What You Need To Know About Thermostats - On the House

What You Need To Know About Thermostats

By on August 20, 2015

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. – Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher, author and naturalist.

We agree that there are certain comforts and luxuries that can prevent one’s “creative juices” from flowing. However, we also believe there are some “creature comforts” that produce exactly the opposite result. For example, we are reasonably sure that it is easier to be more creative when one is not “nearly freezing to death”. Therefore, we think that certain levels of comfort are a very good thing. How’s that for a segway into the subject of heating and cooling your home to a comfortable and economically sensible level?

See if you know the answer to this chilling wintertime question. Is it more energy efficient to turn the thermostat down at night (or during the day when no one is home) or is it better to leave it on at a constant temperature all the time? Many believe that turning the thermostat down (or off) intermittently can create more expense. They say that reheating the entire house from scratch (in the morning and/or again in the evening) is far more expensive than leaving the furnace on all the time. These same folks will also tell you that it is better (more energy efficient) to leave an airconditioner running 24 hours a day during the summer. One almost gets the impression that they feel there is a conspiracy spearheaded by the companies who make and sell setback thermostats. And, we might agree with them. Except that the U.S. Department of Energy produced a leaflet entitled Automatic and Programmable Thermostats which discounts this old wives tale, “This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and studies”.

Consider who might have something to gain by keeping this old wives tale alive! Wouldn’t a furnace or airconditioner wear out more quickly if operated 24 hours a day? And wouldn’t that equate to more equipment being replaced and more furnace and airconditioning equipment profits? As a consumer you really can save energy, lower your heating bill and cause your heating and cooling equipment to last longer by turning your thermostat down whenever possible.

Numerous studies have been made, and the conclusions vary, but it is generally agreed that substantial savings are probable when setbacks are used. Naturally, climate has a great deal to do with “how much” can be saved, but warmer climates win over cold ones. The reason: air conditioners are used more extensively in warmer climates and are more expensive to use because they are usually electrically operated. Although some furnaces are electric, most use fuel oil, coal, propane or natural gas. All are less expensive than electricity.

According to Honeywell Inc., a manufacturer of thermostats, it is possible to save up to 24 percent of heating costs by setting back the temperature of a thermostat 10 degrees for two eight-hour periods per day. Or, setting back the thermostat 10 degrees for one eight-hour period per day can save 12 percent.

So, the simple answer is to turn the thermostat down before going to bed and before leaving for work. Which is OK. Except that in the morning when you get up and in the afternoon when you get home things take a while to get comfortable. The modern answer is the programmable thermostat. One that will turn the heater or airconditioner off when it isn’t needed and then automatically turn it back on again in time to make things comfortable before you get up (or return home).

A thermostat is a device that automatically regulates the temperature of a system – a switch controlled by temperature. Thermostats are used in heating and cooling systems, and where temperature control is important – your oven for example.

Most thermostats depend on the expansion of a substance corresponding to an increase in temperature. Lowering the temperature causes a contraction and the opposite motion. Another widely used thermostat depends on two dissimilar strips of metal bonded together. Upon temperature change each strip expands or contracts at a different rate than the other. If one end of this pair of metal strips is fixed, a change in temperature will elongate one strip more than the other – causing the pair to curve. The result is a mechanical switch that is controlled by change in temperature. Interesting, huh!?!

With a setback thermostat, the addition of a second temperature control allows the user to preset a high and low temperature settings, and then change between those settings using a built-in timer. The most simple of these setback thermostats allows the user to preset 1, 2, 3 or even 4 on/off cycles a single pair of preset temperatures (one high and one low).

More sophisticated digital models all long-term programs with almost unlimited temperature and time controls. Aren’t computers wonderful!?! The first few generations of setback thermostats weren’t so user friendly. In fact, we kind of felt that they were a pain in the neck to operate. But now, units are on the market that are more than user friendly and intuitive to operate.

There is one really important thing to remember when installing a thermostat for the first time – “location is everything”. Air traveling in and out of ducting, sunlight and exterior walls are all taboo to a thermostat. For maximum comfort purchase, install and use a setback thermostat. Thoreau would want it that way. And, good luck!

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