TreeHugger.com recently wrote an interesting article with the headline ‘We Need Smart Thermostats Because People are Dumb’ and I simply could not let that article go without a response. As well written as the article is I feel it is incredibly wrong when it comes to the technical benefits of smart thermostats and in particular the thermostat that I have installed in my home, the ecobee.
In the TreeHugger article the author implies that people are ‘dumb’ because they overlook more obvious ways to save money and instead choose to spend money on gadgets that cost you more money…. like a smart Thermostat. The Author Sami Grover gives two specific reasons;
a) Why spend money on expensive thermostats when air sealing, insulation and behavior change deliver more bang for your buck?
b) Smart thermostats encourage you to constantly tinker with your temperature settings. In a well-designed house, that may waste more energy than it saves.
Point A is a valid point but one that requires a bit more thinking. First off what does a smart thermostat cost? In the case of an ecobee Smart Si it is on average $160.00. What is the average cost to re-insulate, caulk and seal your home? Nowhere near $160.00. Re-insulating and sealing my house would absolutely make a huge difference in my heating bill but my house is finished top to bottom and I simply can not afford it.
As for which is easier changing my wifes behaviour when it comes to messing with the thermostat or using a smart thermostat that eliminates my wifes desire to tinker I think you know which route I went to avoid my wife divorcing me.
This also leads to the authors second statement that smart thermostats encourage people to ‘tinker with their thermostat settings’ wasting energy instead of saving it. If a thermostat is smart enough users should not have to tinker with it and the only time my wife touches our ecobee is to take advantage of a feature I ridiculed when I first saw it…. she checks the weather.
She isn’t tinkering with the thermostat because the ecobee HomeIQ system keeps our home comfortable all the time. How many times have I tinkered with or changed the thermostat settings of consequence since I installed it? Once when I went to Florida with my family. Smart Thermostats do not encourage you to tinker with them if they are working properly and mine is.
Further to Treehuggers comment on changing behaviour one reason that programmable thermostats get a bum rap is because a study by the EPA showed that of the over 25million programmable thermostats in the USA 50% of them go unprogrammed. Why? Because regardless of how well some manufacturer’s may think they are designed consumers and installers ( speaking from experience ) can not figure out how to set them up and program them. This reason alone is why Smart Thermostats are so important to energy savings for the average homeowner.
Its not a human behavior issue if we don’t know how to setup the program on our thermostat.
The biggest thing that a smart thermostat brings is ease of programming and in turn it is passively altering human behavior and also saving you money. The Honeywell Lyric uses Geofencing to turn your heat and cool off when you get within a few miles of your home eliminating the need to learn how to program the thermostat. The NEST uses a proximity sensor to learn your schedule and heat and cool based on when you are home and my personal favorite the ecobee has a ‘moron proof’ programming guide along with HomeIQ Smart Recovery to make it so that even the most hopeless person can program it.
Smart thermostats are perfect for dumb people or lazy people who do not want to learn how to run a program or setup a thermostat. Are all smart thermostats made equal? Of course not but categorically ruling them out as a complete waste of money is as TreeHugger.com puts it, dumb.
In the case of my ecobee thermostat it can easily pays for itself in a year ( see the numbers here ). Could I have save this money without a smart thermostat? Sure but could the average homeowner? Smart thermostats are not for dumb people they are for people who are not HVAC guru’s and need help saving money the simplest and cheapest way possible with a better stat. A smart thermostat.
Disclaimer: I do not work for ecobee but I love their product ( clearly ) and we offer it in our line up of products at my place of employment. These opinions are mine and mine alone.