If yours is anything like the average American home, a massive 48% of what you spend on energy each year goes to heating and cooling your home. Being smart about how you control your temperature settings can save you a hefty chunk of energy––and money.
Of course, you could take control using a standard programmable thermostat to set a daily pattern, or by manually turning the temperature up or down when you need to. The chances are, though, that you won’t. In fact, in a 2010 survey from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that 89% of people said they rarely or never used their thermostats to set a weekday or weekend program.
What if your thermostat could adjust your home’s temperature settings automatically? A smart thermostat does just that.
What exactly is a ‘smart thermostat’?
1. It’s automatic
A smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi enabled device that automatically adjusts heating and cooling temperature settings in your home for optimal performance. The idea is to run the heating or AC only when you need it, and to turn them down (or up in the AC case) when you’re out of the house or cozied up in bed. This kind of variable pattern is called a setback –– it reduces energy use, therefore saving you money.
Some smart thermostats, like the Nest Learning Thermostat, can learn your daily schedule and adjust the temperature in your home automatically based on your habits. They work out a schedule that shifts to energy-saving temperatures when you’re asleep or away. Others, like the ecobee3, use occupancy sensing technology to ‘watch’ for your motion (or lack of it) in a room. If there’s no movement for a while, they assume you’ve left the house and ‘set back’ your HVAC system accordingly.
Some smart thermostats might use geofencing to detect when you’re not at home. That means when your mobile device leaves the house it triggers a setback, when the thermostat senses your device moving closer to home it turns up the HVAC at exactly the right time to have your home comfortable upon arrival.
Automating energy-saving setbacks is what smart thermostats are all about, taking human error (and forgetfulness) out of the control equation.
2. It’s controllable
With a Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostat, you can control the temperature of your home remotely from your internet-connected mobile device or computer.
You can save energy by turning down the heat or AC while you’re out, and also make sure the temperature is just right by the time you’re home.
You can even connect some smart thermostats to your home automation system, so when you’re in the house you can control the temperature effortlessly using voice commands.
3. It keeps you informed
Another bonus of a smart thermostat are the regular energy use reports it provides, which you can use to monitor and manage to maximize energy savings. You can also set up e-mail alerts when your home’s temperature falls or rises outside of the ideal range you’ve set, or if the thermostat has been disconnected from the Wi-Fi network.
How much energy will I save with a smart thermostat?
Nest performed studies to see what savings people achieved with their Learning Thermostat, comparing utility bills before and after installation.
They found savings of about 10 to 12 percent of heating usage and electric savings equal to about 15 percent of cooling usage in homes with central AC. In an online forum, Nest users reported savings of $10 to $20 per month.
At that rate, you would probably recoup the cost of a smart thermostat in less than 2 years (less than that with your Efficiency Works instant rebate). According to data from an internal analysis in 2013, ecobee customers in the United States saved even more on their HVAC costs—up to 23 percent.
When it comes down to it, your energy savings will depend on many things: where you live, your daily routine and what type of home you have. One of the biggest factors is how much energy you’ve used in the past. Historically, if you’ve kept your HVAC system running all day and night, introducing automatic setbacks using a smart thermostat will likely give big savings.
On the other hand, if you don’t run your HVAC system much at all — or if you’ve been super vigilant about adjusting your system manually — then you’ll see much smaller savings. The extra benefits that you get with smart thermostats, like regular energy reports and remote access, might still make the switch worth it for you.
How do I make sure my thermostat will work well for me?
1. Check that the smart thermostat is compatible with your HVAC and electrical systems. Many of the most popular models—like ecobee, Nest and Honeywell—have compatibility checkers online, so it’s well worth looking at them before buying.
2. Most smart thermostats are designed to be easy to use, with intuitive screen designs and highly-rated companion apps. The smart thermostats listed on the Efficiency Works Store are ENERGY STAR® certified to ensure that they operate efficiently. ENERGY STAR® smart thermostats have had their energy savings potential independently verified based on actual field data, and have also been third-party certified to:
measure temperature accurately
rapidly enter low-power standby mode when inactive
track and report heating and cooling trends efficiently
provide tailored functionality and service for the user
3. Make sure you install the thermostat reasonably close to the router––or consider using a Wi-Fi range extender—so that you don’t get annoying disconnections. You install a smart thermostat much like a regular model—except that you’ll need to know your Wi-Fi password to connect it. You’ll also need a smartphone, tablet or computer to get the most out of its remote monitoring and control capabilities. Efficiency Works recommends having a certified professional install your smart thermostat to ensure proper installation and connectivity to Wi-Fi.
Once your smart thermostat is installed, you will need to adjust it manually to your comfort levels a few times a day for the first week or so—when waking, leaving the house, coming home and going to bed, for example. The thermostat will learn these preferences and automatically make adjustments that save you money on heating and cooling—even if your schedule changes.