What is a Thermostat? Principles, Types, Advantages, Disadvantages

Last Updated on December 26, 2023 by Electricalvolt

Definition: A thermostat regulates temperature by controlling the heating or cooling system. It is commonly used in HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems to maintain a desired temperature within a defined range.

What is a Thermostat?

The word thermostat originated or derived from two Greek words. Thermos means “hot”, and statos means “stationery.” It means that a thermostat maintains the desired temperature in a stationary (stable) system.

A Thermostat typically consists of a temperature sensor and a control unit. When the temperature deviates from the desired setpoint, the heating, cooling, or the source is activated, thereby maintaining it at a set value. A simple control system controls that opens or closes an electrical circuit depending on the temperature.

iron-andcopper,bimetal-strip

Common Bi-metal thermostat materials for construction are

  • Brass-Iron
  • Copper-Iron
  • Steel-Copper

Thermostat sensors are prepared either by riveting or welding two strips together.

Working Principle of Thermostat

Bi-metallic thermostats are indeed based on the principle of thermal expansion. Two metals with two different coefficients of thermal expansion are bonded together; upon heating, one side expands more than the other, causing the end to deflect. This deflection dries the indicating device connected to its end.

The above principle is explained in the application of bimetallic thermometers below.

Working of Thermostat

The function of the thermostat is to regulate and maintain the temperature of a system connected with it. Its stem adjusts according to temperature requirements. Its operation consists of opening or closing the circuit in a system depending on the temperature we program, so it remains ON only when needed.

If it detects that the room temperature is lower than indicated, it activates the installation circuit, causing a temperature rise to reach it, and if it detects it higher, it closes the circuit to turn OFF the heating. The thermostat working diagram is shown below,

bimetal-strip

They have been widely used in regulating heating and cooling. During regulation, the application of bimetallic strips should not be ignored. Under operation, one end of the bimetal strips is mechanically fixed and connected to a power source; meanwhile, the other end is equipped with an electrical contact. In an adjustable thermostat, another contact is fixed along with an adjustable knob or lever to control the temperature, which is called a set point.

Depending on the applications, a relatively high temperature will open the contact, for example, controlling a heater. In addition, it will also lead to contact closure, for example, controlling an air- conditioner or refrigerator.

Electrical contacts can directly influence power or otherwise indirectly control electricity through natural gas or fuel supply from electric relays or valves.

Types of Thermostats

Different types of thermostats are as follows.

  1. Mechanical Thermostats
    • Bimetallic Strip Thermostats
    • Liquid-Filled Thermostats
  2. Electronic Thermostats
    • Digital Thermostats
    • Programmable Thermostats
    • Smart Thermostats
  3. Hybrid Type
  4. Line Voltage Type
  5. Low Voltage Type
  6. Pneumatic Type

Basic types of thermostats

  • Line voltage
  • Low voltage

Thermostats with respect to features

  • Manual
  • Programmable
  • Smart

Bimetallic Thermostats

These thermostats utilize a bimetallic strip as their main component. A bimetal strip is a composite material made by bonding two different metals with different coefficients of thermal expansion. The purpose of creating a bimetallic strip is to utilize the different rates at which the two metals expand or contract when exposed to changes in temperature. This results in the strip bending or curving in response to temperature variations.

There are two types of bimetallic thermostats.

  • Helical strip bimetal thermometer and the
  • Spiral strip bimetal thermometers

Helical Strip Bimetallic Thermostat

helical-strip-bimetallic-thermostat

This type of thermometer uses a bimetallic strip shaped like a helix to measure temperature. The pointer is connected to the shaft at the other end of the strip. As shown in the above figure, the strip is wound helically around the seat post.

The temperature changes are sensed by a spiral strip when the temperature rises. The metal strips with a higher coefficient of thermal expansion extend and roll along the seat posts, causing the axle to rotate.

This rotation causes the needle to move to its position on the scale, indicating the medium’s temperature. The metal with the lowest temperature contracts as temperature decreases, and the shaft starts to rotate. The pointer then reads the lowest temperature on the scale.

Uses: They can be placed into thermal wells, which allow them to operate in high temperatures and pressures; they are used mainly for industrial applications.

Spiral Strip Bimetallic Thermostat

spiral-strip-bimetallic-thermostat

As shown in the above figure, a bimetallic spiral thermometer uses a spiral-shaped strip to measure temperature. The metal strips expand differently as the temperature rises. The expansion thereby creates a bending effect. The bonded strip is wound in such a way that the metal with the highest thermal coefficient of expansion forms the outer side of the arc.

When there is a drop in temperature, the metal with the lower thermal coefficient of expansion in the bonded strip forms the inner layer of the arc. This deformation is read with a needle and clock attached to the hairspring, indicating the medium’s temperature.

Uses: As they are sensitive to lower temperature variations, spiral thermometers are suitable for regulating the room’s temperature or measuring room temperatures.

Selection Criteria for Bimetallic Thermometers

Temperature range: the bimetallic thermometer must be within the upper and lower limit temperatures. Due to extreme temperatures, metals can reach their expansion limits and not recover their initial shape, which can permanently damage the thermometers.

The stem: the length and diameter of the bimetallic thermometer stem should be determined as required by the application. To do this, it may be necessary to determine the immersion length or depth of the tank where the thermometer will be used.

Advantages

  • With the help of thermostats, one can reduce energy consumption and enhance energy efficiency.
  • Mechanical and bimetallic strip thermometers are durable and provide long-lasting performance.
  • Smart thermostats often have automation features.
  • Programmable and digital thermometers allow users to set specific temperatures and schedules to suit their preferences.

Disadvantages

  • The measurement of temperature is not precise enough.
  • Thermostat probes face challenges in accurately measuring temperature in certain environments.
  • Factors such as air pollution, dust, and sensor location can affect the readings.
  • Regular calibration and maintenance are indeed necessary to ensure accurate performance.

Applications of thermostats

Thermostats are used in mechanical engineering and other industrial applications for temperature control, for example, to protect a device from overheating, switch off a machine, or connect a fan for cooling.

Used for both residential and commercial purposes. They are commonly used in:

  • Air-conditioning
  • Control devices
  • Heaters
  • Ovens
  • Refineries
  • Oil burners.
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About Satyadeo Vyas

Satyadeo Vyas, M.Tech,M.B.A. is an electrical engineer and has more than 36 years of industrial experience in the operation, maintenance, and commissioning of electrical and instrumentation projects. He has good knowledge of electrical, electronics, and instrumentation engineering.

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