blog-icon-hvacHere in Fresno, we were recently reminded again of just how important it is to stay cool in a summer heat wave when residents of a downtown apartment building went fours days without power as daily temperatures soared to 106°F. Sure, AC might seem like a luxury to our neighbors in cooler climates, but it wasn’t really that long ago in 2006 that Fresno suffered a rash of deaths from heat exhaustion, serving as a somber reminder that heat is nothing to joke about here in the Central Valley. While you can’t prepare for all circumstances (like people illegally tapping into the power grid, the unfortunate cause of last month’s downtown power outage), Fresno homeowners who want to minimize their risk of AC failure should know about all the parts of an HVAC that can go wrong, and today I want to talk about one that doesn’t get as much attention as it should: the thermostat.

If you’re not sure how a tiny thermostat could cause your whole HVAC system to malfunction, here are some questions to ask yourself: Does your HVAC act erratically? Do you have a brand-new system, but a really old thermostat? Are parts of your home frequently too warm, or alternatively, too cold? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need a new thermostat.

Why Location Matters for Thermostats

The thermostat is actually a pretty simple device that does two things: First, it measures the temperature of the environmental air. Second, when the air gets above or below a certain temperature (which you set), the thermostat tells the HVAC system to heat or cool the home. The system goes to work, and when the air around the thermostat returns to the desired temperature, the thermostat tells the HVAC system to stop.

It’s understandable, then, that where your thermostat is located can make a big difference in the temperature reading: for example, if your thermostat is in a back room with the door shut, it may be at a very different temperature than the rest of the house. If you’ve ever walked into a part of your house during the summer and thought, “Hey, it’s nice and cool in here!” that’s a sign that you wouldn’t want a thermostat in that room. Instead, put your thermostat in an open part of the home, like the living room or a hallway. Don’t put it in the laundry room or kitchen, both of which can get warm quick when the appliances run, which will give a “false reading.” And don’t mount your thermostat to an outside wall or to concrete or cinderblock, which are usually warmer or cooler than the surrounding air.

Replace an Old Thermostat for Big Savings

The thermostat is ultimately what controls your HVAC system, and if your thermostat is old or unreliable, you’re not doing yourself any favors by not replacing it. This is especially true if you have a thermostat with mercury bulbs, which were deemed unsafe in 2008 by California state government regulations.

Plus, we’re talking about a fifty dollar fix that’s hampering a three-thousand dollar (or more!) system. Not only will you not get the most out of your HVAC with a crummy thermostat, you may damage the system itself. Similarly, don’t cheap out on thermostat replacement. Go for the thermostat that your HVAC tech recommends. Can you buy a really cheap thermostat? Sure. Should you spend another fifteen bucks and get a good one? You bet.

If you’re willing to splurge a little more on a programmable thermostat, you’ll see the money back in several ways. First, you can collect a rebate in Fresno from SMUD if you have a qualified contractor complete the work. We’ve gotten over a million dollars in rebates back for our clients over the years, and trust us, it’s a great feeling to get that check in the mail. Second, a programmable thermostat will use your HVAC system more intelligently than a regular one. You can set it up to turn on and off at certain times, which means no more leaving the AC on all day so it’s cool when you get home — instead, you can program your thermostat to turn on an hour before you arrive.

A step up from the programmable thermostats are the new smart thermostats. These have become very popular in the last few years. They’re wifi-compatible, gather data about your usage, and can be controlled with a smartphone from anywhere you have service. That means you can turn on your system remotely anywhere, anytime. While you can expect to spend a little more — usually more than $200 — you’ll also save more on your utility bill.

The most important step in thermostat replacement? Get a professional contractor to do the work. This goes double if you’re relocating a thermostat to a location that makes more sense. Thermostats aren’t inherently dangerous to install, but they’re also not intuitive. And remember what we said about hurting the HVAC system? A bad install can do just that, even if you’re not relocating anything. Thermostat replacement is easy for a pro, which means a smaller bill than more invasive work. Get in touch with Bell Brothers in Fresno and we’ll put you on the road for a new thermostat!