It's a fact: Programming a thermostat's temperature to automatically change when you're away or sleeping -- lower in the winter and higher in the summer -- saves you money. In fact, the EPA estimates programmable thermostats save homeowners about $180 a year, on average.
Considering they generally cost anywhere from $30 to $150, says Vince Christofora, Jr., engineer and owner of Woodstock Hardware in Woodstock, New York, they often pay for themselves within a year.
Installing one is easier than you think, too. Here are Christofora's step-by-step instructions on how to install a programmable thermostat:
1) Turn off power to your heating and air conditioning.
Do this with the shutoff switch on your furnace or the breaker in your electrical panel. Even though thermostat wires are low-voltage, furnace controls can be damaged by a short circuit if you touch the live wires together during installation.
2) Remove the old thermostat.
Take off the cover plate and unscrew the thermostat's mounting bracket. Then disconnect each of the old thermostat's wires from its terminal. (Before disconnecting, label each wire with pen on masking tape to ensure correct placement in the new unit.) If needed, tape wires to the wall so they don't drop down into it.
3) Mount new thermostat to the wall.
If the screw holes don't line up with the existing holes, drill new holes, installing wall anchors if necessary. (You'll need wall anchors if mounting into drywall without a stud or other proper backing. They're inexpensive and easy to use -- the pros at your local hardware store can help make sure you get the right ones.)
4) Power up.
Connect the wires to their proper terminals following the wiring diagram in the owner's manual. Install the batteries, then snap the thermostat body and cover into place. Turn the furnace's power back on. Program away!
Christofora often recommends White-Rodgers and Honeywell brand programmable thermostats to his customers at Woodstock Hardware. One of his favorites: Honeywell's 7-Day Programmable Thermostat. "It offers four daily periods and unique programming for each day of the week, as well as a clock, task lighting, and easy programming," he says. "Plus, it's Energy Star-rated and costs around $100."
Did you know that some older thermostats contain mercury? Make sure to get rid of them properly.