How Does A Thermostat Work?

In this PowerVersity guide, Victor answers the question, “how does a thermostat work”?

Are you wondering how a thermostat works?

This PowerVersity guide will tell you all you need to know.

It explains in simple terms what a thermostat is, the different types of a thermostat, how it works, various devices or systems that use a thermostat, and some things to know when buying one.

Read on!

Before we answer the question; how does a thermostat work, it’s essential to consider a basic explanation of what a thermostat is.

What Is A Thermostat?

A thermostat is a simple device that automatically regulates temperature. It regulates the hot and cold temperature in a room or other electronic devices by keeping the temperature within the desired/preferred settings.

Often, people tend to mix up a thermostat with a thermometer because both items have something to do with temperature. They are different but not unrelated.

Difference Between A Thermostat and A Thermometer

The significant differences between a thermostat and a thermometer are in their functions and how they work.

The thermometer is a device that measures temperature. It tells when the temperature of a thing or place is too hot or too cold.

On the other hand, a thermostat controls temperature. It regulates the extremely hot or cold temperature of a thing or place.

To do this, it needs a thermometer to identify when the temperature is too hot or too cold to regulate it. Therefore, a thermostat cannot function well without a thermometer.

Overall, no one is more important than the other. Both a thermometer and a thermostat are equally important for effective temperature control/management.

Now, there are different types of thermostats. Let’s discover what they are before considering how thermostats work.

Types of Thermostat

The types of thermostats are classified into two distinctive categories, and they are;

● By Nature
● By Mode of operation

By nature, we have the;

  • Non-programmable Thermostats
  • Programmable Thermostats
  • Wi-Fi Thermostats
  • Smart Thermostats

By Mode of operation, we have;

  • Line-voltage Thermostat
  • Low-Voltage Thermostat

Each type has its unique features, benefits, and drawbacks. Let’s consider what these are.

1. Non-Programmable/Mechanical Thermostat

You can control these types of thermostats manually. With this thermostat, you can control the heating and cooling system and set your preferred temperature.

It’s best for people who are always away from home. Therefore, you only turn on the thermostat when you’re at home.

Even more, it’s pretty basic and simple to operate.

The major advantage to purchasing non-programmable thermostats is that they are a lot more affordable than other types. Likewise, they are easier to install and operate.

However, a huge drawback is its non-programmable nature. Nevertheless, since it’s quite affordable, it’s a budget-friendly option.

2. Programmable/Automated Thermostat

This type of thermostat allows you to regulate temperature with a series of pre-programmed

For instance, you can pre-set the thermostat to heat or cool your room at specific hours daily or weekly. This type of thermostat is best suited for areas with easily predictable weather changes.

There are many benefits of the programmable thermostat.

First, you’ll enjoy customizable and consistent temperature settings. Also, it’s energy and cost-efficient.

Therefore, you can save energy and money on light bills because it allows you to adjust the thermostat to your routines/schedules.

Furthermore, since it’s programmable, you’ll spend less time adjusting/resetting the thermostat.

Likewise, you can conveniently set the precise temperature you want. These benefits are quite impressive.

However, there are some drawbacks too.

The first major challenge with a programmable thermostat is the high up-front cost.

Also, setting it up is quite difficult and may be time-consuming.

Lastly, there’s the issue of incompatibility with your HVAC system. Therefore, sometimes the programmable thermostat may not work efficiently in your home.

However, these drawbacks are minor compared to the benefits it offers.

3. Wi-Fi Thermostats

These types of thermostats work with a wireless network either from your smartphone, computer, or other mobile devices. Hence, you can control this thermostat remotely.

This is another form of a programmable thermostat. However, unlike the programmable thermostat that comes with daily and weekly settings, you can change pre-programmed settings on this thermostat to suit you.

For instance, when you’re home more than expected, you can adjust the pre-programmed settings to suit your current schedules or routine. This is one of the significant benefits of this type of thermostat.

The fact that you can control the thermostat remotely gives a lot of conveniences when using this thermostat.

Also, since you can control how this thermostat works (regulating the temperature), you can control your energy usage. Thereby helping you use less energy and save on your light bills.

Despite these many benefits, it does have some minor drawbacks. First, it’s a bit costly to install.

Also, if you stay in an environment with low network coverage, the Wi-Fi thermostat won’t work efficiently. Nevertheless, it’s still an energy and cost-efficient thermostat.

4. Smart Thermostat

This type of thermostat works by learning your living habits/lifestyle and adjusts the temperature accordingly.

It also integrates with other automated home appliances/devices, and it’s compatible with Google Assistant/Amazon Alexa.

You can control this thermostat using your voice, thanks to its voice control features.

Overall, this type of thermostat is designed to suit your lifestyle and schedule.

It notices similar patterns in your daily activities, records this information, and uses it to control the heating and cooling of your room.

Another significant benefit of the smart thermostat is that you can control it remotely using your smartphone with the mobile app for your phone. It’s also very energy efficient.

You can adjust the smart thermostat to conserve energy while you’re away and still keep your house temperature warm or cool enough to suit the weather condition.

However, like other programmable thermostats, it’s quite costly to install.

Also, for days or times when you’re always home, it might not be cost or energy efficient as it
ought to be. This is because you’ll have to use it more often than usual.

Nevertheless, it’s still an efficient and convenient thermostat to use.

5. Line-Voltage Thermostat

This is a type of non-programmable thermostat used in electric heaters and other forms of localized heaters.

Line Voltage thermostats work by delivering power directly to the heater. It passes current through the electric wires installed on the heater.

You have to connect the line-voltage thermostat to the wires supplying power (within the range of 110- 220 volt) to the heater. This way, the thermostat serves as a control switch to the heater.

