None of us is sitting around thinking, “Man, I wish my heating and cooling bills would go up a little bit more! That would be great!” That’s ridiculous, right? We might be wishing we had more money for the new Camaro or a kitchen upgrade or another vacation—but more money for our electric and gas bills? Definitely not. Our Tulsa HVAC customers would really prefer to spend less money on utilities.
Here’s the deal: The best way to decrease your heating and cooling costs is to use less heating and cooling. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable in your home. You just need to use your system more effectively—and most of that comes down to your thermostat. A lot of homeowners are figuring that out, and they’re turning to technology—in the form of smart thermostats—to help them manage their HVAC use.
What is a smart thermostat?
These days, thermostats come in three basic varieties: mechanical, electronic, and smart. They all serve the same basic function—they tell your AC or furnace when to kick on and when to shut off.
With a mechanical thermostat, you turn a dial or nudge a lever to adjust the temperature setting. Electronic thermostats have a digital display and buttons, and some are programmable. Smart thermostats take those features to the next level, allowing you to adjust settings, see usage data, and view cost savings right from a smartphone app. The most advanced models require no human interaction; they gather data from the environment, including your behavior, and they adjust themselves. Slightly creepy? Sure. Cost-saving? Potentially. Super cool? Absolutely.
Are smart thermostats a smart idea?
Just because smart thermostats are all the rage doesn’t mean getting one is necessarily the right decision for you. So let’s talk about some pros and cons.
- Con: Up-front cost. As you might expect, smart thermostats are pricier than their old-school ancestors—by a factor of 33 when you compare the bottom-of-the-line mechanical version ($15ish) to the Lamborghini of smart thermostats, Ecobee ($500+). If you rent or you’re planning to move any time soon, it may be difficult to recoup the up-front cost of a smart thermostat.
- Pro: Savings over time. The EPA estimates $180 annual cost savings in homes using programmable or smart thermostats.
Keep in mind that with electronic thermostats, “programmable” really only has to do with time of day. For instance, you’d set your unit to run less frequently while you’re at work during the day. Higher-end electronic models allow you to set more than one program, but to be honest, it’s a bit of pain so most homeowners don’t bother. That translates to a cost savings of exactly zero.
The more advanced smart thermostats actually learn your behavior and adjust themselves, maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs. It’s estimated it’ll take just two years for a smart thermostat to pay for itself. But if you already have a programmable one and you use it correctly and consistently, you likely won’t realize much additional cost savings with the smart version.
There is one more caveat: If you’re a homebody—say you work from home or you’re a retired Netflix junkie—it’ll take longer to make up your investment because your HVAC will be engaged all day anyway.
- Con: Installation headaches. Smart thermostats can be tricky to install. You’ll have to read the manual carefully (yes, really) or risk having to disassemble the thing and start all over again. You’ll find lots of how-to videos on YouTube… but you still may end up paying someone to help.
- Pro: Set it and forget it. With a smart thermostat, you really don’t have to think about your thermostat. Ever. Except when it reminds you of a maintenance need.
- Pro: They’re just cool. If you’re an early adopter and/or you’re a bit of a technology nerd, a smart thermostat will speak your language.
Which smart thermostat is best?
Once you’ve decided you want a smart thermostat, your next big decision is which one to get. That’s a complex question that likely starts with budget but goes on to compatibility—with your HVAC unit and with other smart home features you may be using. We’d be happy to talk about your options. Give us a call today!