Stop Adjusting the Thermostat: Why I Don’t Turn Down The Heat at Night

adjusting the thermostat

I tend to be a bit bullheaded at times. Well, maybe more than a bit, but just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do. This is my opinion from my own experience and I suggest you do your own research to find out what works best for you and how your heating bill reacts to different adjustments.

Take the advice that you hear everywhere about turning down your thermostat. Many people turn down the thermostat when they leave for work or are away from home for a day. No one will be there to get cold, so why leave the heater running? It doesn’t make sense to heat an empty house. That’s where I say they’re wrong. It does make sense to heat an empty house because it’s easier for your heater to maintain a certain temperature than to spend an hour or more trying to bring the heat up to a comfortable level. Making your heater work so hard will wear it out much quicker than letting it do its job and maintain the heat in your house.

I’ve often heard people say they turn the heat down at night. Why? Don’t people get cold at night too? Isn’t night often the coldest time? If you are turning the heat down for your own personal comfort then that’s a personal preference, but if you are turning it down to save money, then I must ask, why? Why suffer being cold for the first hour you are up and about every morning? Why make your heater work so hard to heat up your house? Why not just set the thermostat at a comfortable level and leave it there?

In the winter time, our thermostat is set at 68 degrees. That is our comfort level. Yours may be more or less. If we get chilled, we snuggle under blankets or put on a sweater. If we get hot, we strip down to t-shirts. We have hard wood floors that tend to be cold, so we wear socks and slippers. We also have numerous throw rugs that help to keep our feet warmer.

I’m not saying to put your thermostat at 80 degrees. I know some cold-natured folks that would still feel chilly at 80 degrees. I’m saying that if you set your thermostat to a reasonable temperature, and leave it there, then you can regulate your own body heat by adding or subtracting clothing. By the way, some experts say that 72 degrees is the optimum ambient room temperature in both winter and summer. This philosophy works in the summer too. We set our air conditioner at 78 degrees and leave it there.

Our heating and air conditioning bills are usually less than our neighbors who have houses that are very similar in size and construction to ours. They, like so many people, adjust the thermostat several times a day according to how they might feel at any given minute. Here’s a novel idea, stop adjusting your environment to fit you and allow your body to adjust to your environment. The human body is a marvelous piece of machinery, it adapts quite well to temperature changes.

No one person is the same when it comes to comfort levels. In an average family of four, at any given time, one will be hot, one will be cold, one will be comfortable and the last one won’t notice the temperature. By setting the thermostat to a reasonable level and leaving it there, each person can adapt by adding or subtracting clothing. Your heater will thank you and perform its job longer and more efficiently because you are letting it do what it is designed to do, maintain a certain temperature.

If you are concerned with your heating bill, try setting the temp just a few degrees less than you would normally set it. Allow your body time to get used to the new setting. Leave the thermostat alone and you might be surprised at your savings.

(Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Fairchild)

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63 Responses to Stop Adjusting the Thermostat: Why I Don’t Turn Down The Heat at Night

  1. gretli says:

    I agree with you and so does my husband. Our thermostat stays at a steady 65 degrees and when we have company we turn it up to 67 or 68. We feel just fine at 65. We have lots of warm comforters on our bed and we keep blankets in the living room and cozy up when we watch tv. Our kids’s rooms are upstairs and seem to stay more warm in general.

    We are comfortable AND we are saving energy and money!

  2. Bill says:

    I generally agree with your posts, but not this one.

    For one, I would disagree that a heater needs to work “harder” to bring a house up to a higher temp in the morning than if the setting was constant. Two reasons here… First, while the heater will definitely be on more during the morning “recovery period” It will be off, likely for a longer period, in the evening as the house is allowed to cool down. Second, keeping the house at a higher temp through the night causes more mini-cycles as the heat come on and goes off. Like many machines i suspect that this cycling is the source of wear and tear.

    You asked if people get cold at night and if it is generally colder at night. Yes and yes, but this is not reason to leave your thermostat set high. For one, the only time that 90% of someone’s body is routinely covered in three layers of insulation including a down comforter, is at night, so they’d be less likely to catch a chill. Second, from a comfort point of view, the temp outside and the thermostat setting are not related. If you set your thermostat at 68 to be comfortable, then it doesn’t matter if it is 10 or 45 degrees outside. Oh, yea I think it probably also makes a difference that a person is unconscious for most of the night which makes the sacrifice almost unnoticeable. Lastly, there is no need to be cold in the morning if you set your programmable thermostat to revert to a daytime setting an hour before you wake up.

