The cost of a smart thermostat certainly weighs into the decision to get one. But in many areas, power companies will give you one for a steep discount or even for free. Here’s 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 dating back to well 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 demands on the grid, and so forth.
These initiatives have included everything from giving away programmable thermostats to using on-peak/off-peak pricing schedules to even sending teams out to giving free energy audits to help people increase the insulation and energy efficiency of their homes.
The current trend of offering free or steeply discounted smart thermostats is simply an extension of that general 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” take when somebody tells you something is free.
In the case of the free or discounted smart thermostats, the no-free-lunch part ranges from actually free to free with a catch—and usually a mix of the two depending on how much you want to save going forward, how deep of an initial discount you want, and how fancy of a smart thermostat you’re interested in.
Check If Your Power Company Is Participating
Many power companies are pretty proactive about sending out mailers and emailing customers, so if your power company offers the benefit, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about it at some point.
If they haven’t already contacted you in some way or you’re new to the area, one of the easiest ways to check is to hit up Google and search for the name of your power company and keywords like “free thermostat” or “thermostat rebate.”
Google also maintains a database of all the utilities that offer rebates, discounts, and rewards for Nest thermostat users. Even if you’re looking at a different brand, like Ecobee, it’s handy to plug your zip code into the database because if a given power company supports such efforts with the Nest, they almost certainly support it for other similar thermostats.
Read the Fine Print
Before we look at the different kinds of savings and the catches (or lack thereof), be aware of a critical bit of fine print you should check while visiting your power utility’s site.
Historically, many utilities required that you have the thermostat installed by a qualified installer who would sign off on the smart thermostat’s installation status.
While some utilities retain this requirement, it’s less common than it was years ago. Be sure to double-check before installing your thermostat, so you’re not leaving any rebates or further savings on the table.
And while we’re unaware of any utility companies that explicitly require you to purchase your thermostat through them to qualify, doing so can make getting any rebates or savings much easier as the utility company already has all the documentation they need.
One-Time Rebates Offer Instant Savings
Many power companies offer one-time rebates that may or may not cover the total price of the thermostat you want to purchase.
These rebates typically range from $50-100, and there is no catch beyond you’re only eligible once per calendar year, you must be an established customer of the utility in question, and similar basic requirements.
Thankfully the major offerings from Google, Amazon, Ecobee, and other big-name brands are usually covered, although you’ll commonly see programs billed as “Claim your free Nest thermostat!” simply because the Nest is so well known.
Additionally, the rebate has nothing to do with the price paid, so a deeply discounted thermostat you picked up on Black Friday or during Prime Day qualifies.
Again, to emphasize the warning above: be sure to check what the installation rules are to ensure you get the rebate.
Time-of-Use Power Enrollment
In addition to scoring a rebate for your thermostat purchase, you can also sign up for time-of-use savings. The program goes by different names, and your power company may call it “time-of-use,” “demand-response,” “Smart Thermostat Program,” or any other number of similar sounding names.
The concept is the same across the board, though. Utility companies offer an incentive for customers to voluntarily enroll in a program that allows the utility company to adjust customers’ thermostats during peak-demand events remotely.
At first glance, it sounds a bit drastic, and we certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for not wanting to enroll. But if you read the fine print for the programs, it’s pretty tame.
Typically these programs are active between May and September of each year and aren’t active on holidays or weekends (except in instances of extreme demand on the grid). When they happen, your power company remotely turns your thermostat up a few degrees to decrease the demand residential AC use puts on the power grid.
If you enroll in such a program, we’d recommend considering supercooling your home at night. You’ll use power when it’s cheapest, and your home will be pre-cooled on those days the high-demand events occur.
It’s also worth noting that purchasing a new thermostat isn’t required for time-of-use programs. If you already own a smart thermostat or the home you moved into came with 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 remaining online is crucial for the remote-adjustment function.
The typical reward for signing up for time-of-use programs is a one-time payment of $75-100 in the form of a gift card or bill credit.
On-Going Seasonal Savings
If you’ve signed up for the time-of-use program, it’s incredibly common for utility companies to offer a smaller ongoing 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 enrolled in the program or at the end of the peak-demand season.
With the instant rebate and the time-of-use enrollment, most smart thermostats on the market are greatly reduced in price or outright free. With the combined savings, you could get the basic Google Nest or Amazon Smart Thermostat for free.
Best Smart Thermostat
ecobee Smart Thermostat
The ecobee SmartThermostat makes scheduling off-peak times and automatically adjusting your thermostat for comfort a breeze.
So if you’re on the fence about getting a smart thermostat because you don’t want to wait years to realize the savings, you can get a huge head start by taking advantage of rebates and savings programs.