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Choosing the Right Smart Thermostat
What You Need to Know
A thermostat is a critical point in any home’s heating and cooling system. It can either regulate temperature directly or be the control center for your heating and cooling system. When considering your options for thermostats, it is important to ask yourself which option fits your lifestyle.
How Does a Thermostat Work?
Before purchasing a thermostat, make sure you know what type of thermostat you are looking for. In general, thermostats fall into two categories: Mechanical and digital thermostats. Mechanical thermostats can operate in a variety of ways:
- Bimetallic strips
- Gas-filled bellows
Bimetallic strips act as a bridge for the circuit allowing the thermostat to operate. When operating, the heat turns on and slowly heats up the strip. Eventually, when reaching a specific heat, the strip expands and breaks the current, shutting the heat off and cooling the room back down. These thermostats can usually only keep a room within a range temperature, instead of an exact degree.
Gas-filled bellows are a more modern and efficient form of mechanical thermostat. That operates by way of a microswitch placed on either side of two discs. In the center of the disc is a gas filled reservoir. When the room heats, the gas expands and flips the switch, indicating the heat should be shut off, and the room can cool down.
Wax thermostats regulate the flow of coolant through a radiator. Wax surrounds a plunger in the center of the system, when the wax heats up, it expands. This force moves the plunger upward, which releases the radiator’s water storage, thus cooling down the unit. The radiator continually heats up, but is cooled regularly to keep temperature in a room within a set range.
Digital thermostats directly connect to your heating and cooling system and function as a control panel. This allows digital thermostats to keep temperatures exact and fluctuate temperature much quicker. Digital thermostats are usually recommended for modern homes, as they are relatively inexpensive compared to mechanical options, but operate much more efficiently.
Modern Thermostat Options
Smart thermostats are increasing in popularity, as they become cheaper and more convenient. Many of the ease-of-life features people are looking for, simply cannot be found with a traditional thermostat. Luckily, reasonably priced smart thermostat options are more available than ever.
What Thermostat Works with Alexa?
To put the answer simply, most smart thermostat options have the ability to pair with a Google Home, Alexa, or other smart home devices. However, some smart thermostats are specifically designed to work in conjunction with these devices, and will operate more smoothly than other smart thermostat options. Ecobee is one of the top smart thermostat manufacturers in the United States, and has Alexa compatibility built into most of their products. Ecobee smart thermostats allow you to choose which smart home devices to integrate with, so you can vary how much control you have over your heating and cooling system. They can be operated using your phone, Alexa, or Google Home. They can stream music, be equipped with a remote sensor, and can even be set to adapt to your temperature routine, allowing the device to change the temperature throughout the year to fit your preferences.
Benefits of a Smart Thermostat
- Complete Control of Temperature
- Room Specific Control
- Energy Bill Savings
Unlike most thermostat options, which only allow limited control of your heating and cooling system. Smart thermostat options, such as Ecobee allow complete control of your homes temperature anytime, and anywhere. Unlike traditional thermostats that can only alter the temperature of the entire house. Smart thermostats often come with smart sensors which allow you to keep specific rooms in your house at different temperatures. This level of control is incredibly helpful if you live with others. Along with keeping you comfortable, smart thermostats can also keep your wallet happy. People who use Ecobee and similar smart thermostats, cut down on wasted energy costs, cutting their energy bills by 23%. You can preheat your home before you arrive, or set your thermostat to save energy before leaving for vacation, all from your mobile device. Smart thermostats pay for themselves in energy savings.
Will my Thermostat Work Without Batteries?
Technically, yes, almost all thermostats can function without batteries, regardless of their type. Mechanical thermostats rely on slower systems to avoid the use of batteries, and digital thermostats are usually hardwired to the home. However, it is highly recommended that you do not operate digital thermostats without batteries. The reason digital thermostats have batteries, even if they are hard wired is in the case of a power outage. Digital thermostats often have to be programmed, especially smart thermostats. Once programmed, the homeowner can enjoy a level of efficiency and convenience that you cannot get with a mechanical thermostat. However, when the power goes out, the programing of any digital thermostat is wiped clean, and must be reprogramed once power is restored. If your home is prone to power outages, even minor ones, this can be incredibly frustrating. In order to reap the benefits of a smart thermostat, it is recommended that you keep batteries in it, so you can continue to have a hands free experience. Needing to manually alter your thermostat constantly, defeats the purpose of owning a smart thermostat.
