Archive for Energy Efficiency

Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency with Technology

Posted in Around Your Home, Electrical, Energy Efficiency, Home Maintenance, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , on March 5, 2014 by Pat Hansen

Today’s home owners and buyers are looking for ways to incorporate home technologies that increase the long-term value of their house but also provide convenience, safety and comfort. Energy management is a highly-desired feature in both newly-built and existing homes, along with multi-zone heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and lighting controls. Not only are these features easy-to-use, but they also provide energy-efficiency.

By incorporating the following technologies, home owners can save money on their utility bills:

  • Automated HVAC systems can maintain a more energy-efficient temperature while the home owners are away at work, but switch to a more comfortable temperature prior to their arrival home.  Zones can also be created to heat or cool only the areas most used by the occupants, keeping other areas, such as guest bedrooms, shut down until they are needed. They also can combat the problem of heat rising, keeping upper floors cooler in the summer without freezing the lower floors in a home. According to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, programmable thermostats can save consumers about $180 per year in energy costs.Programmable Thermostat
  • Water heaters with a timer can be turned off when the occupants are traveling, then can turn on and begin heating the water in preparation for their return home. Tankless gas water heaters — which only activate when residents start to use hot water and immediately de-activate when they are done — are also a great option and can reduce water heating costs up to 35 percent annually.
  • Lighting can make up 10 to 20 percent of the total electrical usage of the home. Installing an automatic dimmer, which adjusts to the home owner’s needs based on time of day or occupancy, will lower electricity bills and increase the life expectancy of light bulbs.
  • Blinds and drapes can be programmed to close during the hottest part of the day to block out the sun; keeping the house cooler. In the colder winter months, they can open up to allow the sun in to warm the house, which helps regulate the room temperature.

By incorporating technologies that help make your home operate more efficiently, Energy Star estimates that home owners can save $200 to $400 annually on their energy bills.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Big Design Ideas for Small Homes

Posted in Around Your Home, Construction, Energy Efficiency, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Pat Hansen

There are any number of reasons families might want to make better use of the space they have in their current or new home. As a family grows, their lifestyle changes, and space for storing toys or doing homework is at a premium. Multigenerational living, where elderly parents, grown children or other relatives all live under the same roof has become common. Or it may just be cosmetic, and the best way to keep clutter at a minimum.

Home builders and remodelers are responding to the demand by maximizing the utility of living spaces without sacrificing visual appeal. With creative storage and built-in features, dining rooms can become a home office or game room in minutes, living rooms can be used for family meals, and foyers can store much more than coats and umbrellas.

In new home construction, smaller-scale, walkable communities have become popular. To accommodate the size constraints of a skinny lot, homes are being designed with features like stacked garages where two cars can be housed trunk to hood instead of side by side. Using flexible walls, attractive flooring material and a roofless interior garage space, the area can easily be converted to a patio for entertaining.

Improved energy efficiency of windows and doors means homes now feature more indoor-outdoor connectivity. Moveable walls and outdoor spaces tucked within the home’s floor plan provide for better flexible use of the space, as well as improved privacy in densely populated areas.

The often-unused space under a stairwell can be engineered to accommodate filing cabinets or drawers, or even to create a sanctuary for the family pet complete with a bed and gates to close it off. Drawers built into stair risers are a great place to store small items such as gloves and hats or art supplies.

The trend extends to home furnishings as well. Murphy beds, where a piece of furniture conceals a bed that can be set up for sleeping in few minutes, have been around for many years. Modern murphy beds are hidden not only in armoires or bookcases, but new designs feature beds that lower from the ceiling electronically at the touch of a button, or fold out from inside a desk or counter.

Other creative, multi-purpose furniture designs include dining tables that convert to a billiard table, bookcases that contain fold-down chairs for when you’re entertaining more than the usual number of friends and family, and cocktail tables with trays that pull out for eating in front of the television.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Use Your Fireplace Safely and Effectively This Winter

Posted in Around Your Home, Energy Efficiency, Home Safety, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , on December 18, 2013 by Pat Hansen

During the winter months, many families gather around their home’s fireplace. A fire in the fireplace creates a warm and cozy atmosphere, but don’t expect it to add heat to your home. As little as 10 percent of the heat from a fire in an open masonry fireplace radiates into the house.

