When it comes to saving energy, most people don't want to spend a lot of time or money on the subject. Everyone wants an easy way out these days...well...lucky for you I'm giving it to you. The number 1 cheap, free (if you have one already), and easy energy saving tip is: Install and Use a Programmable Thermostat!
Using a programmable thermostat was 1 of our 5 topics on our Free Energy Saving Guide (sign up for our newsletter in the top, right corner to get it)! Heating and Cooling your home make up about 50% of your energy consumption, so using a programmable thermostat to lower the amount of heating and cooling you have to do is your best bet for saving energy.
When I say actively use your programmable thermostat, I mean constantly tweaking your temperature set points so your AC or Heat is coming on as little as possible! For example, in our downstairs area (we have split-zone heating/cooling) we have our programmable thermostat set to 75° at 6 PM (this is down from 79° from 8:15 AM - 6 PM). Then, we have the temperature set to go to 80° at 10:30 PM (about the time we go upstairs to start getting ready for bed). Now, if we go up any earlier than 10:30, I walk over to the thermostat and go ahead and turn the temperature up to 80°! Why continue cooling the space if we aren't going to be in it? If I notice a pattern of us going up earlier than 10:30, I'll adjust the programmable thermostat setting to reflect this. This is what I mean by actively programming your thermostat! Constantly tweaking your setting so you use the least amount of energy as possible.
Do I believe most people do this? No, not at all. This belief was reinforced recently while reading the Earth2Tech blog titled, "FAIL: Energy Savings Foiled by Dastardly Thermostats". From the post:
There is “widespread misunderstanding of thermostat operation,” according to the study Usability of Residential Thermostats: Preliminary Investigations, led by senior scientist in the Energy Analysis Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Alan Meier. The majority of users operated programmable thermostats manually (ie not programming them) and almost 90 percent of survey participants said they rarely or never adjusted the thermostat to set a program.
Beyond not programming the thermostats, 15 percent of the participants in one study displayed the wrong times on their thermostats and 33 percent of the participants had set their programmable thermostats to a “long term hold,” overriding the programmable aspect. Not surprisingly survey respondents would say one thing, but after submitting photos of the thermostats, their thermostats told another story.
The data is disturbing on a couple levels. If consumers aren’t interested enough to even learn the basics of how to save energy via an already installed programmable thermostat, it’s going to be a long road ahead for any energy-saving consumer-facing technology. A variety of companies have built businesses around soliciting consumer participation in energy reduction measures.
Here's a link to a PDF of the programmable thermostat study (or at least one very similar with Alan Meier contributing).
Last month I was asked to contribute to some questions appearing on a Well Home - Ask the Experts series. The first question was, "What are 5 easy-to-do things that people can do to cut their energy usage today?" 3 other "experts" answered before I did and not one of them mentioned installing and using a programmable thermostat! They gave good answers that included:
- Unplugging things when not in use
- Installing CFL or LED over incandescents
- Adjusting the fridge/freezer temperature
- Monitoring your energy
And all of these are great things to do, but only after you install and start using a programmable thermostat! Now, some Home Energy Pros would say you need to make sure you have insulated your home envelope first, but it's a chicken and egg problem. For most people, going to the store and getting a $50 thermostat is much easier than finding a contractor to come out and insulate properly. Also, most people already have programmable thermostats, they just don't use them! Here was my response to the question from Well Home on 5 easy things to do (surprise, surprise, I didn't go the traditional route in my answer):
People have heard of all the easy things they need to do to save energy. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. But if there were only one thing I could tell people to save energy, it would be to install and use a programmable thermostat. And I mean actively use it by adjusting the temperature settings to ensure that your AC or Heat is only coming on when you need it to, and not when you don’t need it to (like when you are away at work). If those settings don’t work for you and your family, keep tweaking them until you get it just right. Heating and Cooling make up 50% of the average American’s energy bills. If people aren’t going to do this, there isn’t anything I can tell them that will make a dent in their energy bill. If you are already doing this, and you have changed out all your incandescents to CFLs or LEDs and you turn the lights off when you aren’t using them, you’re doing alright.
If you aren't willing to use your programmable thermostat correctly, then you don't really care about saving energy.