What to Look for in a Smart Thermostat

What to Look for in a Smart Thermostat

Woman adjusting the room's temperature using a smart thermostat
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A smart thermostat can do more than warm your heart or cool your living room as needed—it can also have a huge impact on your overall household budget. According to Energy Star, a smart thermostat can help you save more than $50 per year in energy bills. But all the perks don’t end there; a smart thermostat can learn your schedule, balance the temperatures when you’re at home, and turn itself down when you’re not.

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Do you often neglect to turn off the furnace or leave your windows open to encourage proper air circulation? Well, a smart thermostat could do you good. Smart thermostats offer a wide range of features, and with all the new technology for thermostats, you may be wondering “what kind of thermostat should I buy?”

With numerous options out there, it’s difficult to choose what’s best, so we’ve put together a simplified buying guide to help you find the right option. By answering a few simple questions, you’ll know exactly what to consider when buying a smart thermostat.

What is a Smart Thermostat?

Smart thermostats have quickly become the centerpiece of the smart home. They are small programmable devices that contain built-in sensors and are used to control your home’s AC and heat. A smart thermostat can connect to your local network, through which you can remotely send instructions to turn it off or on or change its programming.

Most of these smart gadgets will show you how much heating your household consumes, while some can monitor your usage and learn your routine. For instance, when you come home at the same time each day, this thermostat will learn to adjust your house temperature ahead of time as it anticipates your return.

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The key ingredient in a smart thermostat is the availability of a dedicated mobile app that you can download on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. You’ll need to create a login account, link your phone to the smart thermostat, and start using it—just as you’d do with any app-controlled gadget. You can also interface to your thermostat using a web browser to override any default settings.

What a smart thermostat essentially does is provide you with an effective climate control system compared with traditional thermostats. You’ll have greater access to the finer controls of your furnace—as well as vast feedback data you can use to better manage your energy output. You’ll not just be comfortable at home, but also save big bucks on your energy bill.

What are the Benefits?

  • Minimize energy usage and costs. Arguably the main reason to upgrade to a smart thermometer is for the energy cost savings. You can easily schedule your HVAC system to turn off when you’re not at home, so you won’t consume a lot of energy during the day. You may also program it to kick in before your scheduled arrival time. Different thermostat manufacturers promise different energy saving levels.

For instance, the Ecobee4 smart thermostat may save you up to 23% on both heating and cooling. The Nest smart thermostat predicts savings of up to 12% on heating and 15% on cooling costs.

  • Remote control. Another great benefit of smart thermostats is that they let you control your home’s heating and cooling remotely. Just log in to your mobile app and change the temperature as needed. All you need is a data or Wi-Fi connection.
  • Monitor your energy usage. Most smart thermostats let you track your home’s energy usage. Just build a home energy profile and you’ll monitor how your energy usage fluctuates over time, how it will impact your energy costs in future, and how you can adjust it to reduce your energy costs.
  • Intelligent scheduling. Smart thermostats can efficiently run your home’s heating and cooling system. Depending on the brand, you can program your thermostat to turn off or on at certain times of the day, automatically tone down when you’re on vacation, or set different temperatures on different days.
  • Integrations. Smart devices are becoming increasingly compatible—your smart thermostat can connect and exchange information with many other smart devices. For instance, you can use a smart thermostat to control a smart humidifier—as long as they’re in a compatible ecosystem. Compatibility with voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant make issuing voice commands a breeze.

What are the Drawbacks?

  • Compatibility issues. There may be a chance that your smart thermostat isn’t compatible with your existing HVAC system—especially if it doesn’t have a common wire (c-wire). This may require a complete system overhaul to achieve seamless compatibility.
  • High initial cost. You’re likely to incur a large initial cost with the more advanced smart thermostats—both in purchase and installation. The installation process may also be complicated.

What to Look for When Shopping

Knowing how smart of a thermostat to purchase and different attributes to look for can be tricky. Continue reading to learn some of the key specifications to look for in a thermostat and what they really mean.

Smart Home Compatibility & Voice Control

You’d be glad to have a thermostat that you can control with an app on your phone or tablet but it doesn’t hurt if you need more—smart home compatibility. Let’s face it; not every smart thermostat works seamlessly with every other  gadget. Whether you’re already living in an automated home or are looking to make the switch in future, you need a thermostat that works with the major smart home ecosystems—Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit.

