The Proper Temperature for Central Heat

Reduce heating costs by lowering household temperatures at bedtime.
Reduce heating costs by lowering household temperatures at bedtime. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Central heating systems provide comfort that is easy to take for granted. About 45 percent of money spent on energy goes to heating and cooling, averaging about $10,000 over 10 years, according to the California Energy Commission. While it’s common to take a “set it and forget it” approach with your thermostat, using the temperatures recommended by state energy agencies and utilities companies can help you stay comfortable while reducing the shock of your monthly energy bills.

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While At Home

Utility companies such as Madison Gas and Electric in Wisconsin promote set temperatures for heating while at home, away from home and on vacation. They recommend a winter heating temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit when you are home, regardless of the outdoor temperature. If necessary, create a zone or “warm room” within your home where everyone gathers, such as the living room or family room, and supplement that area with a room heating unit. Use it safely and only for a few hours, such as when everyone is together after meals. This keeps you from boosting the temperature throughout the house when you need to increase it only in one area.

When Away From Home

State government agencies such as the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission recommend setting the thermostat at 55 degrees when you are away from home. Use a portable space heater to a warm a specific room when you arrive. Another good practice is to install a programmable thermostat so you can set it to remember temperature settings for various times of day, eliminating your need to raise and lower the temperature manually.

While Asleep

While sleeping, energy agencies and utility companies recommend keeping the thermostat set at the same low temperature as when you’re away: 55 degrees. Load up on blankets and comforters to keep warm at night. You may be surprised how little time it takes to adjust to using the best temperatures.

While On Vacation

If you will be away for an extended time, strike a balance between turning the heating system off (and risking frozen pipes) and keeping the house warm when its empty. In most cases, setting the thermostat to 55 degrees works well. The Washington UTC suggests leaving keys with someone you trust who can raise your home temperature when extreme weather conditions warrant doing so, to keep your central heating system functioning properly. Or, if your home is equipped with a smart energy management system, you can utilize your smartphone to adjust your thermostat remotely.

Making the Adjustment

Always check with your family physicians to make sure that lowered temperatures will not adversely affect the health of anyone who resides in your home. If you’re safe to make the switch to recommended temperatures, ease your way into the change. Start by lowering the thermostat temperature when you’re sleeping, then lower the temperature while you’re away and when you’re at home.

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