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In the past, thermostats were pretty basic devices and did not require a continuous power supply. However, that’s the case anymore, especially with the rise of Wi-Fi thermostats that come with many advanced features like sensors and backlit displays. Smart thermostats consume more energy compared to old thermostats, making it necessary for them to have a continuous power supply. This continuous power supply is provided by an extra cable known as the home thermostat C-wire!
When learning how to install a smart thermostat, you’ll come across the statement that a ‘C-wire’ is required. But, what exactly is a Thermostat C-Wire? Well, that is what I’ll be showing you in this article!
What is a C wire in a Home Thermostat?
A thermostat C- or Common wire is an extra wire that provides a return path for continuous 24 V power. It’s connected to a low voltage Heating & Cooling system to provide a return path to power your Smart thermostat.
In most cases, this wire is labeled as ‘C’ on your thermostat backplates and it’s usually the blue or black color wire. However, the Common wire does not have to be necessarily labeled C or have a particular color. All in all, these are some best practices commonly used by manufacturers to make the installation process a bit easier.
Note, the home thermostat C-wire doesn’t actually supply power to their thermostat. Instead, it provides a return path to ensure that your thermostat is powered without disrupting the other cables that act as electrical on/ off switches for your HVAC system.
Thermostats are powered by wires known as the ‘hot’ wires, which are labeled Rh (heating) and Rc (Cooling). These wires provide a power source of 24V from the HVAC control board. They can either be separate wires that need separate connections or the same wire that is labeled as Rh/c.
Home Thermostat Wire Colors
Your home thermostat might have a combination of colors and wires. This may range from a smart thermostat with only 2 wires (white and red) to a unit with as many as 6 different colors. Some of the home thermostat wire colors include;
- R-Wire (usually Red); Power
- Y-Wire (usually Yellow); sends the signal to turn on Cooling
- G-Wire(usually Green); sends the signal to turn on the Fan
- W-wire (usually White); sends the signal to turn on the Heat
Technically, power flows from the R-wire, but not continuously. Adding a home thermostat C wire helps to complete the circuit to ensure that the 24V power flows continuously.
Almost all the best smart thermostats require a C-wire connection as it eliminates the need for separate batteries. Besides, your smart thermostat needs the power to stay connected to the Wi-Fi, even when it isn’t actively controlling your HVAC system to cool or warm your warm. Plus, this allows it to respond to commands of smart assistants or other smart home devices in your house.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all HVAC systems have a C-wire. For instance, if you don’t have a low voltage HVAC system, you’ll not have a home thermostat C-wire. Don’t worry though! In this post, I’ll show you some of the popular methods you can use to fix the C-wire problem if your existing system doesn’t have one! All in all, most modern HVAC systems have C-wires, making them compatible with smart thermostats like Honeywell.
How do I check if my Home thermostat has a C-Wire?
Before you start poking around your thermostat wiring to see if you’ve got a C-wire, make sure you turn off the power first. Then follow these methods to check if your system has a C-wire or not;
Look at the wires behind the thermostat
The fastest and easiest way to check if your thermostat has a C-wire is to remove its front cover and look. The cover is usually held onto the back plate by 1 – 2 small screws or snap clips. In most cases, the back plate has a number of letters. If you see a wire going to the terminal labeled ‘C’, then your thermostat has a C/ Common wire.
And if you can’t see it, don’t assume you don’t have a C-wire yet. Instead, check if there is a wire that isn’t connected to any terminal. Sometimes, the extra wire isn’t readily visible since it’s usually tacked behind the back plate.
Look at the wires inside your heating system
If you have not seen any hidden wire in their thermostat, look for the C-wire inside your HVAC system or control board. First, turn off the power to your heating system and remove the cover. Once you have done that, look for a row of screws labeled Y/Y2, G, W, W2, R, C, etc. If you see a C-wire in the heating system, the other end is probably stuffed into the wall behind the thermostat.
What if there is no C wire for thermostat?
