Here is the offending thermostat. Check out the mercury switch under the dial! Thank goodness we don't make them the way we used to do.

Our motto at Home Energy, especially today, could be, We Love Houses. We do, and I have to admit to being a little house-proud. I feel good about the simple lifestyle we live at home, and the low amount of energy we use compared to our neighbors. But “pride goes before the fall,” paraphrasing Proverbs 16:18.

Since moving into our home seven years ago, my wife Michele and I have proudly kept our thermostat set in the winter to 68F during the day and 64F at night. I know, it’s not that great given that we live near the coast in Northern California, but it still allowed us to feel superior to our less-virtuous neighbors. It all changed when we decided to swap out our thermostat. My wife noticed that the temperature on our old thermostat didn’t match the temperature on an inside-outside thermometer that we have at home. Turns out we weren’t being so virtuous.

The usual 68F felt a little chilly after the thermostat swap. So we checked it against the freestanding thermometer and found out that when the old thermostat said 68F, it was really 72F. It seemed so easy being an environmental hero before, and now I knew why.

I’m still not quite adjusted to the true temperature and the ego bruising, but our heating bills are down significantly from last year; that sooths my pain. We still very much love our house. And the lesson learned? Pride does go before the fall—in utility bills.

(Check out Alan Meier’s editorial on a shift in the way we think about thermostats in the upcoming, March/April issue of Home Energy. It may not be what you think.)

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Comment by tedkidd on February 19, 2014 at 11:25am

I believe in using setbacks for the spring/fall when it's cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. 

Bob, - you believe it saves?  Saves WHAT?  Please don't say "saves energy", I hope you are smarter than that.  

Is it about saving anything for you, or saving worthwhile amounts?  You would go to absurd efforts to save 5¢ worth of energy a day?  Believe it saves HOW MUCH?  Most people want to know if the juice is worth the squeeze. 

Frankly, chasing meaningless savings is worse than doing nothing.  We need to encourage people to chase MEANINGFUL savings, and part of doing that is by setting smart examples.  

I'm with Ted,

Fix the house and downsize the HSYS to a Prius level unit or,

Leave the house as is and drive the LTD

Thanks Jim!  Hope you don't mind having a big target on your back, 

@ted.  I like your comments and it makes sense to me.
I've turned my Aquastat back from 180°F to 140°F which makes the system run all the time

Thanks John, I'm glad you find this perspective helpful.  I'm thrilled you are thinking about mean radiant temperatures, not just air temperature.  It's a leap many have difficulty with.  Another concept is that we are not heating but rather managing cooling rate within a narrow range of comfort.  

You might enjoy looking at some Ecobee charts, I've found watching how different homes heat really illuminating.

Besides much more even comfort and control I believe there are a whole slew of benefits you are experiencing by running colder temperatures.  First, you are pulling more BTU out of combustion instead of letting them go up the flue.  Second, you are not cycling your equipment nearly as much.  Electronics and ignitors will last much longer.  On the downside, if you don't have an ECM pump your pumping costs have probably gone up.    

Do keep in mind that if you don't have a condensing boiler just be careful you aren't getting condensate in your boiler or in your chimney.  

Comment by Jim Peck on February 19, 2014 at 6:50am

I'm with Ted,

Fix the house and downsize the HSYS to a Prius level unit or,

Leave the house as is and drive the LTD

Comment by Bob Blanchette on February 18, 2014 at 2:26pm

I believe in using setbacks for the spring/fall when it's cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon. I routinely see people who turn up the heat in the morning, let it run at the higher setpoint all day, then turn the AC on when they get home.

Have the heat drop automatically down to 5-10 degrees when you go to work and let the sun warm the house throughout the day. If the sun doesn't warm the house enough the heat kicks on in the evening.

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on February 18, 2014 at 1:44pm

Broken meter! Who woulda thought!

Comment by Sheila Marr on February 17, 2014 at 10:28pm


I've had a similar experience.  We normally keep our Tstat at 66 in the winter and 76 in the summer. (Live in North Alabama, 3200 sq ft home). Wanted to evaluate our base line usage, so when it got colder we didn't turn on the heat and just bundled up and wore more clothes until the meater reading.  My Gas, Electric and Garbage was 31.18 for the month. About $20 dollars less than my last base line reading.  Bragged all month on how we had reduced the base as well as our over all heating and cooling costs form previous years.  Then I got my next month's bill and saw that we had used 0 watts.  Broken meter. I know I used less, but will have to try again and more reliable method.

