Yes, It Really Saves Money!

February 16, 2012

Turn down the thermostat to save money. This is advice that anyone trying to live frugally has been hearing for years–you save about one percent of your heating costs for every one degree you lower the temperature. I know that when we first became frugal-living advocates in 2007, we kept the house so cold that my kids had to wear their jackets indoors during the winter. (See this segment on the “CBS Evening News” on green teens to see just how cold my younger daughter Annie looks under the blanket.)

I’ll admit that as we started saving money, my income started going back up, and things in the bank account were looking good, I got a little lazy about the thermostat. While I rarely pushed it above 71 in winter or below 68 in summer, I wasn’t being as diligent about raising and lowering it overnight or when we would be gone for hours at a time. (The programmable part of the thermostat has been wonky from the start so we do things manually.) I even started washing some clothes in hot water–gasp–mostly because I’d heard that hot water was the best way to clean the unmentionables and get rid of any lurking bacteria.

It probably helps that home heating oil prices have been on the decline so that if I was becoming lazy about my energy use I wasn’t really feeling it in my pocketbook–that is, until last month’s oil delivery.

I’d heard on the morning news that while gas prices had been holding their own (though now they are forecast to rise precipitously through the spring) and energy costs for those using gas and electric were down, homes that used heating oil were not so lucky. Boy was that news right!

After the oil guy filled our tank, he left the receipt tucked in our front door. I opened it and noticed that he’d filled 169 gallons of our 425 gallon tank, and the price per gallon was $3.99. When the oil bill arrived in the mail a few days later, it confirmed the whopping oil bill I suspected we would be facing–$676!

That’s it, I told my family, I’m going to do an experiment this month by returning to our frigid frugal ways with the thermostat and see if I can’t save us some money on home heating oil.

The day after we got the oil bill, we moved my office out of the cold upstairs office, where I needed to run a second heater just to keep my fingertips from falling off from the cold. Nowadays I’m working downstairs in a Southern-facing, sunny room that is home to my treadmill desk and happens to be on its own heating zone.

Before, I would have to heat the whole house to keep my office warm. Now, once the kids leave for school at 7:30, the thermostat in the main portion of the house goes down to 65 degrees or lower–if it isn’t already there from the overnight hours. I start the day in my new office space with the thermostat at 68 degrees, and let the sun warm me up until about 2 or 3 p.m. when it shifts to a point where I’m not longer able to warm with solar energy. Then I might nudge the thermostat up to 70 for the last hour or so of the day. (FYI, I’m already wearing layers to keep warm.) Once I’m done working, the thermostat goes back to 65 degrees.

This has been the routine for the last 30 days, and today we got an oil delivery. Here’s what the receipt said:

  • 130 gallons delivered
  • Price per gallon: $4.19

So while the cost of oil has gone up $.20 in a month, we needed 39 fewer gallons this month than last month. By my estimations this month’s oil bill will come in at around $545–still high but $131 cheaper than last month.

My takeaway from this experiment? Turning down the thermostat really does save money! You can bet we will be continuing with our frigid frugal ways. What about you?

Image Credit: dan /

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