Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of
growing concern and increased visibility.
Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve
the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement,
received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company
offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's
indoor air quality.
These services typically -- but not always -- range in cost from $450
to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services
offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility,
climatic region, and level of contamination.
Also This Month...
Homebuyers: 27 Tips You Should Know To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
Because your home may well be your
largest asset, selling it is probably one of the most important
decisions you will make in your life. Through these 27 tips you
will discover how to protect and capitalize on your most
important investment, reduce stress, be in control of your
situation, and make the most profit possible.
Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort
level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable
thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you
diligently regulate its settings.
Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of
growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing
products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air.
You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or
been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a
means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically
-- but not always -- range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and
cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to
be cleaned, system accessibility, climatic region, and level of
Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and
cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and
return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers
heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and
fan housing, and the air handling unit housing.
If not properly installed, maintained, and operated, these components may
become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If
moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold)
is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's
living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or
other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have
your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the
service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is
qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system
can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any
potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have
been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning.
Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt
and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high powered vacuum
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides,
designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct
work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest
applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to seal or
cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because
they believe the sealant will control mold growth or prevent the release of
dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully
researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the
use of biocides or sealants in your air ducts. They should only be applied,
if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or
Deciding Whether or Not to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned
Knowledge about the potential benefits and possible problems of air duct
cleaning is limited. Since conditions in every home are different, it is
impossible to generalize about whether or not air duct cleaning in your home
would be beneficial.
You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems
logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should occasionally be
cleaned. While the debate about the value of periodic duct cleaning
continues, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental,
provided that it is done properly.
On the other hand, if a service provider fails to follow proper duct
cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems. For
example, an inadequate vacuum collection system can release more dust, dirt,
and other contaminants than if you had left the ducts alone. A careless or
inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and
cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs
or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.
You should consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if:
- There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g.,
sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling
system. There are several important points to understand concerning mold
detection in heating and cooling systems:
Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects); or
Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or
particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.
- Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be
accessible for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show
you any mold they say exists.
- You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a
positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by
an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation.
For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a
sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or
simply a substance that resembles it.
- If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy,
it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced.
- If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not
corrected, mold growth will recur.
Other Important Considerations...
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems.
Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust)
levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after
cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air
ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living
space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of
many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants
that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as
cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure
to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a
light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts
poses any risk to health.
If you think duct cleaning might be a good idea for your home, but you
are not sure, talk to a professional. The company that services your heating
and cooling system may be a good source of advice. You may also want to
contact professional duct cleaning service providers and ask them about the
services they provide. Remember, they are trying to sell you a service, so
ask questions and insist on complete and knowledgeable answers.
Suggestions for Choosing a Duct Cleaning Service Provider
- To find companies that provide duct cleaning services, check your
Yellow Pages under "duct cleaning". Talk to at least three different
service providers and get written estimates before deciding whether to
have your ducts cleaned. When the service providers come to your home, ask
them to show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts
- Do not hire duct cleaners who make sweeping claims about the health
benefits of duct cleaning -- such claims are unsubstantiated.
- Do not hire
duct cleaners who recommend duct cleaning as a routine part of your
heating and cooling system maintenance.
- Do not allow the use of chemical biocides or sealants unless you fully
understand the pros and the cons.
- Check references to be sure other customers were satisfied and did not
experience any problems with their heating and cooling system after
- Contact your local consumer affairs or local Better
Business Bureau to determine if complaints have been lodged against any of
the companies you are considering.
- Interview potential service providers to ensure:
- they are experienced in duct cleaning and have worked on systems
- they will use procedures to protect you, your pets, and your home
from contamination; and
- they comply with air duct cleaning standards and, if your ducts are
constructed of fiber glass duct board or insulated internally with fiber
glass duct liner, with the North American Insulation Manufacturers
Association's (NAIMA) recommendations.
- If the service provider charges by the hour, request an estimate of
the number of hours or days the job will take, and find out whether there
will be interruptions in the work. Make sure the duct cleaner you choose
will provide a written agreement outlining the total cost and scope of the
job before work begins.
