With stock markets around the globe in turmoil, investors have been left scratching their heads over safe and profitable places to put their money.

Here's one investment with an enviable rate of return and no risk: a programmable home thermostat.

Basic programmable thermostats start at around $30. According to Energy Star, switching from a conventional thermostat to a programmable model can save the average household $150 a year. They're more accurate than standard models — which means you'll be more comfortable — and the energy saved reduces greenhouse emissions which would have been dumped into the atmosphere.

The basic idea behind programmable thermostats is that your energy needs change throughout the day. You can set your thermostat to use less energy while you're away at work, for instance, and have the unit get things comfortable before you arrive home. During the winter, you need less heat at night when you're under the covers. The thermostat will wake up before you do and warm things to your preset preference.

Choose the right model

There are three basic varieties of programmables: seven-day units, which can be set with individual schedules for each day; 5+2 models, which accommodate weekday and weekend routines; and 5+1+1 thermostats, which have weekday schedules and separate settings for Saturdays and Sundays.

Energy Star certified programmable thermostats have four default program periods per day, and feature two-degree accuracy. Most are backlit and feature touch controls for easy use. Some can be addressed remotely via a telephone link, and you're likely to find models which remind you to change your batteries or clean the air filter.

Should you do it yourself?

As home projects go, thermostats are pretty easy. If you're uncomfortable working around electricity, have an HVAC professional do the job for you. Even with installation, you should recover your investment in about a year.

Check your old unit before throwing it out. Many have mercury switches, which will require disposal or recycling by a qualified facility. There's about three grams of mercury inside a thermostat switch — almost a thousand times more than the average CFL bulb. So dispose of old thermostats properly.

A programmable thermostat should last for years, multiplying your investment many times over in energy savings. It's a simple project that means more money in the bank. And you don't need a financial counselor to make it happen.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008

Save $150 a year with a programmable thermostat
Programmable thermostats are free money. With another change of season on the way, it's time to increase your home's comfort -- and bank the savings.