Does a Programmable Thermostat Really Save You Money?

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Some of you might think, “Well of course a programmable thermostat will save you money,” but this is not necessarily the case. Of course many of them  of your energy when compared to a regular thermostat, but there are some underlying assumptions in these claims. Let’s dive into these claims and discover how much a programmable thermostat can save us, if anything at all.

The Reason For the Programmable Thermostat

Some of you might be wondering why I even care about a programmable thermostat in the first place. Well, this year I have made an audacious goal to pay off the $54,500 balance on my mortgage, so every penny is important to me. Even if my savings tactics with this thermostat only equates to an extra $50, it still will help drive me to hit my goal. Haha, so lay off and let me tell you if you can save a few bucks with a programmable thermostat of your own!

The Upfront Costs

20140103 - thermostat

My house has a completely functional thermostat that has been working for many years. But, it is not programmable, meaning that I cannot set it to automatically raise or lower the temperature while I am away at work. I had been trying to turn down the heat manually this winter, but it posed two problems:

  1. I don’t always remember to turn down the heat when I leave, which obviously saves me no money
  2. I really don’t like waking up to a cold house or coming home to a cold house

I have always wanted to get a programmable thermostat, but I wasn’t sure if it was really worth the upfront costs I would incur (because I would obviously have to purchase a thermostat in order to experience the monthly savings in energy). So first of all, how much does a new programmable thermostat cost? I was able to find a very basic 5+2 (meaning you can program it for the weekdays and the weekend) for $20. Plus, I may even be able to sell my old thermostat for $5 or so, which would further reduce my upfront costs.

Onto the Savings of the Programmable Thermostat

I have researched many different sites and they basically all say the same thing. Green Valley Cooling states that,

“Programming your thermostat to cool and heat less while you are away from the home or during hotter and cooler parts of the day can significantly reduce your energy consumption.  In fact, you can reduce your air conditioning energy usage by around 5-30%.”

Trent from the Simple Dollar actually purchased a programmable thermostat and tracked its savings:

“Our energy use when comparing the same month to a year prior dropped about 10% after installing the programmable thermostat. That amounted to a roughly 7% drop in our energy bill.”

While the above statements are definitely true, the key to this debate is spelled out well by Allison, from Energy Vanguard:

“The problem here is that people confuse programmable thermostats with thermostat setbacks (when the temperatures are varied throughout the day). Two entirely different animals! Thermostat setbacks are where the energy savings come from. Programmable thermostats may or may not be programmed or manually adjusted for setbacks.

So, the answer to the title question is:

No, programmable thermostats do not save energy. Not without some help from you anyway.”

After this research, I know that I can expect a realistic savings of approximately 7% off from my heating bill, pending I set my thermostat to rise and fall accordingly while I am at work and in bed. If I buy a programmable thermostat and fail to program it to reduce the temperature in my house (during the winter) while I am out, I will not save any money whatsoever.

My Thermostat Settings and Savings

Because I am Mr. Frugal, I have not only decided that I will buy a programmable thermostat to vary the temperature based on the time of day, but I will also reduce the average temperature in my house this winter. My typical bill from heating my house each month is about $80 during the winter. By programming my thermostat to reduce the temperature in my house while I am away at work and also while I am sleeping, I can expect a 7% savings, which equates to about $5.50 a month. But, by lowering the typical temperature in my house from 65 down to 63 degrees, I can save another 2% (1% per degree), which increases my savings to over $7 per month. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but by investing $20 on a programmable thermostat, I can save approximately $80 a year, and that inches me a little closer to that mortgage-free lifestyle I’ve been longing for!

Do you have a programmable thermostat? Have you ever tracked your savings?

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Derek

AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

7 Comments

  1. Our house came with a 5+2 programmable thermostat when we had the house built.
    We didn’t use it for several years because the kids were younger and we always kept it at a certain temperature 24/7.
    Fast forward about 11 years (and with kids that’s possible … where’d the time go?). Our furnace circut board broke, and because it got quite cold, about 55-56 degrees, I though of using that time to cut back on our energy usage by using the programmable thermostat.
    I have it cut back to the mid to low 60’s during the day and after 11pm since my wife is usually still at the house during the day. 73 first thing in the morning and just about when the kids get home from school. It used to be at 74 degrees all day long.
    Our average savings since last year is about 40%! It’s actually a lot higher savings than that this year because of the warmer weather we experienced in the NE region of the US until recently, which really cut our heating bill down by 65% this heating season.
    Chris recently posted..Tax year 2014 tax limit guidelines

    • Keep in mind when our twins were born, we kept the heat at 75-76 degrees all the time because we didn’t put blankets on them when they were babies (fear of suffocation I believe).
      And I’d LOVE to have your heating bill. Our last heating bill a month ago was $581 … although the one before that was in February since we aren’t on budget billing either. The next one that will come later this month will be about $800 or so. Keep in mind the size of our house is about 2,475 sq. ft. with 150 feet of open space between our house and either of our neighbors house, and virtually no trees to block the wind.
      Chris recently posted..Tax year 2014 tax limit guidelines

      • That is one crazy high heating bill! I’m pretty sure I would be wearing my coat around the house instead of paying $800 a month! That is good though that you were able to bring down that bill. Thanks for the comment Chris.

  2. We have one and I think it saves us money, but I really am ready for one that has more options. Right now we’re restricted to four settings on weekdays and just two on weekends. I’d like to have more setting cycles available so that I can set a more gradual increase (or decrease) in temperature when there’s a 4-6 degree change. For example, right now it will run for a while and feel really hot, then hardly run at all for awhile so then you feel cold. I think a gradual increase would help alleviate that, but you can’t do with with so few settings.
    Money Beagle recently posted..The 501c3: What You Need To Know About The Nonprofit

    • Honestly, this programmable thermostat that I installed doesn’t quite suit me either. I don’t mind the limited options, but the furnace never gets up to temperature! I set it for 63 and its high gets to 60. I set it for 66 and I might see it eek out 63 – and it seems like it runs constantly! I have another programmable, so I might be trying that one out today instead. After this, then I will start worrying about the savings I might be getting. Hopefully it will be the 7% I expect.

    • Yep, very true. If you have a consistent schedule, a programmable thermostat is awesome. Why keep the house super warm when you’re gone everyday? Nope, it’s best to turn it down, save some energy, and then have the system bring it back up for you just before you get back home.


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