Enhance performance and sustainability: Select the best thermostat for the job

By David McMichael and Gary Fabbro


In the evolving HVAC system landscape, heat pumps have emerged as a standout technology because it offers both heating and cooling capability with remarkable efficiency. As HVAC mechanical contractors, architects, engineers, and residential contractors strive to optimize these systems, the selection of appropriate controls, particularly thermostats, is pivotal.

Every installer or industry professional should consider heat pump control dynamics and control types when specifying controls for these systems. The goal with specifying controls should always be to ensure optimal performance, efficiency, and satisfaction for the end user.

As heat pump systems continue to gain traction for their efficiency and versatility, the selection of appropriate controls will become increasingly important. By focusing on compatibility, intelligent temperature management, energy efficiency, and user convenience, HVAC professionals will find confidence in thermostats that enhance the performance and sustainability of heat pump systems.

In specifying controls for heat pump systems, it is important to consider not only the immediate functional requirements but also the long-term operational efficiency and user satisfaction. Prioritizing the key features below will help HVAC professionals maximize the potential of heat pump technology. Continuing to use new thermostat technology and features will not only improve the experience for homeowners but also help to reinforce broader energy conservation efforts, aligning with the industry’s move towards more sustainable solutions.


Understand the dynamics

Heat pump systems differ from traditional HVAC systems in their operation and efficiency. The controls for these systems must be capable of managing reversible cycles, catering to both heating and cooling demands. The thermostat, as the primary interface, plays a critical role in ensuring the system operates effectively, adapting to the unique requirements of heat pump technology.


Thermostat control types

Traditional 24V controller: 24V controllers are popular for consumers and installed primarily on single or two stage heat pump systems. They are capable of one-way communication, simple on-off switching. In recent years, many inverter heat pump manufacturers have added the capability of using 24V controls with these systems but lack some of the additional features of manufacturer proprietary communicating controls for inverter-based systems. Most professional heat pump thermostats today include a range of additional usability features that give the installer maximum customizability to meet their customer’s needs.

Matched communicating controller: Manufacturers of modern inverter heat pumps offer controls that communicate constantly with indoor and outdoor equipment and the environment. Communicating controllers are capable of two-way communication to both send and receive information continuously. Because they are constantly communicating, these controls process much more data and have enhanced features, settings and functionality compared to traditional 24V “on/off” controls. These enhanced features provide more accurate temperature control, increased comfort, have advanced diagnostic information and utilize algorithms designed to maximize efficiency.


Key features

Compatibility and integration: Ensure the thermostat is fully compatible with the heat pump model and its various modes of operation, including emergency heat, auxiliary heat, and multistage functionalities. Integration with existing home automation systems and compatibility with smart devices enhances user control and system adaptability.

Intelligent temperature management: Advanced thermostats offer features such as adaptive learning and predictive start, which adjust the start time of the heating or cooling cycle to reach the desired temperature precisely when needed. This results in improved comfort and energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency optimization: Look for thermostats with energy-saving features, such as programmable settings, eco-modes, and usage analytics. These features not only reduce energy consumption but also provide users with insights into their usage patterns, promoting more sustainable practices.

Remote access and control: With the rise of smart home technology, thermostats that offer remote access through smartphones or web interfaces are increasingly preferred. This allows users to adjust settings on-the-go, ensuring comfort while maximizing energy savings.

Geofencing technology: Some advanced thermostats utilize geofencing to automatically adjust settings based on the user’s location, enhancing convenience and energy efficiency without manual intervention.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring: Thermostats that monitor and report on IAQ can trigger the heat pump system to ventilate the home when necessary, ensuring a healthy indoor environment.

 User-friendly interface: Large displays, touch-screen capabilities, and easy-to-navigate menus make it simpler for users to adjust settings and understand their system’s performance. Traditional 24V thermostats are popular due to their more user-friendly menu and interface but manufacturer branded controllers are closing the gap on design and functionality.

Durability and reliability: Given the critical role of thermostats in the overall performance of heat pump systems, selecting units known for their durability and reliability is crucial. This ensures long-term performance and reduces the likelihood of system downtime.

Technical support and warranty: Select thermostats backed by comprehensive technical support and solid warranties. This not only provides peace of mind but also ensures any issues can be promptly addressed, minimizing impact on system performance.

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