Program your thermostat

Why? When your home is empty, your heating and cooling systems are still using energy to maintain the temperature set on your thermostat. You can program your thermostat to use less energy when you're sleeping or away from home and revert to a comfortable temperature just before you wake up or just before you return.
How it works: When programmed correctly, a thermostat will automatically change the temperature of your home to an energy-saving level when you are away from home or sleeping. Once you program the device, the temperature will automatically return to your chosen comfort level at the scheduled times. Programmable thermostats allow you to choose the temperature settings and schedules that are right for you.

Step-by-step:

  1. Choose a thermostat that works for you. The most useful thermostat will be the one that is easiest to use. Get recommendations from those you trust, and, if you can, try some out before you buy. Also, make sure the thermostat will work with your heating and cooling systems.
  2. Get instructions.
    • If you're installing your programmable thermostat for the first time, we recommend hiring a licensed electrician.
    • If you're installing a line-volt thermostat (for electric heating), consult an electrician.
    • If you already have a programmable thermostat but are not sure where the manual is, call the manufacturer or visit their website for help.
  3. Set your "home-occupied" temperature. Setting your thermostat is a personal decision. The temperature you choose will be determined by your household members' preferences and comfort. As a guideline, set your thermostat to 20°C for heating and 26°C for cooling while you are awake at home.
  4. Set your "away from home" temperature. Program the thermostat to an energy-saving level for when your household members are away. Natural Resources Canada suggests setting your thermostat to 17°C when you are asleep or not at home. Setting your home's temperature at least 3°C higher in the summer and 3°C lower in the winter is a good rule of thumb. Lowering your temperature by just 1°C for eight hours each day can reduce heating costs by up to 2%.
  5. Discuss how the device works. Help other family members understand how the thermostat works to ensure your intended schedule is used.
  6. Save the manual. You may need to know how to reprogram the device as your schedule changes.

What to look for:

  • Flexibility. Many models allow separate programming for each day of the week. If your schedule is irregular, some units allow you to set awake, asleep, and away settings that you can activate simply by pushing a button.
  • Number of thermostats needed. If you heat with electric baseboards, consider installing a programmable thermostat in your most occupied rooms. If you have zoned heating or cooling, you may need more than one programmable thermostat.
  • Smart features. Thermostats with adaptive recovery abilities constantly measure how much time it takes to heat or cool your home. This means they can keep track of seasons, maintain your programmed schedule closely, and maximize savings. Others can learn your schedule without being programmed at all and can make suggestions about how you can save energy.
  • Wi-Fi or other connectivity. Some newer models can connect to your wireless Internet at home so you can program and adjust your thermostat from your computer or smart phone. The computer interface may be more intuitive or accessible than the one on the thermostat.

Go the extra mile: To save even more energy, create an "asleep" setting. Program your thermostat at least 3°C lower in the winter while you're sleeping. The temperature will return to your preferred comfort level by the time you wake up.

Good to know:

  • Your un-programmed thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves energy when it is programmed to adjust the temperature when it would otherwise remain unchanged. Many homes have programmable thermostats installed that are not programmed to provide optimum heating and cooling efficiency. It is never too late to program your thermostat and stop wasting heat or air conditioning on an empty home.
  • Pets. Make sure to keep the temperature in your home at a comfortable level for your pets.
  • Override. You can always manually override your thermostat's program if you leave or return home at an unusual time. If you do, be sure not to place your thermostat on a permanent hold at a fixed temperature.
  • Heat pumps. If you have a heat pump, consult a certified HVAC specialist before selecting a programmable thermostat or choosing a schedule. Heat pumps regulate temperature differently from furnaces or boilers, so heat pump owners should use different strategies to save energy.

Good for kids: Sometimes kids leave for school after you leave for work or return home earlier than you do. A programmable thermostat can help ensure that your heating and cooling systems aren't running when your home is empty, and also that the temperature is comfortable when household members return home.

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