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Take control of your home's energy use with programmable thermostats

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This article is the second installment in a series of tips and best practices for making your home more sustainable. Read the first article.

So, you've officially mastered the art of sustainable behavior at home (way to go!), and now you're looking for ways to take the greenness of your residence to the next level. Enter the programmable thermostat, a staple in sustainable spaces everywhere.

What is a programmable thermostat, exactly? Simply put, it's a device that regulates your home's temperature based on different settings you've specified for particular times of day (rather than maintaining a constant temperature 24/7).

Heating and cooling a home requires a major chunk of its energy consumption—and its occupants' utility bills—accounting for nearly half of the total energy used. That's more than the amount required by any other component of a home's operations, meaning it's also the biggest contributor of environmentally damaging emissions. 

Programmable thermostats help minimize energy consumption by making sure your home's heating and cooling system is working hard only when it absolutely needs to. Sure, no one wants to be sitting in the living room sweating like they're in a sauna, or to have to wear hats and mittens at the dinner table, but there are definitely times when we can get away with scaling back temperature moderation without negatively affecting our comfort levels. 

Heading off to work for the day? No need to have the cold air blasting if there isn't anyone there to enjoy it. Calling it a night and climbing into bed? Underneath all those warm and cozy blankets you won't even notice the temperature difference from turning down your heat. Programming your thermostat in anticipation of these times can ensure you're optimizing your energy savings; it's as easy as set it and forget it.

The total energy savings gleaned from programmable thermostats are ultimately up to the user. On average, you can save around 10% a year on the costs associated with regulating your home's temperature just by dialing your thermostat back from its normal setting by 7-10 degrees for eight hours a day. Given that the typical U.S. family spends roughly $2,200 a year on home utilities, that's a pretty impressive rate of return on investment (the necessary equipment has an average price of about $50).

For those who opt for one of the higher end models with internet connectivity, this super smart technology can even communicate with Demand Response (DR) programs offered by local utility providers. Dramatic or sudden changes in outside temperature tend to result in intensive energy consumption by home heating and cooling systems reacting to these changes. DR strategies encourage consumers to reduce their energy consumption during these peak demand times, allowing utility providers to optimize their supply-side energy generation and delivery methods. Not only does this conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it also scales back the need to build additional facilities, transmission lines and distribution centers, whose construction would unavoidably harm the environment to a certain extent. Due to their success in downsizing energy consumption, participation in DR programs can earn innovation points that count toward LEED certification too. 

With winter quickly approaching, many of us are already starting to think about the added cost of staying warm these next few months. Luckily, correct use of a programmable thermostat can help you save some serious green, while making your home greener too.

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    Hannah Wilber made 10 contributions in the last 6 months

Hannah Wilber

Marketing and Communications Special Assistant U.S. Green Building Council
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