Stories & Features

Get smart with heating to keep winter bills lower

BC Hydro community rep Vanessa Lo
Vanessa Lo of BC Hydro's community team serves up advice on choosing a smart thermostat, plus a link to a long list of other tips we have for cutting heating costs.

This winter has hit hard, so consider adding a smart thermostat or two

Vanessa Lo
for bchydro.com

As waves of Arctic air chill our province this winter, falling temperatures are driving electricity demand up, close to breaking an all-time record. In December, we saw peak demand increase up to 18% from week to week, usually between 4 and 8 p.m., when British Columbians come home, make dinner, switch on the lights, and of course, turn up the heat.

How do you ensure your home is warm on the coldest days of the year?  Consider adding smart thermostats to the mix, and check out our latest tips on how to beat the cold snap without blowing up your winter bill.

A smart thermostat could help save energy without sacrificing comfort

While a regular thermostat acts like a fixed control panel for your heating and air conditioning system at home, a smart thermostat connects to your WiFi network and allows you to control the climate remotely on your smartphone or computer.

Some models can even learn your habits and adapt settings to suit them, display energy consumption in real-time, and adjust themselves based on ambient conditions such as humidity. The most sophisticated learning thermostats often rely on built-in sensors to track activity in different rooms, and then create a customized, auto-adjusting temperature schedule based on your movements in the home.

For many of us, the main benefit of installing a smart thermostat is the "set it and forget it" convenience. However, Tim Mosley from BC Hydro's Smart Home team believes the greatest benefit is the ability to manage your settings on the go. For example, he says, "If you thought you were heading home after work in the evening, but have a spontaneous change of plans, you can use your smartphone to quickly switch between pre-set At Home or Away programs, so that the heat doesn't turn on while nobody's home."

Things to consider when choosing a smart thermostat

There are a few key features you should consider when choosing a smart thermostat.

"First, determine which type of thermostat is best suited for your home's heating system," says Mosley. "There are low-voltage smart thermostats designed to work with central forced-air heating systems, as well as line-voltage smart thermostats for electrically heated homes. Go with a brand name that you trust, will have the longevity of ongoing product support, and has robust data protection and privacy policies in place."

Smart thermostats also have the unique advantage of syncing with other WiFi-enabled home automation systems such as smart plugs, LED light bulbs, or smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. This means you'll want to ensure that your smart thermostat is compatible with a smart home control hub or any smart products that you already have.

Brands like Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, Emerson, and Schneider Electric are available at Home Depot and work well with forced-air heating systems. If you have an electric baseboard heating system, you can consider the Sinopé and CaSA smart thermostats, which are available at Best Buy.

We have a lot more tips on how to save on winter heating

Check out our recent story on how to beat the cold snap without blowing up your winter bill. You'll find more ways to stay warm, keep your electricity use down, and avoid high bills this winter.

Vanessa Lo is a member of BC Hydro's community team.