Thermostat use in Canadian homes

Gordon Dewis, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division

Canadian households spend a significant amount of their annual income on energy to heat their homes. Rising energy costs and environmental concerns are clear incentives for households to adopt energy conservation measures.

The heating season in Canada varies quite widely, lasting up to ten months in some parts of the country. Thus, adjusting the temperature by just a few degrees at certain times of the day is one way Canadians can reduce their home heating expenses while also reducing their impact on the environment.

Just over half of Canadian households with a thermostat reduced their home's temperature while they slept. Households using a programmable thermostat were more likely to lower home temperatures than those with non-programmable thermostats.

What you should know about this study

This study is based on data from the 2006 Households and the Environment Survey (HES). The survey was conducted to measure the actions of Canadian households with respect to a wide range of environmental behaviours, including home heating practices.  Using the HES, a number of socioeconomic and demographic variables, including dwelling type, ownership status, age, education and income, are linked to home heating equipment and temperature controlling behaviours.

Data collection for the 2006 HES took place in conjunction with the Labour Force Survey.

Respondents were asked about the temperature they kept their home while they were at home and awake and while they were asleep. 

Although the survey collected this information for both the heating and cooling seasons, this study only examines data for the heating season.  Identification of the heating season was left to the respondent and may vary significantly depending on the location of residence.

For detailed data tables related to this study, please see: Statistics Canada, 2008, Catalogue no. 16-001-M, no.6, Ottawa.

Canadians turn down the heat while they sleep
Households in Ontario most likely to have a programmable thermostat
High-income households most likely to turn down the heat
Households in single-detached dwellings most likely to turn down the temperature
Renters less likely to turn down the heat
Seniors most likely to lower temperature when asleep
University graduates most likely to lower temperatures
Summary

Canadians turn down the heat while they sleep

About 6 out of 10 households reported using a forced air furnace as their primary heating system. A quarter used electric baseboards, 5% hot water radiators, and the remaining households used other heating systems such as wood stoves and fireplaces, heat pumps and other equipment.1

Most heating systems are regulated by some form of thermostat. In 2006, 90% of Canadian households were able to control their home's temperature using a thermostat (Table 1). Apartments were less likely to be equipped with thermostats to control their unit's heat.

Table 1 Households with thermostats, by province, 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Households with thermostats, by province, 2006

There were some variations between the provinces. In Ontario, for example, 86% of households reported that they had a thermostat in their home compared to 97% of households in Prince Edward Island.

During the heating season, most Canadian households reported that they set their home temperature between 20°C and 22°C when they were at home and awake. Overall, 53% of households reduced the temperature while they slept. Home temperatures were generally kept between 16°C and 18°C when household members were asleep.

About seven households in ten that programmed their thermostat used it to lower the temperature while they slept. Only 46% of households with an unprogrammed or non-programmable thermostat lowered the heat.

Households in Ontario most likely to have a programmable thermostat

In Canada, four out of ten households with a thermostat had one that could be programmed and the majority of these households (83%) did actually program it.

Households in Ontario were the most likely to have a programmable thermostat. Half of the households with thermostats in the province reported they had one that was programmable, followed by the western provinces: Alberta (41%), Manitoba (38%), Saskatchewan (36%) and British Columbia (36%).

Of households in Quebec that had a thermostat, one third reported having a programmable one.
Programmable thermostats were less common in the Atlantic Provinces where about one household in five reported having one.

The rate of households that programmed their thermostats to lower the temperature when household members were asleep varied across the country. Saskatchewan and Alberta had the highest proportion of thermostats programmed to lower temperatures at 78% and 75%, respectively. Ontario and Manitoba had the lowest shares with 63% and 64%, respectively.

Programmable thermostats can reduce energy use

A programmable thermostat allows the user to set up a schedule of temperature settings that take effect at different times of the day.  These devices often allow different schedules to be used for weekdays and weekends and some offer the ability to have different schedules depending on whether the system is heating or cooling the home. 

Research conducted at the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology in 2003 examined the impact of thermostat temperature settings on gas and electricity consumption1 by a mid-efficiency gas furnace during both the winter heating and summer cooling seasons.2 Using a daytime indoor winter temperature of 22°C as the benchmark, reducing the temperature at night to 18°C resulted in a 6.5% savings in natural gas and 0.8% reduced electricity consumption, while reducing the temperature to 16°C at night and when the dwelling is unoccupied during the day resulted in a 13% reduction in the amount of gas used and 2.3% savings in the amount of electricity used.3

Some heating systems lend themselves to being controlled by programmable thermostats more readily than others.  Households using a forced air natural gas furnace as the main heating system were most likely to have a programmable thermostat (52%). Households with hot water radiators were least likely to report having a programmable thermostat (22%).

For those who can use them, programmable thermostats offer the possibility of saving energy and money by reducing the use of heating and cooling systems when dwellings are unoccupied or at night.

1. Electricity consumed by furnace fans and motors.
2. M. Manning et al., 2005, The Effects of Thermostat Setting on Seasonal Energy Consumption at the CCHT Research Facility, Canadian Centre for Housing Technology, http://irc.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/pubs/rr/rr191/ (accessed July 7, 2008).
3. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2005, "Effects of thermostat setting on energy consumption," Research Highlights, Technical Series 05-100, Catalogue no. 63816.

