Buyer Guide to Thermostats

Buyers Guide to Thermostats

The thermostat market has undergone some seismic changes in recent years.

You get a great deal of variation in terms of heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems but there’s one constant…a thermostat.

All these HVAC systems have a thermostat as the centerpiece so you can keep the temperature spot-on year round. Acting very much like a thermometer, your thermostat gauges the internal temperature of your home. Thermostats aslo perform a secondary function of telling your HVAC system when it’s time to power down.

Thermostats have undergone pretty radical changes since the imprecise days of the non-programmable thermostat, which you’d have to set manually. Today we’re here to show you what you can gain by upgrading your thermostat to a smart alternative.

We’ll kick off with a glimpse at the various types of thermostats at your disposal so you’re clear on the basics before delving down into how to choose a smart thermostat the easy way.

Basic Types of Thermostat

Traditional Thermostats

Non-Programmable: Thermostats started off as non-programmable slide-and-dial affairs, offering little by the way of accuracy or convenience. You’ll need to set the temperature manually and also cycle your HVAC unit by manually setting the heat or cooling. Thankfully, those days are now history for most of us.

Programmable: The next advance with thermostats saw the introduction of programmability. This ratcheted up the convenience factor while still falling far short of the tech-laden smart thermostats glutting the market today. You’ll nevertheless be able to make significant savings of up to 1/3 on your heating costs, and 1/4 of your cooling

Smart Thermostats

Now you’ve seen where the older style thermostats fall down, it’s time to smarten up your home and take things to the next level.

Taking the fundamentals of temperature setting and scheduling accessed through a digital interface, smart thermostats add a slew of innovative features to make your life so much easier while also saving money.

From improved energy-efficiency throughout the whole house to geofencing, remote programming and alerts, all you need is your home WiFi network and a smart thermostat to start experiencing benefits across the board.

So with that taster of what’s on offer, is it really worth buying a smart thermostat?

Should You Invest in a Smart Thermostat?

In a word, yes.

You see, if you decide to upgrade your thermostat, you’ll be making an investment rather than lashing out on a whimsical expense.

Cooling the home accounts for almost 25% of the average electricity bill and since that average bill comes in at $1,440 a year; you can recoup your costs within the first 2 years of smart thermostat ownership.

If you live somewhere like Arizona, you’ll understand fully how those utility bills can mount with the alternative of foregoing the AC is simply not practical in a desert climate. Start achieving meaningful ongoing savings without undergoing any discomfort.

Rather than club you to death with the message of how much money you’ll save by upgrading to WiFi thermostat – which you will – we’ll take a look now at 6 more ways in which you’ll benefit from an upgrade.

Some Direct Benefits of a Smart Thermostat, Beyond Saving Money

Check In Remotely: It’s unlikely you’ve ever spent more on anything than your home, so it stands to reason you want to stay connected to it even if you’re away. With smart thermostats, you’ll be able to check in remotely taking care of temperature tweaks in-app on your smart phone. This convenience alone is enough to sell many people on uprating their thermostat but there are plenty more solid reasons for going smart.

Flexible and Responsive: If you have a rigid schedule, you might find a regular programmable thermostat is more than fit for purpose. More and more people these days have fluid lifestyles where sudden changes in routine are the norm. Maybe you simply need to stay later at work and want to alter the temperature at home to suit your new arrival time. Perhaps you’re on a business trip that just got extended by a day and you don’t want a day of wasted heating or cooling in your home. No sweat with a smart thermostat, just tweak it from afar from your smart phone, Apple Watch or Alexa-enabled device

Get Temperature Zones In Your House: You probably familiar with how you can get separate micro-climates within a car if you and your passengers like different temperatures? You can do exactly the same at home with a smart thermostat that supports zoning. Make sure it’s cool and relaxing in the bedroom but a bit warmer in the living room downstairs without breaking your stride using the best smart thermostat.

Algorithms Learn Your Preferences: You start with the convenience of a thermostat you can control remotely, program, or schedule. Layered on top of that, effective smart thermostats can adapt to your habits and routines. Regularly come home from work 2 hours late on a Wednesday? Your thermostat will soon pick up on this and start adjusting the temperature accordingly

Reporting Capability to Help You Maximize Energy-Efficiency At Home: Smart thermostats allow you to access reports of your energy use both in real-time and looking back. Access to this information can help you see at a glance how much electricity you’re using and where. With some thermostats, you’ll even receive detailed data on the health of your HVAC system so you can prevent most problems before they arrive

Easy To Integrate With Other Smart Appliances and Devices: If you want more extensive home automation than a simple smart thermostat provides, you’ll be able to connect to a range of other devices. Make sure the thermostat you have in mind is compatible with any smart home hub already in place and you can start controlling your heating, lighting and other smart appliance systems from a single dashboard

Super-Simple to Use Despite Such Functionality: While you’ll benefit from all the above, the best smart thermostats are remarkably easy to use. With intuitive apps and user-friendly interfaces, you can automate temperature regulation at home with consummate ease even if you’re not the biggest tech-lover.

