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Get smart about your thermostat
As winter approaches, many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are thinking about getting cozy at home. But with energy costs expected to rise 28% this winter, it’s going to take mindfulness and intention—plus a little help from technology—to stay warm without breaking the bank. Sure, you could drop cash on space heaters for the most lived-in rooms, but if you want to go the high-tech (and safer) route, install a smart thermostat. Investing in the best smart thermostat to slash your energy bills makes good sense, especially when you take into account the best temperature for a house in winter and the best temperature for a house in summer.
Smart home devices are popping up everywhere: We have smart doorbells to help protect our homes and smart alarm clocks to make waking up a little bit easier. We have smart watches, smart speakers and smart TVs too. So why not a smart thermostat?
“Smart thermostats are designed to be able to be controlled with your smartphone, making it easier to save money on your electricity bills,” says Karen Lee, a smart home device expert and the founder of Smart Robotic Home. “You can adjust times for heat and air conditioning to turn on or off, and you can do so typically from anywhere as long as you have the application on your phone that coincides with the thermostat.”
What is a smart thermostat?
A smart thermostat is a programmable device that adjusts the temperature in a home or office to a preset target as a way to both ensure comfortable temperatures (when you’re at home) and conserve energy (when you’re not). The different types of smart thermostats are divided based on the technology they use, and they include:
- Motion-sensor thermostats such as the Ecobee 3 detect where you are in your home and if you’ve been gone for a while, then manage the temperature accordingly.
- Geofencing thermostats including the Honeywell Lyric track your location via GPS in your smartphone and adjust temperature settings based on if you’re home or away.
- Learning-algorithm thermostats like the Google Nest Learning Thermostat are smart enough to learn your patterns and routine, and they set the temperature accordingly.
The best smart thermostat for you will be easy to install. Thankfully, homeowners can install and set up many of them in less than an hour, though if you’re not particularly handy, you can hire a professional.
So, between the cost of buying and installing the devices, are smart thermostats worth it? The unanimous opinion from experts is yes. There’s no doubt that smart thermostats can help you save on heating and cooling costs. They require a relatively small investment that pays off quickly.
What to consider when buying a smart thermostat
There are a few features you should take into consideration when you start shopping around for the best smart thermostat to fit your needs. Aesthetics and Energy Star certifications are good things to think about, but Michael Xavier, founder of Good Home Automation, told us the top three things to pay attention to when shopping for the best smart thermostat in 2022.
Compatibility with your HVAC system: Some smart thermostats won’t work with your heating and cooling system. For example, heat pumps and ventilation systems only work with higher-end models. To ensure compatibility between your HVAC system and the smart thermostat you’re considering, check the manufacturer’s website for a list of compatible models.
How many zones you have: You’ll need to buy one smart thermostat for each climate-controlled zone in your home. Nest and Ecobee thermostats offer “remote sensors,” but they only feed a single thermostat, not the HVAC system overall. If you have different units for heating and cooling, you’ll require separate thermostats.
C-wire requirement: Smart thermostats need power! This power comes from something called a common wire, or C-wire. The C-wire provides AC current from the furnace in your home to your thermostat. You can easily check to see if you have this wire: If there are only two wires in the thermostat wall place, you don’t have it. Some smart thermostats come with a power adapter that allows you to add a C-wire to your unit, or you can call a technician to have the wire installed separately. The cost of installing a C-wire will vary depending on where you live but should run you around $150.
How we chose the best smart thermostats
We chose our best smart thermostats for 2022 based on expert recommendations and user experiences. See, we know that reading the lower star ratings—and determining if they were based on operator error or functionality—is as important as reading the top reviews. We encourage everyone to do their own research, but we dug deep so you don’t have to.
Find the best smart thermostat for you
- Best overall: Google Nest Learning Thermostat
- Best high-end thermostat: Ecobee Premium Smart Thermostat
- Best budget thermostat: Amazon Smart Thermostat
- Best for smart home integration: Ecobee 3 Lite
- Best DIY installation: Wyze Thermostat
- Easiest to use: Emerson Sensi Smart Thermostat
- Best energy saver: Honeywell Home Smart Color Thermostat
Google Nest Learning Thermostat
In addition to heating and cooling your home, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat comes with HVAC monitoring, which means it sends an alert if something doesn’t seem right with your heating and cooling systems and will provide helpful reminders for maintenance. It’s easy to install (typically in 30 minutes or less), and everything you need is included. You can even set this smart thermostat to “away mode,” so it’ll automatically adjust the temperature to save energy when you’re on vacation. If you’re looking for a thoughtful yet practical present for a loved one, this thermostat makes a great Amazon Prime gift.
- Compatible with 95% of heating and cooling systems
- Learns your schedule and programs itself to help save energy
- Not compatible with electric baseboard heating systems
- Requires professional setup, but users say it’s worth it for the quality
- Requires batteries
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Best high-end thermostat
Ecobee Premium Smart Thermostat
The Ecobee Premium Smart Thermostat has a lot of great features that make the high price worth it, including the fact that you can save up to 26% on your energy bills. It also includes a built-in air-quality monitor—great for urban dwellers or those who live around forest fires or in climates prone to mold—and provides tips on how to improve the air quality.