What to Expect From an Air Duct Cleaning Service Provider
If you choose to have your ducts cleaned, the service provider should:
- Open access ports or doors to allow the entire system to be cleaned
- Inspect the system before cleaning to be sure that there are no
asbestos-containing materials (e.g., insulation, register boots, etc.) in
the heating and cooling system. Asbestos containing materials require
specialized procedures and should not be disturbed or removed except by
specially trained and equipped contractors.
- Use vacuum equipment that exhausts particles outside of the home or
use only high efficiency particle air (HEPA) vacuuming equipment if the
vacuum exhausts inside the home.
- Protect carpet and household furnishings during cleaning.
- Use well controlled brushing of duct surfaces in conjunction with
contact vacuum cleaning to dislodge dust and other particles.
- Use only soft bristled brushes for fiberglass duct board and sheet
metal ducts internally lined with fiberglass. (Although flex duct can also
be cleaned using soft bristled brushes, it can be more economical to
simply replace accessible flex duct.)
- Take care to protect the duct work, including sealing and
re-insulating any access holes the service provider may have made or used
so they are airtight.
- Follow standards for air duct cleaning and NAIMA's recommended
practice for ducts containing fiber glass lining or constructed of fiber
glass duct board.
How to Determine if the Duct Cleaner Did A Thorough Job
A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of
your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote
photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system
should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with
the naked eye. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show
you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed
How to Prevent Duct Contamination
Whether or not you decide to have the air ducts in your home cleaned,
committing to a good preventive maintenance program is essential to minimize
To prevent dirt from entering the system:
- Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer
of your heating and cooling system.
- Change filters regularly.
- If your filters become clogged, change them more frequently.
- Be sure you do not have any missing filters and that air cannot bypass
filters through gaps around the filter holder.
- When having your heating and cooling system maintained or checked for
other reasons, be sure to ask the service provider to clean cooling coils
and drain pans.
- During construction or renovation work that produces dust in your
home, seal off supply and return registers and do not operate the heating
and cooling system until after cleaning up the dust.
- Remove dust and vacuum your home regularly. (Use a high efficiency
vacuum (HEPA) cleaner or the highest efficiency filter bags your vacuum
cleaner can take. Vacuuming can increase the amount of dust in the air
during and after vacuuming as well as in your ducts).
- If your heating system includes in-duct humidification equipment, be
sure to operate and maintain the humidifier strictly as recommended by the
To prevent ducts from becoming wet:
Moisture should not be present in ducts. Controlling moisture is the most
effective way to prevent biological growth in air ducts.
Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has
been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation
(which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point
temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air
conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the
system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an
important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct.
Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can
- Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.
- Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to
remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture
contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the
condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water
and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any
insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
- Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all
non-airconditioned spaces (e.g., attics and crawl spaces). This will help
to prevent moisture due to condensation from entering the system and is
important to make the system work as intended. To prevent water
condensation, the heating and cooling system must be properly insulated.
Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply
a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs), and
fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning
service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological
contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the
outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable
controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides
or ozone into the duct work.
Little research has been conducted to demonstrate the effectiveness of
most biocides and ozone when used inside ducts. Simply spraying or otherwise
introducing these materials into the operating duct system may cause much of
the material to be transported through the system and released into other
areas of your home.
In the meantime...
Before allowing a service provider to use a chemical biocide in your duct
work, the service provider should:
1. Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work.
Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are
contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home
grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some
microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling
plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a
substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final
confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable.
2. Explain why biological growth cannot be removed by physical means,
such as brushing, and further growth prevented by controlling moisture.
If you decide to permit the use of a biocide, the service provider
1. Show you the biocide label, which will describe its range of approved
2. Apply the biocide only to uninsulated areas of the duct system after
proper cleaning, if necessary to reduce the chances for regrowth of mold.
3. Always use the product strictly according to its label instructions.
While some low toxicity products may be legally applied while occupants
of the home are present, you may wish to consider leaving the premises while
the biocide is being applied as an added precaution.
Do sealants prevent the release of dust and dirt particles into the air?
Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and seal duct surfaces claim
that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from
being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by
spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that
materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct
surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and
fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and
may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.
Questions about the safety, effectiveness and overall desirability of
sealants remain. For example, little is known about the potential toxicity
of these products under typical use conditions or in the event they catch
In addition, sealants have yet to be evaluated for their resistance to
deterioration over time which could add particles to the duct air.