No matter what thermostat you choose, you will often run into the need for repairs. There are many reasons why your heating and cooling system may not be working properly. Many of those problems can be attributed to the thermostat. While some major issues require a professional, there are many smaller issues that you can resolve yourself.
Thermostat Not Working?
If your heating and cooling system is no longer responding to your thermostat, there are many things you can try to fix the problem. Most thermostat issues are not major problems, which is why they usually fall into four major problem categories:
- Dirt build up
- Loose components
- Outdated/simply too old
The first thing to check for is connection problems. Make sure that your thermostat is properly connected to your heating and cooling system. Slowly raise the temperature on your thermostat, does your furnace make a sound? If not, there is most likely a connection issue. If you are not comfortable with checking the wires of your thermostat, call RSP! Our NATE certified technicians are happy to help.
Dirt Build Up
The next thing to check is dirt build up. Clean your thermostat of any webs, debris, or dust, as these can interrupt your thermostat’s signals, preventing it from functioning. Use a can of compressed air, or a small, soft cleaning brush. Do not get any component of your thermostat wet, as this will damage it beyond repair. Use normal electronic cleaning procedures, to eliminate dust, without damaging the electronic components.
Now it is time to check for loose components within your thermostat. Oftentimes, wires can come loose, detach, or become corroded. Screws can also loosen and cause disconnections. Make sure to remove the batteries and turn off the power via your breaker box before removing the cover of your thermostat. Fix loose wires, tighten screws, and replace corroded components if necessary, then replace the cover before turning the power back on.
Out with the Old
If all else fails it is most likely a case that your thermostat has simply outlived its useful life. Outdated and old thermostats can actually cost you more money than a replacement. Constant repairs and energy waste, will increase your energy cost, and cost you lots of time. Most smart thermostat options, such as Ecobee, and some digital thermostats are designed to easily connect with existing heating and cooling systems. They can be purchased once, connected, and programmed to fit your system rather quickly. This is recommended over attempting to repair an overly outdated model, as thermostats will eventually stop being manufactured, and parts for old models will stop being readily available. More modern thermostat parts are being produced in large amounts, and will actually cost less than harder to find parts.
Smart Thermostat Models
The Emerson Programmable Digital Thermostat
- Large Bright Screen
- 7 Day Programming
- Dual Fuel Control, no outdoor sensor required
- Auto Changeover
- Keypad Lockout
- 5 Year Warranty when installed by a HVAC professional
The Trane 824 Smart Thermostat
- Large Colored Touch Screen
- 7 Day Programming, 4 Time Periods a Day
- Dual Fuel Control
- Wireless Sensors can be added
- Nexia App, can control from smart phone or tablet
- Check Weather & Humidity Percentages
- Monthly Graphs that shoe Runtime & Call Counts
- 10 Year Parts Warranty
Ecobee Smart Thermostat
- Large Colored Touch Screen
- 7 Day Programming, 4 Time Periods a Day
- HomeIQ – Get Monthly Reports on System and Operation
- Thermostat can be Controlled by App
- Can Send Alerts and Reminders Through App
- Smart Recovery, Learns Your Heating & Cooling Patterns
- Can be set up with Sensors for Hot and Cold Spots in Home
Frequently Asked Thermostat Questions
Can a thermostat cause my air conditioner to not work?
In some cases, yes, but connection problems, or signal communication issues within the thermostat can prevent a heating and cooling system from functioning properly.
Where is the thermostat located?
For homes, most thermostats are placed on an interior wall away from direct sunlight, the kitchen, vents, doors, adn windows. It is usually placed at eye level in a hallway or general purpose room.