Since it’s a non-programmable heater, you have to turn on/off the switch to control the thermostat. The line voltage thermostat is easy to install and use.

However, it consumes more power as it operates using 120-240 volts.

6. Low-Voltage Thermostat

Low -voltage thermostat is used to regulate the temperature in direct- wired heaters and air conditions. They are quite popular because they use less power than line-voltage thermostats.

Also, they operate under 30V and work with any kind of heating and cooling system such as; furnaces, boilers, radiant heat, air conditioning, heat pumps, baseboard heater, etc.

However, they are quite difficult to install.

Now that you’re aware of the different types of thermostats, let’s answer the question; How
does a thermostat work?

How Does A Thermostat Work?

As said earlier, thermostats control the temperature in any device or system that heats up or cools off.

The thermostat ensures that these devices maintain a desired, regulated, or safe temperature degree.

But the question is, how does this happen? How do thermostats work to regulate the temperature in these systems or devices?

Let’s find out.

Every thermostat has two essential components, and they are;

  • Thermometer
  • Switch

These two components work together to help the thermostat regulate temperature effectively.

The thermometer measures temperature. Hence, it identifies when a temperature is too high or low and needs to be regulated.

The switch then receives current/signals from the thermometer and turns on or off the thermostat depending on the signal received (high or low temperature).

Now, there are two broad categories of thermostats, and they are;

  • Electronic thermostats
  • Electromechanical thermostats

These two types of thermostats work a bit differently.

1. Electronic Thermostats

Electronic thermostats work with sensors just like micro-computers. These thermostats use sensors to identify when the temperature in a room/device is too hot or cold.

The sensor is usually located in the thermometer area of the thermostat.

Furthermore, the sensor receives signals from the thermistor (a little ceramic device in a thermostat that measures temperature) on how high/low the temperature in a room is.

In this case, the thermistor acts as the thermometer, and the sensor acts as the switch that turns or off the thermostat.

2. Electromechanical Thermostat

An electromechanical thermostat, on the other hand, is quite complex. It comes with either a bi-metal or metallic strip.

The bi-metallic strip in an electromechanical thermostat identifies when the temperature in the room changes.

The bi-metallic strip expands when the temperature in a room is too hot and contrasts when the temperature starts to cool off.

Likewise, there’s a vial containing mercury that tips to one side when the bi-metallic strip expands and to the other side when the strip contracts.

The expansion and contrasting of the metallic strip trigger the vial to move, which then signals the thermostat.

In this case, the mechanical strip is the thermometer, and the vial containing mercury is the switch that turns on and off the thermostat.

Now that’s how a thermostat works.

Examples of Devices That Use Thermostats

Thermostats are used in almost all electrical devices that have the tendency to heat up.

Some of these devices are;

  • Home appliances such as; heaters, electric irons, dryers, fryers, toasters, ovens, hot plates, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.
  • Hairdryers
  • Cars, among others.

The most common use of a thermostat device is in the home. A thermostat is also used to regulate the temperature in the home.

This is true, especially in regions with extreme or unstable weather conditions.

Now, the significant benefit a thermostat offers is making the temperature in your home comfortable for you.

However, you can only enjoy this benefit when you purchase the right one for your home.

Therefore, there are some guidelines to keep in mind when purchasing a thermostat for your home.

Things To Know When Buying A Thermostat

This section is a simple guide to choosing and buying a thermostat for your home so that you can get the most value out of your thermostat.

1. Compatibility With Your Home’s Heating and Cooling System

Before buying a thermostat for your home, the first thing you should do is to check the heating and cooling system (HVAC) in your home.

The various heating and cooling systems used in most homes include; the central heating and AC system, heat pumps, electric baseboards, and furnaces.

Hence, you would want to make sure that the thermostat you buy is compatible with any of these heating and cooling systems, depending on the type you use at home.

If you’re unsure how to check for compatibility, you could call a qualified technician to inspect your HVAC to determine the best type of thermostat for you.

2. Choose The Type of Thermostat That Best Suits Your Schedules/Lifestyle

There are different types of thermostats such as programmable, non-programmable, Wi-Fi, smart, line-voltage, and low-voltage.

Each of these types of thermostat has its benefits and are best suited for different purposes. For someone who is always away from home, a programmable/smart thermostat is better.

You can program it to suit your schedule.

3. Check The Costs

Some thermostats are more energy-efficient than others. Thus, you could save some money on light bills using these energy-efficient options.

Also, some of these energy-efficient thermostats cost more to purchase but will save you some money in the long run.

Therefore, you should consider which would be best for you; buying a cheaper thermostat and paying more on your light bills or otherwise.

Wrapping it Up….

This wraps up this guide explaining how a thermostat works.

A thermostat is a device that controls the temperature in other systems or devices.

The two basic components that help it carry out this function are a thermometer and a switch embedded in the thermostat.

The thermometer reads the temperature and sends a signal to the switch which then controls the thermostat to turn on/off depending on the temperature.

Now there are different types of thermostats, and each type works in a unique way. Some are programmable, while some are not.

Also, some are smart enough to learn and adapt to your schedule, while some are controlled mechanically.

That’s it on how does a thermostat work.

I hope you found this PowerVersity guide on how does a circuit breaker work helpful?

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Finally, to read more guides like this, visit our Electrical Accessories page

Victor Akin-Ojo
Victor Akin-Ojo is the founder and the Lead Editor of Before he started, Victor worked in the IT industry for close to 15 years. He worked mainly as field Engineer on Installation of VSAT, Wimax Technologies, including but not limited to, Power Maintenance Sector for close to 10 years – Designing an electrical installation for Homes, Private and Government Offices and more.


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