Most organizations concerned with duct cleaning, do not currently
recommend the routine use of sealants in any type of duct. Instances when
the use of sealants may be appropriate include the repair of damaged fiber
glass insulation or when combating fire damage within ducts. Sealants should
never be used on wet duct liner, to cover actively growing mold, or to cover
debris in the ducts, and should only be applied after cleaning according to
appropriate guidelines or standards.
27 Tips You Should Know To Get Your Home Sold Fast and For Top Dollar
".....you have to sell your present home at exactly the right time in
order to avoid either the financial burden of owning two homes or, just as
bad, the dilemma of having no place to live during the gap between
Because your home may well be
your largest asset, selling it is probably one of the most important
decisions you will make in your life. To better understand the homeselling
process, a guide has been prepared from current industry insider reports.
Through these 27 tips you will discover how to protect and capitalize on
your most important investment, reduce stress, be in control of your
situation, and make the most profit possible.
1. Understand Why You Are Selling Your Home
Your motivation to sell is the
determining factor as to how you will approach the process. It affects
everything from what you set your asking price at to how much time, money
and effort you're willing to invest in order to prepare your home for
sale. For example, if your goal is for a quick sale, this would determine
one approach. If you want to maximize your profit, the sales process might
take longer thus determining a different approach.
2. Keep the Reason(s) You are Selling to
The reason(s) you are selling
your home will affect the way you negotiate its sale. By keeping this to
yourself you don't provide ammunition to your prospective buyers. For
example, should they learn that you must move quickly, you could be placed
at a disadvantage in the negotiation process. When asked, simply say that
your housing needs have changed. Remember, the reason( s) you are selling
is only for you to know .
3. Before Setting a Price - Do Your
When you set your price, you make
buyers aware of the absolute maximum they have to pay for your home. As a
seller, you will want to get a selling price as close to the list price as
possible. If you start out by pricing too high you run the risk of not
being taken seriously by buyers and their agents and pricing too low can
result in selling for much less than you were hoping for.
Setting Your Home's Sale Price
If You Live in a Subdivision - If
your home is comprised of similar or identical floor plans, built in the
same period, simply look at recent sales in your neighborhood subdivision
to give you a good idea of what your home is worth.
If You Live in An Older
Neighborhood - As neighborhoods change over time each home may be
different in minor or substantial ways. Because of this you will probably
find that there aren't many homes truly comparable to your own. In this
case you may want to consider seeking a Realtor ® to help you with the
If You Decide to Sell On Your Own
- A good way to establish a value is to look at homes that have sold in
your neighborhood within the past 6 months, including those now on the
market. This is how prospective buyers will assess the worth of your home.
Also a trip to City Hall can provide you with home sale information in its
public records, for most communities.
4. Do Some "Home Shopping" Yourself
The best way to learn about your
competition and discover what turns buyers off is to check out other open
houses. Note floor plans, condition, appearance, size of lot, location and
other features. Particularly note, not only the asking prices but what
they are actually selling for. Remember, if you're serious about getting
your home sold fast, don't price it higher than your neighbor's.
5. When Getting an Appraisal is a Benefit
Sometimes a good appraisal can be
a benefit in marketing your home. Getting an appraisal is a good way to
let prospective buyers know that your home can be financed. However, an
appraisal does cost money, has a limited life, and there's no guarantee
you'll like the figure you hear.
6. Tax Assessments - What They Really Mean
Some people think that tax
assessments are a way of evaluating a home. The difficulty here is that
assessments are based on a number of criteria that may not be related to
property values, so they may not necessarily reflect your home's true
7. Deciding Upon a Realtor ®
According to the National
Association of Realtors, nearly two-thirds of the people surveyed who sell
their own homes say they wouldn't do it again themselves. Primary reasons
included setting a price, marketing handicaps, liability concerns, and
time constraints. When deciding upon a Realtor ® , consider two or three.
Be as wary of quotes that are too low as those that are too high.
All Realtors ® are not the same!
A professional Realtor ® knows the market and has information on past
sales, current listings, a marketing plan, and will provide their
background and references. Evaluate each candidate carefully on the basis
of their experience, qualifications, enthusiasm and personality. Be sure
you choose someone that you trust and feel confident that they will do a
good job on your behalf.
If you choose to sell on your
own, you can still talk to a Realtor ® . Many are more than willing to
help do-it-your-selfers with paperwork, contracts, etc. and should
problems arise, you now have someone you can readily call upon.
