Install Programmable Thermostat

One of the easiest ways to save on energy costs is to lower your thermostat or AC settings when you’re not home. A programmable thermostat makes this easy and can save up to 15% on your home heating and cooling bill.

Medium
Households: 0 completed, 0 committed
120
Points ?
$10
Annual Savings
$50 - $250
Upfront Cost
These are estimates
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Energy and water savings

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kWh Electricity
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7
Therms Natural Gas
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Gallons Gas
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Gallons Water
  • Save up to 15% on annual heating and cooling bills
  • Maintain a comfortable home temperature while saving energy
  • Reduce carbon emissions and air pollution

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Overview

The Action
We will install a programmable thermostat and program it, or program the one we have (if it has not been programmed yet.)
Is this action for me?
If you have a thermostat dedicated to your home (not shared) and you own your home, this action is for you. If you rent, ask your landlord to do this upgrade.
When and Who?
This action can be done any time and you may be able to do this yourself, depending on the type of thermostat and your comfort level with simple wiring.
How long will it take?
Medium - a few hours to find the right thermostat, install and program.
What is the cost?
Around $50 - $250 for the thermostat, more if you hire for the installation.

Benefits

  • Save up to 15% on annual heating and cooling bills

  • Maintain a comfortable home temperature while saving energy

  • Reduce carbon emissions and air pollution

Resources

Rebate/Credit

Find more information and how to apply.

The Basics

A programmable thermostat lets you heat and cool your home only when you need it. This can save significant money on your monthly bill while still providing a comfortable home environment.

Checklist

Find the models that work with your heating system
Choose the best type of unit and features for your home and lifestyle
Install your programmable thermostat
Program your new thermostat
Be smart about overriding settings

Find which models work with your heating and cooling system

First, determine the type of heating (or heating and cooling) system you have.  The most common system is central heat (or heat and air).  Other types include electric baseboard, floor/wall furnace, heat pump or radiant floor heating.  If you are not sure, find the make and model of your system and have it with you when you shop.  Most stores that sell thermostats will be able to help you identify which model will work for you.  If you can’t find the make and model, you can ask the HVAC company that installed or maintains your system for help.  If your home has multiple thermostats, you should replace all of them with programmable thermostats to maximize comfort and energy savings.

Choose the best programmable thermostat for your family  

There are a few different types of programmable thermostats and features to choose from!  Here are some of the basics:

Types of thermostats

Learning Thermostats:  These thermostats are programmable, but actually don’t require you to program them.  They learn as you use them and create a schedule based on your preferences.  They turn themselves down when you’re away, suggest energy efficient settings and provide monthly reports on your use.  They connect to your wifi network and can be managed from a computer, smartphone or tablet.  They are a bit more expensive, but easier to use.

Wifi Thermostats:  These are basic programmable thermostat units (not learning), but also allow you to set up, program and monitor your heating and cooling system from a computer, smartphone or tablet.

Basic Programmable Thermostat:  Allows you to program in a weekly schedule for your heating and cooling. Once it is programmed, it follows your schedule and you can forget about it!  You can also easily override the system temporarily if your schedule changes.

Features

Programming Options:  Basic programmable thermostats (not learning thermostats) have different programming schedule options.  The most common are either a 7-day schedule where you can program each day of the week with a unique setting, or the week/weekend units where you program one schedule for weekdays and one or two for weekends.  Check out the unit before you buy to make sure it provides that schedule option that best fits your needs.

Ease of use:  Not all programmable thermostats are created equally!  If you are purchasing one that requires programming, check Consumer Reports or other customer ratings online to see if others found it easy to use.  Some are so complicated that they are very difficult to use and end up never getting programmed after install.  If you have a programmable thermostat now and you have difficulty using it, maybe it’s time to upgrade to an easier to use model or learning thermostat.  It’s not saving you money if it is not programmed!

Other features:  There are a number of other features that can make your programmable thermostat easier to use.  A few possible options are an easy to use one-button “vacation” feature, interview-style scheduling that makes programming easier, voice activation, keypad lock and indicator lights to alert when it’s time to replace your batteries or air filter.

Cost:  You can often recover the cost of the unit within a few years easily through lowered heating & cooling bills.  After that, you pocket the savings!   Rebates are sometimes available -- check the resources section for current information.  In addition, some companies offer free programmable thermostats paired with their products or services, such as solar panels or home security.

Install your programmable thermostat

It generally takes only an hour or two for the install and less time for programming.  DIY?  Maybe.  Most thermostats run on low voltage and are easy to install yourself; however, it is still working with electricity.  It will depend on your comfort level with home improvement projects.  Other thermostats require higher voltage lines where an electrician is recommended.   

If you choose to install the unit yourself, be careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and safety!  Check to see if you need a permit and observe all applicable building and electrical codes.  If you have any doubts, contact a licensed electrician.  To get an idea of what’s involved, watch the video How to Install a Programmable Thermostat.  This is an example of a low voltage installation.

One tip - the location of your new thermostat can make a difference in how effective it is at making your house comfortable and saving energy.  If you are replacing a thermostat, most likely you will use the same location for your new one. However, it is worth taking a moment to consider.  The optimal location should always be on an interior wall, away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, windows, lamps, TVs, or other heat-emitting appliances. Likewise, it should be in a convenient location for programming.  

If your current location is not ideal, you might want to consider moving it.  This will likely require an electrician for some wiring work.  Finally, if you are replacing an old manual thermostat that has a mercury switch, be careful not to break the tube that holds this toxic substance, and contact your local recycling/hazardous materials center for advice on proper disposal.

Program your thermostat!  

Your beautiful new thermostat will not help you save energy until you program it!   If you installed a unit that requires programming (not a learning thermostat), take a minute and think about your family's schedule and write down the basic schedule that fits your use.  Think about things like when you wake up, when you leave the house, when you return home and when you go to bed.  Also think about your preferred temperatures while you are home.  

Some recommended settings for the winter months are 68°-70°F when you’re at home and 55°F when you are away during the day.  For vacation in the winter, set your thermostat to 50°-55°F, but don’t turn it off.  This protects pipes in the winter from freezing.  In the summer, some recommended settings are 75°-78°F while you’re at home and 85°F when you’re away during the day.  For sleeping, settings depend on your comfort zone.  The recommended settings for night time are 55-60° in the winter and 80-85° in the summer.  However, if you find yourself waking up cold or hot and having trouble sleeping, adjust until you are comfortable and sleep soundly.  

The goal is to be comfortable as well as saving energy!  For vacation in the summer, for most climates, you can turn your thermostat off.  However, if temperatures get above 90°F and humidity levels are high, keep your system on and temperature set to 85°F to protect your home and furnishings from developing mold and mildew.  In general, try to avoid too many changes and keep longer periods for each setting (like during the day when you’re gone and at night when you’re asleep).

Be smart about overriding the programmed temperature settings

All programmable thermostats allow you to temporarily override your settings without erasing the pre-set programming.  However, try not to override your program too often; frequently adjusting your thermostat can waste energy.  If you need to override the system regularly, it might be time to make some adjustments to the basic programming schedule.

Finally, it is best not to turn your thermostat up to 90°F to warm the house quickly: it won't heat it up any faster than it would by turning it up to 68°F. The inverse is true during summer months.  Also, if your thermostat relies on backup batteries to run the internal clock and program settings in the event of a power outage, remember to change them each year!