Is It More Expensive to Turn Heat On and Off?
It’s no secret that heating is expensive. In fact, depending on the fuel you use to heat your home, you probably spend upwards of $1,000 a season, even for an average home. However, a programmable thermostat and working on your energy efficiency can help you achieve energy savings and reduce home heating costs. At the same time, your energy-efficient home will be much easier to cool down during the summer.
The thing is that an average US home is 37 years old. This is just enough time for the insulation to degrade and for all appliances, including your HVAC system to become outdated. Outdated items take more energy, cost more money, and frequent maintenance needs mean that you could return to a cold house when you want it the least. If you live in an older home or believe that your heating bill is too high, you should first assess your heating bills and heating appliances before undertaking any other steps.
In reality, most heating systems in the US have to work longer times to handle the daily temperature difference due to insufficient insulation and low energy efficiency. When looking at the issue that way, the best thing to do is to call your utility company or your natural gas and energy provider and see whether they provide a home energy audit that you could use as a guide to reaching an energy-efficient home.
In the meantime, you can start saving money by adjusting your thermostat and the temperature settings. Being mindful of how you do it will reduce your energy usage and help you save several hundred dollars every year. With less energy escaping the house, keeping the house warm will be easier, and by being smart about how and when you heat your home, you will be able to save even more.
What is a Heating System?
A heating system is a system that can either transfer or generate heat by using some form of fuel. In most cases, US homes use natural gas to keep warm. Other fuels, such as oil, wood, pellet, biomass, electricity, and many more, all enable living in a warm house. The issue of a high energy bill remains, though.
A good heating system will be able to both generate a lot of heat and do so quickly. Solutions such as wood stoves have had their role in keeping homes warm for hundreds of years, but issues such as the difficulty of keeping the temperature constant, as well as no automating options have left it in the last century.
Other solutions, such as wood pellets, oil, and natural gas have taken over the heating systems we use in our homes today. Very versatile and easy to set up, the major appliances using these types of fuels can take care of themselves and take only as much fuel as they need and when they need it. Among these, one of the costlier, but also the most comfortable form of heating, electricity has risen as a way to keep keep the desired temperature in your home day and night.
So, a heating system is a system comprised of several elements, with a burner or a heating body heating a medium that is then spread throughout your home to keep the house warm. It should have a thermostat, to avoid overheating and underheating your home and should be powered by a specific type of fuel. When designing a heating system, your personal preferences, home size, and energy needs should all be taken into account.
Types of Heating Systems
As there are many ways to heat your home and keep the desired temperature, there are also different types of heating systems. While some of them are considered outdated, it should be noted that many people use each of these types of heating systems. Here are the most common ones:
- Heat pumps,
- Space heaters, and
Furnaces are one of the most common types of central units in a heating system. They use fuel such as gas or oil that they burn to produce warm air. The air is then taken into your home by means of insulated pipes and air ducts. Older furnaces are only about 60-70% efficient. Newer furnaces reach efficiency levels of up to 90%. If you have a particularly old furnace, simply replacing it will reduce the heat loss through the chimney and will decrease your energy bill.
While furnaces heat air and then push the warm air into your home, boilers do the same with hot water. Gas or heating oil is used as a fuel to heat the water which is then sent into the home to radiate heat through radiators, fan-coil radiators, or through floor heating, also known as radiant floor heating. Although these systems are more complex and costly, they also let you fine-tune the temperature in each room in your home.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, are the latest in what technology has to offer. Extremely energy efficient, they use electricity to transfer heat from the outside to the inside. Similar to an inverted fridge, they can draw heat even from the cold outside air, with some limits when it comes to the temperature. They can draw heat from the air (air-source heat pumps), water (such as well water, water-source heat pumps), or ground (ground-source heat pumps). They enable up to 85% savings on your electric bill, at least for the heating portion of it.
Space heaters are probably the most power-hungry appliances on our list. These heaters munch on your electricity and use around 2 kW of it every hour. They are not the most affordable option to operate, although they are the least expensive heating system on our list.
