Many people talk to their programmable thermostats. The problem is that they are usually cursing the devices because they are so difficult to program. In fact, studies show that only 31 percent of owner-occupied homes with programmable thermostats installed have actually programmed the devices. The number is as low as 13 percent in renter-occupied homes.

While programmable thermostats show promise to help homeowners reduce their energy consumption and costs by 10 to 30 percent, the difficulty in programming the devices is believed to limit the technology’s ability to save energy.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is working with ENERNET Corp. of Dewitt (Onondaga County) to develop a simplified programmable thermostat that is programmed with voice commands rather than a complex series of buttons.

Once programmed, these types of thermostats save homeowners energy by automatically lowering the temperature setting overnight or at times when the home is generally unoccupied.

Most devices provide homeowners with a wide range of times to program to account for typical weekdays, when homes are largely unoccupied, as well as weekends when it is more likely that someone is home all day. While this wide range of options makes the devices attractive, the complexity of programming them results in most of them never being programmed.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in fuel costs these past few winters that has resulted in higher heating bills,” said NYSERDA President William M. Flynn. “Available technologies, such as programmable thermostats, can reduce these costs by upwards of 30 percent––if used properly. Our goal is to simplify the technology, so that consumers can take advantage of the energy-saving characteristics.”

NYSERDA’s project with ENERNET will develop voice-recognition capabilities for programmable thermostats. The final design has yet to be determined, but it is likely that homeowners would be prompted to input times and temperature settings according to when the home is occupied and when it is not occupied. The device would then essentially take control of the heating system and adjust the temperature of the home according to the times and settings input.