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'Smart' thermostats can cut heating bills

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By Angie Hicks
Angieslist.com/
Published:
Programmable thermostats have long been considered an effective tool to help homeowners manage the operation of their heating and cooling systems.
Consumers can program the thermostat so the heating or cooling system comes on and goes off at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week.
At one time, programmable thermostats were the darlings of energy efficiency. Too often, though, consumers don't program their thermostat, or program it incorrectly. In fact, some studies supported by the U.S. EPA state that programmable thermostats can actually increase energy consumption if not properly programmed.
Learning thermostats -- also known as smart thermostats -- learn the schedule and temperature preferences of the homeowner and create a personalized schedule based on temperature setting preferences and activity in the home.
They can cost upwards of $200, but many feel the savings offset the cost.
Learning thermostats work in conjunction with your wireless Internet and take about a week or two to "learn" the homeowners' preferences and patterns. The system notes manual temperature adjustments and creates a schedule based on your family's living habits.
Built-in sensors can detect if someone is in the room or even in the home. If the system detects no one is home, it will adjust its temperature to a predetermined limit. For example, you could establish a minimum temperature of 60 degrees in the winter, or a maximum temperature of 80 degrees in the summer and the system will ensure the temperature never falls below or exceeds those thresholds.
Different learning-type thermostats have different features. Some, for example, offer reminders for when it's time to change air filters. Others can show the temperature outside and compare it to the inside.
Not all systems work with all types of heating and cooling systems. Some systems, for example, won't work with air conditioners with two-stage cooling. It's important you talk to a qualified HVAC specialist about the type of learning thermostat that is best for your application.
One nice feature is that homeowners can access their system remotely, via a smartphone, computer or tablet device, and change the temperature settings.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List (http://www.angieslist.com/), a trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.
Story tags » Home Improvement

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