Fireplaces are the most outdated item here. Although the warmth they provide gives you that cozy feeling, they also keep only a single room warm and the fire needs constant supervision. In addition to this, the fireplace chimney increases the rate at which your homes lose heat, especially as all the hot air has to do is go up the chimney, which is something it naturally does. In any case, fireplaces are a great decoration element, but the chimney should be shut off whenever they are not in use.
We’ve mentioned that there are several heating sources. When choosing the heat source for your home, you should beware that there are significant differences between them, both in terms of the heating system that they are to be used in and in their carbon footprint. Always consider your heating source carefully before making your final decision.
Natural gas, for example, enables it to quickly reach normal temperature. As in gas-powered systems, electricity is used just to pump hot air or hot water from the furnace to the rest of your house, your electric bill will not be much higher, even if you turn the heat up. However, your gas bill will keep rising with every hour of use. Although not the greenest on our list, gas still releases 50% fewer emissions than a coal furnace would.
Heating oil is another type of fuel that you can use to keep a comfortable temperature inside your home. Your oil furnace will need a top-off every time the oil has been used up, but you will be able to heat your home without having to sacrifice comfort. However, heating oil is a petroleum product that has a massive carbon footprint.
Electricity is probably the most versatile of all heating sources. Electricity-powered heaters are used throughout the US, at least in states with low residential rates. Heating your home with electricity can save you money, especially if you have solar panels and live in a properly insulated home. You just set the temperature and forget about them till the end of the season. However, although very comfortable, electric boilers and heaters will cost you a lot, especially in northern states. If you only need to heat your home a bit, such as in southern states, then this is probably the best solution for you.
Wood is the oldest heat source we know. Wood is still used throughout the world and is a very reliable source of heat, as it packs so much of it. Wood heating comes in two forms: wood logs – to be used in wood stoves and furnaces, and wood pellets, which can be used in special pellet furnaces. The latter option enables a high level of automation, and homeowners with this type of heating can turn them on and off over WiFi.
3 Common Mistakes With Thermostats
As all heating solutions come with a thermostat of some kind, it is necessary to know how to use it properly. If you live in an older house, or in a house that hasn’t modernized its heating system in a while, the odds are that you have an outdated thermostat and that you are using more energy and more money than needed to keep the place comfortable. Let’s consider some common thermostat mistakes that you may be making. Fixing these can save money and reduce your energy bills:
- Trying to heat or cool your home faster,
- Leaving your thermostat on the same setting, and
- Changing your thermostat too often.
Some more advanced thermostats, such as programmable thermostats and smart thermostats can keep more money in your pocket, where it belongs. Thanks to the ease of setup and a detailed approach to keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, a thermostat of this type connect to your furnace and gives it instructions on the desired temperature in the winter. Most people can afford some time to set them up and reduce both heating and cooling costs.
Trying to Heat or Cool your Home Faster
Trying to heat or cool your home faster is a mistake that most people make. In fact, everyone has tried to up the desired temperature of a room in hopes that it would heat faster in the wintertime. In reality, this has no effect and may result in more strain being put on your heating system than is necessary. It can also increase your heating bill, as more fuel may be used.
In reality, most furnaces work at 100% of their capacity until the temperature is reached. Then, they switch to a moderate mode and keep your heating and cooling bills lower. Many people forget to turn down their thermostats once the temperature has been reached. This is what wastes a lot of energy and money.
Leaving Your Thermostat on the Same Setting
Leaving your thermostat in the same setting throughout the day is another common mistake people make. Many of us think that a furnace will use the least fuel if it only has to maintain a certain temperature. The reality is that your energy needs are not the same throughout the day.
When there is no one home, it is safe to reduce the temperature, by some 10-15 degrees. A lower temperature is easier to maintain and homeowners can even make some savings. Use your programmable thermostat to turn the heat back up 30-60 minutes before you return home.
In addition to this, you can also reduce the temperature when you are sleeping, as sleeping in a room that is too hot compromises the quality of your sleep and costs you more. The savings may seem insignificant, but reducing the temperature for 8 hours while you sleep and 8 hours while you are at work (considering the commute time as well), means that your heating system will only need to work at a high capacity for about eight hours a day.
