Power For Your Life Podcast | Season 1 - Episode 10
Have you heard of advanced, or smart, thermostats? Do you wonder if you could save money with one? Listen to our expert guest, Tom Hulse, from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, discuss benefits, energy-saving potential, purchase tips and more.
Transcript – Power For Your Life – Season 1 | Episode 10
Original release date: June 1, 2020
My name is Willow, and I am Wylie. Our parents are members of East Central Electric Cooperative. We love our co-op because there are fun things to do at the annual meeting like bouncy houses and safety demonstration. They even gave us backpacks. And our co-op is even installing fiber which means faster Internet at our house. Or playing video games. Thank you East Central.
Darryll (Host): Welcome to the Power For Your Life podcast, where we focus on energy efficiency, the value of electric cooperative membership and safety around electricity. Today I'm visiting with Tom Hulse Energy Services Advisor with Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Mo. Today's topic smart thermostats. Tom, thanks for joining me today. Let's start by answering the first question that comes to mind. What is a smart thermostat?
Tom (Guest): Thanks for coming up Darryll. I know you had a long trip this morning. So basically, smart thermostats or a device is going to be used to control the comfort in your home in the most economical way that it can be done. They’re easy to control. A lot of the smart thermostats are going to be app-based. So, you can control through different medias through either smart speakers; you can use your phone; lot of them have a touchscreen. One of the nice things about a smart thermostat is they are what they call a one button operation. So, there's not a lot of complicated steps you have to go through to set up on programming or any controls. They're going to learn your preferences in your home. So, if you set your temperature to a setting that is comfortable for you, the thermostat is going to take that, and it's going to manipulate that temperature a little bit and kind of decide a little bit what is going to work best in your home. So. it'll set it automatically… set the temperature back as it needs to, or looks at whether and then you can get some energy savings through that.
Darryll (Host): So these devices are basically a set it and forget it type of unit. Is that right?
Tom (Guest): Yeah, so initially you can take your smart thermostat. You'll set it up to a temperature that is comfortable for your home. If you're in the heating season, you might set that 70 degrees or 72 degrees and then the thermostat will realize if there's a lot of activity in the home. It will also realize if you know, if people are away, if there's not a lot of activity going on, it'll sense that is if the house is unoccupied. So, to let that temperature go back, maybe when you're off to work. There’s also considerations of time of day. So, in the evening when everybody is kind of settled down for the night, the thermostat will go into programming and may let that temperature drop back a little bit in the evening...and let the temperature go back to maybe where your little bit uncomfortable. And then if you get up and you adjust that temperature, the thermostat will know that it can't set the temperature back that low. So, the next time that goes back and adjusts the temperature, that would be kind of the point that it stops. So, it'll-it'll-it'll begin to learn your comfort levels that you're comfortable with. So those first week or maybe even two weeks, there may be some chilly mornings and chilly evenings that you-you have to get through.
Darryll (Host): But overall, it will help you save some money.
Tom (Guest): Yeah, it will help you save the money. The biggest thing about it is how they learn and the inputs you put into the thermostat. There are some parameters that you can go into and you can set some hard numbers in them. So, you can make sure that the temperature doesn't go above or below a certain set point. But anything in between that, the thermostat may adjust the temperature in that to get the most savings that you can-you can achieve with the system that you have.
Darryll (Host): Let's talk about brands for a moment. There are a lot of different brands of smart thermostats on the market today. How do I know which one is right for my home, my lifestyle, and most importantly my heating and cooling system?
Tom (Guest): I think the first thing you want to look for is make sure that their Energy Star-make sure that their Energy Star rated. That’d be the first thing I'd want to look for. The second thing to that, I want to look for is make sure that they are actually a learning thermostat. There are several on the market that are considered smart thermostats. But their programming is not as good as, say, your brands that have the learning capabilities. So, let's say a thermostat that's maybe cheaper in price-it's considered a smart thermostat. The only thing that may make that a little bit better thermostat is Wi-Fi compatible. It might have an app that you can use; might have geofencing on it. But as far as actual learning, the programming and things like that, that thermostat may not do that. So, you won't get the benefits of the energy savings as you would with a thermostat that actually has learning capabilities. So that would be the top two things I would look for. There's a lot of reviews out. Nest, Ecobee, Lyric… Those are some of your top three brands that are on the market. I think the most important thing is do the research; find the thermostat that's going to best suit your own needs through the research that you do. I think that would probably be the best way to kind of decide that as far as being brand-specific, I think all-all of them are competing for that top spot in the market. So, there's always new advancements and everything that's happening with them. If you stick with one of the major brand names, I think you'll be-you'll be pretty safe on that.
