Smart Thermostat Installation

Home Depot claims that by switching from a manual to a programmable thermostat, you can save $180 per year on your energy bill.
Photo credit: Design Milk via Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency says that a programmable, or "smart" thermostat can cut heating and cooling costs by 20%. However, a study showed that 90% of programmable thermostats are infrequently or never programmed.

Smart thermostats can fix this problem by adjusting and monitor the temperature based on the user's programming and habits, and sometimes even the weather. Plus, many of them allow the user to control or monitor the thermostat remotely from a smartphone or wireless internet connection.

Installing one (or more) can therefore decrease the home or building's energy use and cut utility bills. In fact, Nest, a smart thermostat manufacturer, claims that thermostats make up about 50% of your energy bill, and 10% of all American energy is controlled by thermostats.

According to Earth911, there are 3 types of smart thermostats:
1. “Connected” Thermostats: Wi-fi enabled units that allow users to change temperature settings from their smartphone or computer
2. Learning Thermostats: Learn your daily habits and automatically set temperature levels over time
3. “Smart Grid” Technology: These are compatible with your utility’s smart grid system

The following are three smart thermostats currently available on the market.

1. Nest: Learning Thermostat for Energy Savings

Nest’s “learning thermostat” adjusts the heating and/or cooling in a building based on a combination of the user’s programming and behavior. It uses a series of questions, the user’s scheduling and behavior, and weather tracking via wi-fi to automize its settings. It uses an activity sensor to determine if there are occupants in the space, and will lessen heating or cooling when no one is around (this feature is called “Auto-Away”). Multiple Nests can be installed in one home to create smart zone heating and cooling.

The Nest can be programmed from a computer, smartphone, or tablet, or on the device itself. The thermostat has an “Energy History” feature that tracks the thermostat’s energy use, and displays a green leaf when its saving energy.

Buying and Installing Nest

Nest claims that its product is easy to install, and possible to do yourself if you can put in a new light bulb. However, Nest can provide installation service, too.

2. Honeywell Prestige 2.0

Honeywell’s Prestige Comfort 2.0 is a smart thermostat that can save up to 33% on annual energy bills, or $200 a year, if programmed correctly. The Prestige sells for about $300 on Amazon, so it has the potential to pay for itself in 2 years.

Honeywell’s thermostat doesn’t “learn”, like the Nest, but rather uses the user’s input and the weather to adjust the temperature. The customer answers the thermostat’s interview questions, which factor into the thermostat’s response. It also controls humidity and indoor quality, and can be programmed from a computer, smartphone or tablet.

3. Ecobee

The Canada-based company, ecobee, offers a smart thermostat that allows users to have maximum programming and customization of their heating (and/or cooling) controls.

It doesn’t “learn” to automatically adjust based on the user’s behavior like the Nest, but instead offers the customer a web portal, where they can program alerts, service reminders, vacations and other preferences. They can also access the thermostat’s controls through iPhones and Androids. The system creates reports on the thermostat’s performance and weekly weather reports and forecasts.

The ecobee sells for about $469 (though it has no annual fee for the web portal) and should be installed by a professional.

Choosing the Right Programmable/Smart Thermostat

In addition to the above "Smart Thermostats" there are also many conventional programmable thermostats... But to benefit from them, you'll need to program them first. According to ENERGY STAR, the three most common, non "Smart" thermostats are differentiated by the number of different days that can be uniquely programmed.

The three models are 7 day models (which allow for specific customization each day of the week), a 5/2 day model, which allows custom settings for the work week and weekend, respectively, and a 5/1/1 day model, which allows programming for the week days, and customizing Saturday and Sunday.

The YouTube video below from ENERGY STAR goes into much more detail on programmable thermostat options:

Choosing a programmable thermostat

Installing a Thermostat Yourself

Installing a thermostat is possible to do yourself with the proper equipment, instructions, and safety precautions. In fact, Home Depot rates the project as “Novice” level, and only takes 30-60 minutes to complete.

To do the project, you will need the replacement thermostat, masking tape, a screwdriver, and a pencil. You’ll also need the manufacturer’s instructions. The steps to install the smart thermostat are as follows:

1. Turn off the power supply to the thermostat, including the heating and cooling system.
2. Remove the old thermostat from the wall, including the wall plate. Be careful when removing older thermostats, because the glass tubes often contain mercury, which is a toxic substance.
3. Use masking tape and a pencil to mark where the wires were attached on the old thermostat, using letter designations. Tape the wires to the wall to prevent them from falling back into the wall.
4. Pull the wires through the base of the new thermostat, then screw the base into the wall.
5. Connect the wires to the matching screw terminals on the base (use the matching letters). Use the manufacturer’s instructions as a guide.
6. Restore the power to the thermostat and heating and air conditioning systems.
7. Program the thermostat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you replaced an old thermostat with a tube of mercury, call your local recycling or hazardous materials center or the manufacturer of your new thermostat, to learn how to dispose of it safely and properly.

Professional Installation

While it is possible to replace a thermostat yourself, it may be a good idea to hire a heating, ventilation, air conditioning and cooling (HVAC) contractor to install it for you, especially if the project requires more than a simple replacement.

Homewyse provides a calculator that helps you determine the cost of a thermostat installation based on your zip code.

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