A Green Investment: How a Smart Thermostat Can Save Energy and Money

Smart thermostats are one of the newest innovations in home automation. By 2020, Parks Research estimates that 40 million homes in the US will have smart thermostats. As brands introduce additional models and innovations, that number will grow.?

Smart thermostats offer a range of features that other types of thermostats do not. These green, cost saving features are designed to make it easier to adjust your home’s temperature, and will save energy and money on your utility bills each month. ?

Knowing the different ways that a smart thermostat can help you save energy and money at the same time can help you understand why you should consider installing one in your home. 

What is a Smart Thermostat?

A smart thermostat is any type of programmable thermostat that contains features that automate its settings. This means that they will make use of sensors, the internet, and other features to set the heating or cooling in your home as necessary.

This is more than a simple programmable thermostat, as smart thermostats can alter their programming on their own to increase their efficiency. For example, some models of smart thermostats will be able to tell if you are in the house. If your home is empty, they will turn the furnace down or off, allowing you to be more green and reduce your carbon footprint.?

Some models of smart thermostats will make and adjust their own schedules so that you don’t have to program them yourself. They will base these adjustments off of automations that sense when you leave and come home.

Most smart, green thermostats have their own app that allows you to adjust the temperature of your home at all times. This can make your life much more convenient, as you can change your temperature from your couch or from your office via a convenient phone app.?

How does a Smart Thermostat Save Energy?

The most obvious and significant way that a smart thermostat can save you money is by reducing how often your central heating and cooling appliances turn on. Since you are able to change your temperature from anywhere with your phone or computer, you will no longer have to worry about leaving the furnace or AC on while at work. 

Being able to access your thermostat at all times means you are more likely to adjust the temperature – and will be more mindful of your settings as well.?In effect, a smart thermostat’s functionality allows it to double as a green thermostat for the environmentally conscious.

Keep in mind that the actual savings associated with a smart thermostat will vary. This is because of different climates, different furnaces and AC cooling units, and different house layouts. You shouldn’t prioritize installing a smart thermostat if you’re using an old an inefficient furnace and want to save money.?Rather than solely focusing on green thermostat installation, you may want to take the time research upgrading your furnace and/or AC cooling unit.

In general, the Department of Energy suggests that a programmable thermostat can reduce your energy bill by an average of 10 percent. Since smart thermostats are advanced programmable thermostats, except constantly adjusting themselves for efficiency, you can expect similar levels of savings.?

You may see even greater savings if you are still using an analog thermostat, or if you have never programmed your digital thermostat. Ecobee claims that users have gone green and reduced their energy bills by 23 percent on average.

Additionally, the ability of smart thermostats to update their programmed schedule based off of your time spent at home automatically cuts down on your monthly energy bills. 

How Else does a Smart Thermostat Save Money?

An additional form of savings that smart thermostats offer is through your home insurance provider. As they increase the energy efficiency of your property, and can watch for HVAC issues, some companies offer a discount.  Check with your provider to see how large that discount may be. 

Some manufacturers have deals with specific insurance companies, like American Family and Nest. ?Other companies require specific features, like integration with smoke detectors and a fire alarm. You may want to bundle your green, smart thermostat with other smart home devices to increase your discount if it’s offered.?

Some utility companies will also offer rebates or discounts for smart thermostats. For example, Enbridge Energy offers $75 off of your energy bill if you buy a qualifying model. This can help offset the initial cost of buying the green thermostat, and shortens the time needed for the thermostat installation to pay for itself.?

You should also keep in mind that a smart thermostat may be eligible for tax credits. While no federal level deductions or credits exist, most states have initiatives. 

Check with your state and local regulations to see what you are eligible for. Vermont offers $100 cash back if you install one of the qualified smart thermostat models.?

What Other Benefits does a Smart Thermostat Have?

Several different companies make different models of smart thermostats. The largest brands are Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell, though other manufacturers are entering the market. 

Each will have their own set of features, and will work with different types of devices. You’ll need to compare different smart thermostat models and find the one that best fits what you need. 

You can connect some smart thermostats with your virtual assistant. This lets you control the temperature of your home using voice commands. However, keep in mind that each type of smart thermostat may support different types of assistants. For example, Nest works with both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

You should also keep in mind that smart home devices usually only work with other devices made by the same company. If you choose a specific brand, you’ll need to choose other devices of that brand for your locks, lights, and other components you want to replace with smart alternatives..

