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Home Energy Q&A – Is Your Thermostat in the Right Place?

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By Ken Sheinkopf

RISMEDIA, February 6, 2009-(MCT)-Question: Please tell your readers that if their heating bills are too high, it may be because their builder put the thermostat in the wrong place.

We learned this the hard way after many months in an uncomfortable new home when an auditor from our utility company finally figured out that the thermostat was on a wall getting direct sun so it was sensing an indoor temperature that was much too high so the heater never turned on. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Answer: More often than you realize. I first heard about this a number of years ago in Florida when I met some people whose electric bills in their new home were sky-high and the house was always super-cold. After several people failed to diagnose the problem, someone pointed out that the thermostat was getting hit all day long by direct sun, similar to what happened in your home, so it registered as high heat indoors and ran all the time. Since then, I’ve met some people whose thermostats were affected by heat from appliances near them and a whole variety of other problems caused by their locations. I know that most homebuilders are aware of the best placements for thermostats and usually do it right, but occasionally some of them do slip up.

If you wonder how much this can affect a thermostat, think about a letter I got several years ago from a reader who noted that his first home many years ago had a simple old-fashioned type of thermostat that they were constantly adjusting since he and his wife liked to keep the home cool in winter when they slept but warm in the morning when they got up. This was before there were programmable thermostats that can do the adjustments for you, and he had a hard time getting used to waking up to a very cold home.

Instead, he rigged up a small night light and timer combination and hung the light about three inches below the thermostat with the timer set for just before their bedtime. The light would turn on and its heat would activate the thermostat so the furnace turned off. Then when the timer turned the bulb off at 5 a.m., the heat would come back on.

Today, we have a wide variety of easy-to-adjust automatic thermostats that can make all the setting changes you want, including different settings for weekends and even vacations, but this simple set-up took care of the problem of changing the setting to improve the indoor comfort. And it did it by using the same strategy that caused you problems with your home’s thermostat.

Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org).

© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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