How About a FREE Smart Thermostat?
August 21, 2022
While I was doing the research on last week’s post ‘Smart Thermostats: Make Life Easier With These Features,’ I also ran across some other interesting information. How does a FREE or heavily discounted smart thermostat sound?
As the cost of a smart thermostat factors into the decision to get one, It could be an easy expense to pass on. Especially when you have a perfectly good analog model already on the wall. But in many areas of the US, power companies will give you a smart thermostat at a deep discount or even for free. Debbie and I weren’t aware of programs like this when we installed our first Ecobee smart thermostat in our home in Minnesota — but would have liked to. For more details on that, check out ‘Our first “Smart Home” …’ about our Ecobee4 and the other smart home devices we installed.
There is a long history of utility companies incentivizing energy-saving measures dating back to well before the advent of smart thermostats. Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, there have been various programs to encourage consumers to use energy more efficiently, decrease demands on the grid, and so forth.
These initiatives have included everything from giving away programmable thermostats to using on-peak/off-peak pricing schedules to even sending teams out to giving free energy audits to help people increase the insulation and energy efficiency of their homes. Along these lines, Debbie would have a representative from our utility company survey our home whenever we moved. They would make efficiency recommendations and often leave energy saving items like LED light bulbs and water heater blankets.
The current trend of offering free or deeply discounted smart thermostats is simply an extension of that general mission, updated for the 21st century. But if you’ve seen the prices of some of the smart thermostats out there, you may find it difficult to believe or ask ‘what’s the catch?’
In the case of the free or discounted smart thermostats, the catch is usually a mix of how much you want to save going forward, how deep of an initial discount you want, and how sophisticated a smart thermostat you’re interested in.
Power companies tend to be pretty proactive about sending out mailers and emailing customers, so if you’ve missed your power company’s offer, you may need to check your ‘junk mail’ or spam folder. If they haven’t already contacted you in some way or you’re new to the area, one of the easiest ways to check is to Google and search for the name of your power company and keywords like ‘free thermostat’ or ‘thermostat rebate.’ Or you can simply check this link by entering your zip code to find rebates, rewards, and offers from your energy provider if you’re a Nest thermostat user (or want to be). Even if you’re looking at a different brand, like Ecobee, it’s a good idea anyway to check your zip code in the database because if a given power company supports such efforts with the Nest, they most likely support it for other similar thermostats. If you stack rebates and programs, you can get lower-cost thermostats for free.
Before we look at the different kinds of savings and the details, be aware of a critical bit of fine print you should check while visiting your power utility’s site. Historically, many utilities required that you have the thermostat installed by a qualified installer who would sign off on the smart thermostat’s installation status. While some utilities retain this requirement, it’s less common than it was years ago. Be sure to double-check before installing your thermostat, so you’re not leaving any rebates or further savings on the table.
I’m currently unaware of any utility companies that explicitly require you to purchase your thermostat through them to qualify. But doing so can make getting any rebates or savings much easier as the utility company already has all the documentation they need.
Many power companies offer one-time rebates that may or may not cover the total price of the thermostat you want to purchase. These rebates typically range from $50–100, and there is no catch beyond you’re only eligible once per calendar year and you must be an established customer of the utility.
CPS Energy has initiated a ‘Wifi Thermostat Rewards’ program that pays consumers an $85 flat rate when they register their eligible smart thermostats. On top of that, they also pay an annual rate of $30 at the end of each summer.
Usually the major smart thermostat offerings from Google, Amazon, Ecobee, and other big-name brands are covered. You’ll commonly see programs billed as “Claim your free Nest thermostat!” simply because the Nest is a popular device. Generally, the rebate has nothing to do with the price paid, so a deeply discounted thermostat you might pick up on Black Friday or during Prime Day should qualify. Again, do your homework — be sure to check what the installation rules are to ensure you get the rebate.
In addition to scoring a rebate for your thermostat purchase, you can also sign up for ‘time-of-use savings.’ The program may go by different names — your power company might call it ‘time-of-use,’ ‘demand-response,’ ‘Smart Thermostat Program,’ or some other similar sounding name.
