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How to Set Your Thermostat

Options abound to save energy and money


by Miranda Boutelle, Contributing Columnist

Q: How do I operate my thermostat to use less energy and still be comfortable?

A: Heating and cooling account for about half the energy used in a typical home, so it’s a great place to use less energy. When used wisely, your thermostat can help reduce wasted energy.

Touchscreen thermostats are easy to control. (Photo by Mark Gilliland/Pioneer Utility Resources)

Here’s some information on thermostat types, common operational misconceptions and best practices you can start today.


Mechanical thermostats are easy to control by adjusting a dial or sliding switch. The downfall is you must make temperature adjustments manually, which is easy to forget. They are inefficient because they typically heat or cool the home beyond the set point.

If your cooling is set to 72 degrees, a mechanical thermostat might actually cool your home to 70 degrees before it turns off, wasting energy. Then it might not come on again until the home reaches 74 degrees.

Also, some mechanical thermostats contain mercury. You can determine that by removing the front plate and looking for small glass bulbs. If your thermostat contains mercury, replace it and find a way to properly recycle it.

Digital thermostats are more accurate and efficient, and some are programmable, which is a great option for people who lack internet or don’t want their thermostat data tracked. Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi-enabled and can be controlled using a smartphone app. Programming is easier, and you can track and manage use and temperature data. However, that data is shared with the manufacturer.


A common misconception is the higher you turn your thermostat up or down, the faster your home’s temperature will change. Turning your thermostat to 55 degrees to cool your home faster is like repeatedly pushing the elevator button and expecting it to come faster.

It’s likely you will forget you adjusted it and waste energy by overheating or overcooling the home. Set your desired temperature for heating and cooling or program your thermostat so you don’t make extreme adjustments.

Setting your thermostat seven to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day can save up to 10% a year on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.


Use these heating and cooling tips from the DOE to add efficiency and savings to your home:

• Set it to 78 degrees in the summer when you are home and awake, and warmer at night or when away. Set your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter when you are home and awake, and cooler at night or when you are away.

• Upgrade to a programmable or smart thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature throughout the day and when you leave the house.

• When on vacation, set your thermostat to 85 degrees in the summer and 55 degrees in the winter.

• In the summer, fans allow you to set your thermostat about 4 degrees warmer without feeling it. Remember, fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave a room. Use your thermostat to optimize energy efficiency and find a balance between comfort and affordability.

Miranda Boutelle writes on energy-efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.