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February 23, 2022

Does turning down the furnace at night actually pay off?

Energy conservation is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your pocket.

Therm For instance, “is it more energy-efficient to maintain your thermostat setting at a constant temperature 24/7 during the winter at, say, 20 degrees, or to lower it at night to 18 degrees when you go to bed, but then have to heat up the house each morning back to 20?” a puzzled reader asks the Globe and Mail’s popular “Collected Wisdom” column.

The answer is a definite yes, of course: Heating the house in the morning from 18 to 20 degrees takes the same amount of energy as was saved the previous evening by not having the furnace operating while the temperature slowly dropped. In other words, heating the house upon waking is a free ride.

There’s seems to be some debate as whether most people actually do this, maintains Cecil Adams, the mystery man behind the The Straight Dope, a popular Chicago-based question-and-answer columns.

It’s not that they don’t buy the argument, it’s that they can’t figure out how to program their thermostats accurately, he maintains.

Too many adhere to what’s known as "valve theory," namely the belief that the thermostat functions like a gas pedal: the higher you set it, the hotter your furnace runs.

In reality, he explains, most furnaces pump out heat at the same rate regardless of the setting; they just cycle on and off as needed to keep the house at whatever temperature the thermostat dictates.

A study of two identical Canadian test houses showed an 11-degree setback overnight and during work hours generated a 13 percent savings in gas and a 2 percent savings in electricity since the furnace blower ran less.

Does that reflect your experience during our cold winters? Have you done better or worse?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...