There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such thing as a free smart thermostat. Energy companies all over the country are offering rebates to customers that can lower the price of a smart thermostat all the way down to zero, so before you buy an EccoBee on Amazon, check whether you qualify.
How to see if you are eligible for a free smart thermostat
The easiest, quickest way to see whether you’re eligible for a rebate on a thermostat is to go to Google and enter the name of your gas or electric company + “thermostat rebate.” You should be greeted with a link to a page that explains how much of a rebate you’ll get on which kind of equipment. For instance, I’m eligible for $100 rebate on smart thermostats from some brands, $75 discount from some brands, and no rebate from others. It varies from location to location, but rebates usually cover the full cost of basic smart thermostats. If you want a fancier model, it will just make it “extremely inexpensive” instead.
If you don’t have any luck with a Google search, go to Google’s database of power companies that give discounts on Nest products—if your power company offers a rebate on Nest products, they probably cover other brands too—or check out the homepage of your power company and look for a link to something like “save energy.” If all of this doesn’t work, just call them and ask.
Be aware: Some power companies may require professional installation of a smart device to be eligible for rebates, but most do not.
Why are energy companies giving away free smart thermometers?
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average consumer would save 10% per year on heating and cooling costs just by turning the thermostat down/up a bit while they sleep, and smart thermostats make this easy through automation. The government is more interested in energy efficiency than saving you money, so various programs are in place to encourage adoption of technology that encourage conservation.
These kinds of “let’s stop wasting energy” programs have been around since the 1970s and are effective, so there are probably other energy-related programs from the federal, state, and local government available to you through your power company, whether it’s free LED lightbulbs, insulation help, or steeply discounted solar panel installation.
Look for more of these programs in the near future, including cash incentives toward the purchase of more efficient stoves, water heaters, and electric cars.
Does this mean the power company can control my thermostat?
Gas and electrical companies taking control of customers’ smart thermostats makes for alarming internet posts and conspiratorial mind-spirals, but as far as I know, there are no states where The Man can change your home’s temperature settings without your permission—and your permission could be valuable.
Texas, for instance, offers consumers the chance to enter a $5,000 sweepstakes in exchange for giving up some control of their thermostats and used the program this summer to lower stress on the power grid and avoid air conditioning-related brownouts. Other states gives gift cards, like California, which coughs up $125 to sign up and gives out $60 per year for staying in the program. California has also recently altered thermostats for customers who opted in to their program.
Whether the savings are worth the incursion of an outside force into your home heating/cooling a philosophical question that you must answer for yourself, but the important thing is, it’s voluntary.