One of the selling points of smart thermostats is that they will save you money, and there is a greater number of these devices available on the market than there have ever been before. However, will they? The following are some important points to keep in mind.
The use of programmable thermostats can automate savings.
It is impossible for us to discuss whether or not a smart thermostat can help you save money or provide you with a better user experience without first discussing the single most important factor, which is human behavior.
In the beginning, thermostats were fully manual, meaning that in order to make any changes to the temperature, you had to do so by hand. A manual thermostat is still common in many homes today.
If you have a manual thermostat, in order to reduce your energy costs and save money by lowering the temperature while you sleep or while you are at work during the winter, you will need to remember to do so each and every time you leave the house or go to bed. The same thing applies to the air conditioner throughout the summer. If you forget to turn it up or set it back, the money you would have saved would be lost.
The same is true for temperature controls that can be programmed. Many individuals who are opposed to the usefulness of smart thermostats will be quick to point out that anything that can be done with a smart thermostat can also be done with a manual thermostat if the user is disciplined enough or with a programmable thermostat, once again, if the user is disciplined enough to program it and use it consistently. This is a common argument that is made by those who are against the utility of smart thermostats.
People don’t program their thermostats consistently, and they don’t utilize them in the correct manner, at least not in the real world. This study from 2014 is particularly fascinating due to the fact that the self-reported data was linked with photographs that the participants took of their thermostats in order to corroborate the state in which the thermostat was in.
The main point is… Approximately forty percent of the people surveyed didn’t even use the program functions, and another thirty-three percent had the programmable thermostat set to “Hold,” which locks in a given temperature setting and overrides the program until the user turns off the hold until the user turns off the hold.
Therefore, only around a quarter of the people who owned programmable thermostats were truly making the most of their devices from the beginning. This data is consistent with past research going back to 2003, demonstrating that programmable thermostats were fantastic in theory but that consumers just weren’t using them successfully. The data was collected from the United States (or at all).
When tested in the real world, the disciplined-user paradigm as a whole is found to be flawed and cannot stand up to the scrutiny. There are some folks out there that alter the settings on their thermostats or the programming on their programmable thermostats on a regular basis so that they correspond with the changing of the seasons (and they don’t rely on the Hold feature as a crutch). But it’s very obvious that they’re in the minority here. If you fall into this category and have a pretty stable daily routine during the course of the year, using a smart thermostat may not result in any cost savings for you.
However, right out of the gate, a smart thermostat is in a position to save money for everyone else. This is simply due to the fact that the features of the smart thermostat, which run automatically in the background, will be more consistent and effective than relying on the input of a human.
According to projections made by the Energy Star program run by the United States federal government, thermostats that have earned the Energy Star certification can cut a household’s heating and cooling costs by around 8%. According to Google’s calculations, customers who use the Nest Learning Thermostat save 10–12% on their heating bills and 15% on their cooling bills. According to Ecobee’s calculations, its customers save an average of 26%.
The annual energy bills for the typical home in the United States come to $2,200, with heating and cooling accounting for around half of that total. It is realistic to expect a payout point in anywhere from one to three years if you use the thermostat to its full potential. This is based on the savings estimates that were provided before, as well as the utilization of the energy-saving capabilities that come pre-installed with smart thermostats.
With a Smart Thermostat, You Can Save Money Thanks to These Features.
If you buy a smart thermostat and then immediately turn off all of the functions that save energy, lock it to a single temperature, and never take advantage of any of the other cool features that a smart thermostat affords you, then of course you won’t save any money even though you bought a smart thermostat.
However, it’s a relief to know that a smart thermostat’s factory settings are already optimized to save energy use (and thus money). In addition, if you take the time to look through the list of features that comes with your specific model, you will discover a wide variety of additional ways to reduce your costs and maximize your savings.
You should seek for the following settings and features as soon as possible because they are directly linked to saving money in both the short term and the long term.
