Setback to where you once belonged

So, anyone else being totally cheap about turning on the heat?

We have vowed, with a certain amount of false bravado, that we won’t fire ours up until Thanksgiving. (Check in with me on Election Day and see how that’s going. Oo—I know—we’ll turn it on November 5, but only if Obama wins. If he doesn’t, we’ll wait until Inauguration Day.) Anyway, whether you’re a toast-me-now hedonist or a being-cold-is-virtuous Puritan, your decisions about heating are not only financial ones; they have eco-consequences, too.

At the recent Houses That Work seminar I attended, the topic of thermostat setbacks came up. Setbacks are simply the automatic settings that let you program your heat system to run cooler at certain times, like when you’re asleep or not home. The question was raised: Do setbacks end up erasing their own energy savings, since it takes extra energy to bring the house back up to full temperature when the setback period ends?

The presenter, Gord Cooke, had a pretty convincing reason why the answer is no. Although the heat system does work harder in the warming-up phase, balancing out the savings from the cooling-down phase, you will go lighter on energy (thus money) during the whole period that the house is sitting there at its cooler temperature—say, 62 instead of 72. As long as you don’t set back the thermostat more than 10 degrees or so, you still get a net savings.

Possible downsides? 1) A less constant environment for your wooden flooring and furniture, which isn’t ideal for them. 2) You gotta get that heat pump set correctly so it doesn’t use "emergency mode" at the end of the setback period (which would be way wasteful). 3) When you get up to stumble around toward kitchen or bathroom in the middle of the night, you’re gonna freeze your patooshkies off unless you own a halfway decent robe.

Anyone want to weigh in? Do setbacks work for you? And how long are you waiting before you finally turn that knob?

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