Picking a thermostat for your home used to be a no-brainer. When you moved into a new home, if there was a thermostat on the wall, your selection process was done. Now smart thermostats and Wi-Fi thermostats, along with an increased awareness of the need to save energy and money, has brought more attention to the rather mundane thermostat market.
Many people have only ever heard of one, maybe two, smart Wi-Fi thermostats. The Nest (acquired by Google in 2014) is easily the most popular smart thermostat, but it’s hardly the only one (check out these). Just because all the kids are wearing the same sneakers, doesn’t mean you should get the same ones too. Let’s take a look at some of the top features of smart thermostats, so you get the one that’s best suited to your needs.
1. System or not?
The first thing to ask yourself when you’re looking for a Wi-Fi thermostat is whether this is going to be the only smart home device you own, if you already have others, or if you intend to build a whole smart home automation system. If a smart thermostat is going to be all you need, then you don’t need to worry much about what wireless protocol it works on, what automation services have designed drivers for it or what integration capabilities it features. If you already have a professionally-installed home automation system, then contact your installer and ask if the smart thermostat you have in mind can be integrated with what you have now. You may be surprised at the useful features your installer can open up in your system. If you have a DIY system, then go to the company’s web site to see what thermostats work with it. You may find that the one you want is not compatible, but that other, very good thermostats, are compatible, and you’ll still get the functionality you need.
2. Remote access
One of the main reasons people want smart thermostats is so they can adjust the temperature remotely. Have you ever come home from a summer vacation and walked in the door to a sweltering house? Since it can take up to a few hours to for a central air system to cool down a hot house, a Wi-Fi thermostat that lets you control it over the internet via an app would have allowed you to start cooling the house hours before you arrived home. That same feature can save you money on those times you forgot to adjust the temperature to an economical setting before you left the house.
If remote access is all you really need, then you don’t necessarily have to go with a Nest. Many other smart thermostats offer that same access, and some are a lot cheaper than the Nest.
3. Scheduling and programming
If your interest in a smart thermostat is to save you from the onerous task to programming an otherwise dumb thermostat, then there are some features you should look for. The Nest, for example, is famous for learning your heating and cooling preferences and then essentially programming itself. Honeywell’s Lyric does a cool geofencing trick. You set up a virtual perimeter around your house, and when the thermostat detects that you’ve left (actually, that your connected smart phone has left) the vicinity, it automatically goes into away mode and adjusts the temperature. Both systems, and others like it, have their pros and cons, the biggest con being that if you have a very irregular schedule, then your system will have trouble accommodating you.
Several smart thermostats include motion detection capabilities as an added way to figure out if anyone’s home. That can come in handy, or be a disadvantage if the thermostat is in a location you don’t walk by frequently.