There’s a lot of talk at the minute about smart thermostats and the benefit they can have on one's pocket! There’s also a lot of lingo to decipher so we’ve created this guide to explain the types of thermostats and pro’s and con’s of each.
What is a Thermostat?
A thermostat is a device that helps you control or maintain the thermal temperature of your house. When the temperature inside a living space takes a dip, the thermostat picks up the change and turns on the heating. Conversely, thermostats can also switch to cooling when things get a little too hot.
Thermostats make use of sensors to function. However, the method of controlling the heating/cooling may differ based on the types of thermostats. For instance, electronic thermostats employ thermistors to manage the heating or cooling equipment.
How does a Thermostats measure temperature changes?
Thermostats are pretty versatile and are available in varying sizes, shapes, and designs. Although digital and mechanical thermostats are more popular than others. Digital thermostats are great when it comes to a rapid reaction to temperature changes. This type of thermostat uses electronic sensors to adjust a room's thermal temperature within a single degree of the preferred setting.
On the other hand, a mechanical thermostat employs a bimetallic strip overlaid with a sensor to maintain a room's temperature. The metal expands (or contracts) according to the fluctuating temperature of a room. That's how the thermostat knows when to switch the heating/cooling device on or off.
History of the Thermostat
Believe it or not, the technology that made thermostats possible was created for a marine chronometer. The man behind the invention is the 18th-century clockmaker, John Harrison.
Even though Harrison used the bimetallic strip to neutralize the temperature-related changes in the clock's spring, the technology went on to find a new purpose with thermostats. Here's how it works.
The bimetallic strip forms a bridge that connects your heating system to the electrical circuit. When the bridge is down, that means the air's chill has caused the metal strip to contract, and the electricity can run through the course to kick off the heating.
However, when a room's temperature is hot, the metal strip expands accordingly until one of the strips bends enough to break the circuit connection. That's how a mechanical thermostat turns off. Of course, when the temperature resets, the strip straightens out, and the heating comes on again.
The temperature dial allows users to pick the setting they want the circuit to function on, and generally, this process takes time. For instance, it can take up to an hour for a room's temperature to settle down enough for the thermostat to pick up on the changes.
1. Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats are the latest generation of thermostats. Smart thermostats have all the features of previous versions and more.
While the older programmable thermostats have custom scheduling, the new ones have learning technology and auto-scheduling.
Other features of smart thermostats include
- Geofencing (adjusting the temperature according to your proximity to your home),
- Advanced monitoring with notifications or alerts
- Sensors for “smarter” energy and money savings,
- Integration with smart home technologies.
- Intelligent or even AI technologies are being added or developed to innovate thermostat technology.
- Smart thermostats can be controlled from anywhere thanks to remote access and WiFi.
- They also come equipped with algorithms that can ‘learn' your preferences and apply them automatically.
- Smart learning and automatic adjustments can enhance your home comfort and help you save up on energy bills.
- Smart thermostats are still pretty new to the market and can cost more than mechanical thermostats.
2. Wi-Fi & Touchscreen Thermostats
Wi-Fi thermostats provided a good foundation for the future smart thermostats and their functionality.
Unlike smart thermostats, they don’t have pattern recognition and behavior learning. Meaning, no smart auto-scheduling. Furthermore, they are limited in their integration with other smart home technologies.
Like smart thermostats, they can be controlled using smartphones through an app, though limited. While they’re simpler than smart ones, that could be a better (also cheaper) option for others. Some also have voice capabilities.
- Controlling the app via a touchscreen panel is more convenient and accurate than using dials or buttons.
- WiFi connectivity allows you to log in and see your thermostat profile and settings from anywhere at all.
- It's easier to monitor how much money you're expending on heating expenses with WiFi thermostats.
- Much like smart thermostats, WiFi thermostats can also require a sizable upfront amount of money for installation.
3. Digital Programmable Thermostats
Programmable thermostats were named so because of their specific upgrade from the past generation. They can be set to automatically change temperature according to schedules.
Some schedules are limited to the whole week, or weekdays and weekends (5-2 day) settings, while the higher models can have day-to-day configurations (7-day).
- Offer several settings that allow you to regulate the temperature and save on energy bills.
- Can be controlled remotely – which allows you to turn the unit on or off according to your needs.
- Provides scheduling abilities – so that you can plan your heating or cooling according to the changing weather.
- Initial set up can be tricky and time-consuming for first-time users.
4. Digital Non-Programmable Thermostats
As their name suggests, these thermostats have no scheduling feature on them. They are limited to being manually set to one temperature only.
Unlike the past generation, they’re electronic and equipped with a digital display. This has a clock and extra information. They can control multiple units including heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.
- Are incredibly user-friendly, with a simple button-operated interface.
- More cost-effective than smart or digital programmable thermostats.
- Offer all the required components for temperature control without the fuss of complicated features.
- Digital non-programmable thermostats can only be controlled manually and don't offer scheduling or remote control capabilities.
5. Analog / Manual Temperature Controls & Time Switches
The earliest versions of thermostats lack the basic features of modern ones. They had analog controls and mechanisms, like bi-metal strips which use the expansion of the metals due to heat to switch.
