The History of Thermostats and Their Evolution to Smart
Laura Bourland, 2 months ago   |    0   |    12 min read   |    842

Smart thermostats have quickly become commonplace in our homes, but how did we get here? Have you ever been curious about the history of thermostats? 

Like most things, smart thermostats were born from a problem. And this particular problem was one that you’ve likely experienced yourself. Think back to life before your smart thermostat. Did you ever get to work and wonder if you left the heat on? Did you ever wake up sweating and wish the heat would just turn itself down? Thank goodness for the invention of smart thermostats!

Of course, thermostats in general aren’t exactly a brand new idea. Thermostats have been around for more than 400 years. All thanks to clever inventors who simply wanted to be warm and comfortable. 

Let’s dive into the history of thermostats and learn how smart thermostats came to be.

The Beginning of Thermostat History – Early Home Heating

Roman bathhouses - the first record of home heating

Let’s start our journey throughout thermostat history with the first record of home heating. The earliest findings of home heating date back to the Romans who discovered their marble bathhouses and buildings held heat well. So well, in fact, that when heated from below, the room would stay warm all day. That’s right, in-floor heating is no new invention!

By the early 20th century most homes were built with home heating. But it was still a far cry from the quiet, electric heating systems we have today. Early in time, most houses had a furnace in the basement that required regular tending to keep things warm. That meant someone had to physically visit the furnace several times a day, stoke the coals, and adjust the dampers, valves, and drafts. 

All of that just to keep the heat running. Yikes! It’s so much easier to ask Alexa to turn up the heat!

The First Thermostat

A significant moment throughout the history of thermostats was, of course, the invention of the first one. 

The very first thermostat we know of is a 1620 invention by Dutch inventor, Cornelis Drebbel. While you’d expect the first thermostat created to manage the tireless fanning of a furnace, Drebbel’s was more of a poultry problem. His first mercury thermostat was invented to reliably regulate the air temperature inside his chicken incubator. And this was the beginning of thermostat history!

200 years later (1830), Scottish chemist Andrew Ure patented the bi-metallic thermostat he used to keep steam boilers warm. The thermostat worked by physically bending as the temperature grew warmer, eventually cutting the energy supply when it reached a set temperature. Unfortunately, as great as his invention was, the bi-metallic thermostat never really caught on. 

The World Finally Warms Up to New Thermostats

The history of thermostats saw its next development from Warren Johnson, who sought a solution to control furnace heating. 

Furnaces were excellent heating systems, as long as they were meticulously tended to. This meant rooms were bitterly cold most mornings if coals weren’t stoked through the night. And rooms could grow stiflingly warm if coals ran too hot. Warren Johnson set out to fix this problem.

As a professor with an early class, Johnson grew tired of teaching in a chilly classroom and leaving for the day drenched in sweat. Nowadays teachers can simply press a button to adjust the temperature, but Johnson had no such luxury. Day after day, he had to find the school janitor and ask him to bump up the heat each morning. Once his classroom warmed up, Warren then had to find the janitor again and ask him to turn the heat back down. 

Fed up, Johnson invented a bi-metal thermostat that proactively rang a bell when it was time for the janitor to adjust the furnace damper. Two years later he filed for his 1885 patent for the first multi-zone thermostatic control system. A moment of thermostat history! 

This was the beginning of Johnson Electric Service Company, still in operation today as Johnson Controls. 

That very same year, Albert Butz filed a patent for his invention of the “damper-flapper, a thermostat that regulated furnace heat by opening and closing the furnace door with an automatic pulley system.” His thermostat was both the first electric thermostat and the first automatic thermostat. Butz’ company eventually sold to Mark Honeywell, who helped bring the first thermostats to homes around the world.

Thermostat History! The First Commercially Available Thermostats

In 1906 the Honeywell company introduced homeowners to the very first thermostat; a significant moment in the history of thermostats.

The “Jewell” was a programmable thermostat that could be pre-set the night before with a desired morning temperature. Homeowners quickly bought-up these luxurious new devices and said good riddance to the days of basement furnace stoking. Honeywell later added an electric clock to the thermostat for easier programming in the 1930s.