Darryll (Host): Tom, you hit it a little at some of the differences in learning thermostats versus non learning thermostats. One of the other types of thermostats that could confuse people are programmable thermostats and they are different from smart thermostats. Explain the
difference is if you would.
Tom (Guest): Yeah sure. So just briefly a little bit of my background is-I grew up in a family own heating air conditioning business. So, I've got quite a few years of background in that. So, originally there was what we had, what we called a programmable thermostat. And in the earlier days it was basically just a mechanical thermostat. It had a couple numbers you could punch in there for times of the day. Sometimes it would get you close as far as your setbacks and things. They didn't work very well at all. We did move up. There was a time that we had the digital programmable thermostats. They worked a little bit better, but the programming on them was very difficult. There's so many different options as far as how to program them. It was difficult to set up. Most people didn't want to read the book to set that thermostat up. So usually after about a month or two of trying to program it and not getting the programs right, most people would bypass the old programmable thermostats. So, when we talk about programmable thermostats and smart thermostats, there's a big difference. So, I would-I would think it would be safe to say that your programmable thermostats, as we think of them in the past, are just that. They're probably going to be a technology that's going to be outdated, kind of like a slide phone or flip phone. You know, it's just something that… It fit the need when it was there, but you know it's just a technology that's been surpassed by the smart thermostats. Smart thermostats are very easy to use. The top makers of the smart thermostats have designed them for the do-it-yourself-type families and people. There's tons of information out there to simplify their use; to simplify the information; programming. So, the smart thermostats… not only do they provide more energy savings, but the ease of use, the compatibility of HVAC systems is really good with the new smart thermostat. Actually, smart thermostats aren't even really new anymore. They came out really not too long after-after the iPhones and stuff started to hit the market. So,it's a technology that I think has already become common place in the heat and air conditioning market.
Darryll (Host): The bottom line is that I need to decide what is best for my situation and my home and how best to optimize the technology. Let's take a short break and when we come back there are other factors to consider when it comes to smart thermostats like my heating and cooling system as well as my habits. We’ll discuss those…when we return.
Darryll (Host): Back with more of the Power For Your Life podcast and our discussion with Tom Hulse from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. Today's topic smart thermostats. And Tom, before the break we were talking about the features of today's advanced thermostats. Let's get down to the bottom line. Money. In terms of energy savings, how much can the average homeowner expect to save on their electric bill?
Tom (Guest): So, most of the research papers that are out--Nest has a lot of white papers that cover this pretty extensively. Several utilities have done studies with these types of thermostats. And on average, a person can figure you're going to save about 10% to 20% of your overall heating and air conditioning bills. So, and you have to look at that as well. The overall heating/air conditioning part of your bill is going to be somewhere around 50% of your overall bill. So, if you use 12,000 kilowatt hours a year in your home, about 6,000 kilowatt hours of that energy that you use is going to be toward your heating and air conditioning. Everything else will kind of follow it under that. So, keep in mind when you're figuring that 10% to 20%, that that's the number that you're going to kind of be looking at. In the Midwest here in Central Missouri, some of the studies that we've done here at Co-Mo is we’ll see anywhere from about $100 to $150 savings annually. So, that'll put the return on investment on some of these smart thermostats at under two years. So, you can-you can see a pretty good savings; comfort is something else that you can add to that that... Can’t really put a dollar on that…
Darryll (Host): The two-year payback is really a pretty good estimate for what folks can figure as a return because you'll have that device in your home for a number of years after that…
Tom (Guest): Right… Yeah, you'll have that smart thermostat for the life of the system in your home. It’s one of the cheapest ways that you can do something in your home to save energy and have that kind of return. Like I said, most people--if you're savvy at all with a screwdriver and a pair pliers and know where your breakers are at, most people can handle this job.
