You’ve probably heard us talk about the benefits of using a programmable thermostat, or have read our head-to-head comparisons of the Nest and Honeywell smart thermostats. We’ve touted that swapping out your thermostat can be a do-it-yourself project, but, any time you replace a thermostat, you’re left with what to do with the old one.
Your first inclination is to place it in the trash – especially if the reason you’re replacing it is that it no longer functions. STOP! Did you know that thermostats contain hazardous mercury that can contaminate the environment and can be fatal? While installing a new smart thermostat helps protect the environment, throwing your old thermostat in the trash does just the opposite!
Since the 1830’s, thermostats have contained mercury – a metal that is liquid at room temperature and gives off vapor if not contained. The new electronic thermostats do not contain mercury. Although mercury thermostats are the largest source of mercury in homes, other sources of mercury include CFL and fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, and thermometers. But there is no concern with exposure to mercury inside these devices, as long as the mercury is contained. The problem arises when you throw them into the trash: the trash goes through a compactor, and then is taken to a landfill, so it is likely that the mercury bulb within the thermostat will bust at some point, and the mercury will escape. Mercury does not break down. It gets into the ground water, our lakes and streams, fish and birds, and becomes concentrated in our food supply, and in people.
According to the World Health Organization, mercury exposure is a major public health concern. It can result in neurological and behavioral issues, kidney toxicity, and digestive tract and lung issues. In utero and in children, it affects development, language, memory, cognitive thinking, motor and spatial skills, and attention. It can be fatal if inhaled or ingested.
Many states have already taken steps to ban mercury-containing thermostats from being sold or installed. In most states, including TN, it is illegal to throw out thermostats in the trash. Although mercury cannot be destroyed, it can be recycled and reused. However, mercury-containing products cannot be recycled by simply throwing it in your curbside recycling container. So, what should you do?
Place your old thermostat in a sealable container such as a ziplock bag or plastic tuperware container. This is so that if the mercury bulb breaks inside the device, its vapors will not be breathed in.
Check online for the nearest hazardous materials drop-off site.
But the easiest thing to do is to give it to us or any HVAC contractor. We are all obligated to recycle the thermostats for you.
So, next time you’re getting your Spring or Fall maintenance visit, give us your old thermostat. Or better yet, call on us to install a new thermostat for you, and we’ll take your old one with us when we leave.
If you live in the Nashville and surrounding area, call on us at 615-832-8500. We’re here for all your heating and cooling needs.