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Home Heating & Cooling: The Thermostat Myth

Remember the days when you’d snap a Polaroid picture, then shake it out to speed up the development process? Yeah, that didn’t actually do anything. You probably know that now—heck, you probably knew it then—but the impulse was just too strong.

It’s that same impulse that causes people to crank the thermostat as high as it will go on a freezing cold winter night, and crank up the AC on a hot August day. Well, I’m here to tell you: “telling” your thermostat to go faster, damnit! just doesn’t do a darn thing. I picked up this bit of myth-busting knowledge from one of our original Chelsea Green Guides: Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options by Greg Pahl.

There is a widely accepted bit of thermostatic folklore that I want to lay to rest once and for all. Turning up a thermostat to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not cause your house to warm up any faster than setting the thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or whatever your normal comfort level may be).

A thermostat is generally a simple on/off switch.Your heating system cranks out heat at the same steady rate until it reaches the temperature set on the thermostat, no matter what that setting is. So if your house is chilly, just set the thermostat for the desired temperature—and relax.

Same goes for the AC. If your house is too warm and opening some windows isn’t enough, peel yourself off the Naugahyde loveseat, set the air conditioning for the desired temperature, and make yourself a margarita, ’cause it’s chill time.


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