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User-friendly thermostats pay off in energy savings

Consumer Reports News: August 01, 2012 12:13 PM

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Nearly half the money you spend on home energy goes to heating and cooling. For the average household that's about $1,100 a year. A programmable thermostat can save you money by automatically reducing heating or cooling when you need it least. The thermostat has to be properly set, of course, and our latest tests of 30 models reveal that many are now much easier to use.

That wasn't always the case. Energy Star stopped certifying thermostats in late 2009 mostly because they were so hard to use and could lead to wasted energy. Energy Star is developing new standards that include ease of use, but in the meantime you'll find models in our new thermostat Ratings that are very simple to use with screens that are easy to see. Most models accurately maintained temperature settings within one to two degrees so our thermostat tests focus on ease of use based on our panelists ability to set them up and make routine adjustments before reading the manual and then with the manual if needed.

And here's the really cool part. The top three thermostats, like the Venstar ColorTouch Series T5800, $170, have interactive displays and color screens. Some allow you to monitor energy use and make changes via your smart phone or laptop while you're off trotting the globe. The $250 Nest Learning Thermostat can be programmed remotely. It's unlike any thermostat we tested in form or function and a recommended model. It's round and sleek, with a rim dial for making adjustments, and a techie's dream. You can program it yourself, which our panelists found wasn't as intuitive as the top models, or let it automatically program itself based on changes you make the first week. It notes your preferences and schedules and keeps on making adjustments. Pretty cool. And that's the whole idea.

Kimberly Janeway

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