The race to equip the smart home has really heated up, with huge leaps being made every year.
One of the areas that has attracted intense interest from manufacturers is temperature control.
Smart home thermostats are quickly becoming the new standard for home heating and cooling, especially in new construction. Sellers of smart thermostats tout their ability to make life easier, to provide better control over your indoor environment and to save on energy costs.
In this comprehensive smart thermostat buyer’s guide, we’ll find out exactly what the leading smart thermostats have to offer and whether it is worth making the switch from control panels and dials.
We’ll also provide a few tips to help you select the best WiFi thermostat for your particular situation; and, we review the best-selling WiFi and Smart Home Thermostats today, to see how they compare.
So let’s dive in…
Most Intelligent Smart Home Thermostat: Nest Thermostat (3rd Generation)
Nest, a Google-owned company, has always been at the forefront of producing intelligent, connected home thermostats.
Google is really serious about supporting Nest customers, too. Check out this story posted on Facebook recently by a good friend of mine – Nest reimbursed him for the cost of installing two C-Wires in his home (Nest requires that):
Product-wise, Nest’s third generation Nest 3 Learning Thermostat puts intelligent learning at the top of its list of features.
The latest Nest has a larger, sleeker, crisper display that immediately lights up when you approach it, showing you the temperature setting or time.
It is packed with more temperature sensors to better monitor room temperature and to optimize heating and cooling.
The Nest 3 also keeps learning what you love, ensuring that you enjoy a cozy environment whenever you are home, and turning the system down while you are gone – all without requiring you to do anything.
The Nest also includes sensors that monitor the health of your HVAC system, constantly checking for recurring problems and alerting you whenever it thinks maintenance is necessary. It can even shut the HVAC system down when it detects carbon monoxide or smoke (and alert you about it).
If you are looking for an truly intelligent thermostat, smart enough to learn what you like and to do almost everything for you, the Nest generation 3 Learning Thermostat will not disappoint.
BUYING TIP: if you want to save some money, check out the new Nest Thermostat E. It trades off just a few features, but it costs significantly less.
Best Programmable Smart Thermostat: Ecobee4
The Canadian-made Ecobee4 is admittedly not as intelligent as the Nest third generation.
But it makes up for it by providing far more flexibility in programming.
A key advanced feature of the ecobee3 is its multi-sensor support.
Instead of relying on a central thermostat to control temperature, the Ecobee4 can be used with multiple sensors set up in different locations to provide more flexible and more precise control over your home’s environment.
Using its built-in occupancy detection sensor, it ensures that everyone is comfortable, no matter which room they are in.
It can also detect when you are home or away and set the right temperature for your comfort or turn it down to save energy.
When it comes to remote control and monitoring, the Ecobee3 comes with a great app to adjust the temperature setting using your Android or iOS mobile device – or even your Apple Watch.
Through the app, you get essential energy consumption reports with advice on how to save more.
Other smart features include the ability to keep up with local weather reports, compatibility with smart home devices such as Amazon Alexa / Echo and Apple HomeKit, and integration with third party integration services like IFTTT.
If you have a large home with varying temperature needs from room to room, the ecobee3 is ideal.
It is also ideal for those who want the maximum amount of flexibility and programming control over their environment.
Best Budget Wifi Thermostat For A Smart Home: Honeywell Lyric T5
If you are afraid the Nest and ecobee3 thermostats will pinch your budget too hard, the Honeywell Lyric T5 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat is a great budget alternative.
Costing less than $150, the Lyric T5 is a $100 cheaper than the top smart thermostats in the market.
While it lacks deep integration with home automation devices and networks, it delivers decent programming and automatic scheduling.
The design is not the best and does not look as sleek as that of the Nest thermostat.
A large plastic casing and dull display gives it a slightly dated look. Go deeper however and the Lyric T5 is not too bad especially considering the price.
It comes with location-based temperature control, also known as geo-fencing. This allows it to know when you are home, and set the right temperature, and detect when you go away so as to save energy. It also includes 7-day scheduling, allowing you to program the thermostat based on your schedule for the week.
Another big feature is adaptive recovery. Through this feature, the thermostat learns how long it takes to get to the perfect temperature, which leads to better and more intuitive automation.
It is compatible with Apple HomeKit as well as Amazon Alexa. There is of course an app through which you can control and monitor the thermostat. It will also send you push notifications to alert you whenever the filter needs to be changed or there is any problem with the HVAC system.
The Honeywell Lyric T5 provides a surprising amount of value for its price. If you are looking for a basic smart thermostat to save you energy and make life easier without all the additional bells and whistles, the Lyric T5 is our recommended choice.
Best Touchscreen WiFi Thermostat: Honeywell 1005/W1
The Honeywell 1005/W1 touchscreen thermostat is a bit pricier than the budget T5 Lyric from the same company but still priced far below what you will pay for the Nest third gen or ecobee3.
The first thing you will notice is the bigger and much more vibrant display. On this vibrant touchscreen, it is really easy to input settings whenever you are at home. And, when you are away, there is a remote control feature that you can access on your smartphone, desktop or tablet.