A large number of smart thermostats are equipped with a feature known as a smart schedule, which is effectively an upgraded version of a programmable thermostat that can program itself.
When this function is enabled, it will monitor how you use your house—when people enter and depart, what temperatures you adjust your home to for comfort, and so on—and begin automatically handling everything for you so that you don’t have to worry about it.
If you combine any form of smart scheduling with other features, such as time-of-use optimized heating and cooling, the system is able to work toward optimizing your comfort while simultaneously limiting the amount of energy and money that is required to achieve this goal.
Detection of Occupancy
Take use of the fact that your thermostat can know whether you are at home or away by checking your phone, whether it employs sensors or not. If the system detects that you are not at home, it will maintain the temperature that it has been set at all the time, saving you the trouble of having to remember to adjust it.
It doesn’t matter whether you forgot to adjust the thermostat before leaving for the day at the beach or if you forgot to change it before leaving for the weekend since it will take care of it for you.
Time-of-Use Cost Reductions
If your local utility company provides off-peak energy usage, which the vast majority of them do, particularly during the summer, you will be able to take full advantage of it by installing a smart thermostat in your home. Because your electricity bill is calculated based on the time of day when you consume energy, this characteristic is sometimes referred to as “time-of-use.” However, it may also be referred to as “peak time,” “off-peak use,” or other phrases that are conceptually similar.
You can take advantage of supercooling your home at night, for example, by setting a schedule the old-fashioned manner. However, many utility providers offer opt-in programs in which you can link your thermostat to your utility.
They will cool or heat your home during times of the day when the cost of energy is lowest, and then they will regulate the thermostat so that energy and money are saved during times of high energy demand.
Tracking the weather and making automatic adjustments
The great majority of smart thermostats currently available on the market have screens that are capable of displaying the current weather conditions. The truly advanced ones, such as the ecobee SmartThermostat, will not only inform you of the current weather conditions but will also react to them.
It will begin to cool your home in preparation for a heatwave if one is predicted to be on the horizon, and it will do the same thing in preparation for a cold snap.
Regardless of whatever thermostat you end up purchasing, it is in your best interest to spend a lot of time carefully exploring the various settings menus and options it offers. This will ensure that you are not missing out on any useful functions. For instance, it would not be hard to miss the Sunblock option on the Nest Learning Thermostat if you did not pay close enough attention.
However, if your thermostat is installed on a wall that receives direct sunlight, there is a feature that automatically adjusts itself to compensate for the way that the sun warms up the thermostat and the wall around it. As a result, your home will not become either too hot or too cold as a result of the placement of your thermostat.
Maintenance Reminders and Alerts
On the simpler side of things, your smart thermostat can remind you to change the filters on your forced-air system or perform other normal maintenance. This will keep your home comfortable and save you money in the long run. Cleaning the filters in your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system not only makes the system run better, but it also helps it last longer. When a replacement blower assembly can cost more than $500, it is worthwhile to try anything you can think of to extend the amount of time before you need to contact for servicing.
On the more complicated side of things, some smart thermostats will actively check the health of the system and inform you if something seems to be amiss. This is one of the more advanced features available. If, for example, the system is calling for heating or cooling but nothing is happening, then it will let you know that there is a problem with your furnace or air conditioner.
And if you want to take things to the next level, you can even link your smart thermostat to a local service business so that it can be monitored and maintained automatically. If, for example, the burner on your furnace continues to misfire or the compressor on your air conditioner continues to short cycle, your thermostat can alert the service company. After all, it is much more cost effective to call for servicing for a minor part or a tuneup rather than to replace an AC unit that has entirely failed.
In the end, you are still guaranteed to save money even if you do not go to great lengths to personalize and adjust the experience you have with your smart thermostat. The fundamentals of optimal heating and cooling, combined with straightforward adjustments such as programming your thermostat to determine whether or not you are present, will result in significant cost savings over time.