8. Ensure You Have Room to Negotiate
Before settling on your asking
price make sure you leave yourself enough room in which to bargain. For
example, set your lowest and highest selling price. Then check your
priorities to know if you'll price high to maximize your profit or price
closer to market value if you want sell quickly.
9. Appearances Do Matter - Make them Count!
Appearance is so critical that it
would be unwise to ignore this when selling your home. The look and "feel"
of your home will generate a greater emotional response than any other
factor. Prospective buyers react to what they see, hear, feel, and smell
even though you may have priced your home to sell.
10. Invite the Honest Opinions of Others
The biggest mistake you can make
at this point is to rely solely on your own judgment. Don't be shy about
seeking the honest opinions of others. You need to be objective about your
home's good points as well as bad. Fortunately, your Realtor ® will be
unabashed about discussing what should be done to make your home more
11. Get it Spic n' Span Clean and Fix
Everything, Even If It Seems Insignificant
Scrub, scour, tidy up,
straighten, get rid of the clutter, declare war on dust, repair squeaks,
the light switch that doesn't work, and the tiny crack in the bathroom
mirror because these can be deal-killers and you'll never know what turns
buyers off. Remember, you're not just competing with other resale homes,
but brand-new ones as well.
12. Allow Prospective Buyers to Visualize
Themselves in Your Home
The last thing you want
prospective buyers to feel when viewing your home is that they may be
intruding into someone's life. Avoid clutter such as too many
knick-knacks, etc. Decorate in neutral colors, like white or beige and
place a few carefully chosen items to add warmth and character. You can
enhance the attractiveness of your home with a well-placed vase of flowers
or potpourri in the bathroom. Home-decor magazines are great for tips.
13. Deal Killer Odors - Must Go!
You may not realize but odd
smells like traces of food, pets and smoking odors can kill deals quickly.
If prospective buyers know you have a dog, or that you smoke, they'll
start being aware of odors and seeing stains that may not even exist.
Don't leave any clues.
14. Be a Smart Seller - Disclose Everything
Smart sellers are proactive in disclosing all known defects to their
buyers in writing. This can reduce liability and prevent law suits later
15. It's Better With More Prospects
When you maximize your home's
marketability, you will most likely attract more than one prospective
buyer. It is much better to have several buyers because they will compete
with each other; a single buyer will end up competing with you.
16. Keep Emotions in Check During
Let go of the emotion you've
invested in your home. Be detached, using a business-like manner in your
negotiations. You'll definitely have an advantage over those who get
caught up emotionally in the situation.
17. Learn Why Your Buyer is Motivated
The better you know your buyers
the better you can use the negotiation process to your advantage. This
allows you to control the pace and duration of the process.
As a rule, buyers are looking to
purchase the best affordable property for the least amount of money.
Knowing what motivates them enables you to negotiate more effectively. For
example, does your buyer need to move quickly. Armed with this information
you are in a better position to bargain.
18. What the Buyer Can Really Pay
As soon as possible, try to learn
the amount of mortgage the buyer is qualified to carry and how much
his/her down payment is. If their offer is low, ask their Realtor ® about
the buyer's ability to pay what your home is worth.
19. When the Buyer Would Like to Close
Quite often, when buyers would
"like" to close is when they need to close. Knowledge of their deadlines
for completing negotiations again creates a negotiating advantage for you.
20. Never Sign a Deal on Your Next Home
Until You Sell Your Current Home
Beware of closing on your new
home while you're still making mortgage payments on the old one or you
might end up becoming a seller who is eager (even desperate) for the first
deal that comes along.
21. Moving Out Before You Sell Can Put You
at a Disadvantage
It has been proven that it's more
difficult to sell a home that is vacant because it becomes forlorn
looking, forgotten, no longer an appealing sight. Buyers start getting the
message that you have another home and are probably motivated to sell.
This could cost you thousands of dollars.
22. Deadlines Create A Serious Disadvantage
Don't try to sell by a certain
date. This adds unnecessary pressure and is a serious disadvantage in
23. A Low Offer - Don't Take It Personally
Invariably the initial offer is
below what both you and the buyer knows he'll pay for your property. Don't
be upset, evaluate the offer objectively. Ensure it spells out the
offering price, sufficient deposit, amount of down payment, mortgage
amount, a closing date and any special requests. This can simply provide a
starting point from which you can negotiate.
