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Six degrees of preparation: your thermostat needs you

Girl with pink hair using laptop computer
It may be a chilly spring morning, but the combination of a hoodie and morning sun spilling through the window allows for a lower thermostat setting and/or no need for space heating at all.

'Tis the season to check your thermostats, or to buy a programmable one

When the mercury went as high as 18°C in various places around B.C. in the first week of April, did you see it as a sign to check on the thermostat settings in your home? As temperatures rise and heating needs ease, it's time to take a look at how to be seasonally efficient with heating, and to prepare for the cooling season that's not far off.

Here are six things to consider as the weather warms. And if you're a Team Power Smart member, don't forget to log in to your Member Tool Box to enter May's member contest for a chance to win a smart thermostat. Not a member? Sign up today for free.

1. How your home is heated, and what needs to change

If you're relying on electric baseboard heating, it's time to tweak the settings on your programmable thermostats, or to consider replacing those inefficient manual dials with programmable ones. If you have a heat pump, your strategy should be set-it-and-forget it while making seasonal setting adjustments of no more than two degrees at a time.

The balance between comfort and efficiency is easier when you have better control over all 24 hours and all seven days. That's what programmable, or smart, thermostats deliver. Just take care when shopping that the model you buy is compatible with your heating system. For example, while several excellent smart thermostats work with electric baseboards, some don't.

Some smart "learning" thermostats adjust to changes in the patterns of your day. But if you don't have that feature, consider how spring may allow for more time outside the home and a shift in your household schedules. Adjust your thermostats to only provide heat when you're home, and only in rooms that are being used.

Get to know the features and various schedules of your smart thermostat. Many offer seven-day programming that allows you to customize programming to individual or family schedules, while others offer at least the ability for changes throughout the day, at the same times each day of the week. Seven-day programming is best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

Here are two other smart thermostat tips that apply to heating systems other than heat pumps:

  • Turn down or lower heat or air conditioning 25 minutes before you leave home each day. Turn them back up 20 to 30 minutes before returning home.
  • Reduce heating or cooling an hour before you go to sleep each night, then increase it 20 to 30 minutes before rising in the morning, but only if you need it to stay comfortable.

Did you know? Surveys show that Team Power Smart members are more aware and active than non-members in looking for opportunities to save energy in everything they do. For example, 77% of team members turn down their heat at night, either manually or with a programmable thermostat.

2. Do you need heat to deal with an hour or two of morning chill?

In winter, it makes sense to ensure your heat is on to provide comfort as you rise in the morning. But in spring, do you need to set your morning temperatures to 21°C to deal with a short period of morning chill? You may be able to get away with tossing on a sweater or hoodie until your home warms up.

Another consideration is overnight temperatures. Perhaps you either manually set or programmed your bedrooms at 17°C overnight during the winter months. As spring warms, consider lowering that by several degrees, and at one point, turning the heat off entirely. Just resist the temptation to do that with a heat pump, which is at its best when you don't tweak the settings regularly.

3. The forgotten room that's costing you money

A few years back, a customer contacted us with concern over high bills into June and July. And then they discovered that they'd forgotten to turn off a baseboard heater in a seldom-used downstairs room. Problem solved.

One more thing to think about is how much your daily schedules may have changed as health authorities have eased up on COVID-19 measures. Are your thermostats set to deliver comfort to rooms that were used during the day that, now that you're back at work or school at least part-time, are now just wasting energy and money?

Did you know? Setting baseboard thermostats to a low, but not "off", setting in the shoulder season can result in unintended and unnecessary heating. Turn them on only when you need heat in a room that's occupied.

4. Has your teen, or partner, gone rogue with their thermostat?

You may know how to use heating efficiently. But if you're a parent, you've probably experienced that whoosh of super-heated air that greets you after you've opened the door to your teen's room (after knocking, of course). Set or program thermostats in individual rooms to ensure comfort, and educate your teen or partner about the folly of cranking up a thermostat to ward off chill. A degree or two hike is usually all you need, and it's a costly myth that increasing a setting by five degrees heats a room faster. Better yet, toss on a sweater or hoodie and slippers. And teach everyone to use the sun's heat through windows to help warm a room on cool days.

5. When you open windows, lower or shut off the heat

Heating the great outdoors is a tremendous waste of energy and money. So as it gets warmer, or as you crack open a bedroom window for fresh air overnight, consider turning off the heat.

If you have a heat pump, your strategy will be different. You don't want your system cycling on and off frequently, as it reduces the efficiency and can be hard on system components. But if you're going to open windows regularly for fresh air, set your heat pump a couple of degrees lower, then forget it.

6. Is your home ready for the next 'heat dome'?

The record-setting heat dome of late-June 2021 sent a lot of us rushing to the store for a cooling fan or a portable air conditioner. This year, get a jump start on prepping your home for hot weather.

If you're going to need a cooling fan or two, consider buying one now to avoid possible shortages later on. Learn how to use them strategically, and check out our summer cooling tips. Consider checking weatherstripping around windows and doors, especially on the south or west sides of your home. Yes, draftproofing helps in the summer, too.

Learn how to use your window coverings strategically, and when it gets hot, recognize that you should close all windows and doors whenever it's hotter outside than inside the home. Close during the day, then open in the cooler evenings and overnight, but don't forget to close them again when the sun hits your home in the morning.

Using a heat pump? Depending on the season, use either the 'heat' or 'cool' mode on the thermostat or controller rather than the 'auto' temperature setting. This helps avoid unnecessary switchovers on cool summer nights or sunny winter days.