Does My Thermostat Go To Eleven?

WE’RE MELTING!!!! Seriously, though… The heat’s seeping into our homes like butter into toast and our cooling costs are on our mind.  Can we do better?

Dapper dad Jeff Tippett asked:

The ever-lovely Jennifer Wig (who just started her own business – check it out) echoed:

Nobody wants to spin their wheels, especially when they’re on their way out the door for work) so I’m going to give it to you straight…

Every degree you turn up your thermostat this summer is going to save you money.

Bust A Myth…

I’ve heard it said that you’re not really going to save anything because you’re going to need to use more energy to cool off your house upon your arrival than you would have if you just let it stay at your desired temperature.  If you like to keep your house at 60 degrees, this may hold a bit of water.  However, you may save more because you’re not fighting the outside temperatures with consistently running AC.

If you use a window unit, go ahead and turn it off if you’re going to be out of the room it conditions for a few hours or more.  It’ll take less energy to cool the room again than it will to leave it running when you don’t need it.

For whole-home cooling, you’re going to need to wait a bit for your system to get it back to your preferred temperature with making manual changes. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why you’re not using a programmable thermostat, but we’ll get there in a minute.  For now, let’s focus on the money…

Bad Bill Rising?

As a general rule, you can expect to save 4% to 8% for every degree you raise your thermostat.  This figure is based on average use patterns for an entire month.  So what happens if you only set it back eight hours a day?

Research estimates that you’ll save about 1% to 3% for every degree you turn it up if you only do so for about eight hours.  If your monthly bill is $100, you’re looking at about $5 to $15 extra in your pocket if you set it back 5 degrees.  While this isn’t a ton of money for a month’s worth of work, there are things you can do to minimize your effort while increasing your savings.

First, get a programmable thermostat.  You can get a decent one now for $30 to $50.  Using our previous estimates, you can be assured the investment will pay for itself in less than a year. (don’t forget you’re going to save a TON on heating costs, too)  ENERGY STAR estimates you can save up to $160 for every year these are in use.

These are not difficult to install.  I swapped both of ours out by myself using only the included instructions and have had no issues with them whatsoever.  The only tricky part is making sure it’s properly gauging your indoor temperature and adjusting the baseline accordingly.  Again, you can do this yourself. Just read the instructions.

Next, you need to program it.  Be realistic about what will make you comfortable and try to kick it up 2 degrees above that to see if you can tell the difference.  We did that in our house and found the difference between 72 degrees and 74 degrees is hardly noticeable.

When we’re not home, I program our thermostat for 83 degrees.  Some will say you can go higher, but I don’t want to freak out my appliances and electronics.  If Gibby’s at home, I don’t go higher than 78 degrees.  I know, I could do better, but really, I’m cool with my bills.  The only thing I’d do differently would be to purchase an ecobee wi-fi thermostat so I could control my thermostat on my iPhone… Someday, someday…

Remember, though, that the point of a programmable thermostat is to let it do the work so you don’t have to.  Do your best to let it do its job and don’t mess with it.  You’ll be saving money before you know it…

Extra Credit…

Ready to take some additional steps?  Here are some quick tips for improved air-conditioning efficiency this summer:

  • Fun with filters. Swap out your filters according to your system’s needs.  Don’t use a three-month filter if you don’t need one – you’ll make your system work harder than it should.  If you’re using one-month filters, be sure you replace them every month. Put stickers on your calendar if you need a visual reminder.
  • Shut it up. Close the air vents in unoccupied rooms. You can either flip the vent switch or buy a vent magnet.  There’s no sense in cooling a room that doesn’t need to be cooled.
  • Be unclear. I’ve installed solar film on my skylights and found a HUGE difference.  (full disclosure: they look like crap with wrinkles and tears, but they work nonetheless) Insulated curtains are going to help, too, but only if you remember to close them.
  • Respect the fan. If you’re in the room, turn the fan on.  When you leave, turn it off.  Remember that fans cool people, not rooms.
  • Give your house some cushion for the pushin’. The amount of insulation you have in your walls is going to determine how your home will respond to outdoor temperatures.  If you can afford to increase your insulation, it’s a worthwhile investment.  Don’t forget: if your pink insulation has black spots, your house is leaking like a frat boy at a sports pub.

I wish you luck and encourage you to contact me if you have any questions along the way!

A few quick notes before I go:

  • Next week I’ll be back with some information on tankless water heaters.  Hit me up if you have thoughts you’d like me to include or address.
  • I’m going to move “Ask Renewabelle” to Thursdays from now on — not only is that a better day for me, but it seems like the response is better when I post later in the week.
  • If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in a future post, tweet @Renewabelle or get in touch with me one of a few other ways over here.
  • If you have any follow up questions or notes you’d like to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I hope this information proves useful and that it finds you well.



  1. Awesome info. Thanks for posting. I've heard so many conflicting opinions. Glad to finally get it from the pro. Thanks again!

  2. Barbara says:

    Great advice, as usual. Thanks for the information on the cost savings for turning up the temperature, will pass that on.

    What about cracking a window to let out the heat in rooms you don't cool, or putting a fan in the window pulling air out? I live without AC and use both those tricks to help keep things cooler…

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thanks! So where do I buy the programmable thermostat?

  4. I hope it helps! If you need assistance installing a programmable thermostat, let me know and I'll hook you up for free :)

  5. I was going to suggest opening a window, but I've found that rooms stay cooler when the shades are pulled and the windows are closed than when they're left cracked. I'm probably suffering from a Cackalacky paradigm (and my Florida history) when we're working with 95 degree heat, but I'd imagine it's a good idea to experiment with cracked windows in New York.

    Putting a fan in the window to suck the heat out is also an excellent energy-saving alternative to running your air-conditioning. If you live in a neighborhood where crime is not an issue, it's certainly worth a try. However, you're still using power, so I'd still suggest that be done when you're home and can enjoy the cooler room :)

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, Barbara! You rock.

  6. We bought ours from Home Depot, but I've seen them at Lowes, Target, Wal-Mart… The list goes on. Just remember that the most expensive ones don't necessarily mean they're the best ones. We have a seven-day programmable thermostat because we keep different schedules, but you may only need one that sets your temps to one setting for the week and something different for the weekend.

    If you want help choosing one, I'd be happy to go with you and install it if you'd like :)


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