I am often asked questions concerning thermostats; and with the dizzying array of thermostats available today it’s no wonder.
The Basics: First we need to understand exactly what a thermostat is and does. A thermostat IS a user interface; like a mouse for your computer. What a thermostat DOES is translate your input into commands for your heating, cooling and ventilating equipment. Of course it can’t be just that simple!
Digital or Analog?: Old school thermostats were all analog; that is they used a bi-metal element, mercury bulbs and/or snap action components to turn on or off your equipment. Some were round with round dials, some were rectangular with sliders; but underneath they all operated in similar fashion. This type of thermostat enjoyed a long and relatively uneventful life span and, in fact, is still being manufactured in limited quantities by some manufacturers. They were very simple controllers, robustly built but limited in any application other than on and off (namely programming!).
Digital technology is tailor made for a broad application spectrum; but the idea of the programmable residential thermostat is really what drove the technology change. First generation digital thermostats were very expensive, hard for the average person to program and, many times, suffered from problems related to the installation/programming as a result. It was common to see expensive, digital, programmable thermostats in homes on ‘permanent hold’. They were operating like conventional stats because the homeowner was either unwilling or unable to program them properly and what they ended up with was a very expensive on or off thermostat! This totally defeated the purpose of the new technology and wasted both time and money.
Fast forward to present day and we are many generations deep into digital thermostats, but that doesn’t mean manufacturers have been sitting on their laurels! Current generation digital thermostats offer a wide variety of user functions, cover a wide range of applications and are even offering non-traditional functions like web-based controls and image storage! Your thermostat can now be not only a thermostat but a remote access point for your home and even display a family photo slide show while it is just hanging on the wall!
We will cover many of these functions and options in the following articles. In the next segment we cover programmable and non-programmable thermostats.
Robert Lee is Service Manger for Efficient Air Conditioning. A locally owned Air Conditioning company who has served the Texas Hill Country for 34 years!