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Control Your Home's Climate

Want more control over your home's climate? With a pre-programmable or smart thermostat, you have the power right at your fingertips to make smart energy choices.

A thermostat is the control panel for the heating and cooling system in your building.  It controls the flow of heat energy into or out of the HVAC system and turns devices on or off as needed.  Programmable and smart thermostats are computers that let you adjust the temperature of your home, even when you are not there. Some are also able to learn your habits in order to automatically adjust and can offer tips to save energy.   

History of the Thermostat

Round ThermostatIn 1885, the first form of the thermostat was called the “damper flapper.”  It was an automatic temperature control that regulated furnace heat through the use of a motor and pulley system.  When the temperature dropped below the pre-set level, the pulley system would open the furnace door letting in fresh air which caused the fire to burn hotter.  Once the preset temperature was achieved the damper would close, damping the fire.  Fast forward into the 1900s, where the first setback (programmable) clock thermostat was introduced by Honeywell. It wasn’t until 1953 that the highly recognizable round (non-programmable) thermostat made its big time debut.  Electronic thermostats began to appear on the market during the 1970s.  Since then, electronic thermostats have been becoming more and more advanced, adding controls for humidity and ventilation, as well as more programming capabilities.  Smart thermostats, many of which link with mobile devices, are now on the market and can be seen in everyday homes.  These thermostats can be controlled outside of the actual building and some incorporate learning capabilities where the system can analyze the occupants’ energy usage.

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Hand adjusting thermostatWorried about the house being too hot or cold when you get back? Fear no more! Gone are the times of having to manually turn the dial on the thermostat, and in its place is the ability to program your indoor climate settings. It is even possible to take control of your home’s temperature from your smartphone or web-browser by installing a smart thermostat.

Regular thermostats allow you to manually adjust your home’s temperature. Programmable thermostats take it a step further and let you create multiple daily settings allowing you to set and save. Smart thermostats bring setting your home’s temperature to another level. These thermostats can learn your behaviors and create a program to best fit your household’s energy needs. They can measure levels of motion, light, and humidity and use the information to make adjustments. There are new programmable devices from a variety of manufacturers that come with their own smartphone/Wi-Fi applications allowing you to make adjustments wherever you may be.

Another recent advancement in smart indoor climate control is the smart window air conditioner and the ability to adjust your window unit through an app on your smart phone. For more information on smart air conditioners, visit the Energy 101 page on Appliances.

For more information on thermostats, visit

Thermostat Innovations

Some of the original brand names of smart thermostats have become common lingo in the home improvement world: you probably have heard of Nest and Honeywell. While these are not the only two brands of smart thermostats availble, they seem to be the most well known. Every smart thermostat has their own specific qualities, but many share the same features. Below are some highlights of different models. If you are interested in integrating a smart thermostat, research which one best fits your needs.


In about one week’s time from installation, Nest is able to pick up on your home’s heating and cooling preferences and offer energy saving tips. When energy is being saved, a little green leaf icon is illuminated. As soon as Nest is installed, you can start using the companion app for your Android, iPad, and iPhone, and connect it to your Wi-Fi compatible device. This connection makes it possible to change the temperature, adjust your scheduled changes, and see how much energy you are using while at home or away. Detailed energy reports and monthly summaries help keep you informed of your energy usage and offer hints and tips for even more savings. For more information, visit


Smart phone displaying thermostat info. (Photo courtesy of NREL)Honeywell offers a wide variety of thermostats from very simple non –programmable models to high-tech Wi-Fi smart thermostats with voice control. Some of their most recent thermostats include the Lyric and their Wi-Fi Smart Thermostats with or without voice control. The Lyric Thermostat features geofencing, which detects when you are close to home and will adjust the temperature accordingly for when you arrive. It has custom shortcuts for changes in settings and offers Smart Cues to help keep you informed. It also features Fine Tune mode which takes into account indoor temperature, humidity, and outdoor conditions to help keep you comfortable. The Honeywell RTH9590WF Wi-Fi Smart Control Thermostat with Voice Control was highly ranked by Consumer Reports for its ease of use and ease of remote access. Its reliable App allows you to program your thermostat from anywhere and the system has auto alerts that remind you when filter changes are needed and offers extreme temperature alerts. Check out Honeywell’s website to see how money much you can save using a Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with their Energy Saving Calculator.

