Like other thermostats, smart thermostats hook into the heating-and-cooling system of your house. What sets these devices apart is their ability to create a comfortable home environment based on your family’s unique preferences and—best of all—save you money with lower heating-and-cooling bills. Think you want to buy a smart thermostat? You might want the answers to these questions first.
Questions to ask when buying a smart thermostat
- What is a smart thermostat and how does it work?
- How do smart home thermostats differ from manual or programmable thermostats?
- Can a smart thermostat lower my monthly bill?
- Do smart home thermostats need Wi-Fi?
- What features should I look for when buying a smart thermostat?
- What is the best smart thermostat?
- How do I install a smart thermostat?
- Is a smart thermostat actually worth it?
1What is a smart thermostat and how does it work?
A smart thermostat allows you to control your home’s heating-and-cooling system via smartphone, tablet, computer or even voice assistants such as Google Assistant. It’s the Wi-Fi connection that initially makes these thermostats “smart,” although many models can also learn your home heating-and-cooling preferences, self-adjust according to outdoor weather conditions and even sense when you’re approaching home to adjust the temperature and make the whole house feel nice and comfy.
A basic smart home thermostat has three components:
- A wired connection to your home’s HVAC system
- A wall-mounted control panel (and additional wireless motion sensors for some models)
- A downloadable app allowing you to control the thermostat, set preferences, view energy savings and more
2How do smart home thermostats differ from manual and programmable thermostats?
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3Can a smart thermostat lower my monthly bill?
Considering nearly two-thirds of the average Canadian’s energy bill goes into home heating, it makes sense that having complete control over the HVAC system (Home, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning) will help you find better energy efficiency, thereby saving you money. But you don’t necessarily need a smart thermostat to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Get a smart thermostat if… you want ease of use, aren’t really sure about your energy habits or often forget to lower the temperature before bed or when you leave home.
- Skip a smart thermostat if… you’re already really meticulous about your energy usage, you rarely leave home for extended periods of time or you don’t want to automatically turn the temperature down when you sleep.
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4Do smart home thermostats need Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi enables communication with the thermostat’s app, which gives you remote access to the thermostat along with all the advanced features you’ve paid extra money for. If your internet connection is spotty, consider upgrading to a better plan before investing in a smart thermostat or opt for a digital model. Most smart home thermostats will send an alert when they’re no longer connected to the internet.
Without Wi-Fi, a smart thermostat will behave just like a digital thermostat. As long as it’s wired in, you can still manually control the HVAC system. So if you move into a new place and don’t have Wi-Fi set up yet, or your internet connection is spotty, you’ll still have a working thermostat.
5What features should I look for when buying a smart thermostat?
Some manufacturers have compatibility checklists so you can be sure they’ll work with your home before you buy. Check the Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell websites for helpful info. Here are a few more things to consider when searching for the best smart thermostat for your family:
- Wiring: Will a smart thermostat even work with your home’s wiring and HVAC system? Visit the thermostat brand’s website to read their wiring compatibility checklist, which will have instructions for checking your wiring. If you end up needing additional wiring, usually a C wire, check which models come with adaptors for easier installation.
- Geofencing setup: Do you want your thermostat to just know when you’re coming and going and adjust the temperature accordingly? Geofencing uses location-based software to place an invisible perimeter around your home so the thermostat can detect when you’re close.
- Learning: Not all smart thermostats come equipped to learn behaviour and make suggestions on how to conserve energy. Without learning capabilities, you’re left with a programmable thermostat that has a number of extra features. The trade-off? You pay a lot less.
- External room sensors: If you have rooms that never seem to get warm enough, a remote sensor can keep the heat going until that room reaches just the right temperature. Some sensors can also detect movement and will only turn up the heat when you’re actually in the room.
- Integrates with third-party apps or other smart home products: For easy all-in-one control, you may want other smart home products integrated with your thermostat such as smoke detectors or security cameras. Some smart thermostats also have smart speakers with voice assistants built right in, so you can tell your thermostat to turn off the TV, play a lullaby and dim the lights as it lowers the temperature for the evening.
- Number of users per account: Most smart thermostats allow at least two users. If you want to give control to more than two people, you’ll have to check for this feature.
Keep in mind your phone or tablet must have an updated operating system (OS) in order to run the smart thermostat app. If your technology is old or outdated, a smart thermostat may not work.
6What is the best smart thermostat?
Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell are all reputable brands in the smart thermostat category. However, there are some subtle differences:
Google Nest: Known for its sleek design, ease of use and impressive learning behaviour, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat is attractive for those who also like the Google Nest system: home security, smoke detectors and entertainment.
Ecobee: The very first Ecobee smart thermostat was developed by back in 2007. Since then, the company has rapidly developed into a smart-home-devices giant with products like their Ecobee 3 lite Smart Thermostat. Their notable contact wireless sensors not only detect when you’re home and away, but they can also send alerts if windows or doors are unexpectedly opened.
Honeywell: Because they’ve been around since 1906, Honeywell knows a thing or two about thermostats. Their smart models like the Honeywell Lyric T5 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat tend to be lower in price than other brands with just as many features. The drawback? Their mobile app isn’t as intuitive to use.
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7How do I install a smart thermostat?
It’s possible that you, your partner or your handy neighbour may be able to install a smart thermostat, but there’s always a risk of wire damage or electrocution. If you have any doubts, call a professional. Most smart thermostats can be installed into most homes with these steps:
- Cut the power: Turn off the entire HVAC system at the breaker panel.
- Remove the faceplate: The cover of your old thermostat should pop right off so you can view the wiring configuration underneath.
- Take a picture: Snap a quick pic of the wiring so you have a reference point.
- Remove wires from the backplate: You might press a tab to slide the wires out or need a small screwdriver to unscrew them from the backplate.
- Remove old backplate: Now you can remove the rest of the old thermostat from the wall.
- Add new backplate: With a pencil, mark on the wall where you want the new backplate and drill new holes for the backplate screws, using wall anchors if necessary. Pull the wires through before firmly attaching the new backplate.
- Re-wire: This is where that photo comes in handy to match the wires with their corresponding terminals.
- Attach the faceplate: Place the cover on the new thermostat. If it doesn’t snap on easily, check that wires aren’t in the way.
- Turn on the HVAC system: Your new smart thermostat should start up like a small computer.
- Connect to Wi-Fi: Follow the prompts on your thermostat to connect to Wi-Fi and the corresponding app on your phone, tablet or computer.
- Connect to other smart devices: Follow the manufacturer’s guide to connect to other smart devices in your home.
8Is a smart thermostat actually worth it?
Ultimately, a smart thermostat will be worth the investment (typically about $100 to $300) if you meet these criteria:
- You’ll be living in your current home for at least a few years
- You suspect there are hours during the day or night when your home’s temperature could be lower
- You place high value on convenience and ease of use
Smart Thermostats and Smart Home Technology
- Natural Resources Canada. Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada 1990 to 2013.
- Manitoba Hydro. Energy Saving Tips.
- DIY Smart Home Solutions. The Smart Thermostat C Wire Explained—What If You Don’t Have One?
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