The Thermostat Is in Control

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A faulty thermostat may be running up your fuel bills and making your home uncomfortably cold or hot. So don't blame your heating equipment until you've checked out the thermostat. Old thermostats can lose their accuracy, misreading temperature settings and turning the heat on or off at the wrong time. A service representative can recalibrate and clean your old thermostat, but it might be smarter to buy a new one with a few extra energy-saving controls.

Setback and programmable thermostats can make the house nice and warm only when you need it, and turn down the heat when you're sleeping or away. This can cut your heating bills by 10% to 20%.

There are plenty of models: costs range from $20 to more than $150. The more expensive ones can usually be programmed for every day of the week. A weekday/weekend setting may be enough to suit your family's lifestyle, but look for a model with a manual override so you can change it easily when a snowstorm or the flu keeps you home unexpectedly. Choose one that reverts to the programmed setting after the override period, just in case you forget to reset it. Keep in mind that turning a thermostat up higher than the desired temperature will not warm the house any faster and will probably overheat it.

Placement. Mount the thermostat about 5 feet above floor level in the main living area and away from the kitchen. Be careful not to place it near an incandescent light, a TV, or appliances that produce waste heat. In fact, don't place it near any spot that can trick the temperature sensors: in a draft or direct sunlight—behind a door or in a closet; by a radiator or a warm air supply grille; on an uninsulated exterior wall, a wall covering pipes or flues, or a wall near a door or beneath stairs where vibrations can interfere with accuracy.

Zoning. It may be worthwhile to divide the house into two or more heating zones, each with its own programmable thermostat. Since bedrooms aren't used during the daytime, why heat them to the same level as the kitchen or living room?

With hydronic systems, thermostatic valves can be installed on individual radiators so that each radiator in effect heats a separate zone. Electric baseboard units also have individual controls.

Excerpted with permission from No-Regrets Remodeling by Home Energy (1997)