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December 16, 2011

In Praise Of Programmable Thermostats

Programmable Thermostat

Programmable Thermostat

About 2 years ago, I installed programmable thermostats throughout our house, which has electric baseboard heaters. Now I have enough data to see the savings from that effort. Overall, I’ve been able to cut our electric usage by 30% to 50% during the cold months of the year in Vancouver (the larger number in the coldest months, November-February essentially). Compare the usage shown in the graph before and after fall 2009 when the programmable units were installed to see this. (Thanks BC Hydro for the graph!)

Electrical Energy Usage History

Electrical Energy Usage History

There’s a baseline electric usage that we have that includes non-heating purposes, so I suspect we can’t do much better than that with more aggressive thermostat settings. I was very pleased with the savings we did achieve, which for our bills amounts to around $500 saved per annum.

For the programmable thermostats, I scooped up half a dozen Honeywell “5-2″ units for $50 from a construction sale on ebay. They installed easily with hand tools in place of the old 24V manual rotary units (which I kept, for other tinkering projects ;-) ). Great deal, paid for itself in the first month, essentially. Apart from hardware stores, craigslist might be another good place to look for deals on thermostats. Many other good ones with similar capabilities are on the market . The Honeywell units are great, with an easy to use UI, and that provides quick overrides and “hold” settings for unexpected exceptions in room usage.

For those of you not fortunate enough to have geothermal heating or other “free” heating, why pay to heat parts of your home when they aren’t in use? Go green. No point in paying for energy usage when you aren’t there to appreciate it. One advantage of electric baseboard heat is that one typically gets very local temperature control, “local” being roughly room-scale. You should set a minimum temperature that is high enough to keep the water in the house from freezing and causing pipes to burst. In my case I set that as 10 C to be really safe.

Consider for example setting individual thermostat so you are just heating bedrooms at night, but shut that off during daytime. Do the opposite with the rest of the house. It helps to thermally isolate seldom-used, lower temperature rooms by closing doors, so that you aren’t just making other heaters in the place work harder as the heat transfers to those colder rooms.


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  1. Nice article…in Australia we need cooling rather than heating. Although this year is is yet to get hot, it is not unusual to have a week of temperatures 35C and sometimes three days or so over 40C. Passive cooling is, in these cases, useless, so on goes the a/c :)

    By replacing 50W downlights with 20W downlights, I reduced our electricity bill by 40% (simple really) and then the power company raised our electricity prices by 30% over the following two years. The government government introduced bonuses for installing solar energy units on houses the, when that became popular and they government found out the bonuses would cost them too much money AND the power companies found their demand (hence profit) dropping, the bonuses were removed, the installation businesses collapsed and we are still dependant on coal-fired power even though most houses in the Sydney region could use solar to generate most of their daily needs…..funny world, isn’t it :)

    Comment by Milton Baar — December 16, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  2. Very useful electrical savings info. Inspiring. Thanks!

    Trackback by Chris L — March 15, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

  3. We use a similar timer for heating our pool.

    Comment by Rose — March 28, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

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