How Smart Should Your Thermostat Be? - Carolina Country

How Smart Should Your Thermostat Be?

What to consider before replacing your thermostat

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

How Smart Should Your Thermostat Be?

An energy auditor demonstrates how to program a thermostat. Photo: Piedmont Electric Co-op

If you have an older thermostat in your home, it may be worth considering an upgrade. Today, many thermostats offer great new technologies and can do things thermostats of the past simply could not do. That said, it’s certainly worth asking if these new thermostats can save enough money to justify the extra cost.

Let’s start by looking at the three main options for thermostats: manual, programmable and smart.

The main benefits of a manual thermostat are that it’s simple to operate and there are no batteries to wear out and replace. You just have to remember to raise and lower the temperature setting in the morning and evening, and whenever you leave the house.

The second option is the programmable thermostat. Typically, this type of thermostat allows settings for four different periods each day. Some models can even handle a different schedule for each day of the week. You control the settings so they will suit your climate, schedule and temperature preferences. You can easily override your program settings anytime.

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Smart thermostats learn from your behavior to maximize energy savings. Photo: ecobee

The third option is a smart, or “learning” thermostat. A smart thermostat connects to a home’s Wi-Fi network. After installation, you input the basics of your schedule and temperature. Over time, as you change the settings, it learns your schedule and adjusts to minimize energy use. Smart thermostats also can detect when no one is home. You also can control it remotely by using a smartphone or tablet app.

If your electric co-op has a demand response program that offers discounts for using less power during peak energy use hours, a smart thermostat can provide additional savings on your monthly power bill.

The move to smart technology is a significant investment. Units can cost up to $400, although one manufacturer has a new model for about $170. It’s also important to note not all homes have the proper wiring in place to accommodate smart thermostats, so you may need to hire a professional to handle the installation.

Worth the cost?

Are newer, more expensive thermostats worth the extra cost? How much a thermostat can save depends on how much you spend on heating and cooling your house.

You can estimate your heating and cooling expenses by examining your electric bills (and other utility bills) related to heating your home. Compare the bills for winter and summer to those for spring and fall. Most of the difference is likely due to heating and cooling. If that amount is more than $900 per year, which is the national average, you have a better chance of a good return on your investment.

The second factor that will determine how much you can save is how you are operating your old thermostat. If you are conscientious about adjusting the temperature to save energy when you’re leaving the house or going to bed, the new thermostat may not reduce your bills that much, even if you program it correctly or if it learns your behavior.

Thermostat efficiency tips

Whichever direction you go, remember there are other ways you can use your thermostat more efficiently:

  • Don’t adjust the thermostat temperature drastically in the hopes of making it heat or cool your home more quickly.
  • For the greatest savings during winter months, keep the temperature at or below 68 degrees Fahrenheit while you are home during the day, and cooler during the night. During summer months, keep it at or above 78 degrees Fahrenheit while you are home.
  • For gas, oil, propane, natural gas and electric furnace HVAC systems, you can save up to 10 percent off your monthly heating and cooling bill by turning back your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day.
  • For HVAC systems equipped with a heat pump and electric resistance furnace, it is best to maintain a constant thermostat temperature in the winter. This will avoid the more energy intensive electric strip heat from coming on to rewarm the home quickly when you return the thermostat to your desired setting.

The thermostat is just one piece of the energy efficiency puzzle. You might be able to save more by adding insulation or sealing air leaks.

About the Author

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

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