Daily Choices

Install a Programmable Thermostat

Set it, forget it, and save every day.

Heating or cooling a house when no one’s home is like burning money. And since heating and cooling account for 48% of household energy use, you’re talking real money. A programmable thermostat can put that money back in your pocket, while adding convenience and comfort to your day. It can adjust the temperature so that it uses less energy when you leave in the morning and ramps back up to a comfortable level before you get home later. It’s a true no-brainer, because once you set it, it does all the remembering for you. And your utility has programs so you can get one at not cost or at a deep discount.


Hand turning down temperature on programmable thermostat

Image credit: Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock



Programmable Thermostat Schedule Planner to help you find the best settings for your programmable thermostat (PDF)

Thermostat information from the U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. Department of Energy: Program Your Thermostat for Fall and Winter Savings 

Consumer Reports thermostat ratings 

BGE Peak Rewards offers an option for a free programmable thermostat.

Pepco Energy Wise Rewards™ offers an option for a free programmable thermostat.

Homeowner Energy Conservation Credit: Montgomery County residents can get up to a $250 Property Tax Credit when a programmable thermostat is installed in a primary residence.

How is a programmable thermostat better than just adjusting the temperature myself?

All of us are apt to forget something when we run out the door: keys, umbrella, reusable shopping bag… adjusting our thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows us to automate something and save brain space of trying to remember. You can still adjust your programmable thermostat, just be sure it’s on a setting to jump back to automation at the programmed times (versus putting it on HOLD).

The system’s still running, even with the temperature adjusted up or down. How does it save money?

The closer your indoor temperature is to the outdoor temperature — even a few degrees — the less often your system will turn on to keep your home warm or cool because doesn’t need to maintain such a different temperature.

In winter, for example, by decreasing the temperature on your thermostat a little bit, your heating system won’t need to run as often to keep it a tiny bit cooler. Especially when no one is home, it makes sense to keep the system set lower and decrease the amount of heating or cooling needed.

Can I use a programmable thermostat with a heat pump, electric, or radiant (steam or radiant floor) heat?

Programmable thermostats can be used with heat pumps, but are not recommended for radiant or hot water systems. Most heat pump systems are installed with a specific thermostat by your contractor. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, it is best to check with them on the proper model and set-up. A conventional programmable thermostat may not account for the back-up heat of a heat pump, or the different steps and modes of the system.

See the U.S. Department of Energy website or consult your heat pump system contractor for more information about the types of controls that are best for other systems.

(1) Comments

  1. Richard Kapit Dec 22, 2012

    I’ve ordered a programmable thermostat to replace the manual one in my condo apartment. Both the old and new are Honeywell. When inquiring about the new thermostat, I gave the model number and specs of the old one to the Honeywell customer relations department (on the web). They emailed back that it was important for the thermostat to be professionally installed. OK, that’s what they advise, naturally. But I have a question for anyone who can answer:

    There are only three wires to the old thermostat. What could possibly be so difficult about installing a new one? Disconnect the power; unscrew the wire nuts; remove the old; attach the new one. What else? But assuming it is more difficult, and I can’t do it, should just about any heating/plumbing company be able to do this job?

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