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 Jim Gunshinan on February 17, 2014 at 9:54am

Hi Ted, your points are well taken. But I do think that behavior matters; how much is not clear. Home Energy did an article about some tests done on two identical houses in Canada. Savings range from about 5% to about 15% depending on the severity of the thermostat setback—http://www.homeenergy.org/show/article/nav/coolingandair/id/566

People are motivated to save anergy and to one-up their neighbors (guilty!). Not that the neighbors notice or even care. A utility in Gainsville found that putting a little smily face on a bill that shows relatively low energy use and a frown face for energy hogs does influence people to save energy. This must play into our competitive nature.

We are adjusted to the more accurate thermostat. Going from 68F in the day to 64F at night is, as you say, not exactly heroic. But we are sticking with it because it has been fairly easy to adjust and be comfortable. So we wear sweaters.(Right you are Barbara!)

Most of our authors are coming around to the idea that comfort sells home performance work, and without providing comfort along with increased efficiency, we are doing nothing for the customer or the environment.

Comment by tedkidd on February 17, 2014 at 8:08am

Wow, don't dislocate your shoulders patting yourselves on the back for your suffering just yet.  Tell us what it's SAVING?!  Are you going to extraordinary inconvenience to save $2 a month?  Is that $2 REALLY worth the arguments with your wives?  Is that "Juice" really worth the "Squeeze"?  Could you put that effort to better effect elsewhere?    

It's funny, the psychology of humans is they want to believe they have more control and impact on things than they do. It is in the single digits here, yet people believe adjusting their thermostats a few degrees down from 70 will cut total gas costs by 24%. 

Low integrity companies take advantage of these superstitions to sell their products, further perpetuating myths: http://bit.ly/24percent-REALLY

We also have a tendency to point at .03% outliers and claim it the rule. This works really well if you attach a little unmeasured fear to it. Homes are supertankers, and we are merely passengers. It's not about behavior guys.  That's not where the real juice is.  The impact of our behavior is like icing on the cake.  

The true path to energy efficiency? Design to deliver comfort.http://bit.ly/comfortcalculator We don't heat people, we manage their cooling rate. Want to fully understand what "comfort" entails, follow Robert Bean.

Comment by Bud Poll on February 17, 2014 at 7:52am

Good story Jim, as you get older that number will climb again.  I visited an XYL who asked if they made stats that would go much higher than the one she had.  Being in the energy saving business my reflex (which I avoided) was to explain the savings associated with the lower setting, but instead I discussed the possibilities.  Her objection was, SHE FELT COLD at anything below 80°.  Since she was over 80 I felt it wasn't too much of an indulgence to help her feel warm. 

In that light, put the old stat back in to feel comfortable and search for some remaining heat loss to make up the difference :).

Bud

Comment by John C. Briggs on February 17, 2014 at 7:47am

Cute story.  We try to keep things at 68°F at our house too with our new Nest thermostat.  But sometimes we find that 70°F is needed once the sun is down.

I have also decided the 68°F when the heat is "on" versus 68°F when the heat is "off" is a big difference.  With the radiant baseboard hydronic heating, if the heat is on, the walls might be at 80°F and you can feel that radiant heat on your body.  Once the heat turns off, the wall temperature might drop to 60°F which feels a lot colder although the air temperature reading might still be at 68°F.

Comment by tedkidd on February 17, 2014 at 7:37am

 it still allowed us to feel superior to our less-virtuous neighbors.

I'm getting the sense you are having some fun with "smug" here.  So others get the reference, here's a link to a clip: http://bit.ly/southparksmug

Comment by Barbara Smith on February 17, 2014 at 7:33am

As we think in the Midwest:  No bad weather, just the wrong clothes.  Wear sweaters and stuff around the house, and that will make you more comfortable

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