Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

Set your comfort level
How a programmable thermostat works

Saving energy and money are high priorities for Canadian homeowners these days. According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology, turning down your furnace’s thermostat a few degrees can result in energy savings of 5 to 15%. Also, setting your air conditioner a couple degrees higher in summer when the house is empty brings significant energy savings and helps control indoor humidity.

You could use a standard thermostat to set your house temperatures and achieve similar energy savings. But a device called a setback, or programmable, thermostat contains an electronic clock which can help reduce your overall household energy consumption automatically.

A conventional thermostat simply regulates house heating or cooling at one temperature. For instance, in the winter, if you set the thermostat to 21 C (70 F), it will activate the heating system when the house temperature drops below 21 C and will shut the system off when the house air warms up past 21 C.

However, a setback thermostat can automatically turn down the temperature setting at night, when you are asleep, or midday, when you are at work. It can also return the temperature to a more comfortable level before you wake up or arrive home from work.

In summer, the setback thermostat can be used as a set-forward thermostat for an air conditioning system. It can allow the house to heat up when it is unoccupied and return it to comfortable temperatures before you return. ‘’

You can have the energy savings of a lower or higher thermostat setting without the discomfort of having to wait for the house to heat up or cool down again.

Potential problems

While many houses will not experience significant problems with the use of setback thermostats, there will be some houses more at risk. If you have moisture problems in winter (mould, condensation on windows and so on), you’ll need to get those problems fixed, as installing a setback thermostat could make any pre-existing moisture problems worse.

If you use a setback thermostat, monitor your windows, walls and basement for any signs of moisture so you can take corrective action (such as wiping up, ventilating or using a dehumidifier).

Also, be aware that once you set the temperature back, it takes some time for the air temperature in your home to return to comfortable levels. This could represent a comfort concern if you return from work earlier than expected or you are often up often overnight while your temperature is set back. Setting the thermostat so that it signals your space conditioning system to start heating or cooling in advance of your wake-up or return time can help reduce comfort problems.

If your house is in good condition and does not have moisture problems, and you have a fairly regular schedule, a setback thermostat can offer convenience, comfort and energy savings.

To help you learn more about setback thermostats CMHC has a free About Your House fact sheet available called “Setback Thermostats.” For your copy, visit us at or call our toll free number: 1-800-668-2642.

Mark Salerno is district manager for the Greater Toronto Area at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. You can reach him at 416-218-3479 or

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