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The “Smart” Choice

These days, it seems as if every device is “smart.” You might own a smart phone, a smart TV or a smart watch, but what about a smart thermostat? The first smart thermostat hit the market in 2010 and is now the corner stone of the new “smart home.” Still, to most, the devices are a mystery.

What the smart thermostat does:

Modern smart thermostats are comprised of three different components: a device attached to your A/C’s boiler unit, the traditional wall display unit, and a downloadable app.

These three components work together to produce a smart system that allows you to see and control your A/C system in a new and more in-depth way. From the app, owners can see data about their system in real time and control the temperature settings within their home remotely. This is extremely beneficial for people with hectic schedules and homeowners who want to know more about their energy usage.

Some types of smart thermostats, like the Nest learning thermostat, can monitor your home on their own. These thermostats collect humidity and temperature level data throughout the day, saving you the most energy without you doing anything at all. A smart thermostat can even use app connectivity to detect when you’re on your way home, learning your schedule to keep you comfortable at all times.

My current thermostat is working fine:

If you check your current digital thermostat every day, adjust the settings to accommodate the weather, and turn up the temperature every time you leave, you may be fine sticking with what you have.

For the micro-managing homeowner, a smart thermostat can seem like a frivolous purchase with no payback, but the data it collects is invaluable. Though you may monitor your digital thermostat like a hawk, your home’s atmosphere is a mystery when you leave. A smart thermostat is a treasure trove of information that can be used to drop your energy bill even lower.

Smart thermostats don’t come cheap, though. A smart thermostat can set you back $500 and some models require a contractor’s installation. Still, the EPA found that programable smart thermostats can save up to $128 a year in electricity. Long-term homeowners or renters looking to take their thermostat with them will see returns in their investment over time.

What’s on the market:

The three biggest names on the market, Nest, Honeywell and Ecobee are popular for a reason. Each company offers its own unique system to suit a variety of homeowners.

The Nest Learning thermostat has a minimalist design that will learn your schedule. This thermostat is easy to install— all assembly parts come with the thermostat, including a screwdriver and a plate to cover any marks left by an old display—but Nest also connects customers with reputable installers to make the process even easier. Not to mention, Nest has been creating smart thermostats since 2011 and have been improving their product for the past six years.

Honeywell’s Wi-Fi smart thermostat is the perfect answer to Nest’s smart system. Homeowners looking for a larger, more interactive display can find it at Honeywell for only $200. Though this thermostat may not “learn” like the Nest, the programable device is great for people who want to stay in control and is pre-set to save you money. It’s display panel sleek and easy to use, allowing homeowners to connect more directly with the system itself.

Ecobee systems are the cheapest on this list, but work just as well. Each Ecobee thermostat comes with a step-by-step installation guide that the website claims only takes 30 minutes to follow. You can also save a purported 23 percent on heating and cooling each year, with free monthly reports sent directly from Ecobee to help you save even more.

[Ideas] Five Ways to Beat the Summertime Spike

Summertime brings both the good and the bad. Warm weather usually means grilling and days in the sun, but it can also mean something else: a seasonal spike in your electricity bill. Here are five ways to keep your bill down and pocket that money for your next vacation.

#1 Become a fan of your ceiling fan

It’s easy to forget how comfortable a fan can make your home. Instead of turning your A/C on full blast, turn on the ceiling fans in your home. A good fan will keep the air circulating, preventing rooms from feeling stagnant. In addition, fans set high enough can create a wind chill effect that will keep you cool.

#2 Utilize your windows (and vents) the right way

Heat can easily seep in through cracks in the insulation around windows and doors. Check that all of your windows are properly sealed and keep them closed during the day. Rooms that get little use should also be closed off. Shutting vents in guest bedrooms and other low-use rooms will keep your A/C from working harder to cool them.

When the temperature drops at night, you can open windows on opposite sides of your home to create a cooling cross-breeze. Create your own air conditioning system by grabbing a stand or box fan and positioning it out of one window. This will suck the hot air from the day out while allowing cool air to filter in to your home from other windows.

#3 Check the thermostat and your appliances

It’s time to turn the setting on your thermostat back up. You’ll already be wearing your summer clothing, so you should be able to comfortably set your thermostat somewhere between 76 and 79 degrees. Remember, experts say that every degree you set your thermostat above 78 degrees can save you eight percent of your total energy usage (eight dollars on a hundred-dollar bill).

Make sure to move appliances away from your thermostat as well. TV’s, lamps and other house-hold appliances sap electricity and give off heat that can leave the air around them several degrees warmer than the ambient air in the room. This heat will keep your thermostat from accurately gauging the temperature inside your home, meaning your A/C unit will have to work harder, burning more energy in the process.

#4 Install curtains

A big part of keeping your home cool during the summer is keeping the sun out. Install light-filtering curtains and keep your blinds closed as much as possible while the sun is up. This simple measure will act like a second insulation for your home, keeping the cool air in and the boiling rays of the sun out.

#5 Maintain your unit (Regularly change filters, keep dust off returns and vents)

Unit maintenance is perhaps the most often over-looked strategy for lowering energy bills. Ridding your system of dust by changing your air filter and by dusting the return vent in your home will keep air flowing like it should. Scheduling a deep cleaning with an HVAC company in your area is also a good step to take before the hot season begins. A specialist can clean, inspect, and tune-up your unit, ensuring that it will work at its maximum efficiency for the entire summer.

Have You Changed Your Air Filter Lately? [overview]

When was the last time you replaced your home’s air conditioning filter? Do you remember? If you don’t, your bank account probably does and so do your allergies. If you tend to let the task of switching out your return air filter slip your mind, it’s time to think twice.

The Health of Your HVAC System

Dirty Air Conditioner FilterBy design, filters work to maintain the health of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.  They do this by keeping the air your house “breathes” clear of dust, dander, mold and some bacteria. You can think of your HVAC system as the lungs of your house, with air filters working like respirator masks.

If your air filter becomes clogged from neglect, the air intake of your system will be drastically decreased. The unit must work longer to do its job as less air flows through the system, increasing the system’s overall energy usage. Particles that are not trapped by a full filter can also build up on components inside of your air conditioning unit. Build up on the evaporator coils inside of your air conditioner can cause the unit to freeze over, leaving your house improperly cooled.

Left unaddressed for too long, a system with a clogged filter can sustain irreparable damage that will cost you much more than a filter replacement.

The Health of Your Family

Clean Air Conditioner FilterYour air conditioning filter is your home’s first defense against respiratory agitators. Pollen, bacteria, smoke and even auto-emissions can creep in to your home’s air circulation through a clogged filter. If your family has indoor pets, dander made up of dead skin and fur can also be an issue.

Without a properly functioning filter your HVAC system will be unable to properly dehumidify your home, creating the perfect conditions for mold growth in your home’s air vents. As these small particles of dust and mold permeate the air you breathe, you or the members of your family can have an allergic reaction, or more seriously, develop asthma.

Changing the filters around your home on a regular basis is a quick and easy way to ensure the air in your home is clear of allergens and safe for your family to breathe.

How Often You Should Change Your A/C Filters

The length of time you can go between filter changes depends on multiple factors. The more pets and people who occupy your home, the more often you should change your air filters. If you live in an area with extremely high humidity or large amounts of dust, you will need to change your filters more often. General air pollution levels in your city and the type of filter your HVAC system requires should also be considered.

A typical home may be able to go up to three months before a filter change is needed, while filters in homes containing multiple indoor pets may need to be changed more often. If you or someone in your household suffers from chronic allergy problems, a filter change may even be needed once a month or an upgrade to your A/C’s filter may be in order.

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