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Hold, Fan, or Auto? Set Your Thermostat to Save Money

Hold, Fan, or Auto? Set Your Thermostat to Save Money

Which setting on your thermostat should you use for energy efficiency and cost savings? What temperature should you set the thermostat on to save the biggest bucks? What’s better for your budget, a manual thermostat or a programmable one? Here’s some information to help you answer these important questions that can effect your pocketbook and your comfort.

1. Temperature

First, let’s look at the best temperature settings for your thermostat. For many homeowners, keeping the thermostat at 68 degrees in the winter is both comfortable and cost efficient. At night, when the household is sleeping, or during the day when everyone is away, lowering the thermostat 6 to 10 degrees is usually do-able. If you can turn the thermostat down even more, say 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours, you can save 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill, which represents a savings of about 1 percent for each degree, as long as you set the temperature back for at least eight hours.

In the summer, adjust your temperature with the same strategy but in the opposite direction. Try setting the thermostat to 75 to 78 degrees when you’re home, and turn the temperature up a few degrees when you’re away and less cooling is required. At night, try cooling with portable fans or ceiling fans, if needed, rather than lowering the thermostat.

You’ll need to be flexible with these seasonal temperatures at times. For example, if you have a big group at your home for holidays or parties, you’ll likely need to use a cooler-than-normal temperature setting for maximum room comfort. If you go out of town for more than a day or so, it’s a good idea to adjust the temperature to a higher or lower setting, depending on the time of year, since the house will be empty. In the winter months, however, it’s a good idea to keep the temperature at 55 degrees or above to lessen the chance of frozen pipes.

According to, it’s a common misconception that furnaces and air conditioners work harder than normal, depleting any savings, to return a home to a comfortable temperature after a thermostat has been set back or turned up. The converse is actually true, as this heating infographic shows, because when a house drops below its normal temperature in the winter, it loses energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. In the summer, the higher interior temperature slows the rate that heat enters the house.

2. Setting

Should you set the thermostat in the "on" or “auto” position? If you want to save energy and money, the answer is usually “auto.” Here’s why:

When your thermostat is in the “on” setting, the blower will run regardless of whether the temperature set point has been reached. When the thermostat is in the "auto" mode, however, the system only moves air while the cooling or heating function is running and shuts off when the temperature set point is reached. Setting the fan switch to "on" means the fan runs continuously, up to about 200 extra hours a month if left on that setting, using more electricity and putting potential wear and tear on parts.

Some people mistakenly think that keeping the fan in the "on" position reduces humidity but the opposite is true. Setting your air conditioner fan to “auto” actually helps decrease humidity because it gives condensation a chance to drain instead of sending it back into the home. Although the "on" setting may waste energy when left in that mode, it can be a useful setting for when you need to flush air out of your home, such as after accidentally burning something in the kitchen.

3. Manual or Programmable

You can accomplish the same energy- and cost-saving goals- using the same temperature and thermostat settings, with either a manual or a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat simply makes it easier to be more consistent with your settings because you adjust the times that you turn on or change your heating and air conditioning temperatures with a pre-set schedule. Smart programmable thermostats even let you control your home’s temperature remotely from a smart phone or tablet.

Before you purchase a programmable thermostat, make sure it is compatible with your heating and cooling system. Most programmable thermostats are digital, electromechanical, or a combination. Installing a programmable thermostat is usually a do-it-yourself project.

When programming the thermostat, think about your household’s typical weekly schedule. Many programmable thermostats enable you to install separate settings for weekend days. Take into consideration your normal bedtime and rising hours, and adjust the temperatures accordingly. Be sure to also adjust the temperature for times when the house is usually empty for a few hours or more.

Many digital programmable thermostats have a “hold” function, which can come in quite handy. The "hold" function basically lets you override the pre-set temperature and thermostat setting if your schedule changes. For instance, if you have a day off in the middle of a workweek and are at home, you can press the “hold” button to lock the current temperature in while you are in the house. When you want the programmed schedule to go back into effect, you just press the “run” button and you don’t have to go through resetting the entire week’s schedule.

Regardless of the type of thermostat and settings you choose, remember that its location is an important consideration. For proper and accurate operation, the thermostat should be installed on an interior wall that is out of direct sunlight and away from drafts. Doorways, skylights, and windows can also interfere with the thermostat registering the correct temperature consistently. Avoid blocking the thermostat (or any air vents) with furniture or artwork. This also goes for your hand-held or WiFi thermostats which can be very tricky to install.

Most importantly, make sure that everyone in your household knows how to properly set and use the thermostat. After all, saving energy and money should be a team effort. Go over the desired seasonal temperature settings, and explain the difference between the “on” and “auto” features. If you install a programmable thermostat, make sure everyone understands the settings and how they are timed. If the "hold" function is activated, make sure someone remembers to hit “run” to resume the pre-programmed schedule. When everyone is on the same page about energy savings, you’ll likely notice the cost savings adding up more quickly.

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