All smart thermostats allow you to make changes from a smart phone or Wi-Fi compatible device, but as you can see, all makes and models have their own features and available options. It may help to look at various models to find the one that's right for you.

digitial thermostatTake control of your home’s temperature and save.  A pre-programed or smart thermostat could help you save up to $180 a year in energy costs. Heading to work or taking a day trip? Turn the heat down in the winter or temperature up in the summer and save. Adjusting your thermostat back by 10°-15°F from its normal setting for 8 hours a day can save you 5-15% a year on heating. These adjustments when you are away from your home, or asleep can help keep you comfortable while saving you money.

Updating your thermostat can be very beneficial. A programmable thermostat can help save you money by reducing your home’s energy usage without sacrificing your comfort. Programmable thermostats allow your home to be set to energy-saving temperatures when you are away, but back to your desired comfort level upon return. Turning your thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer can help lower your electric bill especially when it is for extended periods of time (8+ hours). With a non-programmable thermostat it is possible to turn the heat down when leaving or going to bed and turn it back up upon arrival, but chances are your home will be too cold or too warm for comfort when waking up or coming home. A programmable thermostat allows you to save money while eliminating any discomfort for doing so.
Keeping a lower temperature in the winter time and higher temperature in the summer decreases the work load of the heating or cooling unit, resulting in less energy used. For heating, when a building’s temperature drops below it's normal setting, it loses energy to the surrounding environment (heat in the winter and cool air in the summer). Therefore, the lower the interior temperature is, the slower the rate of heat loss. If your house remains at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, then your house will lose less energy than it would have at a higher temperature. This results in energy savings. In the summer time the same principle holds true, except in reverse. The higher your interior temperature is, the slower the flow of heat is into your house.

Lowering or raising your temperature does not mean you have to freeze or be unbearably hot in your home in order to save money, but making proper adjustments when leaving the house for long periods of time or at times when it will not affect the enjoyment of your home can easily save energy without sacrificing comfort.

For the winter months, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat to 68°F while awake and at home, and lowering by 10° to 15°F when asleep or away for 8 or more hours. This can help save 5-15% a year on your heating bill. For the summer months, 78°F is the recommended energy saving temperature for central air conditioning when home.
  • Keep the temperature at energy saving points for extended periods of time, aiming for 8 or more hours.
  • Cranking your unit up to 90°F or down to 40°F will not heat or cool your house any faster, look for units with adaptive recovery to help keep temperatures where programmed at scheduled times. Adaptive recovery allows thermostats to calculate and then adjust the time needed to recover from nighttime temperature to comfort temperature.
  • Seal critical air leaks and make sure your home is properly insulated; leaks and poor insulation can cause heating and cooling units to work harder than necessary.
  • Schedule a home energy checkup with Home Energy Solutions to help increase your home’s energy efficiency.

In the winter:

  • Open curtains and shades on south facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to help heat your home.
  • Close doors to any unused rooms (ex: spare bedroom) and decide not to heat it, if possible.

In the summer:

  • Close curtains, shades, and blinds to help avoid unnecessary heat from entering the house.
  • Turn off central air and air conditioning units when not at home.
  • Close doors to rooms that do not need to be cooled down.

For more energy saving suggestions, visit our Tips for Residents page.

With so many different thermostat options and models available today, it may be hard to pick out the right model for you. Here are some points to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself to help guide you through the selection process.
  • What systems do you want the thermostat to control? (Some thermostats only control your heating system, while others can control both heating and cooling).
  • How many zones does my house have?
  • Is this thermostat compatible with the amount of zones I need and my existing system(s)?
  • Do I want control over my thermostat from outside of the house?
  • Do I want reports of my energy usage or my thermostat to offer me tips?
  • How much scheduling and programming flexibility do I want or need?

Keep in mind the lifestyle of your home's residents, personal preferences, as well as the questions above, and you should be able to find the right thermostat to fit your needs.

Many programmable thermostats are not compatible with heat pumps. Make sure your thermostat is compatible with your system before buying and installing as setting back a thermostat when a heat pump is in heating mode can cause it to operate inefficiently- eliminating any energy savings. However, thermostats designed for use with heat pumps make setting back the thermostat cost-effective, so make sure you are aware of how your thermostat will work with your unit.
The best place to install a thermostat is on an interior wall that is out of direct sunlight and away from doorways, skylights, windows, vents, and any other source of heat or drafts that can cause an incorrect temperature reading. It should also be in a place for convenient programming with no furniture below or in front of, as it can block natural air movement. If more than a simple replacement is needed to install a new thermostat, contact a heating and cooling professional.