Choose the right smart thermostat
Smart home technology doesn’t have to be complex or intimidating. In fact, it’s designed to make your life easier, not the other way around. And while many smart electronics are designed for watching TV and browsing the web, some are much more practical.
For example, smart doorbells, door locks, and security cameras are ideal for ensuring your safety and peace of mind. But one of the most useful places to install a smart home device is your heating and cooling system.
Smart thermostats come with a wide variety of features, but their purpose boils down to a few things. They are excellent at keeping people comfortable and can reduce electricity bills. The best can do both with minimal user intervention and virtually no frustration or confusion. In fact, the hardest part of using a smart thermostat might just be deciding which one to buy.
How smart are smart thermostats?
Despite the widespread overuse of the term “artificial intelligence” today, smart home devices don’t use real AI (nothing does yet) and most aren’t that smart. What this really means is that a device offers Wi-Fi or other wireless network connectivity, and can be programmed extensively with various complex features enabled or disabled. In other words, you don’t need the HAL 9000 supercomputer from “2001: A Space Odyssey” in your wall just to type in commands like “Turn on the humidifier”.
Smart Thermostat Security
To install a thermostat, you will need to work with the electrical wiring. This requires you to shut off power to a specific part of your home at the circuit breaker. If you don’t have any electrical experience or are just not comfortable with home wiring, that’s okay. There’s no shame in hiring a professional to do the job, ensuring you get a reliable installation. After all, working with electrical wiring can be extremely dangerous if you’ve never done it before.
Useful functions of the smart thermostat
The ability to adjust the temperature and, in some systems, the humidity, by simply speaking to the thermostat is one of the most appreciated features. Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are the main voice assistants. If you’ve ever invested in smart home electronics, you’ve probably opted for one of these three. So if the thermostat isn’t the first smart device in your home, make sure the one you get supports your chosen ecosystem.
Alexa was the first voice assistant to gain widespread adoption and there are more devices compatible with it than any other. Google Assistant is a close second, however, with the company’s world-class engineering supporting a user-friendly and capable electronic network. For full Siri compatibility, you’ll likely need Apple HomeKit compatibility. It’s the rarest ecosystem for smart devices to support, but fans of Apple products boast that it’s often the most powerful and convenient.
If you want to control a multi-zone HVAC system or adapt the use of a single-zone setup to certain rooms, you will need a thermostat with remote sensor access. They are often more than just temperature sensors, as many smart HVAC sensors also detect humidity levels and simple room occupancy. Simply put, an advanced thermostat sensor can tell when someone enters a room and activate preset environmental controls accordingly. If you have a one-story apartment or house, remote sensors won’t have as much influence as in a large multi-story building.
Note that if you have a high-end multi-zone system capable of heating and cooling individual rooms, this is an additional feature on top of simple remote sensor support. If this accurately describes your HVAC system, pay particular attention to thermostats that support true multi-zone control.
Since real AI is not an option, you will have to change some settings and set pre-programmed routines yourself most of the time. Many smart home device makers have their hands on all manner of home technology, with ranges of smart lights, speakers, cameras, thermostats and even fridges all connecting to the same network.
Some manufacturers leave this programmability mostly to broader ecosystem controls, such as the Google Home app. Others, like Wyze, offer their own very user-friendly apps with in-depth control over a number of device types.
An important part of the software and programming community, called If This Then That or IFTTT, allows you to connect a wide range of smart devices with third-party electronics from completely independent companies. With IFTTT, you can create a remarkable variety of preset schedules and emergency plans between different home systems. In fact, it’s one of the most important protocols to keep in mind if you plan to integrate a large number of smart devices into your home.
This is where the smartest models prove how smart they really are. Instead of constantly micromanaging your home’s thermostat settings, learning algorithms allow you to set a target temperature (and sometimes humidity) and let the computer do the work. Depending on whether you’re home, what time you normally wake up, and set the temperature and the season, a learning thermostat can keep you comfortable without you having to lift a finger.
The downside of learning algorithms is that they are rarely perfect, so you will have to manually manage them from time to time. They also take some time to learn your habits and preferences, so you won’t get optimal performance immediately after installing them.
Air quality control
Science is constantly discovering new ways in which pollution is bad for the human body. For this reason, high quality indoor air filtration is more popular than ever. Advanced smart thermostats work with air quality sensors to apply the right amount of treatment and notify you when filters need to be replaced.
Accurate energy consumption reports allow you to get the most out of your smart home investment. It also helps you plan and experiment to improve efficiency even further. Most smart thermostats offer these reports through their smartphone app, computer program, or email service. Some, however, can provide daily and monthly energy reports right on the device screen, saving you an extra step.
The best smart thermostats
It’s pretty much the most comprehensive choice and supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, in addition to the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem. Apart from thermostat functions, it can also serve as a whole-home monitoring center when paired with the right smoke detectors and intruder alarms. There’s even a built-in microphone that adds voice control to your network without any additional speakers.
It’s the simplest and most affordable smart thermostat available, and despite its price, it does a good job of adding wireless connectivity and voice control to a home HVAC system. As you’d expect, however, it doesn’t support any ecosystem outside of Amazon or any voice assistant other than Alexa.
The algorithms it’s built around will, over time, take your trends and automatically manage your heating and cooling to keep you comfortable with almost no active user intervention. It’s as easy to set up as it gets and supports most major ecosystems, but not Apple HomeKit.
Its simple operation and support for a large number of remote sensors make it the next best solution after an expensive multi-zone HVAC system. It’s easy to program and access remotely, offering in-depth control without the confusing extras of some smart devices.
It has many of the same features as its more premium parent, but without the learning algorithms that not everyone needs. It is also confirmed that it will eventually support Google’s next smart ecosystem, called Matter.
When equipped with the appropriate number of remote sensors, this is the best multi-zone HVAC controller for home use and it doesn’t even cost that much.
If you want to add smart functionality to a wall-mounted or window AC unit (say, if you live in an apartment), this is the best way to do it. Note that this only works with models that support infrared remotes.
Owners of high-efficiency baseboard heating systems will appreciate this one, as it’s one of the few models that supports the 100-volt configuration that most of these systems use.
Sold by Amazon
It can do most HVAC related things that the Premium version can do but costs a lot less. However, you will need to set up a custom IFTTT contingency to use location-based geofencing, as the functionality is not built into the unit itself.
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Chris Thomas written for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their buying decisions, saving them time and money.
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