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Troubleshoot and Fix a Thermostat:

For Energy Efficiency, Clean and Calibrate a Thermostat

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

A Honeywell Digital Thermostat

A Honeywell digital thermostat

This article was updated on 05/04/21.

Any defective, uncalibrated, or dirty thermostat will raise your energy bills. But it’s easy to troubleshoot and repair one, so there’s often no reason to call an HVAC service person right off the bat.

Your thermostat is the physical controller between your family and your home’s heating and cooling system. Very often when you notice your air conditioner unit or heater (the system as a whole is called your HVAC system) is acting up or not doing what it should be, you might suspect the air conditioner, furnace, or boiler. Keeping it in tip-top shape is just another way to maximize your home’s energy efficiency.

But it might just be an easily-corrected issue with your thermostat or humidistat. Thankfully this is an easy fix.

What happens when your thermostat isn’t working properly? Chances are very likely that your electricity or natural gas bills will go up. Your comfort level will certainly be impacted. Read on; this article explains how to troubleshoot your thermostat and in many cases eliminate a costly visit from your local heating and cooling service person. It’s as easy as changing an electrical light switch!

Central Heater Problem Symptoms and Repairs

  • No Heat Generated

  1. Possibly no power to the system? Try resetting circuit breaker or replacing the fuse.
  2. Is the thermostat dirty? Clean it. (Explained below.)
  3. Is your thermostat faulty? Replace it. For peak energy management, invest in a 7-day programmable model thermostat.
  4. Are the batteries dead (if applicable)? Replace them. In fact, when doing any of this maintenance, go ahead and replace them. Nothing is worse than them failing in the middle of the night with no extras hanging about.
  • The Temperature Either Doesn’t Reach or Exceeds the Setting

  1. Is your thermostat out of level? Use a level to re-level it.
  2. Anticipator not set correctly? Adjust the anticipator. (Explained below.)
  3. Is it improperly calibrated? Try recalibrating the line voltage or low voltage thermostat.
  4. Range stop not correct? Replace it or call a serviceman.
  • The Heater Turns Off and On Repeatedly

  1. Is it dirty, inside or out? Clean the thermostat.
  2. Anticipator isn’t set correctly? Adjust it.
  • Heater Will not Turn Off

  1. Is it out of level? Use a level to realign it properly.

Central Air Conditioner Problem Symptoms and Repairs

  1. No power to it? Reset the circuit breaker or replace the fuse.
  2. Is the thermostat dirty, inside or out? Clean it.
  3. It may be faulty. If no other attempted repairs work, replace it.
  4. The batteries may be dead (if applicable)? Replace them. They’re cheap enough.
  • Temperature Does Not Reach or Exceeds Setting

  1. It may be improperly calibrated? Recalibrate it.
  2. Is it out of level? Use a level to realign it.
  • The Humidifier Will Not Turn On

  • Is there power to the system? Reset the circuit breaker or replace the fuse.
  • Is the humidistat faulty? It should be replaced.

How to Clean Your Thermostat

  1. Turn off the power at the circuit breaker panel.
  2. Remove your thermostat cover.
  3. Locate the the bimetal coil and clean with a soft, lint-free brush.
  4. Remove the thermostat’s body by removing the retaining screws (on a round thermostat). Next, slide a small piece of bond or typing paper between the lever and the contacts repeatedly to clean them.
  5. Reassemble the unit.

How to Adjust a Thermostat Anticipator

  • Turn off the electricity at your home’s circuit breaker panel or fuse box.
  • Take the thermostat’s cover.
  • Locate the label that documents the ampere setting for your particular unit. Write it down. Common places you might find it are in the manual (if you still have it), on your furnace’s service panel, or on your boiler’s transformer. You should also be able to find it online on the manufacturer's website.
  • Next, set the anticipator on its scale. On an air distribution system, you can set it right on the ampere setting you wrote down in the last step. But if you have a water distribution system, set it 1.4 times the ampere setting.

If you’re not comfortable doing the work, find a licensed HVAC company in your area. Don't wait until it breaks to fix it. Your thermostat is just one more place where you can cut your utility bills.

Now that you know how to troubleshoot and fix a thermostat, take your money saving strategy one step further by installing an A/C compressor misting system. I installed one a couple of summers ago at my house. It took about 30 minutes and a few simple hand tools which you probably have around your home right now.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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