Are you struggling with how to balance your HVAC system’s optimal efficiency with your own comfort levels? Do you wonder whether smart thermostats are worth it? Do you argue with family or roommates over thermostat settings? Would you like to minimize your home’s environmental impact and save money while keeping everyone comfortable all year long? Before you start searching online for things like “what should I set my thermostat to” or “what should I set my heat to to save money,” take a few minutes to read this post on how to get the most out of your thermostat settings. Unfortunately, there’s not a single, simple answer that covers this challenge, but we’ve put together a useful guide on how to set your thermostat to your own advantage and meet these goals. We also threw in recommended thermostat settings for summer and winter — those trickier times of the year for temperature optimization.
According to Energy Star, the U.S. Department of Energy’s set of guidelines for increasing energy efficiency and related savings for consumers, the average American household spends at least $2,000 a year on energy bills, and nearly half of that goes toward heating and cooling. Learning how to make your home’s heating and cooling systems energy-efficient begins with managing the thermostat effectively and keeping it at the right setting. Daily adjustments of as little as 7 to 10 degrees can end up saving you 10% off your annual expenditures; 10 to 15 degrees in adjustments could save you up to 15% annually. However, to be effective at either strategy, you need to know when to change settings and how much to alter them. Ideal temperatures obviously vary across regions, but some general rules do apply; for example, the closer you set your thermostat to the current outside temperature, the more you will save in energy costs.
A general rule is a great place to start, but if you’re chasing those annual savings, you’ll want to dig a little deeper into the details. It’s not realistic to hang around your thermostat all day, making small adjustments to ensure you’re at the best temperature for energy savings. These days, most thermostats are no longer only adjustable manually. Modern models are considered programmable, automated or smart, meaning they help take care of this for you. Some are even capable of learning your behaviors and patterns and adjusting temperatures accordingly, in the interest of saving energy and related costs. Many come with free apps that allow you to program and control a system remotely, right from your smartphone. Many are also certified as efficient by Energy Star, which can earn you rebates from installers. Whether you program your preferred temperatures in yourself or the system learns them on its own, once a smart thermostat knows your daily and nightly routines, there are advantages to be had. For instance, a smart thermostat can start cooling a home an hour before bedtime for optimal sleeping temperatures as soon as you hit the sheets, or it can warm up your home about an hour before you wake to enjoy that ideal cozy warmth on a cold morning.
If you’re looking for that general guideline, your optimal summer setting is 78 degrees Fahrenheit, but most people like it to be cooler inside and aren’t going to keep it at 78 for the whole season. Every degree higher than that could save you 6 to 8% on your energy bill, if you don’t mind a warmer house in the summertime. Remember, the closer your home’s temperature gets to the outside temperature, the more energy (and dollars) you can save. The addition of energy-efficient shades or blinds over windows can also make a difference when you’re trying to keep the house cooler, and ceiling fans can make a room feel at least 4 degrees cooler. Whatever you do, don’t try to turn your system down beyond where you usually want it to go. It won’t cool down any faster this way and will only strain the system.
Your wintertime general guideline is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but as with summer, few of us manage to make it through the whole season at a single setting. If you come from hardy stock and don’t mind bundling up indoors, dropping your winter temperature between 10 and 15 degrees can save you up to 15% on your annual bill. You’ll also want to be mindful of humidity in the home because too much can facilitate mildew and mold growth and negatively impact your health. Be sure to take advantage of your drapes, blinds or window treatments here as well to let in the sun when it’s shining and keep out the cold when it’s dark. Turn those ceiling fans in reverse to help guide warm air that rises around the ceiling to the rest of the room.
Every individual has a unique physiology shaped by genetics, experience and health. That said, most experts agree that the optimal sleeping temperature for humans hovers around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps counterintuitively, your HVAC system may work harder during hot summer nights rather than in the dead of winter, as you require less heat when you’re asleep. You might not even be able to sleep if you’re too hot on a summer night. There are tricks that can help you keep cool without breaking the bank. Opening windows and using ceiling fans can certainly help, but again, you save the most in energy costs by matching outside temperatures to those inside as closely as possible.
Empty house settings
When you’re away from home, especially for hours, you might as well adjust your temperature up in the summer or down in the winter. This will ease the strain on your HVAC system, expend less energy and translate into savings when the bill comes around. How much should you crank the temperature up or down? You could go as high as 88 in the summer or 50 in the winter (assuming you have no pets). Again, fight the urge to crank the system beyond the usual setting you prefer once you get home and feel uncomfortable, as this won’t do you any good and will only put undue stress on the system. If you want to avoid that shock, you can set your system to warm back up (or cool back down) to your normal range beginning an hour or so before you plan to return. If you’ll be away for weeks at a time and don’t have to worry about frozen pipes, you could turn your system off entirely.
Insulation, air leaks and ducts
It’s common for most homes in the U.S. to have inadequate insulation. Many older homes are not only short of what they should have for their climate, but often the quality of what they possess is also sorely lacking. Look for the recommended amounts and types of insulation for your region and shop around. Some utility companies offer incentives for improving your insulation, so get your local facts first. When pursuing improved efficiencies, keeping the warm (or cold) air you desire inside your home is of utmost importance. Therefore, you should seek out and eliminate air leaks wherever possible using caulk and weather stripping. Clean ducts regularly and clear them of any potential obstructions. Old, inefficient windows should be replaced.
Aging systems and maintenance
If your HVAC system is nearly 20 years old, it’s a good time to start considering a replacement. Not only will it save you the headache of a breakdown period without climate control, but newer units also offer vast improvements in efficiency and reliability. However old your system is, remember that it should have regular maintenance to help it run at its best. This means regular air filter changes within your home at the exchanges every few months at a minimum, along with an annual service visit by a qualified professional.
Sure, you want to lower your environmental impact and save some money on your energy bills. And yes, it’s great that you’re willing to be flexible with your comfort levels by layering clothes and blankets in the winter or making better use of ceiling fans and insulation. Still, you have to be able to keep your family or roommates happy and comfortable. Gathering everyone for a kitchen-table discussion about how you can all contribute to your shared goals of improved energy efficiency and lower utility bills is a great way to start changing for the better.
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.