Tuesday, February 8, 2011

That box on the wall....quit messing with it.

As part of an unofficial survey, I need your help on an issue I know is near and dear to your heart.  Okay, that near and dear part might be a stretch but hear me out.

For a couple decades now local utility providers [gas, electric, oil companies] have been sitting on the fence, writhing in pain that you may heed the advice blowing your way about conserving energy.  There's no doubt your utility company would rather you didn't bother your busy life with worries of saving energy in your home, after all, for about a century they have been getting fatter and fatter off our inefficient homes and heating systems.  Somewhere along the way those very same companies trying to coddle you into 72*F bliss have figured out that their positive involvement may cast a better light; oh and by the way, huge incentives coming from the federal government might have helped too.  Enter the "Programmable Thermostat"! See, when its capitalized it gives this overwhelming feeling of dominance, power of control, absolute choice and the ability to save 'big' money!  At least that's what every home center big box store wants you to think, and as of late even your utility company is touting the benefits to lowering your overall comfort level in the home to pave way for savings.

I'll try not to get too technical, I like to keep it light so stay with me.

If your home heating system consists of a ductwork system branching off a scorched (forced, sorry) air furnace it is likely you have a programmable thermostat as a means to control the temperature settings in the home.  Ah yes, it is used to control the temperature settings but what for? Why would we have a need to raise or lower the temperature in our home? My bet is money.  Yep, I'd say the number one reason a homeowner would go to the trouble and expense of installing [or have installed] a programmable thermostat is the opportunity to keep more of the green on hand and not in the hand of our utility company.  Savings in the name of lost comfort.  That's what we are really doing, saving what will only really add up to $5-$15 a month all the while convincing ourselves that "our family likes it cooler" or "it doesn't need to be that warm when we are all covered with a foot of blankets at night".

Let's switch gears for a minute, let me talk a little about the technical side to my argument and why it you may not be saving as much as you think.

If you are setting your thermostat back at night or during the day when you are at work, how deep are you going? 2-3 degrees? 5-10 degrees? 10+ degrees?  When the schedule changes and its time to come back up to your regular temperature settings does your furnace/boiler run for a short period of time and satisfy the thermostat or is it running constantly until the next set back period?  For every 3 degrees lower, you "can" save up to 1% on fuel usage.  This being a perfect world, those numbers work if the temperature stays relatively stable during the set-back period.  This is not a perfect world, and here's a few more reasons why....

If your thermostat is set to drop the room temperature down 10 degrees while you are work and the room temperature actually does drop that amount in the scheduled time period of the set-back, there's a few things that might need addressed.  First of all, what is really happening is the MRT or mean room temperature is lowering because the furnace has not been told to turn on until that magic number [10 degrees lower than normal] is realized.  In that time, lets say its for 8 hours, if the temperature does drop ten degrees without an Alberta clipper setting in on the region, your home may not be as well insulated or sealed as it should be.  Be that as it may, you now need to bring that temperature all the way back up for your scheduled arrival; all the while negating any real savings you could have had in the form of a furnace running for extended periods of time at full out capacity.  A possible adjustment in this scenario might be to cut the set-back to five degrees instead and if there are some south facing windows maybe open some window treatments to let some sun in.  This could actually elevate the comfort level by warming the surfaces in your home, kinda like a radiant heating system I have heard so much about....

Remember, just because you have the ability to set that temperature down so low doesn't mean you should.  Recovery form deep set-backs can and often do consume as much energy as was hoped to have been saved, making it more of a question of your comfort level and at what cost(?).

You know, Ron Popeil should have marketed a thermostat....."Just set it and forget it!"
Until next time, thanks!

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