Controlling your comfort zones
By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Oct. 25, 2012
Not awfully long ago, if someone said the word “thermostat,” your mind's eye would envision a round device on a wall with a small moveable dial in the center. Such devices still exist. They were and are still functionally reliable. But chances are you might still see them only in a private home where someone never found the motivation to seek out a replacement. It worked, so they left it alone.
With energy costs challenging household budgets, and the unbridled advances of technology, things have gotten very different. Chances are that if you are living in a home with one of those now-antiquated devices, in only a year you might break even on the cost of replacing it with something more appropriate. And even if you at some point had moved on from the round, mercury-triggered thermostat, whatever unit controls your indoor environment might not be suitable for your home now, nor the way your family functions today.
What is appropriate? Simply stated, it is whatever adjusts to the use of your home and your family's needs. There are many variables to consider.
How large your home is, the number and size of the rooms, the number of levels you live in are all general configuration concerns. If a qualified HVAC company has installed your heating and cooling system, it is most likely configured with all these considerations in mind. Your home might also have multiple zones defined to the system, so energy is not consumed by conditioning unoccupied areas. Each zone would be thermostatically controlled.
What is your family size and composition, when are they in the home, and where are they in the home? Think about how your family has changed. If you and your spouse are "empty nesters," some parts of your home may get infrequent use. Controlling the waste of energy in those areas might be possible simply by changing the thermostat.
Conversely, separate or activity-specific rooms that are not included in your central heating system may need a separate plan. Such rooms are sometimes served by space heaters or isolated baseboard heaters, which are often electric. Think about the days and times these are in use, and swap out manual controls for something that meets these needs.
You need to understand your heating and cooling system's attributes when looking for a thermostat to replace the current one. Determine what type of heat you have. Is yours an oil-fired furnace or boiler, or natural gas? Do you have a single- or multi-stage unit? Perhaps your system employs a heat pump. Does one system heat the home as well as cool it? Some information is available right on the equipment, and you may have some documentation that will help. You may have to contact your heating system maintenance company to find out what you need to know.
Some thermostats will only control heating, while others can regulate the cooling system as well. Electric heat generally needs a separate thermostat, but these also offer programming functionality.
The options are almost overwhelming, ranging from the very simple to the sublime. The first level of separation is that of programmable units and non-programmable ones. The latter is self-explanatory.
Programmable units are further divided by the number of days that can be controlled separately. A one-week programmable unit (approximate cost $20 - $25) will give you the same temperature settings every day of the week. At the other end of the option scale, a seven-day programmable unit allows you to set temperature changes for different time periods on each day of the week. And 5-2-day and 5-1-1-day units allow separate weekend and weekday temperature changes.
It should not surprise you to learn that high-end thermostats can also be accessed via computers and smart phones. For about $150, a Wi-Fi-capable unit, connected to the system via wires, is available to you remotely, almost wherever you are. High-end units also include features such as automatic changes from heating to cooling, adaptation for vacation time, warnings when the system filter needs changing and more. These units also tend to be compatible with heating and cooling systems as well as heat pumps. Some, but not all, are compatible with electric baseboard.
The good news is that you should not have to call a service man to install one of these units, even if its functionality is complex. Manufacturers such as Honeywell maintain that most of their units can be installed in 15 minutes.