The National Association of Home Builders’ MyHome Press has published a handbook for home owners, “Home Maintenance Made Easy,” and the excerpt below contains helpful advice on how to safely build fires and maintain your fireplace.

Wood Burning Fireplaces

Your fireplace will add elegance and warmth if you use it safely and have it cleaned by a chimney cleaning professional at least once every five years (two years if you use it frequently). A wood-burning fireplace should be equipped with andirons (or a grate) and a well-fitting screen. It may have glass doors as well.

Gathering Room (Fairfield New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones Homes
If you are in a newer home
with a fresh air vent to supply the fireplace with combustion air, open it and the damper before you start a fire. Then remember to close both when you are not using the fireplace so warm air will not escape in the winter and cool air will not escape in the summer.

Build fires on the andirons or grate—not directly on the fireplace floor. Seasoned hardwood is the best fuel. Do not burn pine logs in your fireplace; they contain a tar that can start a fire in the chimney if it accumulates. Do not burn trash in the fireplace. Never use kerosene, gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, or other highly flammable liquids to start a fire.

Begin with a small fire to allow the components of the fireplace to heat up slowly. Burn kindling and newspaper under the grate; stack two to three layers of logs with air space between them, placing the largest logs to the rear. You can burn one sheet of paper atop the stack to help the chimney start to draw.

If the fire is still burning but you are finished enjoying it, close the glass doors if you have them to prevent heated air from being drawn up the chimney (until you can close the damper). But don’t close glass doors over a roaring fire, especially if you are burning hardwoods like oak or hickory; the heat could break the glass. When you close the doors over a burning fire, open the mesh screens first. This prevents excessive heat buildup on the mesh, which might warp or discolor it. Be sure the fire is out each night before you go to bed.

Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplace provides the comfort and style of a wood-burning unit, but requires far less maintenance. Many gas fireplaces are also far more efficient than wood-burning and as a result, produce less pollution.

Family Room (Galleria New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones HomesGas fireplaces may have a chimney or may vent exhaust gases (mainly water vapor and carbon dioxide) directly outside without a chimney. Others are ventless; there is no flue. If your gas fireplace is vented, the flue or vent should be closed when the fireplace is not in use. Use the same safety precautions with a gas fireplace that you would with any other gas appliance.

There will be a slight delay after turning the switch on before a flame ignites. Flames should ignite gently and silently. If you notice any deviation from this or any gas smell, immediately shut off the switch and report the problem to the gas company.

For more home maintenance advice, go to for publications on current topics including social media, home design and more.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Preparing Your Home for Winter

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Maintenance, Worth Repeating with tags , , on October 16, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Fall is the time of the year to start thinking about preparing your home for winter. As the temperatures drop, your home will require maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape throughout the winter. Here are some tips to help you prepare your home for winter:

Furnace Inspection:

  • Furnace FilterCall a HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean the ducts.
  • Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly.
  • If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one.
  • Set the humidifier to the winter setting.
  • Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

Get the Fireplace Ready:

  • Cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out critters.
  • If the chimney hasn’t been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote.
  • Buy firewood or chop wood. Store in a dry place away from the exterior of your home.
  • Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing.

Inspect the Roof, Gutters and Downspouts:

  • Adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams.
  • Check flashing to ensure that water cannot enter your home.
  • Replace worn shingles.
  • Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris.
  • Consider installing leaf guards on the gutters or extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from you home.

Check the Exterior:

  • Inspect exterior for crevice cracks and exposed entry points around pipes and seal them.
  • Replace cracked glass in windows. If you replace the entire window, prime and paint any exposed wood.
  • If you have older, non-insulated windows, install the storm windows.

Check the Foundation:

  • Rake away all debris and vegetation from the foundation.
  • Seal entry points to keep small animals from crawling under your home.
  • Tuck point or seal foundation cracks. Mice can slip through space as thin as a dime.
  • Inspect sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation.

Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors:

  • Smoke Alarm/Detector Buy smoke detector batteries and change them when daylight savings ends.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and water heater.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they work.

Prevent Plumbing Freezes:

  • Locate water main in the event you need to shut it off.
  • Drain all garden hoses. Turn off water to outside hose bibs.
  • Have your irrigation system blown out and shut off.
  • Insulate exposed plumbing pipes.
  • If you go on vacation, leave the heat on set to at least 55 degrees.

While these tips may seem like common sense and part of your fall routine, it is easy to become preoccupied with weekend football games and other fall activities; therefore, forgetting the necessary maintenance.

Easy Ways to Green Your Home

Posted in Green Building, New Homes, Renovation, Worth Repeating with tags , , , , on July 24, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Green building, where new homes are built using materials that conserve energy and environmental resources, is one of the fastest-growing segments of the home building industry today. But for the owners of the millions of existing homes in the United States, remodeling is the only way to incorporate green.

The National Association of Home Builders Remodelers offers the following suggestions to home owners who want to increase their home’s efficiency, decrease costs, and take advantage of the other benefits that green offers:

1. InInsulationstall maximum insulation. Forty percent of the energy consumed in a typical house goes to heating and cooling. Adding insulation is an easy way to increase efficiency. Insulation is rated by its ability to resist heat flow, known as “R-value.” The higher the R-value, the more effectively the insulation resists heat flow. Adding insulation will help save energy costs, increase comfort by better controlling temperature, and improve indoor air quality by eliminating gaps through which dirt, dust, and other impurities can enter.

2. Seal exterior penetrations. You can reduce cold air drafts and heat loss by inspecting your home from the inside and outside and plugging cracks or openings. Be sure to check the areas where window frames meet the structure or siding of the house. Use caulking to seal small cracks on non-moving surfaces and install weather stripping on windows, doors and other movable parts of the home.

3. Purchase ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, ranging from dishwashers and refrigerators to computers and televisions, meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. Qualified refrigerators, dishwashers and vent fans incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models – more than making up for the slightly higher cost of these products.

4. Install low-flow water plumbing fixtures. In the average home, flushing toilets accounts for some 30 percent of water usage. By using low-flow plumbing fixtures such as toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads, you can save up to 25 percent of that water compared to conventional fixtures while providing the same utility.

5. Install high-efficiency windows. New-WindowOrdinary window glass transmits ultraviolet heat rays from the sun, which can increase your air conditioning bill dramatically. ENERGY STAR windows can help control this effect. These windows may have two or more panes of glass, warm-edge spacers between the panes, improved framing materials, and microscopically thin metal or metallic oxide layers deposited on windows to reduce radiative heat flow.

6. Upgrade to an ENERGY STAR-rated or tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters provide hot water on demand at a preset temperature rather than storing it. Replacing an electric water heater with a solar model can reduce costs by up to 80 percent a year. Over its 20-year lifespan, a solar heater will prevent more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A low-cost option is to wrap insulation around your heater, which can reduce standby heat loss by 25 to 45 percent.

7. Purchase the highest efficiency HVAC system you can afford. Over a ten year period, the average home owner spends more than $10,000 for heating and cooling. Installing high efficiency HVAC equipment can reduce costs on average by 10 to 30 percent over minimum efficiency equipment. It also can improve home comfort with better heating and cooling and a quieter operation, and often features higher quality components that result in longer equipment life.

For more information on green remodeling, visit

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Reduce Winter Fuel Costs

Posted in Around Your Home, Energy Efficiency with tags , on December 12, 2012 by Pat Hansen

As temperatures drop during the winter, home fueling costs often increase for home owners. Fuel options for home owners largely depend on the region — in the Northeast, fuel oil or electricity are most prominent while in rural areas, propane and wood are often the main choices. But whatever your heating fuel options are, you have options to reduce your costs.

Reducing fuel costs can involve both short-term and long-term solutions and range from simple, inexpensive changes to major home modifications. Here are some ways that you can keep the cold out and the costs down this winter:

Reduce Air Leaks:

By caulking and sealing air leaks in a home, an average household can cut 10 percent of their monthly energy bill. Use caulk to seal any cracks or small openings on non-moving surfaces such as where window frames meet the house structure. Make sure your weather stripping in exterior door frames hasn’t deteriorated and cracked, if it has, replace it.