High-income households most likely to turn down the heat

Among households with thermostats, the likelihood that the temperature was lowered when the household members were asleep increased as the total annual household income increased. Those households with the lowest annual incomes were the least likely to lower the temperature while they slept, with just under half of households earning $30,000 and under reporting this behaviour. The proportion rose to 57% for households that earned between $50,001 and $75,000 a year and to 63% for households with an income above $100,000.

Ownership and use of a programmable thermostat also increased as the total annual household income increased. Only about one in four households in the lowest income category had a thermostat that could be programmed, of which three out of four were programmed. Almost six out of ten of those that were actually programmed were used to lower the temperature.

Of households with incomes ranging from $50,001 to $75,000, 42% had a programmable thermostat. Three quarters of programmed thermostats were used to lower the temperature while the household slept. Households with incomes above $100,000 were most likely to have programmable thermostats (60%). Ninety percent were actually programmed and 80% of those that were programmed were used to lower the temperature.

Households in single-detached dwellings most likely to turn down the temperature

Households in single-detached dwellings were the most likely to turn down the heat, regardless of whether they did so manually or automatically (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Households in single-detached homes most likely to lower temperatures while the household slept. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1
Households in single-detached homes most likely to lower temperatures while the household slept

Almost half (46%) of households in single-detached dwellings had a programmable thermostat, most of which had been programmed (86%). The majority of these households (71%) used the programmable thermostats to lower their home temperature when household members were asleep. This energy-saving practice was not as prevalent among households in single-detached dwellings equipped with non-programmable thermostats (50%).

Not only were apartment dwellers less likely to have a thermostat in their unit, but they were less likely to lower the temperature when they were asleep. Only 39% of these households lowered the temperature, though the figure rose to 45% among households that had programmed their programmable thermostat.

Half of households in multi-unit dwellings such as duplexes and row-houses lowered the temperature while they slept. Four in ten households had a programmable thermostat, most of which had been programmed. Of households with programmed thermostats, 63% used them to lower the temperature, compared to 45% of households who controlled the temperature manually.

Renters less likely to turn down the heat

Many renters do not pay directly to heat their dwelling, reducing financial incentives to lower dwelling temperatures at night.  If they do choose to turn down the heat, it would be for comfort or environmental reasons rather than to save money.

In 2006, two-thirds of Canadian households owned their own home.2 Households that lived in rental units were less likely to be able to control the temperature of their dwelling than those that owned their dwelling. Three-quarters of those living in rented dwellings had a thermostat, compared to 96% in dwellings owned by the occupants. Owner-occupied dwellings were also over twice as likely to have had a programmable thermostat (46%) as rented dwellings (22%). Most renters have a limited financial interest in investing money to improve a dwelling they do not own.

Almost six out of ten households that owned their home lowered the temperature while they slept compared to just over four out of ten households that were renters (Chart 2). Seven out of ten programmed thermostats in dwellings owned by the occupants were used to lower the temperature when the household was asleep compared to slightly less than half in rentals.

Chart 2 Households that rented less likely to lower the temperature. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 2
Households that rented less likely to lower the temperature

Seniors most likely to lower temperature when asleep

Senior-only households were the least likely to have a programmable thermostat (34%). However, this isn't to say that seniors weren't careful when it came to conserving energy by lowering the temperature of their home. They were the most likely to lower the temperature while they slept (59%; Chart 3).

Chart 3 Seniors most likely to turn down the heat. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 3
Seniors most likely to turn down the heat

Senior-only households were the least likely to have programmed their programmable thermostat if they had one (72%). But these households were most likely to manually lower the setting on their thermostat before going to bed (57%).

Households made up of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and children under the age of 18 were among the most likely to have a programmable thermostat. Two-thirds of these households with programmed thermostats used them to lower the temperature when they were asleep.

University graduates most likely to lower temperatures

The likelihood that the thermostat would be lowered while the household was asleep was higher in households where at least one member had a post-secondary education. University graduates were the most likely to lower home temperatures (58%), followed by households with some post-secondary education (52%). Of households with a high school education or less, 48% lowered temperatures.

Programmable thermostats were also more likely to be used by households with a higher education.  Households in which a member of the household had graduated from university were most likely to have a programmable thermostat, with slightly less than half (47%) reporting having one of these devices. They were also the most likely to have programmed the device (88%). Three-quarters of these programmed thermostats were used to lower the temperature while the household slept. 

Households in which no person had graduated from high school were the least likely to have had a programmable thermostat (29%). If these households did have a programmable thermostat, they were least likely to have programmed it (72%) or to have used it to lower the temperature when asleep (51%).

There was little variation between education groups when it came to lowering the thermostat manually.

Summary

Programmable thermostats offer home owners the ability to automatically regulate the temperature of their dwellings, which can save both money and energy. Seniors and those with low income or lower levels of education were less likely to use programmable thermostats.

Households that had a programmable thermostat were likely to use it to conserve energy by lowering home temperatures while the household slept. However, even those without programmable thermostats may lower night-time home temperatures. Seniors were especially likely to turn down the heat manually.


Notes

  1. Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey, 2006.
  2. Statistics Canada, 2008, "Housing and shelter costs," Census of Population, www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/release/release_housingshelter.cfm (accessed August 1, 2008).
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