    Lastly, an adjustable thermostat can really save you money. Check out the following link to calculate how much you could save:

  3. Stephen Waits says:

    Wow.. the only sound advice in this post is the last paragraph! I guess the first paragraph is accurate too.

    Horrible stuff.. readers, please ignore the ignorant.

  4. disneysteve says:

    I agree with Bill. You’re info about the heater having to work harder if you turn it down during the day is simply wrong. This bogus advice appears year after year but it is not true. If you want to save energy, turn down the thermostat. As for wearing out the heater, that’s false, too. Your heater actually runs much more efficiently when running for an extended period rather than in short bursts. It is those short cycles that cause more wear and tear.

  5. Debra says:

    It’s kind of funny. We bought a programmable thermostat but since my wife and children are home during the day we actually have 4 time zones per day programmed to the same temperature and have a M-F and then a S-S setting of that.

  6. Monkey Mama says:

    I agree to a very small extent. My experience is it cost about the same to heat the house to 60 degrees as it does to 68, so we just heat it 68. If we turn it to 70 it does seem to run a lot more, so 68 is kind of the sweet spot.

    Why? The reason for us is we like it cold at night and we do turn off the heat at night. So if we kept it at 60 inside and turned it off at night, it would drop into colder territory. So we would pay about the same to turn it to 60 every morning anyway.

    I also agree with you if we leave the house for like an hour. We just leave on the heat – certainly cheaper to maintain for short periods of time.

    Otherwise, I disagree. If you live in a very cold area, I could buy that perhaps that would wear out your heater a little faster. Our heater really doesn’t work that hard, so eh. It generally heats up the house in the morning and is off most of the day and night, so I am kind of with Bill on that part. If we kept it on all day at a constant temp it would cycle on and off a lot.

  7. Annie Jones says:

    I have to agree with Bill on this. I believe it’s the short cycling that wears out the furnace and uses more fuel. We always turn the heat down at night and when we’ll be away from home for more than a couple of hours.

  8. Lori says:

    I’m afraid this posting leaves me with more questions than answers at the end. Are there any studies from Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) organizations that support this theory? Do any heater manufacturers advertise this theory as being true? The only evidence you give is comparing your bills with your neighbors. What range of temperatures do they use (yours is 68 and 78)? Are you comparing gas bills, electric bills, propane? You may be onto something solid, but I need more evidence before jumping on board.

  9. disneysteve says:

    Lori, and all, here is what the US Dept. of Energy says about programmable thermostats. According to them, you can save up to 10%/year on heating and cooling costs by turning down the thermostat at night or when you are away from home.

  10. disneysteve says:

    Here’s another article:

    And here is a physicist explanation of why you should turn down the thermostat. Read the cartoon and then click on discussion.

  11. rod gozinya says:

    All the experts! Shut up! You save about 6 dollars a month to be uncomfortable in your own home. Great, and no thanks. I like comfort. Dufuses!

  12. ThiNg says:

    Uh, what are you backing your assertion on? Can you provide proof that it does take more to heat a cold house then it does to maintain the heat?

    The physics are pretty straight forwards (and someone can correct me if I am wrong) but once your house has lost a certain amount of heat (the rate of the heat loss slows the temperature difference with the outside drops), it can’t lose anymore heat, but constantly heating it to a set temperature means that you are constantly losing heat at a high rate.

    My explanantion probably makes no sense, but here is a link to a site that explains it better…

    The explanation is for leaving the A/C unit on when you are not at home, but the physics are the same (in reverse).

    “Heat goes to where it’s not. That’s why heat from outside goes into your cooler home. With the AC off, at some point your house will be so hot it can’t absorb any more heat. When you come home and turn the AC on, the AC removes all that heat.

    But if the AC is on when you’re gone, then you’ve turned your house into a heat magnet. But keeping it artificially cool, there’s no limit to the amount of heat it can absorb. It can always absorb more heat. And your AC has to remove that heat constantly. Your AC kicks in and removes some of that heat, then the house is cooler so it sucks in more heat from outside, so your AC kicks in again and removes that heat, and so on.

