From the moment you see one, a smart thermostat looks cool. The cover plate is smooth, and there’s a clear digital readout. Unlike that grimy little hockey puck, with its analog dial and worn-out numbers, the smart thermostat feels futuristic, like something out of a science fiction movie.
Yet smart thermostats are real – and they're changing lives. They save money. They're kinder to the environment. And they also offer a level of convenience that most of us have never imagined before. For owners of smart homes, there are scads of appliances you may consider, but a thermostat should take top priority.
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What makes a smart thermostat “smart?” Let’s start at the beginning.
Set the temperature from anywhere
Traditional thermostats work great, but only if you’re around to adjust them. Some thermostats can be programmed, but if you couldn’t figure out a VCR, you may struggle with this function, and you may forget to modify those settings as the seasons change.
The main selling point of any smart device is internet connectivity, which means you can change the thermostat’s settings from practically anywhere. You can use your thermostat's mobile app, or a web browser, or even a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, to monitor and control your home's temperature. You can program schedules, crank up the A/C or switch on the heat, whether you’re at work or vacationing on another continent.
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For example, there may be days when you're arriving home earlier than usual. Instead of adjusting your thermostat manually when you get home, you can remotely prep your thermostat's temperature ahead of time so it'll be nice and cozy when you arrive.
Remember, shaving a few degrees off your usual thermostat settings translates into big energy savings. Having the ability to do this remotely whenever you need to can yield dramatic results in the long run.
Get into geofencing
Ever wished your home adjusted itself as soon as you arrived or left? Well, with a smart thermostat, it can.
A smart thermostat is aware of its location and can use "geofencing" to determine when you're close to your home. Your smartphone's app alerts the network when you're nearby, signaling the thermostat to adjust temperatures, based on your preferences automatically. It works whether you're coming home unexpectedly early or late.
Geofencing also works the other way around. A smart thermostat can also sense if you're away (even if your schedule says otherwise) and it will adjust your home's temperatures accordingly.
Control it with your voice
Like many smart devices, thermostats respond to voice commands. Just pair the device with a virtual assistant like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple's Siri (via Homekit). Merely say "Alexa, set the temperature to 74 degrees," or "OK Google, lower the temperature by 2 degrees," to control your environment without lifting a finger.
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One of the leading smart thermostat models out there, the Ecobee4, even comes with Alexa built-in. So aside from controlling your home's temperature, the Ecobee4 can do most of what a separate Amazon Echo or Echo Dot can do. With it, you can manage your other smart home appliances, play music, read the news, ask questions and more.
If you're looking into getting into the whole smart home trend, a voice-controlled smart thermostat should definitely be one of your first big purchases.
Adjusts the temperature automatically
The Ecobee4 may have Alexa built-in but its main competitor, the popular Nest Thermostat has a different trick up its sleeve.
The Nest Thermostat is what is known as a learning thermostat. With this ability, it will learn your preferred temperature settings as you use it and it will build a schedule around them. It can even learn specific family profiles and know which household member is home and away at specific times.
With enough usage data (typically a week's worth), the smart thermostat will automatically program itself so you won't have to.
Knows when you are home
This feature is what makes thermostats truly “smart.” You can place remote sensors in various rooms of your house, which can help boost your HVAC's efficiency and save energy costs in return. You can balance the hot and cold areas in your home since the temperature levels will be provided by more than just the main thermostat's location.
The Ecobee temperature sensors, in particular, can sense if a room is occupied or not and adjust your home's entire temperature automatically.
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Nest thermostats can also be linked with separate sensors. They don't detect occupancy, but they can be used for setting priority schedules for the different areas of your home. You can also link a Nest thermostat with other Nest products like the Nest Camera, Nest Smoke Detectors and Nest alarms to get similar occupancy detection features since these gadgets have motion detection built in.
To better manage your energy consumption and see how your thermostat settings impact your electric bill, smart thermostats have usage tracking features and statistics available to view from its app or the web.
These free energy and usage reports typically allow you to see how much energy you've conserved (or wasted) each month and provide valuable information about how efficiently your cooling and heating equipment operates.
Here are two bonus reasons smart thermostats are worth it:
Save money with smart thermostats
For many of us, saving money on energy bills is a top priority. The amount you save still depends on several factors, such as the efficiency of your HVAC system, your home insulation, your utility costs, local weather changes and your temperature preferences.
But with all their automation and learning functions, smart thermostat companies claim that you can cut your energy costs by a significant amount if you switch to their products.
For example, it's estimated that people who use the Nest save an average of 10% to 12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills. Ecobee, on the other hand, reported that its customers can save up to 23% on their heating on cooling costs.
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This means that although smart thermostats are significantly pricier than their "dumb" counterparts, you can recover your investment in a relatively short time. In short, a smart thermostat is almost guaranteed to pay for itself in the long run.
Perfect for larger homes
The bigger the house, the more essential its energy efficiency. If you have a home with multiple zones, you probably have separate thermostats and HVAC systems. Converting to smart thermostats allows you to control them all from a centralized location such as a smartphone, a computer, a tablet or a smart speaker/virtual assistant.
They'll also learn your patterns on that particular zone and sense if a room or floor is occupied or not. This means you won't have to tweak your settings and schedules manually constantly - all your smart thermostats and sensors will work together to keep your whole house comfortable in the most efficient way possible.
Additionally, if you have a second home, installing a smart thermostat is the best way to go. You can check and control your second home's temperatures remotely. Sensing your occupancy patterns is a perk that's just not possible with regular programmable thermostats.
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