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Understanding Your Thermostat

The beauty of thermostats is in their simplicity: Your home will heat up or cool down to your desired temperature at the touch of a button. However, a little knowledge about your device can empower you to save money on your heating and cooling bills.

Manual Thermostats

The most basic type of thermostat is operated manually; you set the temperature, and your heating and cooling system responds accordingly. Traditional models sense the temperature by using a metal strip which expands and contracts, while most new models use electronic sensors. Older versions used mercury, although these have fallen out of favor because they're inaccurate and harmful to the environment. Manual thermostats are inexpensive and easy to fix or replace if they break down, but they can cost you more in the long run. Unless you're vigilant in adjusting the temperature at night and when you're leaving the house, you're leaving money on the table — maybe of hundreds of dollars per year in heating and cooling bills. If your home is equipped with a manual thermostat, it may be time to take the plunge and upgrade to something more technologically advanced.

Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats are the next step up in home climate control. Instead of fiddling with the settings multiple times per day, you can let the device do the work, telling it to keep the house warmer during the day and colder at night, for example. Most models will allow you to program different routines for different days of the week as well. Programmable thermostats are relatively inexpensive — prices start around $40 — and can save you a lot of money if you aren't the type to keep a close eye on a manual model.

Smart Thermostats

A smart thermostat is the latest in HVAC control technology. These models take the concept of programmable thermostats to the next level by observing and learning from your behavior. The device catalogs what temperature you like your home to be at different times of day, monitors when you leave the house and when you return, and more. It uses this data to automatically look for efficiencies to save you money on your bill while still keeping your preferred comfort level. They do cost more initially (around $250) but the upfront cost can be worth it: Recent studies have found that the average homeowner who switches to a smart thermostat saves between 12 and 15 percent per year.

Even More Features

Depending on how sophisticated your HVAC system is, you can also use a modern thermostat to control environmental factors like humidity and ventilation. And most smart models will link into your home Wi-Fi network, so you can control them remotely. For example you could inform the device that you will be home in 20 minutes so it starts warming up the house in advance.

Of course, the most important factor in saving money on your heating and cooling bills is your own behavior. If you keep the temperature no higher than 20°C in the winter and no lower than 25°C in the summertime, you'll already see significant difference in your energy costs. Use a smart thermostat to complement your already-thrifty habits and get an extra boost in savings.