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What makes a smart thermostat smart?

Are you looking to make your home a whole lot smarter? With the smart home revolution in full swing, one of the best investments you can do right off the bat is a smart thermostat.

Why? Switching your regular thermostat to a smart one will not only make your home feel more “hi-tech,” but it can also help you manage and cut your energy costs. Smart thermostats also offer a level of convenience that we’ve never had before.

With a wealth of functions you simply can’t get with a regular “dumb” thermostat, a smart thermostat is truly one smart investment you should do right away.

What makes a smart thermostat smart? Let’s explore the various features that set a smart thermostat apart – remote control, geofencing, voice control, occupancy sensing, learning and usage monitoring.

Control from anywhere

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The main selling point of any smart device is internet connectivity, and smart thermostats are no exception.

With a Wi-Fi connection and your smart thermostat’s phone or tablet app, a computer, a web browser, or a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you can monitor and control your home’s temperature, program schedules, or crank up the A/C or the heat even when you’re away.

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.

Remote controlling your smart thermostat is also an essential energy saving feature when you’re on vacation or a trip. For instance, you can be lying on a beach in Hawaii and still have the ability to raise or lower your home’s temperature from miles away.

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.

Location features/Geofencing

Ever wished your home adjusted itself as soon as you arrived or left? Well, with a smart thermostat, it can.

With a smart thermostat’s location-aware and geofencing abilities, it can sense if you’re close to your home and automatically adjust the temperatures based on your preferences. Note: It does this by pairing with your smartphone’s app.

This means it can crank the heat up (or cool your home down) when it detects that you’re already within the vicinity of your house. This works even if 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.

Voice control

Here’s a standard feature of most smart thermostats that will always make you feel like you’re living in the home of the future – voice control!

As I mentioned earlier, you can control your smart thermostat with a virtual assistant like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri (via Homekit).

Pair it with an Amazon Echo, a Google Home or an Apple Homepod and like magic, you can simply say “Alexa, set the temperature to 74 degrees” or “OK Google, lower the temperature by 2 degrees” to control it without lifting a finger.

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 control 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.

Pattern Learning

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 or so) and it will automatically program itself so you won’t have to.


Occupancy sensing

Another advantage that the leading smart thermostats have over traditional thermostats is their use of remote sensors that you can place in various rooms around your house.

These sensors serve different functions that can help boost your HVAC’s efficiency and save energy costs in return.

The Ecobee temperature sensors, in particular, can sense if a room is occupied or not and adjust your home’s entire temperature automatically.

This makes it possible to 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.

Nest thermostats can also be linked with separate sensors but they don’t detect occupancy, rather, they’re used for setting priority schedules for the different areas of your home.

However, you can 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.


Usage statistics

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 from 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.

Savings

With their remote control, geofencing, occupancy sensing and learning abilities, smart thermostats have another advantage over regular thermostats. They can help you save money!

The amount you’ll be able to save still depends on a combination of 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 its automated 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 are able to save up to 23% on their heating on cooling costs.

This means that although smart thermostats are significantly pricier than their “dumb” counterparts, you can recover your investment in a relatively short time. Yes, you can say that a smart thermostat pays for itself in the long run.

For large homes

With larger homes, smart thermostats and their sensors can work wonders. If you have a house with multiple zones with separate thermostats and HVAC systems, converting them into 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 constantly tweak your settings and schedules manually – 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. Checking and controlling your second home’s temperatures remotely plus occupancy sensing is a perk that’s simply not possible with regular programmable thermostats.

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