Last month, Commonwealth Edison announced a rebate program for the installation of smart thermostats, which learn people’s behavior in a home and adjust heating/cooling use to when a home is occupied or about to be occupied. Not only can they reduce homeowners’ utility bills, they can be used to reduce energy usage during high-demand periods. 

Other utilities have joined the smart thermostat bandwagon, but the Illinois initiative — a partnership between ComEd, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Citizens Utility Board, Nest Labs and ecobee — is the largest effort of its kind in the nation, the ELPC reports. ComEd serves northern Illinois, including the Chicago metro area, and has nearly 4 million customers.

The program makes ecobee3 and the Nest Learning Thermostat eligible for up to $120 in rebates for customers with Wi-Fi, central air and a furnace. Homeowners can monitor and adjust settings via smartphone, tablet or computer.

“We have a target of installing one million smart thermostats across ComEd, North Shore Gas and Peoples Gas territory over the next five years,” says Rob Kelter, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “What makes this a game-changer is that customers can achieve significant savings on their energy bills, while improving the comfort of their homes.”

A million smart thermostats installed in northern Illinois, according to analysis by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, would lead to 709,000 metric tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions per year, The Washington Post reports. “It also estimates that, for customers swapping out a manual thermostat for a smart one, the savings could be as much as $131 annually on their bills (both electricity and gas),” the article notes.

A recent report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “New Horizons for Energy Efficiency,” reviewed a half-dozen recent studies on energy savings from smart thermostats, finding that such thermostats can reduce energy use for home heating and cooling by an average of about 8% to 15%. The study estimates such thermostats can provide electricity savings for 2 cents to 3 cents per kWh saved.

While these rebate programs seem to focus on homes with HVAC systems, smart thermostats are on the market for hydronic heating systems, such as Bosch Thermotechnology’s recently introduced Remote Room Controller. It allows homeowners to monitor and adjust space heating and water heating through a smartphone or tablet.

Environmental groups and utilities continue to highlight the energy-saving benefits, as well as ease of use, of smart thermostats. Almost three decades ago, the big push was for programmable thermostats, where homeowners could enter multiple timed heat settings to help regulate heating and cooling more efficiently to save energy and money. Yet many homeowners don’t know how to program their programmable thermostats.

“The smart-thermostat revolution has been coming on strong of late, and none too soon — growing research has suggested that ‘programmable’ thermostats, which do have theoretical potential to save users a lot of money and electricity if properly used, often baffle and befuddle people,” The Washington Post article notes.

A 2003 study by Carrier Corp. shows only 47% of programmable thermostats were in the program mode and 53% were in the hold mode (which is basically manual mode). The Washington Post ran an interesting article highlighting three problems with programmable thermostats; you can read it at

Plumbing & Mechanical columnist Dan Holohan wrote about smart thermostats and the “thermostat wars” in his November 2014 column and had this observation: “You just spent a lot of money for a thermostat that takes the time to learn your habits and consider your needs. Or it watches you when you leave the house and tracks you on your journey. You have the power to control the temperature inside your house from anywhere there is an Internet connection.

“But now you spend even more money on a universal remote control that gives you the ability to override the Nest, which you’re supposed to be trusting. And all because you can do this through thick walls. Does that make any sense to you?”

If you think smart thermostats are a fad and prefer to install or recommend programmable thermostats to your customers, you might want to provide a little “programmable” training to make sure customers know how to use them properly.

Or maybe design an easy-to-use sheet, with your company logo and contact information, explaining in easy-to-understand terms how to program the thermostat to save energy at night or while on vacation. Your customers will thank you.