Texans suffered through a terrible heat wave this summer, resulting in soaring electricity bills and calls for energy conservation. Now the highs aren’t as stark – for example, Houston’s temperature on a Tuesday earlier this month was 78. But that’s still about 15 degrees above normal for January. So, should Texans leave their thermostat set for winter temperatures or adjust for the unseasonable heat?
The answer isn’t easy. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, human response to heat is dependent on the body’s ability to cool itself and studies have proven that there is an association between high indoor temperatures and adverse health effects.
This leads us to wonder how hot is too hot, even in winter, and whether we should set the thermostat up or down as the weather changes. Or should we set it and forget it? And what’s the most cost-effective strategy?
Of course, a 78-degree day during the summer in Houston would be considered a treat. Not so much during the winter.
Setting your thermostat
Let’s put it right out there: The exact temperature is subjective. Some sources say setting your thermostat to as low as 68 degrees in either season is best, while others believe increasing the temperature is the way to go. If you have a smart thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature for you, in spring and winter you can set your thermostat and forget it for the season.
But what about everyone else?
What to set your thermostat to in spring
The U.S. Department of Energy suggests keeping your house warmer than normal when you’re away and lowering the thermostat when you’re home. The optimal spring temperature to set your thermostat to is 78 degrees while home.
To further help with cooling without breaking the bank, the department also suggests utilizing fans when you’re in a room. Using ceiling fans, the DOE says, allows you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees with no effect. (Remember, though, fans don’t cool the room – the air circulation cools people. That means you should turn fans off when no one’s in the room.
What to set your thermostat to in winter
If you live in a state that is normally warm like Texas, retail electricity provider Direct Energy suggests setting your thermostat to 72 degrees at minimum in winter. But, if you find it more comfortable, 68 degrees is the optimal winter temperature. A good rule of thumb to follow is: Opt for 72 degrees if you can handle it when you’re home. When you’re away for extended periods of time, set your thermostat to 68 degrees.
And when you get warm temperatures during the winter? Heating, ventilation and air conditioning professionals say there’s no harm in jockeying the temperature – especially if you can leave it constant for at least eight hours.
Medium.com pushes a higher temperature when you’re home, suggesting 78 degrees in spring in order to see a savings on your energy bill of anywhere between 6 to 8 percent. The key to saving money on your electric bill is to use as little energy as possible and to be mindful of adjusting the temperature when you’re not home as to not waste energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says heating and cooling account for more than half of a home’s annual energy consumption. That’s why making small changes to your thermostat is a good way to save money without making too much of a sacrifice.
Smart thermostats vs. programmable thermostats
Smart thermostats are popping up all over these days; Nest seems to be the most popular. A smart thermostat works through home automation – control it with your smart phone when you’re away and get access to recorded internal and external temperatures among other features.
Programmable thermostats have been around since the 1970s and give users the flexibility to hold a certain temperature on a schedule. Both are helpful for regulating temperatures in your home, but smart thermostats have more features and give you more control.
The bottom line: The more conservatively you set your thermostat during any season, the more money you can save.
Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional and freelance writer. Her articles have appeared on HuffingtonPost.com, BusinessNewsDaily.com, Business.com, and Social Media Today, among others.