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Concerning Thermostats: To Program or Not To Program?

In Segment One we learned the difference between older analog thermostats and newer digital thermostats. We touched on WHY digital technology has found its way into thermostats; primarily to facilitate programmable features.

But, do you really need a programmable thermostat? The answer isn’t as easy as you would think; which is why I get asked this question so often.

Features and benefits of programmable and non-programmable thermostats:

Non-Programmable: Not many features outside of the normal duties of a thermostat, which is to control your equipment. However, some things are worth mentioning:

  • Date and Time: Most digital thermostats (both programmable and non-programmable) generally have the day and time displayed on the LCD. Some even have the actual date.
  • Easy to Read Display: The LCD of a digital thermostat is backlit with a high contrast color, usually green or blue. This makes reading the display much easier — even in daylight. Many can be programmed so the backlight stays on all the time, so it serves double duty as a night light.
  • Easy Changes: Most use either soft keys, or the less costly sliders, to manipulate the settings. This makes changing modes, temperatures and other settings relatively easy with instant feedback on the LCD.

Programmable: Feature and benefit rich! In addition to the above features, programmable thermostats also:

  • Allow the homeowner to set schedules
  • Allow for holiday and away from home schedules
  • Also allow for easy override of programmed schedules

When considering the features of a new thermostat, remember: What may translate into a benefit for one person may not be a benefit for another person. What are the benefits of a programmable schedule? The main benefit is decreased energy usage while still maintaining comfort. How? By using the programmable schedule, for example:

  • Leave for work at 7pm, set temperature for 80° (cooling mode)
  • Return home at 6pm, set temperature for 74° (cooling mode)
  • Go to bed at 10pm, set temperature for 76° (cooling mode)
  • Wake up at 5pm, set temperature for 74° (cooling mode)

As you can see from the above example, during those times we are home, the temperature is 74.° When we leave for work, it is 80.° While we sleep, it is 76.° By adjusting the set points higher (called setback) when we are not home, the equipment does not run as much — thereby saving energy, wear and tear on the equipment and, ultimately, money. And anytime we are home, the temperature is just what we want it to be.

So, can you benefit from a programmable thermostat or not? The answer is almost always yes, with one big exception. If the home is occupied all day long, there may be no great benefit in a programmable thermostat. Talk to an HVAC professional who can help you make the correct decision for your lifestyle.

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