Exterior weather strippingSealing windows and doors will help, but the worst culprits are usually utility cut-throughs for pipes (plumping penetrations), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. You can buy material that expands to fill the gaps and keep air from flowing through.

Use Energy Wisely:

Set the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120º F). If your water heater is older, get an insulating blanket to wrap around it and reduce heat loss. Newer heaters are much more energy efficient and a blanket won’t make a noticeable impact.

Lower the thermostat setting to 50 or 55 degrees when you are using your fireplace and the furnace is on. Some warmed air will still be lost, but the furnace won’t have to use as much fuel to keep the rest of the house at its usual temperature.

Programmable thermostatInstall a programmable smart thermostat that allows you to lower the heat during the workday or at night when you’re asleep, and automatically increase the setting before you get home or awake in the morning.

Install Energy-Efficient Products:

Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and products such as new HVAC systems, high-performance windows and ENERGY-STAR rated appliances will also help lower your electricity bills. Windows with low-E glass may cost 10 to 30 percent more than conventional glass double-pane windows, but their effectiveness in keeping your wintertime heat indoors will make up for it with lower heat costs over time.

Compact fluorescent bulbReplacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescents can save home owners up to three-quarters of the electricity previously used by incandescents. The best targets are 60-100 watt bulbs used for several hours a day. Check the fixtures to ensure they will accommodate the slightly larger compact fluorescents.

The best way to reduce your home’s overall energy consumption is to hire a professional energy auditor to evaluate your home and identify all the inefficiencies. It may cost a couple hundred dollars, but will save you much more over the long run.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

When Is Duct Cleaning Appropriate?

Posted in Around Your Home, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , on November 29, 2012 by Pat Hansen

In recent years, ventilation duct cleaning has grown into a huge industry, in response to increasing public concern about indoor air pollution. The industry claims that cleaning ductwork can improve indoor air quality, control molds and other allergens, enhance heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system performance, and reduce energy costs. Yet there is little scientific evidence to support these claims and poor duct cleaning practices can actually cause or increase air quality complaints.

Latest Findings

Despite more than two decades of research, there is still not enough evidence to draw solid conclusions about duct cleaning benefits on indoor air quality, occupants’ health, HVAC system performance or energy savings (according to a 2010 review of scientific studies on duct cleaning). The review did find clear evidence that ductwork can be contaminated with dust and can act as a reservoir for microbial growth under normal operating conditions. Yet, even when duct cleaning was extremely efficient at removing contaminants within ducts, the effectiveness of reducing indoor air pollutants was highly variable, and in many cases, post-cleaning levels of contaminants were higher than pre-cleaning levels.

When is duct cleaning appropriate?Heat register/vent

Although the value of regular duct cleaning remains questionable, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and indoor air specialists agree that duct cleaning (or, in some cases, duct replacement) is appropriate in the following circumstances:

  • Permanent or persistent water damage in ducts.
  • Slime or microbial growth observed in ducts.
  • Debris build-up in ducts that restricts airflow.
  • Dust discharge from supply diffusers.
  • Offensive odors originating in ductwork of HVAC component.

In all cases, duct cleaning should be undertaken only after the source of the contaminant has been identified and controlled; otherwise, the problem will not go away. For instance, the water source causing mold growth must be identified and controlled or duct cleaning will be only a temporary fix.

Prevention of duct contamination is key to avoiding problems: Follow these recommendations to avoid the need for costly duct cleaning:

  • Perform routine preventative maintenance of HVAC systems by complying with manufacturer schedules for changing HVAC filters and cleaning coils and other components.
  • During building renovation, seal ductwork to prevent construction dust and debris from entering the HVAC system.
  • New ductwork often contains oil and debris. Before new ductwork is connected to the air handling system, it should be inspected for cleanliness and cleaned if necessary.
  • Maintain good housekeeping in occupied spaces.
  • Ensure that air intakes are located away from contaminant sources.
  • Consider routine inspections of ductwork. TheNational Air Duct Cleaning Association’s (NADCA) standard “Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC Systems”recommends that HVAC systems be visually inspected for cleanliness at regular intervals.