Smart thermostats also collect a great deal of data on your air conditioner and furnace use. This lets you track historical trends, which can make it easier for you to spot increases in use or costs.?

What Makes Smart Thermostats Smart?

Smart thermostats also track changes you make to your settings. Updating your thermostat frequently indicates to your thermostat that its adaptions aren’t working. As a result, it will adjust its heating and cooling schedule in line with the adjustments you’ve made in the past. 

Smart thermostats will also track how long it takes for rooms in your home to heat up or cool down. This allows them to schedule your HVAC system to turn on at just the right time before you come home. This minimizes wasted energy without changing your comfort levels. 

Some models come with several sensors that you can place around your home – or in different places in a single room. This lets your smart thermostat get an average of the temperature, which can help your system adjust itself to even out the heating or cooling. These sensors can help prevent a draft from forcing your system to overwork itself.

Some smart thermostats also make use of other types of sensors to determine if you are home or not. They do this by tracking movement. Other models link themselves to your phone’s location. Your thermostat will track how close you are, and will set itself to “away” if you are too far. 

You can also use several different smart thermostats with a zoned heating system. This gives you an even greater amount of control over your heating and cooling. You can tell your HVAC system to completely ignore unoccupied rooms if you have this set up. 

Smart thermostats will also alert you to issues with your furnace or air conditioner. Reminders to replace your filters and schedule HVAC inspections keep your system in good shape. Smart thermostats will also alert you if a larger issue is affecting your system.

What are the Limitations of Smart Thermostats? 

Smart thermostats cost more than their “dumb” digital counterparts, or older analog models. Prices vary, but expect to pay at least $100 for any make or model and even more for models with extra features. This can make a smart thermostat less than affordable for homeowners with tight remodeling budgets. 

You should also consider whether you will take advantage of a smart thermostat. A UC Davis study found that 67 percent of people in San Francisco did not know how to program their smart thermostat.?

Smart thermostats will also not provide you with substantial energy savings if someone is in your home all day. If you already have a set schedule and a programmed thermostat, you may see no difference at all. 

While the Department of Energy suggests that on average, you’ll save 10 percent, the actual savings can vary widely. Saving a few percent on a monthly bill will take a while to pay back an investment of several hundred dollars.

Smart thermostats are also not ideal for smaller homes or apartments. This is because the high initial price of smart thermostats means it will be years before your savings pay for the unit. 

You should also note that it is complicated to install a smart thermostat. This means that you should not install one in a short-term home, as you will have to remove and reinstall it later. 

You should also keep in mind that smart thermostats may suffer from unique issues. Because they need an internet connection, they can suffer from connectivity issues. This can prevent them from operating at all. 

What Types of HVAC Systems Work with Smart Thermostats?

You should also keep in mind that smart thermostats will not work with all types of heating systems, or even with older appliances. 

You should check with a contractor to see what type of heating system you have. Low voltage systems, which are the most common, work with all types of smart thermostat. Line or high voltage systems, however, will not, and will need an adapter installed or the wiring updated before they work with a smart thermostat.?

Steam radiators and baseboard heaters aren’t compatible with smart thermostats. Some types of radiant heating will also not work with all models of smart thermostats, depending on the voltage they use (or if they are hydronic). 

Heat pumps also work with smart thermostats, but not every model. You should look for models that support multistage and auxiliary heating. Auxiliary heating is the backup heating element that some types of heat pumps use for periods of severe cold weather. 

If your smart thermostat does not recognize auxiliary or multistage heating, it may run your heat pump at max power at all times. This can actually cause your heat pump to burn itself out at a quicker rate. Using your heat pump at max power, and making use of your auxiliary heating element, can also increase your energy costs compared to using a traditional programmable thermostat. 

Furnaces and boilers that have multistage heating also need specific models of smart thermostats.  Otherwise, your thermostat will simply turn your furnace on and off instead of adjusting its power. 

Boiler systems can work with smart thermostats, but again only certain models. This is because boilers tend to heat up slower and leave ambient heat for longer periods. A smart thermostat that doesn’t recognize these factors can overheat your home.

Automate Your Home

Now that you know how smart thermostats can save energy and money, as well as their pros and cons, you can decide whether you want to install one in your home. If you do decide to install a smart thermostat, make sure that you compare multiple models to find the one that is best suited to your needs.  

For more information about smart thermostats, check out our blog. We have a ton of content covering different types of smart thermostats and their installation.

Our blog also contains a load of information on other smart home devices, including door locks and smart plugs. With a little guidance, you’ll be well on your way to automating your entire home.

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