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Making the Case for Smart Thermostats: A Beginner’s Guide

You could just order an Ecobee or Nest on a whim, but you’ll be much happier if you read our guide about what to look for in a smart thermostat to make sure it’s the right one for your home.

Unless you live on the beach in San Diego, most US homes depend on heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems (HVACs) to control indoor temperatures.

Most importantly, smart thermostats connect to your smartphone through apps over WiFi so you can control everything from your pocket, as easily as you would check your email.

Your thermostat acts as the main control device and lets you decide the temperature and frequency of the air you circulate.

But now, the growing popularity of smart thermostats has changed the way we regulate our own home temperatures. We made this guide to help you understand the change from basic to smart in the thermostat market and decide if it makes sense to go smart in your home.

Why Smart Thermostats?

Smart thermostats are simpler and less daunting than basic ones. They usually have touchscreen displays with easy controls to make set up simpler.

The Ecobee SmartThermostat, for example, learns through motion and proximity sensors that can detect if you’re nearby and will automatically set to home mode.

Also, they’re built with learning algorithms and sensors to “understand” your temperature preferences and also factor in the local weather forecasts. Most importantly, smart thermostats connect to your smartphone through apps over WiFi so you can control everything from your pocket, as easily as you would check your email.

Let’s look at some of the differences between basic and smart thermostats.

Basic Thermostats

Most people still own basic, programmable thermostats nowadays. You configure them by setting a general schedule that fits the times you’re usually home or away. They can work well if you work typical 9-to-5 hours. Simply enter in a cost-effective and energy-efficient temperature while you’re away and program it to cool down when you arrive.

While this technically counts as automation, basic thermostats aren’t really “smart.” They can’t adapt to and learn from your schedule. You still have to make frequent manual adjustments as your schedule changes.

Smart Thermostats

In contrast, smart thermostats like the Honeywell Z-Wave enabled thermostat, Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee SmartThermostat allow you to better control your temperature environment with Wi-Fi, smartphone apps, and sensors that can tell if you’re nearby.

But what differentiates smart thermostats from basic?

Three things:

1.    Learning algorithms

2.    Remote sensors

3.    Geofencing

Learning Algorithms

For instance, if you change the temperature of the Nest on the first day, it’ll hold that temperature until the next time someone manually changes it. As time goes on, it starts to make a record of your preferences and personalizes a schedule for you. Once it lays out a basic schedule, it sends the data to the Nest app. Based on your input into the app, it’ll continue keeping tabs on your temperatures and constantly make comparisons to what you’ve entered before.

Of course, the algorithms aren’t perfect and don’t account for inconsistencies that don’t fit your standard schedule. If you’re home sick and haven’t left your bedroom all day, the thermostat might assume you’re away and automatically set to ‘Away’ mode. To fix this, you’ll need to make a quick adjustment from your smartphone app to let it know you are actually home.

Remote Sensors

The Ecobee SmartThermostat, for example, learns through motion and proximity sensors that can detect if you’re nearby and will automatically set to home mode. If the sensors don’t detect any motion for a while, the thermostat will set to ‘Away Mode Temperature.’ One way to ensure the highest level of accuracy is to place the sensor in a heavy traffic area of the living space. Doing this gives the thermostat more data to pull from.

Geofencing

Smart models like the Honeywell Lyric T5 rely on your smartphone’s geofencing feature to gauge whether you’re home or not. From the Honeywell app, you can set a range from anywhere between 500 feet to seven miles so that once you’re out of the range, the thermostat sets to ‘Away’ mode. And once you come back into the range, it switches back to ‘Home’ mode, so it’s just how you like it when you get there.

Bottom Line: Is It Worth It to Go Smart?

Smart thermostats are becoming a part of more and more U.S. homes. We’re seeing more initiatives to integrate thermostats with other devices (example: Works with Nest initiative).

Also, imagine being able to control your environment with a simple voice command: “Alexa, set my thermostat to 72.” Amazon Alexa, Google Home integration is offered for Nest users, while Alexa comes built-in with Ecobee. Honeywell Lyric T5 users can setup using both Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

You can own smart thermostats starting at around $150. While this isn’t cheap, their greater efficiency might cause you to end up saving money on your energy bill in the long run.

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