100 Words On: Why Programmable Thermostats Rarely Save People Money

For most folks who find themselves away from home for a good portion of the day, a programmable thermostat offers many benefits. Conventional wisdom says one of the biggest is lower energy bills resulting from more efficient heating and air conditioning use. Unfortunately, multiple studies actually show this not to be the case. The reason why: those anticipated savings are entirely dependent on the homeowner’s programming skills.

The bottom line: Before a programmable thermostat can ever begin to reduce your energy bill, you’ll first need to expend a little energy of your own and learn how to properly use it.

Photo Credit: Andy Butkaj


    • 3

      Len Penzo says

      I thought they do make programmable thermostats now that work with 2-wire heating systems. If not, you should be able to get around that issue with the help of a single pole double throw relay.

  1. 4

    Brian says

    Seems like a no brainer to me.

    Kind of like doing a study on people who buy a bicycle to save money on gas and then finding out that those that don’t ride them don’t save any money.

    The thermostat I bought came pre-programmed out of the box. All I did was change the the time I come home.

    Works great.

    • 5

      Len Penzo says

      Pre-programmed, eh? That’s great! A lot of folks simply have so much trouble programming them that they end up only using in “manual” mode. Of course, that doesn’t result in any savings.

  2. 8


    At my home we’ve got the wife effect (but it can easily be called the spouse effect, so it doesn’t offend!). If it isn’t warm enough for her in the winter or cool enough in the summer? Prepare for an override!

  3. 10


    I’m calling B.S. on you Len.

    Our programmable thermostat has saved us a lot of money. We have a 1974 two-story house and my gas bill used to quadruple in the Winter. Then, I bought a digital thermostat and it cut the Winter gas bill almost in half. The digital thermostat paid for itself in about two weeks and I kicked myself for waiting five years before installing one. It’s the best $25 I have ever spent.

    We recently replaced the furnace, so it’s less of an issue now. The funny thing is that my wfe is home all day, so we don’t save any money there. Where we save the money is at night, when we let the house cool down some. With the old mercury slide thermostat, the heater would kick in and out all night and we would wake up dehydrated. Now, we sleep great and save money.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      I’m not saying they don’t save money, Bret. They most certainly do!

      My point was, for folks who don’t know how to program them — and that is a lot of folks — they aren’t saving anything. In fact, one study showed that they slightly increase electricity bills.

  4. 13


    Isn’t that true of everything! You need to know how to do it to save money. I actually save money on utilities using this thermostat. You have to use it to save.

  5. 14

    tracee says

    i just manually change mine before i leave the house….and then change it back when i walk in after the work day. i’m slightly uncomfortable for about 20 minutes when i first get home, but i like saving money more than not changing it.

  6. 16

    Sam says

    Got one about two months ago. I programmed mine, but it suffers from the boyfriend effect. Luckily he doesn’t know how to use it and it has a lock feature. Last month’s electric bill was the lowest I’ve seen in years. Granted, it is the fall in Texas, which is generally going to be low, but still. Also, I love the fact that it kicks on automatically at night, putting me in sleep mode. Plus, when (if?) it gets cold it will be wonderful having the heat kick on in the morning. Suffice it to say, I LOVE my thermostat. Way better than sliced bread.

  7. 17


    Using programmable thermostats isn’t that difficult. You can figure out in less than 20 minutes and you can constantly improve the way you use your programmable thermostats. It really helps save energy costs and I highly recommend buying one if you do not already have one.

  8. 18

    Mia Hemming says

    I’ve been more aware of trying to cut my energy use since I became a new home owner. One of the first things I did was put in an internet thermostat to help monitor my home’s energy use. I chose to go with the Apple designed Nest. I had a frozen pipe burst in my previous house…I think this will also help me monitor my pipes when I’m away as well.

  9. 19


    As with anything the user of device controls the outcome. Programming interfaces for thermostats these days have come a long way where the can walk you through it. If that’s not enough, internet connected thermostats can be changed anytime and anywhere via a mobile phone making it even simpler.

  10. 20

    Teresa says

    My programmable thermostat is supposedly a “smart” thermostat. It doesn’t turn on at a certain time, it will try to hit the programmed temp at that time. So it will kick on way earlier than we like so it can hit that temp. So we have to “out-think” it. Change the time to later or earlier, then temp to lower or higher. Turn it off earlier than we want. I need a “dumb” programmable thermostat!

  11. 22

    hannah says

    I think this is silly. Obviously you aren’t going to save any money with a programmable thermostat if you don’t set it up correctly.
    Each new rental house we’ve moved into has had an ancient thermostat, or a junky PT, and we’ve replaced it with a quality thermostat.
    Like others said, they come programmed in the box, and I specifically bought a higher end one that lets me program each day of the week separately.
    It is very simple to set the zones how you want them. Saturday, Sunday, different schedules on weekdays……. etc.
    I know what time I get home every day, so I set it to kick lower( or higher) at that time, and it runs cold at night, but shuts off an hour before we get up. And stays off all day whether winter or summer as it rarely reaches the high( or low) set point to kick on.
    It definitely saves us money, because I don’t have to remember to reset the temp every day when I leave or go to sleep. ‘

    • 23

      Len Penzo says

      “Obviously you aren’t going to save any money with a programmable thermostat if you don’t set it up correctly.”

      What’s obvious to you, Hannah, is not to a lot of people. It’s also obvious that spending less than you earn will keep your personal finances sound — and yet people have to be reminded of that fact everyday too. :-)

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