Set Your Thermostat Right to Save Money and Energy

While I have the good fortune of living in Seattle, with a fairly even climate and temperature plus, even when you do need to use the heater in winter, electricity costs little... others are not as fortunate, living in places with bitterly freezing winters, blazing hot summers and expensive electricity: running the air conditioning (A/C) and heater constantly pushes many monthly electric bills into the hundreds of dollars.

I feel your pain. I grew up in Las Vegas, a place where, if you didn't have air conditioning in the dead of a 115 degree summer day, you got cooked. Literally. The desert winters felt surprisingly harsh, dropping temps into the 20's and 30's, a bitter cold for people accustomed to blazing summers.

I learned over time how to manage your thermostat and, ultimately, your electric bill, developing these key principles:

If you're not home, leave the air conditioning off

Air conditioning is designed for your comfort, but what good does that comfort do you if you aren't home for it? Granted, coming home to a cold home in winter or a hot house in summer can feel miserable, but the unpleasantness is temporary as turning on the air conditioning improves the temperature within a few minutes.

Throw it on once you get home, if you need it, and it shouldn't take long for the home's temp to normalize. People who work during the day in hot locales benefit most from this approach.

Set the thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer

The normal comfort zone temperature sits around 72-73 degrees, but an air conditioner isn't a highly scientific machine. In hot weather, air conditioners only blast cooling freon with air into the room until its internal thermometer reaches the indicated temperature, then stops until it goes a couple degrees above, then starts again until it returns to that temperature, and back and forth it goes.

The difference in where you set the thermostat only affects how much cold air it blows into the room. The lower temperature at which you set the thermostat in summer, the more air it blows in.

Setting the thermostat at 78 degrees typically keeps enough cool air in the room for comfort. Unless you developed a keen temperature sensitivity, you won't likely notice the difference between 73 degrees and 78 degrees. But your electric bill will certainly show it, as your A/C will not run as frequently, and as long. And if you spend the day outside in the heat, coming inside to 78 degree indoor air feels a lot better anyway.

Set the thermostat at 60 degrees in winter

Basically as I said above, except replace the cold freon of the air conditioner with the heated air of the heater.

You won't notice the cold while asleep as long as you have sufficient blankets. Buy a down comforter for bed, and how warm it keeps you may surprise you.

Some recommend shutting the heat completely off before bed. While normally sound, I understand that in places where the temps drop precipitously low at night, below the teens and such, this can make the room temperature dangerously low. If you live in such a place, please wear layers at night and, if you must, keep a heating source on.

Make sure air circulates during the summer

Buy oscillating fans and use them in each room. On milder days, shut off the A/C, crack the windows and try to get by on just circulated air as long as you can. Often, air feels hotter simply because it stagnates indoors and doesn't circulate.

Find inexpensive excuses to go out

Since you won't use your A/C when you're not home (right?), try to spend time away from home during your free time, so you have an excuse not to use the A/C. Go to a bookstore. Go out to dinner. Go to a concert, go run some needed errands, go hang out with friends... anything to get out of the house... and remember to shut off your thermostat before you leave, of course. (Obviously, if you drive, try to multitask so you don't drive too much, or you may use so much gas that it offsets any cost savings)

One added bonus: most of these places have air conditioning.


While by no means a comprehensive guide, these starting suggestions should help you save electricity and, utlimately, money on your electric bill.

Below are materials that can further help you save energy and lower your energy bills:

Comments 13 comments

Caryl Oliver profile image

Caryl Oliver 8 years ago from Australia

Living in Australia we have to deal with the extremes of temperature and after suffering a great many hot summer days and sleepless nights we did the research on air conditioning and finally installed evaporative cooling.

Evaporative cooling works by sucking air over water and then circulating around the house, so we have a unit sitting on the roof that sucks in air over wet panels and then the fan is controlled from inside the house - and it is brilliant!

There are three HUGE reasons why we have gone with this:

1. No refrigerants so less damage to the environment. Uses about 12 litres of water if on all day.

2. Very cheap to run - about $1.00 per day as against $1.25 per hour for normal split system air conditioning.

3. And this is my favourite - you leave the doors and windows open to make it work best! Because it is bringing in cool air through the unit on the roof it needs the windows or doors open to draw the cool air to those areas. So during the day we have the bedroom windows closed and the back end open and then at bedtime we close the back and open the bedroom windows.

The output is that is will drop the temperature about 10 degrees which is more than enough most of the time without making the place frigid.

