Seems like everything is moving to wireless and thermostats are no stranger. The smart version of these devices aren’t necessarily new to the market as they have been around for more than a decade but there are homes still using the basic models; some aren’t even programmable. When we first moved into our home, we were in the same boat. The home was a foreclosure and the bank had replaced the entire heating/cooling system with what I'd like to think, the cheapest option for them. Things have since changed and I couldn’t imagine life without our wireless thermostats. Maybe you have been considering one but not still not sure. Here is a quick guide with my thoughts.
*I wont assume that everyone has Wi-Fi as I know that isn't the case, so... If you don't have a home Wi-Fi network then you won't be able to enjoy the benefits of wireless functionality and most of these points won't apply to you. In this scenario, it would still be wise to look into a programmable thermostat.
So what is all the buzz about?
Added Convenience - I don’t like to think of a lazier tomorrow but honestly, when you are on a different floor in your home, just relaxing, laying down for bed, you are tired or sick or anything else that you aren’t in the mood to move around for, it’s nice to pull out your phone and adjust settings from anywhere in the home. It’s also nice to be able to adjust your thermostat on the fly for days. Maybe you have your program set but there are a couple one off days that are unseasonal, such as this spring we have had a few days with highs in the 70s (40s in the morning) while the rest hover around a high in the 50s. I’m not going to change my scheduled program to reflect those one off days but I can leave the home on those days with the furnace on and then turn the system off from my phone at work, or anywhere for that matter, once it gets warm enough.
Programmable - This isn’t to say its any better than a standard programmable thermostat but it’s a feature that makes life easier. While wireless is very convenient, by itself it really isn’t a strong selling point if you need to constantly adjust the temperature to reflect the time of day and season. Nor is wireless alone an energy saver. Programming your thermostats truly allows you to take advantage of significant energy savings compared to non-programmable versions (I should put a disclaimer that all thermostats will have the same energy saving potential but a programmable one lets you dial in the savings easier). You can set the temperature to be different based around your lifestyle. If you work 8-5 maybe your schedule looks like this during the winter: While sleeping its set to 64F, 5:30am the program starts the furnace on its way to 68F, 6:30 you wake up and the temp is where you want it rather than it warming up as you’re getting ready, you leave at 7:30 for work and the program drops the temperature back down to 64F since no one will be home, the furnace kicks back on around 4:30 to warm up the house to 68-70F again and your home is ready when you arrive, then when you go to bed the temp drops to 64F and the cycle repeats. There are options available that allow you to program a 5-2 schedule (so the work week and weekends can be different) and you can program each month to account for the seasons (AC vs Furnace). This allows you to program it one time and let it do its thing from that point on. You can adjust accordingly to any abnormal changes but otherwise your system is on cruise control and you can relax.
Energy Savings - Building off the "programmable" portion, there are studies out there that suggest each degree you drop correlates to about a 1% energy savings so it can quickly add up. In the scenario above and under the assumption you are comfortable with a 68-70F winter setting, a non-programmable thermostat would be running 68-70 all day long while you are away unless you remember to turn it down before you leave each time. And that’s wasted energy if you don’t remember; meaning money out of your pocket. The potential flip side might be that the added convenience of changing the temperature at your leisure could actually cost you more. Simply put, before you had to walk to the thermostat which might discourage you from adjusting up/down a degree or two, now you can do it at the touch of a button so you the convenience may make you more likely to adjust the temperature if you’re a little chilly or toasty. So with convenience comes the potential disadvantage of abusing it more than you would if you had to get up and change it.
Live Alerts - While the other aspects of this writing are truly just a convenience factor and none really alter the functionality (A car with a manual transmission or an automatic transmission will both get you to your destination, one just requires more effort) but the function that really is only available with wireless is the ability to give you real time diagnostics or troubleshooting. For instance, my furnace had a pressure sensor go out while I was on vacation one winter and had it not been for my phone alerting me to the temperature threshold being met, I would have come home 5 days later to a potentially bad situation. Not to say it definitely would have gotten low enough to freeze my pipes but the possibility was very real. 5 days of ~15F temperatures with no heat could have been enough but luckily I didn’t have to test those waters and was able to get my uncle to check it out while I was away. Problem was resolved, furnace works again, and all is well. For this reason alone, this might be my favorite advantage of wireless over standard; Peace of mind.
Room Sensor Integration - Ever get those rooms that are sometimes cooler or warmer than others? Maybe an entire floor? Well these sensors wont completely remedy that problem as its more than likely a duct leak, break in your thermal envelope or an inappropriately sized/maintained unit. What they will do, however, is collect individual temperatures at each sensor and keep the system running until each sensor meets the desired temperature set at the thermostat. So now that cold room won’t be so cold anymore but since the system is running extra to allows this, rooms that were warm before may be hot. There are electronic dampers out there but I have yet to find a whole home automation system that integrates with the dampers in your duct work to adjust the temperature in each room so you minimize the chance of heating/cooling a room even more to make up for different rooms that aren’t getting enough conditioned air.
My only complaint since installing my wireless thermostat is that the convenience factor is only as good as your home Wi-Fi. Maybe a product of my network provider but my Wi-Fi goes in and out from time to time which then signals an error on my phone that my thermostat has lost connection. This still shouldn’t deter you, it’s a quick fix to reset your modem/router to regain wireless functionality and the thermostat will continue to run on its normally scheduled program. No need to worry about your thermostat not working if you lose your Wi-Fi connection.
So your biggest question at this point, "is a wireless thermostat really going to save me money like they claim?" I suppose there should be fine print somewhere that isn't so fine, saying "results vary depending on personal use/lifestyle/climate zone/etc". If you are already manually changing the thermostat and have a solid routine in place to make sure it changes then you shouldn’t expect a device that would automate the same process to save you any money. If you didn’t know to adjust your temperature when you are away but you are capable of creating a routine to manually adjust it then you could easily save the cost of a new thermostat and get the same savings.
BUT, if you are anything like the majority of people who value their time, I would think a wireless thermostat is just for you.
- Never worry about forgetting to set the thermostat accordingly before you leave
- Never worry if you didn’t adjust the temperature when you left on vacation
- Never get up when you're binge watching your favorite shows or movies
- Never be a prisoner of your bed, afraid to to get up in the morning because its cold outside of the covers
- ALWAYS have peace of mind knowing your system is running as intended or when an issue arises
- ALWAYS be in control
Thermostats aren't difficult to install if you are even just the slightest bit handy and can read a schematic to match wires. No worries if not, any HVAC tech would be happy to fix you up. The rest of your world is using smart and/or wireless technology, why isn't your thermostat?