Fall is my favorite time of year. Michigan’s fall climate brings vivid changing colors, crisp cool mornings, and a reprieve from the muggy-swamp-ass-humid summer months. That’s “Pure Michigan”. But one thing I don’t love is the ensuing cost of heating a home.
Over the years I’ve done a number of things to mitigate the cost of home heating:
- sealed off leaks around doors and windows
- repaired cracks and gaps in the brick work mortar on my home’s exterior
- shut off a room we don’t use and closed the register
- sealed my ducts (tip: use aluminum tape, not “duct” tape) and basement registers
- turned down the temperature on my water heater
- installed a low flow showerhead (this is a surprisingly effective one, as using less hot water saves a lot on your heating bill. Water heaters account for 20% of all home energy use).
- dramatically increased my attic insulation
I’m sure all of these tactics have helped, as I’ve seen my natural gas usage has declined with each implementation.
But if there were just two things I’d recommend EVERYONE do immediately before anything else, it would be to:
- Buy a programmable digital thermostat.
- Program it effectively.
Programmable Digital Thermostats are the Best way to Cut your Heating Bills
The Nest Smart Programmable Thermostat (with wifi) (highlighted on my money savings products page) is one of the top selling, highest rated, and most feature-rich thermostats out there. These types of thermostats provide a huge convenience factor in that you don’t have to mess with the thermostat every time you go to bed, wake up, go to work, or get back from work. And you can monitor and change temperature in your home if you are traveling.
They are super easy to install on your own – it took me less than 20 minutes and I’m no Mike Holmes. It’s been estimated that for each degree you lower your thermostat, you can expect to save 3% on your heating costs.
I’ve calculated that installing and programming my thermostat has saved me about 20% on my heating costs. According to Energy Star, installing an Energy Star programmable digital thermostat can cut your heating and cooling costs by $180 per year. If you purchase a $190 device (seems to be about the average), that will break even around the end of the first year and nothing but sweet, pure savings after that.
But how does one program a thermostat effectively, you may ask…
What Temperature should you Set your Programmable Thermostat to Efficiently Save Money without Freezing?
There’s a great deal of personal comfort that factors into this question – and you may need to step outside your normal comfort zone just a bit. Our bodies tend to adjust and get used to certain temperatures due to always having it set at the same temperature year-round.
I like layering up in the winter, it makes me feel cozy. I also like a warm comforter and cold while sleeping. I have a low tolerance for being too warm while sleeping. And I’ve built up a tolerance for cooler temperatures while awake.
Here’s how I have programmed my thermostat:
1. Weekends, before work, and after work:
At times when I am awake and at home, I have set the thermostat to a balmy 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Sleeping hours, at work, vacation:
When at work and during sleeping hours, I have programmed the thermostat to 60 degrees F. I probably would have lowered it to 55 degrees if not for the fact that I have pets and I don’t want them to get hypothermic.
You don’t want to ever go below 40 degrees, even when on vacation because your pipes might freeze and burst and you’d lose your savings and feel like an idiot. Remember that your basement (where most of your pipes are located) is usually 5-10 degrees cooler than the floor above it, where the thermostat is usually housed.
Some (just about every guest we have over) may think these levels are extreme, but I’m used to them and find them very comfortable.
Lower Heating Cost Discussion:
- Are you using a programmable thermostat?
- What is your waking/sleeping temperature set for in the winter months?
- What other ways are you saving money on heating costs?
What’s your take on the Nest programmable thermostat vs. a traditional programmable one? One of the things that I have noticed with my normal programmable one is that on exceptionally cold days, it doesn’t get my home back to the temperature I set it at (67 degrees during winter). It can be uncomfortable at times.
Nest on the other hand connects to the Internet through wifi and gets the local weather report, then learns and adjusts how long it should take to heat/cool to the desire temperature accordingly. Downside is the Nest is expensive. $250 for the newest model. They also offer regular software optimizations and updates.
When you keep the two fairly close like I do (60 and 64 degrees), it doesn’t take much to heat the house 4 degrees. If a big discrepancy, $250 seems like a steep price. You could just set it to reach that temp. 15-30 minutes before you actually do, so that your furnace has time to catch up to the desired temp.
In the winter I am up north competing in snowboard races 90% of weekends, and due to my job I don’t get home until around 7:30 or so. Given this, I managed to make it through a New England winter with a heating bill of $330 clams, with some oil left over. Given, last winter was as mild as the Bill Cosby show. This winter I plan on another $330ish year.
I wouldn’t over-think programmable thermostats… once you hit a certain level of quality there are a lot of bells and whistles companies use to justify higher prices. If the price is, in the case of the $250 thermostat vs. the $60 option, 4X and the savings say, 10% increased, you don’t need to run the math to know which is the better option.
“If you want to take it to an even more efficient level, simply purchase a small electric ceramic room heater”
I tried that one year — the electric bills were twice as much as the savings on nat gas.
As an energy professional, I love the fact that you are encouraging others to get a programmable thermostat. That’s always my number one recommendation.
The electric room heater is tricky. Theoretically it can work, but more often than not it will cost you more since you want to heat more than just one room. And from an efficiency perspective, using electricity for heating always makes me cringe.
But anemyway, I enjoyed the article as a whole. Thanks for the insight.insight
I recently moved into a home that does not have forced heat but instead has radiant heat. I was told that I should keep my temp the same day and night and that it’s not cost effective to lower it at night or at work and raise it while we’re home. Do you agree with this statement? I really hate leaving my heat at the same temp always, I came from a home with forced heat and would lower it to 60 at night, 62 while at work and 65 when we were home and awake. I NEVER had a heatig bill close to $100. In this new home we hover close to $100 every month. We’ve extra insulated everything, have newer windows and caulked everything :o/
I agree that it’s easy to get used to temperatures in the 62-64 degree range in winter. That’s what I aim for. I love getting out my slippers and robe and fluffy blankets. However, it’s about 85 degrees here and I’m wearing shorts today and still working to turn off the AC.