- Premium construction, design and features
- Built-in smart speaker with your choice of Siri or Alexa
- Built-in smoke alarm detection and alerts to possible break-ins and sudden temperature drops
- Comes with two SmartSensors for doors and windows that will alert you when a door or window has been left open for more than five minutes
- Ecobee Smart Security plan required for some of the features
- Some users report difficulty with installation
Best budget thermostat
Amazon Smart Thermostat
Energy Star–certified thermostats like the Amazon Smart Thermostat can save an average of $50 per year on energy costs, which means this thermostat pays for itself in about a year. It’s an easy entry point for smart thermostats and comes with 24/7 customer service via phone, chat or email.
- Affordable price
- After purchase, Amazon will send you information about possible rebates from energy providers in your area
- Amazon teamed up with Honeywell, a trusted name in heating and cooling
- An Alexa-enabled device, like the Amazon Echo, is needed to use this thermostat
Best for smart home integration
Ecobee 3 Lite
The Ecobee 3 Lite isn’t the only smart thermostat to integrate with a smart home system, but it’s the most flexible. It works with most smart home setups, including Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Samsung SmartThings, Wink and IFTTT. Beyond adjusting the temperature based on your routine and location in the house, this Energy Star–certified thermostat uses sensors to detect when a window or door is open, then it turns off the AC to lower energy costs.
- Can be controlled from most smart home systems as well as Android and Apple devices, including the Apple Watch
- Free energy reports give insights into how much you’ve saved and offer tips for further savings
- Hardwired, which means it doesn’t rely on a battery or your HVAC equipment to charge itself
- You can save up to 23% on your yearly energy bill
- Scheduler is a bit cumbersome to set up
- Slow to reboot and connect to Wi-Fi after a power outage
- The Smart Security subscription, which alerts you to break-ins and fires, costs $10 a month
Best DIY installation
Compared with similar products, the Wyze Thermostat is easier to install and set up, making it the best smart thermostat for those new to the tech as well as old-school holdouts who are unfamiliar with how to program a thermostat. This is a great value for a smart thermostat, with a learning mode that adjusts temperatures based on your habits. Looking for a totally different way to keep your home cool in the heat of the summer? Try one of these portable air conditioners.
- App provides easy, step-by-step installation instructions
- Includes a built-in energy-saving mode, saving you money on your energy bill and offering actionable insights based on usage to help reduce energy
- Owners of more expensive smart thermostats tout the Wyze Thermostat’s value and say it’s just as reliable
- Slightly more expensive than Amazon’s smart thermostat but not as well designed
- Step-by-step instructions are on the app, so you can’t preview or access them until you’re in the middle of installation
Easiest to use
Emerson Sensi Smart Thermostat
There are a lot of things to like about the Emerson Sensi Smart Thermostat, but what users really love is that it has actual buttons—not just a touch screen, an app or voice control—and feels like a traditional thermostat. This Energy Star–certified thermostat doesn’t have as many features as some of the competitors, but if you’re looking for an easy-to-use device without extra bells and whistles, this is the best smart thermostat for you. And while you’re upgrading your home, be sure to check out the home security systems that do the best job at keeping you safe.
- Easy-to-use device has buttons like a traditional thermostat and features step-by-step installation instructions
- Sensi values privacy and won’t sell your personal information to third parties
- C-wire not required
- App allows for control from anywhere
- System is a bit glitchy for some users, an apparent Wi-Fi compatibility problem
Best energy saver
Honeywell Home Smart Color Thermostat
The Energy Star–certified Honeywell Home Smart Color Thermostat is a great energy saver, providing monthly energy reports so you can track your heating and cooling and offering personalized tips on how to reduce your energy use. It may not be the cheapest smart thermostat of the bunch, but there are savings opportunities that make it more affordable: Most utility companies offer rebates of $50, and eligible customers can enroll in ongoing energy incentives with their energy provider to continue saving. This thermostat works with a wide range of systems, including forced air (gas, oil or electric), hot water and steam, and heat pumps with electric backup. You can control it from anywhere by using the app or a compatible smart home system and—for a fun twist—customize the color of the screen.
- Monthly energy report and energy-saving tips help reduce energy use and lower your household bills
- Customizable color display
- Screen shows daily weather forecast and checks both indoor and outdoor humidity
- Trusted heating and cooling brand with a long history
- Doesn’t work with electric baseboard heaters
- Touch screen requires a heavy touch
- Karen Lee, smart home device expert and founder of Smart Robotic Home
- Michael Xavier, founder of Good Home Automation
- Fortune : ‘”The crisis is coming’: Heating bills will jump 28% this winter for nearly half of U.S. households”
- Cielo WiGle: “A Complete Guide to Understanding HVAC Systems”
Originally Published: November 04, 2022