Want to reduce your energy bill? The simplest and cheapest way is to replace your standard thermostats with electronic thermostats, which are much more efficient and accurate. You’ll achieve worthwhile savings while enhancing your family’s comfort.

Standard thermostats: slow and inaccurate
Standard “roller” thermostats, also called bimetallic or mechanical, have long reigned supreme on dwelling walls. They operate mechanically: temperature changes cause metallic blades to expand or contract (or produce expansion of a liquid- or gas-filled membrane). This reaction activates a switch passing or blocking the current that powers the heating unit based on the desired temperature, in other words, the thermostat setting.

These thermostats have a major flaw. They are slow to turn the heating system on or off, causing substantial gaps between ambient and desired temperatures (2°C or more). The result is discomfort for occupants – it becomes too cold or too hot – and they “play roulette” in raising or lowering the ambient temperature, elevating heating costs.

Electronic thermostats: efficient and economical
Electronic thermostats, whether programmable or not, surpass standard thermostats in terms of efficiency. They are equipped with a pulse-based (TRIAC) electronic controller that provides a continuous temperature reading at very close intervals (about 15 seconds). This reaction speed keeps the gap between ambient and desired temperatures to a minimum. The resulting temperature stability provides comfort and energy savings.
 
Graph showing the performance of each type of thermostat


Source: Hydro-Québec

Natural Resources Canada concludes that efficient thermostats can reduce the energy consumption of electric baseboards by 4.5% to 12% a year. This represents a saving of about $100 in the cost of heating an average home, according to Hydro-Québec,* which encourages and subsidizes the installation of electronic thermostats.
 
Programmable thermostats can provide even greater savings. Their electronic clock allows for the temperature to be set automatically. This makes it possible to lower the temperature setting at certain times of day, for example at night, when the occupants are sleeping, or during the day or the weekend when they are away. With programming, the temperature can automatically be brought back up before they wake up or return home. A 3°C reduction over an eight-hour period can produce a 4.5% reduction in heating costs, without the least discomfort!

However, you need to pay attention to excessive drops in temperature, especially if the house suffers from problems of dampness that cause mould or condensation on the windows, for example. A sharp reduction in temperature could cause discomfort if the normal temperature is not restored before occupants wake up or return home. Also, a high relative humidity level goes higher if the air becomes too cool. For example, a reasonable humidity level of 35% at 22°C will rise to 50% if the air cools to 16°C. In very cold weather, this humidity could create condensation on windows and poorly ventilated wall surfaces (cupboards, behind furniture, etc.).

Return on investment
Areas of the house that require the most heating, as well as open-plan rooms, should be the first targeted for the installation of electronic thermostats.

Pure mathematical logic suggests that the return on investment will be faster in a dwelling that is expensive to heat (insufficient airtightness, poor thermal insulation, geographic location, etc.). But it is generally judged that annual energy savings are great enough that, as of January 1, 2012, all thermostats brought into the country or shipped between Canadian provinces must meet the energy performance standard (CAN/CSA-C828-06) that currently applies to electronic thermostats.

* Hydro-Québec financial incentive for the purchase and installation of electronic thermostats in individual houses, condominiums and, since recently, rental buildings