How to buy a thermostat
A thermostat buying guide
Your thermostat is the control center of your home's heating and cooling system. Long a simple and reliable device, thermostats have evolved to become tools in managing your home's energy bills.
>> Types of thermostats
There are two major types of thermostats: manual and programmable. Manual thermostats can be mechanical or digital. Programmable thermostats are always digital.
As the name implies, you set manual thermostats by hand to control the temperature. Manual, mechanical thermostats use two strips of different metals that expand and contract differently as the temperature changes, causing the strips to bend. As the temperature continues to change, the strips bend or unbend to turn on or off the heating and cooling system. A digital thermostat uses electronic sensors to respond to the surrounding temperature, but you still set the desired temperatures for heating and cooling. Manual thermostats have the advantage of being simple to operate.
Programmable thermostats automatically adjust the temperature in your house according to schedules you set. Many programmable thermostats have separate schedules for weekdays and weekends. More advanced models let you set temperatures by time of day within each schedule. The ability to customize temperatures throughout the day and week has the potential for savings on your energy bills. The most common types of schedules are shown below.
|Weekly ||You set one program for the entire week. |
|5-2 Day ||You to set a standard program during the week while you're at work and another program for the weekends when you're spending more time at home. Each day can have multiple periods, each with different temperature settings. A great option for families with structured schedules. |
|5-1-1 Day ||You set a standard program during the week in addition to separate programs for both Saturday and Sunday. Each day can have multiple periods, each with different temperature settings. A more flexible option for families with structured schedules. |
|7-Day ||You program each day of the week separately. Each day can have multiple periods, each with different temperature settings. This option is a good choice if your or your family's schedule varies each day. |
>> Match the thermostat to your heating-cooling system
Before deciding on how to buy a thermostat, it's important to identify the type of heating and cooling system in your house. Heating and cooling systems are typically one of the following:
- 1-stage heat or cool — for use where you have separate heating and air conditioning units.
- 2-stage or multi-stage heat or cool — for heating or cooling units that have a high and low speed.
- Direct-line voltage — 110V or 240V direct-current power source used in some older homes to power the thermostat.
- 24mV — for use with a fireplace, floor or wall furnace.
- Zoned — heating and/or cooling is individually controlled in different areas from the same HVAC system.
Make sure that you choose a thermostat design compatible with your heating and cooling system.
>> Choose the location
When deciding how to buy a thermostat, decide in advance where you'll install it. If you're upgrading your current thermostat, the decision might be simple: the new unit goes where your current one is. If you have some flexibility in placing the thermostat, keep in mind that it will perform best when you install it on interior walls, well away from sunlight at every time of the day. Also, install the thermostat away from heating and cooling devices or vents to prevent distorted temperature readings.
Depending on where you want to install the thermostat, you can either perform the installation yourself or can call a heating and cooling (HVAC) technician.
>> Saving energy and money
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save 5-15% on your annual energy bill with the right settings. For instance, in warmer weather, you can save money by setting a higher temperature when you are away and a lower temperature when you are home. During cooler weather, the reverse is true: set a lower temperature when you are away and a higher one when you are home. It's a common misconception that the furnace needs to work harder to account for the difference in the temperature. It has been determined that the lower the interior temperature, the slower the heat loss. The longer your interior temperature is low, the higher the savings on your energy bill.
The location of the thermostats can also affect efficiency and performance of the thermostat. The different types of thermostats provide different energy savings options. Before deciding on how to buy a thermostat, it's important to research on the best thermostat to buy, based on the energy savings you're looking for.
Different types of thermostats come with different features. The chart below explains some of the common features to help you decide which thermostat to buy.
|Touch screen ||This thermostat feature enables you to change the settings by touching the screen |
|Backup battery ||A power source that the thermostat uses during a power failure/outage. If the outage is shorter than the remaining life of the battery, the thermostat will retain its programming when the power comes back on. Requires replacement on a regular schedule or after a long power failure. |
Note: Some thermostats run exclusively on a battery instead of AC power.
|Remote programming ||This thermostat feature enables you to program your thermostat from a remote control or location, such as your computer, smartphone or tablet. The thermostat connects through a hub (sold separately) to your home broadband network, allowing you to access it over Wi-Fi from anywhere. |
|Vacation mode ||A special schedule with fewer time and temperature settings. This can save you a lot of money when no one's at home for an extended period. |
|Adjustable cycle ||Prevents frequent cycling of heating and cooling systems. |
Whether you choose a simple manual thermostat or an energy-saving programmable one, a good thermostat will help keep your home comfortable for many years.