Web-enabled programmable thermostat

Programming thermostat over web

Programming thermostat over web

Hopefully you've read my post on Household Energy Use and you know that heating and cooling make up about 50% of your energy bill.  Once you realize how much it is costing you to heat and cool your home, you realize how valuable your programmable thermostat is.  And while it is nice to be able to program your thermostat to ensure your house is at a nice temperature when you get home from work at 6:00 PM, what if you're going out for a drink after work?

What if you're staying out late to enjoy a few brews with your friends?  If you aren't getting home until 11 PM, why make your AC units work to keep an empty house cold (or your heat work to keep it warm).  Wouldn't it be great if you could just log onto a website or use your iPhone to set your thermostat to match your new schedule?

Luckily there are a few internet programmable thermostats on the market.  These web-enabled programmable thermostats give you the ability to optimize your home's temperature based on you and your family's hectic schedule.  How much energy do you think you wasted the last time you went on vacation and forgot to raise your AC?

Two of the more popular products on the market are Proliphix and Ecobee.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to sample either product, but on first glance it looks like the Ecobee product has a heavier focus on the Residential consumer and a nicer user interface, while the Proliphix product caters more towards Commercial consumers, though still offers a solution for individuals.

From the demos on their website, the Ecobee unit's interaction screen looks very easy to use.  There are rumors of an iPhone app from Ecobee, but I searched the App store and didn't see it so I don't think it is released yet.  How cool would it be to control your AC while you sit in traffic!  The Ecobee product sells on the website for $469, but they do recommend an HVAC technician installs it.

Since heating and cooling make up so much of our energy consumption, the easier it becomes to controls these loads, the more money we all will save!

***Update - 9/14/09 - I have an Ecobee installed and running in my home, check out the Ecobee smart thermostat demo presented by Mapawatt Blog

***Update - 9/15/09 - The Ecobee Installation review is up!

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Well, the IP thermostat can email you when the temperature in your home drops to a preset low or high setting, alerting you to a "freezing" potential early enough for you to take remedial action.
We have a web-programmable thermostat and while I agree that it's advantages over a normal programmable thermostat aren't extreme, we have it linked into our iCal calendars so it knows when we will be home and when we have events out of the house. This way, if I have a meeting pop up on my iPhone I just have to accept or reject it and the house automatically adjusts.
I do see the point in a web-programmable thermostat. I'm living temporarily in a different town, and return to my house only randomly and sporadically. In winter temperatures can get as low as -15 where I live, so I set the thermostat to its lowest setting (7 degrees) to stop the pipes freezing etc. without expending any more energy than necessary to heat an empty house. What I'd like is a way of remotely turning up the heating a few hours in advance, before setting off. At the moment I have left a key with a friend, but don't like to bother someone else every time I go home. My objection to the ecobee product is its outrageous price. I'm sure it has all sorts of features and would maybe be worth it for someone who wants to take full advantage of them, but I don't even bother programming my existing thermometer because when at home I don't keep to a regular schedule, but prefer to turn the heating up or down as needed. Does anyone know of a simpler (and cheaper) remotely controllable thermostat?
Dan, You may want to try and look here: If anyone would have a simple on/off device for a thermostat, they probably would. How much do you spend a year heating your house?
Gentlemen - I am excited to tell you that the features you described do exist and are part of the Ecobee thermostat already. Ecobee is a "smart thermostat" and it will take into consideration the difference between your indoor temp, the set-point, the outdoor temp and past history when turning on your equipment. It's goal is to have your home at the desired temperature at the program time. So, if you want it to be 70 degrees at 6 AM and it thinks it's going to take 15 minutes to get to 70 (based on past history and current conditions), it will come on at 5:45. If it thinks it will only take 5 min, then the stat comes in at 5:55. I love this feature as it saves me from freezing in the morning when I am making my coffee! And I didn't have to do anything fancy like Tom described. It just does it! Also, with regard to the internet programming, I see it as a huge energy saver. Yes, normally you don't need to change the programming from afar, but let's say you go up to the mountains for the weekend and expect to be home Sunday night, but you get caught in a storm. Why have your heat running on Sunday night if you're not going to be there? (This happened to me this winter.) Or let's say you go out of town in the winter and set your thermostat to 55, but something goes wrong with the furnace. The Ecobee will send you an email letting you know that your equipment is not operating properly and the temp in the house is dropping. If your pipes freeze, that's one expensive repair bill. Wouldn't you like to know that all is functioning properly? And last but not least, the Ecobee has something similar to your green switch. There is a "quick save" button that sets back your thermostat like a light switch. So, if you're on your way to the grocery store and don't want to reprogram your stat for an hour, you can just hit the "quick save" button and it will adjust your settings to an energy savings mode. When you return, you just hit "quick save" again and it will resume your program. I absolutely love the stat and highly recommend it.
Anthony, Have you read my latest post? Thanks for the great comment. I think I forgot to mention the "quick save" button.
Tom, You might be right, but my job (outside sales) requires that I'm constantly in and out of the house so I'd love to be able to crank up my thermostat (in the summer) while I'm sitting at a traffic light if I forgot to do it before I ran out. But yes, unless you would check your thermostat a lot while you are away, it would probably be a waste of money. I like your software idea! Our homes definitely need to get smarter. Another idea is just installing a Green Switch and having everything turn off when you leave the house (including the heating/AC), but that could be a huge nuisance.
OK, I'm a certified geek, and this kind of stuff appeals to my inner- (and outer-) geek. But compared to a simple programmable thermostat, a web-programmable thermostat doesn't really make sense. The technology is cool: the implementation is of no real value. How often will the typical user actually schedule their heating from the web? But I do have an idea for an implementation that uses this technology and may make sense. It took us a couple of years to get the programming of our thermostat right. You have to learn how long it takes between when the furnace goes on and the house gets up to the desired temperature. Also, how long will the heat last ... and that depends on how quickly your house loses heat as well as how much heat is still in your heating system, walls, and so on. Depending on outside temperature, day of the week, and maybe one or two other factors, we were able to keep the inside temperature at a level that was suitable: cold at night, warm when we got up, cold during the day, warmer when we got home. It's far from perfect, and there are days we are colder than we would like. If it's a holiday, or I am working from home, or ... any unexpected pattern arises, I just hit the "override" button and set it up to 68°. What would be great would be a system that accounted for external temperatures, desired indoor temperatures, time of day and other such factors to optimize when the furnace needed to come on. Such a system would learn how the house responded, and control the furnace to minimize fuel use and optimize towards a desired set point temperature. Sure, it would be nice to be able to tell it "today is a holiday, or a snow day, or a sick child day, or a work at home day", but this is really just a nuance. What makes a smarter system smart is not that I can tell it when to turn the furnace on or off, but that it can figure it out for itself. The ability to control from a user-controlled web page provides 99% of the technology needed to do something useful. The extra 1% is some software that measures and understands how your heating system and the weather work together to result in a properly heated space. Maybe I'll write some software to do it :-) Tom

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