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Is It Time For A Smart Thermostat?

Smart thermostats can be controlled remotely through a smartphone or tablet. PHOTO COURTESY BRAD THIESSEN, COLLABORATIVE EFFICIENCYFrom programmables to Wi-Fi models

JULY 2022

by Joel Gilbert, Contributing Columnist

Thermostats control the cooling and heating systems in the home. In the winter, they turn on the heat when the inside temperature near the thermostat drops below the setpoint, and turn it off when they sense the temperature has risen above it.

Similarly, in summer, thermostats turn on the cooling systems when the temperature goes above the setpoint and off again when it is below the setpoint.

If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set temperatures for different times of the day. They allow different settings for morning, afternoon, evening and overnight for weekdays and weekends. This feature has been available for decades in relatively inexpensive thermostats.


But when researchers investigated patterns of use of these programmable devices, they found that 85% of the people with programmable thermostats didn’t program them. They just held one temperature all the time for heating and cooling.

So much for programmable thermostats. People just didn’t want to work that hard to get it programmed.

Setting back your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day can save up to 10% a year on home heating and cooling. PHOTO COURTESY CONSUMERS ENERGY

That led to the creation of smart thermostats that arrived on the scene about 11 years ago. Smart thermostats, like Google Nest and ecobee, require you to have Wi-Fi connectivity in your home. You can control the thermostat using your smartphone, tablet or computer, which is really convenient.

That means you can set temperatures without touching the thermostat, or do it remotely, such as when you are returning from a trip and want the house cooled for your arrival.

Most of them also keep track of how your HVAC system is operating, which is interesting to watch as it gets hotter this summer. Seeing the operating statistics on your cooling system will explain why energy bills are higher.


Saving energy and money is easy with any thermostat. Remember that edging up the temperature during the hottest days this summer can save you a bundle. Moving the thermostat just 3 degrees from 75 to 78 degrees saves 12% to 15% on electricity bills.

If you want to get a precise estimate for your home, visit your local electric cooperative’s website and look for the Energy Resource Center or similar feature on the homepage.


If you don’t have Wi-Fi in your home, you can always program the thermostat you have and save money, as well. You can get a precise estimate of the savings doing that by looking for the programmable thermostat calculator in your cooperative’s Energy Resource Center.

In both cases, you will see that saving money is easy. Remember to keep the air moving with fans near you and you will be amazed at how comfortable you can be at 78 degrees.

Joel Gilbert, P.E., is president and chief software architect at Apogee Interactive, the software firm that provides online energy calculators and energy-saving tips for cooperatives throughout the mid-Atlantic. Find helpful tools on your local cooperative’s website.