Thursday, June 10, 2010

Picking a Wireless Thermostat

 My wife had an unfortunate mishap with our upstairs thermostat the other day which left it inoperable. Normally I would put this on my to-do list (have you tried todoist ? it really helps me!) and get to it eventually, but we are heading into summer and it will be needed soon.

So I started to research what to replace it with. And actually, since we have separate upstairs and downstairs thermostat, I would be buying two (to keep them the same - I don't want to learn two systems!). My first inclination was to buy the one with the easiest interface. I am always frustrated with the confusing controls, so I'll pay extra for one that is easy to use. Also, I'm a big fan of thermostats that can turn on the a/c or the heater WITHOUT flipping a switch. I mean, the thermostat should know if it's too hot or too cold, right?

But not far into my research, I stumbled across wireless thermostats on I was instantly intrigued....for a few reasons. This post is a summary of the types of wireless thermostats that are on the market right now, and why you may want to choose one type over the other. Read on...

Is your thermostat located in a bad spot? Is your house too cold because your thermostat is located in the sun, or too hot because your thermostat is located in a cold draft? We have that problem with our upstairs. We have an open floor plan and the coolness from the downstairs wafts upward and keeps the upstairs thermstat thinking it is cool upstairs, while actually the bedrooms are baking in the sun. Not a good thing. Well, a company called Venstar offers a solution. Replace the thermostat with a receiver that takes signals from a portable thermostat. Place the portable thermostat on a table in the room you will be in and like magic that room will become the measure of comfort! We'll place the portable thermostat in our bedroom to ensure we stay comfortable all night long. We now have the Venstar on order and should receive it next week. All I'll have to do is replace the broken thermostat with the receiver and place the new portable thermostat on our nightstand.

This is the only thermostat I could find on the market like this, but I did find other wireless thermostats for other uses. You may want to consider them for your situation.
  Honeywell offers a wireless thermostat also. It is designed for use in homes that currently do not have central air, but the owner wants to add it. The Honeywell unit allows a/c to be added without running wires in the wall to the appropriate location for a thermostat. Install a receiver on a wall close to the a/c unit and run a short wire from the receiver to the a/c unit. Then, mount the thermostat in a good location in the house. The thermostat will communicate wirelessly to the receiver. Optionally, a remote control thermostat can be added to this setup. This is a great solution for homes that are not pre-wired for air conditioning, and no doubt helps Honeywell sell more air conditioning units!

 A third type of wireless thermostats on the market right now, and the most common type, are called IP wireless thermostats. These thermostats are wired to the a/c unit just like a typical thermostat, but they can be set and monitored from your computer. The communication between your computer and the thermostat is wireless IP, thus the name.
We went with the Venstar (see the first photo) since it solves our upstairs temperature problem, while the IP wireless thermostats would not. I might have considered the Honeywell solution had the installation guide been clear about how to place the receiver where a thermostat used to be, but the installation guide only talked about wiring the receiver directly to an a/c unit - I didn't want to go there at all.

But what I really wanted - and would have bought - is something I could not find anywhere: basically a combination of the three solutions. I would like the freedom to place my thermostat anywhere, the ability to have my receiver use existing wiring in my house, and the ability to monitor and set my remote thermostat from my computer or actually anywhere on the internet. I would have paid good money for something that did all of that. So here is the opportunity, you entrepeneurs. You build it, I'll buy it.


Mike said...

I'm surprised the last thing doesn't exist. From my naive viewpoint as a software guy it seems like that'd be the simplest design.

J said...

I can't guarantee it's not out there, I just didn't find it in my 3 or 4 hours of research.

One theory I have why it may not exist right now is that with the receiver designs, I think the receiver is "dumb" and just says sir-yes-sir to whatever command it is given. The smarts and memory is in the thermostat.

Therefore, a wireless IP setup would have to be able to send commands to the portable thermostat in order to query current temp and change settings. I think the portable thermostats right now are one-way comm, not two-way.

Just a theory I have, I could be completely wrong.

room thermostat said...

Thank you for this post. This is very informative and reliable.

Tiffany Altieri said...

I know this post is 3 years old, but I wanted to ask how you liked the Venstar unit? We have a similar problem and compounded with that would also love the non-existent option you outlined. Honeywell does make a unit now that comes close, but they are either blind or have horrific taste when they made the Redlink wireless controller a stark gray and red and 8 x 8. Never heard of blending in...

J said...

Hi Tiffany,

The Venstar has worked out very well. Since installing it 3.5 years ago, we have not had a single problem or complaint.

It maintains the temperature exactly as we desire in whatever room we place the portable thermostat.

It does require some thought. For example, on Thanksgiving we had the downstairs unit in the kitchen and the rest of the house moved to icicle temperatures. I was scratching my head about that until it dawned on me we were using both ovens and most burners on the stove - the kitchen was hot! As soon as I moved the thermostat to another room, everything returned to normal. :-)

Bottom line: we have been delighted with the Venstar and highly recommend it. Best wishes in your search and installation.

Tiffany Altieri said...

Thank you so much for your response. I've placed my order :)