Note: The following opinions are those of FirstEnergy Home™. We research and offer consumers what we feel are best-in-class products that help make your home become more productive and comfortable. Ultimately, it is up to each individual consumer to determine what product, if any, is best for them.
A smart thermostat is like a traditional thermostat – it helps regulate the temperature in your home – but there are key differences that can make heating and cooling your home much more efficient (and help save you money in the process). Smart thermostats use the latest advances in technology to regulate when and for how long your furnace or air conditioner is in use.
They can also be controlled from anywhere in the world, at any time, with apps on your phone or tablet, provided you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. You no longer need to physically touch the thermostat dial or keypad on your wall (or even be present) to adjust your home’s temperature – but that option is still available on most of these new devices, too.
Many smart thermostats on the market today can be easily integrated with and controlled by smart speakers and smart assistants, such as Siri®, Alexa™ and Google Assistant™. For instance, if you use Apple® products, this means you can say, “Hey Siri, please turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees,” and the smart thermostat will comply.Look for distinctive features
Not all smart thermostats are the same. Some feature responsive touch screens. They come in different shapes and styles, and there is a wide variation in the level of extra features beyond the baseline task of more efficiently regulating your home’s climate.
For example, most smart thermostats can use the location of your phone to automatically switch between “home” and “away” modes – but not all provide the same depth of data about your home’s energy use that may be of interest to you.
According to ENERGY STAR® – an energy-efficiency program run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy – it’s important to conduct research on the model you’re interested in before purchasing to determine compatibility with your HVAC system, and to know exactly which features are included.
It’s also essential to consider if your existing smart devices are compatible with the smart thermostat of your choice. The three most-common voice assistants – Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant – work with most options widely available at retail locations, but it’s worth checking to be sure before making your smart thermostat purchase.
Now, let’s learn more about these devices, including how “remote sensors” are helping to extend the ability of smart thermostats to help make a significant difference in your energy savings.What is a smart thermostat?
In most cases, smart thermostats increase in effectiveness the more you engage with their innovative features. Like with any technology, smart thermostats can deliver more impact if you are willing to invest a bit of time upfront to understand the options available to you.
Traditionally, a thermostat regulates temperature depending on its physical location in the home. Remote sensors – which can be placed around the home – enable a smart thermostat to take temperature readings elsewhere and adjust accordingly.
If you’re primarily spending time in your basement or bedroom, remote sensors (sometimes called proximity sensors) can tell your smart thermostat and HVAC system to concentrate its climate control on areas where you will be present.
Some smart thermostats can only use a few remote sensors. Other models can employ more than two dozen.
Some smart thermostats also provide detailed information on your patterns of energy use that can help you adjust the temperature programming for certain areas of your home – and at certain times – to drive down your monthly energy costs.
To be sure, smart thermostats tend to cost more upfront than traditional models. However, the savings and life expectancy of smart thermostats will help make up this cost difference over time.The different types of smart thermostats
Broadly speaking, there are three types of smart thermostats – but some contain the functionality of others or all three of these options, according to ENERGY STAR.
- Motion sensor thermostats: The most common type of smart thermostat, these pair with sensors placed strategically around your home to detect where you are (or haven’t been) and adjust temperatures accordingly.
- Geofencing thermostats: Less common, these thermostats detect your presence within a certain set range (100 feet, for instance) and regulate temperature depending on your pre-set specifications.
- Learning algorithm thermostats: These devices “learn” from your behavior and parameters you’ve chosen to automatically turn on/off when most convenient for your schedule.
Most consumers sort options based on price, which can vary widely. Once you narrow down what you’re willing to spend, then it’s possible to compare what features are available on the models that most align with your budget. (We’ll dive into those options shortly.)Why choose a smart thermostat with remote sensor?
The remote sensors employed by smart thermostats are small, wireless, usually battery-powered and generally designed not to draw notice – so integrating them into your interior design should be seamless.
