How to lower your electric bill by adjusting your thermostat

Direct Energy, April 18, 2018

5 minute read

How to lower your electric bill by adjusting your thermostat

Direct Energy, April 18, 2018

5 minute read

Some of the best energy saving tactics are the ones that don’t require any sacrifice, like turning off the lights when you leave the room. But lighting doesn’t account for up to 48% of home energy consumption — heating and cooling do, according to the Department of Energy. So, if you’re looking for a place to make painless cuts to lower your electric bill, start with your thermostat. And, if you’re willing to throw on a sweater or turn on a fan once in a while, you could save even more.

hand sets thermostat to 66
hand sets thermostat to 66
hand sets thermostat to 66

How Much Can You Save By Adjusting Your Thermostat?

Setting the thermostat at the most comfortable temperature is more valuable to some people than to others, so it’s understandable that homeowners want to put a price on every degree. How would your energy bill change if you drop the thermostat 2 degrees during the sweltering summer? What are the energy costs  of raising the thermostat 2 degrees in the frigid winter? More importantly, how much can you save on your electric bill by turning the dial the other way?

The Department of Energy estimates savings of about 1 percent for each degree of thermostat adjustment per 8 hours, and recommends turning thermostats back 7 to 10 degrees from their normal settings for 8 hours per day to achieve annual savings of up to 10%.

During colder weather, try keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees while people are home and awake but turning it down by up to 10 degrees while everyone is sleeping or away. In warm seasons, shoot for 78 degrees and push it up to 85 degrees when no one is home. According to the Department of Energy’s analysis, homeowners who do this will save an average of $83 per year.

man changing AC filter on ceiling
man changing AC filter on ceiling
man changing AC filter on ceiling

What affects my HVAC system’s energy savings?

While turning your thermostat up or down by a degree is easy, predicting your exact energy savings is much more complicated. That’s because there are multiple factors at play besides your thermostat setting, including:

  • Your HVAC equipment: Not all furnaces and air conditioners are created equally, and while all new systems meet minimum efficiency standards, some are far more efficient than others. The ENERGY STAR program independently verifies the efficiency of different models and lists the most efficient in each category.
  • Your system’s condition: If you don’t get your heating and cooling equipment tuned up every year, it can cost you dearly in system efficiency. Even a well-maintained system will gradually lose efficiency with age. Change your filters regularly, service your system annually, and replace it when its age starts to cost you money. Call a licensed HVAC professional for tuneups, replacements, and other HVAC services. 
  • Your system’s size: Heaters and air conditioners should be matched to home size. Too big, and the systems will cycle on and off constantly in an energy-wasting process called “short cycling”. Too small, and they’ll run more often than they should.
  • Your home envelope: Windows, insulation, and weather stripping are just a few of the elements that make up your home envelope, which keeps the relative warmth or coolness inside your home. Adjusting your thermostat isn’t enough to make up for a drafty home.
  • Your climate: According to the laws of thermodynamics, a home loses its treated air faster when the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures is greater. In mild climates, this gives you more bang for your buck when adjusting your thermostat for savings. In extreme climates, it can be much harder to hold on to that treated indoor air.
Electric fan on bench
Electric fan on bench
Electric fan on bench

Energy efficient ways to stay comfortable through seasons

Even if you don’t love the idea of setting the thermostat a little higher during the summer and lower during winter, there are lots of energy efficient ways to stay comfortable, which might be worthwhile for a lower energy bill.

How to stay cool in summer:

  • Wear lightweight clothing and breathable fabrics, like cotton.
  • Use ceiling fans in occupied rooms.
  • Take cool showers at night before bed.
  • Avoid using the oven; try the microwave, toaster oven, or grill instead.

How to stay warm in winter:

  • Dress warmly in sweaters, slippers, and even winter hats indoors.
  • Sip warm drinks like tea and coffee.
  • Use an electric blanket to relax comfortably even in a chilly house.
  • Find an energy efficient space heater you can easily move from room to room so that you’ll always have a little extra heat where you need it.

Upgrade to a smart thermostat

Dialing your thermostat up and down can be tedious, so if you’re serious about making every degree count, consider upgrading your thermostat model. A programmable thermostat may be all you need if you stick to regular routines, but if you really want to go high-tech, get a smart thermostat.

These thermostats sync with smartphones and tablets so you can control them from anywhere and set heating and cooling schedules using a familiar interface. 

Make this the year that you cash in one degree at a time.

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