Smart or programmable thermostats have helped many people reduce their electric bills. But fresh out of the box, even smart thermostats need some help from their owners. They need to be programmed or to learn your cooling and heating schedule over time so that they can automatically adjust to fit your preferences.

If you’re on one of UniSource Energy Services’ Time-of-Use (TOU) pricing plans, it’s important to manage the use of your HVAC system during on-peak hours to avoid an increase in your monthly electric bills.

Our TOU, Peak Demand and Demand TOU plans give you the power to reduce your monthly electric bills with lower rates for usage during to off-peak hours. Avoiding energy usage during the weekday on-peak hours of 3-7 p.m. from May to October and 6-9 a.m. and 6-9 p.m. from November to April can result in significant savings. So timing is everything.

UniSource customer Jeffrey Humphrey discovered that some smart thermostats are so smart that they automatically sync their cooling and heating schedule to your utility’s TOU rate plan for simplified energy savings.

“I bought an ecobee smart thermostat and was trying to set up TOU hours on the thermostat, but UniSource wasn’t listed as a provider for that preset function,” Humphrey said. “I chose a TOU plan last August because I knew that we could avoid usage during peak hours in order to save money.”

So Humphrey contacted UniSource, and our Energy Efficiency program managers buzzed ecobee to have UniSource pricing plans added to the new eco+ feature. Our team is now exploring whether other manufacturers offer a similar preset feature on their smart thermostats.

ecobee’s eco+ TOU feature automatically reduces cooling and heating during our on-peak hours to help reduce your bills.

“We are excited that UniSource’s TOU hours are now available through the ecobee app. By selecting their respective pricing plan through the eco+ settings and ensuring ecobee’s Time of Use feature is enabled, UniSource customers can now automate energy savings while maintaining their desired comfort,” said Sarah Colvin, ecobee Energy Senior Director.

“Our eco+ Time of Use feature will intelligently pre-cool or pre-heat the home during off-peak hours when energy is less expensive, helping UniSource customers reduce their cooling costs by up to 23 percent,” she said. That estimate is based on a study conducted by a third-party expert during June and August 2020 across the U.S. and Canada. Your experience may differ, as the study indicated that savings vary by season, climate zone and rate structure. “We are thrilled to be working with UniSource to deliver deeper savings and enhanced comfort to our customers,” Colvin said.

Humphrey said the new feature makes energy savings effortless. “It’s basically set it and forget it, making it very simple to help save money and help the environment, too.”

Tammy McKay, Residential Energy Efficiency Program Manager, has one cautionary note for customers using these preset features. “Check your thermostat settings to ensure you are aligning any additional scheduling features with our TOU hours. In most cases, you can manually adjust it if the times are slightly off.”

One way to keep your home cool during on-peak hours is to precool your home beforehand. Set the thermostat three degrees lower than your preferred setting at noon. Then adjust your thermostat higher from 3-7 p.m.

McKay said you should see a reduction in your monthly energy usage and costs. “If you don’t, it’s possible your home is losing energy through cracks around windows and doors or leaks in your home’s envelope,” she said.

Simple and inexpensive fixes include installing door sweeps and weatherstripping around doors, and caulking around windows and areas where plumbing, ducts, cables and wiring enter the home. Duct sealing also may prevent cooled air from escaping. UniSource offers rebates of up to $300 on duct sealing through our Efficient Home program.

Reducing the amount of air that leaks in your home is a cost-effective way to reduce your annual energy costs by up to 10 percent as well as reduce cold drafts and improve indoor air quality.

“While smart thermostats are a helpful tool for managing energy usage and costs,” McKay said, “knowing how to use them properly and taking a whole house approach to energy efficiency can result in the greatest energy savings.”

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