Home heating tip

Have a boiler in your house instead of a forced air furnace? Well, I just learned today that you have to manage your thermostat a little differently with a boiler than with a forced air furnace. My error ended up being rather costly so I thought I’d pass it on to the blogosphere so others out there don’t end up in the same situation.

My house has radiant (hot water) heat in the floors on the first floor and in the basement, and radiators on the second floor. I enjoy radiant heat more than forced air; it’s cleaner and less dusty, and it’s pretty nice having warm floors in the winter.

I had the heating company send a technician out today because I’d been noticing that the boiler seemed to be having problems keeping up with the program on the thermostat. In the interest of saving some money on the heating bill, I had programmed the thermostats (there are 2 — one for the second floor, and one for the first floor/basement) a bit agressively. The temp was set for 68F for the weekday morning rise and shine routine, then down to 60F for weekday work hours. It was to resume a 68F temp for the return home and drop back to 60F during the sleeping hours.

In the past few days, a couple things happened that made me think something was wrong with this approach. First, I’d noticed that in the evening, the boiler was working really hard to heat up the house. About 3 hours into the evening program, the house was at just 64F on the first floor and 62F on the second while the boiler was still working like crazy to reach the programmed 68F magic number.

Second, I opened up my December gas bill and nearly had a stroke: $495. Yes, that’s right. Let that sink in.

Granted, it was a particularly bitter December with really low temps, but that is a staggering bill to pay. [Yeah, I know the gas company has a budget plan where you pay the same every month, but I feel that doing so disconnects me from what I’m really consuming, and therefore I’d be less inclined to make the proper adjustments to my behavior.]

So, the heating tech came to my house today and checked things out. Everything was working properly, but he told me that with a boiler it’s really not advisable to have the thermostat setting fluctuate more than 4-5 degrees. The temperature of the water in the boiler itself should not drop below 170F, he said, whereas when he first checked it was at 70F. In this situation, it was particularly problematic as the thermostat that controls the first floor also controls the basement, meaning that the cold concrete of the basement floor needed to also get heated up to 68F before the thermostat program would be met. 

So, lesson learned! I re-programmed the thermostats and will just hope that results in the boiler burning gas at a more steady pace, but use less gas overall as it isn’t running like crazy to catch up. And, if/when I can get Mark out of here I can save even more by moving to the first floor bedroom he’s using, closing the door to the second floor, and turning the thermostat on the second floor to ultralow (it can go as low as 45F).

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3 thoughts on “Home heating tip

  1. Oh dear – reminds me of the $487 electric bill I got in SoCal and the house wasn’t even cool (it was summer). Sorry this happened, but at least you know now – but certainly not what you needed at this point.

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  2. All I can say is yikes. But my furnace guy told me the same thing (about not fluctuating over too broad a range) even though I have a super-high efficiency furnace. So my max is 66 when I am home and 60 at night. I heat two floors of my house and my bill was $280; my tenants heat their floor and their bill was $120 or so. Together: $400! With a 92%-plus efficient furnace for my two floors. Gurgle.

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