3 thermostat myths

We’re continuing our series on thermostats by looking at a few common misconceptions about how thermostats and home heaters work. You’ve probably heard someone say some variation of one of these if not all of them. (I know that I believed at least two of these before I started working here at Cadet.)

We thought this would be a fun jumping off point to look deeper into thermostat issues.

Myth 1: Programmable thermostats will always save you cash.

walletBet you didn’t see that one coming from a heating company.

The fact is simply buying and installing a programmable thermostat in your home will not automatically result in energy savings and a lower heating bill. The reason why folks often say programmable thermostats save energy and cash is because you can set them to automatically lower the temperature when you aren’t home or are asleep. That can lead to a 5 to 15 percent reduction in energy use according to the Department of Energy. In reality, it’s the behavior that makes the difference, not the technology itself.

The problem with making the assumption that installing a programmable thermostat will automatically result in energy savings is that various studies have shown that a lot of them are poorly designed and hard to understand. That means most people aren’t using them to their full potential. One study from the Berkeley National Laboratory, says up to 50 percent of programmable thermostats in homes are set on permanent hold status, which basically means they’re just manual thermostats. In fact, questions about energy savings with programmable thermostats led EnergyStar to discontinue its programmable thermostat specification in 2009.

That’s why taking the time to learn how to use your programmable thermostat will pay off in the long run. Even if it is a painful process, you’ll just need to learn how to do it once.

Myth #2: Cranking up a heater will heat a room faster than just setting it to your desired temperature.

statMany folks think turning their stat up to the highest temperature available will provide more heat than setting it to a lower temperature. That just isn’t true. Check out our blog post and video on the subject to learn more.

Myth #3: It would take more energy to reheat a room to a desired temperature if it’s lowered when you’re away than it would to keep it at a constant temperature all day.

energyAs we said above, heating systems are either on or off. If you keep your home at a higher temperature all day, your heater will be on more often to maintain that temperature than it would be if you lower it by 5 or 10 degrees when you’re away.

**UPDATE (1/19/2015): After hearing customer feedback we decided to make a few additions to this blog post. Thanks to everyone who gave us input.

While our answer to Myth 3 is true in many situations, it depends on your home’s construction and what type of heating system you have.

Setting the temperature back while you’re away and asleep with a heat pump can actually use more energy than leaving it on the same temperature all day. If a thermostat isn’t programmed properly, it can use backup or “emergency” heat sources to quickly reheat a room, which use much more energy than the heat pump itself.

The other notable exception is if you have a home that is built with materials that absorb heat well. Those materials can often retain the temperature while you’re away without using much energy at all. They can also take a lot of energy to reheat, which would also jack up that heating bill.


 

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If you’re looking for more home heating myths, check out this great article from The Chicago Tribune or a roundup on energy conservation myths from The University of Oregon.

Paul Suarez

Paul Suarez

Paul is a highly caffeinated, uber organized family man that keeps himself busy finding and sharing the stories that make Cadet a great company. When he isn't writing, or shooting photos and videos, you'll likely find him searching for killer deals on Craigslist, playing classic Nintendo games or quoting his favorite movies and TV shows.

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  • Bikerdude

    MYTH 3 isn’t quite as simple to debunk as you make it seem. In the case of heat pump systems you can actually cost yourself more using temperature setbacks and in the case of electric heat the savings can be negligible. There are many factors involved in how much you can save by using a programmable thermostat including home insulation quality, air infiltration, outdoor temperature fluctuation (climate region) and even what fuel you use to heat your home. Yes, there are savings to be had in most cases but the actual amount of savings can be far less than one would expect, certainly less than the 1% per degree setback that many accept as an ironclad rule. I encourage everyone who wishes to save money on heating/cooling to at least read these two studies:
    http://www.healthyheating.com/downloads/Thermostats/progtherm1_000.pdf
    https://www.aceee.org/files/proceedings/2000/data/papers/SS00_Panel8_Paper19.pdf
    Do the research and decide if temperature setback is right for you.

    • Thank you for providing your input and the links. You’re absolutely right. We were trying to keep things simple but obviously there are exceptions to everything. You’re right to point out that heat pump systems don’t benefit from setbacks. We’ll make an edit to this post to clarify that point.

      We’ll also take your other comments into consideration in the coming weeks when we take a closer look at how thermostats work. If you (or anyone else for that matter) have any additional input, questions or ideas for topics you think would be useful, don’t hesitate to let us know.

      • Bikerdude

        You are welcome and I applaud your efforts to teach people the truth. If you read the Wisconsin paper you will see that the inability of people to understand and program thermostats is a big factor in the loss of savings from programmable thermostats. If you intend to explore how thermostats work then maybe an explanation of how to program them would be in order. At any rate, keep up the good work!

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