24. Turn That Low Offer Around
You can counter a low offer or
even an offer that's just under your asking price. This lets the buyer
know that the first offer isn't seen as being a serious one. Now you'll be
negotiating only with buyers with serious offers.
25. Maybe the Buyer's Not Qualified
If you feel an offer is
inadequate, now is the time to make sure the buyer is qualified to carry
the size of mortgage the deal requires. Inquire how they arrived at their
figure, and suggest they compare your price to the prices of homes for
sale in your neighborhood.
26. Ensure the Contract is Complete
To avoid problems, ensure that
all terms, costs and responsibilities are spelled out in the contract of
sale. It should include such items as the date it was made, names of
parties involved, address of property being sold, purchase price, where
deposit monies will be held, date for loan approval, date and place of
closing, type of deed, including any contingencies that remain to be
settled and what personal property is included (or not) in the sale.
27. Resist Deviating From the Contract
For example, if the buyer
requests a move-in prior to closing, just say no. That you've been advised
against it. Now is not the time to take any chances of the deal falling
Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
In our modern, high tech society, we don't think much about some of the
electronic gadgets in our homes. Take, for example, the ever present
thermostat--a staple of North American households for decades. It usually takes
the shape of an unassuming box on the wall, but that modest device controls
the comfort of your family on the coldest day in January and the hottest day
What Is a Thermostat?
It is a temperature sensitive switch that controls a space conditioning
unit or system, such as a furnace, air conditioner, or both. When the indoor
temperature drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the switch
moves to the "on" position, and your furnace or air conditioner runs to warm
or cool the house air to the setting you selected for your family's comfort.
A thermostat, in its simplest form, must be manually adjusted to change the
indoor air temperature.
General Thermostat Operation
You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to
68°F (20°C) when you're at home and awake, and lowering it when you're
asleep or away. This strategy is effective and inexpensive if you are
willing to adjust the thermostat by hand and wake up in a chilly house. In
the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning,
too, by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and
lowering the thermostat setting to 78°F (26°C) only when you are at home and
A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace
works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature
after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings.
This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous
studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature
is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower
temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes
at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your
house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.
Another misconception is that the higher you raise a thermostat, the more
heat the furnace will put out, or that the house will warm up faster if the
thermostat is raised higher. Furnaces put out the same amount of heat no
matter how high the thermostat is set--the variable is how long it must stay
on to reach the set temperature.
In the winter, significant savings can be obtained by manually or
automatically reducing your thermostat's temperature setting for as little
as four hours per day. These savings can be attributed to a building's heat
loss in the winter, which depends greatly on the difference between the
inside and outside temperatures. For example, if you set the temperature
back on your thermostat for an entire night, your energy savings will be
substantial. By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, you can
save about 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill--a savings of as much as 1%
for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of
savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for
those in more severe climates. In the summer, you can achieve similar
savings by keeping the indoor temperature a bit higher when you're away than
you do when you're at home.
But there is a certain amount of inconvenience that results from manually
controlling the temperature on your thermostat. This includes waking up in a
cooler than normal house in the winter and possibly forgetting to adjust the
thermostat (during any season) when you leave the house or go to bed.
Thermostats with Automatic Temperature Adjustment
To maximize your energy savings without sacrificing comfort, you can
install an automatic setback or programmable thermostat. They adjust the
temperature setting for you. While you might forget to turn down the heat
before you leave for work in the morning, a programmable thermostat won't!
By maintaining the highest or lowest required temperatures for four or five
hours a day instead of 24 hours, a programmable thermostat can pay for
itself in energy saved within four years.
Programmable thermostats have features with which you may be unfamiliar.
The newest generation of residential thermostat technologies is based on
microprocessors and thermostat sensors. Most of these programmable
thermostats perform one or more of the following energy control functions:
- They store and repeat multiple daily settings, which you can manually
override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.
- They store six or more temperature settings a day.
- They adjust heating or air conditioning turn on times as the outside
A Note for Heat Pump Owners
When a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back a conventional heat
pump thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby
cancelling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting.
Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost effective practice.
Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed
setback thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat
cost effective. In its cooling mode, the heat pump operates like an air
conditioner; therefore, manually turning up the thermostat will save you
Types of Automatic and Programmable Thermostats
There are five basic types of automatic and programmable thermostats:
- light sensing
Most range in price from $30 to $100, except for occupancy and light
sensing thermostats, which cost around $200.
Electromechanical (EM) thermostats, usually the easiest devices to
operate, typically have manual controls such as movable tabs to set a rotary
timer and sliding levers for night and day temperature settings. These
thermostats work with most conventional heating and cooling systems, except
heat pumps. EM controls have limited flexibility and can store only the same
settings for each day, although at least one manufacturer has a model with
separate settings for each day of the week. EM thermostats are best suited
for people with regular schedules.
Digital thermostats are identified by their LED or LCD digital readout
and data entry pads or buttons. They offer the widest range of features and
flexibility, and digital thermostats can be used with most heating and
cooling systems. They provide precise temperature control, and they permit
custom scheduling. Programming some models can be fairly complicated; make
sure you are comfortable with the functions and operation of the thermostat
you choose. Remember-- you won't save energy if you don't set the controls
or you set them incorrectly. Hybrid systems combine the technology of
digital controls with manual slides and knobs to simplify use and maintain
flexibility. Hybrid models are available for most systems, including heat
Occupancy thermostats maintain the setback temperature until someone
presses a button to call for heating or cooling. They do not rely on the
time of day. The ensuing preset "comfort period" lasts from 30 minutes to 12
hours, depending on how you've set the thermostat. Then, the temperature
returns to the setback level. These units offer the ultimate in simplicity,
but lack flexibility. Occupancy thermostats are best suited for spaces that
remain unoccupied for long periods of time.
Light sensing heat thermostats rely on the lighting level preset by the
owner to activate heating systems. When lighting is reduced, a photocell
inside the thermostat senses unoccupied conditions and allows space
temperatures to fall 10° below the occupied temperature setting. When
lighting levels increase to normal, temperatures automatically adjust to
comfort conditions. These units do not require batteries or programming and
reset themselves after power failures. Light sensing thermostats are
designed primarily for stores and offices where occupancy determines
lighting requirements, and therefore heating requirements.
Choosing a Programmable Thermostat
Because programmable thermostats are a relatively new technology, you
should learn as much as you can before selecting a unit. When shopping for a
thermostat, bring information with you about your current unit, including
the brand and model number. Also, ask these questions before buying a
- Does the unit's clock draw its power from the heating system's
low voltage electrical control circuit instead of a battery? If so, is the
clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on and off? Battery operated
backup thermostats are preferred by many homeowners. Is the thermostat
compatible with the electrical wiring found in your current unit?
- Are you able to install it yourself, or should you hire an electrician
or a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor?
- How precise is the thermostat?
- Are the programming instructions easy to understand and remember? Some
thermostats have the instructions printed on the cover or inside the
housing box. Otherwise, will you have to consult the instruction booklet
every time you want to change the setback times?
Most automatic and programmable thermostats completely replace existing
units. These are preferred by many homeowners. However, some devices can be
placed over existing thermostats and are mechanically controlled to permit
automatic setbacks. These units are usually powered by batteries, which
eliminates the need for electrical wiring. They tend to be easy to program,
and because they run on batteries, the clocks do not lose time during power
Before you buy a programmable thermostat, chart your weekly habits
including wake up and departure times, return home times, and bedtimes, and
the temperatures that are comfortable during those times. This will help you
decide what type of thermostat will best serve your needs.
The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and
efficiency. Read the manufacturer's installation instructions to prevent
"ghost readings" or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. Place
thermostats away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and
windows. Also make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for
Some modern heating and cooling systems require special controls. Heat
pumps are the most common and usually require special setback thermostats.
These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of
backup electric resistance heat systems. Electric resistance systems, such
as electric baseboard heating, also require thermostats capable of directly
controlling 120 volt or 240 volt line voltage circuits. Only a few companies
manufacture line voltage setback thermostats.
A Simpler Way to Control Your Environment
The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort
level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable
thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you
diligently regulate its setting--and if you don't mind a chilly house on
winter mornings. If you decide to choose an automatic thermostat, you can
set it to raise the temperature before you wake up and spare you some
discomfort. It will also perform consistently and dependably to keep your
house at comfortable temperatures during the summer heat, as well.