Ask Our Experts: Are Programmable Thermostats Worth It?

Bryant Connex Thermostat

Smart, programmable thermostats help control zoned systems.

All material Copyrighted (c) by the Tuckey Companies, 2016.

Question for Our Experts:

I’ve heard about all kinds of programmable (or “clock”) thermostats – some very basic, others very fancy.  I know they can typically cost several hundred dollars.  Are they worth it – both in cost savings and environmental savings?

 

 

Our Experts’ Answer:

Short Answer

It’s impossible to give a detailed answer on cost or environmental savings without knowing the details of your building, your HVAC equipment, and your comfort preferences.  That being said, programmable thermostats are indeed generally “worth it” if your building is unoccupied for several hours during the day and/or if you’re willing to sacrifice a certain level of comfort for the sake of savings.  More details below!

Detailed Answer

This is a smart question, as it’s true that some products billed as “eco-friendly” or “cost conscious” are simply not necessary in some circumstances or not all that they’re cracked up to be.  The straightforward answer is that we can’t provide a detailed cost-benefit analysis regarding programmable thermostats without knowing more about your home or office building, your schedule, and your comfort preferences.  That being said, we can provide some general guidance and insight that should help you flesh out the details of a cost-benefit analysis on your own (or equip you to speak knowledgeably with a contractor about your needs).  First, though, let’s back up and cover some basic definitions:

 

A basic, traditional thermostat essentially has one job: make sure that the actual room temperature matches the desired temperature set by the owner.  The owner can change the desired temperature – up or down as necessary – and a basic thermostat will keep the room at that temperature until the set temperature is manually changed again by the owner.

 

A few decades ago, programmable thermostats were introduced to the market as a cost-and-energy-saving tool for homeowners and facility managers.  Owners can set a schedule on programmable thermostats (also known as “clock thermostats”) that tell the thermostats to automatically adjust the temperature at different times throughout the day.  For example, the homeowner can back off on air conditioning during the middle of a summer day if everyone is at school or work.  As another example, the homeowner may wish to back off on heating in the middle of a winter night if everyone is sleeping under warm covers and wouldn’t notice a cooler home.  It would be tedious to manually adjust the thermostat on a daily basis for each of these scenarios; thus, a programmable thermostat automates the adjustment and ensures energy savings – which translate to cost savings on your energy bill.

 

Speaking of savings – exactly what kind of savings are possible?  Again, that’s a tough question to answer in a generic sense because there are so many variables involved.  The answer may depend on your heating/fuel type (electricity vs. natural gas, etc.), the insulation in your building, your specific geographic location, and more.  Wing (2012) reports that, “As rules of thumb, lowering a thermostat permanently reduces heating bills by about 3% per degree Fahrenheit, while lowering it overnight only saves about 1% per degree Fahrenheit.”  One manufacturer reports that homeowners can save an average of 20% on their heating and cooling costs over time, depending on the type of programmable thermostat that’s selected and which heating and cooling equipment it’s paired with (Bryant, 2016).

 

So, what factors into the decision on whether programmable thermostats are “worth it” for your home or office?  Some things to consider:

  • Is your building left empty for long periods of time throughout the day? If so, then you probably want to consider a programmable thermostat.  If everyone is routinely away from home Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (for work, school, etc), and you can set your air conditioner to 80 rather than 70 during this time period, you stand a chance of realizing some notable savings (that’s a 10 degree difference over 45 hours per week!).  On the other hand, if someone is in the building all or most of the time, then you will likely desire a more stable room temperature and, thus, have less opportunity to save.
  • Are you willing to sacrifice a certain level of comfort for savings? If so, consider using a programmable thermostat to automatically reduce load on your HVAC system during those hours of the day when you’re willing to sacrifice some comfort.  Winter nights are a good example – you could program your thermostat to reduce room temperature from 70 to 64 degrees overnight (and then back up to 70 again in the morning).  Most people won’t notice the temperature difference when sleeping – and many wouldn’t mind anyway, since they’re snuggled beneath warm covers!  You could make a similar arrangement for warm summer nights.

Finally, we should mention that “programmable thermostat” technology has come a long way since it was originally introduced years ago.  Mobile computing and computer networking technology enhance the management capabilities of programmable thermostats substantially, enabling further savings and more precise adjustments.

  • Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats often come with Smartphone apps or personalized mobile website accounts that allow the owner to monitor his or her HVAC system and adjust temperature settings even while away from home.  This could be a huge energy-and-cost saver if you forgot to turn down your thermostat or adjust its schedule prior to leaving for a week-long trip!
  • Some “smart” thermostats learn your activity habits over time (by analyzing when you’re in the building and observing your comfort preferences) – and subsequently help you make better decisions on when to turn down your thermostat and for how long.
  • Some modern thermostats employ geofencing technology when paired with your Smartphone.  Essentially, these thermostats know when you’re close-by (returning from work, for example) and adjust temperature settings accordingly so that your home is at the right temperature as you pull into the garage.
  • Other “smart” thermostats even respond to voice commands, making it easier than ever for the owner to adjust settings on-the-fly.
  • Many “smart” thermostats are capable of generating reports that record energy and cost savings over time, enabling the owner to make even better decisions in the future.

 

Has anything here piqued your interest?  We’d love to speak with you about it.  Give us a call today!

Tuckey Mechanical Services provides HVAC system installation, maintenance, and repair services throughout South Central Pennsylvania.  Tuckey (PA HIC # 15821) can be reached at 717-249-1535 or www.tuckey.com.

All material Copyrighted © by The Tuckey Companies, 2016.

[Photo courtesy of Bryant]

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a reference guide only.  All mechanical, electrical, plumbing, remodeling, metal fabrication, and restoration projects should be handled by a qualified, professional contractor like the Tuckey Companies.  Information presented here is of a general nature that may not be applicable in all situations. Tips, articles, and accompanying information do not represent an official recommendation of the Tuckey Companies.

Works Cited

 

Bryant. (2016). Bryant® Housewise™ Wi-Fi® Thermostat. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from Bryant Heating & Cooling Systems: http://www.bryant.com/bryant/en/us/products/controls-thermostats/t6-wem/

 

Wing, C. (2012). How Your House Works. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

 

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