The cost of a smart thermostat certainly influences the decision to get one. But in many areas, power companies will give you one at a deep discount or even for free. This is what you need to know.
Why do power companies offer free smart thermostats?
There is a long history of utility companies incentivizing energy-saving measures going back long before the advent of smart thermostats. Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, there have been various programs to encourage consumers to use energy more efficiently, decrease demand on the grid, etc.
These initiatives have included everything from giving away programmable thermostats to using peak and off-peak pricing schedules and even sending teams to conduct free energy audits to help people increase the insulation and energy efficiency of their homes.
The current trend of offering free or heavily discounted smart thermostats is simply an extension of that overall mission, updated for the 21st century.
How does it work?
We can hardly blame you for having a “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” when someone tells you something is free.
For free or discounted smart thermostats, the non-free lunch portion ranges from really free to free with a catch, and usually a combination of the two depending on how much you want to save in the future, how deep of a initial discount you want and how stylish the smart thermostat you’re interested in is.
Check if your electric company is participating
Many power companies are pretty proactive in sending out mailings and emails to customers, so if your power company offers the benefit, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it at some point.
If you haven’t been contacted in any way yet or if you’re new to the area, one of the easiest ways to check is to go to Google and search for the name of your electric company and keywords like “free thermostat” or “thermostat discount.”
Google maintains a database of all the utilities that offer rebates, discounts and rewards for Nest Thermostat users. Even if you’re looking for a different brand, like Ecobee, it’s helpful to enter your ZIP code into the database because if a given power company supports such efforts with Nest, they almost certainly support it for other similar thermostats.
read the fine print
Before we discuss the different types of savings and the pitfalls (or lack thereof), consider a critical bit of fine print to check when visiting your electric company’s site.
Historically, many utilities required a qualified installer to install the thermostat and approve the smart thermostat’s installation status.
While some utilities retain this requirement, it is less common than it was years ago. Be sure to double check before you install your thermostat, so you don’t leave any additional savings or refunds on the table.
And while we’re not aware of any utilities that explicitly require you to purchase your thermostat through them in order to qualify, doing so can make getting rebates or savings a lot easier, since the utility already has all the documentation you need.
One-time rebates offer instant savings
Many electric companies offer one-time rebates that may or may not cover the full price of the thermostat you want to purchase.
These rebates typically range from $50 to $100, and there’s no catch other than you’re only eligible once per calendar year, must be an established customer of the utility in question, and similar basic requirements.
Fortunately, major offerings from Google, Amazon, Ecobee, and other big-name brands are usually covered, though you’ll commonly see billed programs like “Claim your free Nest Thermostat!” simply because the Nest is so well known.
Plus, the rebate has nothing to do with the price paid, so you rate a deeply discounted thermostat you picked up on Black Friday or during Prime Day.
Again, to emphasize the caveat above: be sure to check what the installation rules are to ensure you get a refund.
Hour of use Enrollment energy
In addition to getting a refund on your thermostat purchase, you can also sign up to save airtime. The program goes by many different names, and your power company may call it “time of use,” “demand response,” “Smart Thermostat Program,” or any number of other similar-sounding names.
However, the concept is the same across the board. Utilities offer an incentive for customers to voluntarily enroll in a program that allows them to adjust customers’ thermostats during peak demand events remotely.
At first glance, it sounds a bit drastic and we certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to sign up. But if you read the fine print on the shows, it’s pretty tame.
These programs are generally active between May and September of each year and are not active on holidays or weekends (except in cases of extreme demand on the network). When they happen, your power company remotely raises your thermostat a few degrees to decrease the demand that residential AC use places on the power grid.
If you sign up for such a program, we recommend that you consider supercooling your home at night. You’ll use energy when it’s cheapest, and your home will pre-cool on days when high-demand events occur.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to buy a new thermostat for time-of-use programs. If you already have a smart thermostat or the house you moved into had one, you should be able to enroll it in the program.
Finally, Wi-Fi and always-on Internet are required for the program, as the thermostat staying online is crucial for the remote adjustment feature.
The typical reward for signing up for airtime programs is a one-time payment of $75-100 in the form of a gift card or bill credit.
Ongoing Seasonal Savings
If you’ve signed up for the airtime program, it’s incredibly common for utility companies to offer a lower reward for continued participation.
While you won’t see the $75-100 reward again, it’s typical to get $25-45 once a year, either on the anniversary of the day you signed up for the program or at the end of peak demand season.
With instant rebate and time-of-use enrollment, most smart thermostats on the market are either very low in price or completely free. With the combined savings, you could get the basics google nest either amazon smart thermostat free.
best smart thermostat
ecobee smart thermostat
The ecobee SmartThermostat makes scheduling off-peak hours and automatically adjusting your thermostat for comfort a breeze.
So if you’re hesitant about getting a smart thermostat because you don’t want to wait ages for the savings, you can get a big head start by taking advantage of rebates and savings programs.