One of our astute readers of The News recently pointed out that contractors should consider putting a protocol into place as far as thermostats are concerned.

According to this reader, “There is the usual go-around regarding having the hvac technician set up and explain a thermostat’s use and features. Who’s got the time? Especially if the thermostat is installed with equipment replacement or service, which is always concentrated in the busy season when techs are rushing to the next job. They’re not providing home-based education.”

As a result, this particular reader has come up with a protocol for thermostat installation and homeowner instruction. He’s adopted his version from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency Inc.,

Boston, MA, which actually has a whole specification available that addresses the installation and maintenance of residential systems. (It is available free of charge on CEE’s website at www.ceeformt .org/resid/rs-ac/hvac.php3.)

CEE is an active proponent of high-efficiency residential hvac systems. Its “Specification of Energy-Efficient Installation and Maintenance for Residential Hvac Systems” is a compilation of installation practices that focuses on maximizing the efficiency of residential hvac systems. That, of course, includes thermostats.

Installation Is The Weak Link

Rick Karg, owner of R.J. Karg Associates, Topsham, ME, who served as the contract manager and primary writer of the CEE specification, says he believes that contractors can profit by adopting a standard set of procedures. “In addition to making systems more efficient, contractors can increase profits by using best-practices installation procedures. Callbacks are reduced, customer satisfaction is increased [not only by higher quality workmanship but also by enhanced comfort levels], energy is saved, global warming is slowed, and the contractor’s reputation is improved.”

In many cases, notes Karg, installation is the weak link in the chain of system efficiency. While most manufacturers usually provide good installation instructions, they are usually equipment-specific and do not address the entire system. As noted in the CEE specification, “Proper sizing and installation can result in energy savings of up to 35% for air conditioners and 16% or more for furnaces.”

As far as thermostats are concerned, Karg says that the programmable types are the best, even though they may cost more. “Contractors must add value to their sales. Added value includes watching out for the best interests of their customers. Their customers’ best interests include energy costs, health, safety, and comfort. A programmable thermostat does cost more, but it almost always saves the customer money in the long term.”

Some contractors are reluctant to add expensive energy-saving equipment to a quote, fearing that they will be undercut and lose the job, but it is important to make the customer aware of the long-term benefits of any increase in installed costs. There will always be homeowners who really don’t care about the type of thermostat installed, but if the contractor does not take the time to make the homeowners aware of these facts, they will never have the chance to care.

“I think a very important characteristic of value-added marketing is the education of the customer by the contractor,” notes Karg.

Thermostat Selection

Karg notes that contractors should install the simplest high-quality programmable thermostat they can find. But this is only the starting point. Contractors should make sure they spend time educating the customer regarding proper thermostat use. And, of course, the thermostat instruction booklet should be left with the customer.

“It is also good for business — value added again — to give the customer a call a few weeks after the job is completed to inquire about her or his satisfaction with the work,” says Karg. “This is a good time to also ask how the customer is doing with the new thermostat.”

Contractors should also make sure that the programmable thermostat matches the system. It may sound rather basic, but if the conditioning system is both heating and cooling, the thermostat should accommodate both heating and cooling.

Karg adds that it’s important to set the thermostat anticipator to 1.0 to 1.25 times the thermostat circuit current. That’s because the proper adjustment of a thermostat anticipator can save as much as 2% of energy consumption.

In order to make installation easier, contractors may prefer sticking with one thermostat manufacturer, as long as that manufacturer has models for any situation the contractor might encounter. As Karg notes, “Using one thermostat brand will probably reduce installation time for the contractor, and it will make his educational efforts easier.”

By following a standard protocol, contractors can reduce the mistakes that are usually associated with thermostats, such as:

  • Selecting the wrong thermostat for the system;
  • Mounting the thermostat in the wrong location;
  • Ignoring the anticipator setting or setting it improperly; and
  • Not educating the customer regarding proper thermostat use.
  • Karg believes that the majority of contractors have a desire to improve their installation methods, and thus, their long-term bottom lines. “During our research for the specification, we found significant savings can be achieved from best-practices installation.”

    That’s good news for the customer — and also good news for the contractor.

    Sidebar: What You Need In a Thermostat

    The CEE specification addresses several types of thermostats, including those used for heat pumps and gas furnaces. What follows is an excerpt from the specification, which covers cooling and heating programmable thermostats:

    Programmable thermostats should be installed for interior temperature control and should have the following features:

  • Thermostats should be Energy Star labeled.
  • They should have separate weekday and weekend programs, each with up to four customized temperature settings — two for occupied periods and two for energy-saving periods when the house is unoccupied or when the occupants are sleeping.
  • Thermostats must have the ability to maintain room temperature ±2°F of the setpoint temperature.
  • Thermostats must have a “hold” feature that allows users to temporarily override the programmed settings without deleting them.
  • The maximum recommended setpoint increase for cooling is 8°. The maximum recommended setpoint decrease for heating is 10°.
  • Verification. Check for proper operation and installation.
  • Benefits. Savings for temperature offset (automatically turning the thermostat setting up, not off) vary depending on climate, equipment, and house envelope characteristics. Studies have demonstrated savings from 1% to 3% per 1° of 8-hr offset for heating (for temperature offsets within a range of 5° to 10°). Two 8-hr setback periods per 24-hr period double savings. For cooling, computer modeling and measured savings show a 2% to 5% savings per 1° of 8-hr offset. Customers will complain about the amount of time required to achieve a cooling setpoint during a heat wave, unless the extra time is factored into the time settings of the thermostat.
  • Thermostats should be mounted on an interior wall in an area of average temperature and away from direct sunlight, distribution supply airflow, stairwells, water pipes, appliances, and sources of electrical interference.
  • Publication date: 03/26/2001