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