Smart thermostats make managing the temperature in your home as simple as setting up a schedule on an app. From quickly adjusting the temperature while you’re away to using your voice to make a change, you no longer have to wake up and deal with a manual thermostat if you’re cold. But with so many options, it’s worth figuring out which smart thermostat is perfect for your home and your needs.
Before you even look at features or pricing, check out your HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system to find out which thermostats will actually be compatible with it. While most modern systems are compatible with virtually all smart thermostats, certain systems may require an adapter. More complex systems may also require a professional to install it to ensure everything works correctly.
Typically, HVAC systems made after 1975 are generally compatible with smart thermostats. You may still be able to use a smart thermostat with furnace or oil boiler systems, but you’ll need a special adapter, usually called a C-wire (common wire) adapter to make your current wiring compatible with the thermostat.
If you use in-wall heating, biofuels, or baseboard heating, you can’t use most smart thermostats on the market.
If you’re still not sure about HVAC compatibility, open your thermostat cover and check the wiring. Thick wires could mean it’s not compatible without an adapter. Smart thermostats use much thinner, low-voltage wires to provide more reliable and consistent power.
For homes with complex HVAC systems that have zones, multi-stage, or various speeds, you can upgrade to a smart system, but you’ll need to have it professionally installed.
Outside of your HVAC system, you also have to think about your smart home hub. A hub allows you to control groups of compatible devices – all from a single location. Some Wi-Fi connected smart devices, like speakers and certain bulbs, don’t require a hub. If you only have a few devices, you may not even have a hub yet, but if you do, it makes life easier if all of your devices work from the same hub.
Lastly, most smart thermostats work on standard Wi-Fi networks, but some work on different wireless protocols, so you want to ensure the thermostat is compatible with your network type. Outside of standard Wi-Fi routers and hubs, other wireless systems and smart home hubs may include Zigbee and Z-Wave. Some thermostats may only work with HomeKit systems.
Both Zigbee and Z-Wave allow you to manage all connected devices from a central location or app. However, your devices must be compatible with the appropriate protocol to take advantage of this convenience versus a different app for every smart device. If you want a more universal system, look for a smart home hub that supports multiple protocols, such as the Hubitat Elevation Home Automation Hub or the Aeotec Smart Home Hub.
Features to Look For
Smart thermostats are designed to automate heating and cooling in your home: from easy changes via an app to automatic adjustments based on whether you’re home, asleep, or out. These systems keep getting smarter, making it simpler than ever to heat and cool while saving money on your energy bill. While choosing a model, consider which features you really care about:
- Voice control: Most thermostats allow you to control them using voice commands. While some support Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, some only support one of those voice assistants (like a couple of Ecobee models). Ensure your thermostat is compatible with the voice assistant you prefer.
- App support: Every smart thermostat has an app to control it. It’s very rare that you’d find one that doesn’t support both iOS and Android. However, if you want to control your thermostat via your smart home hub’s app, ensure that the thermostat is compatible with your smart hub system.
- Learning: Controlling your system from your phone is nice, but it’s the learning features that really make your thermostat “smart.” Check to see whether the thermostat is able to learn your routines and schedules to adapt the temperature to your needs.
- Sensors: Sensors enable thermostats’ learning capabilities. There are several different kinds of sensors, including:
- Motion – detects when you’re moving around, going to bed or leaving the house.
- Proximity – automatically lights up the screen when it detects when you’re approaching the thermostat.
- Temperature – checks for hot and cold spots throughout your home for more even heating and cooling.
- Occupancy – detects foot traffic in a room to prompt the thermostat to provide more comfortable heating and cooling in areas with more people and can help decrease energy usage in rooms that aren’t occupied.
- Geofencing: save energy while you’re away by letting your thermostat raise or lower the temperature based on the location of your phone. When you get close to home, the thermostat automatically changes to a more comfortable temperature for you.
- Filter change alerts: it’s easy to forget to change your filters regularly. You can get alerts to change your filters, making your HVAC system work safely and more efficiently.
- Zone heating: set different preferences for individual rooms or zones without the need for multiple thermostats.
