How Home Thermostats Work: Everything You Need to Know

image of a woman looking at her home thermostat

Is your AC or heater failing to kick start when you power it on?

Does your HVAC system keep short cycling, turning on and off without reaching the set temperature? This problem alone wastes a lot of electricity.

The above issues could signal a problem with your home thermostat.

Thermostats control the temperature within your home. You can’t install an HVAC system without one, but not every homeowner understands how home thermostats work.

Learn everything you need to know in this simple guide.

How Does a Home Thermostat Work?

Let’s start with the basics.

You already know that a thermostat senses temperature and tells your HVAC system when to power on and off. What you may not know is that there are different types of home thermostats, and they all work slightly differently. 

Traditional Thermostats

Traditional thermostats are also known as analog thermostats.

You’ll still find plenty of analog thermostats, or you may have one yourself. These appliances typically have one bimetallic strip that’s composed of two other metal strips. These strips expand and contract with your home’s temperature, shutting the heat on and off.

The problem with analog thermostats is that the room temperature displayed may not be as accurate as a digital thermostat, the next option on the list.

Digital Thermostats

Digital thermostats may be the most common type of thermostat. Their built-in electronic sensors and digital displays are more accurate than analogs. Analogs are mechanical, but you can get the best of both worlds with an electromechanical thermostat.

Digital thermostats are easy to regulate, power on, and shut off. If you want more custom options, you can upgrade to a programmable thermostat. This type lets you schedule heating and cooling throughout the week, saving you energy in the long run.

If you don’t want the heater running at night, simply program your digital thermostat to shut off during bedtime hours. You can also schedule your work week into your heating and cooling schedule, saving more money on utility bills.

How Do Thermostats Work for Smart Homes?

image of a homeowner using a smart home thermostat app on their smartphone

Do you want even more functionality? Smart thermostats are the next step up.

Like programmable models, you can also schedule heating and cooling time windows. Yet, smart appliances go a step further in letting you regulate your home’s temperature from your cell phone.

Smart thermostats come with smartphone apps for android and iPhones, allowing you to remotely manage your HVAC system.

Smart appliances learn your home’s temperature patterns, optimizing your heating and cooling schedule for efficiency. Thermostat apps also visualize your energy usage to help you save even more money.

You can power your thermostat by hand, via smartphone, or by automation. If you have a pre-set schedule, you don’t have to do anything.

How to Install a Thermostat

Once you’ve settled on a thermostat type, your next step is installation.

Don’t undertake this task alone. Incorrect installation poses health and safety problems, increasing the risk of electrical fires, poor wiring, and fumes. It can also cause your HVAC system to overwork itself, driving repairs and energy costs.

Always turn to an experienced and insured professional. For example, at Service Patriots, a technician will diagnose the problem first before recommending a proper solution for thermostat repair or replacement.

You also need someone who understands the nuances of HVAC wiring. Even if you have some wiring experience, HVAC electrical circuit work is very different from general home wiring.

HVAC professionals also know the best places to install a thermostat.

For example, you don’t want to install a thermostat on the other side of the kitchen wall. The heat emanating through the wall will produce a false temperature reading. Likewise, cold drafts from hallways and windows will also produce unreliable temperatures.

Thermostats are best installed in common areas like living rooms or family dens. These locations help thermostats measure temperature and capacity more accurately. There’s no need to install separate thermostats in the bedrooms since they already have vents.

You can replace thermostat plates on your own. Your model may have a simple analog-style plastic plate or a larger plastic case for a digital thermostat. Be sure to select the cover plate that’s right for the model of your thermostat.

How to Set a Home Thermostat

Every thermostat model is made differently. Regardless of the manufacturer, it’s always best to test out your thermostat for any issues before moving forward. This point also speaks to the importance of hiring a trusted air conditioning professional. With Service Patriots, your service call isn’t over until everything is working smoothly.

After powering on your air conditioner, you should hear that familiar fire-up sound. If you smell a slight burning, your furnace may need a good cleaning. Turn off your thermostat and attend to that before continuing on.

Set your temperature dial to the lowest setting you need for your desired comfort level. Wait for your thermostat to achieve that intended temperature and shut itself off. Give yourself a few hours to see if your programmable or smart thermostat is working correctly, and you should be good to go!

How to Tell If You Need a Replacement

You’ve learned about short cycling and thermostats failing to power on. These are just two signs of needed AC repair to watch out for.

Is your indoor temperature rising despite cooler conditions in the home?

The thermostat may be producing an incorrect read because of its location. This can be the result of DIY jobs from previous homeowners. If you see this problem, call an HVAC technician to check for wiring and installation concerns.

Is your heater or AC running continuously?

You may have a broken thermostat on your hands.

If you have a programmable thermostat, there may be a problem with the pre-set functions. Likewise, your smart thermostat may be experiencing technical difficulties. If that’s not the problem, see if the batteries are low.

Replace the batteries and restart the process to see if you can get your thermostat working again. That often does the trick. If not, give Service Patriots a call to diagnose and fix the problem.

How To Clean Your Thermostat

Remove the cover to get started.

Gently clean the inside of the plate or case with a soft cloth. Take a look at the wiring; if you see any frayed, loose, or corroded parts, call a professional. You may need new wiring.

You can use dental floss to remove stubborn grime that’s accumulated near electrical parts. If that doesn’t work, try an air compression cleaning tool.

Get the Right Thermostat for Your Needs

A reliable thermostat is vital to maintaining your heating and cooling system, but how does a home thermostat work best in your home?

Our Service Patriots technicians understand how home thermostats work and are ready to discuss the various types of thermostats available to you. Let’s work together to keep your home at your desired temperature all year long. Give us a call at (360) 571-5100 or contact us online to book your installation. We look forward to serving you.

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