Imagine having a personal assistant who made sure you had hot water just in time for your morning shower, warmed or cooled your house to the perfect temperature at the end of every day and monitored the cost of energy to make sure you only ran your power-gobbling appliances when gas and electricity were at their cheapest, non-peak rates. Thanks to a new generation of "smart" thermostats, this level of control is increasingly available to tech-savvy homeowners.
Thermostats have become much more than temperature-activated switches for heating and cooling systems. Many models can now monitor factors such as the energy use of individual appliances, the cost of energy at a given time of day and the functionality of appliances. Some of the more advanced models are able to contact you via e-mail if something goes wrong with an appliance, and they can be adjusted from your office computer or mobile device [source: Gaulkin].
These thermostats can run appliances when it's least expensive to do so. And when no one's home, they can easily turn off energy-hungry appliances, such as water heaters, and program them to restart in time to provide hot water in the evening [source: Gaulkin].
This level of control comes at a price, however. Smart thermostat units are much more expensive than their old-technology counterparts, and installing them in your home may require broadband or phone line upgrades to allow the devices to communicate properly. But the payoff can be significant: No matter how efficient your appliances are, you can save even more energy with this precise, instantaneous level of control.