How to Adjust a Thermostat's Heat Anticipator

An Easy Fix When Thermostats Aren't Working Properly

Thermostat on wall
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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

A heat anticipator is located just beneath the cover of an older thermostat. Newer, digital thermostats do not have heat anticipators, but on older models, this crucial component keeps your home at just the right temperature on cold winter nights. You may never need to adjust your heat anticipator settings. Still, if you find your thermostat isn't functioning correctly, this could be the issue. Adjusting the settings takes just a few minutes (outlined in our steps below). But if the fix doesn't help, your heat anticipator might be burned out and you'll need to spring for a new thermostat.

What Is a Heat Anticipator?

The heat anticipator essentially consists of a small disc attached to the bimetallic coil of the thermostat. The disc has a thin wire on its surface and an adjustable arm that touches the wire. The position of the arm determines the electrical resistance of the wire, which in turn affects how hot the wire gets. As the wire heats up, it warms the bimetallic coil, which in turn shuts down the gas burners early, according to the heat anticipator's setting.

The function of the heat anticipator is to fine-tune the point at which the thermostat turns off the furnace burners. Ideally, it turns the furnace's burners off a short time before the room reaches the desired temperature. This is to compensate for the fact that furnaces continue to produce and distribute heat for a short while until the heat exchanger cools down. If the shut-off is properly timed, the room temperature edges up to reach the precise desired temperature shortly after the burners shut off.

Why the Heat Anticipator Matters

When the heat anticipator in your thermostat is out of adjustment, it can cause the furnace to "short-cycle" (turn on and off frequently) or to exceed or never reach the desired thermostat heat setting. Fortunately, this problem is often easy to correct by adjusting the heat anticipator.

Safety Considerations

While you won't be directly touching any live wires during this process, it's always a good idea to turn off the electrical power at the main supply panel (breaker box) before executing any task involving electricity. If you don't know which specific breaker cuts the power to your thermostat and heating system, you may want to turn off the main breaker, which will cut power to the entire house.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Torpedo level
  • Screwdriver


  • Replacement thermostat (if needed)


How to Adjust a Thermostat's Heat Anticipator

  1. Examine the Thermostat

    Remove the thermostat cover. Using a torpedo level, make sure the thermostat body is level on the wall. If not, the thermostat's mercury switch will not work properly.

    Most thermostat mounting plates will have leveling brackets, or the top of the plate will have a flat area on which you can place your level.

    Adjustments can be made fairly easily by loosening the mounting screws, rotating the thermostat body to the desired position, and then retightening the mounting screws when your level indicates that it is aligned.

  2. Locate the Heat Anticipator

    Look for the small disc with calibration marks located at the center of the thermostat. It will probably have the word "LONGER" or "LONGER CYCLES" printed on it. It will also have a lever arm and indicator relating to the calibration marks. This is the heat anticipator adjustment lever arm. (With some thermostats, the printing is found on a bracket adjacent to the adjustment arm.)

    Thermostat heat anticipator detail diagram
  3. Adjust the Heat Anticipator

    If the furnace is cycling on and off too frequently, move the heat anticipator adjustment lever closer to the "LONGER" setting by one calibration mark.

    If the furnace is exceeding or never reaching the desired set temperature, then move the adjustment lever away from the "LONGER" setting by one calibration mark.

  4. Test the Thermostat

    Once the appropriate adjustment is made, let the furnace run and the temperature stabilize for a period of two to three hours. If necessary, repeat the above procedure until the thermostat works properly.

    If the problem persists and you cannot resolve the problem with these steps, you may need to replace the thermostat.

When to Call a Professional

If you make multiple adjustments to your heat anticipator but still have trouble getting your mechanical thermostat to properly time the shut-off, you may want to consider installing a new electronic thermostat. Electronic thermostats are so precise that there is no need for a heat anticipator. Best of all, most electronic thermostats have programmable controls that allow you to preset room temperatures for convenient, energy-saving operation.

While you can likely swap out your old thermostat for a new, electronic version yourself, if you're not comfortable with these kinds of projects, it might be best to call in an electrician. Also, if you decide to go with a more advanced thermostat, such as one with WiFi connectivity, the hookup may be more complicated than with a simpler model, and professional installation might simply be a smart move. In short, after you remove your old thermostat, if the wires don't match up to the inputs on the new device, getting help from an electrician is advisable.

  • How long does a thermostat heat anticipator last?

    A heat anticipator should typically last the life of a thermostat, which is usually about ten years. Once the anticipator fails, it's time to replace your thermostat altogether.

  • Why are heat anticipators used in low-voltage thermostats?

    A heat anticipator's purpose in a low-voltage thermostat is to reduce the temperature swing caused by the system, and to increase overall efficiency. It does so by creating false heat, which increases the thermostat's rate of response.

  • How can I tell if my thermostat's heat anticipator isn't working?

    If the heat anticipator is malfunctioning, your furnace will short cycle and the room temperature will not reach the temperature displayed on the thermostat.