The thermostat is a control that is common to virtually every heating system. A thermostat senses the room temperature and turns the heat on when the temperature drops below the set point. The simplest thing you can do to save energy is to turn down the thermostat. Depending on the climate, you can save about 10 percent if you keep the house cooler by 3°F to 5°F.
Turning down a thermostat saves energy, but only if you’re consistent. If one person is always turning it down, and another is always turning it back up, the person who turns it up may set the thermostat even higher to compensate for feeling chilly—and use more energy. This “dueling manager” syndrome is particularly wasteful if you have a heat pump. Find the lowest setting that everyone in the family is consistently comfortable with, and then leave it alone (other than for regular setbacks).
Another way to save energy with your thermostat is by using a regular setback. Turning down the house temperature for 6 to 8 hours while everyone is asleep, or away during the day, can save a lot—about 10 percent for an 8-hour, 10°F setback. Contrary to popular belief, it does not take more energy to bring the house back up to temperature – unless you have a modern, cold climate heat pump. Cold-climate, variable-speed heat pumps (unlike other types of systems) actually work best and most efficiently if you find a comfortable setting and leave it there. Remember, the heating system replaces heat that the house loses; if the indoor temperature is lower for a period of time, the house simply loses less heat during that time. But don’t overcompensate by setting the thermostat higher when you return; a setting of 78°F does not warm the house up any faster than a setting of 70°F.
One problem with turning down the thermostat while you’re away (or asleep) is that the house is cold when you return home (or get up). If you have a fairly regular schedule, an automatic thermostat can help. Set it to turn down the heat when you leave and turn it back up just before you get home; down at bedtime, up before you get up. Once it’s set, you don’t have to do anything. Most automatic thermostats can handle at least two setback periods during the day, and separate programs for weekends or all seven days.
Home automation has allowed for a wide range connected, “smart” thermostats; Nest™, Honeywell Lyric™, ecobee™, and many other products allow you to control your settings remotely, set automatic schedules, and give you feedback about when you’re saving energy.
Standby loads for consumer electronics have been dropping rapidly due to voluntary standards like Energy Star in combination with advances in technology. But consumers are buying more and more electronics every year, so the sheer number of devices tends to offset efficiency improvements. Fortunately, there are many control devices available to help you plug up these energy leaks. Automatic “smart” power strips, for example, are now available that work seamlessly to sense when the power needs to be on and when it can safely turn off, while keeping key loads like a set-top box on all the time. If you are thoughtful about how you apply these controls, you can save energy, and in some cases even enhance convenience.
Another area of phantom energy use that you can easily control is your computer. In addition to putting peripherals and monitors on a control, you should also avoid screen savers, some of which actually increase energy use. And don’t leave the computer on unless it’s actually doing something. There’s a lingering myth that leaving a computer running reduces wear and tear, but that advice harkens back to a time when hardware and operating systems were unreliable. All modern operating systems include standby or hibernation modes that recover quickly, and actually save wear and tear, while saving electricity. Look for settings such as Power Options or Energy Saver. Note that some standby modes require a small amount of energy, so be sure that your desktop computer is plugged into an always-on outlet so your session is preserved when everything else shuts down.
The Smart Strip® is one of several brands that sense when a “primary” load (such as a computer or TV) is running. When you switch off that primary device, most of the other outlets in the strip automatically shut off power to peripherals such as monitor, printer, DVD player, or game console. Look for a load-sensing device that you can adjust to properly sense the standby or “off” power level of your primary device.Many gadgets are available to help manage phantom loads. They all promise to pay for themselves in a year or two, but their impact depends entirely on what’s plugged in and how it’s used. Any control will save the most when it shuts off larger plug loads; the best opportunities are usually found in groups of devices, like entertainment centers or home offices.
This wall cube draws power even when nothing is plugged into it. Photo Credit: John Curtis
A range of “Smart” power strips are available that monitor non-essential plug-in items and turn them off automatically when not needed. Photo Credit: Art Evans