Fact: In the Boston area, every degree you can turn the heat down for 8 hours out of every day during the winter will decrease your heating bills by 1%. Really. If you turn your heat down at night 10 degrees from 70 degrees to 60 degrees while you are cuddled up under the covers, you will save 10%. And if you have a programmable thermostat, you can program it to turn the heat up a half an hour before you wake up so your home is warm and toasty when you get out of bed.
Myth buster: It does not take more energy to heat up most homes than it does to keep that home at that temperature for hours. Imagine the energy to heat up your home was generated by you biking and that you can only bike at one consistent speed (since most heating systems have only one “speed” at which they burn). Which would be easier? You biking all through the night to keep the home at a 70 degree temperature, or you not biking until the morning?
If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, install one and program it to turn down the temperature as much as possible at night and while you’re at work. Program it to turn the heat back up about a half an hour before you get back home or wake up. You’ll never know the difference except in your heating bills.
If you do have a programmable thermostat already installed but don’t know how to program it, you can google the directions for the model and kind of your thermostat and download them.
How to Program: Four Time Periods
1. Decide what temperature is desired for the different time periods in the household schedule. For instance, residents might go to sleep every night by 10 p.m., awaken at 6 a.m., leave for work at 8 a.m., and return at 6 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, they are home for most of the day and stay up until 11 p.m. To make programming easier, write the times and temperatures down before you start.
In the Boston area, every degree we can turn the heat down for 24 hours during the winter will decrease our heating bills about 3%. Each time period for turning on or off the heat should start 1/2 hour before needed (i.e. if the wake up time is 6 a.m., the thermostat should turn on at 5:30 a.m. If bedtime is 10 p.m., thermostat should turn the temperature down at 9:30 p.m.).
a. 5:30 a.m. - 65 degrees
b. 7:30 a.m. - 55 degrees
c. 5:30 p.m. - 65 degrees
d. 9:30 p.m. - 55 degrees
a. 6:30a.m. - 65 degrees.
b. 10:30 p.m. - 55 degrees
2. For each time period on weekdays, program the thermostat to turn to these temperatures. Each thermostat is different, but generally start by clicking the Set button. Use the Up and Down arrow keys to set the wake-up time (in this case: 5:30 a.m.). Then hit Next and use the arrow keys to set the temperature for that waking time (65 degrees). Use Next and the arrow keys to get to the time when residents leave for work (7:30 a.m.) and hit Next and the arrows to get to temperature wanted at that time (55 degrees), and so forth.
3. Do the same for the weekends.
4. Make sure the current time and day shown by the thermostat is accurate. If it isn’t, the program won’t work right.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For forced hot air systems, slide fan switch to "Auto" (so the fan runs only when the furnace is running) for this can save over $200 in electricity per year.
How to Install a Programmable Thermostat
Warnings: Do not install if heating system is electric. For gas and oil heat, thermostat is DC current and is very safe. In other words, you don’t have to worry about electrocuting yourself. An electric heating system needs a professional to install the thermostat.
Turn off heating system in the basement. Normally, there’s a switch on the side of the furnace or boiler that looks like a light switch. Click it off.
Make sure to bring old thermostats to a recycling center or hazardous materials center afterward. They contain enough mercury to poison a small lake and many humans. Don't just throw them in the trash.
Tools needed: Screwdriver, either wood screws or screws with anchors for drywall, pencil, a drill with small bits for driving guide holes, some masking tape to secure a pen or pencil to wires and keep them from sliding back into the wall (securing wires to paper clips also works). You may need a wire stripper or knife and some emery cloth or other abrasive to rough up the wires for a good connection.
Remove Old Thermostat:
1. Unsnap the old thermostat cover from its base.
2. Remove screws holding thermostat to the base.
3. Take a photo of the thermostat and which wire goes where or draw a picture (label the color of the wires). That way, if you get in any trouble, you can at least reattach the old thermostat.
4. Unscrew and remove the base of the thermostat from the wall, and hold onto the wires as you do so. Tape the wires around a paper clip, pen, or other similar object that will weigh them down and not slip backwards into the wall hole, never to be seen again.
5. Remove any screws connecting thermostat base to wall.
6. If they are not already stripped, strip about half an inch of plastic casing from the end of each wire. Rub the exposed copper with something made for cleaning metal, such as an emery cloth or a steel-wool sponge so you get a good contact when you reconnect it.
7. Stuff some insulation (a few paper towels would work) into the hole in the wall behind the thermostat. This will protect your device from cold drafts so it doesn't crank the temperature up every time the wind blows.
Install New Thermostat:
1. Take the new thermostat out of its wrapping and unsnap it from its base.
2. Disconnect the pen or other object you have used as a weight from the wires and push the wires through the hole in the new base, so that they emerge under the terminal block (the area with all the screws for connecting the wires). Reattach the weighted object to hold the wires in place.
3. Place the base against the wall, and put a level on top to ensure it is evenly placed. Using a pencil, mark the areas where you will set your screws.
4. Drill pilot holes for the screws using a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the screws. Then screw the base to the wall, using regular screws for wood. If you aren’t screwing into a stud, drywall anchors are needed. For these, you will need to drill a hole with a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the shank of the anchor—so that you can lightly hammer the anchor into the drywall. When the anchor screws are screwed in, the anchor shaft will be forced open and make it more difficult for the anchor to pull out.
5. Follow the directions that came with the thermostat for the wires. If they are incomprehensible, then, in general, you should do this: Unscrew screw marked Rh and screw marked W. Remove tiny red jumper (in 2 wire systems). Straighten wire with needle nose pliers and insert in hole (red wire in Rh and white wire in W). Then tighten Rh and W screws.
6. Install the batteries if they are needed.
7. Snap the front of the thermostat onto the base.
Check New Thermostat:
1. Slide "Heat-Off-Cool" switch to "Heat.”
2. Press up arrow on the thermostat until the thermostat read-out is asking for a temperature that is way over the current temperature inside the home (90 degrees or so).
3. Turn the furnace/boiler back on at that switch you turned off on the side).
4. Stand by the furnace/boiler and listen. If you did everything right, the furnace/boiler should go on within 3 minutes. Listen for the whoosh of the flame going on. If you aren’t sure the heat has gone on, lightly touch the metal flu above the furnace, for it could be hot enough to burn you.
5. After heat goes on, go back to the thermostat and turn down the up arrow until it is at a reasonable temperature.
6. Program the thermostat to the temperatures and times. (See the directions above).
If Heat Doesn't Go On after Five Minutes:
1. Confirm the switch on the furnace/boiler is on.
2. Confirm the temperature on the thermostat readout is higher than current temperature of the inside of the home. (Click the up arrow and it will show the temperature the thermostat is asking for. After a moment, it will return to showing the temperature of the room.
3. Check that the red wire and white wire are in the correct holes and that the screws are in all the way. Make sure the bare part of each wire has a good contact with the metal of each screw. Note: if the heating system does not go on, this is usually where the problem is.
4. Confirm the tiny red jumper is removed.
5. See if the heating system is on now.
6. Repeat if necessary.