Changing your Thermostat too Often
Changing your thermostat too often is another mistake people make. Namely, it can be difficult for the heating system to keep up with constant temperature changes, and the varying energy use puts more strain on your system than it should. This increases your electric bill, and can even confuse your smart thermostat. To ensure that your heating works with the least strain, try setting lower temperatures on the days after installation first.
Once the system is up and running, you will be able to change the temperature as you like it, but make sure the change does not happen several times a day. With a smart or programmable thermostat, you can set the desired temperatures for different parts of the day and always keep your house at temperatures you like. This will decrease energy use and will lower your electric bill, all the while saving you money and reducing the energy cost all homeowners dread.
Turning Off vs Turning Down
With all this in mind, it remains to be seen whether turning the heating on and off on a regular basis, e.g. whenever you are not at home, can give good results. In reality, you may be able to save some money by keeping the heating off for hours at a time. However, as most homeowners will agree, following this heating program can cost you more downhill than you will be able to save. Let’s consider some pros and cons of both approaches:
- The pros of turning the heating system off – turning your heating system off will result in lower fuel use and a lower utility bill.
- The cons of turning the heating system off – turning your system off, especially if you live in colder climates, can damage the piping and cause water to freeze. This will result in more fixing costs than you would be able to save in several years by switching the heating off when you leave home.
Here are the pros and cons of turning heating down to save energy:
- The pros of turning the heating system down – fewer fluctuations in the day and night temperatures will result in less thermal stress on you, your pets, and your home. You will still be able to save but do so in a safe way, without risking burst pipes and mold and mildew developing on the walls. As the temperature would be kept lower by a few degrees when not needed, you would be able to make significant savings, especially over longer periods.
- The cons of turning the heating system down – some energy use even when not needed. However, the fuel costs will be offset by protecting your home and your health.
How to Save on Your Electric Bill During Winter?
Saving on the electric bill during any time of the year, especially winter, can be very challenging. As winter is the time when most of the time is spent indoors, the need to keep the same temperature despite outside temperature variations is a big challenge for your programmable thermostat and furnace. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the hours your HVAC works and save on your electricity bill:
- Use natural light as much as you can,
- Change the ceiling fan’s blade rotation,
- Close off your fireplace,
- Use a portable space heater for spot heating,
- Weather-proof your doors and windows,
- Wear winter clothes,
- Be careful with how you use the exhaust fan,
- Install a programmable or smart thermostat, and
- Lower the temperature on both nights and whenever you’re not at home.
At What Temperature Should You Turn on the Heat?
In most cases, you should turn on the heating once the outside temperature is below 64 degrees. Beware that you do not overheat the space, as this can lead to compromised health and dry air in the house. If you have elderly, children, or sick family members, the temperature should be higher, but not above 75-80 degrees.
Is it Better to Keep Your Heat at a Constant Temperature?
No, as keeping the heat at a constant temperature increases the heat loss and makes your furnace use more fuel than it needs to. In most cases, you will be ok with lowering the nighttime temperature by 10 degrees and the daytime temperature, when no one is in the house, by 10-15 degrees. This heating program helps you save without compromising the comfort of your home.
What Temperature Should I Leave my House on Vacation in Winter?
The temperature you should leave your house on during your vacation depends on several factors. If you live in an area where you experience freezing temperatures, you should make sure that the heating can keep that temperature higher, generally not below 50 and not above 65 degrees. If you have plants, add 5 more degrees to both extremes. If you also have pets, consider setting the thermostat to 60-65 degrees.
Is it Bad to Turn Your Furnace On and Off?
Yes, this is bad, especially as the furnace wear and tear will increase and so will the power consumption. You should keep the furnace on at all times, and let the thermostat take care of the rest. You can change the daily temperature, but you should not change it too often.
Turning the heat on and off can raise your bill, contrary to the popular belief. In fact, doing so can cause all sorts of other expenses, such as replacing burst pipes (if you live in freezing conditions), and dealing with mold and mildew that can grow in homes that are cold and damp. In fact, the best thing to do is purchase a programmable or smart thermostat and set it up so that the temperature during the night and when you are at work is 10-15 degrees lower than usual. This helps save but keeps your home a safe and comfortable place.