Q: When my heating system constantly runs in this cold weather, I’m reminded of a device my family in England has. It is set to turn heat off at 10 p.m. and come back on at 6 a.m. Is this cost-efficient? If so, can it be bought here?
Barbara Benson, of Collinsville
A: If you have a typical forced-air HVAC system, you’re almost guaranteed to heat up your savings account by cooling off your power bills with a programmable thermostat.
They’ve been around for years, so they’re no passing fad. They already were an option when I had to install two new systems in my home nearly a decade ago. What’s more, they’ve gone high-tech. Now you can control your furnace wirelessly from just about anywhere in the world.
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And here’s the best part: By following certain guidelines, the typical homeowner should save at least $180 per year, according to Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency program that helps consumers attain maximum energy efficiency.
When I was growing up, my mom was our family’s programmable thermostat. Before going to bed, she would turn the dial down to 55 or 60. Then, braving the morning cold, she would shuffle out to the kitchen and turn it back up to 75 or so for the day.
I was never that conscientious. Oh, I meant to be, but I would often remember to set back the heat once I was carefully wrapped like a mummy in my quilt cocoon. Do I really want to walk all the way back downstairs? Nah, it’s only one night. By the same token, I was usually at work when I remembered I hadn’t set my thermostat down for the day.
With these thermostats, you simply program the times and temperatures to fit your schedule and you don’t have to give it another thought. For example, you can tell it to kick it down at 11 p.m. and to start warming the house again a half-hour before you get up, so you don’t have to freeze your tootsies on cold tile like my mom did.
Depending how much you want to spend, you can get all kinds of bells and whistles. The basic variety may allow you to choose one temperature change in the morning and another at night. Others will allow you to choose different times for different days, even letting you make several switches per day. You can choose between old-fashioned buttons and new-fangled touch screens.
According to Energy Star, they also may offer hold and vacation features, tell you when to change your furnace filter, warn you that there’s something amiss with your furnace and help you figure out how long it will take your furnace to reach a certain set-point.
If you want the ultimate in accessibility, consider a wireless thermostat. While these are more expensive, some say you might save even more money because you could use your phone or computer to reset the thermostat at any time from anyplace in the world with a Wi-Fi connection.
Now, the economics. Prices run from about $20 for a basic model at Walmart that allows you one heating and one cooling change each day to $250 or more for a device that reportedly learns your schedule and adjusts your home’s temperatures accordingly. Scary.
Is it worth it? I used to wonder about this. I mean, if it were 20 degrees outside, wouldn’t your furnace run equally hard whether you set it at 68 or 55? But I’m assured by the experts that as you reduce the difference in temperature between outside and indoors, your system will run less, thus reducing your power consumption — and wear on your furnace.
That’s why Energy Star estimates that an average household will save $180 if, in the winter, you dial back the thermostat eight degrees at night and during the day when the house is empty and, in the summer, set up the thermostat at least seven degrees during the day when you’re gone and four degrees at night.
One final tip: You might want to talk with someone knowledgeable so the thermostat you buy will be compatible with your system. For more information, check www.energystar.gov and www.thermostatcentral.com (written by a layman).
Q: What has happened to Doug McElvein at KMOX?
A: I’ve answered this before, but I’m still getting a ton of calls and emails, so let me repeat here that popular longtime co-anchor of KMOX’s Total Information A.M. was laid off on New Year’s Eve after 22 years at the station.
“Nothing I did either on or off air precipitated this,” McElvein wrote on his Facebook page. “It was simply a money matter according to management.”
By the way, his current Facebook picture is of his beloved cat, Blue.
Q: While watching the Super Bowl, I wondered about the origin and meaning of the name “Peyton” as in Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
George Dietz, of O’Fallon
A: In winning his second Super Bowl at 39 after a year of injuries and benchings, he certainly proved to have a fitting name. In England, many say the name means “from the fighter’s (or warrior’s) farm.”
Although you probably wouldn’t have guessed it from that classic scandalous soap opera “Peyton Place,” in Ireland and Scotland it means “regal,” “royal” or “the noble one.”
It is said to have its origin in an English place-name of “Paega’s town,” hence, Pay- (or Pey-) ton. Bonus fact: Peyton Randolph served as president of both the first and second Continental congresses in 1774 and 1775.
What close friend of President Richard Nixon perfected the aerosol spray valve?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: In 1703, Thomas Rich, a baker’s apprentice in London, fell in love with his boss’ daughter and asked her to marry him. To make their wedding memorable, he wanted to create something spectacular, so he drew inspiration from, appropriately enough, St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street. Destroyed by fire in 1666, the church was rebuilt in the 1670s from a new design by famed English architect Christopher Wren. Its most striking feature is its tall spire, fashioned from four octagonal segments of diminishing height and width capped by an obelisk, which was added from 1701-1703. Rich used the unique design to make what is said to be the first tiered wedding cake. It quickly gained popularity and is now a staple at many weddings. At 226 feet high, St. Bride’s is shorter only than St. Paul’s Cathedral among Wren’s churches.