So you’re in the market for a programmable thermostat. Where to start?
The obvious answer is the internet. We’ll get there.
But first, if you live in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas or surrounding cities . . .
- Call your local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning service or repair company. Ask questions — either during a winter or summer checkup — or just ask to talk with the owner, the head technician, anybody who can offer you insight and opinion. You’d be surprised how many people don’t talk with service and repair techs when they make house calls. These guys are great sources of information. They may not know everything about specific brands, but they can tell you what to look for, what brands they service or repair that fail, and what brands they’d recommend based on real experience.
- Visit your local home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They’re everywhere in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Browse the home heating and cooling section, look at the thermometers in stock, read the back of the box, ask salesmen questions. They probably won’t know as much as an HVAC service or repair tech, but they should get you started with specific brands. What are people buying? Better yet, what are people returning? Are thermostats easy to install? Heck, open the box and read the instructions.
Now, to the internet.
Search for programmable thermostats, or programmable thermostat reviews, or best programmable thermostats. Visit Amazon and read customer reviews. Follow links to popular consumer sites, blogs and review sites. Stop by your virtual Lowe’s and Home Depot and see what they have to say.
Messy, isn’t it? There’s a ton of information. So let’s whittle it down.
Types of Thermostats
- WiFi or smart thermostats. These are relatively new and are covered in our next post.
- Touch Screen. Big, fancy displays, easy to program, can be more expensive.
- Programmable. This is what we are concentrating on today. They are readily available at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and top hardware stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, and you most likely will not need a service or repair tech to install.
- Non-programmable. We’re not interested in these.
Programmable Options that Fit Lifestyles
There are three basic types:
- 7-day: These are best if your daily schedule changes frequently. The kids may be home earlier some days more than others. Set different programs for different days.
- 5-2 programming: Set the same schedule for weekdays, when you are away, and weekends, when you are home more often.
- 5-1-1 programming: Set a standard program during the week, with separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Great for families with structured weekends.
These range in price, of course, but expect to pay at least $100 for a good, middle-of-the-line model from reputable manufacturers like Honeywell or Lux. These will have more features and functions that will help you program, change schedules, and save energy and money.
HVAC manufacturers like Lennox, Carrier, and Trane also brand their line of thermostats, but these may not be readily available in home improvement stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Call your HVAC service or repair company for models you cannot find locally.
Programmable Features To Consider:
- Touch screen controls: We’re all getting better using small displays — think smart phones — so using a touch screen will be familiar. The key here is the interface. Is it easy to use? Can you remember how to program it or make changes? These range from black-and-white (or gray) to full color displays. Look for the right fit of features and functions for you. In the technology world, it’s easy to overbuy and never use the full capacity of what we purchase, wasting money in the long run.
- Selectable program periods: We’ll get to this next.
- Backlit displays: Handy in low-light.
- Indicator lights: Helpful, if accurate. Some alert you to the furnace needing a new filter (based on time elapsed, not the actual condition or performance of the filter).
- Battery operation and backup: Essential.
- Remote control: Radio frequency control from anywhere in the house.
- Programming lock: Great if you don’t want the kids to change the temperature inside, messing up program schedules and anticipated energy and cost savings.
- Vacation mode: Set when you leave the house for an extended period of time, then push a button to revert back to scheduled settings. WiFi thermostats are really making impressive improvements here.
This is what it’s all about. It’s why you’ve chosen a programmable model or to upgrade an existing, older thermostat. If you use the thermostat’s features wisely and consistently, you will see the most energy savings monthly.
Home comfort, of course, is left up to you and your spouse — not the kids. But let’s put aside preferences for a moment and establish an energy and cost-savings baseline.
According to Energy.gov, if you turn down the thermostat during the winter (or turn it up during the summer) seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day your energy bills can be reduced by up to 10 percent annually. If you turn the thermostat down 15 degrees for eight hours, you can hit 15 percent savings. It’s usually 1 percent for each degree lowered for at least eight hours.
A good starting point in the winter for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas residents is 68-70.
Before we get to temperature strategy, let’s examine a common heating misconception. Homeowners think that a furnace works harder than normal to warm living areas after the thermostat has been lowered, resulting in little or no savings. Studies have shown that energy used to reheat the house is less than that used to maintain temperatures throughout the day at higher settings.
As soon as the temperature drops below it’s setting, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. The lower the temperature, the slower the heat loss. So the longer the home remains at a lower temperature, the more energy you save.
Determining Programmable Strategy
Get out a piece of paper and pencil. Answer these questions:
- What are your heating and cooling goals? Do you want to save money? Do you want a more sustainable lifestyle and use less energy?
- What are your behaviors? Since it’s winter, let’s stick with heating. How warm do you — your wife, kids — like it in the winter? Toasty? Cool enough to wear sweats and use a blanket in a chair while watching TV?
- What are the household activities? What are your and your family’s schedules? When are you home? When are you gone? Do you come and go? Do schedules change? Are their pets in the home? Does anybody — like a grandparent or a small child — require special consideration?
Now that you have some idea of your behaviors and activities, time to start programming. We’ll use 5-2 thermostats as an example; they allow you to program four basic times for weekday and weekend schedules.
Wake-up — 7 a.m.
Nobody likes getting out of a warm bed. Consider programming the thermostat to raise the temperature to 66, 68, or 70 degrees 30 minutes before getting out of bed. This allows the furnace time to turn on and start warming the living area prior to you getting up.
Leave/Day: 9 a.m.
Program the thermostat to drop again an hour or two after waking up. If the home is vacant a bulk of the day, consider dropping the temperature six to eight degrees for as long as you can — four, six, even eight hours. More if you can. That means 68/70 becomes 60/62.
Return: 4 p.m. (if kids are home), 7 p.m. (if it’s just you/spouse)
Turn the thermostat up 30 minutes prior to your expected return. If you prefer a toasty evening cooking, watching TV, entertaining, consider bumping the temperature up to 70, 72 (or more) for the hours before going to bed. Those six hours use a bit more energy but for far less time.
Bedtime: 11 p.m.
Lower the thermostat 30 minutes before you anticipate going to bed. Since you will be sleeping under warm blankets and, maybe wearing warm night clothing, consider that six, eight, 10+ degree temperature drop for at least six hours. Keep a robe or slippers bedside if you need to get up during the night.
Programmable thermostats offer a hold feature, which lets you override the current program. Say you’re unexpectedly home for a few hours during the day, or you decide to work from home and the thermostat is at 60 degrees. The hold feature allows you to raise the temperature back to 68 for a few hours (you can determine this) before resuming the normal schedule.
A word of warning: Use the Hold feature sparingly. Overuse can mess up anticipated energy and cost savings that have been carefully crafted into a weekly schedule.
With awareness and a little bit of effort, using a programmable thermostat can help you easily squeeze eight to 10, even 12 to 14, hours a day at lower temperatures to save energy and money. It’s a lot easier here, in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, than it is in the Northeast or Upper Midwest.
In the Next Post
Life is unpredictable and families are coming and going at all times of the day. Programming the thermostat isn’t so easy to meet energy and cost-savings goals. Enter the WiFi “smart thermostat.”