The first commercial thermostats were considered luxurious for having a wind-up clock and a bulky thermometer. You were able to set your desired temperature for an approximated time. Further developments made them easier to use but were still limited to only a few controls.
Time switches were also commonly used for burners, central or water heaters. They largely functioned mechanically or analog.
- Analog thermostats are the least expensive method of temperature control.
- Include an ergonomic interface that can be easily managed and controlled.
- Simple manual operation thanks to an on/off button and a slider button (to control temperature).
- Not as accurate as smart or digital thermostats when it comes to temperature readings.
6. Millivolt Thermostats
Millivolt thermostats are typically utilized in top-vent wall furnaces or direct furnaces.They’re also used in gas heaters. Millivolt systems don't work with regular low-voltage thermostats. Instead, they need a special thermostat that uses only 0.75 volts of energy.
- Offers users the advantage of lower energy bills in comparison to other types of thermostats.
- These thermostats are energy-efficient thanks to their low voltage use.
- Offers the advantage of minimizing heat loss.
- The use of the type thermostat is no longer used for newly constructed homes.
7. Line Voltage Thermostat
Line voltage thermostats are commonly paired with wall heaters, resistance/convection heaters, or radiant heaters. They generally have two or four wires attached to the unit's back or connected to the heater.
These thermostats are easy to install and function using 120-240V on energy. The single-pole thermostat (with two wires) runs on a single current and can be turned off by disconnecting the unit. Conversely, a double-pole thermostat (with four wires) operates on separate currents.
Additionally, line voltage thermostats are pretty diverse when it comes to features. You can find digital, programmable, and smart line voltage thermostats on the market pretty easily.
- Are easy to set up and install.
- Can effectively control heaters to keep room temperature constant.
- Can be upgraded to become energy efficient.
- Are not compatible with low voltage wiring.
Common Questions Relating to Types of Thermostats
Where should I locate a thermostat?
Location, location, location! When it comes to thermostat placement, there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure your thermostat works at full capacity.
A thermostat controls your heating/cooling system based on the temperature readings it collects from the surroundings. But, when you place a thermostat where there's direct sunlight, it's forced to think the daylight heat is the room's actual temperature. Setting the thermostat near the kitchen can also get you similar results.
Conversely, if you place a thermostat near an air vent or windows or doors, the cool air generated or flowing from these sources can lead the thermostat to think the room's temperature is comfortably cold.
To avoid any such problems, try placing the thermostat in the central part of your home, away from the spots we've just highlighted. Also, it's always a good idea to locate the thermostat in a room that's used most frequently.
What is a good temperature to set your thermostat in the summer?
Most people think that one temperature setting on the thermostat can last them the whole of summer. That's not how you should be controlling the temperature in your house. The weather tends to fluctuate, even during summertime, which means you need to keep on top of your game to ensure your home is cool enough.
Nonetheless, if you're still looking for a ballpark figure – the ideal summer temperature should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Energy Star states that this temperature range should give you the cooling relief you require, along with energy efficiency.
Not to mention, you can utilize programmable thermostats to automatically shut off the cooling when you're not at home. Here's where smart thermostats come in handy because you can access them remotely to make sure your house is chilled to perfection – right before you arrive.
What should I set my thermostat to when i'm not home
Setting the right temperature when you're not at home depends mainly on the amount of time you're going to be away. For instance, if you're only going to be out for 1-3 hours, it doesn't make much sense to change your thermostat settings.
A good rule of thumb to follow in situations where you're away time is more than 4 hours is – adjust your thermostat by a total of 5 degrees only. The only difference is, in summers, you'll be changing your thermostat to make it 5 degrees higher and 5 degrees lower in winter.
If you have a non-programmable thermostat, it's best to turn off the cooling/heating before leaving the house to conserve energy – especially if you're going away on an extended trip. However, if you've recently invested in a programmable/ smart thermostat, then you have the advantage of monitoring and controlling your home's temperature via remote access.
What does a thermostat do if it gets too cool
HVAC experts advise that it's best to regularly clean and dust off your thermostat – to make sure it's sensors are in mint condition. People don't often realize that thermostats don't control how fast a room will heat up, only the general temperature.
Nonetheless, despite how drawn out the heating process may seem, a thermostat will increase the heat settings to counter the cold weather. It does this by reading the temperature throughout your house and regulating your preferred temperature setting.
If you think your thermostat is unable to maintain your preferred temperature – it may be due to the following reasons:
- When the weather turns extreme, even thermostats can freeze over. This can cause a problem in the touchscreen of such devices – and can usually be fixed via rebooting.
- Your thermostat may be too small to cover the space of your house.
- The thermostat may be faulty or requires maintenance.
From metallic bi-strips to smart capabilities. thermostats have come a long way since their inception. However, before deciding the types of thermostats that will suit you best, it's good to run through your checklist and determine the features you will not compromise on.
For some, energy-efficiency is a top priority. Others tend to prefer the convenience smart thermostats have to offer. Nonetheless, it would be best to remember that a product's performance may trump its price – in the long run.
Although, no one is a better judge of what you need other than yourself. Just keep the details we've mentioned here in mind – and you'll do great when upgrading your thermostat!