The Season of the Smart Thermostat

It’s getting hot out. Before too long, the electrical grid will be strained under the load. Your cooling hardware will scream “FEED ME!” depending volts, amps, and watthours of power. Your meters will tick away as you feed the current-sucking beast that is modern comfort and necessity. There is a lot of waste in that system though. We don’t stay in our houses 24/7. We don’t staff our offices round the clock either.. For the most part. Hospitals and Hotels really can’t quite escape the need for round the clock temperature control, but everyone else can!

So, how do we trim this waste? Well, you could adjust the thermostat every morning and evening, sweat to death for an hour or two until things adjust themselves.  That doesn’t sound appealing, but it does trim  eight to sixteen hours of cooling costs per day. Over an entire summer, let alone years of use and prolonged hardware lifetimes, those costs are going to add up. It’s worth it to scurry to the office long before rush hour, right? Just to save your business some cash?

This is where you have a choice to make: Smart Thermostat or Programmable Thermostat. We’ve had programmable thermostats for ages. They’re incredibly common and like cell phones in the 90s, they’re not as fun or easy to use as their modern equivalent. Smart Thermostats cost a bit more, but they are intuitive and try to do as much of the work for you as possible.

How much work? Once it’s trained, a smart thermostat should need near zero attention. These little miracles can learn when the area is occupied and when it’s empty, how long it takes to make temperature changes, and when to set what temperature. It learns this from your interactions overtime, building up a schedule for your home or office. With this schedule in mind, it turns your hardware on and off at the exact right times, optimizing their run times and reducing how long they actually run. A programmable system can get close to this, but it requires work and adjusting throughout the year to get any savings.

There are some significant savings to be had with these systems as well. In the home-market, Nest and Ecobee studies have suggested between 12% and 23% savings in energy costs. These can only grow, as longer hardware lifetimes and lower maintenance costs are factored in from the optimized runtimes. Solid numbers for the Enterprise space are harder to come by due to the variety and complexity involved. For large department stores that are operating around the clock, the shear volume of air to heat or cool is going to rule out any sort of customizable optimization. For large office buildings with per-room temperature controls, the savings could rival the home environment. The central systems would still need to run, but they could expend less energy by heating just the needed parts of the building. The math is different, but the theory and conclusions remain the same.

There are some quick cons to this type of thermostat to cover. It relies on environments with regular activity. It expects to find that every week there’s two, three, four, five some number of days with building occupation, repeating start and end times. It needs digestible patterns to run itself appropriately. Environments with more chaotic schedules that run on a “per-booking” arrangement, such as catered spaces and un-staffed fire stations, won’t see the major advantages of smart thermostats. These are very much a device for the every-man schedule.

Then there’s the big question on your minds… Who makes them? Well, Nest came out big in 2011. The major thermostat manufacturers immediately took notice of the idea and began to produce their approaches. Near any company making thermostats today is making a smart one too.This includes everyone from Honeywell to Schneider Electric. These are the way of the future as we all look to make our homes and offices more comfortable and more efficient.

And for that matter… at what cost? Well, it depends on model and features. The base models can start in the $100 range. Enterprise devices with Bacnet support, sensors galore, and support for multiple devices can easily run into the hundreds of dollars. You need to pick for your needs. A small office only needs a basic thermostat, while a multinational company, with thousands of people in an office building is going to burn hundreds of dollars to make the “smart” work with their IT, Security, and Building Hardware.

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