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programmable thermostatsProgrammable thermostats automate temperature control and indoor comfort. Short of keeping one hand on a manual thermostat at all times and inputting temperature changes 24/7, you can’t do a better job of controlling your indoor environment and energy expenses than a programmable thermostat. Your air conditioner and furnace also benefit from the reduction of on/off cycling due to excessive manual adjustments that impose excess wear and tear on components.

The energy-saving and comfort-enhancing theory behind programmable thermostats is simple. Your house doesn’t need to be the same temperature all the time. Optimal indoor temperature requirements are tied to outdoor temperatures, the number of occupants inside the home at any given time, and the activity level in the house.

Prior to the introduction of the programmable thermostat, that meant making repetitive adjustments to the manual thermostat every time any of those variables changed. It wasn’t exactly convenient: Set the manual thermostat to a high temperature setting so the air conditioner won’t run while you’re at work and come home to an overheated, humid house. Crank the setting down low and run the A/C continuously to flush the premises with chilled air and make it livable, then bump the thermostat up again later before you go to bed. On weekends, just run the system non-stop to cover all possibilities.

It’s the recipe for extreme temperature swings, excessive energy consumption and high operating costs, plus a lot of time spent walking back and forth to the manual thermostat.

Efficiency Expectations

The Department of Energy  (DOE) estimates that the proper use of a programmable thermostat can cut heating and cooling energy expenses by up to 15 percent. Nationwide, heating and cooling represents slightly less than half of the average household’s total energy expenditures. Due to our dependence on air conditioning here in Florida, that number is well over the 50 percent mark in summer. That means potential savings from more efficient operation of your existing system are substantial. It’s estimated that the energy savings in the first year alone will compensate for the purchase price of a basic programmable thermostat.

Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

Most programmable models provide from four to six daily on/off settings to cover even the most varied indoor climate preferences. Units are available with a choice of daily operation schedules that fit your lifestyle. Then, just input the specific temperature settings you want and the exact time you want them and the thermostat executes the selected program for you automatically.

  • 5+2 models give you one schedule for Monday through Friday and another schedule for weekends. This tends to be the most practical model for those with predictable workday and weekend schedules, as well as fewer occupants in the home.
  • 5+1+1 models stick with the single Monday through Friday schedule but offer separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Because those two weekend days often impose different activity levels in the house, you have greater temperature flexibility.
  • 7-day models give you the greatest temperature adaptability, allowing you to input different temperatures for each day of the week. It’s great for large families with many occupants coming or going or those who work irregular hours and/or days.

Installation Caveats

Take a look at the wires leading to your existing manual thermostat. If there are only two, the DIY process to install a simple programmable thermostat is a matter of following easy manufacturer’s instructions. However, a two-wire installation means the furnace or A/C doesn’t supply power to the thermostat, so you’ll need to select a battery-powered programmable model only. If you opt to purchase a thermostat with additional features that require external power, you’ll have to let a qualified HVAC contractor handle the install and run extra wires to accommodate the model.

Manual thermostats contain a small amount of mercury — a toxic substance that shouldn’t be in landfills or garbage dumps. Contact your local municipal recycling or hazardous materials department for instructions on how to properly dispose of your old thermostat.

Operational Characteristics

Once your new thermostat is up and running, you can “set it and forget it,” subject to certain special circumstances. You’ll get optimum service from programmable thermostats by remembering these basic operational tips:

  • Stick with the manufacturer-recommended durations as much as possible for lengthy time spans, like overnight or during the day when nobody’s at home. Your A/C or furnace runs most efficiently when it’s set to maintain a consistent temperature for at least 8 hours at a time.
  • During winter, the DOE recommends programming the temperature to 68 degrees when you’re home and awake.  During sleeping hours or when you’re out, program to lower the temperature by 10 to 14 degrees.
  • In summer, program the air conditioner to maintain a 78-degree environment during occupied daylight hours. Set a temperature 10 degrees higher (or set the A/C to shut off completely) if you’re out of the house during the day. Program your preferred evening temperature for 20 or 30 minutes before the time you usually arrive back home so the system will cool the house in time for your arrival.
  • If you need to deviate from the programmed schedule to temporarily heat or cool the home, don’t cancel programs. Simply use the “override” function available on programmable thermostats. This one-touch option enables you to temporarily raise or lower the setting manually to fit your immediate needs. The override function self-cancels at the beginning of the next regularly-scheduled program. Keep in mind, however, that frequently overriding programmed temperatures defeats the purpose of programmable thermostats and negates both energy conservation and cost savings.
  • Leaving town for a vacation? Programmable thermostats offer a “vacation hold” setting while you’re gone to maintain the home environment at a consistent temperature. This saves energy while preventing damage to plants, sensitive electronics, plumbing and possessions. Choose a temperature warmer in summer or colder in winter than would normally be comfortable when the home is occupied.

Optional Perks

Programmable thermostats range from the most basic, no-frills models to full-featured systems that integrate with home automation and other technologies. Basic features include:

  • Backlit digital LCD display
  • On-screen touch programming
  • Voice programming
  • Maintenance alerts to remind you to change the system air filter or schedule annual professional maintenance
  • Programmable “fan only” mode also

Advanced technology takes programmable thermostats to higher levels of functionality with options like the following.

  • Cloud connectivity – A WiFi-enabled programmable thermostat incorporates its own server and IP address. Connected to your home network, the thermostat is accessible from any Internet connection in the world via a smartphone, computer or tablet. On a password-protected browser format, you can monitor indoor temperatures, check system status and input programming changes. Some models also integrate with other home automation devices such as smoke alarms and flood alarms.
  • Adaptive recovery – A microprocessor in the thermostat continuously evaluates the results of cooling and heating performance, enabling the thermostat to accurately determine when to start the A/C or furnace to reach the desired setting at the precise programmed time. This saves money by minimizing unnecessary pre-cooling or pre-heating time and also allows the thermostat to automatically compensate for seasonal outdoor temperature changes.
  • Intelligent thermostats – These units incorporate sensors that monitor household activity and “learn” when periods of greatest occupancy and activity occur, allowing the thermostat to anticipate needed temperature changes in advance.

The Zoning Alternative

While a programmable thermostat saves energy and enhances comfort, a zoning system goes even further to customize temperatures to the preferences of occupants or the characteristics of certain parts of the home. For example, naturally rising heat often makes upstairs rooms warmer while some living spaces downstairs may be chilly. Utilizing motorized in-duct dampers operated by a central controller, a zoning system diverts conditioned airflow to suit individual rooms or zones within the home. Integrating a zoning system to individualize heating or cooling to specific areas, as well as dedicated programmable thermostats in each zone to automate the temperature settings, offers the ultimate combination for temperature flexibility and efficiency.

For more information on the benefits of programmable thermostats, check out Aqua Plumbing & Air’s cooling and heating solutions, or call (941) 306-3715.

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