There are two sides to this coin and as you might have guessed this means it’s not necessarily a simple answer.
The short answer: yes and no.
Wait, what? But everyone says we need a fancy thermostat!
Can you save money with one? Of course.
Will you save as much as studies have shown? Maybe not, that depends on a lot of things.
To understand this better we need to take a little trip back in time…
Energy usage in the the 1970’s
The nation was on edge with it’s very first oil crisis. The year was 1973 and energy consumption was hitting new highs. California wrote the first energy code in ’78. The law required newly constructed homes to include setback thermostats to reduce usage and control how often the furnace or air conditioning was running in homes.
The studies in that decade concluded that during sleeping hours each night (an estimated 8 hours) approximately 1% consumption of natural gas was saved for every degree Fahrenheit the thermostat was lowered.
These studies were based off of the efficiency of the equipment at the time, the building materials and construction practices. This was also before some of the big improvements in insulation since then.
Fast forward to 1995…
Huge Savings! You could save approximately 10 to 30% off of your home’s heating and cooling bill with a programmable thermostat according to the EPA back in 1995 when they started promoting them.
This wasn’t exactly accurate though.
Sure, you could save money using one, but according to a 2007 Gas Networks Study that number was actually a lot closer to approximately 6.2% in savings.
Not bad, better than nothing, but not 10-30%.
The older “10 to 30%” study also assumed that people had left their thermostat at 72 °F all day and night.
Further more, that number reflected that users would go with suggested energy efficient settings recommended by Energy Star -of which many did not.
So smart thermostats are a waste of money…right?
No, not at all. A well programmed thermostat can still help save energy or course -and even 5 or 6 percent additional savings is pretty good -savings like this can really add up each month.
What happened here was the focus just shifted from calling a programmable thermostat the solution instead of the useful tool it is to help save home and business owners money when used in combination with energy saving behaviors.
But that’s not all, a lot of times it’s effectiveness goes hand in hand with the climate…
Weather or not.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the weather outside plays a big part of how much energy it takes to maintain a warm or cool temperature inside.
A smart thermostat can really help take advantage of this when programmed to account for your regular schedule.
For example, is your house empty while you are at work during the week? Then it probably doesn’t need to be as warm/cool to maintain that temperature when no people (or pets) are in the house.
During the warmest part of the day you might want your air conditioner to not run as hard and a smart thermostat can adjust for that.
The more harsh the temperature is outside the more the hvac system will have to work for each degree. This helps a bit less in milder climates as temps are easier to maintain. But in the hot Illinois summers and cold winters -cutting back on how much the furnace or air conditioner is running can mean a lot less energy usage.
So I should get a smart thermostat then?
Only if you make sure to set it up to do the job it was designed to do by setting a weekday/weekend program that fits your schedule.
Getting one and just sticking it on the wall and without setting it up and using it usually isn’t enough -unless it’s a really, really smart thermostat (in which case at that point it might be too smart.)
But all those little tiny buttons and text, I don’t want to mess it up.
You’re not alone.
Studies have shown that many people rarely, if ever, have adjusted their programmable thermostat to save energy based on their work schedule.
A lot of people do just expect these thermostats to save energy without programming them or just expect the device to work on it’s own. Older and less advanced programmable thermostats can be intimidating or cumbersome to set up which has been determined to be a big reason why many people aren’t programming them properly.
The modern smart thermostat!
The newest and best smart thermostats have been made with touch screens and are designed to be easy to use and adjust -some even feature wifi / mobile apps so that you can make adjustments from outside the home.
That last feature is especially useful if you forgot to adjust the air conditioning before leaving on a vacation. Reducing the cooling would be as easy as grabbing your smart phone and opening an app.
Wait! Not so fast!
Yea you’re probably as tired of reading this as I am of writing it, but this last bit is important too! Extremely hot and cold weather needs to be met with energy efficient choices.
Depending on a lot of factors, such as how well your home is sealed, a poorly programmed thermostat can actually lead to higher cost in energy consumption. It’s really important to make efficient choices and use them correctly.
People have actually used more energy than they would have without a programmable thermostat because they used the ‘hold’ feature in lieu of programming them correctly
In extreme hot or cold this can make a big difference as the thermostat isn’t going back to a good efficient setting.
Good news, the latest smart learning thermostats have gotten even better at guiding owners towards better, more energy efficient temperature settings so that your hvac equipment won’t have to work as hard maintaining the right temperature.
Some good practices for using your smart thermostat:
- Keep that thermostat away from sources of heat and cold so to help ensure accurate temperature readings. This includes areas such as near windows where sunlight beams in, doorways, drafts, fireplaces, etc.
- Keep those batteries changed! If your thermostat relies on battery power then it’s important to make sure it has the energy to save you energy!
- Try to resist manually overriding your settings. A stable temperature can be easier to maintain and require less energy than ‘bumping it up’ (or down) throughout the day.
- Going on vacation -even just for the weekend. Use the vacation features to keep the preferred temperature where you want it while you are out of the house.
- Avoid fast changes in temperature. Smart thermostats work better when they are allowed to adjust to indoor temperatures. Forcing it to run extra hot or cold can just use more energy.
- Try to set your energy saving temperature points for at least 8 hours per day -usually around 10 degrees from your normal preference when no one is home or during sleeping hours if you can still be comfortable at that temperature depending on your circumstances.
- In homes with zoned heating/cooling it’s usually better to have more than one thermostat as there can be a greater temperature differential in different areas of larger homes and offices.
Conclusion, do you really need a smart thermostat?
No, but they are really, really nice to have.
Between the ease of use via touchscreen and the new smart features such as learning your schedule and maintaining energy efficient choices with very little attention needed once it’s set up correctly. Some will even generate monthly energy reports for you -yes they are indeed awesome to have on your wall.
Not all smart thermostats are the same of course, some are pretty basic and some are packed full of features you probably didn’t even know you wanted.
But, more important than that is making good energy efficient choices in the first place to keep your heating and/or cooling from running non-stop all day.
With or without a smart thermostat that is what makes the big difference.