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With cost of living pressures and energy costs rising, the thought of splurging on an expensive smart gadget might seem counter-intuitive. Smart thermostats, however, actually do save you money, both over the short and long term.

What makes a thermostat smart?

This depends quite a bit on the model you choose, but the better ones will incorporate multiple technologies to better manage your home’s heating. These technologies provide long-term energy-saving benefits.

This includes things like additional sensors to determine whether anyone is home, incorporating current and future forecasts for outside weather conditions, as well as behavior learning capabilities to adapt dynamically to the movements of your specific household including the preferences of each person over time.

Smart thermostats and other devices have much more comprehensive scheduling features as well. This not only includes more detailed schedules but also much more intuitive programming – thanks to a smartphone app – when compared to clunky manual buttons.

Can a few degrees make a difference?

It can be hard to imagine minor adjustments made to your thermostat’s set point having a big impact on energy use. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a very broad estimate of one percent per degree. This can be much higher, though, in some situations.

The driver of these savings is the difference in temperature between the inside and outside of the home. A larger difference will result in a higher rate of heat transfer. Good insulation will help to reduce this, but the rate will still be proportionate to the temperature spread.

The reduction in heating use will be a percentage of that spread. If the difference is ten degrees and you move your set point one degree closer to the outside, you’ll reduce run time by ten percent. That’s a direct cost saving. Smart thermostats excel at making these kinds of small adjustments to optimize comfort versus cost.

Rebates and incentives for smart thermostats

The willingness of governments and energy utilities to offer direct rebates to customers who install smart thermostats is a testament to their effectiveness. By purchasing and installing a qualifying model, you can claim a $50 rebate right away through the Wisconsin Focus On Energy program. A wide range of thermostat models are eligible, but be sure to check the list before purchasing.

Some utilities have also begun offering “demand/response” incentives. These programs allow customers to register their smart thermostats so that the utility company can adjust the temperature during short periods to help manage the grid. By signing up for one of these programs, you can receive an additional rebate on your energy bill every year.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Demand-side management programs aim to lower electricity demand, which in turn avoids the cost of building new generators and transmission lines, saves customers money, and lowers pollution from electric generators. Utilities often implement these programs to comply with state government policies.”

Wisconsin doesn’t yet have any mandated policy for demand management and these programs are not widespread yet. You will need to check with your utility to see if one is coming. You’ll also need to be prepared to have some level of discomfort on the rare occasions the grid needs this kind of intervention.

You can still save on energy costs by signing up for tiered pricing plans and setting your thermostat accordingly. Getting your thermostat to do the heavy lifting out of peak hours can save you considerably through much lower per-unit rates.

Investing in smart thermostats can make it much easier to manage your home’s comfort in such a way as to minimize cost, without having to remember to constantly adjust things yourself. If you’re already doing that, you may not see much more in savings, but you can lighten your workload all the same.


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