    This means that throughout the day, your house has absorbed way more than one houseful of heat. And your AC had to remove it all. By contrast, with the AC off all day, then it has to remove just one houseful of heat when you come home and turn it on.

    Let’s say you leave the AC off, and your house absorbs 20k BTU’s of heat and then stops, because that’s all it can absorb.

    Now let’s say that you have the AC running instead. The house absorbs 5k BTU’s of heat, so the AC kicks in and removes it. Then it absorbs another 5k BTU’s, and your AC kicks in and removes that. Repeat that process several times during the day.

    The actual numbers will vary, and I haven’t tested this to see exactly how much the penalty for leaving the AC on during the day is, but there is zero question that running the AC all the time uses more energy than turning it on when you get home. This is not a gray area, it’s simple physics, and no person with any knowledge of this subject disputes it. Running the AC when you’re not home wastes energy, period.”

  13. ThiNg says:

    @rod gozinya

    Your comment is a great glimpse of what is wrong with our current ‘me’ society. Just because you can afford it, doesn’t make it right. You have a responsibility to lower your impact on the environment. If not then we can all drive giant 100 litre Hummers and leave them idling so we can be comfortable – as long as I can afford the gas! Big deal it’s only a couple of bucks!

    Big picture. Millions of people saving $6 a month, or even reducing emissions by 10% would have massive implications on our world.

  14. Stephen Waits says:

    So, M. Beddingfield, have you read any of these comments?

    Do you have ANY urge to correct your ignorant post? Or better yet, remove it completely?

  15. M. Beddingfield says:

    Yes Stephen Waits, I have taken the time to read the comments. I realize that this is a controversial subject, but everyone is entitled to an opinion. Even professionals who work with heat systems will have different opinions as to what works best. I simply wrote what works for me. Perhaps I have a different system than others?

    I noticed that all who replied seemed to dwell on what they disagreed with. The point was made in the article that you shouldn’t keep adjusting the thermostat every time you felt cold or hot. Why do you think businesses have locks on their thermostats?

    Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean you should put the person down and call them ignorant. This post opened up a discussion and that’s a good thing.

  16. Stephen Waits says:

    First of all, these aren’t opinions. We’re talking in facts here. It’s simple science.

    Second, we’re disagreeing with you because you are flat out wrong. You’re now acting like you said “you shouldn

  17. Stephen Waits says:

    OMFG.. joe & bubba’s hvac says something, so it must be so!

    Look, the links have been posted.. you clearly haven’t read them, or your ego won’t let you admit you were wrong.

    Meanwhile, you’re hurting people who may read this post. You’ll cost them money.

    SAVING ADVICE.. not living up to the name.

    Arguing with ignorant people is a waste of time. I tried to help, for the sake of others who may read the post, and sadly join the ranks of the uninformed. I’m done here, this is my last post on the subject.

    Best of luck to you M. Beddingfield.

  18. disneysteve says:

    “Why do you think businesses have locks on their thermostats?”
    There are a couple of main reasons for this and they have nothing to do with the topic of this thread.

    1. Business owner doesn’t want every random employee adjusting the temp up and down throughout the day just because he or she happens to be hot or cold. Owner wants to set one temp that is comfortable for most people and leave it at that.

    2. Business has a programmable thermostat and owner doesn’t want people messing with it and overriding the programming.

    3. People screw up. They raise the heat because they’re cold and forget to turn it back down so the heat ends up blasting all night, resulting in a huge bill. Or they turn it down because they’re warm and forget to turn it back up so the next morning you arrive and it is freezing in the office.

  19. ThiNg says:

    I was going to look for examples of other ignorant posts on the internet to help prove a point to the ‘author’. I figured I’d show some links to people who think the world is still flat, and people who think the president is an alien, and the earth is the center of the universe etc. Sadly, there is no shortage of misinformation on the internet. Now I am depressed.

    I hope people who read the article take the time to read the comments and then take the time to figure out the laws of physics. Better yet, I hope the author takes the advice of previous posts and updates this article.