These represent just some of the myriad of reasons why it makes sense to invest in a smart thermostat. So we’ll rest our case there and double down on what you should consider if you want to track down the most appropriate smart thermostat without taking any wrong turns.

What to Look For In the Best Smart Thermostat

The first stage of your buying decision should be focused on the type of HVAC system you have and whether you want a hard-wired thermostat or you prefer to go wireless. Compatibility makes the ideal starting point…

Overall System Compatibility

The kind of HVAC system in your home plays an instrumental role in the type of smart thermostats in your sights.

Google’s Nest thermostats, for example, works with heat pumps but not solid fuel furnaces. Other thermostats will differ so make sure you get compatibility squared off before anything else at all.

Most heating and cooling systems run on oil, gas, or electric. If you’ve got a gas furnace, it will kick out a fair bit of noise, and you’ll notice a blue flame in the window. Electric systems don’t have this observation window and they run much more quietly.

Regular HVAC systems are 1-stage or 2-stage. As a general guideline, the average smart thermostat supports single-stage cooling systems and multi-stage heating systems.

If you’ve got a home with separate zones cooled or heated independently, you’ll need more than one smart thermostat.

With these basics accounted for, there’s one phrase you can’t escape when you’re dealing with thermostats…

The dreaded C wire!

What is this and why should you care?

The C Wire Issue

The common wire or C wire is a low-voltage wire used to send power to your smart thermostat without needing to be plugged in.

So before you do anything at all, establish whether a C wire is in place so you know where you stand.

If you find no C wire attached to your existing thermostat and none installed but unused, take some time and consider your options…

You could easily choose a smart thermostat that doesn’t need a C wire. The thing is, even though only a handful of thermostats require this common wire, every major manufacturer recommends using one. It’s entirely up to you, though.

If you decide to get this C wire installed, it should be a fairly quick and easy job for your electrician and it shouldn’t run you too much either.

Installation

The majority of smart thermostats don’t demand professional installation and most come with plenty of videos and instructions clear enough to render set-up straightforward if you’ve got any kind of DIY skills at all.

It goes without saying if you’re not confident working with electronicss even at a basic level, call for professional installation or help and factor this into your budget.

Read plenty of user reviews for a more accurate idea of how tough installation is than you’ll get from the manufacturer. Practically every smart thermostat is marketed as easy to install while some are fairly tricky. Be honest about your ability and choose accordingly.

If you do carry out installation yourself, it’s always sound practice to take photos of the exisiting set-up in case you run into any problems at all.

Ease of Use

With compatibility and installation out of the way, what else should you think about when you’re researching the best smart thermostats?

If you’re looking to streamline mundane activities in your home so you can spend more time with your family than tinkering with controls, the last thing you need is a thermostat you’ll find awkward to use.

Since you’ll be doing your manipulation in-app on your smart phone, download the free apps of the thermostats on your shortlist so you can try before you buy. There’s really no excuse to invest in a thermostat then find later down the line you find the app awkward and fiddly.

Everyone has different relationships with technology and different skill levels. Make sure the thermostats on your list gel with your needs in terms of app, interface and overall user-friendliness.

Scheduling and Programming

If you’ve got a demanding lifestyle subject to regular fluctuations, you need a smart thermostat that reflects this and offers you the flexible solution you deserve.

When it comes to what scheduling and programming a thermostat can do, you shouldn’t obsess on getting the most complicated model available purely for the sake of it. Far more important is to look for a thermostat offering the programs, timings and overall adaptability you want.

Since any half-decent smart thermostat will cover all main scheduling bases, this is not an area you need to waste too much time on.

What is crucial, though, is how you intend to use your smart thermostat. If all you’re interested in is remotely controlling the temperature in your home, you’re just about ready to choose the best thermostat for the job. If, however, you want to use your thermostat in tandem with other smart home devices, you need to consider that to ensure you get the right fit.

Integrating Your Thermostat with Your Connected Home

You’ll be able to control every smart thermostat with your cell phone or tablet but the class leaders allow you to integrate your thermostat with a broad spread of other devices and systems within your smart home.

