As you prepare to arm yourself against the summer heat and humidity in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, here are some things to think about when shopping for a programmable thermostat.
First . . .
Call the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service contractor you use for spring or fall equipment checkups. If you don’t know much about the unit(s) and the current thermostat, ask. You’ll need to make sure the thermostat you are considering with work with existing equipment.
Then ask for their recommendation. What manufacturers and brands do they suggest? Is there anything to stay away from? Are they easy for you to install or will you need a service tech’s assistance?
To wet your feet, so to speak, visit a home improvement center in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas and browse the heating and cooling section to review the thermostats in stock, read the back of the box, ask customer service reps questions. They won’t know as much as HVAC contractors, but they can get you started. What are people buying? What are people returning? Have you ever installed one of these things?
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 customers say in online reviews.
Messy, isn’t it? There’s a ton of information out there. 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 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 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. But let’s put aside preferences for a moment and establish an energy and cost-savings baseline.
According to Energy.gov, if you turn up the thermostat during the summer (or turn it up during the winter) 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 in the winter, you can hit 15 percent savings. It’s usually 1 percent for each degree lowered for at least eight hours. Turning it up 15 degrees in an Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas scorching summer is usually not possible, but 10 degrees is.
A good starting point in the winter is 68-70, in the summer 80, maybe even 82 when no one is home, 78 when occupied.
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 almost summer, let’s stick with cooling. How cool do you, your wife, and kids like it in the summer? Cold? Warmer during the way and evening but cool enough at night to use a blanket and sleep comfortably?
- 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.
Bedtime: 11 p.m.
Many people sleep better when it’s cooler, so consider having your air conditioner run more in late evening/early morning when it’s not as hot outside and energy costs are cheaper. Lower the thermostat to between 70 and 76 and use a ceiling fan to circulate air while you sleep under a light blanket.
Wake-up — 7 a.m.
Nobody likes waking up in a sweat. This is very much a personal and household preference. If you’re OK with the thermostat set from the night before (between 70 and 76), leave it alone. If you want it a tad bit cooler when you wake, that’s the beauty of a programmable thermostat — set it to drop to, say, 68 degrees an hour or two before you wake.
Leave/Day: 9 a.m.
Program the thermostat to rise an hour or two after waking up. If the home is vacant the bulk of the day, consider raising the temperature six to 10 degrees for as long as you can — four, six, even eight hours. More if you can. That means 68/70 becomes 78/80, even 82 when no one is home.
Return: 4 p.m. (if kids are home), 7 p.m. (if it’s just you/spouse)
Turn the thermostat down 30 minutes prior to your expected return. If you prefer a cool evening at home cooking, watching TV, or entertaining, consider dropping the temperature to 76-ish degrees for the hours before going to bed.
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 80 degrees. The hold feature allows you to lower the temperature to, say, 76/74 degrees for a few hours 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 higher temperatures to save energy and money. Use the energy and spend the money at night when energy prices and the wear and tear on your equipment is less.