You may have heard that smart thermostats in Texas have been automatically turned up by power companies in order to conserve energy. In those cases, the power companies were given permission by the homeowners. Energy companies like CPS Energy have started programs to help incentivize cutting down on AC usage for brief periods. This is a result of the devastating 2021 winter storm that left Texas with several fatalities, days of freezing temperatures, and a major power grid outage.
The concept is the same across the board, though. Utility companies offer an incentive for customers to voluntarily enroll in a program that allows the utility company to adjust customers’ thermostats during peak-demand events remotely.
The typical reward for signing up for time-of-use programs is a one-time payment of $75–100 in the form of a gift card or bill credit. If you’ve signed up for the time-of-use program, it’s also common for utility companies to offer a smaller ongoing reward for continued participation.
While you won’t see the $75–100 reward again, it’s typical to get $25–45 once a year, either on the anniversary of the day you enrolled in the program or at the end of the peak-demand season. With the instant rebate and the time-of-use enrollment, most smart thermostats on the market are greatly reduced in price or outright free.
In the case of CPS Energy, you give them permission to raise the temperature on your thermostat during what they call ‘conservation events.’ On their website, they claim that these events do not occur often. They also give you the opportunity to opt out at any time, although you will lose the eligibility to earn the annual credit.
Another company sponsoring one of these arrangements is Energyhub with the Smart Savers program. Their terms are similar to CPS Energy’s, but they provide a different incentive. Under Energyhub’s program, you earn entries in a sweepstakes drawing of up to $5,000 towards a year’s worth of energy bills.
Energyhub also gives a bit more detail about their program’s adjustment and what to expect. When your thermostat is adjusted, they will only push it up to four degrees past where you originally set your thermostat. This may seem like a small difference in energy, but it can have a huge impact when implemented across several homes. Energyhub states that on average, your thermostat will be adjusted up to eight times throughout the summer. These moments of raised temperature seem to only be scheduled for a few hours at a time.
In order to be eligible for programs like this, you have to live in a participating state, have a smart thermostat installed, and be 18 years of age or older. Further details will be provided by the company that handles your home energy.
In Texas’ situation, these programs are being offered to ease the stress on our power grid during extreme heat. After the previously mentioned winter storm, Texas saw exactly how negatively an outage can impact the wellness of the state.
At first glance, it sounds a bit drastic, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for being reluctant to enroll. But if you read the fine print for the programs, it’s not so bad and it can have significant impact. Typically these programs are active between May and September of each year and aren’t active on holidays or weekends (except in instances of extreme demand on the grid). When they happen, your power company remotely turns your thermostat up a few degrees to decrease the demand residential AC use puts on the power grid.
Air conditioning may have a larger energy impact than you think. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), ‘the use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity in buildings around the world — and 10% of all global electricity consumption.’
It’s also important to note that purchasing a new thermostat isn’t required for time-of-use programs. If you already own a smart thermostat you should be able to enroll it in the program. But Wifi and always-on internet are required for the programs as the thermostat remaining online is crucial for the remote-adjustment function.
These are all great options if you’re looking to replace your analog thermostat. But if you’re looking to jump into smart home with both feet or really up your smart thermostat game, you might consider a more advanced model like the Google Nest Learning Thermostat or the Ecobee SmartThermostat. These are more expensive devices so make sure you’re OK that the rebates will only cover a portion of the cost.
Hopefully this has given you enough information if you’re still on the fence about getting a smart thermostat. Outside of the efficiency, cost savings, and rebate/savings programs, adding more automation to your home can deliver quality of life benefits. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide if a smart thermostat is right for you and your home.
Debbie and I will be installing a smart thermostat in our new home regardless but having the ability to receive rebates from our power company just sweetens the deal. Extra funds for more smart home gadgets!
I’ve installed a couple Wyze Thermostats for family and friends as entry level replacements for their analog units — and they love them. They’re a great option as a first smart thermostat. I’m curious if you already have a smart thermostat and how you like it. Would you buy the same model again or upgrade to the next version? I’m especially curious if you got your smart thermostat through a power company promotion or as a result of a rebate offer. Are you satisfied with the program? Are you participating in a ‘time-of-use,’ ‘demand-response,’ or other similar program to help cut grid power strain? If so, how has that worked out?
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …
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