Help keep me hot and cold!
April 14, 2009 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Can someone recommend a programmable thermostat that will save me from insane energy bills?

My house is a Cape Cod style with an open loft area in the front, and two thermostats and heating/cooling units, one for upstairs and one for the down. Should I replace both thermostats, or will replacing the one be effective enough in helping with energy costs?

Also, I can't find recommendations I trust anywhere on these things...Amazon is useless. In an ideal world, the new thermostats would be the first step to a home automation system, so it's a bonus if they speak some common automation language that I can control with a Mac, or over the web. I'm tempted by the shiny fancy of something like the ecobee, but if I can get similar functionality without the crazy cost, all the better. Which programmable can you recommend?

I'm also a bit concerned about the installation. I'm handy to the point of something like installing a dimmer switch, but the installation of the ecobee made me doubt that I could do it. Are other programmables less complicated?

In conclusion: Which programmable do I want, will it really help me, do I need two of them, and can I install it without killing myself or the house?

Thanks, AskMeFi!
posted by griffey to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know whether you should get one or two, but the installation of a programmable thermostat is really not complicated at all. I've done it. If you can install a dimmer switch, you can install one of these.

I got mine for $30 or something at Ace Hardware. Does what it needs to do. However, I'd change one thing: The one I have is fairly low-end. It has program settings for Weekday and Weekend, not MTWTFSS.

Check to make sure the one you get allows enough programming options to suit your family's schedule. They're not really one-size-fits-all.

And that ecobee looks waaaaaaay more complicated than it needs to be. Looks like a sucker bet, to be honest. Much cheaper and less attractive makes will do just as well.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:29 PM on April 14, 2009

We have a 7-day programmable Honeywell, similar to but older than their current models.

It was easy to install, and easy to program. At around $125, if I remember correctly, it was considerably cheaper than the ecobee. I'm in the Pacific Northwest, so we only have heating... might be more complicated as you add a/c and humidifiers\dehumidifiers.

If both HVAC systems are frequently operating, I imagine it would be worth it to replace both thermostats.
posted by rube goldberg at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2009

I'm using a Robert Shaw thermostat which has the ability to add a remote sensor & humidistat.
posted by torquemaniac at 3:12 PM on April 14, 2009

The inexpensive way to do Home Automation of thermostats in X-10 is to just install a pair of the brain-dead simple ones(mercury switches) in parallel, and put a UM-506 across the 'hot'(supply-voltage) line of the one set for 'lived in' tempratures. When the UM-506 is activated, the AC/heat kicks on at the lived-in setting. When it's off, it kicks in at the standby setting. Has the added benefit of failing to one of the two 'safe' thermostat settings.

That's $20 for the UM-506 plus the cost of an extra thermostat, but it assumes you already have an X-10 system in place. I assume low-voltage boards exsist for other HA solutions, but I doubt they're as cheap.
posted by Orb2069 at 3:44 PM on April 14, 2009

If you have a common heating solution, installing a new thermostat will simply involve removing the old one and installing the new one. All of the wires will be labeled, and will go into corresponding terminals on the new unit.

The magic of the programmable thermostat is simple. It lowers the temperature quite a bit when the space is not in use (based on time of day, day of the week, etc). For example, the Honeywell that I just installed maintains 16C for working and sleep hours, and 21C between 6-8am and 6-11pm. So, relatively speaking, before the house was at 21C degrees all day long (because I'd forget to turn it down when going to bed/work) and now it's only 21C for 7 hours out of the day, when we actually need it. This should translate to significant savings.

Depending on your usage patterns a programmable thermostat might save a few dollars for you. Say, if you only spend 30 minutes upstairs, having a shower and settling in for the night, there's no reason to heat that space to a toasty temperature, all of the time. Set it to be warm only when you need it.

So to summarize:
  • Pick any programmable thermostat. They are mostly the same and function similarly. I'd suggest one where each day can be programmed separately. I haven't had to use this yet, but it might be convenient.
  • Installation will be a breeze. Go to honeywell website and watch a demo.
  • Determine what your particular usage patterns are and program them in. The honeywell that i bought had really nice defaults.
  • Hope this helped.

posted by aeighty at 5:11 PM on April 14, 2009

...oh and you definitely would want 2. First, because you don't really want to mess with the wiring, and if you have two now, you simply swap 'em out. Secondly, flexibility. Finer control over upstairs and downstairs behavior.
posted by aeighty at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2009

You would be insane if you didn't get a thermostat that is compliant with the ZigBee standard. This is the de facto standard for wireless communication in a house connected to a smart grid.

ZigBee is a wireless standard that can talk over smart grid communication networks, but also within a home area network used for home automation. Other wireless devices in your home area network should use the ZigBee standard as well, letting you plug and play.

Here is a list of products certified by ZigBee.

This is an evolving standard, but ZigBee devices are capable of being updated remotely.

This is a widely adopted standard, as you can see here.
posted by Pants! at 6:38 PM on April 14, 2009

Nthing the ease of those Honeywell programmables. And seconding MTWThFSaSu. Ours was about $80.
posted by desuetude at 8:14 PM on April 14, 2009

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