If duct cleaning is determined to be the best option:

Hire a duct cleaning contractor who is a member in good standing of the NADCA.Duct cleaning companies must meet strict requirements to become NADCA members. Among those requirements, all NADCA members must have certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS) on staff that have taken and passed the NADCA Certification Examination.


  • Duct cleaning should only be undertaken as a last resort, after other measures have been exhausted.
  • Duct cleaning should only be done after the problem has been thoroughly evaluated and the source has been identified and controlled.
  • Prevent dirt, water and other contaminants from entering the ducts in the first place by following good practices for preventive maintenance and housekeeping, as well as proper location of air intakes.

Furnaces: to Two-stage or not? That is the Question

Posted in Around Your Home, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Renovation with tags , , , , on April 4, 2012 by Pat Hansen

If you have been shopping for a new gas furnace you are probably wondering whether or not it is important to spend the extra money for a two-stage model. What are the advantages of a two-stage furnace?

There are several benefits of a two-stage furnace that make them a popular choice for many homeowners.

  • They use energy more efficiently, reducing your energy consumption and your energy bills. A two-stage has 2 settings, low heat and high heat. On low heat, the gas burner runs at 65%-70% capacity, depending on the brand and the model. So, if you have a 100,000 Btu furnace, it will produce 65,000 to 70,000 Btu per hour on low heat. On many days, this is enough to meet the heating demands of the house.  If the furnace cannot heat effectively on low heat, the gas valve will open to 100% and bring the house up to the desired temperature. Running on low heat most of the time means less fuel is used in the long run. A single stage furnace runs full blast and then stops, and does this repeatedly, like a car in stop and go traffic. It will use fuel less efficiently.
  • Two-stage gas furnaces offer more balanced heating, with temperature fluctuations of only 2-3 degrees. Because a two-stage furnace runs at a lower capacity (65-70%), it runs more consistently, and that leads to more even heating. A single stage furnace runs full capacity every time it fires, so temperature fluctuations tend to be more pronounced.
  • Two-stage furnaces are quieter. Combustion makes noise, so 65%-70% combustion will be quieter than 100% combustion. The difference may be noticeable if the furnace is located near living areas.
  • Better air filtration is offered by a two-stage furnace. Two-stage furnaces run more, and that means that air is more consistently circulating through the furnace filters, where more allergens and pollutants are removed. If you choose an advanced air purification system for your furnace, two-stage operation will enhance its functionality.
  • Humidification is improved with a two-stage furnace. If you plan to include a humidifier with your furnace, two-stage operation will improve its performance. The humidifier only does its job when the furnace is running, and since a two-stage furnace runs more often, it will add more humidity to your home during the heating season.

Now that you know the advantages of a two-stage furnace, the decision becomes easier. As you price single stage and two-stage models, you have to ask yourself if the above advantages are worth the extra expense. If you want greater comfort from your furnace, then you should spend the extra money and get a two-stage furnace. If your needs for a furnace are more basic, then a single stage furnace may be perfectly adequate to heat your home.

Which Air Conditioner?

A single stage air conditioner is what you probably already have and if it is still in good working order, you can use it even though you may have chosen a two-stage furnace.  However, if you live in a warm, humid climate or are in need of a new air conditioner, you may want to consider a two-stage air conditioner.

Two-stage air conditioners run at 67% and 100% of capacity. The thermostat controls which speed is used based on the home temperature. Comfort is increased because cool air circulates almost all of the time between noon and 8 pm. This reduces room “heat up” that occurs during the off cycle of conventional, single-speed air conditioners.

The end result of using a two-stage air conditioner is that you will receive a relatively continuous flow of cool air throughout your home.  A two-stage air conditioner will send in a steady but smaller stream of cooled air as opposed to the large blast of cold air you would get from a single stage system.

