Maintaining the perfect environment in your home is tricky. But you’ve done it. You’ve installed an energy-efficient HVAC system, air-sealed your basement and attic to prevent temperature leaks, insulated the air ducts, and you know that the airflow in your home is perfect. That’s everything you need to take care of right? Not quite, there’s one other item that can heavily impact how balanced your home environment stays: The thermostat. It’s a simple device, but one that requires more time and thought than most people give it. A little bit of mental energy before a purchase can go a long way to making sure you don’t overspend and can improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Current climate control System
First, it’s important to know what sort of central heating and air system you have in place. Standard systems are single-stage, multi-stage, heat pump, or multi-stage heat pump (which is a combination of both multi-stage and a heat pump).
- Single Stage: Has only one level of output. No matter where you set the temperature, it runs at full force when it needs to adjust the temperature back to the setting.
- Multi-Stage: Has multiple output values. The second level is typically regulated by a second system or an emergency setting. The second system operates at a lower intensity, giving a finer control for the environment. Since this lower setting is fine for the majority of temperature upkeep, it runs most of the time for longer periods, keeping the temperature at a more average level for a lower energy cost. A multi-stage heat pump uses a heat pump as the secondary system.
- Heat Pump: A single system that does both heating and cooling (without a furnace).
Not every thermostat is designed to work with each system. Just make sure that the thermostat you install is designed to work with your central heating and air system.
The physical construction of your thermostat is something else to consider. Thermostats come in both mechanical and electronic (also known as digital) types. Mechanical thermostats can use either mercury or bimetallic strip switches and come in single- or double-pole configurations. We should note that the double-pole connection is usually a better choice since it allows the unit to actually be switched off, while a single pole only allows you to leave the unit in a standby state. Electrical thermostats use a digital sensor that has a higher range of accuracy. This increase in sensitivity is not the main that an electrical thermostat is better, however. Electrical thermostats are becoming more and more preferable because of their usability.
While some mechanical thermostats have time-clocks and hard-set controls, electrical thermostats are where programmability and overall usability begin to really shine. Fully digital thermostats have a wide range of pre-programmed time settings. These thermostats increase energy efficiency through the proper use of your central air system. By running the system only when it needs to be run, less energy or fuel is used. At the same time, these thermostats can be programmed based on your schedule, adjusting the hours of operation by days of the week or even times of the year.
The more advanced thermostats can take advantage of one more special setting: Zoning. Additional temperature sensors and ducting controls allow the thermostat to regulate the temperature throughout the entire home. This regulation extends to controlling individual temperatures within zones of the home, shutting off temperature balancing for rooms that are not in use or will not see use until later in the day. When properly installed and configured, a digital thermostat can save a lot on energy costs simply by not heating or cooling rooms that aren’t seeing use. Over time, these fully digital thermostats pay for themselves, and many of the newer systems even learn and adjust to your daily life for even finer control.
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