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All About Internet-Controlled Thermostats

How networking your thermostat can save you money and help the environment

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Electronic thermostat
Jorg Greuel/Photodisc/Getty Images
Having a computer network installed at your home or business lets you do you much more than simply surf the Web. An Internet-controlled thermostat, for example, can both save you money and help the environment, by allowing you to control the building's heating and air conditioning systems while you're away.

What Is an Internet Thermostat?

A thermostat is simply a small device that contains sensors and is used to regulate temperature. You probably have one that controls the heating or air conditioning system in your home or business. Thermostats also are installed in motorized vehicles and vending machines to protect parts from overheating.

An Internet thermostat is a programmable building thermostat capable of connecting to an Internet protocol (IP) network. Through an IP connection, you can remotely send instructions to an Internet thermostat to turn it on or off or change its programming.

How Internet Thermostats Work

Internet-controlled thermostats are one type of home automation device. Home automation systems increase the efficiency of managing various home electronics. For example, using a home automation system you can configure lights in a room to switch on automatically whenever a person enters, or you may set the home oven and coffee maker to run at certain times of day based on your meal schedule.

Programmable building thermostats offer similar convenience as other types of home automation devices. Based on time of day, you can pre-set these devices to maintain certain temperatures while the house is occupied and other (more extreme) temperatures when unoccupied to save energy. Most modern thermostats support this level of programming through a keypad on the front of the unit with no network interface required.

Thermostats that support a network connection add another level of convenience and flexibility beyond basic programming. Instead of needing to be physically present at the keypad, you can interface to an Internet thermostat using a Web browser to override the thermostat's default programs as needed. These devices contain a built-in Web server that can be configured with a public IP address enabling it to be reached from remote locations.

Reasons to Use an Internet Thermostat

Aside from the obvious benefits of programming a thermostat to save energy and money, situations where an Internet thermostat is particularly useful include
  • shutting off a building's air conditioning system if you forgot to do so before leaving it
  • telling the thermostat to postpone cooling (or heating) your home because you need to work late
  • monitoring a building's temperature in case the air conditioner fails or another occupant changes the programming
  • adjusting the programming from your computer as a "remote control" rather than walking over to the device in another room

Types of Internet Thermostats

Several manufacturers sell Internet-controlled thermostats for both residential and commercial use. Proliphix (manufacturer's site) has offered its Network Thermostats since 2004. Aprilaire also offers its Model 8870 Thermostat (compare prices). These products interface via Ethernet cables to a home network.

All mainstream Internet thermostats consider home security as part of their designs. To avoid pranksters hacking into your network and messing with your home's temperature, the Web servers on these thermostats allow you to set login passwords. The thermostats also all utilize wired Ethernet rather than wireless protocols for greater protection. As with any network device, ensure you choose strong passwords to avoid being compromised.

Socially Conscious Internet Thermostats

As a possible preview of the future of Internet thermostats, one enterprising utility company in Texas (USA) supplies its TXU Energy iThermostat Internet thermostat for free to subscribers. Rather than simply allowing customers to manage their own equipment, TXU Energy also has built into their service the capability to take control of their customers' iThermostats and power them down during times of peak power demand.

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