As the “internet of things” grows, more and more people are turning to smart thermostats to manage the heating and cooling system in their home. A relatively recent phenomenon, smart thermostats look the high-tech part, but they also have quite a bit of offer in terms of convenience, high efficiency, and other features that can help the average homeowner save on energy costs.
What is a Smart Thermostat?
More than just a programmable device to control your home’s heating and cooling equipment, a smart thermostat can be controlled remotely with a smart phone, tablet, smart speaker, or other internet-connected device. On a very basic level, smart thermostats allow you to schedule your target temperature settings, and they can be incorporated as part of a home automation system.
Other Features of Smart Thermostats
A number of smart thermostats offer other interesting features.
AI Some brands, like Nest, offer artificial intelligence-based thermostats that can learn your family’s heating and cooling preferences and base future settings on that learning.
PROBLEM DETECTION Another popular feature of the better smart thermostats is the ability to detect and diagnose problems you’re your ductwork or HVAC system when they occur; and, notify an HVAC service provider of the discrepancy.
REMINDERS Yet another feature of smart thermostats is to remind you when it’s time to perform system maintenance (like changing your furnace filter or having season maintenance performed).
ENERGY USE Finally, some smart thermostats can provide you with energy consumption details.
ALEXA Some smart thermostats, notably the Ecobee 4, have an Amazon Alexa device built in, allowing you to control it by voice (and avoid the extra cost of a separate smart speaker).
ROOM SENSORS Some thermostats include separate room sensors that measure the temperatures in other areas or rooms of the house (not just the location of the thermostat), allowing you to reduce hot or cold spots in your home.
GEOFENCING This is a great feature that relieves you from having to program your thermostat around your family work and school hours; it can actually recognize when your family is home and active, and match the temperature settings to that activity.
What Makes a Smart Thermostat Tick?
A thermostat measures temperature in the living room of your home to determine when it needs to activate the heating or air conditioning to match a pre-determined temperature.
In a traditional or analog thermostat, when you move the lever to turn up the heat, this rotates a thermometer coil and activates a mercury switch inside. Current flows through the mercury and energizes a relay that starts the heater and circulation fan in your furnace. As the temperature in the room gradually rises, the thermometer coil unwinds until it tips the mercury switch back, breaking the circuit and turning off the heat.
Digital thermostats are all electronic, using a simple device called a thermistor to measure temperature. A thermistor allows electrical resistance changes with temperature. A microcontroller in the digital thermostat measures that resistance and converts it to an actual temperature reading.
One of the most useful features a digital thermostat has is programmable settings. For example, you can program it to automatically turn up the heat for an hour or two in the morning while your family is getting ready for work and school, turn it down until you get home, turn it up during the evening hours when everyone’s awake, then turn it back down while the family sleeps. This can be a huge money saver simply because your heating system will simply use less energy to heat or cool the house when you’re not there or when you’re sleeping.
Smart thermostats are digital thermostats, except they contain hardware that allows them to connect to a home’s WiFi network. You can change the thermostat’s settings from literally anywhere, using an app supplied by the thermostat manufacturer. When you change a setting on the app, that gets transmitted to the smart thermostat, and the thermostat sends its signal to turn the blower motor on or off, the heater on, or the AC on.
Smart thermostats connected to (or containing) a smart speaker like Google Home or Amazon Alexa allow you to use voice commands to change the temperature or timing (as opposed to your smartphone).
How Can You Save Money with a Smart Thermostat?
Simply put, you save money with a smart thermostat by using energy to heat or cool your home only when necessary.
Using features like AI learning, scheduling, geofencing, and by diagnosing problems with the system and reminding you to have routine maintenance performed, a smart thermostat will run more efficiently and consume less energy dollars.
What is the Difference Between a Programmable Thermostat and a Smart Thermostat?
A programmable thermostat just follows the program and timing set by the user, of when to turn the system on or off. A step up from a programmable thermostat, the smart thermostat allows the user to make those same program changes, but assists with that programming based on your family’s schedule. And it allows you do make those changes from anywhere, provided the smart thermostat is connected to your WiFi network.
What is Required to Install a Smart Thermostat?
Smart thermostats can be installed in just about any home with a relatively modern HVAC system. A thermostat uses low voltage signals to transfer data, using 18- or 20-gauge solid, colored wires. If your system is older than 20 or 25 years, it may not be compatible.
According to the Nest website, your HVAC system isn’t compatible with a smart thermostat if it has the following features:
- Your thermostat has stranded wires
- Your thermostat has thick, stranded wires connected by wire nuts
- Your thermostat is labeled 110v or 120v
You may also need to have a “common” or C-wire in your current thermostat’s setup.
The easiest way to determine if your system can handle a smart thermostat is to schedule a service call for routine maintenance on your system and ask one of our highly-trained, certified HVAC technicians if your system can work with one of these modern devices.
How We Can Help
Our team offers a wide array of routine maintenance services for your heating and cooling system, allowing your family to breathe fresh, safe, clean air year-round. We also offer a number of add-ons to your HVAC equipment that can improve your home’s IAQ, such as electrostatic air filters, whole-house humidifiers, duct cleaning, and more… and Smart Thermostats!
Schedule an appointment for your routine HVAC system maintenance with us today by using our online contact form, or call one of our seven neighborhood offices listed below. We pride ourselves on our customer-focused service, and our reviews show it.
Dor-Mar…Your Climate Hero!