Nearly all home improvement experts and green living authorities agree that one of the most effective tools for controlling the energy use in one's home is a programmable thermostat. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, choosing the right thermostat to suit their needs can be a difficult process, as most home improvement stores have hundreds of different types and styles to choose from.
In this thermostat buyer's guide, we'll take a closer look at the types of thermostats available and what sets each of them apart from the others.
Programmable thermostats-A programmable thermostat is any thermostat that can be set to come on or shut off automatically at certain times during the day or night or whenever the inside temperature reaches a specific degree. For instance, if you leave for work at 8:00 a.m. and return at 6:00 p.m., you can program your thermostat to keep the air conditioning from running during those hours to help conserve energy. You can also program the thermostat to turn the air conditioning on at 5:30 so your house will be nice and cool by the time you get home from work. Or you can set it to keep your house at 74 degrees all the time, regardless of whether you're home.
Programmable thermostats are available in a wide range of brands and models, some more advanced than others. Of course, the more options available on a programmable thermostat, the higher the price tag will normally be, but it all depends on how flexible you need your heating and cooling to be.
The basic programmable thermostat comes with 7-day temperature control. This means that the thermostat can be set according to your weekly schedule, which, in most cases, stays the same. The thermostat is connected to your central air/furnace via low-voltage wiring and is usually installed on a main level floor away from windows and doors. Specific types of programmable thermostats include these:
- Heat programmable thermostat-This type of programmable thermostat is designed to control only baseboard, cable or ceiling heat.
- Non-programmable thermostat-A non-programmable thermostat is still a programmable thermostat with the exception that it cannot be set to come on or turn off at specific times. Its function is to maintain the temperature of a home according to a set degree.
- Programmable heat pump thermostat-This thermostat is for use with a heat pump only.
- Line-voltage programmable thermostat-A line-voltage programmable thermostat is one that controls the line voltage (120 or 240 volts) powering an electric heater like a baseboard electric heater.
Digital thermostats-Digital thermostats feature no movable parts like the older, bimetallic models. These newer thermostats instead use thermistors or a resistance temperature detector to measure the temperature. The most common types of digital thermostats include the following:
- Digital programmable thermostat-Most modern digital thermostats are also programmable with capabilities enabling 7-day temperature control. More advanced units are capable of individual zone control if the home's heating and cooling system is designed in that manner.
- Digital room thermostat-A digital room thermostat is designed to control the temperature only in the room where it is installed. In most cases, this is for controlling baseboard electric heat or some other independent source of heat.
- Line-voltage digital thermostat-This is the same thing as a line-voltage programmable thermostat. It features a digital LCD screen for easy use.
- Digital heat pump thermostat-This is simply a digital version of the programmable heat pump thermostat.
Room thermostats-Room thermostats are installed in the room where they control only the temperature of that specific area. For instance, an electric baseboard heater in the bedroom is controlled by the room thermostat that is installed in that room. This type of thermostat is installed on one of the walls; they can be programmable or non-programmable; and depending on the model, some even come with wireless control capabilities.
Wireless thermostats-Wireless thermostats allow you to control the temperature of your home manually from anywhere in the house. Rather than being installed in a fixed place on the wall, a wireless thermostat is portable, so you can take it in the living room when you're watching television and then place it on your nightstand when it's time to go to bed. Most models come with 7-day temperature control settings and have the ability to control up to four separate room thermostats. Transmission range varies between models, so always be sure you purchase one capable of spanning your home for the best results.
Electric thermostats-An electric thermostat is one that is connected to an electrical circuit, like an in-line thermostat or one that uses a 24-volt transformer. In fact, it can be safe to say that virtually all modern thermostats are electric, as they all use a 24-, 120- or 240-volt circuit as a means of controlling the operation of a furnace, heat pump, baseboard heater or central air conditioner.
Remote thermostats-Remote thermostats, or remote bulb thermostats, are different from wireless thermostats, although their names make it easy to confuse the two. A remote bulb thermostat is designed for use with a cold storage unit, like a freezer or walk-in refrigerator. They can also be used to regulate the temperature of liquid or air inside boilers, tanks, pipes and ducts. The control unit is installed on the outside of the containment compartment, and it is connected to a remote sensing element via a thin copper tube.
Fan thermostats-A fan thermostat is a small, electric in-line thermostat designed to control the operation of a fan. The most common application for a fan thermostat is for controlling an attic exhaust fan; however, they can be found in other applications, such as window fans, cooling fans and fan coil control units.
As you can see, the days of simple, circular electromechanical thermostats are long gone. Today's homes are heated and cooled using intelligent, innovative thermostats designed to provide maximum comfort while conserving as much energy as possible. Use the information here to help you find the right type of thermostat for your home's needs.