    There’s nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake. I used to think that ‘revving’ (spell?) my car engine made the heater warm up faster. I learned. I’m smarter for it…

  20. Pingback: Adjusting the thermostat too much in winter? Think again! | SmarterCents

  21. I keep my programmable thermostat at 72 Fahrenheit when the humans are gone, 74 when the humans are awake, and 72 overnight. However, it is hard to leave one

  22. Biffo says:

    I have my room ‘stat set to 19, and if chilly I put another layer of clothes on. I turned the ‘stat down on my hot water – if you think about it, most people add cold water to a bath etc to bring the temperature down, so why heat up water so it’s piping hot, just to cool it down again? There could be an issue with Legionnaire’s disease, but as long as the water temp. is at 55 to kill any Legionnaires disease bacteria [though this is mainly a large scale water system problem, rather than domestic], you’re okay.

  23. JIMBO says:

    The physics is straightforward. The rate of heat conducted across a boundary is proportional to the difference of temperature. That means that when the thermostat is set high when you aren’t there, or covered with blankets you lose more heat per hour than if you had the interior temperature set lower. That is a fact, not an opinion.

  24. Twright says:

    Would insulating the crawlspace of a house help with the floors being cold or would they be cold regardless?

  25. Steve says:

    I agree with Bill and others here. Frankly this is awful advice, for saving money anyway. There are numerous studies on this, and I’ve also done my own tests at home. Setting the temperature lower at night and when away saves money. Maybe it’s not true with a really old inefficient furnace, but even mine which is 5 years old, in my 60 year old house with inadequate insulation, saves money turning it down. Yes it takes longer to heat it from 55 to 65 (about where I keep it) than it does to go from 63-64 to 65 if maintaining a temperature, but the furnace was off for such a long period of time that it more than saved the natural gas expended in catching up, plus wear and tear, etc. Also, your body temperature drops when you sleep, so you dont need it as warm to be comfortable. It is why most people start out comfortable or cold, become hot, and then maybe back to comfortable or cold again through their sleep cycle. Im not sure if the reverse is true with central air conditioning, but I suspect it is.

  26. Steve says:

    Not to beat on a dead horse, but this post is runs against well-understood science. Publishing incorrect facts and calling them opinions doesn’t mean it isn’t misinformation.

    Believe it or not, I’m a physicist. I have a good understanding of there is NO WAY that maintaining your house at a higher temperature, rather than turning the heat down when not needed, is more cost-effective in terms of fuel usage. Fact. Not opinion.

    I only stumbled on this blog because, as a new home owner, I wanted to know if there is any reason, except for the possibility of freezing pipes, I shouldn’t just turn my heat off when I don’t need it. Possible wear-and-tear on the furnace, etc.

    Although I think Stephen Waits could have been less belittling in his replies, I agree that the author should either correct or remove this post.

  27. Crazy says:

    There is no sense in belittling anyone here. I was glad to see all the opinions on the subject. My wife and I are always in disagreement on the thermostat. Ours is 3/4 of the way up the wall so it always is at least 4 degrees different from the floor temp. I like it set at 69 and my wife thinks 65 is ok. I have diabetes and the extra warmth helps a lot. We turn it down to 65 during the day when we are at work. My question is how much difference is there between 69 and 65 in a months time on the heat bill. I don’t think that there will be much difference as rod gozinya noted with the $6 a month reply. At least I would be comfortable in my own home. I turn it up and she turns it down because holy heaven above, we don’t need it 70 degrees in our home even if it is 10 below outside. Right now it is 67 in our home and I have long johns on and a big comfter on also. When your hands get cold when you typing – It is time to turn up the heat!

  28. MarkB says:

    This is a classic example of why the internet is dangerous. Not only do you get backwards advice that will cost you money, but you get it from someone who has absolutely no idea what he is taking about, yet he’ll swear up and down that he’s right.

    Furnaces don’t ‘run hard’ when they are raising the temperature of a house many degrees. Furnaces are not like car engines – they run at one ‘speed.’ To raise the temperature of a house ten degrees, a furnace runs exactly the same way, but longer. If any harm is done to a furnace, it would be through cycling on and off – and a furnace cycles on and off more often when you keep the thermostate set high at one temperature.

    Set your thermostat where you want, but don’t look to this article for good advice.

  29. Ellie says:

    Heres the professional reason it saves money. As a pipe fitting and maintenance technicians sister I will tell you. Your pipes get cold you waste heat heating your pipes back up. Not that this shouldn’t have been common sense.