Most of the best models now come with all digital assistants supported, from Alexa and Google Assistant to Apple’s Siri. Just make sure the thermostats you’re looking at support your virtual voice assistant of choice.

Whether you’re invested in Apple’s HomeKit, If This, Then That (IFTTT) or a home security system, think closely about how you want your thermostat to interact with other appliances and devices and check for compatibility across the board.

Price

We’ve deliberately mentioned price last because it really should be the last thing you worry about. Smart thermostats are not expensive so you’re better off to widen your thinking to overall value for money…

Look to spend as much as you need to in order to achieve your goals and no more. You should find even high-end smart thermostats fit with most budgets.

So…

It hardly seems fair to tease you with all that build-up about smart thermostats without giving you a taste of what’s on offer so we’ll round out with a look at 3 showstoppers from the major players.

3 of the Best Smart Thermostats

1) ecobee4 Smart Thermostat

While Nest Learning is arguably the industry standard and undoubtedly a first-rate smart thermostat, our overall vote goes to the flexible and powerful ecobee, now in its fourth iteration and getting stronger all the time.

While you might not get access to the full range of software, you’ll get Amazon’s Alexa built in so you can take control of your thermostat by voice command without needing a standalone Alexa-enabled device like Echo.

You’ll get a wireless temperature sensor thrown in so you can make sure individual rooms stay as hot or cold as you want them. You can buy more motion sensors at a pretty reasonable price.

Detailed energy reports show you how you’ll save up to 23% on your power bills with this slick, energy-efficient thermostat.

Intelligent programming ensures your climate indoors falls in line with your energy goals, occupancy and the weather outside. You won’t need to think about a thing and you’ll get that perfect temperature year-round while using far less for electricity.

If you can overlook a less than fully functional Alexa and you want to uprate your thermostat in style, ecobee4 delivers in fine style.

Pros

  • Fourth generation comes with Alexa built in so take full advantage of your favorite digital assistant
  • Works with a diverse range of smart home gear from HomeKit and IFTTT through to Samsung’s SmartThings and much, much more
  • Room sensors ensure a more consistent and accurate temperature

Cons

  • Alexa offers fairly restricted access to software and programs

2) Nest Learning Thermostat Third Generation

The benchmark of smart thermostats and now racing into its third generation, Nest Learning takes just a week to lock into your habits and routines so it can use this information to serve up the optimum climate control system at a reasonable price-point.

If you struggle with tech, you’ll appreciate the minimalist app which is intuitive and extremely easy to navigate. Once you’ve got the free app, take charge of temperature control through your smart phone whether you’re home or away.

With auto-scheduling taking the sting out of the tedium of programming, you can achieve savings on your electricity bill the easy way. When you spot the Nest Leaf on the crisp display, you’re in an energy-efficient sweet spot so you know you’re in line for lower bills. Reporting ensures you get all this information in an easily digestible form.

Farsight technology causes the temperature to flash up when you enter the room, something to please lovers of that kind of smart home smarts.

Farsight technology causes the temperature to flash up when you enter the room, something to please lovers of that kind of smart home smarts.

For a capable, adaptable smart thermostat from an industry legend, Nest Learning remains an exceptional seller worldwide.

Pros

  • Intelligent thermostat that learns your habits and adapts accordingly to make your life even easier with your home always at the temperature you love
  • Full range of alerts relating to the health of your HVAC system so stay on top of things and prevent problems developing
  • Stripped-down app is a pleasure to use even if you’re not a tech-lover

Cons

  • Lack of wireless temperature sensors is less than ideal

3) Honeywell Lyric T5

If you’re looking for a budget smart thermostat from a brand you can rely on, Honeywell’s Lyric T5 punches above its weight.

Like all the best smart thermostats, Lyric T5 automatically starts reacting to your movements and routines. With a basic cooling and heating framework in place, you’ll soon end experiencing small tweaks making your environment even more energy-efficient and comfortable.

You’ll be pinged alerts in the event of anything untoward with your HVAC system so you can kiss goodbye to forgetting to change those filters in the furnace or to check up on the AC unit.

For even further versatility, you can manually program the Lyric when circumstances call for it.

Aside from an app that leaves something to be desired, the Honeywell Lyric T5 is a smart thermostat at a pretty dumb price so what are you waiting for?

Pros

  • Geofencing so thermostat adapts quickly and easily to your habits and movements
  • Compatible with almost all smart home devices and appliances
  • Option of 7-day manual programming for complete flexibility

Cons

  • App polarizes opinion and can be glitchy

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