There are a bunch of bells and whistles you can get on a thermostat, but first you need to decide on the basics: programmable or non-programmable. Here is a list of the differences and why you might choose one over the other.
A non-programmable thermostat is the least expensive type of thermostat and good for people who are usually home all day. It can’t be set to do anything automatically so if you want the heat to come on, you push the button. If you want it colder, you push another button. They’re simple to operate and get the job done just fine. That’s all there is to a non-programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat gets a little more complicated. As the name implies, it allows you to set the time you want your HVAC unit to have the house warm or cold. This is great for people who are gone all day, like to school or work. You program the thermostat to turn the system down while you’re gone to save money and turn back up again just before you get home so the house is comfortable when you walk in the door. You can also program it to automatically scale back a bit when you and your family go to bed, and turn back up again just in time for you to wake up.
Here are some of the options you can choose from.
The number of daily settings. Most of them are either 5-2 or 5-1-1 thermostats, meaning 5 days are programmed the same and 2 days are programmed the same (for the weekend which is usually different for most folks than their weekday schedule) or 5 days are the same, one day is different and another day is different. 7-day programmable thermostats that can be set differently for every day of the week are also available. Then there are thermostats that sort of program themselves. They “learn” as you adjust them up and down.
Adaptive recovery. THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you have a heat pump, it has some form of back-up heat, usually electric strip heat which is very expensive heat. On your thermostat it’s probably called auxiliary heat or emergency heat. Without adaptive recovery, when you turn the heat up your system thinks you want the house to get warm as fast as possible, regardless of the cost, so it turns both your heat pump AND the strip heater on. This causes a double whammy to your power bill. Want proof? Go watch your electric meter when they’re both on.
Adaptive Recovery brings the temperature up gradually without turning the strip heaters on. If you’re using a programmable thermostat, it will start to warm the house up earlier so it’s at the right temperature when it’s supposed to be. Usually you’re either gone or asleep when the heating system is doing its job anyway so speed isn’t the most important feature. This adaptive recovery function is so important that the building code now requires a thermostat that can lock out the strip heat depending on the temperature outside.
If you have a non-programmable thermostat and want to save money, don’t crank your thermostat up so much that the little “auxiliary heat” light comes on. If you turn it up only a couple degrees at a time, this won’t happen.
Dual fuel. If you have a dual fuel system that uses a gas furnace as the backup heat source for your heat pump, a thermostat with this feature will work with the outdoor sensor and automatically switch to gas heat when it’s too cold outside for your heat pump to work efficiently anymore. One less thing to worry about and another energy saving feature (i.e. money saving feature) of a programmable thermostat.
Control whole-house humidification, dehumidification and ventilation. If you had any of these units connected to your heating and air conditioning unit, there are programmable thermostats that can control their settings. Now, it’s not going to control a free-standing dehumidifier that sits downstairs in the back corner of your basement and only gets thought about when someone remembers to check the bucket. The systems that can be controlled by a programmable thermostat have to have been installed by a professional HVAC contractor, like us, and connected to the thermostat. Once that’s done, you can control them all from one location.
Accessed over the internet.This type of programmable thermostat can be controlled by anything with an internet connection, like a work computer, a smart phone, or when you’re using your tablet at home all comfortable in your recliner and don’t feel like getting up to turn up the heat. They use your wireless router and internet connection to give you access whenever you’re connected. This is very handy if you get called out of town unexpectedly, the kids get home early, or if you have an office you don’t get to on a regular basis. You can also set alerts. Your thermostat can send you an email message when something goes out of whack, like the humidity level. You can even program it to start the dishwasher or fold a load of laundry! Not really. But wouldn’t that be cool?!?
Display the outdoor temperature and humidity. If you have an outdoor wireless sensor, you can get a thermostat that will display these readings indoors – so you know what kind of a hair day it’s going to be before you even step outside (ok, so maybe that’s not important to everyone…)
Different colors and shapes. You can get lots of color on the display, a little color on the display, round ones, rectangle ones, paintable back plates, etc. This probably shouldn’t be your primary driver in choosing a thermostat, but you do have options.
Every day they add more features to thermostats. To get the latest and greatest information, just give us a call or drop us a line. We’d be happy to talk with you about what’s currently controlling your system and what it doesn’t have that you’d like a new one to do.