During the winter, you expect to see higher energy bills because of the amount of labor the heating system must put in. But you may be paying much more than you need to. Sometimes it’s the fault of the heater itself, and repairs will fix the problem. But a more common reason for high heating bills is something that’s actually quite simple to fix once you realize it’s there: incorrect settings on the thermostat.
What many people do wrong with their thermostats in winter
There’s a common misconception about thermostats that they work much like a throttle. The more you “open it up,” the more heat energy it produces. But a thermostat is actually a type of switch that controls whether the heater turns on and off. If you place the thermostat at its highest setting (which is often 85°F or even 90°F) the heating system doesn’t work faster or create additional amounts of heat. What it does is stay running longer—until it reaches that unpleasantly high temperature.
The result is that homeowners move the thermostat up and down throughout the day, putting it at a high setting, then dropping it to a lower one when they become too hot. This creates a lot of wasteful operations. Not only does it make the heater stay on for longer periods of time, it increases the amount of heat lost to the outdoors. The hotter inside, the quicker the heat moves outdoors. Maintaining a steady lower temperature means a heating system that doesn’t run as often and a home that isn’t losing excessive heat to the outside.
Ideal thermostat settings for winter
What is a good setting for a thermostat at this time of year? The U.S. Department of Energy advises 68°F during the day when people are home and awake. When everyone’s asleep, or during stretches when the house is empty, set back the thermostat by 8° to 10°. This should result in daily comfort while reducing energy consumption over the season by 5% to 15%. (Your heating system should last longer as well with that extra strain removed from it.)