Heating and cooling your home contributes to a majority of your energy expenses. Upgrading your thermostat is a great way to cut down on those costs and fine-tune your at-home comfort. Adjusting the temperature throughout the day, such as while you're away or while you sleep, can save you up to 10 percent annually
and even ensure a good night's rest
. But since there isn't one thermostat to rule them all, you'll want to make sure you upgrade to a thermostat model that is compatible with your home's system and wiring.
So how do you find out what kind of thermostat you need? To answer that, let's take a look at what types of thermostats are available, how they work with your HVAC system and what you should be looking for in a replacement.
What types of thermostats are there?
Thermostats fall into two general categories — manual and programmable. Between these two models there are three styles — electronic, electromechanical and smart. This variety allows for a few different combinations, so let's take a look at each option to better understand what they offer and how they work.
Sometimes referred to as analog thermostats, manual thermostats require homeowners to manually adjust their system to manage their home's temperature. They tend to cost less up front and they can last longer, but they aren't always reliable when it comes to temperature accuracy. They can also make it harder to cut energy expenses, since you have to remember to change the temperature every time you leave, come home or go to sleep. As home technologies advance, people are beginning to shift away from manual thermostat models in favor of their programmable counterparts.
Programmable thermostat models are ideal for customization and energy savings. As their name suggests, homeowners can program these thermostats to adjust the temperature during different parts of the day. This cuts down on the cost of heating or cooling the house while residents are away. Different settings can be chosen for certain days of the week, such as keeping things warmer or cooler on weekends when individuals and families are spending more time at home. Programmable models allow you to keep the house at your preferred temperatures while you're there and modify it while you're away, ensuring reliable comfort without hiking your utility bills.
While these models tend to have a higher price tag up front, programmable thermostats can save you money in the long run. Just don't try to treat a programmable model like its an analog thermostat! Allowing the automatic controls to do the work, as opposed to turning the temperature up and down, is your best bet for using a programmable thermostat to its full potential!
Styles of thermostats
All thermostats regulate a home's heating and cooling system, but how they do that and what systems they're compatible with are what determine the style. The three styles, their function and capabilities are as follows:
- Electronic thermostats use digital sensors to detect temperature and adjust the heating and cooling system accordingly. They're all programmable and can be used to customize settings and control air accordingly.
- Electromechanical thermostats are commonplace in older homes and use older technology. Using a combination of electricity and internal mechanics, this style of thermostat often relies on internal coils and a small vile of mercury to manage temperatures. Their programming functions are extremely limited, but they typically work with most gas, oil and electric systems.
- Smart thermostats are the latest advancement in home technology. They are internet-enabled, which means they can be adjusted remotely through your smartphone, tablet or computer. Smart thermostats offer the most room-to-room customization, maximum efficiency and advanced automation. These are the most sophisticated thermostats on the market, but be aware that they are not universally compatible with all HVAC systems.
Between these three styles, there are lots of options to consider when deciding which one is right for you, but one of the quickest ways to narrow down the list is choosing a compatible thermostat for your HVAC system.
Are all thermostats compatible with all HVAC systems?
Unfortunately, not all thermostats are compatible with every HVAC system. In the same way that not all thermostats are created equal, neither are heating and cooling systems. The ability for systems to communicate with a thermostat and vice versa depends on things like voltage, wiring, and zoning, among other things. Understanding your home's heating and cooling capabilities can determine which thermostat will work best for you.
How do I check my HVAC system's compatibility?
There are several things that determine your HVAC's compatibility. While you may be able to determine some of these components on your own, having a professional to come look at your system is the best way to get an accurate idea of what you'll need in a new thermostat. Let's break down the four things a professional is going to look at in your system — wiring, voltage, zoning and stages.