One of the best things about this thermostat is the level of programming flexibility.
To start with, you can set whether you are using it in a home or business environment. It then allows you to set different comfort levels for various times of the day.
If you’re using this in a business, you can set it to be warm and toasty when people come in in the morning, cool during hot afternoons and off when people clock out at the end of the day.
Like the lyric T5, it can learn how long it takes to achieve the right temperature and use that for better auto programming.
Through the app, it will alert you if anything goes wrong or if a filter change is necessary.
The touchscreen can be locked and protected by a password for enhanced security.
Traditional Thermostats vs. Smart Thermostats
To understand smart thermostats, it helps to understand how a traditional thermostat works.
A thermostat’s function is simple: to regulate indoor temperature by controlling the home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
A traditional thermostat is ‘dumb’ in the sense that all of the input and control must come from a human. You have to keep telling it what temperature you want in your home, over time.
This means that you must manually switch it on/off; change the mode from cooling to heating; and increase or decrease the temperature settings, as you see fit.
Because most people don’t stay in their home all day long nor constantly change their thermostat settings, a lot of the cooling and heating you do in your home is wasted, resulting in excess energy costs and a greater impact on the environment.
The goal of a smart home thermostat is to take over some of the functions that a human does today, to improve efficiency and make things easier.
What Is A Smart / WiFi Thermostat?
What sets a smart thermostat apart is that it can learn from your behaviors and preferences, constantly monitor and sense the environment, and automatically adjust indoor temperature to meet specific goals – without human monitoring or input.
For example, in the winter most Nest, ecobee and some Honeywell units can leave your home cooler than you’d like while you’re at work, to save energy; then, they will automatically switch the heating on when you are on your way home.
This results in more efficient power usage which can save you a lot on your utility bills (10-30% is typical).
Three Hardware Components
A smart WiFi thermostat is also a thermostat that can be remotely monitored and controlled.
To do this, most smart thermostat systems rely on three hardware components.
The first is the thermostat unit that connects with and controls the settings of your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
This is an electromechanical device that works like any other traditional thermostat. Often, it connects using a C-Wire.
The thermostat unit communicates wirelessly with a second component, the wireless control unit. The wireless control unit is the display and touchscreen device that hangs on your wall that gives you feedback and control over the your HVAC system.
Finally, you can use you smartphone or mobile device (an app) to control & program the wireless control unit over the internet or over your home’s WiFi network.
The nice thing about networking a thermostat is that it allows you to monitor your heating and cooling system and to make tweaks whenever you want, from anywhere you like.
Most smart thermostats will give you real-time information re. how much energy is being consumed. Through the unit’s mobile app, you can program the thermostat to change how it behaves and save more energy.
In addition, some smart thermostat systems have the capability to learn their owner’s preferences and adapt to them, automatically.
Why Buy A Smart Thermostat?
One of the common questions homeowners ask is:
What can a smart thermostat do that my current one is not doing already?
This question becomes more important when you consider that a smart thermostat is not cheap.
While an ordinary thermostat could cost as little as $25, smart thermostats often have a price tag exceeding $200 after all costs are considered.
So why, then, is this a sound investment for your home?
There are three reasons to consider buying a smart WiFi thermostat, as follows:
- Save on utility bills. This is the biggest appeal of smart thermostats. Through optimized programming, a smart thermostat can reduce the amount of power you are using to heat and cool, usually by 10-20%.
- Simplify your life. With traditional thermostats, you have to manually adjust the settings, and remember to do that. Many homeowners tend to get lax at it, leaving the HVAC system on the wrong settings to waste energy needlessly. With thermostats that can learn and adapt to your preferences, you don’t have to do anything; the thermostat does this all for you.
- Help the environment. The energy savings as more homes switch to smart thermostats helps protect the environment from further damage.
How To Select The Right Smart Thermostat For Your Home
If you are looking to buy a smart thermostat, the following are the most important considerations.
What HVAC System Do You Have?
Most thermostats are designed for compatibility with a wide variety of HVAC systems.
But it is still important to check what type of cooling and heating system you own.
Beyond ensuring that the thermostat will actually work, using the right type of thermostat will maximize your energy savings.
For example, some smart thermostats work only with low voltage (24v) systems, while others are made specifically for use with high voltage (110v or 240v) systems.
Other units are designed to use with 24mV gas or oil powered furnaces.
You will also come across terms like 1-stage and 2-stage as well as zoned systems.
To determine what kind of HVAC system you are using:
- read the labels on your unit to get your make and model information
- search Google using the term: “thermostat” + MAKE + MODEL
- ask a HVAC professional for assistance.
Then, make sure you buy a smart thermostat that will work best with your system.
Size Of Your Home
The size of your home is not a major issue when it comes to selecting the right smart thermostat. After all, your HVAC system is already tuned to your home size.
That being said, some thermostats are better equipped for larger or smaller homes. For example, larger homes often support multiple climate zones.