  30. Sublime says:

    I say keep the post up.

    The author has OBVIOUSLY been proven wrong. I have been researching this exact topic and found all the resources I needed by reading through all the comments.

    Of course, it does make the author look completely ignorant.

  31. Biffo says:

    I started my c/h off last autumn [2010] in October, a month earlier than usual. Due to the colder than normal winter, I left the c/h on 24/7 and have clearly used less oil than the previous winter [2009/10], when the boiler was off overnight. I suppose ‘tickling’ the system, saves heating it up from stone cold every day.

  32. GreatAdvice says:

    I think the real lesson in this article is to always read the opinion section and don’t just read the article only. It’s amazing how the collective brain power can steer the ship toward the truth. Whether it was any intention of the author, I think the lively discussion that ensued was just the sort of thing we need pay attention to. I also get a lot of opinions from HVAC contractors and I can’t always tell whether its bologna or reality. I admit I’m no expert. No one needs to belittle anyone. On a different note, does in-rush current of heat pump caused by cycling on and off make a big difference to the heating bill? I thought even though in-rush is 10x normal amperage, that it lasts for a short while so you make up the difference. Any thoughts?

  33. Danny says:

    This post is correct. If you leave your home for the day and turn down the temp to 55, not only is the air in the house cool now but this also allows the walls to cool down. To reheat the walls takes a very long time and this is where the problem lies and people get confused. Think about it, the walls of your house go down to 55 and then you walk in and turn the heat up to 70, now the furnace kicks in and the furnace after working an hour to get the air warm stops, the cold walls generate more cold air and the furnace needs to quickly kick back on. The walls and structure take a very long time to heat up, but once they are warm they stay warm, trying to get them warm again takes a long time. Leaving the temp at 68 may get you upset because your furnace will run and the temp will go up to 70 or more when it shuts off, but if you leave it at 68 it will stop doing that because the most it will have to run is 5 mins at a time. Trust the man on this post, he is so right.

  34. Wrong Danny says:

    Danny I’m sorry, but you’re incorrect. I suggest taking a course in thermodynamics if you are having trouble or just read the first chapter out of a thermodynamics book.

  35. Joan says:

    Check out this link from Union Gas. They say that turning down the thermostat will save energy and money.

  36. SEP says:

    yeah Mr. Waits ( waits for his house to warm up every morning LOL) you ever think that there are different types of heating systems? Radiant floor heating for example if your constantly messing with the thermostat you are heating and cooling water ( which by the way is very efficient staying at one temprature but is slow to heat and cool )so next time you call someone ignorant you can open your eyes and ears and might realize that there are many different veriables. plus where do you live? i live in montana and when its -20 outside it takes alot of effort from the heating system to make up those 8 degrees. Put that in your ignorant pipe and smoke it!

  37. Pingback: Should you turn off the heat when you leave the house? Answer: YES - Mind Your Decisions

  38. jay says:

    Wow! This has gotten a lot of commentary. I would add a couple of [layman’s] thoughts:

    I suspect the leaking of heat via walls, etc, has everything to do with how much insulation you have. The more insulation, the slower the leak, and ultimately, I suspect, the less temperature gradient even with the heat turned off. If you don’t have insulation (including your windows), you’re essentially heating the great outdoors which is truly insane, and your indoor temperature will drop precipitously once the heat is off.
    If your heat source is kicking on a lot, you’ve got an insulation problem.

    The other point is from personal experience and with a gas furnace. If no one is home much of the day, you can simply have the heat come on for a short period of time just before and while you’re getting ready for work. The kicking on of the furnace alone will warm you up, without having to worry about “heating up the walls” and so forth. Evenings, well, heating up the walls is accelerated by the usual evening activities such as fixing dinner. “Warm walls”, etc. will help for a few hours after the heat shuts off. You should be able to turn the thermostat down well before you even hit the sack. Again everything to do with insulation.
    Just my 2¢.

    Great that this was hotly debated. Too bad it got personal.

