A smart thermostat for your home is an invaluable way to monitor your home’s temperature and save money on your energy bills. Smart thermostats will get to know what temperature you like your home to be and then they’ll do all the work for you, adjusting the temperature automatically. Smart thermostats normally have an app where you can adjust or monitor the device. For ease of use, mobile apps that have the same interface as your thermostat are more preferable.
More than temperature control
The Nest learning thermostat saves energy by studying your preferences for a week. It monitors light and movement around it and observes when you change the temperature or schedule. It uses this information to automatically program itself to your preferences.
- Automatic scheduling
- Easiest to install
- Battery needs to be charged
It also tracks the weather near your home and gives you monthly progress reports to help save more energy. We like that the Nest works with hundreds of smart home products such as Amazon Alexa and August Smart Lock. In fact, it works with more smart home products than any other thermostat we reviewed. You can easily control the Nest using its metal outer ring and a mobile app. The app is user-friendly, lets you change settings quickly, and has detailed tutorials to help you install the unit in your home.
In our tests, it took around 17 minutes to install the Nest Learning Thermostat, which was the quickest installation of any product we tested. It comes with a screwdriver and all the hardware you need to install it, and easy-to-follow instructions. The Nest has a built-in battery that sometimes needs to charge after soon after installation, and every so often after that in order to keep running.
Easy mobile controls
The Emerson Sensi has many useful features, such as seven-day scheduling, weather information, and geofencing. It also works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit, which let you change the temperature with a simple voice command. The Sensi mobile app is easy to use with clear controls
- Easy to use
- Simple installation
- No auto-scheduling
- No motion sensor
We didn't encounter any issues when installing this thermostat during our testing. It doesn't look as sleek or modern as other thermostats we tested, but it's still quite attractive with a crisp interface. The Emerson Sensi keeps things simple by leaving out some energy management tool, such as automatic scheduling and motion sensors. it also doesn't track energy usage either through the device itself or the mobile app. While this is a disadvantage in some ways, it makes the Sensi affordable.
The Honeywell Home thermostat lets you program temperature changes for a whole week. The touch screen display shows you both indoor and outdoor temperatures, humidity levels, and whether the furnace or a/c is running.
- Touchscreen display
- Logs lots of information
- Voice and smartphone control
- Can take longer to install
- Takes longer to setup and program
This smart thermostat can be controlled from the Honeywell app, or through smart devices like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. The mobile app lets you adjust the temperature and make scheduling changes even when you're not home. It isn't as easy to program as other thermostats we testest, mainly because of all the information and settings that are available. It also took us longer to install the Honeywell thermostat than the others we evaluated.
The ecobee SmartThermostat has two unique features. It has Amazon Alexa voice controls built into the device, and it includes a remote sensor in the box. Amazon's Alexa service lets you adjust the temperature with a quick command, without using the ecobee app or touchscreen. The mobile app shows every step for setting up this thermostat.
- Built-in Alexa voice controls
- Excellent user interface
- Includes remote sensor
- Scheduling is not fully automated
The remote sensor tracks temperatures in rooms other than where the thermostat is installed. It gives you monthly reports that look at your usage patterns, though there's a little more setup involved since some of these features are not automatic like other smart thermostats. One of the best qualities of the ecobee SmartThermostat is that its onscreen display and the mobile app have identical controls, which makes it more intuitive and easier to use. Our installation tests went smoothly because the ecobee mobile app shows every step and guides you through the entire process.
What to expect from the best thermostats
There is a difference between programmable thermostats and smart thermostats. Programmable thermostats rely on a schedule you set, with or without a smartphone app. Smart thermostats collect data about your home to make it easier to set schedules, and some even set the ideal schedule on their own. Here's what you can expect from the best thermostats:
Lower Utility Bills
Instead of setting a single, stable temperature as on a traditional thermostat, you can use a programmable thermostat to set a schedule for your home’s temperature at different times of the day. This saves money in both the short and long term by heating or cooling only when it's necessary. All programmable thermostats have schedules, but smart ones make the process of setting them easier in the following ways:
A smart thermostat builds on your schedule by adapting when your plans change. Some, like the Nest Learning Thermostat, auto-schedule by tracking your habits over time to learn your routines. Eventually, they may pick up on your schedule and preferences so well that you don’t need to adjust them at all. Other smart thermostats don't try to predict your schedule and instead respond to your activities.
Smart thermostats with auto-scheduling create a foundation for their programming by observing your habits and local weather patterns or by asking you simple questions. This works best when a thermostat has at least one of the following:
Usage reports let you know how much energy you use and give feedback on how you can save even more. The best smart thermostats keep a record of your energy use starting the moment you activate them. Some thermostats have icons, like the Nest Leaf, to let you know you're improving.
Motion sensors allow the thermostat to react to events outside of your regular schedule, such as if you come home from work early one day. This is an advantage if you don't interact with your thermostat very often. Unlike schedules and geofencing, however, motion sensors can't make your home comfortable before you arrive home.
Geofencing creates a zone around your house and tracks your smartphone's GPS location to activate home or away modes. This useful feature can adapt to your schedule in a way that sensors and scheduling don't always get right because it knows when you're home or not.
However, sometimes geofencing doesn't work. When we asked Booth about this he said, "There are a lot of variables that play into geofence reliability; everything from the data connection you have on your phone or the carrier you're on, or the location services." As location services improve on smartphones, this feature will become more useful.
Smart Home Integration
Some Wi-Fi thermostat manufacturers include home automation functionality so their products can link to popular smart home devices. For example, a smart lock can activate your thermostat’s away mode when you lock the door, a security camera can record a video clip when someone adjusts the temperature, and a fitness tracker can adjust the heat while you sleep.
If you have a smart home system, make sure the thermostat you want works with it before you make your purchase. Most thermostat makers have a list of compatible smart home platforms on their websites.
Using a smartphone app, you can control your system remotely, view usage data, and set schedules. All are useful in case you forgot to set an energy-friendly temperature before you left the house.
A Long Service Life
Although new smart thermostat models come out every year, you don't need to replace them often. You can expect most units to last 10 to 20 years under normal conditions. We suggest you replace your smart thermostat when it breaks, when you upgrade HVAC equipment, or if the mobile app stops working when a company goes out of business.
How we tested smart thermostats
During our latest round of testing, we looked at 14 programmable thermostats to learn how they work, how easy they are to install and use, and if they are worth the extra cost for the smart features.
After installing each thermostat, we downloaded its mobile app to study the available features and determine how intuitive they are to use. In addition to our testing, we researched each thermostat to get a better picture of its long-term performance and overall customer satisfaction.
Each smartphone app can control basic functions, such as setting temperatures and schedules. However, the most impressive apps have the same user interface as the thermostat itself.
Since many thermostats’ automatic features work largely on their own, we didn't extensively test them in the mobile apps, but we observed each thermostat's behavior while it was active to see how it performed.
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