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How low should you set your thermostat?

If you live in a household with multiple people, a couple degrees on the thermostatthermostat-photoshop could spark the biggest arguments. So, let’s settle it once and for all: Where should you set your home’s temperature?

The Department of Energy says setting your thermostat back 7-10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day—when you’re at work, for example—can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating. Keep Warm Illinois, a state website dedicated to helping consumers “battle winter,” puts it another way: For every degree you lower your thermostat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you could save an average of 3 percent on heating costs.

If that’s too much math and too many numbers, the Department of Energy makes it easy. You can save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68 degrees while you’re awake, and lower while you’re asleep or away from home.  Just remember: Setting the temperature too low is bad for your health and home. Anything below 55 degrees can freeze your pipes and cause them to burst.

All this temperature-setting  is made easier with a programmable or smart thermostat. (Read about great smart thermostat rebates!) If you have such a device, consider when you normally go to bed and wake up. The Energy Department suggests scheduling a lower temperature well before you go to bed. But how long before? That depends on how quickly your home cools down.

Also, consider the schedules of other people in the household. If there’s a time during the day when the house isn’t occupied for four hours or more, lower the temperature during that period.

The bottom line: It will take some guesswork and then trial and error to figure out the right temperature schedule to keep your home comfortable and and your utility bills affordable.

Finally, the location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer’s installation instructions to prevent “ghost” or inaccurate readings, or unnecessary furnace cycling. To operate properly, a thermostat has to be on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights and windows.

For more tips, go to CUB’s Energy Efficiency page.