If your home has an older heating system, it will not have a C-/ Common wire. However, if you’re planning to upgrade to a smart home thermostat like Honeywell or Sensi Touch Thermostat, you’ll most likely need a C-wire. However, before you arrive at that decision, there are 5 options you need to consider for a thermostat with no C-wire. They include;
1. Run a new thermostat C-wire
Although installing a new C-wire isn’t the easiest solution, it’s one of the best options available. It involves running a single C-wire from the HVAC system control board to the thermostat. For instance, consider running a 2-conductor 18-gauge wire since it’s less expensive. This approach is suitable if the run between the HVAC system and the thermostat is short, easy, and accessible.
Alternatively, consider installing a new 8-wire thermostat cable altogether if you want a future-proof solution. Although you can do this task yourself, I’d recommend that you leave it to a professional for better results.
2. Buy a 24V Thermostat C Wire adapter
A 24V C-wire adapter (transformer) comes with 2 wires that plug into a thermostat to power it, while the other end plugs into a regular outlet. The only issue with this option is that it leaves an unsightly cable running from the outlet to the thermostat. Other than that, it’s a great option for smart thermostats that don’t have a C-wire.
Most smart home kits come with adapters that you can use for this purpose. Alternatively, you can just buy one online or at the home improvement store near you.
One of the most popular adapter kits for a smart thermostat with no C-Wire is the Venstar Add-a-Wire adapter. This power adapter kit allows you to connect any smart thermostat to an existing wiring configuration without the Common wire. Thanks to its ability to convert a 4-wire system into a 5-wire system by splitting one wire into two. As a result, your smart thermostat will think it’s connected to a C-wire, even though it does not. Even better, it’s affordable, works with most HVAC systems, and is quite easy to install since you can connect it inside or near your heating system. If your thermostat has 4 wires, this method is much easier than trying to run a new C-wire through the wall.
3. Use fan wire/ G-wire as the C-wire
Another incredible option if you don’t have a C-wire in your old thermostat is to convert the fan/ G-wire into a C-wire. This simply involves putting the fan on automatic mode and using the G-wire as the Common cable for your smart thermostat. To accomplish that, you have to remove the old G-wire from the G-terminal and attach it to the C-terminal in both the furnace and the thermostat. In addition, you have to connect a tiny jumper cable from the empty G-terminal to the Y-terminal on your HVAC system circuit board.
On the downside, despite being quite popular, this approach isn’t completely supported by most thermostat manufacturers. For instance, this method does not work with 2-wire heat-only HVAC systems and electric heating systems. Also, it will prevent you from using the fan independently when the heating & cooling system is not running.
4. Power stealing
Some smart thermostats like Google Nest Thermostat have tried to solve the C-wire problem by using a method known as power stealing. Basically, this technique allows your thermostat to continuously cycle your HVAC system on & off, to ‘steal’ or get some power during these cycles. In other words, this method allows you to power your smart thermostat from the circuit that controls the power network of your HVAC system. However, stealing or drawing too much power might make your HVAC system behave in a strange manner.
Most homeowners don’t see an issue with power stealing, especially considering the thermostat only requires the power to charge up the battery. Unfortunately, the thermostat does not get charged up all the time using this method. Not to forget that the batteries of most smart thermostats deplete their life by up to 20% of their capacity every year.
5. Install a smart thermostat that doesn’t require a C-wire
Of course, the easiest way to avoid the C-wire problem is to look for a smart thermostat that doesn’t need a Common wire like Emerson Sensi or Ecobee 3. However, with Ecobee 3 thermostat, you’ll still need a 4-wire thermostat cable since it requires a power extender kit. That way, you can connect the wire from the heating system to the Ecobee Power Extender Kit, and then to your thermostat. After that, mount the extender kit to your heating system and go back to your new thermostat.
If you’re planning to replace your old thermostat with a smart thermostat, a Common/ C-wire might be necessary. This allows your smart thermostat to receive constant power so that it can light up the backlit display and stay connected to your Wi-Fi network. However, if your existing thermostat does not have a C-wire, use the methods we have mentioned above when installing your new smart thermostat.