Get the Greatest Benefit from Your Programmable Thermostat

Part 2 of 3 in the ENERGY STAR series.

  • Install your thermostat away from heating or cooling registers, appliances, lighting, doorways, fireplaces, skylights and windows, and areas that receive direct sunlight or drafts. Interior walls are best.
  • Keep the thermostat set at energy-saving temperatures for long periods of time, such as during the day when no one is home and at bedtime.
  • Set the “hold” button at a constant energy-saving temperature when going away for the weekend or on vacation.
  • Resist the urge to override the pre-programmed settings. Every time you do, you use more energy and may end up paying more on your energy bill.
  • Use a programmable thermostat for each zone of your house if you have multiple heating and cooling zones. This will help you maximize comfort, convenience, and energy savings throughout the house.
  • Change your batteries each year if your programmable thermostat runs on batteries. Some units will indicate when batteries must be changed.

If you have a heat pump, you may require a special programmable thermostat to maximize your energy savings year-round. Talk to your retailer or contractor for details before selecting your thermostat.

If you have a manual thermostat, you can adjust the temperatures daily before you leave the house and when you go to sleep at night. Typically, adjusting temperatures 5 – 8 degrees (down in winter, up in summer) can help save energy if you are going to be away from home for several hours.

Ducts are used to distribute conditioned air throughout houses with forced-air heating and cooling systems. In typical houses, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. The result is an inefficient HVAC system, high utility bills, and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter how the thermostat is set.

Seal Your Heating and Cooling Ducts

Ducts are used to distribute conditioned air throughout houses with forced-air heating and cooling systems. In typical houses, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. The result is an inefficient HVAC system, high utility bills, and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter how the thermostat is set.

Simple Steps to Improving Duct Performance

Because ducts are often concealed in walls, ceilings, attics, and basements, repairing them can be difficult. But there are things that you can do to improve duct performance in your house.

Start by sealing leaks using mastic sealant or metal (foil) tape and insulating all the ducts that you can access such as those in the attic, crawlspace, basement, or garage. Never use ‘duct tape,’ as it is not long lasting.

Also make sure that the connections at vents and registers are well sealed where they meet the floors, walls, and ceiling. These are common locations to find leaks and disconnected ductwork.

Working with a Contractor

Many homeowners choose to hire a professional contractor for duct improvement projects. Most heating and cooling contractors also repair ductwork. Look for a contractor who will:

  • Inspect the whole duct system, including the attic, basement, and crawlspace (if you have these).
  • Evaluate the system’s supply and return air balance. Many systems have air return ducts that are too small.
  • Repair or replace damaged, disconnected, or undersized ducts and straighten out flexible ducts that are tangled or crushed.
  • Seal leaks and connections with mastic, metal tape, or an aerosol based sealant.
  • Seal gaps behind registers and grills where the duct meets the floor, wall, or ceiling.
  • Insulate ducts in unconditioned areas with insulation that carries an R-value of 6 or higher.
  • Include a new filter as part of any duct system improvement.
  • Use diagnostic tools to evaluate airflow after repairs are completed.
  • Ensure there is no back drafting of gas or oil-burning appliances, and conduct a combustion safety test after ducts are sealed.

Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR

The exterior of your home—the outer walls, ceiling, windows, and floor—is called the “envelope” or “shell.” As a knowledgeable homeowner or with the help of a skilled contractor, you can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs (or up to 10 percent on your total annual energy bill) by sealing and insulating your home envelope. It will also make your home more comfortable and help your heating and cooling system run more efficiently.

To improve your home’s envelope, you can make these changes yourself:

If your attic is accessible and you like home improvement projects, you can Do-It-Yourself with help from EPA’s DIY Guide to Sealing and Insulating with ENERGY STAR.

The Guide offers step-by-step instructions for sealing common air leaks and adding insulation to the attic to block heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

You can also hire a contractor who will use special diagnostic tools to pinpoint and seal the hidden air leaks in your home. A Home Energy Rater can help you find contractors that offer air sealing services in your area.

Hidden Air Leaks

Be sure to look for and seal air leaks before you install insulation because it performs best when air is not moving through or around it. Many air leaks and drafts are easy to find because they are easy to feel—like those around windows and doors. But holes hidden in attics, basements, and crawlspaces are usually bigger problems. Sealing these leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping will have a great impact on improving your comfort and reducing utility bills.

Homeowners are often concerned about sealing their house too tightly; however, this is very unlikely in many older homes. A certain amount of fresh air is needed for good indoor air quality, and there are specifications that set the minimum amount of fresh air needed for a house. If you are concerned about how tight your home is, hire a contractor, such as a Home Energy Rater, who can use diagnostic tools to measure your home's actual air leakage. If your home is too tight, a fresh air ventilation system may be recommended.

After any project where you reduce air leakage, have a heating and cooling technician check to make sure that your combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, water heater, and dryer) are venting properly. For additional information on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues related to homes, such as combustion safety, visit EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Web site at www.epa.gov/iaq.

In the final of our 3-part ENERGY STAR series, we’ll be discussing adding insulating and qualified ENERGY STAR products.




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