I think you need to rerun the numbers on using an electric heater. Here they are much more expensive than the ubiquitous natural gas central heating we have here. I should know. I used one when I moved into my new house in January and couldn’t get the gas turned on for a week. My electric bill was hundreds of dollars — for one week of use. A normal gas bill for heating here is about $30 a month more than general usage. The electric heater you recommended is 1500 watts. I shudder to think of that running day and night. What are you using to heat your home that costs more than electricity?
I’m taking it out of the article until I can run the #’s on it.
If you keep both near quite like I do (60 and 64 degrees), it is not so difficult to go on site four phases. If discrimination is large, $ 250 seems an excessive price. You could just set on reaching heat that range. 15-30 minutes before you actually do, and so stoves ability to come up with the recommended heat range.
I agree very much with your thought process here. For me, over the years in the Midwest and now the Pacific Coast, the one common denominator has been poor insulation, unsealed windows/doors, etc. Can’t wait to try the programmable thermostat idea!
Would you lower it if you had kids and a wife at home? I have a programmable thermostat, but have it set all the time to 75F. I don’t mind if it cools at night, but my kids kick their covers off. I don’t mind suffering to save, but cannot stand making my kids and wife suffer too.
I have a wife and pets at home, and we’ve all adjusted to the new normal. “Suffering” is not a word I would use to describe it. Adjusting, layering, bundling up…. doesn’t seem like a sacrifice at all.
Hello, I have Honeywell CT3200 Programmable Thermostat, since yesterday, house is too cold, I have setup the Thermostat at 78 degree for heat but it is not going pass 59 or 60 degree on the display, I have changed the 2 Batteries already, what could be the issue here, I have checked my gas furnace and it seems fine, I have also reset it from the circuit breaker ?
1. Change batteries in my Honeywell CT3200 thermostat
2. Checked the furnace and cleaned its flame sensor with sand paper.
3. Reset it from the main Circuit Breaker
4. In the Furnace ignitor comes on and flames come on to chamber and furnace runs fine.
5. Changed Furnace filter regularly.
If your kids kick the covers off, then your house is too hot at night. People sleep better when their body temp is lower.
I’m with you Derek. I use to turn the thermostat way down when it was just me. Now with the wife and a dog, I have it set to the same temp at all times.
I recently moved into a home that does not have forced heat but instead has radiant heat. I was told that I should keep my temp the same day and night and that it’s not cost effective to lower it at night or at work and raise it while we’re home. Do you agree with this statement? I really hate leaving my heat at the same temp always, I came from a home with forced heat and would lower it to 60 at night, 62 while at work and 65 when we were home and awake. I NEVER had a heatig bill close to $100. In this new home we hover close to $100 every month. We’ve extra insulated everything, have newer windows and caulked everything /
For those in the South (Texas, Florida), if the temperature is above 40 degrees, nothing beats a thick sweatshirt and blanket for staying warm. We’ve cut our bill to almost nothing by simply dressing warmer in our home and keeping the heat off. I was inspired by a trip to Bolivia in which there was never any heat, even when temperatures reached 25 degrees fahrenheit. I realized with a warm blanket and the right clothes, it’s really not that bad. Just a minimalist take on saving during winter :).
Please help. I am trying to convince my roommate that getting a programmable thermostat will save more and be less inconvenient then our current system but need some education. Here are the main challenges we face: We live in Arizona where the temperature is either cool, warm or blazing hot. And we also have different work schedules so it is very hard to have a system that works for both of us. Meaning, I work first shift (4am-12:30pm) and she works an evening shift (12pm-9:30pm). Her current belief is that if we just turn the thermostat up to 87 degrees anytime we leave, we will same money. Does anyone know if this is actually true? The results that I have noticed is that the house has just enough time to absorb all the heat and we come home to a hot house that takes forever to cool back down. What type of programmable thermostat schedules do you keep for summer? Mr. Miller and Followers, do you have any suggestions?
Great tips !! Definitely when u on prepaid for your lights !! Living in a 1972 model !!
I really appreciate your advice to avoid putting the temperature of your house below 40 degrees, that way you can avoid having any of your pipes freeze. My brother recently complained to me that his house is getting too hot out where he lives, and he is willing to spend extra money to make his house cold at night. I will be sure to tell my brother that he should avoid making his house too cold at night!
As I find your tip about getting a programmable digital thermostat and program it effectively in order to lower heating costs, it reminded me of my mother. She has one at her home, however, whenever she uses it, her house becomes too warm. In my opinion, I should get a heating repair company to come to check her system. Doing this will not only help her save money from her electric bill but also keep the house warm enough to celebrate the winter holidays comfortably as well.
When I wake up in the morning I love to take long, hot showers to help me wake up. I never took into account the fact that if I had a low-flow showerhead installed and I turned down my water heater I would end up saving money on my home heating costs. It would be unfortunate if I overworked my heater during a time when it was needed.
I live on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I keep my home set at 60 degrees at night and sometimes during the day unless I really get cold, then I’ll kick it up to 64 for awhile. But my electric bills are still over $100/mo and I unplug things when they’re not in use (except my computer and tv, refrigerator, stove, washer/dryer.) Any other ideas on how to save $ on my electric bill? I have a dog and cat and sometimes I feel for them because they seem to be cold but then I think if they go outside (which they both do) then when they come back in, they appreciate the warmth.