Know Your Thermostat
Smart thermostats offer convenience and flexibilityBy Jonathan Susser
Q: We’re in the middle of winter, and I want to make sure I am getting the most out of my thermostat. What should I look for to stay comfortable while not breaking the bank?
A: Thermostats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and functionality levels. To maximize your comfort and energy savings, the first thing to do is identify what kind you have. While many recommendations apply to all thermostats, some devices can take care of steps for you. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to distinguish between three types: traditional, programmable and smart.
With traditional thermostats, you must manually adjust your home’s temperature at any given time. Programmable thermostats allow users to set temperatures based on a schedule, with Wi-Fi versions granting remote control, usually through a mobile app or online dashboard. Smart thermostats go further and may be able to learn your heating and cooling preferences over time, change temperatures based on occupancy levels, detect temperatures in different parts of your home using sensors or take advantage of voice control, which can be particularly beneficial for people experiencing mobility, vision or dexterity challenges.
(Note: The breakdown above is not universally used, and you may also see any Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat called “smart.”)
The difference between the outside temperature and your thermostat setting should be as small as comfortably possible
Once you know what type of thermostat you have, there are several things to keep in mind to align with your comfort and energy-saving goals. A general rule of thumb for the winter is to have your thermostat on the lowest temperature you are comfortable with (and lower if no one is home); the U.S. Department of Energy suggests a maximum of 68 degrees. In other words, the difference between the outside temperature and your thermostat setting should be as small as comfortably possible. This will limit how much your heating system runs.
If you have a heat pump, try to avoid bumping the temperature up too much at any one time. Doing so can trigger the AUX heat light and cause the system’s heat strips to energize, which use a lot of energy. Your home also doesn’t heat any faster with a higher setpoint temperature. If possible, stick to as constant a temperature as possible during these colder months.
Wi-Fi and smart thermostats give you more convenience and flexibility, so consider investing in the upgrade if your home has a traditional thermostat. Smart thermostats in particular tend to be more forgiving than others because they can optimize performance on their own, and many of their features can more easily promote comfort and energy savings.
If you have one, make sure you are using all it has to offer. For example, the device may be able to automatically move to a more energy-friendly temperature when it detects the home is empty. Smart thermostats can also connect to other smart home devices, such as lights or smart speakers, for additional possibilities.
If you’re in the market for a new thermostat, check for compatibility with your existing heating and cooling system. Do some research, talk with friends and neighbors, and ask your electric cooperative whether the model you have your eye on will meet your needs.
And no matter what kind of thermostat you have, consult the owner’s manual for installation and setup instructions. Online videos can also be a great place for tips and tricks.
Smart home, smart you!