The cost was about the same at other air-conditioning and we just love it!

Lissie profile image

Lissie 8 years ago from New Zealand

In Perth yesterday it was 39C ! We don't have aircon - but the flat is insulated on 2 sides, top and bottom by other flats / walls and is south facing so doesn't get much direct sun after 8am. It was hot yesterday - but its the first time I'd have liked a/con - up to this temp(100F) its been OK so long as we close all doors/windows in the morning and open them all about 10pm

Steven Gomez profile image

Steven Gomez 8 years ago from Chicago, IL Author

Caryl: that sounds similar to the swamp cooler my parents used in our house growing up. It was an effective substitute as long as all the bedroom doors were open, making it a pain if you wanted privacy, but nonetheless effective for the most part. Later on, after we had moved out, my sisters installed window-mounted coolers and found those effective and inexpensive as well.

Lissie: Wow. I can only imagine trying to survive without A/C in 100 degree weather. It appears you've got the best of it thanks to the insulation and keeping the doors/windows shut, but I remember times when the A/C was broke and you just couldn't keep the heat out because insulation in Vegas buildings is so poor. One time I worked nights and my residence's A/C broke. I would wake up with heat exhaustion some nights. It was unhealthy, and fortunately the A/C got fixed within a few days so the situation was temporary, but it's quite a painful experience!

mike 7 years ago

turning off your a/c when you are not home is a bad idea. when you do that you let your house get intensly hot and then when you come home and turn it on it has to run ten times longer to cool the house then it would if you just left it on all day.

an air conditioner does not run harder at any given time it is simply the length of time that it runs. if you set your a/c to 79-80 degrees and leave it there you will pay much less than if you turn it off. trust me i live in arizona and have been doing a/c service work for 6 years. 79-80 all day is the way to go.

Steven Gomez profile image

Steven Gomez 6 years ago from Chicago, IL Author

Of course, Mike, you could also open the windows when you get home. Enclosed spaces tend to stay hot for longer periods, as I found out the hard way growing up in Vegas. If I kept my door and windows closed while, say, running the computer, it got HOT.

It probably makes sense to air out your home when you return home, before turning on the A/C. Honestly, otherwise, you're burning power and jacking up your electric bill.

Kristy 6 years ago

I turned my ac up to 78 on both floors and started using ceilking fans and my power bill went from $313 to $450..

I dont know what else to do int his economy its feast or famine. I cant afford to pay $450 a month for power. My gas bill is a whole nother story..

Atlanta GA

roofing contractors Miami 5 years ago

Since the issue of global warming has become a hot seat, the number of people who are aware in saving the Earth increase every year. It is good to see people who are finding alternatives to be able to avoid carbon emissions and follow the green tips. This practice help us to be responsible in using the things around us.

whitton profile image

whitton 5 years ago

Great Hub. I agree that having your thermostat set at the correct temperature definetly lowers your monthly bill.

guest 4 years ago

There are many downsides to leaving the a/c off all day while you are gone, ranging from unsafe conditions for pets to food spoiling on the counter and in the cupboards, not to mention how hard your refrigerator and freezer work in those condiotions. Add to those the uncomfortable feeling for up to 2 hrs when you finally try to cool your home enough to prepare a meal over the stove. I find this approach somewhat extreme.

misty atkins 4 years ago

Leaving your unit set to 72 year round lowers your bill. I have done it this past year pulled all my bills out a save about 300 this past year by leaving it set at one temp year around. Put it really depends on what temp you like, but cutting it on and off the temp in your house is never stable which can cause cold and extra. Leave it at one temp for a month and tell me if you don't see a difference in the bill

i live in miami at what temperture do l leave my a/c unit on andwhat temperture I leav it when im nit at home 4 years ago

At what temperture do I leave my a/c unit on and when im not home at what temperture do I set it at

jen 2 years ago

I usually shut the vents in the rooms that I am not using.. I keep mine at 74 and my bill don't run any more the 50.00 a month ... I also use aluminum foil on my Windows and it also helps keep the heat out..

Porf 2 months ago

Turning off your AC when you're not home? LOL, that's HORRIBLE advice, especially for anyone living in a hot climate. Get yourself a programmable thermostat and set your AC to go up 3-5 degrees when you're not home, and then come back down to temp when you are home. Even better, make it a smart programmable AC like a Nest or EcoBee. Seriously, turning off your AC is just very bad advice.

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