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Thermostat Wars.

It’s here. Summer is on the way. Warm weather. Hot weather. Sweaty weather. And with it comes the dreaded electric bill. If you’re like most people, it rarely looks good. Most of us scratch our heads and resign ourselves to a painful process we just have to struggle through. I saw my dad do it. He’d open the bill, swear about it, sit down and write out a check and be in a lousy mood for the next week.

My dad liked to turn the thermostat down at night in the winter and somehow thought it worked the same way with AC.

It was his way of saving energy and making us better people. “It’ll make you tough and you’ll appreciate things more when you’re older,” he’d say. You’d think he was raised in a Siberian gulag or on a coffee plantation.

This attitude actually served me well and for some time when I had to pay my own bills.

I had a good assortment of fans that would circulate the warm air giving me at least the impression of a breeze. I had reasonable bills well into my mid to late twenties. Dad had taught me well.

My wife on the other hand, was raised by parents who felt that walking around the house in various modes of undress and soaked in sweat was uncivilized. They were a fairly typical middle-class family who liked to be comfortable. They didn’t see a warm house in the winter and a cool house in the summer as “living it up,” the way my dad did. Unlike my dad, they didn’t view sweating while standing still or sitting as character building – they saw it as unnecessary and uncivilized.

So, when my wife and I moved into our first house, there were some adjustments and some arguments -- the thermostat wars, as she likes to call them. We’ve all been there. One person walks by (me) and turns the AC down and the other person (her) walks by and turns it back up. In our case, it was a battle between a comfortable temperature and one that was just short of oppressive.

My dad wasn’t much help in the way of marital advice when it came to this particular issue. After all, he had actually rigged an enclosed case with a padlock to the thermostat we had at home. As ingenious as that solution was, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t go over too well in my case. Instead, I turned to my father-in-law. He came over the following weekend, sat down at our kitchen table, and shook his head as the first of many drops of sweat beaded up on his forehead and fell onto the placemat in front of him. He looked at me for a while. A long while. He took a long sip from the requisite glass of ice water that had become a necessity in our house and said, “Son, I know you love my daughter and I know, for whatever reason, she loves you. I always made sure she was comfortable because I thought she deserved it. Don’t you think you deserve that too?”

I have to admit, the guy made a lot of sense. Not at first, but after giving it some thought it did occur to me that there was no reason for either of us to be uncomfortable in our own home. For the next few hours he let me in on some of things he had done to keep his family warm in the winter and cool in the summer without going broke.

Change the air filter: This applies to forced-air heating systems and central cooling. The air filter protects the internal system from contamination that enters through the return vents. After a month of steady use, the filter will develop enough clogging that it will start choking off airflow into the system. This will not only make the system strain and begin to drain power, it can also lead to repair issues. You should change the filter (or clean it if you have a permanent filter) once a month. If you have a heat pump that has been working all winter keeping your home warm, make sure that you have the filter changed or cleaned before switching over to cooling mode.

Proper thermostat use: Before we go any further, let’s clear something up about the thermostat that people often misunderstand. A thermostat is not a throttle. A thermostat is a switch. It’s either on or it’s off. Cranking the heat or the cold to an extreme temperature isn’t going change the temperature any faster; it will only keep the unit working longer until reaching the set temperature. This is a complete waste of money, and those extreme temperatures are not the results we want.

Consider buying and installing a smart thermostat that can be programmed to change the temperature setting throughout the day and can be monitored and manipulated away from the house using a smartphone. According to a recent study, smart thermostats will generate 10-12% savings on heating and 15% savings on cooling, or about $131-145 in savings a year.

Regular maintenance: You should always arrange for annual maintenance for a heating and cooling system, to help ward off emergency repairs and to prolong its service life. Maintenance will save you money. For each year that a system isn’t regularly inspected and tuned-up, it will lose 5% or more of its efficiency. In a few years, you could be paying 25% or more than you should be.


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