What's the best temperature for my thermostat in winter?

Direct Energy, December 21, 2023

7 minute read

What's the best temperature for my thermostat in winter?

Direct Energy, December 21, 2023

7 minute read

When it comes to staying warm and energy-efficient in winter months, the thermostat setting can be a contentious subject. Here’s an easy answer: Set it to what’s comfortable for you and your family.

Family at dinner table
Family at dinner table
Family at dinner table

Comfort is a complicated and entrenched behavior that’s rarely rational. For example, your father-in-law’s cousin set her air conditioning at 65° F (18° C) in the summer so she would have to wear a sweater. In the winter, she set her heat to 80° F (27° C) so she could wear short sleeves.

Since this concept of comfort is very subjective, let’s instead look at the factors that affect yours and then examine how you can use them to help you reduce your energy costs. 

What factors impact our perception of temperature

Normal circadian rhythm and different hormones (such as stress) lead to changes in body temperature during the day. Consequently, staying comfortable is a moving goal post. For example, you might usually feel alert during the morning, but you may tend to feel a little bit colder or drowsy after lunch (known as the “post lunch dip”).

As the day winds down, your body temperature drops. When you go to sleep, your core body temperature lowers further, and heat radiates from your extremities. A National Institute of Health study found the best sleep happens as the body reaches “thermoneutrality". For example, if you sleep wearing pajamas and covered by one sheet, this happens on average at 60° to 66° F (16° to 19° C).

How to discover the best temperature for your heater in winter

Since the perception of temperature differs from person to person, there’s only one way to find your ideal temperature – experiment! When your family is home, you could secretly lower the thermostat setting for a few hours every day. For example, drop it from 72° F (22° C) to 70° F (21° C). See how your family reacts and take notes.

A few days later, drop the temperature another degree or two for a few hours. Chances are you won’t get a noticeable reaction until it goes below 68°F (20° C). When you determine the minimum comfort level temperature for your family, use that.

And keep in mind – for every degree you lower the thermostat during winter, you could save between 1% and 3% on your heating bill.

What is the best temperature for your heater when asleep or away from home?

When everyone is gone for the day, there’s no good reason to keep your home heated to its comfort level. The same applies during nighttime when everyone is asleep. In both cases, you can set the thermostat lower, even down to 62° F (17° C). This makes it easier for your body to achieve thermoneutrality, and you’ll get a better night’s sleep.

Of course, having a programmable or smart thermostat makes routine adjustments easy to schedule and maintain automatically.

By the way — if you’ve heard that setting your thermostat to one temperature throughout the day reduces energy usage, Newton’s Law of Cooling proves otherwise.

What other factors affect my home’s temperature?

Apart from practicing thermostat adjustments, the big factor affecting your energy usage is how well insulated and air sealed your home is. The more insulation you have and the better sealed your home is, the longer it takes for your home to lose heat. Reducing cold drafts can lower your energy costs and prevent problems with mold.

Also make sure to monitor your home’s humidity. Not only does humid air hold more heat, but your family will have fewer sinus problems from overly dry air. Most programmable and smart thermostats will display the relative humidity at the push of a button.

You should also reverse the spin of your ceiling fans to spin clockwise during fall and winter to circulate warm air properly. You want your fans to draw cool air up from the center of the room and blow warm air down to circulate evenly around the room, which improves comfort. The breeze created moves warm air behind furniture and can help inhibit mold growth on poorly insulated exterior walls. This technique works best when fans are set to medium or slow speed.

Don’t forget to close the curtains over windows at night. Thermally backed window treatments not only insulate against heat loss through windows but they also restrict cold air moving across the glass. Curtains and similar window treatments can reduce heat loss by 10%.

Hard and fast rules to find the best temperature for your thermostat in winter

  •  If you’re at home in the daytime, 72° F (22° C) is a good start but aim for 68° F (20° C).
  •  If you’re not at home in the daytime, or you’re asleep at night, 66° F (19° C) to 62° F (17° C) is a temp to aim for

Remember, the best temperature for your thermostat in winter is the one that keeps your family happy, warm and comfortable. Saving energy and lowering your energy bills might be nice, but you might not want to sacrifice family harmony to achieve them.

Want to be even more efficient? Sign up for an electricity plan with Direct Energy and easily track your HVAC system’s energy usage along with usage from your other appliances. 

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