Smart Or Programmable - What's In Your Thermostat?

By John Voket, RISMedia Consumer Columnist

On occasion, your RIS Consumer Confidant takes a look at those little pieces of equipment in our homes we walk past a hundred times a day, and often take for granted until they go out of whack. In this segment we'll get a fix on the latest technological advances in thermostats, from the Alliance to Save Energy.

Miriam Berg recently wrote about the differences between the newest smart thermostats, versus the programmable units that adorn millions of homes.

Berg wrote that programmable thermostats allow you to schedule temperature settings. So, you can pre-program the system to turn down while you're at work and asleep.

If you program it correctly, these thermostats can lower your heating and cooling bills by about $180/year, says Energy Star. That's a quick return on your investment, as programmable thermostats cost $50-$100.

Alas, some people still don't bother to program their programmable thermostats. That's where smart thermostats come in, Berg says. For an increased investment ($100-$500), you get a gizmo that works with your irregular schedule and your aversion to fiddling with the controls on your wall.

She writes that some smart thermostats come with a smart phone app. For instance Berg says, the Nest – which is so app-centric it's been called an “appcessory” – has an app for Apple products like the iPhone, iPhoneTouch, and iPad, as well as for Android 2.2 or newer.

The Nest learns how to "program itself around your life" through occupancy/motion sensors, ambient light and humidity monitors, and by remembering manual adjustments, according to the Nest website This includes an "auto away" setting that drops the system down to your pre-set minimum when it doesn't detect movement.

Smart thermostats also come with monitoring systems that track your energy use and, through your personal online account, offer charts that show how much energy you're using across the week. With this information, you can identify areas where you are wasting energy and adjust accordingly.