Darryll (Host): Not only is the device that controls are heating and cooling system important, but the type of system we have can also impact the thermostat that we can choose. So, what type of HVAC system is best controlled by a smart thermostat?
Tom (Guest): So, the ones that I see the best results in are going to be your all-electric either air conditioning, electric resistance heat or your air-to-air heat pump with electric resistance heat back up. Those are probably the two types of systems you’re going to see the best savings; best most economical way to use the thermostat. Because those systems tend to use the most energy in the hottest times of the summer and the coldest times of the winter. And that's really when you want the thermostat to be able to learn what is in your comfort range in your home; what you can tolerate…which I think tolerate might be a little bit of a harsh word to use for that. But that's really what the thermostat is looking to do. It wants to adjust that temperature in the home where it can get the most savings and still keep everybody in the home comfortable. Because one way to think about it is when the system is off; when your heat is off; when your air conditioning is off, that's 100% energy savings. So, if you think of it that way, the thermostat is trying to learn and trying to program where the system is off as much as possible and you still keep your comfort in your home. As far as the rest of the units that are out there, of course, there's systems that heat with gas; standard air conditioning like that. There's good energy savings in there. They do work with geothermal systems. There are compatible with those. Of course, when you get into the geothermal part, you already have a system that's extremely efficient so that energy savings possibility is not as great with the geothermal is it would be with an electric furnace. So your top systems would be the air-to-air heat pumps and your electric resistance heat.
Darryll (Host): So, Tom, we should also consider our habits with an advanced thermostat. What are some of the things we might need to change in our daily routine to take full advantage of this technology?
Tom (Guest): Yeah, I think once every…. you get used to the thermostat you kind of get some of the base programming done with the thermostat. Maybe you want to set up a geo-fence so thermostat knows when you're a certain distance from home. Once you kind of get through that first couple of weeks... really the thermostat…. you won't even notice it. We've had one now at our home for a little over two years and honestly, we hardly ever have to adjust it anymore. Occasionally we’ll make an adjustment if it feels a little chilly or maybe a little too warm in the summer, we might make an adjustment on it. But really once you get through that initial programming period, you really don't have to change a lot of your habits. But like I said that first few days...you may wake up and it might be pretty chilly in the morning. So, you will have to... you will have to have to put up with a couple of those days.
Darryll (Host): You mentioned a term geofencing. Can you explain that term for our listeners?
Tom (Guest): So geo-fencing with the thermostat has a location. And then if you're certain distance away from that location, the thermostat will sense that. And it will either know to shut down if you're leaving, or if you're coming back home it will know to come back on. So geo-fence is essentially just a parameter that he would set in your thermostat, so it knows whether you're coming or going and how far away you are from your home. So, if you're say five miles from home, then you have your geo-fence set up to come on when you're five miles from home. That way when you get home everything is nice and comfortable. One of the things I'd like to cover all the thermostats is we talked about a lot of technology. We've talked about programming and thermostats, going to learn your habits, and we've talked about a lot of stuff like this and geofencing. But I think the thing that I want people to understand is the energy savings comes pretty easy. These thermostats are not going to be any more complicated to operate and say the remote for your TV…your cell phone. They are set up to be very, very user friendly. So, I would hate for anybody to think that it's going to be too complicated. I think that's one thing that I hear feedback from a lot of folks when we talk about this is, well, you know they feel like it's something that's going to be too hard for them to operate. And I think the takeaway would be the energy savings comes simple. The operation comes simple. The companies have these...like I said before… the companies have really set these up with the homeowner in mind and to make the operation, the installation is simple as possible for the end user. So, I just I think that would be something to be really, really clear on is….lot of technology does a lot of great things…but it's also very easy to use.
Darryll (Host): It really is important to consider so many things when looking into adding an advanced thermostat to our heating and cooling system. From ease of installation to friendly operations… plus smart thermostats can save 10% to 20% on the average electric bill. Definitely something to think about… Tom Hulse from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. Thank
you for sharing your expertise today.