Although people often turn to unplugging devices to lower their electric bill, one of the biggest consumers of electricity in a home is heating and cooling. Unfortunately, for many people, turning off the heat or the air conditioning is not an option. However, there is an option for maintaining a comfortable house and a lower electric bill, the programmable thermostat.
For many years, the programmable thermostat has been a simple device that is hard to use. Homeowners that use the programmable thermostats successfully can save energy by turning down the heat overnight or when they are not home. Unfortunately, using programmable thermostats has been difficult for many homeowners. Homeowners often must fiddle with two or three buttons to set the times for temperatures to be adjusted in the house. For this reason, among others, the U.S. government has been slow to call any programmable thermostat Energy Star certified. In 2009, the EPA removed all programmable thermostats from the Energy Star label. None were meeting the 20% savings threshold that EPA established as the baseline.
However, the NEST programmable thermostat was given an Energy Star label in early 2017. This thermostat, which is connected to the internet, can be controlled via smartphone. A benefit of this internet-enabled system is that it “learns” your patterns. If the person who is always cold spends most of her time the office with the heat on high, NEST will learn that the office needs to be warmer. Once NEST knows the typical patterns of the house, it makes adjustments to heating and cooling to lower energy costs. For example, if one room is rarely used, NEST might not devote much time to heating or cooling that room.
Does it work? A NEST internal study found that home heating costs could be reduced by 10-12% and cooling costs by 15% in comparison with leaving the thermostat at a constant temperature. In terms of cost, that comes to an average savings of $131 to $145 per year. Every little bit helps. Pairing an Energy Star thermostat with Energy Star appliances like washers and dryers can dramatically reduce power consumption. It sure does a lot more than unplugging a computer in standby mode.
Homeowners that would like to upgrade to a NEST thermostat should expect to pay at least $200. The technology is new and still under development. However, with the expected savings rate, the cost of the NEST would be paid off within two years. While there are still some concerns about security with internet-connected devices, the internet capability also allows homeowners to receive software updates. These updates are likely to keep increasing the efficiency of the programmable thermostat, which leads to lower energy bills.