  39. Amber says:

    I suspect this may depend entirely upon how efficient one’s home and furnace are, and how cold it gets outside (I’m in WI). We tried turning our thermostat down at night last year, but for us it wasted energy. We actually like it a bit cooler for sleeping, so we programed our thermostat for 55 at night, and 68 during the day. I don’t know if that was too much of a drop, but it literally took 3 to 4 HOURS for our furnace to shut off in the morning. Our home and furnace are a bit older (about 20 years) so maybe that’s why, but it doesn’t seem to run frequently otherwise. For us, letting it run for a few minutes a couple times overnight makes much more sense.

  40. Rick says:

    The definitive answer to this question is a very long equation with many, many variables. It certainly cannot be answered by a single law of physics. Most of us have no way to measure all of the inputs to the equation, so we have to experiment. And the results of those experiments will apply to our own set of variables and may not be transferable to others, except in the most generalized way.

    That said, there are a few things that we might all agree on. For example, in the winter, keeping the house a bit cooler is more economical and green. And if you are in AC country, keeping the house a bit warmer in the summer is also more economical and green.

  41. Karen says:

    I had to chime in on this. You people leave your heat on 68? Degrees? And you can live like that? WHAT? I set my heat at 74 when I walk in the door from work. I put it on 68 when I go to bed. Back to 74 when I wake up and back to 68 when I leave for work. I came here to find out if it’s worth turning it down when I leave for work every day. Turns out I learned that.. some folks are crazy! 68? At night watching tv? OMG

  42. Grant says:

    If I go to Florida for the winter should I leave my thermostats in my Canadian house set at 70 degrees rather than turning them down, because it will cost more to reheat the house, and my heaters will wear out? Sounds stupid doesn’t it? Exactly the same as turning down your heat at night. It doesn’t take more heat to bring up the temp than maintain it for hours.
    Wear out your heaters? LOL! My electric baseboard heaters are all 30 years old, and it’s 15 degrees below zero right now. If a heater ever dies it costs $30 to replace.
    I did a search on this topic, this is the only person on the Web who thinks you shouldn’t turn your heat down at night, and when you’re out, to save money.

  43. omgfailsauce says:

    Absolutely agree. Freezing my ass off every morning is bullshit. My wife says “then it down at night,” but she isn’t the one freezing every morning. By the time she gets up I’ve already brought the house to a reasonable temperature. I’d rather splurge and not have to thaw the toilet bowl for my morning dump.

  44. Paul F. says:

    Companies have locks on thermostats because people are really stupid about temperature.

  45. andy codispoti says:

    I just wanna know why it takes an hour for your house to warm up i turn it up 8° and it take like 5 minutes before I’m sweating

  46. D says:

    Obviously all those commenting aren’t ignorant- they just know it all and are 100% correct in their varying opinions. But because you have an opinion they don’t like, they’ve got to complain. Ignore the haters! Such a waste of time to be so negative anyways!

  47. Ken Kirby says:

    Exactly! It is crucial to understand that furnaces, and almost every machine other than traditional automobiles, run equally ‘hard’ regardless of demand. Your furnace or AC just runs and turns on and off as necessary. I didn’t fully understand this until I started working with industrial equipment.

    Cars are familiar to us, so it is easy to make the assumption that there is a throttle controlling the output of other machines, but that mode of operation is the exception. The reason that hybrids are more efficient is that the engine can run at its most efficient rate as long as the electrical part can keep up with energy demand. When it cannot, the engine can be throttled just like a normal car.

    If it takes hours for your system to make up the few degrees difference between settings, it needs service or is not properly sized for your climate and home size. If you live in an extreme climate, you need more BTUs to keep up with heat loss or gain regardless of what temperature you are trying to achieve. If it takes an hour or so, get a programmable thermostat and set it accordingly.

    I understand the desire for comfort. But if that is your reason for not adjusting the temperature, just admit it. It doesn’t make you bad. Very few people, probably no one, sets the temperature to the limit of survivability. We all make choices about the energy we use. Trying to bend reality to justify it, on the other hand, is just poor judgement.

  48. Ken Kirby says:

    Walls do not generate cold. Heat moves through the walls. Heat moves through the walls FASTER when the difference between outside and inside is greater. Yes it takes time to get the whole house back up to your set point, but it is more efficient. Driving more slowly is more efficient than driving fast. Yes, your car is running longer to get from point A to point B, but it is using less energy to do so.

    If your experience tells you different, your heating or cooling system is undersized or needs service.

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