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By ­VA Today

November 9, 2015

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Researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) and the University of Michigan have developed ThermoCoach, a system they say could lead to the next generation of home thermostats.

ThermoCoach uses sensors, such as motion and Bluetooth sensors, to monitor the occupancy patterns of the people in the home and then provide suggestions about optimal heating and cooling schedules based on the sensors' data. The suggestions come in the form of emails prompting users to make small adjustments to the thermostat for modest savings, or more drastic adjustments for larger savings.

The key to ThermoCoach is the homeowner decides whether and how to act on the information.

The researchers conducted a study involving 40 homes in the Charlottesville, VA, area. Homes using ThermoCoach were compared with homes in which people manually programmed their thermostats, and also homes in which thermostats were fully automated. The study found the ThermoCoach-equipped homes saved significantly more than manually programmed thermostats, and conserved, on average, 12-percent more energy than a fully automated thermostat.

UVA professor Kamin Whitehouse says ThermoCoach combines ease of use with the element of human control, and participants in the initial study responded well to the technology. The researchers next will develop a longer study, which will cover multiple seasons and enable them to observe human reactions to ThermoCoach over a longer period.

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