The short answer to the question “what is the best thermostat” is that there really is no “best” option. Certainly the so called “smart” thermostats are the latest technology and provide the most opportunity for energy savings, but the basic thermostats and programmable thermostats also provide specific benefits. The BEST thermostat for YOU is the one that matches your budget and lifestyle. Let’s take some time to address all of your options.
Basic / Manual Thermostats
The basic thermostat is widely used in many homes to this day. Basic thermostats are exactly like their name describes. You will simply need to walk up to your thermostat and adjust the temperature with a dial or lever. The basic thermostat is made up of bi-metallic strips that coil and uncoil at specific temperatures, and the basic thermostat does a relatively good job of maintaining a comfortable level of heat or cool air in your home. However, the dial or lever on your basic thermostat is not very precise and could be off by several degrees of the temperature you think you’re setting.
Why does that matter? Well, it’s a loss in potential energy savings! A good rule of thumb to go by when it comes to energy savings reflected in your utility bill, is that for every degree you raise or lower the temperature on your thermostat, it results in a 1% increase or decrease in your energy bill. So, if you were to start keeping your home at 75 degrees instead of 65, you can expect to see 10% savings. Because basic thermostats aren’t very accurate, you may think you’ve set your thermostat to 75 degrees, when actually it’s cooling your home to 73 or 74 degrees, so you’re using more energy than you want to and paying more than you expected.
To account for this, there are now many basic thermostats with digital displays which are more accurate. If you want the temperature to be 75 degrees, then just punch that number into the display. Basic thermostats that are digitized also allow you the option to punch an “up-” or “down-” arrow button to easily increase or decrease the temperature. Basic thermostats can save you money when you leave your house empty for long periods of time, but that’s only if you remember to manually adjust the temperature on the thermostat yourself before you leave.
The good news is that basic thermostats are the most inexpensive option because of their limited features. Basic thermostats are the least expensive type of thermostat you can buy due to their limited features. The non-digital basic thermostat typically costs between $15 and $35, but they are being phased out because they contain mercury. Basic thermostats with a digital display cost around $20 – $50.
As technology has advanced, the programmable thermostats were developed to improve upon the basic thermostat. Until just a few years ago these were the most technologically advanced option, but we will get to their successor in just a bit. A programmable thermostat allows you to set different temperatures for different times of day. Meaning, you can raise the temperature during times you’re out of the home to save energy, and lower the temperature at night to keep you comfortable while you sleep. In fact, programmable thermostats often allow you to pre-program up to four different set times for the week, and four different set times for the weekend. This is why the programmable thermostats have been such a popular option.
The good news is that if your schedule changes, for example if you have the week off of work, there’s also a manual override switch where you can manually adjust the temperature either higher or lower without affecting any of your pre-programmed schedules. Programmable thermostats show increased savings on the utility bill when used properly by the homeowners.
The best way to use your programmable thermostat is to spend a few days keeping track f your schedule. When do you typically leave home, return from work, go to sleep, and when you wake up. When you have that schedule you can better program your thermostat to maximize your savings.
Programmable thermostats are more expensive than the basic thermostats but can still be reasonable. They range in price from $25 to $150 and are a great mid-priced option for helping you save money each month on your utility bill – up to 33% more over manual thermostats!
Connected & Smart Thermostats
The newest and most technologically advanced thermostat option is the smart thermostat. Smart thermostats allow you to adjusting your home’s temperature remotely from a computer, tablet or even a smart phone. These have become a very popular option as the popularity of “smart homes” continues to rise. Performing the same functions as programmable thermostats, smart thermostats give you the flexibility to regulate the temperature in your home around the clock. On days you decide to go out to dinner with family or friends instead of going straight home after work. you can adjust your thermostat accordingly to continue your energy savings!
Thermostats that connect to the internet and allow you to make changes remotely are known as “connected” thermostats. All smart thermostats are connected to the internet, but not all “connected” thermostats are considered “smart.” Thermostats that are considered truly “smart,” are those that can learn from your behavior and automatically set your temperature schedule for you. Rather than programming it yourself, a smart, or “learning,” thermostat will monitor the temperatures you typically input during certain times of the day, and after a short period time will begin to automatically adjust the temperature on its own. Trying to figure out how to program your thermostat and set multiple temperature schedules has been eliminated – the smart thermostat automatically does it for you!
Other advanced features smart thermostats have are:
- Real-time your energy consumption statistics
- Filter and maintenance alerts
- Energy-efficient recommendations
- Air quality monitoring
- Weather forecasting
- Touch screens
- Changeable colors to match your interior
Smart thermostats are revolutionizing the way homeowners manage their energy consumption as we strive to improve the health of our planet. But, with costs ranging from $200 to $300, smart thermostats are certainly more expensive than basic and programmable thermostats. However, many homeowners who have them say that the energy savings, convenience, and numerous features they offer make them worth the added cost.
Should I upgrade to a smart t-stat? Will it save me money?
You have to decide what works best for your lifestyle. The convenience and energy saving features of smart thermostats make them very appealing, but they do come with a higher price tag. While the energy savings a smart thermostat can provide will cover the upfront expense over time, a programmable thermostat will can save you just as much money if programmed properly.
A smart thermostat makes it easier and more convenient to stay on top of your HVAC energy usage. According to a joint study of smart thermostats conducted by Pacific Gas and Electric and Honeywell, people liked being able to change the temperature of their home remotely from an app so much that they did so a great deal more than if they if they had to adjust the temperature using only the thermostat. This resulted in more than half of the participants in the study using less energy. Also, a study by Nest discovered that consumers saved on average 10-12% on heating and 15% on cooling, which resulted in around $130 of annual savings.
It’s true a cheaper programmable thermostat can potentially reduce energy costs as much as a smart thermostat, but that’s only if you take the time to very carefully and accurately program your thermostat and keep a fairly regular schedule. And don’t count out the basic thermostat. If you stay at home more often, or are often away and are comfortable leaving your home at the same temperature for long periods of time, a basic thermostat with a digital display is very cost effective. However, if you don’t want to bother with programming a temperature schedule or your day-to-day schedule is constantly changing, then a smart thermostat is definitely the one for you.