The history of thermostats began with dial thermostat

The history of thermostats saw another turning point in the 1950s when thermostats gained further popularity.  

Following World War II, people everywhere just wanted to live in comfort. And when the first mass-market TVs were made available in 1946, homes became extra comfortable and enjoyable. 

Honeywell seized this opportunity and began selling the first dial thermostat in 1953. Also known as an analog thermostat or manual thermostat.

Dial thermostats were simply designed to do one thing: control the temperature. If someone wanted a room to be warmer, they would walk over to the wall-mounted thermostat and physically turn the dial. Dial thermostats operate within a range, keeping the home within a few degrees of the set temperature.

Later, digital dial thermostats were introduced, which provided the same basic function. The difference here was that temperature was adjusted by directional arrows instead of a dial. 

Thermostat history saw another evolution in the 1960s when thermostats were further improved with the ability to control both heating and cooling.

Programmable Thermostats Enable Heat Scheduling

Do you remember when you switched to a smart thermostat and how life-changing that first week was? All of a sudden you were free to go about your life and know without a doubt if your heat was running. Incredible!

Now just imagine how homeowners in the 1980s felt when they discovered the first programmable thermostat. This was an exciting moment throughout the history of thermostats. 

In the 1980s, new thermostat models were launched with digital screens built right into the thermostat that showed both date and time. But it’s not the calendar display that made the biggest difference, it’s what was possible because of this upgrade.

A wall-mounted digital programmable thermostat

These programmable thermostats made it possible to set temperature not only for the next morning but for every morning for the foreseeable future. Homeowners could set temperatures to fit their work schedule and no longer had to leave their heat on all day to come home to a warm house. For many people, these programmable thermostats were the first taste of home automation, and boy was it sweet!

Well, it sure sounded sweet in theory. Unfortunately, most people found programming these thermostats frustrating, difficult, and for many, downright impossible. To this day, “only 30% of programmable thermostats are actually set to a schedule,” as intended. 

There was still much work to be done throughout thermostat history to ensure true functionality.

The Launch of Smart Thermostats – A Milestone in Thermostat History

People clearly liked the idea of automating home temperatures, but programmable thermostats just weren’t doing the trick. That all changed in 2007 when Ecobee launched the first smart thermostat. This was a true milestone in the history of thermostats!

Stuart Lombard combined clunky programmable thermostats and WiFi connectivity, making it possible to remotely control home heating and cooling. His solution bypassed the mechanics of typical thermostats, instead of focusing on a better user interface for programming temperature schedules. 

Smart thermostats also made it possible to add new features not possible with outdated dial and programmable thermostats. Some of these features include:

  • Remote Temperature Control
  • Energy Charting
  • Machine Learning
  • and Temperature Zoning

Smart thermostats began flying off shelves. But, there was still a big problem standing in the way for many homeowners; particularly for those in the north where homes use electric heat. Existing smart thermostats were not compatible with line voltage heat!

The Introduction of Line Voltage Smart Thermostats

At this point in thermostat history, smart thermostats had been around for about ten years. However, there was still no smart solution available for homes with line voltage heating. 

In 2017, Josh and Zach Green, brothers from Newfoundland and Labrador, launched Mysa Smart Thermostats. In its first year alone, Mysa received close to 5,000 preorders for its line voltage smart thermostat! 

Mysa - the first line voltage smart thermostat for electric baseboard heaters

The Green brothers made dreams come true for so many homeowners. Finally, homes with line voltage heating can be controlled with a smart thermostat. Mysa also went on to launch a smart thermostat for in-floor heating in 2019. 

Rebates and Incentives Drive Adoption

Smart thermostat technology was developed at the perfect time. Like other evolutions throughout thermostat history, smart thermostats were invented to solve a problem. 

As populations grew, people began using more electricity than ever before. Electricity powered home appliances, computers, TVs, HVAC systems, and even electric and hybrid cars. That higher usage and increased demand translated to expensive electricity bills for homeowners. 

Smart thermostats were quickly identified as a way to reduce energy consumption and save on electricity costs. Plus, these easy-to-install home upgrades are much more affordable than other home efficiency renovations like replacing an entire heating system. 