Note: It’s also worth checking to see if your energy provider offers an incentive or rebate to replace your thermostat with a “smart” one – given the savings and energy-efficiency potential they provide. The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program provides a portal to get started.
Some smart thermostat models come with a power extender kit (PEK), allowing the device to be used without a “C-wire,” or common wire, which are not present in many older HVAC setups.
You will likely need to pull your thermostat off the wall to see the configuration of its electrical wiring. Take a picture of the back of your thermostat, which can help you determine if certain smart thermostat models are compatible with your current setup.
There are online compatibility checkers, such as this one for Google Nest, available to help you discern if the smart thermostat you wish to purchase is compatible with your existing system and wiring.
Don’t worry – in most cases, installing a smart thermostat is a DIY project that takes less than 30 minutes. In some instances, however, you may need to contact a professional electrician or HVAC technician for assistance. In most cases, smart thermostats with sensors can be categorized as “set it and forget it” tech – designed to work along with your schedule and preferences.Some top recommended smart thermostats with remote sensors
There are many options on the market today.
As previously mentioned, most smart thermostats can be controlled using a common smart assistant – such as Amazon Alexa, Siri by Apple or Google Assistant.Google Nest Learning Thermostat
The most striking aspect of a Google Nest Learning Thermostat is its design. If how your smart thermostat will look on your wall is among the most important factors in your decision-making process, then consider the smooth, rounded, luminescent Nest Learning Thermostat. Its aesthetic fits with many home décors.
Still, there are other considerations to make. For instance, Nest Learning Thermostat temperature sensors are not as versatile as some other sensors on the market. Nest Learning Thermostat sensors measure temperature, but do not detect your presence or sense motion. Currently, Nest Learning Thermostats are only compatible with Nest sensors.
Some generations of Nest Learning Thermostats do not come with any sensors, meaning you must purchase those you wish to add. The latest Nest Learning Thermostat models are priced around $249.Honeywell Home™ T9 Smart Thermostat
Less expensive than a Google Nest Learning Thermostat is the Honeywell Home™ T9, which retails around $200.
This Honeywell Home digital thermostat model is known for the strength and reliability of its Honeywell room sensors, which can measure humidity, proximity and temperature – and one comes included with your smart Honeywell Home thermostat purchase.A Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat is touch-screen-based and works with smart devices from Apple, Google and Amazon.
Note: In addition to the highly regarded options above, there are also proven smart thermostat options, including Johnson Controls GLAS®, LUX/GEO, Wyze® Thermostat and others.Amazon Smart Thermostat
Compatible with the Alexa app and Amazon Echo™ smart speakers, the Amazon Smart Thermostat is compatible if you have one of these devices. Plus, the Amazon Smart Thermostat tends to cost less than its competitors.
It’s worth mentioning that there are no remote temperature sensors available on the Amazon Smart Thermostat, as of date of this article. Also, this thermostat is currently not compatible with Apple or Google smart assistants or speakers.ecobee® Smart Thermostat
You can expect to pay about $200 for the latest generation ecobee Smart Thermostat.
With voice integrations from Apple HomeKit® (and Siri), Alexa, Spotify® and Google Home, the ecobee Smart Thermostat is considered one of the most widely compatible options with popular smart devices and assistants.
This means you will not have to purchase a separate Amazon Echo, for instance, to be able to use this smart thermostat with voice commands. This also means you can play songs, listen to podcasts, hear the news and control other smart devices.
ecobee’s sensor measures both temperature and occupancy, but not humidity.
Up to 32 sensors can be added to some ecobee models. Also, ecobee’s “Follow Me” feature uses motion to adjust the thermostat depending on your location in your home.Conclusion
With many dependable models on the market today, the best smart thermostats for homes have been proven to help save energy and money.
According to EPA research, many homeowners can expect to save on yearly energy costs by using a smart thermostat compared with using a traditional model thermostat.
Smart thermostats were created to help make your life and energy use more efficient by helping you save time and money now – and for winters and summers to come.