DennisBeaverFebruary 8, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver

I needed to be at our office at 7 in the morning one Monday when nighttime temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley fell to below freezing. The new thermostat which we were testing for this story was scheduled to give us 72 degrees by 8:30, with an “unoccupied” winter setting of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, high enough to keep interior pipes from freezing.

So, when I stepped inside, an hour and a half early, how cold do you think it was?

It wasn’t cold at all – it was a comfy 72.  But how could that be, as no one had been in the office all weekend long?

Using my computer from home the night before, I accessed our Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostat, changing the program; I could also have used an App on my Smart Phone.

But that’s the bling part of this new generation of smart, programmable thermostats.

The real value-and reason to upgrade-are the significant energy savings and added comfort these amazing, user-friendly devices bring.

For the past several weeks-at the request of “Eric,” a reader in McKinleyville, way up in California’s beautiful Pacific Northwest, we have been testing Consumer Reports top rated smart thermostats manufactured by Honeywell and Venstar, both home and commercial versions.

He asked, “In your opinion, does it make dollars and cents to change our old thermostat?”

Our answer is absolutely yes.

With one difference-a talking feature on Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Voice Control, activated by saying Hello Thermostat and helpful for visual or mobility impaired users–both companies have products that are unbelievably easy to set up and use, will save you money, and ideal for any home-especially those with internet and Wi-Fi.

For anyone who thought that a thermostat was boring, then hang on to your utility bills, because now it’s easy to benefit from the energy saving features which programmable thermostats have had for years:

“But which a high percentage of people have never used.  In our experience, 90 percent of people have a setback thermostat, but only about 50 percent know how to use it.  Of those, perhaps 20 percent will use the energy-saving, programmable setback feature.

“Older folks are less likely to use programmable thermostats than younger, as are recent immigrants with limited language skills.  So, a thermostat that is self-instructing in the owner’s language would be so much easier,” Hanford-based Stephen Stout of Kennie’s Indoor Comfort Specialists, told You and the Law.

Walks you right through the programming

Prompts and engaging menus that walk you right through all the settings-such as time, temperature, days when you are away or when the home or office is unoccupied-are actually fun to set up and offer multiple languages. But these thermostats are also just beautiful, allowing vast choice of color and appearance changes to match any decor.

We spoke with Brad Paine – Director of Residential Product Marketing at Honeywell, and Tony Albers, Venstar’s Product Manager. Both pointed out what the ability to remotely control your thermostat means to the user who has internet and Wi-Fi.

“Remote access is awesome, it’s truly phenomenal,” Paine enthusiastically commented. “It is a feature that changes our industry dramatically, offering significant energy savings and greater comfort and control to users.”  Albers agrees, noting:

“There are many reasons why remotely monitoring and having the ability to adjust settings can be important.  Now, it is possible to be anywhere and see if your equipment is running when no one is there. If you will not be at home at the usual time, with an app, you can adjust the program and temperature, saving hours of run time, or as you did, tell the system to come on earlier than programmed.”

Do it yourself or professionally installed?

“If you can connect a computer router, then you should easily be able to install a smart thermostat,” Paine told us.  “But if not, then call a contractor,” he suggests.

While both companies have extremely easy to follow installations instructions, as our office staff are all thumbs, we used a licensed heating and air-conditioning contractor, and that can be a good idea for another reason.

“The advantage in having a professional do the installation,” Albers stressed, “is that it will be done correctly, and the features and simple programming will be explained. It is money well spent – and that investment will be recouped in energy savings.”

But there is more to energy savings than owning a smart thermostat, as you can still see insanely high bills while shortening the life of your entire heating and air-conditioning system. We are not exaggerating.

The key to avoiding expensive repairs lies in selecting the right filter and changing it on a set schedule.

And that’s our story, next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.