Submitted by Mike Hunger, NPI Franchise Owner, Winston-Salem, N.C.
My dad was a Marine. Until I reached age 15 and he retired, we moved around a lot. We always stayed in base housing or rented a house somewhere near the base.
One of my memories of those times was the fact that Dad was in control of this magical thing called the “thermostat.” I thought it was an interesting device, and I understood that it controlled how warm it was inside during the winter — we didn’t have AC. He would set it at a particular temperature, and it would click, and then there would be heat.
Later, when I was usually the one responsible for the temperature settings in our abode, I began to take an interest in how this thermostat thing worked. Dad was an aircraft mechanic in the Marines, and usually repaired everything we had, so he was forever tearing things apart and figuring out how they worked. Curiosity — and saving money — drove him.
Thermostats were pretty simple devices back then. You would slide the little tab along a temperature line to keep the interior temperature at the setting you (or your spouse) preferred. Simple.
Then came the digital age. Most of the houses I inspect today have digital thermostats. They are more complex, but they offer many more options, and they are more accurate.
Programmable thermostats are relatively new, and have become more popular as a way to save money on heating and cooling costs. At first, they may seem a little intimidating, but once you understand the basics of how they save money, you’re hooked.
Most simple programmable thermostats are fairly inexpensive — $60 to $90 at most home improvement stores. If used properly, they can pay for themselves in the first year in energy savings. That’s not bad. Not many things have a return on investment that quickly. Programmable thermostats save on costs by allowing you to set the temperature to several different settings over the course of 24 hours. But it’s important to understand a few simple rules to achieve those savings.
First, be careful if you have a heat pump for your HVAC system. Most heat pumps have an auxillary heat, and that will eat up any savings you might gain by adjusting the temperature higher or lower when no one is home. If you program the heat too low when you’re away during the day, and the house has to heat up significantly, the auxillary heat will kick in to rise the temperature quickly. Auxillary heat is commonly known as “strip heat” or “resistive heat” and consumes a lot of energy when used. The trick is to make sure your temperature setting does not vary more than three or four degrees. That may not seem like much of a difference, but it definitely will save energy if not exceeded.
Second, it is important to understand that it takes a lot of energy to change the temperature inside a structure by just a few degrees. If you have ever walked into a house that had the HVAC system off, and you turned it on to heat or cool the house, you’ve probably noticed how long it takes to move the temperature up or down. That’s because you are attempting to change the temperature of the whole structure, not just the inside air. It’s physics.
Finally, remember that you can change the temperature with a programmable thermostat in steps. I like to “step down” the temperature for sleeping during the cold months by changing it one to two degrees an hour or two before sleep, then again during the night. Then I “step up” in the morning before we rise. That makes it easy on the system and saves energy.
There’s a whole new type of thermostat out there now, and it’s pretty cool. You can program your house temperature via your smart phone. I like that, but remember, the same basic rules of physics still apply. Don’t get too crazy with that dial!
Tagged: digital thermostat, home maintenance, Mike Hunger, thermostat