Save on Energy Costs
Outside of convenience, one of the top reasons people switch to smart thermostats is to save on energy costs. For instance, you could save around $100 a year just by having your thermostat automatically lower the temperature several degrees in the winter when you’re at work.
While you could save money with just about any smart thermostat, the most energy efficient ones are ENERGY STAR certified. It’s a U.S. government-backed certification designed to help people pick the most efficient appliances. Read on to find a list of certified smart thermostats.
In addition to the features listed in the previous section, ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostats give you details about your energy usage, explain how your current settings affect energy usage, and give you the option to join “demand-response” programs from your local utility company. These programs allow your utility company to automatically raise or lower your home’s temperature during peak usage times to reduce overall energy consumption. Of course, this can also help lower your energy bills.
As a bonus, utility companies may offer rebates on ENERGY STAR certified products, helping you save even more.
Prices for smart thermostats vary greatly. The most basic models, like Amazon’s Smart Thermostat, start at around $60, while more feature-rich models are upwards of $300. Obviously, this all depends on the brand and features you choose. Remember, even the simplest model makes it easier and more convenient to control your home’s heating and cooling.
Another price consideration is installation costs. If you have a standard HVAC system with compatible wiring, you may be able to install your thermostat yourself. If a professional installation is necessary, this will add to the overall cost.
Best Smart Thermostats
While there are many options on the market, use the following options to help you narrow your search to find the right smart thermostat for you.
Amazon Smart Thermostat – Cheapest Overall
As the most affordable option we could find at just $60, the Amazon Smart Thermostat offers simple controls and is compatible with Amazon Alexa. There are automatic controls to sense when you’re not around, and you can set up schedules to automate temperature adjustments throughout the day.
Google Nest Thermostat – Most Affordable Google Thermostat
If you prefer Google Assistant, the Google Nest Thermostat auto-adjusts based on whether you’re home or not. Plus, you’ll receive alerts if the thermostat suspects you’re having issues with your HVAC system. A touch bar on the side makes it easy to adjust the temperature from the thermostat. It’s not bad for just $100.
Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat – Most Versatile Voice Controls
If you want a system that’ll work even if you change voice assistants, the Sensi Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat ($130) is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. It has an easy-to-use display and detailed scheduling.
Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat – Perfect for Multiple Room Control
Thanks to sensors you place in various rooms, the Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat ($199) is the best option for multi-room control. It can automatically sense when someone’s in the room to adjust temperatures accordingly. You can set up zones or individual room preferences using the backlit touchscreen.
Google Nest Learning Thermostat – Best for Learning Your Routines
If you want a smart thermostat that learns and adjust temperatures automatically, look no further than the Google Nest Learning Thermostat ($190). Advanced auto scheduling learns based on your settings during the first week as well as with seasonal changes. It’s designed to be intuitively controlled and blend in with your decor. Lastly, it works well with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
ecobee Smart Thermostat – Best Overall
The ecobee Smart Thermostat ($195) offers a perfect mix of the features most people want. From pausing temperature control if a window or door’s left open to making automatic adjustments based on the room’s hot and cold spots, it’s ideal for managing your home’s heating and cooling. You can easily control the it via the touchscreen, an app, or your voice (Siri and Alexa support). You can also add more sensors for additional rooms whenever you would like.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I need to install sensors in every room?
If your thermostat supports multi-zone settings, you’ll need to have separate sensors for different spaces across your home. For smart thermostats that use separate sensors, the sensors have a set range. For areas outside of this range, you’ll need additional sensors. Also, some sensors only work in a single room. Check the documentation with your thermostat to determine how and where to place your sensors.
Does my thermostat need to be close to my router?
Ideally, yes. Like most Wi-Fi enabled devices, your thermostat needs a strong signal to work well. However, if you can’t place it near your router for a stronger signal, try one of these methods for boosting your Wi-Fi signal. You can also use a second router and turn it into an access point or repeater.
How can I find which thermostats are compatible with Apple HomeKit?
If you’re shopping around, it may seem difficult to find thermostats compatible with HomeKit. Since Google and Amazon were already the two major players, more devices are compatible with them versus Apple. However, you can find a full list of compatible smart home devices, including thermostats, on Apple’s website.
Image credit: Sean D via Unsplash
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