Compatibility with a certain ecosystem means that your thermostat can easily integrate with other smart devices within the same system. Think about using your thermostat to turn on the automatic air purifier or humidifier in your house—isn’t that a win-win?

And if you’ve already stepped into the world of virtual assistants, confirm that your preferred thermostat is also compatible. Adjusting your house temperature with a voice command will no longer be an elusive idea if your thermostat can link with voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Link your Amazon Echo speaker to your thermostat and you can ask it to turn on the cooling fan from the comfort of your bed.

All the same, compatibility issues won’t last long. Top tech giants and smart home stakeholders have come together to form the Project Connect Home over IP, which intends to create a common standard for all smart home gadgets. Ultimately, the goal is to increase compatibility for consumers.

C-wire Requirements

Make sure you check on the thermostat brand’s site to ascertain that it supports your current home energy system—you’ll find this information on the thermostat requirements or compatibility section. The more complex home heating and cooling systems—like dual-fuel systems or multi-stage heat pumps and boilers—may need a more advanced thermostat that supports a broader range of heating types.

And since most smart thermostats require low-voltage power, you must confirm that your HVAC system has a dedicated C (common) wire. The C-wire segment of a thermostat wiring system provides a consistent power source to a thermostat for its digital display and Wi-Fi connection. Although some smart thermostats can technically operate without a common wire, we recommend that you have one professionally installed if you live in an older home. Operating a smart thermostat without a common wire may damage your home’s HVAC systems.

Ease of Installation

You obviously don’t want to buy a smart thermostat and later have to pay a professional to fit it. Most thermostats are easy to install, even for the moderately handy homeowner. And if you’ve not handled a thermostat before, the manufacturer should provide succinct and easy-to-follow installation instructions.

We always recommend that you start by confirming that every accessory is present. The manufacturer will provide a list “what you’ll find in the box.” Also, a few basic household tools should help you complete the installation. While you may already know where each wire goes, we recommend taking a picture of the wires connected to your old thermostat—you may need to reference the photo later. Your thermostat manufacturer may also provide labels you can use to mark your old thermostat wires.

Geofencing

Geofencing is a feature that can trigger an activity depending on whether you’re away or home. Think about a virtual border around your house; when you’re within the border your thermostat considers you to be home, so it makes the environment nice and comfy for you at home. When you’re beyond the boundary, your smart thermostat let’s your home’s temperature fall or rise so you don’t heat or cool an empty place.

Geofencing technically relies on Wi-Fi, GPS location services, and your thermostat app—and is ideal if you’re usually in and out all day or have no set schedule day-to-day. It takes some effort out of constantly adjusting your thermostat by figuring out when you’ve returned and when you’ve left your home. Upon crossing your geofence boundary, the thermostat app can use your smartphone’s location and update the smart thermostat to your preferred “home” or “away” settings.

Consider how you may interact with the area around your home when setting your geofence boundaries. Keep your geofence away from highways and roads you may travel on that don’t necessarily indicate you’re heading home.

Remote Access

Remote access lets you program and control your thermostat from your smartphone, tablet, and computer, whether you’re in the basement or around the world. You’ll need a stable internet connection to control your thermostat remotely.

Room Sensors

Your home’s probably not the same temperature in every room, due to factors like the number of windows, size, and how much sunlight they get. Your thermostat may also not be installed in the best location, like a drafty hallway—so what next? This is where room sensors come in handy.

You might want temperature sensors if you live in a multi-story house and need more comfort downstairs during the day and upstairs during the night. Your thermostat—if not installed in a good spot—may tap into a separate temperature sensor to help keep your environment more comfortable. You may also add one or multiple temperature sensors to Nest app and choose the thermostat they should report to.

Motion and proximity sensors may also be an alternative to geofencing. Just walk past your sensor, it recognizes that you’re home, and fires up your thermostat accordingly. These sensors may also trigger your thermostat display, letting you take a quick glance at your current room temperature.

Conclusion

Feel more confident about your next smart thermostat purchase? Well, you’ve just joined a growing community of homeowners who want to save money and conserve energy.

A smart thermostat doesn’t just control your indoor climate—it adapts to your lifestyle by learning your preferred comfort level over time to heat or cool on schedule. Did your plans change? You can easily adjust your home’s temperature from a connected device. And if you can’t let go of your existing devices, some thermostats will play well with them to make your home more harmonious.

We hope our guide has helped you discover the confidence and efficiency that comes from having a smart thermostat in your home. Why not go on a shopping spree today?

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