This results in a more consistent and comfortable environment overall, and it also makes it possible for the air conditioning system to de-humidify your house more effectively. When the air is cooled too quickly, the de-humidification system does not always have time to do its job. With the longer cooling cycles of the two-stage system, there is plenty of time to make sure the right amount of humidity is removed from the air.

Savings are substantial in hot, humid areas of the country. A two-stage air conditioner can save 15 to 30% on a cooling bill. Economic evaluations of two-stage air conditioners have shown that the investment has a greater than 10% Return-on-Investment (ROI) and a 4 to 5 year payout.

Whether you are remodeling, building a new home or just need to replace your furnace or air conditioner, it pays to research your options.

Dream Home EXPO 2012

Posted in Around Your Home, Housing News, Local News with tags , , , on March 19, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Sponsored by: Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools & the City of Royal Oak

  • Location – Royal Oak Middle School
  • 709 N. Washington, Royal Oak  48067
  • Saturday – March 24, 2011
  • Time – 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Admission and Parking is Free

What a great opportunity this spring to get out and visit the 14th annual Royal Oak Dream Home EXPO and talk to Remodelers, Builders, Designers, Architects, Landscaping Companies and the City of Royal Oak Building and Planning Departments who will be on hand to answer questions. There will also be heating and cooling companies available to discuss energy-efficient heating and cooling options.

Today, many families are choosing to stay in their homes and remodel or update what they feel will create a more comfortable, functional and enjoyable place to live.

The Royal Oak Building and Planning Departments will be on hand to explain the building codes, and review with Royal Oak residents what they can build on their lot, calculate the amount of lot coverage allowed, and review the site plan and set back requirements.  Most people don’t have a good idea of what they can do on their lot if they are thinking about adding on to their home. This event enables residents to identify easy, convenient and affordable ways to accomplish this.

This event is the 14th annual Royal Oak Dream Home Expo. Last year it was attended by over 1,000 Royal Oak residents.  This year there are over 50 exhibitors.  We, Robert R. Jones Homebuilder and Remodeler, invite you to stop by Exhibit 51 to view our display of distinctive homes. Be sure to ask about our free design consultation offer if you are planning to remodel.

Programmable Thermostats

Posted in Around Your Home, Renovation with tags , , on January 26, 2012 by Pat Hansen

You can save around 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10°- 15° for eight hours.  You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat.

Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning according to a pre-set schedule.  As a result, you don’t operate the equipment as much when you are asleep or when the house is not occupied.

Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.

General Thermostat Operation

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68° F while you are awake and setting it lower while you are asleep or away from home. By turning your thermostat back 10°-15° for eight hours you can save about 5% – 15% a year on your heating bill (a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long).

In the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning, too, by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and lowering the thermostat setting to 78° F only when you are at home and need cooling.  Although thermostats can be adjusted manually, programmable thermostats will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to normal as you awake or return home.

A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings.  In fact, as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly.  The lower the interior temperature, the slower the heat loss. The longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save, because your house has lost less energy than it would have at the higher temperature.  The same concept applies to raising your thermostat setting in the summer; a higher interior temperature will slow the flow of heat into your house, saving energy on air conditioning.

Choosing and Programming a Programmable Thermostat

Most programmable thermostats are either digital, electromechanical, or some mixture of the two.  Digital thermostats offer the most features in terms of multiple setback settings, overrides, and adjustments for daylight savings time, but may be difficult for some people to program.  Electromechanical systems often involve pegs or sliding bars and are relatively simple to program.

When programming your thermostat, consider when you normally go to sleep and wake up.  If you prefer to sleep at a cooler temperature during the winter, you may want to start the temperature setback a bit ahead of the time you actually go to bed. Also, consider the schedules of everyone in the household; is there a time during the day when the house is unoccupied for four hours or more?  If so, it makes sense to adjust the temperature during those periods.

Other Considerations

The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency.  Read the manufacturer’s installation instructions to prevent “false readings” or unnecessary furnace or air conditioning cycling.

Place thermostats away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights and windows.  Also, make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for programming.

Be sure to check the website of the company that supplies the energy for your heating and cooling.  Many utilities offer rebates for upgrading your heating/cooling systems and some of those may include rebates for setback thermostats.

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