Wiring is the biggest determinant of which type of thermostat is right for you. The system you have will determine what wires are available for connection. A more complex thermostat may require wiring that is not available in your equipment, which may eliminate some contenders. Another wiring consideration is where your original thermostat is placed in your home. To avoid some technical rewiring work, you'll want to ensure that a new thermostat is able to replace the old one where it currently rests on the wall. Each HVAC system is equipped with a circuit schematic, but it's best to leave deciphering these up to the professionals! A misstep with wiring can lead to all sorts of damage, including malfunctions, expensive repairs and higher utility bills.
Your thermostat needs to be compatible with your HVAC's voltage requirements. All systems have one of these three voltage levels:
- Low voltage or 24V power
- High voltage, 110V or 240V power
Most thermostats are designed for low voltage systems, which is the most popular level in homes today. However, if you have wall or floor heaters, the voltage will be millivolt, and if you have an electric baseboard system, the voltage will be high. Be sure to look for this classification when shopping for your new thermostat. Once again, a professional is your best bet in understanding the voltage compatibility you'll need.
The temperature in a house can vary room to room and floor to floor. Whether the sun beats down on the upstairs during the afternoon or a section of your house was poorly insulated, there are many causes for these discrepancies. That's where zoning comes in! System zoning refers to a network of thermostats that control various parts of your house and are connected to a primary control center. Using dampers in the ductwork, the separate thermostats work independently to maintain each zone's programmed temperatures.
By controlling the flow of air to an unused section of the house you can save money, or you could customize bedroom temperatures to suit individual preferences. Though systems with zoning capabilities require an initial upfront investment, the U.S. Department of Energy
estimates that proper zoning controls can save homeowners up to 40 percent on their energy costs!
Single-stage, two-stage or variable speed
Heating and cooling systems can be classified into three output stages: single-stage, two-stage and variable speed. A single-stage system can only operate on one output setting, which is full power. It's either on or it's off. Two-stage systems offer more flexibility. These systems have the option to run at a slower speed, usually around 65 percent. This is a great option for milder climates since it can heat or cool the house gradually. Two-stage systems can also run at full capacity, which can be used during more extreme weather. Variable speed systems offer a range of speeds that allows your system to nuance its output for different temperature conditions. The best way to determine whether you'll need a single-stage thermostat, two-stage thermostat or variable speed thermostat also involves wiring, which is yet another reason why calling a professional is a smart move!
What should you look for in a replacement thermostat?
Now that you understand your system's compatibility requirements, you may still have a handful of thermostats to choose from. There are some additional variables to consider when upgrading your thermostat, including price, features and precision.
When considering price, there is a thermostat for every budget. Some manual thermostats can cost as low as $20, while advanced thermostats sell for well over $500. While a low-cost option may be a tempting place to save money, spending a little extra up front may actually be the best way to save over time. Choosing a compatible thermostat that offers energy-efficient technology can save you in your heating and cooling bills, an expense that adds up in a hurry. Just be sure you don't spend extra for features you don't intend to use. Know your system and your lifestyle needs and spend accordingly!
Thermostats offer a variety of unique features for your system. Programmability is an obvious feature, allowing you to automate the temperature in your home for different times of day or even days of the week. Just set the controls and walk away! Some thermostats offer additional inputs and can collect information on humidity levels and outdoor conditions, as well as options like occupancy sensors.
Internet-enabled smart thermostats allow you to control your home's system from your mobile device. This can allow you to lower the temperature while you're away and turn it back up before you get home. This is convenient when going on vacation or for people with unpredictable schedules. They can also send notifications to your device to help you keep track of your energy use for cutting costs.
For homeowners with a variety of air-quality control units, such as humidifiers, dehumidifiers or air purifiers, there are thermostats that can manage all of your equipment. Coordinating your home's systems through one thermostat is a very convenient and attractive feature!
Choosing a thermostat that offers temperature precision can make all the difference. Today's technology can help decrease the discrepancies between what your thermostat says and what your system is actually doing. By being able to detect the ambient temperature more efficiently, your HVAC system won't have work as hard. Not only can this help with energy-efficiency, it can keep you comfier and from fiddling with your system's settings.
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