Comment by John C. Briggs on February 17, 2014 at 3:03pm

@ted.  I like your comments and it makes sense to me.
I've turned my Aquastat back from 180°F to 140°F which makes the system run all the time (the circulator anyway because the furnace has too much HP as you say).

The big advantage for me is that the walls always feel warm and there is a better radiation balance for the occupants of the house.

  The down side is that aggressive set-back is impossible.  It simply takes to long to heat the house back up again and you suffer many hours of discomfort.  So it would be good to know if aggressive setback was only a minor factor.

Comment by tedkidd on February 17, 2014 at 2:29pm

Let me be clear, most of the beliefs I call silly are beliefs I FIRMLY held until I started tracking results and investigating when things didn't line up.  Now, I basically assume any of my legacy beliefs are "flat earth" thinking, and hold those ideas under serious scrutiny.   

One client saved 135% of what we'd projected.  Couldn't make heads or tails of it.  Interviewing them uncovered that their prior behavior was to adjust the thermostat 3-4 times a day.  After installing smaller, and modulating, equipment, they found adjusting the thermostat 3 times a WEEK was a lot.  

Only conclusion - the equipment always ran, made the enclosure always comfortable.  

Think about this.  If you had 60 miles to go and an hour to get there, would you drive 80 and sit around for 15 minutes - or would you drive 60 and get there right on time.  Which approach would use more fuel?  

If the building is losing 24,000 btu an hour, why would delivering 80,000 btu on and off EVER be better than just gently delivering 24,000 btu.  


If adjusting your thermostat can save meaningful money, you've got a crappy house.  Fix it.  We need people fixing their houses, not gaming their thermostats.  

Comment by Hal Skinner on February 17, 2014 at 2:15pm

I'm no expert on thermostats by any means.  I AM an old softball pitching instructor that would use a radfar gun to clock the speed of a student.  There is a handful of instructors in about every town.

It always amazxed me how big of a difference there was between one instructor's gun and another.   There could be a difference of 6mph between them.  I believe the instructors could calibrate them themselves.   A few instructors were caught using two identical guns.  One set to read a few mph slow (used when a brand new student came from a different instructor) and the other set a few mph high (Used after the first lesson to show how much faster with the new instructor).  This was done to make the 2nd instructors teachings appear the better of the two.


Do contractors check the homes thermostat for accuracy and can they be adjusted / calibrated?

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on February 17, 2014 at 1:43pm

Yes, a broken thermostat was my problem, not our behavior.

Comment by tedkidd on February 17, 2014 at 1:26pm


I saw that Canada study.  Not impressed.  If you oversize equipment and install it in leaky homes with leaky ducts, certainly you can save by gaming long run cycles from setback, and living with even greater discomfort.  But I believe one of the premises of setback is there is no cost, only benefit, and that the benefits accrue to everyone prescriptively.  

I have a client, weatherized her house and complained she was uncomfortable.  She ran her house between 62-65.  I asked her to turn her thermostat up 7 degrees, and leave it there, and track consumption.  She figured it cost her $6 more in the coldest months, and was very grateful.  

This report indicates $25 a year savings from setback, and I believe that's an allocation grouped with other measures.  I don't think we get anywhere having people chase $25 in savings, particularly if they are giving up comfort, control, durability...

If you fix houses you can save 30-50% on the consumption, not "maybe" 5-15%.  And if you fix houses, setback simply doesn't do anything because the enclosure doesn't LOSE temperature quickly enough to make a measurable difference in delta t losses.  

The way to REALLY save energy is to stop throwing gobs of horsepower at homes than only need a gentle push.  Design for continuous replacement of heat loss, avoiding cycling losses and wasteful overheating.  Counterintuitive to have equipment RUN all the time, maybe, but it's the path to deep savings.  

Fix houses - that's where the big savings lie, not in fixing behavior.  Allison Bailes recently posted this on LinkedIn: 

"Michael Blasnik has analyzed tons of data that show that the occupants don't have as much impact on energy consumption as you might think. For existing homes, the best predictor of energy bills when new occupants move into a home is the energy bills of the previous occupants."  

I think we need to stop chasing pennies and walking past dollars.  We need to stop calling stupid, unmeasured prescriptive behaviors "smart".   As professionals, recommendations without diagnostics lack integrity.  There are all kinds of situations where a recommendation will benefit one homeowner and harm another.  Pointing to the one that benefits and ignoring the one that is harmed is dishonest.  Every house is different.  We need to understand the specifics of situations before making recommendations or it is malpractice.  

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