The Benefits of a Remotely Programmable Thermostat

When outdoor temperatures reach the extremes of summer and winter, the cost of heating and cooling the great indoors spikes in response. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, controlling indoor temperatures accounts for 43 percent of the average home's monthly utility bill.

Chances are, 43 percent of your monthly bill in February or August adds up to a chunk of change -- that's money that would be far better spent on family fun, a home renovation, or put into savings.

Fortunately, homeowners' options for conserving electricity have grown exponentially in recent years. Instead of blindly cranking up the heat (or suffering through chilly nights), we now have the ability to monitor our exact energy usage (and control it remotely), so that there are no surprises when the bill arrives. By putting that power in consumer's hands, we can adjust our energy use in the same way that we might change our driving habits or seek out cheaper gasoline whenever oil prices climb.

Remote Control HVAC

Programmable thermostats are hardly a new phenomenon. If your thermostat has a digital display, there's a good chance that it includes the ability to set temperature changes to specific times. For example, in the winter, you might set the temperature to decrease from 68 degrees to 58 degrees at 9 a.m., after the family leaves for work and school.

The problem with traditional programmable thermostats is that you have to remember to set them, and adjusting their timers can seem as complicated as setting the clock on a VCR. In the last few years, however, new models that allow control from a smartphone have emerged on the market.

The trendsetting thermostats among this new category include manufacturers Nest, Ecobee, and Radio Thermostat. The Nest even includes the capability of 'learning' your home or office's heating and cooling habits, responding in turn to reach your preset temperature at the correct time.

Traditional manufacturers like Honeywell and Filtrete have begun to lead the charge, as well. Wi-Fi enabled thermostats can now be purchased for as low as $100, a stunning bargain when you consider the potential savings. Each includes a corresponding smartphone app, and many are compatible with universal apps like Thermostapp. Instead of walking to your thermostat to adjust the temperature, you can now control the temperature of your home from anywhere that your phone or mobile device can access the internet.

Picture this: You're driving home from work when a family member calls and needs a ride. Changing your plans, you drive across town to pick them up. Behind schedule, you decide to grab a bite to eat before heading to an evening obligation. You don't arrive back home until hours after you'd initially planned.

With a traditional programmable thermostat, those hours of detour might have cost you $10 or more in heating or cooling energy. Instead, simply click into your app and readjust the temperature to remain at your 'away' setting. When you're fifteen minutes from home, reset it to your desired temperature so that you're comfortable immediately when you arrive.

Understanding Your Power Usage Equals Savings

Smartphone-enabled control of our HVAC systems is only the beginning of the home energy conservation revolution. We now have the ability to carefully monitor the energy use of nearly every appliance in our home. The appeal of Energy Star appliances goes well beyond eco-mindedness when we can actually track the savings generated by choosing a refrigerator or washing machine that consumes less power.

Apps that help track home electricity are beginning to catch on. The U.S. Department of Energy recently launched Leafully, an app that shows both usage and carbon emissions, helping the conservation-minded consumer to understand their home's impact on the planet.

Mobile websites and corresponding products such as eMonitor and Wattvision Power Monitor offer similar capabilities, showing real time energy usage that was once known to homeowners only by guessing at the speed of the rotating power meter outside their house. When you crank up the dishwasher and see your home's energy consumption spike on your smartphone, that's a strong motivator to replace your dishwasher with an energy-saving model (or start washing by hand).

If you've ever felt hoodwinked by your power bill or shocked at the unexpected cost of that month's electricity, the benefits of tracking your usage by the hour are obvious. With the ability to control our home temperature from anywhere, and the hardware and software now available for less than the cost of one month's utility bill, it's clear that the days of blind energy consumption are coming to an end.

About the Author: Chris Long is a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs, where he has been helping customers since 2000. Chris has interests in household electrical topics ranging from smoke detectors to solar panels.