How to Reduce Your Impact on the Planet with

Programmable Thermostats

How and Now What?

It is hard to consistently save energy at your home without a programmable thermostat. For me, however, there are a couple issues with these devices.

How do get them to do what I want, and what am I supposed to do with them to save energy?

Old School vs New

Should you buy a traditional, lower cost programmable thermostat, or one of the new web enabled units?

Programmable thermostats come in all shapes, sizes, brands, with many differing features. Some features may be indispensable while many are just plain confusing. 

The Two Types of Programmable Thermostats

 The old traditional types (like the familiar Honeywell, or First Alert), where you toggle through days of the week, time and temperature settings for each day or in groups of days. Most thermostats can be set with weekdays grouped together and weekend schedules grouped together.

The second, newer type are internet/web enabled which allow you to set unique or common times and temperatures for various days. These thermostats can be used to monitor times and temperature conditions in your home as well as make adjustments on site, or remotely when you are away.

The Choices Are Clear

Where Do You Fit In?


  • Are you not interested in using phone or laptop enabled apps to control your home’s heating and cooling?
  •  Are not interested in using or learning how to use the newer web based features?
  • You DO NOT have WIFI in your home.
  • Choose the traditional programmable thermostats.

New School

  • Are you a technology-orientated person?
  • Do you enjoy the convenience of internet/web enabled technologies?
  • Do you currently have WIFI in our home?
  • Choose the new modern units like Nest, Ecobee and others.

How Can I Program My Thermostat to Save Energy?

To lower energy use we need to reduce when we use our heating and/or air conditioners systems especially when we don't need them on like when we are not home or in bed.  It only makes sense to let the system turn down or off when you are not home or sleeping warmly under our bed covers.

What Temperature and When?

  • When you are at work, or on vacation you should turn down heating and cooling systems
  • Use your thermostat to drop the temperature down to 60°F when not home and in the summer raise it to 86°F for cooling.
  • Use the thermostat programming to turn the system back to normal temperatures starting about a ½ hr to an hour before you expect to get home. This time frame depends on how quickly your home heats back up or cools back down in the summer.
  • When you are at home, program the thermostat to drop the temperature to 62-65°F at night depending on your comfort level.
  • Prior to leaving on vacation, program the thermostat to drop (winter) or raise (summer) temperatures around the clock to save energy around the clock.

Set Your Thermostat to 60°F When not Home and in the Summer Raise it to 86°F for Cooling.

Do it Remotely

With the new technology units, you want to do the same things mentioned above for traditional thermostats.  However, web enabled units allow you to monitor and make changes remotely from your phone or laptop, in case you forgot or if your away from home plans change. 

These units also have features you can engage that has the thermostat ‘learn’ your typical schedule patterns and automatically make changes in an effort to predict your opportunities, in order to save energy.

I work from home sometimes, and can have an unpredictable and varied schedule, so these features did not work for me. However, I find the remote monitoring and ability to adjust the settings remotely to be very convenient. 

When my wife says, ‘I’m cold, turn up the heat’ when I’m comfortably kicked back in my favorite chair. I can grab my phone, and make a simple adjustment without moving in order to increase the temperature from 70°F up to 71°F. 

Allowing me to utilize technology to increase my laziness so I can binge watch more episodes of my Netflix show.

How do I Get My Thermostat to do What I Want?

Most traditional programmable thermostats tend to be setup very similarly. 

Typically there is:

  1. An ability to manually increase/decrease temperature settings thus overriding the programming temporarily. 
  2. The ability to navigate a menu, program, schedule or some other similar ‘label’.  Pressing this feature will allow you to get into the thermostat’s programming mode.  Once depressed, there will be other buttons or icons now identified as a way to allow you to ‘toggle’ through the set programming step by step within the unit.
  3. Typically starting with a grouping of all weekdays, and then once you have setup these days (by toggling through daily time and temperature setting per the below), continuing your toggling moves you onto programming for the weekend days.
  4. Starting with the weekdays, you first set the time and date of the unit’s first action. This will be your AM startup or ‘wakeup’ time and temperature.
  5. Set this for a time a ½ hr or an hour before you get out of bed, so when you go to make your first cup of coffee the spaces with will be moving around in are warm for you.
  6.  If you live in a warmer climate, this earlier start may not be necessary. Set a time and temperature that works for you.
  7. Then continue toggling to the next activity time, typically when you return home from work or your routine errands. Again, make this time a ½ hr to an hour before you typically get home from work or other outside activities.
  8. Then set the temperature for your heating (and cooling) system, which is the level you are comfortable when at home for dinner and family time.
  9. Last, set the time and temperature you want your home to be at night for when you are sleeping. Just like setting the temperature for ½ hour to an hour before you wake up or come home, set the time ahead of when you plan on going to bed since the home will take some time cool down before you are in bed. For my home we set this for two hours before our typical bedtime. We do this partly because we vary our ‘hit the sack’ time based on how tired we are, but also because we like sleeping cooler and our home typically takes a while to cool down. Some time ago we replaced the older single pane windows with double pane, and we increased our attic/ceiling insulation levels for improved comfort and energy savings.

NOTE:  If you have cooling in your home (you will need to buy a programmable thermostat with both heating and cooling control capabilities).   You will toggle through in order to set the cooling temperature as well as heating for each time action setting.  Oft times it is best to make changes to these set-points seasonally, you don’t want the AC inadvertently coming on in the winter, nor the heating in the summer.

These actions work

They save energy, make us more comfortable, and they slow the rate of heat loss.


If there are any questions about these steps, I would suggest typing the model number and brand of the programmable thermostat you are looking at or have purchased into Youtube.  Based on my past searches someone will have made a ‘how to video’ about your exact unit.

The fundamentals of the web enabled’ thermostats are pretty much the same as the concepts and approaches to programming as listed above. However, the major difference between these units is that you can make changes both at the face of the unit but also through a downloaded phone or laptop app.

These type of programmable thermostat are functionally more feature rich.  Although they are more user friendly, they are a little more complicated to learn and set up.  However, once you get the hang of it you will find them easy to operate at home or on the fly. My bet is once you have tried a web enabled unit you will not want to go back to the old school kind.