For example, the Ecobee3 comes with additional sensors that can be placed in different locations of the house. These sensors tell the main unit whether every room is being heated evenly – something that can be helpful in a large home.
On the other hand, the cheaper Ecobee3 Lite is more suited for smaller homes. It lacks support for room sensors, occupancy detection and accessories such as dehumidifiers and ventilators.
WiFi connectivity is essential for this type of device. WiFi connectivity allows thermostats to achieve much more functionality beyond just setting a room’s temperature.
The thermostat can wirelessly connect to other sensors around the home for optimized heating and cooling everywhere. Some can even detect the presence of your phone, which in turn indicates you are home. The thermostat can then automatically set your preferred temperature.
With WiFi, you can monitor and control your thermostat from your smartphone wherever you are. Some thermostats even have the ability to connect to weather reports and adjust temperature accordingly.
C-Wire Or No C-Wire?
You will definitely come across the term, C-wire, during your shopping excursion.
C-wire is short for common wire, and it’s a low voltage wire used to provide power to smart or powered thermostats.
Many older HVAC systems do not use a C-wire, because their mechanical thermostats do not need them.
This can be a problem, because most smart thermostats need a C-wire to power themselves.
If your HVAC system has a C-wire, then you are good to go.
If not, then you have several options. The first is to look for a thermostat that does not require a C-wire. Some Nest thermostats can be used without the common wire, drawing power from your system wiring, instead. The Emerson Sensi thermostat is another unit that does not necessarily require a C-wire.
The second option is to buy an adapter that substitutes for the C-wire.
Finally, you can simply hire a professional electrician to add a C-wire to your system and connect it to the thermostat. Doing this should cost a couple of hundred dollars, max.
Multi-Zone vs. Single Zone
A HVAC system can either be multi-zone or single zone.
In a single zone system, a heating or cooling setting applies to all parts of the home, at the same time. Those with differing temperature preferences have to compromise on the right settings.
A multi-zone system removes the need for compromise since different zones can be temperature-controlled separately. For instance, the basement can be kept cooler when not in use while the heat in the living room is amped up.
When buying a smart thermostat, check whether it is designed for multi-zone or single zone heating.
Multi-zone thermostats will typically be more expensive and come with multiple devices to coordinate heating and cooling among different zones.
Scheduling And Automation
One of the biggest draws for smart thermostats is that they make life easier.
There is no need to keep fiddling with a dial every time you want to crank up the heat or make the room cooler.
So when you start shopping for the right smart thermostat, make sure you choose one that actually simplifies your life.
One of the key features to look out for is scheduling and automation. Look for thermostats that provide a ‘set it and forget’ approach to temperature control.
You can set a day-by-day schedule, a different schedule for work days and weekends and a schedule for different times of the day.
The more programming flexibility a thermostat allows, the better.
Furthermore, you should be able to manage the scheduling either from the panel or remotely on your smartphone.
More advanced smart thermostats like Nest go beyond programmable scheduling to actually watch your thermostat/setting behavior, over time to learn your habits and preferences.
For example, how you deal with climate when you get home from work, when you leave for church, what temperature you normally love, and so on.
It then automatically creates a schedule that fits your needs AND saves the maximum amount of energy possible.
Smart thermostats vary in complexity and intelligence. Basic units are really close in function to traditional thermostats, with the major appeal being remote control and monitoring.
As the price tag rises, you will find more intelligence features designed to save more energy and make life even more convenient.
Some of the more advanced thermostats come with built-in sensors for various purposes. Some can be used for occupancy detection, i.e., to see if anyone is home and set the temperature accordingly.
Most units have temperature sensors both inside the main unit and external ones that can be placed around the home.
Some of the latest Nest and ecobee thermostats integrate with smart home speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home in order to leverage their voice recognition sensors to distinguish between different individuals and set customized temperature levels differently, for you or your family members.
When buying a smart thermostat with built-in sensors, make sure that they can actually add value to your life and help you save on utility bills. Some people like to keep things simpler.
Smart Home Integration
The rise of smart thermostats is part of a larger wave of automation taking over homes. From lights to kitchen appliances, home automation is quickly becoming the next big thing.
That is why thermostat manufacturers are no longer focusing on standalone smart thermostats. Instead, they are designing thermostats that integrate and communicate with other components of a smart home.
If you are already on the path to making your home smarter, consider buying a thermostat that integrates seamlessly into your preferred smart home system.
For example, some smart thermostats connect to your smart home through virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home. Other smart thermostats connect directly to popular smart appliances and devices directly such as cars, lights, garage door and so on.
Wrapping It Up
The battle among smart thermostats is just getting started.
So far, Nest has led the way with its highly intuitive and intelligent series of learning thermostats. Others brands are quickly catching up to provide great alternatives.
As home automation gets more popular with both manufacturers and consumers, expect smart thermostats that go beyond the ordinary. We will see better, smarter and more energy-saving options in the market.
One major trend we foresee is a deeper integration with home automation.
Soon, your WiFi thermostat will be just one integrated part of your really smart home.