How Winter Thermostat Settings Affect Your Home and Your Wallet

A question that many people ask is if winter thermostat settings cost more than summer ones. To answer this, it really depends on how you want to set your thermostat and how often you will need to adjust it. If you just want to have a comfortable temperature in the colder months, then it would be cheaper to run the same settings that you use during the warmer months of summer. Generally, heat is cheaper than air conditioning.

Does Lowering Your Thermostat Really Save You Money?

Yes! Energy.gov recommends that you keep your home at 68 degrees through the winter, but that you lower it significantly at night. Their data shows that lowering your thermostat 10-15 degrees for eight hours will save you 5-15% on your heating bill. That’s nearly a 1% saving per degree. When put into that perspective, it can be tempting to lower your thermostat even further as you watch the bills go down. And that’s the low estimate! EnergyHub estimates that for every degree you lower your thermostat, you save 3% in heating costs. If you’re the type to pinch every penny, then it can be tempting to invest in a few more sweaters and blankets and keep that thermostat low. (A study from Popular Science says that layering clothes can keep you every bit as warm at 68 degrees as you’d feel at 78 degrees during the summer.)

Pets

Many people wonder about their pets and if they can handle both the hot and cold seasonal swings. The truth is that a cat or a dog won’t be bothered anywhere in the 64 to 78 degree range (thanks to fur and panting). On the other hand, if you have more exotic animals, like parrots or turtles or frogs, you may want to consult your local pet store to get their advice, but often an animal like that can be helped with a simple heat lamp, while the rest of your house dips low.

Babies

Now babies are a different story: they can wear all the cute little sweaters and booties you can dress them in, but they don’t have fur and they don’t pant to cool themselves down. Pediatricians recommend that you keep your home between 65 and 75 degrees when you’ve got a little one at home.

Sleeping

When you’re sleeping, the best temperature ranges are a little cooler than the temperature you keep your house at during the day. In the summer, where you’d normally set it at 78, 72 might be a better temperature for sleeping. And in the winter, instead of 68, you’d sleep best at 64. If you do wish to lower your temperature the full 10-15 degrees per night, then stock up on blankets or cuddle up with that loved one or pet. Hot water bottles are still a thing, too! The cost of heating water for a water bottle (or a rice bag) is far less than the cost of heating your entire house outside of your bed. Remember: when you’re cooling your home at night you only have to keep that bed warm, not the whole house. 

Where Should the Thermostat Be Installed in the House?

To get the most accurate reading, there are some things to take into account. First, you want the thermostat to be away from an HVAC vent. If it’s right next to a heater, then it’ll heat up before the rest of the house and turn off, leaving your home cold. 

Second, you want to keep it somewhere in the middle part of your house, to get a good average temperature of your entire house. Likewise, you want to keep it away from doors, windows, or skylights. If your thermostat is basking in the sun–even if it’s far away from the window–it can heat up more than the rest of your house and turn off.

Finally, don’t put the thermostat in the kitchen. If you’re baking, it can heat up your thermostat artificially. Even the hot steam coming from your dishwasher can fool your thermostat.

Is it Good for the System to Change the Thermostat So Drastically?

So we’ve talked about swinging the temperature a lot during the day and night, but is it really something that you should maximize? Can your furnace live up to that? Yes and no. 

Yes, a 15 degree swing is good if you’re going from 78 degrees to 63 degrees. But you shouldn’t start at 68 degrees and lower your thermostat fifteen more degrees. Most manufacturers say that the cold air return on a furnace shouldn’t be sucking in air lower than 60 degrees generally, and 55 degrees at the most. The heat exchanger can be damaged if you exceed these guidelines. 

The other risk is freezing pipes. Yes, lowering your home to 50 degrees during the night may not freeze the pipes, but if you’re leaving on vacation in the winter and drop the thermostat down to 50 degrees, your house can really get cold. Remember–that 50 degrees is based on the average somewhere in the center of the house where the thermostat is, not in the basement or near an outside wall where many pipes are. Pipes can freeze (and when they freeze they burst, and when they burst you have flooding, and you definitely don’t want to come back from vacation to find your basement has been flooded with icy water).

Indoor/Outdoor Differential

Finally, one thing to keep in mind is the temperature differential between the inside and outside of your house. This can really hit you in the wallet. 

If your outside temperature is 60 degrees and your inside temperature is 72, then that’s only a temperature differential of 12 degrees and your furnace doesn’t have to work very hard to manage something like that. On the other hand, if your outside temperature is 0 degrees and your inside is 72, then that’s a 72 degree differential, and it’s going to be a lot harder to keep that temperature maintained.

Of course, this is where insulation comes in and heat-resistant windows and all of those other good things that are so valuable when building a home. These things shouldn’t be overlooked! They can save you a lot of money, both in month-to-month savings on your power bill, but also on the lifespan of your furnace and air conditioner. An HVAC system that doesn’t have to work as hard is an HVAC system that will serve you for many years.