In recent letters to the editor and stories inThe News,some contractors have shown a reluctance to recommend programmable thermostats to consumers. They argue that programming is too difficult, and that the consumer will never use more than a fraction of the thermostat’s capabilities.

On the other hand, there are quite a few contractors who successfully recommend and install large numbers of these thermostats, and who experience little or no problems with confusion on the part of the consumer after the installation is made.

John Sartain, marketing manager for White-Rodgers, said installers might need a few teaching tips, if only because they are required to know so many things about so many products.

“We know one thing — thermostats,” he said. “Installers have to know many things. Their primary function is to install and service. The thermostat is usually the secondary function.”

Sartain described some of the benefits of programmable thermostats that contractors can pass on to their customers:

  • Excellent comfort control;

  • Energy savings of up to 33%, achieved by reducing energy consumption during times acceptable to the homeowner;

  • Increased flexibility for special needs in the home;

  • Greater temperature accuracy than older, electromechanical, nonprogrammable types;
  • and

  • New, helpful,consumer-driven features.

  • New Features

    Customers can now find programmable thermostats with easier-to-read controls for the elderly. Other features added after input from consumers and contractors include lighted keypads, and large, well-lit displays for nighttime viewing. Also available is a new, nonvolatile (never lose it) memory to save homeowners’ programs, eliminating the need to reprogram after a power loss.

    Sartain cited one of his own company’s models as an example of an easy-to-use programmable thermostat. “Lighted keypads and White-Rodgers’ recent Comfort-View® display with large, easily readable numbers and electro-luminescent backlighting, translate into much easier visibility for homeowners to use in the middle of the night,” he said. “Some models even feature backlit keypads in addition to the display for even easier programming.”

    Easier to Program

    Recent advances have made programming less intimidating as well. “Programmable thermostats are so much easier for consumers to program today than they were when they first hit the market,” said Sartain. “One reason is that thermostats today contain larger microprocessors, so the need to reprogram when switching from heating to cooling is eliminated, and popular 7-day models are easier than ever to program.”

    Sartain noted other features: an audible beep (feedback), so that the homeowner knows that information has been changed, and rubberized keypads, which give a positive message that the key has been hit.

    “Even visually impaired individuals can successfully use these thermostats, when supplied with Braille labels and an instructional audiotape,” Sartain said.

    The Contractor’s Perspective

    Contractors who successfully install programmable thermostats usually have a couple of tips for ensuring success. Here are some ideas Sartain has heard from contractors:

  • Focus on the right customers — ones who are comfortable using the computer or Internet;
  • Work with the customer to make sure he or she understands the programming process; and
  • Offer the customer options for getting help to answer questions that may come up later.
  • “If customers don’t have the aptitude to program a VCR, they might need help programming a thermostat,” Sartain added.

    He cited one contractor who has some good ideas.

    “Michael Shippa of Art Duquette Heating and Cooling of Novi, MI, installs quite a few of White-Rodgers’ premium 1F90-371 thermostats in his custom homes and seldom, if ever, has a problem after the installation,” Sartain said. “He knows how to match the thermostat to the customer.

    “Because he builds upscale homes, his homeowners are accustomed to more sophisticated equipment and often have special needs such as zoned heating and cooling systems that require a thermostat with many features, such as remote sensors. Additionally, they are often accustomed to the type of minor programming these thermostats may require.”

    Educating Consumers

    Educating the customer is key, according to Sartain. “Working directly with the customer is also very important. Shippa helps ensure that his customers understand the programming process by going through the programming for the first time with each homeowner.

    “He also walks them through each step of the instruction manual, and shows them all the necessary steps to make changes. Shippa recommends not going through the entire manual. There are well-written manuals that have a short ‘Getting Started’ section that communicates the programming process in short form, which is helpful to use with homeowners.”

    Sartain added some final ideas for anticipating future home-owner questions and making sure they get answered:

  • Highlight pages in the instruction manual that contain frequently asked questions and answers.
  • Visit the manufacturer’s website to get answers to questions.
  • Write and circle the manufacturer’s toll-free consumer hotline number on the instruction manual.
  • “In the end, don’t assume that programmable thermostats are for everybody — or nobody,” Sartain said.

    “Choose your target customers wisely, walk them through the programming process, and you’re on your way to incremental profits and satisfied customers.”

    Publication date: 09/18/2000