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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

The thermostat is the key

Posted by Jason Haupt - Energy

This going to be the first in a series of entries that will focus on improving the efficiency of your home and, in turn, save you some money on your utility bills. By increasing the efficiency in your home, you can reduce the load on the current utility providers. This is much cheaper than building a new power plant, not to mention it is better for air quality as well.

As I am sure you have deduced from the title of this entry, we are going to be talking about the thermostat in your home. Heating and cooling costs account for more than half of your annual utility costs. In fact, the US Department of Energy estimates that it accounts for 56% of the annual utility costs in a typical home. This is an area where changes can have a significant effect on your utility bills. Small changes can have big results. So let's start with part of the heating and cooling system that people use most often.

Reduce the Heating and Cooling Load- What do I mean by this? Well, it is simply reducing the amount of time that a system is being used. In the winter, turn the temperature down as low as is comfortable. Reducing the temperature in your house can reduce your heating costs by as much as 15%. Turning the thermostat down while you sleep or are at work can have a significant effect on the utilities that you use. In fact "a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long" can be seen. The same strategy can be used in the summer to reduce the use of the air conditioning units. This is easier to do with a programmable thermostat. There are a number of models to choose from ranging in price from $15 to $250.

Keep in mind that not all heating or cooling systems will be more efficient when you adjust your thermostat. If you have a heat pump (this includes all types of heat pumps), this strategy is not going to increase your efficiency. In fact, this might make it less efficient. Heat pumps operate by moving air from one place to another and rely on a backup heating source to maintain a temperature when the exchanged air is too cold. When adjusting the temperature up and down, the heating system is required to increase the use of the backup heating system, decreasing the efficiency of the heating system. Some programmable thermostats are available that will work with heat pumps and can increase the efficiency of the system.

Radiant heating systems will have a lag time in the temperature change when adjusting the temperature is done manually. Programmable thermostats that are designed to be used with radiant heating systems can be set to be at a temperature at a certain time and will learn how long it takes your system to bring the home up to the desired temperature.

For more information, please take a look at the Department of Energy website.

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