Are programmable thermostats worth it?

A cost-benefit analysis

Key tips to remember

  • Consult the manual or contact a professional to make sure you are using correctly
  • For cooler months, heat should be set to around 70
  • For warmer months, AC should be set to around 78

The real estate market for buyers who want to save energy is already big, and it’s growing steadily. Whether your buyers care about lower energy bills or protecting the environment, it’s important that you advise sellers as to how they can best take advantage of this trend. Investing in a relatively affordable piece of consumer technology such as a programmable thermostat can help owners to save significantly on energy bills – provided they know how to program it effectively.

In many areas, a programmable thermostat is already considered the new standard, meaning that buyers expect to see one in any home they consider purchasing. However, programmable thermostats vary in type, style and price, so we've put together a cost-benefit analysis that may help you to give your clients the best advice.

Who has programmable thermostats?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 41 percent of homes have a programmable thermostat for their air conditioning system. Considering that programmable thermostats are a relatively recent addition to the consumer technology scene, the large number that has already purchased one shows that homeowners are interested in this technology to save energy.

Are programmable thermostats worth it?
In a case study for Poplar Network, consultant and author Claire Moloney showed how programmable thermostats can be worth it for savvy consumers. Moloney began by examining a couple of classes of thermostats: the Honeywell CT87K, a manual thermostat that costs $25.25; the Honeywell RTH221B, an entry-level programmable thermostat that costs $23.49; the Honeywell TRH7600D, a popular programmable thermostat that sells for $83.54; and Nest, a "smart" thermostat that sells for $249.

Next, Moloney looked at two claims the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported: The first was that programmable thermostats can save users 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, and the second was that the energy bills of the average U.S. family come to about $2,200 per year.

With heating and cooling estimated to account for about 45 percent of energy bills, switching to a programmable thermostat would amount to approximately $200 in savings each year for the average American. For the purposes of moderation, she also includes a Home Depot claim that a programmable thermostat can save the average family about $180 per year.

Either way, all of the research shows that programmable thermostats can be a worthwhile investment compared to other ways to save energy. And at just above $80, the mid-range programmable thermostats pay for themselves in less than six months, while Nest can take just over one year to pay back.

But as these "smart" thermostats "learn" a family's behavior patterns, eliminating the need to program thermostats by hand or constantly change settings, they help optimize savings and efficiency — at very little cost to you.

Are people using their programmable thermostats correctly?
Granted, reaching the optimal savings necessitates operating the programmable thermostat properly. Many users admit to being unsure of exactly how the device should work or using it only manually rather than taking advantage of its automated function. Homeowners should consult the manual or contact a professional to make sure they are using their programmable thermostat correctly and maximizing their potential savings.

ENERGY STAR recommends setting the air conditioning thermostat to around 78 degrees Fahrenheit when occupants are in the house and then automatically raising it at least 7 degrees once they are gone for the day. For cooler months, heat should be set to around 70, and it should automatically drop at least 8 degrees once occupants are out.

Even if the ENERGY STAR temperature recommendations don’t feel comfortable, setting the thermostat to automatically raise and drop depending upon who’s home and when will still result in savings for the user compared to maintaining a constant temperature all day long or manually adjusting the temperature.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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