Should You Leave Your Heat On All Day or Turn It Off? Which is Cheaper?

Which option will help you save on your energy bills?

Person operating a thermostat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With energy prices still high, heating your home is proving difficult for many to afford. These elevated prices are leading many to search for alternative ways to save on energy bills during the winter. And the solution can be easier than you think. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should leave your heat on low all day or turn it off when you’re gone, keep reading.

On average, a typical household spends $6,888 annually on utility bills, shelling out $1,644 each year on electricity bills alone. But you can slash your bills by setting your thermostat to the proper temperature for the appropriate amount of time. To save money on heating, the Department of Energy recommends turning your thermostat down to 68°F to 70°F while you're awake, and even lower when you're sleeping or away from home. They claim you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by turning your thermostat back 7°F to 10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.

You may be wondering, however, if you’d be better off turning your heat off completely. In most cases, you’d be better off turning your heat down low as opposed to turning it off completely. According to Wired, it’s better to leave your heat running constantly, but just set back to a low temperature. They also report that keeping specific rooms in your home very cold can “reduce the overall efficiency of your heating, since those rooms will soak up warmth and make your boiler or heat pump work harder.”

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Plus, if you live somewhere cold, turning the heat off all day probably isn’t a suitable option as it can cause your pipes to freeze and burst. Or maybe you work from home. Whatever the case, dropping your thermostat, instead of turning it off completely, can help significantly reduce your heating costs — in some cases by 10%. You'll also maximize your savings by making sure your home is properly insulated and loses less heat.

Purchasing a smart thermostat is a great solution to keep your home at the appropriate temperature. With a smart thermostat, you’ll be able to control your home’s temperature conveniently from your phone, allowing you to schedule different temperatures for different times of the day or to shut your heat off/on whenever you want, even if you're not at home.

Other ways to save on energy costs

  • Do an energy audit — by making improvements identified in a home energy audit, you can save between 5% and 30% on your monthly energy bill. Tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements include the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit, which is equal to 30% of the costs for all eligible home improvements made during the year, and the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program, which offers $1,600 for insulation, air sealing, and ventilation.
  • Make sure your home is well insulated so it loses less heat. If you don't already have it, insulation is a good investment as it reduces your future bills.
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs — they use 75% less energy than incandescent/halogen lightbulbs.
  • Consider whether solar panels could be an option for your property.
  • Place your thermostat where it will give you the most accurate temperature — avoid drafty windows or direct sunlight.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water — this can cut your energy usage in half when doing laundry.
  • Bundle up — wear warm clothes and use blankets to avoid turning up the heat.
  • Use your dishwasher — not only will washing your dishes in the dishwasher save you more time than handwashing them, it'll also use less water and save energy. Overall, you'll save money by using the dishwasher vs washing by hand
  • Wood Burning Stove vs Central Heating? Gas central heating is cheaper than burning wood. 

Bottom line

Overall, keeping your heat set to 68°F to 70°F during the day, and 7°F to 10°F lower when you're not home, is the best way to save on heating costs. Purchasing a smart thermostat gives you the option of controlling the heat in your home conveniently from your phone, helping you to save money on utility bills during cold spells. 

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Erin Bendig
Personal Finance Writer

Erin pairs personal experience with research and is passionate about sharing personal finance advice with others. Previously, she was a freelancer focusing on the credit card side of finance, but has branched out since then to cover other aspects of personal finance. Erin is well-versed in traditional media with reporting, interviewing and research, as well as using graphic design and video and audio storytelling to share with her readers.