With the evolution of smart technology, local governments and manufacturers saw an opportunity to solve the energy crisis. So, they began offering steep incentives to encourage homeowners to replace their outdated thermostats with smart alternatives.

Incentives ranged from tax credits to instant cashback and even free smart thermostats. Many incentives are still available today, but they do change regularly and differ based on your utility region. If you’d like to take advantage of these incentives, check out:

  • Municipality websites
  • Electric company websites
  • State and province websites and brochures
  • Federal home energy program websites
  • The Energy Star website
  • And smart thermostat manufacturer websites

When in doubt, ask. An electrician or general contractor can help you find and apply for the best smart thermostat incentives.

Installing Your First Smart Thermostat?

If you don’t already own a smart thermostat, now is the perfect time to upgrade. There has been significant progress throughout the history of thermostats, and homeowners should take advantage. After all, what other home improvement project could be completed in under an hour AND reduce your home energy consumption by 10-15%?

Saving energy helps save the planet

The fact is, the average household dedicates about 60% of its total electricity bill to home heating. That’s a whole lot of energy just to keep your house comfortable! 

Homeowners that replace their thermostats with smart upgrades can see significant savings. Check out this real-life example of how much you can save when you take advantage of all the smart features.  

And don’t forget about the true beauty of smart thermostats. Once you program a smart thermostat, they stick to their schedule until directed otherwise. That means your home will always be warm when you get home at the end of a long day and you’ll never waste energy heating an empty house again. 

How to Choose The Right Smart Thermostat For Your Home

Installing a smart thermostat and getting it set up is easy once you choose the right one for your home heating system. 

When it comes to compatibility, the biggest consideration is whether your home has high or low voltage heating. If you’re not sure, you can always reach out to an electrician for help! But, it’s important to get this right. Smart thermostats control one of these heating types, not both. 

Once you know what type of smart thermostat you need, then it’s time to choose what opinion you like best. At this point in thermostat history, there are many players in the industry. 

When evaluating your options, you might consider unique device features, initial cost, available incentives, and manufacturer support. For example, Mysa offers a 1-Year Energy Savings Guarantee. So, if you’re not satisfied with your energy savings after using Mysa for six months, you can return it for a full refund. That’s risk-free energy savings! 

Smart Thermostat Features to Consider

There are many different smart thermostats out there with a variety of features. Here are some to look for: 

  • Vacation mode. Enabling vacation mode instantly turns off your heat and overrides set schedules to save energy. Simply turn off vacation mode to resume your regular schedule when you return home. Of course, you can do all of this from your smartphone. 
  • Zoning. Zoning allows you to group rooms into multiple zones, allowing you to adjust the temperature in multiple rooms with a single action. 
  • Energy Charting. This feature tracks real energy usage and identifies which rooms consume the most energy when heating. Using this information, you can create a more efficient heating schedule for your home.    

Another consideration could be the aesthetic design of a smart thermostat. Boring beige thermostats that clash with your home decor are a thing of past thermostat history. Today, most smart thermostats have sleek, modern designs that let your style shine!

If you plan to connect your smart thermostat to a smart assistant or other smart home devices, be sure to consider compatibility. While smart home technology has come a long way, not all devices are compatible with each other. So, if you plan to connect your smart thermostat and Google Home Assistant, just make sure you choose one that has Google Home compatibility. You can usually find this information listed on manufacturer websites and product specifications.

Once you have your new smart thermostat in hand, all that’s left to do is to install it and set a heating schedule. It’s that easy! 

The History of Thermostats Has Been a Long Road

The last 400 years of progress and innovation have landed homeowners right in the lap of luxury. Can you imagine life for homeowners forced to trek down cold concrete steps every time their home became cold? The history of thermostats has been a long road, but a lot of progress has been made. 

With modern smart thermostats, homes are always comfortable when you want them to be. Even in the middle of the night! Now, you can adjust the temperature anytime from your smartphone or automatically through scheduling. 

Smart thermostats are the result of a long evolution, but we think Professor Johnson ought to be proud. Today, people everywhere can enjoy the luxury of home heating while simultaneously contributing to energy conservation.

Now that’s something to appreciate as you enter your cozy kitchen for your morning cup of coffee! 

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