Is lowering your heat temperature a good idea in extreme cold?

Jan 09, 2018

Is lowering your heat temperature a good idea in extreme cold? 


If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve heard that lowering your heat when you are away from home or while you are sleeping will save energy — and money. Pretty standard piece of advice, really.
“You can save money on your heating and cooling bills by simply resetting your thermostat when you are asleep or away from home,” according to The U.S. Department of Energy’s website, “You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.” It’s fair to say that Northern Virginia — for the most part — has a fairly mild climate.
But is this recommendation always the right thing to do? Over the past few weeks, we in Northern  Virginia saw temperatures dip well below freezing — temperatures on Friday, Jan. 5 dropped to nine degrees in Fauquier County, for example, resulting in school closures. 
When it’s that cold outside, does it make sense to turn your heat down when you live the house (if you must)? Does your furnace struggle harder than normal to get your home back to comfortable levels if it must battle that kind of cold? Is it even dangerous to turn the heat while you’re sleeping with temperatures diving towards zero outside?


Baby, it’s cold outside (and will be again)

Hopefully we won’t see that kind of cold again this winter, but it’s always a possibility — and there’s next year, too. 
Kendra Pierre-Louis of Popular Science writes that “(S)ince the turn of the century, the lower Hudson (River) has frozen not once, but twice: in 2015 and 2003. Meanwhile in the Midwest, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded the winter of 2013-2014 as one of the region’s coldest on record. That is the year, according to Google Trends, that the terms “Polar freeze” and “Arctic freeze” entered the public lexicon.”
The reason? Warmer Arctic weather causes cooler North American winters. We’re not trying to get political — that warming isn’t necessarily due to climate change. It may be cyclical, like the “Little Ice Age” of the 18th and 19th centuries. 
Regardless, we’re probably going to see some chilly winters to come, and you should know how to handle your furnace. You don’t want to call Warrenton HVAC professionals every time the mercury drops (we’ve stayed pretty busy through the recent cold rush).
We spoke with Dave Young, CroppMetcalfe’s HVAC service and diagnostic manager, to get his thoughts on lowering your heat to save energy in extreme cold. Here’s what he had to say.

Should I lower my heat in the winter?

While it’s true that you can save about 10 percent a year on bills for heating and cooling if you turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice.
“If you’re in the home all day, it’s best to leave the temperature in one spot,” Dave says. “If you leave for work on schedule, then a programmable thermostat would benefit with no more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit set back.”

Does your heater work harder when it’s extremely cold outside?

Home heating isn’t a one-to-one relationship with the external temperature. How hard your heater works depends on your home’s insulation, how often it exchanges air with the outside and the draftiness of your home.
“If you have a drafty house,” Dave says, “it will make the furnace work harder and longer with run times. We recommend a Whole House Comfort Check to pinpoint where the leaks are and have them sealed.”


What conditions damage a heater?

The severity of the weather will dictate your unit’s run times and amount of equipment wear and tear. Manufacturers produce furnace motors for continuous use, Dave notes, so it is unnecessary to ever turn your heater off to give it a rest. It’s not like you or me on the treadmill at the gym — it doesn’t get tired! 


How does changing the temperature affect your heater?

“Lowering the temperature in the house doesn’t make it harder to heat the house,” Dave says. “It can, however, be uncomfortable to the occupants. Similarly, raising the heat during extremely cold temperatures is a personal preference.”


Winter home energy saving tips

In order for your HVAC system to perform at its top capacity, you need to provide proper maintenance and check the rest of your house for signs of problems. 
Here’s how to save energy at home and keep your heater from burning out in these cold temperatures:
  • Replace weather strips. Weather strips seal the edges of a door or window against the cold. If these wear down-- they could be enabling drafts and letting in cold air. In general, you should replace weather stripping every few years.
  • Seal ductwork leaks. In general, houses with forced-air heating lose about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the system to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts. If you check your ductwork and find a leak, cover it with a mastic sealant or metal tape.
  • Install storm windows. Windows are responsible for 20 percent of the air that’s escaping your home. Install storm windows — you can reduce your heat loss through windows by 25 to 50 percent.
  • Get a heating tune-up. Heating and cooling tune-ups and maintenance checks will ensure your unit is working at its peak capacity. By combining proper maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, air sealing and thermostat settings, you could cut your energy use for heating and cooling in Warrenton from 20 to 50 percent.

Save energy at home this season.

You need to be sure your home heating system is running smoothly all day, every day when the weather is this cold. Trust the five-star technicians to do the job right. 
When you need home energy saving tips or expert service from Warrenton HVAC professionals, call us at 1-877-740-6657 to schedule an appointment or contact us online today.